Friday, May 01, 2009

Who Wrote This?

Roderick T Long over at The Austro-Athenian Empire asks us to guess the mystery author:

"That idea of hardships being good for character and of talent always being able to break through is an old fallacy. Talent alone is helpless today. Any success requires both talent and luck. And the “luck” has to be helped along and provided by someone. … Talent does not survive all obstacles. In fact, in the face of hardships, talent is the first one to perish; the rarest plants are usually the most fragile. Our present-day struggle for existence is the coarsest and ugliest phenomenon that has ever appeared on earth. It takes a tough skin to face it, a very tough one. Are talented people born with tough skins? Hardly. In fact, the more talent one possesses the more sensitive one is, as a rule. And if there is a more tragic figure than a sensitive, worthwhile person facing life without money – I don’t know where it can be found. …

[H]elp for young talent …. not only provides human, decent living conditions which a poor beginner could not afford anywhere else, but it provides that other great necessity of life: understanding. It makes a beginner feel that he is not, after all, an intruder with all the world laughing at him and rejecting him at very step, but that there are people who consider it worthwhile to dedicate their work to helping and encouraging him. Isn’t such an organization worthy of everyone’s support? … So many gamble on roulette, and slot machines, and horses. Why not gamble for a change on human beings and human futures?"

Answer - no surprise really! - below the fold:

Ayn Rand, in Letter to Marjorie Williams (18 June 1936); in Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 31-33.

(Hat tip to Neil Parille)


Michael Prescott said...

That's amazing.

I'm tempted to say that the younger Rand is more appealing than the older Rand, but then I remember how the younger Rand became besotted with the child-murderer Edward Hickman, and how she bought into Nietzsche's whole Ubermensch shtick.

Anyway, I do like this quote.

Neil Parille said...

It's hard to square with The Ethics of Emergencies in which Rand described life's difficulties as not being "metaphysically normal" or something like that.

Xtra Laj said...

Rand didn't consider poverty an emergency or anything close to the kind of difficulty that led to radical ethical dilemmas.

This quote can also be read as an argument to support for the talented elite who are just going through bad patches. Rand went through different periods in her life and had some of the moods that most people have when in those circumstances (feeling more self-sufficient when rich, more needy when poor) - it's just the Objectivist slant on her perfection that makes this all annoying.

gregnyquist said...

This provides yet more evidence of the non-logical, non-rational source of many Objectivist notions. As noted in an earlier post, Rand confessed in an interview the following:

"From the time that I remember myself which was two and a half, the first incident I can remember in my life I was two and a half...and from that time on the the present I never changed my convictions - only at two and a half I didn't know as much as I know now, but the fundamental approach was the same. I've never had to change."

Rand appears to have been affected by the sentiment whereby individuals are loathe to admit that they have changed their minds; for we find this view that she had always been consistent and that she never changed on any "fundamental" repeated in several places as I kind of boast. Hence she denied that there were any significant changes in We the Living. Yet this is a very strange characteristic to boast of. Far from being a virtue, it is really, from a cognitive point of view, a very great vice. She is basically suggesting that, on any fundamental issue, she never learned from experience, but rather, she simply used experience to supplement views that were already formed at a very early age. Of course, this boast is neither rational nor credible—as can be seen from this excerpt from her letters. It can be accounted for only on the basis of the unwitting influence of sentiments on Rand's thinking.

Xtra Laj said...

Another comment that I think is pertinent to this: the problem with Objectivists is not so much that they claim to practice an ethics based on rationality and/or selfishness and/or rational selfishness (though I find some of their anti-charity attitudes deplorable).

The problem with Objectivist ethics as practiced by actual Objectivists is that this ethics becomes so subjective that it can be used to support just about any decision that the Objectivist desires as long as the Objectivist can rationalize that there is some self-interested reason for doing it.

If I were to present this paragraph to an Objectivist to defend, I would expect to hear all kinds of claims that supporting talented people is really in one's self-interests and is not really altruism.

Unknown said...

Ayn Rand remained in favor of helping talented young men until her death, it has nothing to do with how old she was when she wrote this.

But she was also against the use of force, to do it. The only means for a government to collect money, today, is thtough force. There is nothing rational, or humane about it, it's just a group of tyrants seeking power.

If you wish to help someone who is deserving, do it. With your own money, not someone else's.