Sunday, September 05, 2010

Ayn Rand, William Hickman and other idiots

Yes folks, I am back. After taking a hiatus to refresh my mind, if that is possible, I am back at the keyboard again.

Last Wednesday night I co-hosted Libertarian Politics Live with Andre Traversa. We had some great guests, which is the usual case, one that didn't show up (shame on you  Jonathan Narcisse) and Joe Carter, a blogger with First Things.

The subject was Ayn Rand and her alleged infatuation with William Hickman. I want to start out by saying that this isn't a all out defence of Rand or a blow by blow critique of Mr. Carter's assertions, although there will some, but rather a revelation of my observations in regards to Rand and those that try to marginalize her.

Ayn Rand was a screen writer in Hollywood and an author of books. She also founded a philosophy called Objectivism. It has it's adherents and detractors. Ayn Rand was a rationalist. Described as Aristotelean and at times, almost virulently anti-Kantian. For a little clarification and elucidation, I will include here a very short outline from or what Objectivism is:
"My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:
  1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
  2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
  3. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
  4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church."

Anyone that reads this might infer some conclusions without working too hard. Objectivism is, in many ways, anti-thetical to most organized religions, specifically Christianity, Judaism and Islam. While Religions and Objectivism may strive to help people achieve completeness, the route in which they take to such ends is quite different. Moreover, They are opposites in many aspects, but also fall short in their goal for some common reasons. 

Religion in and of itself is a belief system, possibly a philosophical system, but none the less, it requires faith as opposed to knowledge from experience, scientific method or even what could be agreed up through consensus as being true in a provable way, like the sky is blue. In that respect, Objectivism strives to deal with what we know. As she said, facts are facts. Secondly, religions in general put a deity at the highest order in a hierarchy. In the case of the Abrahamic faiths, god is the creator of all things, man is less than god and born imperfect, born into sin. With these faiths, man spends or should spend his entire life trying to become less sinful, less imperfect, and always under the authority of the creator, of god. 

With Objectivism, Man is at the top of this hierarchy, not god. In an objective sense, Rand is saying that god is not provable, and she has a point. If we go on pure rationalism, god can't be proven, neither can a life in a hereafter. Those types of beliefs require faith, not factual or provable thesis's. With objectivism, man should also strive for some sort of perfection, but instead of using faith, to use rationalism. 

The problem with both approaches is that they both can and often do, lead to failure by setting standards that do no reflect man as he really is: an imperfect being in an imperfect world where spiritual and rational exist in the same beings. Neither side recognizes the value of the other, and thinks it is the correct path in attaining some sort of human perfection. May be the real problem is the idea that perfection is attainable. I would assert it is not, so why bother with perfection. Improvement on the other hand is, but that is another topic. 

In my opinion, the greatest fear people have is death and the realization that this is all there is. In my opinion, religions serve as a way to deal with this and also help people keep on some sort of moral path that in some way protects us from ourselves. Rand basically says to heck with fairytales, one has to live solely by the power of one's faculties. In some ways this is much more difficult that blind faith in what some would call fairy fairytales. 

All this being said, Ayn Rand's greatest failure was her own ego. I think the core of her philosophy is largely correct. If you want to look deeper into a rationalist's type of though, I would suggest reading Robert Nozick, who was a philosophy professor at Harvard and he took such things to a much greater and more detailed and scholarly level. Anyway, Rand fell victim to her own ego, and in the strivance, and this is my opinion, for the divorcement of man from the tribe, she created her own tribe that was just as petty as any other. She ignored her own flaws and humanity and in my opinion, served to hurt her philosophy more than help it. 

As far as altruism goes, I would assert that people aren't altruistic for the sake of who they are helping, but rather themselves. To me it's a form of self-serving narcissism that at best is a mutualistic experience. At worst, someone is collecting on that debt, often through the use of guilt. I find less fault with the honest man who says up front he is doing anything for himself. Sacrifice for anyone outside of one's family is illogical, and any religion that would require it or even promote it, is devious at best. In that way, I agree with Rand. If someone is going to sacrifice, it should be done for rational reasons. If you do it to make yourself feel good, what is the difference between that, masturbation or even getting drunk? It's all self-serving. The best rational exercise in sacrifice I have seen on film was Gran Torino, and in that movie, the protagonist was basically an atheist at worst and agnostic at best. 

Now, as far as William Hickman goes, Joe Carter was trying to disparage and dismiss Rand based on some infatuation she had with a sociopath when she was very young. We all do stupid things, and if Mr. Carter is the christian he says he is, may be he could find some compassion in his heart for her, instead of using it as an a priori argument against Objectivism, in my opinion, primarily because it is at opposition to many belief systems, including his own. I can also tell you that while I have tried to integrate rational and objectivist systems with christian beliefs. So far I have to say it's a no go. one of them is incorrect. Ayn Rand herself said there are no contradictions, only incorrect premises. So which one is incorrect? The one where we know what we know, or the fairytale? Thomas Jefferson wrangled with the same arguments and came to some interesting conclusions with which I tend to agree. 

Thank you for reading this blog. 

No comments:

You also might like:

Related Posts with Thumbnails