Friday, November 6, 2009

On Ayn Rand

Expertise in one area does not necessarily indicate expertise in another – but experts often think so...

I sincerely believe a Good Idea (or a good point) can come from anywhere. That said, just because someone has ONE good idea does not mean ALL of their ideas are Good or even desirable. Ditto for Bad Ideas. For example: I do *not* follow the partisan position which proclaims every Democrat that ever spoke only filled the air with empty syllables. As a caveat, I submit that more Good Ideas come from people who have a LOT of Good Ideas, but then defining 'good' requires a certain personal reference point, doesn't it? Just covering the bases.

One point where I disagree with Rand is her radical adherence to Pure Egotism (“it's all about me”). I much prefer her expounding the virtues of reason and self-reliance. Yes, her views on Christianity are troubling to me as well, but – for her – they flow (somewhat) logically from her personal philosophic premise. That doesn't mean she's right about all things. Nor does it mean that if I approve/agree with her position in one area, I am required to adopt ALL her opinions.

I am surprised you have trouble with understanding... By example, while it could be argued you appear to fall in line with many views shared by Karl Marx, I would be most reluctant to 'accuse' you of being an avowed Marxist or Communist (unless such is your actual desire). Having varied positions on a variety of topics - sometimes in apparent conflict with each other - are not only normal, but much desired. They serve as starting points for greater understanding; and there should be no expectation of 'marching in lock-step' when one agrees with another on one or more points. That's not to say that I (and others) sometimes fail to give the benefit of doubt in that situation - it's certainly easier to judge the book by its cover, or define one's character based on who they hang around with (to mangle a cliché or two) - but, occasionally, I manage to remind myself to avoid pre-judging others based on superficial appearances.

Yes, I am attracted to Rand's political viewpoints, predominately with respect to her emphasis on individual rights, laissez-faire capitalism (when enforced by limits on government power), and her rejection of the welfare state. These principles are close to my own – but her viewpoint does not substitute for mine. Her novel Atlas Shrugged is a great example of following a given premise to a (potentially logical) conclusion, as happens in all great speculative story lines. Agree or not, it *is* a good story. At times, it presents a philosophic challenge. In some cases, it is amazingly prophetic considering when it was written; and, not surprisingly, it occasionally borders on the absurd. But it's still a good story, reasonably well presented and raises several valid philosophical points worthy of consideration.

That I (or you, most certainly) disagree with Rand on certain specifics is not surprising, nor unexpected. Demanding a one-size-fits-all philosophy is an exercise in futility – especially in the political arena when one does not desire to drink the kool-aid and switch off their thought processes completely. Would you reject *all * of John Kennedy's social positions because of his military failure at Bay of Pigs? Similarly, would you set aside the purpose of The Great Society because of LBJ's aggressive pursuit of the Vietnam War? Nixon's Watergate fiasco vs. opening relations with China? Jimmy Carter's work with Habitat for Humanity vs. his continuing support ruthless dictators? And so on.

From Wikipedia - “Objectivism holds that reality exists independent of consciousness; that individual persons are in direct contact with this reality through sensory perception; that human beings can gain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive and deductive logic; that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or rational self-interest; that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in pure laissez faire capitalism; and that the role of art in human life is to transform man's widest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form—a work of art—that he can comprehend and to which he can respond emotionally... Objectivism" derives from the principle that human knowledge and values are objective: they are not created by the thoughts one has, but are determined by the nature of reality, to be discovered by man's mind. ”

In her own words (from Atlas Shrugged) “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

That's a pretty good summary of where she starts with her philosophy. I tend to see an individual's philosophical thought process as leaning towards being an amalgam of multiple ideas from many sources. We could pursue this line of discussion, if you like. That would give us the opportunity to either examine Rand's views, pointing out things we each like or dislike. Or we could follow a path discussing how one can accept certain concepts while rejecting those which 'don't fit'.

I hope this provides some insight, but I can expound further if you need more.

- Steve

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