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Objectivism and Ayn Rand
Posted: 02 July 2006 06:44 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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Hi, I'm new on the forum and I'm a student of philosophy at the University of Oklahoma. Something I have run into quite a bit in the philosophy department is a fascination and rank & file adherence to the Objectivist movement. I've never had a productive conversation with an Objectivist personally, although some seem to be decent human beings. One of my professors refused to listen to a friend of mine's objections to her ethical egoism/libertarian rantings and even became angry during one class period. She had a similar reaction to my objections to a student from the libertarian club whom the professor had invited to speak during class….....Does anyone else have a similar experience with an Objectivist to present? I'm sure there are a few Rand fans on here. Do you have any comments on the repeated attacks on Objectivism as a sort of psuedo-intellectual cult? Many sources claim that Rand and her followers were very cult-like in their defense of libertarianism and promoting Objectivist ethics. I never really took it seriously until I came into contact with some of Rand's biggest fans within the department (students and professors). What do you folks think about Rand, Objectivism and their adherents?

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Posted: 02 July 2006 07:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Do you have a substantive beef with objectivism, or do you just dislike all of the objectivists that you’ve met?

And, BTW, this forum primarily for bashing religion…

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Posted: 02 July 2006 07:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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I have had some limited exposure to objectivists. They tend to be capitalist and atheist, both of which I find agreeable. The objectivists I knew had a disparaging term—Randroid—for people who swallowed Rand whole without any critical thinking of their own. Do the objectivists you know demand that you accept their moral code or are they only explaining where they stand? The anger you have encountered is a warning sign of extremism. They ought, in theory, to be able to explain their ethical positions as calmly as they explain their dietary preferences. From what I have heard about objectivists’ atheism, they cannot claim that either their ethics or diets are ordained by any deity.

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Posted: 02 July 2006 08:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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I actually do have a problem with the fundamental tenets of Randian philosophy, but my biggest problem is with the way they present it. I presented good arguments from the German social market system that pulled Germany out of its economic devastation in the post-war period and the current economies of the northwestern European countries. The objectivists I have talked to shrug these solid examples off as being flukes or they just say that they are irrelevant. Also I wouldn’t use the word “bashing” considering most “bashing” is done without much argumentation or substance but I know where you are coming from. My point is that there are other beliefs held religiously despite their appearance of being secular. Another devastating argument for ethical egoism is the fact that it would be considered morally acceptable to murder a person so long as it was in your best interest.

Here is an example of one of my “Randroid” professors reactions to an objection.  My English friend is quite the socialist and pointed out the terrible working conditions and high death rate among the working class during the first industrial age. He asked her what she thought of this and he (as well as I) considered this an uncontroversial fact. The professor got upset and said that these things were exaggerated, that it was controversial and cut him off from any further comments on the subject without presenting a shred of justification for her belief.

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Posted: 02 July 2006 08:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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The students who refuse to discuss your examples with you seem to be immune from discussion of facts.  That’s too bad.

I lean towards thinking that Rand was more right than wrong.  As for her weird followers and her fetish for the $ symbol and sexual domination of slavish males, it’s all good as long as there’s adult consent.

Please forgive Ayn Rand a bit—she was a refugee from arguably the most murderous regime in human history—and its highest values were collectivism and its greatest enemy was the individual.  Though that doesn’t excuse her adherents from being immune to facts which do not support their conclusions.

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Posted: 03 July 2006 02:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Rand’s philosophy simply ignores who we are. Ask yourself what happiness is, and see if you can imagine achieving it in a world where everyone is only looking out for number one. We are generally empathetic and often altruistic beings (admittedly for selfish reasons at times) and feel compelled to care for each other. It is intolerable to the psyche to be surrounded by suffering and expect that to be a stable society. Rand’s philosophy of ultimate selfishness is as unrealistic as the philosophy of complete generosity…it doesn’t work. We have evolved as social beings, not isolated individuals with no conscience.

Rod

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Posted: 03 July 2006 03:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“OUempiricist”]

Here is an example of one of my “Randroid” professors reactions to an objection.  My English friend is quite the socialist and pointed out the terrible working conditions and high death rate among the working class during the first industrial age. He asked her what she thought of this and he (as well as I) considered this an uncontroversial fact. The professor got upset and said that these things were exaggerated, that it was controversial and cut him off from any further comments on the subject without presenting a shred of justification for her belief.

This professor sounds closed minded. A good teacher is willing to look at both sides of the issue and respond intelligently and with reason.

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Posted: 03 July 2006 05:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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[quote author=“OUempiricist”]I’ve never had a productive conversation with an Objectivist personally, although some seem to be decent human beings. . . . What do you folks think about Rand, Objectivism and their adherents?

Welcome, OU. It does seem as though many people who’ve read Ms. Rand have taken a pill. I suspect that this is largely due to her enormously powerful fiction writing abilities. But that’s just a guess. One of my best friends through high school and college is now certainly not an enemy, but no longer a friend—as a result of his Randian cretinism.

On this forum over the past year or so, several seemingly hard-core objectivists have made their presence known whether overtly or with subtlety. They quickly left when confronted head-on with facts such as what Rod above said or with 20th-century epistemology lessons left to us by wise folks such as Heisenberg and Bohr.

I’d love it if they would stay just a little longer. We had an anti-Semitic troll who stuck around for months. I’d assumed the Randians had tougher skin. Maybe we’ll get lucky now and draw a couple with this thread.

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Posted: 05 July 2006 07:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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OUempiricist wrote

. . .  I presented good arguments from the German social market system that pulled Germany out of its economic devastation in the post-war period . . .

What significance, if any, did you attribute to other factors (factors other than the social market system) in Germany’s postwar recovery? I am thinking of possible American contributions including the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, NATO, the American nuclear shield in protecting free Germans from four hundred Soviet divisions, and the more recent almost reflexive American support for German reunification. Wouldn’t your good arguments mention that support from the more capitalist economy of the US if only somehow to dismiss American efforts as insignificant or harmful to German recovery?

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Posted: 06 July 2006 09:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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I’m talking about after these events. Also, I mentioned the other northern european countries that have excellent economies that were not given help from hands-off capitalist nations. In fact, these countries are considered to have the highest ranking quality of life in the world and their economic systems are a good middle ground between socialism and hands-off capitalism. My point is that there is significant research in favor of and solid examples of social markets providing a better quality of life for the average person.

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Posted: 18 July 2006 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Rand’s philosophy simply ignores who we are. Ask yourself what happiness is, and see if you can imagine achieving it in a world where everyone is only looking out for number one. We are generally empathetic and often altruistic beings (admittedly for selfish reasons at times) and feel compelled to care for each other. It is intolerable to the psyche to be surrounded by suffering and expect that to be a stable society. Rand’s philosophy of ultimate selfishness is as unrealistic as the philosophy of complete generosity…it doesn’t work. We have evolved as social beings, not isolated individuals with no conscience.

Have I misunderstood Rand? I think that particular criticism of Rand addresses a straw man. Suppose everyone is looking out for number one, but recognizes the benefits of voluntary cooperation and the good feelings that may come from altruism. Rand’s point seems to be that mandatory altruism, where one person (or democratic mob) forces a second person to provide for the material needs of a third, is not ethical in her system and that it is not in fact altruism but submission to authority. Her point, as I take it, is that we do not have to accept any moral code that says our primary ethical duty is to society or that we exist for the purposes of the State. It’s much more efficient to put each person in charge of what he knows best and cares about most, namely the well-being of himself and his family and, to a lesser degree, his community.

I’m surprised to hear H praise Rand’s ability as a writer. I found Atlas Shrugged interminably dull. Asking me to take a great interest in a railroad enterprise seems so archaic. I have theorized an IQ test where the reader does better according to giving up on the final oration in Atlas sooner. I didn’t do very well although I didn’t get to the end either. Her book,  Anthem, seems to make the point with a great deal more economy of words and consideration for the reader. I never tried Fountainhead. We are entitled, of course, to differing opinions and tastes.

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Posted: 18 July 2006 12:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“Ted Shepherd”]
I’m surprised to hear H praise Rand’s ability as a writer. I found Atlas Shrugged interminably dull. Asking me to take a great interest in a railroad enterprise seems so archaic. I have theorized an IQ test where the reader does better according to giving up on the final oration in Atlas sooner. I didn’t do very well although I didn’t get to the end either. Her book,  Anthem, seems to make the point with a great deal more economy of words and consideration for the reader. I never tried Fountainhead. We are entitled, of course, to differing opinions and tastes.

Ted, for whatever reason, I revelled in her antiquated railroad descriptions, and will probably reread Atlas Shrugged soon, now that you mention it. I also wallowed for months in Dreisser’s descriptions in his enormous trilogy.

If you haven’t read The Fountainhead, I envy you. Without doubt, it’s one of my top 5 favorite novels. If Ms. Rand had quit after writing it, I’d be singing her praises everywhere. Unfortunately, she went overboard and beyond the worshipful attitude of individuality with Atlas Shrugged. If I get a chance tonight, I’ll post some excerpts from John Galt’s big speech that really horrified me when I read them.

It’s a shame that today’s objectivists seem to portray Any Rand’s most ornery extremism and over-simplification of nature rather than the truly inspiring earlier philosophy.

Just my opinion of course, and I’m more than willing to reconsider.  I’m much more conservative than you might think, and I have lots to say if we get going.

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Posted: 18 July 2006 12:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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I can understand Rand’s philosophy as a judgement against communism, and the problems with elevating the collective above the individual, but ....

My problem with Randians now is that we have a culture that raises the individual above the collective, and I feel they distort Ayn’s original ideas and her idea of morals and ethics, toss in some Social Darwinism, and use it to justify a new type of social unconsciousness, where they are responsible for nothing or no one but themselves, and yet they succumb to authoritarian traps here and there.

I suggest you read “The Virtue of Selfishness” and then go back at them : )

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Posted: 18 July 2006 03:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Rand was an exceptional intellect with a remarkable grasp of the relationships between ideas as well as the relationship between ideas and action. She was the consummate individualist and advocate of reason.  However, she was an incredibly poor judge of people.

Her long time associates, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden were (IMHO) phonies from the beginning and took advantage of Rand’s inability to evaluate certain kinds of people. They created a cult at NBI (the Nathaniel Branden Institute) in New York.  This isn’t something I read or heard about, it was something that I actually saw.  I took a course there back in 1967/8 and found myself fascinated by the material and disgusted by the rigid conformists taking the class with me.

I still wonder at how such an individualist philosophy could attract such toads. But for ideas to be effective in people’s lives, the ideas must be understood.  I have no evidence that these fawning obsequious non-entities understood anything.

The worst thing that ever happened to Rand was her association with the Brandens. She got sucked up into the personality cult with no objections that I could see. If she had any doubts about what was going on she certainly didn’t express them.  I think that she enjoyed the adulation and took it as a substitute for the recognition she never received from philosophers.  I never met her personally so l can’t say with certainty what went on in her head. On the other hand, I did meet Nathaniel Branden and could not stand him.

Anyone who has studied cult behavior will immediately recognize the glorification of a few personalities,  the “inner circle” that was privy to things kept from the general public, the sexual liasons, the constant manuverings and schisms between followers.  I think of these characters as the debris of objectivism.

I have known “Objectivists” for close to 40 years and they vary from incredibly rigid worshippers of “The Living Rand” to some of the most rational and intelligent people that I have ever met.  If you have an interest in philosophy then read Rand’s actual works, they are the best exposition of her thought. Peikoff’s “Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand” is also quite good.  Her basic ethical system is well presented in the lead essay of “The Virtue of Selfishness”. The other essays vary in quality from very good to sloppy, sometimes in the same essay.  Much of the variation is due to Rand still developing her thinking at the time she was writing these essays even though she characterized her own ideas as fully developed. Her “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology” is extraordinary in that it deals with the most pervasive problem in philosophy, that of universals and concept formation, and does so in an insightful, even brilliant way.  Her approach to concepts is as different from what is taught today in colleges as Aristotle’s epistemology was from Plato’s.

As for “Objectivists” themselves: I would suggest that you judge each person claiming to be an Objectivist one at a time. As I said, they vary greatly. If one seems to be rational and thoughtful he/she probably is. If rationality seems absent in someone then you are probably dealing with a cultist mentality. In any event, I’d suggest that you judge Rand’s philosophy separately from the people who claim to believe it.

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Posted: 18 July 2006 06:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“Ted Shepherd”]. . . I think that particular criticism of Rand addresses a straw man. Suppose everyone is looking out for number one, but recognizes the benefits of voluntary cooperation and the good feelings that may come from altruism. Rand’s point seems to be that mandatory altruism, where one person (or democratic mob) forces a second person to provide for the material needs of a third, is not ethical in her system and that it is not in fact altruism but submission to authority. Her point, as I take it, is that we do not have to accept any moral code that says our primary ethical duty is to society or that we exist for the purposes of the State. It’s much more efficient to put each person in charge of what he knows best and cares about most, namely the well-being of himself and his family and, to a lesser degree, his community.

Ted, not only in Atlas Shrugged, but also in The Fountainhead, Ayn forcefully expresses her disdain for social work and recipients of social worker services. In fact the central plot of Fountainhead relies on seeing the purposeful destruction of something the government subsidizes as being heroic. I don’t want to get more specific than that in case you want to read the book.

I thought I’d be able to find quotes online, but the work of Ayn Rand doesn’t seem to be available for free. Surprise, surprise. (How could I have been so naive?) So rather than take on numerous avenues of her philosophy, I will discuss one aspect of her social-work attitude only, at least for now.

Please, if anyone reading this has any knowledge about A.R.‘s attitudes and approaches that contradict what I attribute to her, speak up. I want to hear about them.

Let’s consider a fictional recipient of social services. We’ll call him Raymond. Raymond has autism and needs a lot of support from others in order to live a comfortable life. Raymond’s support costs taxpayers about $150,000 per year.

A few questions to consider: 1) What will happen if Raymond’s support comes to an end? For instance, how will he fare if his social supports are stripped down to say, $60,000 per year? 2) Raymond’s family pays nothing in support of Raymond, but he has siblings who make decent livings. Should these siblings be required by law to pay for Raymond’s support needs? 3) Are churches in Raymond’s vicinity able and willing to finance all of his needs? Would they do so if Raymond’s government supports came to an end? Will church volunteers typically have the training and skills necessary to support him? 4) How valuable a person is Raymond? That is, how important is his peace of mind and physical comfort? Is it more or less important than yours or mine?

Raymond, as it turns out in this hypothetical case, has a neurological disorder (properly diagnosed autism) that causes him agonizing discomfort unless he receives the full $150,000 per year of social services. He needs a minimum of that much support in order to live in moderate comfort. Anything less than $150,000 per year is insufficient to keep Raymond comfortable enough to be able to thrive and not get frustrated and anxious to the point of frequently injuring himself by banging his head against floors and biting the backs of his hands till they bleed.

I’m sorry for spelling things out graphically, and I hope those who are sensitive to the needs of folks like Raymond can understand why I’m doing it.

Until abruptly recent history, people like Raymond have had to fend for themselves. They tended to live very short lives, whether by being euthenized or by being mistreated/ignored. Recently, a few societies (not all of them globally, by any means) have stepped up to the plate of taking care of guys like Raymond. I happen to feel that this trend is a positive one; I support it. Others no doubt feel differently. They’re free to feel as they do, and I am not arguing with those feelings here. I am only attempting to make a logical statement.

Societies make a choice in these kinds of cases. Do you 1) provide full and adequate government support for people such as Raymond, 2) do you let them fend for themselves, or 3) do you euthenize such people? If I’m leaving out another choice please let me know.

Ayn Rand, as far as I am aware of, never specifically stated what she would do about a guy like Raymond. Again, objectivists, please inform me if I’m mistaken here. She did specifically state that social work did not deserve to get government funding. History shows that churches are not able to or simply do not give adequate support to people like Raymond. History also shows that families are not typically able or willing to provide anything close to adequate social support for people such as Raymond. How valuable Raymond’s comfort is remains an individual judgment.

Comments of all kind are invited and will be considered with courtesy, at least by me. Is the example of Raymond extreme? Does it falsely represent a slippery slope portrayal? Did I unfairly rely on emotion? On the movie?

Champ, if you’re watching, I’m counting on you.

Apollo, I hope you don’t mind if I ask you some questions tomorrow. What you say rings true with what I’ve read, and you have some firsthand experience so I look forward to more discussion with you. What a brilliant light she was—no doubt about it.

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Posted: 18 July 2006 08:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“homunculus”]
Let’s consider a fictional recipient of social services. We’ll call him Raymond. Raymond has autism and needs a lot of support from others in order to live a comfortable life. Raymond’s support costs taxpayers about $150,000 per year.

I’m not a Randite, Randroid, and am less of an expert on Rand as on everything else that I’m completely off base about.

But I believe Rand’s response to Raymond’s situation is that no human is pre-emptively entitled to the person or the works of another.  It is not moral for Raymond to take his $150,000 per year from others by force or fraud.  And neither is it moral for third parties (such as everybody who votes for social services bureaucracies or Robin Hood and his Merry Men) to take money by force or fraud on Raymond’s behalf.

I don’t know if it’s moral, according to Rand, to allow Raymond to wither on the vine.  But it most definitely is not moral to coerce others into sustaining him.  Given a stark choice between coersion and withering, Rand would choose withering.

So Rand doesn’t provide a direct solution to helping Raymond—rather she takes some solutions off of the table.

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