Clinical psychologist explains how Ayn Rand helped turn the US into a selfish and greedy nation

Posted: March 22, 2015 in Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand’s books such as The Virtue of Selfishness and her philosophy that celebrates self-interest and disdains altruism may well be, as Vidal assessed, “nearly perfect in its immorality.” But is Vidal right about evil? Charles Manson, who himself did not kill anyone, is the personification of evil for many of us because of his psychological success at exploiting the vulnerabilities of young people and seducing them to murder. What should we call Ayn Rand’s psychological ability to exploit the vulnerabilities of millions of young people so as to influence them not to care about anyone besides themselves?

via Clinical psychologist explains how Ayn Rand helped turn the US into a selfish and greedy nation.

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  1. You missed many of Nicolas McGinnis’s main points, #1 being her entire philosophy is old-school, discredited metaphysically based bull crap: “a philosophical system in the traditional sense, the kind of thing that has been largely abandoned in contemporary academic philosophy” and he says “professional academics almost universally disdain Rand.” He also says “professional philosophers think her work is, quite simply, of poor quality.”

    You avoided the early critiques of her work where, for example, Whittaker Chambers wrote, in 1957:

    “Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal. In addition, the mind which finds this tone natural to it shares other characteristics of its type. 1) It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it. 2) It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible.”

    The arrogance of Rand and her followers knows no bounds: “Rand, in the same 1957 interview with Mike Wallace linked above, described herself as the most creative thinker alive. (Corey Robin notes that “Arendt, Quine, Sartre, Camus, Lukács, Adorno, Murdoch, Heidegger, Beauvoir, Rawls, Anscombe and Popper were all at work” in 1957, and invites the reader to draw their own conclusions).”

    You also evade and downplay this criticism of Rand’s metaphysics:

    “The abuses of ‘identity’ (“A is A”) have been singled out for particular criticism. Sidney Hook, writing in 1961, notes that:

    The extraordinary virtues Miss Rand finds in the law that A is A suggests that she is unaware that logical principles by themselves can test only consistency. They cannot establish truth […] Swearing fidelity to Aristotle, Miss Rand claims to deduce not only matters of fact from logic but, with as little warrant, ethical rules and economic truths as well. As she understands them, the laws of logic license her in proclaiming that “existence exists,” which is very much like saying that the law of gravitation is heavy and the formula of sugar sweet.

    The problem, in a nutshell, is that logical principles are devoid of genuine empirical content. One cannot derive particular facts from ‘A is A’ any more than one could conjure a slice of pizza from the Pythagorean theorem. Tautologies are meant to be vacuous. (Certainly, at least, public education is not a logical contradiction the same way a married bachelor, or a four-sided triangle, is.)

    Logical technicalities aside, it is worth noting that the most important philosopher in the West since Aristotle has no mathematical or logical philosophy to speak of. Rand was writing in the immediate aftermath of the most fertile period of logical and mathematical development in human history. Her emphasis on ‘logic’ and the indubitable inevitability of her conclusions is made in the shadow of Frege, the set-theoretic paradoxes, and the Principia; of the debate over intuitionism, of the incompleteness proof and of the results of Tarsky, Church, Alonzo; and just at the dawn of paraconsistent logic (which rejects, inter alia, that it is always true that A is A)…

    For a philosopher who prized logic, she remained utterly ignorant of it until her death, and some of her most ardent followers are determined to remain so themselves…”

    McGinnis goes on to say, “the most fundamental problem is the methodological assumption that reflection on ‘self-evident’ axioms can generate a host of inescapable moral, political, and economic truths.”

    The problem with Rand is lack of nuance and her denial that any grey areas exist in her conclusions:

    “Rejection of the Randian weltanschauung is not tantamount to rejecting all the values espoused within it. Much can be said to commend individualism against conformity, and the virtues of entrepreneurship and self-reliance. But commitment to these values does not logically imply the minimalist state advocated by Rand (let alone opposition to, say, minimum wage laws). They merely add to our existing stock of values to reflect on and take into consideration when deliberating.”

    That’s all for now. I have absolutely no desire to do anything but deconstruct and discredit Rand and “objectivism.” Her “philosophy” is the equivalent of a Taylor Swift song – popular but vacuous. It’s also dangerous, in that it seeks to discredit all compassion in social policy. It tries jto justify the concept that the “poor” are responsible for their own poverty – exploitation by oligarchs and plutocrats and robber barons has nothing to do with it.

  2. NPF says:

    Another attempt by statists and liberals to misconstrue and smear Ayn Rand, full of ad hominem and intentional misinterpretation of her ideas. Too many flaws and so little time. I’ll just point out – these issues in American society are not caused by some ethereal greed stoked up by an author. Statists would love to deflect the blame – as most of these ills of the world are caused by dear government and their misguided attempts to control every outcome. I would look at price controls, the federal reserve, revolving doors, wars, regulatory capture, propaganda in the media, regulations beneficial to wall street – all of which is made possible by government.
    When you say “influence them not to care about anyone besides themselves?” – this just isn’t true. Her idea was of rational self interest, not angry mindless selfishness. I care about plenty of people, my family, my wife, friends, coworkers, a stranger who smiles at me, someone who does good work, or creates beautiful art. In other words Rand showed us to value the qualities in others, rather than just blindly liking and caring about everyone (which would remove the very meaning of caring or valuing someone)
    And the association between her and these politicians – a non argument. I know its hard to see with Stockholm syndrome, but these “conservatives” are like 0.5% different than a standard democrat. They might pay lip service to someone like Rand for votes, but when it comes down to it, they’re all statists, all on the same team, and would reject Rands conclusions if pressed.

      • NPF says:

        Okay, I’ll just give a few more opinions and be on my way.
        This article does do a slightly better job in attacking her ideas, and I agree with some of it. But I mostly viewed it as the same arguments, just more words, fancier language, and definitely a snooty academic tone.

        Here are a few things to consider. The author says…

        “Everybody who likes Rand can defend at great length a number of socio-economic theses; what very few do is discuss the metaphysical underpinnings that purportedly justify her political and social views.

        This is unfortunate, because her philosophy attempts to form a coherent system, and these higher-order political views are the direct result of foundational assumptions in metaphysics and logic”

        I don’t think this is true, and I think this is where to start. The author spends the bulk of this article using linguistic gymnastics to try to attack her from that stance – that he disagrees with her political conclusions, so great effort is made to discredit how she arrived at those conclusions, thus easily throwing it all out. Makes sense. But, again, this premise I think is incorrect.

        I and many others don’t spend a great deal of time defending her socio-economic theories, while avoiding her metaphysical underpinnings. Its actually the other way around. I agree with her basic philosophical ideas, but I think she went off course with her conclusions. Recently I wrote a rather long article on this called Follow Reason: Not People, Movements, and Parties. You can find it here…

        This point of view states that she was mostly right on the basic principles, and if continued logically, it would produce good thinking and a good society. As I explained in that article above – I think she had already mostly decided her politics, then formulated her basic philosophy, and then had to tie them together through weak arguments and justifications. Despite what people think, her political ideas are not that unique. It ends up being basic American conservatism, and in more modern times, her followers are laced with a lot of neo-con ideology, all of which I disagree with, though I’d guess for different reasons than you.

        Our view is Rand explained a decent system of thinking and living. And other thinkers explained decent systems of getting along together and organizing ourselves in society. The two are separate, but neither contradicts the other, and both make sense on their own. The political/economic outcome I favor is Voluntaryism, based on the non-aggression principle – that no one and no group should initiate any sort of force or coercion against anyone else. That stands on its own, and could be the basic principle for a free society – and it is part of Rand’s ethics, though stated differently.

        So if you separate her metaphysics and epistemology from her politics – and you’re coming from a “progressive” position – you might not feel such an urge to have to discredit basic philosophical ideas that sort of just make sense…And we don’t have to use all the academic jargon. Let’s say it simply. We can’t walk through walls, we have no evidence for some other unseeable realm around us; we have no evidence for holographic projections. We can’t make something something else it isn’t. A is A. No we’re not talking about the weather. We’re talking about say, a human’s need to eat, and how food is grown, and what is required. No, we can’t just whimsically create lots of food. We can’t wish or hope anything into reality. This is what I don’t understand. These articles that discredit Rand’s philosophy don’t spend a great deal of time saying what their alternative positions are. What would they be? A dog is a cat. I can plant a crop of lettuce with carrot seeds? I’m useless and sinful, and have no ability to figure things out on my own? I can use something other than reason and logic to say, build a complex machine? We can do something other than think (animal instinct, whim), to build great things and organize together? Yes, humans are varied, yes things like weather and personalities change, and no we are not perfectly rational all the time. But we can make firm statements about the nature of reality, how we can perceive, and how as conscious animals, we can work our way through it. There is really no way around it. Most of the things we do on a day to day basis, from things around the house, cooking, driving a car, solving a problem, deciding and planning, etc – all prove Rand’s theories correct. There isn’t another alternative philosophy (or religion) that makes as much sense of reality as do Rand’s ideas.
        A few other things.

        No, not everyone who reads her books positively all of a sudden magically imagine themselves great and heroic. I enjoy the books, but I think most of her characters, evil and heroic, are sort of silly, and not very believable. It doesn’t make anyone imagine anything. But it gives you a basic idea that it is good to use my brain and work hard.

        The author of the attack article says…

        “…and thence to causality itself, defined as the “principle of identity applied to action”–possibly the most cringe-worthy explanation of causality to ever be presented seriously: in effect, we are told that things do as they do because they are as they are.”

        They make it sound like this is silly, laughable, and sophomoric…but can this really be refuted? What kind of people have some desire to want to argue something isn’t what it is, and that it acts different than how it acts, even though all the other things of its kind act the same way?

        He says…

        “the dictates of reason force us to admit that rational self-interest is the only metaphysically coherent way forward, logically implying capitalism and free markets.”

        Again, as I stated, this might have been what Rand tried to do. I think she was wrong though. I think using reason and rational self-interest is the only way forward for a human. Try eating without thinking and desiring to do so. Try making good, quality, friends, partners, and romantic relationships without using rational self-interest (otherwise coming off creepy, needy, dependent, too open, sociopathic, etc.). Try even helping other people, without first helping oneself to a point of success where helping others is possible.

        Bringing up people like Yaron Brook and Leonard Piekoff is also not an argument against decent philosophy. These are warmongering Israel-loving neocons.

        “One wonders at the type of celebration of ‘life’ that centers around satisfied joy at the perishing of so-called ‘parasites.’ ”

        This one just made me laugh out loud. The author was getting desperate for hyperbolic attacks. Again, you might find the crazed Piekoff calling to nuke some country. But you don’t have to be a neocon! At the end of my article I linked up above – you’ll find a long list if thinkers who practice what we’d call the basics of objectivism – but who aren’t orthodox Ayn Rand, Leonard Piekoff Objectivists.
        The article mentions Nathaniel Branden. Using him to discredit these ideas makes very little sense to me. It seems, especially coming from the left perspective – Brandon might be kind of appealing. He was basically an Objectivist – yet not a neocon, not a warmonger, and spent the bulk of his life preaching communication, romantic love, self esteem, empathy, and caring for others.

        “It is when a system of materialist ideas presumes to give positive answers to real problems of our real life that mischief starts.”

        I’m sort of repeating myself now, but so was the author. This just isn’t true. There isn’t anything inherently materialistic in Rand’s conclusions. Even her hero characters just preferred to sit out by a lake and enjoy the sun or something. Further, there is nothing inherent in her metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics that would necessarily scream materialism, or for that matter “greed” or wanting “parasites” to die. Not sure how those things can come out of existence exists; I have the ability to perceive it; I must think and act to further my life, etc.

        “William F. Buckley, who helped define modern American conservatism by launching and serving as editor-in-chief of The National Review, specifically published Chambers’ critique”

        So then he resorts to referencing a CIA/government front man and a communist! Yes, people like Buckley did help launch modern conservatism – and THAT is where a lot of modern problems come from. There isn’t much Rand in the government. There is a lot of Hamilton, Buckley, Kristol, Bush, Nixon, Kissinger, and others though.

        “One is hard-pressed to find a ‘moderate’ who finds in Rand some modest value or would characterize her as a decent, or simply good, thinker.”

        Also obviously just not true. I myself am no moderate, but as evidenced by the book sales the article references, plenty of average people read and respect her. Further, not sure why we would hold up “moderates” as those to look to for guidance on ideas. These are the boring middle of the road people who go along with the status quo, and are okay with a little bit of bad from both “parties”.

        “Rand’s claim is that valuing life must be foundational, but, apart from some intuitive appeal, we are never told why that should be.”

        Also just laughable. She explains this quite clearly, and anyway, it seems sort of self-evident. What would be the opposite of valuing life as a foundation? Its just too absurd to even take seriously. The opposite is not caring about anything, that life doesn’t matter, I’m happy to go anytime, and what’s the point of anything?

        Way too long already. I’ll stop there. If you’re interested, I’d encourage you to check out my article for a new take on her ideas. In summary – You can give basic objectivist ideas some consideration while not being Ayn Rand, not becoming cult-like, still being for peace, still caring for others, and still valuing prosperity for all.

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