Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Intellectual Activist and the theory/practice split

I wonder if the Intellectual Activist has fallen into the classic theory/practice split, but is doing so with an Objectivish twist. Let me explain my (speculative) theory.

OK, so there's this thing called Objectivism that has all these principles we agree with, but there's also the world of present-day politics that we must face. You're a talented and thoughtful Objectivist writer. So what do you do?

You could make Objectivist arguments all the time and point out how corrupt the culture is ad nauseum, but that can get tiresome, it keeps you on the fringes and limits your audience.

What if instead you highlighted the virtues of contemporary figures and in doing so, you slowly started to see your influence expand. Under this program, the misintegrator serves you better than the disintegrator, because he gives you something positive to latch on to when talking to the general public. Sure, the misintegrator may have his flawed premises, but deep down he fights for you, ala Wakeland’s portrayal of Bush.

Who then becomes your biggest enemy? It's those dogmatic Objectivist naysayers with their pessimistic outlooks who are the real problem--they don't understand the picture, they are dishonest in falling to recognize your hero's virtues, and they hate misintegrators with a passion because they are the ones who steal their glory.

Somewhere, you have to take a stand. You have to choose between your hero and the integrated philosophy. If you honestly believe your philosophy works in the first place, you choose it. Defending it becomes your passion.

Yet if you are unsure if your philosophy really works, even if your doubt is subtle, such as how you use it to bridge the gap between the is and the ought with people who have a good sense of life, but hold mixed premises, you have to start avoiding your philosophy. After all, saying the US should unblinkingly slaughter its enemies freaks people out. You instead choose to identify with your misintergrating hero, and the nascent philosophic movement loses one of its heroes.

Now the philosophy you say you hold can't lose out explicitly, because that too has its price, but at minimum, your focus is changed. You bite at your critics and write articles about the "virtue of persistence" instead of the virtue of rationality, because like Boxer in Animal Farm, if we keep trying hard enough, even a problematic philosophy such as neo-conservatism can be made to work if you appeal to the virtues of its adherents.

Is this the case with TIA? Obviously I have my suspicions--enough to publish this post, even though the psychology is utterly speculative at best. Nevertheless, I think it is strong enough a theory to post for commentary.

Update: Cut out the line "living a tight existence and every dollar you bring in counts" from the 2nd paragraph. I decided that's too speculative to assign to my scenario, even though the scenario itself is speculative.

I'm trying to understand why TIA is taking its position--why, in the Wakeland post, it makes me and other Objectivists into the enemy. In thinking it over, I'm coming to the conclusion that it really doesn't matter. Most important is how it argues its position intellectually. The "why" is their problem, not mine.

No comments: