Who can take any values seriously if he is offered, for moral inspiration, a choice between two images of youth: an unshaved, barefooted Harvard graduate, throwing bottles and bombs at policemen—or a prim, sun-helmeted, frustrated little autocrat of the Peace Corps, spoon-feeding babies in a jungle clinic?This is about Western culture (it's 45 years old, but still applies). Few people care about truth and reason. There are some loud people who claim to be free thinkers, but actually conform to gutter standards.
No, these are not representative of America’s youth—they are, in fact, a very small minority with a very loud group of unpaid p.r. [agents] on university faculties and among the press—but where are its representatives? Where are America’s young fighters for ideas, the rebels against conformity to the gutter—the young men of “inexplicable personal alchemy,” the independent minds dedicated to the supremacy of truth?
With very rare exceptions, they are perishing in silence, unknown and unnoticed. Consciously or subconsciously, philosophically and psychologically, it is against them that the cult of irrationality—i.e., our entire academic and cultural Establishment—is directed.
They perish gradually, giving up, extinguishing their minds before they have a chance to grasp the nature of the evil they are facing. In lonely agony, they go from confident eagerness to bewilderment to indignation to resignation—to obscurity. And while their elders putter about, conserving redwood forests and building sanctuaries for mallard ducks, nobody notices those youths as they drop out of sight one by one, like sparks vanishing in limitless black space; nobody builds sanctuaries for the best of the human species.
So will the young Russian rebels perish spiritually—if they survive their jail terms physically. How long can a man preserve his sacred fire if he knows that jail is the reward for loyalty to reason? No longer than he can preserve it if he is taught that that loyalty is irrelevant—as he is taught both in the East and in the West. There are exceptions who will hold out, no matter what the circumstances. But these are exceptions that mankind has no right to expect.
The people who care about ideas are discouraged because, wherever they look, it's hard to find anyone else who does. So they are isolated, and surrounded by a culture of irrationality. It wears them down and beats them up, and eventually they lose some of their confident eagerness, and start to see the evil in the world, and find it confusing and awful, and eventually they give up, alone. That's the standard story that happens to most of the best of the human species.
And (almost) no one cares. These bright young minds are not an object of sympathy and charity. Far more help goes to trees and ducks than to men with intellectual integrity. Isn't that awful?
Ayn Rand tried to help these people. I try, too. I pursue ideas publicly and offer the Fallible Ideas Discussion Group. There, people can experience rational discussion in an atmosphere that puts truth before conformity. They can see that some people take ideas seriously, and are eager for criticism and bold thinking. That can be part of their life. And they can learn about and ask questions about philosophy, liberalism, and any other topics.
A few men can hold purely to reason without help, alone, in a world that punishes them for it. But we must not rely on heroes like that for the future of humanity. We should lead the way and offer some better voices into the public discussion. There are people out there to hear reason, and appreciate it, and they could really use the help.
The Virtue of Selfishness, Doesn’t Life Require Compromise?:
The excuse, given in all such cases, is that the “compromise” is only temporary and that one will reclaim one’s integrity at some indeterminate future date. But one cannot correct a husband’s or wife’s irrationality by giving in to it and encouraging it to grow. One cannot achieve the victory of one’s ideas by helping to propagate their opposite. One cannot offer a literary masterpiece, “when one has become rich and famous,” to a following one has acquired by writing trash. If one found it difficult to maintain one’s loyalty to one’s own convictions at the start, a succession of betrayals—which helped to augment the power of the evil one lacked the courage to fight—will not make it easier at a later date, but will make it virtually impossible.If you aren't taking reason seriously NOW, when will you? How will waiting help? When will things be easier? Never. If you can't stick to principles now, spending a year compromising them won't help. If purity is tough now, how much harder will it be after you spend more time learning to live in a less pure way?
Lowering your standards temporarily is not how you get high standards. Your standards are never going to go back up. You'll get used to living with lower standards. You'll do more things which violate the higher standards. So, later, the higher standards will be more inaccessible than they were before.
Taking life seriously, and really insisting on the best right now, is the only way to live. Pursuing the truth with no boundaries is completely urgent. Do it now, or you never will.
Philosophy: Who Needs It, An Untitled Letter:
Like any overt school of mysticism, a movement seeking to achieve a vicious goal has to invoke the higher mysteries of an incomprehensible authority. An unread and unreadable book serves this purpose. It does not count on men’s intelligence, but on their weaknesses, pretensions and fears. It is not a tool of enlightenment, but of intellectual intimidation. It is not aimed at the reader’s understanding, but at his inferiority complex.It's so hard to stand up to authority after an entire childhood being bullied by your parents and teachers, and taught to obey authority, and punished for disobedience.
An intelligent man will reject such a book [like Rawl's A Theory of Justice or Kant's Critique of Pure Reason] with contemptuous indignation, refusing to waste his time on untangling what he perceives to be gibberish—which is part of the book’s technique: the man able to refute its arguments will not (unless he has the endurance of an elephant and the patience of a martyr). A young man of average intelligence—particularly a student of philosophy or of political science—under a barrage of authoritative pronouncements acclaiming the book as “scholarly,” “significant,” “profound,” will take the blame for his failure to understand. More often than not, he will assume that the book’s theory has been scientifically proved and that he alone is unable to grasp it; anxious, above all, to hide his inability, he will profess agreement, and the less his understanding, the louder his agreement—while the rest of the class are going through the same mental process. Most of them will accept the book’s doctrine, reluctantly and uneasily, and lose their intellectual integrity, condemning themselves to a chronic fog of approximation, uncertainty, self doubt. Some will give up the intellect (particularly philosophy) and turn belligerently into “pragmatic,” anti-intellectual Babbitts. A few will see through the game and scramble eagerly for the driver’s seat on the bandwagon, grasping the possibilities of a road to the mentally unearned.
Every "Because I said so" from a parent teaches the child to do things because the government said so, too. Or to believe things because Kant or Rawls said so.
Parents are so shortsighted. They are in a position of temporary power over their kid. To make the most of it, they demand universal obedience to authority from their kid. He ends up obeying many other authorities too, some of which they parents don't even like. And once the kid can read books and get access to ideas his parents don't control, he may well find some greater authority than his parents, so they begin losing control.
One of the saddest things is I have refuted a lot of awful ideas, carefully in writing which is publicly available. And what are the results? Hardly anyone wants it. I don't have Kant's authority. They go by authority, not understanding. So it doesn't matter if my arguments are better than Kant, they aren't thinking through the ideas. If it was effective, I'd be happy to untangle more gibberish. I still do it sometimes, but a man has to have some merit to seek out and benefit from the untangling. And it's hard to find many people with merit. Their parents and teachers attack their minds, and their culture tells them that's life and offers rolemodels who no man of intellectual integrity could seek to emulate.
Most of academia is like Rand describes, but on a smaller scale. Not many read it, but fewer will stand up to it. Most of it isn't as confusing as Kant's writing, but it's still awful and littered with gross errors. And when you try to tell people not to believe some "scientific" conclusion which they read second hand in a magazine, because the actual paper is crap, they don't want to think through the issues themselves and they don't want to take your word for it, they just want to accept the authority of academia and magazine writers.
See also my searches for other people discussing this stuff online. In summary, no one else cares.
Ayn Rand on whether ruling out whims leads to a joyless existence
Ayn Rand: The Playboy Interview (March, 1964):
> Playboy: Couldn’t the attempt to rule whim out of life, to act in a totally rational fashion, be viewed as conducive to a juiceless, joyless kind of existence?
> Rand: I truly must say that I don’t know what you are talking about. Let’s define our terms. Reason is man’s tool of knowledge, the faculty that enables him to perceive the facts of reality. To act rationally means to act in accordance with the facts of reality. Emotions are not tools of cognition. What you feel tells you nothing about the facts; it merely tells you something about your estimate of the facts. Emotions are the result of your value judgments; they are caused by your basic premises, which you may hold consciously or subconsciously, which may be right or wrong. A whim is an emotion whose cause you neither know nor care to discover. Now what does it mean, to act on whim? It means that a man acts like a zombie, without any knowledge of what he deals with, what he wants to accomplish, or what motivates him. It means that a man acts in a state of temporary insanity. Is this what you call juicy or colorful? I think the only juice that can come out of such a situation is blood. To act against the facts of reality can result only in destruction.
#15125 Great answer by AR. The technique she uses there is to *guess what the question is about*, because it doesn't give much information about what it means, it's quite vague (and she guesses well contrary to her claim not to know what the person is talking about). Then, after coming up with and clarifying a question, she answers it in a brief way which also deals with fundamentals and explains something about reality and about how AR thinks.
A difficulty with this method is people will deny their question means what you answered. This difficulty is prominent in discussions with equal social status. An interview with a high status person is a different situation.
#15126 Why are you so obsessed with status Curi?
> #15126 Why are you so obsessed with status Curi?
This is a fake question. The person isn't truth-seeking. He made a social attack veiled as a question. Note the use of the word "obsessed". I think it's common knowledge in our culture that being "obsessed" about stuff is bad.
A truth-seeking question would be like: "why do you focus your attention on status stuff, social dynamics, social climbing, etc?" This kind of question would lead to productive discussion.