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Ayn Rand on science, altruism, and the U.S. businessmen's treason

Ayn Rand (1905-1982; she moved from the USSR to the U.S. in 1931) was an originally Russian Jewish, later U.S. author, philosopher, and a libertarian guru. Several folks have pointed out to me that her thinking was close to mine.

I have never been exposed to her work and thoughts – a fact that is not too surprising given my 16 years in a communist country plus 10 years in the U.S. Academia. But finally today, when Willie Soon recommended me the 52-minute talk above – named "The Sanction of the Victims" – that she gave in 1981, a year before she died of a heart attack (it was her last public talk), I decided to listen to the whole talk.

It's powerful. She argues that (and explains why) collectivism and altruism are immoral philosophies. Scientists are mentioned as the representative of the most beneficial occupation for the society; but they are intrinsic loners.

Real-world businessmen in the U.S. of her time – early 1980s – were mentioned as major culprits of the moral and productive deterioration of the American society because they have betrayed their values and began to cooperate with their natural enemies – collectivists, altruists, and others. They were (and are) even paying billions of dollars to some of the most destructive forces for the civilization, like the left-wing ideologues at the universities and similar despicable groups. She makes the case that altruism and collectivism are not based on the care for the people but on the hatred of the success.

She mentions that she hadn't voted for Ronald Reagan, mostly because of his "medieval" attempts to mix the religion and the government again. Later, she elaborated upon this point; she didn't like when a majority is trying to impose its ideas about religion on individuals. But she had problems with Reagan's economics, too. She argued that Reagan wasn't an advocate of capitalism; he was an advocate of a mixed economy, instead. She would have preferred Gerald Ford.

In this very speech, Ayn Rand declared her plan to transform "Atlas Shrugged", her best-known work to a TV screenplay herself. Unfortunately, when she died a year later, only 1/3 of that project was completed. The film and TV adaption of the famous book was a development hell for 4 decades. The projects were scrapped due to the tension between Rand and her philosophy on one side and the left-wingers spread all over the film and TV industry on the other side. Finally, three parts of "Atlas Shrugged" are or will be released in 2011, 2012, and 2014. I haven't seen it yet. The first two parts cost $20 million and $10 million and earned $4 million and $3 million in the box office. She has been someone in these corners but this is where the numbers end. This result is kind of unavoidable. I am a rational person and you should have this example in mind if try to understand why I would count the work on projects of this sort and magnitude to be a classic example of throwing one's pearls before swine.

Well, in fact, I am confident that the undesirable trends that Ayn Rand has criticized have deteriorated much further from the early 1980s when she was giving the speech above.

Rand says that the journalists of her age were not presenting any real information or inspiration but it wasn't their "fault" because they were simply unfamiliar with anything else than the superficial writing we knew and they were not able to produce anything more valuable. She has also criticized some of the content of the TV program but praised the technology; she opposed the sale of the IT technologies to the USSR. Well, she added a bonus answer to this question that the U.S. shouldn't have diplomatic relations with the USSR. ;-)

Is Russia a threat? She amusingly answered that Russia is the weakest nation on Earth and most of their warriors would defect etc. ;-) But Russia has one weapon, the ideology of altruism, that the U.S. has surrendered to which represents a form of a victory for the country that represents similar ideas.

When asked, she said that Poland's Solidarnosc had her sympathies but they were not winning anything. Well, a nearly decade was needed for them to win – well, for a while, partly, and so on.

She clarified that she wasn't deriving her philosophy from events but from observations and she has held essentially the same ideas about the world since she was 2.5 years old. ;-) Unlike other people, she doesn't need events; she can predict their outcomes because she understands the essential ideas about people's philosophies etc.

There were many points at which I had to laugh because her reactions reminded me of mine, too – not only when it comes to the content. For example, she received several questions from people who clearly had trouble with her insights but who claimed that she was incomprehensible about XY or about the difference between C and D etc. She would insist that her talk and position were clear and a misunderstanding had to be due to a fault on the receiver side. :-)

She also offers her advises on the right way to educate children. Don't try to teach them something they don't understand. Don't try to make them feel humble. Allow the kids to be proud of their success. Of course, some disapproval of the feminist groups is voiced, too. She defines love as the appreciation of cherished features found in someone else or, even more accurately, as something that looks like the love stories in her novels.

Another amusing answer. The question: What does she say when people suggest that she loathes the disadvantaged etc. Answer: Nobody with such a question has managed to come anywhere close to her. ;-) She doesn't hate the poor; she just doesn't believe that they're the best and most important things in life and that their convenience is (or should be) the driver powering the people's creativity. She quotes her favor black reverend who said that the best way to help the poor is not to be one of them.

Is there any hope for Russia? No. :-)

At 47:40, a question about the IRS asks whether it's time for another Tea Party. Literally. It was asked in 1981 but it could have been a few years ago, too.

She defends the gold standard because there's no way for the parasites to steal the money you have earned. Well, I sympathize with this argument but it's not quite primary to me when it comes to monetary issues.

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snail feedback (14) :

reader Werdna said...

I consider myself something of a psuedo-objectivist. I think Rand had a lot of things right. However I think thinking that Gerald Ford was in some way more an advocate for capitalism than Ronald Reagan shows perhaps a poor judgement or certain ignorance, because really he was hardly anything of the sort.

I have been reading a lot to try and form a more concrete position on the issue of monetary policy.

Did you know, for example, that Herbert Spencer, who coined the expression "survival of the fittest" was an advocate for private coinage?

reader lucretius said...

I have almost nothing in common with Ayn Rand. In fact I see her as essentially a utopian dogmatist with illusions of grandeur and little genuine talent. Not surprisingly she proclaimed Shakespeare a failure and Rembrandt full of “grim, unfocused malevolence”. And these were among her more reasonable views. I can only think of one statement she had made with which I agreed 100%. It was on the Israel-Arab conflict:

Ayn Rand was, of course, a Russian Jew but usually she avoided this subject like the plague. She had told her biographer that she had never met with the slightest manifestation of anti-Semitism nor heard it ever mentioned at home. But on another less guarded occasion she stated that the only reason why her father became a pharmacist was because the only available quota at St. Petersburg University was in chemistry.

In fact, to me many of her views appear to derive from her desire to escape her own Jewishness and anti-semitism by adopting an “ultra-rational” view of religion, race, nationality etc, etc. (Not that I hold it against her, but it seems to explain a lot).

Anyway, this post provides a good opportunity for engaging in some nostalgia:

reader Uncle Al said...

Events of State and economics prove Ayn Rand to be correct. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation siphons $billions/year of US value into sub-Saharan Africa. A half-century of Peace Corpse (no typo) proves cultures can be immune to latrines, ditto Hurricane Katrina and the Superdome.

Obamacare will implode, for it massively rewards the professionally worthless. First, all prior monies disappear. Then, universal emergency government administration of individual healthcare a la Veterans Administration. Shoot off a toe, get in line. Oopsie! wrong toe.

Taxation is never enough. Confiscate wealth by law for high purpsoes, then demand voluntary contribution of labor "to help others in need." Support evolution - shoot back.

reader CIPig said...

I think Ayn Rand's version of Nietzsche for Dummies should be perfect you.

reader scooby said...

"The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation siphons $billions/year of US value into sub-saharan Africa."

You're an idiot.

reader Werdna said...

I do regard Objectivism as she reigned over it as dogmatic and wrong in some important respects (or at least, in how she interpreted them). I regard her moral defense of capitalism as essentially unimpeachable, and so also the basic axiomatic structure of Objectivism. Of course, I sharply disagree with her religious (or rather anti-relgious) views. But I understand where she is coming from, I just think she was wrong about that.

At any rate, it is always interesting to watch old video of people.

reader John F. Hultquist said...

from John F. Hultquist

These are complex issues so thanks for
your contributions.


Consider the not so nice reference to the Gates Foundation (and others such). It will be 3 years today that India has been without a case of polio. For 2013 Nigeria had 51 cases, Pakistan 83, and Afghanistan 11. Gates and Rotary International are major funders. Polio was a real threat when I was
in grade and high school. Our 1950 era b/w TV showed pictures of children in “iron-lungs” and I went to a senior prom with a girl that had a mild case. I'll cheer when it is gone.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Surprising title. Where can I buy it?

reader lucretius said...

I don't that you can buy it: it's not a title she would have used but rather a summary of "objectivism" in pig-speak.

reader CIPig said...

It's called "Atlas Shrugged" - available at good and crappy bookstores everywhere. The Kindle version cost me $20.

reader CIPig said...

Actually, Al is not an idiot - merely nuts.

reader John Moore said...

Beware of Rand. She had a number of good insights, and she was also a nasty and surprisingly ignorance crank. You mention her criticism of Reagan, but it shows only that she had no understanding at all of him and his ideas. But, being an arrogant utopian, she was happy to lecture others from her ignorance.

Also, her personal life was that of a sociopath.

reader Luboš Motl said...

I am aware of Atlas Shrugged as you would know if you had read my blog post.

reader TheDOC said...

I never really understood why Rand had so much beef with altruism. It's not so much the fault of altruism as it of the 'altruist'. Why attck the principle too? The altruist by definition is someone 'who unselfishly works for the welfare of others'. As long as the altruist gives of his resources to the right person at the right time, it is a perfect system to follow.