The philosophy called Objectivism helped me to rebuild my life after my recovery from a case of schizophrenia. This is my tale.
I began recovering from my schizophrenia when I was in a Swedish mental hospital in 1973. I continued to recover and to rebuild my life during the rest of the 1970s. I believe that there were two essential factors behind my recovery – the medications that I was given, specifically chlorpromazine, and my own free will. These two factors were probably equally essential.
The essential choice that I made was, basically, to begin thinking again about things in the external world. The first small step that I made was to begin listening many, many hours a day to music, instead of merely devoting all my time to fantasizing. I did still spin fantasies in my mind as I listened to the music - but at least a part of my attention was directed towards something out there in the external world.
I was especially obsessed with the music of the heavy metal group Blue Öyster Cult. I would listen many hours each day to the three LPs which they had issued at the time, which was the summer of the year 1974. I learned all of their songs by heart and I would hum or sing along with the songs as I played their three LPs. I believe that I experienced said activity as a pleasurable mental exercise - it was like a "light cognitive workout".
My next step was to decide to learn how to invest in stocks. My father worked for a bank at the time. Every week he would borrow the latest issue of Sweden´s leading business magazine, Affaersvaerlden, from the bank´s library. He would bring it home and he encouraged me to read it. At first I was only mildly curious. But after I had read a few issues, in the spring of 1974, I began to become fascinated by the world of business and investing. I decided that I must myself learn the art of stock investing and invest my own modest savings in publicly quoted stocks of my own choice.
I only had about 3.000 dollars in savings at the time (the currency was, of course, worth a lot more then than now), but in the summer of 1974 I invested that money in five different Swedish industrial companies of my own choice. I enjoyed making my own choices in a matter which would have an impact on my own future welfare. And analyzing stocks was good mental gymnastics for my mind.
As I concentrated on reading magazine articles about business conditions and stocks, a “feedback” of a kind developed. The more effort I put into concentrating on the external world, the easier it became for me to do so. So my ability to concentrate on things in the external world, instead of just wasting my time lost in my entertaining but useless fantasies, improved as time went by. It was a cumulative process.
My next step was to take a stand against the welfare state and the worship of helplessness. I decided that I was a supporter of the principle of liberty and that I was opposed to the welfare state. I began voting against the Social Democrats - who of course were the main defenders of the welfare state in Sweden at the time. In 1976 I voted for the Liberals (who actually were quite leftist - they were virtually socialistic in all but name). In 1979 I voted for the Conservatives - the most “right-wing” major party at the time. By 1982 I had discovered the philosophy of Objectivism and so I voted “none of the above” in the election of 1982 . I continued to vote “none of the above” during the elections which followed. At some point during the 1990s I actually began voting for the Social Democrats - since I decided that the Conservatives, whenever they were in power, only discredited capitalism and thereby made the Swedish Objectivists´ struggle for freedom still harder.
Back in the early 1970s I also made the conscious decision that I would do all I could to avoid becoming dependent on government handouts myself. So in 1975, when I began earning enough money by working so as to be able to save, I made it a habit to spend as little money as possible on my own consumption. Instead I saved as much money every month as I possibly could. During the latter half of the 1970s I saved between 40% and 60% of my after-tax wage every month. I invested the money in stocks. I felt proud of myself, and I felt that I was making progress in my life every time that I made a new investment and my store of savings therefore grew still a little bit larger. It was a very pleasurable way of living my life long-range.
I also decided that I would attempt to get the highest-paying job that was open do me. I decided to try to enter the steel foundry industry and to develop a career as a foundry worker. I reasoned that I could not get the kind of job that was paid well due to said job being intellectually difficult. I was aware that I had no education to speak of and that my ability to concentrate was severely limited. I reasoned that foundry workers, however, would be relatively well paid due to the fact that the work was physically demanding and dirty. I managed to get jobs in iron and steel foundries twice in 1976. But I had to move out of Stockholm to get the latter one of those two jobs. And my parents managed to persuade me to return to live with them again in the suburb of Stockholm called Lidingoe after a half year at the foundry. I then began working as a machine tender in a margarine factory instead.
That job was pretty well paid. I worked all of the overtime that I was offered and permitted, in order to earn as much money as possible. I earned about 1.000 dollars per month and saved about 600 dollars of that on the average. I invested the money in stocks.
Back in 1974 I had made an important decision. I knew that I was a supporter of the principle of freedom but I did not really know why. I was aware in some terms that freedom needed an intellectual defense. I decided that in order to fight for freedom I needed to find out what the intellectual case for freedom was.
In 1975 I asked my parents if they knew the names of any intellectuals who had written important books defending freedom. My father recommended "The Road to Serfdom" by Friedrich Hayek and so he borrowed a copy of it for me from a library. The newspapers were in 1976 writing a lot about Milton Friedman, who had just won the Nobel prize in economics - so I also purchased a copy of "Freedom and Capitalism". I finished reading those two books during 1977. But they did not really satisfy me. So I decided to continue to look for a good defense of freedom.
I found that defense in 1979, when I discovered Objectivism.
The first time that I ever heard of Ayn Rand, that I can remember, was an incident that occurred when I was about 9 years old in America. I saw a copy of a humorous book titled "Have You Read a Good Book Lately?" It was a little book with jokes that consisted of a series of photos of well-known books in situations that were supposed to be funny, given the books´ titles. There was, for example, a photo of a man looking into an opened copy of the book "The Naked Society" with a very embarrassed look on his face. I remember that when I happened to find a copy of that book in our house at around the age of 9 or 10, it contained an image of a book with a photo of the Atlas sculpture at Rockefeller center, montaged onto the dust jacket of "Atlas Shrugged". Ayn Rand´s name was visible on the dust jacket. Of course, I had no inkling of the meaning or significance of Atlas Shrugged at the time. But for some reason I still remembered that incident all those years later.
The second time that I came into contact with Objectivism was in the spring of 1979. Since I wanted to promote freedom, I had attempted to write a “political” novel. It was a dystopia inspired by 1984. I called the novel “The Democratization of Nils”. The novel took place in an imaginary future Sweden, which had become fully democratic. Each and very decision was made by majority vote - what work the individual should devote himself to, whom the individual should marry, even what everybody would eat for dinner in the communal dining hall. My intention was to show that life in the genuinely democratic society which the Social Democrats were always pining for (in their rhetoric at least) would be sheer hell if it was ever actualized. My novel was supposed to trash the name of the phony political ideal which is democracy by means of reductio ad absurdum!
The novel was badly written, among other reasons because I for the most part “told” the reader my message instead of “showing” him the message. But I sent the novel, which was written in English, to a publisher in the U.S.A anyway. The publisher sent me a reply, in which they politely declined to publish my novel. But they made the comment that my novel reminded them of the works of Ayn Rand!
I should have pricked up my ears and immediately done something to find out what Ayn Rand had to say - but unfortunately I didn´t. I guess that I was just lazy.
In the fall of 1979 I became engaged in the organization Amnesty International (AI). I was idealistic, and I wanted something meaningful to do on my spare time. I did not just want to spend my evenings watching television or something trivial like that. I reasoned that the work that I did in AI would promote freedom. AI´s main activity was to work for the release of political prisoners in other countries and to protect all prisoners, and especially political prisoners, against torture and execution (I am, of course, no longer opposed to capital punishment on moral grounds). I thought that if people all around the world could work to improve their countries´ politics - without having to be afraid of being imprisoned, tortured or executed - then they would come to possess a greater opportunity to bring about freedom.
AI´s most important defect was that it was anti-ideological and concrete-bound on principle. AI had as a fundamental principle that it would never take a stand for or against any political ideology/philosophy. It would only work for the very narrow, concrete-bound goals in its founding charter - to oppose political imprisonment, torture and capital punishment. Many of the members of AI itself were socialists, some were even in many cases Communists. So AI had some important attributes in common with the Libertarian movement. AI tried to create a "broad front for human rights" just as the Libertarians try to create a "broad front for `freedom´".
So the time and money that I “invested” in AI was wasted. For a period of four years, beginning in the fall of 1979 AI was my main occupation on my spare time.
The reason that I was so enthusiastic about AI was the partly the fact that I was an idealist. And it was partly that I felt an acute need for a concrete purpose in my life - i.e. something that I could focus on. I yearned for an important purpose. I longed to do something important with my life. A few months after I became involved in AI, the second of the three most fortunate events which ever happened to me in my life occurred.
I discovered Objectivism.
I happened to read an article in a newspaper about the intellectuals who were supposedly behind the “swing to the right” which was spreading throughout the world at the time. The article mentioned something like a couple of dozen intellectuals. One of them was Ayn Rand. The article stated that Ayn Rand had created a philosophic case for capitalism.
I was intrigued. So I went to a large bookstore in Stockholm and found several books by Ayn Rand (in English) on its shelves. I purchased The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal, mainly because I was intrigued by those two books´ titles. I read the Virtue of Selfishness first.
Although I came to the book with a belief in the moral code of altruism I did not recoil in horror when I read the book. Instead I was elated. I felt that I had “hit the jackpot”, because Ayn Rand explained her ideas so clearly and those ideas were so rational.
So, although I was initially on the premise of altruism, I was immediately strongly attracted to Objectivism due to the fact that I valued reason. However, it was difficult for me to read the two books that I had purchased. It took me about half a year, reading on and off. The reason for that was my schizophrenia. I would read one or two paragraphs, then my mind would begin to wander and I would become lost in my fantasies. Then after a few minutes of dreaming I would focus on the book again and read another paragraph or two. And so forth.
And as I was already committed to spending a large portion of my spare time on AI´s activities, I did not have much time available to spend on reading. I finished reading The Virtue of Selfishness around the time of Christmas in 1979. I finished reading the second book, Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal, during my summer vacation in 1980. Then a year went by during which I did nothing at all to pursue my interest in Objectivism. All my energy was devoted to AI.
In the spring of 1981 I purchased one copy each of two more nonfiction books by Ayn Rand of The Romantic Manifesto and The New Left: the Anti-Industrial Revolution. And I got around to reading those two books in the summer of 1981.
In the early fall of 1981, I consciously decided that I just had to read all of the rest of the books which Ayn Rand had written. So I purchased close to all of her fiction and non-fiction in bookstores in Stockholm. I read those books over the course of the following year.
In the early winter of 1982 I decided that I wanted to try to get into touch with Ayn Rand. I did not know anything about who she was, apart from the brief information on the book covers. I had no inkling of the fact that there existed an Objectivist movement. I wrote a short letter addressed to Ayn Rand, and mailed it to her book publisher in America. Unfortunately, I asked the question about whether Ayn Rand was still alive, in awkward language. Then, a couple of weeks after I put the letter in the mail, my father showed me the latest issue of Time Magazine. In the obituary section they said that Ayn Rand had just died.
A month or so later, I received a letter from Dr. Peikoff (Ayn Rand´s legal and intellectual heir). Ayn Rand´s book publisher (I believe it was Signet) had forwarded my letter to him. It was clear from his letter that he was a bit disturbed by my awkwardly worded question about whether Ayn Rand was still alive. But he was not angry at me, due to the distance. Dr. Peikoff enclosed information about such things as Palo Alto Books, The Objectivist Forum and his own taped lecture courses. I was thrilled to learn that there evidently existed an entire Objectivist movement based in America.
I immediately placed a big order for books from Palo Alto Books, amounting to several hundred dollars. And I promptly got myself a subscription to The Objectivist Forum.
I wrote a letter to dr. Peikoff´s assistant, Walter Huebscher, in which I stated that I thought that I was not competent yet to run Dr. Peikoff´s courses, being so new to Objectivism - and in which I inquired if there was any possibility that I might purchase Dr. Peikoff´s taped courses. Walter replied emphatically that the courses were not available for purchase, but could only be leased. I replied that I would in that case attempt to run one of Dr. Peikoff´s courses in Stockholm during the fall.
During the summer of 1982 I finished reading Ayn Rand´s paperbacks. In the early fall of 1982 it dawned on me that Objectivism was much more important than AI. I decided that I could improve the state of the world much more if I devoted myself to studying and spreading Objectivism instead of devoting myself to the AI movement. And I realized that I also would become much happier personally if I did so. Since intellectual activism for Objectivism was enormously much more intellectually stimulating than AI´s concrete-bound activities (I was really becoming bored by the drudgery of churning out concrete-bound letter after concrete-bound letter in AI).
So I told my friends in AI that I wanted to quit and devote myself to “ideological” activities instead. They persuaded me to stay in AI another half-year, so that they would have time to find someone to replace me (I had by that time advanced to a somewhat prominent position in the Swedish AI movement, since I worked hard). So in the fall of 1982 I began running Dr. Peikoff´s lecture courses in Stockholm, at the same time that I also continued to spend spare time in AI. It was a pretty hectic time for me for the next half-year. In the spring of 1983 I finally left AI and began devoting my spare time to Objectivism exclusively (apart from personal recreation of course, I did not literally spend all of my spare time studying and spreading Objectivism).
I was very optimistic about my own future now. I felt that I now had just about everything important that I could wish for in life. I had a job which I enjoyed and that paid well (I was working in a factory that manufactured measuring instruments by now), I had a small private fortune (due to the boom in the Swedish stock market I now had a stock portfolio worth roughly 120.000 dollars) and I had an important purpose in my life. Which latter fact gave me the feeling that my life had meaning. From that time on Objectivism made my life much happier, and it helped me to become more successful in life than I otherwise would have become.
Objectivism has benefited me by increasing the amount of the values of reason, purpose and self-esteem that I have been able to enjoy in my life.
Objectivism showed me that reason is both moral and practical. By showing how identity is an inescapable axiom, it almost certainly guaranteed that I would never again become acutely schizophrenic. So Objectivism cemented the place of reason in my life and it secured my mental health.
Objectivism provided me with what has been the central, long-range, integrating purpose in my life. Back in 1982 I consciously decided that I would become one of the individuals who brought Objectivism into the Swedish culture (Objectivism was almost unknown in Sweden at the time). Purpose was the central value that was most lacking in my life previously. So this was an invaluable service which Objectivism did for me, in a certain sense (Of course, I was myself the active agent in acquiring a purpose, Objectivism did not literally do it for me).
Objectivism radically increased my level of self-esteem - or to be more precise, Objectivism made it easier for me to increase my self-esteem by my own efforts. Before I discovered Objectivism, I was plagued with feelings of guilt for my “failures” earlier in life. Before I discovered Objectivism there was a nagging suspicion in my mind that maybe it was my own fault after all that I had become a high-school dropout and a schizophrenic when I was younger. And I felt some guilt also, because of the fact that I still accepted the moral code of altruism and could not practice it with complete consistency (No one can!). I also had a major element of a malevolent sense-of-life before I discovered Objectivism.
Objectivism showed me that it was not my own fault that I had “failed” earlier in life. After reading essays such as The Comprachicos I realized that, in a sense, it had been a healthy reaction on my part to “give up” rather than to “give in”. And I realized for the first time that my school-teachers had actually been (unwittingly) working to bring about that destruction of my mind which occurred when I was a teen-ager. I also realized that I was not wrong to hate my parents. They were abject second-handers who had betrayed me, their own child, in order to not cause a frown on random strangers´ faces and in order to evade the effort of thinking.
So, for the first time since grade school, I became completely free from guilt a few years after I discovered Objectivism. That, of course, was of incalculable importance for my happiness. Objectivism showed me exactly where I went wrong during my childhood and how to repair that damage now that I was an adult.
I did choose to work hard to learn and then spread the philosophy of Objectivism. So I earned my happiness. Some of the major things that I did were to:
1) Run Dr. Peikoff´s lecture courses. At first I ran the courses at least two times a year in Stockholm, starting in 1982. I continued doing so until Dr. Peikoff discontinued the leasing of the courses in the early 1990s. After I had run the courses a few years in Stockholm, I was entrusted with the responsibility of administering the leasing of Dr. Peikoff´s courses in all of Scandinavia for several years.
2) I tried to influence the general public by writing a copious number of letters and debate articles to Swedish newspapers and magazines during the 1980s and the 1990s. I no longer write debate pieces to Swedish newspapers since they rarely get published nowadays. I have gotten the impression that, especially, some of the largest, national Swedish newspapers have a deliberate policy of refusing to publish pieces that advocate Objectivist viewpoints - or that, for example, contain quotes from Ayn Rand.
3) During 1983 through 1986 I cooperated with a Swedish think tank called Timbro, on a project to get a Swedish translation of Atlas Shrugged published. Timbro is and was at least partly Libertarian. I did not at the time realize yet that Libertarianism was evil. I invested about 45.000 dollars of my own money in the project. I lost about half of that money, after tax. The translation, titled Och vaerlden skaelvde (“And the Earth Shook”), was published in hardback in 1986 but was initially a flop. However, the book is still in print. Later, Timbro published an inexpensive paperback copy of Och vaerlden skaelvde, which at least a few years ago was selling steadily and was available in many bookstores. Timbro also used to sell an inexpensive paperback copy of the Swedish translation of The Fountainhead, titled Urkaellan.
4) Starting in 1987, I published the very first Objectivist periodical in Sweden, Objektivistisk skriftserie, together with Per-Olof Samuelsson (Per-Olof Samuelsson was the first Objectivist in Sweden, having discovered it way back in 1972 - and to the best of my knowledge I was probably the second Swedish Objectivist. We were best friends for many years). This periodical, of which four or five issues were published each year from 1987 through 1996, consisted of translations into Swedish of essays by Ayn Rand and on occasion by other leading Objectivist philosophers, plus material written by Per-Olof and me.
Per-Olof was the chief editor and did almost all the work involved in publishing Objectivistisk skriftserie (OS), I was the owner and I financed the project, which never became profitable. When it was at its peak, OS only had about 95 subscribers. Still, it was an influential publication.
5) In 1987 I began selling Objectivist literature in the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland) by mail order. I purchased Objectivist books in round lots from Second Renaissance Books and resold them at a slightly higher price to persons in the Nordic countries who were interested in Objectivism. I am no longer running my mail order book service due to private economic difficulties. Over the years I sold something like 2.000 books to several hundred different customers.
6) In 1996 I published a Swedish translation of Anthem, titled Lovsaang, through my own publishing house - which was called Foerlaget Egoisten (“The Egoist Publisher”). I had 3.200 copies printed. I believe that to date roughly 1.500 of those copies have been sold to individual customers. I sold the leftover copies of the book to a half dozen Swedish Objectivists roughly ten years ago (the time of writing this is 2015). They will store the books for me, so that I do not have to destroy them. Hopefully, I will eventually get a chance to begin selling them again.
7) During most of the 1990s I ran a study organization for Objectivism in Stockholm. We had regular meetings for several years, at which a few interested individuals would listen to taped lectures on Objectivism for free, and we would discuss philosophical questions. The study organization is now defunct.
8) I was been a regular donor to the Ayn Rand Institute since its inception 1985 up until 2008 (I ran into private financial difficulties that year).
9) I have attended the yearly Objectivist conferences in America four times, 1985, 1989, 1993 and 1998. I have also attended several Objectivist conferences in Europe. I would have attended more of the conferences in the U.S.A. if only I could have afforded it. But I have always had the option of purchasing most of the lectures given at the conferences afterwards anyway, on tape or dvd.
10) Recently I began publishing an Objectivist periodical on the Internet, “Radikalen”, together with my best friend Filip Bjoerner, and three other Swedish Objectivists. The first issue was published at the end of September (2008). We planned to publish more issues. We were planning to publish an extra issue soon after on the theme of the finance crisis. But the project failed after the first issue due to Filip´s health problems.
11) I have been “lying low” for a few years, in regard to spreading Objectivism, since the newspapers usually do not publish my debate pieces (probably because my pieces are “too good”), and since I have run low on economic resources for certain reasons.
12) I am now working on my most ambitious project yet. I have written a book, "Bad Philosophy as a Cause of Psychosis", which presents my hypothesis that the influence of bad, fallacious philosophical ideas can give rise to psychoses. This book was prompted by Dr. Peikoff´s essay "Madness and Modernism", and is based on my own personal experience with schizophrenia. I now feel re-energized due to the thinking which the writing of this book necessitated. I am currently trying to find an academic publisher for my book, which is written in the English language.
I feel a great deal of satisfaction with my life now. Looking back, I see that I have done a good job of rebuilding my life after my psychosis. I know for a fact that I have made a difference in the development of the Swedish society and culture since the beginning of the 1980s. At least something like fifty or one hundred Swedish Objectivists originally came into contact with Objectivism thanks partly to my efforts.
So I will be happy when I die. I am 54 years old now at the time of writing this essay (the year 2008) so hopefully I have many years left.
I doubt that many former psychotics have led an equally productive a life as I have. Objectivism has enabled me to develop the psychological attribute of ambition and has given me the tools to achieve my high ambitions.
I am afraid that I would have become quite unhappy if I had not discovered Objectivism. I might very well have got stuck in a “career” in Amnesty International. And as a result I might have developed a malevolent sense-of-life. I might also have fallen prey to the philosophical corruption which is widespread in AI. And of course, I would not have achieved much in the way of improving the world if I had stayed in AI - so my life would have been wasted.
The one important thing that I have missed out on so far in my life, is romance. At the time of writing (2008) I am still unmarried and without a girlfriend.
But Objectivism has greatly increased my “failure tolerance”. I know that there is nothing that I can do now to undo the elements of failure in my past life, such as my schizophrenia or my dropping out of high school or my many years of loneliness, etc. So I do not worry my head about those things. They are metaphysically given, now that they are in the past and therefore cannot be undone.
I believe that all persons who suffer from mental illnesses would benefit from a knowledge of Objectivism. My own experience indicates that irrational philosophy is one significant cause of psychosis - and that rational philosophy is a major part of the cure.
It would be of inestimable benefit to psychotics, if the world´s psychiatrists and psychologists were to become aware of the role played by philosophy in mental health. In particular, the mental health professionals need to be “cured” of the fallacy that people are determined by either nature or nurture. Mental health professionals need to realize that ideas - which always are chosen by the individual himself - are the key determinant of men´s respective psychologies.
I sincerely believe that a knowledge of Objectivism would enable psychiatrists and psychologists to better help their patients, including psychotics, to recover from their illnesses and achieve happiness.
Objectivism should be made a part of the education of all psychiatrists and psychologists!