O.P.A.R. – Commentary: Metaphysical Evasion

Realism […] becomes a synonym for mindless conformity. In this view, it is ‘unrealistic’ to […] reject racism when Hitler is in power… This approach leads to the sanctioning of the status quo, however debased, and thus turns its advocates into pawns and accessories of evil.
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 26.
(German women in Czechoslovak Sudetenland joyfully greeting Hitler after the first of a series of absurd invasions that led to World War II. They had submitted their own individual’s perception of reality to that of the group, and, by doing so, willingly blinded themselves. As Pascal warns in Pensées : “We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us seeing it.”)

Almost every protagonist in a story has an antagonist, something or someone who will try to prevent her from achieving her goals. It is normal to imagine some kind of “bad guy”, and Ayn Rand actually seems at times to see the world’s problems as the fruit of machiavellian machinations of Kant and his successors. But in her saner moments, she exactly pinpoints the true evil, an impersonal force that plagues humanity, the arch-enemy of Objectivism: evasion.

Leonard Peikoff is more explicit about the problem of evasion in Chapter 2 of O.P.A.R., but already in Chapter 1 we find what I like to call “metaphysical evasion.” In essence, it is a matter of believing that reality could (and should) be different. But do not confuse it with seeing an unpleasant reality, wanting to change it, and doing something about it. That would be the right thing to do. That would be the opposite of evasion: combat. But the precondition of fighting reality is to first accept it as such. And it is in the primitive refusal of doing so where evasion lies. In short, to evade metaphysically is to think you can change reality without spending tears, sweat or blood.

You evade metaphysically when you accept the primacy of consciousness, when you think reality is what you want it to be, or what Society agrees it to be, or what God makes it to be. In all three cases, you are using a consciousness to evade reality, either your own personal one, that of the collective, or a supernatural one. A compound stereotype would be the spoiled young man who believes his desires must come true, that joins left-winged activist groups (of names usually ending with the word “conscience”) when he deems it best to appease his personal misfit, and who “closes his body” in a macumba center to ascertain his success. He uses all the weapons he has to change reality — in fact, to evade it.

Another kind of metaphysical evasion occurs when one considers facts made by man as metaphysically given facts. In this case, what we have is a conformist, a so-called “realist” who accepts how things are by considering them immutable. His excuse for inaction is some version of the phrase “But that’s how life is…”. The best among these people is who resigns to a life of inner mediocrity; the worst, who actively fights to maintain the status quo as its single safe harbor, even if only because sailing across unknown waters petrifies him with fear.

Evasion is a far greater evil than violence or poverty or hunger. It is the underlying cause of all these evils and much more. It is an invisible enemy for untrained eyes and a very difficult habit to extirpate even when descried. Trust me on this. Even after reading and writing about it, I evade dozens of times a day – every day.

In the next chapter of O.P.A.R., the subject is epistemology, and even more pervasive evasions will arise.

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