Self centredness gets a blank cheque from Ayn Rand.
|And the values and happiness of others? That's supposed to|
come out in the libertarian wash! (or mangle!)
|A necessary condition, perhaps, but|
not a sufficient condition
| Read this to mean: "If you are in favour of one-person one-vote|
you are voting for government and therefore you are a
Don't vote; make way for the power law plutocrats!"
I used to think of myself as a fan of free market capitalism. But now the concept of the free market has been blighted by its association with the alt-right, an unholy blend of Trumpkins, quasi-anarchists, Christian fundamentalists, conspiracy theorists and quasi-fascists all of whom have reason to be disaffected with the Western free market democracies and seek to bring about radical change. Disaffection may lead to revolution which in turn leads to instability and unrest; fertile ground for the accession of a dictatorship.
I haven’t studied Rand closely, so for the present purposes it will have to suffice to selectively quote from Rand’s Wiki pages and hope this will give us at least an approximation of her outlook. In the following quote the emphases are mine. According to Wiki, for Rand.....
……the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is one that displays full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism,….
Academic philosophers have mostly ignored or rejected Rand's philosophy. Nonetheless, Objectivism has been a significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives. The Objectivist movement, which Rand founded, attempts to spread her ideas to the public and in academic settings.
In ethics, Rand argued for rational and ethical egoism (rational self-interest), as the guiding moral
principle. She said the individual
should "exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor
sacrificing others to himself". She
referred to egoism as "the virtue of selfishness" in her book of
that title, in which she presented her solution to the is-ought problem by
describing a meta-ethical theory that based morality in the needs of
"man's survival qua man". She condemned
ethical altruism as incompatible
with the requirements of human life and happiness, and held that the
initiation of force was evil and irrational, writing in Atlas Shrugged that
"Force and mind are opposites."
|Wrong on all counts it would seem!|
No (wo)man is an island.
Rand's political philosophy emphasized individual rights (including property rights), and she considered laissez-faire capitalism the only moral social system because in her view it was the only system based on the protection of those rights.
She opposed statism, which she understood to include theocracy, absolute monarchy, Nazism, fascism, communism, democratic socialism, and dictatorship. Rand believed that natural rights should be enforced by a constitutionally limited government. Although her political views are often classified as conservative or libertarian, she preferred the term "radical for capitalism". She worked with conservatives on political projects, but disagreed with them over issues such as religion and ethics. She denounced libertarianism, which she associated with anarchism. She rejected anarchism as a naïve theory based in subjectivism that could only lead to collectivism in practice.
…..she also found early inspiration in Friedrich Nietzsche, and scholars have found indications of his influence in early notes from Rand's journals, in passages from the first edition of We the Living (which Rand later revised), and in her overall writing style. However, by the time she wrote The Fountainhead, Rand had turned against Nietzsche's ideas, and the extent of his influence on her even during her early years is disputed.
I don’t agree with Rand’s take on epistemology or her concept of rationalism (these are explained elsewhere on Wiki) but that isn’t what I want to critique here. In this commentary I shall focus on her rational and ethical egoism.
Going on what little I know of Atlas Shrugged, then while it’s not conspiracy theorism per see I suspect that it may help contribute to the paranoiac and suspicious moods which are pre-conditions for conspiracy theorism. Here’s a quote from the Wiki page on Atlas Shrugged:
Rand's heroes continually oppose "parasites", "looters", and "moochers" who demand the benefits of the heroes' labor. Edward Younkins describes Atlas Shrugged as "an apocalyptic vision of the last stages of conflict between two classes of humanity—the looters and the non-looters. The looters are proponents of high taxation, big labor, government ownership, government spending, government planning, regulation, and redistribution". [Well, surprise me! – TVR]
"Looters" are Rand's depiction of bureaucrats and government officials, who confiscate others' earnings by the implicit threat of force ("at the point of a gun"). Some officials execute government policy, such as those who confiscate one state's seed grain to feed the starving citizens of another; others exploit those policies, such as the railroad regulator who illegally sells the railroad's supplies for his own profit. Both use force to take property from the people who produced or earned it.
"Moochers" are Rand's depiction of those unable to produce value themselves, who demand others' earnings on behalf of the needy, but resent the talented upon whom they depend, and appeal to "moral right" while enabling the "lawful" seizure by governments.
|Consumer choices are not the only decisions about a |
society which can be made.
So with those initial comments in mind I can now turn to Philip’s email. I’ve quoted it below and have interleaved my comments:
As all of you have expressed an interest in hearing about my experience with Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, or are 'read' individuals, or have already expressed an opinion on the novel, I thought I might as well email the group as a BCC.
This allows me to be somewhat impersonal and not accidently point anything directly at anyone. In fact I would like to make this clear before I move on, this is an introspection, not a persuasion piece. I am just making statements, rather than asking questions.
I have gained some practical philosophy from this book, this is not a tear-down of Rand's work, and I do not dismiss this book as being truly toxic as I once thought. The caveat being though, you do need to handle it with care. It is easy to fall into it's snares which play upon human weaknesses. Going into this book with a working idea of philosophy protects the reader. Pretty much.
MY COMMENT: Well, for me this is going to be a tear down of Rand’s ideas, if not her book. More
|The fertile ground for conspiracy theorism ... and|
or less restating what I’ve already said: In Rand’s book the baddies of the piece are the scoundrels, leaches and parasites (and perhaps even the weak who have little choice but to be carried along on the backs of others), all of whom are supported and encouraged by Rand's' depiction of the government as parasite in chief. These are, according to Rand, to blame for the run down social malaise. If I am right in my assessment of the book then I’m not too surprised by the interest and admiration that the right wing conspiracy theorists have for this book. After all, what is grand conspiracy theorism but the belief that a well organised covert intelligentsia are in positions of control and are living at the expense of the rest of us i.e. as parasites? The popularity of Atlas Shrugged with the American right wing probably results of it comfortably resonating with their paranoid fantasies about a governmental “swamp” hiding the most evil of parasitic bureaucrats, bureaucrats who churn out “fake news” to deceive us about their intentions or even their very existence.
Overall I would not encourage anyone to read this novel upon the merits of its 'fame' or 'infamy'. The book is far too long, and uses its length to lull the reader into a vulnerable state - one in which it attempts to then sow seeds of hatred towards people you might see as being inept or inferior. Underneath the barrage of speeches, there is a rather basic story about success and wanting a sense of achievement and purpose.
MY COMMENT: ".....one in which it attempts to then sow seeds of hatred towards people you might see as being inept or inferior". That’s just a little worrying. What does one do with the inept, the inferior and ….the weak? That’s got a slightly musty smell about it which reminds me of prototypical social Darwinism, Nazism even. In Nazism’s interpretation of Nietzsche the Nazi leaders considered themselves as the ubermenschen, the superior class which do all the clever work and consider races like the Jews, Slavs and Blacks as all but subhuman. The latter were the untermenschen.
The abstract of 'wanting to achieve' is what keeps the plot going. It’s nice to read about trains, and cars, and machinery in a revered light for once rather than a negative one (pollution for example). I like engines and at a very base level, in the reptilian part of my brain, I like thinking about resources being used up. This book has a lot of that, the plot is about as advanced as scratching an itch. Rand tries to tap into that sense of subduing nature, not stewarding it. Flattening, concreting, commanding nature - rather than embracing it and being at one with it. It feels very Western, and Rand goes as far as to label anyone without this mechanical mind as a savage. We're talking full-on racist 'savage' use of the word here.
MY COMMENT: Interesting: Are we seeing here the stereotypical masculine ubermenschen who are apt to subdue and exploit mother Gaia and her retinue of savages? I’m reminded of the polarised fault line we see in our society between the right wing who believe resources are for the taking and the left wing eco-warriors who oppose them. Avatar was typical! It is very unlikely that the market, which tends to respond to signals from local conditions, is capable of addressing long view issues like climate change without the "eyes" of a "central processor" called government. (See here for more about the nature of the free market)
Atlas Shrugged comes across as a novel written by an adult with a child's brain, it has a rudimentary and narrow understanding of how the world works - this simple world is how she attempts to shoehorn her ideas into a 'believable' setting. To boil it down, only about three locations exist on Rand's map of the US in her mind and when forced to mention things outside of this scope the prose become quite vague. If this happens, then, all of a sudden, a character is quickly brought in and talks for 19 pages, leaving the reader to forget -where- they are on the map of the US. Locations are used as stages for the talking heads.
MY COMMENT: Rudimentary and narrow: Would you say that Atlas Shrugged is a world of heroes vs. villains? That is ubermenschen vs untermenschen? That's hardly a realistic vision of compromised human nature which is fifty shades of grey!
She kills people in her book in a way that a child plays with toys that die in a game of make believe. The toys of her narrative are stood up again and played with again, to aid a point. When I realised this is what she was doing, this child-like approach, the little straw dolls of her story are not something you can emotionally invest in because they are so basic. They have certain endearing characteristics to them, but its certainly the, 'aww she's trying so hard' feeling more than anything else.
I've taken away from this book a few ideas that certainly made me question myself. Rand points the finger of blame upon 'looters of the mind' and 'parasites' - which are basically people who take something from someone else without paying for it. The basic idea is that if you left the world to people like this, everything would collapse because they are 'unproductive' and just take from other people rather than make anything. The result being things just get stolen and no one is inventing anything, gathering resources or producing new things - just pure entropy.
|No comment needed|
Interesting you should mention entropy. As I have already proposed Rand’s ideas are part of a spectrum of ideas which shade through libertarianism into conspiracy theorism. She appears to be painting the parasites as a disordered and inchoate bunch…. and yet … and yet that would be far from the view of the Glen Becks of this world who have developed the idea that the parasites are part of well organised covert conspiracies that major in deception of the masses. And here’s the irony and paradox in Beck’s views and many other North American conspiracy theorists, right wingers and Christian fundamentalists: Well organised undercover conspirators would need to be clever enough and hardworking enough to have the potential to be the very opposite of lazy underachieving slouches. In fact they would have to have the very temperamental qualities which make up the self-serving ubermenschen and alpha males which Rand would praise as movers and shakers!
Compensation and payment is what sticks in my mind about this book, it’s a common thread throughout. This made me think about myself.
At times I know that I have taken things from people and certainly not compensated them for it, emotionally and perhaps physically. Rand points out that this leaves a debt - and this is where I diverge from her ideas, as they then skew into pure fantasy. However, I am aware of how I have taken advantage of others in the past, and should be more mindful of asking for things.
A practical example is with my daughter, I ask, and ask and ask her to do things of a morning when I need to get out of the house. I am only thinking of myself. She reacts by saying no. That is quite fair as I am trying to withdraw from her bank with no credit and no deposit. At no point during the morning had I ever 'paid' her in the coin she holds value in at this point in time - cuddles, love, attention, puzzles and horseplay.
I changed this approach and instantly noticed a difference, thanks to what Rand pointed out. I pay Emily what she deserves, I always make our transactions fair and the result is a relationship where we both benefit and both respect each other. I'm sure this will change over time, but she seems to have a deep sense of fairness, so a balanced equation, a fair transaction, does not seem to cause an upset. I hasten to add, I can ONLY speak of her, not of all children. I have no data regarding all children - I have one data point. This is not advice to follow.
As for my friends and co-workers, I am trying to be more mindful of what I ask them to do for me. I am attempting to 'pay' without being asked, and only 'withdraw' when I have made a 'deposit'. In the field of my job, this has resulted in a lot less stress. I am more proactive, and this lead me into another point Atlas Shrugged has helped with.
MY COMMENT: Here we have the core of the Rand paradox.
|Potential contradiction alert!|
a) Attempt to take us much for themselves as possible (i.e. sacrifice others for themselves)?
b) Give way to others? (i.e. sacrifice themselves to others)
c) Come to some kind of sharing arrangement. (i.e. mutual sacrifice; reciprocity)
Randians can’t choose c) because this entails sacrifice on the part of all players! But then a) & b) also entail sacrifice on the part of one party or another. Hence because Rand’s moral criterion blocks sacrifice, her self-serving class of ubermenschen would naturally lead to deadlocks resulting of competing claims on resources. Society would either lock up like a badly programmed computer or, more likely, descend into hatred, violence and barbarism.
Rand portrays the looters as parasitic. But let’s recall that successful and clever spiv parasitism is a viable survival niche for the appropriately gifted. And who are more suitably gifted for such a role than the assertive group of unbermenschen with their rational egoism which allows them to serve self with untroubled conscience? They have the ability to exploit the population by underhand means, thereby effectively undermining the individual rights of those they exploit. This, I suggest, is the most likely solution to the Randian deadlock; it’s the path of least resistance for the rational egoist.
Production is a key point of the book, and a phrase that is drilled into the reader as being VERY bad is 'Its not my fault, it was out of my control, it can't be helped'. Rand identifies these people as the parasites, as the feeble minded, dumb and incapable.
|Has she ever heard or reciprocity?|
Rand's objective was to make the reader agree with her, but what I take from the above mentality is to ask myself, 'Before I say I can't help, what can I do to help; what about emotional support?' and 'Can I get control of this and do good?' plus 'Have I helped enough, in every way I can?'. I reject Rand's view of the parasite and see everyone as differently minded, differently capable and on equal ground - hierarchies are good for organisation, but unhealthy for a person to judge others by. Socrates refuted that 'justice is the advantage of the stronger' and I agree with Socrates, it is an injustice to judge others by their strengths. To me, people are all differently strong.
MY COMMENT: The irony of Randism is its hidden logic whereby Randian self-serving parasites can perceive themselves as hardworking heroes and leaders. These are the very people Rand would praise as ubermenschen. Rand should have factored in the egocentric fantasies to which the human mind so easily falls prey. When this happens the world is viewed through a filter of egotistical and paranoid fantasies. E.g. Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Barry Smith..
So armed with these questions I make sure that I don't fire off an email, or say something which defers blame, or be unproductive. Its even made me think twice about unproductive questions. These would be questions which do not help the other person move their idea or knowledge along. The sort of question that you ask because you actually don't want to think about the topic right now, but want to appear as if you are moving the conversation along. I feel that could be disingenuous, so if I do such a thing, and not think, Rand would agree that not thinking is a [paraphrased *ahem*] very bad idea. I need to think about what I ask more often, rather than just react.
MY COMMENT: Once again note the irony: Rand was herself, albeit implicitly, apportioning blame by pointing to a class of untermenschen as the cause of societal ills. In this connection it’s worth noting that people like Beck (and Trump) are first class blame game players.
The book used to be called 'The Strike' because of its topic being the 'great minds' of the world going on strike and refusing to be drained by the people who do not think. I have realised that I am also on strike.
I refuse to let the world dictate to me that my life is ranked, and use the world's measure of my success by my job title and how much I earn. That is in direct opposition to Rand's ideas on free enterprise, because I live to serve others, and I am on strike from what the world is telling me: I need respect and I need status. Categorically, no, I do not acknowledge that as a personal value. As I said before, my purpose in life is different, not better, not less than anyone else's. I won't say any more about this as it is a very lengthy topic, but I'm sure you get the idea. The concept of the 'strike' of the mind has been useful to define my own purpose.
|The Sociopathic philosophy of Ayn Rand|
Those who regard themselves as an innately superior class and hold an inflated opinion of their entitlement are well suited to be some of worst exploiters of them all. If these “ubermenschen” identify themselves with the Atlas Shrugged wealth producers and therefore deserving their wealth, it may not be a bad thing if they went on strike and got themselves out of the system!
The degenerates that Rand labels as such often spout the Straw Man 'I'm trying my best' and as a reader you're meant to be disgusted by their lack of abilities, as if it is their choice to 'not think' and 'not produce'. However, this poor attempt at making an abstract villain, to me it comes across as paper dolls DOING their best, not TRYING their best. Support and raising standards as a whole is what makes the world a better place, philanthropy is progress, not putting up a pay wall. Rand goes about proving the inverse of her philosophy to me by her own attempt to misrepresent the opposition.
Rand is not evil, her childhood was horrible, and she fought back the demons of her past with objectivity. The book is a rational response that got out of hand because it plays on the human weakness of wanting recognition. Those after her have picked it up and run a mile, forgetting that this concept works in a playpen, but not in a world as complex and as layered as our own.
As this email has run on, I shall draw this introspection to a close. If I have raised any questions, I will happily act as a forum for replies - keeping submissions anonymous.
To conclude, Atlas Shrugged is a book I gave my time to and was rewarded by looking at how dark a shadow it casts; yet ultimately understanding more about the light in the world.
MY COMMENT: Yes, Rand has created the abstract baddie, a straw man which can then be readily identified with certain classes of “looser”, thereby offering a smug feel good factor for those who see themselves as part of the hero class. This draws attention away from what I have suggested is obvious; namely, that Rand’s “clever” hard working rational egoists are the very material which are readily suited to the role of super-parasites. Their self-centred ethic which sears conscience (as it did with the Nietzsche inspired Nazis) and their sense of entitlement makes them ideal exploiters. Deception and exploitation is one “solution” to the Randian resource deadlock. Nazism may not be explicit in Randism, but it is clearly on a similar evolutionary branch.
As you say our societal world is many layered, a system where politics, sociology and economics form a complex coupled triad, so complex and coupled that they are an organic whole. Market transactions are just one part of this complex system. Libertarian analysis is less a description of society than a prescription which aspires to seeing economic transactions as dominating the social process. In fact libertarians may see the transactional choices of the market as a form of democracy; a decisional process everyone can get involved in. Actually, I would accept that as true as far as it goes, but it is far from a sufficient form of democracy; it is just part of what ought to be a much bigger stage on which democracy needs be applied……
Market transactional decisions are made with only local conditions in mind, not global conditions. Those many decisions made on the basis of solving local problems have unforeseen consequences at the higher level, consequences which may include chaos, instability and a power law distribution of wealth favouring the emergence of a plutocratic autocratic elite (e.g. Donald Trump) and reactionary Marxist defectors and agitators. Like chess players the market players are consciously and democratically choosing the moves at the level of the point of sale but they don’t chose the total game; that will be a ramifying product which they will not consciously chose.
It is ironic that both libertarians and Marxists see government as the pantomime villain, the supporter, enabler even, of a parasitic class; the myths are too similar to be a coincidence.
In the libertarian perspective government is seen, on the one hand, as controlling, regulating, taxing and generally ripping off the heroic entrepreneurial wealth creators and on the other hand protecting the government-supporting-socialist-slouches who are parasitic upon the heroes of the libertarian narrative. The irony is, as I have said, that such a clever parasitic government is unlikely to consist of the lazy losers but much more likely the rational egotistical ubermenschen with high capability, a class who have the potential to exploit with impunity. It’s no surprise that many in government are taken from the very high achieving entrepreneurial class, the class that Rand would admire.
Marxists see our current governmental system and the trappings of state as the means of protecting the wealth grabbing owning class and their property interests against the broad mass of heroic workers who are the real wealth generators. The entrepreneurial owning class are cast in the mould of exploiters and parasites. A Marxist state is regarded by classical Marxism as a temporary arrangement needed to uphold the dictatorship of the proletariat until the socialist revolution is complete; that revolution is considered complete when a classless society is achieved obviating the need for a state whose role, according to Marx, is to protect the interests of one class against another.
And yet it is likely that the logic of both hard socialism and hard libertarianism drives them toward an enlargement of government, an enlargement needed to enforce and impose their pedigree vision on society. Like all pedigree breeds their respective visions for society are entirely artificial, unnatural and pathological and can only be brought about by careful (and oppressive) dictatorial management. As for the rank file I doubt they would notice much difference between the two kinds of dictatorship.
Rand, with her almost sociopathic version of the capitalism, has effectively handed hard socialism a strong argument against the free market. As Paul Ryan has said in 2009
However, to be fair there has been, according to Wiki, some backtracking:
"What's unique about what's happening today in government, in the world, in America, is that it's as if we're living in an Ayn Rand novel right now. I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault."
Is that what Republicans call a "moral case" for capitalism? No wonder capitalism is under assault! Thank you very much Ryan for playing into the hands of the Marxist revolutionary mythology. And imagine it, his office is churning out a lot of little Randians! You, idiot Ryan, you must need your brains testing!
However, to be fair there has been, according to Wiki, some backtracking:
In April 2012, after receiving criticism from Georgetown University faculty members on his budget plan, Ryan rejected Rand's philosophy as an atheistic one, saying it "reduces human interactions down to mere contracts". He also called the reports of his adherence to Rand's views an "urban legend" and stated that he was deeply influenced by his Roman Catholic faith and by Thomas Aquinas. Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, maintains that Ryan is not a Rand disciple, and that some of his proposals do not follow Rand's philosophy of limited government; Brook refers to Ryan as a "fiscal moderate"
But would you buy a used car from this man?
Rand, Republicanism and ChristianityThe following images were found on the web and only serve to underline the paradoxes and ironies of the Ayn Rand & Republico-Evangelical axis.
Note on Alex Jones:
My other son tipped me off about this: