Zombie Objectivism, Part II

When I wrote my Zombie Objectivism post, what I had in mind with the "zombie metaphor" was the idea that despite Objectivism (the doctrine of mere selfishness rationalized to seem like a grand philosophy) being declared dead with the collapse of the economy it wrought and the admission before congress of its most powerful apostle, Alan Greenspan, that his entire worldview was wrong, we should not expect it to go away -- it will persist, "undead," but still roaming around, seeking brains. I argued the ways in which it is like (it is) a religion, in that its adherents are impervious to reason, and suggested we be vigilant against its inevitable return, which we can expect to be as destructive as ever.


I hadn't really thought about the other "zombie connotations": the mindless pursuit, the repetition of the same idea over and over again, the simple annoyance (almost comic, like a houseguest that won't leave, or a 12 year old that won't stop talking), nor had I considered that a kind zombie objectivist might come and stalk the comments thread as though to tap-dance morosely to the very tune I'd been trying to remember: ah yes, that's what it looks like! Thank you! Did everyone see that?

The disingenuous arguments thrown up madly like flak in a warzone, the verbiage by gross tonnage dumped, the rhetorical baiting followed by righteous indignation and a quick scramble to the top of the high horse: we've seen this all before. The objectivist, live or undead, has always been marked by a simple inability to see that others perceive her bullshit, or an inability to care. The person she is conversing with concludes (rightly) that this person either holds me in low esteem or simply doesn't care what I think; now who would bother to argue with a person like that?

So the reasoned person does not. And the objectivist, whose only goal was "winning" anyway (and certainly not truth), walks away smugly believing she has once again "triumphed" -- a sad delusion that will lead the misguided fool to an even greater persistence with the same sorry ideas the next time it comes up. The rest of us would pity the poor soul, but when someone so strains and mocks the bonds of human sympathy, most resist throwing good pity after bad.

But most of us know: reasoned thought does not begin with a theory and then set out to prove itself right. Reasoned thought begins with evidence and seeks a theory; if it has a theory, it sets out to prove that theory wrong. Once the theory has been proved wrong, it seeks a new theory with new evidence. To do otherwise is mere rationalization, not reason (even if it is logical -- things may be both logical and wrong), and it impresses none but the fool.

In my original post I mentioned (and provided links to) some of the universe of evidence that has emerged in recent years as a result of skeptical research which one has difficulty reconciling with Ayn Rand's ideas. If the woman were alive today, she would no doubt know all about this stuff, and she would have tailored her theories around it. But she lived prior to this research, knew nothing of it, didn't account for it, and her work, as a result, does not describe the world we know in 2008; it describes what we knew of the mid-20th Century, when we knew less.

Probably the single most laughably-arrogant attribute of the objectivist is the attitude that she knows something you don't, and if only you listen to her and learn what she knows, you will think like she does. This is laughable because the "philosophy" she espouses is fairly obvious -- only the rationalizing of it is complex -- and because most of us are already familiar with it, and also because it never seems to occur to her that you might know something she doesn't.

Like this:

We do not control our own minds. Scientists researching decision-making have discovered that our minds make decisions subconsciously, and, afterwards, we tell ourselves that it was our idea. Free will is a perception, not a reality.

In fact, humans are so out of control of their own minds that they can be switched from positive to negative and back again simply by being handed a warm or cold object.

But it doesn't matter, because group IQ is far more important than individual IQ: a chimp is more intelligent than a baboon, but a society of chimps is dumber than a society of baboons, because baboons are more inter-dependent, and chimps are more individual -- and while chimps are going extinct, baboons are thriving to the extent they are considered "pests" (unfair invective for a species whose only crime is success).

As Dan Gilbert says (and his research shows), one of the many things we share in common with each other is the false belief that we are each unique -- in fact, most of us make the same decisions, have the same likes and dislikes, and our happiness isn't at all dependent on what we do, how we live, or what fortune we attain in life.

In one of Howard Bloom's books, he describes a study done on a group of boy scouts at camp: they found that each group of 4 boys housed together fell into 4 roles: the leader, the enforcer, the nerd, and the clown. When the experimenters decided, halfway through the study, to re-arrange the boys by role, they discovered that in a cabin peopled by 4 former leaders, 1 became an enforcer, 1 a nerd, and 1 a clown -- immediately. In a cabin peopled by 4 former enforcers, 1 became a leader, 1 a nerd, and 1 a clown. Even the former nerds rearranged so that one was a leader and one an enforcer and so on. In any society there is a minority of people who laze about and take advantage of the work of others. (This includes societies of ants and bees.) Reorganize the hardest-workers into a separate society, and the same percentage of diligent-Dannies will become lazy.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. If your mind is open to the scary reality, there's a lot out there to learn.

In all of these experiments no one set out to disprove mankind's individuality or find excuses for lazy people -- in fact, most of them set out to prove the opposite. Yet the results came in and our knowledge base expanded, and we learned these things about mankind: our idealized vision of ourselves is wrong. We are socially-interdependent animals who could survive about as well separated from human society as my foot would survive without the rest of me. We should not be faulted or praised for the roles we play, because we do not choose them, and if we play them well, it is to benefit the society, the body made of us all, not ourselves, because we will be happy or unhappy at the same levels, either way.

EDIT/ADDED: another apt use of the zombie metaphor, on another religious meme, from Pharyngula.

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