Taking Ayn Rand seriously

Ayn Rand could write powerful stuff. I read Atlas Shrugged when I was 17, and it grabbed me like anything. And most people get attracted to her philosophy of Objectivism at around the same age. Over the years, I began reading stuff on Rand, and I did not like what I read. While her books are great and things seem logical, her personal life was a supreme mess. And while meeting flawless men like John Galt and Howard Roark would be awe inspiring, I have to concede that I have never met anyone who even remotely resembles them. In any case, I am a skeptic when it comes to believing that humans can be good (in the sense that they would go about their business without harming others). As for Ayn Rand’s philosophy – Objectivism, there are huge holes as to how to put Objectivist ideas into practice. And I have always struggled with that. Her arguments do not make things any easier as she has no concrete answers. For a believer in everything concrete, it is strange that there are no revelations as to how things work.

I am still strongly influenced by her ideas and continue to look at things from an Objectivist point of view and defend things vigorously if they are defensible. But while I am doing that, I do not forget reality. While the world would be very interesting if things happened the way Rand wanted them to happen, the world does not always behave according to the laws of Objectivism. People can read her works and stay with the ideas like I do. But it is very important that one should not fall into slavish devotion either to Rand or her ideas – every thought has to pass through and be digested by one’s own brain before one accepts it.

Here are a few articles on how Objectivism increasingly became something of a cult and how Rand wittingly or unwittingly brought into being the very thing she expressly forbade.

And a review of Atlas Shrugged that was published in the National Review about 50 years back – Big Sister Is Watching You.

update (June 3, 2008): I am working on post that is related to economics and while researching the same, I had a chance to revisit Nathaniel Branden’s views on Rand and Objectivism – The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand: A Personal Statement. If you are into Rand, you cannot not know about Branden and his relationship with Rand. A must-read, and something that completely slipped my mind when writing this post.

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Comments

  • Favela Cranshaw  On December 25, 2007 at 4:06 am

    Objectivism vs. Reality? Are you serious? Time for you to move on and forget Ayn Rand. Ideas are not your strong suit.

  • aristotlethegeek  On December 25, 2007 at 4:52 am

    Of course I am serious. Having an idea and implementing it are two separate things. And therein lies a problem.

    As for your Objectivism vs. Reality question, the reality I was talking about is the world and people as they exist today and one’s interaction with them on a day-to-day basis. I am not talking about some philosophical concept of reality. And here lies the second problem, one of semantics.

    Time to move on and ideas not being my strong suit? You are entitled to your opinion. And I am to mine.

  • Snelov  On December 27, 2007 at 7:05 am

    The “biographies” on Ayn Rand’s personal life are largely dishonest and inaccurate, which is to be expected given that they were written by former associates of Rand with an axe to grind. If you are interested in the truth about these accounts, and in seeing them compared with excerpts from Ayn Rand’s personal journals, see “The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics”, by James Valliant.

  • aristotlethegeek  On December 27, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    That always seems to happen with polarising personalities – one side deifying her and the other side indulging in vilification.

    I had only two points to make – one, she was as controversial as her philosophy. And two, Objectivism is an incredibly hard philosophy to put into practise as things stand at present. I have to say, though, that it does provide a clear perspective as to the motives and actions of people.

  • K. M.  On April 13, 2008 at 1:55 am

    I am not sure why you think Objectivism is an incredibly hard philosophy to put into practise as things stand at present. Putting a philosophy into practise is a personal thing. No matter how things stand, one has to act in accordance with reality (the whole of it, including the irrationality of others) with reference to rational principles. Of course applying abstract principles to ones own concrete circumstances is no easy task. But that is hardly a problem of any philosophy as such.

    P.S.
    I am sorry if you find this comment presumptuous since today is the first time I have visited your blog but I couldn’t resist given the fact that I liked your posts and was puzzled by this.

  • aristotlethegeek  On April 13, 2008 at 3:13 am

    Before I say anything, I should clarify that I have incredible respect for Rand (forget her personal life) because she brought into being a morally solid philosophy, and if there were a truly Objectivist society in existence, I would probably be one of the first to book a passage to that place.

    Agreed, practicing philosophies is a personal thing. But consider how a true Objectivist would have to live in today’s world where the government has made a practice of initiating force against all and sundry and does not do its moral duty of protecting its citizens from violence. From having a taxation system constructed solely on the basis of whims, which is nothing but legal extortion, to imposing censorship, to running a justice system which does everything but justice, things are so horribly wrong, that a practicing Objectivist would either have to kill himself, or go into self exile Galt style. There is no way you can live in today’s world following every Objectivist principle.

    To practice Objectivism, a government that understand the philosophy is needed. Because, in the absence of such a government, the basic protection that an Objectivist society relies upon, disappears. Other philosophies don’t face such a problem because they are malleable, but Objectivism is not. You can’t do – Ok I will pay 97.5% taxes because the government has ordered me to, and only manufacture as many scooters as I have the license for. You will have to revolt. There is no other way. Consider Atlas Shrugged. What did the Objectivists finally have to do? Did they live in that fictional US paying taxes and bearing injustice? They packed their bags and left. Even in the case of Roark and his friends, they did conform to societal rules, or they could not have survived in society.

    I don’t have a problem with its metaphysics, ethics and reason part because they are related to my mind and no one can tell me to change that. The most important part – the political one is the problem, and unless you live in an Objectivist society, that part is never going to be complete. That is why I said I want something more, a concrete plan – a map from A to B. Without that, Objectivism is not complete as far as I am concerned.

    No need to feel sorry. The fact that someone like Rand who could create something so great ended up the way she did, and that her followers, who said they were for reason, behaved the way they did, surprised me. This post was because I felt I needed to state my position vis-a-vis Objectivism and Ayn Rand.

    Not directly connected, but you might want to read what director Anurag Kashyap (he could be a character from an Ayn Rand book) had to say about Roark – To be Howard Roark you have to first kill your family. There are scores of people who love Rand and her philosophy. But there exists a deep chasm between the promise and reality. And that is what probably makes most of them cynics.

  • K. M.  On April 15, 2008 at 1:48 am

    Why do you think politics is the most important part? Since your life is your primary concern, ethics is the most important part of philosophy.
    One does not need a government that understands Objectivism to practise it. As a rational philosophy, Objectivism is applicable to every human situation. If the facts are such (and the current state of society is a fact) that you cannot achieve all your values, so be it. All you need to do to live as an Objectivist in today’s world (or in any world) is to understand your hierarchy of values and choose accordingly.
    As to the ending of Atlas Shrugged, I struggled with it to for a while. But remember that it is a work of fiction and that it was written by Rand. Like all of her fictional writing it is a highly selective and dramatized recreation of reality. You can only pack your bags if you have more to gain by doing so. I am sure the state of society is not that bad.
    What makes so many one-time-followers cynics is the difficulty of applying Objectivism (abstract by its very nature as a philosophy) to life. But there is no chasm between the problem and reality. At most it is rocky ground. Difficult but certainly not impossible like most other philosophies.

  • aristotlethegeek  On April 15, 2008 at 3:06 am

    What will an Objectivist running a factory do if an excise inspector demands a one lakh rupee bribe and threatens to throw him in jail in a false case of excise evasion if the bribe is refused?

    What would an Objectivist running a school using his own funds do if the government forces him, under threat of closure, to accept a specific number of children without charging any fees?

    What would an Objectivist who writes a book which is critical of a particular historical character do if people are out to kill him, the government bans the book and threatens to throw him in jail for disturbing the peace?

    What would an Objectivist do if the government brings in the draft and he receives a letter ordering him to join the army?

    All these questions are not life boat scenarios. They happen, and have happened, regularly somewhere or the other. For each one of them, my answer will always be fight it even at the cost of his life. However, I can bet that nearly every one will compromise, because self preservation – the will to live – is an extremely strong feeling.

    This only happens because even though the answers are clear rationally, and your ethics will tell you what to do, the political system will conspire with self preservation and you will move the other way. If you don’t do that, then my statement that a practicing Objectivist will have to kill himself or go into exile becomes true. Either way a choice has been made – surrender or run. Which is better?

    This is why I say the political part is the most important. Because, society is where humans can grow to their fullest potential – trading, collaborating, inventing. And if society is governed by a self-defeating ideology, real Objectivists cannot survive there – only dead ones and absent ones.

    I know Atlas Shrugged is fictional, and some characters are more or less cut outs (tell me how John Galt grew up, what books did he read, who were his parents and friends) – except some like Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart. These are extremely real characters (because they are flawed in a sense). I just pointed them out because this was the book that presented Objectivism to the world.

    I don’t agree with your view that state of society is not bad. When you cannot say what you want without fearing persecution, and when you don’t have control on your personal life or economics, then the state is not bad, it is horrible. But I will not be dumping civilization and going anywhere anytime soon, because there exists that one small hope that things can be changed – things will change. You can call it irrational. But is it really?

    There a difference between one-time-followers who have dumped Objectivism, and those who have questions on its implementation. The former don’t believe in it any longer while the latter are still strongly attached to it, but are not able to bridge the present and the possibility. That is the reason for cynicism, not the fact that they are confused about applying Objectivism to their lives.

  • K. M.  On April 15, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    OK, I apologize for trying to guess your thoughts both here and on the comments on my blog.

    Now let me answer your questions. Sure all these are situations that have regularly happened. But why do you think they should be fought at the cost of one’s life? That would be reasonable only if you had some better place to protect or attain realistically. No morality can ever tell you to act at the cost of your life if that is not so. And it is obviously not so. Neither do we have anything approaching a capitalist political system anywhere on earth nor is there any chance of having one anytime soon.

    Look at your questions again. All of them are of the form “What would an objectivist do if some large group uses force against him?” The answer is obviously to resist the force, or try to escape it as best as you are able to with the least damage to yourself while trying to improve the situation in the future. Just what exactly is the conflict in this?

  • aristotlethegeek  On April 16, 2008 at 1:20 am

    I will quote Rand herself on this situation – There can be no compromise on moral principles (Doesn’t Life Require Compromise – The Virtue Of Selfishness).

    You either have a value system or you don’t. So, if you try to live according to your values, and force is applied on you that requires you to take a step against your values, if you take that step, you are no longer true to those values which you hold so sacred.

    All the cases I mention deal with force because that is how extortion happens. If you decide to succumb to extortion, how have you been true to your values? If you reason that paying up or submitting this time around is the rational way of doing things, what will happen when the incident repeats itself the next time round, as it is bound to, given the society we live in? The ransom that has been paid will work for a limited time. After that, the demand will be repeated again. And again. And again. So fighting it is the only rational way. And fighting with the government invariably means giving up your life (one way or the other).

    This is the conflict, or problem, that an Objectivist faces if he tries to live in accordance with Objectivism in an irrational world, a world that does not follow the political aspects of Objectivism, those aspects that govern relationships between people. And that is precisely why he needs the protection of an Objectivist government. Every time you try a rational act in an irrational world, you will have a conflict or contradiction. And that contradiction is precisely due to the fact that you are acting rationally in an irrational world.

    If you do vote for self-preservation in the above examples and accept surrender, there is no going back to something better. When you do that, you are not holding a small battalion at bay till a division comes to help you, for no one is coming.

  • K. M.  On April 17, 2008 at 2:10 am

    Your quote doesn’t apply because moral principles don’t apply to situations in which you are subjected to force. “Morality ends where a gun begins.” Morality is conditional on the choice to live and the choice to act (freely). When you act to preserve your life or under government orders, you are not compromising on moral principles. Acting to keep a higher value is not a compromise. It is something that reality often necessitates (and not just when you are forced by people).
    It would be a compromise (or a surrender or being false to your values) only if you did not act to improve your situation in future. As long as you have a hope that you will be able to improve your situation, it would actually be wrong to fight at the cost of your life.
    I am guessing again here but I believe your conflict lies in a failure to fully grasp what acting rationally means. Acting rationally means acting in accordance with all the facts of reality, including all the irrationality that you see, not acting as you would act in a hypothetical world(where most people are rational or where there is a proper government or whatever). There are no contradictions in reality. Any contradictions that you reach are contradictions in your own thinking.

  • aristotlethegeek  On April 17, 2008 at 3:49 am

    The quote is very valid. And I will explain why. There is a compromise and there is a “compromise”. The first one is a valid concept which is based on mutual exchange of value. The second one (in quotes) is a complete surrender. You can compromise, on the price paid for a kilogram of onions, with the seller. But you cannot compromise between your moral principles and that of your victimizer (there can be no compromise on moral principles). You can only “compromise” them.

    I know perfectly well what rationality (Ayn Rand Lexicon) refers to. What it does not refer to is changing one’s behavior depending on changing circumstances disregarding one’s moral principles (or what I referred to as values). If you know that the force being applied is not a one time event, but will keep happening, and you surrender ( “compromise” ) to such force, are you not surrendering your values? That is what I am asking.

    There can be no compromise between freedom and government controls; to accept “just a few controls” is to surrender the principle of inalienable individual rights and to substitute for it the principle of the government’s unlimited, arbitrary power, thus delivering oneself into gradual enslavement…
    .
    .
    There can be no compromise on moral principles. “In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.” (Atlas Shrugged.) The next time you are tempted to ask: “Doesn’t life require compromise?” translate that question into its actual meaning: “Doesn’t life require the surrender of that which is true and good to that which is false and evil?” The answer to that precisely is what life forbids – if one wishes to achieve anything but a stretch of tortured years spent in progressive self-destruction.

    – (Doesn’t Life Require Compromise – The Virtue Of Selfishness.)

    How do you interpret this? Are you saying that since the force is present and your life is at stake, preserving your life is more important, and therefore you submit physically to it while mentally maintaining your position and therefore your moral principles (something like what Galileo did?). If getting a license necessitates giving a bribe, then I should pay the bribe while internally telling myself it is the wrong thing to do?

    Clarify this part for me.

  • K. M.  On April 17, 2008 at 11:24 am

    I will repeat that moral judgements apply only to those actions that you do volantarily.
    When Rand says “There can be no compromise between freedom and government controls”, she is rejecting ideas such as ‘The ideal government is a mostly free market with a safety net for people who fall through the gaps’.
    A compromise on moral principles is voluntary action that flouts the principle for some perceived short term gain.

    Let us look at a few concretes.

    In your license example, the government orders you to have a license and leaves you no way to get it without a bribe. When you do pay the bribe, you are not acting freely.

    Take the example of a professor taking a government grant for research. As long as the professor opposes government funded research and argues against it, he is not being immoral in taking that grant. Atleast some part of it comes from his own taxes (the government leaves no way to determine how much) and further government controls leave little incentive for private research. There is no need for him to make a martyr of himself. It would be a moral compromise if the professor were to argue that government funding is necessary when private industry is unwilling to fund research.

    Rand addresses some questions like this in ‘Philosophy: Who Needs It?’. I don’t remember where exactly but it could be in the essay “How does one lead a rational life in an irrational world?” You would do well to read it. I believe it is a collection of some of her best written essays.

  • K. M.  On April 17, 2008 at 11:28 am

    I forgot to address your last questions. Yes what Galileo did was right. He could not have spoken against the church without losing his life. He did not.
    We are not in the same situation. We can argue publicly that government controls are evil without any real fear of persecution. You should pay the bribe and tell not just yourself but the whole world that it is wrong.

  • aristotlethegeek  On April 17, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    So, what you are saying is one should be clear in his own mind as to what is right and what is wrong. If he favors wrong when he is not being coerced (directly or indirectly), then he is not acting rationally and therefore is not practicing Objectivism. But, if he finds that he is being coerced into doing wrong, then as long as he knows the difference between right and wrong, he is not at fault and is still acting within the parameters of Objective thought.

    When you accept the metaphysics, ethics and epistemology of Objectivism, nothing short of a place where it can be practiced as it should be satisfies you. So, the wait-watch-bear game appears passive. That is all.

    I have read How does one lead a rational life in an irrational world?. It is also available in The Virtue Of Selfishness. It only says – one must never fail to pronounce moral judgment – and that I am not afraid of.

  • Bersamina Froilan Vincent  On November 11, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    This is my reply to this blog and my summation:

    I’M totally against totalitarianism and communism.

    I’m against fascism, socialism, Nazism, and authoritarianism.

    I’m strongly opposed to imperialism, theocracy, and plutocracy, which all seek to turn men into slaves, and whose purpose is protect the status of both the political and business elite who benefit largely from corruption, venality, slavery and irregularities.

    I’m against collectivism and any ideology that seeks to subjugate individuals to an absurd collective whose aim is to abolish individual rights and freedoms for the sake of what their proponents claim as the “common good.”

    Today, there are lots of political ideologies and philosophies that continue to confuse the people. We have various “isms” that advocate the goals and visions of their respective creators. Communism, for example, which was conceptualized by Karl Marx in the 18th century, promotes the establishment of a classless, stateless society based on common ownership of the modes of production.

    But the political ideologies I’ve mentioned above, while they may differ in terms of economic and social aspirations, they have but one thing in common. Totalitarianism, communism socialism, imperialism, fascism and authoritarianism— they are all part and parcel of collectivism, a social, economic and political outlook that stresses human interdependence and the primacy of a collective, rather than the significance of individuals.

    This is to say that there are only two major political umbrellas which cover existing distinct political ideologies and philosophies. The one is individualism, that moral, social and political perspective that put emphasis on human independence and the importance of self-reliance and liberty, while the other is collectivism.

    Obviously, most failed and rogue states like Myanmar, which is ruled by a military junta, North Korea, Communist China, Kenya, among others, subscribe to collectivist communism and socialism. Others that subscribe to collectivist political system are Cuba, Venezuela and some Latin American countries.

    But this is not to say that states claiming to be democratic like United States of America, Philippines and India are the most ideal place to live in. Today, most self-claimed democratic countries are now under the claws of elected dictators, who aspire to bring their respective kingdoms to the realm of collectivism.

    It must be noted that all dictators and evil leaders in the past like Julius Caesar of olden Rome, Napoleon Bonaparte of France, Adolf Hitler of Germany, Mao Tse-Tung of China, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, and Polpot of Cambodia ruled under the aegis of collectivism with the ardent promise to deliver the “common good”. Another form of totalitarianism is also rising (or has already risen) in Russia, a former socialist empire under the defunct USSR.

    No tyrant ever rose to power without spreading the delusive gospel of “common good” and “equality”.

    The United States of America nearly embraced socialism over a century ago. It must be remembered that during the term of former U.S. Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Americans lived under a de facto socialist regime after the late war president adopted a program called the “New Deal” initiated between 1933 and 1938, with the goal of giving relief, reform and recovery to the people and economy of the U.S. during the great depression.

    Part of the New Deal is the confiscation of gold from all Americans in 1933 because of the then existing “national emergency.” FDR stated in an Executive Order in April 5, 1933, that “the continued private hoarding of gold and silver by subjects of the United States poses a grave threat to the peace, equal justice, and well-being of the United States; and that appropriate measures must be taken immediately to protect the interests of our people.” In short, even the remaining property most Americans were seized by the U.S. Government for the sake of what is called the “common good.”

    Also under Roosevelt, National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was signed into law to pave the way for “opening the way for cooperation between the federal government and businesses in order to stimulate the economy during the Great Depression.” By virtue of said act, America was in effect under socialism for the law allowed to reduce what it called “destructive competition” and that it gave so much power to the president. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled in 1935 that the Act was unconstitutional because of the undue arrogation of “too much” power to the chief executive.

    It looks like history is repeating itself in America. After the September 11 attack in America, President George Bush seized too much power by the U.S. Congress to fight what he dubbed as “terrorists”, “islamofascists”, the “axis of evil” and the elements of terror.

    Right after the attack, the U.S. signed into law the Patriot Act which expanded the authority of law enforcement agencies for the purpose of fighting terrorism at home and abroad. It also gave too much power to the president. Aside from that, the Congress also authorized wiretapping by virtue of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which expired on February 1 but was given a 15-day extension by the legislature that also lapsed on February 16.

    On the said day, Bush warned that “the House’s failure to pass the bipartisan Senate bill would jeopardize the security of our citizens.”

    Bush said, “At this moment, somewhere in the world, terrorists are planning new attacks on our country. Their goal is to bring destruction to our shores that will make September the 11th pale by comparison. To carry out their plans, they must communicate with each other, they must recruit operatives, and they must share information.”

    This reminds me of his remark that it’s easy to be a dictator these days.

    Indeed, national emergency sometimes is beneficial to the sitting president for it justifies the concentration of too much power in the office of the commander in chief.

    In the Philippines, the regime of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is also applying the same political tactic in order to maintain its tight its grip on power and to keep the social structure intact.

    So why did I say those aforementioned ideologies/philosophies are under the collectivist umbrella?

    The life and influence of collectivism lie in the confusion of the people. Because of the many ideologies under its aegis, the people usually get baffled and distracted.

    Ayn Rand once wrote on Reader’s Digest over half a century ago the following line: “the greatest threat to mankind and civilization is the spread of the totalitarian philosophy. Its best ally is not the devotion of its followers but the confusion of its enemies. To fight it, we must understand it.”

    All leaders under imperialistic, communist, socialist, and authoritarian regimes subscribe to totalitarian ideology. Imperialism (that of America) may be different from socialism and communism (that of China) in terms of economic and social persuasion, but their leaders use totalitarian authority in order to perpetuate the established system.

    A totalitarian leader uses or subverts the law, establishes the rule of majority, and exploits his/her appointing and executive powers to keep the society intact and to perpetuate public obedience. His/her actions often result in the disregard of the rule of law and the disrespect of the individual rights and freedoms of the people.

    President Arroyo, in order to maintain her grip on power following the Hello, Garci expose, issued executive orders that mocked the established constitution and ran roughshod over the civil liberties of the people. Among the laws are the E.O. 464 aka her gagging power, and P.D. 1017, or her muzzling and extra-constitutional power.

    Individualism recognizes man as a distinct and separate individual with existing rights and duties. Every individual is equal as to human capacity and the ability to feel and think. The equality then is not by economic status but by individual capacity to use his/her God-given intellect and conscience— reason.

    Every man, in order to survive, must use his intellect and human strength. That in order to survive, his rights— rights to life, property, liberty— must be duly respected and never abridged by others, particularly those given the authority to make and execute laws. A government, on the other hand, exists so that man may live well, but this doesn’t mean it has the right to curtail man’s inalienable freedoms and rights in its official exercise of function or duties. The individual is the basis of a regime, therefore the latter must respect the existence of the former.

    To live on earth, man must also respect the rights and existence of others. If problem occurs, that’s the time the authority of the government comes in.

    Every individual is not obliged to offer his life for what the government calls the “common good.” Self-interest must always be the basis of his existence and survival. But every individual has the moral (not that religious morality) obligation to defend himself and his country against invaders so that he will not be reduced to a slave.

    Man must not live for and depend on others. He must not offer or sacrifice his life for others. To do so would make him the slave of men who live and feed on the services and labor of people who were either fooled or forced to sacrifice their lives for the sake of what they call “common good.”

    Throughout history there are two kinds of invaders who preached the gospel of slavery and the surrender of every man to a collective.

    The one are the invaders-by-law, or those who use the law by virtue of their authority (either through election or revolution or by birth.) This situation usually exists in a collectivist state that regards its subjects as mere fodders to its imperialistic or fascistic goal. Hitler used his power as Germany’s supreme fuhrer to send the Germans to a causeless, greed-inspired war. Also, George Bush sent the young Americans to Iraq, a country that never threatened a single American, for oil that now benefits the America’s elite. As a result, thousands of Iraqis died in a war that was based on lies while thousands of American soldiers were systematically killed by militant jihadists who refused to recognize the presence of foreign soldiers on the Mesopotamian soil.

    In order to survive, man must use his mind and reason. It is only through reason by which man can detect deception and understand the lies and the necessary illusion created by evil men in order to confuse or mislead him.

    Alas, those fooled by its proponents and those who have chosen to be enslaved by this ideology, either consciously or unconsciously, will surely become “another brick in the wall…” A brick that would form part of the wall that protects those in power– the wall of slavery, of ruthless savagery and of thought control.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On November 11, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    I don’t dispute anything you have said; I never have. But that still does not satisfactorily answer the question – “how do we get out of this mess?” Rand said

    I have been maintaining in everything I have said and written, that the trouble in the world today is philosophical; that only the right philosophy can save us.

    And she is right. But based on the present state of mankind, hoping that a majority of people in the world will understand or even care for Objectivism or similar philosophies is hoping for too much.

    So those who do believe in individual rights will have to resign themselves to the fact that the world is not going to change much – collectivism and the idea of stealing from others is something that “leaders” will always use to maintain their power.

  • Bersamina Froilan Vincent  On November 12, 2008 at 9:10 am

    My understanding of Objectivism is that it is a philosophy that guides man’s conduct- not in a way that it stands superior to man, but man should still be the object of life, the master of his actions, and an end in himself. That’s how I understand Rand’s Objectivism. Should should we worry if Objectivism does not work for others. Objectivism is a philosophy for those who would like to live on earth, period! I only think of myself- as an individual, and I think of others not as means to my goal or bridges to my aspirations, but as my fellow individuals. What’s wrong with people is that they’re confused! Objectivism does not ask too much! It only ask that which you can do to yourself and not you can do to others. It only asks you to live as a rational man and a free individual. Is this hard to get? I’m sick of seeing comments from people questioning this philosophy. I would like to challenge them to check their premises. They live on earth now because they’re human, but they survive because they are man- with complete mental faculties and physical attrinutes. They are an individual because their primary duty is to themselves and not to others. We live only once. Before we look at others and be fooled by foley philosophies on earth, we should focus on ourselves, see what we can do to achieve our individual goals, bear the right philosophy for living man, and live an a human being. That’s it! This is my answer to those who are still baffled and confused…

  • Aristotle The Geek  On November 12, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    “It only asks you to live as a rational man and a free individual.”
    ‘Rational’ is within my control, ‘free’ is not.

    “Should we worry if Objectivism does not work for others.”
    I am not talking about whether Objectivism works or does not work for others, but saying that you can’t converse in English with someone who only understands French; I am talking about living in society.
    There are two parts to Objectivism – the one that relates to the individual (your acceptance of objective reality, reason, and rational self-interest) and the one that relates to his relationship with society (the political philosophy of capitalism). I would probably fully agree with you – “It only ask that which you can do to yourself and not you can do to others” – if I were Robinson Crusoe. But the fact remains that we live among billions of other individuals, most of whom think that its okay for them to do what they want to other individuals. That’s why I have always maintained that bringing about a political change is very important.

    You could follow K.M.’s advice – “No matter how things stand, one has to act in accordance with reality (the whole of it, including the irrationality of others) with reference to rational principles” – and adapt yourself to the current state of society; actually most of us are doing that already. But then that signifies a different kind of resignation.

    A free society – a capitalist society – is the only place where individuals can thrive instead of being persecuted. And people should spend more time in thinking of ways in which such an idea can become reality, rather than simply adapting themselves to the present and being proud of having done so. Sitting in a club and praising each others’ rationality or carrying on nitpicking sessions on blogs or in conversations about how a particular law is good or bad or discussing the morality of others (I do it myself) doesn’t help if it does not lead to some kind of political change.

    Rand called herself and her group “radicals for capitalism”. What is the use of radicalism that is simply confined to the arm chair? Read this and this (its probably unnecessary) to know how far away from the political mainstream Objectivists and other libertarians are.

    You obviously understand the importance of a political philosophy (your long first comment) but then give it up in your second one while concentrating on the individual. To me, they are inseparable.

  • Froilan Vincent Bersamina  On November 13, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Thanks for those thoughts. I know one does not have to take all of the teachings of Ayn Rand. Many people still don’t understand her philosophy, but as what Michelangelo said, ideas are simply confined in a stone. Only an inquisitive mind can break this stone to obtain the ideas in it. I honestly and confidently believe that I understand the ideas and teachings of Ayn Rand and that I don’t have to call myself an objectivist or obtain a membership with that organization. I am who I am– and this is part of objectivist philosophy according to my understanding.
    I love sharing thoughts with you. See? I now turn to the Internet to share ideas with “thinking”people. In my place, most people are collectivists. I hate to share thoughts with them. It’s a waste of time. Perhaps, this best exemplifies your thoughts here– that individual must interact with other people, simply belong we live in a communal hub they call “society.” What I see around me is a gray desert of people.
    You may see some of my thoughts here http://fvdb.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/what-represents-money-good-or-evil/
    I,
    Vincent

  • Aristotle The Geek  On November 14, 2008 at 2:19 am

    “See? I now turn to the Internet to share ideas with ‘thinking’ people.”
    The beauty of the internet – you can converse with people with whom you have something in common – something that is difficult in the offline world.

    “Perhaps, this best exemplifies your thoughts here– that individual must interact with other people, simply belong we live in a communal hub they call ‘society.'”
    Its the other way round, at least partly. I live in what we call society, and interact with people – a limited number of them – because of the benefits of such interaction. There is a difference between having to meet people because you are forced to do so, and doing it out of your own free will. I am not a big fan of society or groups or “teams”. But they do tend to work well in certain cases.

    “What I see around me is a gray desert of people.”
    Same here. The world and its people have made me a cynic, an angry one, and I fear its a permanent condition.

  • K. M.  On November 15, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    “Same here. The world and its people have made me a cynic, an angry one, and I fear its a permanent condition.”
    Not good. Cynicism as I understand it (my understanding doesn’t seem to be the dictionary meaning though), means viewing all actions that you do not agree with as moral failures. That view is not true. Most irrational beliefs are not moral failures. Reaching a rational and consistent world view is no easy task. I am not sure I would have reached such a view had I not read Rand when I did. Certainly it would have taken much longer. If people in general believe that some amount of force is necessary for a stable society, that is not necessarily a moral failure. If they do not quickly accept logical arguments, that is still not necessarily a moral failure. We are all influenced to a large extent by the culture around us.
    Moreover acting like a cynic is sure to turn off those people who are looking for rational solutions but hold wrong or irrational beliefs.
    You have a paradox. A rational worldview has led you to cynicism. Surely that shouldn’t be so. If it were, it would be better to believe that ignorance is bliss.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On November 16, 2008 at 6:01 am

    “Not good. Cynicism as I understand it (my understanding doesn’t seem to be the dictionary meaning though), means viewing all actions that you do not agree with as moral failures. That view is not true.”
    This is not my definition of cynicism, at least not entirely. And its not about viewing things as moral failures. What irritates me is the sheer scale of the problem – so many people who have the power to influence my life – indirectly – in a bad way. And I am not talking about relations of a private nature here.

    “If people in general believe that some amount of force is necessary for a stable society, that is not necessarily a moral failure. If they do not quickly accept logical arguments, that is still not necessarily a moral failure. We are all influenced to a large extent by the culture around us.”
    People don’t believe in ‘some amount of force’ but ‘force without limits’ as long as their goals for society are met; and its not that they don’t accept logical arguments quickly – a majority of them will ‘never’ accept such arguments. Why? Most of them probably have never thought about it, and probably never will. Others – it suits them, or their world view – not accepting the arguments.
    I can understand people being mistaken – I am by no means ‘perfect’ in that sense of the word. But over time, others might be able to convince me – directly or indirectly – about the rightness or wrongness of some positions of mine. Not the case with most others.

    “Moreover acting like a cynic is sure to turn off those people who are looking for rational solutions but hold wrong or irrational beliefs.”
    I don’t act like it 24/7. Speak to someone for five minutes, or follow their actions, and you more or less know the nature of the person – particularly how cunning they are. You can’t convince cunning people – they know.

    “You have a paradox. A rational worldview has led you to cynicism. Surely that shouldn’t be so. If it were, it would be better to believe that ignorance is bliss.”
    Its been like this long before I even read Rand. The only difference is, I now understand people better.
    I am not sure about the link between a rational worldview and cynicism. As I see it, when you know that its physically impossible to convince a few hundred million people (I don’t mean me going and convincing everyone on my own) about their mistaken positions on politics which impacts the personal lives of everyone – within your lifetime – the best you can do is factor in conceit, ignorance and similar traits of others, and do the best you can to live the way you think you should. I don’t see whats irrational in that. Or even a paradox.

  • K. M.  On November 18, 2008 at 12:57 am

    “The world and its people have made me a cynic, an angry one, and I fear its a permanent condition.”
    That line (as well as the hint of futility that I notice in some of your posts) was what made me write a comment. Certainly there is nothing irrational or paradoxical in factoring in everything that you know about the world and do the best you can the way you think you should. What is paradoxical is that you don’t seem to enjoy it (fully).
    I just finished reading Ibsen’s play “An Enemy of the People” written in 1882. The world doesn’t seem to have changed much since then. In Crichton’s NEXT, there is a passage that says “Its practitioners aren’t saints, they’re human bengs, and they do what human beings do – lie, cheat, steal from one another, sue, hide data, fake data, overstate their own importance and denigrate opposing views unfairly. That’s human nature. It isn’t going to change.” I don’t agree fully with that but part of it is true. Human nature is essentially a capacity to be good. The capacity to be evil is implied in it and isn’t going to go away. Why let it affect you? Sure, other people’s mistakes can hurt you. But so what? That is a part of reality. Letting a part of reality affect you mentally is what is the problem. I am not saying that I am free of the problem. But that should be the goal.
    Let me return to the hints of futility in some of your posts. They suggest that some part of your motive in writing is to let off steam. I am not saying that you shouldn’t be doing that. It is good to let off steam if it is there. But the goal should be to not to have any at all.

  • Aristotle The Geek  On November 18, 2008 at 4:27 am

    “What is paradoxical is that you don’t seem to enjoy it (fully).”
    I can understand not worrying about or fretting over things outside your control – not indifference, but unnecessary worry – precisely because they are so, and particularly when they don’t directly involve you; I tell this to a lot of people, though I don’t practice what I preach. But how do you actually ‘enjoy’ this state of affairs?
    Hugh Laurie – Dr. Gregory House of House M.D. – suffers from clinical depression. How did he know about it?-

    He diagnosed this himself when, during a charity stock car race, with cars flying and exploding around him, he felt bored.

    I don’t know about enjoyment, but boredom or indifference is not good, not when such things happen.

    “Human nature is essentially a capacity to be good. The capacity to be evil is implied in it and isn’t going to go away. Why let it affect you? Sure, other people’s mistakes can hurt you. But so what? That is a part of reality. Letting a part of reality affect you mentally is what is the problem.”
    Anger is a very important emotion (I would be very careful around people who don’t get angry no matter what the provocation). And injustice – whether it happens to you, or to someone else – should make you angry. Sure its part and parcel of reality, and where humans are involved the bad will come with the good; but that does not mean you simply shrug it off and move ahead – there has to be some emotional response. Whether your let it go after a while or let it keep burning is a point of debate. I do recognize that the latter is harmful in the longer run, but I don’t have an easy solution for it because the anger primarily relates to politics; relations – whether good or bad – with people you meet on a day to day basis is not part of it.

    “They suggest that some part of your motive in writing is to let off steam.”
    That is true. And it helps a lot.

    PS: For another perspective on cynicism and anger, add this url – radicalhypocrite.wordpress.com – to your Blog Surfer and ask it to display the latest post. RH has stopped blogging, and this is the only way to read his last post.

  • K. M.  On November 19, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    “But how do you actually ‘enjoy’ this state of affairs?”
    I didn’t mean enjoying the state of affairs. I meant enjoying dealing with it the best you can.

    “Anger is a very important emotion.”
    Yes. When it is directed at immoral people. When it is directed at no one in particular or at certain ideas, it can only harm you. The current state of affairs is beneath my anger. The only thing I can grant it is contempt – neither anger nor sympathy. And I will not call this attitude cynical – because I know what I find contemptuous and why, and because I do not let it affect my peace.

    Let me take the Singur fiasco as an example: I am mostly indifferent about it. I have no sympathy for any of the parties involved – not for the communists, not for the farmers who tolerate and elect them, not for the Tata’s who chose to deal with the communists, and not for Mamata Bannerjee. I don’t think much about it. I am not bothered by the fact that the situation in Bengal is not likely to improve any time soon. Centuries of superstition and decades of socialism are not going to be washed away easily. Why should I be concerned? I have my own life to live. I accept that it is impossible to make any positive political efforts today. I am content to analyze things that interest me, develop my ideas, write about them and occasionally respond to comments and criticism.

    Finally, what was that link? I couldn’t make much sense out of it but it was really terrible. Did you follow his blog when it was active?

  • Aristotle The Geek  On November 20, 2008 at 1:04 am

    “Finally, what was that link? I couldn’t make much sense out of it but it was really terrible. Did you follow his blog when it was active?”
    I began following his blog after he commented on the post I wrote on Taslima Nasreen last November. He used the image of the Guy Fawkes mask for his identity and would write on issues like Nasreen, and Nandigram, and life in Bengal under communist rule, on the attitude of people, and on West-backed mass murderers like Suharto.
    From his last post, I think he was some kind of disillusioned (former) Marxist/ Maoist revolutionary (or at least a sympathizer) – to the left of the Left-

    You who’ve not been to jail, not experienced a workers’ movement built up from scratch crumble to ruthless police terror and muscle flexing by the CPM, not heard your comrade’s scream from somewhere while the policeman stubbed a cigarette butt in her breast, not known how it feels to have your balls grabbed and your little finger squashed by a policeman with whom you thought to logically argue about the Indian Penal Code inside the lock-up…

    All this I have seen in Nihalani’s film on Naxalism – Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa. He knew communism for what it really is, and also the true nature of corporatism masquerading as capitalism. All his writings were melancholic and crudely poetic – that probably is its biggest flaw, or strength – whichever way you want to see it. But Manto too indulged in crudeness, and he had a reason.

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