Posted by: captainfalcon | April 30, 2010

More Bromides on the State of the Age

Another comment cum post about a comment. George writes that Objectivism supplies an antidote to conventional wisdom’s demand that we be modest even when we ought not to be. To my mind, though, Objectivism and conventional wisdom are both strains of the same disease. Conventional wisdom says we should always be modest / downplay our accomplishments. Objectivists think (even if they don’t always come out and say) we should always be arrogant / emphasize our accomplishments. Both of these advise believing falsehoods (or, at least, expressing things we, without employing doublethink, wouldn’t believe).

No doubt there’s a case for doing that, but I think life would be less tedious if it were sans the taboo against giving frank assessments of oneself and others. (This, of course, may just be a mark of my extreme narcissism. I am fascinated by myself, and would like to know more about it. But I am fascinated by my real self, not some idealization that, if it were me, would mean I am actually fascinating, or worthy of investigation; hence extreme narcissism.)

Here are two prima facie considerations against making frank assessments the norm.

First, it could be that whatever theoretical value frank assessments have – whatever they contribute to the pursuit of truth – is outweighed by their conative effects. (Maybe they’re depressing.) I have no idea whether this is so, but I expect it would be less so were we to defeat the presumption that thinking someone (even severely) flawed implies holding them in contempt. (My sense is that one reason we do hold those we judge flawed in contempt is that we erroneously think we ought to do so.)

Second, it is a truism that people tend to have biased views of themselves (and others). (It is not true that people tend to hold inflated views of themselves. In some contexts – when we forthrightly acknowledge that people can suffer deficits in esteem – we seem to recognize this, but we forget it when people start deprecating themselves in public. Then we assume they are declining to “voice the narcissism we all know exists.”) Another objection, then, holds that frank discussion will just lead to the promulgation of falsehoods, which has little theoretical value.

This, however, is obviously false. If deliberation on our personal characteristics was normally frank then egregious errors – currently allowed to persist for reasons of etiquette – would be voiced, to be sure, but also corrected. Perhaps other errors would be allowed to persist, but that’s as it is, anyway.

So, I think I’d prefer the world if people treated themselves like any other object of study ought to be treated – as interesting specimens worthy of examination, instead of delicate flowers whose sense of propriety likes to be serviced by a tissue of lies. Of course, because people’s sense of propriety does like servicing by a tissue of lies – because flattery and humility (more or less nuanced depending on who you’re trying to con) gets you everywhere – my preferred world isn’t going to actualize.

Update: Notice how the parenthetical in paragraph two proves the last sentence of this post. How humiliating!



  1. Your hatred of Objectivism is showing. =)

    Objectivists think (even if they don’t always come out and say) we should always be arrogant / emphasize our accomplishments.

    Arrogance implies that the self-flattery is undeserved. I don’t think Objectivism condones poseurs. I really think calling the spade a spade is all Objectivists are after.

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