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Keith Lockitch: Education at the Ayn Rand Institute

Nov 14, 2017 by

An Interview with Keith Lockitch: Education at the Ayn Rand Institute

1)      Keith, first of all, can you tell us about your education and experience?

I have a PhD in physics. My field was relativistic astrophysics and I did research on gravitational radiation from black holes and neutron stars. After a couple of years of postdoctoral research, I left physics and came to work for the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI). Initially, my role was to write and speak for ARI on topics related to science. For instance, when “Intelligent Design” creationism was a hot topic in the mid-2000s, I wrote articles defending evolution and highlighting Darwin’s achievements in biology. I’ve also focused on critiquing the environmentalist movement and drawing on my knowledge of physics to defend a skeptical attitude towards climate change alarmism. The common denominator of my work is Rand’s unique perspective on the role of reason in human life—which stands in sharp contrast to both the religious irrationalism underlying creationism and to the environmentalist attack on industrial capitalism.

2)      What first got you interested in Ayn Rand?

I read Rand’s major novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, when I was a teenager and was blown away by them. I was inspired by the moral stature of Rand’s fictional heroes and by her vision of the possibilities open to individuals who guide their lives by reason in pursuit of deeply fulfilling values.

I saw a flyer on a bulletin board in my high school advertising an essay contest run by the Ayn Rand Institute and decided to enter. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was just a couple of years after the Institute was founded (in 1985) and it was only the second year ARI had run the Fountainhead essay contest.

I didn’t win the contest, but I did learn more about Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, and I began to follow the work of ARI.

I read everything by Rand I could get my hands on and studied her philosophy avidly. Her ideas are radical and challenging, but I found them persuasive and life-enhancing. I attended conferences and lectures on Objectivism; I started an Ayn Rand club at my college; I enrolled in advanced courses that ARI offered which were taught by teleconference. It was all incredibly stimulating and valuable.

3)      What exactly would you say you do at the Ayn Rand Institute?

As I mentioned before, my role initially was to write and speak for ARI. Over time, I gradually took on more and more management responsibilities and found that I enjoyed that a lot. In 2016, I became ARI’s vice president of educational programs, which means that I now oversee all of the programs that I participated in as a student!

I still write and speak and teach for ARI, but primarily I manage a staff of a dozen or so wonderful, dedicated individuals who run the various programs that ARI offers. And I work closely with all the rest of the wonderful, dedicated individuals at ARI who do everything else needed to advance our mission: marketing and development, content production, business operations and so on.

4)      What are you trying to accomplish?

Ayn Rand held that philosophy is the fundamental force shaping the course of history and shaping each individual’s life. The basic views that a person holds about man’s relationship to reality, about the nature of good and evil, and about the values that should guide human life will shape that person’s fundamental choices and actions, for better or for worse. And the ideas that come to dominate a culture will set that society’s basic direction—again, for better or for worse.

We, at ARI, hold that Rand’s philosophy of reason, individualism, and rational self-interest could completely transform the world for the better if it were to become widely enough understood and embraced. And we know that it has the power to transform individuals’ lives for the better because we see that every day among our students and other people whose lives have been dramatically improved by the influence of Rand’s philosophy.

So our mission is to raise awareness, understanding and acceptance of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, with a view ultimately to achieving its mass-adoption. All of our programs are aimed, in one way or another, at educating people about Rand’s ideas.

5)      Tell us about your outreach programs in terms of education.

We have a wide range of programs aimed at young people, which are designed to serve different needs at different stages of discovering and exploring Ayn Rand’s ideas.

One of our biggest programs involves donating free books to high school teachers. We offer free classroom sets of Ayn Rand’s novels Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged to any teacher who wants to use them with their students. We’ve distributed more than 200,000 novels per year since the program began in 2002, so that’s given nearly 4 million students their first exposure to Rand’s writings and ideas.  https://www.aynrand.org/educators/free-books-high-school

We also have our annual essay contests, which have been running for more than 30 years. We offer more than $125,000 in cash prizes across three contests (covering Anthem, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged) and attract around 20,000 essays each year.  https://www.aynrand.org/students/essay-contests

We have an eLearning site, ARI Campus, that offers more than 230 hours of video content on Objectivism. We currently have around 14,000 registered users taking courses on Rand’s novels, on her life and corpus, and on various aspects of Objectivism and its applications.  https://campus.aynrand.org

This year (2017) happens to be the 60th anniversary of the publication of Rand’s masterpiece Atlas Shrugged. To celebrate, we’re running an online Atlas Shrugged reading group called The Atlas Project. ARI instructors Ben Bayer and Greg Salmieri, who are both PhD philosophers and experts on Objectivism, post discussion questions to the Atlas Project Facebook group and then broadcast a weekly discussion using Facebook Live. We’re going through the novel one chapter per week. Since there are 30 chapters, it will take a few months. We’re currently about one third of the way through, but anyone who wants to participate can easily catch up on all the discussions and broadcasts on our ARI Campus website. https://campus.aynrand.org/campus-courses/the-atlas-project

Another way that ARI gets the word out is by sending speakers to college campuses and other forums to expose students to Objectivism’s distinctive perspective on various topics. Recently, we’ve focused our efforts on the issue of freedom of speech—partnering with Dave Rubin (host of the YouTube show The Rubin Report) on a series of free speech panels at campuses across the United States, including Harvard, Clemson, UT-Austin, UCLA and others.

https://ari.aynrand.org/blog/tag/Freedom-of-speech

We also run two conferences each year: a weekend student conference in the fall, AynRandCon, and a week-long summer conference, OCON. AynRandCon is aimed at students who are relatively new to Rand’s writings and ideas.

We choose a theme that touches on a central issue in Rand’s philosophy, such as free will or liberty, and we offer scholarships that basically cover all travel costs. So it’s a great way for students to spend a weekend meeting other fans of Ayn Rand’s work and getting a crash course in a crucial aspect of her thought. http://www.aynrandcon.org

OCON is our big annual Objectivist summer conference, which typically attracts more than 500 attendees from all walks of life, including over 100 students. We have scholarships available for OCON too, so for students who are looking to delve even more deeply into Rand’s philosophy, OCON is a great place to do that. http://ocon.aynrand.org

At a more advanced level, we have internships and fellowships for students or recent graduates who want to come to ARI and get some work experience.

https://www.aynrand.org/students/internships

Finally, we have our advanced training program, the Objectivist Academic Center (OAC). The OAC is a three-year, distance learning program offering courses in Objectivism, its methodology, and its application to the art of effective communication. The program is aimed at students pursuing a career as a professional intellectual or as a business professional who uses Objectivism as their intellectual framework. Almost all of ARI’s speakers and affiliated scholars have participated in one version of the OAC or another (the program has evolved over many years)—as has everyone who currently teaches in the program, including myself! https://www.aynrand.org/students/objectivist-academic-center

6)      It seems that the youth and even adults of today are searching for some meaning and purpose in life- How does Ayn Rand and her books and philosophy fit in?

Ayn Rand absolutely fits in to that search. Rand once described her philosophy as follows: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

That quotation summarizes, in a nutshell, Rand’s vision of how someone can define the meaning and purpose of their own life, and it gives the essential method for how to achieve it. In Rand’s view, a person doesn’t find meaning and purpose, he creates meaning and purpose in his own life by choosing a deeply fulfilling productive career and pursuing it with passion and dedication. His productive work, together with his choices in other crucial areas of life—love, friendship, recreational pursuits and so on—comprises a set of core values that define his purpose. And he can achieve those values only by the most ruthlessly rational effort, applying himself to their pursuit with honesty, integrity and dedication to facts. It’s by achieving those fundamental, lifelong values, using reason as his sole guide, that a person can achieve a state of deep, abiding happiness—the pursuit of which is the basic moral purpose of his life.

This is a radical perspective, if you think about how people often approach the search for meaning and purpose: They seek it outside themselves and their own values—often by placing faith in a higher power. But Rand’s perspective is that no outside power or cause can give meaning to life. You must give your own life meaning. Instead of passively hoping to find purpose somewhere out there in the universe, her view is that you have already have, within yourself, the capacity to create the meaning and purpose of your life—to develop your own character, form your own values and direct the course of your life. Rand once described man as “a being of self-made soul.”

This is also a radical perspective if you think about the moral views that dominate our culture today: The notion that each individual’s own happiness should be his basic moral purpose flies in the face of the Judeo-Christian ethic. The notion that productive work is the essence of what gives meaning and purpose to a man’s life flies in the face of our culture’s suspicion of “materialism” and the profit motive. And the notion that reason is man’s sole guide to knowledge flies in the face of our culture’s rampant irrationalism.

Yet, if you’re willing to give Rand’s ideas a hearing, despite how much they might challenge your current beliefs, you might find—like countless others have—that they are an incredibly powerful tool for defining your purpose and living a truly meaningful and value-driven life.

7)      Do you have a web site and what would readers find there?

Our main website is AynRand.org, which gives an overview of Rand’s ideas and has information about all of our educational programs.

https://www.aynrand.org

Two sections of our site are also worth mentioning, though:

ARI.Aynrand.org has more information about the Ayn Rand Institute itself: some of the work of our speakers and writers, upcoming events, and so on.

https://ari.aynrand.org

And our eLearning site, ARI Campus, has lots of video content, and it also has available a large number of Rand’s most important philosophical writings, as well as a keyword-indexed guide to her writings called the Ayn Rand Lexicon. If you want to know what she thought about sex or Christmas you can go right to those entries in the Lexicon. (By the way, she had a positive view of both of them.)

https://campus.aynrand.org

8)      Is there a beginning book or course that you would suggest?

There’s nothing like the experience of reading one of Ayn Rand’s novels—especially her two major works The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. There’s a reason that these works together have sold more than 15 million copies.

But if someone is looking for a brief introduction to Rand’s ideas, there are a few videos I can recommend:

“Introducing Objectivism” is a 9 minute presentation featuring Rand, herself, giving an overview of her philosophy.

https://campus.aynrand.org/campus-courses/introducing-objectivism

“Philosophy: Who Needs It” is a commencement address that Rand was invited to give at West Point in 1974. She explains what philosophy is and why everyone needs its guidance whether they realize that or not.

https://campus.aynrand.org/campus-courses/philosophy-who-needs-it

“The Morality of Freedom” is a discussion by ARI senior fellow Onkar Ghate on how the Enlightenment values of reason and individualism relate to Rand’s moral and political philosophy.

https://campus.aynrand.org/campus-courses/the-morality-of-freedom

9)      What have I neglected to ask?

I think you’ve covered all the essentials. Thanks for reaching out to me.

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1 Comment

  1. (From the link) Ayn Rand held that philosophy (how we feel about what we know) is the fundamental force shaping the course of history and shaping each individual’s life. The basic views that a person holds about man’s relationship to (has in common with) reality, about the nature of good and evil, and about the values that should guide human life will shape that person’s fundamental choices and actions, for better or for worse. And the ideas that come to dominate a culture will set that society’s basic direction—again, for better or for worse. We, at ARI, hold that Rand’s philosophy of reason, individualism, and rational self-interest could completely transform the world for the better if it were to become widely enough understood and embraced. (Starts to sound circular. The quest of humanity is for the rational to overpower the stronger emotional impulses. Nature does not trust reason because reason sometimes leads to evil deeds. Evil = death. Good = life…..a balance of reason & instinct.)

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