Ayn Rand for Dummies

Darnit, you stole my idea, although I was going to say “As opposed to…?”

More accurately, she felt that any system which starts from the premise that the ‘greater good’ trumps the rights of the individual is one which will over time lead to misery. She saw a fundamental contradiction in the notion that from your perspective, my needs are more important than yours, but from my perspective, your needs are more important than mine. Turning everyone into everyone else’s keeper, as socialism and communism tend to do, is not just immoral, it’s inefficient and dangerous. And it ultimately requires a large state to manage through coercion, because it flies against the true nature of man.

Rand isn’t the only political philosopher to believe this. I believe a much better statement of the dangers of collectivism come from Friedrich Hayek. Read “The Road To Serfdom” for a detailed description of the dangers of collectivism. And the commies didn’t kill his dad.

She wouldn’t be concerned with “the greater good”. If anything, she would say that “the greater good” is a secondary byproduct of her philosophy, mainly because any other philosophy would lead to a “worse greater good”. In fact, arguing for “the greater good” is counter to her philosophy as it is generally used to subjugate the interests of the individual to those of society.

No, but the Nazis chased both him and von Mises out of Austria.

Yeah. “The greater good” is a byproduct, but it’s not the moral justification. Although I do believe that they should go hand in hand. If rational self interest doesn’t lead to a better society and in general to a better state of mankind, then the best you can say about it is that it’s unstable, and the worst you could say is that it’s immoral because it leads to the destruction of man. Fortunately, I happen to believe that Rand was right in this regard - that a society where everyone is free to pursue their own self interest will also be a society in which the state of mankind is elevated the fastest.

Now see, that is the kind of part that I actually liked and needed.

“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.”

– Ayn Rand

There’s a scene in Dirty Dancing where it turns out the dancer Penny is pregnant and the father is Robby, the “nice” Jewish boy and medical student whom Baby’s sister Lisa is sweet on (and of whom their father heartily approves). Baby confronts Robby, but he refuses to spend all the money he’s earned over the summer on Penny’s abortion (illegal, therefore expensive); he needs it for medical school. He says, “Some people matter, some people don’t.” He then offers Baby his dog-eared, heavily-underlined copy of Atlas Shrugged to read. I really don’t think Rand’s message comes down to that, but it’s easy to see how an arrogant person could read it as justification for elitism and callousness.

What is the point of this? You quoted some movie writer’s smear of Ayn Rand’s ideas, then admitted that isn’t probably what her philosophy says.

News flash: Obnoxious people will always find a justification for their obnoxious behavior.

Would you like a list of the ways in which Ayn Rand would be apalled at the behavior of Robby? We can start with the fact that he had sex with someone he did not admire and value. Then we can move on to his refusal to pay a debt he helped incur and live up to the responsibilities he created. And Ayn Rand believed that everyone mattered. That’s the whole point to her philosophy.

Your post is the equivalent of dropping into a thread on Marxism to quote some serial killer’s rant in a movie about how it was okay to wipe out half of mankind to serve the greater good, then admitting that Marx never really meant that, but you could see how some people could use his ideas as a justification for murdering their neighbors.

What would be inappropriate about that? It would be entirely relevant to the discussion. Some people have used Marx’ ideas as a justification for murder. And I daresay Rand’s message has no less pernicious potential.

Ayn Rand is a philosopher whose defenders always insist has been grossly misrepresented, even though they cannot explain how.

Much like Marx, in that regard.

And not in that regard alone.

From “Which Civilisation?” by Michael Lind, Prospect, 10/25/01:

Her book Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal is a small and pretty clear accounting of it. I find her writing style simple and clear enough, though sometimes her sentences run on like patent claims.
For heaven’s sake, she wasn’t the prince for whom Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his famous book, nor the mercenaries she mentions in it. And she wasn’t evil in the Cheyney / Darth Vader style. She grew up under cruel communist circumstances, IIRC, and kind of swung to the other end of the spectrum. She wasn’t even the John Galt she invented. She was a very enthusiastic writer and lecturer who had a bit too much reverence for the profit motive as a guiding light. But I have to like her description of offering other people some object or service so useful to them that they willingly part with their hard-earned money to get it. In the end she was all about giving people more choices.

Also, for some reason this is usually missed, but if you’re interested, “Ayn” rhymes with “fine”. It isn’t “Ann”.

Except that I just did. And in my experience, her defenders have no problem whatsoever explaining how she has been misrepresented.

And if she is being constantly misrepresented, may I suggest that you should take your beef up with the people misrepresenting her ideas?

There is no philosophy there. It’s political fiction pretending to be philosophy but it’s actually not that deep.
For (fill in your own personal icon here)'s sake. Saying “A = A” does not constitute a philosophy. Putting your fingers in your ears and ignoring the world around you going “there is no gray there is no gray there is no gray” does not make one a philospher. There is actually more to epistemology than the statement that there is a world around us wether we want it or not. Perhaps that it is why it is attractive: because it is much easier to understand than REAL philosophy.

Nzinga, if you find “atlas shrugged” difficult to read, just toss it in the bin. It is in no way obligatory to read it to become enlightened or anything.
Reading should be fun and if possible interesting and truthful at the same time. There are other books that you can read that are more fun or more intelligent. And most other books are more truthful.

Now type it again while standing on one foot.
The latest Newsweek has two pages on the recent Rand biographies.

You can probably get just as good a take on Rand by reading Anthem, which is nice and short and on many high-school-English summer reading lists.

I found The Fountainhead somewhat interesting because in that book Rand made her alienated genius, not an industrialist or entrepreneur or sociopolitical rebel, but an artist, specifically an architect. An inevitable choice, I think: Architecture is the most publicly engaged of all the arts, because we all have to live with its products every day. But what I found most interesting about Howard Roark was that he seemed to be so committed to art-for-art’s-sake that he would be just as satisfied to put up a building in the Gobi Desert, where it would never be used or seen, as in Manhattan.

Ok. I have tried the wiki articles, and all of the accompanying links, and they did help alot. But I still thought (hoped) maybe there was some more clarity to be had.

Again, I appreciate the help. Sam Stone, your break down was really nice.

The link in this thread (American Icon) was a great read.

ETA: Pirhana, I appreciate your advice, but if I tossed every book that I find a difficult read, I would be missing out on a lot of hard won enlightenment. Some of my favorite books, I had to read chapters over and over before I even finish the book once. So, yeah…for me a difficult read doesn’t mean the book won’t entertain me.

Are you aware that she wrote several non-fiction books describing her philosophy?

Do you know what else doesn’t make you a philosopher? Reducing someone’s work to a gross mischaracterizational sound bite and telling others to dismiss it on that basis.

There are plenty of things to debate and object to in Ayn Rand’s philosophy, but to do so you’d actually have to read it and understand it.

Which of course would be why she wrote an entire book on her Epistemology. All 320 pages of it.

That’s right - if philosophy gets tough, throw it away! It should be FUN!

So I take it that you would recommend throwing away Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason? Not really a lot of fun, that one. How about Hume’s An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding? Whip that one out at parties! It’s a laugh riot. And if we’re in need of new sitcom material, perhaps René Descartes Meditations on the First Philosophy could be used for the script.

I’m no Objectivist, and I can find all kinds of issues with Rand’s philosophy. But that’s because I’ve actually read it, as well as the works above, and can speak from a position of knowledge.

Casual dismissals of works you don’t like and suggestions to throw books in the garbage if you don’t find them fun to read indicates a certain lack of seriousness - or simply an attempt to smear ideas you don’t like.

I don’t get this at all. Could you explain please?