Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Barbara Branden, Objectivist Madonna

Barbara Branden (nee Weidman) probably just started out as a typical teenage girl who liked to do typical teenage girl things like read erotic BDSM novels. She somehow got thrust into the world of Objectivism and stuck on a pedestal as second foremost disciple (after her husband) and Objectivist beauty queen.

Once the world of Objectivism shattered after The Break [between Rand and Nathan Branden], and continues to fragment into smaller and smaller pieces, she has assumed the job of being mother and female role model to many disenfranchised Objectivists. This is a great service to young Objectivists and ex-Objectivists who often badly need such a figure in their lives, which is often one of the reasons they turn to Objectivism (or other cults) to begin with.

Having being hurt by Rand and Nathan Branden herself, she is able to empathize and counsel many Objectivists and former Objectivists who have also been hurt by the movement. When I was trying to get out myself, I contacted her and she wrote me back promptly and sympathetically, and I appreciated it very much. The only thing was, she told me not to read The Ayn Rand Cult and spoke poorly of other Objectivism criticisms, and instead directed me to David Kelley's The Objectivist Center. But by then I'd had it up to here with Objectivism, and cults in general, and wasn't interested in getting into The Objectivist Center thing, even if it was just Rand-Lite.


Jay said...

How do you define a cult?

Moony said...


This definition - from the American Heritage Dictionary - probably the reflects the most common usage of the word:

"A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader."

As I've argued in the past Objectivism certainly had some of the characteristics of a cult in its early stages (although a lot depends on how broadly you define the word 'religion'), but IMO it can no longer be considered to be so.

Kelly said...

I don’t consider objectivism a cult, (maybe it was culty in the 60’s, not really now) although I think it fills the same role as a cult or religion for many objectivists. The longer people stay active with objectivism and the more they move into the dogma the more they become like religious zealots. After many years of being an objectivist I think their comes a point that you either have to lie to yourself to actually be an objectivist or not be very active and just revert to the “inspired by Ayn Rand” world. My opinion.

Meg's Marginalia said...

Ok I don't know if it's officially a "cult" according to some logical definition, but these things are somewhat subjective anyway. But I don't like aligning myself too much with any religious, philosophical, or political organization. To me it's the same (or just as bad) to be religious, or just spiritual, or whatever weird thing to strongly believe in. I'm too skeptical and individualistic for that.

Michael Prescott said...

Of course Objectivism is a cult. Not a cult in the most pernicious sense, like Heaven's Gate or Jonestown. But clearly it has most of the essential characteristics of a cult. It's a group of people who ...

- believe that special knowledge has been imparted to them by a once-in-a-millennium genius who is misunderstood by the world

- are sure that civilization will come to a horrifying end in the near future unless this new knowledge is rapidly disseminated

- assume that anyone who rejects this knowledge is either hopelessly blind or actively evil; and as a result ...

- feel alienated from their culture, which they see as decadent and doomed because it has not adopted their message.

It is, in other words, a typical millenarian cult organized around a charismatic leader.

Oh, and by the way, it also markets its message via overpriced CDs and videos; has a hierarchical structure; has undergone schisms and sectarian rivalries; performs excommunications and damnations of apostates; appeals mainly to disaffected college students; and is currently based in California.

What more evidence do you need?


Moony said...

Since the charismatic leader in question has left the scene I'd rather call it a secular faith - i.e. a Godless quasi-religious belief system - but I don't suppose the precise definition matters that much.

Incidentally can anyone confirm that Rand called Bertrand Russell evil? I'm reading him at the moment, and I have a vague memory of someone having said somewhere that she said that about him.

Meg's Marginalia said...

I think there's a continuum of cults that range from groups that are really crazy and harmful like Heaven's Gate to just collections of odd people like Discordians and vegans. Objectivism lies somewhere in the middle. And the definition of what constitutes a cult is also subjective.

Moony said...

Discordianism is intended to be a joke, or at least I hope it is.