Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rand's Ethics, Part 14

Randian virtues: productiveness. Finally, a virtue we can all agree on! Or is it? Leave it to Rand to screw up even the most obvious virtues by distorting them with false ideals. Here’s how Rand introduces productiveness:
Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live—that productive work is the process by which man's consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one's purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth in the image of one's values—that all work is creative work if done by a thinking mind, and no work is creative if done by a blank who repeats in uncritical stupor a routine he has learned from others—that your work is yours to choose, and the choice is as wide as your mind, that nothing more is possible to you and nothing less is human—that to cheat your way into a job bigger than your mind can handle is to become a fear-corroded ape on borrowed motions and borrowed time, and to settle down into a job that requires less than your mind's full capacity is to cut your motor and sentence yourself to another kind of motion: decay—that your work is the process of achieving your values, and to lose your ambition for values is to lose your ambition to live—that your body is a machine, but your mind is its driver, and you must drive as far as your mind will take you, with achievement as the goal of your road—that the man who has no purpose is a machine that coasts downhill at the mercy of any boulder to crash in the first chance ditch, that the man who stifles his mind is a stalled machine slowly going to rust, that the man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap, and the man who makes another man his goal is a hitchhiker no driver should ever pick up—that your work is the purpose of your life, and you must speed past any killer who assumes the right to stop you, that any value you might find outside your work, any other loyalty or love, can be only travelers you choose to share your journey and must be travelers going on their own power in the same direction.



Rand is here guilty of over-romanticizing her virtue. “All work,” she declares, “is creative work if done by a thinking mind.” Really? And even worse, Rand goes on to insist that “no work is creative if done by a blank who repeats in uncritical stupor a routine he has learned from others.” So in other words, routinized work, doing as your told, is ruled out of hand. Such work is not virtuous; perhaps is even vicious.

Consider, in terms of contrast, Thomas Carlyle’s view of work:
All work, even cotton-spinning, is noble; work is alone noble: be that here said and asserted once more… A man perfects himself by working. Foul jungles are cleared away, fair seedfields rise instead, and stately cities; and withal the man himself first ceases to be a jungle and foul unwholesome desert thereby. Consider how, even in the meanest sorts of Labour, the whole soul of a man is composed into a kind of real harmony, the instant he sets himself to work! Doubt, Desire, Sorrow, Remorse, Indignation, Despair itself, all these like hell-dogs lie beleaguering the soul of the poor day-worker, as of every man: but he bends himself with free valour against his task, and all these are stilled, all these shrink murmuring far off into their caves. The man is now a man.

Carlyle also romanticizes work; but what a difference between his romanticization and Rand’s! Rand turns work into an adventure of creativity and self-actualization. But is that what most people find in work? Not at all. Plenty of uncreative work out there. Floors that need to be scrubbed; toilets that need to be cleaned; snow that needs to be shoveled; ditches that need to be dug; garbage that needs to be picked up. What has Rand to say to the those selected to do these unappetizing tasks? Nothing but a kind of mockery: be “creative” in them, she insists; don’t repeat a routine learned by others! There are two reasons why advice of this sort is bad to the point of cruelty. In the first place, most people who do menial work are not known for their creative intelligence; so that to urge them to think for themselves and work creatively will probably lead to trouble. And secondly, organized work requires hierarchy: bosses and managers telling workers and subordinates what to do. How much better, then, is Carlyle’s romanticization of productive work, since it includes work of all description, even of the meanest variety, and doesn’t romanticize independence and thinking for oneself!

Another possible mischief in Rand’s virtue of productivity is the implication that what is virtuous is not work per se, but the productivity of work, so that greater productivity is equivalent to greater virtue. But what constitutes greater productivity? Is Warren Buffett, the richest man in the world, more productive, and therefore more virtuous, than the Mexican field hand picking grapes from sun-up to sun-down for fifty dollars a day? What about the so-called “idle” rich? Not so many of such types any more, because of high tax rates; but they weren’t so uncommon a hundred years ago. Although most individuals who lived on their savings did not have regular jobs, they were not always completely idle. They may have had hobbies or pursued other interests. Could such hobbies or interests be consider productive even though they earned no income from them? Take, as one example, Arnold Bax, who lived in England during the first half of the twentieth century. Bax, due to his family, did not have earn a living. So he composed music—tone poems, symphonies, chamber works, songs, etc. Made very little money from his compositions, none of which ever became permanent fixtures in the standard repertoire. Can Bax be credited with practicing the virtue of productiveness? And if so, on what basis? What does it mean to be productive? Does it mean the production of market value? Or is it the production of anything, as long as it involves creativity? Or is it the “objective” quality of the thing produced that determines whether productiveness, and hence virtue, went into its making?

So many questions—yet all remain unanswered by Rand, shrouded in the ambiguities of her overheated rhetoric! Why could not Rand have contented herself with saying “Work is virtuous,” rather than creating this romantic ideal which few, if any, ever have a chance of reaching?

40 comments:

JayCross said...

I was looking forward to this virtue, as it touches something very dear to me.

I got into Rand when my best friend and I started a company in 2004. We were 17 then, and facing much opposition from parents and friends who didn't approve of or understand what we were doing. All we knew is that our young company meant the world to us and nothing would make us relinquish it. Then along came Rand to say that what we were doing was not just okay, but morally good and heroic! The sentiment is what drew me in, but the meaning has stuck with me. Your work should satisfy you. It should matter to you. I always had a vague sense that it should be that way, but I did not see it very much in the adult world. I started to wonder if maybe this whole "you should like your work" thing was an immature fad I needed to grow out of. Rand is a big reason that I did not grow out of it.

Rand did over-romanticize productiveness a bit. Not everyone is cut out to be his own boss. That is a fact. It takes a certain blend of personality traits to take on the responsibility of a Roark or D'Anconia. What I take away from this, though, is that it is important to find work that stimulates and satisfies you. Even if that means working for somebody else.

As Steve Jobs said in a speech:

"Your work is going to fill a large portion of your life. And the only way to be satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to do what you love."

What about the uncreative jobs that "somebody's gotta do?" Venture capitalist Paul Graham has an interesting take on that in his article "How To Do What You Love"

Another related line you often hear is that not everyone can do work they love—that someone has to do the unpleasant jobs. Really? How do you make them? In the US the only mechanism for forcing people to do unpleasant jobs is the draft, and that hasn't been invoked for over 30 years. All we can do is encourage people to do unpleasant work, with money and prestige.

If there's something people still won't do, it seems as if society just has to make do without. That's what happened with domestic servants. For millennia that was the canonical example of a job "someone had to do." And yet in the mid twentieth century servants practically disappeared in rich countries, and the rich have just had to do without."

JayCross said...

Also,

He composed music—tone poems, symphonies, chamber works, songs, etc. Made very little money from his compositions, none of which ever became permanent fixtures in the standard repertoire. Can Bax be credited with practicing the virtue of productiveness?

I would say yes, absolutely. Whether you need to produce market value is a function of your own circumstances. I think the point Rand was making is that as people, we need ever-escalating goals and achievements to feel truly fulfilled. Bax's compositions certainly seem to qualify.

Daniel Barnes said...

BTW, congratulations Greg on such a superb, comprehensive effort with this series. I think we might make a special section for it on the ARCHNblog for future reference.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "Then along came Rand to say that what we were doing was not just okay, but morally good and heroic! The sentiment is what drew me in, but the meaning has stuck with me. Your work should satisfy you. It should matter to you."

I don't think there is any doubt that if you can do what you love doing, that's what you should do. But not everybody can earn a living at what they like doing. And I think how Rand frames her virtue of productiveness, the implications she hangs about it, does such people a disfavor. It's also why I prefer Carlyle's approach. "Carlyle was right," H. L. Mencken maintained. "The only solution is work." Paul Graham's view, on the other hand, is not realistic. It's the view of someone who's very lucky but who doesn't want to face up to the fact that many other people aren't so lucky. That sort of unrealism is what I object to. Carlyle's view is a reformulation of the Protestant Work Ethic, which was the dominant attitude toward work in English speaking countries before the sixties. Seventy-five years ago, most people in the United States were ashamed to take welfare from the government because of their firm conviction that work was a duty of life that could never be shirked and that idleness was immoral. While I am sympathetic with the ideal of people working at what they like to do, I think you have to be very careful that this ideal doesn't surreptiously metamorphize into a sense of entitlement, so that people who can't succeed in finding work that they like don't become resentful. The hostility toward business and free enterprise arises, in part, from just this sort of resentment.

JayCross said...

Greg,

In your opinion, why do so many people fail to find work that they like?

meg said...

The reason why work is called WORK is because people generally don't enjoy doing it, and therefore must get paid in order to do it. Most people don't particularly enjoy their jobs, and most jobs are not particularly enjoyable. In fact many of the most important jobs to society are extremely unenjoyable, such as garbage collectors, construction workers, line cooks.

It's easy for Steve Jobs to make his "Stay young, stay foolish" speech, when he has earned millions doing it. But for the vast majority of us, that is awful advice.

When asked how she managed to have such staying power in the fickle entertainment industry, Jennifer Lopez said that she thought of her music as primarily as a job and only second as something she loves. Scott Adams also said that he saw his "Dilbert" cartoons as his work, and that it was "never a joy".

There will always be days when you won't love or feel like going to work, no matter how much you might initially love your art. Success requires diligence and commitment even during the times when you don't enjoy it.

Even in my work (I'm a biology grad student), I've seen countless bitter, disenchanted techs, postdocs and grad students who went into science because they "loved" or were "passionate" about it. 90% of experiments fail, and it can be very frustrating and disappointing. When you realize that 6 months of hard work and experiments has pretty much been for nothing, no amount of love or passion is going to make up for it. So if you go into science thinking that you love it and you're going to make great discoveries, you're setting yourself up for a rude shock, because when that doesn't happen (and most of the time it doesn't) you're going to be bitterly disappointed. The way I see it is that my research is ultimately a job that I do to support myself, so I am committed to doing my best, and I probably enjoy it better than other alternatives, and if I find enjoyment on top of that, it's icing. (Of course that is not what I said in my interview, but then again, who would...)

I would even go as far as to say these people are being misleading and disingenuous to say that they are doing what they "love" and encourage people to follow their passions at any cost. Sure, if I could get suckers to give me millions of dollars, I'd love whatever it was I was doing too.

Maybe some people get lucky making lots of money doing what they love, but the vast majority of the time, one would do much better to be realistic about your own abilities and qualifications and choose your line of work thusly.

Jay said...

It's easy for Steve Jobs to make his "Stay young, stay foolish" speech, when he has earned millions doing it.

I don't think that's fair. In that same speech he talks about how he lost everything and had to start over again from scratch. That's not luck. It's skill.

There will always be days when you won't love or feel like going to work, no matter how much you might initially love your art. Success requires diligence and commitment even during the times when you don't enjoy it.

I don't think anyone would deny that. Even star athletes have days when they don't feel like going to the gym or running drills. The point, however, is to enjoy something in the context of a lifetime. As Graham explains:

But the fact is, almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Carribbean, or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems. The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn't mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.

Another good litmus test is money. How much would someone have to offer you to stop doing your job? Generally, I believe the lower that amount is, the sooner you should wonder why you are in that job. I hear what you are saying but I simply cannot fathom spending 60 years doing something that "just pays the bills."

There is definitely some wisdom in your paragraph about biology. I have accepted that I will feel similar things once I'm in law school. For all my dreams of arguing a case before the Supreme Court, I know there will be lots of clerking and less sexy tasks that come first. The reason I accept that, though, is because I believe the payoff will be worth it. If it's not, I will find another way to make a living.

As they say, "life is too short."

meg said...

I hear what you are saying but I simply cannot fathom spending 60 years doing something that "just pays the bills."

Well let's hope you are either skillful enough, or lucky enough, and preferably both, so you won't have to. But even if that's the case for you, it isn't the case for many other people, so there's no sense in saying they should be doing something they love, or even that it would be desirable for them to try to do so.

Jay said...

That's exactly it though, what makes me different from those other people? I'd say it's my attitude, and insistence on work that I like. There's not some magic pill you take where now you get to do work you like and no one else does.

meg said...

I don't know your entire life story or even enough about you to really be able to comment on what it is that makes you unique, so whatever I say here is just based on what little I know.

You're citizen of a rich, developed, free, and safe country (and I believe you were born here too?), which already makes you more fortunate that most people in the world. You have had access to education and leisure throughout your childhood and youth, to be able to develop and actualize yourself and your abilities.

If you were able to start a company when you were 17, someone, your parents or friends, or someone else must have supplied the capital for your startup costs. That's what I mean by that you were either lucky or really good at what you were doing to obtain the funding. I'm sure you can appreciate that many people don't have that level of ability or diligence.

Jay said...

You're citizen of a rich, developed, free, and safe country (and I believe you were born here too?), which already makes you more fortunate that most people in the world.

That's true. I should have clarified that people in the US have a large advantage here. Still, that's 400 million + people who could try to do what they love. Incidentally, isn't this an argument for free markets? ;)

We actually wound up getting capital from people we met via the Web. But really, we just had an idea and followed our intuition where it lead us. Call me overly optimistic, but I do believe that most people could do that. Even if it's working for somebody else.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "In your opinion, why do so many people fail to find work that they like?"

A number of reasons for this:

(1) Many people aren't interested in doing productive things. They would rather watch television, play computer games, and go to parties. There's really no productive activities that they enjoy.

(2) The productive activities that people do enjoy tend to be in economic spheres in which the supply of labor far exceeds the demand. Thus, there are more people that want to be actors, pro athletes, talk show hosts, farmers, writers, poets, professors with tenure, etc. then there are positions available.

(3) Psychological tests have demonstrated that people aren't very good at figuring out what they want. This holds true for deciding one's future career. For a lot of people—perhaps for most people—it's guess work. Not only do you have to guess what you'll like, you also have to guess what you'll succeed at. Both guesses can easily go amiss.

I would also note that success in any endeavor requires not only the requisite skill and initiative, but it may also require things that, superficially, may not have anything to do with how well one is able to do job. How many people get that great position, not because they are the most qualified, but because they are the most aggressive, the most articulate, the best at selling themselves. And then there's always the element of luck. Even Steve Jobs, as talented an entrepreneur as he is, enjoyed some real luck. He just happened to be friends with the guy who, in his early twenties, invented the personal computer. And although Wozniak originally offered his ideas to his employer, HP, he was turned down. So that gave Jobs the opening he needed to exercise his talents.

Jay said...

Greg,

I have to agree on the first point. Although, I chalk this up to lack of introspection and serious thought more than the inability of people to find work that they love.

There are certain "hidden costs" of the glamorous careers you mention in point 2. I suspect that many people who want to be pro athletes or actors, for instance, overlook the intense training, prolonged time away from family, and pressure of performance that those people endure. The prestige is what seems to lure many people to want to do those things.

Your third point also seems to be true, but this also seems like a symptom of people not really knowing how to think. The school system is basically a failure, so could this not be a culprit? Couldn't people, in theory, learn to choose what they want? After all, many people seem to be able to.

Jobs definitely had once-in-a-lifetime circumstances. And yet, I feel as though he would still be enjoying whatever he did, even if he weren't rich and famous from Apple. He had that attitude from a very young age.

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote: "Carlyle also romanticizes work; but what a difference between his romanticization and Rand’s! Rand turns work into an adventure of creativity and self-actualization. But is that what most people find in work? Not at all."

I don't see what purpose the Carlyle quote served your argument, it depicts a contrast but that is all. I don't see where you took the contrast any further.

I think what is mischievous about both points-of-view is the placing of greater value in this or that segment of society. All work has value, there is no higher value in some work over others. Both writers locate their value in an arbitrary foundation.

The value of productivity lies in a person working up to capacity. At best, Rand is saying that if someone has the capacity to be a creative genius, then it would be immoral not to make the most of it. If someone has the capacity to be a great ditch-digger, then he finds value in his work by digging the best ditches he can.

But Rand takes her argument way too far.

The problem with the Rand quote is, in romanticizing productive work, it tends to blur the distinction between levels of individual achievement, and even tends to take the individual man out of the equation in favor of mankind. For example, what does "remaking the earth in the image of one's values" mean? It means nothing for the individual's daily life. It bears a vague resemblance to the general thrust of certain human endeavors, which is to "conquer the land" and such. And while that is an achievement of sorts, perhaps even laudable, that is not what is meant by productive work. Furthermore, the issue of controlling versus being controlled mentioned by Rand has nothing to do with productive work. It is just complete hyperbole in which Rand tries to prove to much using too little reason and too much faith. It is a call for self-betterment, or better, self-actualization, based in a triumphalistic undercurrent of faith in mankind in general.

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote: 'How much better, then, is Carlyle’s romanticization of productive work, since it includes work of all description, even of the meanest variety, and doesn’t romanticize independence and thinking for oneself!'

I see now what use you made of the Carlyle quote.

But is that why 19th-century Socialists were such Carlyle fans, because he included all kinds of labor? There is a certain compatibility between Rand's and Carlyle's views, on a superficial level: "Foul jungles are cleared away, fair seedfields rise instead, and stately cities..." Isn't that also a Randian ideal? And wouldn't Rand agree with Carlyle's ideal of man's harmony with nature through his productive labors? Is Carlyle expressing any anti-civilization sentiments there? And at their base, both writers are fascistic in their own individual ways.

And yet there is an obvious huge distinction between their respective views. Carlyle does not take notice of the fact that in every industry there are leaders who bring shape to progress. Cities rise from the jungles seemingly by the efforts of brainless human worker bees. The leaders who originate and shape this progress are not heroes for Carlyle as they are for Rand, they don't even seem to exist for him. Carlyle indeed had his heroes, but these were political leaders who formed and reformed entire nations, and not industries, such as the prophet Muhammed and Frederick the Great.

I don't see anything to recommend in either view. Both are romanticized to a fault. Carlyle pays lip-service to the common laborer but places his value in political (non-productive) leaders.

meg said...

Yeah srsly now I realize just how demented Rand is from the passage you quoted above. She spends way more time ranting and damning 99% of the world's population than on what should be done, and even then her prescription is so vague and unrealistic it can only be considered hyperbole. And her analogy of the hitchhiker is deliciously ironic, when she herself couldn't even drive!

But I'm still confused about something. Greg, why does a sense of entitlement lead to resentment toward business and free enterprise?

JayCross said...

I am starting to dislike how Rand bashes everything before getting around to her actual views. It's unnecessary.

IMO, Graham does a better job and gets far more specific on how to love your work. Here's that article I've been quoting.

http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html

JayCross said...

Here's another take on productiveness, this one from an Objectivist with the ARI. It's called "How to Choose a Career."

http://alexepstein.com/articles/howtochoose.htm

meg said...

Also, Jay, not everyone in the US has the same opportunities as you or choose to avail themselves of them. Many people have to work very hard just to break even and that doesn't leave them much time to pursue or develop their interests. As mentioned before the standards of many public and even private schools are declining, so many people might not have had access the the quality of education you did. Many people also don't have much financial or moral support from family and friends (you and I are lucky in this respect). Also, many people choose not to make a career out of their hobbies but are still pretty happy and self actualized, so I don't think it's by any means a requirement for success.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

Also, Jay, not everyone in the US has the same opportunities as you... - meg
____________________________



If not everyone has the same opportunities as Jay, then whose fault is it?


____________________________

...or choose to avail themselves of them(the same opportunities as Jay if they have the same opportunities as Jay)? - meg
____________________________



Then, wouldn't it be their fault if they choose not to avail themselves of the same opportunities if they had them?


____________________________

Many people have to work very hard just to break even... - meg
____________________________



Why do you think they have to work very hard just to break even?



____________________________

...and that doesn't leave them much time to pursue or develop their interests. - meg
____________________________



So whose fault is it?


____________________________

As mentioned before the standards of many public and even private schools are declining,... - meg
____________________________



What kind of standard are you talking about?


____________________________

Many people also don't have much financial or moral support from family and friends... - meg
____________________________



Don't you think many people who also didn't have much financial or moral support from family and friends become successful(whatever they may mean depending on whose perspective)?

or

do you think having financial or moral support from familiy or friends is either a requirement or the most important ingredient for success(whatever they may mean depending whose perspective)?

Do you think Warren Buffet wouldn't be the richest man(or close enough) in the world today if he came from a poor family(both in terms of wealth and moral support)?

Would you bet on someone with Buffet's personality, character, and intelligence, but no finanical or moral support from family and friends?

or

would you rather bet on someone who has the exact opposite attributes but with financial or moral support from his family and friend?


____________________________

...(you and I are lucky in this respect). - meg
____________________________


Hmmm, not necessarily, don't you think one could easily argue that people without finanical or moral support from family and friends become harder, more self-reliant, more resourceful under pressure than those with financial or moral support from their family and friends?

Of course, that smacks of Social Darwinism, doesn't it?


____________________________

Also, many people choose not to make a career out of their hobbies but are still pretty happy and self actualized, so I don't think it's by any means a requirement for success. - meg
____________________________



Can you define the term, "success" as you used in this context?


____________________________

...why does a sense of entitlement lead to resentment toward business and free enterprise? - meg
____________________________



Why do you think nobility in general near the end of the feudal age resented business and free enterprise?


Do you think because they thought they were entitled to what they considered and/or accustomed to decent/proper living simply on the virtue of being born as nobles, instead of actually having to work for it?

gregnyquist said...

Meg: "Greg, why does a sense of entitlement lead to resentment toward business and free enterprise?"

Because people who think they are entitled to success in whatever career they choose, when they don't succeed at it, not all of them are going to look inward and say, "Well, I'm just not good enough." Some of them, maybe many of them, are going to look for a scapegoat; and one scapegoat that's near at hand and will be the choice of many is "the system"—that is, whatever system is currently established: capitalism, corporate capitalism, globalism, whatever you wish to call it.

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "Carlyle does not take notice of the fact that in every industry there are leaders who bring shape to progress."

I don't think that's fair criticism, particularly given the stress Carlyle puts on leadership.

Cavewight: "I think what is mischievous about both points-of-view is the placing of greater value in this or that segment of society. All work has value, there is no higher value in some work over others."

Again, I don't think that's fair to Carlyle, since Carlyle regards all work as noble, whether its the field hand or the "captain of industry." In his histories, he praises most the people who are in leadership roles, including people responsible for organizing trade. Carlyle, to be sure, didn't understand entrepreneurship; but few intellectuals did before Schumpeter.

Cavewight said...

Thomas Carlyle made for good contrast, but not for good praising. This comes from considering who he thought of as a hero, and his works' association with socialists and even fascists.

Daniel Barnes said...

Jay:
>I am starting to dislike how Rand bashes everything before getting around to her actual views. It's unnecessary.

You know, thank you for that, Jay.

That's something that's been annoying me like a saddle burr. Every time I open up one of her essays, I get this blast of pure negativity. It irritates me perhaps more than anything else about her work. In fact, if it wasn't for this, perhaps I might even be less critical of her stuff. I like life, actually. I like a lot of thinkers, even when they're wrong. I like a lot of writers, even when I disagree with them. I like a lot of art, even if I wouldn't necessarily do it that way. There's this vast panoply of stuff out there, in all its brilliant and foolish glory. There's so much to enjoy. Yet with Rand there's all this stuff fenced off from the first breath. You're herded, as if a sheep, into this narrow runway of Official Sanction. Woe betide you if you should stop and graze in the green fields or strange forests either side. Condemn Nabokov, shun Plato. People say we bash Rand here, and don't spend enough time on her qualities - of which we admit there are a few. Well, dammit, for someone who purported to make so much of human achievement, when faced with the complex immensity of human works in reality, was there ever so surly an ingrate?

Ellen Stuttle said...

Daniel:

Every time I open up one of her essays, I get this blast of pure negativity. It irritates me perhaps more than anything else about her work.

That's always been what irritated me most about her non-fiction writing. She didn't write that way in her pre-Atlas occasional non-fiction piece, though she was always polemical. The post-Atlas style is something she developed while working on Galt's Speech. At the time she was writing that speech, she found maintaining the tone of it -- which she wanted to sound like a sustained blistering blast -- excruciatingly difficult to achieve (by her own quoted description of the speech-writing process in Barbara's biography). But afterward, she had the knack of it, and she used the Galt's Speech model for all of her non-fiction writing thereafter.

Ellen

Jay said...

Maybe that explains why Galt is my least favorite character. Rearden (and especially Francisco) just seem to have way more zest for life.

Scientist said...

Red Grant said:

Whose fault is it? [referencing several comments]

Why does it have to be anyone's fault? Whose fault is it that some people are born with more intelligence than others? That people are born taller or better looking?

I do appreciate what I think you are saying, but it's always disturbed me that, at least in the US, business/financial/job failure is considered to be so closely linked to moral failure. If he'd only tried harder/smarter/had taken my advice! If it's not his fault, then whose fault is it? There are plenty of people who have worked hard and smart and who've still failed in the end. Much of what happens (not all, but much) to us is completely beyond our control. And that's no one's fault.

JayCross said...

There are plenty of people who have worked hard and smart and who've still failed in the end.

This is certainly true. However, I would question how many of those people stay failures. Or to use your terms, how many of them "fail in the end." Bad things happen at the same statistical rates to everyone, but not everyone responds to those bad things in the same way.

For example, I've had a fantastic life compared to say, a starving Ethiopian. But compared to some of my peers, I've had it quite rough. My parents divorced at a young age, I grew up largely without a father, my family was poor early on, I went to public school just like everybody else did. I've moved 6 times. What I didn't do was look at those things and say "Oh well, I guess that's just my lot in life." Part of that is because my Mother instructed me not to think that way. The other part of it is that I saw the wisdom in that advice, which most people hear at least somewhere in their lives.

I'm sure there are some smart, hardworking people that life gets the best of, but not as many as most people think.

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "Thomas Carlyle made for good contrast, but not for good praising."

Don't mean to keep harping on something that's not terribly important; but there's a larger point here that I think worth stressing, because it relates to Rand as well, and it is this: should thinkers, historians, men of letters, philosophers be judged largely by whether they agree with us, or eschew positions we find particularly distasteful? And if they are judged in the negative, should we avoid ever saying anything positive about them? I answer strongly in the negative. I little mind that someone Carlyle was didn't appreciate the market as much as he should have or that he was overly fond of authoritarian force. Carlyle has other virtues to balance against his faults.

The unwillingless to learn from those we disagree with perhaps constitutes Rand's greatest fault. If we read and approve of only those whom we agree with what are we doing except praising ourselves and listening to an echo?

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote: 'should thinkers, historians, men of letters, philosophers be judged largely by whether they agree with us, or eschew positions we find particularly distasteful?' It would appear that you answered strongly in the positive, since you found the Rand quote distasteful and the Carlyle quote "tasteful."

You say the Carlyle quote "doesn’t romanticize independence and thinking for oneself!" What then does it romanticize? Productive work in general? Therefore you prefer one form of romanticism over another, correct? But others prefer Rand's form of romanticism. Who is correct?

Red Grant said...

____________________________

Also, jay, not everyone has the same opportunitites as you[jay]... - meg/scientist?


If not everyone has the same opportunities as jay, then whose fault is it? - Red Grant

Whose fault is it that some people are born with more intelligence than others?

That people are born taller or better looking?

Why does it have to be anyone's fault? - meg/scientist?
____________________________



Indeed. The fact that not everyone has the same opportunities as jay is nobody's fault.

But wouldn't it be their fault if they chose to blame their lack of success purely on the fact that they didn't have the same opportunities as jay or some other individual?





____________________________

...or choose to avail themselves of them(the same opportunities as jay if they had the same opportunities as jay)? - meg/scientist?

Then, wouldn't it be their fault if they choose not avail themselves of the same opportunities if they had them? - Red Grant

Why does it have to be anyone's fault? - meg/scientist?
____________________________



So you think people are not responsible for not succeeding for their objectives due to choosing not to take advantage of opportunities they have had?


____________________________

Many people have to work very hard just to break even and that doesn't leave them much time to pursue or develop their interests. - meg/scientist?

So whose fault is it? - Red Grant

Why does it have to be anyone's fault? - meg/scientist?
____________________________



Meggio!


You got a good looking boyfriend?

Do you spend some of your free time with your boyfriend?

Doing something that is irrelevant to your research project?

Could you have used that time/money to pursure or develop your interest related to your career and/or expand your career options?

If not, then:

whose fault is it that you do not have enough(whatever it may mean) time to pursue or develop your interest related to your career or career options due to you choosing to spend your free time with your boyfriend for something that is irrelevant to your career or career options?


____________________________

I do appreciate what I think you are saying, but it's always disturbed me that, at least in the US, business/financial/job failure is considered to be so closely linked to moral failure. - meg/scientist?
____________________________



Elliot Spitzer?

Tod Haggard?

Tom Folley?

Larry Craig?

Jimmy Swaggart?

Enron?

Worldcom?

Subprime lending?



____________________________

There are a plenty of people who worked hard and smart and who've still failed in the end. - meg/scientist?
____________________________




But, were they smart enough?



____________________________

Much of what happens(not all, but much) to us is completely is beyond our control. And that's no one's fault. - meg/scientist?
____________________________



But, is anticipating what(either positive or negative) effect much of what happens to us that is completley beyond our control would have to our interest and taking proper precautions before it happens completely beyond our control?



____________________________

The way I see it is that my research is ultimately a job that I do support myself... - meg/scientist?
____________________________



Why have you chosen biology over other majors?


Couldn't you have studied something else besides biology(such as computer science, engineering, etc), which would have paid more money without having to go(therefore spending more money/time) to a graduate school?



____________________________

...and I probably enjoy it[biology research] more than other alternatives... - meg/scientist?
____________________________




Why do you probably enjoy biology research more than other occupations that pay more money with less education, therefore could more efficiently support yourself?



____________________________

The way I see it is that my research is ultimately a job that I do support myself...

...and I probably enjoy it[the biology research] more than other alternatives... - meg/scientist?

...and if I find enjoyment on top of that[doing biology research to support myself], that's icing. - meg/scientist?
____________________________




Don't you already probably do?



____________________________

Sure, if I could get suckers to give me millions of dollars, I'd love whatever it was I was doing, too. - meg/scientist?
____________________________





Are you sure about that?

Would you trade your boyfriend and the biology research for Anna Nicol's job if that would get you suckers(even if they have the face, and the protruded belly of a toad, bad hygine/manners, and insists on kissing you in front of your parents and friends, and posting your nude pictures and videos with them on youtube),but who will give you millions of dollars?



____________________________

You have had access to education and leisure throughout childhood and youth, to be able to develop and actualize yourself and your abilities. - meg/scientist?
____________________________




Did John D. Rockfeller have access to education and leisure throughout his childhood and youth to the extent you and jay have had?

or


did he have less?

Scientist said...

Re: Red Grant's comments:

Okay, how about this. Assume for a moment someone had absolutely perfect knowledge of the market from the moment they first earned money. No matter how small an amount that was, with perfect knowledge by this point they would be incredibly wealthy - they could easily be the wealthiest person on the planet.

The opportunity (not ability, just the theoretical opportunity) to invest perfectly is available to almost everyone in the US. Right? Most of us just didn't know what the perfect stocks were - but the opportunity was there. So does the fact that a random person on the street (presumably) is not the richest person on earth mean they have some moral failing, because they didn't take advantage of it? Of course not, because even though opportunity was there they were unable to take advantage of it (through lack of knowledge and ability - knowledge and ability it's not at all clear everyone could obtain in any circumstance). The same is true for many other people in many different ways- yes, I have the opportunity to open my own business. But I can tell you right now it'd fail because I don't have the right personality for it. Is that a moral failing of mine?

I agree with you that if people go around blaming others for their lack of success when it's really nobody's fault then they are in error. However... we're not talking about a system here where there's a decent financial baseline we all work to add to. If you fail financially - no matter what the reason - you can go all the way down. Even more so in the world envisioned by Objectivists. It's understandable that someone in free fall when they did everything they were supposed to (at least according to society) might be a bit resentful, as Greg mentions.

Also, I didn't say that financial failure never indicates moral failure. Sometimes, of course, it does. But it doesn't always. I personally don't think the point of life is to maximize profits anyway, but that's just me.

Finally, you mention several individuals who did succeed through hardship. True enough. But that's not my position. My position is 'Sometimes, people fail financially through no fault of their own.'

Red Grant said...

____________________________

So does the fact that a random person on the street(presumably) is not the richest person on earth mean they have some moral failing,...? - meggie the scientist
____________________________




Whose morality are you talking about?

and what is the standard of the morality in question?



____________________________

...because they didn't take advantage of it? Of course not, because even though the opportunity was there they were unable to take advantage of it(through lack of knowledge and ability -...) - meggie the scientist
____________________________




So whose fault is it if they had the opportunity to be able to invest/trade successfully(and they wanted to), but unable to take advantage of it because they refused to spend the time and the effort to gain enough knowledge to be able to invest/trade successfully(even though they could have had)?



Are people born with the perfect knowledge of the market?

In fact, is there anyone born with the perfect knowledge of the market?

Is the perfect knowledge of the market even necessary to become the richest person(much less just to be well-off, say a few million dollars) in the world?

Does Warren Buffet have the perfect knowledge of the market

or

does he have just good enough knowledge of the market?

...and how did he gain his knowledge?


____________________________

...-knowledge and ability it's not at all clear whether everyone could obtain in any circumstances. - meggie the scientist
____________________________




Do you know whether everyone could obtain the knowledge and the ability in any circumstances enough to be able to support themselves as biology researcher?


How did you know whether you could obtain enough knowledge and ability to support yourself as a biology researcher?

In fact, did you even know whether you would/could obtain enough knowledge and ability to be able to support yourself as a biology researcher before majoring in biology?

So why did you decide to major in biology?

Do you think Warren Buffet and other successful investors and traders had gotten involved in the market because they had already known that they had enough knowledge (much less perfect knowledge) to be able to achieve their success in the market beforehand

or

do you think they acquired enough knowledge of the market because they had wanted to succeed in the market?


Did you become a biology researcher because you already had known you would succeed in being able to support yourself as a biology researcher

or

did you study and acquired the knowledge and the ability to be able to support yourself as a biology researcher because you had wanted to become a biology researcher even though you hadn't known whether you would be able to acquire the knowledge and the ability to be able to support yourself as a biology researcher?



____________________________

...yes, I have the opportunity to open my own business. But I can tell you right now it'd fail because I don't have the right personality for it. - meggie the scientist
____________________________





What's the right personality(as you see it) for the business you have the opportunity to open?




____________________________

Is that a moral failing of mine? - meggie the scientist
____________________________




What is your morality?



____________________________

If you fail financially... - meggie the scientist
____________________________





Why do you think people fail financially?




____________________________

It's understandable that someone in free fall when they did everything they were supposed to(at least according to society)... - meggie the scientist
____________________________




Did John D. Rockfeller(or Bill Gates, or Warren Buffet) succeed because they merely had done everything they were supposed to(at least according to society)?

or


did they succeed because they had pursued their best interests better than their competitor pursued theirs(as they saw it and before their charity phase)?



____________________________

...might be a bit resentful, ... - meggie the scientist
____________________________




Indeed, it's understandable that the losers tend to be sore, but whose fault is it that someone is in free fall when they merely did everything they were supposed to(at least according to society), but not sufficient enough to avoid being in a free fall?

Do you think Rockfeller, Gates, Buffet got where they were/are just because they merely did everything they were supposed to(at least according to society) ?

or

did they get where they were/are because they did more or better than what they were supposed to(at least according to society)?




____________________________

Also, I didn't say that financial failure never indicates moral failure. - meggie the scientist
____________________________





Did I say you did?




____________________________

Sometimes, of course, it[the financial failure] does[indicates moral failure]. But it doesn't always. - meggie the scientist
____________________________





Why do you think sometimes the financial failure indicates moral failure, but some other times the financial failure doesn't indicates moral failure?




____________________________

I personally don't think the point of life is to maximize profits anyway,... - meggie the scientist

Sure, if I could get suckers to give me millions of dollars, I'd love whatever it was I was doing, too. - meggie the scientist
____________________________







____________________________

My position is 'Sometimes, people fail financially through no fault of their own.' - meggie the scientist
____________________________





If not through no fault of their own, then whose fault is it?


Can you provide either a real-life and/or hypothetical example or two?

gregnyquist said...

Cavewight: "You say the Carlyle quote "doesn’t romanticize independence and thinking for oneself!" What then does it romanticize? Productive work in general? Therefore you prefer one form of romanticism over another, correct? But others prefer Rand's form of romanticism. Who is correct?"

I wouldn't put it in terms of who's correct. I'm more interested in which one is better in terms of giving moral props to the people who deserve it. Rand's romanticization is too exclusive. She implies that only creative work done by independent thinking people who don't take orders from anybody is meritorious. Carlyle makes no such distinctions. He regards all honest work as meritorious. And he romanticizes, not so much the work itself, but the effects of the work on the worker. "Carlyle was right," Mencken averred. "The only solution is work." Now to regard work as the "only solution" is probably a bit of romanticization. But it's good romanticization because (1) It provides everybody with an incentive to do any kind of work; and (2) it gives that work meaning so that the individual can take a special kind of satisfaction or dignity in it. Rand's romanticization, on the other hand, merely encourages a kind snobbishness or egotism in people who think themselves creative and independent.

Cavewight said...

Greg wrote: "She implies that only creative work done by independent thinking people who don't take orders from anybody is meritorious."

Or she could be implying that struggling to better oneself is moral, but choosing to remain in a low-end occupation is immoral. Rand did the low-end type of work in Russia and in Hollywood, she hated it but she needed some way to pay the bills until the time came when her writing could be self-sustaining. As Rand liked to say, "Man is a being of self-made soul," productive effort is a visible reflection of the ideal: the self-creating human.

But Rand didn't expect everybody to be working at their full ideal potential right out of high school or college. People who can, should make a commitment to strive toward their full working potential and achieve more with their lives. As for those who can't: Rand wasn't writing for them anyway, nor would she consider them immoral as their inability (mental disability or what-have-you) isn't a matter of free-will.

Yes, Rand used Galt's strong male voice to romanticize this point quite freely and give it his stamp of authority, yet there is nothing wrong or unusual at the core of it. If anything, she romanticized the struggle toward self-betterment through one's choice of occupation. But it almost sounds as if she was calling for all world's ditch-diggers to drop their shovels and immediately seek out a more "meritorious" career. On the contrary, Rand was speaking to those who could, therefore should, do better than dig ditches. Even Howard Roark worked for a time in a granite quarry.

Carlyle's statements on this topic are, on the other hand, at best unfocused romanticizings about labor. It is easy to see how Carlyle's sophomoric rhetoric could be picked up by socialist and fascist progandists alike as a tool to make the common worker bees in an enslaved society feel better about their lowly place in existence. Whether one is a great political leader or a common seamstress, it is all equally meritorious - or so the rationalization goes.

Jay said...

But Rand didn't expect everybody to be working at their full ideal potential right out of high school or college. People who can, should make a commitment to strive toward their full working potential and achieve more with their lives.

That's exactly what I got out of it.

Meg's Marginalia said...

I spend lots of time with my boyfriend and doing other leisure activities. I think he's pretty good looking, although that would be for each one to judge for themselves. Actually I try to spend as much time as possible in relaxing and enjoyable pursuits, some of which may not be particularly productive (such as reading ARCHN blog).

Ok, if you want to say it's my "fault" for not being more of a go-getter then I guess I'm fine with it. The way I see it, unless something has a good chance of making me world famous, or making millions of dollars, I'm not going to kill myself trying to do it, or spend long hours of my time, youth and sanity on it. A professor once said to me that there is a lot of work done in science in the thermodynamic sense, but often to doesn't come out to much results in the end. Part of success is identifying what is worth doing and focusing your efforts there.

Also, being relaxed and happy promotes creativity and productiveness, so sometimes less can be more. There are people I know who spend all their waking hours just doing work or pretending to do work, but they are so miserable and don't have much to show for it either, which sucks. My goal (which I don't always achieve) is to get in at 8 or 9am, and leave by 6, or whenever my PI leaves, and be productive the whole time, as in not going online or procrastinating etc. A piece of advice I heard is that if you have to stay till the early hours of the morning doing stuff, you need to be managing your time better.

Also, it is not my goal to make as much money as possible. The bottom line for me is to be able to support myself financially and be independent and also support my future family when I have one. Anything above that is icing. So I would rather spend my time with my boyfriend and my family and friends doing things I like rather than trying to make more money.

Would I take Anna Nicole Smith's job? Actually I've always wanted to be a centerfold or pin up but I don't think I'm physically cut out for this particular "passion" of mine. But other than this yes I guess I would be a stripper if I made millions of dollars doing it, BUT I don't think my boyfriend would be happy if I did. It would be totally understandable for him to feel that way and I would not want to do something that would upset him. So, I guess no Anna Nicole Smith job for me for those reasons.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

I think he's pretty good looking... - meg
____________________________




Isn't beauty in the eyes of the beholder?



____________________________

....although that would be for each one to judge for themselves. - meg
____________________________





Indeed, it's not for Ayn Rand or an Objectivist or any other to judge.

I feel that it should be up to people in love themselves.



____________________________

The bottom line for me is to be able to support myself financially and be independent... - meg
____________________________





You'll always be dependent on research budget as a biology researcher.




____________________________

... and also support my future family when I have one. - meg
____________________________




What about the boyfriend or whoever will happen to be your future husband(hopefully only one)?




____________________________

...BUT I don't think my boyfriend would be happy if I did. - meg
____________________________





Feminist not?




____________________________
It would be totally understandable for him to feel that way and I would not want to do something that would upset him. - meg
____________________________





Hey, it's your body, sister, I thought the womyn got over it back in those bra-burning days....

Meg's Marginalia said...

Everyone's job is dependent on some other factor, whether it be research funding, government, shareholders, market demand, whatever. I don't know what your point is.

Feminism has nothing to do with my desire to respect the wishes of my boyfiend regarding stripping, and besides, I'm not a feminist.

Red Grant said...

____________________________

The bottom line is to be able to support myself financially and



be independent... - meg




Everyone's job is


dependent


on some other factor.. - meg

I don't know what your point is. - meg
____________________________





Do you know now?




____________________________

Feminism has nothing to do with my desire to respect the wishes of my boyfriend regarding stripping, and besides,


I'm not a feminist - meg
____________________________




I presumed mistakenly that you were a feminist or at least close to it.

You being a woman who wants to be "independent"(of whom/what?) and wants to be a biology researcher and all.(Isn't that what some feminist clamor about sometimes that there are not enough women in science community?)