06.29.2018: One Chapter of Nonfiction

Today’s soundtrack is Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young: Deja Vu.

This afternoon, I’m reading the fourth chapter of Ayn Rand’s Philosophy: Who Needs It, “The Missing Link.”

Rand begins the chapter by giving vignettes of four different people: the first is a man who denounced the liberal people who threaten his business if he does not comply with their demands, but renounced capitalism; a novelist who claimed that the art of the novel was dying because novels are concerned with recognizable truths, and the modern world is surreal (with all of its bombs and inventions), so people cannot reconcile the two; a businessman who tried to pay his workers by the piece instead of by the hour to boost productivity, but abandoned his plan once his workers decided to take a week off after they had earned as much in three weeks as they normally earned in four; and a philosophy professor who invited Rand to give a short presentation on Objectivist ethics and answer questions, but would not give her enough time to present the reasons for her views of justice.

Rand says that the four people have the same mentality in common: they are all “examples of the anti-conceptual mentality” (p. 51), which is marked by “passivity in regard to the process of conceptualization and, therefore, in regard to fundamental principles” (p. 51). People with the anti-conceptual mentality decide that they “[know] enough and [do] not care to look further” (p. 51).

People can “counterfeit” (p. 51) conceptual development “by memorization and imitation” (p. 51); they can perform the first level of conceptualization, where people “identify perceptual material consisting predominantly of physical objects” (p. 51), but they cannot take “abstractions from abstractions, which cannot be learned by imitation” (p. 51). To such people, things are because they are; they are self-evident; they are a given. They recognize no “distinction between the metaphysical and the man-made” (p. 52). They do not consider - and of course cannot answer - the basic questions, “‘Why?’ and ‘What for?’” (p. 52). If pushed, they will simply answer something to the effect of, “That’s just the way it is!”

"The absence of concern with the 'Why?' eliminates the concept of causality and cuts off the past. The absence of concern with the 'What for?' eliminates long-range purpose and cuts off the future. Thus only the present is fully real to an anti-conceptual mentality."

We integrate with the continuum of life through our conceptual faculty. Those who are anti-conceptual do not integrate with this continuum, but create associations with it. They have a random filing cabinet in their minds filled with random facts and connections, but they never sort through the filing cabinet and determine what things are true and why, or throw away the things that are not. These people can work hard within the limits they are given, but they will not exceed those limits, because they do not analyze their environments. They cannot give reasons for why they believe what they believe. They have never thought to ask the questions about their beliefs that others will ask them about their beliefs. They can continue living peacefully like this perpetually, until someone challenges their beliefs. Once their belief is challenged, though, they react defensively; after all, for these people, they do not live by a code of reasoned beliefs built on a strong foundation; rather, their entire belief system is intertwined with their being - so they feel that a challenge to their belief system is a challenge to them.

Often, these people hide behind their traditions to protect themselves from ever needing to ask why, or how, or what for. Traditions make people feel safe. But the reality is that though they think their traditions are keeping them safe from other people, the reality is, traditions keep people safe from ever needing to think through problems themselves, safe from responsibility for the consequences of their actions or inactions.

By surrounding themselves with other anti-conceptualists, people can protect themselves from the challenges of those whose beliefs have a basis in the fundamentals of philosophy, and all that “the group demands in return is obedience to its rules” (p. 55), which protect him “from the dreaded realm of abstract thought” (p. 55).

Rand lists several examples of anti-conceptualism: “Racism[, …]xenophobia[, …]the caste system[, …]guild socialism[, …]ancestor worship, …and] criminal gangs” (p. 57). “The common denominator in all such gangs is the belief in motion (mass demonstrations), not action--in changing, not arguing--in demanding, not achieving--in feeling, not thinking--in denouncing ‘outsiders,’ not in pursuing values--in focusing only on the ‘now,’ the ‘today’ without a ‘tomorrow’--in seeking to return to ‘nature,’ to ‘the earth,’ to the mud, to physical labor, i.e., to all the things which a perceptual mentality is able to handle. You don’t see advocates of reason and science clogging a street in the belief that using their bodies to stop traffic will solve any problem” (p. 59).

A society is ruled by laws, “a proper association is united by ideas, not by men” (p. 60), and anti-conceptualists are ruled by men, not ideas. “When men are united by ideas, i.e., by explicit principles, there is no room for favors, whims, or arbitrary power: the principles serve as an objective criterion for determining actions and for judging men” (p. 61); “this is the only way men can work together” (p. 61) fairly.

Rand hypothesizes that the thing that separates man from animal is the intentional development of the conceptual mentality; those who are anti-conceptual are the missing link in humanity’s evolution.