Cosmic Gambling and Decentralization

Pair of Dice

The success of decentralized power is dependent upon our all being cosmic gamblers. Not only that, but this inherent gambling nature is also the reason that there has never been a better alternative.

In other words, people producing things and trading them free of restriction would not be successful if we didn’t have a process of wager-making to drive the way we analyze everything. This may also be the reason why historical attempts to impose control on production and trade have resulted in disaster. Earlier, I explained how I think this “wager” process works. I submit that whenever we form a belief about p, we are betting that p is confirmed. Simultaneously, we adopt the risk that p is shown to be false. Testing to find out when we are wrong is a crucial component of living life because it serves as the primary method by which we discover what works and what doesn’t.

If this is truly the current state of human beings, then it seems that we should want to have society situated to maximize the benefits of this pseudo-scientific process of testing. I propose that the way to maximize it is to adhere to the principle of decentralization — of limiting the restrictions on and forceful interventions in the lives of the people. This way, we can see more results from more individuals who carry on with their tests, expanding the realm of what we consider possible. And ultimately, the innovation that results from this general state of affairs would bring about the greatest degree of prosperity for society relative to the alternatives.

Suppose that I am an entrepreneur and I want to create a start-up company that sells an online platform with which people can record music. When I develop my idea, every single assumption I make is something that I would (literally) be putting my money on. I assume that my future product will be useful to enough musicians to be profitable. I assume that I will be able to successfully market my product to a wide enough audience. I also assume that I can come up with a cost-structure that enough people will be willing accept in order to use my product. Then I can test all those assumptions by, for instance, polling the opinions of a bunch of musicians with regard to what they think about this kind of product.

Remember, this wager-making process isn’t only applicable when developing a start-up. It is the way we test all our beliefs.  Say I want to go see “Man of Steel 2” in theaters, and I observe online that there is a show-time scheduled for 8:10 PM. Based on this information, I can develop a hypothesis that if I go to the theater, buy a ticket, and sit down in the assigned room, I will be able to watch Ben Affleck‘s performance as Batman on the big screen. Then I can go do all those things, look at my watch as it flips over to “8:10” around the same time the pre-movie trailers are starting, and I will be pretty confident that I was right to bet on my assumption.

A political system that promotes this behavior takes a hands-off approach when it comes to intervention in the lives of people. Using coercion to enforce certain regulations as the norm largely prevents people from placing certain wagers and testing them, which is arguably the most important action that benefits society. The more regulation there is, the more limited regular people are in this capacity.

For example, take the issue of occupational licensing. In essence, this is a piece of paper from a state government that gives one permission to work in a certain field. The reasoning behind such certification is usually related to safety. Lawmakers want to make sure that people are qualified so that they will not bring harm to their customers. This sounds great as far as the intentions are concerned, but in practice, the fact that interior designers, shampooers, florists, home entertainment installers, and more work their craft safely without licenses in plenty of different states is evidence that such licensure is unnecessary. What it effectively does is erect obstacles that delay or block entrepreneurs willing to test their ideas. As a result, there are fewer people in each of these fields that can incentivize one another to innovate through competition.

A more poignant example can be found in public schooling. The evidence is overwhelming that the predominantly public K-12 education system in the United States has been failing hard. While there are attempts at innovation, the structures of control are centralized into bureaucratic school boards. As a result, we have administrators — often with very little experience as educators — developing top-down plans to revamp broken systems. Furthermore, standardization seems to take precedence over models in which power is diffuse. The obsession with standardized tests and common core legislation limits the innovation that can take place at the grassroots level.

The best alternatives in the U.S. can currently be found in school choice initiatives like charter schools. These schools are publicly-funded but typically freer of government regulations. The idea is to allow teachers at these schools more room to test their ideas. Moreover, giving students more options to choose between different educational options provides more incentive for teachers to develop effective methods of teaching in order to attract students. Even in Finland, which has strictly public schools, the suggestion is that teachers need flexibility on the ground as opposed to top-down control: “…the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher.” This hints that the success is not found necessarily in the method of funding, but in the decentralized structure of planning, which frees teachers from regulatory constraints.

The key point here is that central planning is simply antithetical to the wager-making process that is essential to understanding the world around us and thus, bringing about prosperity in society. People will always go about this process. The goal is to foster the conditions under which it can reach its maximum potential. I am convinced that those conditions involve as much decentralization of power as possible, both economic and otherwise.

Reclaiming the Dream

402px-Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._and_Lyndon_JohnsonWhat follows is a guest post by a good friend of mine. In anticipation of President Obama’s speech today, this piece strives to summarize an accurate picture of Dr. King’s moral beliefs and reveal an important contrast with United States foreign policy.

Today, America commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, during which civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King’s words boomed across America, piercing the soul of a torn nation. Racial tensions simmered under the surface of American society for centuries, and in 1963 these wounds tore open. Alabama Governor George Wallace started his term by defiantly declaring, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!”; thousands of African-Americans – including Dr. King – were arrested during protests organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor unleashed dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators; Civil rights leader Medgar Evers was murdered. Week after week Americans witnessed the horrors of segregation and discrimination play out on their televisions, broadcasting to the world that our professed values of freedom and justice were being systematically denied to the African-American community.

Central to Dr. King’s philosophy was the powerful tool of non-violent resistance. Inspired by Christ and Gandhi, Dr. King believed lasting equality could only be achieved through non-violent means and that the power of love and dignity would always outweigh hate and bitterness. Most importantly, Dr. King’s living and writing highlighted the fallacy of using violence to overcome violence because he believed that when people imitate the immoral actions of their oppressors, even if in self-defense, all moral standing is lost, and a vicious cycle of injustice is perpetuated. After the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. King reflects on the successful power of non-violent resistance:

True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power…Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart…Non-violence resistance [is] one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their quest for social justice.

Dr. King eventually extended this moral vision even further and joined the anti-war movement. While Dr. King’s struggle against oppression and social injustice began here in America, his moral vision extended beyond our borders and he became an outspoken critic of American aggression in the Vietnam War. He saw no moral difference between police brutality on the streets of Montgomery and the massacre in My Lai—between the torture of African-Americans imprisoned in Mississippi and the torture of Vietnamese civilians in the Mekong Delta.

On April 4, 1967, Dr. King delivered a speech at Riverside Church in New York City entitled “A Time to Break Silence,” in which he decried the indiscriminate violence against the people of Vietnam perpetrated by the United States and called for a radical revolution of values in the hearts of the American citizens and policy makers:

The Nobel Prize for Peace was a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of man. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances… Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood… A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death…We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

When Dr. King was criticized for joining the antiwar movement, particularly because critics saw him solely as a civil rights leader, he replied:

I have worked too long now, and too hard to get rid of segregation in public accommodations to turn back to the point of segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And wherever I see injustice, I’m going to take a stand against it whether it’s in Mississippi or in Vietnam.

In this speech we see Dr. King not as an African-American, but as a citizen of the world; his universal moral vision not reserved for a particular political party, race, religion, or country, but for all humanity; his firm convictions transcending the African-American community and embracing the oppressed around the globe.

This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept — so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force — has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life…We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

As we pause to commemorate Dr. King’s dream, it raises the question: What would he say about our current wars and the state of American foreign policy? Would he support the means we’re using to pursue peace, justice, and democracy at home and abroad?

While many of the realities of The War on Terror have been known for years, the extent to which we have lost our humanity was not fully understood until U.S. Army Pfc. Manning released classified material to the website WikiLeaks in 2010—vivid specifics of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter in Iraq firing on a group of civilian journalists, descriptions of torture and imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay, as well as the grueling details of the large number of Iraqi and Afghani civilian casualties. Before commencing a 35-year prison sentence, Manning wrote a letter to President Obama:

In our efforts to meet the risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability. In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.

Last month, Dr. Cornel West, an African-American professor at Union Theological Seminary, author, and civil rights advocate was asked to speculate what Dr. King would say on the 50th Anniversary celebration of the March on Washington. Dr. West said:

The irony is…Brother Martin would not be invited to the very march in his name, because he would talk about drones…Do you think anybody at that march will talk about drones and the drone president?… Bush was the capture-and-torture president. Now we’ve got the targeted killing president, the drone president. That’s not progress. That’s not part of the legacy of Martin King… Will the connection between drones, new Jim Crow, prison-industrial complex, attacks on the working class, escalating profits at the top, be talked about and brought together during that march? I don’t hold my breath. But Brother Martin’s spirit would want somebody to push it.

Dr. King frequently criticized US Presidents in his lifetime, even those championing the cause of civil rights. President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was an ally for the African-American community, yet Dr. King opposed Johnson’s support of the Vietnam War. Similarly, while I believe Dr. King would be proud of our nation for electing an African-American to the highest office in the land, he would not hesitate to condemn the massive violence the administration has perpetuated. His moral principle of non-violent resistance would compel him to once again join hands with those condemning the War on Terror.

I believe Dr. King would speak out against the force feeding of inmates in Guantanamo Bay; the drones buzzing over Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, dropping bombs on teachers and children; the thousands of American service members who have died in Afghanistan; the thousands more American and NATO soldiers returning without limbs; the American-made tear gas and weapons used against democratic demonstrators in the Middle East. I believe Dr. King’s words would once again boom across our National Mall and echo through our Capitol dome, calling on our leaders to invest not in weapons of violence but in the wellbeing of humanity. I believe Dr. King’s voice would fill the Oval Office, reminding our President that pursuing peace through war will never, in the end, accomplish what he and others hope. It will only breed hate and bitterness.

Above all, I believe Dr. King would call on us to not let divisions of race, religion, creed or nation force us to abandon our humanity; to not let the seeds of hate grow into jungles of violence. I believe he would unwaveringly declare that injustice anywhere is truly a threat to justice everywhere. I believe he would ask us to see that the bullets killing our children in Newtown and Sanford are the same bullets killing children in Kabul and Baghdad; to see that the tears of the widowed military-wife in Yonkers are the same tears of the widows in Yemen; to see that the hopelessness that races through the mind of the young Afghani in Kandahar who straps a bomb to his chest is the same hopelessness in the mind of the returned soldier in Kansas who puts a gun to his head; to see that the citizens stopped and frisked on the streets of New York are the same citizens frisked at checkpoints in Kunduz.

Fifty years ago today, a dream was planted into the collective conscience of our nation, a dream that spoke to the very core of our social ills and global injustices, a dream founded on the idea of rejecting aggression and courageously confronting evil with the power of love. Once this moral philosophy is applied consistently at home and abroad, we can build a world Dr. King would be proud of.

President Barack Obama tours the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C., Oct. 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The Inherent Plight of the Advocacy for Economic Freedom

Frédéric Bastiat

Frédéric Bastiat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Western world, it seems for the most part that we have accepted a certain dichotomy with regard to economic policy. On one side of the coin we have top-down control via intervention of the state, inherently coercive in nature. On the other we have individuals exchanging and contracting with each other absent coercive intervention. In the past decade, American public opinion about government power has shifted. Before 2005, Gallup polls showed that some 42% believed the state has too much power, while 49% believed it was about the right amount. The most recent polls show 54% of Americans now believe the government has too much power, and only 36% think it is the right amount.

It has become increasingly clear that the U.S. government has stepped outside of what a majority of Americans think is the correct role of government. The outlook of the Obama Administration so far in 2013 to this end has been especially awful (the NSA, the IRS, the AP scandal, the wild goose chase for Snowden, etc). One would think that it is an opportune time for liberty-based advocates to capitalize on the situation by pitching the argument for economic freedom. It may very well be. However, there are a few roadblocks that make the argument inherently difficult to pitch.

(1) Generally speaking, the argument for the free market is a long-run argument for more work and more individual responsibility. This goes against a strong inclination to take the most expedient path, which entails losing some individual responsibility and delegating some freedom to others in order to supposedly make things easier in the short-term.

I believe it is human nature to seek efficiency—to seek the path of least resistance (something I will substantiate in writing down the road). This is both a blessing and a curse. While it serves as the basis for innovation, it can also lead to short-sighted decisions that have unforeseen consequences.

It is much more expedient for me to take from others in order to fulfill my needs than to put work in, risking failure. When the government provides bailouts, welfare, or jobs that pay at a higher rate than market price, it is difficult not to accept. Why should I invest my time in risky business expansion, when it takes much less effort to succeed in a lobbying deal?

When the information is extremely localized, it almost seems rational to accept. However, when the pool of information is broadened to the point at which the source of that hand-out is discovered, the decision becomes morally difficult. If I figure out that what I receive originally came from a collective pool that everyone is forced to pay into through taxation, I may change my decision about what to do because my conscience begins throwing up red flags. But even then, that is no guarantee that I will change my mind. I could choose to flout my principle that it is immoral to use resources taken from others by force. I might even rationalize the decision by saying something to the effect of, “Well, I may as well take back what I put in. And besides, what’s done is done. I can’t exactly give the money back, and somebody has to use it.”

This can be a difficult calculation to make. The long-term benefits of forgoing short-term benefits is not immediately clear, and the responsibility is quite diffuse. This relates closely to my second point:

(2) It is easier to comprehend the good that comes from government intervention than the bad. Thus, the justification for more government intervention may consist of simple empirical and anecdotal evidence which can appeal to a wide audience, while the argument for less intervention requires more causally complex evidence and theory.

The first aspect of this is that responsibility is removed from any individual when property rights are removed. This makes it nearly impossible to comprehend what a person should do with property that “everyone” owns. This is called the Tragedy of the Commons. It ultimately becomes the case that no one owns the property. Taxes, as public property, invites use without discretion.

The Tragedy of the Commons helps to paint an excellent illustration of my second point that is two-fold. First, the ambiguous responsibility makes it more difficult to see the downsides to the policy, since it doesn’t appear at first glance that anyone is doing anything ethically wrong.  Second, concepts like this are not immediately comprehensible. While this theory is very pertinent, it takes some serious abstraction on the part of the individual. It requires one to think consciously about how the Tragedy is applicable.

On the other hand, typical arguments for government intervention require very little conscious thought. If I see that welfare helped my neighbor get out of poverty or that Medicare allowed for my grandmother to live longer, I will have an urge to chalk one up for government aid. These examples are clear and easy to understand. They can even be quantified in a very simple way: “The government helped x-people in y-regard.” It takes extra mental work to connect the longer causal chain required to recognize the transaction cost, the opportunity cost, and the unintended consequences of helping x-people. For most, it takes some dedicated time to grasp new theories—time that they would rather spend doing things they find more pressing or entertaining.

This relates to Bastiat’s concept of the Seen and Unseen. He provides an example, as follows:

“When a government official spends on his own behalf one hundred sous more, this implies that a taxpayer spends on his own behalf one hundred sous the less. But the spending of the government official is seen, because it is done; while that of the taxpayer is not seen, because—alas!—he is prevented from doing it.”

In other words, the product as a result of government spending is visible because, well, it happened. Meanwhile, the spending that could have happened otherwise by the citizen—the opportunity cost—is something that did not happen. Unintended consequences have similar optics. For instance, federal subsidies in agriculture seem great because they seem like they are helping people. However, when the subsides are such that only big corporate farms benefit, it takes extra effort to connect the causal chain to the smaller farms that have less opportunity to grow and compete with the newly advantaged corporate farms. The reason, put simply, is because the more equitable state of affairs that could have existed without the subsidies does not exist.

Thus, the argument for economic freedom is consistently framed as “idealistic” and “reactionary”—as an argument against the current state of affairs. The “idealist” characterization is based upon a faulty understanding of the term. The “reactionary” characterization should not be considered a problem, but many seem to take issue with it for no apparent reason. The correction of these misunderstandings would no doubt be a daunting task, but it pales in comparison to the last point that I wish to make:

(3) An entity that provides an increasing number of key services creates increasing dependency and therefore, aligned incentives with society to promote the growth of redistribution and control. Like a drug or severe affliction, the removal of the problem creates immediate and clear harm to the user. In similar fashion to the second point, the bad that comes from removing the government benefit is much easier to comprehend than the good.

Both the first and second problems are compounded in the third. In the first, I propose that it is part of human nature to seek the path of least resistance. Addiction is one of the primary manifestations of this, in which decisions are marked by short-term upsides connected with long-term downsides. Government handouts and services of all forms create the potential for a situation in which the recipients of aid become so accustomed to the benefit, that removing it would cause visible harm.

The addiction-mentality is fairly prevalent among big businesses who receive corporate welfare, for instance, but it also can be found in those who provide the welfare. Offering benefits for certain actions will incentivize people to partake in those actions (tax breaks). If it would be more inconvenient to lose those benefits than not for each individual recipient, then there would be reasonable incentive to develop ways to perpetuate and defend those benefits (lobbyists). If lawmakers get votes, funding, and political sway from the recipients, then they are incentivized to continue writing laws that give people benefits (cronyism). And the vicious cycle spins madly on.

What makes this position even more difficult is that the government also provides benefits to people who are supposedly in need. Am I saying that the impoverished are scum who have addiction problems?? How dare I!!

My answer is that it isn’t really for me to say. Being “addicted” to welfare wouldn’t be any more or less “addiction” than being addicted to coffee or smoking; a mild addiction to exercise could be a good thing. The problem is that the policy carries the risk of creating vast addiction—regardless of the recipients—that will culminate into a debt crisis and hurt everyone. Welfare to those truly in need does not concern me. Welfare for those who are not in need and welfare that creates more who are in need are my two primary concerns.

The above is not an immediately compelling side to take. The inclination of most every-day people is to believe that we should all try to help others in need. (At least, I would like to think that this is the case.) Attempting to explain how some of those people don’t actually need things is a much more difficult position to take, even if more reasonable. Attempting to explain how there are more effective alternatives for helping people in need is also difficult because of problem two; the current state of affairs is seen, and the alternative is unseen.

The way in which the argument can be twisted creates trouble for advocates of economic freedom in framing their stance. But the biggest issue at hand is more structural than anything. The way that government redistributes wealth misaligns the good that can come from the desire to self-sustain on the premise of free and mutual exchange. It adds new malincentives into the game that pressure people to take from a collective pot of debt and divert resources into defending their ability to continue doing so. The more that people fall into this trap, the harder it is for advocates of freedom to change minds because of addiction-mentality, other aspects of human nature, and knowledge problems regarding what is seen and unseen. Yet there is still some hope that individuals are beginning to recognize that centrally-planned economic policy is rarely the most efficient or the most equitable option.

Examining Objectivism

I consider myself an Objectivist-sympathizer I suppose. I don’t adhere to all of the conclusions of Ms. Rand, but I do agree with the most important tenets. I began studying Objectivism in more detail during my junior year of undergrad thanks to a friend, and it has been extremely uplifting and positive. I just recently purchased a copy of Philosophy: Who Needs It?, but it is sitting on the back burner.

What is Objectivism, Ayn?

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

There are five components to the study of philosophy in the Objectivist view: Metaphysics, Epistemology, Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics. Metaphysics and Epistemology form the basis for understanding Ethics, while it, in turn, serves as the basis for Politics and Aesthetics.

Metaphysics is the study of the universe at its most primary level, and it begins with three axioms: existence, consciousness, and identity. These axioms are supposedly justified by the notion that one must accept and use them in order to make an attempt at denying them.

Epistemology is the study of knowledge and how we know. There is no a priori knowledge according to Objectivism, or knowledge prior to experience. We can only know things after we differentiate the data from our perceptions and integrate them into concepts.

Ethics is the study of what is right and wrong. Objectivism tells us, contrary to popular belief, that selfishness is the primary standard for what is virtuous rather than altruism. If you are looking for a heavy discussion, look no further. (I prefer to point to the difference between self-sustenance and self-sacrifice.)

Politics is the study of what makes an effective society. Objectivism focuses on maximizing freedom, minimizing coercion, and protecting individual rights by proposing something of a minarchist society. This would be a society in which there is only a central justice system, police, and military in order to properly restrict the use of physical force.

Aesthetics, according to Objectivism, is the study of art as human value-judgments about human nature and other things. As you may guess, philosophically subjective art is not very cool apparently.

I have spent some time studying different philosophers, but Ayn Rand struck me as quite unique. This may be due to the way she presents her arguments. It is very blunt and straightforward, atypical as far as most philosophers go. One interpretation is that a reader is meant to think through the arguments as an individual, so all information is written as it was meant it to be written. It is not completely unfounded to believe she wrote the way she had with strict purpose, for someone as purpose-driven as she.

Ayn Rand was influenced most by Aristotle, but she borrows from a few other philosophers as well. Her biggest target for criticism would probably have to be Kant. Yet, she seems to have made an enemy of just about everyone because she has taken issue with all forms of faith, essentially all political parties, and anyone remotely resembling a relativist or subjectivist. I have seen her sometimes treated as a joke by academics.

Although Rand has her quirks, there are some very very big ideas to draw from her work. Not many have attempted to construct an entire model of human understanding from the ground up. Few attempt to live their lives without faith in its entirety. And VERY few attempt to argue that selfishness is better than altruism. But the most intriguing thing, is her astounding success. Millions of people read her work. There is good reason for it.

There is one main concern I have with Objectivism apart from any philosophical challenges I have (I will attend to those at a later date). This is that, as a movement today, pure Objectivists are very strict about the idea that Ayn Rand’s philosophy is a “closed” system. This means that if Objectivist principles are altered in any way, shape, or form, the altered system cannot be called Objectivism.

The reasoning behind this I think is perfectly legitimate. This is Ayn Rand’s philosophy alone. If it is not left in its pure form, then it should no longer bear the same name. I don’t think that it should be an open system necessarily. What I take issue with is how individuals in the movement have applied this principle.

To be a legitimate Objectivist means that one must accept the system in its entirety. This means that anyone who is studying this philosophy must weigh the desire to be called an “Objectivist” against the very important practice of challenging the system. As a result, I will never call myself an Objectivist because there are a number of ideas I disagree with. But I am perfectly content with that. I would rather follow a unique system of my own creation.

I believe the most successful systems rely on constant challenge and revision. This is the way science works. Conclusions are tentative and liable to change. Ayn Rand touted science and even believed that human knowledge is an open system, but her most ardent followers tend to treat her work as an exception to the rule. It pains me to say this—and I say it in the most non-confrontational way that I can—but treating her work as sacred text is hardly different from treating the Bible as sacred text.

Nevertheless, Objectivism is something worth studying. If you disagree with the tenets, it’s worth discussing.