Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Open Thread: 'What can we be doing better' edition

So here's the question: we live in dangerous times. What can we be doing to better fight for our own freedom and better promote Objectivism?


Burgess Laughlin said...

> "What can we be doing to better fight for our own freedom and better promote Objectivism?"

I think that, in a way, your question answers itself. In the Aug. 1 and Aug. 8, 2008 posts for my weblog Making Progress, I make a case for "in-line activism," which means being an intellectual activist (or even a political activist) on one's own homeground, so to speak. For many individuals, this means applying what they have learned and experienced from their central purpose in life to their activism, and likewise focusing their activism on the biggest threats to their own central purpose in life.

So, instead of a medical doctor writing LTEs about anti-trust, she might be most effective fighting for her own career--by championing a free market in health care. Equally important, she might find the fight for her selfish personal interests to be far more enjoyable than dutifully fighting on issues supposedly more important to the "movement."

Of course, for anyone who has not clearly defined his central purpose in life, doing so probably should be his first order of business. I have posts on that too: May 20 and June 5, 2008.

Mark said...

First, one can't let the crushing weight of so much subjectivist irrationality weigh oneself down. Allowing oneself to become dejected and pessimistic is the same as giving up.

Second, I agree with the previous poster that one should take the fight to one's own neighborhood, industry, profession, community--somewhere that one's interests are clearly in play and where one can make an immediate, one-on-one impact. I think the issues are so muddied and misrepresented in the mainstream media that it's rigorous and repeated debate--albeit, polite and respectful--with one's neighbors, coworkers, colleagues, etc. that will have the most impact.

Third, certainly, start a blog and post the most rational content you can. Point out instances in the press where the current financial and political crises are being misrepresented and skewed. Point out examples of the good where you can find them.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, make sure you know your stuff before you start debating the finer points. It doesn't help to present arguments that don't hold up against the facts of reality. Everyone doesn't have to be a professional philosopher, but anyone who wants to make a point should understand at least the fundamentals before making it.

IchorFigure said...

In his cultural change lecture Yaron Brook talked about how advocates for other causes "wrote, and they wrote, and they wrote".

Like the poster above said. The counterpart is also true, keep yourself informed of your particular area of interest. Read, read, read.

Diana Hsieh said...

How about *not* post in the comments of Objectivist blogs? ;-)

(I do think that discussions like this are valuable, if they inspire action.)

Isaac said...

I have a question for every Objectivist reading this comment:

How many copies of Atlas Shrugged have you handed out during the past 90 days?

The number 90 was arbitrary, but the point should be clear.

I teach economics. I keep a box full of copies of Atlas Shrugged in my office. When I talk with a student and they sound like a good candidate, I give them a copy. Sometimes I give them a short sales pitch about it; sometimes that's not necessary.

I've been doing this for a few years now, and I've noticed something: almost nobody has heard of Atlas Shrugged. And when you use some common sense in choosing your recipients, they are thrilled to discover it.

I understand that my job makes it easier to hand out copies of a book. My recipients are (mostly) literate, already at least mildly interested in economics or politics, and it's not unusual or creepy for a teacher to give someone a book. But I think if most Objectivists looked a bit more carefully, they'd see a lot of opportunities in their own lives for handing out Atlases.

Here's a suggestion: Carry a copy of Atlas around with you during your weekly errands. When you're waiting in line or hanging around somewhere strike up a conversation with someone near you. It doesn't have to be obnoxious or creepy, but "feel them out." Don't argue with them or preach at them or anything like that. Just ask them what *they* think. If they're a good candidate, give them the book. That's it.

I also understand that Atlas Shrugged isn't cheap. But if you buy them buy the box (I think ~30 copies) from ARI you can get them at almost half price.

If every Objectivist who reads this blog bought one box of Atlases and made a serious effort to hand them all out within one year, we'd reach thousands of people. If you write an op-ed and a million people read it, that's great. But if you can get just 30 people to read Atlas Shrugged, you'll do a lot more to advance Objectivism.

New articles, op-eds, non-profit programs, and all that stuff may have some benefits. But over 60 years after Atlas Shrugged was published, the majority of Americans have still never heard of it, let alone read it (in my experience). I consider this a major embarrassment for the Objectivist movement.

What are you, as an individual, doing to solve this problem?

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...


I am not an objectivist, but reading Atlas right now is like reading the daily newspaper. The parallels are amazing, which tells me what a great writer Rand was--and that is the highest compliment I can give from my perspective. I have handed out several copies. I gave my daughter one, and she did not give it back, but after reading it , she passed that one on. Then I got another copy because I wanted to re-read it (I had not read it for 20 years). When I finished, I gave a copy to somebody at work who had asked about it. As Shakespeare said, "there is a tide," and I think it is coming in now. There are people who are definitely receptive to considering the current mess from a different perspective than previously.

Burgess Laughlin said...

> ". . . what a great writer Rand was . . ."

As an artist, she was the most accomplished novelist, ever. More importantly, she was a great thinker. She knew, for example, how to essentialize. That is why her 60-year old story applies today.

(For essentializing, see The Ayn Rand Lexicon for "Definitions" (which are formed by essentializing, in part).