Ayn Rand's "Letter to Obama"

I recently was reading the October 11, 1971 Ayn Rand Letter, on "Credibility and Polarization." It could've been called "Letter to Obama."

She termed "polarization" one of many "fashionable anti-concepts." "Its meaning is not very clear, except that it is something bad -undesirable, socially destructive evil, -something that would split the country into irreconcilable camps and conflicts. It is used mainly in political issues and serves as a kind of 'argument from intimidation': it replaces a discussion of the merits of a given idea by the menacing accusation that such an idea would 'polarize' the country -which is supposed to make one's opponents retreat, protesting that they didn't mean it. Mean -what?

"Polarization" is a term borrowed from physics; a dictionary defines "polarity" as: "the presence or manifestation of two opposite or contrasting principles or tendencies."...

Transplanted from the realm of physics to the realm of social issues, this term means a situation in which men hold "opposite or contrasting" views or ideas (principles), and goals or values (tendencies.) When used as a pejorative term, this means that men should not differ in their views, ideas, goals and values, that such differences are evil, that men must not disagree.

This notion is propagated by the same intellectuals who denounce conformity, decry the status quo, clamor for change, and proclaim that the right to dissent includes the right to implement it by physical force. "

She goes on to state that "anti-polarizers" might argue they don't object to all disagreements, but that it is principles -"fundamental principles -that they are struggling to eliminate from public discussion."

The most timid, frightened, conservative defenders of the status quo -of the intellectual status quo- are today's liberals (the leaders of the conservatives never ventured into the realm of the intellect.) What they dread to discover is the fact that the intellectual status quo they inherited is bankrupt, that they have no ideological base to stand on and no capacity to construct one. Brought up on the philosophy of Pragmatism, they have been taught that principles are unprovable, impractical or non-existent -which has destroyed their ability to integrate ideas, to deal with abstractions, and to see beyond the range of the immediate moment. Abstractions, they claim, are "simplistic" (another anti-concept); myopia is sophisticated. "Don't polarize!" and "Don't rock the boat!" are expressions of the same kind if panic.

It is doubtful -even in the midst of today's intellectual decadence -that one could get away with declaring explicitly: "Let us abolish all debate on fundamental principles!" (though some men have tried it). If, however, one declares: "Don't let us polarize," and suggests a vague image of warring camps ready to fight (with no mention of the fight's object), one has a chance to silence the mentally weary. The use of "polarization" as a pejorative term means: the suppression of fundamental principles. Such is the pattern of the function of anti-concepts.

The leaders of today's intellectuals are probably aware of the fact that the injunction to avoid polarization means that unity -a nation's unity -must be given priority over reason, logic and truth, which is a fundamental principle of collectivism. But the rank-and-file intellectuals are not aware of it: it is too abstract a conclusion. Like children and savages, they believe that human wishes are omnipotent, that everything would be all right if only we'd all agree on it, and that anything can be solved by cooperation, negotiation and compromise.

This has been the ruling doctrine in our political, academic and intellectual life for the last fifty years or longer, with no noteworthy dissenters but one: reality.

The ideal of "consensus" did not work. It did not lead to social harmony among men, or security or confidence or unity or mutual understanding and good will. It has led us to a general sense of hostility, of fear, uncertainty, lethargy, bitterness, cynicism, and a growing mistrust of everyone by everyone.

The same intellectuals who advocate non-polarization, are now deploring the "credibility gap." They do not realize that the latter is the unavoidable consequence of the former.

If clear-cut principles, unequivocal definitions and inflexible goals are barred from public discussion, then a speaker or writer has to struggle to hide his meaning (if any) under coils of meaningless generalities and safely popular bromides. Regardless of whether his message is good or bad, true or false, he cannot state it openly, but must smuggle it into his audience's subconscious by means of the same unfocused, deceptive, evasive verbiage. He must strive to be misunderstood in the greatest number of ways by the greatest number of people: this is the only way to keep up the pretense of unity.

If, in such conditions, people are urged to cooperate, negotiate or compromise, how are they to do it? How can they cooperate, if their common goal is not named explicitly? How can they negotiate, if the intentions of the various men or groups involved are not revealed? How can they know, when they compromise, whether they have made a reasonable deal or sold out their future?...

....A parliamentary system stands or falls on the quality -the precision -of public communication (and its precondition: the freedom of public information.)...

...Who is the ultimate victim? The smallest minority on earth: the individual -which means: every man qua man.

Is there a solution? Yes. In its present state, what this country needs above all is clarifying, reassuring, confidence-and-credibility-inspiring guidance of fundamental principles -i.e., in modern parlance, intellectual polarization.

This would bring to our cultural atmosphere an all-but-forgotten quality: honesty, with its corollary, clarity. It would establish the minimum requirement of civilized discourse: that the proponents of ideas strive to make themselves understood and lay all their cards on the table (including their axioms). It would leave no significant audience or influence to those who specialize in the unintelligible, or preach blatant contradictions, or proclaim ends with total unconcern for means, or hold fundamental principles they would not dare name openly, or disseminate anti-concepts. It would enable men to know their own stand and that of their adversaries. It would enable them to make conscious choices and to take the consequences -or to change their course, when proved wrong. What they would regain is the power to understand, to consider, to judge -and to communicate with one another. What they would lose is the sense of suffocating in a smog of impotent bewilderment.

What if men disagree, you ask? No open disagreement can be as destructive as the secret, nameless, virulent hostility now splintering this country.

But isn't unity desirable, you ask? Unity is a consequence, not a primary. The unity of a lynch mob, of Nazi storm troopers or of the Soviet press is not desirable. Only fundamental principles, rationally validated, clearly understood and voluntarily accepted, can create a desirable kind of unity among men.

But such principles cannot be defined, you say? Check your premises and those of the speakers who told you so. There is a science whose task is to discover and define fundamental principles. It is the forgotten, neglected, subverted and currently disgraced base of all the other sciences: philosophy. " [End of excerpt.]

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