Friday, April 08, 2011

Rand's Ethics Applied: A Case Study

The daughter - poignantly named Alyssa - of an Ayn Rand devotee tells her story of her father's real life application of Rand's ethical system.

(Hat tip: Laj in comments)

31 comments:

Daniel Barnes said...

Actually, some years ago I also remember reading a lengthy story from a man whose mother was manically obsessed with Ayn Rand,and who plunged into a major depression when Rand died. Of course his mother's obsession had major consequences for him personally, which he has struggled to recover from ever since. Does anyone else recall reading that one?

Rey said...

Get ready for the No True Scotsman fallacy in three... two...

Anonymous said...

I've met plenty of bad fathers, and I'm sure this guy wouldn't have paid child support with or without Objectivism.

"It's not uncommon for people to seek out belief systems, whether political or spiritual, that make them feel good about how they already live their lives. "

Sounds about right to me.

Kelly

Dragonfly said...

Having an Objectivist father, that must be tough...

Vanguard2011 said...

1. "Objectivism" is not a philosophy. It's an ideology for pseudo-intellectual sociopaths. There's really no other way to put it.

Ken said...

Looks like Rey's countdown was off by, hmm, about nineteen minutes. Still, pretty good prediction.

Xtra Laj said...

Ken,

I don't think Kelly's post exemplifies the fallacy. It was more about the direction of causation between supporting/exhibiting selfish behavior and advocating Objectivist ethics. And it is a good point to make, mores because the degree to which intellectual beliefs as experiences affect behavior is a hot topic without an ironclad answer. I do agree with Kelly that even without intellectual enables, this man may still have been ultimately a selfish man with little regard for others.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

In my years in the Echo Chamber (aka Orthodox Objectivism), I encountered many Objectivist parents. Without exception, they all subscribed to the view (which I think Rand stated somewhere) that having children implied a contract of sorts: if you choose to bring a helpless dependent child into the world, you thereby accept an obligation to care for that child and provide the education and guidance he/she needed to become an independent adult (usually interpreted as including a bachelor's degree). I never heard of anyone trying to weasel out by pressuring the child into seeking early emancipation. Sanctity of contract, you know.

The Objectivist parents' real difficulty was in rationally justifying their decision to accept such a contract. They would describe their children as an irreplaceable value, well worth any cost. I think this was pure rationalization. In reality, having children is not about calculated trades to further one's rational self-interest. The "value" of a child is largely in emotional realms that aren't amenable to rational calculation -- an area where Objectivism falls flat on its face.

It also occurs to me that much of what I saw in the Echo Chamber amounted to elaborate rationalization for choices and behaviors that were in fact driven by non-rational needs and feelings (i.e., human nature, or the parts thereof that Rand claimed don't exist). Getting back to Alyssa's story, I'd have to conclude her father was doing exactly this. He didn't want to pay child support, so he rationalized his wish by convincing himself that his daughter was ready be independent.

Michael Prescott said...

I agree with Echo Chamber Escapee. In my experience with Objectivists, I did not observe this kind of behavior. If anything, Objectivist parents were likely to spoil their kids!

It seems to me that Alyssa's dad is just being a jerk. I wouldn't blame his dysfunctional parenting on Objectivism.

Anonymous said...

Michael Prescott said: It seems to me that Alyssa's dad is just being a jerk. I wouldn't blame his dysfunctional parenting on Objectivism.

@ Michael Prescott:

Michael, I appreciate many of your comments in this blog. But seriously, really? How many other stories like this do you need to conclude that Ayn Rand's writings are expressions of a disordered mind and therefore attract and influence the minds of similarly disordered people? How many?

And I am confident that there are plentiful experiences such as Alyssa's, waiting to be documented. Perhaps these true stories should be compiled and published, along with a new edition of Ellen Plasil's autobiography....

Neil Parille said...

I agree that the father is something of a jerk. On the other hand, this is what happens when you put family life on a sort of contractual basis, as Rand would seem to want.

Sure Nathaniel and Ayn were jerks in their own way when it came to relationships, but adopting the Objectivist theory of romantic love didn't help either.

-Neil

stuart said...

I wonder if her need to view family ties in this way, plus her disinterest in being a mother, was a rationalization of her feelings about her relationships with her own family.

caroljane

Daniel Barnes said...

@echo chamber escapee and MP,
The point as I see it is this: in what way does Alyssa's father not conform to Rand's ethics? If his actions are consistent with them, then what we see is an example of actually-existing Objectivist ethics, as opposed to the fictional characters which are usually press-ganged in. EEE touches on some sort of implied contract; but what sort of contract is it where the terms are not mutually agreed by the individuals concerned in advance? Surely we can't let mere collectivist whims such as commonly agreed ages of independence for children dictate the actions of free rational men? It is precisely the unwritten terms of this contract that our lawyerly Objectivist is wriggling out of. So it is really only a contract in the very vaguest sense of the word; that is, an obligation which in turn is merely an Objectivist weasel word for duty (this entails however some truly amusing sophistry to show how the "concept" of "obligation" is oh-so-different from the "concept" of "duty"!). So through children, the deontological camel's nose is back in Rand's ethical tent. No wonder the little blighters don't appear in her novels. And of course ECE's point about emotional motivations is also well taken.

Daniel Barnes said...

note:by EEE above I meant ECE

Michael Prescott said...

"How many other stories like this do you need to conclude that Ayn Rand's writings are expressions of a disordered mind and therefore attract and influence the minds of similarly disordered people? How many?"

314.

Xtra Laj said...

Dan,

I think you've made the best point. There is nothing in Objectivism that stops someone from being a rude jerk as long as they can get away with it. That is very different from traditional religion, where things are wrong even when you can get away with them. Assuming one wanted to rationally discuss how this man should behave, where do we start in Objectivism if he doesn't have an "unchosen" obligation to his daughter? What I like about this story is that the daughter is old enough so that the weak argument based on the inability of babies to support themselves does not work. If we want to citizen this man, Objectivism gives us little help.

Xtra Laj said...

Stuart/caroljane,

I don't wonder about that anymore. I take it as a given that those were strong contributing factors. I find Rand's comments on family and so on almost as compelling as Oprah's on raising children, only that Oprah at least sticks to conventional wisdom for the most part, making the risk of failure and ridicule far less.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Daniel Barnes:

"The point as I see it is this: in what way does Alyssa's father not conform to Rand's ethics?"

I think that if you put this question to O'ists, they would quote Rand on the virtue of Honesty: Thou shalt not attempt to gain a value by faking reality. Here, Alyssa's father was trying to gain a value (the money he didn't want to pay in child support) by faking reality (pretending Alyssa was ready for independent adulthood). Her version of the story provides nothing to suggest her father's actions were based on a rational assessment of her maturity; it sounds like she was just a normal 16-year-old who was content to stay under parental care.

Daniel Barnes said...

@ece, I don't doubt that there are any number of Magic Asterisks that can be added to rescue Rand's theories. The thing is, the more that get added, the less credible and more pedestrian they become.

Xtra Laj said...

I love the "faking reality" get-out-of-jail card. On complex issues, we are often like the six blind men with the elephant, each of whom thought they had the truth. I guess if the daughter had actually signed the agreement, then reality was not faked!

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@DB, agreed on the Magic Asterisks. Heck, the very notion that accepting a contract to provide for the needs of a growing child for roughly two decades -- especially when the acceptance comes in advance of knowing anything about the child or what providing for those needs might turn out to entail -- could possibly be a "trade" that furthers one's "rational self-interest" is already a pretty big Magic Asterisk.

@XLaj: If the daughter had signed, the O'ists would just endlessly debate whether she really meant it or was she altruistically faking reality for her father's sake.

stuart said...

There is an implied contract in parenthood and it should be clear enough for even Randians to understand. You give everything, and you get everything.

caroljane

Anonymous said...

Michael Prescott's pithy response to my question on the number of broken family relations influenced by Ayn Rand's destructive belief system gives me some pause. Certainly, 314 would be a very low number, considering Rand's popularity throughout the years.

Ellen Plasil's documentation of her abuse goes all the way back to the early 1970's, for example. There are likely plenty more stories of people who suffered family trauma because Objectivism was introduced into the already unstable minds of parents or siblings. Mix Ayn Rand's ideas with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and you've got trouble. Combine Ayn Rand's distorted view of human existence with Borderline Personality Disorder and you have really big problems. As a Borderline herself, Ayn Rand is both a guru and a pied piper for individuals with BPD. You may have met one, perhaps with an Ayn Rand tattoo etched into his or her skin (a quiet and socially acceptable form of self mutilation). Yes, Ayn Rand was a Borderline, easily recognized by anyone who has had a BPD partner, parent or sibling. Borderline Personality Disorder is boldly demonstrated in Rand's pitiful essay about Marilyn Monroe, for those who can stomach reading it. Borderlines appear to have the ability to sense the disorder in others and it's generally accepted that Monroe had the illness. Rand likely felt kinship with the movie starlet for this reason.

Ayn Rand's ideas exacerbate the terrible consequences of untreated mental illness. High functioning Borderlines can fly under the radar, so to speak and wreak havoc for years on friends, family and coworkers. They are often cunning, exceptionally bright and effective in confusing people who suspect them. The ideas in Ayn Rand's books validate their distorted perceptions and destructive behaviors. This woman was a mess. Avoid her adherents and stay healthy.

Michael Prescott said...

It occurred to me that I probably should have replied to Anon's 4/9 comment with something other than snark. Anon wrote,

"How many other stories like this do you need to conclude that Ayn Rand's writings are expressions of a disordered mind and therefore attract and influence the minds of similarly disordered people?"

I agree with Anon to some extent. I've written about evidence that Rand had a disordered mind - for instance, her weird infatuation with the child murderer William Hickman. At the same time, I knew a lot of Objectivists in my earlier years and I still keep in touch with a couple of them. Some of the people I knew were pretty screwy (and I would include Peikoff, whom I met, in this category), but others were goodhearted, sensible folks drawn to Ayn Rand by idealism. They already had a basically secular humanist outlook, and Rand gave them a more inspiring vision of the human potential.

It's an oversimplification to say that Rand's appeal is limited to one kind of person, or that her influence is exclusively negative. It can be negative - I wrote an essay called "Shrugging Off Ayn Rand" which described its negative effects on me - but it can also be positive for some people, for instance by encouraging an overly submissive person to stand up for himself.

The worst problems develop when someone with an existing personality disorder latches on to Rand. Her influence can magnify the problem by providing an endless supply of rationalizations for antisocial behavior. Someone with a preexisting tendency to be judgmental and closed-minded will only become more so under Rand's tutelage. An intellectual bully will take to Rand like a fish to water. A person suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder will decide that he is socially alienated because he is heroic, not because he has a problem. Etc.

But not all Objectivists are like this. Some are motivated to pursue ambitious goals they might otherwise have shied away from, or to study subjects they would otherwise have ignored. Some just want the government off their backs.

Some people seem to think there was nothing good about Rand - that she was all bad and her admirers are all bad. To me, that kind of all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking is a mistake. In fact, it constitutes one of the most pernicious features of Objectivism itself.

Michael Prescott said...

I wrote my last comment at the same time Anon was writing his. Our messages crossed in the ether. Cool.

Anonymous said...

Michael,

From what I can tell, you are an optimist and I don't fault you for that. Your critiques on Rand are among the best available, in my opinion.

It's true that I have a very negative view of Ayn Rand and her belief system. I want to be clear that from my point of view, the subculture represented by Rand is toxic. Her adherents that I've encountered in real life have all engaged in self destructive behavior and they have defective relationships with their families (to say the least). I'm choosing my words carefully here, because in reality the damage they have done is terrible, severe and ongoing. I fear the end result of their disorders. They may and probably will descend further into madness, and I don't believe they will voluntarily seek help. Therefore, I have chosen to disengage completely from them.

No, I have nothing good to say about Ayn Rand. I see destruction, NPD and BPD all around this subculture. Those who seek inspirational texts ostensibly for the improvement of their self esteems have many better options than "Objectivism".

Mark Plus said...

@Michael:

Re: They already had a basically secular humanist outlook, and Rand gave them a more inspiring vision of the human potential.

Although some humanists have acknowledged Rand as an influence, notably Michael Shermer and Tibor Machan, I get the impression that humanists in general disdain Objectivism. I suspect economic reasons play a role; Objectivism has flourished as a secular life stance, operating "below the radar," which has grabbed market share away from secular humanism, and in a demographic which tends to have more wealth and higher status than politically liberal or socialist humanists, namely, secular conservatives. And Rand started the process as an outsider to the established humanist organizations.

Moreover, the humanists probably realize that they haven't produced their own Rand. Nobody in the humanst camp has succeeded comparably to Rand as a mythographer for its world view, even though the humanists claim writers like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan, and in television and film, Gene Roddenberry.

So at least some humanists may resent the fact that this upstart has challenged their leadership in the secular side of the culture wars. Some American politicians quote from Rand's writings, for example, but I don't know of any who quotes from the writings of humanist intellectuals.

Dragonfly said...

Mark Plus: "Some American politicians quote from Rand's writings, for example, but I don't know of any who quotes from the writings of humanist intellectuals."

That is because Rand sells a religion, only with "God" substituted by "Man". Such an exalted, black-and-white view is more inspiring to politicians than a balanced, skeptical and thoughtful approach which I'd expect from humanist intellectuals, these are no mythographers. I don't think the disdain of Objectivism is for economic reasons, it is the intellectual disdain for a simplistic and dogmatic system.

Anonymous said...

Wow-- very courageous to tell it like it is, and to outline to cultish nature of Rand's sociopathic philosophy... is "sociopathic" too harsh-- I don't think so, I'm just doin me!

Anyone who has been adversely impacted by Rand's propaganda for egotism could turn to Dr. Robert Hare's book: "Without Conscience", which would easily balance things out enough to spot wolves and the ideologies of wolves in sheep's clothes who want your's too!


p.s.
Hahaha-- "no true Scotsman" right on your mark Rey!

Anonymous said...

Lust, Envy, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony, Anger, and Pride. Go ahead and be all you can be-- you owe it to yourself.

Reductio ad absurdum,
Ayn Rand

Anonymous said...

@ Mark Plus-- Ayn Rand has heroic genius, again-- Hahaha, classic!

The rich objectivists, such as Mr. Bubble Greenspan are rich, and made rewards very fair and even (epic, historical FAIL). Even Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are puking mad about it.