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Ayn Rand
February 2, 2005 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Ayn Rand was born 100 years ago today. The essentials of her philosophy "Objectivism," as summarized by Dr. Leonard Peikoff, and a critical biography of her life and activities.
posted by semmi (168 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the summary offered above: Thus Objectivism rejects any form of altruism - the claim that morality consists in living for others or for society.

About all one needs to know.

Objectivism isn't a philosophy, it's a shallow rationalization for unmitigated self interest. A means for the simple minded to transform avarice into virtue.
posted by aladfar at 7:13 PM on February 2, 2005


Marginal Revolution, Reason, and EconLog weigh in.
posted by trharlan at 7:16 PM on February 2, 2005


The one who, instead of writing proper academic work defending her philosophies, wrote fun stories instead.

I'd call that the L. Ron Hubbard approach, but he likely was copying her.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:19 PM on February 2, 2005


Objectivism is also a toy for the intellectual adolescents who have become infatuated with superficial rationality. They use the word "reason" like Mr. Spock used the word "logical". That is, fatuously but oh-so earnestly.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:24 PM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


Objectivism is even worse than unmitigated self interest. It also involves a profoundly myopic perspective on the collective effort behind all of mankind's greatest achievements. Read her books, if you can stomach the 15 paragraph sermons wrapped around every 2 lines of plot, and you will see the warped view of person who thinks things like science, industry and architecture are the products of independent individuals.

It's a lot like current anti-tax crusaders who forget the road they drove on, the hospital they were born in, the school they learned in and the army that defends them were all paid for by taxes.

Ayn Rand's deification of the individual always struck me as masturbatory.

"You people are holding me back!"


I'd call that the L. Ron Hubbard approach

I really dislike ayn rand's views but to put her in the same category as someone who could write Battlefield Earth is really unfair.
posted by srboisvert at 7:25 PM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


She was a profoundly bad novelist whose lack of ability was only dwarfed by her tremendous cruelty; her life's work was to deify selfishness, and give a ready-made excuse to those who would trample on every aspect of the social contract in pursuit of their own personal gain. Good riddance.
posted by luriete at 7:32 PM on February 2, 2005


Oops, nevermind, Hubbard's Dianetics preceded Objectivism by 11 years.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:32 PM on February 2, 2005


Libertarianism...without the charity!
posted by uosuaq at 7:34 PM on February 2, 2005


I think everybody should encounter Rand's stuff when they're a teenager and the whole thing meshes well with what you're already feeling at the time.
Like so many other things in life, only by experiencing it can you learn how and why it is wrong.
posted by nightchrome at 7:36 PM on February 2, 2005


Ayn Rand was known for having NO sense of humor at all, a real deadly-serious-all-the-time personality. This alone is more than enough for me to never throw in my lot with her or her kind.

(Full disclosure: in high school, I owned every Rush album through Signals. What can I say, Neil Peart is fucking awesome).
posted by Scoo at 7:39 PM on February 2, 2005


uosuaq
Everyone seems to lump libertarians together with Randians, despite the massive differences in focus and philosophy. Heck, I've even been accused of being a Rand follower here on mefi simply for espousing unpopular beliefs about freedom which had nothing to do with objectivism or selfishness or what-have-you.
Also, neat nick benson, unless I am reading more into it than I ought.
posted by nightchrome at 7:45 PM on February 2, 2005


Peart admires Rand but I hear a lot of humanism (Closer to the Heart") in his lyrics that is completely absent from Rand.

Rand is appealing because, to a degree, she's right. In some contexts (like ruthlessly comformist high-school), she's a welcome and bracing tonic. The problem with her, really is that she was batshit crazy.

I didn't think that The Fountainhead (the only Rand book I've read) was "profoundly bad", and I say that as someone with a great deal of well-regarded literature under my belt so it's not that I have no taste or critical faculties. But she's not that great, either. She's overbearing. She's like the Oliver Stone of novelists.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:46 PM on February 2, 2005


Hmph. I was mentally composing a rant as I opened this thread, but I see that my work here is done, at least WRT Rand's dogmatism, shallow conception of human reason, and understandable appeal to awakening young minds. However, I'll offer a couple of additional - and possibly tangential - comments:

1. Even if one accepts Rand's conception of the individual as naturally and inherently self-interested (and I've never read an intellectually compelling defense of pure altruism), her conception of human excellence is dishearteningly base. I'm a firm supporter of capitalism, but if the market is truly the highest platform upon which human virtues can be displayed, then we have become a society of 'last men' indeed. After all, our word 'economics' is derived from the Greek oikonomike, which originally applied to the rather prosaic and poorly-regarded sphere of 'household management'. Classical proponents of so-called 'virtue ethics' (e.g. Aristotle) may not have asserted that man's highest purpose was to live for his fellow man, but they acknowledged that man had to live in a community with other human beings in order to be fulfilled and in order to exercise all his virtues in the proper, harmonious way.

2. Even as someone who studies philosophy, I would not dismissively deny, as Space Coyote seems to do, that profound philosophic insight can be communicated through poetry or fiction just as readily as through dry, analytic academic prose. (But nor would I affirm, as others have, that Hubbard successfully does this...)
posted by Urban Hermit at 7:51 PM on February 2, 2005


On the Hubbard tangent, a few days ago I received some junkmail flyers in my mailbox about Dianetics and Scientology....in Japanese. They're spreading....
posted by nightchrome at 7:54 PM on February 2, 2005


I just finished up the romantic manifesto, actually. i found a lot of it prejudicial and simple-minded BUT she also made some really good points. her approach to art was good on theory, awful on execution. i think there's probably a lot to learn from rand, but her ideal of rationality didn't mesh well with her close-mindedness...

i can't find the exact quote (damn you, printed word, with your lack of "find" option) but it went something like "We have handed art over to [those] whose only credentials are their ability to be unintelligible."

i think that's true on a lot of levels.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:01 PM on February 2, 2005


I've read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged a great deal as book and thought the basic ideas weren't all that crazy.

I'd almost be tempted to say the current conversation/situation here and here seem to be a good example of Rand's simplified position in Atlas Shrugged. One person can make the goods, does make the goods, and makes them well. Many who can't make the goods, don't have the means to make the goods, aren't interested in making the goods (because, well why should they) but yet demand that the one man make the goods to suit them—whether he is interested in doing so or not.

Can someone who isn't going to instantly bash Rand rationally argue against her ideas? I've only read her books as literature, not as doctrine, what am I missing?
posted by nramsey at 8:02 PM on February 2, 2005


Read her books, if you can stomach the 15 paragraph sermons wrapped around every 2 lines of plot, and you will see the warped view of person who thinks things like science, industry and architecture are the products of independent individuals.

I have read Atlas Shrugged and Anthem, and I'm not a big apologist for Rand, whose philosophies are in many ways reductive. But the above is not accurate. She did not think that science, industry, and architecture are the products of 'independent individuals'...if by 'independent individual,' we mean an individual working in a vacuum. Rather, she preached that the greatest acheivements in science, architecture, and industry were also the achievements of specific people. The point is not that these individuals accomplished what they did alone on an island, it's that they accomplished what they did because of their own intelligence, hard work, and unwillingness to compromise. The fact that an architect needs people to actually build the house is not some profound contradiction; the idea was that some people are not talented or ambitious enough to do something more interesting, so they do the tedious stuff. But even Howard Roark of The Fountainhead (I saw the movie) takes work chopping rocks in a quarry when he's out of favor as an architect; compromising his designs for money is not an option.
posted by bingo at 8:04 PM on February 2, 2005


I've read all of Rand's novels. They aren't that bad, although there's definitely a downward spiral of quality if you read them in the order she wrote them. I can't help liking We the Living, and through it I have gotten a sense of just why Ayn Rand went so off the rails. Her environment wasn't solely responsible for what she became, of course, but Communist Russia really could have that effect on someone - she became a reactionary.

I can't help but wonder what she would have been like had she grown up in say, Newmarket, Ontario, in the eighties:-)

As someone else has said, she had no sense of humour, and this is a serious drawback in a person. A sense of humour is really a sense of balance and proportion. You see something's out of whack and you laugh at it. She was incapable of doing that, and so never understood her own excesses and shortcomings.
posted by orange swan at 8:06 PM on February 2, 2005


This makes me miss Forum 2000.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:10 PM on February 2, 2005


Robert Fullford on The Rand Cult.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:18 PM on February 2, 2005


My god. The randroids are at it again.

As someone here once said, "I used to know some Objectivists. Then they turned 17."

Repeat after me: Objectivism is not a philosophy. It is shallow, pseudo-intellectual, incoherent dogma masquerading as something deep and meaningful. They don't reach their conclusions by rational thought; they simply declare certain things to be true by fiat and then go on to conjecture ridiculous assumptions about how humans should act and think.
posted by aerify at 8:42 PM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


Ayn Rand, enabler of assholes.
posted by fleacircus at 8:43 PM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


Philosophers have been talking about "objectivism" for much longer than Rand has been around. We call it "egoism" and I daresay our investigations of its implications are more careful and understandable.

Not that I'm an egoist, but in its defense it does have a rather simple answer to "why be moral" -- it's rational!
posted by ontic at 8:58 PM on February 2, 2005


"Thinking is a delicate, difficult process, which man cannot perform unless knowledge is his goal, logic is his method, and the judgment of his mind is his guiding absolute. Thought requires selfishness, the fundamental selfishness of a rational faculty that places nothing above the integrity of its own function.

A man cannot think if he places something—anything—above his perception of reality. He cannot follow the evidence unswervingly or uphold his conclusions intransigently, while regarding compliance with other men as his moral imperative, self-abasement as his highest virtue, and sacrifice as his primary duty. He cannot use his brain while surrendering his sovereignty over it, i.e., while accepting his neighbors as its owner and term-setter."
posted by semmi at 9:00 PM on February 2, 2005


...the idea was that some people are not talented or ambitious enough to do something more interesting, so they do the tedious stuff.

Never read any of her stuff but thanks for the synopsis. That sounds very similar to what Price Charles recently said* - which got him into quite a bit of trouble.

*Except in reverse.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:02 PM on February 2, 2005


The one who, instead of writing proper academic work defending her philosophies, wrote fun stories instead.

I don't like Rand at all, but I take issue (issues, rather) with this. First of all, she published a substantial number of "academic", non-fiction philosophy, as a quick glance in her bibliography would've a told you: "For the New Intellectual: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand", "The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism"," Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal", "The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution", "The Romantic Manifesto: A Philosophy of Literature", "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology", "Philosophy: Who Needs It", and "The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought".

Second, the number of philosophers who found fiction to be a suitable carrier for their philosophy is large, among them Sartre ("Nausea" and others), Camus ("The fall" and others), and Voltaire ("Candide" and others). The number of philosophers who found literature to have a very privileged access to insight is even larger, from Nietzsche to Derrida.
posted by ori at 9:03 PM on February 2, 2005


The problem with Rand isn't that she rejects altruism, it's that according to Objectivism altruism is inherently destructive and MUST be rejected out of hand, regardless of circumstance. Any sacrifice on the part of the helper that doesn't in some way provide a profit or non-monetary gain isn't just unnecessary, it's what a christian would call "evil," by her standards.

To her mind, you don't just avoid it for your own sake. You crusade against it for the good of mankind. You know, so long as you profit by that crusade, of course.

Space Coyote:

FUN STORIES?! There are people who adore her work and aren't objectivists, but that's the first time I've ever heard them referred to as fun.

(I've read The Fountainhead, by the way.)

Bingo said:
Rather, she preached that the greatest acheivements in science, architecture, and industry were also the achievements of specific people. The point is not that these individuals accomplished what they did alone on an island, it's that they accomplished what they did because of their own intelligence, hard work, and unwillingness to compromise. The fact that an architect needs people to actually build the house is not some profound contradiction; the idea was that some people are not talented or ambitious enough to do something more interesting, so they do the tedious stuff.

I think this misses the point of the anti-Rand argument, and is a pretty idea in Rand's world, but not the real one. For one: The argument isn't that "Rand thinks progress happens through one person in a vacuum and that's silly." The argument is that anyone who thinks they are the single dynamo of their brilliance brought to fruition has forgotten a lot of behind the scenes motivators act directly or indirectly to create a situation where it's possible for individuals to achieve their ideas. Howard Roark's past, if I remember correctly, is not discussed extensively in the novel. If it had, you'd find that not just any childhood results in someone going to school for architecture. If he'd been black, it wouldn't have happened. Not at that time period. No amount of determination, non-compromise and objectivism would have passed that barrier for him. But altruism from the Lincolns of the world has created a job market where a young impoverished black man or woman CAN (despite the failings this country obviously still endures) get an education to be an architect, for instance. Rand assumes that people like the billionaire industrialist in Fountainhead (whose name escapes me) will always be there to lend a hand (in the name of their own self-interest) because supporting genius profits one's self. This is absurd, and greatly over values the rarity of brilliant individuals in society.
posted by shmegegge at 9:05 PM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


.
posted by Hildago at 9:08 PM on February 2, 2005


I recently saw the Incredibles, and was struck by its theme: That punishing the talented is not only morally wrong, but outright dangerous. The idea didn't sit right with me, and further reading into the Rand connection hasn't made me any more comfortable. Still, this is the first time an animated film has got me thinking about social philosophy.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:09 PM on February 2, 2005


I have to add, re "fun stories": these devaluations of artistic work as too "soft" to be of any value to philosophy cause me so much dismay. This is Plato's legacy. Book 10 of the republic still reverberates throughout the ages, collecting contemporary echoes along the way. It is really an utterly worthless prejudice.
posted by ori at 9:10 PM on February 2, 2005


"Today would have been Ayn Rand's 100th birthday. In celebration, I'm going to bake a cake and then not share it with anybody." - Incoming Signals

This quote of the day sums it all up for me.
posted by edgeways at 9:10 PM on February 2, 2005


Popular Ethics
So you're in favor of punishing the talented, then?
posted by nightchrome at 9:12 PM on February 2, 2005


I should say hindering the talented, though it sounds like Randites figure it amounts to the same thing.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:16 PM on February 2, 2005


I read and stumbled through the Fountainhead when I was 14 or 15, and got the whole Objectivism thing screwed up.
My understanding of Objectivism at the time was to see selfishness in a different context, ai if I don't share when I can afford to, I am actually being selfless, because I am not thinking about myself long term. It would be selfish to share what I have because when I needed help I would probably get it. But how to avoid being the sucker nice guy(who is actually a selfless twit)?...by being selfish and discriminating in who I help...don't help assholes, help tit for tats and even sucker nice guy.
I was even able to reconcile charitable giving in that making strangers better all will have a net positive effect in myself and in general, hence it;s selfish!
I used to cite Mother Teresa as being selfish, because her strong belief in the afterlife, you know she knew was going to heaven, and of course, the adulation of the crowds was pretty good too.
Sorry for rambling, but I still think it's a pretty good way to view life in general.
posted by MrMulan at 9:17 PM on February 2, 2005


Popular Ethics
So you're in favor of hindering the talented?
posted by nightchrome at 9:18 PM on February 2, 2005


14 year olds of the world unite! The car keys shall be yours by sheer force of will! Objectivism requires it!
posted by chundo at 9:23 PM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


Terry Goodkind has a whole series of fantasy epic novels that deify Objectivism. The main character is fighting a revolution against an Imperial Order of people who have been brainwashed to be altruistic. The Queen Prophet-ish figure is named Ann.
posted by Embryo at 9:24 PM on February 2, 2005


I read "The Fountainhead" a long time ago.
*warning: spoiler ahead*



The only thing I remember about the story is that an asshole architect rapes an asshole blonde. The force of his passion teaches her who she really is and what the world is really like and of course it makes her fall in love with the him. This piece of shit is considered literature? Please tell me I'm misremembering something about the book....otherwise, I'm convinced that any defense of that book is a vote for rape.

I'm with edgeways on the quote, too.
posted by equipoise at 9:27 PM on February 2, 2005


nightchrome: So you're in favor of hindering the talented?

Not per se, but the argument that any societal hindrance on one's talents is unsettling.

A much more productive (and friendly) worldview is that we live, and benefit from society, and we have have duties to give back.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:30 PM on February 2, 2005


I am, for one. The talented must learn to suffer until they weep, until they can no longer feed themselves, until they are driven to lunacy and marginalized and forgotten.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 9:32 PM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


Popular Ethics
Just from my personal experience, I'd say that a total lack of societal hindrance would be detrimental to truly talented people. People getting in our way is precisely what motivates most of us to find newer, better ways of doing the things we want to do.
Not that I think I'm particularly talented in any way, I just don't think experiences differ too greatly in that regard.
posted by nightchrome at 9:33 PM on February 2, 2005


Just from my personal experience, I'd say that a total lack of societal hindrance would be detrimental to truly talented people

Now that's interesting, and certainly closer to my beliefs than the view I got from the Incredibles (and subsequent Rand research). Is this an angle to Objectivism I'm missing?
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:39 PM on February 2, 2005


From the biography link:

She made a strong recovery from surgery for lung cancer in 1974, but she no longer had the stamina or the focus to devote herself to any large writing project.


Did Ayn Rand smoke cigarettes? Somehow that strikes me as extremely funny if she did. Funnier in some ways than her comedy novels "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged". Reading Rand is all a matter of perspective.

posted by telstar at 9:40 PM on February 2, 2005


The argument is that anyone who thinks they are the single dynamo of their brilliance brought to fruition has forgotten a lot of behind the scenes motivators act directly or indirectly to create a situation where it's possible for individuals to achieve their ideas.

It isn't that they've forgotten, it's that they don't care, and that they believe the real credit belongs the individuals anyway.
posted by bingo at 9:42 PM on February 2, 2005


Popular Ethics
I have no idea, I'm not an Objectivist.
My interpretation of The Incredibles was more that they were criticizing the holding back of talented people because of their talent. Not necessarily saying they should be unhindered by anything...just not punished for being talented.
posted by nightchrome at 9:49 PM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


Awesome. MeFites band together against Rand. Next topic: We hate Hitler!
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 9:52 PM on February 2, 2005


Even a $5 cover is enough to keep teenagers out.
posted by nightchrome at 9:55 PM on February 2, 2005


The Incredibles is NOT an objectivist movie. Part of what tears Bob up about the supers being banned is his desire to use his talents to serve his fellow man. This is in evidence at his soul crushing job at Insuricare, where he does his best to help virtually every claimant who comes to his desk, much to his manager Mr. Huph's displeasure. It's also Huph who prevents Bob from stopping a mugger while gleefully declaring his hope that the victim "doesn't have a policy with us", infuriating Bob. His trophy room displays many rescues along side the conquests. Mr. Incredible is as altruistic as they come, even if he is a bit of a glory hound.
posted by Scoo at 10:16 PM on February 2, 2005


I need to get something straight about Objectivism. There was a post earlier about how of course according to Objectivism, using taxes to pay for for instance Tsunami relief is forcing collective altruism on us. Considering the victims were not impoverished through any fault of their own, is it still mandatory not to help them? I've kind of heard it both ways.
posted by abcde at 10:36 PM on February 2, 2005


What bothered me in the Incredibles was the suggestion that if you attempt to change the situation you were born into and to be more than you are, you will turn into an evil maniacal villain with bad hair. I'm fairly certain that's not what they intended, but it was lazy story-telling to not come up with a better reason on why the evil guy was evil (and not just because he was voiced by the villain tour de fource, Jason Lee).

So, Incredibles really is an anti-Objectivist movie - the villain could have easily been an Objectivist. But it could be interpreted as a good old fashioned conservative movie.
(The rich man in his castle/The poor man at his gate/He made them high or lowly/And ordered their estate.)

I liked A Knight's Tale better. The world needs more uppity peasants.
posted by jb at 10:44 PM on February 2, 2005


Well, I liked her books regardless of her wanna-be philosophy behind them. Maybe it was the timing with my teen angst or early and immature disenfranchisement but I liked them and actually really enjoyed The Fountainhead.

It would be interesting to reread it now and see what how my perception of it has changed.
posted by fenriq at 10:56 PM on February 2, 2005


Anybody here ever read Matt Ruff's "Sewer, Gas, and Electric?" One of the main characters is forced to carry around a talking Ayn Rand lamp. A genius plot device if I've ever read one.
posted by afroblanca at 11:07 PM on February 2, 2005


1. There is a difference between Objectivists and Randroids. Randroids have no sense of humor; we Objectivists have plenty of it.
2. To wit: Objectivist humor.
3. Since first reading "The Fountainhead" in 1982, I have not yet encountered a single rational argument against any of the principal tenets of Objectivism.
posted by davidmsc at 11:11 PM on February 2, 2005


My goodness, people, have you ever even read her work? I love it when people denounce her as "simple-minded" or unphilosophical without elaboration. Call her what you will, but there's an enormous amount of thought put into her work. You may not agree with it—your prerogative—but "simple-minded" is ludicrous.

I also enjoy the people who casually dismiss her philosophy as only adequate for youngsters. "Oh, wait till you grow up, sonny, then you'll understand." Have you noticed that most of the Objectivist intellectuals out there are not young? I'm sure that you would just casually dismiss them as stunted in their development, but it just shows how intellectually snobby you are. I am 30 years old and have been an Objectivist since I was 14. Time has emboldened my Objectivism, whose implications I understand far better than I could have appreciated at such a tender age.

And that is why so many people reject Objectivism after a brief flirtation with it in early adulthood. It's very difficult to grasp the reality of Objectivism at that age and so it's held as a floating abstraction, unconnected with experience and bordering on assertion. If you work to integrate it into your life and really understand what facts of reality give rise to it, then time will solidify your Objectivism.

… according to Objectivism, using taxes to pay for for instance Tsunami relief is forcing collective altruism on us. Considering the victims were not impoverished through any fault of their own, is it still mandatory not to help them? I've kind of heard it both ways.

Taxation is akin to extortion: Rand's point is that ultimately the full force of the government can be brought to bear on you if you refuse to pay taxes. So she would argue that it's wrong for the government to steal money from us. Taking that money and sending it to foreign lands is really beside the point (and that's why the Ayn Rand Institute issued a retraction) since the ultimate disposition of your money has been taken out of your hands.

Her larger ethical point is that you are not obligated to aid in the tsunami relief effort. The fact that others have experienced such horrific devastation does not impose on you a duty to give them any of your money. Altruism, plain and simple, says otherwise. Objectivism does not preclude the act of generosity; in fact, it's generally benevolent attitude and the economic powerhouse that is capitalism tend to encourage it. What it strictly repudiates is the act of giving aid that you can't afford—i.e., a sacrifice. That is regarded as a grievous sin. If you can afford it and the recipient is worthy, then give to your heart's content.

This attitude is commonly called "altruistic" but altruism as a philosphical premise is much more rigourous. It suggests that others are the basis of morality and that your actions should benefit them. Actions benefitting you are bad unless they allow you to live longer so as to benefit others, in which case they're neutral.

I guess what I would encourage anyone reading this to do would be to read Ayn Rand's works for yourself. Don't let others pressure you into thinking that she's unphilosophical or unsophisticated. They probably haven't read it and if they've read anything by her, they've read her fiction. Well, she wrote thousands of pages of philosophy—we're talking metaphysics, epistemology, and ontology folks. Her ethical principles are quite sophisticated once you get beyond the gross smear of do-whatcha-like-others-be-damned.
posted by bbrown at 11:15 PM on February 2, 2005


Also, she was a very humorous person. Her humor was dry, acerbic, and subtle. She did not, however, believe that humor should denigrate the good and she scorned self-deprecation. And when it came to ideas, she was all business.
posted by bbrown at 11:18 PM on February 2, 2005


Sewer, Gas, and Electric is pure fun. Where else will polyamorous eco-pirates in a converted submarine link up with the people who clean the gators and such out of the sewers?

For a more recent sort of Randian book, insofar as it consists in large part of lectures to the reader, one might try L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach. Complete with literal* teary-eyed speeches about the good things it means when you pack heat in someone else's house, it's fun in a Plan 9 sort of way.

*literal literal, not figurative literal.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:19 PM on February 2, 2005


What get's me is when Objectivists get all snarky about people who have "only" read The Fountainhead and therefore have absolutely no knowledge of what Objectivism is.

Honestly, if you can't completely and adequately describe your philosophy in 700+ pages, you should probably consider rethinking things a bit.

As a related aside, the wikipedia article on Objectivism is a complete wreck because even the objectivists can't find a concise way to summaraize the philosophy in two or so paragraphs for an overview.
posted by reflection at 11:21 PM on February 2, 2005


Did Any Rand smoke cigarettes? She not only smoked, she chided Murray Rothbard, an economist once in her inner circle, for not smoking. Cigarettes are industrial products and are hence products of man's intelligence. Her books, especially Atlas Shrugged, have references to "fire-tipped sticks" and the like. Dagney and Hank Rearden smoked, of course.

It has been noted that cigarettes are anti-life, another Rand no-no, so like the Bible, it's open to interpretation. By the way, Rand also said that we should all kneel down in respect when we see smokestacks (another great product of man's *cough* ingenuity).

The "then I turned 17" comment refers to me as well. It's a phase that many go through, but most (thank goodness) move on from. Jerome Tuccille, an anarchist who once ran for mayor of New York, wrote a book called It Usually Begins With Any Rand. In it he illustrates how even an anarcho-capitalist needs to move away from Rand to keep from going nuts.

No, an objectivist over the age of 25 is a sad, sad thing.
posted by QuietDesperation at 11:22 PM on February 2, 2005


(Jimbo Wales, founder of Wikipedia, is an Objectivist btw)
posted by reflection at 11:23 PM on February 2, 2005


And by QuietDesperation's standard, a very sad person.
posted by bbrown at 11:25 PM on February 2, 2005


Making sweeping generalizations based on superficial information regarding groups we have little to no interaction with is what our society is all about.
posted by nightchrome at 11:33 PM on February 2, 2005


Since first reading "The Fountainhead" in 1982, I have not yet encountered a single rational argument against any of the principal tenets of Objectivism

Well, the tenets argue against each other.

Reality is an objective absolute, fine. But then that means that a man is what a man is, not what Rand might abstract away from it, or what Rand might have wished a man is. Being human means being profoundly constrained by your actual, real, objective body and neurology, which seems to include -- if you want to be reality-based instead of faith-based -- a rather profound drive towards communal life and gregarious hierarchy, in addition to a host of cognitive limitations. One of the ways this will take shape is that actual -- objective reality -- laissez faire capitalism bears little resemblance to the idealized --faith-based-- version you get from Rand, in part because of people's eagerness to dominate others in hierarchical arrangements.

Reality is an objective absolute, fine. But then unless you're willing to posit fundamental particles that carry a force of morality, you'll never get there. The first place this goes is that self-interest can't really be moral; nothing can, in an objective sense of truly right, because rightness and wrongness aren't real; they're no part of the physical universe but are instead stories we tell ourselves.

All you'll get is utilitarianism, and that's all that objectivism has seemed to me: an empirical argument that a particular set of arrangements will maximize, or at least conduce to, welfare. To get around the usual problems of utilitarianism -- what if some group of people were objectively better off as slaves because of their inferior capacities; what if others with superior capacities wished to enslave or constrain us for our real benefit, etc -- she has to resort to post-hoc claptrap about, no, it's not welfare or survival that matters, it's welfare or survival of "man qua man," which is just a cheap way to privilege her (empirically unsupported) definition of man, a way of keeping her faith-based, subjective man going along instead of the objective facts of what man is. IIRC, she ends up basing this definition that highly privileges rationality over anything else on the usual nonsense that humans must use their intellect because we couldn't survive otherwise, but this ignores the fact -- the objective fact, the reality -- that australopithecines, creatures who were smaller, dumber, and weaker than us survived quite happily for longer than the human race has been around so far. More generally, it falls prey to the (objective) fact that a counterfactual human no smarter than a chimp would still be an effective large ape.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:48 PM on February 2, 2005 [1 favorite]


oh, hell, please ignore me or delete that. i'm just up with a touch of insomnia and cranky.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:04 AM on February 3, 2005


All you'll get is utilitarianism...

Sorry, Ayn Rand isn't JSM. You're doing real utilitarianism a great disservice by comparing it to Rand's crap.

Objectivism is sophomoric because, well, it's sophomoric. Nothing she said is new, nothing she said she said with remotely as much care and thought and erudition as the bazillions who came before her, nothing she said (including the "tenets") has been and continues to be incontrovertible. The only people who call Objectivism real philosophy are the people who are almost wholly ignorant of the whole freakin' 2400 years of Western philosophy that came before Rand.

Kant in three sentences, could and did, undermine everything Rand has ever said. Fucking Meno was more on-the-ball than Rand was. Objectivism is to philosophy what creationism is to empiricism. It pretends to be something it's not, often in profound ignorance, and because of ulterior motives. I love reason, rational inquiry, empiricism, thought. That's why I've read Plato and Hume and so many others.

Objectivism is the cargo cult of philosophy. Bang the drums, invoke Reason, Good Things Will Follow.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:14 AM on February 3, 2005 [9 favorites]


bbrown: I meant whether donating personally was intrinsically bad, incidentally. The argument against using taxes for it is pretty clear.

So, is giving to an acquaintence who's direly in need, even if you're making a sub-living wage yourself and not really getting by, wrong in Objectivism? His situation is worse than yours, hence, you're not putting him ahead of yourself in terms of value (that would only be if you were in an equal or worse situation than him).
posted by abcde at 12:39 AM on February 3, 2005


I think there is a certain value in writing down any idea, regardless of how idiotic it might be, in any field of intellectual endeavor. Whether philosophy, literature, science, sociology, or whatever, there are many useful benefits to having it all there in front of you. At worst, we tend to repeat ourselves a tad less. We are generally just trashing the adolescent (whatever age) Randian Objectivists here, not a hundred little distinct "reinventions" of the idea... At best, the whole tedious process sparks the beginning of an ember of an inspiration that leads to real work, novelty, and useful, insightful discovery. As an aside, the latter is my hope for literary theory.

For those that have wondered, Libertarianism is clumped with Objectivism for the same reason Libertarianism is clumped with Conservatism. They share many of the same facile preconceptions, but each with vary degrees of additional grown-up nuance. And that goes O to L to C, in terms of increasing grown-up-ness, in case it wasn't clear. Not that the latter are devoid of their own faults, of course, but just regarding that most idiotic of political-philosophical notions: the individual is more important than the society.

Now we could take a variety of paths on that last statement: sociological, anthropological, psychological, biological, neurological, and probably a few more -logical's I'm forgetting. But I think if we ponder it a bit, we can probably all agree that society is at least as important as the individual.

If we ignore the messy, though unfortunately necessary, practical nuances of politics, we can make a nice little one-dimensional gradation along this line of thinking:

Screw society, individuals rule -> Objectivism
I think society is cheating the individual -> Conservatism
I think the individual owes something to society -> Liberalism
Screw individuals, society rules -> Communism

Now politics is a N-dimensional space, and some large M dimensions of that (ie. where M/N ~ 1) is utter insanity, but the point is still valid, I think. And the nice thing is that we are all basically liberals and conservatives (minus the scary tails at the ends of this particular normal-ish distribution). And conservatives and liberals more or less agree, except that they take differing points of view on the whole "benefit of the doubt" issue.

So it's all very, very disappointing when poli-phil discussions degrade to "so you want to hinder the talented"...

No! We want to enable the talented! We all do! We just don't agree on the best way to do that. We all want a way out of this morass. Strawmen help nothing. Fanciful ideological masturbation helps nothing. Utopia is likely an infinite limit, but let's at least head that direction. We're going to have to actually discuss the policy details of this, and not cloak ourselves in magical, nonsensical absolutes.
posted by swash at 1:12 AM on February 3, 2005


Randians have always struck me as cynics with outlooks that are subtly defeatist with a hint of underlying insecurity So I always figured their following of Rand was simply a symptom of their inability to cope with aspects of the world. For instance the variability of life.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:47 AM on February 3, 2005


Who is this 'Ayn Rand' person?

(yes, I know who she is. Point is, outside the US, no-one reads her. Though I did see half a copy of 'The Fountainhead' in a public toilet in London once.)
posted by riviera at 1:48 AM on February 3, 2005


(A bit off topic but, when did liberal get defined?)
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:52 AM on February 3, 2005


Ahh. I wonder where the other half of the Fountainhead went -- that one sitting in the public toilet. I hear the third printing of the second edition has cottony soft paper...
posted by theatrical matriarch at 1:54 AM on February 3, 2005


Hell, 12-2, it's right there:
posted by swash at 1:12 AM PST on February 3

Liberal means good and what I think. Okay? More questions?
Why do you hate liberals, freedom, liberty, America, Middle Americans, Boundary Americans, and Iraqis and Afganis?!?
posted by swash at 2:00 AM on February 3, 2005


I have not yet encountered a single rational argument against any of the principal tenets of Objectivism.

It's all about the delivery mechanism. Messy, piss-poor misreadings of Enlightenment moral philosophy tend to invite withering laughter from those who care about such things, rather than complex rebuttals. There's not enough time in the world to both read Rand and write against her, when you could be talking about Adam Smith's 'Theory of Moral Sentiments' and 'Wealth of Nations', both of which have more intelligence in their commas than Rand puts into a volume.
posted by riviera at 2:05 AM on February 3, 2005


swash:

Dang man. Jumping on me quick. I'm just saying it seems to be a rather thin definition for something that from what I've found is a group that is hard to classify and in result, define.

Ease off.
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:07 AM on February 3, 2005


Ahh, so cute. That was in fun 12-2... I meant no harm.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, to me, being a liberal is about taking care of things in way that respects the past, present, and future: our inheritance, our needs and needy, and our legacy.

You have another definition of liberal? I'm not being sarcastic or antagonistic -- I'd like to hear it. We're a diverse but good people, in my experience.
posted by swash at 2:17 AM on February 3, 2005


Swash:
I'm not harmed by it, just that it read rather antagonistic. I figured I struck some weird nerve and you happened to be a psycho.

I've just found liberal hard to be defined at this time due to the numerous and conflicting applications of the word.

Now by that definition you've given, "liberal" is something that could easily define anyone that believes that through politics people can bring about societal progress and stability. I'm rather unsure that there is much of an opposing opinion to that. So inevitably I find the term defined in this way to be far too broad and fuzzy to be very useful in discussion. For instance what "needs" are stands left undefined, as does "needy", "respects" and, "legacy." So in the end it just covers far too much ground. Almost every extreme from anarchy to totalitarianism could fill in those rather blank words and be classified under your definition as liberal.

And I'm not trying to be antagonistic, I just really want a good definition of liberal so I can apply the term onto myself again. Until then I'm just some self-depreciating politically active hipster.

But really, I'm quite tired so I'll sleep.

(Now things can get back on topic.)
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:54 AM on February 3, 2005


With a great deal of immodesty, I adopt the label of liberal that you want reclaimed.

What is our inheritance? The thousand named and million unnamed that demanded and fought for the rights we have. Our birthright is as old as civilization. It sprung roots in the Renaissance. It grew through decades and centuries. It toppled kingdoms a millennium in age. It stumbled and it brought horrors, too, but it grew and it learned.

The pinnacle of Western philosophy, liberalism itself, was once our accomplishment. Now it fears us, and our crowning achievement flees to foreign shores. We do not hold dominion over this idea, but I do not think we have reached the limit of our potential -- unfortunate circumstances have restrained us.

Our needs are the same that they have always been: liberty, freedom, happiness -- our needy are those who do not, not through a lack of desire or want or ambition, but those who lack this because we have not given them the opportunity to find it.

Our legacy is just as simple. I want for myself, but I do not want to deprive, certainly not doom, those that follow me. I am just as much a part of them as those who proceeded me. What else do we have?
posted by swash at 3:36 AM on February 3, 2005


Ayn Rand's novels are the bestest Harlequin Romances ever written!

Plus, the "philosophy" seems to be an intregral part of a maturing intellectual perspective on the world. I read them around the same age that I read The Communist Manifest and found them to be an excellent counterbalance for my 20 year old mind...

This learning strategy is sort of along the lines of that old quote: "If you're not a liberal in your 20's, you've got no heart. If you're not a conservative in your 40's, you've got no brain."

Regardless, if you haven't read Atlas Shrugged, you're missing out on a treat!
posted by fairmettle at 3:50 AM on February 3, 2005


Only the Objectivists have an answer to all our problems, and it's wrong.
-- Hans Huettel
posted by john-paul at 4:15 AM on February 3, 2005


Objectivism is the cargo cult of philosophy. Bang the drums, invoke Reason, Good Things Will Follow.

Beautifully put, sir.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:21 AM on February 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


That quote: (paraphrased) "20's -- liberal or no heart, 40's -- conservative or no brain" is just idiotic. The best I, my parents, and my grandparents have ever done, economically, were our investments during Clinton's presidency. I bet that is true for nearly every person reading this comment.

My Dad (Republican lackey that he is) likes to say it was all due to Reagan's tax cuts. My Mom (Republican apologist that she is) thinks the economic/deficit/debt issues aren't any worse than when she was a kid.

None of my parents or grandparents have ever significantly benefited, economically or otherwise, from a Republican President. They have benefited tremendously under various Democrats. Still, they are the way they are.

So I think the quote is bullshit. There a certain category of sheep (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!) that go through life in those unthinking frames, but no one that looks and watches and cares about the year after they die, does.

The standard quote, in context of this post, is: "If you're in your teens and you are not a libertarian/objectivist, you don't read enough; if you are in your 20's and you aren't a liberal, you have no heart; if you are in your 40's and you aren't a conservative, you have no brain." (unless you are "too educated" -- an addendum from our man Karl Rove)

But that's not true. Now this is going to be arrogant, but I'm not totally sure what to make of a 20 year-old who had not been exposed to a reasonable subset of Western, Eastern, Capitalist, and Socialist thought yet. One assumes you had, at least, been exposed to a decent subset of Islo-Judaeo-Christian works, yeah? (I mean, assuming he went to college, what the hell was he doing from 18.5 to 19.9...? Was it possible to spend one's freshman and the first half or so of one's sophomore years avoiding lit and phil classes?!?)

Anyway, the quote ought to go like this: "If you're in your teens, you have little idea of what is going on; if you are in your 20's, you have little idea of what is going on; if you are in your 40's, you have little idea of what is going on."
posted by swash at 4:43 AM on February 3, 2005


What's going on here?!?

(...and if your in your 60's, you're starting to forget what little idea of what was going on you ever had...)
posted by fairmettle at 5:06 AM on February 3, 2005


There's about a fifty fifty chance that your head will explode when you read this.

"You've got Buddhism in my Objectivism!"
posted by shawnj at 5:24 AM on February 3, 2005


The recent SOTU has me in a bit of a political mood. Sorry.

But do you really agree with that quote (20's heart/liberal, 40's brain/conservative)? Because I very much disagree. Being a liberal or a conservative isn't about heart vs. brain -- it's all about brain.

Liberalism isn't about feeling bad, it's about doing what is practical. Happy people don't blow you up. And more personally relevant, a functioning society gets me through my learning and lets me find some decent jobs and has some venture capital opportunities to fund my work on various nanotech doodads. And that let's me retire wealthy at 29, buy my own nice little island, and extravagantly fund some nice non-profits to cure un-profitable things, which makes people even more happy, and even less likely to blow me up.

... What were we talking about? Where are we? Why is everything so blue?!? ...
posted by swash at 5:24 AM on February 3, 2005


I have not yet encountered a single rational argument against any of the principal tenets of Objectivism.

In 22 years? Never? Not one? Then I suggest that either A) you haven't tried very hard to find one or B) you've already decided that the terms of the debate don't admit one. Rands "tenets" are a mish mash of pleasant sounding banalities and tautologies. She asks some interesting questions and she answers them like a salesman. Your assertion says more about your capabilities, I'm afraid, than it does about the value of Objectivism.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:10 AM on February 3, 2005


"it's a shallow rationalization for unmitigated self interest"

I am no randroid, however as I read her books, I saw that her philosophy somewhat parallels mine. Anyway, I don't need a rationalization; self-interest is innate, and I was never brainwashed into a belief claiming otherwise. For many, as evidenced here, this latter is an unfortunate by-product of childhood in a christian society, even for those not raised in a christian home.

My primary disagreement with Rand is best summarized: Dominique Francon was raped; Dagny Taggart was a hero-worshipping submissive. Otherwise, Rand's philosophy is fairly solid, but she did not possess adequate writing skills to defend it.
posted by mischief at 6:17 AM on February 3, 2005


"it's a shallow rationalization for unmitigated self interest. A means for the simple minded to transform avarice into virtue."

Damned, I hate to say it, but I find her a little empowering if for nothing else than that reason.

Seriously, I would love a version that worked more with the concepts of non-zero sum gaming than her zero-sum view on life.
posted by chrisabraham at 6:35 AM on February 3, 2005


Critiquing Rands philosophy would entail reading her books with attention, something I am unwilling to do.

The only thing I find interesting in Rand is how clearly she parallels socialist realism. Her great heroes could be Soviet New men if they had any affection for the working class. Her prose is boring, didactic and cliche ridden. The Fountainhead brings to my mind the worst of Gorkij and Gladkov.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:35 AM on February 3, 2005


Rand is mocked because her contribution is shallow. Those that subscribe wholly to it -- as opposed to those acknowledging basic parallels to a more thorough and circumscribed personal philosophy, as I assume you have done -- are similarly shallow.

Rand's philosophical musings are equivalent to publishing a mathematical paper stating the square root of 64 is 8. Your peers might concede that no one has actually published it before, but they will still feel it's a tad silly to do so. The concept has been covered as an implicit concept of a far more meaningful and mature work.
posted by swash at 6:38 AM on February 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


chrisabraham: Seriously, I would love a version that worked more with the concepts of non-zero sum gaming than her zero-sum view on life.

The non-zero gaming implementation is the conservative approach to economics. Most succinctly, trickle-down economics. Act selfishly to become rich, and in the process of becoming rich your long "coat-tails" offer the poor a ride to increased prosperity as well.

Not entirely without merit, but still lacking a great deal when it comes to distinguishing fantasy from reality.
posted by swash at 6:50 AM on February 3, 2005


MetaFilter -- I Did See Half a Copy of 'The Fountainhead' in a Public Toilet in London Once
posted by matteo at 7:04 AM on February 3, 2005


The cool thing about objectivism (other than at its heart, for me, it's simply a nifty way to codify base meanness and shittyness for those people who like their dose of the squalid nature of the human soul that way. The whole idea that self interest is an absolute and must be pushed further than it is already practiced is so much of a childs excuse.) is that its a self selecting kill-file for me, someone starts talking to me about Rand and I start ignoring whatever the hell they are saying, it's like spammers who spell Viagra correctly in the email, bang --> dev/null.

Someone starts talking about Rand, I start thinking about Dorothy Day, a real human, a real saint and a real solace to those who care about their brothers and sisters. Not everything about Christianity is bad or foolish or silly.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:17 AM on February 3, 2005


I wasn't kidding with my earlier question. One of the main plot points in the Fountainhead is that a woman gets raped--she likes it, she deserves it, it makes her a better person, and it makes her love her rapist. Are you guys actually talking about this piece of trash as if it has any value? I read that book as a teenager, and nothing about it appealed to me at all--I don't get why teenagers are supposed to like rape more than adults. Am I missing something?
posted by equipoise at 7:38 AM on February 3, 2005 [1 favorite]


You are missing a carbuncle on your brain that forces you to need an outside framework with the trappings of philosophy to explain why you want to be a dick all the time.

Rand wanted to be the foot in the boot that is stepping on a human face forever.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:43 AM on February 3, 2005


o no... not metaphysics...
posted by Beerman at 7:51 AM on February 3, 2005


The reason why you don't see it other places is that it is a quintisentially American 'contribution,' despite Rand's Russian origins. It is the type of medeodocre, easily consumed-and-regurgitated psuedo-intellectual pablum that many Americans just love.

In this respect, it fits with Tocqueville's evaluation of the American intellectual scene- that it necessarily discourages the development of intellectually elite work, due to the absence of an Aristocratic class who can spend immense amounts of time in purely scholarly work. Rand provides a rationale for the more venal, agonistic instincts underscoring the American marketplace, while giving her adherents an (axiomatic and purely deductive) 'philosophical' program from which to work.

Other than this 'timeless' quality, the whole program is unbelieveably dated. It is more-or-less a blunt-force response to the threat of the Soviets and the New Left in the wake of Stalin, which then gradually gained force as doctrine for those who don't really want to read actual philosphy. I honestly can't believe we're still talking about it.
posted by Dr_Johnson at 7:55 AM on February 3, 2005


The problem with Objectivism is that it makes irrational judgements. Objectivism states that your self interest is supreme. No altruism. But they certainly would find many objections if I were to act on my own self interest by enslaving them to increase my own wealth, or mugging them and taking their wallets. They insist that greed is the only good, but then set arbitrary limits on how far one may apply that greed. You can't have it both ways. Either altruism and caring for others forces us to have duties to our fellow man, or it does not. In the case that it does not, there is then no arbitrary morality to prevent us from doing any act, no matter how vile, if it will bring us success. The logical conclusion of the elimination of altruism isn't mutual respect, but a world where no rule exists but the rule of power. And that isn't anyones idea of perfection.
posted by unreason at 7:58 AM on February 3, 2005


Also, where is ParisParamus when you need him? There are far to few foils on this thread for my taste.
posted by Dr_Johnson at 8:00 AM on February 3, 2005


Well, thanks, Divine_Wino...although I must admit that it took several read-throughs to figure out who was being insulted. Maybe I'm missing something else, too.
posted by equipoise at 8:09 AM on February 3, 2005


You called Dr. Johnson?
posted by ideological foil at 8:21 AM on February 3, 2005


I am not missing a carbuncle on my brain that causes me to make convoluted if/then statements.

in re your question: Rape > Power > Dominance > Surrender > Control > Self Mutiliation > Ego > Teenage Angst > Ayn Rand.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:24 AM on February 3, 2005


unreason: Perhaps I'm wrong but perhaps you can kinda answer that question because it might not be in your self interest to do those things. Sure you can enslave people but the responses from others (ie could lead to war, sanctions, not having any friends) might not be in your self interest.

Similarly with mugging, the potential of going to court/jail and having a criminal record is not in your self interest.

That could be an argument that Objectivism is 'self-policing' in a way. Not that I've read anything Ayn Rand has read so feel free to ignore me...
posted by PenDevil at 8:26 AM on February 3, 2005


Popular Ethics: I recently saw the Incredibles, and was struck by its theme: That punishing the talented is not only morally wrong, but outright dangerous. The idea didn't sit right with me, and further reading into the Rand connection hasn't made me any more comfortable. Still, this is the first time an animated film has got me thinking about social philosophy.

nightchrome: My interpretation of The Incredibles was more that they were criticizing the holding back of talented people because of their talent. Not necessarily saying they should be unhindered by anything...just not punished for being talented.

Doesn't anybody read the setup at face value? It's a slam on personal injury lawyers. The reason why the superheroes went into hiding is stated explicitly in the first 10 minutes. The supers were being sued by ungrateful nitwits. It had little to do with the fact that they are "talented" because any good samaritan could be subjected to the same kind of "gratitude." These people couldn't be happy with a second chance at life, so they chose to bite the hand that saved them.

If anything, the movie comes off as championing altruism. The lawsuits are bad because the people are responding to a gift with hostility. Syndrome is bad because his heroism is staged for his own self-interest.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:26 AM on February 3, 2005


Pendevil, but doesn't that imply that I can do bad things if I can't get caught, or if I'm too powerful to be punished? Doesn't your argument only prevent me from doing bad things when I can't get away with them?
posted by unreason at 8:31 AM on February 3, 2005


True, but those are merely problems with the 'implementation', that is no one should be able to escape punishment no matter how powerful.

Real life of course is not that cut and dried.
posted by PenDevil at 8:41 AM on February 3, 2005


equipoise, I believe enthusiasts of the book would declare that they had "earned" each other and it was a beautiful transaction. Her style of romance is based on the idea that it's an amazing thing when you can take something you apparently deserve.

It also goes into that whole problem with Rand's third objectivism tenet where she confuses Kant's ideas about not treating people about a means to an end by applying it reflexively but not to the public at large. But then I'd have to go into a rant about how objectivism really looks like outsider art to anyone who has read any western philosophy in depth. Cargo cult, yeah.
posted by mikeh at 8:44 AM on February 3, 2005


There are far to few foils on this thread for my taste

I'm sympathetic to Objectivism and especially to egoism, but there is too much mischaracterization and too little substance on this thread for me to bother serving as a foil.

Really, I'm not terribly surprised at the quantity of "teenager!" remarks, or the pseudo-intellectual asshattery of I don't have to refute it because its so fucking stupid and you're fucking stupid and ignorant if you believe in it.

Wrestling with a pig, and all.
posted by trharlan at 8:47 AM on February 3, 2005


We're a diverse but good people, in my experience.

We are, apparently, infinitely diverse.
posted by semmi at 8:48 AM on February 3, 2005


The Fountainhead brings to my mind the worst of Gorkij and Gladkov.

Indeed. And Atlas Shrugged is Cement with longer speeches and a different philosophical bent.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:53 AM on February 3, 2005


And, in review, what trharlan said, even as I am not committed to any side wholly.
posted by semmi at 8:56 AM on February 3, 2005


True, but those are merely problems with the 'implementation', that is no one should be able to escape punishment no matter how powerful.

But wouldn't that require an extremely honest strong government that was...altruistic? If the government officials enforcing the law follow Objectivism, they'll be cheating for their own benefit too. So instead of arresting a mugger, an Objectivist cop would accept a bribe, being careful to give a portion of it to his objectivist superiors so that they won't go after him.
posted by unreason at 8:59 AM on February 3, 2005


Don't get me wrong, there are some appealing and even useful ideas in Objectivism, but they're ideas that existed a long, long time before Ayn Rand decided that ideas from her novels were a "philosophy." There's only the lightest of readings of other philosophy involved in the creation of objectivism.

Someone how objectivism has all of the strengths and none of the weaknesses of traditional philosophy, according to proponents. Read into that what you will.
posted by mikeh at 9:09 AM on February 3, 2005


Unreason: Hey I never said it wouldn't be stupid.
posted by PenDevil at 9:10 AM on February 3, 2005


Don't get me wrong, there are some appealing and even useful ideas in Objectivism, but they're ideas that existed a long, long time before Ayn Rand decided that ideas from her novels were a "philosophy."

Yeah, I think this is what gets philosopher types annoyed by the "objectivism" thing. It's a simplistic account of some pretty simple ideas of philosophy. The epistemology is apparently what is generally known as "naive realism" (naive isn't necessarily bad; heidegger argues that we have to return to our naivete, and wittgenstein says we are only 'bumping our head against the wall" when we try to understand metaphysics or what's "beyond" language and perspective - it's just that it's by no means revelatory, and if you want to defend it you have to engage in the whole discussion, not just make flat statements and expect people to be impressed).

The morality is apparently what is generally known as "egoism", which is a philosophy that isn't that easy to defend, because if it were actually the case, why would anyone ever behave immorally? The fact that there are conflicts between different interests (short term vs long term, or stability vs. stimulation, or whatever) is completely brushed aside.

But basically, she seems to have completely misunderstood or just not even bothered to read, most of western philosophy, and the same seems true of her followers. I'm a grad student in philosophy, and my sister sent me a book by leonard piekoff. I took the time to read it (well, it didn't take much time) and it was just full of completely irresponsible and idiotic interpretations of some great thinkers (esp Kant and Aristotle). It wasn't without any merit at all, but if you're interested in philosophy, read the real thing. It's much more interesting than they make it out to be.

It looks like all her "philosophy" was self-published, so I think it's safe to categorize her primarily as a novelist. I've never read her fiction (I'm a real snob when it comes to bad writing and can only take most genre fic when it is really full of excellent ideas - I like philip k & can do a little gibson) and am very curious about that rape thing. Can someone explain it a little further?
posted by mdn at 9:42 AM on February 3, 2005


Yikes, I was just playing around. Trite and vapid I was, sure, but I meant no offense to anyone other than Objectivists.

Anyway, trharlan, the reflexive mockery is due to the fact that many of us knew a few high school Rand fans, but not so many followers of, say, Plato/Socrates, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, Locke, Mill, etc. It's just odd.

Well, no, nevermind, it's not. It's a simplistic philosophy. It has that neat, logical, self-contained veneer that is just appealing at certain early point in intellectual development. It's not bad, in and of itself, but it is far too pretentious (like myself, for example) and seems to often stunt a mind. Everyone stumbles across it, and related libertarian ideas, and it somehow seems novel and rebellious and right. But what you don't know at the time is that everyone had the same discovery, and they been having this discovery for a long time. But there's something about Objectivism that makes it even more pernicious. It has some sort of highly refined appeal that leaves you stuck there for too long. It requires sustained and substantial intellectual bludgeoning until finally comes loose; when you finally realize that there have been many millennia filled with brilliant people who have thought this all through far better than you could hope to. And it all fades into a complex, nuanced reality. It's a tool, one of many, and for the most part, not a terribly useful or novel one.

On preview: what mdn said, if I were also a graduate student in philosophy.
posted by swash at 9:48 AM on February 3, 2005


trharlan -

It's not that there's nothing of value in Objectivism. It's that those things of value already existed in other philosophies. It's the way Rand tries to tie them together in a completely self-serving pseudo-philosophy that is, in your words, fucking stupid.

On preview - what mdn said.
posted by chundo at 9:50 AM on February 3, 2005


equipose: I always assumed that Rand was sublimating her desires for submission that had no place within her philosophy.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:01 AM on February 3, 2005


Metafilter: My god. The randroids are at it again.
posted by knave at 10:02 AM on February 3, 2005


a woman gets raped--she likes it, she deserves it, it makes her a better person, and it makes her love her rapist

Has anyone written Objectivists of Gor yet? Or would it be A Whim-Worshipper of Gor, or Anti-Life, Anti-Mind Muscle-Mystics of Gor?

I'd do it myself, but I think I want to write The Eye of Elron, a scientologist/Battlefield-Earth version of Eye of Argon, first.

(for those not in the know, the series of Gor books are old-school softcore interspersed with lectures about how women really want to be slaves, apparently representing the author's views)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:10 AM on February 3, 2005


Since the original topic was Rand's birthday, I would like to mention that it's not too painful to read Anthem; it's short, and a somewhat interesting entry in the dystopia/utopia/ubermensch genre of 40s sci-fi.

I am in awe of anyone who got through Atlas or Fountainhead; I've tried, repeatedly (I have a Randian friend, and wanted to give Rand a fair try) and it was just impossible, because it was all so off--the characters, the "dialogue", the naggingly intrusive authorial voice. And they're so long; it was like crossing a literary Sahara with no oasis in sight.
posted by emjaybee at 10:12 AM on February 3, 2005


Even if you disagree with Rand, I'd say that Atlas and Fountainhead have value, just for making you think about why you disagree with her. I read both in college and spent maybe a week or two convinced that I was a Howard Roark figure... and then the subsequent period of realizing why that was making me an insufferable asshole turned out to be a pretty invaluable little period of personal growth.

I'd also submit that We the Living is a very good first novel, with characters-- both "good" and "evil"-- who have developed personalities and motivations beyond "I was a sickly child so I will use my architecture-review column to rule the world."
posted by COBRA! at 10:19 AM on February 3, 2005


equipose: I was very disturbed and angered by the rape scene in The Fountainhead and believe the "it wasn't really a rape" defense by randroids is too convenient. However, I think it served a very important narrative (and artistic, such as it is) purpose in the novel and in that sense I think it was legitimate.

I've written about rape here a lot and I'm a former rape crisis center advocate, but I'm oddly put-off by your blanket "I heard she wrote X scene, how can she possibly be taken seriously?" contention. Nothing comes to mind, but I'm certain that there are works of fiction or drame which contain similarly morally repugnant scenes—and not in a condemnatory fashion—that are important and valuable. Well, actually something does come to mind: The 120 Days of Sodom, as an extreme example. I'm of the opinion that this is a valuable work (though, admittedly, I've not read it so take my comments with a big grain of salt) because I seperate the moral and "excellence" attritbutes of art. Something can be complely immoral, completely reprehensible, and yet still be excellent. And, partly because of that, also valuable. There is value in being confronted by and working through ideas that are as morally repugnant as possible.

Put another way, if I were to read Fountainhead again, based upon my recollection of it I'd be inclined to see the rape scene as the primary lens through which to understand the novel. Rand is clumsy, but she was artistically cunning in tying her main idea, her theme, to something as shocking as rape.

Also, of course, it was a different time then and to some degree there was a romanticizing of rape that supposedly really wasn't rape. Hell, that meme still exists today. It's part of many people's sex play.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:20 AM on February 3, 2005


self-interest is innate -- mischief

So, too, is altruism. Cooperation and the sharing of resources have much to do with why we are so enormously successful as a species. I would argue that it is in my own self interest to share what I have with others who have less. Unless I plan to forgo all contact with other humans, my quality of life will be best if those around me enjoy a high quality of life, too. This isn't self-sacrifice, it's just practical.

It seems to me that Rand was as naive about human nature as Karl Marx. There are situations where it is appropriate to be giving, and situations where it is appropriate to be ruthless.
posted by apis mellifera at 10:23 AM on February 3, 2005


"Beautifully put, sir."

Why, thank you, Mayor! I have to admit I was indecently pleased with myself for "objectivism is the cargo cult of philosophy". Very pithy and very apt. Maybe it'll catch on.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:13 PM on February 3, 2005


So, is giving to an acquaintence who's direly in need, even if you're making a sub-living wage yourself and not really getting by, wrong in Objectivism? His situation is worse than yours, hence, you're not putting him ahead of yourself in terms of value (that would only be if you were in an equal or worse situation than him).

If it were an acquaintance, definitely. If it were your best friend, probably not. Giving to tsunami victims is not inherently good or bad; it depends on your context. I could easily afford it so there's no reason not to.
posted by bbrown at 12:45 PM on February 3, 2005


Screw society, individuals rule -> Objectivism

Who's being facile here? Geesh.

One of the main plot points in the Fountainhead is that a woman gets raped--she likes it, she deserves it, it makes her a better person, and it makes her love her rapist.

As Rand described it, "If it was rape, it was rape by engraved invitation." Within the context of the story, it was clearly not rape. It was aggressive and assertive, relying as it did on an unspoken consent between Roark and Dominique.

tmharlan: good point. I'm done. It's amazing how easily they denigrate people they disagree with. "There, there, simpleton. You'll learn one of these days." How would you people like it if someone were so patronizing and condescending towards you and your ideas? Have any of you heard of civil discussion or social skills? Yeah, Objectivists are insensitive pricks—keep telling yourselves that. Cargo cult? Ugh.
posted by bbrown at 1:04 PM on February 3, 2005


They laughed at Edison and they laughed at Einstein. But they laughed at Bozo The Clown, too.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:18 PM on February 3, 2005


"I would argue that it is in my own self interest to share what I have with others who have less."

To each his own. Rand herself had her pet charities. The central point of self-interest is that you yourself made the decision to share, and not because of some perceived societal pressure.

"It seems to me that Rand was ..."

The usual statement from someone who is unfamiliar with her writings and bases his or her decision the opinions of others.
posted by mischief at 2:00 PM on February 3, 2005


bbrown: didnt you read some of the other comments?

The reason people tie it to teenagers is because that is the age of most people we know who follow rand.

Its like how liking Brittney Spears music is tied to young people.
Im sure there are older people who love her music, and could write essays on why its great, but most older people would find that silly.
posted by Iax at 2:01 PM on February 3, 2005


ROU_Xenophobe: The important difference between Ayn Rand's stuff and the Gor books is that the Gor books are fun reads. That, and they have a lot more sword fighting and monsters. Oh, and slaves too.
posted by Captain_Tenille at 2:42 PM on February 3, 2005


EB, I didn't write, "I heard she wrote X scene," I wrote, "I read X scene." I recognize that I don't remember it that well, though, and I thought perhaps someone could convince me that I had forgotten or missed something important. Haven't seen anything along those lines yet!

You wrote, "Something can be completely immoral, completely reprehensible, and yet still be excellent. And, partly because of that, also valuable. There is value in being confronted by and working through ideas that are as morally repugnant as possible." So perhaps this is the root of my question: in what way does the Fountainhead "confront" anyone with ideas about rape that must be worked through? As others have pointed out, most of her ideas were poorly reheated ideas from other philosophers. And god knows the idea that women need to be raped isn't new or interesting.

If you want to argue that the book had some redeeming value despite Rand's misguided ideas about rape, that would be one thing. Freud made some remarkable discoveries about the human brain even if he was completely wrong about cocaine, women's fabrications of abuse, and penis envy. But you seem to be arguing that the rape was an interesting or skillful theme to weave through the novel, and I couldn't disagree more. If someone here read about the wonders of rape and thought, "Wow, Rand's really onto something here," I'm disgusted.

Lastly, as you point out, it was a different time and rape was treated differently back then. But people don't talk about Rand as a historical artifact--they talk about her ideas as if they have some validity today. And to that I say: "Blech."
posted by equipoise at 4:01 PM on February 3, 2005



Anyone else think of Southpark?

Officer Barbrady:

"Yes, at first I was happy to be learning how to read. It seemed exciting and magical, but then I read this: 'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand. I read every last word of this garbage, and because of this piece of s**t, I am never reading again."




posted by login at 4:58 PM on February 3, 2005


I just finished reading Atlas Shrugged. Despite her verbose nature, I gotta hand it to the woman I enjoyed the read.
posted by Bag Man at 5:11 PM on February 3, 2005


BBrown: Thank you for providing you views on Objectivism. I read "The Virtues of Selfishness" a few months ago, and while I found a lot that I didn't care for, you summed up some of the idea that did appeal to me.

But I'm severely disappointed in many of the rest of you. I was looking forward to some good debate on this, since my thoughts on it are far from settled. Instead I get lots of: a) damn, I believed some stupid shit like that when I was a child, you should grow up; and some of: b) the core ideas of Rand are simplistic and already covered better else where by others.

So, for those of you that said b stuff, could you provide some links or give me a name or two of some that have done it better that I could read? Bear in mind, I don't have the time to read 10 or 20 different 500 page philosophy text books. :) If it helps in determining what direction to point me in, the kind of philosophy I typically read is like the stuff by Daniel Dennett (I love his stuff), like this.

BTW, a few people did mention that Egoism is similiar to Objectivism, so that gives me someplace to start. Any good links to that?
posted by Bort at 5:12 PM on February 3, 2005


"the core ideas of Rand are simplistic and already covered better else where by others."

If an egoist (as opposed to an egotist) were to respond to your inquiry, s/he would say "If you are that interested, find it for yourself."

Debating objectivism is similar to debating religion; no one changes their mind and the arguments tend to circularity.

I will toss this out: google "Who Is Dagny Taggart". As I recall, I disagree with much of that essay, but it is otherwise well written.
posted by mischief at 5:23 PM on February 3, 2005


there's no such thing as unspoken, or more accurately, unexpressed, consent. that entire idea, like many facets of objectivism, is great for those who hold the upper hand in a situation -- those who have the privilege to decide that their unilateral interpretation of how someone else feels is true and therefore okay to act upon. objectivism doesn't just involve making decisions about your own self-interest, it involves making decisions about the self-interest of others as well: objectivists have decided that it is in everyone's self-interest if they act in their own self-interest -- if THEY set the tenets of their relationships to everyone else. if people can't see why that is so fucking delusional, bordering on fascist...

and the fact that people exist in this world with the power AND will to operate on those terms is infinitely disturbing to me.
posted by Embryo at 6:10 PM on February 3, 2005


and the rape situation is a great example of the kind of twisting of reality Rand engages in (and which you have to FALL for in order to believe that her theories are useful) -- by making up fake characters, she can make them believe whatever it is they should believe in order to prove her point.

every other philosopher has to use REAL examples. come on. Rand wrote shlock.
posted by Embryo at 6:12 PM on February 3, 2005


If an egoist (as opposed to an egotist) were to respond to your inquiry, s/he would say "If you are that interested, find it for yourself."

An egoist might recognize that we live in an interconnected world, and realize that gaining a convert like Bort could strengthen the movement in which he believes.

Bort-- some have argued that Aristotle had an egoist ethics, and the philosophies of Hobbes and Max Stirner are often held up as examples of egoism. I confess that my understanding of Hobbes is incomplete.
posted by trharlan at 6:23 PM on February 3, 2005


If an egoist (as opposed to an egotist) were to respond to your inquiry, s/he would say "If you are that interested, find it for yourself."

If that is your understanding of Rand's egoism, then you've missed a lot. I would say, "Here is a guy who wants to know more about egoism. More egoists in the world means more fellow travellers, which is a benefit to me. I'm going to encourage this guy to pursue this interest."

and the rape situation is a great example of the kind of twisting of reality Rand engages in (and which you have to FALL for in order to believe that her theories are useful) -- by making up fake characters, she can make them believe whatever it is they should believe in order to prove her point. every other philosopher has to use REAL examples. come on. Rand wrote shlock.

Do you honestly equate the total of Objectivism with one rape scene or the characters in a story? She wrote twice as many pages of essays as she did of Atlas Shrugged (maybe combined with The Fountainhead). We're not talking about freaking Star Wars or Star Trek here, which has acquired cults surrounding them who live their lives according to those movies' precepts. Her philosophy is based on reality.
posted by bbrown at 6:32 PM on February 3, 2005


Oh, I meant to mention the interesting coincidence that the guy that lent me the Rand book was named Billy Brown. He lives in NC though, not AZ. Are all Bill Brown's Objectivists? :)
posted by Bort at 6:45 PM on February 3, 2005


Atlas Shrugged 2
posted by painquale at 7:11 PM on February 3, 2005


"If that is your understanding of Rand's egoism ..."

To each his own.
posted by mischief at 8:27 PM on February 3, 2005


Personally, I always liked Telemachus Sneezed more.

Who is John Guilt?
posted by Hactar at 8:38 PM on February 3, 2005


and the fact that people exist in this world with the power AND will to operate on those terms is infinitely disturbing to me.
posted by Embryo at 6:10 PM PST on February 3


It's pretty obvious that you are disturbed, but why should anyone be interested in that, or care?
posted by semmi at 8:58 PM on February 3, 2005


Are all Bill Brown's Objectivists?

I wish.
posted by bbrown at 9:41 PM on February 3, 2005


Objectivism is childish. This thread is why I love Ethereal Bligh.
posted by interrobang at 12:34 AM on February 4, 2005


As Rand described it, "If it was rape, it was rape by engraved invitation."

wow. Okay, that really does not sit well with me.

Re: other philosophers, my impression from the piekoff book I was given was that ayn rand believed she was agreeing with Aristotle and rebutting Kant, so my recommendations would be to read the originals, as they are much more interesting than her inaccurate portrayals, and also happen to be generally considered the two most important systematic philosophers of the western tradition.

Okay, that may involve some 500 pp treatises, which you did request I not recommend. However, you can read shorter works by these authors, or excerpts. Rand seemed to think she was fighting against Kant's notion of morality, but she seemed to completely misunderstand Kant's theory of morality. In the leonard piekoff book, he was constantly classified as tied to duty and altruism, in contrast with their theory which was based on reason and the objectively right. But kant is famous for having a reason-based ethics with absolute objective principles! Duty only comes into it as a duty to the objectively right - ie, you can't just do whatever you please at the moment you feel it; you have a duty to consider whether it is objectively right and then to act in accordance with that 'moral law'.

He is arguing against sentimentalist or character based ethics, in favor of one where the action will always be prescribed (where there will always be a right way to behave) no matter what changes there are in the particulars or in one's mood. I would recommend reading his "metaphysics of morals" for a good outline of this (not to be confused with the "grounding of the metaphysics of morals"). He clarifies the difference between narrow duties (which are essentially, respecting the autonomy/rights of other individuals as such) and wide duties (those concerned with magnanimity, excellent character, etc, which are less strict but ultimately beneficial). His whole system is based around the principle of autonomy, or man's freedom & rationality. It is absurdly misrepresented in rand/piekoff, and I'm not even a Kantian (I don't think character and sentiment can be segregated from the rational mind in ethics; I think hume was on to something when he spoke of reason not being a 'motivating' force, that we need to 'feel' a respect for reason... which Kant does agree to, but kind of pushes aside)

Aristotle is not an egoist. The greek word for virtue, arete, also can be translated as "excellent." The greek word for happiness, eudaimonia, is also translated as fulfillment, wholeness, well-being - (eu, good, daimon, spirit, root of the christian 'demon'). So he is not arguing that one seeks happiness and this results in virtue, but that one seeks virtue (excellence), and this results in happiness (fulfillment). He also speaks of ethical 'continence', which is when one behaves morally but against his inner desires, and ethical incontinence, when one allows bad inner desires to direct his behavior.

Pure egoism would be close to ethical incontinence - doing whatever you wanted just because you wanted to. Ethical continence can be compared to the kantian system, or reason based ethics as a whole, the doing what is right but still feeling or desiring to do what is not. True virtue comes about by the cultivation of a truly excellent character, which takes pleasure in being virtuous in all areas of life - in treating others well, in living well, in being generous, forgiving, strong, and loving

Considering how long it took just to note some things about the ethical theory, I'm not even going to try to get into the epistemological stuff. Suffice it to say, all philosophers are trying to look at reality; the questions that come up are when one considers how or to what degree one can 'trust' the senses, whether it would matter if we were living in a shadow, a dream, a demon spell, or a computer simulation rather than the 'real' world; whether the world itself can be said to have properties like color or taste or if these are just what we take in from some objective world that exists in itself but which different forms of life will interpret differently (ie, what is blue to me is a humming noise to an alien), or what. Naive realism, accepting things are as they seem, is certainly a valid option, but in my opinion is better when expressed as a return to naivete after having passed through a 'skeptical moment' - this is a common theme in 20th c. philosophy.

holy crapola, this is getting long.
posted by mdn at 6:52 AM on February 4, 2005 [2 favorites]


Oh, tharlan mentions Hobbes, who I think is a beautiful writer and a clear thinker; I'd definitely recommend the Leviathan to a lay reader. Actually, the british empiricists in general are quite a joy to read. Hume is an interesting case because he gets quite a lot right but has such a static universe that he concludes things like cause and effect to be ephemeral - basically anything that includes temporality can't really be "proven" for him (this includes personal identity, and is what kant says woke him from his 'dogmatic slumber').
posted by mdn at 6:56 AM on February 4, 2005


Re: other philosophers, my impression from the piekoff book I was given was that ayn rand believed she was agreeing with Aristotle and rebutting Kant, so my recommendations would be to read the originals, as they are much more interesting

That would work for you with Rand too, ie. to read the original.

But kant is famous for having a reason-based ethics with absolute objective principles! Duty only comes into it as a duty to the objectively right - ie, you can't just do whatever you please at the moment you feel it; you have a duty to consider whether it is objectively right and then to act in accordance with that 'moral law'.

Bottom line, According to Rand, is that your "reason-based ethics with absolute objective principles" and "duty to consider whether it is objectively right and then to act in accordance with that 'moral law" is (not should) to biologically survive.
posted by semmi at 7:42 AM on February 4, 2005


"The greek word for happiness, eudaimonia, is also translated as fulfillment, wholeness, well-being - (eu, good, daimon, spirit, root of the christian 'demon'). So he is not arguing that one seeks happiness and this results in virtue, but that one seeks virtue (excellence), and this results in happiness (fulfillment)."

Quite right (mdn is talking about Nicomachean Ethics), but I prefer that εὐδαιμονία not be defined using the word "happiness". I know Liddell-Scott does so, but it's careful to specify "true, full happiness".
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:20 AM on February 4, 2005


That would work for you with Rand too, ie. to read the original.

The fact that the Piekoff book was slathered in positive quotes from ayn rand, saying it was one of the greatest works of genius which she had not written herself, gave me a quite distinct impression that she did not disagree with the fundamental outline of her viewpoint presented therein. Your point would be valid if the piekoff book had not come with such a strong endorsement from the writer he was summarizing, but as it is, I see no reason to spend any more time exploring that tangent. There are too many authors I will not get the chance to read as it is.

Kant and Aristotle have survived centuries, millenia in the former's case, and continue to be held in high regard by most people who read them. Many people who read them have also read a huge amount of other work on similar topics and still consider them among the best. I do not know anyone who is well-versed in other philosophy and considers ayn rand a deep or important thinker.

Bottom line, According to Rand, is that your "reason-based ethics with absolute objective principles" and "duty to consider whether it is objectively right and then to act in accordance with that 'moral law" is (not should) to biologically survive.

I guess stalin was moral, hey? And smoking is immoral? Doesn't seem too well thought out.

yes, EB, I agree that that common translation is quite misleading.
posted by mdn at 1:04 PM on February 4, 2005


Umm, Peikoff's book (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand) was written 8 years after her death. She had no awareness of his book.
posted by bbrown at 1:35 PM on February 4, 2005


I guess stalin was moral, hey?

WTF? There is an old Russian proverb about the futility of beating a dead horse very apropos here.
posted by semmi at 7:05 PM on February 4, 2005


Aristotle is not an egoist.

mdn-- All due respect (I realize that you're one of the smart ones, and I am out of my depth here), but according to this guy: If egoism is the thesis that one will always act rightly if one consults one's self-interest, properly understood, then nothing would be amiss in identifying (Aristotle) as an egoist.
posted by trharlan at 8:38 PM on February 4, 2005


WTF? There is an old Russian proverb about the futility of beating a dead horse very apropos here.

I don't believe anyone has yet put any effort into taking the whip to any sort of horse, actually. The problem with egoism is that it oversimplifies the human condition. If one's own personal biological survival is the only thing for which one is responsible, then hitler and a skydiver are equivalently moral - a tyrant may put himself at some risk of being killed by killing so many others, but the skydiver puts himself at risk as well. And in fact, the allies would be less moral as they put themselves at risk not for their own direct gain, as a tyrant does, but in order to help others who are being oppressed, or to help the world as a whole, or their countrymen, or whatever.

tharlan, I realize Aristotle is described as an egoist by some; I'm making a counterpoint that I believe that is a misunderstanding of his ethical philosophy, and can be mostly cleared up simply by recognizing the proper translations of "arete" and "eudaimonia". He directly discusses the role of pleasure and it is not the primary aim (it is not bad in itself, but is simply not the most important thing - I think that's in NE bk 10)

The philosophy is properly understood as "character based ethics"; the system is about learning how to live well, nurturing a strong and reflective character. It is not about specific gains, certainly not about biological survival. What one gains is the ability to be an excellent (virtuous) person. The virtuous person seeks nothing beyond virtue to motivate him to become virtuous (excellent), but takes virtue as an end in itself (& being truly virtuous is concomitant with achieving eudaimonia). Intellectual virtues are also part of this - thinking deeply, reflecting, and deliberating are all part of the process of 'practical wisdom', which is what forms virtue for Aristotle.

There are some who think Aristotle's ethics doesn't go far enough, that you can become a smug, self-satisfied, "aren't I so excellent" type who lives happily while his slaves are suffering - Bertrand Russell has this attitude to aristotle's ethics. But again, I think if you read his philosophy he makes it clear that living well is always a work in progress; that one's life is a piece of art that is worked on every day until death, that you must constantly relearn, remember, become mindful, practice, habituate, this virtuous character. You can never achieve it and then go off onto some other task.

Aristotle believes the human being has great potential. He believes it is up to each of us individually to actualize our potential. Surviving biologically is not enough, no where near enough. You are not living a good life by surviving biologically; you are barely getting by. The "higher parts of the soul" are important to Aristotle and must be continually nurtured and developed. One of the most important means for this is through friendship and community - see NE bk 8 for more on that.
posted by mdn at 5:47 AM on February 5, 2005


bbrown, the book I read was called "ominous parallels" and was mostly about nazis, but argued that nazis were the result of Kantianism and that the way to escape nazism was by returning to Aristotle via Ayn Rand, and so explained Kant, explained Aristotle, explained Thomas Aquinas, and explained Ayn Rand along the way. As I said, Kant & ARistotle were not represented intelligently. Aquinas I tend to think is kind of second rate anyway (it's quite nicely organized and can be momentarily satisfying, but I don't think there's much depth), and it seems to me quite shortsighted for an atheist to suggest he is a great example of a rationalist, given that most of his work is devoted to proving god's existence through rational argument.

As I said, the book was covered in quotes by ayn rand going on about how brilliant and clear and perfect it was. There was one quote from someone else, maybe the chicago tribune, saying it was an interesting "polemic". All the other blurbs, on the front, back, and inside, were ayn rand, which I have to say did not give me a very good first impression. I think she also wrote an introduction.

One of the quotes was literally something like "This book is clear and hard as crystal - it is wonderful to finally read a work of genius which is not my own."
posted by mdn at 6:00 AM on February 5, 2005


fwiw: Here's a Rand endoresement on the back cover of the book mdn is talking about.
posted by bingo at 7:50 AM on February 5, 2005


The Ominous Parallels was a book arising from Objectivism, but not necessarily a statement of Objectivism. It was an analysis of how philosophy affects history using Weimar Germany/Nazi Germany as a counterfoil to America in the 70s and some future possibility for America.

You are basically correct in stating that the book sees the Nazis as coming from Kant's philosophy. It wasn't intended, I believe, as a comprehensive romp through the history of philosophy.

If that was your introduction to Ayn Rand and Objectivism, then you got a taste but not the right taste. Heck, even Atlas Shrugged is a better statement of her philosophy.

I am a grad student in history and I was not terribly impressed with The Ominous Parallels. It's fine, but I think it reaches too far sometimes in an effort to make a point.
posted by bbrown at 11:14 AM on February 5, 2005


I'm being facile?!? Name one -- one -- idea that Ayn had that lacked a more than a century of contemplation. Just one.

Egoism is a valid component of a philosophy, but cannot stand on it's own. We are not a set of individual actors; we are a society of interacting actors. Your acts affect me; my acts affect you. Let's base our theory of being around that.
posted by theatrical matriarch at 12:13 AM on February 7, 2005


If that was your introduction to Ayn Rand and Objectivism, then you got a taste but not the right taste. Heck, even Atlas Shrugged is a better statement of her philosophy.

I can usually tell from a small taste how much more I want to explore - I knew within a few sentences of Aristotle that I was going to like this guy. Part of it is the way he's so measured ["some say it may be this way; others, that; we will consider in what ways it is each of these...," that kinda thing]. Piekoff/Rand have absolutely none of that. The writing is poor, and the ideas are simple. Kant is too absolutist for me, but he addresses the difficulties and builds a coherent whole. I think he's wrong sometimes, but he is clearly a brilliant thinker.

Anyway, I get the sense of her beliefs from people like you. Basically, I might very well agree with some of what ayn rand says, but it is said more clearly and more beautifully and more coherently by others, so why would I bother reading ayn rand's version? And some of her basic ideas seem flatly wrong to me. No one has attempted to address the difficulties of egoist philosophy as defined by semmi (one's individual biological continuance being the only moral duty). If this is so, why is a tyrant not morally the same as someone who does a lot of driving?

Aristotle was a big fan of the "golden mean" - extremism in any direction is dangerous. Being overly altruistic and self-sacrificing is bad, but equally bad is being overly selfish and greedy. The mean is to look after oneself and be generous to others as well. It needn't be (never is) either/or.
posted by mdn at 6:06 AM on February 7, 2005


mdn: The beating of a dead horse refers to the futility of us having a conversation. I'm not a Rand expert or even fan, but you cannot fairly discuss her "truisms" in a "religious lingo" of an overview perspective of the outsider to life, of what's right and wrong, which was the mentality she spent her whole ambition to refute. It is beyond ridiculous to bring Stalin into the conversation as a proof of Objectivism's falsity, when Rand's whole system was (arguably) predicated on her bad experiences in, and escape from the Stalinist mass-think mob "religion," and her life the very model of the individual's need and capacity of reevaluation and adaptability to changing existential circumstances. Her whole message is: Don't accept authority, think for yourself. Trite, but useful, and we're all doing it even as we recognize that certain amount of cooperation is useful, ie. good, ie. ethical.
posted by semmi at 10:11 AM on February 7, 2005


It is beyond ridiculous to bring Stalin into the conversation as a proof of Objectivism's falsity, when Rand's whole system was (arguably) predicated on her bad experiences (with it)

That's precisely why it's relevant. She is not considering that the consequences of her sweeping statements authorize the very evil she is intuitively opposed to. She "knows" what is right and wrong, but her attempt to systematize it, to explain the foundations for this knowledge, return incongruous results. In other words, her theory is wrong.

Don't accept authority, think for yourself. Trite, but useful,

yes, but by no means a revelation! I teach an intro philosophy course called "critical thinking: question authority" during which I provide the students with excerpts from thinkers including aristotle, aquinas, descartes, hobbes, kant, nietzsche & wittgenstein, addressing what it is to think. Actually, the only one who I include who does not really 'question authority' is aquinas (I include him so as not to skip from the ancients to the enlightenment, to provide a bit of a sense of history), who as I mentioned earlier is strangely held up as a good example of a thinker by Rand/Piekoff.

Kant is absolutely committed to the use of one's autonomous mind as the essential component of being a human being; his metaphysics explores the limits of reason, which is in response to the cartesian/humean skepticism, but his "popular" essays are all about claiming one's own freedom of mind and using the powers of reason to determine action and social interchange.

Hobbes is often noted as a thinker who recognizes the natural human instinct toward personal gain, but what people tend to forget is that he offers a solution to this, the social contract. He believes that by nature we will live according to egoism, but that will result in a life "solitary, poor, nasty brutish & short", and hence we need to form a society which secures for each of us a certain recognition of rights and responsibilities, so that we can live well, in concert with one another.
posted by mdn at 11:18 AM on February 7, 2005


mdn: I'm sorry, but what "sweeping statements" have you read? Her laudatory comments on The Ominous Parallels? Or the citations contained therein to her other works? From what you've indicated, the full of your experience with Ayn Rand is from that one book by one of her philosophy's adherents. Are you familiar with secondhand information? You don't want to read Ayn Rand, fine. But don't make broad pronouncements about her philosophy when you haven't (and won't) make the effort to actually read her work. It's almost like me pontificating about Aristotle because I viewed School of Athens by Raphael.

Your equation of egoism with Hobbes is an all-too-common misunderstanding of Rand's view of egoism. Hobbes believed in a dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed view of society. Altruists believe in a sacrificial view of society ("you are your brother's keeper", "for the good of society", etc.) Rand believes, in her classic formulation, "Man—every man—is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life." Do you see how that differs from Hobbes and other so-called egoists? I'm sure the history of philosophy is littered with thousands of egoist philosophers who have said the exact same thing oh-so-much-better and more clearly, but I'm not aware of them and I have done quite a bit of research in this subject (minor in philosophy, nothing too grand but more than many).

She also didn't base her philosophy around anything as trite as "question authority." It was much deeper than that and much more epistemological.
posted by bbrown at 2:01 PM on February 7, 2005


Rand believes, in her classic formulation, "Man—every man—is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others;

That's not Rand's "classic formulation", my friend. That is Immanual Kant.

Hobbes believed in a dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed view of society.

No, as above, he believed in a dog eat dog state of nature; the formation of society was in his estimation the solution to this. Hobbes was not an egoist either.

Anyway, you and semmi seem to disagree on the basics of ayn rand's view. I won't attempt to argue these points any further; it sounds as if you found some basic inspiration in her presentation of these things and that's always good etc. What annoyed me about the piekoff book was how both of them continually (in quotes in the book, in the intro, and on the jacket from Rand, and throughout the text from Piekoff) took the attitude that they were saying something completely revelatory and directly opposed to all modern scholarship and philosophy. It is hard to respect someone who is so completely oblivious to the history of thought to which she is attempting to contribute.
posted by mdn at 2:29 PM on February 7, 2005


It is hard to respect someone who is so completely oblivious to the history of thought to which she is attempting to contribute.

mdn: To the contrary, what resonates with me and, I presume what made her widely popular, was precisely her aversion to the academic, institutionalized, mass-think, systemic, ideologically structered, impersonal philosophy you yourself seem to represent.
posted by semmi at 11:08 AM on February 8, 2005


and.......to borrow from another context.
posted by semmi at 11:34 AM on February 8, 2005


mdn: To the contrary, what resonates with me and, I presume what made her widely popular, was precisely her aversion to the academic, institutionalized, mass-think, systemic, ideologically structered, impersonal philosophy you yourself seem to represent.

well, that's what I mean about being oblivious. Thinkers throughout history have thought about and struggled with questions that intrigued them. There is no "mass think" way of doing philosophy. In fact, I would have to say that leonard piekoff comes across as much more of a "groupthink" type than most students of philosophy, as he has only praise for his mentor and no qualification or questioning of any of her ideas. Learning to think autonomously means realizing you can respect opinions with which you disagree.

I think this is why people consider ayn rand adolescent. To imagine you know better than everyone who came before is a sign of teenage mind. This is different from recognizing that you're equally as capable as everyone else in drawing your own conclusions. This is an important part of reaching adulthood, and is sometimes preceded by a period of "I know better than everyone else". But ultimately there should be a balance between recognizing your own autonomy and simultaneously recognizing the autonomy of others - that is, that they are also thinking for themselves, and drawing conclusions based on intelligent investigation, and not just blathering emptily (for the most part). To discover your own intellect may momentarily make you feel superior, but the next step is to realize that other people make the same discovery, and ultimately, to engage in meaningful interchange with those other minds.

It's almost like me pontificating about Aristotle because I viewed School of Athens by Raphael.

No, sorry, ayn rand was leonard piekoff's mentor; he spent years studying with her, and the book opened with an introduction from ayn rand that praised it without the slightest hesitation or qualification; it was absolutely endorsed as superlative, and if she had had any misgivings at all about the way her ideas were presented, she could easily have insisted he clear them up (and no doubt he would have, as his entire project seems to have been to win her favor, not think for himself).

In any case, if she was so impressed by a book you admit is weak, perhaps you're the one misinterpreting her. Maybe you're projecting your own common sense onto what she says & assuming that's what she musthave meant :).

Egoism in its broadest and most inclusive form, the idea that if one truly understands all the consequences, one will never behave unethically, is originally from socrates/plato. Plato even makes the statement that acting immorally is a disease of the soul (psyche, in greek) and not something a person willingly does, because no one would choose to act immorally (stupidity is also a disease of the soul for plato).

Aristotle qualifies this somewhat, although at one point he does agree that if people truly, fully understood, they would be virtuous, but he is more realistic about the capacities of men to miss the big picture. None of this suggests anything that would support, eg, big businesses having the right to do whatever they want, because if we all serve our own interests, things will work out best in the end. The greek version of "egoism" is all about self-knowledge, not about self-gain in any material or status sense (self gain only in achieving a better mental/emotional life). I think it is far too confusing to use the same term, which is why character ethics or virtue ethics are common descriptions.

Kant's point is that people do have to be held responsible for their actions. It's your responsibility as a human being - not to other human beings, but as a being endowed with reason - to act in accordance with the universal law, that all men are ends in themselves and no individual is an exception - that you must not favor yourself over others nor others over yourself, but perform those actions only which could be done by all without detriment.
posted by mdn at 8:59 AM on February 9, 2005


well, that's what I mean about being oblivious. Thinkers throughout history have thought about and struggled with questions that intrigued them. There is no "mass think" way of doing philosophy. In fact, I would have to say that leonard piekoff comes across as much more of a "groupthink" type than most students of philosophy,

mdn: Most philosophy, as Piekofff's, is a reaction and elaboration on and of the established "system," removed from existential experience. Rand's, for better or worse, seems to be a cognitive recognition and reasoning based on her actual, first-hand experiences. Some people appreciate the creative process involved in that.

You ought to read her before getting so commited against her. Is this typical of teachers?
posted by semmi at 8:19 AM on February 10, 2005


Most philosophy, as Piekofff's, is a reaction and elaboration on and of the established "system," removed from existential experience

That is simply false. An enormous percentage of philosophers work from their own direct experiences. Descartes sits and stares at the wax in his hand. Hobbes, Locke, Hume, etc, speak of the impressions on the mind of the things around them. Augustine tells his life story. Sartre discusses whether the cafe is empty. I mean, have you read philosophy? Everyone is trying to make sense of what's before them. If you take 101 classes that give you the 'talking points' or whatever, perhaps you miss the personal details, but not all philosophers are systematic, and even the ones who are often wrote other pieces/articles that address less oblique concerns.

You ought to read her before getting so commited against her. Is this typical of teachers?

semmi, I'm not 'committed against her.' I said above that if you've found the material engaging, more power to you. I simply want to emphasize that her self-aggrandizing claims are the result of her lack of familiarity with the field. There are plenty of people in philosophy departments who liked ayn rand when they were 17. It's not that she was never 'discovered' or something. It's just that she wasn't that good.

As I said above, my main issue is not that she was wrong about everything - I imagine if she took a common sense approach in epistemology, I would (at least superficially) agree with her on quite a lot - but just that she seemed to think she'd made a point other people hadn't got. I won't bore you further, but I just think that doesn't reflect well on an author or her followers, to be so committed to one's own conclusions and so disinterested in any opposing thoughts.

Though, re: morality, egoism is just hard to defend and quite dangerous in political hands...

"Thus, in principle, [the volkish philosophy] serves the basic aristocratic idea of nature and believes in the validity of this law down to the last individual. It sees not only the different value of the races but also the different value of individuals. From the mass it extracts the importance of the individual personality and thus it has an organizing effect...

"There must be no majority decisions, but only responsible persons... This principle - absolute responsibility unconditionally combined with absolute authority - will gradually breed an elite of leaders, such as today, in this era of irresponsible parliamentarianism, is utterly inconceivable."


That's heroism, via Mein Kampf.
posted by mdn at 2:02 PM on February 11, 2005 [3 favorites]


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