It is a vast topic for this blog, but after a long conversation on Twitter I felt compelled to write a bit about this matter. While it may allude to politics, this post is not about politics, it is about philosophy and how one defines truth.
A regular reader of this blog told me on Twitter that he is an avid fan of Ayn Rand, the social sciences thinker who fled the USSR after the WW2. That’s fine for him of course, and I do not care whether this particular thinker is currently hailed by a whole generation of libertarians in the US; at least it means they’re starting to read actual books. What I do not like is the ideology, and more exactly the notion that one has found absolute truth by abiding to a school of social sciences or a thinker. I may have my own reservations against Ayn Rand’s theories; but it fundamentelly doesn’t matter. I’m happy of course to discuss these. The problem I have with the kind of thinkers Ayn Rand is part of is that they are ideologues. She is far to be the only one in that category; in fact, the twentieth century is full of them and what many of the “followers” of their thinking do not even realize that they behave and think exactly like the people they believe they stand against. In this way, libertarians and Ayn Rand’s followers think much like the communists they’re supposedly abhor. Shocking you say? I’m not talking about politics. I’m describing thoughts and rational patterns. Let me explain a bit more.
The first thing one should realize is that when it comes to social sciences, several things are almost never put forth:
- social sciences are not “sciences” as in exact sciences working and evolving along the lines of standard scientific methodologies. They may base some of their premises on facts, but are not interested in the accuracy of the initial measurements; rather, they focus on models and interpretations of a given reality – the reality itself being interpreted as a more or less objective one – and may attempt to offer an explanation of an aspect of reality (economy, human behaviour, etc.)
- social sciences can lead to ideologies. Ideologies are elaborate theories working in a closed fashion, often relying on social sciences. They are the actual products of the twentieth century (although some, like communism, marxism-leninism, etc are born a bit earlier), and may be seen as intrisically nihilist constructs. They may be perceived as being ultimately nihilist as they reject transendance or immanence and any kind of humanist view (more on that later).
The problem with ideologies is that they are closed thinking systems and structure, and each of them claim to have uncovered the actual truth. Truth is mostly centered around the notion that there’s an objective truth, and that by definition there’s only one truth to abide to; truth may also be about the self-proposed purpose of the ideology; this purpose is itself derived from the “objective” truth established by the system. Because it is not an open system, any thinking that deviates from, goes against, or simply ignores the premises of the system must be hostile and destroyed. Whether this elimination has to go through physical means or intellectual elimination is a matter of circumstances.
Now I would like to remind two items of importance to those who claim to be proud to belong to any ideology: the world is not just them vs. their ennemies. Namely, there are different economical and social theories (western modern democracies being one of them) that are not ideologies. The second item of importance is that they do not own the truth. The truth belongs to anyone, but no one seems to know what it is exactly. We will likely never know it. All your models, all your theories and systems may bring us closer to the truth because they appear in specific circumstances and may stand true under precise and controlled parameters; but no one has the truth. Even physical laws are only true under strictly defined constraints : gravity and general physics for instance stop holding any truth under the Planck limit (under this limit there’s what we begin to know as quantum physics with different laws). The upper “limit” of general physics lies very much beyond the atmosphere of our planet.
The irony of Ayn Rand’s theories is that they are exactly the opposite of communist theories; and by being the opposite, they are not better; they are simply as fraught with the same defects marxism and communism are. For what it’s worth, however, it has to be noted that marxism cannot be proven wrong in terms of logic… and yet. What defects am I pointing at you may ask? All these theories want humans to be something else than what they are; some believe that by changing the society, man will become better, more sharing and without any sense of propriety. The others -Ayn Rand being part of them- believe that by changing economy and society, man will become better as individual desires will be beginning and the end of everything, therefore creating a virtuous system. It would be easy to conclude it is all wishful thinking. But we must respect theories no matter what. My point is not to stand in favor of or against any particular one of them. My point is that we should never believe we know and are in control of objective truth. This attitude is the seed of all evil.