Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Ayn Rand, Prophet or Lunatic?

with 16 comments

OK, the title isn’t really fair, but thought I’d cover all the bases. This post comes with a number of caveats. The first and foremost one, I really don’t know anything about Ayn Rand. Philosophy isn’t my strong suit, I’ve only read one of her books (Atlas Shrugged,) and everything else I know about her comes from a  few articles I’ve read lately, and some few hours of on line research for this post. So this post is going to touch upon a lot of generalities and tangential themes, without delving too much into the nuts and bolts of Objectivism, the philosophy created and espoused by Ayn Rand.

First Ayn Rand, her personality and her cult. Who cares? OK, not quite, but close. The message someone is trying to convey under most circumstances should be judged independent of the person. Most people have personal demons of one sort or another, using someone’s personal life to discredit their message is usually easy, and thus usually a cheap shot. Now in her case where she claimed to have  developed a valid personal philosophy, it is fair to say that she’s clearly not the best example of living a good life, but that’s not reason to discredit her philosophy entirely. That’s as stupid as, well, using Al Gore to attempt to discredit global warming.

Moving right along, in the plus column, a huge number of people have been very inspired by her writings. And they didn’t run out and do bad things, as far as I know (and I know at least one) plenty of normal successful people have been inspired by Ayn Rand. Now the same applies here as to the prior paragraph, this doesn’t really have any probitive value either. It’s an indication that she is saying something a lot of people want to hear, and they value it. I try not to denigrate anything that huge numbers of people find value in, figuring maybe they see something I don’t. I don’t see that casting stones ever helps much either.

As far as literary value goes, while Atlas Shrugged is a labour of love, I don’t think any read it for the prose. Granted I read it decades ago, but it didn’t stick in my mind, and I certainly have no desire to read it again. I do recall that the characters seemed awfully unrealistic, almost cardboard, to me; but she was writing to illustrate her philosophy, not creating a character study. I only even mention this because as I understand it,  Ayn Rand placed great stock in expressive creative endeavours like writing Atlas Shrugged. In that sense, she embodied her philosophy nicely.

Ah, her philosophy, what was it? Yes, here’s the meat:

“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.

OK then, that’s Objectivism in a nutshell, by the author herself. So what do I think of it? It’s shiny pebbles. Very simply put, I mean it has some nice parts. However, if one has a collection of nice parts, they are going to look good no matter how one arranges them. Objectivism is an expanded truism. I’m in favour of reason, who isn’t? Productive achievement is a great thing, cool enough. Who wouldn’t want to be happy and heroic? Who could fault either? Put it all together, what does it all mean? Not much that I can see. It’s a philosophy that could be used to justify any course of action. Arguments that can defend any action aren’t really arguments, no matter how well intended.

Maybe that’s superficial of me, maybe there are subtle aspects I am missing.  The second thing that I find unconvincing about Objectivism, is that it apparently claims to be able to derive absolute moral laws through logic alone. This is where most mainstream philosophers nod quietly and back slowly away. No system of philosophy claims any sort of absolute authority, only cults do that. It’s also been claimed, at least by Ayn and her inner circle, that her system is infallible and if everyone used it, society would have no problems. Unfortunately, that claim can be made and has been made about many systems of ideology/religion, and is simply saying “If everyone agreed with me, we’d have no problems.” Unfortunately for all such claimants, that ain’t gonna happen in the real world, making the argument irrelevant at best.

So in conclusion, Objectivism sounds closer to a dime store version self help book than any sort of real school of philosophy, but I don’t see any harm in it, and some are positively inspired by it. So what’s the problem?

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. It is a copyrighted image, the artist has reserved some rights. Credit and copyright: WayneandWax. The shiny pebbles analogy just came to me while I was writing this post. It seemed cogent at the time, but now I’m not so sure. That’s kinda the story of my life.)


Written by unitedcats

February 14, 2012 at 6:03 am

16 Responses

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  1. “Objectivism sounds closer to a dime store version self help book than any sort of real school of philosophy, but I don’t see any harm in it, and some are positively inspired by it. So what’s the problem?”

    Couldn’t have said that better myself!



    February 14, 2012 at 7:36 am

  2. “Objectivism sounds closer to a dime store version self help book than any sort of real school of philosophy, but I don’t see any harm in it, and some are positively inspired by it. So what’s the problem?”

    Philosophies have a real impact on the real world. People who believe in philosophies use them to guide and justify their thinking and actions. You only need to see the actions of those who believe in Objectivism to understand that it is a deeply corrupt, pernicious philosophy and world view. Objectivism holds up selfishness as the highest form of virtue. Enough people believe that, and your society has a real problem.


    February 14, 2012 at 8:07 am

    • What B.S.!– ” You only need to see the actions of those who believe in ________ to understand that it is a deeply corrupt, pernicious philosophy and world view.”

      Insert any group in blank.


      February 14, 2012 at 9:54 am

      • Yeah, most groups of human beings aren’t perfect, but I’d say that the ones who think only of themselves and make a virtue of selfishness are the worst of all.


        February 15, 2012 at 2:28 am

  3. I’m not sure how to post videos here. If this doesn’t work, please follow the link. It is an hour well spent.


    February 14, 2012 at 8:21 am

    • Good vid so far, thanks Gadfly.


      February 14, 2012 at 10:05 am

  4. From someone who read ‘Atlas Shrugged’ decades ago you decide to talk shit about something people take VERY SERIOUSLY. Read ‘The Fountainhead’ or ‘We the Living’… Unlike YOUR writing (as entertaining as it can be) Ayn Rand wrote from real experience– oppression in Soviet Russia, moving to the United States and witnessing all of the potential and evil of Capitalism, socialism, and altruism. You can disagree with her ideas, but it would be appropriate if you knew about what you are critical of. By the way, Atlas Shrugged has been called the 2nd most influential book after the Bible…


    February 14, 2012 at 8:24 am

    • A lot of books have been considered the second most influential book after the bible. That’s subjective, depending on the person. It makes for an invalid argument, really.


      February 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    • Yeah! And the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ.


      February 14, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    • I will respond to this in a dedicated blog post, thank you.


      February 14, 2012 at 9:25 pm

  5. Uh oh… Cat’s going to the library to study this shit hahaha! Btw whoever said my arguement about 2nd most influential book being invalid– google it… As for the ding-a-ling who said ‘Beatles are bigger than J esus’… Wtf? You can trace the development of our modern society DIRECTLY to Jesus within 2 or 3 easy steps… The Beatles had a few good tunes. Explain.


    February 15, 2012 at 6:53 am

  6. More folks had better start to take care of themselves as the nanny state has run out of money and is now eating its own tail.

    Some of the aspects of Objectivism address how to deal with our times. Self reliance is more important than ever.

    Galt and his followers are not much different than the 60’s generation that followed the ‘back to the land’ movement and read the Mother Earth News. They saw that they had to lead their own future.
    Realizing that the whole government-military-media complex is unsustainable in the end is crucial. And realizing that embedded interests will use the government to maintain the status quo no matter what.

    As an example, in the case of peak oil, instead of developing rational sustainable energy policy, the government funds an enormous resource war and colonizes the middle east. Instead of planning for the future, they light the afterburners on the ‘old model’.

    ‘Going Galt’ is a rational act of self reliance when one realizes that the system is rigged. Since government is now in full capture by special interests, no amount of ‘voting’ will change it.
    So now we can only change ourselves and our personal realities, and leave the broken/dying system behind to the maxim amount possible.

    Objectivism is the answer to the Orwellian 1984 situation that now really exists in America, or be the face under the boot.

    John Galt

    February 15, 2012 at 7:56 am

  7. Steve, If you wish to call me a ding-a-ling, do so by name. I am Lars. Had you you done even the most cursory research into my statement you may have come up with something like this:
    I have read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged- both glorious pieces of fiction. I also read the Bible, especially The New Testament. Comparing The New Testament to Atlas Shrugged is a dismal intellectual failure. Ayn Rand was an athiest. She and no higher power other than self. Her philosophy is in direct opposition to the teachings of The Bible.
    I ask this question: Would you rather work for J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller or Henry Rearden? The two former historical figures made their fortunes on the backs of the working class. The latter fictional character amassed his fortunes while recognizing the contributions made by those in his employ- giving them just compensation for their efforts.

    ‘I knew John Galt, Senator, and you are no John Galt’- tongue in cheek (lest you are confused)


    February 15, 2012 at 9:57 am

  8. No Lars im not confused. I think I mentioned before that our ENTIRE SOCIETY and all the intellectual progress it has sustained are directly related to Jesus (and ergo, the Bible) and I will not enter into your game of which is better. I know which is more important, and I NEVER EVEN COMPARED ANY BOOKS OF THE BIBLE TO ATLAS SHRUGGED!!! I KNOW AYN RAND WAS AN ATHIEST WITH AN ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE…
    ALTRUIST!!! (hahaha)
    Personally I could give a rats ass about objectivism- Im a retired Police Sergeant… I like my pension… My whole point was that people comment about things they don’t know about way too much…


    February 15, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    • Steve, your latest comments are well taken. Thank you for shedding light on your position. I will submit that the writer posts not only to inform but to foster discussion. I enjoy entering into an open discussion with those whom I might disagree. Hopefully, all partie will be enlightened. Best Regards


      February 15, 2012 at 4:45 pm

  9. Lars, I’m sorry I referred to you as a dingaling…


    February 16, 2012 at 6:32 am

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