Tuesday, April 20, 2010

shhh....don't tell Ayn what i did last weekend

I first read Atlas Shrugged when I was pretty young and I found it a pretty sordid affair. I was young enough (like a Soph. in high school?) to still divide things between good and bad, nice and not nice. Atlas Shrugged was not good, and it certainly was not nice. The worst part was the really pulpy, syrupy-sweet love story between the two protagonists (as a given rule, if your love scenes fail a 14 year old boy, they should be omitted). Anyway, with some heavy omissions i think this essay brought some clarity to Objectivism (though she did relentlessly bludgeon me over the head with these ideas in Atlas Shrugged). After the endless cycles of regressions about mankind’s impulses she gets to the true exigency of the article: ‘Man needs thought and productive work’. Well, I kind of love it, but to be honest, it’s all so German. I find a lot of value in the whole Protestant-Ethic stoicism of hard work, it really does bring me happiness and purpose (as it does all SWEET Scholars), but so does screwing up; so does getting a $100 bill that I did not earn; so does going out and tying-one-on until 4:00 am, buying people I don’t know drinks with a credit card, then making them listen to me slur on about how practical I am. Oh how I truly relish my “moment’s relief from [my] chronic state of terror”. Oh how Ayn must hate me sometimes. In fact I think I love acting irrationally, most people do on occasion, some more than others. How does objectivism take this into sufficient account in society? Objectivism does not seem to have a very solid plan for dealing with the screw-ups, but I would say that is a hell of a lot better than rewarding them like communism.

Was Ayn so pragmatic that she sort of missed reality? The codes she requires all to abide by are a bit draconian. For an objectivist society to function, people must abide by an ultra-rigid moral code of egalitarianism, stoicism and strength. This makes for a very productive society, yet one’s less-than impressive early twenties could be punished much more severely than is warranted. There is no safety net, which might be fine for an established adult who has a sizeable savings, but what about someone just starting out? How much suffering are we as a society going to let befall a 19 year old who has had a poor start in life? In Ayn’s society does any form of assistance amount to oppression of the society at large?

In a bit of an aside, why do social theorists all proclaimed their age, their cause, their time, and their place, to be the end-all battle for the sole of mankind? Why is every new generation morally bankrupt, lazy and selfish? I understand the rhetorical appeal, but how can any of this be a true statement? Ayn’s parents probably accused her of the very same things, Ayn probably had to hide her Benny Goodman albums under the bed that she like to sleep in past noon.

All kidding aside, this is where I find the real value in Rand’s work:

…that the rational interests of men do not clash—that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.”

I really like this, effectively the ideological distillate of Rand’s thinking. I wish she had taken it further by exploring how self-interests can amount to mutual benefits. Yet, as with many ideologies there is the inherent flaw, the one variable that is never quite accounted for, the human factor. Humans are really sloppy.

And Camilla, I’m so sorry, but it seems even the women economists are misogynists.

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