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Is 'Objectivism' a Cult?

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Showing 1-25 of 96 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 2, 2011 1:24:10 PM PST
I would say so. Even a cursory review of books such as "Cults In Our Midst" by Margaret Singer serves to confirm that Objectivism conforms to many of the criteria of a cult.

For example, Objectivism's proponents seek to change the behavior of their students. The final goal, ostensibly, is to create a more rational human being. What most experience, however, is emotional repression, paranoia and stifled creativity. The accounts of former objectivists are rife with supporting examples; see the writings of Barbara Branden and Kay Nolte Smith. The first thing a cult will do, according to Ms. Singer, is:

"Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how attempts to psychologically condition him or her are directed in a step-by-step manner.

* Potential new members are led, step by step, through a behavioral-change program without being aware of the final agenda or full content of the group. The goal may be to make them deployable agents for the leadership, to get them to buy more courses, or get them to make a deeper commitment, depending on the leader's aim and desires."

Objectivism's proponents also seek to monopolize the time of their students, through various books (Rand's first and foremost), audio lectures, actual lectures, newsletters, etc. Furthermore, there is an ever-growing list of proscribed books, movies, newspapers, etc. Ms. Singer again:

"Control the person's social and/or physical environment; especially control the person's time.

* Through various methods, newer members are kept busy and led to think about the group and its content during as much of their waking time as possible."

Cults, according to Ms. Singer, seek to create a sense of powerlessness in a person. How does 'Objectivism' do this? By undermining a person's belief in their own ability to deal with reality independent of a guru, her books, and those of her acolytes. By systematically reducing everyone and everything to reflections of characters and events featured in Ms. Rand's *fictional* books, 'objectivists' forfeit their ability to think for themselves and identify people and events in their own way, on their own terms.
Rand's novels become an updated version of Plato's forms, where the perfect embodiment of any existent exists only within Rand's fictional universe, and their imperfect reflections exist here in our universe.

Students of 'Objectivism' are also encouraged to break ties with friends and family members who refuse to embrace their new ideology- just as characters in Rand's novels do. Students are encouraged to despise non-objectivists as evil or as cowards for knowing what the good is and for failing to embrace it. 'Objectivism' also embraces an in-group language, where words or terms such as "second-hander" and "social-metaphysician" are used almost as a code, and the names of Rand's fictional characters are used as labels to describe real-world persons. Ms. Singer:

"Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person.

* This is accomplished by getting members away from their normal social support group for a period of time and into an environment where the majority of people are already group members.

The members serve as models of the attitudes and behaviors of the group and speak an in-group language.

Once the target is stripped of their usual support network, their confidence in their own perception erodes.

As the group attacks the target's previous worldview, it causes the target distress and inner confusion; yet they are not allowed to speak about this confusion or object to it - leadership suppresses questions and counters resistance."

She continues:

"Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments and experiences in such a way as to inhibit behavior that reflects the person's former social identity.

* Manipulation of experiences can be accomplished through various methods of trance induction, including leaders using such techniques as paced speaking patterns, guided imagery, chanting, long prayer sessions or lectures, and lengthy meditation sessions.
* the target's old beliefs and patterns of behavior are defined as irrelevant or evil. Leadership wants these old patterns eliminated, so the member must suppress them.
* Members get positive feedback for conforming to the group's beliefs and behaviors and negative feedback for old beliefs and behavior.

# The group manipulates a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors.

* Good behavior, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance of the group's beliefs, and compliance are rewarded while questioning, expressing doubts or criticizing are met with disapproval, redress and possible rejection. Anyone who asks a question is made to feel there is something inherently disordered about them to be questioning.
* The only feedback members get is from the group; they become totally dependent upon the rewards given by those who control the environment.
* Members must learn varying amounts of new information about the beliefs of the group and the behaviors expected by the group.
* The more complicated and filled with contradictions the new system is and the more difficult it is to learn, the more effective the conversion process will be.
* Esteem and affection from peers is very important to new recruits. Approval comes from having the new member's behaviors and thought patterns conform to the models (members). Members' relationship with peers is threatened whenever they fail to learn or display new behaviors. Over time, the easy solution to the insecurity generated by the difficulties of learning the new system is to inhibit any display of doubts-new recruits simply acquiesce, affirm and act as if they do understand and accept the new ideology."

Students of 'Objectivism' are encouraged to read and re-read "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead", the half-dozen or so 'non-fiction' essay collections published by Rand, and books written by her hangers on like Leonard Peikoff and Peter Schwartz. Lectures on cd are sold by the Ayn Rand Institute, as well as newsletters, and they also sell books on tape.

Questioning 'objectivist' dogma is taboo in 'objectivist' circles. Those who fail to accept the group's dogma are stigmatized as irrational, as having 'bad premises', etc. Positive feedback is generated by complete acceptance of the group's beliefs. Those who fail to conform to the requirement of unquestioning obedience are rejected by the group- Nathaniel Branden, Joan Blumenthal, David Kelley, John McCaskey, etc. This type of behavior was instituted by Rand herself and continues to this day.

And finally:

"Put forth a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and refuses to be modified except by leadership approval or executive order.

* The group has a top-down, pyramid structure. The leaders must have verbal ways of never losing.
* Members are not allowed to question, criticize or complain. If they do, the leaders allege the member is defective, not the organization or the beliefs.
* The targeted individual is treated as always intellectually incorrect or unjust, while conversely the system, its leaders and its beliefs are always automatically, and by default, considered as absolutely just.
* Conversion or remolding of the individual member happens in a closed system. As members learn to modify their behavior in order to be accepted in this closed system, they change-begin to speak the language-which serves to further isolate them from their prior beliefs and behaviors."

Leonard Peikoff sits atop the structure of official 'objectivism', and he brooks no challenges. Having named himself Rand's "intellectual heir" (whatever that is), he has declared 'objectivism' to be a "closed system", which cannot be changed and cannot grow beyond Rand's writings and those she sanctioned in her lifetime.

Peikoff accuses his enemies (real and imagined) of being 'evil', 'haters of the good', etc. He always portrays himself as completely right and them as completely wrong. For example, his calls to obliterate Iran with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, despite the presence of unarmed and innocent men, women and children. Any fatalities, he insists, are the fault of their government for not simple standing aside and allowing the U.S. to take over.

'Objectivism' has always been a closed, self-reinforcing system- which is why it has been rejected by mainstream philosophers and logicians. 'Objectivists' substitute new definitions for established ones, new concepts to replace old, and new words with in-group meanings, all of which are reinforced by the closed system. For example, labeling someone an 'Ellsworth Toohey" or a "James Taggart" has no meaning outside of randian circles, but any 'objectivist' can tell you what it means to be called one of those names.

Rand routinely used quotes from her novels as evidence for a supposedly logical point in her supposedly non-fiction essays. Right beside quotes from dubious economic experts such as Ludwig Von Mises you'll find excerpts from this or that speech from John Galt or Francisco D'Anconia.

So I have to answer in the affirmative- "Objectivism" is indeed a cult. It conforms to the criteria established by an expert on the subject, Magaret Singer, as laid out in her book, "Cults In Our Midst".

Posted on Jan 3, 2011 12:06:08 PM PST
My previous post was cut short as I was pressed for time. Here is more evidence for the cultic status of objectivism.

When 'objectivists' talk about Rand they use quasi-religious terminology. In their eyes, Rand is "the greatest thinker ever to live" "the greatest philosopher since Aristotle", etc., a messianic figure who came to bring salvation to those willing to accept it. Her 'salvation', however, is not a supernatural one; it consists of the achievement of a fully rational mind. In place of a cross she uses a dollar sign and creates prayers such as this one from Atlas Shrugged:

"I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

Rand believed, as do Christians, that the righteous will suffer in this world at the hands of the evil, but that, eventually, a world-shattering cataclysm (in her case, the type of strike portrayed in A.S.) would usher in a new age of peace and prosperity for all.

Cults frequently become apocalyptic when they are rejected by the mainstream. It happened with Judaism (to a certain extent; Judaism has largely resisted the urge to proselytize) Christianity, Islam- right on down to Mormonism, Scientology, the Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate, etc. When the faith is rejected by society or comes under attack from the authorities, cult members begin promising future vengeance from God, or, in Rand's case, the "men of the mind", the god-like 'Atlases' who carry the world on their backs, who would one day shrug- leaving those of us who rejected her to die because we, much like the early opponents of Christianity, are evil and "hate the good for being the good".

When Rand published "The Fountainhead" she was still very much in thrall to Nietszche, and suffice it to say, much of the humor and sarcasm in his writings was lost on her. She did, however, recieve rave reviews from many critcs for her novel, and it became a movie starring Gary Cooper. She spent the next 10 years or so doing research for and working on A.S.

Rand anticipated a cultural revolution upon the publication of 'Atlas Shrugged'. When it failed to materialize- and the book was, in fact, panned by most critics- she sank into a deep depression, which she treated by having affairs with much younger men who admired her work and by publishing philosophical articles, which, along with those written by the likes of Nathaniel Branden (her lover), Leonard Peikoff, Alan Greenspan, Peter Schwartz, etc., promised a coming judgement upon society that would unmake society and reform it according to the principles outlined by Rand.

The only way to prevent this apocalypse was to embrace, completely and without question, Rand's 'philosophy', which lays out articles of faith such as the neccessity of laissez-faire capitalism, the morality of self-interest, the evil of altruism and the tautology, "Existence exists".

Originally, Nathaniel Branden was Rand's prophet, until 1968 when she excommunicated him for withdrawing his sexual favors from her, leaving his wife and taking up with a pretty young actress. Leonard Peikoff was declared her heir and, upon her death, set about consolidating his power, excommunicating anyone who dared to question him.

Cults do not need to be based around the supernatural or any particualr god. There are many 'psycho-therapy cults' and cults based around U.F.O.'s and extra-terrestrials. Cults tend to coalesce around a group of beliefs which they then try to spread to others. They try to alter the behavior of their adherents, separate them from their traditional support structures by encouraging them to break ties with those who don't accept the new ideology, and provide a closed system of logic to adherents, which serves to reinforce the cult's beliefs.

So, bearing all of this in mind, how is 'Objectivism' not a cult?

Posted on Jan 4, 2011 10:01:44 AM PST
Obviously, this isn't the first time I've seen Objectivism referred to as a cult. While I'm not a cult researcher and thus can't claim any real authority in the field, it's my impression that Objectivism displays many, many cult-like characteristics (referenced in the above posts) without actually achieving cult status itself. The difficulty in describing Objectivism as a cult arises from the fact that the movement (such as it exists, anymore) is largely decentralized, without a true headquarters location or formal membership requirements. I say this with the examples of the Branch Davidians and Jim Jones's People's Temple in mind - these actual cults required that their members be sequestered from society at large, physically separating themselves and strictly enforcing that separation. The ARI might be like Mecca for the Objectivist faithful, but it's hardly an armed compound like Waco. And while `Atlas Shrugged' clearly calls the faithful to withdraw themselves into a remote groupthink utopia, in the real world people who intellectually prostrate themselves before Rand are just as likely to pray to Jesus and maintain employment at companies like the one run by Orren Boyle, in spite of the incompatibility of these choices with their worldview. Obviously, the closer one moves to Objectivism's center of power (i.e. Peikoff), the less tolerance there is for dissent. The Objectivist rank and file, however, aren't likely to suffer the fate of a David Kelley; nor is the average Rand reader likely to be aware of Objectivism's internal disputes. The question of membership, of who gets to call themselves an Objectivist, is an unsettled question that, in the end, makes it difficult to describe Objectivism as a true cult. How's that?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2011 10:58:32 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 4, 2011 4:06:32 PM PST
Hey A.G.-

I'm speaking primarily about 'official' objectivism rather than the person who attaches him/herself to Rand's ideas but refrains from "joining" the official movement.

I maintain that 'objectivism' is a sort of cult, within the context of the ARI and those people who choose to affiliate themselves with it. The echo chamber Peikoff has created with all of the taped lectures, books, dvds, etc that 'students' are encouraged/expected to buy, the example set by the leadership who cut tie with those who "betray" objectivism, etc, all are examples of cult behavior.

Objectivism is seriously hobbled by the 'official' movement, and are largely a group of cranks, but I do think my original assertion is valid.

I do see your point, though, as 'objectivism' proper is an extremely decentralized ideological movement. Many people simply pick and choose what they want to take from Rand and leave the rest.

I agree with you that the wider 'objectivist' movement displays cult-like tendencies without actually attaining cult status. But, again, I'm referring to the official movement and those who choose to affiliate themselves with it.

Posted on Jan 6, 2011 2:13:50 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 6, 2011 2:14:50 PM PST
Objectivism is a "cult" only in the most inclusive, and therefore trivial, sense: any point of view held by more than one person. I for one greatly admire Ayn Rand, am reading Atlas Shrugged for the third time, and find her views on personal responsibility and the destructive nature of government meddling compelling. Do I seek to force my views on others? No. I do hope they come to agree with these views, but people have to do this-- like everything else worth doing-- on their own. Is Objectivism the answer to all of the world's problems? I think nothing qualifies for that description, but it does offer solutions that I find viable. "Cult"? No. Not for me.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 9, 2011 1:35:12 PM PST
Admiring Rand is one thing. Being a member of her cult is another. Once again- I call only the "official' objectivist movement a cult.

While I would consider some of the independent 'objectivists' I have met as exhibiting the behavior of a cult member, I feel it's important not to compare apples to oranges.

A person can admire and adopt the principles of a thinker or leader and not consider him/herself a follower of that thinker or leader. One can be an atheist, like me, and still believe that Jesus was an exemplary moral teacher in what one could call his 'social gospel'- taking care of the poor, forgiveness, inclusiveness, etc.

Once again, I have to say that 'objectivism' here is meant in the same way that Leonard Peikoff would mean it- referring only to the official movement and its adherents.

Posted on Jan 14, 2011 2:47:03 AM PST
D. Dallmann says:
Objectivism could certainly be a cult for some people. When I first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged I felt like I was ready to join a cult. These are powerful ideas. I do believe that these books do provide a foundation for making decisions. I do not believe that joining any group or following anyone else is the point of these books. Following your own internal sense of right or wrong and not just going along will bring you closer to the 'objective'.

Posted on Jan 14, 2011 7:57:02 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 14, 2011 7:57:52 AM PST
I think part of the reason some people (chiefly people who don't like Ayn Rand for her ideas) think of Objectivism as a cult is that the books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged run so dramatically against the grain of much that has been happening in the sociopolitical arena currently and in recent years. These books offer a system of thought, as D. Dallmann has pointed out, that amounts to a foundation for making rational decisions; and a lot of people are uncomfortable with that, strangely enough.

Posted on Jan 20, 2011 12:58:20 PM PST
A_Capitalist says:
Someone should tell Benji that cults can't be founded on Individualism; which is the basis of Objectivism.

Posted on Jan 20, 2011 1:05:46 PM PST
A_Capitalist says:
But it must be remembered that Benji is intellectually dishonest, so telling him the above may not impact him. He will simply evade. One example of his intellectual dishonesty is the time when he tried to "educate" me on the difference between "Ad Hominum" and "Ad Hominem." He wrote a long diatribe attacking my use of "Ad Hominum" as a clear example of my misunderstanding of such an important term. When I pointed out that there is only one definition of the word and that I had simply misspelled it, he deleted his comment. The intellectually honest thing would have been to say, "Ah, I see that I was the one who made the significant error and I apologize for my vitriolic attacks on your character." Instead, he evaded that reality as he generally does when things do not fit into his disintegrated view of the world.

This is the reason that I do not address him directly. There would be no point. I only seek to warn others of his immorality.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 20, 2011 1:11:49 PM PST
Someone should tell the unsuccessful day trader that written statements of principle are frequently at odds with the behavior of people in the real world.

And who the heck are you to accuse anyone of intellectual dishonesty?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 20, 2011 3:29:22 PM PST

I corrected your spelling because I wanted to puncture your pretensions to intellectualism. The fact that you think I was correcting your term rather than your spelling is hilarious and sad.

Also, you're a liar. I deleted no such post. It's all there. Whether that discussion is in "Why Can't Objectivists Defend Their Beliefs?" or "What's Wrong With Objectivism?", I don't know. My guess is the former. My edits are all for punctuation and clarity, and sometimes to add to what I wrote, but I never delete after someone has responded to me.

Nice try, though. BTW- shouldn't you be rich by now? With your godlike objectivist powers I would think you would be living it up in the Bahamas rather than wasting your time trying to insult and argue with a no-good, life hating liberal.

Posted on Feb 5, 2011 6:22:46 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 5, 2011 6:27:51 PM PST
A_Capitalist says:
Finally, Benji has acknowledged an important aspect of reality. He has admitted he is a no-good, life hater. I would encourage him to continue but I am pretty confident he is beyond redemption. even though he and "Atlas Groaned" live quite near each other in one of the wealthiest suburbs of Chicago, he denies and condemns the free markets that make his life possible.

Funny, I wonder if the two have had the rendezvous they proposed to each other on these boards. I think it's unlikely. They would probably find each others company intolerable.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2011 6:28:49 PM PST
Free markets make my life possible? But I thought Rand said, in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, that free markets had never actually existed. Sounds like somebody has his talking points confused.

But that's not nearly as amusing as the fact that a certain Randroid has repeatedly evinced disdain for me, precisely because I'm successful. LMFAO, now I really have seen everything!

Posted on Feb 6, 2011 6:00:38 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 6, 2011 6:22:01 PM PST
A_Capitalist says:
Well, I certainly have nothing but disdain for you, but I have no evidence of your financial success or failure and don't care either way. Your clear failure is in your philosophy, which is the context of this discussion. For example, you are blind to the fact that without the efficient allocation of capital that markets make possible to the EXTENT that they are free, you would starve like any of the citizens of the Soviet Union who experienced your ideal political philosophy in it's fullest expression.

And please do not attempt to use your place of residence to prove your success. You could easily be living in your parents' basement. This would follow logically, as a matter of fact. I strongly suspect that is the case with your boy, Benji.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 6, 2011 10:59:55 PM PST
@ A_Capitalist:

You're right! I live in my parents' basement. I weigh 350 lbs, my skin is a translucent white from never venturing beyond the confines of my room, and I spend all of my spare time on converting others to socialism, my philosophy of death.

I hate happiness and puppies. I want everyone to live in horrible poverty so I can enjoy our shared misery until we all die. To me, the world is nothing but pain and misery. I despise those who are truly capable of happiness and I look forward to the day when I can cruush them under my boot heel.

Because I'm incapable of experiencing joy, I have no interest in sex. When I do indulge my filthy urges I do so with giggling waitress types, because women with self-confidence and proper philosophical premises intimidate me and expose my hatred of the good for being the good.

You've got me pegged, dude. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Posted on Feb 7, 2011 7:28:12 AM PST
The amazing ability of Randroids to instantaneously know everything about the character and beliefs of people they've never met and only cursorily encountered will never cease to impress me. I wonder, does membership in the Objectivist cult confer superpowers on the member, the way membership in the Scientologist cult does?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 7, 2011 9:45:06 AM PST
Rand does promise non-supernatural super-powers to her followers. She always portrayed her heroes as wealthy, ridiculously sexually attractive chain-smokers who never eat or sleep, which, I guess, means that objectivists can live on princples and nothing else. That these characters can abuse themselves with impunity also seems to indicate some kind of invulnerability.

She refused to portray her heroes performing day to day tasks, because Rand attributed metaphysical significance to everything she wrote. We never see Howard Roark with a cold or Dagny Taggart eat a meal. They struggle mentally and physically for decades without reprieve or a decent night's sleep. The whole world is against them, they're hated and disdained, yet they walk through the streets without fear of attack or assassination. They know they're right about everything, and march to their living martyrdom like saints.

I guess objectivism allows its adherents to KNOW the TRUTH better than the rest of us. They can smoke sixty cigarettes a day, stay awake for weeks at a time, go months without food or water (which explains why they never use the bathroom) and never bathe but still look fantastic, they are impervious to disease, and can bear any amount of mental and physical strain. They also have the ability to divine which of us deserves to live and those of us that deserve to die.

At least, that's how Rand presents her philosophy and its followers. I guess all of that would be pretty cool, if it wasn't total b.s. The saddest thing is that randroids seem to believe in this stuff.

And that, I think, show us who they really are- sad people who need to feel as if they have some control over the world, want to feel special or exceptional, and that, for all of life's bewildering complexity, they understand how it REALLY works. Never mind the fact that their supposed philosophical and intellectual superiority have no tangible, material results.

If one were to choose a cult based on tangible, material benefits, he/she would be better served by becoming a scientologist; even for all of their insanity, there are many, many more wealthy people attached to Hubbard's cult than Rand's.

Posted on Feb 7, 2011 12:13:15 PM PST
A_Capitalist says:
Again, each time Benji posts, remember his intellectual dishonesty as detailed above.

Posted on Feb 7, 2011 4:47:55 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Feb 9, 2011 11:15:02 AM PST]

Posted on Feb 10, 2011 1:37:42 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 10, 2011 1:38:36 AM PST
A_Capitalist says:
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Posted on Feb 15, 2011 12:50:45 AM PST
david1229 says:
You can't reason with the objectivists, like any other religious fanatics. They just have to live and die with their stupid beliefs.

Posted on Feb 16, 2011 11:01:26 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 16, 2011 11:02:16 AM PST
A_Capitalist says:
Well, what do you mean by "reason" David? If you mean using logic--both inductive and deductive' with induction being the method of creating new concepts and abstractions and deduction being the method of connecting them with physical reality--that is the best way to communicate with an Objectivist. If you are using "reason" as a synonym for "compromise on basic values" as many people do these days, then you are right. An Objectivist can compromise on what to have for dinner, but never on principles.

Posted on Apr 12, 2011 8:00:12 PM PDT
M. A. Plus says:
The popularity of "Atlas Shrugged" apparently shows how many adult male virgins we have in our midst. Sexually experienced guys with decent jobs and a purpose in life probably couldn't identify with John Galt, a 30-something male virgin who trashes his engineering career, takes a menial job on a railroad and behaves like a love-obsessional stalker from an episode of "Criminal Minds" towards the railroad's beautiful vice president.

Rand's ingratitude also annoys me. The American people took her in as a refugee from communism, offered her work, let her become a citizen and bought enough of her novels to make her financially comfortable. She returned the favor by writing a novel which calls most of us - decent poor people in my parents' and grandparents' generations who voted for Roosevelt, Truman and other Democrats - thugs, moochers and looters who deserved to perish in a Malthusian die-off, simply because we didn't measure up to her fantasy standards. What a wretched, wretched woman.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 12, 2011 9:41:24 PM PDT
Well put. It's only going to get worse when the movie comes out. The minute the first showing ends a million fanboys all throughout the western world are going to unite in a collective climax as they see their wet dream come to life. People who never read this piece of garbage are going to be walking around asking, "Who is John Galt?"

Unless the movie is a total piece of crap. Which it almost certainly will be.
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