ARI’s Funnel: Taking Ideas Seriously

 Posted by on 3 April 2006 at 7:56 am  Objectivism
Apr 032006

Despairing at various events leading them to wonder whether there’s any hope for humanity, a couple of friends were asking me about getting politicians with good ideas elected. I answered that it seems premature to worry about electing politicians to support the right things today, because without the right culture they probably can’t be elected — and they wouldn’t be able to do what we want even if they were elected. But if you change the culture to be less hostile to the right ideas, then you’ll have a chance. Of course they only heard their goal of a little sanity receding toward the vanishing point. Sighing, they asked how to best do that.

Archimedes famously wrote, “If you could give me a lever long enough, I could move the world.” As many here would expect, I explained that the fulcrum point is philosophy, and I briefly sketched the pattern of how philosophical ideas shape culture and history (ala Peikoff’s Ominous Parallels):

  • Philosophy, good and bad, is the fundamental integrator of human knowledge.
  • Some hot philosopher comes up with an idea and it can spread to his colleagues.
  • If it sticks, it can spread to other parts of the humanities, affecting and shaping those who study people, those who write stories and make films and report the news, etc.
  • It can then filter out into the general culture, affecting politics and the harder sciences.
  • Out here in the world, we eventually see the effects, major and minor, high and low… fundamental philosophical ideas shape everything from the political landscape and what government does, to popular TV, and even current theories being proposed in science. Consider Continental/postmodern philosophy’s effects in literary criticism, in legal theory, in art, in politics (totalitarian collectivism), and in physics (Copenhagen interpretation of QM). The effects are everywhere, implicitly and explicitly, and they are the result of some smart dude in a school writing a book: like Kant, who affected Hegel, who affected Derrida, etc., on down to these insufferable left-wing pointy-heads we’re surrounded by (to pick on the postmodernists).

After not paying attention for a while, I was delighted to learn that an Objectivist organization seems to be taking this idea very seriously. Diana began sharing how ARI is doing so after attending her first “State of ARI” talk by Yaron Brook. Mike of Passing Thoughts blogged on the following year’s version. Plus I’ve poked around a bit on my own. I really want to hear the next one, because the more I learn, the more I can see the purposeful, integrated, and productive efforts of a well-run organization focused on connecting the right people to the fulcrum point by which they can move the culture.

ARI calls its strategy the Funnel, and here’s the best sketch I can muster from what I’ve learned (please fill in more details and straighten me out on any mangled bits):

  • Millions. First, there is the tremendous effect of Rand’s books. Selling at least a half million copies a year all told, they affect millions and millions of people in varying degrees and on various levels, though mostly modest.
  • Hundreds of thousands. The first real stage of the Funnel is ARI’s Free Books for Teachers Program that places Rand’s novels in schools where they’ll be taught as literature. The result is hundreds of thousands of kids studying them each year and a further “softening” of the culture to the work of Objectivist scholars and specialists (after all, cranks don’t get taught as novelists in the Canon worthy of serious study).
  • Thousands. ARI offers big cash prizes to students in their annual essay contest. This means thousands of kids motivated to critically analyze and write on Rand’s novels each year, being exposed to philosophical ideas in general and Objectivism in particular. Plus, ARI gives each essayist a free copy of the novel they didn’t write about, so most of those thousands will deepen their appreciation and understanding of Rand and perhaps strengthen their respect for the importance of ideas.
  • Hundreds. When students arrive at college, they’ll find ARI-sponsored campus Objectivist clubs which draw on an active ARI speakers bureau to present on campuses, and they’ll see Objectivist experts from ARI regularly appearing on radio and TV, and producing a steady stream of op-eds and letters to the editor that appear in major papers. Also, they’ll see active ARI campaigns taking on important cultural causes like the free world’s response to the cartoon jihad. So hundreds of students who might make a career of working with ideas are further exposed to Objectivist thought and encouraged to study Objectivism seriously. Also, there is further softening of the culture to Rand’s ideas and their application in other disciplines (after all, cranks aren’t called to be on big cable and radio shows to argue issues of the day).
  • Dozens. If they become serious about studying philosophy in general and Objectivism in particular, these students will find generous support at ARI’s Objectivist Academic Center. There, dozens of philosophy majors are receiving rigorous supplemental undergraduate and graduate training in the Objectivist system, its methodology and relation to other systems, as well as training in related disciplines such as writing which are required for strong, effective scholarly work. (Great stuff, these guys are coming out sharp as hell.)
  • Handfuls. Finally, Objectivist PhD’s recieve critical support from the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship headed by John McCaskey of Stanford. Anthem is an organization working within academia to elevate respect and demand for Rand studies by sponsoring fellowships, making book grants, helping with networking, etc. Their long-term goal is to support twenty Objectivist professors in the top fifty schools, doing significant work in writing books and articles, teaching Objectivist ideas — doing the core work that will affect the culture and further reinforce the Funnel. Along the way, we will enjoy the fruits of academia progressively opening up to serious engagement of Rand ‘s ideas. In addition to Anthem’s efforts, ARI also has its own grant programs and other forms of support for professors who wish to teach and work with Rand’s ideas.

This past year saw the results of almost a dozen Objectivist books like Dr. Bernstein’s Capitalist Manifesto and Dr. Hull’s The Abolition of Antitrust, to name two I bought. And with the help of the Anthem Foundation, important works are beginning to emerge from prestigious academic publishers, like Dr. Smith’s forthcoming Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist. We’ve seen the launch of The Objective Standard, a strong scholarly journal of politics and culture from the Objectivist perspective. There have been scores of op-eds and letters to the editor out of ARI, and ever-more frequent appearances by their experts on TV and talk shows. And besides existing scholars being productive, I’m told the supply of Objectivist professors is now inadequte to meet demand from schools, so it seems the Anthem Foundation is doing a good job of creating demand.

Lather, rinse, repeat. After a while, things will turn more sane and we’ll be in a position to elect representatives who understand the proper role of government. In the meantime, though, I’ll support ARI’s Funnel and benefit from being an early-adopter of philosophical technology that will save the world.

UPDATE: Noodlefood’s own Don Watkins mentions that chipping in $35 or more to ARI’s Funnel gets you a subscription to Impact, ARI’s monthly newsletter for keeping donors up to date on progress in effecting cultural change. (What’s extra cool is that Don now writes Impact!)

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