Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Honda Motor's Founder Behaved and Spoke Like an Ayn Rand Hero

Stuart K. Hayashi

 A Honda Motor logo; image courtesy of Pixabay.

Much of this blog post, especially the section on Soichiro Honda, is adapted from a Facebook Note I originally published on November 27, 2009.

Back in January of 2003, Thor Halvorssen -- who would later go on to found the Oslo Freedom Forum -- asked the question, "Is John Galt Venezuelan?" He was referring to how, at the start of the year -- back when The Guardian (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), Bernie Sanders, Michael Moore (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), Jeremy Corbyn (1, 2, 3, 4), Noam Chomsky, Salon magazine, Anita Sarkeesian sidekick Jonathan McIntosh, and Nobel Prize-winning former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz were still singing Hugo Chavez's praises -- there was already a noble rebellion underway against the Marxist dictatorship. The nation's largest labor union teamed up with the Chamber of Commerce to effect a nationwide strike to force a referendum on Hugo Chavez's power.

Amy Chua, who would eventually become an overrated darling to the USA's social conservatives and its political Right, inaccurately proclaimed at the time that the strike "was instigated by Venezuela's wealthy business elite," specifically Venezuela's middleman minority that is wealthier than the majority ethnic population, comparable to Jews in the West, "Chinese in Indonesia, whites in Zimbabwe and Indians in Kenya..." Hence Amy Chua sneered that the strike's leitmotif amounted to "Power to the Privileged." We know the unfortunate outcome:  Chavez and his Marxist regime remained in control, and now we see the final results of that, results so terrible that not even The Guardian and Salon can cover them up.  As what is going on in Venezuela very much mirrors the events described in Atlas Shrugged, Thor Halvorssen's question was prescient.  And it inspires me to ask a similar question:  Is Hank Rearden Japanese?

While Japan is famous for its commercial success, it is not a culture that immediately comes to mind when one inquires as to which countries other than the United States does one most expect Ayn Rand's philosophy to gain popularity.  Since the Middle Ages, Japan has been known for its social collectivism, and that has not changed even as Japan emerged as a liberalized commercial republic subsequent to the second World War.  Throughout the 1980s, many politically collectivist American commentators even proclaimed that for the United States to reclaim its competitiveness, American companies should learn to embrace Japan's cultural collectivism.  Yes, Japan is commercially successful, they said, but one should not credit laissez-faire individualism for this.  Rather, Japanese business succeeds exactly because Japanese are taught that the individual must be subordinated to the social collective -- that the individual must sacrifice for the well-being of the corporation and, far better, sacrifice for the society and the wilderness ecosystem at large.  These same American collectivists also added that much of Japan's success should be attributed to government interventions on the part of MITI (the Ministry of International Trade and Technology); we shall revisit this claim about MITI by the end of this post.

Japanese Business Succeeded Because of Collectivism and Conformity? 
Representative of the collectivist mindset for which Japan is known are these remarks from Mitsubishi managing director Tachi Kiuchi,

The economic bottom line only exists to feed the social bottom line. 
My philosophy is this: We don't run our companies to earn profits. We earn profits to run our companies. . . .

That suggests the final lesson I learned -- so far -- from the rainforest: 
The mission of business -- the mission of civilization -- is to develop the human ecosystem sustainably. . . . What I learned from the rainforest is easy to understand.. . . Consume less, and be more. It is the only way. . . . They are the Japanese omote and ura, the Chinese yin and yang, Christianity and Islam, product and process, economy and ecology, mind and spirit -- two halves. 
Only together can we make the world whole [emphases Kiuchi's]. 

The website that published those remarks describes Kiuchi rather disingenuously as "one of Japan's most iconoclastic corporate executives." Iconoclasm is not demonstrated in the remarks the site published -- those are platitudes spoken by almost every Asian businessman, probably by almost every Asian-American businessman.  That very collectivist mindset is described very negatively by an actual Japanese iconoclast, Masao Miyamoto, in his worthwhile book Straitjacket Society:  An Insider's Irreverent View of Bureaucratic Japan.  He warns,

The [government] bureaucracy is the biggest trade barrier to entry into the Japanese market, since the bureaucracy controls the entire market through a system of regulations and permits. If the market were truly open, it would enrich the lives of consumers in both Japan and the West. But this would mean downsizing and restructuring, to which the bureaucrats would never agree. . . .  
To expand Japan Inc., the [government] bureaucracy introduced the philosophy of messhi hoko, or self-sacrifice for the sake of the group. This philosophy requires the subordination of individual lives to the good of the whole. Since all Japanese invariably belong to some sort of group, through this philosophy they end up sacrificing their personal lives, voluntarily or otherwise [New York: Kodansha International, 1994), 20].

Contrary to the American left-wingers who boosted Japan in the 1980s, it was not because of that general collectivist mentality, but in spite of it, that Japan ascended to prosperity in the postwar period.  Japan indeed has had its share of independent-minded freethinkers who are comparable in stature to Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, and Polaroid founder Edwin Land.  In this post I will provide case studies of two Japanese individualists in particular who behaved very much like Ayn Rand heroes -- the latter of whom even talked like an Ayn Rand hero.

"It Seems Like Serious Inventors...Get Persecuted"
Toyota Motor Corporation was started in 1937 by Kiichiro Toyoda, but the family fortune behind this company was built much earlier by Kiichiro's father, Sakichi Toyoda.  Growing up during the Meiji Restoration, as the old shogunate's power waned and gave way to openness to Western technologies and imports, Sakichi was enamored with industrialization.  Tinkering with his grandmother's hand loom, Sakichi directed his efforts and attention toward devising methods to improve upon its design.  As I wrote earlier, innovative entrepreneurs seldom start out by saying "First I'm an entrepreneur; now that that's settled, I have to figure out what to sell..."  Rather, the innovator simply started out as some weirdo who was really obsessed with something and then later developed a strategy for monetizing that obsession.

At the start, Sakichi was almost entirely alone in having confidence in this project.  His father was a carpenter and, as was customary, the father expected Sakichi to follow in his footsteps and become a carpenter as well.  Sakichi instead pursuing this foolhardy mission broke Toyoda Senior's heart, the only consolation being that Sakichi applied what he had learned of carpentry to the fashioning of wood for his looms.  As everyone knew everyone else in this small village, the other villagers did not take kindly to this young inventor showing such impertinence to their patriarchal neighbor, to the man who provided the seed that brought Sakichi into existence in the first place. Sakichi's breach with tradition caused his neighbors to view him as strange at best and selfish at worst.

As elaborated by a book officially approved by the company, "Despite opposition from his father and many of the villagers, who largely regarded him as an eccentric, Sakichi's enthusiasm for inventing only grew" (Toyota: A History of the First 50 Years, [Tokyo, Japan: Toyota Motor Corporation, 1988], 25).  Sakichi's nephew Eiji, who would go on to become Toyota Motor's CEO, confirmed in his own autobiography that Sakichi was "regarded as an eccentric all his life..."

Such social disapproval and ridicule did not daunt Sakichi; he forged ahead.  His improvements on hand looms led to his development of various automated looms.  Although Japan still had a reputation back then for producing low-quality items, Sakichi's looms were coveted even in the West.

Reminiscing of his early entrepreneurship, Sakichi said, "I was like a man possessed. People around me probably thought I was some kind of a madman" (ibid.). It appears that Sakichi would have appreciated the first several paragraphs of Howard Roark's courtroom speech, as Sakichi concurs with the general thrust of them:

It seems like serious inventors always end up being poor and being cut off from others; sometimes they even get persecuted. It’s as if an inventor has to have his fill of hardship before he can fulfill his ambitions [ibid, 26].

Sakichi gained success as an inventor of power looms but his ambitions were not sated.  Upon a visit to the United States, he caught his first sight of an automobile.  Marveling at it, he understood that this new machine would be the future of civilization.  His son, Kiichiro, decided to become an engineer and inventor as well.  However, in his final years, Sakichi told Kiichiro that the next great industry in Japan would be the production of automobiles, and that it would ultimately be more lucrative than the loom business.  Taking such wisdom to heart and mind, Kiichiro took the money his father left him and founded the Toyota Motor Corporation.

Toyoda is Japanese for "rice field," and Kiichiro thought that Japanese consumers would not be able to associate rice fields mentally with automobiles, and that is why, for the sake of convenient branding, he gave the company the name Toyota with a T instead of Toyoda with a D.

Kiichiro's shifting of investment capital from the loom business to a new auto plant was not something that his father's business associates immediately commended; they had their doubts.  As Toyota's official history notes (p. 47),
...Kiichiro [Toyoda] asked Risaburo Toyoda [his father's old company] to convene an emergency board of directors meeting. At the meeting, Kiichiro submitted his plan to move into auto production and asked the board to call a general stockholder meeting to obtain approval. ... Aware that even Mitsui and Mitsubishi had abandoned their efforts to enter the industry, some directors opposed the idea, but Kiichiro argued his case convincingly.

At the motor company, the trend of innovation continued.  Kiichiro found assistance there from his cousin -- and Sakichi's nephew -- Eiji Toyoda, also an engineer.  In 1950, Eiji got to tour a Ford Motor Company factory in Detroit.  At the time, Toyoda Motor could only turn out 32 auto units a day, whereas Ford produced 8,000 units a day.  For a period of six weeks Eiji pestered the engineers and assembly workers with questions.

Through his research, Eiji ascertained that the secret to maximizing high-quality output had to do with the system of inventory-taking.  Eiji and Kiichiro thus pioneered in using Just-In-Time (JIT) Inventory.  By timing every step of process so that new auto parts arrived at the plant at precisely the right moment where they would be added to production, Toyota managers could efficiently move the highest number of quality-controlled units within the very limited factory space that they had.  Eiji and Kiichiro were able to have this process commence speedily, for they had the assembly line workers signal to one another using special cards with special labels, the special labels indicating which step of the assembly process they were presently in, and indicating which auto parts immediately needed to be resupplied.

By 1980, the roles were reversed -- Ford Motor Company sent 8,000 engineers to a Toyota plant to take notes on Toyota's inventory system.  As I said above, Eiji Toyoda would succeed his cousin as CEO (Mark Weston, Giants of Japan: Lives of Japan's Great Men and Women, [New York: Kodansha International, 1999], 58).  To this day, Just-In-Time Inventory is employed with the production of a variety of products, including personal computers.

Although the Toyodas exhibited independence in their business decisions,  they were not so independent in their ethical philosophies.  When Kiichiro laid out the corporate philosophy of Toyota Motor, it sounded much the same as Mitsubishi's Tachi Kiuchi, mouthing the same platitudes about the company's growth being justified by nothing more than the collective benefit of society as a whole.  The Toyodas were very much like Howard Roark in their professional choices, but not so much in their personal philosophies of what constitutes ethical living.  However, Japan has had at least one inventor-engineer-entrepreneur who was not only like an Ayn Rand hero in his professional choices, but even talked like an Ayn Rand hero when explaining the philosophy behind his overall approach.  That was Soichiro Honda, who founded Honda Motor Co., Ltd., decades after Toyota's head start.

"To Hell With the Specified Industry Promotion Law!"
Twelve years Kiichiro Toyoda's junior, Soichiro Honda started off as a boy who was monomanical about machines, particularly motorcycles and automobiles.  On days when he was particularly inspired in his tinkering, he lost track of time, spending endless hours in the garage and, in the words of one journalist, seeming "a hermit" (Tesuo Sakiya, Honda Motor:  The Men, the Management, the Machines, trans. Kiyoshi Ikemi, [New York:  Kodansha International, updated 1987 mass market paperback edition {1982}], 54).  Soichiro eventually decided he wanted to start his own business making vehicles of his own design; he had to decide between motorcycles and automobiles. He chose the former. His reasoning was that in the 1950s, very few Japanese households could afford a whole automobile, but a motorcycle was within their price range.

Following the Second World War, the country had many small engines left over in surplus.  Soichiro refitted them for his small bikes.  They caught on in Japan.  Emboldened by this success, Soichiro sought to export these machines to the West, but encountered some new problems.  He had to face that there was a great stigma against them in the United States. First, they were commonly associated with criminals, specifically motorcycle gangs.  Secondly, the engines were considered too loud.  To his good fortune, Soichiro was able to produce relatively benign motor bikes with silent engines.  (If you come across a motorcycle today with a roaring engine, be aware that the noisiness is not an inexorable consequence of something that motorcycle engines must do to function; the owner might have gone out of his way to supe it up to call attention to himself.)  Thanks to the marketing genius of his investor and partner Takeo Fujisawa -- himself known as "a loner" -- Soichiro was able to market motorcycles in the United States to middle-class households .   To demonstrate the safety of his own models, Soichiro entered his motorcycles in official industry-sponsored races . . . and drove the motorcycle himself in many of those races.

For his part, Takeo Fujisawa cautioned against trusting in someone just because he seems to be in a position of social authority:
"President"...isn't a rank expressing greatness in a person. When some people become president, however, they start strutting about like they're field marshal. President is the most hazardous occupation known to man.
Honda motorcycles sold well, but this was not enough for Soichiro.  In 1963 he announced that at last he could take his profits and re-invest them as capital for the production of what he wanted most of all:  automobiles. "I am not satisfied with being number one only in the motorcycle world," he explained. "Progress is when you go forward, when you keep graduating from one stage to another" (qtd. by Mark Weston, Giants of Japan, 46).

Yet Soichiro's dream of producing automobiles faced another obstacle -- the government.  Doing the bidding of the regulatory agency known as MITI (the Ministry of International Trade and Industry), the Japanese legislature -- called "the Diet" -- sought to pass a regulation restricting competition.  MITI decided that Japan should only have three auto manufacturers -- Toyota, Nissan, and a third one that would result from the State-forced merging of all the smaller auto companies.  As one website tells the story,
MITI and the Department of Transportation tried to discourage Honda from adding to the number of companies, but he persisted. He won MITI's permission by coming out with a low-priced small sportscar, the S 500, which was different from anything produced by the other companies [that is, Soichiro initially tried to exploit a loophole; the S 500 was so much smaller than conventional automobiles that he hoped he could get away with having it classified as a type of vehicle not subjected to the regulation over whom could manufacture conventional automobiles]. He followed it up with other sports models. His company was still very small, producing only three thousand cars in 1966 -- half of what Toyota was turning out in a week.

This is from Soichiro's own recounting of these events:
I deluged him [the MITI bureaucrat] with complaints, because I couldn't understand it at all. To hell with the Specified Industry Promotion Law! I had the right to manufacture automobiles, and they couldn't enforce a law that would allow only the existing manufacturers to build them while preventing us from doing the same. We were free to do exactly what we wanted. Besides, no one could say for certain that those in power would remain there forever. Look at history. Eventually, a new power would always arise. I shouted at him angrily, saying that if MITI wanted us to merge (form a joint venture with another company), then they should buy our shares and propose it at our shareholders' meeting. After all, we were a public company [he means a privately owned company that is publicly traded on the stock market]. The government couldn't tell me what to do.

The government couldn't tell him what to do? If only! As always, the government most certainly did tell him what to do.  Fortunately, Soichiro won:

The basic MITI policy regarding Japan's car industry was compiled into the Temporary Measures Bill for the Promotion of Specified Industries in March 1963, and was submitted to the 43rd Session of the National Diet. However, the session was adjourned in July without a resolution. The bill was resubmitted to the 46th session starting in January 1964, but did not pass. The bill was eventually abandoned without anyone really knowing its ultimate destiny.

Justice prevailed, which is why the economy did as well. Can you imagine how much worse off Japan, the USA, the planet, and common decency would have been had that regulation been enacted?

"The Most Important Thing for Me . . . Is Me! 😃"
On January 12, 1987, the New York Times published an inspiring article about the man.  Susan Chira interviewed him first-hand, and the Times published the English translations of his replies to Ms. Chira's inquiries.  These are among the tidbits from Soichiro published:

  • "Generally speaking, people work harder and are more innovative if working voluntarily..."
  • "'I think it's very important to be sensitive to seemingly trivial psychological matters."
  • "I have some ideas. But I always find out that younger people have done them already. Young people are wonderful -- I just can't beat them. They've learned from our experience, and then they add their own ideas. Many older people talk [disparagingly] about 'kids these days.' I have never used that expression."

Still smarting over the MITI's initiative to constrain him, Soichiro protested that government regulators too often "become an obstacle when you try to do something new." I know many left-wing people who assume that all businessmen say that. Ah, if all businessmen said that, the world would be a wiser place. Soichiro's opinion is the minority opinion among businessmen throughout Japan, the United States, and the world -- it is especially the minority opinion among American businesspeople of Japanese ancestry. Most businesspeople, at least publicly, repeat the favored platitudes of Mitsubishi's Tachi Kiuchi: "Conventional wisdom is that the highest mission of a corporation is to maximize profits [lie --S.H.], maximize return to shareholders [lie; that was never the conventional wisdom, not even in the nineteenth century --S.H.]. That is a myth. It has never been true. ...profits are not an end" (emphasis Kiuchi's).

And in complete contrast to what the Japan-boosting American left-wingers were saying in the 1980s, Soichiro added that Japan's greatness could never be based on any notion of the individual sacrificing him- or herself to a corporation or a nation.  As the Times quotes Soichiro,
First, each individual should work for himself -- that's important. People will not sacrifice themselves for the company [nor should they --S.H.]. They come to work at the company to enjoy themselves. That feeling would lead to innovation. The most important thing for me, is me [boldface added].

Although the quotation is traced originally to Soichiro's interview with Susan Chira for the Times, I first heard of it from Edwin A. Locke's excellent book The Prime Movers:  Traits of the Great Wealth Creators.

In his book Driving Honda:  Inside's the World's Most Innovative Car Company, (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2014), Jeffrey Rothfeder adds that it was a least as early as 1951, a mere three years subsequent the company's founding, that Soichiro wrote in the company newsletter that a Honda employee is working for his own creative expression.  Soichiro codified this in what he called "The Three Joys," the first of which was the joy inherent in creating something new and useful: "The Joy of Producing: ...the engineer uses his own ideas to create products and contribute to society. This is a happiness that can hardly be compared to anything else" (page 135).

And if some Mitsubishi managing directors might be putting on some pretenses of believing the company's shareholders are subordinate to "society," it would seem Honda Motor's are not. As Rothfeder quotes an unnamed Honda executive, "It’s important to remember that the Three Joys are part of our business model; they are not altruism. We believe in what we say we believe in," and "we’re in business to make money. ...we expect to generate revenue while doing the right thing."

Following the quotation of Soichiro's about the important thing for him being him, Susan Chira adds, "This attitude has not endeared him to bureaucrats." It is also why the sub-headline of the article correctly noted that, at 80 years of age in 1987, Soichiro remained "a fiery maverick."

I showed those quotations to an Objectivist who lived in Japan and who is much more fluent in Japanese than I am.  I asked him what he thought of Soichiro's words.  That Objectivist replied that it is indeed unusual for a Japanese national to make such statements, even in old age (when it comes to moral judgment, senior citizens in Japan are given more latitude in what they say).

That Objectivist mentioned that it would have been interesting for him if what Soichiro said in the original Japanese was recorded, as he could compare the English translation and see how close the transliteration was.  After all, many of the nuances and connotations of words can change in the translation.  I agree with that Objectivist and find it unfortunate that the original Japanese recordings of Soichiro's interview with Susan Chira have been lost to posterity.  Based on the English translations that we have, though, it is legitimate to judge that Soichiro spoke like an Ayn Rand hero, at least much more so that what one would expect of almost any Japanese national (or even almost any Japanese-American other than myself).

I admire that man a lot.  Even the initials of his name are good.😉

Honda Motor's "Respect Individualism" Principle
Soichiro Honda has also gone farther than the Toyodas in that he has inculcated his individualistic psychology into the general corporate culture of Honda Motor, even codifying it in official corporate policy.  Although Sakichi Toyoda, Kiichiro Toyoda, and Eiji Toyoda each exhibited independence in their careers, especially when starting out, it is not obvious that they expected the same sort of independence from their rank-and-file.   But Soichiro Honda did say he wanted such independence from his employees -- and, more importantly, business journalists have witnessed his demonstrating that appreciation for employee independence in his own actions.

As explained by Jeffrey Rothfeder in Driving Honda, a major principle of Honda management is sangen shugi which, in the context of how Honda is run, refers to observance of reality, specifically the Three Realities.  The last and most important one is gen-jitsu, which Rothfeder defines as, "The real facts; support your decisions with actual data and information that you have collected at the real spot. Or, as one Honda executive put it: ‘Make decisions based on reality’" (page 102). Many a reader will consider that very obvious, but just because people say they know the importance of reality, that is not proof enough that they recognize it in practice. The failure of many a Solyndra and Enron attest to that.

Rothfeder devotes a whole chapter to how "Respect Individualism" is a major policy of Honda Motor's:

...Honda [Motor] seeks workers who have charted an irregular course, whose path in life has been a bit odd and unconventional. ... "We want independent people, who can see auto manufacturing with fresh eyes, not blind followers,"" said Honda CEO Takanobu Ito on many occasions. ... Asked for the single most important attribute that an ideal Honda [Motor] applicant should have, Soichiro [Honda] noted that he preferred ‘people who have been in trouble.’ ...he was articulating Honda Motors’s third critical organizational principle: respect individuals and, more precisely, individualism. Since the company’s founding, [Soichiro] Honda has stood alone in aggressively questioning and then breaking the rules for how a successful industrial outfit should behave. . . . 
Such untempered innovation in ideas and practice can only be achieved with employees who, in fact, wouldn’t flourish -- who would, in Soichiro’s words, be trouble -- in organizational models constructed primarily around rules and structured systems, no matter how progressively or intelligently plotted, Honda believes [pages 123-124].

Rothfeder mentions a story from MIT professor James Womack about having met Shoichiro Irimajiri, who was in charge of Honda Motor's North American division throughout the 1980s.  Irimajiri made a theatrical gesture to explain what separated Honda Motor's ideal employees from those of every other company's.  Irimajiri ducked behind a piece of furniture and then ran behind another, explaining that a Honda employee is a "guerrilla fighter.  Honda man loves chaos" (pages 124-125).

One might say that all this talk about valuing individual independence and innovation is just the usual self-congratulation normally done by corporate executives. Although over the past four decades it has become common for corporate executives to tout their own company's own willingness to tolerate dissenting ideas and encourage innovation, management psychologist Jennifer Mueller has found in controlled experiments that the norm is for these same executives to reject bold new ideas.

However, one should not scoff at Honda Motor on this matter, for it remains noteworthy here in two respects. First of all, when Soichiro Honda ran the company from 1948 to the late 1980s, it was unusual for any big business to tout the virtues of nonconformity to its own personnel, let alone a Japanese business. And yet Soichiro was already doing that, praising individualism and psychological independence in the company newsletter at least as early as 1951. Secondly, historians of business can point to how Soichiro walked the walk in terms of promoting and rewarding individualism and independence among his human resources.

As Rothfeder notes, Honda Motor is unusual in that every one of its CEOs "came up through the company’s engineering ranks. And all of them at some time were former chiefs of the automakers’ prized autonomous research and development unit." By contrast,

conventional wisdom among multinationals holds that the most effective chief executives are specialists in marketing, sales, or perhaps accounting, anything but engineering. ... When I have asked CEOs or other top corporate executives how they motivate themselves, more often than not the response is one of the many clichés about successful salesmen: A great salesman can sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. ... 
The prejudice against engineers as CEOs is not peculiar to just American or European firms. Many Japanese companies also suffer from this myopia. ... 
Soichiro Honda and the engineers who have succeeded him at the helm of his company reflect a starkly different vision of the executive suite from the one favored by other multinationals. Reared in R and D, Honda CEOs’ strengths lie in product and process innovation, primarily in designing new vehicle models and features and in conceiving fresh techniques for building them faster and better. Typically, Honda chief executives are inveterate tinkerers, more at home sketching a headlamp or front grille than exploring the minutiae of a spreadsheet with a roomful of accountants. . . . And their success as managers is measured by how well they cultivate individual creativity in the organization, which Honda believes can distance a company from its rivals better than a new marketing campaign [pages 125-27].

Former ABC News journalist Mark Weston provides a specific case study of Soichiro's appreciation for independence. In 1969, Soichiro led the company R-and-D department in developing a new car model to be exported to the United States, what would become the Honda Civic. Within the department there was disagreement over what sort of engine should run this new model: an air-cooled engine or a water-cooled one. Soichiro admired Volkswagens, which were air-cooled. He therefore decided on that sort of engine, reasoning, "Who wants pumps and hoses and things that leak?" A then-young engineer in the department, Tadashi Kume, protested Soichiro's decision, contending that water-cooled engines were both quieter and more powerful than air-cooled ones and that, if the company was to make larger car models for export, it would have to switch to water-cooled engines anyway. Initially, Soichiro overruled the junior engineer. But Tadashi Kume was so adamant that he went on a "one-month strike" against the company in defiance, going to a far-off fishing island.

 This was a particularly risky move for Tadashi, as Soichiro took more pride in his judgment as an engineer than anything else. Rather than fire Tadashi for insubordination, Soichiro reconsidered Tadashi's points. Writes Mark Weston, "Honda had created within his company an environment where a young engineer could feel bold enough to challenge a ‘final’ decision by the president. Now [Soichiro] Honda showed his wisdom by changing his mind even though he lost face as an engineer" (pages 46-47). Soichiro went with what Tadashi wanted, and the results proved fortuitous.

Just as the Honda Civics started shipping to the USA, the 1973 energy crisis hit (caused more by President Nixon's price controls than by the OPEC cartel's restriction of output, which had already been going on since the 1950s) and American consumers became more conscious about fuel efficiency. The Honda Civic, with the four-cylinder water-cooled engine that Tadashi Kume designed, directly addressed that concern. This is what initiated American motorists' preference for Japanese auto brands. By 1984, Soichiro named Tadashi Kume -- the same brash engineer who questioned Soichiro's judgment in Soichiro's own area of expertise -- the president of the company. Tadashi was one of those engineers of whom Rothfeder spoke -- an engineer eventually promoted to top management.

For the past forty years, yes, it has become trendy for executives of major corporations to brag that they value and reward entrepreneurial independence in their employees. But historians can cite such examples of Honda Motor executives actually doing so, following both Soichiro's policies and the example he set in his own managerial decisions.

Is Hank Rearden Japanese?
It is true that Japan has too much social conformity and cultural collectivism (actually, the most individualistic countries still have too much collectivism). However, it is entirely inconceivable that post-World-War-II Japan could have become such an innovative economic powerhouse if its private sector didn't tolerate a certain level of Roarkian originality and innovation in business. Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita of Sony are similar to the Toyodas in that, while they did not live their private lives with the same independence as Roark, they nevertheless showed comparable independence in their professional lives. They found a technology invented in the United States called "video-tape recording" (partially invented by Ray Dolby of Dolby Stereo fame), and noticed that no one in the USA utilized it because it was too expensive. Ibuka -- an engineer and inventor himself -- put his best engineers on the project and developed a new cost-feasible model of this invention. The Masao Miyamoto I quoted earlier -- the one who wrote Straitjacket Society -- is right to praise Soichiro Honda and the Sony founders for their "Western-style leadership" (page 156).

Even from the time of the Meiji Restoration to its pinnacle of power during World War Two, Japan existed in what we would consider "Third World subsistence poverty." Were it not for some exercises in Roarkian independence from 1945 onward in the scientific, engineering, and industrial sectors, Japan would not be the wealthy powerhouse that it is today. This is why, as Yaron Brook has documented, Ayn Rand has a fan base even in Japan. Ayn Rand once told a Japanese architect, who wrote to her of his appreciation for the Fountainhead movie, that

philosophical ideas hold true for all people everywhere and...there will always be men who will respond to a philosophical truth in every country on earth. . . .  
Thank you very much for the pictures of your building which you sent me.  I was very impressed with your work and I think that it is an excellent example of modern architecture [letter to Y. Ashihari, February 26, 1951, in Letters of Ayn Rand, ed. Michael S. Berliner, (New York: Plume, 1997), 493].

A common criticism leveled at Ayn Rand goes, "Yeah, it might be a neat story, but in real life there are no people like Howard Roark, Dagny Taggart, or Hank Rearden."  Now you know better.  There was indeed a man in real life who behaved and -- judging by the English translations -- even spoke like those characters, and he succeeded in the sort of culture where one would least expect such a staunch individualist to emerge.

You can find qualities like Hank Rearden's in real people. If you have yet to find such qualities, you might want to consider searching with greater concentration and scrutiny. And it wouldn't hurt to practice such virtues oneself.😊

On Sunday, September 2, 2017 (Atlas Shrugged Day), I added the part about the Three Joys and the entire section on "Respect Individualism" being a policy of Honda Motor's. On October 2, 2017, I revised the paragraph about motorcycles, clarifying that the stigma concerning the alleged criminality of motorcyclists was more of a problem in the USA than in Japan.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Karl Marx Explicitly Condoned Murder in Communism's Name

Those Who Presume That Marx and Engels Were Too Naïve to Anticipate Communism's Atrocities Should Bother to Read Them in Their Own Words

Stuart K. Hayashi

Statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (left to right, respectively) in Berlin;
source: Wikimedia Commons.

On July 22, 2017, Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute tweeted out an op-ed by British politician Daniel Hannan concerning a public monument in Manchester, England, that is dedicated to Friedrich Engels, the primary financial patron to Karl Marx and the co-author of The Communist Manifesto with him.  The monument is to celebrate Engels's having lived in Manchester on account of his having managed a factory there that his father owned.  Hannan argues that, given that over one hundred million people were murdered in the name of the ideology that Engels promoted, the erection of a monument to him is comparable to setting up a statue to commend Adolf Hitler.   Dr. Brook agrees with Hannan.

Predictably, Dr. Brook received flack over this.  One man tweeted to Dr. Brook exactly the sort of retort one would expect: Hannan and Dr. Brook are "off base" in "comparing Engels to Hitler," as Engels was merely an "author and (awful) economist," whereas Hitler was a "politician and mass murderer." Indeed, many people frequently try to let Marx and Engels off the hook by saying that the murders committed in the name of communism were committed only by such government officials as Josef Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Nicolae Ceaușescu, and Kim Il-Sung, whereas Marx and Engels were merely theorists who never got their hands dirty.

 It is quite convenient that the same people who insist that Marx and Engels cannot be properly blamed for communist dictators' actions usually frequent the same intellectual circles that try to blame Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner for inspiring eugenics and therefore ultimately inspiring the Nazi movement, when, as I have written, eugenics and Naziism come from a philosophic tradition that is independent of, and even hostile toward, Spencer's and Sumner's free-market evolutionism. (Had Spencer and Sumner never been born, eugenics and Nazism still would have emerged as philosophic traditions, as they sprung from the statist collectivist preachings of such figures as Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau, Georges de LaPouge, and Houston Chamberlain; the laissez-faire liberal republicanism that Spencer and Sumner advocated was the exact opposite of that mindset.)

With respect to the contention that a pro-statism, anti-reason philosopher's hands are clean if he never committed any violence himself, Dr. Brook addressed that point in his Living Objectivism podcast on July 24, 2017. As Leonard Peikoff did decades earlier in his book The Ominous Parallels, Dr. Brook argued that even if a philosopher did not enact any violence personally, he should still be considered morally culpable if he laid the philosophic foundations for all of the rationalizations that were given for totalitarianism throughout the twentieth century. Although Drs. Brook and Peikoff did not bring up Houston Chamberlain specifically, it is proper to judge Chamberlain as culpable for the atrocities performed in the name of eugenics, as Chamberlain devised myriad rationalizations for racism and anti-Semitism, giving a veneer of respectability to such violence. Similar logic should be applied to Marx and Engels.

I want to broach a matter that is different but related. I agree with Dr. Brook that even if Marx and Engels never anticipated the atrocities that their writings would inspire, justice would require judging them as accessories contributing to such evil. However, the history behind communism is much worse than that. The hundreds or thousands of people -- usually university students -- who confidently proclaim that Marx and Engels were too naïve to have predicted the violent consequences of their advocacy are people who demonstrate their own ignorance when they issue such a proclamation.  Such people are just making assumptions.  The more you read Marx's and Engels's writings, the more you find that they were not naïve on this matter at all.  To the contrary, Marx and Engels both wrote explicitly that they expected that large numbers of people would be slaughtered in the process of bringing about a communist revolution.  Moreover, Marx and Engels condoned it completely.

Marx pronounced that every form of government other than communism -- including that of a constitutional liberal republican Night Watchman State -- is inherently some violent imposition initiating the use of force upon the masses. Therefore, as far as Marx was concerned, any communist overthrow that involves communists killing people is simply morally justified self-defense on the communists' part. Hence, in writing about wars in Europe, Marx remarked on November 6, 1848, "...there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror." By revolutionary terror , Marx meant killing hundreds or thousands of people. (I learned from Stephen Hicks of Marx saying this.)

Marx continued to urge such brutality in the three decades that followed. In January of 1879, the Chicago Tribune asked Marx whether "to carry out the principles of socialism do its believers advocate assassination and bloodshed?" To that, Marx replied unashamedly, "“No great movement, has ever been inaugurated Without Bloodshed" (Marx evidently could not conceive of a rebellion such as Mohandas Gandhi's).

Likewise, the comparison of Engels to Hitler is apt for more reasons than probably even Daniel Hannan realizes: Engels stated his hope that when militaries finally ushered in a new epoch of communism, they would exterminate whole races of people.  Specifically, Engels hoped all the Slavs would be massacred. Hence, in 1849 he cheered that

the Austrian Germans and Magyars will be set free and wreak a bloody revenge on the Slav barbarians. The general war which will then break out will smash this Slav Sonderbund and wipe out all these petty hidebound nations, down to their very names. 
The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples. And that, too, is a step forward.

Note that Engels is not merely asking for the deposing or surrender of a particular State; he is hoping that everyone of a particular race, whom that State represents, shall be on the receiving end of "bloody revenge." And, tellingly, he wants "Germans" to be the ones wreaking that "bloody revenge" on "reactionary peoples" -- all members of an ethnic group -- whom he deems "barbarians."

This reminds me of some people who like to say, "The Soviet Union only went wrong because that selfish scoundrel Josef Stalin succeeded Vladimir Lenin as the head of state.  If only Leon Trotsky took over from Lenin instead, everything would have gone better."  That talking point presumes that somehow Trotsky was benign.  In reality, Trotsky was Lenin's right hand in committing mass executions in the Ukraine.  Trotsky ordered that any communist caught deserting the Red Army be slain.  He also demanded capital punishment for any Soviet citizen who was truant from work.  Trotsky's bloodthirstiness is chronicled in the books A People's Tragedy by Orlando Figes and Trotsky:  The Eternal Revolutionary by Dmitri Volkogonov.

After having lost his power struggle against Stalin, Trotsky pointed out that Stalin's denial of jobs to him and other purge victims was an attempt on Stalin's part to use the apparatus of the State to starve them to death:  "In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat." That is true, but Trotsky conveniently tries to elude responsibility for the fact that he was an accessory with Lenin and Stalin in imposing those circumstances on everyone in Russia in the first place. To find the man who gave Stalin such a loathsome weapon, all Trotsky needed to do was glance in a mirror.

 Likewise, Ernesto "Che" Guevara stated openly that he hoped the Cuban missile crisis would lead to millions of Americans burning to death:
What we say is that we have to walk the path of liberation, even if it costs millions of atomic victims, because in the struggle to the death between two systems, nothing can be thought of except in the final victory of socialism, or its Retreat under the nuclear victory of imperialist aggression.

The point of Drs. Brook and Peikoff stands -- even if Marx and Engels did not foresee how their advocacy would lead to mass murder, they would have to be judged on account of mass murder being the philosophic preachings of Marx and Engels taken to their logical conclusion. Still, I think we should clarify that Marx and Engels did indeed foresee the day on which some ideological followers of theirs would slaughter millions of other human beings in order to make Marx's dream a reality -- and Marx and Engels openly relished the idea of that happening. Their blood lust was comparable to that of Stalin's; the difference is that unlike Marx and Engels, it was Stalin who arrived in history late enough to implement the programs of mass murder and mass executions which Marx and Engels had pined for.

Monday, July 24, 2017

No, Rothbardian Anarchist Walter Block, a Blackmailer Isn't Better Than a Snitch

Stuart K. Hayashi

Walter Block; source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Rothbardian anarchist Walter Block is known for his book Defending the Undefendable: The Pimp, Prostitute, Scab, Slumlord, Libeler, Moneylender, and Other Scapegoats in the Rogue’s Gallery of American Society, originally released in the 1970s. This book purports to explain why victimless crimes, such as smoking marijuana in the privacy of one’s own home, should be decriminalized. However, the book’s text goes farther than that, saying that the perpetrators of these acts are morally superior to respected business executives:
The professional pimp performs the necessary function of brokering [between the john and the sex worker]. In this performance he is if anything more honorable than many other brokers, such as banking, insurance, and the stock market. They rely on restrictive state and federal laws to discourage their competition, whereas the pimp can never use the law to safeguard his competition.

Actually the very outlawing of prostitution, by definition, reduces legal competition against the pimp. By Walter Block’s own logic, his defense of the pimp in this passage does not make sense.

In the later edition from the 1990s, Walter Block said that his moral praise for the pimps was just a rhetorical embellishment, but the aspect of the book that he wanted to be taken literally is that all of the jobs described in the book really should be decriminalized. Even if one interprets the book charitably in that manner, though, the book is highly dubious, such as in Walter Block’s claim that no one was damaged so severely by defamation that a lawsuit against a defamer could be justified.

Not everything Walter Block says in the book is wrong. He points out that while middlemen have a bad reputation — the middleman is what you normally want to cut out — the middleman makes goods more accessible to the consumer than they otherwise would be, and the middleman’s profit is the reward for easing the consumer’s access to the goods desired. For the most part, though, this book is terribly overrated among libertarians. As you can imagine, it was a highly zealous and misguided Rothbardian anarchist who kept recommending this book to me in the first place when I was sixteen.

I want to address an argument from Defending the Undefendable that stumped me for many years (as you can imagine, the overzealous Rothbardian touted both this argument, and Walter Block’s whitewashing of defamation, as airtight and unassailable). This is my paraphrasing of Walter Block’s argument as to why there should be no law against blackmail, and also of why a blackmailer is morally superior to a snitch.

Suppose there is a household with a married man and woman. They have three neighbors: Steve the Silent Bystander, Jessica the Snitch, and Murray the Blackmailer. Suppose the married man is having an extramarital affair, and the wife does not know about it.

Walter Block asks us to consider the following: Steve the Silent Bystander knows about the affair, but he keeps his mouth shut; he never tells the wife. In keeping silent, Steve is not initiating the use of force. By contrast, Jessica the Snitch does end up going to the wife and blabbing on the philanderer. Walter Block agrees with most people that this snitching is not an initiation of the use of force either. Thus, Walter Block says, both Steve the Silent Bystander and Jessica the Snitch are exercising their free-speech rights, which includes the right not to say anything. In neither course of action is the use of force being initiated.

Then Walter Block invites us to ponder what would happen if Murray the Blackmailer took action before Jessica the Snitch did. Murray approaches the philanderer and tells him, “Give me $100 for the first of each month, or your spouse discovers what you did.”

Maybe the philanderer coughs up the money and Murray the Blackmailer keeps silent. In that case, Walter Block imparts, Murray the Blackmailer is not doing anything different from what Steve the Silent Bystander did, and he is therefore not causing any damage beyond what Steve the Silent Bystander’s inaction would have caused. If Steve the Silent Bystander was not initiating the use of force, then neither was Murray the Blackmailer. By refraining from telling the wife, Murray the Blackmailer is exercising free speech (including the freedom not to speak), just as Steve the Silent Bystander is.

But maybe the philanderer fails to pay up; he calls Murray the Blackmailer’s bluff. Murray the Blackmailer then informs the wife about what the philanderer did. In that scenario, Walter Block tells us, Murray the Blackmailer is not doing anything different from what Jessica the Snitch would have done, and he is therefore not causing any damage beyond the damage that Jessica the Snitch’s snitching would have caused. If Jessica’s snitching was not an initiation of the use of force, then neither was Murray the Blackmailer’s. By telling the wife, Murray the Blackmailer is exercising free speech, just as Jessica the Snitch would have.

Therefore, concludes Walter Block, the blackmailer’s ultimatum to the philandering husband is itself just free speech. Then Walter Block says that the blackmailer is morally superior to the snitch, as the snitch will reveal “the secret without warning,” whereas the blackmailer at least allows an out to the philanderer — “the blackmailer has given the blackmailee a chance to silence him.” In that light, the snitch “is much worse than the blackmailer…” (emphasis Block’s).

Yes, this argument stumped me for years.😐

However, there is a consideration of criminal law that Walter Block’s argument overlooks: mens rea. Dictionary.Com defines that term as the “intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime...” If a man drives recklessly and strikes you accidentally, what he did was a horrible initiation of force, and you would be right to sue him for damages. But that is not a deliberate assault; mens rea was absent. By contrast, if a man hates you and he plans to mow you down with his automobile, mens rea is present and that is a deliberate assault; that is not merely a matter of civil law but a criminal act.

Someone who snitches on a philanderer can have a variety of motives. It may be the case that the snitch is well aware that the wife would be devastated to learn of the affair, and the snitch makes her aware of the affair precisely out of the hope that this will emotionally cripple the wife for the rest of her life. However, another snitch may be genuinely concerned for the wife’s well-being, and tells her on the premise that the wife is better off knowing the truth.

Conversely, in his very actions the blackmailer demonstrates that the wife’s well-being is not one of his considerations. In performing the extortion, the blackmailer demonstrates that his motives can only be malicious, namely to extract a value from someone by threatening to damage that value. Given that the blackmailer’s action already demonstrates an absence of concern for the wife’s well-being, the blackmailer’s ultimatum can only be properly interpreted as a form of extortion — the ultimatum that if the blackmailee does not pay up, damage shall be inflicted. This is comparable to an extortionist telling the husband that if the husband does not pay $100 on the first of each month, he shall find his automobile damaged. The principle is the same, except that the blackmailer is telling the husband that if he does not pay $100 on the first of each month, it will be the marriage that experiences further damage, which, in many respects, is much worse.

No, Walter Block, the blackmailer is not better than the snitch.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

How Bono Learned That Capitalism Is the Ultimate Antipoverty Program

Stuart K. Hayashi

The text of much of this post is adapted from previous posts of mine, “Symbolater Syndrome, Pt. 2 of 4” and “Choosing America.”

Bono; image courtesy of Pixabay.

Ayn Rand once said, “If capitalism had never existed, any honest humanitarian should have been struggling to invent it.” Many people who think of themselves as do-gooders tend to groan upon hearing statements such as that one. In 1994, the U2 front man Bono would have been among the groaners; he is among them no longer. His change in attitude is worthy of examination.

When he first started his campaigns to fight poverty, the musician put all his emphasis on the most conventional measures, such as calling for increased foreign aid and trying to pressure the World Bank to forgive debt to developing countries so that they could obtain even more loans.  His impression of free enterprise was not flattering. Over fourteen years ago Bono approvingly told People magazine, “We are taught not to court success here” in Ireland. “There’s an old story about an American and an Irishman looking up at a mansion. The American looks at it and says, ‘One day I’m going to live in that place.’ The Irishman looks at it and says, ‘One day I’m going to get the bastard who lives in that place.’” The implication in what Bono said was that the Irishman’s view is the correct one.

But after years of his campaigning, Bono observed that to place most of his emphasis on taxpayer-funded aid was not a winning strategy. Because he did intend to fight poverty, he was therefore willing to adjust his methodology. He attended conferences where he listened to speeches by such free-market theorists as George B. N. Ayittey, who is known for being critical of taxpayer-funded foreign aid. Bono told Ayittey that while he appreciated much of Ayittey’s speech, he remained doubtful of Ayittey’s conclusion that taxpayer-funded foreign aid is harmful on a net balance. Ayittey thus gave Bono a copy of his own book, Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Development.

Bono eventually observed that political-economic liberalization — what he explicitly called “capitalism” — is the most effective antipoverty measure. By 2012 he explained to Georgetown University students that “commerce is real. . . . Commerce — entrepreneurial capitalism — takes more people out of poverty than aid. Of course we know that. We need Africa to become an economic powerhouse. It’s not just in their interest; it’s in ours.”

The dramatic nature of that change in opinion was not lost on Bono; he chuckled and said, “ ‘Rock star preaches capitalism.’ Wow! Sometimes I hear myself and I just can’t believe it!” In that very same speech he was also more explicitly positive about the United States:

...America is an idea, isn’t it? I mean, Ireland’s a great country, but it’s not an idea. Great Britain’s a great country, but it’s not an idea. That’s how we see you around the world[:] as one of the greatest ideas in human history, right up there with the Renaissance... right up there with crop rotation… the Beatles’ White Album... ...that idea, the America idea, it’s an idea, the idea is that you and me are created equal...

The idea that life is not meant to be endured, but enjoyed. The idea that if we have dignity, if we have justice, then leave it to us, we can do the rest. ... 
This country was the first to claw its way out of darkness and put that on paper. And God love you for it, because these aren’t just American ideas anymore. ... You’ve brought them into the world. . . . I know Americans say they have a bit of the world in them, and you do. The family tree has a lot of branches. But the thing is… the world has a bit of America in it, too. These truths — your truths — they are self-evident in us.

More recently, Bono imparted to Rolling Stone that he now makes it a priority “to understand commerce — I think that’s very important. If you told me twenty years ago that commerce took more people out of poverty than aid and development, I’d have scoffed.” He is not scoffing anymore.

True, he has not given up entirely on recommending taxpayer-funded foreign aid or debt forgiveness, but his willingness to shift emphasis and recommend more liberalization is what evinces that his stated intention to try to fight poverty was genuine. If you asked Bono his opinion on Ayn Rand, he would probably still disapprove of her. But in his words and actions, he implicitly admits that the quotation from her at the opening of this blog post is correct. Indeed, in the part of the speech where he says “life is not meant to be endured but enjoyed,” Bono sounds very much like John Galt saying that your grand goal is “not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.” The social system in which you have the freedom to do so is capitalism.

On July 25, 2017, I added the infographics with the chart evincing that capitalism has improved living standards.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Symbolater Syndrome, Pt. 4 of 4

or, Those Who Destroy a Great Value As They Perform Gestures That Symbolize Preservation of That Very Same Value

Stuart K. Hayashi

Due to the length of the original “Symbolater Syndrome” article, I am serializing it into four parts. This is Part Four of Four. 

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Entire Essay on One Page

On the very day that Anders Breivik murdered other Norwegians, alt-right propagandist Onar Åm made this remark
visible to several hundred people, most of them in the same clique that was reinforcing the suicidal
and self-mutilating gestures of my friend. The context behind all this shall be elaborated upon below.

Objectivism Versus Symbolaters Who Call Themselves Objectivists
I’m much less conspicuous and loud about announcing my interest in Objectivism today than I was when I was sixteen . . . exactly because I’m more fanatical about it today than I was back then. To me, studying Objectivism is selfish — it’s about what I get out of it, and therefore I put more priority on learning about it on my own private time than I do on proselytizing about it to others. To the degree that I have ever enjoyed trying to explain it to someone else, it mostly came from the challenge of trying to phrase the arguments in my own way. My trying to put it in my own words was often a test that helped me gauge which aspects I did and did not understand, and it also helped bring to my attention which points I was unclear on.

Unfortunately, too many people on social media who call themselves Objectivists are more interested in something else. It seems that too many of them are pathologically grouchy men (there are pathologically grouchy women too, but mostly men) who are at levels of accomplishment no better than mediocre, but who seem to believe they are promoting Objectivism by posting an endless stream of right-wing propaganda that they tout as confirming their perpetual fear that Western Civilization, having been corrupted from within, is on the verge of collapse. Usually these so-called Objectivists stress that the coup de grace to the West will be delivered by undocumented Hispanic immigrants or by Arabs. Oh, yes, there are the tiresome postings that go on all day long about one’s hatred for Arabs and Muslims — yes, I understood your hatred for self-described Muslims in general the first thousand times you said it.

Often these grumps focus on everything they think is wrong, and when an accomplished Objectivist focuses on something positive, the grumps will try to put a damper on it. When Yaron Brook speaks of his admiration for the great feats performed in Silicon Valley, the grumps denigrate it by saying that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are all wrong in politics, as if this diminishes their discoveries in science and engineering. Another example is that when some Objectivist girl in university would praise the fiction of J. K. Rowling, the grumps would come along and denigrate J. K. Rowling for her politics. Upon seeing this, I thought, What? The girl wasn’t even defending J. K. Rowling’s politics; she was praising J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Indeed, many of the grumps patrol social media and, when they catch someone phrasing some idea in a way that Ayn Rand would not have phrased it, they pick a fight and “correct” that person. One of them, a ungentleman named Anders, spent hours and hours — then stretching into days and days — on the same thread, going back and forth in a futile “flame war.”

Anders is typical of a symbolater — in his philosophic postings, he has introduced no new ideas; what he says is pretty much repeating stuff Ayn Rand said . . . when he isn’t promoting stuff from right-wing websites that are often inconsistent with Objectivism. In the case of symbolaters, even the phrasing is unoriginal. Someone who has internalized Objectivist ideas and retains such ideas because, upon much reflection, he judges them to be correct, is able to phrase those ideas in his own words; even as he explains or paraphrases someone else’s ideas, he is able to do so in his own unique voice. By contrast, because symbolaters are simply reciting what they have memorized, a symbolater is quite conspicuous when he tries to proselytize Objectivist ideas. As soon he starts saying what Objectivism’s message is, the symbolater’s writing no longer reads as if it’s in his own voice; the phrasing, word choices, and “voice” come off as a knockoff of Ayn Rand. I’m not so worried about that among teenagers who recently learned about Ayn Rand, many of the same phrases and expressions that are idiosyncratic to Ayn Rand’s writings (such as “whim-worship” and “the death premise”) frequently pop up; it is understandable that such adolescents are still trying to find their own voice. But when an old man suddenly starts proselytizing and he sounds as if he’s just repeating Ayn Rand’s favorite phrases, that’s another story.

In multiple postings each day where they tout the impending apocalypse brought on by North African immigrants and refugees, the grumps appear to be engaging in their own symbolic ritual. The endless hysterical postings are actually purported to convey the grouchy posters’ loyalty to Objectivism; they claim this is their method of promoting Objectivism. But it often looks more like another highly negative and self-destructive habitual ritual: the habitual ritual of some adolescent girls to use a blade to inflict cuts on their own wrists.

When adolescent girls cut themselves regularly, that is often a ritual, though, as with most of the case studies I have mentioned, the symbolic meaning is usually not in their conscious minds. The implicit purpose of the self-cutting is to perform some gesture indicating that one can still exercise some control over her life. The self-cutter inflicts pain and physical damage upon herself, but she rationalizes that at least it is pain and physical damage she controls, in contrast to most of the pain she previously experienced, which was imposed by other people and was therefore outside of her control. Of course, whatever control these people claim from the self-cutting is fleeting. In the long run, they ultimately cede control and autonomy because they let the morbid gestures take over — they feel that they must continue the ritualistic morbid gestures regularly to feel “functional” and “all right.” This is a ritual that symbolizes a short-term reclaiming of control when, in the long term, control over oneself is sacrificed.

I fear that the regular pessimistic postings of many people who call themselves Objectivists serves a similar function. The regular pessimistic and apocalyptic postings help those people feel that, for a while, they can exercise some control — while they cannot control all of the insanity that goes on in the rest of the big bad world, at least they can control what they say about it on social media. But the habitual expressions of pessimism and paranoia take over, and, in this respect, an actual long-term recognition of one’s control and responsibility for one’s life ends up being sacrificed.

As Aristotle pointed out, the basis of learning is observation. In effect, going around social media and picking fights is not a winning strategy for creating a more rational society.

I knew a very eccentric woman who was a student in the classes of a rather unusual free-market theorist, a rocket scientist-turned-lecturer on capitalism. She was misguided in many respects, but she told me something that has always stuck with me. One day I asked her why she didn’t talk much about what that rocket scientist’s ideas on free markets were. She said,

The most effective method of teaching the importance of having a live-and-let-live society isn’t going around starting arguments. You demonstrate your principles primarily by living them. Converse and write about these topics if you want, but that is secondary at best. Most vital is living by these principles consistently in your normal daily life. I was once with a group of people who knew of my disapproval toward what one of my neighbors was doing. My neighbor was defying a particular ordinance, and I easily could have gone to the authorities and snitched on him. My friends then wanted to know why I didn’t do so. I replied that while I didn’t approve of my neighbor’s behavior, I approved even less of using government force to punish an action that, while very annoying, was still nonviolent and not severe enough to be considered an encroachment upon my property. They asked me, “How did you come to such an odd conclusion?” That was my opportunity to explain it to them. 
Stuart, when other people see you very consistently living by your principles, the honest and curious among them will be impressed and will ask you what’s your secret. And when that happens, they will be much more receptive to what you have to say.

That story can be summarized in five words, five words consistent with Aristotle and scientific experimentation: Demonstration is the strongest argumentation.

That is where the quotation from Bruce Wayne, with which we opened this essay, is correct: “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy.”

If you want to talk about the importance of pursuing your own values freely and peaceably and selfishly, do so. But more than that: actually do it. That is of greater educational value than are a hundred seven-hour flame wars on social media.

Not All Trump Sycophants Work For Him
One of the more severe manifestations of this is the manner in which some self-proclaimed Objectivists have made themselves apologists for Donald Trump. Here is one guy’s explanation for Facebook-unfriending me:
I have great respect for the objectivist community and the individuals in it, but I have to say... I can pretty much tell who is a mindless drone by how much they [sic; this is using a singular they] hate Trump, and who is an independent and integrated thinker by who recognizes Trump’s essential goodness, achievement, integrity, and love for his country. And who can see through the left’s dishonest smear campaign to the truth.


Not all self-described Objectivists who voted for Trump are this sycophantic toward him, naturally. Some of them admit that Trump is unprincipled and that their vote for him was cynical, mostly on account of their holding a bigger grudge against Hillary Clinton. Too many self-described Objectivists, though, did praise Donald Trump as some free-enterpriser and, even more worrisome, climbed onto the bandwagon on account of their sympathy for the sleazes of the alt-right and alt-lite.

But, really, this?: “Trump’s essential goodness, achievement, integrity, and love for his country”? What is going on here?

What is going on is that since 1987 with the publication of The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump has convinced many people that he is a symbol for American free enterprise and success. Too many people who call themselves Objectivists have latched onto that superficiality, and their devotion to Trump comes from this syllogism that is based on a faulty premise.

  1. Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy appreciates American free enterprise and success.
  2. Donald Trump is regarded by many people to be the symbol for American free enterprise and success.
  3. Applying Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy means that Donald Trump should be celebrated for embodying American free enterprise and success.

Of dispute is 2. People should examine whether the evidence indicates that Donald Trump is worthy of being associated with American free enterprise and success.

I wish I could tell you that I was never taken in by Trump’s myth-making about himself, but that is not the case. When I was seventeen years old, I said to myself, “I want to be a successful entrepreneur. Therefore, I should learn from the masters. I will read up on Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Donald Trump.” Whenever I spotted a newspaper article about any of them, I clipped it out. In the few years that followed, I read various biographies on the three of them. (At the time, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made the news headlines much more frequently than Trump did, even as The Apprentice was on the air.) None of those three men are perfect, of course, and now my favorite great inventor-entrepreneur in history is probably George Westinghouse (but that is another beautiful story for another time 😄). But even after learning about the faults of Gates and Jobs, I could still consider them helpful models for what they have done in a professional capacity. I cannot say the same of Mr. Trump — the more I learned about him, the less I could respect him overall, even as far as his business decisions went. It was his habit to over-leverage himself and then stiff his creditors; as a businessman, that was his greatest commonality with the U.S. federal government and, in that respect, he did have authentic training for what it took to become a run-of-the-mill U.S. President — that and that he already had no compunction about exercising government power to confiscate other people’s private property. The evidence pointed to Donald Trump not being John Galt but James Taggart.

There is no shame in being fooled initially by someone’s deceptions — Cherryl Brooks, too, initially fell for the false pretense that James Taggart was a productive businessman. But there is shame when more and more facts come in that disproves one’s initial positive impression and yet, contrary to the facts, one clings to one’s initial impression. That is the faking of reality. We have more and more information coming in that exposes Donald Trump as consistently dishonest — as is common for a pathologically dishonest man, there are examples of him telling lies that are small (the fake Time magazine cover depicting him, which he put in his golf clubs, and also bizarrely posing as someone named “John Miller” who talked up Trump) and telling lies that are big (the denials about collusion with Russian officials).

The most consistent trait of the Trump presidency is Mr. Trump’s pathology. I cannot fault anyone for initially becoming interested in Donald Trump in 2015 — many old people remembered him from the 1980s, when he had a much more glamorous reputation on account of much less being known about him publicly — though the very speech in which he announced his candidacy already indicated something was wrong with him, what with the bigoted stereotypes about Mexican immigrants (stereotypes that are not unlike what was commonly said about Chinese immigrants a hundred years ago). But what I do find disturbing is that even after so many facts about Trump are uncovered, too many people who call themselves Objectivists clutch their initial and false conclusion that Donald Trump embodies such Objectivist principles as candor, a respect for private property rights, and the freedom to trade peaceably with any other peaceable party regardless of that other peaceable party’s nation of origin. To go on hailing Trump as the symbol of free enterprise, against all facts, is not an exercise in rationality or indication of adherence to Objectivism; it is to act in the capacity of a symbolater.

As I said in the beginning, a symbol is worthy of the symbolic meaning invested in it insofar as there is substance — that is, factual evidence — to support it. Despite his many faults, Steve Jobs still deserves to be considered an icon, an idol, a symbol representing entrepreneurial productivity. Steve Jobs has himself made some very stupid remarks, the most egregious being “Good artists copy; great artists steal” (for an explanation of why that cliché is so heinous, see my blog post on it here). But Jobs’s achievements as an entrepreneur are real. Unlike Donald Trump, Steve Jobs didn’t run up huge debts and then take advantage of bankruptcy-law loopholes to cheat his creditors. Unlike Donald Trump, Steve Jobs didn’t lean on Atlantic City officials to attempt to steal a woman’s house or issue a thinly-veiled threat to “destroy” a state lawmaker for defending private property rights against the civil asset forfeiture racket.  Those are not minor nitpicks; they are not behaviors that right-wingers or so-called Objectivists would tolerate in a Democratic politician or self-described socialist.

If a man is going to be held up as being representative of the virtues that made America great —virtues such as financial responsibility, respect for private property rights, and honesty toward both oneself and others — then that man should have a record of exercising those virtues. To hold up that man as a representative of those virtues after the facts demonstrate otherwise is to demean those virtues and instead prioritize a false image of those virtues. This makes as much sense as talking up Bernie Madoff as a pillar of wise investing even after his Ponzi scheme came crashing down and was exposed.

One symbolic association with Donald Trump that does demonstrate merit is the comparison of him with the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus — a metaphor always implied in the accurate pronouncement that Trump publicly exhibits narcissistic traits. It is often said that Narcissus only cared about himself, but that is misleading. Narcissus’s top concern was his reflection — that is, not himself but an image that supposedly represented him. Narcissus gave priority to that image — an image that was far too inadequate in representing his character fully — as he allowed his actual, concrete self to waste away and perish. That is the same sin committed by those who falsely uphold Trump as the image of free enterprise and candor — uphold it as the Trump administration makes mockeries of both free enterprise and candor. The stolen concepts and stolen values are American free enterprise and candor. As with Narcissus and Trump apologists, the reality is being sacrificed for the sake of an image, a symbol.

Those who admitted to supporting Trump for cynical reasons are not much better off than the Trump sycophants. The cynics stated that although they winced at Trump’s incredible distastefulness, it was most important for them to “stick it to the political Left,” especially the Left’s politically-correct “Social Justice Warriors” who were so offended by Donald Trump’s sexism (sexism on Trump’s part that is, all too obviously, real and not imagined). The cynics developed such a grudge against the Left in the first place because of the Left’s consistent attacks on liberty. I cannot deny that the Left has been hostile to liberty. Thus, the cynics let their hatred for the Left metastasize into a pathology that overrides every other consideration, including the love for life and liberty. When the cynics “supported Trump” mostly as a figurative middle finger to the Left, it was an appallingly puerile gesture symbolizing a last desperate defense of liberty. In reality, this support contributed to Donald Trump coming to power so that he could deprive immigrants, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and free traders of liberty. This includes Trump’s imposition of a delay on “entrepreneurship visas.” The cynics’ gesture was a symbolic salute to liberty and an obscenity against actual liberty.

So-Called Objectivists in Norway Reinforcing the Suicidal Gestures of My Friend
As I said earlier, a principle or rule of conduct is also a symbol — the rule is an easy way to remember what specific course of action to take when a particular sort of situation arises. As we see in the case of anti-immigrationists, there is a hazard in trying to apply the same rule in every instance regardless of context — of trying to apply a rule when the context does not warrant it.

The most infamous example of this comes from Immanuel Kant. In a normal everyday situation where you are dealing with nonviolent people, “You should tell the truth” is a good rule. Kant then raises a hypothetical situation previously brought up by French classical liberal Benjamin Constant. In this scenario, a girl named Margaret is being chased by an assailant who wants to kill her. Margaret knocks on your door and asks you if she may hide in your home. You agree. Then the assailant knocks on your door politely(!), and says, “Excuse me, good sir, but there is a girl named Margaret whom I want to kill, and whom I think might be hiding in your home. Please tell me: is Margaret in your home?” Kant actually tells his readers that if you truly believe in the principle of honesty, then you should tell the truth to the would-be murderer: yes, Margaret is in my home.

This is enormous concept-theft and value-theft on Kant’s part. We have to examine why honesty is important. Honesty is important in normal everyday situations because it protects innocent human life. If innocent, nonviolent people are relying on you to be honest, and then you tell lies to them — as Mr. Trump does — that will hurt those people. Hence, the preservation and furtherance of innocent human life entails being honest with innocent, nonviolent people.  Conversely, if you tell the truth to a would-be murderer who will use that true information to commit murder, that will hurt innocent human life, not protect it. That is why the rule of “You should tell the truth” is applicable when interacting with innocent, nonviolent people and inapplicable when interacting with a would-be murderer. For you to do as Kant demanded is for you to engage in a gesture symbolizing a respect for honesty when, in fact, doing as Kant demands in this situation would destroy the very justification for honesty.  And by disrespecting the very justification for honesty, one disrespects honesty itself.

Kant’s writing of this inanity seems to have been a symbolic gesture on his part as well — a gesture symbolizing his own consistency on principle.  This same gesture actually amounted to a self-contradiction on his part — what was to be interpreted as consistency on the matter of honesty revealed an inconsistency in  Kant’s claim to be concerned about the life of the individual.  This, too, is symbolatry.

For me, this is not merely theoretical, as it came into play with a clique of people in Norway who call themselves Objectivists. When you’re interacting with people who are not suicidal and not expressing homicidal ideation, “don’t go blabbing to other people about your friends’ insecurities” is a good rule. Insofar as your friends aren’t suicidal or homicidal, to refrain from telling others about your friends’ insecurities is to respect their well-being and autonomy. However, that rule is not applicable if your friend later shows herself to be severely mentally ill, severe to the point where she has resumed exhibiting a continued fixation on suicide, self-mutilation, and even homicide.

Years ago I became very emotionally close at Hawaii Pacific University with a girl from Norway, to whom I introduced Objectivist ideas. She informed me about her having a long history of threatening seriously to commit suicide, and also of her body dysmorphic disorder: of her hating her face and wanting to find some way to disfigure it to punish herself. She even showed me her old blog where she stated all of this explicitly, in English. “[I] wish i could get hold of a knife so i could cut up that ‘little pretty’ face of mine," she posted publicly years earlier. “Cut it up and make it ugly, just as ugly as I feel..[.] i wanna fuck my face up so no1 [no one] will ever recognize me.” As this was a lot of material, I read it bit by bit over a period of months. My Norwegian friend assured me that she was finally in recovery, and I believed her at the time. When she returned to Norway for a summer, she told me that without me around, she wished there were people with whom she could have face-to-face conversations about free markets and Objectivism. On Facebook I came across a circle of Norwegians claiming to be Objectivist; at the first few glances I took, everything seemed to be on the up-and-up, and I introduced my friend to the group. Later the circle convened around a Facebook page it made called “Libertinius”; Libertinius being the name of a cartoon character who wears the Statue of Liberty’s coronet. That the coronet is supposed to be the Statue of Liberty’s is far from obvious, though, since the Libertinius character is purple all over (not a very well thought-out combination of symbols).

Unfortunately, my friend started to resume the suicidal, self-defacing, and even homicidal gestures. At the encouragement of several members of the clique, she uploaded grisly images in which she was photoshopped as a corpse with a chalky white face — the pallor mortis stage where the blood has stopped circulating. Now this was a case of someone using symbolism and actually having a record to back up the symbolism — the corpse imagery coming after a series of blog posts where my friend repeatedly announced a desire to be dead literally.  I was and am relieved that my friend did not use a knife to slash up her face, but the corpse imagery demonstrated that she found another way to “fuck my face up so no1 [no one] will ever recognize me.”  If that wasn’t already bad enough, one of the more famous members of the Norwegian Objectivist(?) clique — an internationally known artist who photoshops himself as a corpse — uploaded a very disturbing video onto YouTube of my friend delivering a monologue in which she characterizes herself as a neo-fascist “of the Fourth Reich,” alluding to Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

Some people tried to rationalize that my friend was “just being a Goth.” But I have known Goths, and not once did they give me the impression that they wanted to be dead literally. (Now there is a case where I can be grateful about some people’s favorite symbols — symbols of death — not being translated into concrete action.) By contrast, my friend didn’t just depict herself as a symbol of death — this was consistent with her having publicly documented her own suicidal ideation for years. This was something that was necessary for me to take seriously.

I tried to talk to my friend about this by myself. She responded by feigning memory loss; she pretended not to remember having informed me of her history of suicidal and body dysmorphic gestures. Even more disturbing, she actually expected me to play along and help her pretend that she had never mentioned any of this. After this, though, I was not willing to give up on an intervention.

Many people in Hawaii noticed my friend’s morbid gestures but very defensively told me they would never participate in any sort of confrontation with her because they were too intimidated by confrontation in general and by my friend in particular.

I then came across a blog entry that my friend had written earlier: a blog entry that my friend wrote that is a serious murder threat for her mother. She does not say she has a long-range plan to kill her mother. What she does say is that she imagines that one day her mother’s nagging and scolding will anger her so much that she will finally lose control, grabbing a knife and stabbing her mother with it. How she imagines this will play out, my friend describes in graphic detail.  The danger is not merely to my friend’s mother; I have seen that she is capable of developing that level of rage toward anyone to whom she has ever felt strong emotional attachment.

I let members of the Norwegian clique know of the context behind my friend’s morbid gestures — that this was not a matter of her liking symbols of death and darkness for aesthetic reasons, but that she has a history of wanting to be dead literally. I asked that no one would go along acting as if the morbid gestures are safe and acceptable, as refraining from bringing it up is a tacit form of reinforcement. The Norwegian clique’s members responded not with compassion and understanding for my friend, but with hostility toward me. They said it was evil and that I had broken the cardinal rule — not to talk about my friends’ insecurities. They said that my telling anyone else of my friend’s psychiatric condition was an assault on her well-being and on her autonomy. They blackballed me and some of them, such as Tore Rasmussen, went around announcing that I am all about harassing my friend.

Here is what is really going on: by proclaiming that I was evil for having broken this rule not to talk about my friend’s mental illness, the Norwegian clique of pseudo-Objectivists was evading the basis for any rules of social conduct: life as the standard. “Don’t talk about your friends’ insecurities” is a rule that remains in effect on the condition that your friend is not presenting herself as a violent threat to herself and others. That rule is not applicable when your friend is exhibiting indications of being a violent threat to herself and others.

Prioritizing a symbol over the actual value, the Norwegian clique obstructed my intervention in a symbolic show of solidarity with my friend — a gesture to convey respect for my friend’s well-being and autonomy. And as the clique’s members did this, they reinforced my friend’s pathology — the actual, pressing, and obvious threat to my friend’s well-being and autonomy. These enablers to pathology were “protecting” my friend in the same way that Galileo’s persecutors were “protecting” Aristotle. The clique was too myopic and, frankly, insipid, to notice that a right to privacy does not apply to violent threats; nor is one wrong to ask that compassionate attention be directed toward someone who is making suicidal and even homicidal gestures very visibly. The concept and value that the clique has tried to steal is that of concern for my friend; by prioritizing symbolic support for her over a genuine addressing of her self-endangerment, the clique’s members have abdicated any rightful claim to be concerned about my friend’s well-being and autonomy, and yet in their hostility toward me they expected me to believe they were claiming to possess concern for my friend’s well-being and autonomy.

That was just the first of many indications, though, that this clique, which revolves around the “Libertinius” page, is about making symbolic shows of support for Objectivism even as the clique, in its behavior, defiles the very principles that Objectivism espouses. I was wrong in my initial and superficial evaluation of the Norwegian “Libertinius” clique as being a safe to associate with. From 2011 to 2015, the “Libertinius” page denounced Norwegian politicians for disrespecting private ownership rights as the Libertinius page itself repeatedly and regularly plagiarized other people’s explicitly copyrighted political cartoons and, bizarrely, even claimed credit for memes that other people had created (just because someone doesn’t sign a meme he made, that doesn’t give someone else permission to put his logo on it and pretend that it came from him). During the 2016 presidential race, this allegedly nonconformist clique road on the Trump bandwagon and, holding itself as the defender of private property rights, approvingly shared propaganda announcing that Donald Trump had done nothing worse than having “said mean things” — was Donald Trump’s attempt to confiscate a woman’s house by force nothing more than him saying “mean things”?

Libertinius's upload of the meme that dishonestly says Trump's only misdeed was that he "said mean things." This is double propaganda on the Libertnius page's part, as the Libertnius page posted, in the comments section, one of Ben Garrison's many adulatory cartoons glorifying Donald Trump and Stefan Molyneux. When the Libertinius page posted that, Stefan Molyneux was already well-known for touting the inflammatory and scientifically dubious claim that blacks are biologically programmed to be violent whereas whites are not. Clicking on this link will take you to the Archive[Dot]Is archive of the Libertinius Facebook-posting.

In case anyone is interested, here is a correction of the mendacious meme.  The final accusation against Hillary Clinton on the very bottom is particularly baseless.

What was left out by the original meme insisting Trump merely "said mean things" and nothing worse.

 Throughout 2016, the Libertinius page touted itself as the promoter of individualism as it also promulgated the demagoguery and xenophobia (1, 2, 3) of Stefan Molyneux (and Stefan Molyneux mostly parrots the racism and eugenics of J. Philippe Rushton and Richard Lynn of the Pioneer Fund, the latter of whom Molyneux gave an adulatory interview). When I first glanced at the clique’s websites and pages and introduced it to my friend, most of the clique was not promoting the foaming-at-the-mouth xenophobia that would emerge from 2013 onward. One prominent writer in the clique, though — Onar Åm — was already pushing and citing the eugenics of J. Philippe Rushton and Richard Lynn, though this was typed out in Norwegian and I hadn’t bothered to read translations of his pro-eugenicist writings at the time.

The date on which I upload this Part 4 of 4 — July 22 — is a sad anniversary of sorts. It is the anniversary of the day on which Anders Breivik murdered other Norwegians. On that very day, 22 July 2011, soon after hearing about Anders Breivik bombing a government building but before he heard of Breivik shooting adolescents in the socialist party, Onar Åm made these words visible to several hundred people: “News flash:  Terror attack in Oslo, near the government.  8 people are reported injured.  Let’s hope they were tax bureaucrats and not innocent people.”

Fourteen people — including the aforementioned “Objectivist” Anders —  clicked “like” on Onar Åm’s malicious sentiment.  Only two people — a Norwegian libertarian and me — gave any push-back to Onar Åm’s malicious comment.  After the Breivik’s shooting and killing of Norwegian adolescents in the socialist party was reported, that Norwegian libertarian pointedly asked Onar Åm if he condoned that as well.  Onar replied no, he could not condone that, as those particular murder victims were minors.  Then Onar Åm added sharply that government employees are adults and therefore responsible for their own choices, and therefore they are not innocent and if they are killed violently, Onar Åm believes they just got what was coming to them.  Perversely, it was that Norwegian libertarian who ended up apologizing to Onar Åm rather than the other way around.

In the years that followed, Onar Åm has not eased up on the callous and dehumanizing attitude toward those who disagree with him.  In late 2016, he expressed this dehumanizing attitude both toward (1) single mothers and (2) women who choose not to marry and have children (for him, the only women who implicitly escape his contempt are women who marry, have children, and not divorce for any reason).

As you can see, Onar Åm does not bother to change his profile pic
over the years. If only that were his biggest fault here...

Quite apart from it having been in poor taste to begin with, my friend publicly “joking” about being a neo-Nazi “of the Fourth Reich” — again, facilitated by that well-known artist in the Libertinius clique — was especially unwise in light of the Libertinius clique’s consistent xenophobia and support for the alt-right. If you don’t want people to think you’re a neo-Nazi, then (1) you shouldn’t upload videos saying you’re from “the Fourth Reich” and (2) you shouldn’t be around people who recommend the propaganda of Stefan Molyneux, a known “Race Realist” (“race realist” being a euphemism for racist), nor a clique that recommends the propaganda of the Onar Åm who publicly wishes violent death on other Norwegians for disagreeing with him. (Here is an instance of the Norwegian media calling out the Libertinius clique, very properly, on the clique’s demagogish falsehoods.)

And after all this, some of the younger members of the “Libertinius” clique in Norway, apparently having surmised that in the years after the clique had blackballed me I had gained new clout among prominent Objectivists, actually now want me to endorse and approve the “Libertinius” page and the clique’s various other front groups (such as “the Capitalist Party of Norway”). Hell, no; I don’t appreciate the phoniness of the “Libertinius” clique. Starting in 2017 the “Libertinius” page apparently stopped with the plagiarism and stopped promoting Stefan Molyneux’s racism. But it’s too late; here’s an example of a symbol already being too corrupted. Getting the stink off would involve disavowing Kjetil Knausgård, Emil Christopher Solli Melar, Tore Rasmussen, Carlo Nerberg, and the rest of their bigot brigade. It would mean liquidating the “Libertinius” character altogether and not trying to start over again with some other symbol or project.

In more recent years, it appears my friend lost interest in the “Libertinius” clique and that she stopped uploading images of herself photoshopped as a corpse; she looks alive and human again. However, she legally changed her last name to that of a relative whom she had repeatedly hinted had facilitated severe abuse toward her. And, based on what some of her other relatives have said — including what one relative recounted to American newspapers and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s very left-wing book — there is a strong basis for suspecting that the hints point to something that really did happen. The name change, too, is a gesture symbolizing that everything is OK now. Yet knowing the context behind it casts doubt on what that symbolic gesture is attempting to convey. Knowing the context, the name change looks like another, albeit subtler, morbid gesture. Hence, there is reason to ascertain that my friend is not in recovery and the situation with her still isn’t safe.

See? She Told Ya So
Now here is one case study in symbolatry that is not as obviously tragic. On social media, it seems to have become fashionable for people to tout themselves as “investor” or “entrepreneur” when they have no promising or established enterprise to show for it. I wish I could tell you I have never taken part in such silliness, but I can’t. When I was seventeen and going through my Donald Trump fandom phase, I went around announcing, “I’m an entrepreneur!” Then someone would ask me, “What is it you sell?” To that, I could only reply, “I . . . don’t . . . know . . .” It was quite reminiscent of that scene in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion where Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow keep announcing in a diner “We’re businesswomen!” and then a waitress asks them, “What business are you in?”

Later I noticed that when successful and innovative entrepreneurs are asked to describe themselves, entrepreneur is seldom the first word that comes to their minds. They do not start off saying, “I have decided to be an entrepreneur! Now I have to decide what it is that I sell...” Nay, they tended to follow a different path. Usually what happened is that someone started out as just some weirdo who was really obsessed with something and later found a method for monetizing that obsession. There was once a boy named William who was obsessed with feet. Whenever his parents introduced him to adults, he insisted on inspecting the adults’ feet. He even carried around the skeletal remains of a human foot wherever he went with him. Eventually William grew up to be a podiatrist. Inspecting feet for a living, he noticed that many of the sores and bunions on his patients were the result of their having worn impractical shoes. William resolved to design a much more ergonomic, comfortable model. He did exactly this and patented it, and built a whole business around it. That is how Dr. William Scholl started the company that bears his name, Dr. Scholl’s.

Learning this, I remembered what that eccentric woman told me about how being a good example in your normal everyday activities is the greatest demonstration of any principle. Nowadays I try not to go around announcing that I like to think of myself as entrepreneurial. It’s not even good for me to announce that I am a writer. What matters is that I work on the creative pursuits that hold my interest, and that is what I will have to show for myself — not some title I have tried to bestow upon myself prematurely. “Fake it until you make it” is foolish advice. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, just try to make it — and never fake anything.

This is the point where a hater might say, “If Ayn Rand and Objectivism are so great, why didn’t Ayn Rand anticipate that there would be really silly people who recite her principles but do not live by them?”

Well, not even Ayn Rand could anticipate everything. I just appreciate the writing that she did leave behind. If there is something she did not explain and which I need to figure out for myself, that is no failing on her part; she has already done a lot.

However, it turns out that there are two works in which Ayn Rand did anticipate this phenomenon. In a number of respects, it is described well in her novella and play Ideal. Ideal is — it should not surprise you at this point — a work I consider to be heavy on symbolism. Throughout the story, people from various walks of life tell the glamorous actress Kay Gonda that they value her so highly that they would risk their reputations and social standing for her. They are then presented with the opportunity to act on that very promise — and all but one of them refuses. Therefore, all those phonies’ professing their veneration of Kay Gonda was meaningless at best; their letters, full of accolades, are gestures and rituals that symbolize their placing value on Kay Gonda. But in their actions, they demonstrate they do not value Kay Gonda.

{SPOILERS} Upon meeting the one man who acts upon his professed ideals, Kay Gonda discusses with him the reasons why society has gone so wrong. Initially, she thinks of the false fans who betrayed her as “Those who cannot dream.” To this, the true idealist corrects her — the false fans are “Those who can only dream” (emphasis Rand’s) — meaning that the phoniness comes from people who talk big about philosophic ideals but, when presented with opportunities to act on such ideals, default instead.

This is Ayn Rand’s anticipation of people who claim to value Ayn Rand and Objectivism and yet, through their actions — whitewashing Trump’s authoritarianism, promoting Stefan Molyneux’s bigoted rationalizations, ostracizing the one person who tried to intervene on behalf of a friend publicly exhibiting her suicidal and homicidal ideations — demonstrate hostility to the integrity and individualism and freedom and commitment to love and values that Ayn Rand championed.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand also had some choice words for people tout themselves as being serious investors, serious entrepreneurs, or just plain committed to philosophic ideals when, in practice, they have nothing to show for it. In Francisco d’Anconia’s words, such people “seek to reverse the law of cause and effect.” When Cherryl Brooks saw James Taggart’s commercial success — success that was actually James’s piggybacking off of Dagny’s work — Cherryl attributed that success to be the effect of a particular cause: that cause being productiveness. Cherryl was right, of course, that productiveness is the cause of the effect that is commercial success, but she didn’t consider that maybe James Taggart was mooching off the of the productiveness of others, just as in his shady dealings, Donald Trump has piggybacked off the productivity of other people. To be a serious investor or serious entrepreneur is an effect — the effect of productiveness. When people go around announcing themselves to be serious investors or serious entrepreneurs, they do so because they wish to be seen as productive, as if that will give them the cause (productiveness).

However, when they do not have much to show for it, such people are trying to gain the cause (productiveness) by being associated with the effect (being seen as a serious investor or serious entrepreneur). The same goes for the grumps and phonies of the “Libertinius” circle trying to gain a reputation for being serious about philosophy. A reputation for being serious about philosophy is the effect. The cause of it is consistently acting in accordance with one’s professed philosophy. That means not practicing plagiarism, not immediately doubling down when caught in the plagiarism, not promoting Stefan Molyneux’s racism, and not conveniently scrubbing all that in some effort to hide the wrongdoing.

As I said earlier, symbols will always be important to us — at their best, they are cognitive tools whereby we expand our understanding of what goes on in the concrete, literal context — but they must not be prioritized to the point where the symbol of a value takes precedence over the value itself. A gesture symbolizing someone’s defense of some value has genuine meaning, and deserves all of the positive emotion invested into it, no more than the extent to which that gesture preserves and upholds that value in concrete practice.

 To the degree that freedom of speech is upheld in the United States, people are right to venerate the American flag as a beautiful symbol of the freedom of speech. But when politicians propose a law to penalize burning of the American flag — that is, a law to censor disparagement of the flag — it is those politicians, far more than the flag-burners, who devalue and undermine the American flag’s stature as a symbol of the freedom of speech. If you make a Facebook page to praise Ayn Rand and denigrate her detractors — all the while plagiarizing other people’s copyrighted political cartoons — you insult and dishonor Ayn Rand far worse than her detractors ever have.

Yes, cherish your favorite symbols, your favorite symbols representing your professed values. But more than that, the symbols representing your professed values shall retain their glory no more than the extent to which you abide by those same professed values in your literal, concrete actions.

This is full of some of my favorite symbolism --
symbolism that retains meaning insofar as it is backed up by concrete action.


Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Entire Essay on One Page