How to promote meaningful debate about Objectivism?

25 Aug 2012

Someone recently asked me “what do you think of the amount of ridicule being heaped on Rand’s works” on the question-and-answer site Quora? He added: “I was wondering how one could create a meaningful debate.” Here are my thoughts:

The ridicule heaped on Rand and Objectivism is nothing new. All great new ideas are first ignored, then ridiculed, then attacked before they are finally accepted. Rand was ignored for a long time. When her enemies could no longer ignore her, they began to ridicule her. In the past ~10 years some of them are starting to realize that they must take her seriously and are beginning to attack her. We’re still halfway between the “ridicule” and “attack” phases. But every major publicity event, like the Paul Ryan VP pick, moves us closer to being taken seriously by everyone.

How to create a meaningful debate on a Q&A forum? Mostly, just participate the same way you normally would. Write good, thoughtful, well-written answers, when you have something to say. (Don’t worry about being a spokesman for Objectivism or representing it somehow; just write as yourself, in your own words.) Comment occasionally, when you have something to add and when you think someone might hear you. Vote up good answers, and, occasionally, vote down ones that are poorly written, don’t address the question, or are demonstrably, factually false.

Above all, don’t feed the trolls. Don’t argue for the sake of arguing. If you write, keep your audience in mind. Don’t write for the Rand haters; you won’t get through to them. Write for the intelligent, thoughtful person who hasn’t made up his mind, the person who is sitting on the sidelines and watching the debate.

When you write, hold yourself to a high standard. People will pay attention not only to what you say, but how you say it. Be intelligent, clear, thoughtful, and polite.

Most of the above goes for any online forum, and for intellectual activism in general.