Sunday, September 27, 2009

Objectivism & Politics, Part 27

Politics of Human Nature 11: Humanitarianism and tribalism. In an earlier post, I quoted Rand characterizing “ the morality of altruism” as ”a tribal phenomenon.” Here we find an example of Rand being right for the wrong reasons. Yes, it is likely that the altruist-humanitarian syndrome has its roots in our tribal process; but it is not, as Rand suggests, a “psycho-epistemological” issue deriving from “self-arrested, perceptual mentality.” On the contrary, it is probably an evolutionary phenomenon. Those beliefs that Rand associates with “altruism” (e.g., socialism, collectivism, tribalism, coercive humanitarianism) were nurtured in the crucible of evolution, in that long period when human beings foraged and hunted for food in small bands of warring tribes. As Hayek, in The Fatal Conceit puts it:

… man’s instincts … were not made for the kind of surroundings, and for the numbers, in which he now lives. They were adapted to life in the small roving bands or troops in which the human race and its immediate ancestors evolved during the few million years while the biological constitution of homo sapiens was formed. These genetically inherited instincts served to to steer the cooperation of the members of the troop, a cooperation that was, necessarily, a narrowly circumscribed interaction of fellows known to and trusted by one another…

Although longer experience may have lent some older members of these bands some authority, it was mainly shared aims and perceptions that coordinated the activities of their members. These modes of coordination depended decisively on instincts of solidarity and altruism… The members of these small groups could thus exist only as such: an isolated man would soon have been a dead man. [11-12]

Now if, as nearly all of science concedes, human beings are largely (if not entirely) the product of evolution, Hayek’s view would seem to be, at the very least, highly probable. In any case, it explains a great deal of what we find in the altruist-humanitarian complex of motivations that animating much of the non-revolutionary left. Combine Hayek’s insight with those of Pareto and Sowell, and we can begin to form a psychopathology of left-wing humanitarianism. This psychopathology provides a far more convincing explanation of the “democratic” forms of socialism, collectivism, and leftist “progressivism” than Rand provides us, with her emphasis on philosophical premises and other will-of-the-wisp abstractions that are too topical to mean anything definite.

Rand seems to have sensed the danger that an evolutionary explanation of social attitudes posed to her philosophy, for she created several rather inept strategies to combat it. Her favorite was her rather absurd definition of “instinct.” Rand held that instincts are an unerring and automatic form of knowledge. This is obviously a definition Rand invented for the purposes of debate. No natural scientist has ever defined instinct in that way. Instincts can refer to any unlearned behavior or emotional propensity, whether in animals or human beings. The assumption that human beings don’t have any such instincts, that their minds are “blank slates” at birth, is not supported by science. Nor does the evidence support Rand’s notion that emotions are the product of ideas. Ideas may influence emotions, but they don’t produce them, as anyone familiar with the most basis psychological evidence regarding infants knows. Human beings do in fact have innate tendencies. The strength and intensity of these tendencies may differ between individuals. But the fact of these tendencies soon becomes obvious to anyone who observes human behavior.

In some people, these tendencies cause them to wish to see their altruistic instincts writ on society at large. Recall what the good people over altruists.org wrote: “We believe that [altruistic modes of behavior] can represent a more stable, sustainable solution than the money-focused, model of competitive capitalism.” Why do altruists, humanitarians, and other so-called do-gooders believe in such a thing? It is neither a rational nor an evidence-based conviction. All logic and fact point to the inescapable conclusion, as Hayek puts it, that to follow the altruist-socialist path “would destroy much of present humankind and impoverish much of the rest.” So it should be obvious that these altruists, these humanitarians, these socialists (call them what you will: the name’s not important, only the thing in reality that the name represents) are animated by a non-rational source—that is, by (again to quote Hayek) “an atavistic longing after the life of the noble savage”—a life which is, after all, more more gratifying to innate human instincts and tendencies. These instincts and tendencies are not implanted in the minds of men by intellectuals following the pedant of Königsberg. Thousands of years of evolution put them there. Bad arguments against Kant in the manner of Rand will do little to mitigate their pernicious influence.

36 comments:

Mark Plus said...

So it should be obvious that these altruists, these humanitarians, these socialists (call them what you will: the name’s not important, only the thing in reality that the name represents) are animated by a non-rational source—that is, by (again to quote Hayek) “an atavistic longing after the life of the noble savage”—a life which is, after all, more more gratifying to innate human instincts and tendencies.

It sounds to me that you mean that modern civilization fails to meet certain of man's psychological needs, needs which socialism tries to address. How do intellectuals on the right defend their case against the functionality of socialist passions in the modern world while also advocating the ongoing validity of religious passions which derive from the same evolutionary process? In other words, why does religion hold a more privileged position in the conservative world view than humanitarianism, given their shared tribal origins?

Jim said...

Religion derives from tradition which changes slowly through time, and in turn, tends to be more reliable than socialist and humanitarian ideologies which, though that may have existed as scattered points on an historical graph, venture away from the religious and philosophical glue which holds the history of Western thought together. Humanitarians, often lacking foundation, attempt to create the impossible: a utopia.

On that note, Ayn Rand is keen in her ability to denounce altruists, whether religious or socialist. In the spirit of the gospel, Rand understands the absurdity in an attitude which expresses "let me pull out the mote out of thine eye;" while "a beam is in thine own eye?" (Mat 7:4) It is far more beneficial to society if men and women tended to their own problems and needs before tending to those of others.

Rand, however, fails to hold as legitimate the selfless bond of love which can and ought to grow as a sphere which, in time, comes to include larger segments of humanity. Christ described this, saying "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;" (Mat 5:44) Such a response is only possible from the heart of a person who is self-realized and thus conscious of one's deeper motivations - aware of one's own modus operandi. A man who can tend his own garden is qualified to help others, but for those who have not crossed that threshold, altruism may be an necessary stepping stone.

gregnyquist said...

"How do intellectuals on the right defend their case against the functionality of socialist passions in the modern world while also advocating the ongoing validity of religious passions which derive from the same evolutionary process?"

There are two major trends in conservative thought on this issue, often depending on the depth of one's commitment (or lack of commitment) to some specific religious theology. Religious conservatives are more agenda driven. They would deny that religion has roots in evolution and would regard humanitarianism as harmful because it is secular. The non-religious (or non-theological) conservative would tend to take a cost-benefit approach. Secular humanitarianism (the "religion of humanity") and traditional religions have social benefits and social costs to them, both in terms to the individuals who follow them and the society at large. So the question is: on sum total, do the benefits of humanitarianism (or traditional religion) outweigh the costs? And here the benefits and costs are determined, not in terms of beliefs (which, by themselves, have little if any importance), but in conduct. If a religious fundamentalist believes that the earth is 6,000 years old, that is eccentric, and if he wants public schools to teach that view, that has a minor sort of nuissance value, but otherwise, it really is of little concern. But if his religious passions inspire him to murder abortion doctors, maim and torture homosexuals, and burn witches, then he is a public menace and the costs of his particular brand of religion greatly outweigh its benefits. Conduct and the consequences of conduct are what is most important; and passions and beliefs are important only in so far as they lead to particular conduct. Humanitarians are often well-intended people (we know this because they are constantly reminding us it is so); but the consequences of their conduct, particularly in the public sphere, is often not terribly felicitous.

tenaj said...

Lorenz and Tindbergen are the classic authorities on instinct. An instinct is species specific and is guided by an IRM (internal releasing mechanism) which is time specific and limited. A chick will starve to death amid seed if an overhead light is placed in the noon position; in other words, making no shadow. The shadow of the grain is the visual stimuli which releases the pecking response. In humans the only specific specie behavior is speaking. Deprive a child of any chance to hear human speech during the time window, and she/he will not learn to talk. This is why feral children are such an opportunity for researchers to study since they can't do it to a human child on purpose.

tenaj said...

I have been reading Rand news and opinions on many sites for a number of years as a lurker. I do not doubt the two new biographies coming out will give us more facts and details. But having been at NBI from 1960-62 constantly in Philadelphia and New York, (before going to graduate school in psychology) I just find most of all this stultifying. Looking back I see that I escaped. Sooner or later I would have been excommunicated. But when I stopped going it was a visual intuitive decision, that I rationalized by thinking I didn't have the time and money to continue while being a full time graduate student and having to study very hard.

This is the first place I have wanted to comment on. Many times at solo and OL I have wanted to disagree and argue but refrained. I appreciate the intelligence here and the freedom to say that I do not think Rand was well educated nor do I think she was a genius. I do think NB has been maligned terribly and BB, well more of that some other time. LP is a study in blatant opportunism if anything. I am planning to go into this more in depth on my blog focusfree, but have not done so yet.

Daniel Barnes said...

Tenaj
>But having been at NBI from 1960-62 constantly in Philadelphia and New York, (before going to graduate school in psychology) I just find most of all this stultifying.

Hi Tena

Thanks for your interesting and insightful comments. I would be especially interested in your memories of NBI, should you feel like sharing them, and would also be interested in your blog if you want to provide a link.

>I appreciate the intelligence here and the freedom to say that I do not think Rand was well educated nor do I think she was a genius.

Thanks also for your kind remarks. Yes, we at the ARCHNblog would generally agree with your assessment. While she was extremely intelligent and undoubtedly charismatic, she was no genius, and she was neither educated, nor intellectually curious, nor self-critical enough. If she had been, maybe she could have made a real contribution perhaps - when she is right, as Greg says, it's almost always for the wrong reason.

It's interesting that you intuitively sensed where the movement was heading, and jumped ship. Can I ask how you first came across Objectivism?

Daniel Barnes said...

Rand: "An 'instinct' is an unerring and automatic form of knowledge.

Unerring? I've always thought this was a silly thing to say. But then remember Ayn Rand always wrote clearly and precisely and always meant exactly what she said, not like other philosophers...;-)

tenaj said...

I'll skip when I first came across Rand and save it for later maybe. In August of 1960 I was reading Atlas Shrugged and going through a behavioral quit smoking program. One of the instructions was not smoking one hour before going to bed (to sleep I presume)and so I would have my last cigarette and read some more of Atlas. Then I would be in a place where I didn't want to stop, so I would light up another cigarette. And so on. I loved the book, had recently gotten a divorce, was teaching first grade and now considering it as a real career instead of something to do until I had children. So as I was finishing with Atlas and with cigarettes my mother saw an ad in the Sunday Inquirer that Objectivist Lectures-NBI- on Rand were coming to Philadelphia. And I immediately decided to go. BB gave the lectures and the rest was history for me, as I took it very seriously.

I had decided to quit smoking because I could feel what it was doing to me. I felt that I could not change things in my life until I quit. How's that for Neuro Linguistic Programming. So I entered a world where all the players smoked, ritualistically with holders no less. And I was not tempted because I was happy I no longer wanted to smoke. So it created a boundary for me in my identification with BB. She was quite lovely and I thought at the time, very intelligent. So it was possible to be a woman and be both was the message I got. NB, AR, AG and LP gave guest lectures over the two years I went. I attended LP's philosophical lectures on the history of philosophy in New York the summer of 62 and Mary Ann Sures on art in the summer of 61. I never asked a question because I had read Atlas carefully and felt I knew the answer as soon as anyone asked a Q. Then I would compare what I thought to the answer from on high. I loved it when Rand was impatient with a Q. You see now I know the difference between the content of a question and the intent. Rand could pick up on the intent and often responded to it. BB and NB always responded to the content as I remember. An important distinction for anyone to know who goes before groups for Q & A.

But all the while unbeknown to me I was observing all sorts of things and storing them in my data base unfiled. So yes I have lots of visual memories of all of it. I can tell you how BB wore her hair, what clothes she wore, her verbal mannerisms, NB's gestures and many things about LP and Rand as they lectured and presented. But my dots were not connected until many years later.

The most important thing was that I found my own mind that I had lost in school. And I began a journey.

I will say that had NBI not existed, I would have been under the spell of Atlas for awhile but would never -and I mean never- have explored her philosophy, become an Objectivist and been able to begin to apply it to my life. Without NBI Rand's ideas would have entered the ether. This is Nathaniel Branden's great contribution. I c an personally attest it is true. He gave her so much that she could never have achieved on her own, with or without LP or any of the rest of them. I never knew him in those days, so the hateful things I have read don't mean anything real to me. I do know that he was generous to a fault. He gave her so much and she threw it away because of her desire to possess another human being. Everything that Objectivism is today comes from the root of NBI. No one would consider her in the field of philosophy (and maybe no one should)if not for NB. I have not considered here the fact that NB gave her his youth, his mind, his sex, his labor and all the while he was her muse. He brought her all his relatives and friends from Canada and without all that he laid at her feet she would never have finished Atlas and/or it would not have been the book it is. (Please don't think I still love it, but I do not deny its impact on our culture.)

And no one ever even comes close to mentioning the elephant in the room which I hope to go into somewhere. When I do they will truly want to kill me.

Abolaji said...

If a religious fundamentalist believes that the earth is 6,000 years old, that is eccentric, and if he wants public schools to teach that view, that has a minor sort of nuissance value, but otherwise, it really is of little concern. But if his religious passions inspire him to murder abortion doctors, maim and torture homosexuals, and burn witches, then he is a public menace and the costs of his particular brand of religion greatly outweigh its benefits. Conduct and the consequences of conduct are what is most important; and passions and beliefs are important only in so far as they lead to particular conduct.

This is what I believe "Religion Explained" enabled me to appreciate far better than I had before I read it. I did have an attitude that many of the questions that drove intellectual religious arguments were ones that I had stopped feeling the gravity of for a while, but after Boyer described the wide range of religious beliefs and superstitious behaviors and gave them a reasonable thought not incontrovertible evolutionary basis, it became clear to me that often, the idea that motivates a specific behavior is sometimes not as important as the actual behavior itself. And you will find varieties of religious or superstitious behavior among all kinds of people who are not empirically inclined or particularly smart because they do not know how to separate what they know by hard earned experience from what they learned by theoretical speculation.

There are so many things that we passionately believe for which our empirical evidence, strictly speaking, is very tenuous. The degree of justification we can claim for believing that if we throw a cup upwards, it will fall down is far stronger that the degree of justification many of us hold for believing in the power of capitalism or the power of socialism etc. But many people, even if they agreed with that claim, would still defend the power of capitalism as if its validity was as clear as that of gravity.

Abolaji said...

And no one ever even comes close to mentioning the elephant in the room which I hope to go into somewhere. When I do they will truly want to kill me.

Hmmm, no one wants to kill you. They just hyperventilate, that's all. But do note that it you say controversial things, you will get some push back. But I don't think we would want it any other way since we are all interested learning the truth at the kernel of all ideas/experiences.

Surely, you can't end like this - go on :).

HerbSewell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HerbSewell said...

You know, I've asked several times for that quote of mine to be removed. Will you at least have the class to fufill my request?

Daniel Barnes said...

Herb:
>You know, I've asked several times for that quote of mine to be removed. Will you at least have the class to fufill my request?

I haven't received any such request as far as I can recall. I'm happy to do so, do you no longer stand by your statement?

Michael Prescott said...

"Those beliefs ... were nurtured in the crucible of evolution, in that long period when human beings foraged and hunted for food in small bands of warring tribes."

I'm skeptical of evolutionary explanations of human behavior, because we have no data to draw on. We don't know the lifeways of our prehistoric ancestors. We can only surmise, and our surmises may be wrong.

For decades, anthropologists have studied chimpanzee behavior as a template for the behavior of early man. But new fossil discoveries cast doubt on this strategy. As National Geographic reports:

"The fossil puts to rest the notion, popular since Darwin's time, that a chimpanzee-like missing link—resembling something between humans and today's apes—would eventually be found at the root of the human family tree. Indeed, the new evidence suggests that the study of chimpanzee anatomy and behavior—long used to infer the nature of the earliest human ancestors—is largely irrelevant to understanding our beginnings."

http://snipurl.com/sa7ia

If we can't use the observations of apes in the wild as a database, then what can we use? Observations of "primitive" peoples? Trouble is, these people have undergone millions of years of evolution just like the rest of us. We simply can't know if the cultural patterns of, say, Hopi Indians in the 19th century bear any resemblance to the cultural patterns of prehistoric man ca. 10,000 BC.

We are left with conjecture: hunter-gatherers in "small bands of warring tribes." Well, it's likely that hunting and gathering were part of the life of prehistoric people. But how we do know they were "warring"? Maybe they were mostly peaceful. How do we know anything about the social structure of their tribes (assuming their social units could properly be called tribes)? Maybe a strongman or tribal elder ruled the tribe with an iron fist. Or maybe it was a council of elders, or a council of wise men, or wise women. Maybe it was a democracy, and important questions had to be put to a vote. Or maybe power was passed from one tribesman to another on an annual basis, or a monthly basis, according to some ritual. Maybe all of these social arrangements (and others) were in play in different places at different times.

I doubt that we can infer very much from such limited knowledge. Mostly, the field of evolutionary psychology consists of starting with an observation of present-day behavior and then working backward to explain how it must have come about, making the necessary assumptions about life in the distant past. These assumptions are dictated by the conclusions that the evolutionary psychologist wants to reach.

Though it poses as a scientific approach, I think it's mostly guesswork.

Anonymous said...

Greg wrote -

"Humanitarians are often well-intended people (we know this because they are constantly reminding us it is so); but the consequences of their conduct, particularly in the public sphere, is often not terribly felicitous."

Damn, if only there was a viable alternative to this that the voters actually wanted. I mean they dont want the Objectivist party, they don't want the Libertarians, who is going to save us from the humanitarians and which bright spark gave them the kets to the castle in the first place?

Dragonfly said...

Daniel: "While she was extremely intelligent and undoubtedly charismatic.."

In fact I don't think she was so very intelligent at all. Sure, she was probably smart in a streetwise way, seeing through the pretentions of many people and politically clever (her background will probably have helped her in that). But I don't think that she would have been able to follow any undergraduate course in mathematics or physics for example. The logical errors in her essays are so elementary and so numerous that it's really embarrassing.

She was an excellent writer however and probably therefore could pull the wool over people's eyes, merely by suggesting that it was all quite logical. People like her for her conclusions (which may be to the point in many cases) and often swallow the whole, lock, stock and barrel, somehow convincing themselves that the argument must be right, as they agree with the conclusions.

HerbSewell said...

The first time I asked, it was changed to Anonymous being the author of the quote, then reverted back. Thus, it was a lack of class on the part of this website's editors. In any case, it was context-dropping for me to be quoted in the first place. Next, any dolt could realize I was speaking figuratively. Thirdly, it was obvious my quote was used to smear the "Randian" apologist by quoting an out of context, straw man summation of a position of Objectivism.  

Anon69 said...

Herb, I read your original comment and the issue isn't context-dropping, nor is it speaking figuratively. It's obvious you simply used a word different from the meaning you intended. What you obviously meant was that human society is too primitive at this time to accept Rand's ideas, but you misspoke and referred to human nature - thereby playing directly into the hands of Nyquist et al.

When I make a mistake in a post, I usually just admit it up front. It's easy: "I misspoke, what I meant to say was..." - people appreciate such clarification. It only minimally implicates issues of rationality (not proofreading thoroughly on a blog comment is scarcely a crime). What Is immoral is not admitting the obvious: that you blatantly misspoke and used the wrong word. It's not too late to fix that error.

HerbSewell said...

No, I genuinely meant that human nature, (not qua man) was too primitive to accept Rand's ideas. I still hold that one would have to be a moron to read my sentence literally, and to quote it would be taking it out of context. You can argue if you wish, but realize I know exactly what my intentions were at the time, which is certainly a privilege you lack. If you're convinced I know I'm wrong, but refuse to admit it because of pride, infer that any further argument on this issue from here on out is futile.

Daniel Barnes said...

Herb, I'm confused. Firstly, I don't recall changing the masthead as you say, I think your memory is playing tricks on you.

Secondly, if that's what you meant, why do you want me to remove it?

What is the purported "context" you allude to that changes the meaning of your statement here?

Anonymous said...

Dragonfly, I could not follow an undergraduate course in mathematics or physics does that mean I'm not very intelligent to?

Also you claim she could pull the wool over the eyes of, well one can only assume, people of lesser intelligence. Well, where are these people? I have struggled to meet anyone, other than on-line, that has heard of her, much less follows her. The truth is the great unwashed, the masses, whatever you want to call them saw through her. Even if they could not follow and undergraduate course in physics.

HerbSewell said...

http://aynrandcontrahumannature.blogspot.com/2008/10/objectivism-economics-part-5.html

"I haven't received any such request as far as I can recall...

"Firstly, I don't recall changing the masthead as you say, I think your memory is playing tricks on you."

"Check your premises"

And yet, my quote is still up. If you ever wonder why I don't come here, this ludicrously sums it up embarrassingly well

HerbSewell said...

Again, Rand equates human nature with the nature of man qua man. I was refereeing to nature as the concept of "the natural or real aspect of a person, place, or thing", whereby the term "human nature", (in this case) is that which is the gross estimate of people's disposition toward philosophy in general. It's obvious to any idiot that I was not saying that Objectivism, (which is a philosophy which its espousers claim is made strictly for man qua man), would be unable to be practiced by man qua man.

The context is irrelevant. I know that the quote given out of context will convey a different meaning than intended. It was, (in the exactness which is possible within the confines of my memory and willingness), some evidence of the general idiocy associated with the commonplace misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Objectivism. Albeit, I could have said the quote on any post ever made on this blog, but there you have it.

Michael Prescott said...

"I was referring to nature as the concept of 'the natural or real aspect of a person, place, or thing', whereby the term 'human nature', (in this case) is that which is the gross estimate of people's disposition toward philosophy in general."

If I understand you correctly, you're saying that the mindset of most people, at this point in history, is still too primitive (at least in regard to abstract philosophical ideas) to appreciate Rand's arguments. Is that it?

Daniel Barnes said...

Sewell is incomprehensible. Clearly I am too primitive to even understand, let alone accept, what he is on about. Can anyone else parse his last two posts?

From what I understand, he is complaining that I am using his quote out of context; yet on the other hand he is saying that the context is "irrelevant". That he wants it redacted, but that he wants to stand by it at the same time.

Oh well, perhaps I'll take it down just to put him out of his misery.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you may aswell take it down, I mean it might be funny if he was a somebody, but he is just an anonymous blogger, like me, so what is the point, other than having a cheap laugh at a nobody?

It's like laughing at libertarians who claim they'd be millionaires, if it was not for the state getting in their way.

Anonymous said...

How come the altruists, socialists, humanitarians got it right with the Ecol Polytechnique? Which is a state-run institution viewed as the most prestigious engineering college in France? I mean, would John Galt employ anybody that graduated from such an instituion? Surely if the Objectivists/Libertarians were correct this college would be a farce, with is graduates not fit to shine John Galts shoes. Yet, in France graudates from this state run institution go on to the get the top engineering jobs in France. Blimey, just goes to show them humanitarians are good at engineering. The might be evil but they can build bridges.

HerbSewell said...

"If I understand you correctly, you're saying that the mindset of most people, at this point in history, is still too primitive (at least in regard to abstract philosophical ideas) to appreciate Rand's arguments. Is that it?" 
 
Thank you, Micheal, for being the single person on this blog with the ability of inference. 
 
"From what I understand, he is complaining that I am using his quote out of context; yet on the other hand he is saying that the context is "irrelevant". That he wants it redacted, but that he wants to stand by it at the same time." 
 
 
Apparently, even mid-argument, you're selective in your reading. 
 
"The context is irrelevant. I know that the quote given out of context will convey a different meaning than intended 
 
Daniel, let's us this time assume I'm right and then give yourself enough time to figure out what it was I must have been saying that is the only logical explanation. Or, just don't respond altogether and take my quote down. 
 
"From what I understand, he is complaining that I am using his quote out of context; yet on the other hand he is saying that the context is "irrelevant". That he wants it redacted, but that he wants to stand by it at the same time." 
 
Effectively, this translates to: 
 
 
"I will purposefully look at everything written by someone who I am in any disagreement with as some form of logical fallacy. I will ignore the fact that contrary to my imperfect memory, this someone has already requested something months ago that I maintain has not been requested. I won't respond to it, it's an outright announcement of a mistake of mine. Because I can't outright point out a flaw in this someone's set of arguments, I'll purposefully misunderstand one or all of them. I'll claim that this someone's argument is incompressible, (even though someone has already given a logical understanding of it). Again the ones I can't contradict, (even by sloppy misrepresentation), I'll ignore them. You can tell I have reached this point when I start referring to this someone i the third person." 
 
This, (aside from the particulars to this situation), is actually a perfect summation of the rhetoric of the editors of this blog.

And yet, my quote is still up.

Anonymous said...

I'd say the same about Dianetics, the mindset of most people is just to primitive to get the tech of L. Ron Hubbard. When human nature evolves to that point, who will win out Rand or Hubbard?

gregnyquist said...

Dragonfly: "In fact I don't think she was so very intelligent at all. Sure, she was probably smart in a streetwise way, seeing through the pretentions of many people and politically clever (her background will probably have helped her in that)."

Curiously, I have nearly the opposite view. I think Rand was very intelligent, perhaps even a genius, but that she lacked street smarts and political cleverness. She did not so much see through the pretentions of people as she merely assumed that anyone who disagreed was her was psychological or intellectually "corrupt" and she just happened to be accidentally right about that on a number of occasions. But even then, she was right for the wrong reasons; she never clearly understood the pretensions she claimed to see through.

"But I don't think that she would have been able to follow any undergraduate course in mathematics or physics for example."

I doubt this is true; or if it is, the extent that it is true, to that same extent it would be true of a lot of other very intelligent people who have not picked up a mathematics or physics textbook in decades. I would have trouble with second year high school algebra merely because I have forgotten most of my 1st year algebra. But if I took a few months to reaquaint myself with the basic principles, I could probably venture on an undergraduate course in mathematics.

Rand's shortcoming was that she was so prejudiced against everyone who disagreed with her (which was almost everybody) that she refused to learn from nearly everyone who had preceded her. Consequently, her knowledge never gained any real depth, but remained topical, superficial, and distorted to the last. She knew a little about a number of things and believed, mistakenly, that if she applied "reason" to this little, this qualified her to make dogmatic judgments about matters of fact of which she was only generally and loosely acquainted. Rand's problem was not a lack of high intelligence, but intellectual arrogance coupled with a crippling prejudice.

Dragonfly said...

Greg, I beg to disagree. In the past I've known quite a number of really very intelligent people (among them some Nobel prize laureates, but they were certainly not the only ones), and I'm sure they were all far more intelligent than Rand, we're talking about a quite different ball park. At least I've seen nothing in any of her writings that would warrant such a label for her. Sure, even very intelligent people can make errors, but never so many elementary errors in logical reasoning as she did. She may have had a lot of charisma and a great talent for writing, but I've never seen really intelligent arguments in her theoretical writings. Well, at least my expectations for using such epithets are just much higher.

gregnyquist said...

Dragonfly, is it possible you are defining intelligence too narrowly as that which allows for greater proficiency in physics, mathematics, and logical reasoning? There are plenty of thinkers who are regarded as geniuses who never demonstrated any great flare for logic. Indeed, most people lacking extensive training in mathematics and the hard sciences aren't very adept at logical reasoning. The natural bent of the human mind is not toward logic at all, but more toward either a kind of naturalistic pragmatism, or, in areas that are more speculative and have no check from experiential reality, toward rationalization. The quality of Rand's thought can hardly be reckoned worse than that of Tolstoy, Wagner, or even Einstein (in its political guise). High intelligence may be displayed in many ways other than achievement in logical reasoning or physics.

gregnyquist said...

Anon: "...who is going to save us from the humanitarians and which bright spark gave them the kets to the castle in the first place?"

The bright spark is human nature itself. Many people sympathize with the aims of the self-proclaimed humanitarians. It is only the bad record of the humanitarians that gives them pause as to supporting them. But over time, people tend to forget about the bad record, or to underestimate its badness, or imagine that the lessons of history no longer apply. In any case, enough support builds up so the humanitarians are given another crack at it, under the assumption that they will be more reasonable this time around, or that they should be given another chance. The humanitarian promise is very appealing to many people. Rand did her best to demonize it, but such mischaracterizations do little beyond preaching to the choir and making the opposition to this brand of humanitarianism seem extreme and dominated by crackpots. Few people are going to be convinced by an argument that claims that the only viable alternative to the excesses of humanitarianism is the "virtue of selfishness" and the view that "greed is good."

The only cure (or sorts) to this excessive humanitarianism is to let it run loose a bit and hope the damage isn't fatal. When people get a taste of the bad consequences that it inevitably brings in its wake, they pull back and adopt policies more congruent with the demands of reality. Thus, politics tends to be cyclical, as the excesses of socialistic policies bring about free market reforms, while the very success of these reforms makes people soft and weakens their resistence to the enticing dreams of the humanitarians/socialists.

seymourblogger said...

Daniel I hope you are still here.I used to be tenaj here.

It's been a very long time since I posted here. The Eastern Europeans read me and I was reversing some searches and found this site again as I had commented here.

Since 09 I have written a huge amount on Rand that I think you all would be interested in, very interested.

Most of it is at: http://aynrand2.blogspot.com but there is also http://randroidbelt.blogspot.com

Daniel Barnes said...

Thanks Seymourblogger, I note that your Around The Randroid Belt site's co-blogger Darren has a good recent post on epistemology which a current topic here. I recommend it:http://randroidbelt.blogspot.co.nz/2012/06/dead-fish-rots-from-head-down-end-of.html

Samson Corwell said...

What exactly is "the noble savage" anyway?