JS-Kit/Echo comments for article at http://smallestminority.blogspot.com/2010/02/cathy-young-nails-ayn-rand.html (22 comments)

  Tentative mapping of comments to original article, corrections solicited.

jsid-1265943908-887  Sergeant Mac at Fri, 12 Feb 2010 03:05:08 +0000


I call BS on the "self-sacrifice" bit.  In Galt's mega-speech, Rand very clearly pointed out that exchanging a lower value for a higher one is NOT a sacrifice at all.  A sacrifice would be therefore defined as the OPPOSITE exchange.

As for dehumanizing the enemy, it's not as if Rand invented the concept.  Is it happening right now?  In the words of Sarah Palin, "you betcha".  On both sides, or all sides.  Makes it easier....no, scratch that....makes it POSSIBLE to pull the trigger.  Or the lever on the ballot machine.  Or to hit the "send" button.  Take your pick.

Just because someone chooses to believe they're NOT in a war doesn't make them bulletproof.

jsid-1265946050-647  Adam at Fri, 12 Feb 2010 03:40:50 +0000

What a crock of shit. 

jsid-1265947066-288  Adam at Fri, 12 Feb 2010 03:57:56 +0000

On a side note, I'm amused that the article's entire "point-by-point" argument against Rand's philosophy is made against a work of fiction she wrote, rather than the numerous essays outlining her epistemological beliefs. I don't agree with her views of aesthetics, nor with her own values, but that article is complete and total bilge. Ayn Rand laid out and argued for her philosophy in Atlas Shrugged knowing full and well that the book was essentially Romanticism (note, also, that Rand labelled herself a Romantic) in nature and that she was attacking strawmen.

I have seen many an article trying to discount her arguments on the nature of reason and of self based on her personal life and particular passages in her books, but I don't think I've seen one trying to take on her actual essays outside of those books. The way people go after her personal life, you'd think Atlas Shrugged was a bible and Rand its Jesus - that the correctness of particular statements or even the piece as a whole is somehow dependent on her ability to execute her own beliefs.

Having said that, I think it's very clear that the woman was a bit off (to put it mildly). Trying to say this article nailed her philosophy, however, is bullshit.

jsid-1265957697-383  Mark Horning at Fri, 12 Feb 2010 06:54:57 +0000

Thanks for reminding me. I have a copy of Atlas Shrugges sitting on my desk.  I need to hand it to one of the younger mroe impresionable folks at work.  ;)

jsid-1265972034-229  Ed "What the" Heckman at Fri, 12 Feb 2010 10:53:54 +0000

And here I thought this and this nailed Ayn Rand. :-D  

jsid-1265980272-384  khbaker at Fri, 12 Feb 2010 13:11:12 +0000


The overwhelming majority of the world knows Rand only through her "novels."  (I put the word in quotes because they're generally her philosophy written in fictional form.  Repeatedly.)  A "romantic"?  My mouth hangs agape.

No, I'm sticking with Dipnut's assessment.

jsid-1265983212-571  Adam at Fri, 12 Feb 2010 14:00:12 +0000

Yes - a Romantic, with the emphasis on that capital R and with the Romantic movement (not with "romance," which clearly the woman did not believe in). As she said, she wrote about what men should have done or should do, rather than what they did or would do.

And knowing her through her novels or not, it doesn't make that particular article any more accurate in its assessment of her "philosophy" (when dealing only with her novels). She outlined her philosophy in her novels, yes, but more with her own values and aesthetics than she actually wrote about in her essays. Her basic epistemology is sound, her premise of personal valuation is sound, and most of the actual philosophical areas she breached she did so expertly. Her own conclusions from that aren't what are commonly identified with objectivism (though they are with the Objectivist movement, which is very cult-like in nature), nor with the philosophical groundwork she spelled out.

The particular "points" in that article have all of the understanding of basic reading that I'd expect from a third grader, no less.

jsid-1265983563-729  Adam at Fri, 12 Feb 2010 14:06:03 +0000

Incidentally, the Dipnut piece you link is only available in what you present on your own post. If that's the entirety of Dipnut's statement, I'd like to point out this particular bit:

"...but Rand sought to apply Objectivist thinking to every aspect of the human experience, including love"

Either her philosophy is objectivism and its core, stated ideology, or it encompasses objectivism and everywhere she tried to apply it. Her sense of aesthetics was rather horrendous, but she made a point about love and one that I still think should be kept in mind by most people: you need to ask what you love someone for. What is it about their actions, words, and ability that makes you love them or admire them.

Children generally get a pass on that one, though. Rand really could've used a good knocking-up.

jsid-1265986247-849  Adam at Fri, 12 Feb 2010 14:50:47 +0000

I would also recommend you read through the comments on that article, as they are quite insightful and those there are quite well-read in her works. I've been having a bit of a giggle at the various claims there made against her and how they're counteracted with passages from her own writing.

Rand's philosophy is frequently misread as ignoring and downplaying the existence and essence of emotion and of personal values.

jsid-1265994224-25  clay barham at Fri, 12 Feb 2010 17:03:44 +0000

Obama said that the interests of the community are more important than are the interests of the individual, so you agree with him and see individual freedom, to live free of the herd, is disgusting, which then makes Rousseau, Robespierre and Marx correct and guys like Jefferson and Madison all wet....right?  See the Changing Face of Democrats on Amazon and claysamerica.com

jsid-1266007178-367  Ken at Fri, 12 Feb 2010 20:39:38 +0000 in reply to jsid-1265994224-25

One may be neither a looter nor a moocher, and still find no need to genuflect in the direction of Saint Ayn.

jsid-1265994478-613  Adam at Fri, 12 Feb 2010 17:07:58 +0000

Clay, how the hell are you concluding that from anyone but Mark's statements on this blog? Pissing on Rand's work has nothing to do with a respect for individualism.

...or are you just an advertising bot?

jsid-1266022506-474  Catherine Jefferson at Sat, 13 Feb 2010 00:55:06 +0000

| Pissing on Rand's work has nothing to do with a respect for individualism.

Or lack thereof, actually.  

I give Rand the benefit of any doubt on many issues that this author criticized her for.  In particular, I don't think for a minute that she actually felt that a parent was immoral to put his or her children ahead of a specific job or career goal.  Too many things she said and wrote elsewhere indicate that she took children as seriously as any other human being, and chose not to have them herself because she didn't want to divert from other parts of her life the time and effort to raise them properly.  I frankly wish that some of my fellow Silicon Valley high tech geek coworkers were as aware of childrens' needs, and as honest about their unwillingness to meet those needs, as she was.  Her own life also indicates that, while she hated altruism, she was perfectly capable of real generousity towards people who touched her in some way. 

However, I do think that if most of the individuals in any human civilization chose to live as she portrays the heroes in her books, we wouldn't have a civilization.  A lot of things that Rand either did not value or actively distrusted/hated are important.  Among them is a willingness to put the needs of others ahead of your own desires from time to time, even when you don't clearly see what you'll get out of it.  Life is complex, and most of us don't have the genius level IQ to see all the consequences of every action for decades into the future.  We may *believe* that treating others justly and kindly will be rewarded in time; we can't know that each such action on our part will be rewarded, at least not in any specific way in this life.  Sometimes the "reward" is death, if (for example) a thug tries to shoot your child and you take the bullet.  Any reward in this is intangible, and all the more so if you like Rand reject any belief in God. 

In a family or other community, though, those sorts of decisions (which are what most of us mean by "sacrifice") are absolutely necessary on occasion.  I think that Rand gets that to some extent, but not very much or very well. She certainly doesn't explain her understanding of this side of family and community relationships well in her books.  (Any of them that I've read, which includes most of the philosophical works as well as the fiction.)

With most writers, people have an easier time accepting limited views and flawed understanding than with Rand, probably because she had so little ability to accept those things in anybody else without outright condemning them. :/

jsid-1266023569-933  Adam at Sat, 13 Feb 2010 01:13:01 +0000 in reply to jsid-1266022506-474

Well-written. I have nothing in particular to object or really comment on (except that, from my understanding, her issue with voluntary altruism was if it was the placement of a lower value above a higher, which is entirely dependent on the individual in question and the rationale). I continue to shake my head at half-handed attempts to "nail" her or her philosophies. The former - attacking her person - seems to do so with the presumption that her philosophical groundwork is dependent on her own ability to execute it. Given that the fundamental tenet of her stated philosophies were the concepts of rationality and valuation, this particular method of attack has all the validity of going after a mathematician's sex life to devalue his theorems. That most people who do so reference Brandon's work for such examples is just a hair short of heinous dishonesty. As for her philosophies, I continue to be amazed that criticisms against them appear to be, for the most part, weighed entirely against her fictional works.

The leading opinion here (in this blog) appears to be that she was just a bad novelist. I'm not really sure the sales agree, nor my own experience. Her writing and prose were superb, and I can't help but shake my head at people commenting that her writing is somehow sterile or clinical. Then again, when I ask people what the object to about her writing they tend pick particular plot devices, pull them out of context, and mis-represent them (very much like the article in question). But it's all down to taste.

The woman was definitely antagonist, but I generally sweep that one under the carpet - I'd be pretty psychotic if I had been operating in and around the Roosevelt years.

jsid-1266261514-89  Ken at Mon, 15 Feb 2010 19:18:34 +0000 in reply to jsid-1266023569-933

To be fair, I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged. Reading the book amply repaid my time. It was provocative, as Rand intended it to be, and I think Galt's discussion of original sin is something believers (like me) should be willing to tackle on the merits, not to dismiss as mere raving. Though I am not an Objectivist, I consider Rand one of a handful of truly important moral philosophers of the 20th Century, and her insistence on the dignity and importance of the individual. However, on the whole I prefer Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton (you can probably figure out why, if you care to).

jsid-1266024020-416  GrumpyOldFart at Sat, 13 Feb 2010 01:20:20 +0000

I'm not a big Rand reader and never was, but.... I'm not prepared to assume that her definition of "value" was so narrow, either. To be sure, as noted above I really can't claim to know. For example,

Sometimes the "reward" is death, if (for example) a thug tries to shoot your child and you take the bullet. 

Whether you believe in God or not, do you believe in yourself? Do you believe in becoming the person you want to be, regardless of anyone else's opinion of it?

The above is only "trading for lesser value" if a) you consider your child's life to be less valuable than your own, and b) you don't consider being able to think of yourself as someone who would risk their own life to save a child's to have any value, or at least not enough to significantly tip the scales.

The bottom line is that there's only one asshole in this world you absolutely must find a way to get along with, and that's the one you see in the mirror every morning. To think the little (and for that matter the big) things you do to make that relationship easier to live with are valueless is to be suicidally naive, is it not?

jsid-1266028691-187  Unmisinformed at Sat, 13 Feb 2010 02:38:11 +0000

Correct me if I am wrong here, but wasn't the major theme of Atlas Shrugged that it is immoral and destructive to use force or manipulation to get someone to act in a manner contrary to his/her best interest?

The major contradiction in the book is the characters struggling with difficult decisions when it would have been entirely consistent with the characters' "character" to simply say "I do this because I wish to do it, and it harms no one."

jsid-1266028851-944  Adam at Sat, 13 Feb 2010 02:40:51 +0000

"The major contradiction in the book is the characters struggling with difficult decisions when it would have been entirely consistent with the characters' "character" to simply say "I do this because I wish to do it, and it harms no one.""

But that's not a reason. Rand was concerned with why her characters wished to do things. It's very common to mistake Rand's advocacy of selfishness with "do whatever the hell I please, regardless of the impact, so long as nobody is directly hurt." 

jsid-1266123505-429  thorn at Sun, 14 Feb 2010 04:58:25 +0000

Several parts of that article are worth pondering, but others are a bit off the part. In particular, I don't agree with this (regarding the train wreck):

Rand does not advocate these people's murder (though she is sympathetic to a trainmaster who chooses not to avert the disaster, partly in revenge against the regulators). Yet she clearly suggests that they had it coming.

Cathy's depiction of the event isn't accurate, and Rand's implication is not that they "had it coming". The trainmaster wasn't choosing not to avert; rather, he was pressured to continue the run. As to the passengers - there is certainly a statement that they had an unintentional hand in their own deaths, but it isn't written as if it is a deserved punishment.

jsid-1266191798-434  Ellie Light at Sun, 14 Feb 2010 23:56:38 +0000

Boy  this piece is sooo wrong.

jsid-1266207398-159  Mastiff at Mon, 15 Feb 2010 04:16:38 +0000

It occurs to me that Ms. Rand has attracted much of the flak by her use of the term "selfishness." It seems, rather, that she is advocating a kind of virtue ethics. If more Randians used that term (virtue ethics), she might be getting more respect today—particularly among academics (whether you care what they think or not).

jsid-1266253450-467  GrumpyOldFart at Mon, 15 Feb 2010 17:04:10 +0000

That's the point I was trying to make above. If you are "altruistic" because you decided that's the kind of person you wish to be... is that or is that not "selfish"? You decided that your own opinion was the only one you were going to listen to on the subject, and yet the result is you choosing to "make sacrifices for others".

It's a variation on my oft repeated argument that to call someone "greedy" as if it's a bad thing is to misunderstand the true nature of greed. It's also a variation on Shaw's statement that "all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

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