Ayn Rand has widely influenced those champions of capitalism and leadership that fill many governmental administrative offices today. Among these are Paul Ryan, former speaker of the House, and Rand Paul, who is presumably named after Rand.
Rand has been a popular author for many decades now, and despite her many critics, she still reigns supreme as the high priestess proclaiming: Self-interest is the highest good, altruism (basically) sucks and ironically, the free man thinks for himself and does not respond to being told what to do. Nevertheless, millions of people want to do as Ayn Rand tells them.
This is the twenty-first century, something by the way that cannot be proven by the senses, but must be taken on faith as an entirely man-made construct. In Rand’s philosophy, only man-made constructs count, because, frankly, nature is just something to use.
Being as we live in a modern age where nature and science have woven together solid arguments of reality, it is puzzling to many how Rand could continue to have such a strong following.
Rand has said, we rule over nature if we follow our self-interest to realize our exalted place
Let’s begin with a contrary quote by Einstein: “A human being is part of a whole called by us ‘the universe’, limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness.” Einstein goes on to identify this ‘delusion of our consciousness as a kind of prison’ from which we must free ourselves to embrace all living beings, indeed, all of nature within a “circle of compassion.”
Contrast this to Rand, whose view of all other beings and nature occurs on a hierarchy wherein our task is to constantly dominate and control all ‘lesser’ beings (including other human cultures) to be free from nature. She especially dismissed what she sees as savage and primitive traits. She wrote: “Man is a being of self-made soul.” And “The particular sense of rapture men say they experience contemplating nature, I’ve never received.”
Further, she does see, with reverent awe, the beauty of man-made complexity that dominate the land: “Stand of the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel,” She swoons about the New York skyline, often in her work, but easily criticizes native or primordial savages” as she calls people without a sense of property ownership. As for animals, they have no rights to speak of, nor does the forest or ocean, since rights are a human construct designed for humans.
There is little, or no understanding, that people can make up — construct — many different kinds of rights. You have no ‘human’ right for example, to poison a water source, for example, despite that fact that Rand adherents’ fight for the right to do precisely that, by unfettering markets through deregulation. If all our human rights are a sacrosanct realization of self-interest, there are at least seven billion self-interests out there, and that is a lot of dissatisfaction coming from an ideal so simplified and pure.
What is the object of Objectivism?
Objectivism gets its name from Rand’s belief that only “Objective” observation of reality through our senses, can lead us forward, and only if we use our rational thought and superior reasoning brains. She does not see intuition or instinct of value, despite the fact of our co-evolution with every other organism. Rand does not see intuition or instinct to be of much value. For biologists, this is like saying, “Our instincts that allow us to shelter, eat and reproduce is worthless.” But why is it so useless to Rand? Her intellect assures her we are conscious thinkers, as if your cat or dog has no free will, thoughts, or consciousness. Perhaps her intellect never went so far as to read Darwin.
Arguments of science and systems
Scientists from every discipline find fatal flaws in Rand’s views. Entire sciences, such as sociobiology, geology and ecopsychology study the inter-dependent relationships of everything from the microbes that comprise your body in their trillions, to the hydrological cycle that distributes water, oxygen and matter to comprise life on earth. We do depend upon our consciousness and senses to view the world, as Rand has argued. But then she sets upon that premise the dubious claim that only self-interest and constructs like capitalism can save us.
The multi-layered, networking systems that make all life possible are dismissed. That cooperation and altruism are survival traits for many species, and that selfish self-interest is punished not just in human species, but in most realms, is ignored.
Rand is right in that everyone deserves to be respected for their own work, their own creative contribution, but her heroes tend to be “captains of industry” who are the very source of what we now call climate change and serious loss of biodiversity on land and sea. Although, granted, very few intellectuals of her day read Alexander Humboldt or Svante Arhenius — both of whom saw the coming tragedy of man’s carbon footprint — but she was familiar with the concept of pollution and degradation.
What the pinnacle of man has brought is the very worst along with our very best. And this is entirely due to our disconnection to other animals and beings.
When we come to the idea of God, or gods, Rand sees this as one of our debilitating childish wishes. She does not grasp in the same way that most science and spirituality does, that something larger, more awesome than ourselves, does in fact, exist. This again, is what Einstein describes, but as another fellow Jew fleeing Europe in the thirties and forties, Einstein saw altruism as rewarding, whereas Rand saw it as collectivism and enslavement to our fellow man.
In Rand’s limited understanding then, the “will of man, made visible,” is what we should strive for. She does not see all other animals as kind and kin, she sees that human animals, alone, are logical, superior too, and independent of other beings, (something physically impossible given our shared DNA to say nothing of our interconnections). She asks in The Fountainhead, What other religion do we need?” signifying that worship of our highest accomplishments allows us to dismiss the idea of the creation, or evolution, as creator. In other words, we are our own creators, pursue your self-interest, shrug off the parasites, and thrive.
As our own creators, we should have more self-respect. “The creator produces”, writes Rand, “The parasite loots.” Maybe casual usage of words such as commensalism and mutualism were not common in Rand’s day. But, it was known, even without those terms, that most organisms, and for some people the globe itself, depends upon shared interests, materials, symbiosis and sharing for survival. There are too many examples of interspecies grooming, bonding, producing for one another, and more. Elephants, for example are the gardeners of Africa, they uproot and prune, they disperse as plant seeds, just as birds, insects, and indeed, humans do.
But a more disturbing aspect found in Rand’s work is that the 1% of the wealthiest persons on Earth that truly are parasites that are usually portrayed as self-made masters of the domain. Consider billionaires that bully and sue, or don’t pay contractors, or their fair share of taxes, but who receive subsidized support, even power, of every kind. Think of those who ‘create the jobs’ that are also given the power to oppress, exploit, harass and generally mistreat, both citizens and employees. Think of status quo systems that allow a character like the hero, Howard Roark, in The Fountainhead to dynamite the work of ‘lesser’ workers, and use force and violence to dominate women.
The basic need for the creator is Independence.
Toward the end of his courtroom ramble, Howard Roark makes these three claims: “The basic need for the creator [an ambitious man] is independence.” “Nothing is given to man on Earth.”
And my personal favorite Rand quote: “The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrifice.” Let us look at each of these thoughts independently, then. Isn’t it a bit weird that a god whether created by us or not, would populate planets with billions of other beings in order to be “independent”, Or that He would make beings in his own image, only to never interact with them? Or is a creation fully evolved from rain drop to desktop wholly interdependent after all?
If nothing is given to man, and he must be “self-made” to be a real man, all the treasures of the earth, from timber, steel, water and food to our shared infrastructure, including roads, bridges, farms, schools, libraries, and more, are credited to only the elite. Atlas movers and shakers out there usually do not toil in the mines and farms.
Again, my favorite Ayn Rand quote: “It had to be said,” proclaims Roark, “The world is perishing in an orgy of self-sacrifice.” It is true our world is both drowning, and on fire, but this is from the aforementioned despoilment of our world by greed and profit. Hurricanes ravage the southeast. California burns because we burn fossil fuels and eat cows. Does our natural biological inclination to altruism in response to such tragedy ever create destructive orgies of self-sacrifice?
This is hard to visualize, but also it is quite thought provoking. Maybe the first green revolution, providing food for millions by way of fertilizer and grain hybrids, could fit into this category. Nevertheless, the rescue of these otherwise starved people, took a negative turn when no heed, no self-sacrifice, for their healthcare, job creation, class mobility, or equal opportunity and education was provided.
Taken all together, it simply boggles the thinking mind that so many people take comfort and expertise from a swiss cheese philosophy so ridden with holes that it cannot even be nailed to a wall. As a psychologist, I would say that the most straightforward explanation is that people, all people, are vulnerable to confirmation bias. Ayn Rand devotees more-so than some.
Even Nazis have to see their mission as more holy than whole. Embracing the affirmation from people who “get it” they confidently march forward, guided by an “Us” versus “Them” mentality.
The rest of the planet spins on; our many interdependent habitats and ecosystems fully cooperative if we are to survive ourselves.