Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Ayn Rand

Why are so many developers and IT persons fans of Ayn Rand? Up until today I thought she was another Anne Rice, until I remembered to google her up. Born in 1905? This must be something big. That Atlas Shrugged description looks mighty cool. Got to buy it.

But why are so many knowledge workers in love with her?

RP
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Restricted emotional growth.

Simon Lucy
Thursday, June 03, 2004

More or less like one of Takashi Miike's characters?

RP
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Do not forget to read Fountainhead and Anthem. The latter is my favourite.

Why do developers love her so much. Because we are by training and perhaps inherently (for those of us who believe on 'born-with-X-talent') logical, individualistic and non-ambigous humans. At least have a tendencey to be so.

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Because it's a pop philosophy book. Easy to read and understand by people that haven't spent 4 years trying to grok continental philosophy. Just remember that you are reading something by somebody with an agenda. Might want to balance it with an intro textbook.


Thursday, June 03, 2004

An agenda? Hmmm, the plot thickens. Is there a text explaining all this Ayn Rand thing from a fairly neutral point of view?

RP
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Because objectivism is based on objective rules,
which are arbitrary of course, and techies like that
sort of thing. Especially when it panders to the
"i am so much smarter than everyone else"  meme.

son of parnas
Thursday, June 03, 2004

    An expression of confidence based using proven methodologies with explicit metrics over a specific field of clearly defined activity over a definite period of time, is by no way pandering "to the 'i am so much smarter than everyone else'  meme."

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004


"Individual Responsiblity and individual mastery are at the core of team performance. It doesn't hurt to start with Rand's Vision of the competant man. Just don't stop there."

  - Ron Jeffries in "Extreme Programming Installed"

Matt H.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

The lumbering prose, the grotesque simplifications, the emphasis on the bigness of things, great accomplishments, great works reminds me only of Fascist art of the period.

She gives me the creeps.

Simon Lucy
Thursday, June 03, 2004

I'm buying Atlas Shrugged.

RP
Thursday, June 03, 2004

    You will not regret it.

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

From a literary standpoint "We, The Living" is probably the best.  It is semi-autobiographical, and it is easy to see that Ayn Rand is someone who witnessed the horrors of the Bolshevik Revolution first hand.  If you want a quality read, then this is the one to go for.

The "classic" novels that everyone raves about are "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged", both of which are aimed squarely at the "mass market", (i.e. a lower common denominator).  They are quite unashamed at using a story to espouse a political philosophy, and their success shows that the technique does work.  (They are not particularly subtle either).

A lot of hostility is directed at Ayn Rand because of her philosophy of "Objectivism".  It's too extreme for me, and I speak as someone who considers himself a "left-libertarian", but the basic premise boils down to "Leave me alone to live my life as I see fit" which is nothing like as objectionable as the beliefs of the people who are so quick to damn her.

Basically, she is such an emotive subject that it is difficult to get people to give a rational, and dare I say "objective" appraisal of her and her works.

Incidentally, Alan Greenspan (Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve), was closely involved with Ayn Rand when he was younger.

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Ayn Rand has always sounded incredibly irritating to me. But then I've never bothered actually reading any so perhaps I shouldn't comment. The philosophy sounds very, ehhh.. American. Too much so for my liking.

Matt
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Greenspan is *that* old? Let me guess, he caused the stock market crash of 1929.

RP
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Michael Shermer (Skeptic Magazine), has written a bunch of stuff on her.  Here is an article he wrote entitled "The Unlikliest Cult in History" http://www.skeptic.com/02.2.shermer-unlikely-cult.html.

He also has a whole section on here in his book "Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time" http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0716733870/104-5811713-2661509?v=glance

Oren Miller
Thursday, June 03, 2004

    One of the problems with AR is that she does not accept differneces in value systems however physically benign the other systems may be. That runs counter to many of us who grown in more modern and different climes.

    Another issue is that of 'Hero-worship'. Basing your philosphical a priories solely on 'Atlas Shrugged' is stupid. That book was just one, a good one no doubt, representation of her value base.

  Reading AR without reading classical philosophy is what has given her a skewed image. One understands where she is coming from and what she wants to say, you agree or not is not the point here, only when one has read the Dialogues or Categories or Das Kapital or even something like a History of Western Philosophy by Betrand Rusell.

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

This is what people do; I see it all the time:
Notice something wrong, something you don't like because it seems cruel, unfair, etc. Then find the ideology/organization under which the bad thing is happening. Then place all the blame for the bad thing on that ideology/organization.
For example:
Marx wanted to get rid of religion because of violence committed under religious governments (never considering that people will commit violence whether or not they are religious).
Later, Stalin was cruel and violent even though not religious, so Americans decided that Communisim is entirely evil. Even though communism and socialism could be the reason Americans don't have to work 7 days a week 12 hours a day with no vacation.
My point is that if you really want to evaluate systems and ideologies logically you have to stop over-simplifying. But people want to read one short book and be an expert.

The Real PC
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Yes, Greenspan is pretty old.  I'm referring to the 1960s when he was in his twenties, and Ayn Rand of course was much older.

As for anybody who thinks Objectivism is a crank philosophy, it is actually based on nineteenth century Classical Liberalism.  (Not the same as though - as an example just read her excoriation of John Stuart Mill).

No, the real cranks are the ones who think that communists and fascists are anything but a bunch of psychopathic gangsters and hoodlums.  It is these people on the extreme left/right who tend to be the ones who start foaming at the mouth when Ayn Rand is mentioned.

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, June 03, 2004

{Going into quasi-anonymous mode. Did not realise it till now}

As an aside, why is that many westerners do not read many of their own classics. Many of us over here in the east really do spend a lot of time on actually finding out what make west west and us us.

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"Later, Stalin was cruel and violent even though not religious, so Americans decided that Communisim is entirely evil. Even though communism and socialism could be the reason Americans don't have to work 7 days a week 12 hours a day with no vacation."

Sorry, but that is Utter Garbage.  Not working on "the Sabbath" is an ancient habit.  Here in the UK our "capitalist masters" gave us what we call "Bank Holidays" back in the nineteenth century prior to the rise of socialism and communism.

And Communism *is* entirely evil.  For example, a team of French historians has calculated the worldwide death toll of communism during the 20th century at more than 93 million!

What is that if it is not evil?

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"I've been Ayn Randed
Nearly branded
A Communist 'cause I'm left-handed
'Cause that's the hand they use.
Oh, never mind."

Cognitive Dissonance
Thursday, June 03, 2004

What is Communism? Any idea? What is Capitalism?

"The most practical thing in life is a good theory"

Flawed instances of practice in no way denigrates the value of the theory. By the same coin, excellent methodologies applied to a flawed theory is equally doomed to fail.

Stalin murdered. So did Hitler. So did GWB. The last is way way down the ladder as far as numbers go. But none of them are any benchmarks for Communism, Nationalism or Capitalism.

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

In 1997, a group of French historians led by Stephane Courtois, a former Maoist, sat down to tally the death toll of communism throughout the world. They took a hard look at eighty years of communism, from Stalin's Russia to Mao's China, from from Romania's Ceausescu to Cambodia's Pol Pot and Peru's Shining Path. Their findings galvanized the traditionally left-leaning French universities.

The Black Book immediately shot to the top of the nonfiction bestseller list. When it appeared in English in 1999 under the title The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, the New York Times Book Review stated: "It is a criminal indictment."

It certainly is. Based on conservative figures, the scholars estimate between eighty-five and a hundred million deaths. Over one million men, women and children killed, starved or worked to death in any given year, all in the name of bringing about a better world.

Here's more:

http://www.bookfinder.us/review7/0674076087.html

Ayn Rand opposed these philosophies.  So what are we to make of those who oppose Ayn Rand?

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, June 03, 2004

For a hilarious demolition job on Ayn Rand, read "Sewer, Gas, and Electric by Matt Ruff.  It's a near-future sci-fi techno-thriller that pokes fun at the Clancy genre (among other things)

An AI version of AR appears in the story.  At one point the AI is grilled by someone very familiar with the details of Rand's life and philosophy.  Lots of fun.

There's also a 2-3 page summary of Atlas Shrugged that's just a scream.

AR fans will probably not enjoy this book.

Bruce Perry
Thursday, June 03, 2004

It isn't communism or fascism or capitalism that's evil. Nature has its cruel side, human beings are part of nature, human beings with uncontrolled power will be cruel, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the person and circumstances.
I think Marxism is stupid, but so is the idea that everyone can be perfectly free to do whatever their overgrown ego suggests. Obviously we need a certain amount of free enterprise and individual creativity, but we also obviously need some cooperation and compassion. This should be too obvious to mention, but it isn't. I hear capitalism blamed for every bad thing that ever happens to anyone, and the same for communism and all the rest. It isn't the ideologies that cause problems, but the ideologies taken to stupid and simple-minded extremes. And most of our problems come from being alive, not from any particular ideology.

The Real PC
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Shall we compile the deaths under Monarchist Great Britain, Napoleanic France, Casteist India and Tribal Africa and may be even Colonial South America or Expansionist North America? Political killing is a tool used by every creed of rulers.

IMVHO, communism did not last because of size. Human interactions cannot be controlled or even monitored over such large structures of human society which was what communism wanted. One big collosal family. Their theory was flawed. And that has nothing to do Stalin's or Mao's or Castro's power mongering. In any other system the same people would have been miltiary generals with a helluva lot of blood on their hands or socio-pathic serial killers, both of which kinds abound in our modern-capitalistic-stable socities. They were such beings before communism gripped them.

Have you read Lenin?

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Incidentally or may be not, AR was a failure by her own standrads, She wasa nervous wreck and commited suicide in her later life, once the whole world got her by the throat, so to speak.

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

I'm not really sure how to mention this, but, the sex scenes in Atlas Shrugged read more like rape scenes.

Deeply disturbing, really.

Robert Smithson
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"Ayn Rand opposed these philosophies.  So what are we to make of those who oppose Ayn Rand? "

Why, if Ayn Rand was anti-communist, those who oppose her must be...communists!

Seriously, if you're going to trot out arguments like this, you need to find a dumber audience.

Cognitive Dissonance
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"ideologies taken to stupid and simple-minded extremes"

- exactly!

Like I said, Ayn Rand's books aren't particularly good literature (with the possible exception of "We, The Living"), and the philosophy espoused is too simplistic.  In fact, Ayn Rand's achievements aren't so much her own ideas as that of re-igniting the debate about nineteenth century Classical Liberalism.

But she seems very much like a Margaret Thatcher for the first half of the nineteenth century, in that it seems impossible for many people to give her an objective evaluation.

What I find particularly strange is the common accusation that anybody interested in her work is "emotionally stunted".  That's not how I would describe a Passion for Freedom.  On the contrary, the very fact that such people have to resort to ad hominem attacks implies that they are unable to muster any real arguments against her.

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"Why, if Ayn Rand was anti-communist, those who oppose her must be...communists!

Seriously, if you're going to trot out arguments like this, you need to find a dumber audience."

- a fair point, but the one you have made is just as bad.

But this goes back to what I was saying in that it seems so difficult for many people to have a rational discussion about Ayn Rand.

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, June 03, 2004


Ayn Rand focuses on individuality and the celebration of an individual's talent... usually at the expense of the multitude trying to control them.


It's heavily against most of the Marxist/Communistic/Socialistic theory.


And to those who lack some deep understanding...  fascism is the kissing cousin of communism, *not* an emphasis on the individual.

KC
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Ayn Rand said/wrote a lot of smart things. But I can't stand her writing style. I would say that most of Simon's criticisms above are spot on. Her philosophy is an extreme one, but I think she formulated it that way intentionally to provoke the intellectual community who were quite taken with socialism/communism at that time. I guess they still are, to a large extent. One has to remember that Rand was a refugee from Soviet communism, and obviously she had strong negative opinions about communism.

Unfortunately, it seems that her disciples in the Objectivist movement are a bunch of wankers. They have made Rand's writings canon law, and shout down/excommunicate anyone who makes the slightest departure from that law. A favored tactic: "My position is rational. You are rational. If you disagree with my position you must be evil." Or something close to that. Very ironic.

Rob VH
Thursday, June 03, 2004

A wise Pole (supposedly) said:

"Under Capitalism, man exploits man. Under Communism, the reverse is true."

Rob VH
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"...commited suicide in her later life..."

- ?

No she didn't!

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"How you can tell if something is evil?"

"Give it power."

(Now if I could just remember where I read/heard the above...)

The waterboy
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Rob VH's comments about her "disciples" in the Objectivist Movement are spot on.

Like he says, it is ironic that a philosophy based upon the idea that you should think for yourself should end up being promoted by a clique that seem to resent other people doing so!

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, June 03, 2004

David Wildgoose,

I'm sorry. She did not commit suicide. She died of heart failure. Sorry again <O-o>

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"How you can tell if something is evil?"

Find out if it's human.

The Real PC
Thursday, June 03, 2004

This may be one of the best accounts of what's good and bad about Objectivism.  It's written by Nathaniel Branden, Rand's one-time student and paramour who made a nasty break with Rand in late '60's (and who is now justifiably well-known for his work in the psychology of self-esteem):

http://rous.redbarn.org/objectivism/Writing/NathanielBranden/BenefitsAndHazards.html

A short list of the hazards:

"Confusing reason with "the reasonable"
Encouraging repression
Encouraging moralizing
Conflating sacrifice and benevolence
Overemphasizing the role of philosophical premises
Encouraging dogmatism "

Simon Lucy's answer of "Restricted emotional growth" to question of why knowledge worker's like Rand seems to me spot on (and clever). 

Rand herself was deeply troubled emotionally, vindictive, incapable of tolerating disagreement with her viewpoints, not at all "reasonable".  She was a brilliant woman, but you've got to be as nutty as her if you ever want to accept her philosophy "whole hog."  Her books are fun to read, though. ;)

Herbert Sitz
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"Shall we compile the deaths under Monarchist Great Britain, Napoleanic France, Casteist India and Tribal Africa and may be even Colonial South America or Expansionist North America? Political killing is a tool used by every creed of rulers."

You forgot the Inquisition. But then, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition :)

On a more serious note, I find it amusing that people make moral judgements about movements without accounting for human nature.

Communism is as evil as capitalism (or guns or cars, for that matter).

Paulo Caetano
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Don't worry about all of the hype and criticism. Just buy it and read it. Atlas Shrugged is the best book that I've ever read, and not just in the message but in the masterful writing.

After you read Atlas shrugged, if you liked it, you'll enjoy the others as well.

Let us know what you think,

  --Josh

JWA
Thursday, June 03, 2004

So far, the best book I've read is "Under the volcano", by Malcolm Lowry. Ayn Rand must be one hell of a writer to beat Malcolm Lowry on the prose.

RP
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Whatever you do, do not stop reading pop-philosophical books after AR. You would really have the stunted growth as someone mentioned. The next book you read after Atlas Shrugged should be Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Enough of a dose of reality without diluting the good in AS.

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

I'd like to second the recommendation of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

My first Pascal lecture was at University in 1984.  The lecturer had written two titles as recommended books.  One was a Pascal text, the other was Pirsig's book.

I still can't adequately define "quality", but I can say that the adjective applies to Pirsig's book.

David B. Wildgoose
Thursday, June 03, 2004


Like I said before, a good place to start, but don't stop.

Most of the people I've known people who were athiest/objectivists/ayn rand disciple-types gave it up after a few years.  The most common reason:

"I've never met an objectivist who was really _happy_.  I've met many Christians who are happy.  I want to be happy ..."

I'm Not really sure what they mean by happy ... I think a better explanation might be something like "If you judge a philosophy by the fruit it bears in the lives of it's adherants, objectivism falls short."

  (I would define the fruit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faith, but, obviously, I have a bibilical background ...)

Matt H.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"Shall we compile the deaths under Monarchist Great Britain, Napoleanic France, Casteist India and Tribal Africa and may be even Colonial South America or Expansionist North America? Political killing is a tool used by every creed of rulers."

It is true that every political system yet invented has killed or oppressed people, both citizens and "the other". The thing I find telling about communist systems is the pace at which they killed their own citizens. Apparently you have to murder a lot more of your own people to achieve "harmony" under communism than under capitalism. So I think I'll stick with capitalism.

"Communism is as evil as capitalism."

I have to confess that I am amazed every single time I read or hear a statment like this one. Absolutely amazed. I invite you to read something by Solzhenitsyn (I would suggest "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
"), and see if you would still make this statement.

Rob VH
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Matt H.

You have summed up my experience exactly.

Rob VH
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"We the Living" was just amazing.  It gave me a glimpse of what life must have been like during the revolution.  I have relatives who lived behind the Iron Curtain, and never really understood why they loved America so much when the immigrated here.  This book shed a little light on the subject.

As for Simon Lucy and his ilk, I have no patience with simple-minded 'Old Europe'.  The US bought their freedom, and, they enjoyed a short period of rapid economic growth until the 1980s.  Now they are a bunch of whining, sniveling, unwashed socialists - unproductive and lazy.  I feel sorry for Eastern Europe since they ended up in the EU.  The only way the surrender monkeys can compete with the hungry Eastern Europeans is to impose their immoral, stultifying regulations and hope that they too become stagnant welfare states.

anon
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"Now they [the US] are a bunch of whining, sniveling, unwashed socialists - unproductive and lazy."

All generalizations are wrong ;-)  But seriously... 

There is a growing group of Americans that fall into that category.  But please don't include me (an American) in that generalization.  There are still plenty of people willing to work hard for their paychecks.

Caffeinated
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Oops.. Just re-read your comment.  You were talking about Europe.  Ignore me.

Caffeinated
Thursday, June 03, 2004

>> "Communism is as evil as capitalism."
> I have to confess that I am amazed every
> single time I read or hear a statment like
> this one. Absolutely amazed. I invite you
> to read something by Solzhenitsyn (I would
> suggest "One Day in the Life of Ivan
> Denisovich"), and see if you would still
> make this statement.

I've seen enough of human behaviour to know that no book can do it justice. I've seen factory managers trying to control (and limit) the bathroom time of the employees; firing them, and then getting them to do the same work from home, at a much lower pay, and with no social benefits (since they don't have a job anymore, they can't be picky, can they?). You may call it natural capitalist behaviour; I call it predatory. You may like a world like this; I don't.

I don't need a book to tell me communism failed. Depite what it may look to you, I don't defend communism.

I also don't need a book to tell me capitalism is going down the drain. With all its promise, it doesn't generate enough wealth to bring a decent life to a large majority of the world's population.

I used to think it was some implementation bug, but I'm beginning to realize capitalism fails by design - it's not meant to create wealth and spread it. It's meant to be truly "no-holds-barred" Darwin's evolution. The strong - and, in the human case, the dishonest - stand the most to gain, and to hell with everyone else.

Yes, it's the best we can do. That doesn't necessarily mean it's good.

Paulo Caetano
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Ah, what the hell! Let's have some fun!

"I feel sorry for Eastern Europe since they ended up in the EU."

Hey, anon, get GWB to invade them, and save them from this terrible fate.

After all, it's working so great in Iraq, right?

Paulo Caetano
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Modules, modules and more modules. Go modular. No huge behemoths. Small and compact. Expose required funtionalities. Interact for mutual gain. Retract when uncomfortable. Now, is that size 100 mil. or 1 bil or 250 K or what, is something the current poticial and social thinkers are more competent to work out.

Any kind of socio-political construct should be easier manage and more importantly implementing changes in the practice and maybe even the theory of that construct, would be feasible when the size of the polity is small. Everyone should be relatively far mor joyous than they are now, or so I would like to think.

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

And if you're interested in being happy, try reading The Happiness Purpose by Edward de Bono.  It is *also* based on reason and individual importance, but is more sensible about the limits of reasoning.  In particular, it includes the concept of "proto-truth" in preference to so-called "absolute truths": truths we accept as the best we can currently know, but accepting that we may improve on those truths.

It is also a more-or-less complete philosophy, or as the author prefers to call it, a "meta-system" for living. As he says:

"""The happiness purpose is to be achieved through the use of thinking and humour and dignity.""" 

and Rand and her philosophy left out the "humour" part. 

(Which is not to say that I think "Atlas Shrugged" isn't an important book to read -- just follow it on with "The Happiness Purpose" for more practical thoughts on everyday life and interacting with other human beings.)

Phillip J. Eby
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"Hey, anon, get GWB to invade them, and save them from this terrible fate.

After all, it's working so great in Iraq, right?"

Please don't confuse me for a Bush supporter.  I'll speculate that Ayn Rand wouldn't care much for Bush either, but, ummm...  It's only been a year, you idiot!!! 

BTW, too bad for Euro-weenies that nasty GWB took away their nice little Oil-for-Food income.  Old Europeans don't like it much when they're forced to actually do some friggin' work for cash instead of stealing it from Iraq. 

anon
Thursday, June 03, 2004

> Even though communism and socialism could be the reason Americans don't have to work 7 days a week 12 hours a day with no vacation.

WTF?!?Which america are you talking about? A mere 84 hours a week sounds like a dream job. What would you do with all the free time?

IT Worker Bee
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"BTW, too bad for Euro-weenies that nasty GWB took away their nice little Oil-for-Food income.  Old Europeans don't like it much when they're forced to actually do some friggin' work for cash instead of stealing it from Iraq."

Well, it was a bit rude of good ol' GWB. I mean, it was good for everybody - Europe was stealing, the USA was stealing, and there was enough to go around for everyone - a nice, warm "spread the wealth". Well, of course, the iraqis (sp?) weren't getting much of it anyway, but now I'm sure they will get it. Yessir, they will definitely get it.

BTW, I know European politicians/leaders aren't any good. Apparently, you live under the illusion that on your side of the Atlantic it's different :)

Paulo Caetano
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"I've seen enough of human behaviour to know that no book can do it justice. I've seen factory managers trying to control (and limit) the bathroom time of the employees; firing them, and then getting them to do the same work from home, at a much lower pay, and with no social benefits (since they don't have a job anymore, they can't be picky, can they?). You may call it natural capitalist behaviour; I call it predatory. You may like a world like this; I don't."

Yes, this type of thing is certainly bad behavior, but it seems absoutely benign compared to packing people off to Siberia to work as slaves on starvation rations. This is the subject of the book I recommended.

So I would submit to the jury that communism has been guilty of much worse evil than capitalism.

Rob VH
Thursday, June 03, 2004

I was raised by a father who was a strict Objectivist and member of the Ayn Rand "cult", so I have some strong opinions on the matter.

The best description of Objectivism I've heard is "Reason without psychology".  It's good theory, but in practice, it makes one lonely, mean spirited, and unhappy.  We don't come from the factory pre-wired for Objectivist success.  It just isn't in human nature.  People respect and follow people who make personal sacrifice, which is considered "evil" under Randian dogma.

If you go beyond the philosophy and into the objectivist "cult", you'll see some weird people with weird ideas.  One point I saw debated some time ago was whether it was okay to kill your own kids.  The reasoning being that it can sometimes be in your own interest and that children are not capable of rational thought, and therefore are not "really" human beings.  It's scary.

As an engineer, I appreciate the mathematical simplicity of Objectivism, but haven't met anyone who has achieved personal or business success through its application.

Bill Carlson
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"It's good theory, but in practice, it makes one lonely, mean spirited, and unhappy"

Sounds like Perl programming.

John Bolt
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Rob VH:

For a comparison, read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. The fruits of the western tradition of capitalism are no prettier than communism or the inquisition. At this scale of nastiness, do the numbers really matter?

Jeff Kotula
Thursday, June 03, 2004

> People respect and follow people who make personal sacrifice, which is considered "evil" under Randian dogma.

Not so at all. We are getting confused with denotations and connotations. 'Sacrifice' is when one gives something for something else. When one exchanges something of greater value for something of lesser value, valuable to me, it is not 'evil'. Rand or not, it is downright stupid. Giving up something of lesser value to something of greater value is in my dictionary, a bloody good bargain.

What is questioned is "Valuable to me". Here the many vs one argument begins. Is my life to be 'sacrificed' for my family's or mu nation's? Secondly the value base itself. What is valuable. My child's welfare over my career? My career over my leisure? My leisure over yours?

This is where the problem arises. Most Communists say the greater good of the greater number over the individual pleasure of one person. And Rand countered it.

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

I suppose it's a bit of a catch-22.  People will be loyal if you show that you're willing to sacrifice to help them.  But if the purpose of your sacrifice is to help yourself by gaining loyalty, then it isn't really a sacrifice.

I think you can divide it into three camps:

1. People have no _obligation_ to the greater good
2. People are obligated to arbitrarily balance selfishness with altruism.
3. People have infinite obligation to altruistic concerns and none for self.

You can successful at #1 as long as you don't tell anyone.  Preaching "it's all about me, baby!" isn't going to win you much support, rightly or wrongly.  How long can you really keep this a secret?

Bill Carlson
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Having no "obligation" to help someone does *not* preclude you from actually helping out *if it is in your best interests*.  See the following link (which someone already posted):
http://rous.redbarn.org/objectivism/Writing/NathanielBranden/BenefitsAndHazards.html#benevolence

“Given that we live in society, and given that misfortune or tragedy can strike any one of us, it is clearly in our self-interest to live in a world in which human beings deal with one another in a spirit of mutual benevolence and helpfulness. Could anyone seriously argue that the principle of mutual aid does not have survival value?”

So, Rand-ian philosophy would teach that it is indeed *good* to be helpful -- just not in a way in which you are sacrificing yourself or others. Note that the Randian sacrifice is probably a different definition than you (or I) are accustomed to. Donating money to a homeless shelter is not sacrificing if you can afford it and also feel better about yourself when you give it. If the donation causes you to not have enough money to eat, then it is a sacrifice (and not a very good one).

MR
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Ayn Rand's objectivist views are total crap.

There is SOME value in reading her novels and understanding her viewpoint -- many college-aged females buy into her bullshit for a few years (probably due to the strong female characters being wooed, but not subservient to, rich, powerful men) until they've been exposed to the Real World and see her for the sham she is.  If you're cruising for some college-aged tail, you can just remember a few key phrases like "Who is John Galt?" and use their naivety to get laid.

Mr Fancypants
Thursday, June 03, 2004

MR - what you're saying is true.  The problem is that selfish concerns argue for reaping the benefits of a beneolent society without giving back.

However, take the example of voting.  It takes significant time and produces no personal gain (how many elections are decided by a single vote?).  The amount of change you bring about in your own personal sphere is negligible, but if no one stood up, we would be in a lot of trouble.

One can paradoxically see the selfish benefits of altruism at a micro scale, but at a macro level it breaks down.

Bill Carlson
Thursday, June 03, 2004

67 posts so far just from saying Ayn Rand. What is amazing to me is how people can apparently compartementalize. I'll use my brain here, but not there ... over here I'll just repeat what I've been told.

Ayn Rand was a breath of fresh air to me.  Of all places I found her book on a kubbutz.  It was hard for me to understand how all these people could believe in this old man in the sky which George Carlin did a good job on. Reading her book confirmed a lot of what I felt but which I could not reconcile with my upbringing.

All that said, I am not a libertarian and I don't agree with her lock and step ... just about 99% of the time. So far the only person I find I agree with ALL the time is Thomas Sowell.

me
Thursday, June 03, 2004

> Stalin murdered. So did Hitler. So did GWB.

Ah yes, three similar persons. Its amazing you know of the 'purges' we are having in Montana and the concentration camps in Nevada.

Godwin's Ally
Thursday, June 03, 2004

It's extremely ironic that so many developers 'embrace objectivism' while doing such an incredibly piss poor job of protecting or defending their own interests. If you are not looking out for yourself, you can hardly be considered an objectivist.

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, June 03, 2004

> Shall we compile the deaths under Monarchist Great Britain, Napoleanic France, Casteist India and Tribal Africa and may be even Colonial South America or Expansionist North America?

Yes, let's do this as I am interested. I do not know the numbers for the first few. For the last one, the death toll was 250 million Indians dead, far exceeding the purges of Stalin. One of their architects is on the $20 bill, a fact I find quite offensive. After all, Germany does not put Hitler on their currency any more.

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, June 03, 2004

I tried reading one of her books once. I had high hopes, as the blurb on the back of the book claimed I would be thrilled. She has a thing for hands, which I did like (they're the windows to the soul, you know), but this was thi high point of an otherwise terminallly dull book.

Like 'Zen and the Art...' and 'Go"del Escher Bach', it is probably one of those best read when you are a teenager... then best discarded very soon thereafter.

Tom
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Bill,

Thanks for the reply.

I am not nearly enough of a Randian scholar (I’ve certainly heard of her before but it wasn’t until I read this thread that I started to read up about her) to know if the example you provided (voting) would violate Rand’s selfishness principle. Or even if voting (for, say, a politician) is even an element in Randian politics because it abdicates personal responsibility (e.g. you give up personal responsibility when you elect someone to make choices for you and then suffer the consequences) and allows for the majority to trample the minority rights (the ‘self’ is the ultimate minority).

That said, from what I’ve read Rand is not an anarchist so some form of government must fit into her theory – however what form that takes is unknown to me at this point. I would suspect, though, that this issue has been discussed and resolved, although I’m not probing Google with the right keywords at the moment to actually tell if it is a non-issue.

MR
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Dennis,

From what I understand most Indians were killed long before "The United States of America" came into play, namely in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries (meaning a lot of nations were involved in the slaughter).

However, no estimates that I can find online indicate that there was anywhere near 250M of them left after 1776. Most put them at 2 to 5M (although one suggested upwards of 12M).

MR
Thursday, June 03, 2004

> Stalin murdered. So did Hitler. So did GWB.

> Ah yes, three similar persons. Its amazing you know of the 'purges' we are having in Montana and the concentration camps in Nevada.

I did not know that the definition of murder included a pre-condition of a geographic locale.

Even so. Gunatanomo Bay and it has only been 4 years into power. God forbid another 4.

.
Thursday, June 03, 2004

(BTW 250M Native Americans killed is a patently ludicrous number.)

MR
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Can we disabuse ourselves of the notion that a person who kills ten people is somehow significantly "less evil" than one who kills ten million?

Alyosha`
Thursday, June 03, 2004

Right, if you kill 10 people, then you're a murderer. But if you kill 10 million, then you're God. Or so some believe.

The waterboy
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"So I would submit to the jury that communism has been guilty of much worse evil than capitalism."

OK, I'll settle for that. We're leaving out a few parts of the equation (e.g., the "Nike kids"), but we'll leave it for another day.

Like I said, I'm not defending communism. I'm just sick of all the "we're good, they're evil" crap. As if anyone had any right to wear immaculate white, and call upon the "purifying fires from the Heavens above upon our foes" (or some such nonsense).

Paulo Caetano
Thursday, June 03, 2004

MR:

Perhaps if you sum up all of the native population killed by diseases, conquest, etc. from 1492 onward, you could reach 250 million? This is the only explanation that seems plausible to me.

I won't argue against the point that western nations have been guilty of atrocities against people in the Americas (and in Australia, too). I'm arguing the point that some systems are more predisposed than others to kill their own citizens. Capitalist societies fair quite well in this regard. My personal belief is that this is due to the fact that it requires less coercion to make capitalism work than communism or socialism. I think these systems can, in the long run, work only for small groups, due to the nature of Men. In small groups it is possible to enforce the level of discipline and control necessary to keep a communist system functioning.

Rob VH
Thursday, June 03, 2004

I wasn't aware I had an ilk, I rather doubt I do.

I first responded as to why knowledge workers seem drawn to Ayn Rand, this was not an attack on Objectivism.  Then later I offered a small critique of her writing and that it reminded me of Fascist art of the same period and that she gave me the creeps.

Quite why that gets painted as Old Europe thinking I'm not sure but I'm quite sure Rumsfeld's spectre is applauding even now.

Ayn Rand does not write about individualism in a free society she writes of individuals triumphing over society, and yes there is an echo of Thatcher and her misquoted 'there is no such thing as society'.  If those individuals are triumphing over society then it only means that other individuals are being trampled in the process.

Which is partly why I'd categorise it as fascist and although its not really appreciated outside of the US (and barely within it), her ideas struck a chord with the frontiering, colonial spirit she found when she arrived.  And she made no bones about wanting to manipulate european philosophies into a form acceptable in America.

We have the reverberations of that even now.

There were similar almost parallel opportunities at exactly the same time and ones that I'd find considerably more palatable.  Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics in 'Science and Sanity' published in 1933 is a thesis at right angles to Rand.  An antithesis of the Aristotelian logic still ground out (in such stultifying prose) by Rand.

General Semantics even had its own fiction writing champion in A.E. Van Vogt, though the results emphasise how hard it is to write a story and not have it follow one of the Aristotelian archetypes.

I'd not put Zen and  the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance into the same league as any of Ayn Rand, its written far too well and it achieves its goal of unifying classical and romantic philosophies (as understood by the Ancient Greeks).  If you want to see how tortured an intelligent writer can become then I recommend Lila by Robert Pirsig (author of Zen and  the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).

But then I would not live my life by whatever precepts I found inside that book either. 

For background reading on where Rand came from and the european origins she made use of, I'd suggest reading Nietsche, Hegel and the logical positivists of Germany before WWI, though I'd probably not include Wittgensteins Logicus Tractatus in that.

I'd never dissuade anyone from reading any author, but when reading someone that's so avowedly writing with a political and philosophical purpose its as well to go armed with whatever background one can muster.

Simon Lucy
Thursday, June 03, 2004

RP,

Read the following and it should hopefully be obvious why technical people often have an affinity with Ayn Rand :

<some spoilers here maybe - be warned>

Ayn articulated the idea that the majority of people do not contribute towards the successfull operation of society.

That a few people who do know what they're doing struggle and fight to maintain and imrpove the world despite the muddled efforts of the ignorant majority.

This is the main thesis of "Atlas Shrugged".  Atlas is of course the man who supports the world on his shoulders. 

Well what if he was to stop caring, what if he was to simply "shrug".  Would the world fall to oblivion ?

In the book a group of successful business leaders become so discouraged with government mismanagement that they decide to take their skills and run away to a secret new society,  leaving behind all the incompetant managers to 'manage' unchecked.

One woman however, the stories main character, decides to stay and fight the decline and disintergration of the society that is being driven into chaos and poverty by a (communist) government.

The main question of the book is whether the duty of the competant is to fight to do a good job and serve the incompetant, who of course are not aware of the damage they cause and often have power and authority.

This idea of a few people who actually support and maintain the world for a large number of incompetants is one that naturally rings a bell for technical people.

braid_ged
Thursday, June 03, 2004

I think the casting of the debate, above, as being between "communism" and "capitalism" is wrong. Both are terribly destructive if left unchecked.

The modifier is Democracy. Democracy is that strange beast that pulls monsters from power pretty soon after they start displaying any tendencies. It's not perfect but it works.

Capitalism in the new Russia was ugly for a while, with petty crims ripping off everyone, building mansions and bribing their way out of trouble. In the West, whether we had communism or capitalism, we have newspapers that report such things and elections to eject rulers that tolerate it.

JM
Thursday, June 03, 2004

JM posted this:
"The modifier is Democracy. Democracy is that strange beast that pulls monsters from power pretty soon after they start displaying any tendencies. It's not perfect but it works."

This quote is a more accurate:
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until a majority of voters discover that they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury."
Alexander Tytler

Sorry, but the average human is an unwashed, uneducated, lazy imbecile.  Allowing the average human to vote is quite ludicrous indeed.

anon
Thursday, June 03, 2004

I would have to say that democracy is the worst form of government ever -- with the possible exception of everything else that's been tried from time to time.

Here is where I obligated to pimp my idea of a hierarchical form of government, the lowest level consisting of councilmembers chosen by lot, and each higher level selected consisting of delegates chosen by each lower council.  It's a structure that balances proportionate representation at the bottom with meritocracy at the top.  Hasn't been tried yet, to my knowledge.  Maybe it'll work.

Alyosha`
Thursday, June 03, 2004

"Sorry, but the average human is an unwashed, uneducated, lazy imbecile.  Allowing the average human to vote is quite ludicrous indeed."

Yep. Allowing him to be elected is even worse.

Also, the "majority of voters" don't "vote themselves largess out of the public treasury" - they elect some of those imbeciles you mentioned, who then proceed bank on their newfound power. When was the last time the voters got anything out of corporation/state "under-the-table" deal?

Actually, what the "majority of voters" usually gets is to clean up the mess, in the form of more taxes. It's a just a small minority that gets to cash in.


"It's a structure that balances proportionate representation at the bottom with meritocracy at the top"

The only problem is, as usual, human nature. This system would be abused, just like others that had similar goals. We are very very good at it :)

I completely agree with Rob on one thing - Socialism doesn't scale. I think there's a noble idea in there somewhere - not so much the "end all classes" stuff, but rather the realizing that we all should have a social responsibility to help looking after each other. Unfortunately, we do a lot worse at social responsibility than we do at finding self-serving loopholes in laws/systems.

Paulo Caetano
Friday, June 04, 2004

Best would be a philosopher king as envisaged by Plato.  Just as there are trained surgeons and astronauts and pilots, make political administration into a strict discipline, train aspiring youth, and provide a political  support structure like an advisory and monitoring committes. Plato's Republic is yet to be realised, and IMO realisable.

We have tried Monarchy, where one blood line is trained and moulded from birth for the job. This failed because of bad apples and a propensity to forget one's responsibilities. Something akin to a pilot playing fast and loose in the cockpit, when his prime and perhaps sole responsbility is to transport people from point A to point B. We have tried democracy where 'good' people with 'good' intentions with 'good' values are selected/elected to lead the society. This is failing because of various definitions of 'good' and no system to formalise any arbitary definition of 'Good". We tried Socialism where everyone contributes to his best and everyone partakes of everyone's best. This failed because  every one is a unit complete by himself. We tried total anarchy and where everything goes. This failed because when everything is acceptable, so is failure, and to fail is easier than to succeed.

So cull the best of everything. Formalise public administration. Establish high entry barriers. Define parameters of social interaction. Establish perimeters for the sphere of influence. Incorporate the Academy and start enrolling future Philosopher Kings. Call him King, Comrade, President, whatever and his writ runs.

.
Friday, June 04, 2004

I think Officer Barbrady put it better than any of us ever could:

Barbrady: Yes at first I was happy to be learning how to read, it seemed exciting and magical. But then I read this. "Atlas Shrugged" by Ann Ryand. I read every last word of this garbage and because of this piece of shit, I'm never reading again!


  -tim

a2800276
Friday, June 04, 2004

Having never read Ayn Rand's work I was going to keep quiet - but I have read a lot of Plato (including both the Republic & the Laws) and I'd just like to say NO WAY do I want that proto-fascist toffee nosed upper class git having any influence whatsoever on the government of my country. 

To summarise his position, create a caste of philosophers taken away from the mothers at birth and brought up to rule.  Only they have power and their power is absolute.  Institute total control of the population by the government which, since it is controlled by philosophers (i.e. people like Plato), is infallible.  (See 'The Republic' for theory, 'The Laws' for implementation).

Which as far as I'm concerned is the same type of adolescent power fantasy you see from every totalitarian and revolutionary regime for the last 1500 years.  Not nice.

However, considering the man's background (spoiled rich kid -  dodgy family connections) I'm not at all surprised.

a cynic writes...
Friday, June 04, 2004

"make political administration into a strict discipline, train aspiring youth, and provide a political  support structure like an advisory and monitoring committes"

Quino - author of the cartoon strip "Mafalda" - addressed this in one of his cartoons.

One of Mafalda's friends suggests something similar to this - since politicians are so lousy at what they do, let's create a school for politicians, so that they can learn how to do it properly.

Then Mafalda asks "Yes, and who would the teachers be?"

:)

Paulo Caetano
Friday, June 04, 2004

While both funny and true, it is not impossible.  Who were the first teachers for the MBA courses or Phsycology degrees or Aeronautical Engineering in Universities and Colleges?

It is not implementation issue. It is more of a policy matter, as is evident by the comments of the cynic who writes above.

.
Friday, June 04, 2004

Er...yes I am a little touchy on the subject of Plato. 

Supporting any authoritarian system relies on you believing either that you should be in authority or that someone should have authority over you.  I wouldn't trust myself with absolute power and I certainly wouldn't trust anyone else. 

Ask yourself: "Who would you give the right to kill your children?"

a cynic writes...
Friday, June 04, 2004

You only have to know that Alcibiades was his mate to begin to think that Plato was a wrong'un.

Simon Lucy
Friday, June 04, 2004

Hi MR,

"Expansionist North America" was mentioned, which I would put at 1492 onwards, with the arrival of the puritans a big event. Yes, probably only 5-12 million were left in that colonial era, having remained somewhat stable until Jackson's vision of genocide knocked it down even further, bringing levels down to unsustainable and eliminating what was left of most tribes.

Dennis Atkins
Friday, June 04, 2004

I've just cross-posted this from the more recent "smart people" thread. Sorry if you've read it there already.

-----

I've read most of Ayn Rand's fiction and a great deal of her non-fiction. Most of the posts in this and the previous Rand thread are ascribing views to her which she would have found offensive or worse. She never wrote anything advocating society should be run by the "intelligent" (whatever that is supposed to mean) - in fact she railed vehemently against precisely such movements in history. See for example any of her essays in "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal", "For the New Intellectual" or "Philosophy: Who Needs It?". She was absolutely not a fascist either and reserved her strongest damnation for statists of all types - fascists, communists, etc. It is no coincidence that Mussolini banned her movie "We The Living" after he realised it wasn't just critical of the Russians.

There have been plenty of threads on this forum complaining about arrogant, "know it all" programmer types who don't understand the topic they are talking about and yet are still willing to hold forth with their opinion because they perceive themselves as "smart" and hence even their speculations must be accurate.

I think if people are going to paraphrase the views of a writer, politician, philosopher, computer scientist, or any fellow human being, they ought to at least provide a verbatim quote with the surrounding context. Otherwise they are adding nothing but hot air to the conversation.

It is also irritating to see people posting ideas from other people's commentaries or interpretations of Rand (e.g. libertarians, other books, etc.), rather than going directly to the source. Could you understand medicine by reading biographies of famous doctors? As programmers, aren't we taught that the documentation is always suspect and to find out what's really happening, we need to look at the source? This should be obvious.

.
Friday, June 04, 2004

Paulo Caetano you wrote ".....'no-holds-barred' Darwin's evolution. The strong - and, in the human case, the dishonest - stand the most to gain, and to hell with everyone else."

Just to clear this up for you Darwin was not a proponent for any sort of 'strong human' taking over the weak ones. He started the research on evolution which is a natural process. Taking his ideas and applying them to human is referred to as Social Darwinism and this is where "survival of the fittest" comes in coined by Spencer but never agreed upon or condoned by Darwin.

On the general topic of Ayn Rand...I enjoyed reading Ayn Rand. She has interesting ideas that promote thinking. Anyone that reads one book and it takes over their entire thought process should have caution. Does her literature have a profound effect on some people's way of thinking? Absolutely! Should you call yourself an objectivist because you've read her stuff only? Absolutely not!

This is an interesting discussion forum. Thanks for having it.

CJ
Friday, June 11, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home