Steve Shives says that if you are that bookish 14 year old, and you open up a copy of Atlas Shrugged, or the Virtue of Selfishness, and you read it and you go hey this makes sense, you can be forgiven, because at least you're reading and thinking, and you're 14, what the expletive deleted do you know about anything.
But if 10 years go by and now you're 24 and you're still reading Atlas Shrugged, and you're still saying this makes sense, odds are you're not nearly as thoughtful, and intelligent, and well read as you think you are, and you're probably also an insufferable prick.
Steve Shives said she inspired generations of selfish assholes.
How would address and answer his disparagement?
A previous Answer suggests that there is something wrong with the cognitive methodology of the type of individual described in the Question. In case others are tempted to follow a similar methodology, I would like to expand a bit on what that methodology is and what Objectivism offers as a more rational, life-serving approach.
The Question describes the methodology as follows:
...if you are that bookish 14 year old, and you open up a copy of Atlas Shrugged, or the Virtue of Selfishness, and you read it and you go hey this makes sense ... at least you're reading and thinking, and you're 14, what the expletive deleted do you know about anything.
It is, indeed, possible to read Atlas Shrugged and find it deeply fascinating without fully understanding the underlying philosophy and how philosophy shapes human thinking and action. If one is honest, one will think: "This is interesting, but I don't quite understand it. What does it mean, and why?" In that approach, one does not merely stare blankly at something that one doesn't understand, and perhaps grunt in emotional approval; one studies the subject further and strives to learn more about it. Objectivism never says to man, "Just accept and obey; don't ask questions." Anyone who thinks it does, and who may even be intentionally seeking a charismatic leader to follow, will be deeply disappointed in Objectivism -- and will deserve whatever he gets from whomever he feels "inspired" to follow into whatever abyss may be in store for such a "leader" and all his followers.
For example, Ayn Rand's book, The Virtue of Selfishness (VOS), has always been subtitled, "A New Concept of Egoism." Her view of egoism is, indeed, a new concept, especially for those most highly educated in traditional ideas and/or influenced by traditional thinkers. What she advocates is rational egoism, rational self-interest, rational concern with one's own interests. Objectivism is actually a philosophy of reason first and foremost. In the Introduction to VOS (excerpted in The Ayn Rand Lexicon in the topic of "selfishness"), Ayn Rand describes the traditional view of selfishness as follows:
The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word “selfishness” is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual “package-deal,” which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.
Rational selfishness is very different. As Harry Binswanger describes in the preface to The Ayn Rand Lexicon:
One value of the book had special meaning to her [Ayn Rand]: it eliminates any shred of excuse (if ever there had been one) for the continual gross misrepresentation of her philosophy at the hands of hostile commentators. As she quipped to me, “People will be able to look up BREAKFAST and see that I did not advocate eating babies for breakfast.”
The "package-deal" is the widespread, unthinking, reflex-like assumption that selfishness means sacrificing others to oneself. Rational self-interest, however, means regarding others as rational beings, too, like oneself, and dealing with them by persuasion and voluntary trade (material and non-material), if there is mutual benefit to be gained by trading. Ayn Rand also points out that in a rational society, man stands to gain the enormous values of knowledge and trade from rational, non-sacrificial trading with others.
As I have pointed out before, Objectivism identifies thinking and productive work as the two essentials of the method of survival appropriate to a rational being. Can anyone today seriously (and consistently) try to claim that man would be better off living by unthinking and unproductive non-working?
Update: The Virtue of Selfishness -- A New Concept of Egoism
A comment observes:
Ayn Rand's picking of the word "selfishness" was done for a reason. It achieved the effect she wanted.
If this refers to VOS, Ayn Rand's reason is fully explained by her in the Introduction to the book. I included some key excerpts from the Introduction in my previous Answer above. The opening paragraphs of the Introduction make it clear that she intends to explain her reason right there in the Introduction, starting with the first paragraphs of it. If a reader doesn't want to make the effort to read the Introduction, he can at least read the full title of the book, which has always been: The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism. It should be abundantly clear just from that much that the book is about something far greater and more important than the usual conventional concept of "selfishness."
If the actual complaint is that "99% of people" don't wish to be rational, then one's time and effort will be better spent focusing on the 1% who do. As Ayn Rand wrote in the concluding paragraph in her Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Fountainhead:
It does not matter that only a few in each generation will grasp and achieve the full reality of man's proper stature -- and that the rest will betray it. It is those few that move the world and give life its meaning -- and it is those few that I have always sought to address.
I doubt that the percentage of such individuals in America today is only 1%, however. I think it's a lot higher, though possibly not a great majority.
Another comment by the same commenter observes:
a system of belief/philosophy is always judged by the qualities of its followers.
The analogy to judging a book by its covers without reading its contents is very apt, particularly in regard to books that are unintelligible, i.e., not meant to be understood by rational readers. In regard to ideas that are pure "nonsense," as judged by reason, Ayn Rand actually did advocate looking at what the nonsense accomplishes to understand the true motivation and purpose behind it. She first expressed this principle in the speech by Ellsworth Toohey (a collectivist) to Peter Keating (a "second-hander") in The Fountainhead, reprinted in FNI under the title, "The Soul of a Collectivist" (underline emphasis added):
The soul, Peter, is that which can't be ruled. It must be broken. Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it—and the man is yours. You won't need a whip—he'll bring it to you and ask to be whipped. Set him in reverse—and his own mechanism will do your work for you. Use him against himself....
Ayn Rand mentioned and endorsed the principle of asking what a folly accomplishes again several times in her nonfiction:
Referring to rational egoism as a form of "selfishness" or "self-interest" is not folly, however, and, as Ayn Rand explains, cannot be mistaken by rational observers as sacrificing others to oneself. In VOS, Chap. 1, Ayn Rand emphasized:
The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone.
A rational reader doesn't need to read very far in Objectivist literature to discover that fundamental Objectivist perspective.
This is naught but an argument from intimidation combined with appeal to authority. Don't judge the contents of Miss Rand's works by the merits of whether or not it is true or false. Instead, substitute Steve Shives' notion that some individuals who advocate her works may be "insufferable pricks", "selfish assholes", or are not thoughtful or intelligent. Surely guilt by association is a powerful enough "reason" to shun exercising the judgment of one's own mind with regard to "facts" as well as the manner in which they are presented by Steve Shives.
answered Jul 08 '14 at 17:55