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Objective vs. Subjective Egoism

[Note: The Independent Individualist avoids addressing personalities whenever possible, because it is ideas, not those who hold them, that matters. This article does mention two personalities however, because they are the source of the ideas quoted and addressed.]

Many people are attracted to Objectivism because it is the philosophy of egoism. It says your life is yours to live and enjoy as you please, no one has a right to tell you what to do or not to do, and you have a right to live your life any way you choose. It is not all Objectivism says, however. It does not say you can live any way you choose without consequence; it says, you are free to live as you choose, but you, and only you are responsible for how you live it, and if you choose incorrectly, you, and only you, should suffer the consequences.

Objectivism is the philosophy of egoism, but there are two kinds of egoism. Those who understand and embrace both the freedom and responsibility aspects of egoism are objective egoists. Those who embrace the freedom aspect but either do not understand or do not totally accept the responsibility aspect of egoism are subjective egoists.

Two Kinds of Egoists

The objective egoist knows he can never defy reality, never act irrationally, never make a choice based on anything other than a clear rational understanding of why he makes the choices he does; because only his reason is capable of understanding reality, and to allow anything else to determine his choices is a defiance of reality itself and will surely result in disaster.

A subjective egoist's emphasis on the freedom, implicitly evades acknowledging the responsibility aspect of freedom, because it holds that some choices do not require reason, that sometimes something other than reason is a valid basis for choices and actions. A subjective egoist accepts the lie that something other than reason can determine what is right, that sometimes, "the 'heart,' 'electricity,' 'sexual chemistry' ... has reasons which ... the mind knows not of" and, therefore, sometimes yielding to whim, or passion, or desire, without reason, because it is their desire, or passion, or whim, will let them get away with choosing and acting without a clear objective reason.

[Note: The words, "the 'heart,' 'electricity,' 'sexual chemistry' ... has reasons which ... the mind knows not of," are quoted from the article, "'Romance and Rationalism' Revisited and Revised," which is an argument by the self-styled Objectivist, Lindsay Perigo, for homosexuality being objective and normal. Perigo is the subjectivist egoist used as the example throughout this article, which is a true history of the facts in this case.]

Subjective Egoists Hate Objective Egoists

A subjectivist egoist despises an objective egoist because the objective egoist's very life is an indictment of the subjectivist egoist's irrationality. This hatred of the rational extends even to fictional characters: "I have to say I'm not entirely enamoured of the character of Howard Roark. I don't imagine I would enjoy his company at dinner." He might claim some spurious reason for his dislike, such as that Howard Roark does not laugh, but the real reason he does not like the Roark character is because Roark is Rand's archetype of the objective egoist, and being a subjective egoist, he cannot bear the idea of an individual being totally certain of all their own choices and actions.

The objective egoist always knows why he thinks what he thinks, chooses what he chooses, and does what he does, and never requires anyone else's understanding, agreement, or approval of his choices and actions. It is the objective egoist's self-assured independence, his total certainty in all his choices and actions, and his contempt for the opinion or approval of others the subjective egoist cannot bear.

The subjective egoist cannot bear it, because he is never totally certain about any of his choices and actions, because so many of his choices and actions are determined by his feelings and emotions, not his reason. He only knows he has a "right" to do what he chooses to do, and he has chosen to let his whims and desires control him, and cannot understand why he does not feel free. He needs the approval of others as the only means he has of knowing what he chooses and does is right.

People Who Need People

Subjective egoists need people. They need the approval of others to assure them what they think, and choose, and believe, and do is right because they do not have reason to tell them—they only have their "heart," or their, "electricity," their desires, feelings, and whims, which do not tell them if they are right or not, only what they "feel" they want. This need for people manifests itself in various ways—most often it shows up as an overwhelming desire to belong, to have the approval of those one identifies as peers, but most of all, it seeks approval of some authority.

Less commonly, the subjectivist egoist's need for approval shows up as an overwhelming desire to control others, to influence, and lead. It provides the subjectivist egoist with approval in the form of an argument—"I must be right, all these people are willing and eager to follow me and recognize me as a leader and authority." This kind of subjective egoist becomes the authority the other kind seeks for approval. It's a marriage made in subjectivist hell. It's proper name is mutual parasitism, and the relationship between them is a kind of psychological symbiosis.

Leading From Behind

The subjective egoist "leader" is seldom original or creative and frequently changes course, because they have no central principles of their own. The ruling principle of their lives is to control and influence others, and they will adopt any ideology, or variation thereof, they are convinced is currently influential and they can use. Almost always, their self-assessment is unrealistic and they frequently see themselves as saviors of the whole world.

The subjectivist egoist might, for example, embrace communism if he thinks it is useful. Then sensing the self-defeating nature of communism, he might be converted to its opposite, like Objectivism, which becomes his new doctrine with which he is going to save the world.

The subjective egoist has trouble deciding which version of Objectivism he is promoting, however, because he is always looking for the one he thinks he can take over and use for his own ends. He probably begins by supporting the ARI version, but on discovering ARI supports Objectivism as originally explicated by Rand, and nothing else, he realizes no one is going to "take over" that brand of Objectivism, so he switches to the TOC (The Objectivist Center now called Atlas Society) version, which is already a "reinterpretation" of Objectivism. Since TOC already has it's own subjectivist egoists determined to run that version, our subjectivist egoist will repudiate them and take up the most perverted version of objectivism of all—the one invented by the haters of the author of Objectivism, the Brandens. As both Brandens, but especially Barbara, would learn, when they are both totally denounced, the subjectivist egoist uses people, as well as ideologies, for his own ends and when he's through with them, he does everything in his power to repudiate and demolish them.

[NOTE: The links above are to a site called The Rebirth of Reason, but the material is from Lindsay Perigo's SOLO, the result of another political split by Objectivists.]

Hedonism By Any Other Name

Subjective egoism always devolves to hedonism. Hedonism is the specific philosophical view, "that is good which gives me pleasure or makes me happy, just because it gives me pleasure," and, therefore, "I ought to do what I desire, because that will make me happy."

The hedonism of the subjective egoist is the worst kind, because it attempts to mix hedonism with Objectivism, to give equal weight to reason and desire as modes of cognition. It says, "yes we have to use our reason," but, "we must also listen to our feelings, desires, and emotions."

But "emotions are not tools of cognition; to be guided by whims—by desires whose source, nature and meaning one does not know—, is to turn oneself into a blind robot, operated by unknowable demons (by one's stale evasions), a robot knocking its stagnant brains out against the walls of reality which it refuses to see." [Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, "The Objectivist Ethics"]

Hedonism always produces the opposite of that which is its objective, hedonism is always self-destructive. It is that aspect of hedonism the subjectivist egoist always evades. Since no one has ever more clearly explicated the self-destructive nature of hedonism than Ayn Rand, I quote her:

"This is the difference between my morality and hedonism. The standard is not: "that is good which gives me pleasure, just because it gives me pleasure" (which is the standard of the dipsomaniac or the sex-chaser)—but "that is good which is the expression of my moral values, and that gives me pleasure." Since the proper moral code is based on man's nature and his survival, and since joy is the expression of his survival, this form of happiness can have no contradiction in it, it is both 'short range' and 'long range' (as all of man's life has to be), and it leads to the furtherance of his life, not to his destruction." [The Journals of Ayn Rand "Notes While Writing: 1947-1952"]

"An emotion is an automatic response, an automatic effect of man's value premises. An effect, not a cause. There is no necessary clash, no dichotomy between man's reason and his emotions—provided he observes their proper relationship. A rational man knows—or makes it a point to discover—the source of his emotions, the basic premises from which they come; if his premises are wrong, he corrects them. He never acts on emotions for which he cannot account, the meaning of which he does not understand. In appraising a situation, he knows why he reacts as he does and whether he is right. He has no inner conflicts, his mind and his emotions are integrated, his consciousness is in perfect harmony. His emotions are not his enemies, they are his means of enjoying life. But they are not his guide; the guide is his mind. This relationship cannot be reversed, however. If a man takes his emotions as the cause and his mind as their passive effect, if he is guided by his emotions and uses his mind only to rationalize or justify them somehow—then he is acting immorally, he is condemning himself to misery, failure, defeat, and he will achieve nothing but destruction—his own and that of others." ["Playboy's interview with Ayn Rand," pamphlet, page 6]

Reality, The Ultimate Arbiter

I said, "The objective egoist knows he can never defy reality, never act irrationally, never make a choice based on anything other than a clear rational understanding of why he makes the choices he does; because only his reason is capable of understanding reality, and to allow anything else to determine his choices is a defiance of reality itself and will surely result in disaster." Subjectivist egoists attempt to smear this view as "rationalism," to evade the fact that their own subjectivity is ultimately self-destructive—but reality cannot be evaded.

Just such a subjectivist argument was recently attempted on The Autonomist Forum, defending a certain lifestyle. The only arguments unique to that particular behavior were hedonist in nature, appealing to being "well-adjusted and happy and confident," as an indication of right choices. Happiness is the result of right choices, but apparent happiness is not proof of right choice. Happiness is the objective, not the standard by which one achieves it.

[Note: "The Autonomist Forum," was hacked and has long been defunct. These are the words of James Valliant my comments refer to:

"But let me tell you that the most well-adjusted and happy and confident person I've known well was my gay brother, Wayne. He didn't need to prove anything to anybody. He never knew the closet, but he also never marched in parades. He did not adopt a personality "off-the-rock" from the tired cliche department. He voted Republican, was a big football fan, was comfortable in any crowd. He knew how to love like few are ever able to love. He had happily settled into a very stable and very monogamous, long-term relationship of many years when he was diagnosed with AIDS, having, it seems, been infected before the world or he really knew about it.

"Yeah, his sex-life killed him. But I know his context: he was a moral and responsible man. He was a man of Zen-like contentment and ecstatic joys and mischievous humor. He was happy." Emphasis mine.]

But the entire argument was refuted by reality. The very end included these poignant words: "Yeah, his sex-life killed him."

A rational code of values "is both 'short range' and 'long range' (as all of man's life has to be), and it leads to the furtherance of his life, not to his destruction."

—(12/21/05)