Monday, May 7, 2012

The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

     A number of years ago I attempted to read Atlas Shrugged.  I found the book so revolting that I put it down.  Over the years since then I have become acquainted with Objectivism and met a large number of its adherents among my mathematical and scientific colleagues.  I found that the philosophy exerted a doleful effect upon their personalities.  It seems logical, now that I have come out as a Secular Humanist, to revisit what Rand considered to be her magnum opus and respond to it.

     First, however, I need to let out my response to Rand's philosophy.  This so it will be out that I read the book with a rather strong bias.  I will attempt to bracket that bias out while reading the book and do my best to give the book a fair shake. 

     So,  from my reading in Objectivism and my reading about Rand's philosophy I have come to consider her thought one of the most pernicious philosophies to survive from the 20th Century.  It is down there with the philosophies I loathe the most.  From what I can tell her philosophy is simplistic, ill-considered, unwise, and extremely unkind.  Those who are influenced by her turn against their natural compassion and to an elitism I find repellant.  Most of my colleagues consider themselves, rightly, as among the intellectual elite of the country, so her writing appeals to their vanity.

    But I need to remind them that every curve has both a left and a right hand side.  A philosophy that appeals to the top 1% is usually not good for a lot of other people.  Most people were not fortunate enough to have their gifts.  It is easy for those at the top to feel they have earned their place in society when in actuality most of them were born near that place, either because they came from a wealthy family or they inherited superior ability.  These things are doled out randomly and not in accord with any justice.

     As for her claim that pure capitalism is what is best for poor people, there is no evidence suggesting this, and much evidence to the contrary.  'Trickle Down' doesn't work.  Capitalism concentrates power in the hands of those at the top who are then able to corrupt government. Rand would want government to make sure everyone is playing the capitalist game according to the rules, even the extremely wealthy, but this is ridiculously naive.  The recent financial crisis shows that deregulation can be a catastrophe.  It also shows that the elite can make terrible decisions and saving the economy requires that the other 99% bail them out.

     But I have to repeat here at the end that one of the worst effects of this philosophy I have seen is on what one might call the 'spirit' of its followers.  People who may be naturally kind, naturally compassionate, are turned into self-serving, uncaring, elitist pricks.   They are also its victims, though they don't suffer physically as much as the comparatively disadvantaged do under her ideas. 






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