Ayn Rand - Darkly Roasted

Gaurav responded to my previous post on 'Ayn Rand' and I felt a few clarifications were due. Enduring a little repetition is not too much to ask of Ayn Rand devotees who are used to ploughing through 1000 or more pages of repetitive rhetoric, but I ask the others for their kind indulgence.

Firstly, I owe Gaurav an apology for calling him an 'Ayn Rand fanatic', which as his post clarifies, he certainly is not. Also, I mistakenly assumed that he is or was an Objectivist. My apologies. Secondly, I also need to apologize for a lack of clarity that suggested ad hominem. I thought that it was quite clear that the sentences in question were observations and chiefly, I assumed that the extensive links on this page and other resources on the web would prove adequate to settle the debate.

On Utility
Hard core Ayn Rand-ians are reluctant to concede what Gaurav and I both agree upon, as he writes,
"I completely agree with Hirak when he says that "Ayn Rand's philosophy is eventually mythical and full of too many big IFs and relying on too many conditions/assumptions for it to really work". He is speaking about the utilitarian value of Rand's ideas. Of course the world is not black and white."
A painting by Picasso doesn't need to have an immediate practical or utilitarian value. It's a painting, it's art; utility is not what it aims for. But is it unfair to demand of Objectivism which claims to be "a philosophy for living on earth", to have at least a few working examples of its practical utility? Doesn't its non-utility make the whole idea rather questionable?

If wishes were really horses?
But, there are lots of ideas that have no utility and they should not be dismissed offhand. So, is this one of them?
Firstly, you can't call Objectivism 'Randian' philosophy, because it borrows endlessly from other philosophers, chiefly Aristotle, Nietzsche and even from her arch-enemy -- Immanuel Kant. All that Rand should get is gift-wrapping credit. Her core ideas and principles have been questioned in articles like WHY I AM NOT AN OBJECTIVIST -
Michael Huemer
Personally, I do agree with the broadest brush-strokes of her ideas and who really doesn't? I have no moral objections to what she says, but I do have other objections. The problem with her philosophy is that is pathetically reductive. This is why it is appealingly simple and practically useless. So, as far as living in Rand's ideal world goes, my response is: "What exactly is her ideal world ?" I know what she is trying to say but I don't think she has defined or explained her terms properly. Terms like 'heroic being' or 'happiness' are floating. Like John Galt's motor, which he miraculously managed to conjure up using his reason and individuality, in complete defiance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the floating definitions are applied over and over again to create a magnificent edifice. Her concepts and Galt's motor, borrowing from Dennett(who used this analogy distinguish between the ideas of evolution and ID), are 'sky-hooks' as opposed to 'cranes' which are grounded in reality. How does one obtain the ideal government? How do we replace it? What about externalities that are imposed on people? (eg: global warming). In comparison, take Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett's books which contain radical thoughts and ideas, but which are firmly grounded in reality.

* *
While fanatics are best left alone, there are those who want to debate ideas meaningfully and are willing to re-examine their beliefs. In the course of writing this post I stumbled upon this book -
Intellectual Morons : How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas
. It is a rather ambitious effort that takes on not only Ayn Rand but even Chomsky. I would like to get hold of it and in case you have read it, please leave a short review.

1 comment:

Ashutosh said...

Looking at Flynn's book's description, I don't feel like reading it. It says clearly that "he does not shy away from ad hominem attacks". What the heck?! As if that's a big achievement just because people don't ordinarily do it.
But we have too many of those already these days. I recurringly think that these guys are missing the point by taking on their opponents' character. Their accusations may even be partly valid, but again, is that the real point?? Talk about their philosophy people! (Just like you have done in your post!)
But anyway, my synopsis of Flynn may be premature. On second thoughts, I am willing to give it a look.