Re: MD the ideology of capitalism - the notion of FRH

From: Sam Norton (
Date: Tue May 17 2005 - 12:09:04 BST

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    Hi Mark,

    Time to turn to the FRH question. I'll leave the Ayn Rand point for the time
    being because a) you've accepted that there is some similarity, and b) if we
    get somewhere with this thread then it may open up a more fruitful avenue
    for re-investigating the Randian point of view. Anyhow, on to some of the
    points here.

    MSH said previously: "...the FRH understands that all humans share a common
    humanity, and that any perceived difference between individuals is a
    cultural illusion".

    > sam:
    > So does that mean that the difference between Chomsky and Rand is an
    > illusion? The difference between FRH's and non-FRH's is illusory? I think
    > you need to spell things out more there.

    > msh:
    > There is a difference in the value of Chomsky's FRH ideas versus the
    > FRH ideas of Ayn Rand. There is no difference in the value of
    > Chomsky's life versus the life of any Randian, or that of any chimp
    > or dog or cat or spider or gnat. Most humans tend to believe that
    > their lives are more valuable than a cougar's, although a treed
    > cougar will not agree. Jingoist Americans believe that the life of a
    > single invader GI is worth more than a thousand innocent Iraqi lives.
    > My claim is that these beliefs are cultural and biological illusions
    > which exist in inverse proportion to an individual's level of
    > enlightenment.

    In which case, first of all, you're disagreeing with the moral hierarchy of
    the MoQ. Which seems surprising, as I thought you really valued that. Pirsig
    sees human beings as more valuable than animals etc. The fact that he sees
    such value in instrumental terms (ie they are the source of valuable ideas)
    rather than directly (ie human beings having value simply by virtue of being
    human beings as such) is something I have a problem with, but I'm surprised
    that you reject his perspective on this, ie that the MoQ is a cultural and
    biological illusion. (grin)

    But lets unpick this element a bit further. You assume a distinction between
    Chomsky and his ideas, and say that it is the ideas which are of value, and
    not the person who bears them. Now some of this is the meat of the MF
    discussion this month, so I'll try and be specific about some other issues

    a) how do you draw a distinction between Chomsky and his ideas? is it simply
    what is communicated to others which is important?
    b) I thought the point about FRH was the action and activity that they
    undertook. As you put it "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." Here you seem to be saying that
    the ideas are more important than the actions, not less.
    c) is it possible to disentangle a person's character from the ideas that
    they hold? Your position consistently seems to be that those who hold low
    quality ideas (IYO) are of low character. Hence "no fully-realized person
    would make an attempt to cleverly rationalize selfishness". It thus seems
    axiomatic in your system that becoming an FRH entails a certain amount of
    moral progress, ie the development of character. Is the difference between
    Rand and Chomsky purely a question of the manipulation of particular
    symbols, or is there some element of 'selfishness' or 'altruism' at stake as

    Onto Gewirth.

    > msh:
    > 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. <snip>
    > 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?

    Reposted comments on Gewirth:
    Ant referred to Gewirth's principle of Generic Consistency in the context of
    a discussion about removing subsidies, commending as rational "the ideal of
    genuine, unfettered, free markets that take into account the freedom and
    interests of all rational, autonomous end choosers", going on to say "As I
    noted before, in reference to Alan Gewirth and his 1978 text "Reason &
    Morality", it is irrational not to. In this text, Gewirth introduces a
    moral principle (the Principle of Generic Consistency or "PGC"), according
    to which all agents have inalienable rights to the capacities and facilities
    they need in order to be able to act successfully i.e. "Agents must act in
    accord with the generic rights of others to (the values of) freedom &
    well-being as well as their own." As I mentioned previously, his defense of
    this principle is that it is impossible to deny the principle without
    contradicting yourself (echoing Descartes' idea that one cannot deny one's
    existence because this very denial implies one's existence)."

    What I take Gewirth's principle to be is the claim that i) it is irrational
    to be selfish (in the don't care about anyone else sense), but also ii)
    enlightened self-interest is benevolent - in other words, the selfishness of
    an enlightened person is beneficial to the wider community, as that person
    will realise that the interests hang together (the specific point is about a
    logical contradiction, but Gewirth seemed happy with that wider expression,
    and apparently his book Community Rights makes the argument that "
    self-interest and community good are not opposed but mutually supportive ")

    Again, this 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.

    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. The *content* of what you would argue for, in
    political terms, is undoubtedly different (and we could have very
    interesting conversations about it), but it is the conceptual parallelism
    that strikes me - and which originally sparked this thread. (BTW neither
    perspective, yours or Rand's, are 'conservative' in the sense in which I
    understand that word, so I feel a little equidistant from both, despite
    finding elements of attraction in each).


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