Thursday, March 27, 2014

Prodding the Randian Hornet's Nest

Well, my last post about Ayn Rand certainly got a reaction. Heaps of hits, too. And, despite the fact that what I said was only semi-negative, and included a lot of good things about her, I feel like I just dissed Jesus at a revival meeting. Within the libertarian movement, that seems to happen every time you mention Rand without the proper reverence. But critique Rothbard or Mencken or some other libertarian theoretician, and you might get an argument, but it never sounds quite this... pietistic?

And one reaction illustrates one of her more annoying habits, that of using a common word to mean something slightly askew, at best, from its accepted definition, and then acting all martyr-like when she's misunderstood as a result. In this case "soul." For crying out loud, that's what soul means to most people — a supernatural component of a human being. Likewise, "altruism" means benign behavior without an expectation of compensation, and she used it to mean either phony or psychotic altruism, thereby immediately alienating everybody who heard her use it. She also used "evil" to mean anything she disagreed with, evidently.

I once witnessed part of a debate between some dopey leftists and some Objectivist bunch. The importance of "property" was brought up, and one of the leftists pointed out that owning land wasn't important at all, and there were things more important. The misunderstanding, I think, was because the leftie was a Brit, and to her, "property" sounded like "real estate." The kicker was that the Objectivists didn't explain what they meant by property, but simpered and grinned at each other about how ignorant the leftist was, demonstrating that they weren't there to explain their ideas, but to show off how superior and knowledgable they were. This junior high school attitude seems to show up whenever you argue with one of them. 

And yes, I've met Rand sycophants without the quotation marks. Mostly they're young (but not all) and what they have in common is the humorless demeanor of a true believer, and if you criticize one of Rand's hats, they'll immediately do their best to prove that the hat was perfect. This is the sort of reaction you get from a disciple, not just a follower. Notice the tone of the comments as well as their content. And after I made them that cute quibcag.

So, like I said before, it's really doing Rand a disservice (whether she'd realize it or not) to hold her up as an infallible sage rather than as a good writer who had a lot of useful insights, and who influenced many people in a good way. She had dopey eccentricities, just like everybody else, and they should be recognized as such, and not crammed into some unified field theory of everything. It sort of reminds me of those who think that because Einstein had some pretty terrific insights in one field, he's therefore the guy to listen to on politics and ethics and stuff like that. He isn't. And it also, ironically, reminds me of some Christians who try their damnedest to show that the silly stuff in the Bible really does make sense if you just read it right. You might not understand why Rand thought tap dancing philosophically superior to the hokey-pokey, but you must have faith and someday you'll understand.

John Donohue March 27, 2014 at 2:43 PM

Love affair{{s}}? How many?

She knew plenty about religion and did not condemn it out of hand. She praised it, famously, for being at least a start of valuing the human individual soul. Then, she condemned it specifically for its most grievous faults and atrocities.

I won't bother touching your other opinions, although they are all dubious.


Baloo March 27, 2014 at 3:42 PM

She believed in the _soul_? Tell me more! Fascinating.

Ex-Army March 27, 2014 at 3:46 PM

Now, Baloo, be nice! But I, too, am surprised to hear that she praised religion at all. _All_ my opinions are dubious? Wow! That's what I usually get from lefties and other true believers.

John Donohue March 27, 2014 at 4:25 PM

You didn't go very deep if you don't know about Ayn Rand giving Western Religion credit for at least valuing and protecting the human individual soul. I use that word purposefully. Not the "god-given supernatural mystical" soul as in dualism, but rather as in "man is a creature of self-made soul." She claimed that religion was a primitive form of groping for the self-made soul.

" ... as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul—that to live requires a sense of self-value, but man, who has no automatic values, has no automatic sense of self-esteem and must earn it by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man, the rational being he is born able to create, but must create by choice ..." Ayn Rand

All the ones posted here about Rand are dubious. I am not commenting about any other.

Chris Sandvick March 27, 2014 at 4:42 PM

Ayn Rand definitely believed in the soul. Just that it wasn't supernatural.

As for points 1-7, yeah dubious is a kind word. I've met personally some of the "sycophants". Anything but, and good people besides. Going to say it's safe to say you didn't actually know her so if you're going to hang a lot on a couple of books written after the woman had died by people who'd been kicked out of her life you might read James S. Valiants The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics which, among other things, compares what Rand was writing in her private journals to what the Brandens where claiming.

To end with something more pleasant, Vulture of Critique just sent this in:

I cannot exceed Michael Prescott's analysis of Rand.

Prescott was a devotee for years. He turned against his former opinions and wrote several devastating critiques.

I may have missed a few, but some important ones are at:

Quibcag: The Love Hina girls tromp on poor Keitaro.


  1. Unlike Mencken and Rothbard, Rand has been demonized to a surreal degree. Of course, that's because she was the great popularizer of liberty. Same reason the lightest lightweights interested in liberty are her fans, not theirs. Same reason critters like Rachel Maddow slander Rand: if Maddow has even heard Mencken's name, she isn't quite sure who he was.

    Also, to be fair, Rand was a shitty novelist and often intellectually glib.

    But she understood the leftwing totalitarian mindset like nobody before or since. IMHO that was her great contribution.

    1. I think you're spot on, about her understanding the mindset. I disagree only in that I think AS was a good novel. It's easier to appreciate if you think of it as a _Russian_ novel, which it sort of is. Long and unwieldy, sort of like Dostoevsky, except that Dostoevsky was funnier.

    2. I remember reading somewhere the suggestion that Rand's way of describing people's expressions and actions tended to be a little too specific, as if a single expression could describe in exact detail what a person was thinking. Their theory was that this came from Rand's time in Hollywood, as she was describing expressions the way that you would to an actor from whom you were trying to elicit a particular emotion.

    3. Sounds like the numbered diplomatic expressions from the Retief stories.

  2. Rand believing in a soul - I think what she meant by that was that she believed in consciousness and in free will; that humans had a degree of control and were not simple mechanistic automatons.

  3. Ayn Rand was a great philosopher of individualism and liberty. However, at least half the people writing for the "Libertarian Enterprise" are just as good as philosophers and better storytellers to boot. Unfortunately they have not received the same sort of readership or fame.

  4. Rand (whose real name was Alice Rosenbaum) was a drug addict and adulteress who was diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Paranoid Personality Disorder. Her fanatical believers suffer overwhelming cognitive dissonance whenever Her Holiness is criticized.

  5. I forgot to mention some of Prescott's analysis is based on my criticisms of her Nuttiness. Such as her idealizing of the serial killer William Edward Hickman, and the fact that Anton LeVay pretty much lifted his Satanism from her works, because they fit together so well.

  6. Every objectivist I met was a jerk.

    I had one Ayn Rand jerk telling me she didn't where I stood on things (if she had decent listening skills, she would have known.)

    So I told her:

    "Ayn Rand was a silly old woman."

    "Objectivists think they are individuals but they are actually human parrots..."

    "Bwack!!! Altruism is a vice!!! Bwack!!! Whistle!!!"

    "Bwack!!! Selfishness is a virtue!!! Bwack!!! Whistle!!!"

    I wonder how people those nimrods converted to socialism?

    1. Last line was meant to be:

      I wonder how many people those nimrods converted to socialism?