Re: MD the ideology of capitalism - the Ayn Rand question

From: Mark Steven Heyman (
Date: Tue May 10 2005 - 03:46:51 BST

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    Hi Sam,

    I see you've given a lot of to this thread, but I think we're sort of
    talking past one another, at least as far as the Ayn Rand question.

    First, I understand that Rand did not use the word "selfish" in the
    normal way. I also believe that her ethical ideas have been
    carefully developed over 45 years to give the impression that
    Objectivists really do believe that it is wrong to sacrifice others
    for oneself. I'm saying that Objectivists who embrace unregulated
    capitalism (which is their goddamn raisin deeter after all) are
    either hypocrites or oblivious to the realities of unregulated
    capitalism. That is, they are either lying or stupid. To prove this,
    all I need to do is show that capitalism REQUIRES the sacrifice of
    many for the benefit of a few. That's what I hoped to work on in the
    pre-Rand version of this thread.

    Second, I know you see similarities between Objectivism and the idea
    of a fully-realized human being, and there are some. But the two
    systems cannot possibly be identical because of one very important
    fact: Objectivists see individuals as absolutely distinct from one
    another; the FRH understands that all humans share a common humanity,
    and that any perceived difference between individuals is a cultural
    illusion. Here are three paragraphs I just today received by email,
    which beautifully describe the idea of a fully-realized human being:

    "A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, "Universe," a
    part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts
    and feelings as something separated from the rest -- a kind of
    optical delusion of his consciousness.

    "This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our
    personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.
    Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our
    circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of
    nature in its beauty.

    "Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such
    achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation
    for inner security." - Albert Einstein

    Now, if we keep this quote in mind every time I speak of a fully-
    realized human being, we can get Rand and the Objectivists out of the
    picture and give this thread some legs. However, since you took some
    time in presenting your defense of Rand, I will make a few comments

    On 9 May 2005 at 13:36, Sam Norton wrote:

    msh said:
    By my definition, no fully-realized person would make an attempt to
    cleverly rationalize selfishness, much less make "The Virtue of
    Selfishness," the cornerstone of her ethical philosophy:

    "The Objectivist ethics, in essence, hold that man exists for his own
    sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral
    purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice
    others to himself." -Ayn Rand

    Aware of our common humanity, our common identity, the fully-realized
    woman understands that her own happiness is NOT the highest moral

    I then claimed a) that this was a misreading of Rand, and b) that
    there seemed to be a striking resemblance to Gewirth's point about

    Unpacking a)
    'Selfishness' doesn't mean the same in objectivism as it does in
    common language or understandings. From the website: Rand argues that
    the conventional understanding of selfishness implies an altruistic
    framework for thinking about ethics. Within this framework, the
    question, "Who is the beneficiary of this act?" is the most important
    moral question: right acts are acts undertaken for the "benefit" of
    others and wrong acts are acts undertaken for one's own "benefit."

    She's set up an over-simplified straw-man interpretation of
    altruism: Good is doing for others; bad is doing for yourself. This
    certainly does not correspond to my understanding of the fully-
    realized human being (FRH). What I'd like to do below is substitute
    FRH for her somewhat distorted ideas of altruism.

    In addition, the [FRH] framework suggests a dichotomy between actions
    that promote the interests of others to one's own detriment and
    actions that promote ones own interests to the detriment of others.
    Rand rejects this dichotomy and affirms the harmony of human
    interests (cf. "The 'Conflicts' of Men's Interests," VOS 57-65).

    This is a false dichotomy, pertaining neither to the Altruistic
    Framework, nor to the FRH Framework. In direct contradiction to the
    the Objectivist, the FRH makes no distinction between himself and
    others; he works for the benefits of "others" because he realizes
    that this works to his own benefit as well.

    Rand writes, "[A]ltruism permits no concept of a self-respecting,
    self-supporting man-a man who supports his own life by his own effort
    and neither sacrifices himself nor others . it permits no concept of
    benevolent co-existence among men . it permits no concept of justice"
    (VOS, ix).

    msh says:
    Don't see how this applies to an FRH at all.

    I still think that the concept of a "self-respecting, self-supporting
    man" is very close to your conception of the fully realised human

    msh says:
    Similarities, but not close to the same. See above.

    Both conceptions are geared at a maximisation of welfare, and
    both hinge upon the free and unconstrained choices of enlightened
    human beings. What the difference would be is that the Randian would
    expect such a person to make choices in one direction, whilst you
    would expect them to make choices in a different direction. But that
    takes us onto thread 3...

    msh says:
    The Randian's concern for the maximization of welfare for all is a
    pretense. See above. Looking forward to thread 3...

    To summarise this bit, though, a disregard for the welfare of other
    people is not the hallmark of the selfishness that she is describing,
    and I take that to be the principal source of your objection to her
    point of view.

    msh says:
    It's not the fabricated hallmark, no; it is, however, the practical
    RESULT of her philosophy.

    In fact, it would seem to flow from your definition that to be
    a fully realised human being you have to be left wing. Now that might
    be the case (!) but I think you need to do more than define things that

    msh says:
    We really need to drop the left-right red-herring dichotomy. If we
    concentrate on what people DO, rather than how they describe what
    they do, the distinction between more and less fully-realized people
    becomes quite vivid.

    Unpacking b)
    Ant referred to Gewirth's principle of Generic Consistency in the
    context of a discussion about removing subsidies...


    I really do want to discuss Gewirth, but I think he'll fit better
    into thread 1 or 3. Can you re-post your Gewirth comments to 1 or 3,
    or both? Let's finish off Rand and the Objectivists, and banish them
    to the outter darkness from whence they came. ASAP. Please.

    Again, this [Gewirth] seems extremely close to the Randian perspective, which
    precisely claims that the mature and self-responsible human being
    will be benevolent and well disposed towards others, and that a denial of
    this is internally incoherent.

    msh says:
    Again, a Randian thrives on the distinction between self and others.
    The FRH makes no such clear distinction; I suspect Gewirth doesn't
    either. Let's get back to him in 1 or 3.

    Hence, it seems to me that there is a very close logical parallel -
    virtually an identity from my point of view - between the
    philosophical structure of Rand's objectivism and what you are
    arguing for with respect to fully realised human beings.

    msh says:
    Well, if you still believe this after digesting what I've said at the
    beginning of this post, then I guess we'll need to go around again.
    I sincerely hope that isn't necessary.

    Looking forward to your response to my last post to topic 1 of this
    thread. That topic is, to me, the most important, although I look
    forward to topic 3, a discussion of the FRH and Gewirth, as well.

    In closing, I want to say to all you Randians out there, that if you
    really believe you are self-reliant people completely independent of
    others, unless you live alone on the Alaskan frontier or somewhere,
    killing moose with rocks and melting snow for water, you are sadly
    self-deluded. You use public roads and transportation, you use
    public schools and parks and libraries and museums; you rely on fire
    departments, police departments, emergency medical services; you use
    sewage systems, water, power, post offices; you rely on countless
    products created by others, the R&D and other expenses for many of
    them subsidized by public funds; you count on others for your food
    supply.... books, entertainment, conversation and company...yada,
    yada, yada.

    So what I'm saying is, shut TFU, or strip yourself naked and move to
    the frontier, that is if you can walk there.

    Mark Steven Heyman (msh)
    InfoPro Consulting - The Professional Information Processors
    Custom Software Solutions for Windows, PDAs, and the Web Since 1983
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    "Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder 'why, why,
    why?' Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he
    understand." - Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle

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