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