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Mediocre Followers

Most Objectivists aren’t very good at Objectivism. Most Popperians aren’t very good at Popper. Same with Goldratt and everything else, or at least everything where the leader is really smart, deep, etc. Stuff where there is a ton of knowledge is hard to learn well.

If I could meet someone who was actually really good at one thing, I’d want an Objectivist. I think that’s the most important.

If I could meet someone who was mediocre at it, maybe an Oist, CRist or TOCist are all about equal. I don’t have a clear preference. Maybe I should prefer one but idk.

When I say most Oists, CRists, etc., are mediocre, what do I mean? What standard of judgment am I using?

I can’t mean that most of them are below average. That wouldn’t make sense. I need a point of comparison besides other people in the community.

I think the right comparison is to Rand or Popper themselves – or to their writing and talks.

Most CRists are less than 10% as good as Popper. I read Popper books, like them, then talk to Popperians and it’s not very similar. They are way worse. It’s not like talking to Popper. They don’t know what Popper knew. They haven’t caught up to Popper’s knowledge. They aren’t standing on the shoulders of giants. They aren’t in a position to develop CR further. They have failed to catch up to it.

This is the general state of the world. Most people are bad at catching up to existing knowledge. They do a bad job of it. They still benefit from this. They’re much better off than if that knowledge just didn’t exist or they didn’t try to learn it. But only a few people make significant contributions to human knowledge. Only a few giants stand on the shoulders of other giants. Most people cling to a giant’s shoes and try not to fall off. A few make it up to the belt and hang on there.

There are some things that are misleading. It’s easy to overestimate Popperians, Oists, etc. Why? Because superficially they sound a lot more than 10% like Popper. They echo some of his phrases. They repeat some of his arguments. If you don’t poke and prod them, they seem a lot like Popper because they’re echoing him. They can answer some questions about CR.

But they’re fragile. If they have to debate someone challenging, or deal with anything that Popper didn’t cover in his books, they fall apart. If you grill them effectively, they fall apart. They don’t actually understand it well.

Popper himself was different. His knowledge was much more robust. What he wrote in his books wasn’t all he knew. It was the tip of the iceberg. It was the stuff he thought would be good to share. (I share more, due to the internet enabling sharing way more, but it’s still limited compared to what’s actually in my head.) But Popper had a whole rich knowledge structure surrounding what he wrote. You could ask him about anything he wrote about and he’d have more to say that isn’t in his books. And you could ask a question he hadn’t thought of, or give a criticism he wasn’t familiar with, and usually within a few minutes he’d have some kind of response. He’d be able to come up with some thoughts about it. Whereas Popperians mostly can’t come up with worthwhile thoughts of their own.

Many authors don’t understand what they write very well. Authors can be fragile. But the best ones, who actually wrote important new stuff, didn’t just get lucky. They knew a lot of things and could think on their feet some too.

It’s not just debate and intellectual activities where Popperians are unlike Popper. They also fail to integrate CR into their lives. They use it for armchair philosophy but not on a daily basis. Debate and intellectual activities, like philosophy discussions, are actually where they are most like Popper. That’s their strong suit!

Popper’s ideas were integrated into his own life, but most of his fans only use the ideas when they put on their thinking cap and go into intellectual mode. It’s disconnected from the rest of their life. It kinda has to be because they have a whole conventional way of thinking already and can’t replace it with CR because they don’t have nearly enough CR knowledge for it to be a functional replacement for how they do most of their thinking.

People need to learn a lot to use CF much, too. I’ve encouraged them to practice. I’ve given them reasonably specific things they could practice like using IGC charts or organizing writing or knowledge into trees. Popper didn’t do that kind of encouraging. He didn’t tell his fans what it takes to learn his stuff. He mostly stuck to pretty abstract stuff, whereas I do a mix. There’s no CR equivalent of the book “Understanding Objectivism”. Mises has no book like that either but studying economics is more of an established tradition, and people actually seem to learn Austrian economics better than they learn CR or Oism. TOC doesn’t tell people how to learn it but does a lot to make it easier to learn. TOC has particularly accessible books that take less study to understand. TOC is easier to benefit from than Popper, Rand or Mises. However, even the “TOC experts” are not much like Goldratt himself. My general impression is they don’t have his creative insight and originality. They can help companies with the solutions Goldratt figured out, but Goldratt could go to a new industry and figure out new solutions, while his followers largely can’t do that.

Elliot Temple on November 16, 2021


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