Ayn Rand was the 20th Century founder of Objectivism, a philosophy based on rejection of theism, extreme individualism and reliance on “reason” to find truth and ethics, which are held to be objective in nature.
Unfortunately, it has degenerated into a cult, with disasterous consequences.
First, let me compare Objectivism with my own philosophy of Honorable Skepticism. My source for Objectivism is:
The nature of reality: Objectivism holds that things are what they are, independent of anyone’s knowledge or wishes. Objectivism rejects both the view that reality is some supernatural realm inaccessible to reason or that everyone has his own subjective reality.
Honorable Skepticism agrees with this.
Knowledge: Objectivism holds that reason is man’s only means of knowledge and tool of survival and that certainty is attainable. Objectivism thus rejects both the view that there is some non-rational means of knowledge (e.g., faith or intuition), and the view that knowledge is impossible and truth is relative to the individual or culture.
Honorable Skepticism holds that empiricism, not rationalism, is a better way to knowledge, because human reason can be flawed and if you start with wrong assumptions in your reasoning, you will inevitably arrive at the wrong answer. The only way to correct yourself is by looking at reality. And because of man’s limited nature, certainty is NOT attainable! There may be absolute standards, but we must be careful in judging what those standards might be and always be willing to improve one’s self and the surrounding society.
Human nature: Objectivism holds that individuals have free will, are autonomous and independent: by using reason, they can determine their own beliefs and values and thus control their own lives (“Man is a being of self-made soul” ). Objectivism rejects the view that an individual’s thoughts and actions are the inevitable result of factors (e.g., heredity or environment) beyond his control.
Honorable Skepticism would hold this to be only partly true. Mental diseases must be taken into account, along with genetic disorders. Not all humans are equally rational.
Ethical standards: Objectivism holds that ethics is objective and factual; the standard of moral value is that which furthers the survival of man as a rational being. Objectivism rejects the view that ethics is a matter of opinion, that right and wrong are determined by social convention, ethnicity, personal preference or religious commandment.
Honorable Skeptics would agree here too.
Morality: Objectivism holds that every individual is an end in himself—which means that each individual should be selfish, should live by his own mind and for his own happiness, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. Objectivism rejects the view that an individual’s moral worth is determined by his altruistic service to society, the needy, the nation or some deity.
Honorable Skeptics would condemn this as the worst part of Objectivism. Selfishness of any kind is a danger to society. We humans are social animals and therefore must depend on one another to be stronger, both as individuals and as a society.
Politics: Objectivism holds that capitalism is the only moral social system and that the only proper purpose of government is the protection of an individual’s right to this life, liberty, property and pursuit of happiness. Objectivism rejects the collectivist view that government exists to further the “common good,” the will of the majority or any particular group (e.g., the working class); and, unlike libertarianism, it rejects the view that government is evil by nature.
Honorable Skepticism recognizes the flawed nature of extreme capitalism and also recognizes when a socialist or even communist type economy would be good for a nation, at least temporarily. An example would be a nation whose people are targeted for exploitation by predatory multi-national corporations. The government would nationalize the targeted industry to keep it out of foreign hands and preserve the nation’s independence. Plus, Libertarianism (a natural ally of Objectivism) does not see government as evil by nature. It merely seeks to limit governmental control of both personal behavior and of the economy. There are times when that is beneficial as well. But not always.
Because I profoundly distrust human nature, I see only evil in anarchy, including the kind that includes capitalism. The Founding Fathers of America thought the same way, which is why they rebelled against Britain, then produced a government with a written Constitution, including a Bill of Rights and provisions for checks and balances for the various branches of the federal government to oversee and restrain each other.
So, it stands to reason that the federal government as a whole has an ethical duty to oversee and restrain the economy as a whole, to protect the welfare of the people.
To illustrate the ridiculous nature of Objectivism, I will present this essay written by an Objectivist:
Note the phrases in bold, which are my emphasis.
Socialism and Fascism
In my recent article on Tony Kushner, I suggested that his socialist views were somehow akin to fascism. Predictably enough, the knee-jerk reaction to this statement was the reassertion of an old historical fallacy: the notion that socialism and fascism are somehow opposed to each other, that they have been historical rivals, that there is nothing but difference between the two — and that I must have been ignorant of this historical fact. I did not, however, make this comparison glibly. Taken in full historical context, with full consideration of philosophic principle, socialism and fascism are essentially the same.
To know what socialism and fascism are, let us begin by examining some historical examples of each. Fascist states have included Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Tojo’s Japan, Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile, and possibly Peron’s Argentina. If we were to focus on each of these concretes, we would observe numerous differences. For instance, Hitler’s Fascism was racist. Mussolini’s was not. Mussolini’s fascism involved belligerent nationalism. Franco’s did not. What unites each of these concretes into a group of similars can be seen in a common definition of fascism: “A governmental system with strong centralized power, permitting no opposition or criticism, controlling all affairs of the nation (industrial, commercial, etc.)” (American College Dictionary, New York: Random House, 1957).
Socialist states have included the USSR(1), Communist China, socialist Sweden, socialist England, Cuba, North Korea, and a handful of lesser regimes in Eastern Europe, East Africa, and Southeast Asia. Once again, there is a prima facie difficulty in determining what factor these various states held in common. After all, some socialist regimes (like Sweden’s and England’s) were elected democratically. Others, like the USSR’s and the PRC’s, were the result of popular violent revolutions. Still others were the product of either military coup (Cuba, Ethiopia, Vietnam) or foreign invasion (the Eastern Bloc). The trait common to all of these is provided, once again by the definition of socialism: “a theory or system of social organization which advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means or production, capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole” (American College Dictionary).
Now that we have these two concepts (socialism and fascism) squarely on the table, we can spell out their differences and similarities. It is obvious that there are numerous differences between socialism and fascism, the most obvious of which concerns their view of private property. Socialism abolishes the institution entirely; fascism does not. For instance, in the Soviet Union, citizens had to wait years for their names to come up on a list to receive a car from the government. At the same time, everyone is familiar with the existence of wealthy property owners like Oskar Schindler who lived under the Nazi regime. This difference in ideology did in fact manifest itself in actual historical practice. The communists and Social Democrats were, in fact, the main opponents of the rise of Nazi power in Weimar Germany; Nazi Germany and Socialist Russia were at each other’s throats in World War II.
This leads me to reiterate a point I made in my original article on Tony Kushner. Kushner may believe that he can argue for gay rights, he may reject the conclusions of fascism, he may have even openly condemn Nazism in his many works on the holocaust. This, however, is what makes his overall position so utterly contradictory — and saddening. In my article, I listed each of his positions in epistemology and ethics. These positions were precisely the same as those held by the Nazis. He cannot escape his premises, and their logical conclusions — no matter how much he wishes to reject the holocaust and affirm gay rights.
When dogma becomes more important than actual facts or logical consistency, you have a cultlike mentality. And using double standards against any opponent, especially in public, is a good way to make yourself look foolish and destroy the credibility of your own philosophy!
Want more of their insanity?
Stop Blaming Capitalism for Government Failures
Speaking of the financial crisis, French president Nicolas Sarkozy recently said, “Laissez-faire is finished. The all-powerful market that always knows best is finished.”
Sarkozy was echoing the views of many, including president-elect Obama, who assume that the financial crisis was caused by free markets–by “unbridled greed” unleashed by decades of deregulation and a “hands off” approach to the economy. And given this premise, the solution, they say, is obvious. To solve this crisis and prevent another one, we need a heavy dose of Uncle Sam’s elixir: government intervention. Whether it’s more bailouts, stricter regulation, a new round of nationalizations, or some other scheme, the only question since day one has been how, not whether, government is going to intervene.
And the issue is wider than the financial crisis. Millions of Americans don’t have health insurance? Well, says Obama, that’s because we’ve left the health-care system to the free market. The solution: a complete government takeover of medicine. A few companies engaged in accounting fraud? It must be because we didn’t impose enough regulations on businessmen. The solution: rein in corporations with Sarbanes-Oxley.
But while capitalism may be a convenient scapegoat, it did not cause any of these problems. Indeed, whatever one wishes to call the unruly mixture of freedom and government controls that made up our economic and political system during the last three decades, one cannot call it capitalism.
Take a step back. In the lead up to the “Reagan Revolution,” the explosive growth of government during the ’60s and ’70s had left the American economy in disarray. A crushing tax burden, runaway inflation, brutal unemployment, and economic stagnation had Americans looking for an alternative. That’s what Reagan offered, denouncing big government and promising a new “morning in America.”
Under Reagan, some taxes were reduced, inflation was subdued, a few regulations were relaxed–and the economy roared back to life. But while markets were able to function to a greater degree than in the immediate past, the regulatory and welfare state remained largely untouched, with government spending continuing to increase, as well as some taxes. Later administrations were even worse. Bush Jr., often laughably called a champion of free markets, presided over massive new governmental controls like Sarbanes-Oxley and massive new welfare programs like the prescription drug benefit.
None of this is consistent with capitalism. As the economic system that fully recognizes and protects individual rights, including the right to private property, capitalism means, in Ayn Rand’s words, “the abolition of any and all forms of government intervention in production and trade, the separation of State and Economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of Church and State.” Laissez-faire means laissez-faire: no welfare state entitlements, no Federal Reserve monetary manipulation, no regulatory bullying, no controls, no government interference in the economy. The government’s job under capitalism is single but crucial: to protect individual rights from violation by force or fraud.
America came closest to this system in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The result was an unprecedented explosion of wealth creation and consequent rise in the standard of living. Even now, when the fading remnants of capitalism are badly crippled by endless controls, we see that the freest countries–those which retain the most capitalist elements–have the highest standard of living.
Why then should capitalism take the blame today–when capitalism doesn’t even exist? Consider the current crisis. The causes are complex, but the driving force is clearly government intervention: the Fed keeping interest rates below the rate of inflation, thus encouraging people to borrow and providing the impetus for a housing bubble; the Community Reinvestment Act, which forces banks to lend money to low-income and poor-credit households; the creation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with government-guaranteed debt leading to artificially low mortgage rates and the illusion that the financial instruments created by bundling them are low risk; government-licensed rating agencies, which gave AAA ratings to mortgage-backed securities, creating a false sense of confidence; deposit insurance and the “too big to fail” doctrine, whose bailout promises have created huge distortions in incentives and risk-taking throughout the financial system; and so on. In the face of this long list, who can say with a straight face that the housing and financial markets were frontiers of “cowboy capitalism”?
This is just the latest example of a pattern that has been going on since the rise of capitalism: capitalism is blamed for the ills of government intervention–and then even more government intervention is proposed as the cure. The Great Depression? Despite massive evidence that the Federal Reserve’s and other government policies were responsible for the crash and the inability of the economy to recover, it was laissez-faire that was blamed. Consequently, in the aftermath, the government’s power over the economy was not curtailed but dramatically expanded. Or what about the energy crisis of the 1970s? Despite compelling evidence that it was brought on by monetary inflation exacerbated by the abandonment of the remnants of the gold standard, and made worse by prices controls, “greedy” oil companies were blamed. The prescribed “solution” was for the government to exert even more control.
It’s time to stop blaming capitalism for the sins of government intervention, and give true laissez-faire a chance. Now that would be a change we could believe in.
First, there are many forms of capitalism, just as there are many forms of democracy, many forms of socialism, and many forms of Christianity. Saying that laissez-faire capitalism is the only true kind is like saying Roman Catholicism is the only true kind of Christianity: It’s nothing more than DOGMA!
Second, in a democracy, people vote for the type of government they want. It’s clear that the people, even while voting in Reagan and both Bushes as President to lessen government involvement in the economy, never wanted the government to completely end its maniplation of the economic systems. Why? Because common sense indicates that giant corporations that go out of business throw thousands, even millions of people out of work, making an already bad economic situation even worse. This should be obvious. If you want to blame the government for trying to moderate an economic slowdown, then you should also condemn the people who elected that government, and ultimately condemn democracy itself. Those who think they have all the answers already based on blind adherence to dogma are the threat to democracy, not supporters of it.
Third, laissez-faire capitalism is economic ANARCHY, not real freedom. Freedom can only exist under a structure that guarantees civil rights for the people. When you have corporations, you have things that are far more like governments in their workings than individuals, thus when a corporation beats out a weaker competitor and buys it out, the freedom of that weaker corporation is destroyed. It’s even worse when the competitor is a sole proprietorship or partnership owned by individuals. That, if done by governments to each other, would be called conquest, imperialism and tyranny! Why should we excuse corporations doing it? How can anyone seriously confuse freedom with tyranny? How can anyone not see that anarchy and tyranny naturally evolve into each other and neither represent true freedom, but social disruption and brutality? Therefore, to promote economic freedom, it would be better to abolish all corporations and their ability to have unlimited economic power. Instead, we should have as many SMALL businesses with individual owners as possible. That will make government bailouts for giant corporations no longer an issue as well.
And as for this nonsense, it should be seen for what it is, historical revisionism for ideological purposes:
The Great Depression? Despite massive evidence that the Federal Reserve’s and other government policies were responsible for the crash and the inability of the economy to recover, it was laissez-faire that was blamed. Consequently, in the aftermath, the government’s power over the economy was not curtailed but dramatically expanded. Or what about the energy crisis of the 1970s? Despite compelling evidence that it was brought on by monetary inflation exacerbated by the abandonment of the remnants of the gold standard, and made worse by prices controls, “greedy” oil companies were blamed. The prescribed “solution” was for the government to exert even more control.
These are outright lies, much like the lie I already posted above about socialism and fascism being essentally the same. What Objectivists seem to be saying with their publications is, “The people are so stupid that if we assert our dogmas loud enough, we with our superior intellects can overthrow even what would be considered common knowledge by them! THEN WE CAN RULE OVER THEM!!!”
As far as I’m concerned, those hypocrites can burn in hell! Where Ayn Rand is already, I can only hope!
And it gets even worse. Look at how they regard the environmental movement:
Rachel Carson’s Genocide
By Keith Lockitch (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 23, 2007)
On May 27, environmentalists will celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of Rachel Carson, the founding mother of their movement.
But Carson’s centenary is no cause for celebration. Her legacy includes more than a million deaths a year from the mosquito-borne disease malaria. Though nearly eradicated decades ago, malaria has resurged with a vengeance because DDT, the most effective agent of mosquito control, has been essentially discarded–discarded based not on scientific concerns about its safety, but on environmental dogma advanced by Carson.
The crusade against DDT began with Carson’s antipesticide diatribe “Silent Spring,” published in 1962 at the height of the worldwide antimalaria campaign. The widespread spraying of DDT had caused a spectacular drop in malaria incidence–Sri Lanka, for example, reported 2.8 million malaria victims in 1948, but by 1963 it had only 17. Yet Carson’s book made no mention of this. It said nothing of DDT’s crucial role in eradicating malaria in industrialized countries, or of the tens of millions of lives saved by its use.
Instead, Carson filled her book with misinformation–alleging, among other claims, that DDT causes cancer. Her unsubstantiated assertion that continued DDT use would unleash a cancer epidemic generated a panicked fear of the pesticide that endures as public opinion to this day.
But the scientific case against DDT was, and still is, nonexistent. Almost 60 years have passed since the malaria-spraying campaigns began–with hundreds of millions of people exposed to large concentrations of DDT–yet, according to international health scholar Amir Attaran, the scientific literature “has not even one peer reviewed, independently replicated study linking exposure to DDT with any adverse health outcome.” Indeed, in a 1956 study, human volunteers ate DDT every day for over two years with no ill effects then or since.
Abundant scientific evidence supporting the safety and importance of DDT was presented during seven months of testimony before the newly formed EPA in 1971. The presiding judge ruled unequivocally against a ban. But the public furor against DDT–fueled by “Silent Spring” and the growing environmental movement–was so great that a ban was imposed anyway. The EPA administrator, who hadn’t even bothered to attend the hearings, overruled his own judge and imposed the ban in defiance of the facts and evidence. And the 1972 ban in the United States led to an effective worldwide ban, as countries dependent on U.S.-funded aid agencies curtailed their DDT use to comply with those agencies’ demands.
So if scientific facts are not what has driven the furor against DDT, what has? Estimates put today’s malaria incidence worldwide at around 300 million cases, with a million deaths every year. If this enormous toll of human suffering and death is preventable, why do environmentalists–who profess to be the defenders of life–continue to oppose the use of DDT?
The answer is that environmental ideology values an untouched environment above human life. The root of the opposition to DDT is not science but the environmentalist moral premise that it is wrong for man to “tamper” with nature.
The large-scale eradication of disease-carrying insects epitomizes the control of nature by man. This is DDT’s sin. To Carson and the environmentalists she inspired, “the ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy.” Nature, they hold, is intrinsically valuable and must be kept free from human interference.
On this environmentalist premise the proper attitude to nature is not to seek to improve it for human benefit, but to show “humility” before its “vast forces” and leave it alone. We should seek, Carson wrote, not to eliminate malarial mosquitoes with pesticides, but to find instead “a reasonable accommodation between the insect hordes and ourselves.” If the untouched, “natural” state is one in which millions contract deadly diseases, so be it.
Carson’s current heirs agree. Earth First! founder Dave Foreman writes: “Ours is an ecological perspective that views Earth as a community and recognizes such apparent enemies as ‘disease’ (e.g., malaria) and ‘pests’ (e.g., mosquitoes) not as manifestations of evil to be overcome but rather as vital and necessary components of a complex and vibrant biosphere.”
In the few minutes it has taken you to read this article, over a thousand people have contracted malaria and half a dozen have died. This is the life-or-death consequence of viewing pestilent insects as a “necessary” component of a “vibrant biosphere” and seeking a “reasonable accommodation” with them.
Rachel Carson’s birthday should be commemorated, not with laudatory festivities, but with the rejection of the environmental ideology she inspired.
Nice hyperbole in that title, eh?
The Objectivist tactic seems to be … wait a few decades after someone is dead that was beloved by the public, then make unfounded and absurd accusations from out of nowhere with NO documentation or clear evidence!
What’s next, Holocaust denial?!
By the way, even if DDT was used to this very day, it would make almost no difference because insects, including malaria bearing mosquitos, can evolve resistance to pesticides within a few years or decades and the amount of pesticides to kill nearly all of them in an environment would also kill many other harmless creatures, including insect eaters. Rachel Carlson said that and subsequent events proved her right.
So fuck you very much, Keith Lockitch!
Not surprizingly, they are also global warming/climate change denialists.
Government policies aimed at severely restricting carbon emissions would inflict a major blow to the economy. Industrial-scale energy is an indispensable, life-saving value, and currently there is simply no practical way to produce abundant carbon-free energy. Nuclear power could generate substantial amounts of electricity, but environmentalists have consistently fought it tooth and nail. And even nuclear can’t fuel the internal combustion engines of the world’s 800 million oil-powered vehicles.
“The more important point is that there is no need whatsoever to restrict carbon emissions,” said Lockitch. “For one thing, the science is far from ‘settled’ as to whether human activity is having any discernible impact on the climate–despite the media’s constant assertion that it is. But even if we are causing large-scale changes to the climate–this is not a planetary emergency. If individuals on the free market can smoothly absorb the major transitions that occurred in moving from the horse and buggy to the automobile or the rapid population growth that accompanied the Industrial Revolution, they can adapt to large-scale climate change. The freer we are from the burdens of government intervention, the more we can continue to produce wealth, economic growth, and the means of adapting to whatever changes occur, if any.
“The irony is that the very policies that people are pushing for in the name of fighting global warming–such as a massive expansion of government control over the production and consumption of energy–would severely reduce our ability to cope with nature. This would inflict upon us an economic catastrophe far worse than anything the climate could deliver.
I wonder if Lockitch also thinks the Earth is flat. What a lot of crazy assertions! The Objectivists’ faith in the free market to save humanity is as cultlike as any Mormon’s faith in Joseph Smith and his insane dogmas.
But Objectivism is not merely some fringe philosophy held by a few unknown kooks. One of its followers, Alan Greenspan, ruled over the Federal Reserve system for nearly 20 years!
Alan Greenspan (born March 6, 1926) is an American economist who served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States from 1987 to 2006. He currently works as a private advisor and provides consulting for firms through his company, Greenspan Associates LLC. First appointed Federal Reserve chairman by President Ronald Reagan in August 1987, he was reappointed at successive four-year intervals until retiring on January 31, 2006 after the second-longest tenure in the position.
In the early 1950s, Greenspan began an association with famed novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand that would last until her death in 1982. Rand stood beside him at his 1974 swearing-in as Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Greenspan was introduced to Ayn Rand by his first wife, Joan Mitchell. Although Greenspan was initially a logical positivist, he was converted to Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism by her associate Nathaniel Branden. During the 1950s and 1960s Greenspan was a proponent of Objectivism, writing articles for Objectivist newsletters and contributing several essays for Rand’s 1966 book Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal including an essay supporting the gold standard.
During the 1950s, Greenspan was one of the members of Ayn Rand’s inner circle, the Ayn Rand Collective, who read Atlas Shrugged while it was being written. Rand nicknamed Greenspan “the undertaker” because of his penchant for dark clothing and reserved demeanor. Although Greenspan was once recognized as a proponent of laissez-faire capitalism, some Objectivists find his support for a gold standard somewhat incongruous or dubious, given the Federal Reserve’s role in America’s fiat money system and endogenous inflation. He has come under criticism from Harry Binswanger, who believes his actions while at work for the Federal Reserve and his publicly expressed opinions on other issues show abandonment of Objectivist and free market principles. However, when questioned in relation to this, he has said that in a democratic society individuals have to make compromises with each other over conflicting ideas of how money should be handled. He said he himself had to make such compromises, because he believes that “we did extremely well” without a central bank and with a gold standard. Greenspan and Rand maintained a close relationship until her death in 1982.
In a congressional hearing on October 23, 2008 Greenspan admitted that his free-market ideology shunning certain regulations was flawed. However, when asked about free markets and the ideas of Ayn Rand in an interview on April 4, 2010, Greenspan clarified his stance on laissez faire capitalism and asserted that in a democratic society there could be no better alternative. He stated that the errors that were made stemmed not from the principle, but the application of competitive markets in “assuming what the nature of risks would be.”
So Greenspan treated his Objectivism and his relationship with Ayn Rand like a Catholic would his religion and Jesus, making lame excuses for its failures.
Finally, we look at this quote from the prophet herself:
“I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.”
As a hard-core empiricist, I deny the ability of reason, with no tests in reality, to develop ethical values consistent with the real needs of real people. I also see altruism as the way to enable society to better itself, not selfish individualism. Ayn Rand was an idiot!