In Terms of Essentials
On Ayn Rand's Argumentative Methods


Once you are able to grasp what she meant by this word (and its context), you will have a much greater appreciation of the depth of this woman's understanding.
yn Rand never split hairs as you might expect from academicians and pundits of any 'stoop or stripe'. She understood the value (efficiency) of coring out the apple cleanly and throwing that part away even though there is ... "still some pulp there you know... she didn't think about that ...".

Ayn Rand went to war with irrationality and always looked for the "head shot". She was not interested in rehabilitating totalitarian governments. Destroy and replace ... the "final solution" ... after all the talk is done there is still the matter of that gun at the bottom of the pile of papers. You do not see it as clearly as she.

Hence, she was never talking to her enemies ... only to you ... the undecided, the uncommitted, the sucker who, due to ignorance, makes a totalitarian state possible. She did not want your attention and understanding diluted and washed away in minutiae.

This is the big picture:

1 the line &  ... up close and personal 2

In the first picture there is a clear cut, black & white difference between good and evil. This is what Miss Rand wants you to concentrate on. ... THE OBVIOUS ...

But observe the second. We've zoomed in on that line of demarcation and we find that bit of "gray area" that every pundit attempts to straddle. (I should say "stroodle" but no one would understand that I meant the combo word - straddle+wallow.)

This gray area exists in almost everything one examines. That is, everything that is represented by an "operation" rather than a "state". There is a critical distinction here that needs to be pointed out in some detail. So let us proceed to do the dirty business.

Distinguishing between two "pure" states

This is easy. Strictly black & white.
Imagine two paintings. One depicts two objects and the other shows three objects. The difference is here clear to all. There can be no arguments about the "states" of two-ness and three-ness shown. They are complete entities unto themselves. There is no interference between them (because they just hang there). No one gets confused and it would be extremely difficult to get someone to believe that the two and three-ness could be switched or in any way "gummed up" by even an expert logician.

Mathematical rules are of this type - unambiguous within a carefully specified framework.

Now, let us do the same with a motion picture (operation), i.e. mix the pure states with an operation (insert variations over time, i.e. there are transitions).

First there is an object. Then another joins it. Then another joins those two. When does the one object become two ... at what proximity ... Since, a state of one becomes a state of two ... where exactly is the changeover?

There is no end to the potential wrangling over the exact instant of transition or what it looks like in that instant.

This is the RUB

It doesn't matter ... not in the larger sense ... not in the big scheme of things. The big question is (and has always been) ... what are you going to do about it? ... or with it? ... or to it?

What "actions" will you take based on the information you acquire?

The goal of intellectual wrangling over transitions is to prevent the listener from formulating any opinion at all ... to confuse him and make him forget that the exact definition of the obvious isn't necessary in the real world.

When you have driven an intellectual opponent into introspection, you have won the issue. He is at your mercy as much or more than if you had a gun to his head.

This is what thinking and speaking in terms of essentials is all about ... focusing attention on the big picture.

A few examples will clear up any residual misunderstanding.

Let's take the spirit world ... ghosts, hauntings, etc. What would you physically do if there were positive proof that ghosts existed? Would you quit your day job? ... of course not. Why? Because you know from experience that real or not, such manifestations will not put food on your table. The crops will not be harvested by goblins and computers will not be assembled by poltergeists.

Such an issue is on that line dividing the real from the unreal. Since we have no exact knowledge of what consciousness is (and perhaps never will), there will always be ideas about the exact transition between life and death ... consciousness and non-consciousness ... animate and inanimate. But you will still have to do something to get food and clothing and shelter and transportation, etc. , i.e. you will still have to acknowledge ... at minimum by your actions ... that physical reality exists and is not subject to anything other than crude physical interaction.

Actually, crude physical action is the miraculous and odd thing to me. That you can put a plate away in the cupboard and still find it there tomorrow is the great mystery of existence. Why there aren't any ghosts is of greater significance than if there were ... why some things are possible and others not rather than anything goes.
The goal of those who wish to "shove your nose in it" is to make you as incapable of physical action as a chicken with its eyes focused on an actual line similar to what we're here discussing. They are attempting to immobilize you intellectually ... then physically. Then they ... "philosophically speaking" ... pick your pockets.

This can't happen if you deal only in essentials.

Let's pick a bone here with Miss Rand and be the devil's advocate.

One of the primary tenets jof Objectivism is that one cannot "initiate" the use of force and still carry the mantle of righteousness. I say that this is not a valid point because if you examine the issue just a little more closely, this stricture breaks down.

Observe ...

Suppose you are walking down a deserted street at 4am and two men are coming toward you. One stops in front of you and asks you for directions or spare change, etc. The other eases his way around behind you. You could just ignore the second guy (giving him the benefit of the doubt) or you could do the proper thing - what every man knows to do in this situation - which is to slam guy #1 in the puss with a right hand sucker punch, then whirl around to confront the other who is getting ready to knock you over the head. Every man knows that when that 2nd guy goes around to the rear it means trouble. He also knows that invariably, the one who throws the first punch is most likely to win.

Where does this leave the Objectivist principle? It could be that the #2 guy was just going on his way and you've just attacked two innocent people. How do you know for sure. Answer: You don't. You have to choose, on the basis of your own first hand judgement, what you should do. If you live by a scripted answer to every encounter you could get killed.

The name of the principle which obviates the Objectivist Stricture is:

Pre-emptive Strike

If the Israelis were Objectivists, they would have to let the Arabs create plutonium from their nuclear power plants to possibly use in bombs. Real ... big ... car bombs. So they launched a pre-emptive attack against those power plants. But Arab intentions weren't absolutely certain ...

In the end we are left back where we originally started from ... with personal judgement based on personal experience.

Now ... you see what I've done?

I have diverted your attention from the main principle ... not to initiate force ... to a specialized side issue (preemptive strike). Your mind is now paralyzed and unable to see that the larger issue of non-initiation accounts for 99% of living experiences while a preemptive strike scenario is seldom met n the real world.

You can live by the Objectivist principle and by and large everything will work out well. But if you live by the other you are going to make a mess of it very often and get into a lot of trouble.

So what do you do?

Always think, develop your intellect ... then your judgement will most often be good enough. As Davy Crockett said,

"First be sure you're right ...
then go ahead."

What he meant was, obviously, "don't be confused by what others might think ... if you are a decent person and a thoughtful one as well, you'll probably do right by others without sacrificing any principle".

(Note that Crockett's statement is unanalyzable - it covers everything and anything - which would make it meaningless except for what is "between the lines". He is acknowledging the bullcrap which surrounds us all and throwing back the same but with a strong hint of honor.)


Returning to Ayn Rand's methods of argument ...
What would she have gained by being soft spoken, deferring to and accommodating of the ideas of others ... which she knew to be "hair splitting"? Answer: She would have been forgotten. Her philosophy turned to "drivel and dilution".

By remaining stalwart, unbending, certain and unswervingly loyal to reason, she inspired others to be more righteous, willing to defend individual rights as they were meant to be defended ... to question those in authority (who don't belong there).

What would have become of ancient Greece if Leonidas had let just "a few" Persians through Thermopylae (hey ... some of 'em were non-combatants ya' know ... ) ?

The only realistic answer in both cases is

absolute intransigence