From July 1-7, The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) held its annual gathering of objectivists at the Objectivist Summer Conference (better known as OCON) at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue in Washington. This year’s OCON attracted over 500 attendees, ranking it as one of the most highly attended OCONs in ARI history.
But what does Objectivism even mean?
Often seen as too radical or completely overlooked in classrooms, Objectivism is the philosophy developed by author Ayn Rand, a Russian-American novelist and philosopher, most notably expressed through her novels (Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead). Objectivism emphasizes an individual’s rights and values through rational means— placing significance on an objective reality, reason, rational self-interest, and laissez-faire capitalism. It states that the world around us is objective – no one can change the universe for what they want it to be, so reason is all we have to understand the world. The philosophy also emphasizes pursuing one’s full potential and putting one’s happiness first while respecting everyone else’s individual right to happiness as well. Through this, objectivists aim to lead lives of reason, purpose, and self-esteem.
Followers of this philosophy, or even those slightly curious to learn more, are encouraged to attend the conference, where like-minded people come together for the same purpose: to learn about and understand Objectivism.
In the span of a week, newbies and seasoned objectivists alike came together to immerse themselves in a variety of sessions and activities ranging from morning cardio-dance classes to book signings and even a concert by Nigh Horizon, a local rock band from Miami! But most importantly, OCON provided learning opportunities for all attendees to further their understanding of Objectivism through several lectures and networking opportunities between the speakers, staffers, and guests. All lecturers were experts in their fields and their relations with Objectivism, in fact, the majority of them work closely with ARI.
The presentations varied in topics to cover several aspects of Objectivism and its role in those fields such as religion or libertarianism. These presentations also spanned from introductory series for the newer audiences to more in-depth discussions with those already familiar with the movement.
There were also many student-oriented activities specifically designed for all those who registered as students. There were small group Q&A sessions with conference speakers and student alumni, during which students could ask one-on-one questions and have deeper discussions with the speakers. In addition to the normal schedule, there were student leadership classes available presented by STRIVE (Students for Reason, Individualism, Value pursuit, and Enterprise), a nationwide student organization based on college campuses that focuses on personal and leadership development inspired by Rand’s Objectivism.
Although there was a lot of philosophy going on, there was still time for plenty of fun activities! Whether you’re into ballroom dancing or live music, it was all showcased during the attendee talent show, which featured singing, stand-up comedy, and even juggling. Other activities included board game fun on the Fourth of July, a book signing hour with the speakers who released any publications, and even an Ayn Rand trivia night.
With so many student attendees, a main topic consistently addressed was how to advance the Objectivist movement to newer generations, specifically targeting the ages of 15-30. In fact, one of the general sessions presented by Onkar Ghate, chief content officer of ARI, was exclusively on how to grow and expand Objectivism to others. Since many of the attendees were evidently older, it’s easy to see the stressed importance on continuing the teachings and principles of Objectivism to younger groups. Teens and young adults will soon enough be the leaders of the world – the next teachers, lawyers, judges, politicians, parents – ultimately holding the power in influential decision-making and everyday actions.
However, after diving into the world of Objectivism for a week, ARI should have no trouble instilling Objectivism into millennial minds. In a world where volunteering and extracurricular clubs are no longer seen as fun but rather as necessities for resumes and college applications, it was utterly refreshing to hear that it’s completely okay to put your own self-interests first! In today’s society, it has been seen to be morally incorrect to put yourself first, and Rand’s philosophy asks you to challenge that. Of course, there are deeper specifics within Objectivism that may need a longer explanation, but the main idea of self-importance is one that’s practically ingrained within the selfie generation. Young adults are entrepreneurial, in favor of individual rights, self-accepting, and expressive, whether it’s shown via social media or on their own tattooed and pierced bodies. All in all, millennials seem like a group ready to embrace Objectivism once they’re exposed to it.
OCON 2016 served as not only a great way to get first-hand education about Objectivism, but also to feel like part of a greater community— one that follows the same way of life and eagerness to reach for more. In the closing lecture, Yaron Brook, the executive director of ARI, encouraged the attendees to “make the most of life, pursue life and happiness, and be successful.” And with that, the week-long, eye-opening adventure concluded, but the excitement of Objectivism has just started.
Photos and Story By Sharon Arana