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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?

asked Jul 08 '14 at 01:55

KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

KineticPhilosophy
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edited Jul 08 '14 at 02:00

Haha! Absolutely spot on! This literally describes my experience when, around 14 years old, I picked up Rand's literature and became inundated with it's logic; now in college I've done a lot more research and read a lot more different opinions and have change for the better against Ayn Rand and her ideas. My mind was slowly changed as my philosophy was picked apart by empirical evidence and data which contradicted my beliefs.

I'm sure most, if not all, older long-time objectivist are nice people and not "pricks" but if you still hold these beliefs years later you seem to only read one opinion

(Jul 18 '14 at 00:10) TheBucket TheBucket's gravatar image

(For example only reading articles from Misis.org or Reason.com rather than academic research sites or more scholarly places like The Economist, BBC, NPR, NBER, or even Reddit's r/Economics)

(Jul 18 '14 at 00:12) TheBucket TheBucket's gravatar image

@TheBucket

How is Objectivism picked apart by empirical evidence?

(Jul 21 '14 at 04:48) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

Most economist accept the minimum wage and basic labor laws as helpful for society (the majority of Nobel Prize winners). Every serious economist believes externalities such as pollution and education exist outside of private interactions and are best dealt with using regulation. The objectivist position on solving global warming isn't supported by evidence or even basic logic. Economist on all side agree governments should invest in basic scientific experiments (such as CERN and NASA) and practically every expert thinks governments should invest in infrastructure.

(Jul 23 '14 at 02:15) TheBucket TheBucket's gravatar image

Practically every countries governments make investments in healthcare where the private sector fails (such as Singapore's experiment where they attempted privatization but it didn't work). Every economist or expert policy maker believes we need an active central bank and prudent financial regulations on finance and banking for a stable economy. Welfare in both rich and poor countries (as well as anti-discrimination laws and public investments in education) is proven to reduce poverty and be good in the long run for everyone (just be careful not to overspend on welfare).

(Jul 23 '14 at 02:19) TheBucket TheBucket's gravatar image

However the most important reason, I believe, is that you or any objectivist may posit that government shouldn't do X, Y, Z and that private sector areas can do A, B, C but you lack any evidence that is the case. If you truly believe the government sucks at running healthcare than please provide unquestionable evidence. If you think capitalism alone can solve global warming than provide evidence to prove such a thing beyond a shadow of a doubt.

I would love to debate this stuff and figure out the right (or most correct) answer with you guys!

(Jul 23 '14 at 02:24) TheBucket TheBucket's gravatar image

So....do objectivist have evidence against these assumptions? Mind you these are pretty moderate centrist ideas that pertain to society right now. If you can't defend your beliefs how can you have any credibility with anyone?

(Jul 27 '14 at 06:16) TheBucket TheBucket's gravatar image

Hi, TheBucket. Certainly, Objectivists disagree with you and for good reason, but debating you in the comments here isn't a great place or way to express those disagreements. OA is not a discussion forum; it is a Q&A site. If you were to post a clear, distinct question (for each one), you might get more/better engagement.

(Jul 27 '14 at 10:31) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image
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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.

[And] 10 years go by and now you're 24 and you're still reading Atlas Shrugged, and you're still saying this makes sense, [and] odds are you're not nearly as thoughtful, and intelligent, and well read as you think you are....

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.

In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

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....

... there's always a purpose in nonsense. Don't bother to examine a folly—ask yourself only what it accomplishes. Every system of ethics that preached sacrifice grew into a world power and ruled millions of men. Of course, you must dress it up. You must tell people that they'll achieve a superior kind of happiness by giving up everything that makes them happy. You don't have to be too clear about it.... The farce has been going on for centuries and men still fall for it. Yet the test should be so simple: just listen to any prophet and if you hear him speak of sacrifice—run. Run faster than from a plague. It stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there's someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.

Ayn Rand mentioned and endorsed the principle of asking what a folly accomplishes again several times in her nonfiction:

  • CUI, Chapter 17, regarding "extremism" as an "anti-concept."

  • "The Comprachicos" in ROP, regarding modern education.

  • "Apollo and Dionysus" in ROP, regarding commentaries on Woodstock and Apollo 11.

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.

answered Jul 18 '14 at 21:52

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
467718

edited Aug 18 '14 at 00:52

Nicely expanded upon.

(Jul 20 '14 at 15:45) dream_weaver ♦ dream_weaver's gravatar image

I think Ayn Rand's picking of the word "selfishness" was done for a reason. It achieved the effect she wanted. However it does not change the fact that for 99% of people, "selfishness" equates to "selfish jerk" --someone who grabs what they want & treads over others in pursuit of their whims. In this sense, her rather clever use of the word may have backfired for the majority of people who value kindness, consideration, tender manners etc.

(Aug 16 '14 at 10:52) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

I don't see any other way she could have used the word.

: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. - Ayn Rand

The problem those 99% of people have is not a linguistic one, it's a conceptual one. They don't draw a moral distinction, let alone a linguistic one, between a dishonest charlatan and an honest but selfish salesman.

(Aug 22 '14 at 13:22) anthony anthony's gravatar image

That said, the terminology can be a barrier to some, but that's one reason that Rand's fiction can be often be the best introduction to Objectivism. There we get to "see" the behavior of Rand's heroes which I think most people would continue to characterize as "selfish," but which doesn't involve the package-dealing that comes with the term as most people use it.

(Aug 22 '14 at 13:29) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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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

dream_weaver's gravatar image

dream_weaver ♦
663214

but... a system of belief/philosophy is always judged by the qualities of its followers. Exhibit A: Islam. You can argue that Islam is a religion of peace but just look at some of its followers. De minimus, one would argue that there's something in the teachings of Islam that empowers bad behavior in some people. This is true of any philosophy/religion/system of thought: people will look to the adherents to see what it is really all about: if they see selfish jerk types or wild-eyed cult types, they will draw their judgment on what that system really means.

(Aug 16 '14 at 11:00) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

If you are going to judge a book by it's cover, those who have read the contents will recognize the assessment for what it is.

(Aug 16 '14 at 12:38) dream_weaver ♦ dream_weaver's gravatar image

The behavior of the majority of the followers is not "the cover" it's the teachings of "the book".

(Aug 23 '14 at 14:35) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

The behavior of individuals is governed by what each and every individual accepts as true - regardless of any books they choose to read, or any espousal they choose to listen to.

(Aug 23 '14 at 15:19) dream_weaver ♦ dream_weaver's gravatar image
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Asked: Jul 08 '14 at 01:55

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Last updated: Aug 23 '14 at 15:19