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The Rare Banker

Mike Oliver (who blogs as ‘Mr. Integrity’… currently off-line) spotted an interesting article over on National Review that for once does not try to give Rand a kicking.

BB&T – and its open defence of rational/individualist/objectivist philosophy, a credo that runs counter to 2000 years of Judea/Christian/subjectivist/marxist ethics and deeper subjectivist planks that link those categories. Explicit defense of reason – I say!

Yes, such businessmen do exist, they are not merely the stuff of a well-known novel. As opposed to at least a large plurality of “business leaders” who seek always to cultivate government/business linkages, contracts, and of course regulations that “rationalize” their sectors (with such government rules used to ossify the industry with them – the privileged businessmen- commanding a degree of non-market control over that business sector). In history classes the U.S. trends now massively underway was how Fascism was defined.

But modern lovers of the State seem to have conveniently blanked that out. Anyway BB&T stands out from the crowd. What is most curious on a meta-level about this online article is that it comes from NationalReviewOnline.

National Review has been and until now at least was always the most outspoken and spewing opponent of Rand & Objectivism. Denouncing Rand’s rational philosophical base. NR has always been at its core, and explicity so – Buckley’s first book was titled God and Man at Yale) a subjectivist, religiously-planked political credo, arguing that God and a belief therein is the basis of capitalism and individual rights, etc. No wonder over the decades so many young potentially-bright students have mistakenly linked (as their professors would have them do) capitalism, or such that we have had in the U.S. that is labeled “capitalism.” with a religous or non-rational philosophical base.

Many of those students, not realizing the subjectivist, A-is-not-A base of Marxism, therefore sized-up the two choices – of an ethical code based on mysticism (the Buckley-type defence of “capitalism”… or Marxism… which to so many seemed a “scientific” or otherwise rational view of the world. And tended to opt for the later – either Marxism or many of its falsely-”humanist” variants.

Anyway, National Review was on the side of mysticism and held that banner high while viciously attacking Rand and her atheism – almost foaming in their attacks over the years. Well, perhaps even that changes with new blood at National Review? No, it’s probably just the failure of one of their higher editors to notice that one of their writers slipped this article onto their online site. Well, in any case it is an interesting article about the current times and the role of ideas: ideas taken from reality then applied back to issues of dealing with reality.

156 comments to The Rare Banker

  • Which is also where I’ve just found this gem.

  • veryretired

    Since time immemorial, human beings have been in awe of, and taken instruction from, people who had visions, heard voices, went into trances, spoke to spirits, and generally exhibited all the signs of what modern psychiatry would consider mental illness.

    It is no accident that many of these “visionaries” were consumed by obsessions with blood, sex, death, power, and vengeance.

    It is no accident that their inevitable demand was for unquestioning obedience and sacrifice from their followers.

    It is no accident that little of their various teachings involved practical, rational guidance for the living of life on this earth with the goal of personal happiness and fulfillment. The very idea was anathema to their entire view of whatever they considered to be reality.

    While I can understand the fear which primitive humans felt when confronted with a harsh, mysterious, and very dangerous world, and the concomitent desire for some way to gain influence over the course of events that they could not possibly understand, it remains a mystery to me as to why anyone would turn to someone for instruction whose focus was totally on another plane of existence, seperate from, and often hostile to, living on this earth.

    The unfortunate fact is that for most of human history, we have looked to the wrong people for instruction, and unsurprisingly, the results were millenia of painful struggle to live at a bare subsistence level.

    I can only dimly sense the cries of frustration from any number of practical, inventive, creative men and women whose ideas were rejected out of hand as being taboo, who were persecuted for daring to question the latest vision, whose accomplishments were stolen, or, most regretfully, censored themselves out of misguided loyalty and faithful fealty to the commands of ghosts who spoke only to a priviledged few, but demanded obedience from all.

    If one asks for advice on life in the real world from mystics whose sole concern is the opinion of beings who exist in some other plane seperate from ours, by what strange mental and emotional processes would one be surprised when that advice turned out to reommend pain, suffering, and denial of all life’s pleasures, and the rejection of the rational and empirical, of course, and that following those instructions achieved exactly those results.

    If pain is the highest value, suffering the road to paradise, sacrifice the means of salvation, well, look around the world these values have created.

    I would say their advocates have succeeded in creating exactly what they have been preaching.

  • Ivan

    No wonder over the decades so many young potentially-bright students have mistakenly linked (as their professors would have them do) capitalism, or such that we have had in the U.S. that is labeled “capitalism.” with a religous or non-rational philosophical base.

    Um, perhaps, but you can’t possibly claim that Rand and her followers have been any better when it comes to the rationality of their “philosophical base”.

    Regardless of what I might think about Rand’s conclusions about ethics and politics (and I assure you that I am highly libertarian), I have no doubt that the philosophy and activism of her and her followers has been even more damaging in the above sense (relative to its public prominence, of course). Her bizarre whimsical persona and delusions of grandeur, the utterly cultish behavior of her followers, complete with excommunications of heretics and warring splinter sects accusing each other of heresy with blind hatred, the hostility and moralistic denunciations one encounters when one politely tries to point out the logical flaws and absurdities in her philosophy… I find all of this far more off-putting than even the worst excesses of mainstream conservatives, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this regard.

    In practice, the self-declared “rationality” of Randians has about as much basis in reality as the guarantees of freedom of speech and religion written into the 1936 Soviet constitution. She produced a long-winded and occasionally lucid, but ultimately grossly incoherent and often ignorant body of work, and then claimed that she’d achieved the philosophical equivalent of squaring the circle. To this day, her followers maintain that one can disagree with it (and their subsequent elaborations and interpretations) only because of one’s sheer evil. If that’s not irrational, I don’t know what is.

  • John W

    Um, perhaps, but you can’t possibly claim that Rand and her followers have been any better when it comes to the rationality of their “philosophical base”.

    I.e. the “philosophical base” which you find so repellent – “existence,” “identity”and “consciousness.” is so passé…

    Regardless of what I might think about Rand’s conclusions about ethics and politics… I have no doubt that the philosophy and activism of her and her followers has been even more damaging in the above sense (relative to its public prominence, of course).

    Knock, knock, is anybody in?

    ‘Her bizarre whimsical persona and delusions of grandeur, the utterly cultish behavior of her followers, complete with excommunications of heretics and warring splinter sects accusing each other of heresy with blind hatred, the hostility and moralistic denunciations one encounters when one politely tries to point out the logical flaws and absurdities in her philosophy… I find all of this far more off-putting than even the worst excesses of mainstream conservatives, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this regard.’

    Gawd ‘elp us.

    ‘In practice, the self-declared “rationality” of Randians has about as much basis in reality as the guarantees of freedom of speech and religion written into the 1936 Soviet constitution.’

    Yeah, you can see the Objectivist gulags on google maps.

    ‘She produced a long-winded and occasionally lucid, but ultimately grossly incoherent and often ignorant body of work, and then claimed that she’d achieved the philosophical equivalent of squaring the circle.’

    Come again, Sherlock?

    ‘To this day, her followers maintain that one can disagree with it (and their subsequent elaborations and interpretations) only because of one’s sheer evil.’

    Simply not true.

    ‘If that’s not irrational, I don’t know what is.’

    Thanks for the lecture on rationality.

    I’d mark your screed ‘E-’ and you only get that for effort.

  • Ooops… yes I neglected to add the link which Alica thankfully provided.

  • I haven’t read Rand, and I couldn’t care less either way, but it looks like John W has just helped Ivan rest his case.

  • John W

    I haven’t read Rand, and I couldn’t care less either way, but it looks like John W has just helped Ivan rest his case.

    God forbid that you should ever…you know… read Ayn Rand.

    Far better that you should passively go along with all the lies and smears refuted in ‘The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics.’(Link)

    Ho hum.

  • Hilton

    Alisa…you’re jumping to conclusions without having read Rand. This interview with her by Playboy magazine offers a very condensed view of what her ideas are about.

    http://www.playboy.com/articles/ayn-rand-playboy-interview/index.html

    Hope you find some answers there

  • Hilton

    Ivan..You said this

    In practice, the self-declared “rationality” of Randians has about as much basis in reality as the guarantees of freedom of speech and religion written into the 1936 Soviet constitution. She produced a long-winded and occasionally lucid, but ultimately grossly incoherent and often ignorant body of work, and then claimed that she’d achieved the philosophical equivalent of squaring the circle. To this day, her followers maintain that one can disagree with it (and their subsequent elaborations and interpretations) only because of one’s sheer evil. If that’s not irrational, I don’t know what is.

    Why don’t you also have a go reading that interview with Rand and then point out the incoherence and ignorance to all of us. I’m sure your laser sharp commentary will do a sterling job of showing her up.

  • John and Hilton, my comment was not at all about Rand or her ideas, it was about (some of) her followers as characterized by Ivan.

    Hilton, thank you for pointing to possible answers, even though I am not sure that I have a question:-)

  • Hilton

    Hi Alisa

    If you were to read and comprehend Rands work you would know that John W’s remarks in response to Ivans shabby smear against Rand were so utterly reserved and gracious by comparison, and for you to be so eager to rest your case against her with such meager cause speaks volumes about the severe intellectual treason you are perpetrating against yourself . Small wonder you admit to not having a question…you’re probably afraid of finding an answer wouldn’t you say?

  • Personally I am a Popperian, a Pancritial Rationalist for those who enjoy intellectually baroque labels, as I think there is a key error at the core of Rand’s philosophy.

    But, contrary to the view of some of Rand’s followers and indeed Rand herself (i.e. the views expressed in the Leonard Piekoff/David Kelley split for those who care), I think Objectivism is eminently ‘debuggable’ thus Randian thought transcends the limitations of Rand herself.

    I think Kelley is far more rational than Piekoff but in truth I have no horse in that particular race as I am not a self described Objectivist.

  • Hilton

    Perry

    What is this this key error at the core of Objectivism, and is it in any way as prominent as the refutation of Popper’s drivel by virtue of the fact that the theory of relativity could not be falsified.

    Also explain to me why Popper found it crucial (even though it’s entirely arbitrary in the context) to assign validity only to those theories which could be falsified.

    IMO, the fact that he and that traitorous leftie scumbag George Soros used to regularly braid dicks is evidence enough of his depravity

  • I haven’t read Rand, and I couldn’t care less either way, but it looks like John W has just helped Ivan rest his case.

    To the extent that Ivan has a case, I suppose he has. But Ivan’s “case” runs something like this: “I have observed some cultishness among Rand’s followers and encountered an exaggerated claim or two in her works, therefore the whole opus is worthless.” That’s a named fallacy.

    Let’s be clear – there IS cultishness among Rand’s followers, and it IS offputting. But none of this is relevant to whether her ideas are coherent or useful – and they are both. It’s possible to read her works without thinking much at all about her followers and how they behave – which is what I do, and I’ve found it rewarding. I recommend Atlas Shrugged to anyone who wants an entertaining read that’s also one of the clearest defenses of capitalism and rational ethics I know.

  • Agreed Joshua. Randian thought has much to commend it even if it is not the immutable graven-on-stone word of some infallible secular god(ess).

    The pointlessness of trying to argue about philosophical idea with someone who goes ad hominem (ie “IMO, the fact that he and that traitorous leftie scumbag George Soros used to regularly braid dicks is evidence enough of his depravity”) should be obvious however.

    Rand touched on some profound and essential truths and that fact she also made mistakes and has followers who are cultish loons does not change that.

  • Hilton

    Joshua…you’re right. When someone actually gets Rand they can be considered to become “Cultist” which is a euphemism for very passionate.

    A cult however is normally based on mystic or religious faith and none of that exists in Objectivism.

    In her interview with Playboy Ayn Rand defends Objectivism as follows: PLAYBOY: If widely accepted, couldn’t Objectivism harden into a dogma?
    RAND: No. I have found that Objectivism is its own protection against people who might attempt to use it as a dogma. Since Objectivism requires the use of one’s mind, those who attempt to take broad principles and apply them unthinkingly and indiscriminately to the concretes of their own existence find that it cannot be done. They are then compelled either to reject Objectivism or to apply it. When I say apply, I mean that they have to use their own mind, their own thinking, in order to know how to apply Objectivist principles to the specific problems of their own lives.

    Now if you want a good definition of “Cultist”, observe the radical environmentalists and GW scaremongers and the Obama worshippers and the Anti-business anti-capitalist anarchists at anti-globalization rallies…but the package deal smear of “cultism” is never projected at these clueless throngs are they?

  • Ian B

    Shruggies tend to be scary people like any followers of a personality cult. I think the most objectively rational thing to do is give them a wide berth. If they start quoting John Galt, it can be worth hitting them, though that doesn’t always work.

    Remember, anyone who bases their life on trying to emulate what a fictional character would do is, objectively, batshit insane.

  • Hilton

    And Ian

    This is Ayn remarked about the shabby crap you are pushing. Lets rather see a asic refutation of her actual ideas now, or are you as intellectually impotent as she suggests?
    The Argument from Intimidation dominates today’s discussions in two forms. In public speeches and print, it flourishes in the form of long, involved, elaborate structures of unintelligible verbiage, which convey nothing clearly except a moral threat. (“Only the primitive-minded can fail to realize that clarity is over-simplification.”) But in private, day—by-day experience, it comes up wordlessly, between the lines, in the form of inarticulate sounds conveying unstated implications. It relies, not on what is said, but on how it is said-not on content, but on tone of voice.
    The tone is usually one of scornful or belligerent incredulity. “Surely you are not an advocate of capitalism, are you?” And if this does not intimidate the prospective victim—who answers, properly: “I am,”—the ensuing dialogue goes something like this: “Oh, you couldn’t be! Not really!” “Really.” “But everybody knows that capitalism is outdated!” “I don’t.” “Oh, come now!” “Since I don’t know it, will you please tell me the reasons for thinking that capitalism is outdated?” “Oh, don’t be ridiculous!” “Will you tell me the reasons?” “Well, really, if you don’t know, I couldn’t possibly tell you!”
    All this is accompanied by raised eyebrows, wide-eyed stares, shrugs, grunts, snickers and the entire arsenal of non-verbal signals communicating ominous innuendoes and emotional vibrations of a single kind: disapproval.
    If those vibrations fail, if such debaters are challenged, one finds that they have no arguments, no evidence, no proof, no reasons, no ground to stand on-that their noisy aggressiveness serves to hide a vacuum-that the Argument from Intimidation is a confession of intellectual impotence.

  • Ian B

    Well, I don’t know whether I need to refute “individualism for collectivists” but we could look at it from several angles. Perhaps the most obvious is, that if you’re an individualist you don’t need a philosophy to join. Just live as you want within practical constraints, do as thou wilt. Who needs Ayn Rand?

    The more serious objection is that she’s fundamentally wrong about human beings having access to objective reality. We don’t, because the parameters by which we may judge reality are themselves subjective. A group of people may all choose to apply the same subjective parameters, but that’s not the same as being objective.

    If there were an accessible objectivity, it would be an argument against individualism. Indeed, scientific formulations of socialism are based on this idea; you objectively measure reality, and objectively divine a course of action. Since this is objectively rational, you force everyone to follow it. Who can object? It’s objective.

    Individualist free society and markets work precisely because reality is subjective. The marketplace isn’t the dynamic thriving place it is because everyone is making objectively rational decisions; it works precisely because they don’t. It thrives on the individual subjective perceptions of its constituents. There is no objective value of a good or service; there is no objectively right way to run your life; there is no objectively correct goal to seek. Ayn Rand might think it objectively right to seek to be a “rational” hero, and good for her, she’s entitled to, but that really is just her opinion.

    Really, objectivism is just a cousin of the scientismic socialisms of her time. It’s nice that she wrote a stirring defense of capitalism, that’s always nice, but personally I find Randianism something of an embarrassment for people who, like myself, seek liberty. If Randians want to ponder of a morn what will be the rational food to have for breakfast, they’re welcome to do so; but me, I’ll just have an egg on a whim and glory in my human irrationality. And enjoy my egg. I certainly won’t sit there pondering what John Galt would have had.

  • Hilton

    Oh Perry…where art thou?

    Any thoughts yet on that key error at the core of Objectivism…and maybe why you agree with Popper that any valid theory should be falsifiable, even if Darwinism and Einsteins’s theory of relativity don’t meet the match?

    Oh..I forgot, ideas actually don’t mean a thing to you, do they..and in that case you’re merely a pandering poseur, “a Pancritial Rationalist for those who enjoy intellectually baroque labels”

    If philosophical reasoning is too much for you…how about refuting the personality of Soros against these claims: (not to mention his insider trading conviction)

    In addition to his efforts to undermine the Second Amendment rights of Americans, Soros has spent over two decades trying to influence the political and social development in various parts of the world, particularly the nations of the former Soviet bloc. In the United States, Soros has given many millions of dollars to finance pro-marijuana initiative campaigns. He has been called “the Daddy Warbucks of drug legalization,” by former Democratic Cabinet Member Joseph Califano.

    Soros is now using his fortune to not only to unseat President George Bush, but also to challenge the United States` role in the world. The aging billionaire has decided to use his fortune to remake America as he thinks it should be. And he is spending loads of cash to do it. Soros has obscenely likened President Bush to Hitler and his administration to Nazi Germany and has described the United States as “a danger to the world.” To promote such slanders, he has committed $5 million to the strongly anti-Bush group MoveOn, and has promised $10 million to a new liberal activist group America Coming Together (ACT). These groups are focused not only on defeating George Bush in 2004, but on achieving vast social change in America which would include the dismantling of Second Amendment rights. He has declared that he intends to raise and spend $75 million dollars to oust Bush and force a “regime change” in America.

    Soros is intent on making American sovereignty subject to international will. He calls America`s actions to protect its citizens from terrorism as “supremacist.” In its place he would have the U.S. adopt the “Soros doctrine.” Under the Soros doctrine, U.S. interests would be replaced by international “collective action.” His support for international gun bans fits hand in glove with his vision of an America subservient to an international collective will.

  • Rand seems to get people going no matter whether you are in the cult or not.

    I loved Atlas Shrugged, and still read it when I want a pick-me-up from this crushing Socialism which is stealing all our oxygen and money. I have frankly been dumbstruck that National Review has been so against Rand all these years, but describing it as mysticism vs objectivism makes the agenda a little more clear. I think National Review is on the wrong side of the argument, as they are with their stance on gay marriage.

    I always took Rand’s writings to be those of a passionate person who escaped the Iron Grip of communism and screams until she is hoarse against the sheer stupidity of adopting any policy resembling those practiced in Moscow.

  • Hilton

    Ian…untangling that rambling of yours is like trying to pick up a turd from the cleaner side. It’s painfully obvious that like thousands of other critics you haven’t actually read any of her work at all, and your attempt to discredit her by spouting all that tosh is as disingenuous as one can get.

    I’m not going to waste any time on you lest you at least listen to a brief presentation of her ideas which you can find here http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_peikoff_intro
    and here http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=reg_ar_newint

    Please mate…get real.. It should be embarrassing to anyone to allow oneself to become that dishonest

  • Bod

    Nice to see that the Objectivists value insightful, respectful and most of all, un-dogmatic debate about their beliefs.

    While I find AS an interesting read that I too often return to, I’m really not awfully happy with a philosophy that labels “people without a purpose” to be depraved “to a certain degree”.

    The absolutism of Objectivism is always going to raise the hackles of such unenlightened lumpens as we, when our betters drive us down the road to enlightenment with cattle-prods.

    Perry, get your ass out here and explain yourself to the Objectivists!

  • Ian B

    No, Hilton, with all due respect. When people tell me I’d only “get” christianity if I read the Bible properly- which I have anyway- I politely decline.

    You see, I don’t need somebody else to tell me what life is about. I’m happy with my own subjective view of that. And, because I’m happy for other people to have their own subjective view of what life is about, and live that way as they see fit, then I recognise that everyone should be as free as possible, in order to do so.

    There you go, a complete philosophy of liberty, 1000 pages shorter, and without a 60 page monologue by the hero that could put a roomful of toddlers with ADHD to sleep.

  • Vercingetorix

    Ian B is one of the most lucid and eloquent commenters on this board. If you cannot follow his argument, then May God Have Mercy on Your Soul. :)

    This post however is garbage. If you choose Communism or Socialism over Capitalism and Free Markets because you have some aversion to religion and desire to follow the path of Reason, then you are an idiot.

    We don’t have to speak of “people”. Name me ONE person that has ever read “The Communist Manifesto”, thought for a moment about the Great Revolution and Dictatorship of the Proletariat, lusted for a future where you (with everyone else) could farm in the morning, paint in the afternoon and be a philosopher in the evening and thought that was even remotely possible (or even desirable – imagine the horror of the art alone before we get into the philosophy), and considered this to be the Rational Way to go about things.

    Utopia is not rational, it is not reasonable, it is not possible or even coherent. No one acting from reason alone would choose leftism in any of its forms.

    And people don’t. They choose because of peer pressure or for popularity, to join the glorious revolution against racism, sexism, oppression, normalcy, to be the underdog, to be the liberator and savior, one of the annointed, to be the tyrant emerging from anarchy.

    People do not as a rule – I don’t care how educated that person may be or presume themself to be – carefully measure out the values of one philosophy over another and titrate their own political theory. Certainly not college students. You sit two immaculately researched tomes about two political theories in front of college students and they will choose the one that gets them the closest seat next to the girl with the tightest sweater.

    Say what you want to say about Buckley. He nailed one thing. Leftists want to create Heaven on Earth, no matter the body count before that glorious day. Religious people have, at least, the common decency (and intelligence) to locate Heaven in another distant universe.

    If religion thus creates a natural bedrock for capitalism, bully for faith. If atheism creates a natural lean towards collectivist utopia, atheism’s terrible sorrow.

    As for the Randians, Atlas Shrugged, whatever its own merits, is not the lodestone of the ages. I’ve read it. I moved on.

  • Ivan

    Joshua:

    To the extent that Ivan has a case, I suppose he has. But Ivan’s “case” runs something like this: “I have observed some cultishness among Rand’s followers and encountered an exaggerated claim or two in her works, therefore the whole opus is worthless.” That’s a named fallacy.

    I have no intention of getting into a comprehensive discussion of all the problems I see with Rand’s work and legacy; that would require much more space and time than is possible in a blog comment. However, note that the main point of my above comment was that the public activism of Rand and her followers has been off-putting to many people in the same way of which “Guest Writer”, the author of the above post, accuses the mainstream conservatives. This criticism holds regardless of the inherent value of her writings — one can do damage to a cause with bad propaganda regardless of how much of what one says is true.

    When I said that Rand had asserted the philosophical equivalent of squaring the circle, I meant that she self-confidently claimed to have solved the eternal, inherently unsolvable philosophical questions of religion, ethics, metaphysics, etc., which people have debated since the dawn of civilization and they’ll surely debate them until its end. Of course, upon closer inspection, it turns out that her supposed final answers are just another episode in the endless series of more or less bad quasi-rational arguments with which the whole history of philosophy is strewn. (For some particularly bad examples, see e.g. David Friedman’s fisking of her supposed derivation of “ought” from “is”(Link), or just google for a Randian discussion of the “prudent predator” issue.)

    The most important point, however, is that I truly can’t escape the impression that both Rand and her followers have always been exceptionally intellectually bigoted and apt to engage in moralistic denunciations in place of rational argument — all this even by the usual low standards of contemporary ideological debates. You can’t possibly deny that Rand’s official intellectual heirs (the ARI) function as a de facto religious cult. These people know no honest intellectual disagreement; for them it’s possible only to believe in their dogma to the last letter or be evil and depraved, and deviations from the party line are answered with excommunications and moral denunciations, not rational dialog.

    In my opinion, the absolutely worst aspect of Randian intellectual bigotry is their treatment of libertarian-inclined people who don’t buy Rand’s philosophy wholesale and don’t consider her as the intellectual messiah who revealed us the final word on all problematic philosophical issues. Such people have always been attacked by Rand and her official followers with blind hatred, worse than even the most extreme totalitarians and other enemies of liberty. I have no doubt that each one of the contributors and frequent commentators on this blog would end up being denounced as monstrously evil if he tried engaging Randians in an honest intellectual debate.

    There are, of course, many other issues I could take up here, but the comment is probably too long as it is, so I’ll leave it as this.

  • Hilton

    Ian, with all due respect. Since we were born we were taught what to eat or else we would have died, and then we were taught what to think, but never how to think and find out for ourselves.

    The thing is that we all operate from some sort of philosophy and it’s taking us to where those ideas dictate.

    You have no choice about it…the only choice you have is whether you have checked out your ideas against facts (which are not accessible to us according to some of those mongrel ideas you’ve adopted)

    For more clarity this is how Rand put it : ou have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational convictions—or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew.
    But the principles you accept (consciously or subconsciously) may clash with or contradict one another; they, too, have to be integrated. What integrates them? Philosophy. A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation—or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown.
    You might say, as many people do, that it is not easy always to act on abstract principles. No, it is not easy. But how much harder is it, to have to act on them without knowing what they are?
    Your subconscious is like a computer—more complex a computer than men can build—and its main function is the integration of your ideas. Who programs it? Your conscious mind. If you default, if you don’t reach any firm convictions, your subconscious is programmed by chance—and you deliver yourself into the power of ideas you do not know you have accepted. But one way or the other, your computer gives you print-outs, daily and hourly, in the form of emotions—which are lightning-like estimates of the things around you, calculated according to your values. If you programmed your computer by conscious thinking, you know the nature of your values and emotions. If you didn’t, you don’t

  • How’s this for the fundamental flaw at the heart of Rand?

    At the core of Objectivism is the idea that purely, utterly self-interested, rational behavior will lead to the greatest possible good for individuals.

    However, decades of social-science work has shown that some of the most successful groups, such as religions, rely for their success on a degree of group loyalty that transcends rationality, but becomes meta-rational. By accepting certain restrictions on their behavior for non-rational reasons, individuals can benefit from “club goods” provided by the group that outweigh the costs. In short, reason is not always optimal.

    Rand’s ideas also discount our inherent need for social companionship and the pleasure we receive from acts of altruism and loyalty to others. She claims to have learned everything she knew from Aristotle, yet Aristotle was concerned above all with constructing ways for unequally endowed individuals to thrive together in a partnership, even if (at the extremes) some are slaves and others masters. Rand seems to have learned more from Nietzsche than Aristotle.

    Finally, Rand’s rejection of all forms of collectivism goes too far, to the extent of rejecting our moral debt to society for providing the education, protection, and social companionship that we so desperately need from birth to adulthood. For Rand and her acolytes, because such benefits were not provided within a contract, freely arrived at (how an infant can arrive at contracts is beyond me), they therefore have zero moral force. This is preposterous.

    In short, Objectivism boils down to bigoted narcissism masquerading as enlightened selfishness.

  • and for you to be so eager to rest your case against her

    Hilton, have you read my last comment? Who’s going to clean up all that straw?

  • Joshua:

    Let’s be clear – there IS cultishness among Rand’s followers, and it IS offputting. But none of this is relevant to whether her ideas are coherent or useful – and they are both. It’s possible to read her works without thinking much at all about her followers and how they behave

    I absolutely agree. Incidentally I am not very interested in reading her works for reasons other than the behavior of her followers.

  • Ivan

    Hilton:

    What is this this key error at the core of Objectivism, and is it in any way as prominent as the refutation of Popper’s drivel by virtue of the fact that the theory of relativity could not be falsified.

    That’s completely untrue. (I wonder from which ignorant source you picked up that claim?) The two scientific theories popularly known under the common name “theory of relativity” — namely, special relativity and general relativity — make concrete empirical predictions that can be tested by countless experiments. And indeed, many such experiments have been performed, and both theories have, so far, passed these tests with flying colors. (To be precise, the Pioneer anomaly(Link) phenomenon has provided the first empirical data that arguably contradict general relativity — but this is just another indication of its falsifiability.)

    This by itself doesn’t prove Popper right, of course, but it does demonstrate your gross ignorance of physics.

    Now if you want a good definition of “Cultist”, observe the radical environmentalists and GW scaremongers and the Obama worshippers and the Anti-business anti-capitalist anarchists at anti-globalization rallies…but the package deal smear of “cultism” is never projected at these clueless throngs are they?

    You’ll see plenty of accusations of cultism directed against these groups from all sorts of libertarian, conservative, and various other politically incorrect sources. In fact, you’ll see some very good and well argued ones on this particular blog. This, however, doesn’t mean that Randians aren’t cultist. You’ll probably agree that it’s not justifiable to conclude that a certain party isn’t cultist just because some of its bitter enemies are.

  • Oh Perry…where art thou?

    I’m guessing you didn’t read where he wrote:

    The pointlessness of trying to argue about philosophical idea with someone who goes ad hominem (ie “IMO, the fact that he and that traitorous leftie scumbag George Soros used to regularly braid dicks is evidence enough of his depravity”) should be obvious however.

    When you call well considered people names for having the temerity to disagree with you, do not then be surprised when you get dismissed out of hand as someone not worth engaging in discussion. This is elementary socialisation 101, mate.

    As a long time reader and commenter here, my guess is he will just kick you from the comments after a while, not for your ideas as I know for a fact some of the people who write for this blog are Randians, but for the fact you act like an utter tit.

  • bgates

    You sit two immaculately researched tomes about two political theories in front of college students and they will choose the one that gets them the closest seat next to the girl with the tightest sweater.

    Say what you want to say about Buckley. He nailed one thing.

    How tight was her sweater?

  • I have no doubt that each one of the contributors and frequent commentators on this blog would end up being denounced as monstrously evil if he tried engaging Randians in an honest intellectual debate.

    No argument there. But again – it’s beside the point. I would be and have been denounced as monstrously evil for all sorts of things – from not believing in Jesus to not recycling to asking why my student fees should fund diversity education programs. The only reason why fanatics seem more dominant in the Randian crowd is because (a) fanatics were close to her when she died – which (b) wasn’t that long ago, so there’s a clearer chain of inheritance. Her books will outlive Leonard Peikoff.

    I agree with your characterization of Rand’s outlandish claims regarding her own philosophical importance. She certainly didn’t solve the age-old problems of Epistemology, and her claim that Aristotle is the only philosopher to whom she owes an intellectual debt is probably true only in the sense that she hasn’t read any others very carefully (if her uninformed screeds against Kant are any indication). But she’s hardly the only person in intellectual history to stand guilty of that charge.

    What I can’t credit about statements like this…

    The most important point, however, is that I truly can’t escape the impression that both Rand and her followers have always been exceptionally intellectually bigoted and apt to engage in moralistic denunciations in place of rational argument — all this even by the usual low standards of contemporary ideological debates.

    …is that first bit about it being the “most important point.” An idea is not responsible for the people who hold it. Rand’s works are either useful or not on their own merits. So to me this is the least important point. If we are to rise above the “usual low standards of contemporary ideological debates,” which I agree are pretty low, we’re not going to do it by tallying up the personal faults of spokesmen on each side and pronouncing one group “exceptionally bigoted.”

    The difference between what the commenter to whom you were responding had to say about National Review’s treatment of Rand and your invective against Rand’s personality cult is that the commenter’s point is consistent with what’s in the pages of National Review. It isn’t an ad hominem against Bill Buckley: the fact that National Review advocated an important role for religion in individual and public life is everywhere to read in that journal’s editorial pages. That their reviews of Rand were never fair until recently – ditto. Religion (specifically, Catholicism) was part and parcel of the National Review platform – not just something that its editors coincidentally shared in private. Personality cults and moral denounciations in place of rational argument, by contrast, are not something that Rand’s writings advocated, however much she and her followers may have indulged in the same in their private lives. So there is, I think, a distinction. The rules of debate do not bar followers of Rand from criticizing National Review for things that it DID say merely because their favorite author was inconsistent in her personal behavior. Nor do they allow you to ascribe a “philosophical base” to Rand full of things that she DIDN’T say but that you inferred from the same behavior.

  • Operalad

    Link from the aynrand.org site.

    From one who makes his living in the Performing Arts I am in a significant minority in holding objectivism and real Capitlaism in the highest regard.

    (Link)

  • Simon Jester

    A few minutes with google was all that was required to establish that Hilton’s characterisation of Popper’s views on Einstein and Darwin were, respectvely, utterly false and out of date.

  • kentuckyliz

    I tried reading Atlas Shrugged and it was so awful I couldn’t get very far with it.

    She is an idiot about people. Did she ever know any people? It certainly doesn’t come through in her writing.

    Tedious hackery.

    Even if she had some interesting ideas, in spite of her followers’ odd behavior, I’ve got better things to do with my time than read Rand.

    An utterly rational decision, I might add.

  • John W

    Whoa there, Ivan.

    Friedman emphatically does not fisk Ayn Rand. He is so mistaken that I assume he has only the vaguest familiarity with Objectivism.

    When he writes, for example , in his opening paragraph that ‘The claim here, quite clearly, is that living things other than human beings automatically act for their own survival. That claim is false…’ he misses the whole point of Ayn Rand’s argument.

    To use the example he cites: a praying mantis does indeed act in accordance with its own life as a praying mantis.

    Friedman’s failure to grasp that point is the reason his critique falls flat.
    He totally misrepresents Ayn Rand and then just stumbles along repeatedly shooting himself in the foot.

    A poor show by someone who is not as bright as he thinks he is.

  • kentuckyliz

    After reading that article, I am happy to say that I bank with BB&T. That article helps me to feel very good about keeping my business there.

    I am disentangling other relationships with TARP addicts.

    It always mystified me why banks would engage in subprime lending and negative amort mortgages etc. If it’s bad for the customer, it’s bad for business, period. It’s a long term view. You cannot profit in the long term by hurting your customers. It’s unbiblical, too. The same idea is found in evangelical business leadership writings/seminars etc. Jewish too.

    Randianism doesn’t automatically prevent a bank or lender from doing subprime or negative amort lending. The profit is rational. A lot of lenders decided that was a rational course of action. Especially when threatened by a bunch of race hucksters wielding the CRA.

  • RAB

    Well I have never read Rand either, and given the tone of this thread, even less inclined to do so.

    I dont need “Bibles” to point my way through life.I dont need a Guru, and I dont follow leaders either.

    No one person or theory is ever completely right, but on the otherhand I do believe that some people and ideas are completely wrong.

    I am an instinctive Libertarian, and a natural born Capitalist.

    I dislike indulging in intellectual wankfests as well, so if it’s OK with the rest of you, I will just do the jokes….

  • Sam Duncan

    If you were to read and comprehend Rands work you would know that John W’s remarks in response to Ivans shabby smear against Rand were so utterly reserved and gracious by comparison,

    Really? Well, perhaps you (or he) could explain this:

    ‘In practice, the self-declared “rationality” of Randians has about as much basis in reality as the guarantees of freedom of speech and religion written into the 1936 Soviet constitution.’

    Yeah, you can see the Objectivist gulags on google maps.

    Because I’m buggered if I can. The Soviets’ prison camps were proof of the lack of freedom of speech and religion, despite their constitution. Therefore evidence of Objectivists’ lack of rationality despite their protestations must also be prison camps?

    I’m sure Ivan has been crushed by the unarguable reasoning behind that one.

    For the record, I’m with a fair number of the commenters here: Rand often talked a great deal of sense; her followers often don’t.

  • Joshua, in theory ideas should be viewed as separate from the people who subscribe to them, and this is also a useful principle to adhere to in abstract intellectual discussions. In reality though I suspect that there is a non-incidental connection between ideas and the kind of people that choose to follow them, and the ways in which they choose to advocate these ideas. In particular, people who subscribe to collectivist ideas, can more often than not be expected to have personalities predisposed to collectivism, and tend to use collectivist methods to impart their ideas to others. Ditto individualists. (For the record, this is a general comment, it is still not about Rand and her ideas).

  • Oh, and: Ian B.’s comments are even more on the money than usual, and Mastiff’s comment is enlightening.

  • Atlas Shrugged was published more than half a century ago. From what I’ve observed the whole “cultish’ aspect of the Randites has been fading and the value (or lack thereof) of her ideas is slowly coming into perspective.

    Most of the Objectivists I know are perfectly reasonable people, certainly no worse the believers in any other political philosophy. I think Darryl’s point is ‘spot on.’ She does still have the ability to raise some interesting hackles.

  • Alisa -

    I agree with you. And so, for example, I find regretable, but ultimately agree with kentuckyliz’s assertion that it’s a “rational decision” not to allocate time giving the benefit of the doubt to philosophies the public face of which is made up of a certain number of boors. Kentuckliz makes the rational heuristic assumption that a philosophy which attracts and then doesn’t filter out such people as its spokesmen must be rotten in some way. I emphasize that it is a time allocation heuristic more than a universal principle. People like Peikoff don’t ACTUALLY lead to any conclusions about the philosophies, but if we believe in correlation then it’s a reasonable assumption that a philosophy headed by Peikoff is probably up to no good.

    I think the passage of time acts as a filter here. As time passes, the Peikoffs and Brandens as well as the quirky aspects of Rand’s own personality will be less of an effective weapon in the hands of her opponents, and the books will be taken on their own merits. There will be fewer discussions of incidental figures and more discussion of the actual ideas, and people like Kentuckyliz will be in a position to better allocate their time. ;-)

    I also realize that this was largely Ivan’s original point. My objection to Ivan is that rather than making this point clearly, he doesn’t seem to mind continuing the conflation of idea with image. He claims (and I believe him) that he can point to some philosophical shoddiness in the Philosophy as well. But he hasn’t yet been able to point to any that justifies his assertion that the “philosophical base” of the philosophy was every bit as mystical as that behind National Review. If he wants to make the point that Rands followers tend to turn people off, then fine, I agree with him and agree that it is regrettable. But if he wants to make the point that there is something about Rand’s philosophy itself that ensures that it can never be otherwise – that the philosophy is not, to use Perry’s word, “debuggable” – then he needs to make that case clearly rather than insinuating it. And as he IS insinuating it, I felt it worth disputing the point.

  • John W

    Really? Well, perhaps you (or he) could explain this:

    I can explain it all right – it is called a smear.

    Go and reread Ivan’s initial poisonous diatribe [comment no.4 above] – all in response to an article in the National Review of all places.

    To liken the Objectivist support for the principle of free speech with similar assurances from people who murdered in cold blood literally millions of innocent people… well that really does speak volumes.

    Disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful.

  • TomC

    There is a lot of emotion here, but very little substance. Why the angry criticism and labelling when no one has even attempted to refute or discredit a single thing that Rand is supposed to have claimed?

    Why must Objectivists be labeled cultists, and worse, dogmatic believers, which is a complete contradiction of the whole idea and demonstrates that some critics have no knowledge, and no wish for it, of the very thing they are attempting to destroy? Why are the critics so angry? In what way have they been slighted? Have you all come to that conclusion by independent analysis, or is this simply a “learned” reply?

    I would have thought anyone here who promoted a philosophy of freedom and capitalism would be pretty much welcome on blogs like this but it is obviously not the case.

    Are the objectors antagonistic to freedom and capitalism then? It is difficult to see how else such criticism could be justified.

    But no one is being forced to believe that it can be objectively demonstrated that individual rationality is man’s moral and social nature. It can be rejected as with any other ideas with which the opponent is not in agreement.

    But if you don’t believe it, might I suggest that saying why not would be of considerably more use than most of the rubbish in these comments. Either reject it and move on, or ask yourself why you have the need to criticise without actually engaging in the argument.

    For my mind, critics of Rand’s ideas are possibly indignant by what they see as the “arrogant” nature of the argument from logic. That is, that the opponent cannot have his views accepted on his familiar subjective terms. That either you accept that your argument must come down to objective reality, or be rejected according to rules on which the antagonist can have no influence, since they are by their very nature, objective.

    Ideology is always going to pit men against other men. Where Objectivism is useful is that it requires the debaters to resort to reality, data, proof, logic etc., instead of the traditional “I’m right, you’re wrong” tendency. It doesn’t mean Objectivists are infallible, or righteous. But knowing one is wrong and maintaining a “wrong” world-view is unacceptable. Premises need to be checked, as if you think there is no such thing as an absolute, you presumably think that something can be both good and evil at the same time? And that is an absurdity.

    Either way, Rand was neither cult figure nor prophet and her philosophy should present absolutely no threat to those who see freedom as a good and just outcome for man.

  • Joshua, I see your point. But in all fairness, Ivan’s original comment was largely about the behavior of Rand’s followers, while only mentioning his view of her actual ideas as a “full disclosure” type side note. Ivan has further noted that he is not about to go into detailed explanation of his objections to Rand, as this would require the time and space not available here and now. It seems to me like a fairly reasonable position to take in this context. What is interesting is that if he was to say the same things about any other philosopher/writer, there is no way his comment would have created such a stir. Which leads me to consider his case well rested at this point:-)

  • Tom C.:

    But knowing one is wrong and maintaining a “wrong” world-view is unacceptable.

    Not that I personally think I am wrong, but if I did know so, then unacceptable by whom?

  • J

    Her bizarre whimsical persona and delusions of grandeur, the utterly cultish behavior of her followers, complete with excommunications of heretics and warring splinter sects accusing each other of heresy with blind hatred, the hostility and moralistic denunciations one encounters when one politely tries to point out the logical flaws and absurdities in her philosophy

    This might have been more convincing if you’d dropped the rhetoric and religious innuendo.

  • What a depressing discussion. This is yet another example of an Internet debate (if it really deserves that name) about Ayn Rand and her ideas which is of no value whatsoever.

    Nothing of substance or interest (or even real relevance to the topic of the original post) is being discussed. Occasionally someone says something which sounds like it might turn into something interesting (such as Perry’s views on the relation between Rand’s ideas and Popper’s, which I would be very interested in hearing more about) but almost immediately the thread goes astray once again. The problem starts very early (around the fourth comment) and the whole thing just goes downhill from there.

    I have seen this sort of thing many times, and it irritates and depresses me. As the Chairman of the Ayn Rand Forum, which is currently (to my knowledge) the only UK-based organisation promoting Ayn Rand’s ideas, I have a great deal of interest in figuring out how to stimulate meaningful and useful discussion of Objectivism among those who really ought to be interested in it. Advocates of political liberty such as “Samizdatistas” certainly number among those we are most keen to reach.

    Having (unfortunately) been a participant in many discussions similar to this one over the years, I strongly recognise the pattern here. Someone (in this case “Ivan”, on May 2nd at 10:44pm) uses the word “cult”, and the whole thing sinks into a downward spiral.

    I’m not trying to defend the way certain Objectivists responded to this, but what non-Objectivists have to understand is how incredibly irritating this whole “Objectivism is a cult” idea is. This notion really is viciously false. Objectivism is not a cult, and none of her serious followers whatsoever that I have ever met behave in a “cultish” manner or have a “cultish” attitude of any sort. I believe such attitudes are ruled out by the logic of Objectivism itself. After all, Objectivism’s primary advice is to be rational, and to think for oneself. If, after serious and honest thought, you disagree with Ayn Rand, Objectivism requires you to reject Rand. Substituting Ayn Rand’s consciousness for your own is, for Objectivism, an impossible and entirely illegitimate thing to do.

    Perhaps a personal perspective will shed some light here. I was blown away by Atlas Shrugged at the age of 18, and I devoured everything else I could find on Rand and her ideas. I soon ran into discussions on the Internet rather like this one, and became worried that I would be sucked into some kind of nightmare Objectivist commune where I would be required to recite Galt’s speech every day before breakfast, confess my deviations from the Atlantis Scripture to an Enforcer and be given a certain number of Hail Peikoffs in atonement, etc etc. (Obviously I am exaggerating my concerns slightly for effect, but you get the point.)

    I remember quite clearly when my fears in this regard began to subside. It was when I actually began meeting Objectivists in person. Over the past four years, I have met probably the majority of Objectivists who live in the UK, and also a great many professional Objectivist intellectuals around the world. I have had dinner with Harry Binswanger and his wife. I have met Leonard Peikoff himself. I have had lengthy personal discussions with Yaron Brook. I have met and corresponded with Tara Smith. I have met Tore Boeckmann, John Lewis, Lisa VanDamme, Alex Epstein, Christian Beenfeldt, and Craig Biddle. I have taken courses or attended lectures in person with Shoshana Milgram, Pat Corvini, John Allison, Robert Mayhew and Brian Simpson. I have also run (in person) into many of the most prominent Objectivist bloggers, such as Diana and Paul Hsieh and Gus van Horn.

    I have met many more Objectivists than I can possibly name here. Do you know what every single one of them has in common? They are incredibly nice people. They are friendly, helpful, intelligent, and fun to be around. Over the years I have asked hundreds if not thousands of questions about Ayn Rand’s ideas in face-to-face discussion, including expressing disagreement with or reservations about some of them. In no case have I ever experienced intimidation, personal attacks, or even the slightest moral reproach for doing so. No-one has ever said mere disagreement with Objectivism is evidence of dishonesty, or any other equivalent nonsense. Instead I have experienced patience, listening ears, and friendly benevolence, from person after person.

    (Perhaps this is because, when I raised my questions and criticisms, I did not do so from a basis of utter and obvious ignorance of the relevant literature. Nor did I hold laughably inaccurate views of what Rand’s ideas consist of, arrogantly assume they were correct, and accompany my questions with gratuitous personal insults against Ayn Rand and her admirers. In other words, I asked my questions honestly and with an assumption of good faith and character on the part of the advocates of the views I was questioning: a practice which certain participants in the present discussion would do well to learn to imitate.)

    I personally know a couple of people currently studying at the Objectivist Academic Center, the Ayn Rand Institute’s programme for graduate-level study of Ayn Rand’s ideas, and their experience has been the same (the teachers in that programme are among ARI’s most senior people). Given that many of the people I listed knew Ayn Rand personally, I believe that had I known Ayn Rand, my experience with her would have been the same – to the power ten.

    You might wonder why I am going on about this at such length. After all, philosophy isn’t supposed to be about personalities, is it? But every discussion about Objectivism almost immediately seems to turn into a discussion of personalities and psychologies, as here. And as here, it’s almost never Objectivists who start it, but opponents of Objectivism. They engage in incredibly vague and non-specific, but simultaneously vicious and damaging, personal attacks on Ayn Rand and her admirers.

    Like many Objectivists, I see with my own eyes the injustice, rudeness and plain bigotry of these attacks, and you know what? THEY PISS ME OFF. (Forgive me for writing in such a manner, but it is the only way I can adequately convey my sentiments on this subject.) I am sick and tired of seeing my friends, people I like and admire, smeared and unjustly insulted by trolls who understand Objectivism about as well as the average house plant.

    In the past, I was led to respond in kind. But this, as we have seen here, serves merely to reinforce the existing stereotype of Objectivists, and persuades no-one. It is vital that Objectivists behave impeccably in every discussion, given the stereotype which exists. Besides, I have wasted more than enough of my life on Internet trolls already.

    My view now is that such trolls must be excluded from any discussion of Objectivism, if it is to be fruitful. No-one who writes about Ayn Rand with such ignorant bile can helpfully contribute to such an exchange. Such remarks are not written by people who honestly want to understand the issues better or who are open to rational persuasion, but by smear artists who enjoy heated argument for its own sake. Feeding the trolls is always a grave mistake. (The same applies, by the way, to any “Objectivist trolls”, of which some do regrettably seem to exist though I have never met any, who engage in similar bad debating tactics against those who disagree with Objectivism.)

    Interestingly, the Internet often lags behind the rest of the media and the intellectual world when it comes to discussion of Objectivism. Ayn Rand’s ideas are already making unprecedented inroads into academia, and are being treated increasingly seriously by many sections of the mainstream media, as evidenced by the original post which inspired this thread. We have Objectivist intellectuals in many of the most important philosophy departments in the world, as well as in other disciplines. There is a professional society affiliated with the American Philosophical Association, which fosters the scholarly study of Rand’s ideas. Tara Smith’s latest book was published by Cambridge University Press, which must now surely silence any remaining voices who claim Rand “isn’t real philosophy”. (I understand that this book, by the way, has sold better than CUP expected in their wildest dreams.) A major publication is forthcoming from Blackwell’s, and Rand is also increasingly being referenced seriously and respectfully in general mainstream textbooks (such as the latest edition of Robert Solomon’s “Introducing Philosophy”, published by Oxford University Press).

    Those who claim that Objectivism is just some silly religion, in short, are simply being left behind by the excellent work Objectivist intellectuals and the ARI are doing. Given time, probably just a few short years, they will be widely recognised as the irrelevance they are. For the time being, they are best ignored and excluded.

    Objectivism is not some revelatory dogma designed to take over people’s lives: it is a philosophy which helps people understand and deal with the world. It contains powerful new ideas and integrations which have helped me to understand where the world is going and why, in a way nothing I else I have ever read has done. They have had a similar effect, as the above article shows, on John Allison and the BB&T bank. And one day, I hope (and believe) they will have a similar effect on the world.

  • TomC

    But knowing one is wrong and maintaining a “wrong” world-view is unacceptable.

    Not that I personally think I am wrong, but if I did know so, then unacceptable by whom?
    Posted by Alisa at May 3, 2009 08:50 PM

    Oh Alisa, sorry, it is simply unacceptable to oneself…

  • JD

    Well said Andrew. As Rand herself would say, there is no point trying to reason with anyone who doesn’t use reason, or as I saw it put recently somewhere, if you argue with an idiot, all you can gain is the fact that you beat an idiot in an argument.
    There are plenty of people open to ideas, and they are the ones I like to meet, and as for the trolls, yes they sometimes piss me off too. Thanks for pointing out that they are, of course, ultimately self-defeating. JD.

  • JD

    Well said Andrew. As Rand herself would say, there is no point trying to reason with anyone who doesn’t use reason, or as I saw it put recently somewhere, if you argue with an idiot, all you can gain is the fact that you beat an idiot in an argument.
    There are plenty of people open to ideas, and they are the ones I like to meet, and as for the trolls, yes they sometimes piss me off too. Thanks for pointing out that they are, of course, ultimately self-defeating. JD.

  • But in all fairness, Ivan’s original comment was largely about the behavior of Rand’s followers, while only mentioning his view of her actual ideas as a “full disclosure” type side note. Ivan has further noted that he is not about to go into detailed explanation of his objections to Rand, as this would require the time and space not available here and now. It seems to me like a fairly reasonable position to take in this context.

    Alisa, it is never a “reasonable” position to make a contentious statement that one is not prepared to defend, especially not in a forum where one knows he is likely to be challenged on it. If you do not think you have time and space to go into something that you know your audience would like to go into, the proper thing to do is not mention it at all. And if it were really beside Ivan’s point, that is indeed what he would have done. No, Ivan was making insinuations as a way of advancing a position he was not prepared to argue.

  • Hilton

    Comment deleted: It is our policy to kick impolite prats without remorse. Banned. Get lost

  • Ian B

    Alisa, you may be interested in joining my philosophical organisation, which is called Subjectivisticism or just “Bism”. The bad news is, you have to read my very long book, over and over again, until you are spiritually enlightened. The good news is, it’s 1000 pages of gay hobbit porn.

  • Bod

    I welcome the return of the gay hobbit porn, but do we have to embrace the lifestyle too?

  • Ivan

    Joshua:

    The difference between what the commenter to whom you were responding had to say about National Review’s treatment of Rand and your invective against Rand’s personality cult is that the commenter’s point is consistent with what’s in the pages of National Review. [...] Personality cults and moral denounciations in place of rational argument, by contrast, are not something that Rand’s writings advocated, however much she and her followers may have indulged in the same in their private lives. So there is, I think, a distinction. The rules of debate do not bar followers of Rand from criticizing National Review for things that it DID say merely because their favorite author was inconsistent in her personal behavior. Nor do they allow you to ascribe a “philosophical base” to Rand full of things that she DIDN’T say but that you inferred from the same behavior.

    On further thought, I’ll agree that my criticism wasn’t fully coherent in this regard. You’re correct that I failed to clearly distinguish between criticism directed at the public behavior of specific groups and criticism directed at their ideas as such. However, the original post was focused on the public relations aspect of the clash between National Review and Rand. The author specifically attacked NR as an outlet that has, according to him, alienated many intelligent minds from pro-free market positions by presenting a case for free market based on a non-rational philosophical base — as opposed to Rand’s philosophy that is supposedly purely rational. Even if I fully agreed with him about the rationality and validity of Rand’s philosophy, I would still think that it’s relevant to point out that Rand and her contemporary followers — and, nota bene, especially those whom she herself officially designated as her legitimate successors — have also created at least some, and arguably much, anti-propaganda for free market ideas by their displays of outlandish and bigoted behavior. This despite the fact that this criticism, as you correctly note, goes along different lines from the original one directed at NR.

    Furthermore, if we allow that Rand’s philosophy has some serious problems with it, and that significant numbers of intelligent people can easily notice these faults even from an introductory exposure to her ideas, then it’s possible to direct at her philosophy the exact same criticism that was directed at NR above. I personally believe this to be the case. Again, I’ll have to excuse myself from writing up a long and detailed argument for my position, considering the limitations of this forum. However, I will reiterate in more detail my main criticism, for which I’ve already used the metaphor of “squaring the circle”.

    There are some fundamental philosophical questions in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics for which truly objective and rational answers are inherently impossible, just like the circle squaring problem will never be solved. People have been debating them for thousands of years, and they’ll continue to do so without ever settling on a definite answer. One can firmly support a certain standpoint on these issues only by becoming a believer. There’s nothing wrong with being a believer per se — we all are believers to some extent, after all — but intolerance of opposing views on these problems constitutes bigotry, regardless of whether one’s underlying belief system is explicitly religious or not. Rand, however, claimed to have found the final answers to these questions, even though her arguments and proofs are obviously flawed. Mind you, I’m not even going to argue that they are any worse than those advocated by the most eminent figures in the history of philosophy — however, it’s pretty clear that they are not The Final Answers that she claimed them to be. I have no doubt that countless intelligent minds have immediately recognized this as the philosophical equivalent of squaring the circle and moved on, possibly with a lower opinion of free market and liberty in general.

    I think that this further elaboration answers your criticism of my earlier posts. We can always argue about whose flaws are worse in practice, but I think I’ve demonstrated that Randians can be subjected to the same criticism that was initially directed at NR and similar conservative outlets and that prompted my response.

  • Ivan

    TomC:

    Why must Objectivists be labeled cultists, and worse, dogmatic believers, which is a complete contradiction of the whole idea and demonstrates that some critics have no knowledge, and no wish for it, of the very thing they are attempting to destroy? Why are the critics so angry? In what way have they been slighted? Have you all come to that conclusion by independent analysis, or is this simply a “learned” reply?

    I would have thought anyone here who promoted a philosophy of freedom and capitalism would be pretty much welcome on blogs like this but it is obviously not the case.

    Well, Randians have always considered any defense of freedom and capitalism that is not based on her philosophy as pure black evil; this has always been one of the main tenets of orthodox Randianism. Rand herself viciously denounced a no lesser champion of capitalism than Milton Friedman on these grounds decades ago, and this set the precedent for the general Randian attitude ever since then. (If I’m not mistaken, the main point of the heresy that led to the excommunication of David Kelley, thus giving birth to the largest schism within Objectivism, was that he questioned this attitude.) As I wrote above, I have no doubt that Samizdata.net contributors would be denounced as monsters of evilness by orthodox Randians if they happened to enter an open and honest philosophical debate with them.

    Thus, it seems pretty odd to me that a Rand supporter would be surprised to see that certain people who share the commitment to free market ideas might be a bit annoyed with Randian attitudes.

  • Sam Duncan

    To liken the Objectivist support for the principle of free speech with similar assurances from people who murdered in cold blood literally millions of innocent people… well that really does speak volumes.

    Disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful.

    Yeah, he mentioned

    the hostility and moralistic denunciations one encounters when one politely tries to point out the logical flaws and absurdities in her philosophy.

    as well.

    I have reread Ivan’s post. Several times. And that’s twice you’ve either misunderstood or willfully misrepresented what he actually wrote. Which is why I’m posting again: Ivan doesn’t need me to defend him – and apart from anything else, I don’t agree with everything he wrote – but what I can’t stand is someone being vilified and misrepresented by people who claim to stand for reason. You’re proving his point admirably.

    He never even mentioned Objectivism’s stance on free speech. He likened Rand’s followers’ protestations that they’re driven solely by reason to the Soviets’ that they were defenders of free speech, in that neither has much basis in reality. (Presumably if he’d likened them to the Medieval Church’s insistence that the Sun orbits the Earth, you’d have been disgusted by the association with the Inquisition.) Regardless of whether you agree or not, it’s a perfectly reasonable argument to make. And a perfectly reasonable simile to use; given that Communism and Objectivism are to all intents and purposes polar opposites, it’s surely worth pointing out an instance where (in his opinion) they appear strikingly similar. (Incidentally, it wouldn’t be the first time that it’s been noted that Rand had a very Russian take on classical liberalism and Aristotlean rationality, in her stridency and total conviction that she was right and everyone who disagreed was utterly wrong.)

  • Laird

    Ian B, I’m sorry but I’m really not interested in 1,000 pages of gay hobbit porn. (But hey, if that floats your boat, have at it.)

    But more seriously, I think you have it wrong about Rand’s writings and Objectivism. Since (if I understood your posts correctly) you haven’t actually read her work, perhaps you’ve drawn an erroneous conclusion from the name itself. Rand never (to my knowledge) asserted that everything is objectively knowable. For example, of course our respective assessments of the extrinsic value of items of trade will be different; that’s fundamental (even axiomatic) in a free market philosophy. If I’m going to trade you my sheep for your pig, it’s because we each value the other’s item higher than we value our own (presumably it’s because I want bacon and you have certain carnal designs on my sheep, but that’s beside the point). That’s the essence of having a Randian “trader’s morality”; by honestly pursuing our own rationally determined self interest we both profit.

    I’m not going to post a long philosophical musing here (I’m not competent to do so). But I will say that I’ve read all of Rand’s fiction (most more than once) and some of her nonfiction (that’s pretty tough slogging) and found it rewarding. If you don’t like her writing style, that’s fine; personally, I do. I also think her description of certain governmental archetypes is extremely accurate and even more relevant today than it was 50 years ago. And if 1,000 pages of Atlas Shrugged is too much for an introduction to her thought, you might try the shorter (and easier) The Fountainhead.”

    I’m glad this thread has moved away from the unfortunate emotionalism and ad hominem attacks of the early posts. And thank you, Andrew Medworth, for the link to the Ayn Rand Forum. I plan to look around there when I have more time.

  • Tom C.:

    “But knowing one is wrong and maintaining a “wrong” world-view is unacceptable.”

    “Oh Alisa, sorry, it is simply unacceptable to oneself…”

    But one knows he is wrong, and he still maintains this “wrong” worldview. Surely from this follows that this situation is acceptable to him?

  • Mastiff, I respectfully disagree.

    However, decades of social-science work has shown that some of the most successful groups, such as religions, rely for their success on a degree of group loyalty that transcends rationality, but becomes meta-rational. By accepting certain restrictions on their behavior for non-rational reasons, individuals can benefit from “club goods” provided by the group that outweigh the costs. In short, reason is not always optimal.

    That depends on your definition of “successful”. Attracting and retaining membership is not a very good criterion, in my mind – prisons are pretty good at that. Rand does not argue against all groups and collective forms of association, but against ones that nix the opt-out provision. And your reasoning that irrational can be rational (basic logic be damned), if you only throw in a “meta-rational” intermediate step, is (I hope) a semantic exercise – otherwise it violates the law of the excluded middle.

    Rand’s ideas also discount our inherent need for social companionship and the pleasure we receive from acts of altruism and loyalty to others. She claims to have learned everything she knew from Aristotle, yet Aristotle was concerned above all with constructing ways for unequally endowed individuals to thrive together in a partnership, even if (at the extremes) some are slaves and others masters. Rand seems to have learned more from Nietzsche than Aristotle.

    She does discount those needs, but does not seem to totally dismiss them. My reading is that Rand balks at the high and increasing cost one must pay to obtain the companionship and pleasure you speak of, and argues that at some point, most individuals would begin to find the deal too rich, should the trend hold.

    Finally, Rand’s rejection of all forms of collectivism goes too far, to the extent of rejecting our moral debt to society for providing the education, protection, and social companionship that we so desperately need from birth to adulthood. For Rand and her acolytes, because such benefits were not provided within a contract, freely arrived at (how an infant can arrive at contracts is beyond me), they therefore have zero moral force. This is preposterous.

    Moral debt to society? Societies educate and protect children because it benefits societies, not because it benefits children – much like they train and maintain armies explicitly NOT for the benefit of an individual soldier. It is a nifty gimmick to brand a child with an original sin of “you owe us”, but the situation does bear some parallels to a slave-ship owner’s claim over the slaves for feeding them en route to the colony. You wade into murky waters whenever you claim moral imperatives, and more so when one side cannot practically be held accountable – can society held responsible for providing bad education or companionship? And let’s not forget that society MAKES you pay, on installment, for those goodies, in terms of taxes (direct and indirect). The exchange is pretty well monetized; where is the moral part, if society locks you up for not loving it in return for its “love”? Last parallel (I promise): “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

    In short, Objectivism boils down to bigoted narcissism masquerading as enlightened selfishness.

    Well, that’s certainly one opinion. From Wikipedia: “A bigot is a person who is intolerant of or takes offense to the opinions, lifestyles or identities differing from his or her own, and bigotry is the corresponding attitude or mindset.” Do you see a certain irony?

  • TomC

    Ivan,

    Randians have always considered any defense of freedom and capitalism that is not based on her philosophy as pure black evil.

    This is an absurdity. Objectivism requires the exact opposite of a random subjective claim such as this.

    As for the jostling of power and intrigue involved in the Objectivism movement, I couldn’t give a toss, and have never met anyone who has.

    Thus, it seems pretty odd to me that a Rand supporter would be surprised to see that certain people who share the commitment to free market ideas might be a bit annoyed with Randian attitudes.

    Not half as odd as it seems to me that some of these people appear to share the same free market commitment as myself, yet expend such inordinate time and energy objecting to the means by which we have come to our respective common conclusions?

    Or is your argument a philosophical one, in which case what do Randian attitudes have to do with anything?

    I have no doubt that Samizdata.net contributors would be denounced as monsters of evilness by orthodox Randians if they happened to enter an open and honest philosophical debate with them.

    Really? Now that truly is an argument from intimidation. What you actually mean is that they would not accept subjective arguments, and why should anyone? But none would be more subjective than the argument from religion, so in that sense you are right to fear it.

    Alisa

    What kind of a man could find it acceptable in himself to hold such a conflicting view of reality? I don’t doubt that some do, but what kind of life is that? It cannot be an inner conflict and be acceptable to him, both at the same time.

  • On the “cult” angle: I believe it was H.L. Mencken writing on Nietzsche who said that “every startling thinker should be forgiven his first generation of followers.”

    Ivan: “When I said that Rand had asserted the philosophical equivalent of squaring the circle, I meant that she self-confidently claimed to have solved the eternal, inherently unsolvable philosophical questions of religion, ethics, metaphysics, etc., which people have debated since the dawn of civilization and they’ll surely debate them until its end.”

    When you can cite that from her, you might be worth comment. You don’t know what you’re talking about, and you’re dismissed, sonny.

    RAB: “Well I have never read Rand either, and given the tone of this thread, even less inclined to do so.

    I dont need ‘Bibles’ to point my way through life.I dont need a Guru, and I dont follow leaders either.”

    I have a question for you: did anyone ever teach you to use apostrophes?

    I have more questions: did someone call that person who tried to teach you a “guru”? Is that why you rebel against apostrophes?

    Can you see where I’m going with this?

    I’ve been reading you here for quite a while, and I never would have suspected you of such craven herd-thought. Someone calls a novel a “Bible”, and you’re running out the door with your hair on fire.

    Is that all it takes, with you?

    Alisa: “What is interesting is that if he was to say the same things about any other philosopher/writer, there is no way his comment would have created such a stir. Which leads me to consider his case well rested at this point:-)”

    Really? So; it’s the conviction that offends you? There are people who are convinced that Rand has it largely correct, and you’re ready to dismiss them because they have the nerve to stand up for what they’re convinced is right: this is the “stir”, and that’s what your judgment rest upon?

    Look: can you see how impossibly superficial that is?

    Joshua: “Alisa, it is never a ‘reasonable’ position to make a contentious statement that one is not prepared to defend,…”

    That’s right. Here’s an example: the other day, I slagged Perry’s article about Valentinian in a disposable one-liner that I shouldn’t have sent up. That was manifestly irresponsible.

    I understand the impulse, but it must be resisted at every turn.

  • It cannot be an inner conflict and be acceptable to him, both at the same time.

    It is not an inner conflict if it is subjectively acceptable. People live in peace with logical contradictions (both internal and external) all the time. Other people often find it strange (not at all the same as unacceptable), but more often than not if they take a good look inward, they can find at least a few such weaknesses within themselves. And that is the whole point of individualism: tolerating other people’s views, no matter how strange or illogical or irrational – as long as these people don’t impose their views on others.

  • Billy: no, it’s not the conviction that offends me, it’s the unwillingness to accept the lack of the same degree of conviction on the same subject in others. That’s what I was referring to by a “stir”. As to my judgment resting upon it: there is no judgment to rest, since I am not judging Rand or her work, as I have said at least twice on this thread.

    As to the novel, I’ll answer for RAB for now, until he is back from Turkey (I won’t be surprised if this thread lasts until then). I don’t run out the door because someone called it a Bible, but it surely makes me more disinclined towards reading it. Look, it’s just a book. Rand was just a person. I fully realize that there is always a real chance that I may be missing on a very good book, and that the author may have indeed been profoundly wise and moral person. I support many of the ideas her followers support. Still, I don’t feel like reading her books. If you are interested in trying to explain to me what exactly I would gain by reading it, you are welcome to do so, if not, that’s fine too.

  • Plamus,

    That depends on your definition of “successful”. Attracting and retaining membership is not a very good criterion, in my mind – prisons are pretty good at that. Rand does not argue against all groups and collective forms of association, but against ones that nix the opt-out provision. And your reasoning that irrational can be rational (basic logic be damned), if you only throw in a “meta-rational” intermediate step, is (I hope) a semantic exercise – otherwise it violates the law of the excluded middle.

    There is a book you should read, by economist Albert Hirschman, called Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. To be very brief, assume a perfectly competitive economy with several firms offering comparable products. If one firm has a temporary dip in product quality, utility-maximizing customers would immediately defect to another firm and drive the first to bankruptcy.

    Now that would be fine, until you consider that some declines in quality are essentially random and ephemeral. What happens then is that you have an unending process where institutional memory is destroyed and firm employees ruined by bankruptcies.

    Yet this does not tend to happen in the real world. Why? Because most customers develop brand loyalty, which is irrational from the individual perspective, yet leads to better results overall.

    Moral debt to society? Societies educate and protect children because it benefits societies, not because it benefits children – much like they train and maintain armies explicitly NOT for the benefit of an individual soldier. It is a nifty gimmick to brand a child with an original sin of “you owe us”, but the situation does bear some parallels to a slave-ship owner’s claim over the slaves for feeding them en route to the colony.

    Robert Nozick, in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, proposed a hypothetical economy in which people collected debts by providing benefits for others. The motivation for doing so is not at issue. Your argument about slave-owners holds only when the “education” and protection we receive is in fact harmful, on balance; having received good from a collectivity, should we not feel honor-bound to repay it?

    Indeed, is not the problem of raising and protecting children via division of labor the basis for “good” collectivism in the first place?

    [Oh no, I used the "for the children" line!]

  • Ian B

    That’s the essence of having a Randian “trader’s morality”; by honestly pursuing our own rationally determined self interest we both profit.

    …and my point is, that Randianism fails on the “strong” assertion that people should follow their rational self interest, since self interest is not rationally determined. Our perceived self interest is based on emotional desires, which do not bear scrutiny on a rational level.

    The perception of humans as rational beings is a trap most philosophers fall into when they attempt to write their Plan For Life, which is what most philosophers including Rand are in the business of doing. Once they start trying to prescribe a best way everyone should/must live, they then have to justify why everyone should live that way, and then have to define some goal, whether it be “happiness” or “national greatness” or “the common good” or “racial purity” or any such damned thing.

    But if we discard the utopian ideal that everyone can be hammered into a particular mould, and recognise that Alice wants one thing and Bob another and Carol a third and David a fourth, and that making them all want the same thing and to live the same way is an unattainable and, probably, undesirable goal, then we are left with a very simple but honest “non-philosophy” that asks, how can A, B, C and D share and interact in the same spaces and systems, and find ourselves concluding (rationally?) that what matters is the boundary space. As such, all that really matters is finding some practical methods of dispute resolution. We thus come to a “simple libertarianism” which says that A, B, C and D should be as free as possible with the restriction against seriously treading on the toes of each other.

    The key thing about Objectivism, like other isms in general is that it attempts to address the boundary conditions only after it has created a Plan For Life which A, B, C and D must follow, rather than Simple Libertarianism which prescribes no such plan. Effectively it is the fundamental opposite, even if it comes to a somewhat similar conclusion about boundaries. It is not “Do as thou wilt, so long as you do not deny others the same”, it is “Do this. Everybody.”. Just as socialism requires everyone to be an altruist (impossible), so Objectivism requires everyone to be a rational heroic objectivist (impossible). It’s useless and IMV from my position as a Simple Libertarian rather damaging to liberty in general, since it introduces various precepts which, to other people, seem rather silly. Because they are. (The obvious one being Rand’s insistence that men are supposed to be Galtian heroes, and the fulfillment of women romantically is to find themselves a Galtian hero to admire. I’m damned if I’m going to waste time defending tosh like that when there are better arguments for liberty to be having.)

    I also find, personally, its sheep and goats approach to humanity, which dismisses everyone who doesn’t “get it” as parasitic untermenschen, to be both propagandistically deeply damaging and extremely offensive. Real societies contain, and have always contained, a strong element of state supported/organised plunder. Is the financial system an example of heroic entrepreneurship, or the plunderous benificiary of the state-run financial system? Whose hands are clean? At the current stage of the game, nobody’s.

  • For “collected debts” above, substitute “imposed obligations on others”.

  • Ian B

    Is the financial system an example of heroic entrepreneurship, or the plunderous benificiary of the state-run financial system?

    Should have read, “is the banking and financial services industry an example of…?”

  • The non-philosophy of Simple Libertarianism. I’ll subscribe to that – beats even gay hobbit pron.

  • Paul Marks

    There is nothing irrational or subjectivist (two different things of course) about being religious.

    Nor am I just pointing at the scholastic tradition (most recently written about by Thomas Woods).

    Many Protestant philosophers are also worthy of note – for example the Common Sense tradition (see the “Scottish Philosophy” by James McCosh – himself a very interesting thinking) and nor were they philosophers who just happened to be religious – their religion was at their core.

    Of course none of above proves that God exists – but to employ that religious people are all irrational is false.

    As for Karl Popper:

    He did not (as he pointed out so many times) only have regard for things that were “falsifiable”.

    It was the logical positivists (not Karl Popper) who said “everything is science or nonsense” – to Popper everything was either “science or nonscience” ( a wildly different point of view).

    And Popper had a practice of listing his metaphysical beliefs when ignorant people confused him with the logical positivists (who, of course, sneer at such things).

    For a theory to be part of the physical sciences then there must be the potential for physical evidence to disprove it – this does not mean it ever will be proved false, just that “if X evidence came along then the theory would be refuted”.

    If no such test is possible in the case of relativity (which physics people deny – indeed they claim to have subjected the theory of relativity to such tests) then it would indeed not be part of the physical sciences.

  • Paul Marks

    How odd – a polite comment by me has got smited (I doubt I will ever understand such computer things). I hope it appears soon.

    In any case the mention of William F. Buckley has put me in my mind of a disgusting thing I watched (for as long as I could stand it) on Sunday.

    Christopher Buckley (a son of William F.) was plugging his latest book whilst on Fox News Sunday.

    Supposedly as an “act of love” he exposes all the allenged private life faults of his parents (now they are dead and can not defend themselves) and says how he “forgave” his mother on her death bed (and so on).

    The private life of his parents no longer private, and all as an “act of love” with wide eyes and gentle “careing” voice.

    The sort of facial expression and voice that I have learnt associate with “liberals” when they are being their most evil.

    But how could this man be a leftist – he was on Fox News and was the son of William F. Buckley. Surely my spidersense was playing me false – and this was just an example of how conservatives also could sell their parents down the river (to increase book sales) was claiming it was an “act of love”.

    However, then came the question “how do you think your father would have reacted to your support of Barack Obama for President”.

    My suspicion (based on previous experence of such folk) had been correct after all – and I had seen enough of this evil man Christopher Buckley.

    It should be noted that no matter how much Ayn Rand disagreed with a person’s ideas, the lady was not in the habit of exposing their private life (or what she claimed was their private life) against them – still less in the habit of betraying people who had given her food, clothing and shelter (and schooling and college and ….) from her most early years.

    To spit on ones benefactors (especially when they are no longer in a position to defend themselves) is the mark of a vile human being.

    Especially if one presents the spitting as an “act of love”.

  • TomC

    Mastiff

    You seek to demonstrate that “the idea that purely, utterly self-interested, rational behaviour will lead to the greatest possible good for individuals…” is fundamentally flawed.

    As evidence, you claim that religions are “some of the most successful groups” and they do this by “transcending rationality”, whatever that means.

    Let’s examine this. In what way are religions successful? By seriously damaging their believers through causing them to believe that they, as men, are fundamentally and morally guilty, simply for existing, despite there being absolutely no evidence for this.

    So, to justify such an evil, I suppose you would have to claim that reason was “not always optimal”, although what “club goods” one could consequently obtain as a value that could justify such immense “costs” is frankly beyond my understanding.

    According to you, Objectivists “also discount our inherent need for social companionship and the pleasure we receive from acts of altruism and loyalty to others.”

    Objectivism doesn’t “discount” anything. Everyone is free to seek the values that you mention. Only as far as such values are not obtained by the use of coercion over the one that must give the companionship or loyalty. What if the beneficiary doesn’t deserve it? Such things are only values when they are earned.

    As for any “pleasure” derived from altruism, this is completely delusional. Altruism promotes Self-sacrifice – which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good. To maintain that any pleasure could be derived from it as a value, is absurd.

    But it is for your last comment that I reserve my utmost contempt.

    “Rand’s rejection of all forms of collectivism goes too far, to the extent of rejecting our moral debt to society for providing the education, protection, and social companionship that we so desperately need from birth to adulthood.”

    So when each human is born, he is to accept a “moral debt” towards those that went before him – the guilt of original sin existing in all its evilness here on Earth? Do you realise quite how depraved is such a claim?

    Why should man accept such a “debt”? How should he repay it? To whom should it be repaid? Is Newton one of those to whom we owe this supposed debt? How about Hitler? Galileo? A professional thief? Darwin? A crack whore? Who gets to decide?

    Society is merely a collection of individuals to whom one can owe nothing since our ancestors are dead and can have no claim whatever on our lives, nor we on theirs. To use this as a moral imperative for the purpose of propagandising men into collectivism demonstrates the level of moral corruption inherent in your argument.

    It is worth pointing out that the provision of “the education, protection, and social companionship that we so desperately need” is freely available today. The point Mastiff is trying to make is that social and psychological coercion must be used on people in order that some may obtain them at the unearned expense of others, in order that those others might see it as a moral duty, instead of leaving it visibly naked and evident as the evil that it clearly is.

    No wonder some people hate Rand and her ideas. The truth is that it is not so much the person, “cult”, ideas or followers they hate (that is the excuse), but simply that Objectivism leads to their own corrupt and immoral world-views being exposed for the shams that they are. Imagine living like that. No wonder they think of life as some sort of hell on Earth, and want to share it with everyone at all costs.

    While collectivists’ primary motivation is a hatred for human life, Objectivists love life, and this is the real reason for which the former reserve for them their most acute hatred. Hence the comments on this post and the complete absence of any actual engagement in a discussion that is lost to them before they even begin.

    Alisa

    “Subjectively acceptable” means “irrational belief”. That said, people can believe what they like, but let’s call a spade a spade please.

    Usually if something is logical, there can be no contradiction; if there is a contradiction, the premise is probably wrong. Otherwise, the argument concerns something of which we can have no objective understanding; in which case it is of no use to us until such time as we can understand it. If, in spite of these points, someone lives with an unresolved “logical contradiction” then I fail to see how he could “live in peace” with it in himself, although you are perfectly free to subjectively claim that he can.

    Concerning internal weaknesses, this is not the same as holding as true two opposing and contrary ideas.

    Happy to tolerate other people’s views, but when that translates into an agenda of coercion through active lies and propaganda, as above, then I shall not stand still idle while there exists the possibility that others might be propagandised into collectivism. Objectivists are not trying to “advocate” anything, only that others should stop advocating anything that harms other men.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I have come a bit late to this discussion, having spent most of it on home DIY and BBQs. But I think this particular piece of comment from the character calling himself – I assume it is a he – Mastiff needs a response:

    Finally, Rand’s rejection of all forms of collectivism goes too far, to the extent of rejecting our moral debt to society for providing the education, protection, and social companionship that we so desperately need from birth to adulthood. For Rand and her acolytes, because such benefits were not provided within a contract, freely arrived at (how an infant can arrive at contracts is beyond me), they therefore have zero moral force. This is preposterous.

    When one talks of a “moral debt” to a collection of people with whom one had no choice to associate with, such as countrymen far afield, or the now-dead former generations, one is making a basic logical mistake. I can, for sure, feel a sense of gratitude to my mum and dad for giving me a good start in life and in not being monsters; I can consider myself lucky to have been born in the relatively prosperous, happy circumstances of a nice home in East Anglia, etc. But the idea that “society” is somehow owed something by me begs a question of how you go about measuring that debt. Rand paid great heed to the idea of consent and contract because she regarded a political order that derived from a sense of unchosen obligations as essentially tyrannical and oppressive. This seems to bother a certain type of conservative – especially religious types – quite as much as socialists. Bear in mind an obvious point: Rand was a Russian who saw tyranny first-hand. She revered the Englightenment culture that drove the Founding Fathers. (One wonders whether Bill Buckley always did.)

    On a separate point, I just want to record my appreciation of Andrew Medworth’s long and considered comments There are a lot of good Objectivist scholars now at work, in particular, Tara Smith.

  • Tom C.: I agree with your last reply to me on the whole. What really bothered me was the word “unacceptable”, but I think you have now put my mind at ease:-)

    A couple of smaller points to clarify:

    Concerning internal weaknesses, this is not the same as holding as true two opposing and contrary ideas.

    True. What I meant was that holding two such opposing ideas as true is a kind of weakness, there are obviously other kinds of weakness.

    And from your comment to Mastiff:

    In what way are religions successful? By seriously damaging their believers through causing them to believe that they, as men, are fundamentally and morally guilty, simply for existing, despite there being absolutely no evidence for this.

    It seems to me that you may be mistakenly generalizing from Catholicism to all other religions – but I could be wrong.

  • Ivan

    TomC:

    Usually if something is logical, there can be no contradiction; if there is a contradiction, the premise is probably wrong. Otherwise, the argument concerns something of which we can have no objective understanding; in which case it is of no use to us until such time as we can understand it. If, in spite of these points, someone lives with an unresolved “logical contradiction” then I fail to see how he could “live in peace” with it in himself, although you are perfectly free to subjectively claim that he can.

    And yet Objectivists, like most (and possibly all) other people, also live with glaring logical contradictions in their philosophy. The greatest one, of course, is the contradiction between self-interest and an objective moral code. If you’re guided by rational self-interest, then your imperative is to break any moral code that supposedly binds you if only a rational cost/benefit calculation indicates that you’ll profit from doing so. This conclusion is so blatantly obvious that I’m honestly astonished by the Randians’ ability to browbeat themselves into denial on this issue.

    The need to live with this contradiction requires as much mental gymnastics and elaborate sophistry as the most irrational doctrines held by the Randians’ philosophical enemies (google “prudent predator” to see some amazing examples). What makes the situation really comical is that in attempts to deal with the issue, Rand and her successors have occasionally reinvented — under different guises and couched in “Objectivist” language, of course — most of the arguments of people whom they relentlessly denounce as malevolent abominations, from Kant’s categorical imperative to the Catholic doctrine of conscience.

  • Ivan

    Oh, and I’d also like to comment on this statement by TomC:

    As for any “pleasure” derived from altruism, this is completely delusional.

    And yet, people derive true pleasure from altruism all the time. In particular, altruism towards one’s family members, especially offspring, is near the top of the list of things that most people will point out as making their life meaningful. And indeed, if it weren’t so, human race would die out within a single generation. Family altruism is an essential part of human nature, and Rand’s disparagement of it (“I owe nothing to my brothers”) is one of the major weird and creepy points that her philosophy is full of.

    There is much more to say on the issue of altruism even outside of the family, of course. The question of why humans engage in altruism and its implications for ethics, economics, political theory, etc. is indeed an important and profound one. Science has only started to give some preliminary answers to this question, and it’s silly to claim that Rand gave the final word on it, if nothing else because she could not have presciently anticipated these developments. (Not that she was particularly knowledgeable even about the science of her own day, of course.)

    Of course, I’m sure that you can present reams of Objectivist writings that supposedly vindicate Rand’s views with perfect logic and rationality — but then Catholics (say) can also present reams of apologetic literature that supposedly answers all your Randian rants against religion. The glaring absurdities are still there for everyone to see.

  • As to Mastiff’s much derided comment, I will not attempt to speak for him, just try to explain what I read into it. What I understand by “debt to society” is the recognition of the simple fact that we (well most of us) are social animals, and function better and are usually happier when cooperating with others, rather than on our own. Such recognition should lead to the logical conclusion that better society* produces better and happier individuals. So if I have been lucky enough to benefit from a well functioning society, it is only natural that I should feel morally (not legally) obliged to help maintain, protect and improve such system into the future, so that it can continue to benefit my children and their children.

    *Obviously, different people define “good society” differently. To me it is a society in which participation is absolutely voluntary.

  • This conclusion is so blatantly obvious that I’m honestly astonished by the Randians’ ability to browbeat themselves into denial on this issue.

    Then be no more astonished. The contradiction is acknowledged in Rand’s writings and forms the bulk of her essays on ethics. How good a job she does resolving it is, of course, a matter of debate, but say that it is blatantly denied is a mischaracterization of her writings.

  • TomC,

    So when each human is born, he is to accept a “moral debt” towards those that went before him – the guilt of original sin existing in all its evilness here on Earth? Do you realise quite how depraved is such a claim?

    Thank you for demonstrating my point.

    How you go from “debt for services rendered” to “original sin” is quite beyond me. As Alisa says, you are reading into my words a corrosive Catholicism that I assure you does not exist.

    Society is merely a collection of individuals to whom one can owe nothing since our ancestors are dead and can have no claim whatever on our lives, nor we on theirs. To use this as a moral imperative for the purpose of propagandising men into collectivism demonstrates the level of moral corruption inherent in your argument.

    Not so. The debt is owed not to our ancestors, but to our children. Having benefited from the accumulated goods of society, we have a strong moral imperative to maintain those goods for the sake of those who come after us.

    Before you object, what possible reason would you have for promoting Objectivism beyond your social circle, when it is clear that it will not catch on in society for decades at least, and probably long after you are dead?

    You clearly feel some sort of moral imperative, expressed for example in your statement:

    I shall not stand still idle while there exists the possibility that others might be propagandised into collectivism.

    And to respond to the larger question of whether “society” as such exists, or whether we are all simply a collection of individuals: When you study social networks for any length of time, you quickly become disabused of the notion that an actor’s opportunities for utility are independent of his place in the social network, and the state of the network as a whole.

    This does not lead inexorably to strong collectivism. But to ignore the structural aspect of social reality is to commit as strong an error as that of Marxists who ignore the individual in favor of structure.

    (Yes, I just compared Objectivists to Marxists—in the sense that both are focusing on a small part of human existence, and ignoring the rest. It is true, however, that pure individualism is much, much less harmful than pure structuralism, of which I need hardly convince anyone here.)

    It is worth pointing out that the provision of “the education, protection, and social companionship that we so desperately need” is freely available today. The point Mastiff is trying to make is that social and psychological coercion must be used on people in order that some may obtain them at the unearned expense of others, in order that those others might see it as a moral duty, instead of leaving it visibly naked and evident as the evil that it clearly is.

    Bullshit and chips. I am presently devoting several years of my life to the study of political societies, specifically so I can work against unjust coercion.

    And you still have not addressed the point I raised of Robert Nozick.

  • TomC

    Ivan

    “Objectivists, …also live with glaring logical contradictions in their philosophy.”

    No they don’t. Name one example.

    “(There exists a) …contradiction between self-interest and an objective moral code.”

    There is no “code”. If so, what is it? If there is no code, how is there a contradiction?

    “If you’re guided by rational self-interest, then your imperative is to break any moral code that supposedly binds you if only a rational cost/benefit calculation indicates that you’ll profit from doing so.”

    One cannot be “guided by rational self-interest”. Objectivists start with the observation that man is man; A is A: that comes from the observation that his survival is not automatic and that he requires the use of his mind to survive and exist, unlike other animals, who survive automatically, through instinct. Because of this, man therefore requires the product of his work for himself, and therefore the property rights with which he might perform that work.

    It follows that to violate the above rights will be contrary to man’s existence as man. This comes about through theft. Collectivism is a form of theft since one group of individuals subjectively decides that another group of individuals will be sacrificed for the benefit of the subjective values of the thieving group or its beneficiaries. The sacrificed are enslaved for the benefit of random others.

    So one is not “guided by rational self-interest”; rather one is enlightened as to the true nature of man. So where can “a rational cost/benefit calculation indicate…” that a profit may be had, thereby making it imperative to break a “binding” non-existent “moral code”?

    Are you making this up? Do you really think this is some sort of dogmatic religion? I can’t believe that you’d have the nerve to criticise something that you have clearly made no attempt to research and understand.

    Alisa

    “It seems to me that you may be mistakenly generalizing from Catholicism to all other religions – but I could be wrong.”

    You could well be right about that, Alisa; as someone who was subjected to Jesuit schooling during their childhood, I would obviously know all about that.

    But it would not surprise me to find that most of the world’s religions projected man’s fundamental guilt as a moral imperative for bringing them into a collective system, since what otherwise, would be the point of a religion, and this is the easiest way to disguise the evil purpose? Perhaps other readers could enlighten me?

  • But it would not surprise me to find that most of the world’s religions projected man’s fundamental guilt as a moral imperative for bringing them into a collective system, since what otherwise, would be the point of a religion, and this is the easiest way to disguise the evil purpose?

    Judaism doesn’t. As to the purpose of religion, unfortunately it is to broad a subject and way OT. Maybe some other thread:-)

  • Ian B

    Objectivists start with the observation that man is man; A is A: that comes from the observation that his survival is not automatic and that he requires the use of his mind to survive and exist, unlike other animals, who survive automatically, through instinct. Because of this, man therefore requires the product of his work for himself, and therefore the property rights

    Eh? Do these things follow from one another, and are they true? I, as a man (purportedly) have instincts. I don’t eat when I’m hungry because I’ve done a calculus on the situation; instinct drives me do to so. Likewise, when a stray cat is stalking her prey, is she not using her mind? It might be lesser than mine and not capable of considering algebra, but she is certainly considering options much as a human hunter might do. Where do we get this idea that humans have no instinct, and animals nothing but instinct? How will you define instinct anyway? Cats have to learn to hunt from their mothers.

    Because of this, man therefore requires the product of his work for himself, and therefore the property rights

    How does that follow from the first thing? The tribal model of man is one of pooled resources and communal hunting and food gathering, not individual property rights. Or do tribal hunters not count- are they using instinct?

    To clarify, I am a firm believer in property rights, which I think can be comfortably derived from my Simple Libertarianism above. I don’t see where you get them from this “instinct/mind” dichotomy at all. It seems entirely artificial.

  • Ivan

    TomC:

    [Quoting me:] “(There exists a) …contradiction between self-interest and an objective moral code.”

    There is no “code”. If so, what is it? If there is no code, how is there a contradiction?

    You’re weaseling. Rand’s philosophy considers certain actions as immoral and evil, namely those that violate rights of others (according to the Randian definition of “rights”, of course). At the same time, one of the central tenets of her philosophy is that — in her own words — “[man] must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.” Clearly, these principles stand in contradiction when a man’s rational self-interest and happiness are best served by an action that violates rights of others. Rand and her followers maintain that this is an impossible situation, and they’ve produced an endless stream of sophistry, obscurantism, and emotional appeals in their attempts to support this blatantly false position.

    You yourself immediately provide a concrete example:

    [Quoting me:]“If you’re guided by rational self-interest, then your imperative is to break any moral code that supposedly binds you if only a rational cost/benefit calculation indicates that you’ll profit from doing so.”

    One cannot be “guided by rational self-interest”. Objectivists start with the observation that man is man; A is A: that comes from the observation that his survival is not automatic and that he requires the use of his mind to survive and exist, unlike other animals, who survive automatically, through instinct.

    Wow, that’s a pile of verbiage of Hegelian proportions. You’re claiming that two tautologies (“man is man” and “A is A”) “come” (does this mean “are inferred”?) from the observation that man’s survival depends on the use of his mind. But OK, let’s see where this takes us.

    Because of this, man therefore requires the product of his work for himself, and therefore the property rights with which he might perform that work.

    It follows that to violate the above rights will be contrary to man’s existence as man.

    A giant non-sequitur, and a falsity too. Man requires the product of *some* work to survive — it need not be his own work. In fact, for any man except a hermit, most of the concrete products he’ll use to survive are the work of other people, obtained through trade or some other means. Of course, there are countless arguments that a market economy in which property rights are respected is by far the best system to ensure that people’s productive work will result in general prosperity — but that doesn’t follow at all from your incoherent argument. Furthermore, for a individual seeking means of his individual survival and prosperity who is in a position that he can obtain these means by violating the rights of others, there is absolutely nothing in your argument that indicates that he shouldn’t do so.

    You basically define “man’s existence as man” as the existence in which one respects the rights of others, and then say that violating rights is wrong because it’s “contrary to man’s existence as man”. This is not only circular, but also uses a ridiculous fictional caricature of “man”. In reality, human nature is far more complex, and includes some quite nasty sides — so many of them, in fact, that a precondition of civilized life is for people to suppress many of the urges that are in their basic nature.

    This comes about through theft. Collectivism is a form of theft since one group of individuals subjectively decides that another group of individuals will be sacrificed for the benefit of the subjective values of the thieving group or its beneficiaries. The sacrificed are enslaved for the benefit of random others.

    So one is not “guided by rational self-interest”; rather one is enlightened as to the true nature of man. So where can “a rational cost/benefit calculation indicate…” that a profit may be had, thereby making it imperative to break a “binding” non-existent “moral code”?

    Obviously, if you are one of these beneficiaries, it is in your rational self-interest to engage in theft (or whatever other violations of rights are necessary for you to profit). Just observe the government of your own country and you’ll see countless individuals who have made lucrative careers as active parts of the rights-violating state machinery, constantly performing acts of sheer evil according to the Randian ethics — and received nothing but wealth, power, honor, and respect as a result. I guess someone should tell them that they’ve been acting “contrary to man’s existence as a man”. I’m sure that will make them miserable.

  • Judaism doesn’t.

    What was all the talk about “redeeming the Jewish nation through work” among the middle Zionists, then? That was a popular trope in the 40s and 50s. Mabye it isn’t guilt directly, but it’s certainly related.

  • TomC

    Mastiff

    “And you still have not addressed the point I raised of Robert Nozick.”

    You actually directed this question at Planus. I’m afraid I haven’t read Nozick, although I do intend to. But I will try to answer the question.

    ”…having received good from a collectivity, should we not feel honor-bound to repay it?”

    One doesn’t receive a good from a collectivity, one receives it from individual people in free and voluntary trading. If there were any honour at all, money should be repaid to those whose values were stolen by “society” in the first place.

    ”…is not the problem of raising and protecting children via division of labor the basis for “good” collectivism in the first place?

    You mean schooling? Is it a problem? It is a good basis for educating them, yes, but it is irrelevant to collectivism in the sense of our debate. Unless you mean that state education is somehow superior to independent schooling?

    “Not so. The debt is owed not to our ancestors, but to our children. Having benefited from the accumulated goods of society, we have a strong moral imperative to maintain those goods for the sake of those who come after us.”

    If we didn’t receive the good from our collectivity of ancestors as I argued several lines ago, then we don’t owe anything to anyone. There is no debt. We may benefit from the accumulated knowledge of the past, but there is no invoice to be paid to those dead forbears that discovered the knowledge. If there were then we would objectively be obligated to pay money to their genetic descendants in a kind of “inverse testament”! As for “maintaining those goods for the sake of those who come after us…”, schools and universities do this in return for payment, not some mystical idea that we somehow have to pay our unborn descendants for the values we inherited from our ancestors.

    “Before you object, what possible reason would you have for promoting Objectivism beyond your social circle, when it is clear that it will not catch on in society for decades at least, and probably long after you are dead?”

    For the same reasons that you chose to attack it in a public forum. I didn’t start the fire.

    And also it’s a bank holiday today and I had some time to spare :-). I’m pleased that you think it might only take decades though.

    ”…you quickly become disabused of the notion that an actor’s opportunities for utility are independent of his place in the social network…”

    Individuals are not actors in a world centred around a collective. Nor does man exist for his opportunities for utility to such an entity. Thus he has no “place” in any supposed “network” in which his independence can be expropriated. Pure mystical subjectivity.

    Please explain the concept of “the structural aspect of social reality”, giving objective reasons why it exists. Because in its absence your Marxist / Objectivist “errors” cannot occur.

    IanB

    You are missing the point. Objectivism is not some code by which one should derive all the choices one might make in life. Nor does it come from reading a novel.

    The point is, humans have free will, and have evolved to the extent that they have created a technological world, totally removed from stone age hunting existence of thousands of years ago.

    Cats and other animals operate through instinct. All cats exist automatically. Nature has equipped them for hunting and surviving through being agile and having sharp claws and teeth. They cannot manipulate their environment by using “non-cat” methods.

    “The tribal model of man is one of pooled resources and communal hunting and food gathering, not individual property rights. Or do tribal hunters not count- are they using instinct?”

    That’s the point. Man has gone beyond that, hence nuclear power, space flight etc. The origin of that was when the hunter gatherer found out how to manipulate his environment through the understanding of concepts. Because of this, denying man his free individual existence would condemn him to the destiny of a stone age hunter.

    This is the evil of collectivism as Objectivists attempt to demonstrate it – the “tribal model of man” existing today. Objectivism is really no more or less than that. Everything else is simply a development or clarification of these premises.

  • Vercingetorix

    So when each human is born, he is to accept a “moral debt” towards those that went before him – the guilt of original sin existing in all its evilness here on Earth? Do you realise quite how depraved is such a claim?

    Oh, Good Lord… You surely don’t mean that each generation is born hermetically sealed from the one before it, do you? And yet, there it is, a fine little nugget.

    Go ahead, He Who Owes Nothing, tear down the musuems for firewood, pull up the bricks from the street for your shanties, rob the markets, burn the cities, puncture the dams, feed the libraries and galleries to the bonfires and murder the old – those pathetic and useless eaters.

    But you DO owe quite a bit to the past generations and you DO owe quite a bit to the next generation, for your patrimony – the reason you are not in furs, sucking marrow from a bone. This patrimony, the shared wealth and culture, is a monstrous thing to waste. More than anything, it is this extravagant liquidation of anything of value – cultural, literary, financial – of socialism that gets MY blood going. It is the animating reason I am on this board to begin with.

    I cannot imagine what moral creature can say with a straight face that he owes nothing to anyone, not his parents and not his children, much less friends, lovers, spouses, acquaintances (unless his parents are monsters themselves, and there are too many of those). Not one I am at all interested in knowing well, unfortunately.

  • I’ve found the Randians highly similar to the Scientologists for a long time, now. The fixation upon an individual that reaches the stage of sheer idolotary, the systematic attempts to make their idol seem of far greater weight than they truly are, the pretending that eye-jabbingly turgid prose is revelatory and a great read, the RAGE that emerges when you refer to them as a cult despite the aforementioned, the insistence on having the ultimate answer to everything, the viewing of the non-believers as depraved (Rand herself declared that she had given up hope of finding an earnest opponent with any integrity), the continual, relentless suggestion of books to read…

    All points where they are indistinguishable. & both get intensely angry when you point out the likeness, ironically enough yet another similarity.

  • (Mind you, this is purely a matter of conduct, not structure – nobody save a fool would deem the ARI in the same league as the CoS in terms of malignity. Rand left an enticing but rationally bankrupt philosophy behind her mainly pushed by enthusiasts trying to shape reality to her fiction’s image, Hubbard an organisation dedicated to cash extraction from the hapless. Accordingly he caused a lot more harm than her. But them and their they’re acolytes are still strikingly similar.)

  • TomC

    Vercingetorix, your first sentence is yet another regrettable “argument from intimidation”.

    Yes, each generation is hermetically sealed from the preceding one, any biologist could explain why. It is pure mysticism to suppose that this is not the case.

    Why do you assume that I do not value the legacy of human reason and intellect? It is one of my highest motivations. All the things that you mention have been created and built by the finest minds and the most industrious bodies that humanity has ever known? Murder the old? Have you taken leave of your senses?

    Yes, one “owes” intellectual gratitude to those individuals who created those values in the sense that we are indeed fortunate to exist in such an advanced state; you misunderstand my argument. I am simply objecting that this so called “debt” be translated into some kind of fundamental guilt for being human. You cannot be found guilty at the moment you are born for events that took place previously to it; nor can you hope to pay a subjective value as a repayment of a subjective debt to a subjective collection of dead or unborn people. The very idea is absurd. We are fortunate to live in this age, but we cannot objectively owe any present value in payment of any past or future debt.

    The evil that is being perpetrated here is the idea that because we cannot objectively hope to repay such a debt, since it is impossible, we must therefore live our lives in permanent humility and fundamental guilt as a result. This obfuscation is performed in order to shamelessly promote the altruist ethics. I will not accept this quasi-religious, immoral and corrupt argument.

    The cultural “liquidation of anything of value” often attempted by collectivists is the very negation of the Enlightenment values on which I am so keen. Note that it is modern collectivists who hold such values in contempt, not I.

    Finally, what does one “owe” one’s parents, children, friends, lovers, spouses and acquaintances?

    Nothing that they have not earned or deserved. And no more or less than they might owe me in terms of what I have earned or deserved. Note that what we might give them because we love them is not the same as what we “owe”.

    I would certainly not ask them to live for me, nor expect them to require me to live for them. I accept no guilt that I have not earned and deserved, and expect the same to be extended to others.

  • Joshua,

    What was all the talk about “redeeming the Jewish nation through work” among the middle Zionists, then? That was a popular trope in the 40s and 50s. Mabye it isn’t guilt directly, but it’s certainly related.

    Not guilt, but possibly worse. The Zionists were reacting to the widespread attitude among the European intelligentsia that Jews, because they were disconnected from the land and agriculture and lived off of “artificial” trades like business, had become racially stunted.

    The labor Zionists bought into this wholesale, so they could advocate agriculture as a project of national rejuvenation. It didn’t help that they were socialists, either.

    Most of Israel’s problems today come from being founded by Continentals. We got the worst bits of 19th-century Continental philosophy and ideology, all jumbled together.

  • Back to “guilt” again. Ye gods, will we ever escape from Pauline programming?

    There is a difference between guilt and generalized reciprocity. I’m talking about the latter.

  • Nuke Gray!

    Objectivism is, at least, bad for your health. ‘Time’ Magazine had an article on faith, and found that going to church was one of the ways you could extend your life (along with exercise and proper diet). Objectivists don’t go to Church.
    We debated this in Australia recently, and the objectivists here couldn’t bring themselves to go to church, even though it would increase their lifespan, and longer life is characterised by objectivists as a good thing.
    As for me, I’ll have the last laugh on all those atheists, by living longer!
    If you are completelt rational, then I’ll see you in Church, Tom C.!!

  • Sunfish

    My ballot last fall had candidates from both the Libertarian and Objectivist parties.

    What’s the difference?

  • Vercingetorix

    Yes, each generation is hermetically sealed from the preceding one, any biologist could explain why. It is pure mysticism to suppose that this is not the case.

    I suppose humans are some sort of mutant cicadas then, breeding once every twenty years a great big litter to replace the whole population (or not, as contemporary Europe would have it).

    But, unfortunately for that wee bit of trope, that is quite wrong. The replacement of a generation is continuous and childhood lasts a decade and a half in which the individual is quite helpless on their own.

    Dare to disagree. Please.

    During childhood, children are cared for by adults.

    Again, dare to disagree. Please.

    This is the parents’ duty. Children have the duty to obey their parents. And grandparents. And when those children become adults and citizens they have the duty to obey the law as the social contract they grew up under, provided that law is just. If not, then they may overthrow it under the Mandate of Heaven (in Confucianism) or whatever injunction you wish to invoke; tyrannical rule is another matter for another time, and the existence of tyrants does not in any way excuse anarchy when you would live in a civilized society.

    Now, I get your point about Original Sin. Problem is that no one invoked it. You invoked it. You hardly need Original Sin to get to the point of respecting your parents. Every beer-swilling, orgy-loving pagan tribe on Earth at least figures that children = helpless, parents = good, and acts accordingly. (The Left and Plato perhaps notwithstanding.)

    Even if human beings sprouted like Aphrodite from the foreheads of their parents, fully formed and clothed for war, and this occured all in one season like a great generational harvest, they would still owe their parents respect, honor, obediance (not a tyrannical or harmful sort, but certainly some), perhaps even piety.

    This is fundamental morality. If Randian ‘thought’ cannot grasp all parents are obligated to their children, that all children are obligated to their parents, that all citizens or subjects are obligated to each other and to their sovereign institutions in even small tokens such as respect and honor, and the corollary that one generation does not have any more right to pillage the legacy of the preceding one and cause harm to the next than any one person – no matter how ‘indispensable’ or ‘heroic’ – can strong-arm others, then it fails utterly as a moral theory.

    Again, if this is Randian thought, as you attest, then Randian thought is an utter failure.

    Not even the market will support that. Markets are based on the principle of fair-trade. I give you what is a fair trade, based upon my need, for your goods and services. If I am starving or corroding for lack of water, a good pricepoint for supplies cannot be too high and may not be too low.

    I am obligated to pay for those services that I desire and that I need in equal value to how scarce and desirable those goods and services are. You are obligated to meet me, or you will go quite broke and starve yourself.

    Even in capitalism, obligation never ceases.

  • Ian B

    My ballot last fall had candidates from both the Libertarian and Objectivist parties.

    What’s the difference?

    The Libertarian would abolish the Pledge Of Allegiance in schools. The Objectivist would replace it with the Galt Speech from Atlas Shrugged.

  • Vercingetorix

    The Objectivist would replace it with the Galt Speech from Atlas Shrugged.

    Ouch. Heh.

  • Joshua:

    What was all the talk about “redeeming the Jewish nation through work” among the middle Zionists, then? That was a popular trope in the 40s and 50s. Mabye it isn’t guilt directly, but it’s certainly related.

    These people were (many still are) socialists and Marxists, and therefore mostly atheists. The problems they were addressing were social and existential, not religious, and their claim to the Land of Israel was historical, not religious either.

  • Just saw Mastiff’s comment on Zionism – right on the money.

  • Nuke Gray!

    Objectivism does not have a bias for or against government, whereas Libertarianism is a direction towards smaller governments, and greater rights for individuals.
    For instance, objectivists would probably support metrification, since this involves things being objectively measured. Libertarians wouldn’t worry, except that metrification should not be compulsory.
    Also, Objectivism embraces Atheism, whereas Libertarians are eclectic. And Objectivists would hate quantum mechanics with its entanglements and its’ nonlocality and the self-creating Big Bang, but libertarians have no trouble with reality.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    James writes:

    I’ve found the Randians highly similar to the Scientologists for a long time, now. The fixation upon an individual that reaches the stage of sheer idolotary, the systematic attempts to make their idol seem of far greater weight than they truly are, the pretending that eye-jabbingly turgid prose is revelatory and a great read, the RAGE that emerges when you refer to them as a cult despite the aforementioned, the insistence on having the ultimate answer to everything, the viewing of the non-believers as depraved (Rand herself declared that she had given up hope of finding an earnest opponent with any integrity), the continual, relentless suggestion of books to read…

    I guess when someone writes such comments, it is not surprising that even a more critical observer of Objectivism wants to defend the ideas of the late Miss Rand. One might say the same of many philosophies and religions, including libertarian ideas. If you have lots of people such as religious conservatives sneering at you for being in a cult, a certain amount of annoyance is understandable.

    Grow up.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Even in capitalism, obligation never ceases.

    Obligation to what? A does a deal with B, and the deal then ends. The contract is fulfilled. End of.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Oh, I have just a look at James’ blog(Link). I see he is a former “teenager libertarian” who has seen the light and now seems to be a fairly hard-core socialist. Yes, central planning: it is the wave of the future!!!!

  • Vercingetorix

    Obligation to what? A does a deal with B, and the deal then ends. The contract is fulfilled. End of.

    Fulfillment of the obligations. If you’re selling key rings, agreed, not much there: pick one up on the way to the check-out counter. But if you’re selling bonds, stocks, homes, or automobiles or medicine, the car better run, the company better exist, the bond better be repaid, the snake oil effective, the house built.

    If not, it is fraud (or equivalent, depending upon the fault) which is at least illegal, at best unethical, always bad business (in the long term, at least), and in plain Engrish, just plain wrong.

    We could probably go around in a loop for a bit, but successful businesses can fail quickly if their reputation fails, if they treat their customers unfairly (read, unethically). This should be obvious. Certainly I don’t buy into any ‘stakeholder’ garbage, where companies are forced to support any and all wetdreams of their community, but companies do owe their customers their promised services as customers owe their promised payment. That, as they say, ain’t nothing.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Vercingetorix, I think this is a semantic issue. By “obligation”, you mean a commitment on the part of people to treat their fellows decently and honestly. But as a Randian would and does argue, that all comes from a commitment to living rationally for the long term attaintment of happiness. People who lie, steal, cheat, and use violence tend to be shunned or locked up. Acting like an asshole is hardly a good route to long-term happiness.

    Of course, a lot of the mainstream religions also preach this. In that sense, Rand was not all that original: “treat others as you would expect them to treat you” is, after all, a fairly common tenet of ethics.

  • TomC

    Well, then I don’t know what you mean when you say

    You surely don’t mean that each generation is born hermetically sealed from the one before it…”

    My point is that no human may be born with any fundamental duty or obligation that requires him to hold that some sort of debt is due to past or future generations. There is no evidence for this, it is pure mysticism and serves only as a shameless shackling of humanity to the altruist ethics.

    Altruist ethics is the principal tool of collectivists and is one of the most evil philosophies that man can have the misfortune with which to involve himself.

    So that we might distance ourselves from the “Christian guilt” image that has been developing, since people are having difficulty making the connection, it might be useful to point out that using collective guilt, duty and obligation as a moral imperative has been the modus operandi of collectivists for centuries.

    Tribal cultures used it in their mysticism, Christianity used it, then we had “divine right of kings”, then socialism, and now environmentalism. Communism used the “original sin” of the crimes of the bourgeoisie. Hitler used it to promote the lie of “racial purity”. Each holds that mankind inherits a moral duty to some form of collective in order to promote the altruist ethics. Each then holds a malevolent intent to perpetuate the living hell of collectivist slavery. Only individualist ethics can properly fight against this. If you value freedom and by extension, capitalism, then you have nothing to fear from Objectivism.

    Vercingetorix, you are perfectly correct to talk about everyday duties and obligations between parents and children, just so we might try to understand fully each other’s point of view. But only as far as these obligations do not impose a moral mortgage on the lives of men that is unsolicited, undeserved, involontary, immoral and by its very nature, impossible to repay.

  • TomC

    Nuke Gray

    Your comment about it being rational to go to church was the best laugh I’ve had all week.

    So the great scientific authority that is “Time” magazine performed objective double blind trials in its state of the art lab, and firmly and unequivocally established that going to church extended lifespan. Did they say by how many hours and minutes? What was the statistical accuracy?

    So the Aussies thought, “wait a minute, we could use this to establish scientifically whether Objectivism is bad for your health, by seeing if they’ll rationally extend their lifespans by going to church. Even better, the evil Objectivists will have no choice but tacitly endorse God! We’ve got them this time!”

    Thanks for that, I nearly p!ssed myself laughing. Still, I suppose if you believe your life is mortgaged to some ghost in the sky then you’ll believe anything.

    Seriously, is that the best you can do?

  • TomC

    Ivan

    The idea that man “…must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life…” if used in its original context, was simply stating the correct alternative to the collectivist ideal of man being a sacrificial animal, as a conclusion to the “man is man” idea.

    If a man holds this to be true, how can he violate another’s right to his life for any purpose, since if he expects his own right to exist to be upheld he is obliged to live the mental agony of holding two opposite contradictory views. The fact that many men do this does not invalidate the idea.

    It simply doesn’t require “an endless stream of sophistry, obscurantism, and emotional appeals” such as that you refer to in order to retain the integrity of the argument. And where is this endless stream? What does it consist of? You will find no obscurantism or emotional appeals from the Objectivists, any more than you will find religious dogma from atheists.

    Then we have your idea that even if you accept the “man is man” argument, man is only entitled to “some” of the products of his work. Which ones, out of the total? Who gets to decide? How, and why? As proof, you cite examples of the division of labour under modern economics. And that human nature is more complex than my “caricature”. What has any of this to do with the strength of the argument? Who is being incoherent here?

    If you are one of the beneficiaries of institutionalised theft you are indeed part of a system in which the individual’s right to exist has been violated. Furthermore, there has never been a time anywhere when individual ethics have not been continually violated by collectivism, and you are quite right about the countless individuals harvesting power and wealth through government, although quite how you expect me to accept that they are also honourable and respectable too, is taking things too far.

    But to maintain that this situation has come about through “performing acts of sheer evil according to the Randian ethics” simply demonstrates the depths of your delusions.

    It doesn’t need me to point out that the monumental immoral corruption that exists is the result of the very ethics Objectivism seeks to discredit.

  • Duncan S

    Little late to the game on this one but just to put it out there — I’ve read AS and FH and “Capitalsim:..” but I just very recently read “We the Living” her first book. You could skip all the others and just read this one. I think if more people were introduced to Rand this way they wouldn’t take such and instant dislike towards her. It’s short, well written, and is just a story with no overbearing philosophical points being made. Yet everything her later work embraces is present in what I would consider a much more “real world” setting with a cast of tragically real characters.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Just to add that TomC’s arguments are excellent. You tell ‘em, mate.

  • Vercingetorix

    JP, I argue from natural law – rape, theft, murder, and slavery are ALWAYS wrong, regardless of the benefit one might win or the content of the law. If we lived in a neo-Sparta where a class of helots were kept and as a Citizen I could grind those helots as I wished, could rape and murder them as I – or we all – decided fit and do so legally and to great profit, I would be nonetheless quite wrong in doing so. If Rand cannot be squared away with natural law, then she is a wet flop.

    TomC, I agree that we do not have a Collective obligation to care for this generation or that; as we have no collective rights, we hardly have collective duties. On the other hand, we certainly do have an individual duty to protect our families, our community, and our civilization from criminals, enemies, vandals and looters.

    You go too far in saying that no obligation exists in men for past generations, for the weaker, for loved ones, fellow citizens and for culture. Of course such obligation exists. It is just individual, not collective. It used to be called Honor.

    If barbarians are at the gates, fight them. That is duty, pure, ethical, pagan as the day is long. Altruism – as I believe you are defining it – would have you turn the other cheek and fall on their swords until their sword arms got tired, I suppose. These two things are thus different.

    As for your disdain of Altruism as you define it, I share it. However, I am also a Marine: some altruism is necessary. A mystical Altruism is not the animating reason I or any of us fight. We fight for specific reasons, to support our friends who require our support, our brothers against our enemies, our people against the barbarians, our country against chaos, even our God against the Abyss.

    This is not collective altruism. It is individual, sprouting inconceivably large – my platoon, my company, my battalion, my Division, my Corps, my family, my country, and even my Almighty.

    Not all altruism is a Trojan Horse for Karl Marx. You can die quite nicely in defense of your own rights as well as all others.

  • Ivan

    TomC:

    The idea that man “…must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life…” if used in its original context, was simply stating the correct alternative to the collectivist ideal of man being a sacrificial animal, as a conclusion to the “man is man” idea.

    You are trying to weasel out of the plain meaning of the words. If the benefits of violating the rights of others outweight the costs, then it is in one’s rational self-interest to do so. If you want to argue that one shouldn’t do so nevertheless, then you have to base your ethics on something other than self-interest (or prove that it can never be in one’s rational self-interest to do something immoral, but this is blatantly false). No amount of sophistry can avoid this basic contradiction.

    If a man holds this to be true, how can he violate another’s right to his life for any purpose, since if he expects his own right to exist to be upheld he is obliged to live the mental agony of holding two opposite contradictory views. The fact that many men do this does not invalidate the idea.

    What “mental agony”? Many people violate rights of others without any agony whatsoever, and reap great benefits of every sort in the process. It’s very easy for the human mind to rationalize any sort of behavior as rightful and moral, at any level of philosophical sophistication — such capacity for rationalization is in fact one of the basic parts of human nature. In any case, claiming that violating rights of others somehow causes “mental agony” by itself contradicts everything that’s known about human psychology.

    In fact, you’re basically reinveting the Christian doctrine of conscience with your concept of “mental agony”. I agree that this is a defensible argument, but consistently followed, it won’t lead to Randian-friendly conclusions. (Plus, arguing that the mind of a rights violator must necessarily host “opposite contradictory views” has more than a whiff of the categorical imperative. You know, the one proposed by, in Ayn Rand’s words, “the most evil man in mankind’s history”.)

    And where is this endless stream? What does it consist of? You will find no obscurantism or emotional appeals from the Objectivists, any more than you will find religious dogma from atheists.

    Actually, most atheists that I encounter in practice espouse at least some dogmas that are essentially religious in nature. For an example, just observe how many fervent atheists enthusiastically support the de facto religious tenets of modern environmentalism. With very few exceptions, questioning self-avowed atheists about their ethical and political beliefs will reveal that in reality, they aren’t any more rational, critical, or open-minded than typical religious people, contrary to all their protestations. (With Randians, of course, the obscurantist and emotional part of their belief system manifests itself in different ways than in atheists espousing other philosophies.)

    Then we have your idea that even if you accept the “man is man” argument, man is only entitled to “some” of the products of his work. Which ones, out of the total? Who gets to decide? How, and why?

    Indeed, in some situations there doesn’t exist a rational answer to these questions — you are the one defending a philosophy that claims to have it, not me. In many cases, it’s possible to rely only on custom and precedent to find a practical solution to these problems. What exact authority and obligations do parents have towards their children? When should one be able to claim property by adverse possession? What exact damages am I entitled to if someone causes me some specific harm? What is the exact boundary between my neighbors’ legitimate enjoyment of their property and unlawful interference with mine? What (if any) confiscatory authority should the government have to finance defense and law enforcement?

    Your Randian philosophy, even if taken at face value, cannot provide answers to any of these questions. It presupposes a ludicrous caricature world where all wealth is divided into disparate units clearly marked by whose work produced them, and the only relations between people are those of voluntary contracts and blatant theft. (And in fact, the “man is man” cant wouldn’t be logically coherent even in such a caricature world.) If you want to defend a free market system in the real world, let alone find answers to truly difficult questions of politics, law, ethics, and custom within a free market system, you need much more than that.

    (Plus, “man is man” is a tautology, but “man is Randian man” is an objectively false claim. As I already said, there is much more to human nature than this simplistic caricature. Just read a book on evolutionary psychology.)

    If you are one of the beneficiaries of institutionalised theft you are indeed part of a system in which the individual’s right to exist has been violated. Furthermore, there has never been a time anywhere when individual ethics have not been continually violated by collectivism, and you are quite right about the countless individuals harvesting power and wealth through government, although quite how you expect me to accept that they are also honourable and respectable too, is taking things too far.

    Ouch. I didn’t say that *you* should admire them. I am saying that the overwhelming majority of people will, so that the benefits of their evil, rights-violating behavior will include not only wealth and power, but also the fame, admiration, and honors bestowed upon them.

    But to maintain that this situation has come about through “performing acts of sheer evil according to the Randian ethics” simply demonstrates the depths of your delusions.

    You seem to be having serious problems with reading comprehension again. Are you saying that politicians and other government agents in the present system, or at least a great number of them, aren’t routinely performing acts of evil throughout their careers? I think they definitely do. How else would you characterize those who legislate and enforce evil laws and policies, of which I’m sure I don’t need to point out any examples?

    My point is that these people perform acts of evil exactly because it is in their rational self-interest to do so, and by doing so they are advancing their own happiness. This again captures the heart of the great Randian contradiction.

  • Anyone interested in the Objectivist answer to the alleged conflict between morality and rational self-interest, including a treatment of the issue of ill-gotten gains, may find it in Tara Smith’s excellent book Viable Values (particularly page 167 onward).

  • Plus, arguing that the mind of a rights violator must necessarily host “opposite contradictory views” has more than a whiff of the categorical imperative. You know, the one proposed by, in Ayn Rand’s words, “the most evil man in mankind’s history”

    Therefore what? She can’t have meant it? This is evasive, Ivan. Rand’s treatment of Kant was ignorant – on that much we agree. But it doesn’t follow from the fact that Rand thought Kant evil that her ethical philosophy must resemble his in no conceivable way. In fact, there are several points of similarity, not the least of which is that Rand is employing a weakened version of the Categorical Imperative in her own system. And the answer to your question of how it is that rationally self-interested people should see it in their self-interest to refrain from sabotaging the rational self-interests of others – even in cases where doing so may pass a short-term material cost-benefit analysis – rests on her version of the Categorical Imperative – namely that one always trades value for value. (Put in your terms, one adjusts his cost-benefit function such that there is a moral cost to fraud. Not, as TomC put it, because this would cause him to live with the mental agony of the contradiction – but because of the very Kantian reason that it sabotages the system of free exchange on which his continued survival and autonomy depend.)

    I think it is worthwhile to debate these points. But we cannot do that if you continue to insist on misrepresenting Rand. I repeat what I said earlier: Rand acknowledges the apparent contradiction you point to and deals with it in her essays. How well she dealt with it is a matter we can profitably discuss, but only so long as we agree to discuss what she actually said, and not what you imagine she said.

  • Regarding these questions:

    Indeed, in some situations there doesn’t exist a rational answer to these questions — you are the one defending a philosophy that claims to have it, not me. In many cases, it’s possible to rely only on custom and precedent to find a practical solution to these problems. What exact authority and obligations do parents have towards their children? When should one be able to claim property by adverse possession? What exact damages am I entitled to if someone causes me some specific harm? What is the exact boundary between my neighbors’ legitimate enjoyment of their property and unlawful interference with mine? What (if any) confiscatory authority should the government have to finance defense and law enforcement?

    Kindly point to any passage in Rand where it is claimed that there is an easy answer to them? To be clear, Rand would say that there is a rational answer to them, but it does not follow from that that such an answer is easy or obvious or that members of a society will get it right on the first try. She writes at lenght, in fact, about the inevitability of mistakes in the application of rational self-interest. People can, do, and inevitably will make them – especially on complicated questions such as these.

    One at a time, then.

    Regarding children – Rand has very little to say about them. It is an oversight in her philosophy that is often pointed out by commentators.

    Regarding when one should be able to claim property by adverse possession – this is not dealt with in any of her essays that I’m aware of and is presumably a matter for the legislature to decide by democratic process. What I am certain is NOT in her essays anywhere is a claim to have arrived at the final, correct answer to this problem – and neither do I see any evidence that TomC is making the claim that there is.

    Regarding exact damages for specific harm – again, it is not dealt with that I am aware of, nor has anyone here made the claim that it is.

    Regarding the exact boundary between a neighbor’s enjoyment of his property and my enjoyment of mine – obviously the answer to this question is dependent on context.

    Rand answers your last question about confiscatory authority in the negative – there shouldn’t be any. I do not agree with her here at all, personally; I put taxes in the column of sticky issues which will have to be decided by trial and error – much like all of the above. But to imply that no answer was given to the question does rather suggest that you haven’t read much Rand.

    On the whole, the point here is that you a indulging in a bit of straw man burning, I think. Rand did not claim to have solved every conceivable legal problem – which is not so stunning, really, since neither has any other system of ethics that I’m aware of. Nor, I repeat, did anyone here claim that she had. You are therefore right, for what it’s worth, that her system doesn’t cover every conceivable contingency out of the box, as it were. It’s just that “what it’s worth” isn’t very much – since that is a claim that no coherent ethical system has ever made.

    I think I agree with you insofar as you are characterizing Rand as a bit glib about certain things – apt to fall back on defenses that amount to “well, if everyone behaved rationally then there wouldn’t be any problems” – which, while true, is of course impractical. The overall point for me is that you seem to be setting standards for Rand and Objectivists that no human system of ethics can hope to meet – and then I wonder what your real beef here is.

  • Ivan

    Joshua:

    [Quoting me:] Plus, arguing that the mind of a rights violator must necessarily host “opposite contradictory views” has more than a whiff of the categorical imperative. You know, the one proposed by, in Ayn Rand’s words, “the most evil man in mankind’s history”

    Therefore what?

    Therefore, this is just another indication that in order to derive any sort of morality that enjoins individuals to refrain from violating rights of others even when they can profit from doing so, one must go beyond self-interest as the founding principle — and postulate transcendental conscience, duty-based categorical imperatives, some metaphysical system of justice that eventually punishes all transgressions, or someting else that counters the essence of Randian philosophy and would most likely draw sternest denunciations from her.

    And the answer to your question of how it is that rationally self-interested people should see it in their self-interest to refrain from sabotaging the rational self-interests of others – even in cases where doing so may pass a short-term material cost-benefit analysis [...]

    It’s already a copout when you talk about “short-term, material” benefits. It’s plainly clear that lots of people have the opportunity to engage in major rights-violating schemes that are immensely profitable in the long run, and not just materially, but also in terms of power and prestige. Needless to say, many of them do. To take only the most extreme examples, you’ll see such individuals being hailed by the great masses of people and the media as heroes and saviors if you just turn on the news channel, and you’ll also see statues erected in honor of at least a few such individuals in any major city in the world. Or for a less dramatic example, just observe the civil service of your country, and count all the people living comfortable and stressless lives at taxpayers’ expense without having to exert any productive effort. Can you say with a straight face that they are not working in their own self-interest?

    [...] – rests on her version of the Categorical Imperative – namely that one always trades value for value. (Put in your terms, one adjusts his cost-benefit function such that there is a moral cost to fraud. Not, as TomC put it, because this would cause him to live with the mental agony of the contradiction – but because of the very Kantian reason that it sabotages the system of free exchange on which his continued survival and autonomy depend.)

    In other words, you’re claiming that one has the duty to uphold the system of free exchange by one’s individual example. Fair enough. Someone faced with an opportunity to greatly profit from a violation of others’ rights who still refuses to do so should then be commended for upholding his duty even when this is contrary to his self-interest, and scolded for violating his duty if he yields to the temptation. This is all very fine by me — but Rand explicitly denounced such thinking as evil. Just read some of her vituperations against Kant.

    On the whole, the point here is that you a indulging in a bit of straw man burning, I think. Rand did not claim to have solved every conceivable legal problem – which is not so stunning, really, since neither has any other system of ethics that I’m aware of. Nor, I repeat, did anyone here claim that she had. You are therefore right, for what it’s worth, that her system doesn’t cover every conceivable contingency out of the box, as it were. It’s just that “what it’s worth” isn’t very much – since that is a claim that no coherent ethical system has ever made.

    Well, Rand and her followers have always claimed to possess a system of philosophy whose achievements no human system has ever met, and they have never spared words of disparagement and condemnation for those who aren’t buying it — especially if they also happen to advocate similar political positions in favor of liberty.

    But yes, I do tend to dislike people who devise great systems of philosophy derived from pure reason and then claim to bring essential enlightenment to the world who will otherwise suffer in darkness. Fundamental philosophy is something people will always disagree about, and an imaginative and motivated philosopher can derive any political, ethical, or religious system from pure reason given just enough time and paper. Thus Thomas Aquinas derived medieval Catholicism, Hegel derived the Prussian system, Hobbes derived the absolute monarchy, John Rawls derived the welfare state, Robert Nozick derived libertarianism, Rand derived Objectivism… and I don’t think that to a truly neutral observer, any of the mentioned philosophers would ultimately be more convincing than others. They all just went on to invent elaborate arguments for things that they already believed in for other reasons. In my opinion, it’s pretty silly to stick to one such system and claim that it represents The Final Answer that all rational people should recognize as such — and it’s certainly not any service to liberty to make the case for it hang on the acceptance of some such system.

  • TomC

    Ivan

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding the nature of your argument. Let’s try it from a different view.

    Demonstrating philosophically that man exists for himself is not some unbreakable blueprint for life that will prevent or morally prosecute all dissidents.

    All it does is give an individual the knowledge that any violation of his individual existence is fundamentally wrong, be it at the behest of a thief or a government.

    If you do not want to accept this view (which you are perfectly free to do), it is because you want to have your cake and eat it. You cannot uphold the moral crime of institutionalised theft because you wish to justify the stolen goods received by the beneficiaries of taxation; and at the same time pretend that you have any moral justification to keep any products of the work you do as an individual or maintain the rights to any property with which you create that product.

    The Objectivist ethics simply demonstrate that you are fundamentally free, and that none may violate that freedom. And also that if they do, or wilfully participate in it, then they have forfeited any such claim to freedom for themselves. A thief, once he violates an individual’s rights, can have no moral claim to any product or property of his “work” for himself.

    This last point we treat consistently as a society, because thieves are at least dealt with as such. The important issue that society does not treat at all consistently, is theft by the state. This situation will continue as long as we practice a system in which a significant proportion of society may exist legally at the expense of the rest. The victims of the theft are agents of their own destruction because they succumb to the collectivist-altruist ethics – they believe they have a duty and an obligation to accept that some part of their property might be stolen so that random others may benefit.

    It is this corruption that Objectivism seeks to eliminate. As Joshua says, “I wonder what your real beef here is.” Is this why you fear and seek to discredit Objectivism?

    Because like I said in a previous comment – “those who love freedom and by extension, capitalism, have nothing to fear from Objectivists.

  • Paul Marks

    “Objectivist” may mean many things.

    It may be someone who believes in the objective reality of the physical universe.

    It may be someone who believes that the existance of the “I” (the agent) is objective not some “illusion” (if I do not exist who is experising the “illusion” that I exist?). That human beings are just that – beings. Subjects not just objects – agents capable of choice (agency) free will.

    And an objectivist may be someone who believes in the objective existance of right and wrong – good and evil.

    Randian objectives believe in all of the above.

    But so do Catholic Scholastics, or Protestants of the Common Sense School (and, no doubt, other people as well).

    On the “self interest” point.

    Randian objectivists oppose altruism – but they do not oppose benevolence.

    On the contrary, many Randians (although not all of course) help other people with both time and money.

    “But does this not violate their self interest”.

    Only if one defines the good life (one self interest) as grabbing everthing one can.

    However, Ayn Rand defined the good life in terms much closer to Aristotle.

    Come on people it is not exactly a secret that Ayn Rand was influenced by Aristotle – she said so thousands of times.

    Even as a non Randian I know this.

  • nick gray

    And just to enlighten Tom further, Hinduism and Buddhism do not have guilt complexes, nor a concept of original sin.

  • n005

    Fundamental philosophy is something people will always disagree about, and an imaginative and motivated philosopher can derive any political, ethical, or religious system from pure reason given just enough time and paper. Thus Thomas Aquinas derived medieval Catholicism, Hegel derived the Prussian system, Hobbes derived the absolute monarchy, John Rawls derived the welfare state, Robert Nozick derived libertarianism, Rand derived Objectivism…

    I once picked up a copy of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice at a bookstore and read a few pages. I couldn’t help but notice how so many of his statements seem to begin like “It seems that…” “It just seems intuitive that…” etc.

    Pure reason? I think not.

    …and I don’t think that to a truly neutral observer, any of the mentioned philosophers would ultimately be more convincing than others. They all just went on to invent elaborate arguments for things that they already believed in for other reasons.

    Indeed, to a neutral observer, no philosophy would appeal greater than any other. Philosophy such as that of Rand, however, is not meant to appeal to “neutral observers;” it is meant to serve the self-interested. And that is what makes all the difference.

    Rand invented her “elaborate arguments” to make the case for the ego, and she made no bones about that. Now, there’s much in the world to believe in, but there’s just no surer thing than the self. You can’t speak, think, or act without implying the existence of the self. You can’t say “I believe” without saying “I.” Therefore, if I am to believe that Rand merely believed in the ego for “other reasons” (as opposed to those she presented in her works) then I must ask: what might they be?

  • It’s already a copout when you talk about “short-term, material” benefits. It’s plainly clear that lots of people have the opportunity to engage in major rights-violating schemes that are immensely profitable in the long run, and not just materially, but also in terms of power and prestige. Needless to say, many of them do. To take only the most extreme examples, you’ll see such individuals being hailed by the great masses of people and the media as heroes and saviors if you just turn on the news channel, and you’ll also see statues erected in honor of at least a few such individuals in any major city in the world. Or for a less dramatic example, just observe the civil service of your country, and count all the people living comfortable and stressless lives at taxpayers’ expense without having to exert any productive effort. Can you say with a straight face that they are not working in their own self-interest?

    They certainly believe they are acting in their own self-interest, and in several cases this has worked out for them. But there are two problems with using these examples as counterarguments to Rand’s philosophy. The first was pointed out by Paul Marks above: Rand defines “the good life” – and therefore what is “self-interest” – differently than you are defining it. The second problem is that you’re confusing rational advice with a description of reality. Ayn Rand never promised that there wouldn’t be people in the world who get away with fraud and it works out for them. Nor did she promise that no one who wins the lottery would ever be rich. Unfairness happens, that’s reality, and nothing in Rand that I’ve read tries to explain that away. Her point is that such people are (a) lucky and (b) not in control of their own destinies – the overall point being that “commit fraud whenever it benefits you” is not good general advice. For one thing, this strategy rarely succeeds over the long term, and it CANNOT succeed for all, most, or even a significant minority of people simultaneously. But more importantly for Rand – it is a hugely unreliable strategy with the inevitable end result that one sacrifices his autonomy. You become intimately dependent on your coconspirators and the people you defraud; your life is no longer really your own.

  • In other words, you’re claiming that one has the duty to uphold the system of free exchange by one’s individual example.

    Nothing of the sort. One has a personal interest in upholding the system of free exchange because a well-functioning system of free exchange is of more benefit to him than a creaky, unreliable one.

    Fair enough. Someone faced with an opportunity to greatly profit from a violation of others’ rights who still refuses to do so should then be commended for upholding his duty even when this is contrary to his self-interest, and scolded for violating his duty if he yields to the temptation. This is all very fine by me — but Rand explicitly denounced such thinking as evil.

    Ivan, you are putting words in my mouth. I said that Rand used a “weakened” version of the Categorial Imperative, and you are distorting it to mean that she made some reputation-based argument whereby people will crave the praise of their fellows for having done their “duty.” Nothing in my earlier comment makes mention of duty, nor is even paraphrasable as such, and there is certainly nothing in Rand that makes this argument either, as you well know. This style of argument is disingenous.

  • As for this statement:

    Well, Rand and her followers have always claimed to possess a system of philosophy whose achievements no human system has ever met, and they have never spared words of disparagement and condemnation for those who aren’t buying it — especially if they also happen to advocate similar political positions in favor of liberty.

    I think I should reiterate what I have said before: that it is beside the point how Rand’s followers behave unless you can show that there is something in the philosophy itself that necessitates this behavior. Rand certainly claimed to be a better philosopher than she was, but this is irrelevant. Her philosophy is useful and informative independent of her own opinions about its place in history.

    And as for this one:

    In my opinion, it’s pretty silly to stick to one such system and claim that it represents The Final Answer that all rational people should recognize as such — and it’s certainly not any service to liberty to make the case for it hang on the acceptance of some such system.

    I am not aware that anyone here has made that case, so I am not sure who you are arguing against here. Certainly no one present.

  • Laird

    This has turned into a very interesting thread (after a rather rocky beginning). I commend all participants.

  • Kent

    The first was pointed out by Paul Marks above: Rand defines “the good life” – and therefore what is “self-interest” – differently than you are defining it.

    If nothing else, this is a major problem in Rands philosophy. Rand tries to necessitate her ethics by reference to human survival. It’s just that most people without much effort survive with greater success than Rand, so this approach is evidently made obsolete by the facts of reality, human survival is consistent with a far broader set of lifestyles than the Randian ethics permits (the same gos for happiness and general wellbeing by the way). The obejctivists subsequently tries to rescue this approach by claiming that Rand doesn’t mean survival in the normal sense of the word, no, Rand has her own special definition; survival means survival proper to a human being, and the Randian ethics is the embodiment of this kind of survival. It’s just That this is not a great argument by any rational standard. Rand justifies her ethics with arguments made up by concepts that by definition encompass her preferred conclusions.

  • Rand justifies her ethics with arguments made up by concepts that by definition encompass her preferred conclusions.

    To a certain degree, yes – and it’s a failing shared by a lot of ethical systems, some worse than others, with Rand’s scoring somewhere in the middle on my count. But I think she does a bit better job than you’re giving her credit for here – in two ways. First, it isn’t exactly “survival ‘proper’ to a human being” but rather “survival ‘as’ a human being.” The difference is that for Rand, mankind – as a species – cannot survive other than by use of reason. Other creatures do just fine by instinct – though of course their existence is much less comfortable and rewarding than ours. But man’s natural defense is his ability to reason. The implication for those people who indulge in those “other lifestyles” with which “human survival is compatible” only do so at the suffrance of the people who, by force of reason, have produced the factors of production that make those lifestyles possible. Left alone to their own devices, they would either survive by sheer chance or not at all. The other way in which her argument is a bit more comprehensive than you’re giving her credit for is a consequence of the first – and that is that personal autonomy is ultimately impossible for the people who live in these other ways – that is, other than by trading the value of the products of their thinking for value. Their lives will always be contingent on the productiveness of others. They thus abdicate any control over their own destinies, and become secondaries rather than primaries. Here she’s flirting with Nietzchian thought – an element that she formally renounced in the 30s but probably never fully purged from her system. In either case, I think you’re right that this system isn’t as thought out as it could be, but neither is it exactly the easy dodge you’re suggesting.

  • Kent

    The difference is that for Rand, mankind – as a species – cannot survive other than by use of reason. Other creatures do just fine by instinct – though of course their existence is much less comfortable and rewarding than ours.

    Yes, but who would deny this? Who would deny that our brain is a nifty tool for figuring out means to our desired end? Survival is a general preference among men and they act accordingly which is evident by the fact that most people live full lives, that is, they live until they are killed by some mechanical failure or incurable disease beyond their control. There is no point in trying to sell objectvism as a necessary condition for survival, because its impact on the life expectancy of its adherents is for the most part zero.

    The implication for those people who indulge in those “other lifestyles” with which “human survival is compatible” only do so at the suffrance of the people who, by force of reason, have produced the factors of production that make those lifestyles possible.

    Generally speaking, no. Imagine a country with 100% pro market variety social democrats. Their lifestyle is made possible by them selfs. The heart of their ideology encompass self sustenance and productive endeavors for their own benefit as well as a safety net for those who hit a rough spot in life or are born under unfortunate circumstances. By Rands admission they are all doomed second handers; in reality the may just as well enjoy very long lives and terrific wellbeing.

  • By Rands admission they are all doomed second handers; in reality the may just as well enjoy very long lives and terrific wellbeing.

    Indeed, it is quite possible to enjoy a very long life and terrific wellbeing at the expense of others when you dominate the means of collective coercion, as middle class social democrats generally do.

  • Ivan

    Joshua:

    The first was pointed out by Paul Marks above: Rand defines “the good life” – and therefore what is “self-interest” – differently than you are defining it.

    Well, I’d say that I’m using this word with its normal dictionary meaning. Still, I have no objections to someone using idiosyncratic definitions of terms, as long as they are clearly spelled out. The trouble with the Randian idiosyncratic concept of “self-interest” is that her definition sneaks in the elements of other ethical concepts and principles that Randian philosophy otherwise denounces, in the manner I’ve already described above.

    The second problem is that you’re confusing rational advice with a description of reality. Ayn Rand never promised that there wouldn’t be people in the world who get away with fraud and it works out for them. Nor did she promise that no one who wins the lottery would ever be rich.

    Again, I emphasize that it’s misleading to compare such cases with lottery, as if they were some rare outliers. In modern societies, there are many career paths that involve active participation in rights-violating enterprises, or at least unproductive leaching. Such career paths are open to great numbers of people (just look at the size of your government and its associated para-governmental entities such as NGOs, academia, corporate welfare queens…). Furthermore, they are guaranteed with near-absolute certainty to offer at least as much opportunity for gaining wealth, power, and respectability as productive, wealth-creating work — and often in fact much more. You will find relevant parallels in any other real-world society.

    Unfairness happens, that’s reality, and nothing in Rand that I’ve read tries to explain that away. Her point is that such people are (a) lucky and (b) not in control of their own destinies – the overall point being that “commit fraud whenever it benefits you” is not good general advice. For one thing, this strategy rarely succeeds over the long term, and it CANNOT succeed for all, most, or even a significant minority of people simultaneously.

    This is empirically false — see above.

    But more importantly for Rand – it is a hugely unreliable strategy with the inevitable end result that one sacrifices his autonomy. You become intimately dependent on your coconspirators and the people you defraud; your life is no longer really your own.

    In modern society, you’re intimately dependent on lots of people either way (which is in fact scary considering how helpless we’d be in case of some major disruption). If anything, this is an argument for some sort of survivalist autonomism, not a complex technological capitalist society.

    In any case, all these abstract platitudes are completely remote from any real-life examples and concerns. Here is one story about a successful act of self-interested predation with the help of the state machinery, which is of course only a minor example. Why should a self-interested individual, under any reasonable definition of “self-interest” refrain from taking advantage of this opportunity? How exactly did he “sacrifice his autonomy” with this act? On whom did he become “intimately dependent” as a result?

    Nothing of the sort. One has a personal interest in upholding the system of free exchange because a well-functioning system of free exchange is of more benefit to him than a creaky, unreliable one.

    But this confuses individual and collective interest. Basically, it’s a tragedy of the commons situation. Tragedy of the commons and its mirror-image, the public good problem, occur exactly because individuals act as rational selfish actors. Neither situation can be resolved without a collectivist mechanism of some sort (which is why the possible existence of critical public good/TOTC situations represents perhaps the most difficult problem for libertarianism in general).

    I said that Rand used a “weakened” version of the Categorial Imperative, and you are distorting it to mean that she made some reputation-based argument whereby people will crave the praise of their fellows for having done their “duty.” Nothing in my earlier comment makes mention of duty, nor is even paraphrasable as such, and there is certainly nothing in Rand that makes this argument either, as you well know. This style of argument is disingenous.

    No, I wasn’t talking about the praise for upholding the duty as the motive for moral behavior, or any other reputation-based argument. Now you’re misreading me (perhaps I wasn’t clear enough). Reputation-based arguments not at all problematic for any theory based on self-interest; effects on one’s reputation are easily made part of the cost/benefit calculation.

    The point is that in the above-described tragedy of the commons situation, if you postulate that an individual should still work for the common good, despite the individual incentive to the contrary, you have introduced duty as an ethical principle, no matter how you decide to call it. And in fact, even though it can be couched in fuzzier language, it will be the cold, hard Kantian duty, completely divorced from any individual self-interest.

  • Again, I emphasize that it’s misleading to compare such cases with lottery, as if they were some rare outliers.

    The point of the lottery comparison wasn’t primarily that it is a rare outlier but more that it is an unreliable method of weath accumulation. On average, you will pay more into a lottery than you get out of it, though this is obviously not true for everyone who plays. If your goal is to get wealthy, a more reliable method of doing so is to find something that people need and supply them with it. You can take your chances at the lottery if you like, but this is not a rational strategy, even if it happens to work for some people. The same is true of fraud.

    In modern societies, there are many career paths that involve active participation in rights-violating enterprises, or at least unproductive leaching

    Sure. And the wealth that these unproductive leachers leach has to be produced by someone productive, ultimately. And the more unproductive leaching that goes on, the slower the economy grows (or else it doesn’t grow at all). An economy founded on unproductive leaching would find itself unable to survive. Which brings us to Rand’s weakened categorical imperative. If it were a general rule that it were OK to leach, society would not function, and value would not get produced. So you make a decision. Either you are the kind of person who contributes who provides value, or you are the kind of person who takes it. The world is a liveable place or it isn’t in proportion to the number of people who decide to produce and exchange value for value rather than leach off of the production of others. As a corollary, the people who choose to leach off of the value of others without exchanging value in return can only do so to the extent that the value producers produce value. I would therefore say that Rand has correctly identified the source of The Good, and that it is indeed directly relevant to human survival, as she said.

    Why should a self-interested individual, under any reasonable definition of “self-interest” refrain from taking advantage of this opportunity? How exactly did he “sacrifice his autonomy” with this act? On whom did he become “intimately dependent” as a result?

    Obviously he is quite dependent on the government. He would be unable to build and enjoy his house without their help, not the least of the reasons for which are that he would be unable to afford his insurance and the mortgage payments on his house without the subsidies the government has provided him. He did not build his house by himself, but only because he sanctioned the mismanagement of productive resources at the point of a gun. His prosperity now depends on the government’s continued economic irrationality. If the government takes it away, he has lost quite a lot of money.

    The more intersting question is that you seem to want me to agree that this is a moral outrage. And I do agree – it is a moral outrage. And on what basis do we agree that it is a moral outrage? On exactly the basis Rand gives: because these people are stealing. They are not exchanging value for value, they are simply taking value. By her definition, they are evil people, and you seem to concur – both with my calling them evil, and with the reason I so call them.

    The point is that in the above-described tragedy of the commons situation, if you postulate that an individual should still work for the common good, despite the individual incentive to the contrary, you have introduced duty as an ethical principle, no matter how you decide to call it.

    I’m not seeing it, Ivan. You’re right that Rand has a free-rider problem, but then so does every ethical system I’m aware of. It is in my long-term interest to exchange value for value because this gives me autonomy to the greatest extent that it is possible to have it, without giving up on the fruits of exchange. Those who produce value are always needed. Those who don’t produce value live well only as long as they can get away with it, and only at the whims of those who enable their fraud. I choose to be in the former category because I think it will work out better for me in the end. Perhaps I will turn out to have been mistaken about that – but that’s no skin off your back. My point is that I have not made this choice because I think I owe it to anyone (or to any nebulous whatsit) to so choose. I so choose because I believe it to be in my long-term interest to do so.

    I note, in any case, that you have switched from saying that Rand gave no answer to the contradiction you pointed out to saying that you are disatisfied with the answer that she gave. Does this mean that you were unaware of what her answer was earlier, or that you were aware of it and hoping that TomC – with whom you were arguing at the time – wasn’t?

  • Yes, but who would deny this? Who would deny that our brain is a nifty tool for figuring out means to our desired end? Survival is a general preference among men and they act accordingly which is evident by the fact that most people live full lives, that is, they live until they are killed by some mechanical failure or incurable disease beyond their control. There is no point in trying to sell objectvism as a necessary condition for survival, because its impact on the life expectancy of its adherents is for the most part zero.

    Rand is not selling Objectivism as an individual longevity program. She is pointing out that Reason is the basis of human survival and selling Objectivism as a philosophy based on reason. She (claims to – no doubt Ivan will have some objections) derive Objectivism from this basis. Noting that Reason is the basis of human survival is a way of justifying this as a choice of basis for an ethical program, not any kind of cheap promise that being an Objectivist will add 5 years to your life.

    Objectivism does not deny that accidents happen, and I suspect that Objectivists get hit by buses and contract diseases at the same rate as everyone else (though neither of us has actually run the numbers on this, so it’s technically impossible to say). However, looking at the bigger picture, it is simply undeniable that socieites that base themselves on reason to greater degrees are more successful that societies which don’t, and that, indeed, life expectancy has grown dramatically as an exclusive result of the application of reason. So whether Objectivism makes one healthy I cannot say, but I certainly agree with Rand that Reason and survival are intimately linked, and that any sensible ethical system will incorporate this observation into its thinking. Altruism and Christianity, which don’t, are therefore off the menu for me.

  • Paul Marks

    There is still a failure (by some people) to understand that “self interest” does not automatically mean “grab as much money as possible”.

    It is not just Rand, but also the Aristotelians, the Stoics and (contrary to their reputation) the Empicurians who interpreted “self interest” (the good life) quite differently from the leftist sterotype view of it.

    It is like saying that an architect designs buildings just for the pay cheque or that if he could get a bigger pay cheque doing something else it would be in his “self interest” to do so.

    Or that there is a “free rider” problem of people enjoying the sight of his buildings without paying him.

    The whole discussion rests on a misunderstanding not only of what Rand meant by “self interest” but what lots of other philosophers meant by it also.

    The good life includes doing work that one is good at – that one takes pride in for its own sake.

    Whether it is designing a great building or making a cup of coffee, or cleaning up a park.

    Being contructive (creating) is part of Rand’s (and other philosophers) conception of what a human being should be.

    So to say “I am good at mugging” or “I am good at raping” (or whatever) “therefore I will do that and take pride in it” misses the point totally.

    And, I repeat, helping someone (benevolence) is not outside Rand’s philosophy – no more than it was outside Aristotle’s.

    For goodness sake, one does not even to read Rand’s philosophical essays to know all of the above.

    It runs through her novels.

    Have a close look at some of the characters in the Fountainhead and (especially) Atlas Shrugged.

    The most stupid thing that William F. Buckley ever said is that most people just search out the sex or torture bits in these books (there is not much of either anyway).

    In reality vast numbers of people have read the full works and found them inspiring – even those of us who would not call ourselves followers of Ayn Rand.

  • Kent

    Joshua:

    Rand is not selling Objectivism as an individual longevity program. She is pointing out that Reason is the basis of human survival and selling Objectivism as a philosophy based on reason. She (claims to – no doubt Ivan will have some objections) derive Objectivism from this basis. Noting that Reason is the basis of human survival is a way of justifying this as a choice of basis for an ethical program, not any kind of cheap promise that being an Objectivist will add 5 years to your life.

    And I point to the simple fact that most people outperform Rand when it comes to survival. The problem for Rand is that an ethics of self interest has to be judged on its real merits, that is, on its consequences. In order for such an ethics to have credibility the hallelujah stuff must happen to the believers and the doom and gloom stuff must happen to the heretics on a systematic basis. If this is not happening there is no solid case to be made.

    The survival thing is after all quite telling since Rand explicitly bases her morality on survival and even poses a fundamental alternative of life or death, yet Rands ethics doesn’t show up in the life expectancy stats which is the metric for survival. And if we move on to more elusive parameters like happiness and wellbeing there isn’t really any solid case to made either. As I said before, human happiness and survival is consistent with a far broader set of lifestyles than Rand would permit, or to put it another way, Rand is vastly exaggerating her case. To the degree she is correct her conclusion are for the most part generally acknowledged.

    However, looking at the bigger picture, it is simply undeniable that socieites that base themselves on reason to greater degrees are more successful that societies which don’t, and that, indeed, life expectancy has grown dramatically as an exclusive result of the application of reason

    So, the countries with the best life expectancy/wellbeing stats are the countries most consistent with reason? Denmark, Sweden…:)

  • And I point to the simple fact that most people outperform Rand when it comes to survival.

    And I repeat that Objectivism is not sold as a longevity treatment. The point about survival, as I said above, was to justify it as a choice for basis of a moral system.

    So, the countries with the best life expectancy/wellbeing stats are the countries most consistent with reason? Denmark, Sweden…:)

    Denmark and Sweden are certainly more consistent with reason than Uganda and Burkina Faso, yes, and all of the products that enable their high levels of life expectancy were indeed produced by reason. Modern medicine, which is generally employed in these countries, turns out to be a better method for improving life expectancy than tribal rituals. Who knew? It is true that medicine in Sweden and Denmark is distributed in part by theft, but that is also true in the United States, so I’m not really seeing your point. The theft did not produce the medicine, nor the medical techniques, that make longevity possible, and I think you’ll find that Sweden and Denmark do not account for anything like the lion’s share of the medical advances on which the lengthening of our lifespans depend.

    You seem to want me to say that someone who steals an apple and eats it hasn’t really eaten – but I’m afraid you’ll have to try your luck with someone else. No one has denied that unproductive people can and do live off of the efforts of productive people. Indeed, Rand’s novels are largely concerned with decrying this state of affairs, in fact.

  • Paul Marks is quite right that benevolence is within the scope of Objectivism and that there are several examples of Rand’s protagonists being benevolent in Atlas Shrugged. By all accounts, Rand herself was also quite generous with her time and money. I apologize if I have allowed myself to be steered too far into defending a base materialist conception of Objectivism in response to Ivan’s comments.

  • TomC

    Ivan: But this confuses individual and collective interest. Basically, it’s a tragedy of the commons situation. Tragedy of the commons and its mirror-image, the public good problem, occur exactly because individuals act as rational selfish actors. Neither situation can be resolved without a collectivist mechanism of some sort (which is why the possible existence of critical public good/TOTC situations represents perhaps the most difficult problem for libertarianism in general).

    Finally we see Ivan for what he is.

    The “public good” is the primary target of Objectivism, the ultimate enemy, if you will. Here’s why:

    There can be no public good. What is the “public”?

    It consists of all the individuals of which it is composed. It is not an entity. It does not have a mind. It cannot know of what its “good” consists.

    So who decides its “good”? Under democratic systems, there exists a situation of eternal “civil war” in which a system of random gangs gets to decide the destiny of all individuals. The strongest gang at any given moment decides subjectively to steal a subjective amount of value from those that earned those values in free individual trade; and give them to other subjective individuals who did not earn them according to completely subjective reasons. The givers and takers are propagandised into acceptance through a shameless and obfuscated promotion of the altruist ethics.

    What is the “good”? It is whatever subjective definition that the strongest gang proclaim it to be at any given time.

    Hence the corruption and evil is perennial. That is until the day the slaves come to realise that they are enslaved. This is the aim of Objectivism. And the reason why the Ivans of this world fear it to the extent of the comments on this post. At all costs they must keep this evil reality hidden from the serfs. If not, the game is up. The thieves, looters and moochers are out of a job. Exposed for the cruel immoral exploiters that they are.

    Don’t buy the bit about it being in the reflection of the tragedy of the commons. This idea supposes that if something is not owned, it will always be over-exploited to the point of extinction, such as sea fish stocks. The values stolen for the public good are owned. Then stolen at the point of the gun of the state. If you don’t believe that, try not paying your taxes and see what happens.

    Ivan is saying that as the mirror image of TOTC, the values that finance the public good , being owned, are not exploited enough. There it is, the truth in all its evil.

    Ivan is however, correct in claiming that this is a problem for libertarianism. I constantly note that libertarians consistently and happily describe how they would use the full power of the state in order to subdue certain state powers with which they happen to disagree. Hypocrites.

    This is probably why Objectivists are keen to distance themselves from libertarians. Although I am not really an Objectivist, since Objectivists hold that a small government is necessary for the maintenance of peace, security and justice, whereas personally my hatred of the state is so acute I cannot bring myself even to entertain the idea, because if we do ever achieve freedom we will simply be leaving in place the smouldering spark that will one day reignite and send us down the road to serfdom once more.

  • TomC,

    Finally we see Ivan for what he is.

    My goodness, you really are not happy unless you are denouncing heretics.

    That said…

    Ivan, you have fallen into a classic trap with your recourse to the Tragedy of the Commons. The underlying assumption is that the individuals involved are unable to reason with each other and thus incapable of creating institutions themselves to solve the problem, and must be shepherded by an outside enforcer, the State.

    May I suggest this excellent book by Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons. It will help you to develop your thinking on the subject.

    Actually, everyone should read it. It really is that good.

  • nuke gray

    TomC., in the studies I read, Time said it added a few years to your life.
    Glad to see you laughing now, because I’ll still have the last laugh.
    As for hating any state too much, when I look at places that practice pure anarchy, like Somalia and Afghanistan, I am not attracted to them. Can you point out one place that practices what you preach, either currently, or in the past? (As a minarchist, Switzerland seems better than most other countries, even if not ideal)

  • nuke gray

    Speaking philosophically, we should be able to derive liberty from the natural world. We did not invent Newton’s Law, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is part of the Cosmos. Our theories of liberty are usually based on justice and fair prices. If we tie libertarian thought firmly to such Laws, our opponents will become superfluous.

  • Ivan

    TomC:

    Finally we see Ivan for what he is. The “public good” is the primary target of Objectivism, the ultimate enemy, if you will.

    “Public good” is a technical term in economics with a precise definition. In fact, the functions of the state that Randians consider as legitimate are exactly those that provide what appear to be otherwise unavailable public goods, although they would probably die before they allowed it to be phrased in these terms. :-)

    Your above post reminds me of another occasion when I read an article on a Randian website whose author was denouncing the economists who use the term “market failure”, without understanding that it’s just another technical term. Such rants are at the level of someone who believes that mathematicians specializing in ring theory deal with jewelry.

    And the reason why the Ivans of this world fear it to the extent of the comments on this post. At all costs they must keep this evil reality hidden from the serfs. If not, the game is up. The thieves, looters and moochers are out of a job. Exposed for the cruel immoral exploiters that they are.

    I’m shaking in my boots. :-)

  • Ivan

    Joshua:

    And the wealth that these unproductive leachers leach has to be produced by someone productive, ultimately. And the more unproductive leaching that goes on, the slower the economy grows (or else it doesn’t grow at all). An economy founded on unproductive leaching would find itself unable to survive. Which brings us to Rand’s weakened categorical imperative. If it were a general rule that it were OK to leach, society would not function, and value would not get produced. So you make a decision. Either you are the kind of person who contributes who provides value, or you are the kind of person who takes it. The world is a liveable place or it isn’t in proportion to the number of people who decide to produce and exchange value for value rather than leach off of the production of others. As a corollary, the people who choose to leach off of the value of others without exchanging value in return can only do so to the extent that the value producers produce value. I would therefore say that Rand has correctly identified the source of The Good, and that it is indeed directly relevant to human survival, as she said.

    That’s all fine and true, but it still fails to address the conflict between collective and individual (i.e. self-) interest, as exemplified by the case discussed below. As an individual, you have a few decades of life, and then you and your consciousness are gone into nothingness and oblivion. (Unless we embrace some sort of religious faith, of course, which Rand vehemently rejects.) If the quality of your own short life, which is the only thing you’ll ever experience, can be significantly improved by leaching, what does it matter to you that you’re violating the categorical imperative and making a net negative contribution to the grand scheme of things?

    (Notice also that you’ve now moved almost completely into Kantian territory. Your argument is extremely similar to some passages from “Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals”.)

    Obviously he is quite dependent on the government. He would be unable to build and enjoy his house without their help, not the least of the reasons for which are that he would be unable to afford his insurance and the mortgage payments on his house without the subsidies the government has provided him. He did not build his house by himself, but only because he sanctioned the mismanagement of productive resources at the point of a gun. His prosperity now depends on the government’s continued economic irrationality. If the government takes it away, he has lost quite a lot of money.

    You’re again struggling to paint this concrete example in an unrealistically pessimistic light from the point of view of the leacher. His act was in accordance with the law, and there is no chance that the government will ever require this money back, as far as anyone can ever be sure of anything at all. However you turn it, he *did* profit, and he has absolutely nothing to fear in return. From his own point of view, if he had chosen not to take advantage of this opportunity for leaching, everything would be absolutely the same except that he would be personally poorer. Unless you believe that this deed will be punished in the afterlife, of course.

    You just can’t get out of this. No matter how you characterize this particular deed (and countless other analogous ones), it’s not only consistent with, but in fact *required by* self-interest — unless you distort the definition of “self-interest” to the point where it already includes the principle of upholding the general good, thus making your argument circular and incoherent.

    I note, in any case, that you have switched from saying that Rand gave no answer to the contradiction you pointed out to saying that you are disatisfied with the answer that she gave. Does this mean that you were unaware of what her answer was earlier, or that you were aware of it and hoping that TomC – with whom you were arguing at the time – wasn’t?

    Well, as you see, I still don’t find any validity in the attempts to reconcile the contradiction I pointed out. Also, notice that now I’m arguing with your moderated and, I must say, significantly improved version of Objectivist arguments. I still maintain that anything I’ve ever seen written on this issue from orthodox Randian sources falls under the rubric of evasive sophistry, as I indicated in my earlier comments. And to get back to the issue that started the discussion, the fans of such arguments are certainly in no position to throw stones at Buckley and NR when it comes to how bright independent minds will judge their case for liberty.

  • As an individual, you have a few decades of life, and then you and your consciousness are gone into nothingness and oblivion. (Unless we embrace some sort of religious faith, of course, which Rand vehemently rejects.) If the quality of your own short life, which is the only thing you’ll ever experience, can be significantly improved by leaching, what does it matter to you that you’re violating the categorical imperative and making a net negative contribution to the grand scheme of things?

    If one’s goal in life is simply the accumulation of material comforts, then it doesn’t matter. But that is only one of many potential definitions of the “quality” in “the quality of your own short life.” As has already been pointed out to you by Paul Marks, it is not this definition of “quality” that Rand is operating under. No honest reading of Rand would come away with the impression that her moral maxim was “accumulate as much wealth and material comfort as is humanly possible by whatever means necessary before you die.” So once again, you are arguing against something that is not Rand as written, but Rand as you imagine it. Now, you may well say that Rand has failed at offering a persuasive reason why one should adopt her definition of “quality” over any other, and I suppose you would have a point. My admittedly unsatisfying response is that she has done as well as any other philosopher in this regard. Most (coherent) ethical systems are persuasive as to consequences – the trouble is that what the goal is tends be something close to axiomatic. I agree with what I take to be the spirit of n005′s comment – that Rand is primarily interested in clarifying matters for people who already think to some degree like she does; there are other people whose characters are simply incompatible with her worldview, who cannot be persuaded, and so she doesn’t try. You will say this is a cop-out – but I don’t think so. Rand at least takes a stab at deriving her concept of The Good – which is better than simply calling it “utility” and being done with it, as some other systems are wont to do.

    Notice also that you’ve now moved almost completely into Kantian territory. Your argument is extremely similar to some passages from “Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals”

    Then let me make clear something that I’ve only implied up to now: I think Rand is operating in the Kantian tradition. Her writings about Kant are ignorant – they sometimes strike me as willfully so. No doubt we could come up with some pop psychological explanation for why, but let’s just … not. Rand’s ethics, as I understand it, while not the same as Kant’s, definitely have many points of similarity with his. So I don’t think we “move” into Kantian territory when discussing Rand. We’re already there – at least on the frontiers – however much she herself might have resented the association.

    Also, notice that now I’m arguing with your moderated and, I must say, significantly improved version of Objectivist arguments. I still maintain that anything I’ve ever seen written on this issue from orthodox Randian sources falls under the rubric of evasive sophistry, as I indicated in my earlier comments.

    I am offering the Objectivst arguments as I understand them; I am not aware of having modified the system in any way. However, it’s possible that I may have done inadvertantly, and I think we can agree on why that’s possible. Whatever her more vocal devotees may say, Rand was primarily a novelist; philosophy was an important but still distant second. Her system is not nearly as worked out as Kant’s or Mill’s or even Rawls’. Given the paucity of writings on ethics pur (there is the one collection of essays, only about 2/3 of which is written by Rand), it is possible that those of us who find her writings useful are doing a lot of mental filling in from other sources. I have also read and Kant and found it quite persuasive, so maybe I am projecting. However, I don’t think so. I had a read over “The ‘Conflicts’ of Men’s Interests” (from “The Virtue of Selfishness”) yesterday, and I think what I’ve presented here is a faithful version of that essay.

    With regard to the second bit about the behavior of orthodox Randians – I have to wonder why you are taking their word over what she has written herself. Again, I am not really interested in the behavior of some of her fans. I have agreed with you from the start that there are a lot of obnoxious Randians. My question to you has always been whether you can show me anything in her philosophy that encourages this behavior, and so far you have been unable to do so. There is, I think, something in Rand’s *presentation* that may attract such people – particularly in the dismissiveness and derision Dagny Taggart et al heap on Jim Taggart et al (not, however, the “Wet Nurse” – whom they treat with kindness and patience – an important point often missed). But it would be a shallow reading of Rand to think that she is encouraging this kind of contempt for all of her opponents across the board. It is important to keep in mind that her novels are a fantasy world used to communicate her ideas, and that she exaggerates over the real world to bring those ideas and their consequences into sharp relief. It is not an uncommon literary technique, and it is especially common in “novels of ideas.” It is also not uncommon for weak peolpe to seize onto fantasies as though they were real – taking the delivery to be as important as the moral, as it were. I think it is these people to whom you so object – and I agree that they are offputting. But they are no more so than obsessive Star Trek fans, say, and if you are not the kind of person who lets a TV show’s obnoxious fans keep you from enjoying it, then you should also be able to get past the fanatical Objectivists and be able to take the works on their own merits. These people are not, in my experience, the majority of Rand’s followers, and they are certainly not the subsection of her followers who have the best grasp on her writings. My opinion.

    And to get back to the issue that started the discussion, the fans of such arguments are certainly in no position to throw stones at Buckley and NR when it comes to how bright independent minds will judge their case for liberty.

    That discussion was closed earlier, I think. Now we are discussion your erroneous assertion that Rand was unaware of the contradiction you mentioned and did not deal with it in her writings. We may have been talking past each other on this second point – with me arguing that she had dealt with it, and you arguing that the manner in which had dealt with it was unsatisfying.

    As to the first discussion, Rand and the Objectivists are very much in a position to throw stones about how bright, independent minds will judge their case for liberty, since they, unlike Buckley, make a coherent case for liberty that does not depend on religious faith. I have already conceded (in a comment to Alisa concerning kentuckyliz’s decision not to read Rand) that a lot of Rand’s followers will put people off, but that is not the same issue. Buckley and the other NR writers have never offered a coherent case against Rand. She, by contrast, has offered a coherent case against him. Anyone who judges these cases on their merits – i.e. bright, independent thinkers – will agree that she has the better argument. People who simply compare NR readers they happen to have encountered on the internet with Objectivists they happen to have encountered on the internet may have a more favorable opinion of Buckley than Rand, but this will have more to do with incidental encounters than the content of the arguments in question, and so it is not persuasive to me.

  • Ivan

    Joshua:

    If one’s goal in life is simply the accumulation of material comforts, then it doesn’t matter. But that is only one of many potential definitions of the “quality” in “the quality of your own short life.” As has already been pointed out to you by Paul Marks, it is not this definition of “quality” that Rand is operating under. No honest reading of Rand would come away with the impression that her moral maxim was “accumulate as much wealth and material comfort as is humanly possible by whatever means necessary before you die.” So once again, you are arguing against something that is not Rand as written, but Rand as you imagine it.

    I’m not arguing that this was her moral maxim. I’m arguing that this is (more or less) the only maxim that can be logically derived from the principle of self-interest without postulating other principles that she explicitly abhorred, like duty. Remember that all this time I’ve been describing the problem as the *contradicton* between self-interest and objective ethics. I don’t think you’re fair when you refer to this as my “erroneous assertion that Rand was unaware of the contradiction”. She was certainly aware of it to the same extent that, say, Catholic theologians are aware that their proofs of the existence of God aren’t exactly watertight. In both cases, lots of ink has been spent to obscure the obvious logical problems with the arguments, lest the pleasant conclusions should be disturbed. I think I’ve been clear enough that this is my view of the situation, even if you disagree with it.

    I am offering the Objectivst arguments as I understand them; I am not aware of having modified the system in any way. However, it’s possible that I may have done inadvertantly, and I think we can agree on why that’s possible. Whatever her more vocal devotees may say, Rand was primarily a novelist; philosophy was an important but still distant second. Her system is not nearly as worked out as Kant’s or Mill’s or even Rawls’.

    Try arguing the same points on a forum where actual Objectivists gather, and see the reaction you’ll get. You’re picking the best parts of her arguments and discarding others, to the point where you basically admit that the only way to salvage her approach to ethics is to frame it in more or less the same way as “the most evil man in mankind’s history” did. Furthermore, once you’ve refined her argument into something coherent, I honestly don’t think much remains that she could be credited with. (This is disputable, but even if it’s false, the issue of the contradictions in what she actually presented as her philosophy still remains.)

    As to the first discussion, Rand and the Objectivists are very much in a position to throw stones about how bright, independent minds will judge their case for liberty, since they, unlike Buckley, make a coherent case for liberty that does not depend on religious faith. I have already conceded (in a comment to Alisa concerning kentuckyliz’s decision not to read Rand) that a lot of Rand’s followers will put people off, but that is not the same issue. Buckley and the other NR writers have never offered a coherent case against Rand. She, by contrast, has offered a coherent case against him. Anyone who judges these cases on their merits – i.e. bright, independent thinkers – will agree that she has the better argument.

    You are making several shaky assumptions here.

    First, you assume that Rand’s case for liberty is indeed coherent and convincing, and that independent thinkers won’t find it unattractive due to its internal incoherence and unpersuasiveness, even when it’s totally abstracted away from the public personas of her and her followers. I’ve already explained some reasons why I think this is false.

    Second, you seem to have a prejudice against religous faith and in favor of philosophical systems that claim to be purely reason-based. That’s of course a defensible position, but I don’t think you can just assert it as a self-evident claim with which any reasonable person must agree. Personally, I much prefer when people explicitly spell out which parts of their belief system are faith-based, and which reason-based (like e.g. Catholics do) than when they try to sneak in assumptions taken on faith within a supposedly purely rational argument (like most philosophers do, in my opininon including Rand — and not just for reasons we’ve been discussing in this thread). You can argue, of course, that not many people agree with me on this point, but I think you should admit that my position is defensible and taken by at least some independent thinkers.

    Third, you seem to view the systematic, universalist nature of philosophical systems that claim to be derived from reason, such as Rand’s, as an advantage, as something that serious thinkers should strive for. However, has it occured to you that conservatives never offered a “coherent case” against Rand in the same vein exactly because they shun such systems of thought? If you believe that unlike the Randian caricature of “man”, humans are in fact complex and capricious creatures, that human nature has its nasty dark sides, that any actual human society is far too complex to be reduced to some theoretical framework, and that messing too much with the established tradition and custom can produce unintended disasters, it’s obvious why one could be in principle opposed to systems such as Rand’s. (After all, she proudly called herself a “radical”.) Rand would condemn such an outlook as a bestially evil negation of reason (she sure didn’t spare any venom in her diatribes against conservatives), but it seems to me that it’s a very reasonable position when I observe the real world.

  • Second, you seem to have a prejudice against religous faith and in favor of philosophical systems that claim to be purely reason-based. That’s of course a defensible position, but I don’t think you can just assert it as a self-evident claim with which any reasonable person must agree.

    I think I can for the simple reason that religion cannot be discussed. You either have the revelatory wisdom or you don’t – but there is no way to reasonably convince someone to adopt a religious point of view. Put crudely – religion is a discussion-killer. I think people who share the same faith can have profitable discussions about what the implications of that faith are, mind you – but I don’t think it’s an appropriate basis for political discussions about society at large. Society must make atheist assumptions, even if some of the members do not.

    However, has it occured to you that conservatives never offered a “coherent case” against Rand in the same vein exactly because they shun such systems of thought? If you believe that unlike the Randian caricature of “man”, humans are in fact complex and capricious creatures, that human nature has its nasty dark sides, that any actual human society is far too complex to be reduced to some theoretical framework, and that messing too much with the established tradition and custom can produce unintended disasters, it’s obvious why one could be in principle opposed to systems such as Rand’s.

    They may well hold this view, but that is no reason why they cannot articulate it. You just have, after all, and rather concisely. No, Ivan, this won’t do as an excuse for their mudslinging.

    Remember that all this time I’ve been describing the problem as the *contradicton* between self-interest and objective ethics. I don’t think you’re fair when you refer to this as my “erroneous assertion that Rand was unaware of the contradiction”.

    I apologize if I’ve been unfair. I did allow in my last comment that we’d been talking past each other on that issue.

  • Largo

    Has anyone noticed that while repeated references have been made to the behaviour of purported “hard core” objectivists, the case study given to us by Guest Writer has been ignored? Here is a company of people putting there money where their mouths are, as it were, where Ayn Rand is concerned.

    If looking at the behaviour of Objectivists has any bearing on the evaluation of Rand’s thought, look first to them.

  • Ivan

    Joshua:

    I think I can for the simple reason that religion cannot be discussed. You either have the revelatory wisdom or you don’t – but there is no way to reasonably convince someone to adopt a religious point of view. Put crudely – religion is a discussion-killer. I think people who share the same faith can have profitable discussions about what the implications of that faith are, mind you – but I don’t think it’s an appropriate basis for political discussions about society at large. Society must make atheist assumptions, even if some of the members do not.

    Heh… this leads to the question of what exactly “atheist assumptions” entail. What you have in mind would probably be more precisely described as “irreligious assumptions”, since it’s not just the existence of God that falls under, as you call it, the “revelatory wisdom”. (By the way, to me, even the concept of “society making assumptions” already smacks of metaphysical reification.)

    Trouble is, it’s very hard, and arguably impossible to disentangle these “revelatory” beliefs, i.e. those taken on faith rather than reason, from the rest. In other words, the boundary between religion and ideology is blurred and often drawn arbitrarily — and in fact, it’s indisputable that the modern concept of secularism, as practiced in the contemporary political discourse, provides a convenient Trojan horse for various sorts of blind faith and irrationalism that get a free pass just because they fall outside the commonly accepted definition of “religion”. However, this is an extremely complex and controversial topic in its own right.

    They [conservatives] may well hold this view, but that is no reason why they cannot articulate it. You just have, after all, and rather concisely. No, Ivan, this won’t do as an excuse for their mudslinging.

    I’m surely not the first one to articulate this view (and in fact, I did it in a very incomplete and haphazard manner). Arguments along these lines have always been the staple of conservative responses to Rand’s philosophy. As for the “mudslinging”, well, I guess NR did fire the first shot with the scathing review of AS by Whittaker Chambers all the way back in 1957; still, it’s not like she didn’t respond in kind even more severely.

    I apologize if I’ve been unfair. I did allow in my last comment that we’d been talking past each other on that issue.

    No need to apologize, but I think we’ve been talking past each other mostly when it comes to the points that I explained at greater length in my previous comment.

  • I’m surely not the first one to articulate this view (and in fact, I did it in a very incomplete and haphazard manner). Arguments along these lines have always been the staple of conservative responses to Rand’s philosophy.

    But we are not talking about “conservative responses to Rand’s philosophy” in general, Ivan, we’re talking about NR’s response in particular. NR did not choose to make these arguments, preferring instead to start with childish namecalling unsubstantiated by anything that was actually in Atlas Shrugged, and then declined, for over 40 years, to avail itself of any opportunity to retract and restate. The fact that other conservatives are able to make a coherent case is irrelevant to whether or not Randians have a legitimate gripe against National Review – which they do.

    Trouble is, it’s very hard, and arguably impossible to disentangle these “revelatory” beliefs, i.e. those taken on faith rather than reason, from the rest.

    Not in the case of religion it isn’t. In the case of any appeal to religion, it’s unambiguously faith.

    …and in fact, it’s indisputable that the modern concept of secularism, as practiced in the contemporary political discourse, provides a convenient Trojan horse for various sorts of blind faith and irrationalism that get a free pass just because they fall outside the commonly accepted definition of “religion”.

    Sure – and just as the phrase “Trojan horse” implies, these are assumptions that have to be smuggled in by trickery because they are not acceptible for rational discourse – just as religion is not, and for the same reasons. My point exactly. So it seems we agree that National Review cannot build a solid public case against Rand on a religion-based argument – further, that any reasonable person would agree they cannot.

  • Largo

    Ivan:

    “”"
    Trouble is, it’s very hard, and arguably impossible to disentangle these “revelatory” beliefs, i.e. those taken on faith rather than reason, from the rest.
    “”"

    Tangential to the thread (but apropos of what you just wrote), you might find Roy Clouser’s The Myth of Religious Neutrality(Link) an interesting read.

  • Seems like an interesting read, Largo – though my interest in it will probably be something like the opposite of Ivan’s. The university library has a copy; I’ll check it out.

  • Ivan

    Joshua:

    Sure – and just as the phrase “Trojan horse” implies, these are assumptions that have to be smuggled in by trickery because they are not acceptible for rational discourse – just as religion is not, and for the same reasons. My point exactly. So it seems we agree that National Review cannot build a solid public case against Rand on a religion-based argument – further, that any reasonable person would agree they cannot.

    Trouble is, by that criterion, nobody can make a solid case for anything. Outside of the hard sciences, whatever case you try to argue, you’ll end up smuggling in at least some assumptions that are not susceptible to rational discourse. Ideologies and philosophical systems that plausibly claim to reject faith and employ solely reason and rational discourse are merely those that manage to hide and smuggle their extra-rational assumptions and metaphysical reifications fairly successfully; in other words, they are just better in trickery. It’s an ugly truth, but it’s true nevertheless. (And as I already noted, in the case of Rand’s philosophy, the trickery seems to me quite transparent.)

    Thus, I’m afraid that insisting on pure reason-based arguments will end up promoting ideologies that employ the most successful trickery, not those that reveal the truth or those whose general acceptance will lead to the most free and prosperous society. (This of course applies to philosophy and ideology, not science.) It’s hard to escape this conclusion when I observe which ideas are winning in reality in societies where secularism is held as a fundamental value. And I’m saying all this as a non-religious person myself (I do have deep respect for tradition, though).

    In any case, I think this thread has grown beyond a reasonable size and we’ve both already stated our arguments as clearly as we could, so this will be my last comment. I hope you enjoyed the discussion as much as I did.

  • Trouble is, by that criterion, nobody can make a solid case for anything. Outside of the hard sciences, whatever case you try to argue, you’ll end up smuggling in at least some assumptions that are not susceptible to rational discourse. Ideologies and philosophical systems that plausibly claim to reject faith and employ solely reason and rational discourse are merely those that manage to hide and smuggle their extra-rational assumptions and metaphysical reifications fairly successfully; in other words, they are just better in trickery. It’s an ugly truth, but it’s true nevertheless.

    What rubbish. Because some subset of ideas that claim to be reason-based are just pretending, it follows that they all must be? C’mon, Ivan. You’re confusing “faith” with “assumptions.” “Assumptions” are what make rational discussions and scientific theories possible, yes, but they can be and frequently are contradicted by the facts on the ground, at which point they’re abandoned. Faith, by contrast, has no problem simply ignoring the facts on the ground when they are inconvenient. Some approaches that claim to be “rational” are kidding themselves and are, in fact, faith-based, but only some. ALL religion, however, suffers from this flaw. The difference is crucial, and it is enough to bar religion from (sensible) public discussion a priori while affording those theories that plausibly claim a rational basis the benefit of the doubt.

    It’s hard to escape this conclusion when I observe which ideas are winning in reality in societies where secularism is held as a fundamental value.

    Then I wonder which society you are living in – because mine is only very recently secular, and it’s quite clear that most of the irrationality I see around me is a kind of hangover from the religious days. Religion has been sabotaging thought for so long that it’s really not surprising it should take some time for the species to learn to fully use its reasoning skills. It’s a bit like asking Bulgaria to be a model free market democracy after a history of nothing but tyranny and corruption. They’ll get there, but it takes time.

    In any case, I think this thread has grown beyond a reasonable size and we’ve both already stated our arguments as clearly as we could, so this will be my last comment. I hope you enjoyed the discussion as much as I did.

    I did. Ciao.

  • Paul Marks

    Ivan – you assume that everyone defines the term “self interest” the same way you do. They do not do so.

    Nor is just Ayn Rand who does not agree with you – the vast majority of Classical philosphers (of all schools) do not agree with you either (I use the present tense not because I am arguing they are still alive – but because it is an accepable practice when one is talking about ideas).

    You assume “self interest” means either the prolonging of life (by any means), or physical luxury.

    They did not.

    Their view of what a “man” is and what honouring the self as a rational being is, be quite different to your view.