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Just read Michael Gerson's piece, “Ayn Rand’s adult-onset adolescence”, from the Washington Post opinion page.  I am not familiar with Ayn Rand's work directly, but have read some discussion of it and her foundational status among some contemporary libertarians.  Short of reading her book Atlas Shrugged, I'll at least have to watch the movie version on Netflix.  I'm intrigued how much her conflation of liberty with selfishness have perhaps demeaned the former in some progressives' view.

Article author Michael Gerson writes...

Rand is something of a cultural phenomenon — the author of potboilers who became an ethical and political philosopher, a libertarian heroine. But Rand’s distinctive mix of expressive egotism, free love and free-market metallurgy does not hold up very well on the screen. The emotional center of the movie is the success of high-speed rail — oddly similar to a proposal in Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address. All of the characters are ideological puppets. Visionary, comely capitalists are assaulted by sniveling government planners, smirking lobbyists, nagging wives, rented scientists and cynical humanitarians.

Hey... I'm all about ideas, and even the nasty gnarly ones can have germs of truth or focus on a particular concept that can be turned on its head or otherwise torqued into something useful.  I keep remembering Sally and my wedding video, when our friends Ladd and Stephanie pointed the camera at my mom and asked her for her thoughts on her son.  My mom said that even in nursery school, though I was a shy kid, that I was the “idea man”.  I like to entertain ideas, even ones my comrades and fellow travelers steer way clear of, and try them on for size at least to some degree and incorporate what I can before I move on.

This is exactly the case with my whole flirtation with libertarianism, at least with a “left” prefix attached to rip it out of its conventional set of assumptions (particularly around property rights).  It was initially John Taylor Gatto's ideas that challenged the orthodox liberalism of my youth, growing up in the progressive college town of Ann Arbor Michigan.  Gatto, a former public school teacher turned unschooling advocate, challenged the limitations on human self-directed learning and agency in general of the social-engineering championed by John Dewey and other progressive educational thinkers.  I am no “Gatto-ite”, but there are enough germs of truth in his discomforting libertarian ideas that made me want to try some of them on for size.  

I encountered a similar discomforting mentor forty years ago in my mom's radical feminist friend Mary Jane Shoultz, who challenged a lot of other conventional liberal wisdom and my white male privilege.  Some of her ideas stuck with me, and bore fruit decades later in my emerging world view.

And my mom herself was never completely comfortable with conventional liberal wisdom of the mostly male academia.  She always bristled at the male privilege and lukewarm talk-the-talk-but-not-walk-the-walk support of most of her progressive political comrades from that community.

But getting back to Rand, as alluded to in the title of his piece, Gerson sees her ideas as “adolescent”, because they feature “testing moral boundaries and prone to stormy egotism” that most of us grow out of.  He sees her as a conservative enigma because she disdained Christianity and disliked Ronald Reagen.  

Though his take on Rand may be right on, I don't resonate with his adultist view of adolescence, and am also a believer in a life-long effort to test all sorts of  boundaries (at least in terms of thought and conventional wisdom).  I would have encouraged Gerson to consider presenting a more nuanced analysis of Rand's ideas, rather than putting her up as a strawman to define himself (and presumably his fellow progressives) as everything that Rand is not.

Here is Gerson's summary of Rand's “Objectivist” philosophy...

Reason is everything. Religion is a fraud. Selfishness is a virtue. Altruism is a crime against human excellence. Self-sacrifice is weakness. Weakness is contemptible. “The Objectivist ethics, in essence,” said Rand, “hold that man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.”

Though I am an atheist like Rand, I would disagree with her that reason is “everything” and religion is a “fraud”, along with parting company with her on her negative take on altruism, self-sacrifice and weakness.  But in her statement, “The pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself”, I see at least the germ of an idea, which I believe to be at the heart of libertarianism.  As much as possible we should be free to make our own choices and leave others free to make theirs.

I resonate with putting a premium on liberty and freedom.  I have always rankled at being defined and pigeonholed by others and not being seen for who I uniquely am.  The heart of my belief system is that human beings are at their best as free autonomous consciousnesses who develop their own agency and freely choose to express who they are and make community with each other, and are not coerced (even gently) to do so by community norms or some other external imperative.  I would prefer not to interact with a person who is in community with me because convention says they should or they must and it is not fully of their own choosing.

I find at least some common ground with the portion of Rand's statement that the pursuit of a person's own happiness is the highest moral purpose, though I would substitute “development” for “happiness”.  For me, the pursuit of ones own development (and evolution) and allowing others to do the same is a very high moral purpose.  Though I believe in community, giving of oneself to others, and in a safety net; I am not my brother or sister's “keeper”, and can only make myself of assistance if asked to do so.  I do not believe in telling people (whether youth or adult) what to do “for their own good”.

Gerson offers what sounds like a blanket criticism of libertarian thinking based on Rand's approach...

But both libertarians and Objectivists are moved by the mania of a single idea — a freedom indistinguishable from selfishness.

I suspect Rand was a provocateur who liked to say outlandish things to shake people out of their predefined “boxes”, including the above quote.  As perhaps a “left-libertarian” (or at least experimenting with that personae), and not quite so much of a provocateur, I would say I am moved by the idea of a freedom distinguishable from selfishness.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Read Ayn Rand's essay "Racism" (5+ / 0-)

    You'll quickly see where her hatred comes from.

    She's the Glenn Beck of her era: accusing liberals and minorities of the very thing she's most guilty of, ie racism.

    •  Thanks for that regerence... I will! (4+ / 0-)

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 02:36:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You could write a hell of a diary (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      palantir, bill kramer, tdslf1, Ana Thema

      if you'd deconstruct that. I'd sure as hell rec it.

      People call me rude. I wish we all were nude. I wish there was no black and white. I wish there were no rules.

      by kestrel9000 on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 02:40:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Found a link to at least an excerpt @... (5+ / 0-)

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 02:41:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Quote from Rand's "Racism" essay... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      palantir, Kimball Cross, Ana Thema
      Just as there is no such thing as a collective or racial mind, so there is no such thing as a collective or racial achievement.  There are only individual minds and individual achievements -- and a culture is not the anonymous product of undifferentiated masses, but the sum of the intellectual achievements of individual men.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 02:43:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  From reading this, you wouldn't know that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ana Thema

        Rand was a Hollywood screenwriter. Motion picture production is a collaborative effort, involving the producer, director, screenwriter(s), actors, casting director, artists, set designers, costumers, etc.

        Some cultural products are indeed the achievement of a single individual, more than anything else. Novels, for instance. Others are not.

        For relevant sci-fi and fantasy, go to http://www.betty-cross-author.net/

        by Kimball Cross on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 03:02:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Mutual self-interest (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ana Thema

          I have to disagree with you in respect to your assertion that novel writing is a purely individual effort, all things are interlinked, consider:
          To write a novel, you will need paper, a pen, ink, shelter, warmth, food.  To publish requires the efforts of a veritable army from the manufacture of the raw products to the distribution of the final product.  all of these individuals  is as important as the writer, for without them the word is unread, the idea lost in the demands of individual survival.
          I can think of few endeavours that are truly individual in nature, that do not at some point require a community to achieve the goal.
          From the lofty thinkers in their palaces of knowledge to the street sweeper we are all equally important and more importantly all equally dependent upon one another.

          If you ever doubt this pick up a paper-clip and consider how many people were involved in its journey from a lump of ore in the ground to the bent piece of wire that resides on your desk.

          In all of the world's problems religion has never been the solution

          by Tailgunner30uk on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 03:43:01 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  o that's ridiculous (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Kimball Cross
            To write a novel, you will need paper, a pen, ink, shelter, warmth, food.  To publish requires the efforts of a veritable army from the manufacture of the raw products to the distribution of the final product.

            The people involved in the publishing of a brilliant novel were also involved in the same way in the publishing of a thousands of trash ones. The only difference was the author.

            You really don't want to go there, this is really what Rand saw in Soviet Union and you know better than that.

            •  Seems we are talking about... (0+ / 0-)

              a level of social collaboration facilitating the individual artist or a team of artists, depending on the medium etc.

              Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

              by leftyparent on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 07:56:37 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  the level of collaboration though (0+ / 0-)

                is still there whether the work is great or not. This underplaying of an individual genius is damn troubling, even as it is part of the pendulum swinging towards, yes, the genius does ride on public roads and depends on food vendors not poisoning her, and on IP protection. That's all.

                That way lies mediocrity.

                •  Talented people still depend on a rich... (0+ / 0-)

                  infrastructure to facilitate their work.  And there is synergy at times beyond individual talents in a partnership.   I keep thinking of John Lennon and Paul McCartney as a songwriting team.

                  Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                  by leftyparent on Tue Apr 26, 2011 at 07:43:11 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  well there is synergy (0+ / 0-)

                    except that in the infrastructure argument, the infrastructure doesn't care that it gets paid to facilitate John Lennon's work or someone else's. It just gets paid for work done. Let's not give the infrastructure any credit for the creative process. People that move a writer's library get paid, they would get paid as much to move its weight in bricks. They don't create any synergy.

        •  Agreed... but my thought is that we are best... (0+ / 0-)

          as humans when we freely collaborate with each other as free agents.  We are social beings, but that does not mean we need to always be controlled by a higher "duty".

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

          by leftyparent on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 04:42:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  From here, where? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Ana Thema

            If you choose to collaborate on a book do you not accept that in order for both parties to benefit, there must be compromise. This choice is  the ultimate expression of free will. However the collaboration will most certainly not succeed if individual's 'free agent' status is not at least to some extent sacrificed.

            Duty, imposed by a higher authority,  accepted because we  have been indoctrinated from birth is a destructive force. It subjugates free will. This subjugation of free will leads to resentment which leads in turn to the 'dog eat dog' Ayn Rand style of individualism both selfish and self harming.  Choices made through compassion and the accepting of responsibility do not abrogate free will but rather enhance it as they are positive choices.  The individual benefits as does the society, not because they are expected to perform a function but rather they choose to do it.

            In all of the world's problems religion has never been the solution

            by Tailgunner30uk on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 06:10:56 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Rand's blind loathing of altruism (8+ / 0-)

    is one aspect of her philosophy that I simply cannot understand.

    I honestly believe that altruism is vital to a peaceful, tolerant existence. Yet she seemed genuinely obsessed with it.

    Until, of course, she needed government assistance later in life.

    So he says to me, do you wanna be a BAD boy? And I say YEAH baby YEAH! Surf's up space ponies! I'm makin' gravy WITHOUT THE LUMPS! HAAA-ha-ha-ha!!!

    by Cenobyte on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 02:41:06 PM PDT

    •  I do not know much about her at all... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      palantir, Cenobyte, Kimball Cross

      but I wonder if her own demons made her suspicious of anything that might be done out of "duty" rather than free choice.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 02:44:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •   -- Wouldn't someone lacking in (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        historys mysteries, mollyd, Ana Thema

        altruism absolutely be a dangerous psychopath?

        So he says to me, do you wanna be a BAD boy? And I say YEAH baby YEAH! Surf's up space ponies! I'm makin' gravy WITHOUT THE LUMPS! HAAA-ha-ha-ha!!!

        by Cenobyte on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 03:13:49 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think those are perhaps two extemes... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          debedb

          of a spectrum.  I looked up "altruism" in Wiktionary...

          devotion to the interests of others; brotherly kindness; – opposed to egoism or selfishness

          I agree this is generally held as a very good thing, but I don't think someone short of altruistic has to be a psychopath or sociopath.

          Maybe Rand may have not trusted the idea of some self-appointed expert telling others what they should do for their own good and couching it as altruism.  Again, I don't know her back story... maybe someone else reading this does and can comment.

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

          by leftyparent on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 04:49:49 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Human nature is paradoxical. (5+ / 0-)

    We are by nature both individuals and members of a community. Rand couldn't accept that.

    She could see only two possibilities: (a) a society as a haphazard collection of disconnected individuals; or (b) society in which people must absolutely conform and do what they're told, without free choice.

    Therefore, for her, there could be only two kinds of social order: (a) her own doctrinaire, laissez-fairist capitalism; or (b) the totalitarianism from which she had fled in the 1920s. Anything in between these two is only a stage in the movement from one pole to the other.

    This binary presupposition more than anything else is what made AS seem shallow and even foolish to me, even in my teens when I should have been most vulnerable to it.

    For relevant sci-fi and fantasy, go to http://www.betty-cross-author.net/

    by Kimball Cross on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 03:08:44 PM PDT

    •  Reconciling the individual and social natures. (3+ / 0-)

      Emma Goldman, in her little apologia for anarchism, had this to say about those two aspects of our nature:

      A thorough perusal of the history of human development will disclose two elements in bitter conflict with each other; elements that are only now beginning to be understood, not as foreign to each other, but as closely related and truly harmonious, if only placed in proper environment: the individual and social instincts. The individual and society have waged a relentless and bloody battle for ages, each striving for supremacy, because each was blind to the value and importance of the other. The individual and social instincts,--the one a most potent factor for individual endeavor, for growth, aspiration, self-realization; the other an equally potent factor for mutual helpfulness and social well-being.

      The explanation of the storm raging within the individual, and between him and his surroundings, is not far to seek. The primitive man, unable to understand his being, much less the unity of all life, felt himself absolutely dependent on blind, hidden forces ever ready to mock and taunt him. Out of that attitude grew the religious concepts of man as a mere speck of dust dependent on superior powers on high, who can only be appeased by complete surrender. All the early sagas rest on that idea, which continues to be the Leitmotiv of the biblical tales dealing with the relation of man to God, to the State, to society. Again and again the same motif, man is nothing, the powers are everything. Thus Jehovah would only endure man on condition of complete surrender. Man can have all the glories of the earth, but he must not become conscious of himself. The State, society, and moral laws all sing the same refrain: Man can have all the glories of the earth, but he must not become conscious of himself.

      Anarchism is the only philosophy which brings to man the consciousness of himself; which maintains that God, the State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man's subordination. Anarchism is therefore the teacher of the unity of life; not merely in nature, but in man. There is no conflict between the individual and the social instincts, any more than there is between the heart and the lungs: the one the receptacle of a precious life essence, the other the repository of the element that keeps the essence pure and strong. The individual is the heart of society, conserving the essence of social life; society is the lungs which are distributing the element to keep the life essence--that is, the individual--pure and strong.

  •  Greenspan was an objectivist (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    debedb, Ana Thema, Kimball Cross

    Rand follower.

    Now who in their right mind would think putting someone in a community situation of power like being the head of the Fed would be a good fit with that philosophy?

    fact does not require fiction for balance (proudly a DFH)

    by mollyd on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 05:59:22 PM PDT

  •  I would recomend the following works (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Kimball Cross

    One is the best biography of Ayn Rand I have read, by Anne heller

    http://www.amazon.com/...

    The other is Ayn Rand's "Anthem" which has the virtue of being short, roughly novella length, and pretty much a distillation of Randian philosophy, accept it or not. That is if you are interested. Myself, I have read the Ayn Rand canon, and have my own opions of it, and the influence it wielded over me, but that is the subject of its own diary

    An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

    by MichiganChet on Sun Apr 24, 2011 at 07:23:17 PM PDT

    •  I would be interested at a high level... (0+ / 0-)

      as to the positive things you got from Ayn Rand's ideas.  Just the very high-level bullet points.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 07:58:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Here they are, while standing on my right foot (0+ / 0-)

        1) A philosophical basis for my rejection of religion

        2) the idea that you have to use your own independant judgement when evaluating any issue, even if the masses are baying the opposite (Very useful for confronting teabaggers whom Rand, I believe would have loathed no matter how blindly they worship her).

        3) Strong libertarian arguments against a draft (a non-issue currently, but you never know).

        4) Strong Objectivist-influenced arguments that confirm my staunchly pro-choice views

        5) Strong philosophical arguments as to why it is wrong to subjugate others to oneself

        6) A rational recognition of reality that should inform any basic philosophy of existence, i.e the realization that there is objective knowledge out there (useful in dealing with the anti-evolutionists).

        So there you have it. I realize that this sounds like selective mining out of a body that some would say I miss the overall essence from, but there it is. As I said, I have my own take about Obectivism and Ayn Rand as an overall topic, but that is another diary that maybe I'll write when I develope an appetite for eggs thrown at me.

        An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

        by MichiganChet on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 09:50:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Selective mining is what life's all about IMO... (0+ / 0-)

          and thanis for sharing your list.  I am with you on all your points, though I get their from other experience and exposure to other people's thought than Rand.

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

          by leftyparent on Mon Apr 25, 2011 at 10:23:32 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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