Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum immigrated to the US in 1926. She adopted the nom de plume “Ayn Rand” while writing her first book, and was known by that name for the rest of her life. She is perhaps the most misunderstood figure in history aside from one or two others that have also inspired religions in their name. She is perhaps the only one who didn’t intend to create a religion. She thought she was creating a philosophy.
Part 3 of a series of posts defining the Emergent Principles of Human Nature. This effort is an outgrowth of a challenge issued to me ages ago by a fellow libertarian that I explain inalienable rights without including god. Like most challenges of this type, the work is larger than the speaker or hearer understands at the time.
A Right to Life. What does that phrase mean? It’s patently obvious that an individual can’t claim an unlimited right to continue existing. Nature itself fails by comparison to infinite existence, since life as we know it on this planet did have a beginning and will have an ending. Life as we know it is the closest thing to nature, or natural, that can be said to exist at all.
Individual lives are far more transitory than the multi-billion years of life as we know it. Life as we can scientifically determine has existed on this planet. Life that will continue into the unknown and unknowable future. Life that will (hopefully) continue in an unbroken chain until the sun turns into a red giant and consumes everything inside the orbit of the planet Mars some billions of years in the future.
Do the children you produce have a right to live, a right to life? Your friends?Your neighbors? Does the person dying of cancer have a right to life? The starving person, the homeless person, the person lying out in the cold on a freezing winter night? Do they have a right to life? Why aren’t we compelled to help them? Why do they die, if they have a right to life? You too will die, we all will die. Do we have a right to life?
If rights are a thing that can’t be revoked, and yet life itself abandons the physical body, can there realistically be a thing called a right to life? It is an open question, in my estimation.
Human life is different, I hear you saying, human life is precious. You are right, human life is different. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say it is precious considering how we treat the needy among us, but human life is demonstrably different from any other kind of life on this planet that has ever existed before, in spite of the common ancestry we share with all other forms of life we have ever found. From a scientific perspective, we are the first creature that has modified its environment to such an extent that the impact of our habitation on Earth could well wipe out all traces of previous life and permanently alter the planet in the process, requiring the Earth itself to regenerate the life-sustaining envelope we currently enjoy today.
We have probably already entered the next era of Earth’s evolution. The Anthropocene is still in its proposal stages in the halls of science, but there is little doubt remaining that we have crossed the boundary into the human-created environment, for better or for worse. So we are different than other forms of life on the planet. But do we have a right to this life?
It is a mistake to start a list of rights with a right to life beyond the basic observation that taking the life of another person negates one’s own right to continue existing in the eyes of your peers. Again, this is demonstrable. The knee-jerk abortion protests and the outrage over euthanasia practices illustrates this fact as well. We want to exist. We want to exist for as long as we can maintain that existence in a fashion that is acceptable to our own vague notions of normal existence.
Abortion frightens those who see it as ending a life. They see it as a retroactive threat to their own lives, a cheat that allows the sexually permissive to go free. This is why the anti-abortion movement turns into the anti-sex movement as soon as it feels that it has established the beachhead of ending abortion. This is why they are now trying to end the use of contraceptives and other family planning practices. In their eyes, sex is for procreation only. The sex that other people engage in, at least.
Euthanasia is a far more personal threat. Everyone who exists, lives, will die. Tomorrow or several centuries from now, all of us will be gone at some point. Even these words set down in a permanent form of expression will cease to exist, to have meaning. Euthanasia ends that personal existence before its natural time. It is the bookend to abortion, in the eyes of a believer. Abortion ends life before it starts, euthanasia ends life before it is supposed to end, naturally.
However, most people do not understand what nature is. Nature is not just precious life, but cruel slavery of the living of one species, for their use by another species. This happens in the animal world as well as the human world. It is the nature of existence. Energy for continuing life must be harvested from somewhere, and that means killing something in order to continue existing. Did the cow that was turned into your hamburger have a right to life? Cows are mammals. They share a huge amount of genetic code with humans because of this fact. Shouldn’t all mammals have a right to life?
You might go for that argument and respond in the positive to it. Let’s go further out on the limb. How about the plants and insects that we consume. They are alive. Insects are even mobile and have primitive brains. Don’t they have a right to life? What will we use to continue our own lives if all forms of food are considered forbidden to eat because of the impact that will have on the sanctity of life?
This is the mistake of a fundamental right to life laid bare. We have no problem at all with taking the life of other living things, even other humans. To our credit, we have become less violent over the centuries. You can’t walk out into public and just start killing people without facing negative consequences for your actions. Acting under the color of authority does give cover for a substantial number of sociopathic tendencies. Wars kill thousands of people, sometimes hundreds of thousands in an instant. Because wars are conducted under the authority of governments, we allow these massive losses of life to go unpunished.
The police are routinely forgiven for killing the defenseless by accident. They are granted the right to use deadly force, and some accidents will happen. Did the person killed accidentally by the police have a right to life?
The state conducting executions in the town square strikes most people as insane or barbaric in Western countries, today. But it was a common practice throughout the world in previous centuries and there are some countries that still practice public executions. No one questions the legitimacy of the threat embodied in a hogtied victim that is the scapegoat for some reviled behavior or other, but the person is just as dead in the end whether he represented a legitimate threat or not. Do they have a right to life? Why not?
These examples are the kinds of reasons that historical lists of rights start with a right to life, not the reasons that are bandied about today. Abortion and euthanasia are commonplace in nature. Nature is survival of the fittest in the most personal form imaginable. Abortion and euthanasia were so commonplace in previous centuries as to be completely brushed aside by the average observer. The elderly were allowed to die, to take the long walk, because we couldn’t afford to feed them anymore without threatening our own existence directly. The mammalian body will re-absorb or miscarry young that threaten the life of the mother, or the pregnancy will kill her. A human female who has children that she can’t feed would, and in some countries still do, simply leave the young exposed for predators or the weather to kill. These were far more common as occurrences than public hangings were. Every family would have experienced at least one of these once a generation until the modern age.
People are born, people will die. When do they begin to have a right to life? When does it begin?
…Consciousness requires a sophisticated network of highly interconnected components, nerve cells. Its physical substrate, the thalamo-cortical complex that provides consciousness with its highly elaborate content, begins to be in place between the 24th and 28th week of gestation. Roughly two months later synchrony of the electroencephalographic (EEG) rhythm across both cortical hemispheres signals the onset of global neuronal integration. Thus, many of the circuit elements necessary for consciousness are in place by the third trimester. By this time, preterm infants can survive outside the womb under proper medical care. And as it is so much easier to observe and interact with a preterm baby than with a fetus of the same gestational age in the womb, the fetus is often considered to be like a preterm baby, like an unborn newborn. But this notion disregards the unique uterine environment: suspended in a warm and dark cave, connected to the placenta that pumps blood, nutrients and hormones into its growing body and brain, the fetus is asleep.
As far as EPHN would be concerned the first principle wouldn’t be life. The first principle is speech. Speech defines us to each other and to ourselves. In some far-off future it’s easy to imagine that human life as we know it might not even be a requirement. Allowing for the granting of legal rights not only to qualifying AI but limited rights to higher level mammals capable of communicating. Speech defines who we are and what we know.
Without life there is no behavior. Without behavior there aren’t any patterns to be analyzed. There cannot be rights or Emergent Principles of Human Nature if there isn’t human life. This problem is far more difficult to tease apart than any of the various ideologies crafted to grapple with it actually take into account. The many failings of the human animal listed in previous articles on the subject of EPHN all impact this problem. Perception is largely credited by the observer as being reality and yet perception is at best subjective or anecdotal.
Part of our mental dealings with the world around us involves assigning agency, purpose, to the things we interact with. This process is all but unavoidable. The term for this process is Anthropomorphism. Try interacting with your pets without crediting them with human emotion, human motivation. The weather is frequently imbued with agency, as if the air currents that crash into each other actually think about dumping water in one place and not another. If you stub your toe on a rock, you are likely to blame the rock for existing in that location rather than admit your own clumsiness, your gaps in perception that allowed the collision in the first place.
All manner of events in life are credited with consciousness, with agency, completely in error. Why would it be surprising then for someone to assign agency to a form, specifically the human form? Believers of various stripes credit their religious statues with agency. What is clearly a construct of stone or metal can be said, even by non-believers, to project emotion. Art by its own definition should make you feel emotion, or it isn’t art in the judgement of the individual. But the emotion comes from within the observer, not from within the object. The statues are not happy or sad, joyous or vengeful, they evoke the emotion in the observer; they are crafted that way by human hands specifically in the hopes of garnering that emotional response.
Statues do not shed tears, do not bleed. Test after test reveals that contrary claims by the religious are baseless and there are many of these kinds of claims. Statues are constructs, devoid of agency, unlike a biological human form. What then of the form that does bleed or shed tears, is that human life? Not necessarily. Form is just the physical component of human life. Are amputees less human because their forms are not perfect? Are ugly people less human than pretty people? Of course not. There is something else, something in addition to the form which imbues the form with that thing we deem human life.
That elusive thing is consciousness. It is so elusive that we’ve only recently been able to detect its presence. We’ve only recently been able to attempt to describe what it is. It is there when you are awake and to some limited extent it is even present while you are sleeping, and it is gone when the body ceases to function normally. Without consciousness you are not you and I am not me. Consciousness defines human life and human principles, and without consciousness no concepts or conceptualizations are possible.
Consciousness coupled to memory, embedded in a recognizably human physical form capable of fulfilling the requirements for maintaining life. That is what creates the possibility for human behavior to occur, to be studied for patterns which can yield an understanding of the underlying principles that govern human interactions. Consciousness is the defining characteristic of human life, it is what makes everything else that we do possible. Life itself is not the basis of rights or principles, consciousness is. Speech is how we express what our consciousness perceives, which is why speech is the first Emergent Principle. Without speech we are even less than the other animals. Without the ability to speak our minds, we are not free in any real sense of the word.
Judging by the degree of those women’s intensity, I would say that it is an issue of self-esteem and that their fear is metaphysical. Their hatred is directed against human beings as such, against the mind, against reason, against ambition, against success, against love, against any value that brings happiness to human life. In compliance with the dishonesty that dominates today’s intellectual field, they call themselves “pro-life.”
It’s probably pretty revealing of the understanding that Ayn Rand had of the mechanical world that her genius’ greatest invention in Atlas Shrugged was a perpetual motion machine.
Now, admittedly, Ayn Rand never uses the phrase “perpetual motion” in the novel. Instead she whips up a concoction that never needs recharging because it collects the static energy from the atmosphere around it. The charge of creating a perpetual motion machine comes into play when Dagny Taggart observes that the engine “could run forever and never need recharging.” That, in a nutshell, is a perpetual motion machine or engine.
This conceptualization reminds me of the Zero Point Modules or ZPM’s used in later years of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. A technobabble workaround for the vast amounts of energy needed to power the gates, shields and weapons in that fictional universe. But at least those writers admitted that the modules, which drew energy from other spatial dimensions, did eventually run out of juice. They appear to be interdimensional disposable batteries, since the writers never got around to explaining how the modules tapped the energy, or how they could be recharged or even created in the first place.
It’s possible that the ship in Stargate Universe siphoned the energy from stellar fusion directly into ZPM’s, but they didn’t have much of a chance to technobabble about how Destiny stored the energy it drew from flying into the photosphere of a star and collecting plasma before SyFy canned the series.
OK Objectivists, Libertarians, etc. I know you are on my friend’s list because I used to be one of the strongest supporters of Rand that I knew. Is there anyone willing to tackle this video? I think he makes solid points against Rand and Selfishness. OTOH, I never will accept that selflessness is a thing to be desired or striven for.
There has to be a middle ground, and I think that “common good” probably describes what that middle ground might look like. Thoughts?
I have given up trying to defend Ayn Rand. I’m simply not interested in spending time on the subject any longer. Either you accept that she was a real person with real foibles, or you don’t. If you don’t accept this then I really don’t have the time to talk to you about your issues with her.
Anyone who talks about the good ol’ days is lying to themselves. Any student of history can confirm this.
In the midst of several days of his Supreme Court confirmation hearings last week, Judge Neil Gorsuch took a moment to wax nostalgic for the days when the process took only 90 minutes and a nominee could relax, even smoke cigarettes, throughout the process. Later, one of Gorsuch’s interrogators, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, did some reminiscing of his own, pointedly recalling a time when nominees offered up useful answers to questions and engaged in sincere discussion. Ah, the good old days.
I don’t see it as anything nuclear or even unprecedented witnessing the Gorsuch hearings as On the Media discussed in the episode. This is just more “same as it ever was” and the funny part will be when Democrats retake the Senate and the House and do to the GOP exactly what is currently being done to them. If there still is a GOP.
I have worked in party politics for years. Studied politics for decades. Having a plan and the authority to execute that plan is how you make the changes you want. The GOP doesn’t have a plan aside from some vague hand-waving about the prosperity gospel (Ayn Rand meets Jesus) and the anarchist delusion that government doesn’t work. That is why they can’t govern, because they have disarmed themselves with their own beliefs.
I am getting really tired of the sophomoric “it’s easy” solutions to thorny political issues. If it was easy, would it have taken 6 months to write the Declaration of Independence? Two attempts and more than 20 years to get a functional union in the American colonies? Politics isn’t easy and it takes compromise with the people you think are poison to make it work. That is just how it goes. That is politics.
Having a plan is the important part. ending gerrymandering with nonpartisan redistricting, ending campaign finance with public finance and barring monetary contributions to members of government, ending factional power by instituting non-partisan primaries and removing the 435 cap on congress (the 435 cap being the easiest thing to change, frankly, and would make the most difference immediately) these changes would alter the political map for the first time in a century. We can see what to change after that as we move forward.
Executing the plan; encourage everyone who thinks they want to take back government of the people, for the people, by the people to join their local precinct meetings and advocate for the kinds of changes that will make government institutions themselves more responsive to the people.
It’s not easy, but it is an achievable plan, especially ending the 435 cap on congress. Breaking that log jam will completely alter the power and makeup of the House, requiring that they work directly with the 30k-ish people they will represent. Compromise with the thousands of representatives that will make up the new House. Institute new policies and procedures for dealing with such a large and uncontrollable body as a properly responsive house can and should be. Parties will no longer be able to control them and most parties will be regional at best. The political map will be altered permanently with just this one change, and that change can be made with a simple piece of legislation from the House.
We need Congress to signal their abandonment of party adherence. We need them to back this kind of proposal as a litmus test for being reelected. No more politics as usual. If you are going to be part of government, you are going to start fixing government.
When you point to a glass cylinder and say proudly, hey my office designed that, I giggle and say it looks like a bong. You turn your head in disgust and shame. You think, obviously she does not understand. What does she know? She is just a writer. She is no architect. She respects vowels, not glass cocks. And then you say now I am designing a lifestyle center, and I ask what is that, and you say it is a place that offers goods and services and retail opportunities and I say you mean like a mall and you say no. It is a lifestyle center. I say it sounds like a mall. I am from the Valley, bitch. I know malls.
Architects, I will not lie, you confuse me. You work sixty, eighty hours a week and yet you are always poor. Why aren’t you buying me a drink? Where is your bounty of riches? Maybe you spent it on merlot. Maybe you spent it on hookers and blow. I cannot be sure. It is a mystery. I will leave that to the scientists to figure out.
I have a few thoughts on this article. One of them is that architects are special people. They are devoted to the constructed environment to unhealthy levels. They obsess over the most minute details that you can imagine (If they don’t, they really aren’t architects) As for the why we never sleep thing, it is a product of automation and the notion that building things can be done without thinking about those things. This is a story I know well as I outline in An Architecture Story.
I once proposed a satirical look at architecture that I thought I might write. I was thinking I would title it Tumescent Architecture. The only feedback that I got on the proposal was from one of the architects that I’m pretty sure liked glass cocks cluttering the landscape. He thought it was a stupid idea. Way, way too obvious. In hindsight, I am quite happy to read that glass cocks are more widely recognized than I thought. This fact saves me the time it would take to write about this problem for myself. Thank you.
The F*heads seem to believe that the only relevant measure of their work is whether they like it, because the opinions of the rest of us don’t matter.
Part 1 of a series of posts defining the Emergent Principles of Human Nature. This effort is an outgrowth of a challenge issued to me ages ago by a fellow libertarian that I explain inalienable rights without including god. Like most challenges of this type, the work is larger than the speaker or hearer understands at the time.
Throughout human history we have attempted to find meaning in the world around us. We do this imperfectly because we are imperfect beings in an imperfect universe; perfection is an unattainable unknowable state which only the deluded think they understand.
As a group we have tried many approaches to find this meaning. We have given this discipline a name, Philosophy, and established schools of thought within the discipline as varied and as many as there are philosophers in history. Down through the ages we have dallied with gods and flirted with the idea of the absence of gods, and fooled ourselves that we group of blind men can fully describe the elephant with only our hands and words.
I do not harbor any delusions about the ability of one uneducated man to be able to perfectly describe the universe or establish it’s meaning; for myself, I can only hope to find my meaning within the universe. To this end I have pursued my lifelong obsession with philosophy; and when I say obsession I do not mean that I have exhaustively read the treatises of other philosophers. I have done some of that, but I have found that most philosophers aren’t actually interested in exploring naked truths. They are more interested in explaining why the world is the way they perceive it.
After that fashion, I guess I’m no different than they are.
However, I think that meaning can be found that is universal, objective. It was because of the word Objective that I first allied myself with Objectivists. Ayn Rand in her ultimate folly thought she understood the natural universe perfectly. Her writing on the subject, compelling as it is, is incomplete at best. At worst, her work is used as it is today; to justify horrors by those willing to enact them, citing her works in ways that the author herself would never have condoned. Her claiming of the title Objectivism for her philosophy is illustrative of the massive ego of the woman herself, made obvious by the study of her life, if you are simply inquisitive enough to take up the challenge.
Within every lie is a kernel of truth, as the saying goes, and within the brashness of Objectivism is the truth of materialism, the denial of post-modernism and it’s still-born sibling, solipsism.
The original challenge to define inalienable rights was issued because god; and yet god himself is a hopeless contradiction, a failure of man’s imagination to grasp that the complexity around us is achievable through time multiplied by error alone. The uncreated creator is a substitution for understanding, not an explanation. Accepting this conclusion, it fell to me to offer a real explanation for the concept of rights; an explanation grounded in science out of necessity, since scientific evidence is the only demonstrable way to objectively prove anything. At least, the only way that we’ve yet discovered.
Aristotle’s unmoved mover may indeed exist, the god of scientists and philosophers, the natural god, but that god does not offer explanations beyond mere existence itself. It falls to us to explain what things mean to our own satisfaction.
The title of this piece was chosen consciously and deliberately. There are many philosophers who have written over the years of natural rights and inalienable rights. why what I am writing about cannot be simplistically pigeonholed as natural rights will be discussed in the next piece. This piece hopes to offer up a bare bones explanation of inalienable rights, and their grounding in science. The planned series of posts to follow will embroider nuance into the bare structure I’m presenting here.
The theory of emergence provides the grounding for inalienable rights. While rights are vested in the individual, it is only through seeing the interactions of individuals that the pattern of rights becomes clear. There is no concept of property when alone on a desert island (where Rothbard’s simplistic outline of rights fails) all of everything the sole inhabitant of the island touches is his property by definition; but the individual marooned on a desert island cannot hope to do more than survive while his health endures, alone on an island. Simple survival is the least of any of our human aspirations.
Most of the concepts we deal with on a daily basis emerge from our interactions with others. Money is a concept that becomes useless in a social grouping small enough to provide for it’s own needs. Families everywhere struggle with introducing money into the social structure of the household, grapple with educating children on what money is, what it means, what is it’s value. If you corner any given individual and challenge them to define money, most of them will be unable to do so beyond showing you a physical representation; which is not of itself a definition.
In groups large enough that the contributions of the individual cannot be valued and compensated accordingly, money becomes a necessity. How else is the individual who makes widgets all day to be afforded to directly purchase food and shelter for his continued existence? When the value of the widget cannot be directly translated by the average person into a quantity of food, the quality of shelter? Money makes that possible, however it is defined. Money is an emergent system, an outgrowth of human interaction.
But rights are not systems themselves. Rights are principles that systems are based on. Like systems which emerge from human interaction, the principles that those systems are based on are also emergent; revealed through the interactions of individuals.
That money should have a definable value to the individual is a principle (albeit flawed) of the monetary system. All of the systems around us that we take for granted are based on these principles that most of us never even bother to seek out, let alone question. Jefferson’s (through Locke) immortal listing of Life, Liberty & Pursuit of Happiness is, as it says in the Declaration, truncated. There are many other principles that can be inferred from the interactions of individuals, there for anyone to see if they simply take the time to look.
Which is why what we are wrestling with here is Human Nature, not ideology, theology, or the natural world as revealed in the study of other animals. How we as humans value each other, or fail to value as the case may be. The nature of the human animal, as it relates to other human animals within the structures we create for ourselves. As I observed in my first outing on this subject;
A prisoner has rights. Not because we ‘allow’ them; but because his [human nature] enables them. The fact that there are prison breaks is merely proof that the prisoners maintain their rights in spite of the full force of government and the people being intent on denying them the exercise of same.
In the broadest sense, Emergent Principles of Human Nature represents what most people mean by inalienable rights; what has been lacking up to now is some way of objectively defining why rights cannot be separated from the person; this is satisfied in the concept of emergence. They cannot be separated from the person, because they are only revealed through common interactions with other individuals. Without them, survival in a group is impossible because the basic needs of the individual cannot be met; and any system created that doesn’t take them into account will fail through the actions of individuals intent on fulfilling their own needs.
Rights are not listed on some government document. They aren’t granted by sovereignty, even your own. They emerge from the requirements for human life, and the process of securing those requirements on an individual basis.
I finished my first entry on this subject with the observation, That’s about as far as I’ve taken it. Much more to be written. Apparently I have the gift for understatement, as the length of the many posts to follow should reveal.
Do you know that my personal crusade in life (in the philosophical sense) is not merely to fight collectivism, nor to fight altruism? These are only consequences, effects, not causes. I am out after the real cause, the real root of evil on earth — the irrational.
So this image showed up on my Facebook feed today. What followed the image in the comments was the predictable feeding frenzy that you witness when your throw bloody meat to sharks. Today’s cleaner, nicer internet breed of human doesn’t seem to understand the dirty nature of real life as it was before the internet made it possible to live and never leave your house.
For the record, she said these words, at least according to Wikiquote (couldn’t find it in the Lexicon, but I remember reading them) although I prefer the quote that follows it, the one I started this post with. There you have it, Rand gives us all permission to steal from native peoples. That is, if you just blindly do what someone who lived before you and wrote influential works tells you to do.
Blaming Ayn Rand for the plight of native peoples around the world is no different than ending every observation of fascistic tendencies with the phrase “like Hitler”. In reading her works it’s easy to see how her ideas can be turned to evil, how they could be seen as evil when they are brought up out of context in an image like this. It’s no mystery why people like Paul Ryan and others cite her writings when they want to punish the poor and reward the rich. I myself, as someone who still (provisionally) self-identifies as objectivist, cringe at the words above, and wondered at Rand’s blindness to the fascistic applications her ideas could give credence to.
But then we’ve moved a very long way along the knowledge curve since Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum immigrated to the US in 1926. Rand herself didn’t even understand what it meant to be “objective”, or rather, the barriers to objectivity that stand in the way of even the most clear-headed observer, something we’ve discovered and proven in the last score of years or so. Motivated numeracy alone can lead one to deny proven science if it conflicts with your political views, so consequently most of the people who adhere to Ayn Rand’s labels and words have even less of a clue about the pitfalls of thinking oneself perfectly objective on a subject.
What she was trying to express about primitives and their rights to continue the nomadic lives they had lead, can’t be illustrated simplistically with concepts like property and profit; it makes her look mean and cheap, which may or may not be an accurate description of Rand the person. You certainly can’t explain the process of national expansion to people who accept the natural fallacy without question, even if you really, really try.
It pays to reflect that the followers of the dominant philosophical ideal of the time, state socialists, had no problem taking life and land from anybody for any reason that they deemed suited the cause of the people (which in state socialist terms meant the body politic) the defense that Rand is offering is at least logical, if bereft of emotion. Better to ask the people encroaching on tribal lands without negotiating in good faith with the natives what their goals were beyond profiting themselves. Too bad none of them are around to ask anymore.
You might well ask well how should I interpret those words, then? As I’ve done previously when people ask about Ayn Rand (unlike other Objectivists) I point them towards The Passion of Ayn Rand; Book or The Passion of Ayn Rand; Movie (Helen Mirren is great in the latter) because that is what someone who knew her but was kicked out of the inner circle really thought about her and her life. If you want to see what the most negative parts of her life look like from outside, there is no starker image than these.
On The Other Hand, if you really want to understand what she was trying for with her work, I recommend the documentary Sense of Life rather than her fictional works themselves. You can’t get an overview from them. You certainly can’t get a feel for her at all, from either the detractors who have always hated her, or the mindless randroids who take her name in vain these days.
It is worth observing (hindsight being 20/20) that without people like Rand, people willing to state that it was OK to not sacrifice yourself for the good of the many, that you could lead a worthy life without being poverty stricken and suffering, that we wouldn’t be living in a world that is rapidly seeing the decline of dictatorships as vehicles of social change; that dictatorship is now almost a quaint historical artifact, like feudalism. Social change is once again in the hands of the people. Right or wrong, where it belongs; with individuals willing to work for change.
I added a few links to external audio to the article. There is a bit of irony in that last paragraph. Ah, the pre-Trump hopefulness of willful ignorance. The fascistic/dictatorial trends were already visible to anyone paying attention at the time I wrote this article. More importantly, the worship of wealth that underscores all of Rand’s work has lead directly to this new gilded age we live in:
If you are going to find fault with her work, that is where the fault lies.
I post this here simply to point out how willing I am to admit error (those of you who don’t know where I started on this forum, just click here) and embrace a different way of approaching a problem. The charge of cult is one of those thought-ending metaphors; however, the observation of of cultish devotion to an anarchist ideal demonstrated in this post (to the point of fabricating histories. Something I’ve experienced first hand) should give any honest libertarian pause.
My previous Salon essay, in which I asked why there are not any libertarian countries, if libertarianism is a sound political philosophy, has infuriated members of the tiny but noisy libertarian sect, as criticisms of cults by outsiders usually do. The weak logic and bad scholarship that suffuse libertarian responses to my article tend to reinforce me in my view that, if they were not paid so well to churn out anti-government propaganda by plutocrats like the Koch brothers and various self-interested corporations, libertarians would play no greater role in public debate than do the followers of Lyndon LaRouche or L. Ron Hubbard.
Protectionist, nativist paleoconservatives of the Patrick Buchanan school might have reason to idealize the U.S. as it existed between 1865 and 1932. But libertarians who want to prove that a country based on libertarian ideology can exist in the real world cannot point to the United States at any period in its history from the Founding to the present.
While the liberal welfare-state left, with its Scandinavian role models, remains a vital force in world politics, the pro-communist left has been discredited by the failure of the Marxist-Leninist countries it held up as imperfect but genuine models. Libertarians have often proclaimed that the economic failure of Marxism-Leninism discredits not only all forms of socialism but also moderate social-democratic liberalism.
But think about this for a moment. If socialism is discredited by the failure of communist regimes in the real world, why isn’t libertarianism discredited by the absence of any libertarian regimes in the real world? Communism was tried and failed. Libertarianism has never even been tried on the scale of a modern nation-state, even a small one, anywhere in the world.
This problem is one that was brought up time and again at LP and Libertarian outreach events throughout my 20 years in the Libertarian movement. Contrary to the heated outrage leveled at the cult charge (or perhaps symbolically linked to it) is the fact that there are no functioning libertarian governments in existence after 40 years of the libertarian movement, and even less embracing of libertarian ideals by the public than there has been historically. These facts pose the question “does libertarian thought have any basis in reality?”
(after the thread had run for six pages and several days, I went back and culled the favorite arguments presented in those six pages so that I could rebut them in an addendum. This was a trick I learned while shepherding the Atheism is Not a Belief System thread. It worked pretty good. The flamers had all burned themselves out by that point, and the triumphalists would quit in disgust when the OP short-circuits their bad arguments in the first post, making their arguments look even dumber when read by a newb to the thread.-ed.)
Wikipedia is a legitimate fast reference. Dismissal of Wikipedia as a reference requires that you find an actual respected source with which to dismiss the wiki (I may have to add this one to my signature) you cannot simply roll your eyes and state “wiki” as if it proves something.
“The word cult is not a term of abuse, as this paper tries to explain. It is nothing more than a shorthand expression for a particular set of practices that have been observed in a variety of dysfunctional organisations.”
So the use of the word cult is not itself an ad hominem fallacy upon which the entire argument can be dismissed.
Libertarianism as discussed here is American libertarianism as endorsed by the Libertarian Party, and found defined here. We are not talking about the flavors of libertarianism found in other countries, so please don’t drag those assumptions into the thread.
Dismissal of anyone who thinks government is necessary as Statist simply confirms your membership in the libertarian cult. Government exists and exists because that is what the large majority of people want; structures that they can rely on to maintain a relatively stable and reliable system in which to do business, live their lives, etc. It is not statist to accept the status quo as having a legitimate reason to exist.
Libertarians do not have a problem with violence. Libertarians have a problem with government violence, sometimes referred to as force. Violence in defense of person is absolutely endorsed. The government cannot have a monopoly on force, because anyone can trump the ban by exerting force themselves. If they are never caught and brought to justice, their use of force remains an example of productive individual force, and the so called monopoly for government remains the pipe dream of those who wish to believe themselves ‘safe’, a condition non-existent in the temporary condition known as life.
(My first reply to the thread, on page seven, went as follows. -ed.)
I see I waited long enough for the thread to tangent. Going to interrupt the tangent. My apologies for exercising the rights of a thread author and doing that. I was waiting for the insanely-long-winded cult membership to stop harping the standard “it’s my freedom and I’ll do what I want to” string of bullshit arguments and finally wind down to the two or three people willing to continue patting each other on the back. When I visited the thread yesterday after starting it, whole pages of rambling had occurred in an hour or less. There really is no point in attempting to converse in a reasonable fashion when the replies scroll that fast.
So, here we are. Anyone who wants to start the harping back up should probably go back and read the 6 previous pages of the thread. It’s all there, don’t need to hear it again. Having said all that, the first post of any merit and it’s first meritorious response went like this:
Bouncing Bear wrote:
Not trying to be an ass here….the joke being that Somalia is a libertarian country….what about the plains indians of America? (Comancheria?) Basically no government to speak of, just tribes of people doing their thing and fighting when they rubbed each other the wrong way.
The Mad Zeppelineer wrote:
The Comanches had a government. Read Hamalainen’s “The Comanche Empire.” He’s a Scandinavian who studied the Comanche without all the inbred condescending prejudices Americans have against Indians. He discovered a very well organized government which reigned over large swaths of North America for centuries.
And Somalia is not Libertarian. Its tribal and partly ruled by religious figureheads. Very stern in their governing philosophy. Nobody is quoting Austrian economists there.
The real reason there has been no Libertarian societies is that people generally don’t like their ideas. People prefer one big dysfunctional commons to 10,000 petty tyrants nickel and dime-ing them for everything. If libertarianism was more popular it would win more elections.
I would say the reason is that most people really love freedom, and one of the freedoms they love is not having to reinvent the wheel each and every time they want to do business with another person. Government is what has grown out of this desire to have certain rules apply to all transactions between people. To put it as bluntly and simply as possible.
(Now I’m skipping to the forth reply. I was still trying to wend my way through the various self-congratulatory hold-outs occupying the thread. Reply two was simply an observation about how much I liked a particular users posts. Reply three was chastising a user for continuing to post on subjects that I had already rebutted. When I hit the discussion of US healthcare, that was when the rubber solidly met the road I wanted to drive on.-ed.)
Healthcare does not lend itself to market forces in the first place. You don’t shop around for life-saving drugs. If you economize at all with healthcare, it’s to not pay for preventive medicine. All that does is kick the can down the road and make the later treatments for disease all that much more expensive.
“Should the young have to pay for the healthcare of the old?” is the question that everyone is asking. How about we turn that around and apply it just like Social Security does. The young are paying for the services they will need when they in turn get old, they are simply doing it in advance. Imagine how much easier we’d have it now, if only our parents had paid for the healthcare they are consuming now by paying for it over the course of their working lives. Would they have whined about paying for their parents healthcare?
This argument is at the heart of the cult mentality. The demonstration of this is that libertarians wave their hands and say “we don’t want the sick and the poor to die, we just want them to not consume what they haven’t paid for.” Never understanding that the second necessitates the first. People will die because medical services will be denied them since they are unable to pay. The poor clog emergency rooms now, because the cost of providing healthcare to the poor is externalized and picked up by the various cities large enough to fund and staff emergency rooms. Shall we allow free-ridership to continue, or do we actually make people pay in advance knowing that they will utilize the health services eventually?
So many of the arguments fall out this way. Anti-abortionists don’t want to have to pay to raise all the children the poor will have, an act that would dramatically reduce the abortion rate, the stated goal of those people. Much easier to externalize the cost of raising those children by simply forcing the women to have the children that they can’t pay for. Take away their choice, and they’ll just struggle along not costing the rest of us a cent more in welfare (and they wonder why I label it hypocrisy) never mind that poor unwanted children drive up crime rates, fill the prisons, destabilize the society.
Everyone is looking for a way to externalize costs, internalize profits. All of us do it. If libertarians weren’t pursuing this, they’d pay for the health insurance without being forced to. Would gladly pay the taxes, and more, in order to reap more benefits from society. But that’s not how you come out on top, in a competition judged on how little you are forced to give. The way to do that is to make sure someone else pays for the things you need. Corporate welfare far outstrips ‘entitlements’ that weren’t paid in advance like social security; but all the talk about economizing centers around stripping SS recipients of benefits that they paid for in good faith over their working lives, while closing tax loopholes and revoking tax cuts and corporate welfare are rejected out of hand.
…and again, the cult embraces this, the corporate plan to suck even more cash out of the American populace.
The false choice is the vain belief that individuals acting alone can fix the problem. Collective action is the only way to fight back, and that means joining a party, unionizing, working for a common goal. It is the opposite of what Dan Carlin says, it is the opposite of what libertarians preach. Not more government, but smarter government.
As to the request for a source demonstrating that healthcare does not lend itself to market forces? You go to your doctor and he says “you need drug X.” Do you haggle over price for the drug? do you ask him to change the diagnosis? Whether you personally do or not, most people do not, even though they should.
A further example. Chemotherapy is one of the most expensive areas of health care, and yet it has very little proven benefit. Very few people will decline to get the treatments, because it really is the last hope for most cancers.
What is sobering about this booming business is that, as a group of oncologists wrote earlier this year, “most anti-cancer drugs provide minor survival benefits, if at all.” They often (but not always) reduce the size of inoperable tumors, but they rarely eradicate the disease. For relatively uncommon malignancies like testicular cancer, some forms of leukemia, and lymphoma, drugs effectively cure the disease; for the common “solid tumor” cancers (lung, breast, colon, prostate, and so on), which account for the vast majority of annual cases, drugs buy some time—precious time, to be sure, but time usually measured in weeks and months rather than years. And even though many of the newer drugs are less toxic, they often still have to be given with older drugs whose side effects include nausea, hair loss, fatigue, and decreasing blood counts. One anti-cancer drug produces a skin rash so severe and disturbing, according to Saltz, that some patients have been asked by employers not to come to work.
In 1965, at the dawn of Medicare, the chemotherapy drug Vinblastine cost $78 a month, according to a widely cited Sloan-Kettering price compendium. In 2011, Bristol-Myers Squibb introduced a new melanoma drug called Yervoy at a cost of about $38,000 a month for a three-month treatment.* Yervoy followed, by about a year, a new prostate-cancer therapy called Provenge that cost $93,000 per course of treatment. Even an ancient chemotherapy like nitrogen mustards, cousins to World War I’s mustard gas and in use since 1949, have gotten caught in the cost updraft; in 2006, a course of treatment experienced a thirteenfold price increase, from $33 a month to $420 a month.
And it’s not just that the price of cancer drugs has doubled in the last decade—it’s that the rise in prices, according to cancer doctors, has far exceeded the drugs’ effectiveness. In 1994, the median survival rate for someone with advanced colon cancer was eleven months, according to Saltz, and the lifetime costs of the drugs used to treat the average patient would be about $500 at today’s prices. By 2004, the median survival rate had increased twofold, to 22 months, but Saltz says the drug costs had increased hundreds of times for that extra eleven months.
Another source? Trying reading any number of psychological texts, studies on healthcare usage, etc. Try going places that aren’t CATO or dominated by delusions of free markets. You’ll find plenty of material that illustrates just how far from the mythical free market that healthcare is just in concept, much less in execution.
“I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one”
Corporations were created to shield investors from liability, consequently the very existence of corporations is destructive to the free market. The depth of restructuring for all of society that would be required for ‘free markets’ to succeed makes the chance that something like that to ever be tried exceedingly remote. As a philosophical exercise, it may be intriguing, but highly unlikely and impractical.
One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.
Free ridership must be combated, and the hippocratic oath binds doctors into treating patients who cannot pay, so the only way to insure funding of necessary healthcare functions is to mandate it. Taxes or non-profits, makes no difference. Funding has to be done in advance of services being needed, or we simply end up right back where we are now, people going without necessary care.
Yes, charitable giving can be increased, and there are subtle ways that people can be nudged in the right direction; that is to say, the direction that yields the benefits we desire. Freakonomics: Riding the Herd Mentality (Ep. 80) gets into how you motivate people in the direction you want. Supposedly in some of the scandinavian countries, the wealthy contribute more to the government than they are required to pay in taxes; so it probably can be done, it just isn’t done here.
Saying “Self destructive people should be forced to face the consequences of their actions, and ask for charity, not expect or demand it.” is just describing how the healthcare system works now. How about we not let people die on the side of the road for lack of care, see how that works? How about we make it cheaper to eat right than it is to eat poorly? How about we let some of these empty houses go to people who need shelter? Or is that too much to ask?
The only group that cares about the cost of healthcare is the group that pays. If the insurance companies are charged with getting services to us as cheaply and efficiently as possible (not what they are currently charged with doing) and are rewarded for doing this, you’ll see changes in what you pay for healthcare. This doesn’t have to come down to each individual household duplicating the exact same work across the entire nation.
There are insane government imposed regulations in every state. The most destructive of which is that nurses can’t learn to be doctors through work experience… Everyone needs a doctorate, and that’s insane. Most nurses know far more about human physiology after 10 years than a graduating doctor could have ever learned in “college”. On the job training ftw.
(where to start with simplistic solutions. I should be a master of this after all these years of listening to Dan’s) As one of the last licensed architects under the bar requiring a master’s degree to practice architecture, I have to say that a degree is worth a lot more than on the job training. What you learn is what you are exposed to on the job; so as long as nothing new shows up, you are equipped to deal with the problems of the job. Many, many times in medicine doctors are exposed to things they’ve never seen before. Then what? Then you fall back on the training you received getting your doctorate.
…aside from which, have you never heard of “nurse practitioners”?
No one dies on the side of the road, except by choice. Pure self destruction, before the state got involved, led to bankruptcy and debt, that’s all. Even if I were to concede your point however… The richest most powerful country in the world, was the one where the state didn’t force its citizens to save everyone. It was done voluntarily. Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner… Or rather, we had a winner. One in which you could choose to help people, because that’s what humans naturally want to do.
Right. Because what we need is to make sure that we let people die on the side of the road. That will teach those poor people to take better care of themselves. That is who you will be punishing. The poor. Not the self-destructive. People don’t get diseases because they misbehave, they get diseases because that’s what happens to living organisms. After you’ve been sick for awhile, you run out of money. After that…? Die on the side of the road, and you deserved it, according to those who need that confirmation bias ego boost.
Look up how cancer is becoming more common as a cause of death. That’s because cancer will always win in the end. (Editor’s note: link directly to the podcast episode on cancer replaced with a link to my article that discusses the podcast episode on cancer. Because I’ve had to refer back to that episode at least a dozen times now.)
…Diabetes is an outgrowth of poor diet, and poor diet comes from being poor. Cheapest place to eat, from someone who knows? McDonald’s, and you get large fries with every order. Or Taco Bell. Now there is some bad for you junk food. It’s much cheaper to go to a fast food restaurant than it is to eat at home. I’ve demonstrated this in my own kitchen many, many times.
The government used to deliver cheese, bread, milk, etc. to poor communities. Some of the worst years in my childhood, the block of government cheese and loaf of bread was all we had to eat on a day to day basis. They phased that out (Editor’s note: they ran out of cheese. See Planet Money Episode #862) and then started food stamps, now they want to cancel food stamps, and people are starving in the US. Wake the fuck up! It’s not the 70’s anymore. And we aren’t the richest nation anymore.
If wealth is power, then Qataris have some serious muscle to flex. The Persian Gulf emirate of 1.7 million people ranks as the world’s richest country per capita thanks to a rebound in oil prices and its massive natural gas reserves. Adjusted for purchasing power, Qatar booked an estimated gross domestic product per capita of more than $88,000 for 2010.
Diabetes, is the result of bad diet, also known as poor choices. It’s not that much cheaper to eat decent food, and where it is cheaper, guess what, government involvement.
That is a myth. Like so many things about health and healthcare, diabetes being a lazines problem is a complete myth.
Being overweight is a risk factor for developing this disease, but other risk factors such as family history, ethnicity and age also play a role. Unfortunately, too many people disregard the other risk factors for diabetes and think that weight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Most overweight people never develop type 2 diabetes, and many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.
You have to be genetically predisposed to get diabetes in order to be able to develop it. It’s genetics and lifestyle together. McDonald’s low food prices financed by government? Hardly. Tons of places want to loan to McDonald’s franchisees. They almost always make money.
…and if you want to eat healthy at McDonald’s, don’t eat the fries but do have an unsweetened drink. A hamburger alone has all the basic food groups. But it’s still cheaper to eat there than at home, and that is with wheat subsidies, corn subsidies (which makes the sweetened drinks cheaper) etc, etc, etc. The corporate farmers get their handout, but the poor do not get theirs. Not anymore.
You’re winning, we have a centrally planned economy
Centrally planned economy? Really? I would really love to see the proof of that, because the last 5 year plan I heard of was for the USSR and they never completed it. What I hear is a fucking ton of whining about government interference, and a government so starved for cash that they can’t even inspect food plants and dangerous chemical plants more often than once a decade. What we have is a priority problem, in that the wealthy think they should have priority over the rest of us. The next 10 years will be interesting to watch, not much fun to live through.
Is lung cancer still the number 1 killer among cancers? Yes.
Cancer itself is fast approaching number 1 killer, surpassing heart disease, that will probably happen this year. (Editor’s note: it has happened) Surpassing heart disease because we’re eating better. Those of us who can afford to. Did you miss the part where we all will get cancer if we live long enough? Because that’s kind of important in the whole “you get sick because you deserve to” mentality that you are stuck in. If you live long enough you will get sick with something that will first bankrupt you, then kill you. It’s called cancer. Keep repeating that mantra until it sinks in.
The number one contributor to type 2 diabetes is obesity, and if the diabetes doesn’t get you, being obese will. Heart and liver diseases are common in fat and sedentary people as well.
See my point about cancer becoming the number one killer soon. It’s sort of relevant to this whole “Americans are fat unhealthy people” vibe you are giving off. It’s not nearly as true as the media would have you think. It’s bad, and those people who can’t get a handle on their eating will be something that gets studied into the future. The only way that happens is if we fund research into the future. Research that is largely done with government dollars.
(Editor’s note: They’re so obsessed with fat people sitting on a couch. Who wants to bet they’re 600 lbs and sitting on a couch while they type on their laptop keyboard about fat, sedentary, unhealthy people? I can almost hear the potato chip crumbs crunching under their ass while they type.)
I already said, don’t let people die on the side of the road… let them ask for charity.
That has been tried. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t even almost work. Disabled people (like myself) are routinely told to get a job, even by family members. As if we wouldn’t work if we could. Only people who hate their jobs think that it would be fun to be disabled. To stay home, day after day, week after week, year after year. Most of us don’t survive the year after year part. That’s what not having a purpose in life does for you. It kills you.
…but never mind. When the disability runs out, I’ll be seen with the rest of them, dying by the side of the road. We’ll see then if you stop or not. Or you could just shut up and pay your taxes. Better yet, tell the wealthy to shut up and at least pay as much taxes as you do. Most of them don’t.
You believe people are evil, and will just watch people die
Doesn’t have anything to do with evil, or with what I believe. Peoplewillwatch other people die on the side of the road. (Lookie-loos. Rubberneckers. -ed.) It’s a favorite pastime in the US, gawking at roadside accidents, watching while other people die. One on one. Out on foot. The person lying in the road might be someone you stop to care about if that someone doesn’t have the smell of homelessness about them. If they do you are more likely to not even notice their presence as you are to stop and ask them how they got where they were.
Starved for cash? Really?
Yes. Because the military programs get funded, and the other programs do not. They don’t make money for the wealthy. Threats hit that fear button, causing the military to be funded to extents that the military doesn’t even want. Welfare programs don’t (especially since everyone believes they will get rich, or deludes themselves into thinking they are rich) and consequently go wanting for funding, just like inspection programs, infrastructure programs, etc, etc, etc. If there isn’t some direct route into the 1%’s pockets, it doesn’t get funded. That isn’t government’s fault, that is our fault for allowing our government to be the way it is.
I started a thread on the subject of real government waste (DCBBS Archive: $8.5 Trillion) as opposed to the fake waste of paying for healthcare for the poor, paying the disabled so that they can have a roof over their head in their last years. But whatever. Hate me for my disability. You won’t be the first and you won’t be the last.
I pulled the contents of this article out of the DCBBS archive and whittled it down to a few essential arguments. If you follow the link back to the thread you will notice I only pulled the contents of four our five messages out of a ten page thread to make up this article.
I’ve been trying to codify an argument that I’ve titled “Why Libertarians Lose” for several years now. I think I started it before I started this thread. This thread might even have been the original seed for that article. I can’t remember now. Going through some of these arguments again (as well as establishing links to them on archive.org) has helped convince me that I needed to write a completely different article than I had intended, and have published this compiled article simply to illustrate just how far my thinking had come back in 2013-2014, even though I hadn’t written much about it here by that time.
I was no longer a libertarian and I needed to stop pretending.
Unlike InquizaJamesatribalistand my other detractors on the BBS, I don’t and didn’t pretend to have answers to all of life’s problems. I simply know that most of what they believed was wrong and they should try to believe something different for a change. They might live longer if they did. Or do.
I like Medicare. I think more people should have it. Maybe that should be the goal? Maybe government can do things right? It seems to work in other countries.
I used my post on Why I am a Libertarian as an example of how I would describe myself for many years. A decade and more of time has passed, and when I look back on this with an eye for continuity and history, I find my previous blind reliance on libertarian principles to be quite humorous.
I have never been an anarchist; in fact, anarchists are some of the people I disagree with the most. If I could point to a single reason why I almost never identify as libertarian any longer, it’s because libertarianism (especially on the web) is default anarchism. You have to struggle to get the average libertarian to admit that structure is required in society. That you need organization to build roads, do science, construct complex machinery. In fact, there is so much knowledge involved in a single field of expertise these days that it’s almost hard to find generalists with enough depth of knowledge to bridge the gap between specialists.
So this idea of the rugged individualist doing all for himself, with no one to thank for what he has other than himself is complete self-delusional bullshit.
From the hospital where most of us are born to the school paid for with tax dollars, from the roads we travel on during our working years to the social security system most of us will rely on in old age, almost nothing we experience occurs because we were the sole architect of its existence. Much less would we want to own any of the convoluted bullshit we have to deal with systems invented by madmen and executed by sadists? Better to be leaves floating on an irresistible wind than acknowledge that any of this is what we would have wanted, planned for, inflicted on others.
I played a mental game with myself for quite a long time. I still find it amusing on occasion, especially when opponents in argument will trot out the ad hominem, try to affix labels to me and my arguments in order to dismiss them. Flip the script is how you might describe it these days. How would you define yourself in as few words as possible, using only labels that others might use to discard you and your arguments. Epithets or titles applied to you by others to summarize and pigeonhole you or your views.
I could to get it down to three; Objectivist, Architect, Father (no longer licensed, so can’t call myself architect anymore. Libertarian was in second place at one point) These days the three would be more like Father, Skeptic, Objectivist; and Objectivist is left on the end simply because I still believe we can obtain glimpses of objectivity, not because I buy in to the whacky psychological ideals of Ayn Rand. That we have to be able to discern objective reality in some limited fashion unless everything we sense is complete illusion, which demonstrably is not the case. Most Objectivists these days make me cringe when they speak.
I daresay today’s Objectivists would make Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum cringe as well; but then I’m not her, was never a member of her cult of personality, don’t believe in revealed knowledge in even the vaguest sense. What I do know is that the system she describes as ideal doesn’t even resemble the current political, ideological or economic system; and the economic and political actors of today are more akin to the looters of her novels than her contemporaries in 1950 America could have been. That current self-identified objectivists laud the behavior and thinking of these people simply puts the lie to their claim of objectivity.
Consequently, when self-styled Objectivists start mouthing anarchist phrases while representing the Republican party, I almost disown the objectivist label, too. Who knows, maybe that one goes next. Would Ayn Rand have modified her ideals given the advances in knowledge about the workings of the mind and the social patterns of the human animal? I’d like to think she would have admitted fault at some point, but then that wouldn’t have been very Ayn Rand of her.
This introspection was brought on by a challenge from a fellow member of the now-defunct Dan Carlin BBS forums. Gone are all the threads and thoughts recorded on those boards, unless they are preserved somewhere on Dan’s private servers or happened to be picked up by the Wayback Machine, if even the Wayback Machine itself continues to function.
I get no satisfaction from the knowledge that I predicted the demise of the boards years before they were taken offline by Dan Carlin, but I knew that his hands-off approach to freedom of speech, his belief in the innate goodness of people, was a recipe for disaster. That the disaster did occur was in spite of my best efforts, for years, before finally giving up. Trolls will continue to troll until barred from trolling, and it takes a judicious use of the ban-hammer to make people respect you enough to be forthright in their posting habits. If you are anonymous and without rules, driving people away with harassment is simpler than trying to reason with them. The time spent is the only cost of such behavior, and that is essentially free if you have free time to spend. Some of us have far too much time.
But the challenge had been to be as self-reflective as you could and be open about things you might have learned since joining the forums. I believe it was cast against the more recent findings that people did not change with argument (more recent than the establishment of the forum) and the member who issued that challenge was de officiis I think. They were just another stranger on the internet, but someone who had reliably challenged me with heartfelt interrogation, always offering comments that I felt were honest. So I accepted the challenge in the fashion offered. These were my most honest thoughts of the time. They still hold some power over me.
Since writing the above, I tried out the word ‘Skeptic’ as defining me, and I find it too skeptical. The daughter thinks Freethinker is too pretentious, but then I think pretentious defines my assessment of the importance of my thinking quite well. So I’m going with the pretentious sounding ‘freethinker’ rather than the piss on your parade personal interpretation I get from the word skeptic (Yes, skeptics, I know that isn’t how you see the word) I would say that I approach all subjects with a healthy dose of skepticism, but I don’t enjoy the process very much. I do love finding truths, but telling others what the truth actually *is* is a very tricky process. A process I find I don’t do very well.
Consequently, I also feel the need to temper Objectivism with Humanism. Objectivists will say this means I’m not really an objectivist; something else I find funny since most of them don’t see the problem with being religious and claiming Objectivism as a philosophy. Human is the lens that modifies the world we see, and Humanism is the attempt to make our systems more humane. I’ll take that.
What makes a freethinker is not his beliefs but the way in which he holds them. If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful thought he finds a balance of evidence in their favor, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem.
Ayn Rand is easy to hate on. It is so easy to hate on her that people completely ignorant of her ideas or her real life find it quite easy to do. I would suggest, if you want to be more informed in your hatred, that you should try watching The Passion of Ayn Rand (movie) or reading The Passion of Ayn Rand (book). Either one of those should enlighten you to what someone of her core group thought of her in the moment, and what they thought of her after they fell from grace.
But it might actually be more illuminating to watch Sense of Life, a documentary prepared by someone who doesn’t hate Rand from the outset. Perhaps a reading of We the Living is warranted, with the understanding that the central character in that novel is her. That is how she saw her journey from Russia. If you would prefer to understand were she came from and what she was driving for with her works.
Her ideas are also quite easy to capture and use for truly harmful purposes, as a good number of people are doing right now. That DOES NOT negate the value of what she said when she said it, which was a different time and place than now.
I’ve read most of her work. I don’t have any of the newsletters. Current thought in Objectivist circles has gone so far off track that Harry Binswanger has recently been writing about how the rich should live tax-free, still buying-in to trickle-down economics, and that the rest of us should worship them:
Here’s a modest proposal. Anyone who earns a million dollars or more should be exempt from all income taxes. Yes, it’s too little. And the real issue is not financial, but moral. So to augment the tax-exemption, in an annual public ceremony, the year’s top earner should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Imagine the effect on our culture, particularly on the young, if the kind of fame and adulation bathing Lady Gaga attached to the more notable achievements of say, Warren Buffett. Or if the moral praise showered on Mother Teresa went to someone like Lloyd Blankfein, who, in guiding Goldman Sachs toward billions in profits, has done infinitely more for mankind. (Since profit is the market value of the product minus the market value of factors used, profit represents the value created.)
Instead, we live in a culture where Goldman Sachs is smeared as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.” That’s for the sin of successful investing, channeling savings to their most productive uses, instead of wasting them on government boondoggles like Solyndra and bridges to nowhere.
He conveniently skips over how the current crop of wealthy Wall Street bankers are only wealthy because we bailed them all out, otherwise they’d be as broke as the rest of us are because no one bailed us out. Neither this observation nor his observation says anything of Lady Gaga being far more worthy of adoration than Warren Buffett is, just on talent alone. This really shouldn’t be a surprise since worship of wealth and the wealthy is pretty much the core of Objectivism.
I offer this in response. This is more heroic and deserving of praise than anything Lady Gaga or Warren Buffett have done:
…to the inner circle surrounding and protecting Rand (in ironic humor they called themselves the “Collective”), their leader soon became more than just extremely influential. She was venerated as their leader. Her seemingly omniscient ideas were inerrant. The power of her personality made her so persuasive that no one dared to challenge her. And her philosophy of Objectivism, since it was derived through pure reason, revealed final Truth and dictated absolute morality.
…and realize that the man who wrote that piece wrote this one too:
So when you see Atlas Shrugged, Part 2, remember that this is far more than a film or a story about a railroad and a mysterious motor. It is a vehicle to get us to think about which moral principles we value the most, because as Ayn Rand believed, it is ideas that move the world.
So go figure. I’m not sure what happened to Michael Shermer over the decades, but that is beside the point. None of her flaws or the observations of others invalidate her ideas about what was good in life, what was worth striving for, and what was heroic.
Hitchens observes here:
I don’t think there’s any need to have essays advocating selfishness among human beings. I don’t know what your impression has been, but some things require no reinforcement.
Which I answer rhetorically, we need them because of the socialists and authoritarians who would demonize self-interest among the people. Without the dictatorship of Stalin, the Russian revolution, the works of Karl Marx derived from the ethics of Kant, the creation of the myth of selflessness. Without this chain of events we would have no objectivism created as a reaction. We would have no need to confirm to the average person that it’s okay to concern yourself with your interests first, in the face of all these people who tell you that you should give more. Because in spite of Hitch’s protestations, there are real philosophical forces at work attempting to grind down individuality and to pound down the exceptional like an offending nail. To convince the average person that they must submit.
Like most authors, the best weapon against Hitchens is to quote Hitchens to himself:
Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.
Hitchens being who he was would never have noticed the grinding drive for conformity present in our daily lives. If he did notice it he would have deemed it powerless because it clearly did not affect him, so how could it affect others? Perhaps the drive to conform is powerless to most people (studies show otherwise. –ed.) Still, there were clearly a lot of people glad to hear that they weren’t evil people simply for thinking of themselves first. That they didn’t need to give more and more to the needy, to those whose hands are always outstretched for more. That her words are now used to defend actions she would not agree with is just a testament to the popularity of her work.
I’m sure Nietzsche would be weirded out by most of his fans as well.
The song Dan is thinking of, unless I am mistaken, is the Don Henley song Dirty Laundry, from his first solo album. It’s not an Eagles song although as the [previously linked] music video show[ed], the Eagles are not above cashing in on Don Henley’s solo efforts, any more than they are above cashing in on Joe Walsh’s or any other band members work that will gain them a few more bucks. Kick ’em when they’re up, kick ’em when they’re down. Pretty much covers the rise and fall of any candidate, including Barack Obama.
The problem is there isn’t a single person who can fix the problems this country faces. Everyone wants to vote and be done with it. Doesn’t work that way. You have to roll up your sleeves and get to work yourself if you want to see change.
As a general rule I hate music videos. I link them only because there isn’t an easy way to share a song without video attached. The greatest music video is the one running in my head when I’m listening to my favorite music. Having someone else interpret what the sound means ruins the entire concept of ‘music’.
As an example, the Eagles song Take it Easy has a specific meaning for me, a meaning related to the time and place in my life where the poetry spoke to me. Supplanting that meaning with surfed up images is fakery disguised as meaning.
If you have developed an appreciation for classical music, you’ll know what I’m talking about. There’s a world of difference between a poet and philosopher. Ayn Rand was a philosopher. John Lennon was a poet. Immanuel Kant was a philosopher. Ludwig van Beethoven was a poet. There is no question what a philosopher means when he attempts to define reality. A poet’s every word is open to interpretation, and yet the emotion should ring clearly through the words and/or music.
Mistaking poetry for philosophy highlights a key reason why society is still mired in prehistoric superstition and saddled with problems that can’t be solved on anything other than a personal level. Rational legal structures cannot satisfy emotional needs. Wanting to feel safe is not a reason to enslave the medical profession and force me to contribute. Needing to feel cared for is not a reason to steal my retirement savings.
Wanting to save the earth has no bearing on whether your actions will actually improve the environment, or simply destroy property rights; and through their destruction, the fabric of western society itself. If it can be objectively proven that humans are destroying the planet, then either we can be counted upon to act rationally and alter our behaviors for our own good, or the hard-core environmentalists will get their fondest wish. Destroying property rights just improves the hand of the power seeker, who has no more of a clue than you do what will improve the environment.
Wanting to save another’s soul from eternal damnation by outlawing questionable behaviors like prostitution and recreational drug use has proven to go farther towards creating hell on earth than doing nothing at all might have. Allowing individuals the freedom to live their own lives, whether you approve of their choices or not, underscores the value of liberty. Poor choices serve as their own correction mechanism; there is no need for further punishment, it just clouds the issue bringing in a layer of paternalism when none is warranted.
Poetry appeals to your emotion, comforting or crying out for redress. Philosophy informs your mind, and outlines the possibilities in life. Clarifying whether someone is being philosophical or poetical is the first step in understanding whether they are trying to avoid reason, or attempting to motivate with emotion. And the difference is crucial.