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November 04, 2009 – Comments (15)

I've been dishing out a few walks of shame this week for Fool.com.

Daily Walk of Shame: The Fed

And, well, surprise...

Daily Walk of Shame: Ayn Rand

I am pretty sure I have piped up a time or two here in the CAPS blogs that for all I agree with some of Ayn Rand's philosophy (and read both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and actually preferred The Fountainhead, by the by), the self-oriented/lack of altruism strain has always bothered me. But I don't see anything wrong with rejecting parts of philosophies that may be flawed (or too easily misinterpreted or used to rationalize destructive behavior). I am pretty sure there will be some interesting conversation on this, of course, it appears that it has already begun...

15 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On November 04, 2009 at 4:59 PM, motleyanimal (85.87) wrote:

Thanks for these links! I have joined the fray in support of self-oriented altruism.

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#2) On November 04, 2009 at 6:25 PM, TMFLomax (52.14) wrote:

motleyanimal

Thanks for your comment! Yeah, if somebody tells me to mow my neighbor's lawn, there's a problem. ;) But agreed, sometimes something that doesn't immediately seem like one's own self interest (and has an altruistic bent) is in one's self interest in the bigger picture...

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#3) On November 04, 2009 at 11:03 PM, Tastylunch (29.42) wrote:

Reading the kneejerk comments to your nice article make me a little sad.

Confirmation bias is strong among true believers of any philosophy it appears. (since you said something bad about Rand clearly you didn't read/comprehend the book! Everyone knows Rand is 100% accurate!).

I never bought in Objectivism for the same reason I never bought into Communism, although both have seductive reductive elements.

Besides ebing oversimplistic, both assume humanity is completely rational.  And thus I find both ideologies as useful in the real world as efficient market hypothesis. But that's just me.

But you know I'm not going to tell someone what they want to believe. Trying to disprove someone else's philosophy is a pretty fruitless exercise. :)

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#4) On November 04, 2009 at 11:09 PM, DaretothREdux (45.50) wrote:

But you know I'm not going to tell someone what they want to believe. Trying to disprove someone else's philosophy is a pretty fruitless exercise. :)

Now that comment makes me sad :(

I mean...what's the point of ratinal discussion and debate if you really believe that no one ever changes their mind? I find that people passionately searching often do find enlightenment and more often than not, its a totally different place from where they started.

After all, why study if you already know all the answers?

Dare

As for me, all I know is that I know nothing. -Socrates

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#5) On November 04, 2009 at 11:40 PM, booyahh (< 20) wrote:

"... sometimes something that doesn't immediately seem like one's own self interest (and has an altruistic bent) is in one's self interest in the bigger picture... "

It may be hard to believe, but there are a some people that really are just nice. Not me. But I know one or two. Now granted, they're also poor, but they're actually happy.

The point is that human beings are irrational, and if you think they're rational, then I'm sorry, but you're simply irrational.

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#6) On November 04, 2009 at 11:51 PM, Tastylunch (29.42) wrote:

 DaretothREdux

hmm well I didn't mean it quite that way. Which is my own fault for expressing it clumsily.

rather what I should have said is I find discussion with people who don't even bother to read the answers to the questions they ask to be pointless. Having a discussion with people who are willing to talk but unwilling to listen is pretty fruitless.

I sincerely doubt that If Alyce found a major flaw in objectivism that isn't already known that the majority of those commenters would ever acknowledge it.

why study if you already know all the answers?

I certainly don't, but I do know which answers I'm interested in seeking when I come to CAPS and that's stocks not politics. Which is why I don't often blog about politics but that doesn't seem to be a shared belief among many on CAPS.  The political discussions here are like broken record shoutfests.

Personally I find it tiresome, and it doesn't help that I have tendency to put a foot in my mouth the times I've gotten involved in one.

I just make an exception for Alyce's articles because she's one of my favorite Fool writers :)

Normally  I'd rather talk about investments on an investment site where there is a lot more universally agreed upon empricial evidence to support one's position.

It's a heck of alot easier to prove/disprove a thesis about a stock than a political belief. If you are wrong about an investment or trade it's going to be pretty obvious to everybody.

But you know if people want espouse why so and so political belief is right or so and so politician is dumb/corrupt/awesome/whatever on their blogs, it's a free country. I'll just go read something else.

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#7) On November 05, 2009 at 12:08 AM, TMFLomax (52.14) wrote:

Hey guys,

Tastylunch

I knew that my views on Rand would be controversial (and I don't think it's any secret she does fit into the overall economic philosophy I adhere to, haha)... but yeah, it was a little difficult when it seemed as if some of my negative impressions of pieces of her philosophy were taken to mean I hadn't read the books, or had only read book reviews. Ha! And I do get kind of freaked out if there's a sense that if you criticize anything at all about a philosophy, even if you agree with parts of it, that it's worthy of outrage that you had the nerve to question anything at all. Whew! Not really how I roll, ha. (But come to think of it... people get that way about stocks sometimes too don't they, what am I thinking... ha...)

But yeah... I found her flat, kind of cold, and lacking in a real understanding of human nature (although I liked and finished both books, but I think maybe I've made it clear, I'm critical and I guess maybe I'm always looking for something not to agree with, ha.). And I won't stoop to the literary criticism portion of the program... ;)

 DaretothREdux

I agree, I also believe that discussion and debate are important, and I dunno... whether I've misinterpreted Rand or not, I do think the discussion that's underway is good, and people should defend Rand and rebut my stance... the questions and discussion are worth having, I think, even just thinking about self interest and what it is and what the heck's going on these days (a lot of which does NOT strike me as a vibrant and robust free market, of course, but a nasty, parasitic debacle with little sign of achievement or heroism, and some big egos in the top brass out there with little proof WHY - yeah, I dont think there are self esteem problems in the top rungs of some of these places, ha).

Sometimes people change their minds... I know my own mind is pretty stubborn, like whew, do I have a knee-jerk reaction whenever anybody says the word "regulation" LOL... but i think the most important part is questioning and thinking. That's what so many of us try to do here in Fooldom, eh... (and nice Socrates quote!). 

booyahh

Yes, there are nice people, point well taken. (Actually I think I'm pretty nice in my day-to-day dealings even though I occasionally say things that irritate people, like put Ayn Rand on a walk of shame because darn it, that's my opinion and impression. LOL...)

And point well taken. There are plenty of actions that are taken all the time that you couldn't call particularly rational. Economics is interesting in that regard too. I mean didn't the $5 cup of coffee strike lots of people as pretty darn irrational except that it did take off, ha. And back to Rand, I always found her a little lacking in delving too deeply into human nature, like I kind of said above...  

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#8) On November 05, 2009 at 4:41 PM, lucas1985 (< 20) wrote:

Jonathan Chait (The New Republic) wrote a devastating critique of Ayn Rand and Objectivism. It's titled "Wealthcare". Some passages:
"The young, especially young men, thrill to Rand's black-and-white ethics and her veneration of the alienated outsider, shunned by a world that does not understand his gifts. (It is one of the ironies, and the attractions, of Rand's capitalists that they are depicted as heroes of alienation.) Her novels tend to strike their readers with the power of revelation, and they are read less like fiction and more like self-help literature, like spiritual guidance. Again and again, readers would write Rand to tell her that their encounter with her work felt like having their eyes open for the first time in their lives. "For over half a century," writes Jennifer Burns in her new biography of this strange and rather sinister figure, "Rand has been the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right.""

"Anne C. Heller, in her skillful life of Rand, traces the roots of Rand's philosophy to an even earlier age. (Heller paints a more detailed and engaging portrait of Rand's interior life, while Burns more thoroughly analyzes her ideas.) Around the age of five, Alissa Rosenbaum's mother instructed her to put away some of her toys for a year. She offered up her favorite possessions, thinking of the joy that she would feel when she got them back after a long wait. When the year had passed, she asked her mother for the toys, only to be told she had given them away to an orphanage. Heller remarks that "this may have been Rand's first encounter with injustice masquerading as what she would later acidly call ‘altruism.’ " (The anti-government activist Grover Norquist has told a similar story from childhood, in which his father would steal bites of his ice cream cone, labelling each bite "sales tax" or "income tax." The psychological link between a certain form of childhood deprivation and extreme libertarianism awaits serious study.)"

"Rand’s political philosophy remained amorphous in her early years. Aside from a revulsion at communism, her primary influence was Nietzsche, whose exaltation of the superior individual spoke to her personally. She wrote of one of the protagonists of her stories that "he does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people"; and she meant this as praise. Her political worldview began to crystallize during the New Deal, which she immediately interpreted as a straight imitation of Bolshevism. Rand threw herself into advocacy for Wendell Wilkie, the Republican presidential nominee in 1940, and after Wilkie’s defeat she bitterly predicted "a Totalitarian America, a world of slavery, of starvation, of concentration camps and of firing squads." Her campaign work brought her into closer contact with conservative intellectuals and pro-business organizations, and helped to refine her generalized anti-communist and crudely Nietzschean worldview into a moral defense of the individual will and unrestrained capitalism."

"In essence, Rand advocated an inverted Marxism. In the Marxist analysis, workers produce all value, and capitalists merely leech off their labor. Rand posited the opposite. In Atlas Shrugged, her hero, John Galt, leads a capitalist strike, in which the brilliant business leaders who drive all progress decide that they will no longer tolerate the parasitic workers exploiting their talent, and so they withdraw from society to create their own capitalistic paradise free of the ungrateful, incompetent masses."

"Rand’s hotly pro-capitalist novels oddly mirrored the Socialist Realist style, with two-dimensional characters serving as ideological props. Burns notes some of the horrifying implications of Atlas Shrugged. "In one scene," she reports, "[Rand] describes in careful detail the characteristics of passengers doomed to perish in a violent railroad clash, making it clear their deaths are warranted by their ideological errors." The subculture that formed around her--a cult of the personality if ever there was one--likewise came to resemble a Soviet state in miniature. Beginning with the publication of The Fountainhead, Rand began to attract worshipful followers. She cultivated these (mostly) young people interested in her work, and as her fame grew she spent less time engaged in any way with the outside world, and increasingly surrounded herself with her acolytes, who communicated in concepts and terms that the outside world could not comprehend."

"Rand called her doctrine "Objectivism," and it eventually expanded well beyond politics and economics to psychology, culture, science (she considered the entire field of physics "corrupt"), and sundry other fields. Objectivism was premised on the absolute centrality of logic to all human endeavors. Emotion and taste had no place. When Rand condemned a piece of literature, art, or music (she favored Romantic Russian melodies from her youth and detested Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms), her followers adopted the judgment. Since Rand disliked facial hair, her admirers went clean-shaven. When she bought a new dining room table, several of them rushed to find the same model for themselves."

"Sex and romance loomed unusually large in Rand’s worldview. Objectivism taught that intellectual parity is the sole legitimate basis for romantic or sexual attraction. Coincidentally enough, this doctrine cleared the way for Rand--a woman possessed of looks that could be charitably described as unusual, along with abysmal personal hygiene and grooming habits--to seduce young men in her orbit. Rand not only persuaded Branden, who was twenty-five years her junior, to undertake a long-term sexual relationship with her, she also persuaded both her husband and Branden’s wife to consent to this arrangement. (They had no rational basis on which to object, she argued.) But she prudently instructed them to keep the affair secret from the other members of the Objectivist inner circle.
At some point, inevitably, the arrangement began to go very badly. Branden’s wife began to break down--Rand diagnosed her with "emotionalism," never imagining that her sexual adventures might have contributed to the young woman’s distraught state. Branden himself found the affair ever more burdensome and grew emotionally and sexually withdrawn from Rand. At one point Branden suggested to Rand that a second affair with another woman closer to his age might revive his lust. Alas, Rand--whose intellectual adjudications once again eerily tracked her self-interest--determined that doing so would "destroy his mind." He would have to remain with her. Eventually Branden confessed to Rand that he could no longer muster any sexual attraction for her, and later that he actually had undertaken an affair with another woman despite Rand’s denying him permission. After raging at Branden, Rand excommunicated him fully. The two agreed not to divulge their affair. Branden told his followers only that he had "betrayed the principles of Objectivism" in an "unforgiveable" manner and renounced his role within the organization.
Rand’s inner circle turned quickly and viciously on their former superior. Alan Greenspan, a cherished Rand confidant, signed a letter eschewing any future contact with Branden or his wife. Objectivist students were forced to sign loyalty oaths, which included the promise never to contact Branden, or to buy his forthcoming book or any future books that he might write. Rand’s loyalists expelled those who refused these orders, and also expelled anyone who complained about the tactics used against dissidents. Some of the expelled students, desperate to retain their lifeline to their guru, used pseudonyms to re-enroll in the courses or re-subscribe to her newsletter. But many just drifted away, and over time the Rand cult dwindled to a hardened few."

"Ultimately the Objectivist movement failed for the same reason that communism failed: it tried to make its people live by the dictates of a totalizing ideology that failed to honor the realities of human existence. Rand’s movement devolved into a corrupt and cruel parody of itself."

"Rand’s most enduring accomplishment was to infuse laissez-faire economics with the sort of moralistic passion that had once been found only on the left. Prior to Rand’s time, two theories undergirded economic conservatism. The first was Social Darwinism, the notion that the advancement of the human race, like other natural species, relied on the propagation of successful traits from one generation to the next, and that the free market served as the equivalent of natural selection, in which government interference would retard progress. The second was neoclassical economics, which, in its most simplistic form, described the marketplace as a perfectly self-correcting instrument. These two theories had in common a practical quality. They described a laissez-faire system that worked to the benefit of all, and warned that intervention would bring harmful consequences. But Rand, by contrast, argued for laissez-faire capitalism as an ethical system. She did believe that the rich pulled forward society for the benefit of one and all, but beyond that, she portrayed the act of taxing the rich to aid the poor as a moral offense."

"For conservatives, the causal connection between virtue and success is not merely ideological, it is also deeply personal. It forms the basis of their admiration of themselves. If you ask a rich person whether he ascribes his success to good fortune or his own merit, the answer will probably tell you whether that person inhabits the economic left or the economic right. Rand held up her own meteoric rise from penniless immigrant to wealthy author as a case study of the individualist ethos. "No one helped me," she wrote, "nor did I think at any time that it was anyone’s duty to help me."
But this was false. Rand spent her first months in this country subsisting on loans from relatives in Chicago, which she promised to repay lavishly when she struck it rich. (She reneged, never speaking to her Chicago family again.) She also enjoyed the great fortune of breaking into Hollywood at the moment it was exploding in size, and of bumping into DeMille.
Many writers equal to her in their talents never got the chance to develop their abilities. That was not because they were bad or delinquent people. They were merely the victims of the commonplace phenomenon that Bernard Williams described as "moral luck.""

"The final feature of Randian thought that has come to dominate the right is its apocalyptic thinking about redistribution. Rand taught hysteria. The expressions of terror at the "confiscation" and "looting" of wealth, and the loose talk of the rich going on strike, stands in sharp contrast to the decidedly non-Bolshevik measures that they claim to describe. The reality of the contemporary United States is that, even as income inequality has exploded, the average tax rate paid by the top 1 percent has fallen by about one-third over the last twenty-five years. Again: it has fallen. The rich have gotten unimaginably richer, and at the same time their tax burden has dropped significantly. And yet conservatives routinely describe this state of affairs as intolerably oppressive to the rich. Since the share of the national income accruing to the rich has grown faster than their average tax rate has shrunk, they have paid an ever-rising share of the federal tax burden. This is the fact that so vexes the right"

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#9) On November 05, 2009 at 6:19 PM, Tastylunch (29.42) wrote:

Alyce I have suggestion for your next column

Daily Walk of Shame: Lobbyists

that could keep you ccupied for weeks. everybody hates lobbyists.

:)

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#10) On November 05, 2009 at 10:41 PM, TMFLomax (52.14) wrote:

lucas1985

Thanks for that essay! That is certainly interesting stuff. In fact some of those anecdotes sound pretty totalitarian, which the author implies, so yeah, time to call BS, ha. And again, opens up the whole argument of, is it in one's own self interest to wonder if one is a hypocrite, most people would probably prefer not to even go there, ha. And sometimes one's self interest is certainly not going to be the self interest of others one is close to, even in personal matters. Yowie.

 Tastylunch

That's a great idea! LOL... Yeah, I'm pretty sure that would find a whole lot of common ground. :)

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#11) On November 05, 2009 at 10:45 PM, catoismymotor (< 20) wrote:

Alyce,

Your article made it to Fark.com! Look under the Business tab for today's date.

Cato

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#12) On November 05, 2009 at 11:10 PM, TMFLomax (52.14) wrote:

Hi Cato! I saw that, thank you for the heads up! I actually did finally respond to the comments on the article a minute ago... I must admit, I had to ask somebody what Fark was earlier today after you pointed me to it. Ha! They are having a lively discussion there about Rand, too...

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#13) On November 06, 2009 at 8:36 AM, catoismymotor (< 20) wrote:

Lucas,

You helped to remind me of a phylosophical masterpiece:

 

The Philosopher's Song

By Monty Python


Immanuel Kant was a real pissant

Who was very rarely stable.

Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar

Who could think you under the table.

David Hume could out-consume

Schopenhauer and Hegel,

And Wittgenstein was a beery swine

Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.

There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya

'Bout the raising of the wrist.


John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,

On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.

Plato, they say, could stick it away

Half a crate of whiskey every day.

Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,

Hobbes was fond of his dram,

And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart:

"I drink, therefore I am"

Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed;

A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he's pissed!

 

Have a great day, everyone!

Cato

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#14) On November 06, 2009 at 8:44 AM, TMFLomax (52.14) wrote:

Haha, Cato!

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#15) On November 06, 2009 at 4:16 PM, lucas1985 (< 20) wrote:

@TMFLomax,
I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I think that libertarians have a lot of interesting things to say and valid arguments in a broad number of issues. Sadly, a big chunk (majority?) of libertarians are associated with dead-end ideas and worldviews (objectivism, Austrian economics, specially of the Misesian variety, etc) which hurt their reputation, their intellectual honesty and the punch of their arguments.
Libertarians will gain a lot of respect the day they:
- denounce corporate-funded think tanks.
- commit to a fact-based worldview.
- produce cool-headed, honest criticism of government actions/policies in place of knee-jerk reactions to taxes and regulations.
- put the same passion on social and civil issues as they currently put on economic issues.

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