Posts Tagged ‘Objectivism’

Love, Sacrifice, and Ayn Rand

Posted on September 25, 2012 at 6.05 pm

Q. “To love a person is selfish because it means that you value that particular person, that he or she makes your life better, that he or she is an intense source of joy—to you. A ‘disinterested’ love is a contradiction in terms. One cannot be neutral to that which one values. The time, effort and money you spend on behalf of someone you love are not sacrifices, but actions taken because his or her happiness is crucially important to your own. Such actions would constitute sacrifices only if they were done for a stranger—or for an enemy. Those who argue that love demands self-denial must hold the bizarre belief that it makes no personal difference whether your loved one is healthy or sick, feels pleasure or pain, is alive or dead.”  Could you elaborate your views on this topic in relation to the self-sacrificial love Jesus portrayed? (P.S.: this isn’t political philosophy, but does just plain ol’ philosophy count?) – Moriah, from the internet.

A. Ah, Objectivism. I’ve read and enjoyed Ayn Rand, but on so many issues we must part ways. This quote comes from one Gary Hull, writing for the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. It’s a selection from an essay which I’d suggest, not to put too fine a point on it, misunderstands love in just about every way possible—and particularly the love which you mentioned, namely the love of Christ. The main problem, I think, is Hull’s gross confusion of different types of love (romantic love, for instance, is not the same as friendship, or a parent’s love for a child—though English leaves us with just one word for them all) and really unfortunate misunderstanding of what the Christian concept of selfless love, or “agape,” entails.

The selfless aspect of agape love is that it requires that we put what is best for the beloved over our own desires. This is not unconditional love in the sense that Hull seems to understand it, where we would “condemn death camps but send Hitler a box of Godiva chocolates.” That’s not love; that’s foolish indulgence. It’s not best for Hitler to have a box of chocolates; it’s best for him to be brought to justice for his actions and, if at all possible, be brought to understand why they were wrong and how he might become different and better. To see how absurd Hull’s example is, get rid of Hitler and say that your significant other has gone mad, murdered someone, and doesn’t think their action was wrong. Would anyone think the loving course of action is to give the SO chocolates? No, of course not—it is in fact our love for them which would require us to inform the police and hopefully get the SO psychiatric help.

In short, Hull takes the vapid, greeting card love we’re encouraged to engage in at Valentine’s Day, sets it up as Love with a capital L, and then handily tears down his straw man. But a straw man indeed it is, and I’m rather disappointed to see an argument of this caliber written by so well-educated a man—let alone published.

Ayn Rand on the Dole…no,literally.

Posted on February 3, 2011 at 1.05 pm

Q. What are your thoughts on this?    I never much agreed with her philosophy myself but she’s a good writer and interesting character. — Erik, from the internet.

A. Ayn Rand is certainly interesting, and I’ve enjoyed several of her books (though she really should have hired a good editor to uh..tighten things up a bit).  I have mixed feelings on her philosophy, but generally agree with her the way she would limit government — albeit perhaps not for exactly the same reasons.

At any rate, if this is true, I can’t quite decide if I’m surprised or not.  It’s not uncommon, of course, to hear of hypocrisy from people as well-known as Rand, but…I don’t know.  It’s hard for me to imagine how someone so virulently obsessed with egoism and supreme individuality could stand to accept government assistance.  Were she true to the philosophy she espoused, Rand would have let herself die before having tax dollars pay her medical bills.

UPDATE:  It seems Reason Magazine posted a response…and used basically the same title I’d planned.  Oh well.

The response notes that Rand “actually defended the collecting of benefits as a way to get your own money back from The Man.”  That’s tapping into a larger libertarian debate:  If you can’t avoid paying taxes without the threat of fines, jail, or worse, should you take advantage of government services (in addition, that is, to the “unavoidable” ones like public roads) so you at least get some of your money’s worth?

It’s a complicated question and I frankly don’t have an answer at this point.  Assuming you don’t take more services than you paid for in taxes, I see good arguments on both sides of the issue.

Objectivism Public and Private

Posted on January 12, 2011 at 9.21 am

Q. What do you think about objectivism? — justingirnus, from tumblr.

A. I’ve read and enjoyed a couple Ayn Rand novels (though I have to admit to skipping most of the speeches/treatises she throws in the middle — I don’t know why they’re there, because if readers don’t get the philosophy by that point, they are decidedly dull), and I’m sympathetic to its fervor for the free market and individual rights.

What hangs me up, however, is that the focus on the rights and primacy of the individual isn’t limited to the sphere of government, but also considered a guiding principle for how each person should live their personal lives.  As the sage Wikipedia puts it, “Ayn Rand regarded Objectivism as an integrated philosophical system. Libertarianism, in contrast, is a political philosophy which confines its attention to matters of public policy. For example, Objectivism argues positions in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and aesthetics, whereas libertarianism does not address such questions.”

So, for instance, in The Fountainhead Roark says,

I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need. I wished to come here and say that I am a man who does not exist for others.

If we’re applying that to government, sure.  But if we’re applying it to private life, as a Christian and a big fan of voluntary, private organization/civil society/charity, you’ve lost me.