The Triumph of Ayn Rand's Worst Idea
November 23, 2018 8:07 AM   Subscribe

"I lived in a subculture that embraced Rand’s virtue of moral intolerance, and saw the devastation. Genuinely smart and nominally rational people were quick to take offense and afraid to ask questions. Indeed, many were so afraid to talk to the “wrong people” that they stayed in their Randian intellectual ghetto, parroting their guru and her appointed successors. Vocal free-thinkers were often purged. As a result, Randians were mired in error. When they were wrong (as they often were), they lacked the cognitive methods and social lifelines to stop being wrong."
The party line, of course, was that Randians had no need to root out error because they were so clearly and thoroughly right. Everyone outside of their ambit probably finds this megalomania comical, but the problem goes deeper than one Russian novelist’s eccentricities. Every group that deems itself clearly and thoroughly right is deeply wrong due to (a) their dogmatic methods and (b) the complexity of the world. Including yours. Including mine.
posted by clawsoon (99 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yeah okay but when the author equated Communists with Nazis, my ability to suspend all moral judgement had expired.
posted by entropone at 8:21 AM on November 23, 2018 [43 favorites]


Okay, so I have written (on paper with a pen lol) a feminist defense of Rand. I read a reference to Atlas Shrugged in The Illuminatus Trilogy (I think, might have been their other book whose name escapes me) as a teen and then saw a copy a few years later in a used book store and picked it up. There is nothing I hate more than a reference I don’t get. This was like, a month or two before 9-11.

So I went into her writing framing her as a sci fi author. Anthem was the next one I read, then the very autobiographical about the shop girl in Soviet Russia. Coming out of an abusive marriage this idea of Self was so so empowering to me. I think the biggest mistakes these very vocal Randites (I think more accurately Peikoffites) make is to get all puffed up on self and forget that to be “allowed” to be like that, they also have to work. Skillfully, efficiently, with passion and dedication. The heroes in her books would be utterly disgusted by the privileged takers who claim Objectivism as their personal philosophy.

I don’t ever expect to convert anyone or correct the record. That well has been poisoned and filled with cement. It’s infuriating. Because she was a really interesting woman whose views were heavily influenced by living under the Soviets and reacting against that. She wasn’t a prophet, or a great philosopher, or even a great writer. But she was a hell of a world builder.

At this point, I think most of the arguments are between two groups who aren’t actually all that familiar with her actual work or life, they are just reacting to what other people say and never go to the source. Shortly after I discovered her, I was talking about her with this guy in a bar. He was making all these statements about her writing that were so confusing to me. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I asked what books he was referencing because I hadn’t seen any of it. None. He had actually read none of her books. So I told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. He threw a beer on me. Then like 40 minutes later he flew across the table (I wasn’t even talking to him at this point) and punched me in the chest. This guy and the current crop of “Libertarians” are two sides of the same coin.

I also think that people who use “she was on public assistance at the end of her life” as some kind of gotcha statement are being very silly. She should die in the street for a purity test? Really? She was a person, not a mythic hero. If you want to get picky, one might argue that using public assistance in her old age was very much in her own self interest and not in the interest of her little society and therefore very consistent.

It makes me sad that her work has become so polarizing and tainted. I am very grateful that I got a chance to experience her work without preconceived ideas of who she was and why she was horrible/glorious.
posted by monkeyscouch at 8:35 AM on November 23, 2018 [34 favorites]


This doesn't seem to be about her work in any meaningful way. It's just using objectivists as a self-evidently bad-thinking and deluded group to say you're just as bad as them if you won't pretend that people who think it's fine for the US to be building special, different concentration camps for the children we've kidnapped from their families where they're systematically and intentionally denied any reasonable kind of education, emotional care, or even basic physical upkeepp, and where we merely haven't heard yet about how many of them are being raped, aren't moral degenerates.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:44 AM on November 23, 2018 [12 favorites]


David Kelley got ousted ("Fact and Value") because it was decided he was "wrong" but which when applied by the Objectivists becomed interpreted as "evil". So he got excommunicated from the scoobie gang. The philosophy really should be called "Objectionism". They were so damned sure they got everything logically just right - it all starts with an axiom (A is A) which is really a meaningless tautology but don't tell them that.

Ayn Rand's greatest achievement was to demonstrate that philosophy is important (even if implicit) in people's lives. But the one she came up with is demonstrably wrong. Not only wrong, in this case, it's evil.
posted by parki at 8:44 AM on November 23, 2018 [7 favorites]


> Yeah okay but when the author equated Communists with Nazis, my ability to suspend all moral judgement had expired.

on the one hand yeah commies and nazis aren't moral equivalents and anyone who's like "commies and nazis are both types of extremist and anyone who's an extremist might do a genocide therefore commies are just as bad as nazis" is not right and shouldn't be listened to.

on the other hand, though, folks who are members of marxist-leninist or trotskyist organizations don't engage in public debate in the same way that other people do. you have to always keep in mind when talking with them that you're not exactly engaging with an individual's views; instead, you're engaging with a sales pitch for the party line. it's exhausting to deal with. you just want to shout "PLEASE STOP BEING A COMMERCIAL I WOULD LIKE TO TALK WITH YOU NOW," but you know there's no way you'll ever, ever get the commercial to stop. It's a bit like trying to have a conversation with a Landmark Forum tru believer.

So, like, in a limited sense, I get the comparison. both nazis and bolsheviks can be reliably trusted to argue in bad faith, though for different reasons. bolsheviks argue in bad faith because they're all about the sales pitch, all the time. Nazis argue in bad faith because they are literally the worst people in the world so of course they argue in bad faith.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:53 AM on November 23, 2018 [29 favorites]


FTA: What does this mean in practice? Don’t talk to your intellectual enemies – and don’t talk to people who talk to your intellectual enemies. Because they’re your enemies too. Sure, you can denounce them; but you can’t have a civilized conversation. Indeed, engaging in such a conversation practically makes you as bad as they are.*

with the asterisk going to:

I’m well-aware that Rand enjoined her readers to judge others judiciously:

The opposite of moral neutrality is not a blind, arbitrary, self-righteous condemnation of any idea, action or person that does not fit one’s mood, one’s memorized slogans or one’s snap judgment of the moment. Indiscriminate tolerance and indiscriminate condemnation are not two opposites: they are two variants of the same evasion.


In other words, by all means judge the fuck out of your enemies, but don't recklessly leap to that initial judgment. Blah-blah-blah. I say blah-blah-blah because I think the whole notion of blaming Rand and Randians for the current divisiveness in American discourse is absurd. I mean, yeah, they're not helping but ... I don't know, it's kind of like blaming communism for World War 2. You can argue it was a factor but ...
posted by philip-random at 9:05 AM on November 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


on the other hand, though, folks who are members of marxist-leninist or trotskyist organizations don't engage in public debate in the same way that other people do. you have to always keep in mind when talking with them that you're not exactly engaging with an individual's views; instead, you're engaging with a sales pitch for the party line.

This is not unique to communists, or indeed to extremists. Self-proclaimed centrists, such as the Lib Dems, can exhibit exactly the same behaviours, in exactly the same dogmatic, insistent, unceasing way.
posted by Dysk at 9:07 AM on November 23, 2018 [23 favorites]


We should link to the Wikipedia “horseshoe theory” page before going any farther.

It's a rather noticeable asymmetry that the OP article author is grouping all communists from 1848 to the 21st century as “unworthy of a response” not eligible for respectful listening versus “avowed Nazis”, which is a considerably smaller group of people on the right and looks a little bit like reserving the option of being chummy with ideological adherents who have a great deal in common with Nazis but don't call themselves Nazis.
posted by XMLicious at 9:08 AM on November 23, 2018 [9 favorites]


I say blah-blah-blah because I think the whole notion of blaming Rand and Randians for the current divisiveness in American discourse is absurd.

The author is careful to note that they don't mean to suggest that: "Is Rand really causally responsible for modernity’s moral intolerance? Probably not; the lines of intellectual communication don’t fit."
posted by clawsoon at 9:14 AM on November 23, 2018


It's a rather noticeable asymmetry that the OP article author is grouping all communists from 1848 to the 21st century as “unworthy of a response” not eligible for respectful listening versus “avowed Nazis”, which is a considerably smaller group of people on the right and looks a little bit like reserving the option of being chummy with ideological adherents who have a great deal in common with Nazis but don't call themselves Nazis.

Not only that, but those "not a Nazi" Nazis use the author's thesis as a crucial component of their discursive and political strategy: "You're so tolerant, you have to talk to me, you have to debate me, you have to provide a platform through which I can disseminate my views, otherwise you clearly hate Free Speech." It reflects shocking naivete on the author's part that he doesn't either address or anticipate this in 2018.

It shows that he has a huge blind spot about his ideology that he doesn't see its harms - funny, since that's exactly what he says happens to people who are too quick to pass moral judgement .

Or, in other words, what Dysk said:
This is not unique to communists, or indeed to extremists. Self-proclaimed centrists, such as the Lib Dems, can exhibit exactly the same behaviours, in exactly the same dogmatic, insistent, unceasing way.

posted by entropone at 9:19 AM on November 23, 2018 [15 favorites]


> I think the whole notion of blaming Rand and Randians for the current divisiveness in American discourse is absurd.

It's not really about blaming the Randians for divisiveness or whatever; the article itself notes that Randians are a small group of unimportant people. Instead, it's a rhetorical move aimed at scoring points. No one on the internet wants to be anything like Ayn Rand, especially not people in the culture that this article appears to be calling out. so if yr in the sort of internet argument where yr main goal is scoring points off your opponent, saying "psst you've got some Rand on you" is a great way to wrong-foot them.

> This doesn't seem to be about her work in any meaningful way. It's just using objectivists as a self-evidently bad-thinking and deluded group to say you're just as bad as them if you won't pretend that people who think it's fine for the US to be building special, different concentration camps for the children we've kidnapped from their families where they're systematically and intentionally denied any reasonable kind of education, emotional care, or even basic physical upkeepp, and where we merely haven't heard yet about how many of them are being raped, aren't moral degenerates.

I kind of dig monkeyscouch's strategy of responding to this piece by actually talking about Ayn Rand... it's what I'd be doing if i had ever actually read any rand oh god i'm so embarrassed to be admitting that.

I'm pretty sure you're right, though. This piece isn't about Rand or Randians at all. It's about how we should respond to folks who think that concentration camps for kids are okay. And perhaps the author isn't confident in their ability to successfully defend concentration camps for kids, so they've fallen back to "psst you've got some Rand on you" as a bad-faith distraction strategy.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:21 AM on November 23, 2018 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure what the point here is. Is it to argue that no one should have deep convictions? Is that we should test our convictions through open engagement with opponents?
posted by No Robots at 9:30 AM on November 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


> This is not unique to communists, or indeed to extremists. Self-proclaimed centrists, such as the Lib Dems, can exhibit exactly the same behaviours, in exactly the same dogmatic, insistent, unceasing way.

Oh absolutely. Moreover, there's not much difference between the strategy that trotskyists use to make recruits and the strategy that people in the employ of capitalists use to sell gym memberships or iPhones or soft drinks or cereal or fancy juice-making machines or life insurance plans etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum.

There's no such thing as the liberal enlightenment public sphere wherein we rationally debate abstract ideas on their merits, separate from our respective material interests (our paychecks, our desire to remain in a particular church, party, political organization or in-group, our desire to keep profiting off of passive income streams, and so forth). Although our material interests don't quite entirely determine our belief, in most cases they're close enough to being determinative as makes no difference.

trotskyists can be super super annoying though. can we all agree on that?
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:36 AM on November 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


trotskyists can be super super annoying though. can we all agree on that?

Seriously, try talking to commited Lib Dems sometime. Trots are bad, sure, but not uniquely so.
posted by Dysk at 9:40 AM on November 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


Yeah okay but when the author equated Communists with Nazis, my ability to suspend all moral judgement had expired.
Why would you do that? While evil cannot be easily quantified and this is a horrific comparison to make, Communists have directly caused more deaths than Nazis.

That wasn't Marx's intent, but global warming wasn't Adam Smith's intent either. Ultimately, one looks at the concrete actions of an ideology.

I can't say I blame the author for not wanting to talk to Communists... I don't like them either. I won't punch them like I would a Nazi, but I've never had a fruitful debate with an actual Communist. They're too willfully ignorant of history.

Signed, a card-carrying socialist (just got my DSA card!)
posted by juice boo at 9:44 AM on November 23, 2018 [11 favorites]


We should link to the Wikipedia “horseshoe theory” page before going any farther.

or as a friend's dad once put it after a few drinks, "I'm so right wing, I meet Jo Stalin coming the other way."

Is that we should test our convictions through open engagement with opponents?

That's my take, and a position I support. With the immediate caveat that not all opponents are worth my trouble engaging. In fact, the very notion that someone is defined as my opponent on some political-philosophical-social level tends to undermine any hope I may have of getting somewhere with them.

For instance, I have a friend who I agree with on musical taste and overall neighborliness but not much else. But I can engage with him because ... well, we're friends. However differently we may feel about issues, there's a familiarity and respect that allows us to explore our vast avenues of disagreement without it feeling like warfare. I don't view him as an opponent but rather as a friend who holds some opposing views on things.
posted by philip-random at 9:45 AM on November 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure what the point here is. Is it to argue that no one should have deep convictions?

Is there a term for that, when someone mischaracterizes? Is that what a strawman is?

"Is the point to argue against deep convictions, against the American spirit? Mom and apple pie???"

The answer to this question is definitely, no. No, that's not the point at all.

Here's just one example of the point. There are many others.
posted by eye of newt at 9:46 AM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


How much of political, philosophical, maybe even economic positions, are reached through reasoned thought, such that they can be discussed, argued with both proponents and opponents? Or are they just really religious beliefs acquired after some conversion experience steeped in emotion? Almost every Randian speaks of a moment when they saw the light. Something in the book clicks and answers many questions. The emotional connection anchors these beliefs, not held through reasoned discourse. You can’t argue with these people. You can only offer some other deeply emotional experience that can better answer their questions. You need to ask - are we dealing with beliefs or are we dealing with facts, things that can be verified? To believe is not to be wrong, beliefs are for the believer. If they provide support, and not in a way that denigrates anyone else, then fine.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:48 AM on November 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


While evil cannot be easily quantified and this is a horrific comparison to make, Communists have directly caused more deaths than Nazis.

And capitalists has caused many more (every person worldwide who has died from disease treatable with medical intervention they couldn't afford, especially medicines kept artificially expensive through patents), so I guess we can lump every mainstream politician (including all Democrats) in with the nazis and commies as not worth our time, if that's our metric.
posted by Dysk at 9:52 AM on November 23, 2018 [27 favorites]


> Seriously, try talking to commited Lib Dems sometime. Trots are bad, sure, but not uniquely so.

my undisclosed location is too far away from Airstrip One for me to encounter committed LibDem party members that often. I ran into one several years back, though, a fussy young anglican-priest-in-training who acted exactly like a fussy old anglican priest. He tried to talk my ear off about how terrible Labour was and how reasonable the LibDems were. I'm not sure how he expected an American to respond to all of that, but I am certain the response he was least expecting was me announcing in my thick regional-American accent that the chief problem with Labour was that they didn't take Clause IV seriously anymore. The night ended with him calling me Marxist scum and refusing to smoke any of my weed, which I would have gladly shared with him. His loss, I guess.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:54 AM on November 23, 2018 [20 favorites]


Why would you do that? While evil cannot be easily quantified and this is a horrific comparison to make, Communists have directly caused more deaths than Nazis.

Might be a derail to get too far into this, but I think it's a pretty safe and not particularly controversial argument to say that when communist states turned into totalitarian authoritarian surveillance states run by cabals of oligarchs, they stopped practicing communism (communal control over resources). That they remained communist in name only was a way to get the underclass majority to support the oppressive minority. Kind of like how in the USA we talk about democracy.

The difference between Communism and Naziism should be apparent: the brutalities practiced by Nazis was a fundamental component of their ideology; those practiced by states called Communist represented a hijacking of communism, not a component of it.
posted by entropone at 9:58 AM on November 23, 2018 [45 favorites]


Here's just one example of the point. There are many others.

Thanks. I guess I should have quoted the line from the o.p. that I'm wondering about: "Every group that deems itself clearly and thoroughly right is deeply wrong due to (a) their dogmatic methods and (b) the complexity of the world. Including yours. Including mine."

So, the post is not about Rand per se, but about epistemology and ideological error in general.
posted by No Robots at 9:59 AM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


let's all agree:
  • libdems are weirdos
  • trots are annoying
  • stalin was awful
  • hitler's the worst
oh shit I'm totally going to have one of my characters sing that in my next novel. it's totally a little ditty that I'd write.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:00 AM on November 23, 2018 [8 favorites]


I think the whole notion of blaming Rand and Randians for the current divisiveness in American discourse is absurd

It's entirely absurd. The whole article is effectively a giant Godwin (Randwin?). Because, yeah, moral tolerance is virtue; and yeah, there are lots of cases in current discourse where a failure of moral tolerance is incredibly dangerous; but this piece doesn't add anything to the conversation apart from, 'you know who else shouted down people who disagreed with them?'.
posted by howfar at 10:03 AM on November 23, 2018


the brutalities practiced by Nazis was a fundamental component of their ideology; those practiced by states called Communist represented a hijacking of communism, not a component of it.

the means are the end, or so I've heard it put.

That said, I've had entirely useful and interesting discussions with self-labelled communists over the years. Not so Nazis. In fact, I can't say I've ever met anyone who called themselves a Nazi.

I think the fundamental problem with Soviet Communism (and other communisms of the 20th century) is that they were revolutionary by design, they had no qualms with using violence to achieve their glorious ends. And violence just doesn't play out that well ... for anybody, in spite of what we may learn from Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzeneggar movies.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. The Revolution Needs To Be Boring.
posted by philip-random at 10:08 AM on November 23, 2018 [8 favorites]


"psst you've got some Rand on you"
This is hilarious, and I definitely agree with you, RNTP, that it's a bit of a rhetorical trick on Caplan's part to get the reader on his side. I.e., you're gonna have to agree with me here if you don't want to get yourself covered in Rand.

That said, I'm also with philip-random in that I think the article is not meaningfully about Rand at all. Rather, it's trying to illustrate the point that rigid intolerance of viewpoints one doesn't agree with feels like an increasingly common trait in public discussion lately. I just think he got carried away with the Rand-related part of the article.

I struggle with this point a lot, because so many of the ideas in American political discourse are so thoroughly repugnant to me. (See above re: child camps.) And yes, there are some people whose positions it's fair to consider beyond the pale. Still, I think that you have to make that determination an option of last resort. I can't accept that ignoring people, or shouting them down, is an effective strategy for changing minds and thus getting my way in a democracy. If we don't believe that it's possible to have a good-faith conversation with ideological "opponents," I don't see how to proceed.
posted by The Baffled King at 10:16 AM on November 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


> If we don't believe that it's possible to have a good-faith conversation with ideological "opponents," I don't see how to proceed.

We proceed by actually doing things. by fixing the world in whatever way we can, by supporting our comrades and neighbors and friends, by laughing, loving, fucking and drinking liquor, by acknowledging that debate isn't really that important and that it's by our works rather than our words that they will know us, etc. etc. etc.

n.b.: the fact that I so often find myself saying things like the above in debates on metafilter when I could instead be out in the world doing useful things indicates that I am absolute crap at living my values.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:28 AM on November 23, 2018 [14 favorites]


I just think he got carried away with the Rand-related part of the article.

I'm guessing he was just going with something familiar to him. If I had written the article, I would've compared The Discourse Nowadays to that of the Evangelical church I grew up in.
posted by clawsoon at 10:55 AM on November 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


I mean, we could proceed by deciding which kinds of ideological opponents are worth debating, as it were. "If we nationalized Amazon, what would the consequences be, and would the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? What lessons can we learn from past nationalizations of important services?" is something that a lot of people left of center could kick around from various different perspectives, and we could have a fruitful discussion. People would have very different opinions and everyone would probably learn something - even if no one actually changed their minds, it really would help people make their positions more subtle and take more historical evidence into account.

There are lots of other questions that it's stupid to debate - are women human, is it okay for people to die of treatable diseases because they are poor, etc.

It would be interesting to try to parse out just how to draw that line, and whether there's a sort of line-creep, where we go from "I am not going to debate [this extremely obvious point about human lives]" to "we can only say a very small set of things about [this extremely obvious point] and anything else renders you persona non grata even if you're talking about your own experience". I think that a lot of Very Online leftists would concede that there's line-creep, although the exact nature and degree of line-creep varies with the issue and the community, and I think most of us would agree that it's not ideal, but that fixing it is difficult, especially since any divisions and debate within the left are exploited by the center and the right.
posted by Frowner at 11:04 AM on November 23, 2018 [16 favorites]


I clicked through the authors embedded links about his own intolerance and elitism and I guess he is just one of those "smart" people that doesn't really "get" most people very well. It seems to me what makes a lot of ideology popular is its capacity to ameliorate the pangs of self doubt and confusion that just being alive engender. What he is describing seems reasonably universal and Randians don't seem to me to be anymore the Acme model of this kind of "thinking" than any other line of thought that appeals to the fervid and true believing.

As far as the works of Herself go, my limited experience with her refugee survivalist pedantry began when I watched the 1949 movie Fountainhead on TV in my early 20's. Straight out of the box it was so ridiculous I thought it was supposed to be satire, intrigued I read a couple of her books to the extent I could. I think I read Atlas Shrugged and maybe the Fountainhead and then some kind of screed about her philosophy. (It has been a looong time so my memory is hazy.) Anyway, my point is that I came to her ideas fresh and untainted and I found them appalling. Now maybe in a lifeboat with strangers and no water, or maybe in a death camp her words would have merit, maybe when you strip away the tissue of civilization, are in a violent prison or caught in an ethnic civil war she would be the manual to turn to. So pathology for pathology I guess but in the meantime couldn't we aspire to something a little more inspiring?
posted by Pembquist at 12:08 PM on November 23, 2018 [7 favorites]


I don't want to paint all libertarians and randroids as jerks but an internet famous libertarian economist blogger posted an image detailing the research on the benefits of three fasting diets on Thanksgiving.
posted by srboisvert at 12:30 PM on November 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


it can be hard sometimes to figure out if someone's political argument is based on solid facts and is supportable, but it's really not that hard to figure out if they're making a good faith argument. i.e., whether *they* really believe what they're saying, or are just saying it to mislead or deceive you, and really they believe something else. for example, republicans saying they're actually for protecting preexisting conditions coverage and that there's an invasion caravan on the way? bad faith. they obviously are lying and they know theyre lying.

BUT... is the mere fact that an argument is made in good faith enough for us to have to countenance it? for example, republicans making racist comments about black and brown communities not having wealth because they lack the right "values" or "culture"? honestly, they may really believe that in good faith. of course, it's absurd and racist and moronic and flies in the face of data and it doesnt get us anywhere to engage with that sort of idiocy. it falls far short of the nazi cutoff that the author uses, but i still see no value in engaging there.

so what is the cutoff for agreeing to engage with someone politically? maybe it has something to do with whether a person is amenable to being persuaded. like if you asked them, "hypothetically, if i showed you X is true, would that convince of Y?" and if they throw up denials and protestations at the mere idea of countervailing evidence, you can make your exit.
posted by wibari at 1:03 PM on November 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


honestly this is one of those conversations where maybe the best thing for everyone to do is go watch a bunch of ContraPoints videos and maybe try to rip off Natalie's style/approach insofar as we can. cause she is really excellent at finding effective ways to respond to our current crop of internet nazis and associated concentration camp fans.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:18 PM on November 23, 2018 [14 favorites]


here's a pretty good recent article on her strategy. quote:
As the election of Donald Trump clearly demonstrates, mocking bigots is not sufficient in itself to stop them. Instead, Wynn uses a different tool to humorously undermine her most sanctimonious right-wing targets: seduction. Her video about right-wing self-help guru Jordan Peterson begins with her flirting with him (or a masked mannequin of him, at any rate) at some length, sitting him down in her bathroom so he can watch her bathe while she critiques him. She calls him “daddy.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, but in brief, as Wynn puts it, “You [can] respond to a political opponent and have the model of that conversation be seduction. Because usually what you have on YouTube is this very combative posture right? Ownage. Wrecking. Destroying your enemy.” It is, she says, a “toxically masculine posture: the idea that a conversation or an argument is about destroying another person. That’s a terrible thought and a terrible way to have discourse.”

It is fun to watch, however, as Wynn notes. Thus, to entertain without giving into that ‘x eviscerates y’ screaming-headline discourse, she turns to seduction. Far from adding to their mystique (could one imagine Jordan Peterson as a sex symbol?) it actually helps chip away at their threatening postures.

“I die laughing every time TheGoldenOne is included in your videos,” writes one commenter. That, indeed, is the point. And it’s bigger than just making a funny for its own sake.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:21 PM on November 23, 2018 [9 favorites]


Thanks, Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon. I love her already.
posted by No Robots at 1:29 PM on November 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


yeah one of the few glimmers of light in our grim timeline is that Contra's gone from being that weird youtube person I keep trying to talk my friends into watching to being a million-view low-key-celebrity.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:32 PM on November 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


BUT... is the mere fact that an argument is made in good faith enough for us to have to countenance it?

In my experience, the value of interacting with people who have some opinions that I find abhorrent isn't their abhorrent opinions. It's the rest of their opinions, which come from a different perspective than mine do, and sometimes have truths in them that I'm not very good at recognizing because of the perspective I'm coming from.

Group dynamics tend to not work that way, though. We tend to lump all of the opinions of the Other Side together as bad: Since they're wrong and evil in one way, we mustn't listen to any of their opinions, lest their wrongness and evilness infect us. Treat all of their opinions as wrong and evil just in case. Never ever say, "Good point, I hadn't thought of it that way before" to someone on the Other Side. Pull back in horror from anyone on our side who does say things like that.
posted by clawsoon at 1:48 PM on November 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


I also think that people who use “she was on public assistance at the end of her life” as some kind of gotcha statement are being very silly. She should die in the street for a purity test? Really?

Or, crazy thought here, just admit that maybe, just maybe, the principles that she espoused most of her working life may not be the best basis for a society.

I think it's a pretty safe and not particularly controversial argument to say that when communist states turned into totalitarian authoritarian surveillance states run by cabals of oligarchs, they stopped practicing communism (communal control over resources). That they remained communist in name only was a way to get the underclass majority to support the oppressive minority.

You know, that would be a great premise for a near-future SF novel.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:10 PM on November 23, 2018 [6 favorites]


I'm not mad that Rand was in public assistance when she died. I find that amusing.

It makes me angry that she advocated that people should die in squalor rather than receive public assistance.

Those figures people quote for deaths caused by communism include (and by quantity are dominated by) casualties of mismanagement and institutional dysfunction. I'll assume that if you hold the the 1932 deaths from the Soviet and Maoist Chinese famines as casualties of communism that you count the Irish potato famine and the various Indian famines under British rule as crimes of capitalism.
posted by idiopath at 6:56 PM on November 23, 2018 [13 favorites]


Editing error above, of course Mao's famine was not in 1932.
posted by idiopath at 7:07 PM on November 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is not unique to communists, or indeed to extremists. Self-proclaimed centrists, such as the Lib Dems, can exhibit exactly the same behaviours, in exactly the same dogmatic, insistent, unceasing way.

Or indeed to political ideologies - it's a natural consequence of believing that whatever you believe answers all the world's questions. If you're intellectually honest, you know there are things in your worldview where you don't have the right answers and your natural instincts are wrong. It's impossible (genuinely, provably impossible) for it to be otherwise.

The Revolution Needs To Be Boring.

The lesson I draw from the failures of a lot of these revolutions is that The Revolution Doesn't Work. Weak states get taken over by authoritarians; a newly overthrown state is by definition weak. The whole idea of communist revolution was that capitalism would inevitably result in wealth entering ever fewer hands and thus the system would implode. Marx did not anticipate the possibility of democratic reform and regulation spreading the wealth around, which is what happened in most European countries not ruled by a useless tsar, and The Mess We're In is due mostly to those regulations being dismantled because they were a nuisance.
posted by Merus at 9:26 PM on November 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


those practiced by states called Communist represented a hijacking of communism, not a component of it.

So, Communists aren't murderers, they just let their states get taken over by murderers.

True, I guess being incompetent is better than being a killer. But doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.
posted by FJT at 10:33 PM on November 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


discussing violent vs nonviolent revolution in the abstract is kind of useless. and, like, the bolsheviks didn't choose the russian civil war; the capitalist nations did.

and here's the shit of it: they almost pulled it off. they were so close to sparking a worldwide anticapitalist revolution. germany quite plausibly could have thrown a successful revolution in response to the russian revolution; which would have meant that the two red years in italy could have been followed by socialism rather than fascism. and ireland could have made it; hell, america could have made it. but instead germany didn't quite make it over the top and then everything else sputtered out and the bolsheviks had to militarize their entire society to survive the entire damn world trying to snuff them out and then they never broke out of their (justified) paranoia and then they started shooting everyone to their left and then fucking stalin pivoted toward russian nationalism rather than international socialism and then the entire goddamned 20th century happened. if one or two things broke differently in Berlin in 1918 or 1919, instead of the white army bludgeoning the soviets half to death, we would have seen every damn soldier in the world turning their guns toward their real enemy — toward the generals on their own sides, toward the capitalists who hired the generals — and we'd have a liberated world instead of the crapsack we're stuck holding.

It turned out terribly. It was still worth the risk.

there's something hopelessly, painfully clueless about talking about democratic reform spreading the wealth around and bringing general prosperity; it almost, maybe, made sense back in the 90s, when half the world decided to pretend that history had stopped and liberal capitalism had stopped it, but right now, when history is hitting us like a freight train and when it is quite clear indeed that the wealth isn't spread around, that reform has in fact not yielded general liberation, that in short the powers that be do not have our best interests in mind. it makes me die a little inside to see people earnestly pretending that technocratic managerialism — which, let's be honest, is what the calls for "boring reform" are about — has resulted in prosperity or democracy.

Power does not love you. The CEOs do not want you to be happy. We are not fully human to the wealthy; we are livestock. Nothing in history has shown us that the conflicts between us are just some sort of misunderstanding that can be reformed away. We must respect ourselves and our fellow humans enough to organize toward a better world.

We do not get to choose whether our movements will be violent or nonviolent. capital gets to make that decision, not us. but nevertheless, we must have the self-respect to organize despite it all.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:37 PM on November 23, 2018 [17 favorites]


It makes me sad that her work has become so polarizing and tainted.

After listening to some of her earliest young fans describe what she was all about, and what they wanted the world to be like, I concluded that her mind was tainted, and unable to get in touch with her heart (assuming for her sake that she'd once had one), and that she'd somehow accepted some ideas that were execrable. And taken in a lot of innocents.

If her own creations left her 'tainted', then here's how it works: you have to be careful what you put out there. And you have to be careful to the ideas you open yourself up to. And if they lead to anyone being hurt, in any way, you've chosen the wrong path ... of that I'm certain.
posted by Twang at 11:50 PM on November 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


This article is interesting because it raises a question that is pretty prominent in this polarized era, which is: how do you create a less-polarized world when you cannot talk to your intellectual enemies? And how do we bring ourselves to do so? What is the line?

I can't answer that question. I know this much: that humans tie opinions to identity, they tie facts, or what they believe are facts, to identity, and that political identity is so strong that even if you disagree with those in your party you are still more likely to vote for them than you would the opposition. The opposition is the Out Group, and we are so divorced from thinking of the Out Group as Possibly Like Us In Some Ways that we doom ourselves to never persuading the other side, especially depending on who you are (for example, if you are a white person who refuses to bring up issues of race with other white people who disagree). But sometimes you have to draw lines for your own sanity, right? Especially if you are a member of a non-privileged group talking to members of the privileged group. But then you run into the issue that if the member of the privileged group never forms a real, human connection with the member of the non-privileged they may never develop sympathy, because the only way to start seeing the Out Group as a member of the In Group is when those non-rational parts of our brain start making connections with people who we thought were Not Like Us and did not share our values. So fuck me, right?

I think this is the point of the article. I think this is what the author is trying to address. The bit about communists is sending people spinning off, because you cannot imagine someone who feels that way about communists could possibly be worth talking to. Or basically, doing exactly what the guy is talking about in the article. I think there are a lot of nuances this article misses, but I think this is exactly the kind of discussions we should be having.
posted by schroedinger at 6:45 AM on November 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


there's something hopelessly, painfully clueless about talking about democratic reform spreading the wealth around and bringing general prosperity

I figured someone was going to claim this, which is why I checked my economic books first. Marx claimed that a capitalist society cannot become more equal than Victorian-era Euopean economies. That is, it turns out, bollocks.

The fact that inequality is out of control is not because Marx was right after all - this isn't the only problem with Marx's arguments. Inequality is out of control because of free movement of capital - capital can go where it can do the most damage and damn whoever lives there. We had controls on capital in the early 20th century and governments spent that money on pointless wars and then, eventually, on healthcare and infrastructure. With controls on capital there's no race to the bottom on corporate tax, there's no tax shelters, no foreign sweatshops. That is the place to start! It's not exciting, it's not glorious but it has a good chance of actually getting somewhere.

In a world where everyone accepts that libraries work and co-op businesses are possible, it's hard to see how revolution is necessary. Socialism is already here. It's just not evenly distributed yet.

I'm going to politely ignore that I'm being called clueless by someone claiming that if Germany had been communist, Stalin would have been a good boy.
posted by Merus at 7:10 AM on November 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


If Germany had gone communist, the bolsheviks would have stuck to Plan A (revolution in a colonial outpost sparks revolution in the metropole, governance by soviets) instead of switching to Plan B (russian nationalism, russian imperialism, governance by central party authority). It might have gone wrong some way or another — things always do — but Stalin's path toward personal rule over a post-national pan-european communist movement would have been, to say the least, much more complicated than his path toward control over the paranoid and isolated russian state.

I'm framing this in terms that may sound very "if only trotsky had beat out stalin!", but it goes a lot deeper than that. If the revolutions of 1917-1923 had succeeded, the leaders wouldn't have ended up being lenin, trotsky, or stalin. the revolution would have been led by rosa luxemburg, karl liebknecht, antonio gramsci — hell, maybe even by spanish anarchists whose names we'll now never know.

> With controls on capital there's no race to the bottom on corporate tax, there's no tax shelters, no foreign sweatshops. That is the place to start! It's not exciting, it's not glorious but it has a good chance of actually getting somewhere.

I agree. Let's organize toward capital controls. And a living wage as the minimum wage, and universal health care, and a universal basic income, and fully state-funded tuition at all schools, and a fully unionized workforce, and union workplace governance, and economic democracy. But should we even start to be successful, capital will deploy massive violence against us.

No one comes to revolutionary socialism because, yeehaw, they like guns, and like to shoot them, we like violence, yay. People come to revolutionary socialism when they see that very reasonable schemes like the one you outline end up met by violent reaction.

I've been talking about a lot of bolsheviks in the tail end of this thread, and this may give you the impression that the bolsheviks are my favorite socialists. They're not. My favorite socialist movement was Salvador Allende's. Allende and his supporters genuinely believed that they were presiding over the world's first peaceful transition to socialism. And they were... right up until the capitalists murdered them all.

If you have a spare six hours or so, I strongly recommend watching Patricio Guzmán's documentary The Battle of Chile, which fortunately is up on youtube in its entirety.

Guzmán original plan for his movie was to show Chile's peaceful transition toward socialism. Unfortunately, history had other ideas. Fortunately (or semi-fortunately) Guzmán's cameras were there to document it all. Ultimately the thesis of the film as a whole became the claim is that at the crucial moment, when the Chilean military leadership (backed by the CIA and by international capital) was openly organizing their coup, Allende's elected government could have armed the radical workers' councils — the Chilean term for these councils was "Cordones industriales" — that had taken over governance of the day-to-day operations of Chilean industry. Allende's government refrained from preparing for violence, despite the council leaders begging him to let them assemble a new red army. And so the coup came and Allende got shot. The leaders of the cordones industriales were rounded up and murdered by the tens of thousands. Chile's peaceful transition to socialism was halted and for the next 17 years Chile became an experimental laboratory for the hoover institution economists who invented what we now know as shock capitalism.

There are a thousand valid paths toward an orderly transition from capitalism to economic democracy. What's stopping us isn't a lack of good economic strategies. What's stopping us from an orderly transition is the cold fact that capital rather likes its hold on power and will gladly kill anyone who threatens its hold on power. For the powers that be, economic democracy would be a disaster — they'd be lowered to our level and forced to relate to us as equals. they'll stop at nothing to keep that from happening.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:02 AM on November 24, 2018 [11 favorites]


In a world where everyone accepts that libraries work and co-op businesses are possible, it's hard to see how revolution is necessary.

As a librarian, I'm pleased to learn that everyone accepts that libraries work. Many of them are apparently practicing some kind of sophisticated reverse psychology. /snark

To the rest of your point, I agree that effective controls on capital are a good place to start, but I'm not sure where that would come from without an organized push from somewhere. Many current "controls" are explicitly in the service of capital--interest rates, trade agreements, most rules regarding money and borders, really.

When big chunks of the planet are actively dismantling their respective welfare states in favor of private profit over public risk, Marx's bad fortune-telling isn't really any more worth quibbling over than Rand's, although his actual ideas are certainly more coherent and useful. I'm positive we're not going to learn much from arguing counterfactuals over the history of world communism in the twentieth century, because clearly things actually worked out the way they did.

Capital doesn't function without power. I haven't read a ton of Rand's philosophy, but from what I recall from her fiction, her individualistic heroes are always in tension with both a clueless society and a totalitarian state, ignoring or failing to understand that the state is a primary source of the power that enables capitalism to exist.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:07 AM on November 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


I’m trying to pinpoint what exactly the emotion is that this thread has inspired. I’m sure there’s an excellent German word that encapsulates it but the best I can do is “weary, unsurprised laughter.”

We’ve found the topic that even MF cannot discuss dispassionately. I wonder if L. Ron Hubbard-who created a cult (deliberately!) that currently enslaves people-would receive quite so much rage.
posted by monkeyscouch at 9:11 AM on November 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


i'm not sure what site you've been reading, but "dispassionate" is not exactly a fair description of the standard discussions on this one here.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:13 AM on November 24, 2018 [5 favorites]


Maybe you can’t see what this place looks like from the outside. But as a not regular user, it’s quite shocking.
posted by monkeyscouch at 9:19 AM on November 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


> In a world where everyone accepts that libraries work and co-op businesses are possible, it's hard to see how revolution is necessary. Socialism is already here. It's just not evenly distributed yet.

Perversely, I think we largely agree on a plan of action right now. Carve out spaces within capitalism for socialism and anarchism, and grow socialist and anarchist organizations within those spaces — co-ops, unions, political movements, free breakfast programs for children — and keep growing them. Prefigure economic democracy on a small scale, in the margins, and work toward the center.

But please, don't pretend that co-ops, unions, left political movements, and survival programs won't be met by state violence the moment they threaten to supplant capitalism. Don't pretend that the current uneven distribution of socialism is just an accident. History tells us otherwise, and it's told us again and again and again.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:23 AM on November 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


If Germany had gone communist, the bolsheviks would have

this is presenting historical possibility (well informed possibility) as probability, which sorry, is never really going to work with me ... unless it comes in the form of speculative fiction.

We do not get to choose whether our movements will be violent or nonviolent. capital gets to make that decision, not us

Sorry, I'm having a hard time buying this. I think because it seems to be defining a super villain (Capital) at whose doorstep all the world's problems may be laid. I'd maybe buy that if the super villain was Satan or Lucifer or Anti-Christ or whatever ... assuming I could believe such stuff, which I generally can't (only every now and then late at night with the TV news on in the background). But overall, nah, I don't think there is a Super Villain. Just villains. Many billions of them. We all carry them around in us, usually unaware as they tend to hide in our shadows. This is why revolutions fail. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

If the revolutions of 1917-1923 had succeeded, the leaders wouldn't have ended up being lenin, trotsky, or stalin. the revolution would have been led by rosa luxemburg, karl liebknecht, antonio gramsci — hell, maybe even by spanish anarchists whose names we'll now never know.

Maybe. I don't know this history near as well as I probably should. My read of the Russian Revolution(s) still goes back to High School history for the most part. Preposterously corrupt and incompetent Tsar gets overthrown in February Revolution (driven primarily by mass starvation) which never really had a chance given the magnitude of the problems they'd inherited (including what the hell to do with regard to the World War going on to the west). Which made the October Revolution inevitable, because the Bolsheviks did have a plan and a radical one at that and they understood history well enough to know that the best time to achieve radical change is when things are at their most unstable.

Which is why I argue from anarchist armchair that the revolution should be as boring as possible. It should be incremental yet inexorable. If it's televised, it should be on fringe channels.
posted by philip-random at 9:29 AM on November 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


We’ve found the topic that even MF cannot discuss dispassionately.

MeFi discusses nothing dispassionately. People get het up as all get out about recipes and urban planning and where the best coffee is. In that context, I dunno why they should be dispassionate about stuff that actually matters.
posted by Dysk at 10:20 AM on November 24, 2018 [8 favorites]


presenting historical possibility (well informed possibility) as probability, which sorry, is never really going to work with me ... unless it comes in the form of speculative fiction

I’d subscribe, RNTP. Get to work. Polite request for well designed space habitats as you approach the end of the 21th century.
posted by q*ben at 10:25 AM on November 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


so how do we feel about the Red Terror under Trotsky, was that cool orrrrr
posted by schroedinger at 10:42 AM on November 24, 2018 [2 favorites]


I have several novels out that are secretly scifi. my favorite of them is Gravity's Rainbow, but ymmv (feel free to skip the poop-eating scene… even I'm grossed out by that one).

but yeah. the point is that we can't pretend that the original bolsheviks were a bunch of shooty zealots who had bad intentions or who had no idea what they were doing. they were damned smart political organizers, trying to survive a genuinely apocalyptic war, with a solid plan for world socialism that came achingly close to working… even though it didn't, and even though all their shit was permanently wrecked by 1920.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:43 AM on November 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


I rescind my comment, in light of my last one, contributing to this discussion is hypocritical
posted by schroedinger at 10:44 AM on November 24, 2018


> so how do we feel about the Red Terror under Trotsky, was that cool orrrrr

I refer you to every previous comment I've made in this thread.

(people talk a lot about Trotsky murdering the Kronstadt sailors, which was an atrocity, but the Trotsky atrocity that really gets me is when he pulled a Red Wedding-style assassination of most of the leadership of the Ukraine Free Territory. Dude cold killed everyone the second that anarchist soldiers weren't needed to hold back the White Army. )
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:48 AM on November 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


Maybe irregular users who haven't been around enough to notice any other passionate conversations on the site should avoid making sweeping claims about the treatment of this topic being a complete outlier here.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:57 AM on November 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


Seriously, what can you even look at on the Blue and not see passionate conversations? Maybe the front page itself? It's deffo not the comments...
posted by Dysk at 11:04 AM on November 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


monkeyscouch, thank you. i had a similar introduction, I was 17 and waiting out the curfew and riots after Mrs Gandhi's assasination, and literally just managed to get a hold of a tattered copy just as the curfew clamped down and Delhi burned for the next week or so. Everything you say about the empowering sense of self and recognizing secondhanders was probably just what I needed to navigate my way out of a patriarchal society bent on marrying me off to the highest bidder. Yours is the first comment in a Rand thread ever that I've recognized my own thoughts in. Perhaps that's why I've never commented in one before.

ps. We the Living is the soviet shopgirl book
posted by infini at 11:30 AM on November 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


Marx claimed that a capitalist society cannot become more equal than Victorian-era Euopean economies.

If you listen halfway through Harvey's lectures on Capital Vol. 1 there are a couple of interesting points that could be applied as critique of this type of rationale. In fact, if he ever made such a thesis, it's not in any modern interpretation of his texts that I have seen so far.
The difference between Rand and Marx, as it applies to this context, is we have teachers who research the latter material and produce scholarship on it.
posted by polymodus at 1:08 PM on November 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


If folks want to start up an metafilter ayn rand reading club, I’d be in. monkeyscouch, infini, would you have time to curate a good set of introductory texts? it seems like y’all know the selections we should look at to get a sense of the anti-imperialist, anti-patriarchal Rand.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 2:20 PM on November 24, 2018


> People get het up as all get out about recipes and urban planning and where the best coffee is.

tbf when I'm fronting like I'm het up about recipes or urban planning or coffee, really it's because I know that the other person's taste in coffee or gnocchi or trams reveals that deep down they don't agree with me on who the best communist is.

alexander bogdanov is the best communist
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 2:37 PM on November 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


The fact that inequality is out of control is not because Marx was right after all - this isn't the only problem with Marx's arguments. Inequality is out of control because of free movement of capital - capital can go where it can do the most damage and damn whoever lives there.

Do you understand how incoherent these two sentences are in conjunction?
posted by PMdixon at 3:02 PM on November 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


> Do you understand how incoherent these two sentences are in conjunction?

I've been spewing my opinions all over the place in this thread, but I think one complication with Marx is that (in my opinion) his later work is much, much smarter than his earlier stuff. the way I see it, spending two decades in the library studying all of political economy improved his thought dramatically. (so be like marx, kids! study, study, study!)

Merus's complaints have merit if he's talking about the Marx of the Manifesto. Your critique of Merus's complaints are spot-on if we're talking about the Marx of Capital.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 3:09 PM on November 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


Fair.
posted by PMdixon at 3:40 PM on November 24, 2018


I think the author is probably annoying to talk to and the entire article is a response to people avoiding him at parties.
posted by snofoam at 3:56 AM on November 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


schroedinger: so how do we feel about the Red Terror under Trotsky, was that cool orrrrr

Or drone strikes under Obama, to bring it a bit closer to home?
posted by clawsoon at 5:10 AM on November 25, 2018 [1 favorite]


infini: Everything you say about the empowering sense of self and recognizing secondhanders was probably just what I needed to navigate my way out of a patriarchal society bent on marrying me off to the highest bidder.

This is what I wouldn't learn if I didn't occasionally try to practise what the essay is preaching. If your brain has been filled with the idea that the purpose of your life is to sacrifice yourself to the needs of your father and husband and brothers, someone telling you that it's okay to be selfish could be revolutionarily positive.

Ayn Rand: Sometimes reinforcement for I-got-mine-ism, sometimes smashes the patriarchy.
posted by clawsoon at 5:24 AM on November 25, 2018 [7 favorites]


We’ve found the topic that even MF cannot discuss dispassionately.

Care to elaborate? I'm seeing largely informed responses where people are taking the time to write complete sentences, not swear at each other, and try to take each other's points into consideration even when they profoundly disagree with one another.

I wonder if L. Ron Hubbard-who created a cult (deliberately!) that currently enslaves people-would receive quite so much rage.
Oh my yes! The Scientology threads aren't for the faint of heart.

But I guess I think of rage as a pretty different animal than what I'm seeing here. The article inspires some disdain partially because it's poorly-argued and incoherent, fails to define terms and generally seems like a whine. I don't think anyone here is accusing Rand of what they're accusing the article of (my brief dip into Objectivism the book found it fairly incoherent, but that was a long time ago and I frankly refuse to argue about its supposed merits. It certainly wasn't whiney).

I too read the Fountainhead, Anthem and Atlas Shrugged in my impressionable teens, as "more intellectual" Sci-Fi than the Golden Age schlock I was reading. Although really it had a lot of the same themes as e.g. Heinlein, with whom I still vaguely (and probably wrongly) associate Rand.

At around the same time I read Dostoevsky and Camus, and along with Rand the three of them got me interested in reading philosophy, which ironically eventually lead to Marx and Gramsci.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:14 AM on November 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


Yes, exactly clawsoon.


And I think what everyone is saying is that Rand is read as part of a well rounded reading list for thinking about thinking about the world. In my college days at Bangalore University, the kit was Rand + Pirsig + listening to Clapton and the Dead.
posted by infini at 8:44 AM on November 25, 2018


Rand is poison. I've had friends infected with 'objectivism'. She called it the 'virtue of selfishness', and it's no surprise that her philosophy has been taken up by Trump supporters. I do not recommend making it part of a 'well rounded reading list'. It will stunt your thinking, not expand it.

Her special brand of reasoning led her to some unreasonably ugly positions—e.g., that homosexuality is “disgusting” (which caused gay Objectivists to pretend to be straight); that Native Americans, having failed for millennia to create a heroically productive capitalist society, deserved to be stripped of their land
posted by eye of newt at 1:40 PM on November 25, 2018 [2 favorites]


Anytime there is a failed belief in a prophecy or a self-help promise, one will find hooked adherents proselyting to spread the revision. That's basic cognitive dissonance. What is perhaps a better way of describing this effect is to see the old cult of personality as a brand new "might makes right" position, which expects them to become a trusted true-believer in order to become a status member of the new order they are pushing. Their toxic attitude isn't just stubbornness from doubling-down, but self-righteousness based on the internalization of might-makes-rightness, which looks like discipline, but is really obedience and fear of guilt trips among the peer group. It doesn't look any different from brainwashing.
posted by Brian B. at 7:49 PM on November 25, 2018


A few things. I saw some comments that I’ve heard in real life and never once has someone told me Rand was evil when not yelling it at me, so my perception is definitely colored. I apologize for my assumptions. There was also some very selective replying and to that I say...okay then.

The comment about how you should never ever write things down that hurt people is waaaaaaay too sweeping. You can find writing from literally every perspective, rooted in every intention, which leads to both good and bad people being hurt. Mother Theresa glorifying suffering comes to mind.

Which leads into the idea that you should never read objectionable (by whose judgment though?) texts or you will be tainted. As though no one has the strength of mind to hold on to their own principles. And side note, this is the exact argument used by evangelicals to try banning Harry Potter. Perhaps it might be wise to check the history of one’s argument before advocating for censorship.

I would be most curious to hear the perspective of another person who lived under the Soviets. If this has happened in this thread and I missed it, please point me in the right direction. I tend to be forgiving (but not accepting) of some of her more offensive ideas because she coming from a background that I cannot empathize with. Her view of the world and her view of utopia will be foreign to me always. Again, I don’t hold her up as a brilliant philosopher or a paragon of virtue. She was a person, with many biases. I wonder how much of her thinking was based on fear and how common that fear is when you are born into that environment.

Old lady fears death, decides in her dotage to take advantage of resources she shunned in her past. Burn the witch! ;) Should we take public assistance from every old racist in the home? No, because *we* aren’t monsters. The penalty for shitty thinking isn’t a death sentence. That might not feel fair, you can go ahead and say it, Godwin said it’s cool, Hitler is the exception. Hoist by her own petard is very satisfying to gloat about it, but it’s still not very nice.

None of the economic philosophies discussed here have any hope of being successful on a world scale without some serious SERIOUS alteration in basic human nature. Rand at least tried to elevate human nastiness and selfishness by encouraging people to harness it for productivity. She missed the mark but she tried. I wouldn’t join a communist or socialist community with even 10 people because at least two will probably do less work, take more resources they don’t need, and try to gaslight the rest of us into thinking they don’t. At least in a (pure) capitalist one I’d be getting paid and wouldn’t be trying to depend on everyone else’s better nature.

Which isn’t to say that they aren’t great ideas. I think I had a solid month of day dreaming about socialism after reading Island before my cynicism kicked in (I was working retail for rich ladies) and realized it could never work because wow, is humanity just full of assholes.

Last item! I accidentally flagged a comment “fantastic comment” trying to favorite it, so my bad. Though it was a fantastic comment. But I don’t know what that does.
posted by monkeyscouch at 1:05 AM on November 26, 2018


Oh and for the record, the last time I discussed Rand with someone theoretically “on my side” it ended in nastiness when his racism came up through the ground like a bubblin’ crude. I even attempted to maybe change a mind, and pointed out that if you removed all immigrants from restaurants there’d be nowhere to eat. I estimated a percentage, allowed that I didn’t have an exact number at my fingertips, but we were chatting informally at a bar. He immediately said “Oh of course you don’t” implying “gotcha bitch!” So I tapped my iPad and offered to pull them up if that was so important. He didn’t speak to me again.

You can’t claim to admire Rand who fucking worshiped hard work and then hate immigrants. There’s your cognitive dissonance.
posted by monkeyscouch at 1:25 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


I mean, Rand herself was pretty fucking racist, and wouldn't have had much time for immigrants if they were from the Arab world, for example. So it's not that much of a contradiction.

Old lady fears death, decides in her dotage to take advantage of resources she shunned in her past.

I think that's putting it a bit mildly. She denounced others who took advantage of it, and was invested in taking the system apart entirely (through e.g. her support of Barry Goldwater). It's a little more extreme than "I shunned it, but hey, why not?" - she denounced anyone taking advantage of these programs as essentially evil. It's hypocrisy of the highest order.
posted by Dysk at 2:32 AM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


I really don't believe that people point out Rand's hypocrisy to say that she should have starved. They point it out because it's an example of just how shitty and unliveable Rand's proposed ethics were. Rand on benefits was walking proof that her morality was impractical and useless.

I think it's reasonable to note that it's impossible to separate the level of vituperation that Rand receives from the misogyny of our society, and I don't think she'd get as much stick if she were a white man. But I think that's a reflection of how often we let white men get away with saying dumb and hateful shit, rather than an argument that Rand doesn't deserve the intellectual and moral contempt she receives; she deserves it in spades.

I wouldn’t join a communist or socialist community with even 10 people because at least two will probably do less work, take more resources they don’t need, and try to gaslight the rest of us into thinking they don’t.

It is astonishing to me that you believe socialism is impractical because it might produce by accident the sort of situation that capitalism produces by design. We're all being constantly gaslit by capitalists in the way you describe. And I know you think that's a product of human nature, but, well, I think that's just nonsense, to be honest. The idea that "human nature" is some sort of immutable constant, rather than a reaction to material and social conditions, seems to be without real foundation. Societies have organised themselves in myriad ways over the history of human civilisation; some of these have been highly cooperative and egalitarian, some highly acquisitive, some very authoritarian, some loosely controlled, etc etc. The only human nature I see lies in our ability to adapt our experience of and understanding of the world to the conditions we find ourselves in.

Socialism is not dependent, for its success, upon just asking people to be nice. It is dependent on creating robust civil institutions that create and sustain the condition in which it is to each person's advantage to behave in ways that benefit society. No socialist state will be perfect, and there will be an ongoing need to adaptation and development. That doesn't mean it's a naïve or impractical goal to strive for. Given the incredible unfairness and immorality in the current distribution of resources in the world, and the fact that consumer capitalism is definitely going to cause a global enviromental catastrophe of proportions unprecedented in human history, I think it's naïve not to try.
posted by howfar at 6:35 AM on November 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


TFA is actually about being dismissing ideas outside your little cultish sphere, and this thread has rapidly dissolved into another "(what I mean by) capitalism vs. (what I mean by) communism," which is a bit of a derail. But!

at least two will probably do less work, take more resources they don’t need[emphasis mine]

This is a classic canard, and like many such arguments it's rooted in illustrating a moral parable about human selfishness rather than appreciating the nuance of the problem. Let's take that invented figure and apply it to the US - almost 20% of the population are under 15 years old, and we've sorta decided as a society that we're not expecting people under 15 to work in garment factories any more. That's already almost two people out of ten who will certainly "do less work, take more resources."

Another 20% of the population is over sixty. Many of them are also no longer doing as much work, and at least in terms of health care are taking a lot more resources. We're near forty percent now, leaving 4/10 humans who will get more resources and do less work, and we haven't even gotten into disability or automation. Are they "gaslighting?" Why would they be more likely to do so under "communism?"

Drawn to its logical conclusion it's an ableist argument that assumes a perfectly spherical, ageless and interchangeable robot of a worker who is somehow also motivated by selfishness, which requires ignoring the inconvenient messiness of actual demographics (or just putting the kids in the factories and letting the elderly/disabled starve). There's also that little "take resources they don't need" - this is basically a hallmark of capitalism in the last century or so.

At least in a (pure) capitalist one I’d be getting paid and wouldn’t be trying to depend on everyone else’s better nature.
The fundamental precept underlying much Rand advocacy is that humans are inherently selfish. Capitalism just means trade and industry are controlled by private interests rather than the state. Why would they cut you in? Libertarians seem to just assume they'll get paid. Many of the rest of us assume you have to make the capitalists pay people, or they'll simply find a way not to.

At its "purest," capitalism pushes pretty closely toward slavery.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:26 AM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


Socialism is not dependent, for its success, upon just asking people to be nice. It is dependent on creating robust civil institutions that create and sustain the condition in which it is to each person's advantage to behave in ways that benefit society.

I'm Canadian. About ten years ago, I noticed certain pragmatic yet politically active people in my circle speaking of "the social" as opposed to Socialism, because Socialism had become too loaded a term, too easily attached to some of the greatest failed political experiments of the twentieth century. "The social" didn't necessarily mean anything ideological beyond the core belief that nothing was going to work toward making society function if we didn't prioritize taking care of people who needed it.

What I like about this particular nuance is that it focuses not on some glorious revolution but on something that, in Canada anyway, already exists: a social safety net. It's not perfect. It's well short of it, trust me, but as "experiments" go, it's proven rational, functional, fiscally viable, and resilient. Which is to say, good for pretty much everybody even if you never actually need it yourself.

As for me, my own particular experience of that safety is something I've related here before.
posted by philip-random at 8:15 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


You can’t refute my argument without twisting it waaaay out of proportion. “Those two people are obviously old because this example is obviously meant to be applied to giant populations.” Ever work on a group project? At school? At work? Every single person worked equally as hard? Are you sure? Please tell me where you went to school or who your employer is because that sounds like someplace I’d like to be.

I have been employed for 25 years and every single job I’ve had at least one if not several people did the bare minimum, bitched about how much harder it was for them, and actively interfered in other people trying to do their job. This was most egregious in office environments because wandering around chatting about nothing while fluttering your hands from “stress” and “busyness” is great cover for the fact that you aren’t doing much of anything. How did I know they weren’t doing much? Because I was picking up the the slack (and in one instance ended up doing her job, my job, and picking up extra projects while she was on extended sick leave, I quit after six months of this when they announced there would be no raises for anyone that year, bad capitalists don’t get my labor). It’s harder to get away with that in a place like say a kitchen because refusing to cook half the food is pretty blatant. But always being on a smoke break/in the bathroom when anything needs to be done that isnt specifically putting a plate out, well that’s common. Am I really that much of an outlier? I’m cursed to work with lazy people and it’s really just me?

As for human nature. Try this. I want you to think of your ten youngest adult relatives. [we have to have parameters for this so you can’t cherry pick children and that one great aunt who is a nun. Choosing the ten youngest allows children which is cheating on both sides, the ten oldest would lead to accusations of “kill the elderly” I assume. But this one isn’t about work.] Of these ten relatives, how many regularly engage in stupid petty bullshit/passive aggression/mean spirited gossip/destructive favoritism all of which is shrugged away with a “oh that’s just how they are but you know, it’s faaaaaamily.” There’s a reason we have creepy uncle/evil grandmother/sketchy cousin tropes. We write what we know. So you might want to take an honest look at who we (yes we, including you and I) are as humans before claiming we are in arm’s reach of successful collectivism.

I don’t even know why these arguments keep popping up in anything BUT a thought experiment capacity. Successful governments, where the populations are reasonably happy and content (see Finland-universal health care yay! But also private industry) incorporate aspects of many schools of thought. History, over and over again, teaches us that we can’t have societies based solely on communism/socialism/capitalism/feudalism/slavery/monarchy/etc etc etc because they have always failed and been super destructive when they do.

So you want to talk real world? Show me where there’s a socialist or communist government that doesn’t have wildly different lifestyles for those in power and those not. I can admit there is no such capitalist utopia.

Since reality can’t prove me wrong, we can stick to hypotheticals and I point you again to my communes. (Wherein all people involved are able to contribute equally, no thumb on the scales, no what if-ing that they must be old and unable to work or disabled to the point that they can’t work, these are my communes and I can populate them how I like and that is with anyone able to contribute in a meaningful manner, and shocker, yes disabled people can be included. Don’t need feet throw a pot, don’t need to be neurotypical to teach a class, don’t need eyes to do whatever. How many comments before I’m accused of being discriminatory against people without hands I wonder? Look, I don’t have all day to cover every single possibility and it’s petty to expect me to, I’ll argue in good faith with you, if you will do the same.) Anyway. We are taking theoreticals. In my capitalist commune, I wouldn’t need to be “cut in” because there are only 10 of us and if I’m not being compensated for my work, I can just leave. And I would because someone would come out with a “may I pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” or “sorry I overextended this week, your pay will be a little late” and I can’t be doing work on this commune without compensation. There would be zero incentive to stick around and hope that I might eventually get what I earned. Meanwhile, in the communes of light and butterflies, sorry, socialism and communism, you can spend years toiling and assuming everyone is contributing equally and not taking more than they need. But I’m pulling from the same species to populate all of these communes and if there’s a “not worker” in the capitalist neighborhood, there’s one in the other two as well.

You want to make everyone in every commune nice? Okay. Everyone is the best they can be and has an excellent work ethic and isn’t hoarding resources. Ideal humans! All compassion and empathy and selflessness. I say then that there is no longer any functional difference between the three societies. In the cap commune we all own our own little business. I make baskets, Bob makes pants, Mary makes stained glass windows. We all charge a fair price for our well made, ethically sourced goods (because ideal humans). We are all just swapping out resources. Is Bob making more initially because we all need pants? Now he has extra to then splurge on items that aren’t necessities like fancy glass and decorative baskets. Has Bob done something bad by being successful? No, he chose a practical shop. If I’m upset that my basket business isn’t bringing in the cash for stained glass windows I can either start making baskets that will sell better (perhaps waterproof) or I can start making shirts. It’s my business. But I’m not magically pulling resources out of nowhere. I can’t charge double for my baskets because someone else is free to start making baskets for the original fair price. There’s only ten of us, we live in the woods, Bob might be sitting on a pile of money from his sales but if he hoards then he can’t have glass or baskets. So he returns his resources back to the system in exchange for other resources. End result, we all toil along, the money moves around, we all have what we want to live.
Now we have our other communes, with their ideal human populations. We all take turns working in the different shops, working equally as hard, and recieving the same amount of resources in return. End result, we all toil along, the money moves around, we all have what we want to live.

Arguing economic theory based on ideal humanity is pointless. It’s not even interesting. And since selective reading really does get worse around Rand, I will point out that I have repeatedly, clearly, specifically, stated I don’t think Rand is some kind of genius, that she was wrong about a lot of stuff, that her philosophy was a failure. It’s almost like I have third view point and from where I sit, there is not really any difference between the rabid pros and the rabid cons.
posted by monkeyscouch at 9:32 AM on November 26, 2018


You can’t claim to admire Rand who fucking worshiped hard work and then hate immigrants. There’s your cognitive dissonance.

Maybe what they admire is actually the way she fucking worshiped refusing welfare to anyone and then lived off it. Maybe why people hate Rand and her fans is because they're all soaking in that cognitive dissonance and pretending they aren't. At this point I don't even know what you're arguing - it sounds like "I'm not a Rand fan and I hate people who are because she had some super shitty ideas and her philosophy was a failure and she wasn't a great writer but well I hate the way other people hate Rand fans and blame Rand for creating them!". In which case - ok then, go ahead and argue that Rand fans are shitty people who weren't influenced to be shittier by her books. That sounds interesting.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:45 AM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Okay then.
posted by monkeyscouch at 9:57 AM on November 26, 2018


Oh, you're just here to complain about what other people think, not make any points yourself. How fascinating.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:02 AM on November 26, 2018


One thing that I do like about Randians is their devotion to the principle of discipleship. I consider myself a disciple of another twentieth-century Russo-American Jew who gets no respect from the establishment.
posted by No Robots at 10:06 AM on November 26, 2018


My bad. I forgot that the common translation of “both sides are deeply flawed” is “ur a stoopid doody head.” My deepest apologies.
posted by monkeyscouch at 10:15 AM on November 26, 2018


I guess "dispassionate" is out the window now?

monkeyscouch, I don't think most people are actually disagreeing with you entirely, just pointing out problems with aspects of your arguments.

Successful governments, where the populations are reasonably happy and content . . . incorporate aspects of many schools of thought.
Yup.

I don’t even know why these arguments keep popping up in anything BUT a thought experiment capacity.
This whole conversation is a thought experiment. To the best of my knowledge none of us are actually setting social or economic policy on this forum.

You can’t refute my argument without twisting it waaaay out of proportion.

To the contrary, you're moving the goalposts. If you meant "even ten otherwise able-bodied, roughly similarly-aged and capable members of the work force," then write that. Ever work on a group project? At school? At work? Every single person worked equally as hard? Literally no one is saying this, in fact I'm specifically pointing out that many people aren't capable of working equally hard, whatever that means to you. "Join a communist or socialist community" specifically uses the word community. "Even ten people" implies that this logic would work on more than ten, that ten is in fact a small number from which we can extrapolate.

So you might want to take an honest look at who we (yes we, including you and I) are as humans before claiming we are in arm’s reach of successful collectivism. I claimed no such thing, so I assume this is responding to someone else.

It’s almost like I have third view point and from where I sit, there is not really any difference between the rabid pros and the rabid cons.
Rabid pros and rabid cons of what, exactly? Rand? There are a lot more than three points of view being presented here.

It’s not even interesting.
Well, that certainly shuts things down doesn't it?
posted by aspersioncast at 11:59 AM on November 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry that this thread has upset you, monkeyscouch. It feels to me like you've come in upset, and because of that you haven't expressed your views in ways that are easy for me to engage with. I (for one) am happy to talk to you about my specific problems with Rand's philosophy (I've not read her novels, so I can't talk literary merits), but I'm not sure that this is a forum where we're going to be able to settle the broader issue of "socialism" and our different views of its importance and use. We really can have an interesting and respectful exchange of ideas, if that's what you want.
posted by howfar at 12:28 PM on November 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


My bad. I forgot that the common translation of “both sides are deeply flawed” is “ur a stoopid doody head.” My deepest apologies.

I think you've misunderstood and your apology seems insincere. "Both sides are deeply flawed" is a fairly trite, uncontroversial statement. It only gets interpreted as an insult when you follow it with something like "It’s almost like I have third view point and from where I sit, there is not really any difference between the rabid pros and the rabid cons. The common translation of the two sentences together is, in fact, "everyone except me is a stoopid doody head."
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:39 PM on November 26, 2018


Am I really that much of an outlier? I’m cursed to work with lazy people and it’s really just me?

All of this suggests that the very thing you fear from a socialist system is also endemic in the capitalist system you're in now, which makes it hard to see how it's a meaningful argument against socialism. People will be bad! Just like now! But unlike now, it'll be unacceptable because, uh...
posted by Dysk at 2:59 AM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


(In fact, the capitalist system is worse, because you get the bosses/owners skimming off the top without putting any work in, as well as the two out of ten colleagues freeloading!)
posted by Dysk at 3:15 AM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


Well I can’t do anything about it when you only read what you want to read. Skipping half the thread does in fact make it a very different conversation. I bring up theoretical situations, I get accused of ableism and ageism. I try to address that, I get told it’s all theory, no one is making policy! You guys should try checking out what else is happening with the other comments. I didn’t address each person individually because together, you guy make arguments that when I reply, flow one into the other. Damned efficiency bites me in the ass again.

But I’m going to try specificity-

KAOS, no it was not sincere. It was definitely sarcasm.
Howfar, I’m not sure where you get “upset” from. Perhaps you are referring to my response to KAOS. So, see above. And, frankly, I addressed my issue with people like you who have STRONG FEELINGS but haven’t actually read the source material. Please see my very first comment in this thread.
Dysk, you have deeply misunderstood the 10 person example if you think in the cap commune there’s 10 people and a boss.
Aspersioncast-If it seems like I’m arguing a point you didn’t make, maybe check out some of the other people in the thread. And it’s not interesting to have theoretical discussions about the flaws of cap/soc/comm when we make the theroretical people ideal humans with the best intentions which I was super specific about and you would know if you had read and not skimmed.
And I don’t feel like scrolling up again (I’m an iPad not a computer and this is tedious, takes forever, and an update or two ago they added a stupid button that takes over part of the space bar and will erase giants swaths of text when I am writing and scrolling at speed) so whoever was making a point about the use of commune vs community, literally (literally literally not literally figuratively) the only reason for the use of both terms was because using the same one every other sentence looked and sounded irritatingly repetitive. So, do with that what you will.

We have hit the dead end at this point. It’s talking in circles now. When the best response to multiple people is to keep saying “I addressed this before you posted, go read the thread” there’s no point in continuing. This is not my first time having this discussion and I can recognize when we have passed the possibility of productive conversation. Well, that’s not entirely true. Reclusive Novelist’s idea for a book club is great and I have spoken to him/her/them about that and I am hopeful that by looking at small chunks of Rand’s work we can have productive conversations that don’t immediately devolve into “evil evil evil.” See above.

Oh, and I did want to mention this, whoever said they associate her with Heinlein, that makes perfect sense. One of my suggestions for the book club was to include For Us The Living: A Comedy of Customs, an economic plan with layer of novel. They were contemporaries with very different backgrounds and came to some similar conclusions. I think the biggest difference between their respective heroes (Lazarus Long and John Galt specifically) is Heinlein is far less cynical and so his work comes across as much nicer and less rigid. Bitterness vs optimism makes a giant difference in the way we respond to them now.

I hope you all have a wonderful day. I encourage you to contact Reclusive about the book club. (Sincerely, no sarcasm.)
posted by monkeyscouch at 9:51 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I didn’t address each person individually because together, you guy make arguments that when I reply, flow one into the other.

this deserves a ...

METAFILTER: I didn’t address each person individually because together, you guy make arguments that when I reply, flow one into the other.

... because it's as dry a description of the local echo chamber as I've come across. I don't know what you do about it. I know I'd likely already have bailed from the discussion by now. But I guess we all draw our own lines in that regard.
posted by philip-random at 10:28 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


If it seems like I’m arguing a point you didn’t make
And it’s not interesting to have theoretical discussions about the flaws of cap/soc/comm when we make the theroretical people ideal humans with the best intentions which I was super specific about and you would know if you had read and not skimmed.

Frankly, it seems like you are arguing points no one else is making. I read the whole comment and the whole thread thoroughly (I actually can be bothered to scroll up again), and gave pretty measured responses without invective or dismissiveness.

I would encourage you to go back and do the same, then actually try to re-engage with a little more civility, but your last two comments make it pretty clear that you're done with this conversation. So yeah, have a good one.

whoever said they associate her with Heinlein
That was also me, but it's hardly an original idea - they're roughly contemporary and their politics were similar. I find them both pretty obnoxious, but Heinlein was probably the better writer (SiaSL excepted, that thing's as overwritten as Atlas Shrugged). Sadly his misogyny and generally shitty worldview keeps me from being able to enjoy the writing much these days.

If anyone wants to talk about the actual article for a change, that might be interesting.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:31 PM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


One thing I've learned from a couple of decades of Arguing on the Internet is that it's very difficult to correctly interpret someone else's emotions from what they've written. The voice in my head that's reading out someone else's comment usually gets it wrong, especially when discussing points of disagreement.

This goes both ways. Sometimes someone is screaming at the computer and I read it as calm and pleasant; sometimes someone intends affection and togetherness and I read it as cutting and angry.
posted by clawsoon at 1:26 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Socialism is not dependent, for its success, upon just asking people to be nice. It is dependent on creating robust civil institutions that create and sustain the condition in which it is to each person's advantage to behave in ways that benefit society.

Demand-side socialism seems fine (distribution of personal excess for the sake of the whole economy), but supply-side communism, where the state takes over all production in the name of humanity, asks people to give trustfully to a eusocial experiment. That's three mistakes. The state has no incentive to be nice. They must force people to be nice, and ask them to believe. And humans aren't naturally eusocial, though not opposed to a pro-social system. It would be better if we taxed success to our liking, and then distributed the proceeds fairly, and not pretend to have a brutal system that runs on good faith and nice people, when that government requires a dictator and has no incentive to reform. North Korea is not really a communist mistake just because the designers didn't see the mistake coming.
posted by Brian B. at 7:40 AM on November 28, 2018


Brian B.: Demand-side socialism seems fine (distribution of personal excess for the sake of the whole economy), but supply-side communism, where the state takes over all production in the name of humanity, asks people to give trustfully to a eusocial experiment. That's three mistakes. The state has no incentive to be nice. They must force people to be nice, and ask them to believe.

Supply-side dictatorial socialism and supply-side democratic socialism had such dramatically different outcomes that I've come to doubt that socialism-or-not is the important factor. When dictatorial socialists nationalized industries, the result was millions dead in famines and gulags. When democratic socialists nationalized industries - something that happened in a number of Western European countries in the decades after WWII - the result was... well... not much. Perhaps the industries were slightly less efficient than they could've been.

There was no inevitable progression from supply-side economic nationalization to Hayekian serfdom. It's not socialism that's the problem, it's dictatorship.

You can see the same contrast if you compare dictatorial capitalism and democratic capitalism. Suharto massacred hundreds of thousands; Pinochet dropped people out of helicopters; the British rulers of Bengal starved a couple of million people to death in 1943, using admirably capitalist protections for private property, midway between the Soviet and Chinese Communist famines. They were all capitalists. What separated them from the capitalists that we know and love was that they didn't have to get themselves re-elected.

It's dictatorship versus democracy that has proven to be the crucial factor, not capitalism versus socialism. I would much rather live under democratic socialism than dictatorial capitalism.
posted by clawsoon at 5:27 AM on December 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


It's not socialism that's the problem, it's dictatorship.

I would agree, but anytime society is being shaped by powerful interests, it follows a trend to get there, often unstated in the theory because it is so unappealing. Mussolini, a former socialist, defined fascism as a merging of corporate and state power, and undemocratic, yet it is often likened to state capitalism and syndicalism. I would define any supply-side movement as seeking control of production in order to achieve a theoretical sociology that seeks a state-controlled stability stemming from widespread emotional instability. That stability is often called glory or some other religious ideal (which is where communism came from). It is perhaps better understood as any place where people are generally expected to be loyal and dependent rather than honorable and independent. All expectations of loyalty and dependency will eventually demand dictatorship and always get it. On the flip-side, the demand-side emphasis on economics usually works through taxes in order to offset the problems introduced in market behavior, which are always more random than previously known, which is also how innovation works. It isn't tempted to militarize the economy in order to succeed because it seeks a return on investment from distribution, not conquest. It best utilizes a democracy to tax any surplus value from its private source to its public expenditure, and if it doesn't, due to corrupt influences, it will eventually fail for something worse. Bottom line is that the supply-side favoritism of wealth contains too many contradictions to avoid dictatorship and conquest, while the demand-side levies taxes that pay for things companies won't invest in. This often puts the demand-side into state enterprises that are very large, such as trains.
posted by Brian B. at 9:22 AM on December 9, 2018


« Older Black Fridays: A Brief History   |   First women of philosophy Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments