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    I missed out on the Objectivist phase of growing up, not glomming on to Rand’s insipid ideas saved me a great deal of fuss and bother as following Randian ideology tends to make one into a large swirling vortex of petty narcissism (see asshole).  However, as Skye C. Clearly argues in her essay, ignoring Rand is not the solution, but rather critical nuanced refutation is the key, so we can learn from Rand’s arguments and hopefully come up with more pro-social solutions to the problems she presents.

 

   “Vilifying Rand without reading the detail, or demonising her without taking the trouble to refute her, is clearly the wrong approach. Making her work taboo is not going to help anyone to think critically about her ideas either. Friedrich Nietzsche – a philosopher sometimes aligned, albeit superficially, with Rand, partly due to her Übermensch-like protagonists – warned in 1881: ‘The innocent will always be the victims because their ignorance prevents them from distinguishing between measure and excess, and from keeping themselves in check in good time.’

Rand is dangerous precisely because she appeals to the innocent and the ignorant using the trappings of philosophical argument as a rhetorical cloak under which she smuggles in her rather cruel prejudices. Her writing is persuasive to the vulnerable and the uncritical, and, apart from the overextended set-piece monologues, she tells a good story. It’s her novels that are the bestsellers, remember. Almost two-thirds of the thousands of reviewers on Amazon give Atlas Shrugged a five-star rating. People seem to be buying it for the story, and finding a convincing philosophy neatly packaged within, which they absorb almost without thinking. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine what people find admirable in her characters: Rand’s heroes are self-interested and uncaring, but they’re also great at what they choose to do, and they stick by their principles. It’s a prime example – and warning – of fiction’s influential power.

Hoping that Rand’s ideas will, in time, just go away is not a good solution to the problem. The Fountainhead is still a bestseller, 75 years since first publication. And perhaps it’s time to admit that Rand is a philosopher – just not a very good one. It should be easy to show what is wrong with her thinking, and also to recognise, as John Stuart Mill did in On Liberty (1859), that a largely mistaken position can still contain some small elements of truth, as well as serving as a stimulus to thought by provoking us to demonstrate what is wrong with it. Rand’s rhetoric continues to enthral millions of readers, so we need compelling language and stories to provide counterarguments with eloquence. Imagine if a writer could persuade the millions who are reading Rand today to come to different, kinder and more compassionate conclusions, to see through her self-serving egoism rather than be seduced by her prose. We need to treat the Ayn Rand phenomenon seriously. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Its effects are pernicious. But its refutation should be straightforward.”

The funny folks over at Last Week Tonight tackle cover Rand and her amazing set of ‘ideas’ – you remember the ones – the “fuck you, I’ve got mine” high minded ‘philosophy’ that, because it dovetails with capitalism, did not die the premature death it so rightly deserves.

 

Ayn-Rand Most of what Rand has to say about economics and politics is complete bunk.  The idea that we should not restrict the wealthy classes in their endeavours strikes me as the fast forward button on the decline of Western Civilization.  Altruism and empathy are the qualities that will save our civilization, their antithesis, aka much of what Rand proposes, will not.  Alter.net has a great article about Rand and what it is doing to our societies, I reproduce the section dealing with corporations and what they are actually mandated to do, as opposed to what they do now.

Ayn Rand envisioned a world without governments – a world where the super-rich are free to do as they wish.

We tried that during the so-called Gilded Age of the late 19th Century – before Ayn Rand was alive. If she’d watched the ruthlessness of the Robber Barons like she did the Bolsheviks, she may have reached different conclusions.

She may have realized that American Presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower were right when they made sure that wealth was more evenly distributed and the Billionaire Class was held in check.

Or she may have come to understand that corporations and billionaires owe their wealth to the state and not the other way around. Without favorable patent and copyright laws, a court system, an educated workforce, and an infrastructure to move goods about the country, then no one would be able to get rich in America.  We’d be like the Libertarian paradise of Somalia.

As Harry Moser, the founder of the Reshoring Initiative, argued in The Economist, “Corporations are not created by the shareholders or the management. Rather they are created by the state. They are granted important privileges by the state (limited liability, eternal life, etc). They are granted these privileges because the state expects them to do something beneficial for the society that makes the grant. They may well provide benefits to other societies, but their main purpose is to provide benefits to the societies (not to the shareholders, not to management, but to the societies) that create them.”

 

The objectivist camp suffers another blow as parodied by this fine article by John Atcheson.  Reprinted here for because a good objectivist smackdown is always welcome at DWR.  Thanks to Ben Hoffman for bringing this article to my attention.

Published on Friday, September 2, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

Atlas Mugged: The Ayn Rand Six Step

Imagine your landlord coming to you one day and saying, “It’s everyone for himself. We’re not going to supply heat or water or electricity any longer, and we’re not going to conduct repairs.”

Of course, you and the rest of the tenants wouldn’t stand for such a thing . You’d kick him out if you could and move out if you couldn’t.

But suppose, over the years, he cuts the part of the portion of your rent that goes to utilities and repair work. Year after year, he’d stop by and announce his cuts with great fanfare, telling you how much money you’ll save.

On each visit, as he handed out the meager savings, he’d rail about how the utilities were incompetent, and filled with lazy workers, and that repair and maintenance work was a rip-off perpetrated by equally lazy laborers.

“We’re gonna show them,” he’d say, “The market will take care of these bozos.”

Meanwhile, year after year, you pay a little less. Things might get a little ragged. The maintenance man might not show up every day; the fire alarms might stop working; the elevators get stuck more, there’s an occasional power outage, water’s a bit murky … but there’s those savings.

Unbeknownst to you, most of the money the landlord saves is going to upgrade the top floor where he and his cronies live, bringing in their own dependable power and clean water. But you don’t investigate much because … there’s those savings.

Every time you passed him in the hall, he’d give you his spiel. “Those repair guys are thieves,” he’d tell you, again and again. “And you might as well burn money as give it to the utilities,” he’d say with a sage nod of his head. “Just wait ‘til those market forces hit, that’ll show them.” But he’d begin to add a new verse to his rant. “And hey. What about those gays in 3G? Or the Mexicans in 2D? Disgrace how they double up like that …”

Then finally, one year, he announces he can no longer afford to supply heat, electricity or water, and he can’t be repairing anything that breaks any longer. “Just not enough money – besides, look what’s happening around here … throwing more money at those lazy good-for-nothings is no solution.”

Now imagine complaining to him about the frozen pipes, or your child’s pneumonia and him responding with: “Hey. It’s all about the market – if you want it, figure out a way to get it – the market will provide if you’re diligent. Look at the top floor. Besides, it’s all the fault of those Mexicans. Or those gays … or …”

Would you believe that crap? Would you put up with it?

Of course you wouldn’t.

Yet that is precisely the game the Republicans have been playing for years. Call it the Ayan Rand six step. Step one: discredit government. Step two, starve it. Step three, when the underfunded government can’t perform, stand back and say “I told you so.” Step four, create the myth of the individual uber-alles – the Marlboro man on steroids; Step five, if anyone gets wise, find a scapegoat and blame it on them – gays, immigrants, government workers; government working gay immigrants. Step six, when things get bad, divide and conquer – “if it wasn’t’ for them…

So now we are waiting for the magic market to deliver us from a crisis caused by the unconstrained market; we are loath to give the government a penny even though no one else is going to do the things it used to do and do well – the things that created the conditions for a broadly shared prosperity and an open, fair, and transparent market. Now, we are on the verge of shivering in the dark, as we point fingers to any of the various scapegoats the Republicans have created.

Now, their plutocratic bosses have free reign, and they’re gutting the building as we fight among ourselves.

The solution to bad government is good government, not no government.

The solution to envy and jealousy at public sector employees’ pension and benefits is not to strip theirs, but to get ours back.

Our strength comes not from how the strongest or luckiest among us exploit the rest, but from how we come together as a country to do that which we must do together. Indeed, we are great in proportion to how we treat the least fortunate among us, not the most.

The reason it feels like the United States is collapsing around our collective ankles is because it is – if we relinquish all responsibility to “the market” it will strip the walls, tear out the pipes and wires and raise the roof, selling our present and future to make a quick buck. That’s what markets are supposed to do.

And if we buy into some uber-individualist fairy tale about survival of the fittest, we’ll all be handing over a bigger share of our rapidly diminishing paychecks to the CEOs and CFOs of Goldman Sachs or Exxon and we’ll be SOL, as our biggest export will continue to be high wage jobs to China, India, Germany and other countries that haven’t bought into the Ayn Rand fantasy – or nightmare.

That’s why we need government. Because our freedom and welfare are indeed in danger – but not from government; rather from those who point fingers at government in hopes that you won’t notice they’re robbing you blind, in the name of a mutant form of free-market economics that’s really only existed on the pages of a second rate polemic masquerading as a novel.

I get a few hits from objectivists now and then, I figure I’d throw another post up detailing how silly Atlas Shrugged actually is when looked at err…objectively.   :)

Shamelessly ripped from the Randzapper blog.

Greed builds a stronger society. Uh-oh...

“But let’s take a closer look. Here are a few political, economic, cultural, and other developments that Atlas failed to foresee:

A period of prosperity commencing in the late ’50s and continuing, with only minor downturns, until the present day. (Atlas foresaw a Great Depression.)

The information revolution – personal computers, the Internet, and loathsome little blogs like this one. (In Atlas, people are still banging away on typewriters and getting their news from newsreels.)

The outsourcing of basic manufacturing industries to Third World countries, and the rise of a service- and information-based economy. (Sayonara, Rearden Steel.)

The eclipse of rail travel by the airline industry, and the eclipse of cargo trains by the trucking industry. (Happy trails, Taggart Transcontinental.)

The ubiquity of television. (Galt’s speech is broadcast mainly on the radio. There is a passing reference to television, but TV does not play any role in the story. This is especially odd since TV was already well established by 1957.)

Americans’ mass immigration to the Sunbelt and the West. (In Atlas, all the financial and commercial action is in New York City and its surrounds. The West is a lot of open desert, suitable for running train tracks through. Colorado is so empty that a whole valley can be hidden there, unknown to the outside world. The South does not appear to exist at all.)

New directions in science. (Gene-splicing, quantum theory, string theory or any equivalents are absent from Atlas, which presents a scientific community still mired in Newtonian assumptions.)

The demise of hats. (Nobody wears hats anymore. In Atlas, everybody does.)

Now, suppose someone had told Ayn Rand fifty years ago, on the day of her book’s triumphant debut, that over the next five decades there would be a significant growth of government spending, taxes, regulations, and controls … and that in the same period of time, there would be unprecedented prosperity, an unrivalled explosion of scientific and technological knowledge, and a blossoming of freedom around the world.

Would she have believed it? No way. In high dudgeon she would have insisted that such an outcome was logically untenable, entailing fatal contradictions.

Yet that’s exactly what has happened.

So … Happy Birthday, Atlas. Enjoy your cake and punch. But don’t party too hearty.

Frankly, dear … you’re showing your age.”

Objectivism remains one of my pet peeves.  I meet and cross swords with many who are beguiled with this particularly noxious dogma.  From the blog Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature this post details yet another Randian disciple waking up and choosing reality instead of “rationality”.

Greenspan’s breaking away from Objectivism. In his autobiography, The Age of Turbulence, Greenspan explains why he stopped being an orthodox acolyte of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy:

Like any new convert, I tended to frame the concepts [of Rand’s philosophy] in their starkest, simplest terms. Most everyone sees the simple outline of an idea before complexity and qualification set in…. It was only as contradictions inherent in my new notions began to emerge that the fervor receded.

One such contradiction I found particularly enlightening. According to the objectivist precepts, taxation was immoral because it allowed for government appropriation of private property by force. Yet if taxation was wrong, how could you reliably finance the essential functions of government, including the protection of individuals’ rights through police power? The Randian answer, that those who rationally saw the need for government would contribute voluntarily, was inadequate. People have free will; suppose they refused?…

I still found the broader philosophy of unfettered market competition compelling, as I do to this day, but I reluctantly began to realize that if there were qualifications to my intellectual edifice, I couldn’t argue that others should readily accept it. By the time I joined Richard Nixon’s campaign for the presidency in 1968, I had long since decided to engage in efforts to advance free-market capitalism as an insider, rather than as a critical pamphleteer.


Greenspan here admits what has been suspected for some time: that he came to believe that Objectivism was flawed and so ceased being an orthodox advocate of Rand’s philosophy.

Not really surprising, but thanks Alan,  for fueling the latest bust in a run-away neoliberal capitalist dream we’ve all been participating in as of late.

atlass

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