Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hitchens On Rand

28 comments:

Daniel Barnes said...

The YouTube header is a little overstated to say the least.

gregnyquist said...

Hitchen's views on Rand have bounced around a a bit. I believe he debated John Ridpath (and maybe Berliner?) in the 80s. I don't know when he made the comments in the video, but this journalistic piece from 2001 is far more mild.

Neil Parille said...

I've never understood the appeal of Christopher Hitchens. He always comes across as a bully, at least to me.

He seems to rank up there with Leonard Peikoff when it comes to intellectual history.

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/04/believe-it-or-not

-Neil Parille

Xtra Laj said...

It's funny how Groundhog dayish Objectivism is becoming to me.

I'm speaking to my brother today and he says that an Objectivist was complaining that he put up a profile on a popular dating site saying in the title that he was "Rational" and "Selfish" and despite defining what he meant, was asked to change his profile, so he left. Of course, my brother used this as an opportunity to berate the low philosophical standards of the website, but my focus was on the fact that my brother should try to understand what might motivate the website to do such, since it is trying to create a hospitable arena to meet couples and that negative members detract from the services it provides.

He went on at length about how he felt a "rational woman" would regard the profile describing someone as "selfish", but I kept asking him what the point of using the world "selfish" was to communicate an idea that ultimately was not what one wanted to convey. He gave the usual silly examples of doing things for yourself as "selfish", but I later put the question to my girlfriend (who is not particularly intellectual and who has no real clue what all this nonsense is about - she probably wouldn't have the skill/patience to slog through Atlas Shrugged) whether she considered doing things for herself "selfish" and she said of course not - selfishness is about caring too much for oneself at the expense of others.

Thankfully, Objectivists often act in that way too, so they are not being totally dishonest in using the word, but Hitchen brings up the point here again - the idea that it is hard to convince people to do things that benefit themselves is somewhat ridiculous unless someone is studying a psychiatric disorder, which is what the advocates of the kinds of selfishness and altruism that Objectivists describe have a mild to extreme variant of.

I also told him to test his idea of how a "rational woman" would respond to his posts. Of course, he asked me how I knew (trying to use Popperian skepticism about induction as a basis for claiming that I can't be consistently reasonable), but of course, since he has never agreed that my epistemology is often dictated far more by practical limits than by theoretical concerns, I didn't see any point in explaining it to him again.

Anonymous said...

Neil, if you think Christopher is bad you should see his brother Peter, imagine a right-wing version of Christopher sans his charisma.
Peter is one of these columnists who writes "why oh why" pieces for the Daily Mail. Which blames the problems of the UK on immigrants, gays and labour governments. The worst thing in the eyes of the Daily Mail is for house prices to drop. So, their ulitmate headline might read "House prices tumble after the Labour government decriminalises under age immigrant gay sex."

But I take your point, why oh why is Christopher Hitchins treated with such reverance? What on earth did he say here that was so clever? Shrugged is awful book? People are selfish? Then he gives a quote from Lillian Hellman, which is probably made up, but who cares as I accept it was mildly amusing anyway.

But I agree he is a bully and strange one at that, he is a 'leftie' who got into bed with George W. Bush and wanted to carpet bomb Islam. So maybe he does have a lot in common with LP after all.

- Steven Johnston
UK

Michael Prescott said...

Xtra Laj, maybe your brother's friend should try the Atlasphere, an Objectivist dating service:

http://www.theatlasphere.com/

caroljane said...

Even on the Atlasphere, when a guy proudly describes himself as "rationally "selfish", a woman is going to visualise "cheap tipper".

Trust me on this.

gregnyquist said...

"I've never understood the appeal of Christopher Hitchens. He always comes across as a bully, at least to me."

Hitchens appeal is that he is the most brilliant polemcist of his generation. He's extremely well read, a superb writer, and he knows or has met a large number of very interesting people. Combine this with a larger than life personality bursting at the seams with contradictions, fierce hatreds, prejudices, abiding loyalties, compassion for the oppressed and self-righteousness, and you have a rather compelling character that one can both loathe and admire.

Xtra Laj said...

Michael,

I don't think the person is a friend of my brother - probably my brother reading the comment of someone posting on the Atlasphere or making comments somewhere.

What I find interesting is how my brother's Rand-influenced rejection of human nature influences his thought processes. He can't even take seriously the idea that genetic influences are at work in the gender bias of political opinions (men and women are not uniformly distributed across the political spectrum - men are relatively more conservative/rightwing, while women are relatively more liberal/leftwing). If it is true, it has to be the result of culture!

That's the beauty of "apriori" thinking - you form strong opinions on issues that you have never seriously investigated.

Xtra Laj said...

Even on the Atlasphere, when a guy proudly describes himself as "rationally "selfish", a woman is going to visualise "cheap tipper".

Trust me on this.


Good point, Caroljane. It's another point I was trying to make to him that he didn't get. Even women who are Objectivists will not necessarily be like Rand, and even if they are like Rand, they will often be still like Women in various ways - looking for the good looking man with some good earnings and a decent level of flamboyance, definitely intellectual but also a plus if there is icing on the cake. It's not that the woman might not say she wants a rational man. It's just that what she says and how she acts are different. Took me a while to understand that, slow learner I was in these things. It's odd how many women say that kissing on the first date is bad, but wouldn't hesitate to do so if they met someone they really liked.

caroljane said...

"Even women who are objectivists will not be like Rand.."

Even Rand was not always like Rand, she was often like Alice Rosenbaum and sometimes like Mrs Joe Average. As Ann O'Connor she collected Social Security and Medicare payments.

Gender is hugely important and I think life-determining,but it's the cutting edge of individual personality, where all the common human characteristics play out, that gives life its fascination.

Daniel Barnes said...

If rationality is the key attractor between Objectivists, and all Objectivists are by definition rational, everybody would be equally attracted to everyone else, regardless of age, looks, proximity, or even gender. Bonding would be as generic as it is with atoms. Or perhaps they'd be like Buridan's ass - end up with no-one because all the options are equally good...;-)

One can see how "rationality" could itself become a rationalisation for Rand and Branden to get together, however.

Xtra Laj said...

caroljane,

The individuality and complexity of life is why we can't become millionaires off mundane predictions and, I agree, is what makes life fascinating.

But this should in no way be used to deny that we are often far more predictable than we think we are. OK - I'm getting off my high horse for a while.

Xtra Laj said...

If rationality is the key attractor between Objectivists, and all Objectivists are by definition rational, everybody would be equally attracted to everyone else, regardless of age, looks, proximity, or even gender. Bonding would be as generic as it is with atoms. Or perhaps they'd be like Buridan's ass - end up with no-one because all the options are equally good...;-)

One can see how "rationality" could itself become a rationalisation for Rand and Branden to get together, however.


Thanks for this point, Daniel. Will bring it up in a yet-to-be-had argument ;). It reminds me of Greg's point that people who deny human nature the most are the most vulnerable to its baser elements because they throw away all the customary checks that the rest of us have put in place to enforce conservatism because they don't know how much they need them.

caroljane said...

Daniel, I don't see how that follows. Let's assume all Objectvists are indeed rational, tee-hee. This would just be a given for everybody, not a key attractant--"rational woman" would just be "woman'...and the fundamental things would apply, as time goes by.

Rand's relationship with Branden sure does yield endless food for thought. The mutual exploitation was staggering, though it was certainly Rand as the mother-mentor figure who was most to blame.

Ken said...

Xtra Laj: "she probably wouldn't have the skill/patience to slog through Atlas Shrugged"

I dunno about that. Any number of people have slogged through the much longer writings of LaHaye and Jenkins. Ditto for L. Ron Hubbard, Stephanie Meyers, Barbara Cartland, et cetera. In all cases, the only skill is a negative one: not realizing just how bad the book is.

Mark Plus said...

I get the impression that many of Rand's fangirls in the 1950's and 1960's viewed her as a kind of romance novelist. Otherwise the cult which formed around her probably wouldn't have attracted so many female participants and potential mates for the geeky, sexually less desirable young men who worshiped Rand for intellectual reasons. I guess the Objectivist cult provided an opportunity for "assortative mating" between individuals who wouldn't have organically hooked up otherwise.

Anonymous said...

"I guess the Objectivist cult provided an opportunity for "assortative mating" between individuals who wouldn't have organically hooked up otherwise."

Like the Socialist Workers Party, when I was at college in Glasgow they were dubbed the Socialist dating agency...they all slept with each other and as for the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), wow, not only did they sleep together they all had to live together in flats. Somehow I think Rand would have approved of the RCP. But to me that is taking it a step too far. I think it would drive me nuts to live with someone who share the same political beliefs as me. I'd be scared they might "denounce" me if I said anything ideologically incorrect.

But back to Hitch...I liked him years ago when he wrote and presented a brilliant programme exposing Mother Theresea of Calcutta for the charlatan she was. But I think he got too over-exposed and his supply of 'brilliance' in whatever medium just could not keep up with demand. Not his fault of course, but when demand outstrips supply I think he ended up spreading himself too thin and he shouldn't have sided with the neocons. He definitely should have more sense there.

- Steven Johnston
UK

- Steven Johnston
UK

gregnyquist said...

"I get the impression that many of Rand's fangirls in the 1950's and 1960's viewed her as a kind of romance novelist."

That's an interesting theory. But then the question arises: why are there so much fewer female Objectivists since the 60s?

Several conjectures present themselves:

1. Perhaps many of the female Objectivists in the 60s were looking for husbands. When this need became less critical as women became more economically independent, women could become more choosey about husbands and ply their wares in greener pastures.

2. Women looking to escape the traditional restraints against sex outside of marriage (restraints still dominant in the early 60s) found in Rand a nice middle ground between the overly strict sex mores of the middle class and the promiscuity of the sexual left. Once the sexual revolution demolished the traditional views, most women found Rand's sex views superfluous (if not embarrassing).

Wells said...

I don't think there is any reason to suppose that there has been a special decrease in the number of female Ayn Rand fans. Hasn't there also been a decrease in male Ayn Rand fans also? The old standards are of course still here, but they don't seem to be replenishing themselves.

Mark Plus said...

Rand's appeal to men seems hard to explain when you consider that her fictional heroes have to do without sex much of their lives. John Galt has the first sex in his life in his late 30's, for example. The Argentine character got lucky with Dagny a few times around the age of 20, then he had to spend the rest of the novel pretending he had game; he gave the implausible excuse that he didn't bed other women, despite the opportunities he'd have as a wealthy dominant male, because they just didn't measure up to Dagny. What kind of man would adopt this view of male sexuality as a model for his own life?

Michael Prescott said...

I doubt that Galt was intended to be seen as a virgin. His past is shrouded in mystery; presumably he did many things that didn't make it into the book.

Francisco does say he never slept with any of the starlets and models who served as his consorts. This may not be meant to imply that he's avoided intimacy with all women. He seems particularly critical of his female escorts because he knows they're just using him.

In any case, it's a work of fiction, so a certain degree of artistic license comes with the territory.

Damien said...

Daniel Barnes,

Hitchens does have a point, people do tend to do what they consider to be in their own self interest anyway. However, Rand was not the first state that morality is based on self interest.

caroljane said...

anonymous Steven,you went to college in Glasgow, pure dead brilliant!My late great husband was a Glesca man, but as an actual socialist worker could only socialise via folk clubs, jazz clubs, ballroom dancing at the Palais, sodality meetings etc.and wild weekends on the isle of Arran. I'm so grateful he never hooked up with the SWP, he'd not have had the strength to emigrate.

Hope you graduated without knife wounds!

Hope you graduated without knife wounds!

Anonymous said...

"Hope you graduated without knife wounds!"

Caroljane (two names for the price of one), keech not yer kacks, which is Glaswegian for don't s**t yourself, I neither graduated or received any knife wounds. I left to go to Perth to complete my studies. A couple of Winters in Glasgow was more than enough; it's on the same latitude as Moscow. Macaroon bars and bottles of Irn-Bru will get you through sure, but what price your teeth? For those of you who don't know Irn-Bru, it has more sugar and caffiene than coke. And it's rust coloured.

What do you call an objectivist in Glasgow? Dead!

- Steven Johnston
UK

caroljane said...

Nae, they ca' him deid.

Nobody mind the sassenach, Glasgow is fabulous--No Mean City.

My husband sure yearned for it while working down the mine and sampling the nightlife in the sophisticated metropolis of Sudbury, Ontario. He was greeted in a local tavern by several large individuals who shared a relatively rare syndrome, POS (pathological hatred of Scotsmen).

Being that this is a scholarly site and all, I should note that the above and similar writings may seem like mere personal ramblings, but not so. They are offshoots of my major work-in-progress, Crisis in Concepts: A Synaestho-Nihilist Analysis of Objectivist Aesthetics.Part 1 should be ready just in time for Hogmonay, and there is considerable anticipation building already in intellectual circles down at the Hag&Sporran.

Xtra Laj said...

Greg,

I think you meant to post your response to Wells here.

fathergriggs said...

Michael Shermer knows her ' rationalism!'