In writing up my comments on the “village atheist” epithet this past fall, I noticed a striking similarity between that smear of the intellectually serious atheist and the common smears of principled, committed Objectivists as hysterical, moralizing, unthinking, cultish Randroids typically offered by many supporters of Nathaniel Branden, David Kelley, Chris Sciabarra, and the like.
In many cases, this kind of smear is broadly applied to long-time Objectivists, usually supporters of the Ayn Rand Institute, simply based upon their condemnations of and/or refusal to associate with people like David Kelley, Nathaniel Branden, Chris Sciabarra, and the like. Such judgments are often treated as absurd on their face, without regard for the cited facts about the philosophic ideas or moral history of the person. Apart from the laughable hypocrisy of that smear from those who so loudly proclaim tolerance as a virtue, the “Randroid” smear unjustly dismisses anyone who agrees with the whole of Objectivism as the intellectual equivalent of the overly-enthusiastic neophyte with all his bizarre misunderstandings and misapplications of Ayn Rand’s ideas. The smear implies that rational, thoughtful, independent, and honest agreement with Ayn Rand’s philosophy is not possible, not even an option. On that premise, any person who claims that for himself must be hopelessly deluded; he’s actually nothing more than a raving lunatic, dogmatic cultist, and abject slave to “Pope Lenny.”
Of course, no good reason for dismissing committed Objectivists on such outlandish terms is ever offered; it’s just asserted as a self-evident fact. Based upon stories I’ve heard over the years, I suspect more than a little projection — and shame — at work. Many such people once swallowed Objectivism whole in a rather dogmatic way, then later puked it up when it didn’t sit so well with them. They probably engaged in a great deal of “me-too” moralizing along the way. They are deeply ashamed of this “Randroid” phase, so much so that they cannot bear to examine it in the bright and honest light of reason. Instead, like Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, they blame Objectivism for that unpleasant time in their lives. They never consider whether they ought to have chewed the philosophy a bit rather than swallowing it whole. They never imagine that anyone might accept Objectivist principles except by their own dogmatic methods. Or rather, they refuse to consider and refuse to imagine that, since doing so would require them to take responsibility for their past dogmatism and moralizing, even if it was no more than an innocent error.
However, following Ellsworth Toohey’s advice, let’s not examine this folly further, but instead consider what it accomplishes. In essence, the “Randroid” smear of long-time Objectivists offers a false alternative of either (1) dogmatic agreement with every word that Ayn Rand ever wrote or (2) thoughtful criticism of various aspects thereof. Notice the major missing alternative: considered, thoughtful agreement with the philosophic principles that constitute Objectivism. In fact, Objectivism is not even understood by such people as a system of philosophy at all, i.e. as an integrated sum of interrelated principles. (That coheres well with David Kelley’s open system in which Objectivism is reduced to an arbitrary list of disconnected principles.) Usually, Objectivism is regarded as a grab-bag of assertions by that Ayn Rand on any topics whatsoever. (Inexcusably, Chris Sciabarra characterized the closed system view in those concrete-bound terms, saying that “many orthodox adherents seem to [believe] that Objectivism is strict adherence to every proposition ever uttered by Rand.” Chris continued to misrepresent the view of his opponents in various ways in the ensuing debate with Don Watkins, finally sort-of excusing his misrepresentations as part of the “give-and-take” of dialogue.)
The general smear of serious Objectivists as “Randroids” also helps people excuse their own intellectual vices. First, the smear rationalizes an unserious, careless approach to ideas by associating a solid commitment to principles with a rationalistic detachment of ideas from reality. (After all, philosophy is just an intellectual exercise with no serious real-life consequences for which intellectuals should be held responsible, right?) Second, the smear makes a virtue of disagreement with Ayn Rand by treating agreement with her as a sign of unthinking dogmatism. (After all, intellectual honesty and independence can be measured by the depth and breadth of your disagreements with another person, right?) Third, the smear denigrates a passionate commitment to objective morality by denouncing it as hysterical moralizing. (After all, we shouldn’t get all upset about the moral failings of others, since we’re not perfect either, right?)
Of course, I have something of a personal stake in exposing the nature of these kinds of smears, since I’m now a routine target of them. I don’t mind that much: mere insults don’t even register with me these days, except as a source of amusement. I’m more worried by the various fabrications about me circulating in dank corners. For example, that I must have some mysterious personal reasons for breaking with David Kelley and Nathaniel Branden since I’ve never bothered to explain any substantial philosophic reasons for doing so; that all my writings on the various false friends of Objectivism are nothing more than frantic attempts to ingratiate myself with ARI; that ARI and/or its associates demanded that I publicly denounce Chris Sciabarra; that I decided to live off the fat of the ARI hog TOC refused my demands for money and a job (!!); that I embraced the Objectivist orthodoxy because I couldn’t handle my own disturbing doubts about Objectivism raised in graduate school; that I baited Chris Sciabarra into giving me the name of the particular ARI scholar (about whom he lied for years) for the first time just recently; that I left TOC due to petty sulking over cuts to my favorite programs; that I’m seething with hatred for homosexuals despite my clear statements in “Dialectical Dishonesty“; that I’m unwilling to consider any philosophic issue unless discussed by Ayn Rand since I accept Objectivism as a “closed system”; that I’m the obedient slave of Linz Perigo (or vice versa); and so on. Yes, those are all real-life examples. And they are not just false, not just arbitrary, but outright fabrications. They’re vice united with fallacy: dishonest poisoning the well.
According to these “critics,” I didn’t actually change certain philosophic views on the basis of any semi-thoughtful reconsideration of the issues and texts, nor did I change my moral judgments of certain people in the light of new evidence and principles — not even mistakenly so. Instead, I somehow transformed myself from a reasonable, knowledgeable, and friendly intellectual into a half-crazed, deeply confused, and dogmatically moralistic Randroid. And I’ve somehow bullied my reasonable husband into agreeing with me, along with some other good folks. These “critics” are unwilling to consider any other option. Why? Because they are unwilling to seriously consider my arguments — and they need some convenient excuse not to do so. And perhaps they’ll be able to bamboozle some confused newbie with all their bluster if they refuse to acknowledge any legitimacy to my views.
A person relatively new to Objectivism, particularly if embarrassed by some of his own “Randroid” phase upon discovering Ayn Rand’s ideas, might be (mostly) honestly sucked into moral and intellectual unseriousness by the false alternatives presented by these “critics” of mine. He might conclude that unserious games are the only alternative to heavy rationalism, that disagreement is the only alternative to dogmatism, and that tolerance is the only alternative to moralizing. Unless such a person questions those false alternatives, he is sure to drift away from Objectivism in short order, likely thinking upon his brief brush with the philosophy as some embarrassing mistake.
That was the standard pattern at The Objectivist Center. Happily, it seems to be happening less often these days.