This past weekend I accomplished something I’ve been trying to do for many months: I started an Objectivist discussion group!
I started thinking about this project when I realized that the most important thing I get from my friends is intellectual stimulation. I noticed that when Adam and I have friends over – friends who share our philosophical views and take ideas seriously – the conversations we have make me feel great for days. Sometimes I learn something new from the content of the discussion, but more often than not, the important thing is that the exercise of my mind refuels me and puts me into a more active-minded mode than I would normally be in. After these visits, I feel charged up, energetic, and on my game. Everything I do is more intense, and I enjoy my routine much more.
I like lots of different people for lots of different reasons – this is not the only value of friendship for me. However, this particular value is something that I need in a deep and serious way, since my day-job, although challenging in many ways, is not really an intellectual endeavor. I mean, I use my mind as a parent. My god, I use my mind in ways that I never knew that I could! But the truth is, parenting is full of a lot of mind-numbingly boring tasks (cooking, running errands, wiping bottoms, telling Little Bear stories, etc.). Happily, I actually enjoy most of these things. But the sheer volume of minutia involved in full-time parenting makes me long to fly up high and see the forest instead of the trees. It’s funny, because I noted long ago that Adam, whose career is intellectual, feels a strong need for hobbies that are physical and/or give instant gratification. When we had a nice yard in Michigan, he took up yard work, and got a great deal of satisfaction from something as ordinary as pulling weeds or mowing the lawn. I think most people would like to have both kinds of activities in their lives.
So anyway, I decided I wanted to start an Objectivist club, but it took me a long time to nail down exactly what kind of club it would be. I’m pretty sure most of my readers know what Objectivism is, but if not, you can check out The Ayn Rand Institute’s web site. People have been forming Objectivist clubs for decades, and most clubs fall into one of three main categories:
- Study clubs. The most common type of Objectivist club, these groups devote serious effort to understanding Ayn Rand’s ideas. Most college campus clubs fall into this category. These clubs can have anywhere from just a few members, to dozens. Usually, there are some formal requirements for membership and, if the club is large enough, there are elected positions such as secretary, treasurer, etc. Many of these clubs also organize speaker events which are open to the public. I founded a study club at Michigan State University while I was there, although I did a terrible job with it and it appears to be dead now. I wish I had OCN back then to help me!
- Social clubs. These are a way to network with local Objectivists and hopefully make some friends amongst like-minded people. Many clubs organize activities that have nothing to do with Objectivism – the idea is just to get everyone together and have fun.
- Activist clubs. I’ve never had any experience with an Objectivist club dedicated to activism, but they do exist.
Well, I spent many months being very confused about what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted a study club, but my experience at MSU made me realize that I didn’t want a typical one. Most of these clubs seem to have a second, implicit purpose of promoting Objectivism to the local community, which is not something I want to do. Most are more formal than what I was looking for, and involve more time than I’m willing to put in. Finally, I was tied up in knots about who to invite to join my club. With campus clubs, the idea is always to get as many members as possible. I know a lot of Objectivists in the DC area whom I like and would like to spend more time with. But the kind of conversations that I want and need have always happened with a small group of people.
In the end, I decided to start a very small group, and to keep the structure of it to a minimum. There are 6 of us, and we meet monthly. We don’t have a statement of purpose or anything formal like that, but I made it clear that I want to focus on what I call “applied Objectivism.” I’m not interested in philosophy as such, but how to live my life better, which, of course, is the purpose of philosophy.
I determined the subject of our first discussion just to get us started. I suggested some reading and a few questions to consider. At our first meeting on Sunday, we started with that, but just let the conversation flow in whatever direction it would. (I’m not going to report on the content of our discussions here.) We stayed mostly on-point, but it was done naturally, without the need for moderation. During our discussion, we all became interested in another subject, and agreed that we would make that our topic for next month. Another member will take the lead for that discussion, and we’ll probably trade off that “lead” role going forward. This loose structure seemed to work very well, but we might change it if necessary.
I am really happy with this group, and I feel very proud that I met the challenge of doing it selfishly.