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Reflections on Life
under the Influence of Ayn Rand
by Roger E. Bissell 
Part 1: Introduction; Nathaniel Branden
and my Interest in Psychology [1991]


I began work on Esthetics, Objectively, my book on the philosophy of art, in January of 1971--a year that seemed to be filled with beginnings. All of them had been several years in the making and, remarkably, they all came to fruition at almost the same time. But perhaps not so remarkably, for they all have to do with the Objectivist movement of the 1960s.

Objectivism is the philosophy of Russian-born writer and thinker, Ayn Rand (1905-1982). She championed a system of ideas that sees reality as being what it is independent of anyone's wishes and as thoroughly knowable by the human mind. She viewed rational self-interest as the proper guide to living our lives, and laissez-faire capitalism and individual rights as the proper social system for us to live under. Most importantly for my esthetics book, she regarded romantic music, art, and literature as the best esthetic values for us to pursue.

In the early days of the movement, the development and application of Rand's Objectivist ideas seemed to be under very tight, strict control. Rand and her right-hand man, Canadian-born psychologist Nathaniel Branden (1930- ), told us that we were all merely "Students of Objectivism." We were to tell others that it existed and they, the Objectivists, would tell people what it is. Hmmph. (1998 Note: Things have not improved much since these words were first written. The current stance by the keepers of the flame is that if you disagree with some significant aspect of Objectivism, you are not an Objectivist, but a neo-Objectivist, or some other hyphenated creature. Double hmmph.)

But then came the Great Split of 1968. Severe personal differences sent Rand and Branden on their separate ways. The scattered remnants of the Objectivist movement struggled to reorganize around various projects and goals. The Objectivist philosophy, wound up tighter than a coiled spring in the 60s, seemed to burst out in a number of different directions.

Nathaniel Branden and my Interest in Psychology:

Before the Great Split, Branden had been the chief public spokesman for the Objectivist philosophy. By 1971 he had almost totally shifted his focus onto his own career field, psychology. He had not only produced recordings of his earlier lectures on Basic Principles of Objectivism and a monthly "Seminar" series, but also his books The Psychology of Self-Esteem and Breaking Free.

That year saw the publication of his third book on psychology, The Disowned Self. This pathbreaking book--in my opinion, his most important--was a major step forward in undoing the damage caused by the oppressive atmosphere and repressive policies of the 60s phase of the movement.

Branden, having himself been "disowned" by Rand, had "left home" to begin a new life and practice in California. He encouraged his supporters to get in touch with parts of themselves that they had suppressed and ignored in the name of "rationality." He urged us to have the strength of resolve to lead lives independent of the stifling influence of the remaining "inner circle of Randian Loyalists.

Branden has continued his prodigious output with a number of recorded lectures and an additional seven books [a dozen or so, as of 1998)]. Among them are two on romantic love, two on sentence-completion self-therapy exercises, [as of 1998, the first two of a projected six on "pillars of self-esteem,"] and the memoirs of his relationship with Rand. [Also, by the mid-90s Branden was once again accepted into the mainstream of the Objectivist movement--at least, the "kinder, gentler" part of it, centered at the Institute for Objectivist Studies, under the leadership of David Kelley.]

I have learned an enormous amount from Branden's writings and lectures. I especially valued his thoughts about the nature of the mind, will, and emotions. In particular, these ideas influenced various sections of my esthetics book, as well as an essay, "A Dual-Aspect Approach to the Mind-Body Problem" (published in 1974 in Reason Papers #1 and quoted in Tibor Machan's 1974 book The Pseudo-Science of B. F. Skinner).

Branden's reviews for Academic Associates' Book News seem to have disappeared down the memory hole, but they were quite helpful to me. His reviews of Mortimer Adler's The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes and Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation pointed me toward these two extremely prolific and insightful thinkers. They, too, greatly influenced my thinking on esthetics and on the mind-body and free will issues.

Also, Koestler's discussion of hierarchical structure stimulated my interest in diagramming concept hierarchies, musical form [see my essay applying his ideas to music theory elsewhere on this website], and family tree diagrams. This latter led to a 20+ year love affair with family history, which included publication of two family surname newsletters and the first of a projected three-volume work, The Bissells of Barstow (Illinois).

Branden's 1971 emphasis on self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-responsibility also played an important part in my personal life. It helped me to dig my way out of some of my worst personal problems. It prepared me to be receptive to even more helpful ideas in Timothy Galwey's "Inner Game" books and the Al-Anon 12-Step program. These ideas were reflected in a 1979 lecture, "Advice to would-be Professional Trombonists," and a 1989 essay, "A Higher Power for Atheists and Agnostics" [both of which are or soon will be posted on this website].

The 12-Step program, in turn, led me to family systems theory and personality type theory. I am currently engaged in much theorizing and writing about personality as it relates to communication and motivation--and I am pursuing M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in psychology from California Coast University. (See my companion web site, Achilles Tendencies.) Who knows, someday I may finish this degree work and actually become a psychologist! If I do, it will be largely due to the richness and power of Nathaniel Branden's influence on my life.