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Who is Ayn Rand?

She was born in Russia and immigrated to the US in 1905 at the age of 21. She wrote a bunch of interesting books in her time. I discovered Ayn Rand when I was in college in the 1980's. I read a pile of her books, and passed them on to my friends. The Fountainhead was the first that I read, followed by Atlas Shrugged and then plodding on through a few more before I burned out. In these novels she began to develop Objectivism, her very own philosophy. She became quite famous later in life and was associated with Alan Greenspan and a host of other intellectuals.

I find it interesting that these days people scoff at Ayn Rand in much the same way that they scoff at Ron Paul. As if they were the lunatic fringe, not the sanest people around. Anyone who has not read at least one of Ayn Rand's books has no right to denigrate her ideas. And I pity the fool who dismisses Ron Paul before they really listen to him speak about what is happening in our country today.

It is true that Objectivism does not address the decimation of Earth's resources that we are now facing. But Rand's philosophy does insightfully assess many assumptions in our culture that continue to cause trouble. For example, Rand observes that "values" in our culture involve not so much specific codes of behavior as the idea that one's actions are right and good if they are done for someone else. Acting for yourself is not seen as being righteous. Acting for others will get you into heaven. Rand reintroduced the idea of rational self interest. In our culture we go to great lengths to appear unselfish, because to be selfish is the greatest sin of all. But to be a self with needs is to be selfish. So to deny our inherent selfishness is to deny our very selves. There are deep problems associated with the religious-unduced selflessness slant of our culture. Objectivism seeks to be objective about what is happening and why. I appreciate that.

It appears that someone is trying to get Rational Self Interest back into college curriculums, by appealing to the self interest of Universities. According to The Week at least 17 universities accepted a million buck donations under the condition that Atlas Shrugged be required reading in a course on capitalism from a moral perspective. That should be an interesting course.

I didn't know it until just now, but Anglina Jolie and Brad Pitt are working on putting together a movie version of Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged. It's on the shelf for now, because they want to do it right and until the pieces come together they won't touch it. I look forward to that one coming through.

Apparently Ayn Rand blocked a number of attempts to make her book into a movie, fearing perhaps that Hollywood would be completely oblivious to Objectivism and misconstrue her lifework. I wouldn't doubt it.

The Youtube video below is by a serious young man who purchased Greenspan's recent autobiography The Age of Turbulence and reads a portion of it so us that considers Ayn Rand.



Apr. 9th, 2008 12:17 am (UTC)
liveonearth, you have a better grip on Rand than gavin6942, but you both need to better your understanding of selfishness. Your own life is all that you have and all that you are. Your purpose in life is to maximize the quality of that life and for as long as possible. But to pursue "quality" requires a system of values to guide and discipline your choices that determine how you interact with the rest of reality. Your values are the results that you seek to gain with your actions.

If follows that in order to maximize your life, you should never intentionally sacrifice a greater value in order to get a lesser value. But that is what altruism demands -- self sacrifice. You must instead always seek to gain a higher value by giving up a lower value. That is selfishness. If the values are rationally identified vis a vis your nature (as a human) and the nature of reality and they are consistently applied to your actions, that is rational selfishness.

Recognize that this relationship to yourself is equally true for each and every other human. Therefore your every relationship with and action toward any other human is implicitly granted by you to be proper for them to hold with or act out toward you. Consequently, by Rand's philosophy, theft and murder are acts of self-sacrifice, not of selfishness. Helping bright young students with their college expenses in order to live in a world with more intelligent people is an act of selfishness. Giving your friendship to an acquaintance, or your love to a spouse, because they embody your own sense of life is an act of selfishness.

In any uncoerced exchange between two selfish humans, each will give the other something valued less than that which is received, the price in such an exchange is inherently just, and both will profit. Therefrom springs the efficacy of capitalism.
Apr. 9th, 2008 01:49 am (UTC)
Very good, thanks for clarifying the Objectivist understanding of selfishness.
Apr. 10th, 2008 01:22 am (UTC)
I disagree with some of this. I understand Rand fairly well, I just think she's wrong most of the time.

She would say murder and theft are wrong because of the bad consequences they would bring to the self. She would not be against them if they were of a personal -- selfish -- benefit. She has stated that clearly.

As for considering altruism as a lower value than egoism, that is one of her fundamental mistakes, because she has such a poor understanding of what "altruism" is. She seems to see it as black/white and that the idea is self-sacrifice and self-suicide, ultimately. That is NOT what altruism is, and no one would define it in such a way other than herself. And, as LiveOnEarth pointed out, who is say what values are higher or lower? A self-protection may be more fundamental, but I wouldn't say it was "higher". That would make us on the same plane of morality as animals, and if we're merely animals then Rand's whole philosophy has no basis.
Apr. 10th, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC)
Hi G; I deleted the last two comments from the anonymous commenter because I get irritated with him. He is not so anonymous to me; I recognize those cogs turning.

I am curious as to why you say that if we're merely animals Rand's philosophy has no basis. Because in my mind we ARE animals, no "mere" about it. Glorious animals.

I think that Rand simply does not believe in altruism. She believes that all actions are fundamentally selfish, even though they may benefit others. I am inclined to agree with her, though I think that in reaction to cultural pressures to be selfless we often deny our selfish motives, and they become part of our unconscious.
Apr. 12th, 2008 04:59 pm (UTC)
Whether Rand believes in altruism or not, I don't know. I do know she's opposed to it, though. Similar to what you had posted, she has said that altruism is basically a suicide because we would have to give all of our self to others. I find this a flawed way to look at it, just as I would find it equally flawed to say that being selfish means we must be "purely" selfish. Certainly, that would be stupid.

Yes, humans are animals. But not mere animals. We have biological urges, as animals do, but we also have the consciousness (or self-awareness or whatever term you prefer) to be aware of how our actions are reflected in society. If we were mere animals, setting u pa moral system (or denouncing a moral system) would be pointless, as animals are capable of only the most rudimentary morals, if any at all.

Try lecturing a dog on why his actions are right or wrong. You might get him to stop sh*tting on the carpet, but essentially you didn't add any moral sense to the dog.
Apr. 13th, 2008 01:34 am (UTC)
Agreed that we humans have a frontal lobe that allows us to imagine the future and relate it to the past, and thus to believe that we know what is best for the future.

I personally believe in moderation in all things, including moderation. So I integrate Rand's ideas....moderately, not the way she would have wanted.

I do see truth in her comments about the suicidal nature of altruism. It's not about suicide of the body, but about suicide of the spirit or soul of a person. Giving all for others limits the possibility that one might fulfill one's potential. If you take her statements in a less literal manner, they may be more palatable for you too.

It seems to me that MOST people in our culture are in varying stages of suicide of the soul: they may not be dead yet, but they are not doing what it is that makes them truly ALIVE. And it does take some selfishness to pursue personal enlivenment.



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