Friday, October 12, 2007

Honesty in Objectivism

Ayn Rand, "For The New Intellectual::
"Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud - that an attempt to gain value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, their perceptiveness become enemies you have to dread and flee - that you do not care to live as a dependent, least of all a dependent on the stupidity of others, or as a fool whose source of values is the fools he succeeds in fooling - that honesty is not a social virtue, but the most profoundly selfish virtue a man can practice..."
Ayn Rand Institute press release, Sept 12, 2007:
"Atlas Shrugged" ranks as one of the most influential books of all time, ranking second only to the Bible in a 1991 survey by the Library of Congress."

22 comments:

Paul said...

"....where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions..."

Isn't the aim of deception to make other people your slaves through their own blindness?

This entire passage is moot anyway, if the people you deceive are only encountered briefly enough for the exchange to take place...which happens in many cases.

Anonymous said...

Contextually what ARI says is true.

Neil Parille said...

I don't see how a survey of 2000 Book of the Month Club readers done in 1991 can establish that a book which came out in 1957 was "one of the most influential books of all time."

Paul said...

The high popularity of a book does not mean it is true, anyway (fallacy of argumentum ad populum).

Besides, I can think of a number of books I once bought that I no longer take seriously.

neil parille said...

And the quote doesn't make much sense in the context of Objectivism.

Objectivism holds that philosphical ideas advocated by intellectuals are the ultimate determiners of history. Since considerably fewer than 100 intellectuals have advocated Objectivism since 1957, how could AS be one of the most influential books of all time?

gregnyquist said...

ARI: "Atlas Shrugged" ranks as one of the most influential books of all time, ranking second only to the Bible in a 1991 survey by the Library of Congress."

Undoubtely, the people at ARI who put out this misleading statement thought they were being honest and straighforward. But that's really the heart of the problem. What Rand and her apologists don't realize how easy it is to fall prey to self-deception. Of course, Rand, with her blank slate view of human nature, would deny that there is any such tendency to self-deception. But it's there nonetheless, confirmed by common experience and, if that's not enough, ever so many psychological experiments. In a sense, the real problem is not so much that Rand and her followers are dishonest, it's that they don't know what being honest means, nor do they appreciate how easy it is, even for an Objectivist, to fall prey to self-deception and wishful thinking.

gregnyquist said...

Anon: "Contextually what ARI says is true."

Is this supposed to be ironic? I certainly hope so. If not, then basically we here have an example of a statement that is contextually true but factually false! I mean, in particular, the assertion that Atlas Shrugged rates "as one of the most influential books of all time" — a palpable case of over-exaggeration, if ever there was one. And the evidence brought forth in its favor falls under the category Technically true, but factually misleading.

Neil Parille said...

The most the survey proves (with a fair amount of charity) is that AS is the second most influential book as far as American readers go. How that means it is one of the most influential books in history is beyond me.

Robert L. Campbell said...

Neil is of course right that, to Rand, only impact on intellectuals was of primary importance. If one defines an Objectivist intellectual as one who professes belief in Rand's entire system, as interpreted for all time by her vicar on earth, Leonard Peikoff, there have been well under 100 Objectivist intellectuals in the last 50 years. If one allows into the count any intellectual who counts Rand as a significant, positive influence, the impact of Atlas Shrugged has been a good deal larger.

As for the Ayn Rand Institute's use of the bullshit claim about the Book of the Month Club survey, there is no particular to invoke the possibility of self-deception here. Truth-telling is a highly contextual virtue as far as ARIans are concerned. Some of them feel entitled to lie to any "enemy of Objectivism"--a category so broad, in their view, that it can be stretched to include nearly anyone who has not sworn fealty to ARI.

Robert Campbell

Robert L. Campbell said...

Sorry...

that should be

There is no particular need to invoke the possibility of self-deception

Daniel Barnes said...

Robert:
>If one allows into the count any intellectual who counts Rand as a significant, positive influence, the impact of Atlas Shrugged has been a good deal larger.

Hi Robert,

Now here's a point I would definitely agree with. There's no doubt that Rand can have a significant, positive impact on people. She preaches individualism, achievement, freedom, reason - who can argue with that? Certainly it is preferable to a lot of equally vague nihilism as inspiration! However, the problem is perhaps nicely summarised by this issue; the persistent wild exaggerations as to the level of her actual achievements. This, combined with the concealing of her errors - some of which have potentially serious consequences, especially in her ethics - from direct criticism by a cultic priesthood, has long needed serious and equally persistent reply . She was a remarkable woman in many respects, but she was no millenial genius; and her being mistaken for such by those eager for millenial prophesies will easily transform her virtues into vices that are just as strong, if not more so.

Bobby Funk said...

The BMOC thing is actually the least of Objectivist whoppers.

Rand's own pronouncement that "Big Business is America's persecuted minority" is laughable, though certainly not attributable to intent to deceive. What's perplexing is that some of her state-privileged villains in "Atlas Shrugged" are of Big Business.

Then there was her declaration at a graduation ceremony at West Point that the "military-industrial complex is a myth or worse." Again, she should be granted the benefit of doubt that she was not being willfully dishonest, but where the hell did she think all those bombs, missile, planes and tanks come from? The Magic Armaments Fairy???

Daniel Barnes said...

Good points Bobby. Does Leonard Peikoff still pull that line these days, I wonder? Esp given the massive accumulation of wealth in the top 0.1% of the population in the last couple of decades. If this is being "persecuted", I wish they'd persecute me a little more...!

Jay said...

Businessmen are absolutely persecuted. They are often denounced by friends and family as "slaves to their work." The government is constantly raising taxes on them, except when election time rolls around and businessmen become puppets for the ever-important task of "job creation." The profit motive in general is maligned (ignorantly) for all sorts of problems, including but certainly not limited to high gas prices, loan defaults, and high consumer debt. In reality these things are caused by supply and demand, imprudent borrowing, and poor financial decisions, but facts are no substitute for anti-business dogma.

No one sings the praises of successful businessmen despite all they do for society. That's Rand's point and having run a company before I agree with it 100%.

Jay said...

(Some thoughts that didn't make it into my last comment.)

I think many people are in general ignorant about wealth and how it comes into existence.

One of my favorite (non-Objectivist) primers on that subject is an article called "How To Make Wealth." It's written by a venture capitalist named Paul Graham.

SRC: http://paulgraham.com/wealth.html

His article "How To Do Philosophy" is interesting. Note the number of Objectivists replying in the comments.

SRC: http://paulgraham.com/philosophy.html

Daniel Barnes said...

Jay:
>Businessmen are absolutely persecuted.

Hi Jay,

I think this is overstated, and I say this coming from an entrepreneurial family, and being a business owner myself.

Sure, there's a lot of pressures, but the rewards are good. And the govt doesn't always raise taxes - in fact they have been lowered significantly here in New Zealand over the years. Plus there's plenty of deductables. I don't know about the States, though I do a bit of business in Europe and Australia.

>No one sings the praises of successful businessmen despite all they do for society.

Once again, if I go to the average bookstore there's an avalanche of bestsellers written by successful business achievers, and a score of magazines featuring them on the cover. So I don't think it's as bad as Rand makes out (it was probably worse in her day, so we can cut her some slack there). Executive salaries have also gone through the stratosphere in the last decades, and cause public disgruntlement not because they are always the result of high achievement, but because they very often are not.

>I think many people are in general ignorant about wealth and how it comes into existence.

However, here I agree with you entirely...;-)

Neil Parille said...

And it's a two way street, so to speak. Big business in the US for example wants to have socialized medicine so that their costs are transferred to the taxpayers.

Paul said...

"In reality these things are caused by supply and demand, imprudent borrowing, and poor financial decisions..."

Indeed that is often the case. It should be noted that those things are often caused by imprudent 'profit motive' on the part of consumers. But the companies themselves also join in.

As an employee of the mortgage default end of the title industry, I have a 50 yard line view of the current housing crash in America. And ALOT of it was caused by investors driving up prices by flipping, borrowers who wanted houses that they could not really afford, and construction and lending companies who were all to willing to accommodate them for a piece of the action.

There was plenty of 'profit motive' (mainly QUICK profit motive) on all sides. I know some loan officers who intentionally fudged the numbers to get horrid credit risks a loan, and appraisers who were pressured to jack up the values of homes. I don't just blame the lending industry, I blame the consumer equally. And I have no sympathy for any of them.

And anyone can be a slave to their job, not just the top execs.

Jay said...

And it's a two way street, so to speak. Big business in the US for example wants to have socialized medicine so that their costs are transferred to the taxpayers.

Insurance companies may want that, but I doubt actual doctors do. My mother is a nurse (she's not an Objectivist or a conservative) and I've watched her job dissatisfaction go down year after year as regulatory headaches mount.

Dragonfly said...

A job dissatisfaction that is going down seems a good thing to me...

Jay said...

You know what I meant.

Dragonfly said...

I think I could guess what you meant...