…A lot of truly well intentioned people abhor Ayn Rand. I used to be one of them. The epitome to me of Objectivism was someone who is selfish and emotionally idiotic who decides in utter immaturity that all their thoughts are infallible due to narcissism and other forms of mental dysfunction. As my high school civics teacher said, “not particularly intellectually sound or empathetic.” I thought her converts were often book smart but socially and emotionally a bit naive or backward.
I mean, my (very intelligent) father hated her philosophy. As a genuine former hippie, card carrying member of the ACLU in the 60’s, and former socialist (later a sympathizer) he felt her thinking was evil and absurd. He used to frequently say, “People always say that the cream rises to the top but so does the scum.” According to him Ayn Rand was used, just like Social Darwinism, to justify atrocities committed by greedy people who had a “seared conscience.”
But…one problem with a lot the criticism she receives is that while some might become reasonably angry at those who pick pieces of religious texts, like say the Bible or Quran, apart from the overall book and/or try to combine various religious creeds like someone at an intellectual cafeteria, Objectivism doesn’t require total adherence or acceptance. It’s not a religion but a philosophy. It can get many things right and many things wrong. You don’t have to worry about being sacrilegious or intellectually dishonest if you find some of her thinking deeply in error and some of it profoundly accurate. You don’t have to accept Rand as your savior and read all her words as the ultimate truth of the universe.
The thing is though, ironically, a lot of her thinking coincides (very accidentally perhaps) quite well with Christianity. The belief that humans are incapable of sincere altruism lines up well with the idea that we’re all fallen creatures in need of outside redemption. And given the beauty of the Garden of Eden and the condoned “hedonism” in the world before sin (read sinless pleasure seeking) it makes sense to argue that by nature we were created by God to follow our own bliss. According to the Bible human pain and death were a result of choosing to eat the forbidden apple and defy God, not some prerequisite. God created humans to be happy.
I guess, basically, I think you can see Rand’s works as honest assessments of the harsh nature of the world as we experience it. They maybe “tell it like it is” is certain respects. There’s not a lot of false optimism. And true rational egoism requires cooperation of certain sorts so one can’t easily counter-argue that that’s falsely optimistic in one overly self reliant way or another either…. But, again, you don’t have to strictly adhere to all her beliefs or have such a black and white view of her and her thinking that if you find her personally obnoxious or parts of her work offensive you throw it all out. That’s expecting way too much of any one thinker to begin with, in my opinion. Again she’s not trying to be the Pope, Jesus or Buddha. And if she was, well… *laughing* true genius often is weakly separated from insanity. *shrugs* You have to think for yourself (irony alert).
Anyway, I don’t see Rand as a way to justify inequality because it actually doesn’t justify it at all, in my opinion. But instead it’s a way to partially explain how things evolve – the blind, detached and meaningless forces of the universe separated from a benevolent creator (who does exist, I believe). And see, I value the scientific truth of evolution too and don’t find it offensive or to be a repudiation of my faith either… Indeed, science neither proves or disproves God. And Randian thinking doesn’t redeem evil forms of self interest to the status of rationality or as as ideals that should be lived out, so much as it argues that rational self interest in general is more honest and good than false kindness.
As a Christian, I read her as saying that you can’t do one better and be your own personal Jesus but you can be the best human you can be. And as such, you shouldn’t try to do other’s work for them but instead value the life God gave you and take care of that first. And that’s not to say that you shouldn’t be genuinely compassionate or loving but instead, again, that you can’t circumvent someone else’s free will and essentially take over their own responsibility for their own existence. Again, in my interpretation it’s about rational self reliance not the demented variety that seeks to go beyond the bounds of reason and sound logic to impinge on another’s rights. Although, you might have to offend others occasionally because that might be rational…
The challenge with interpreting her, to my mind, is that most people struggle with actual rationality. So often people rationalize things but that’s extremely different than actual rationality…
But truly, in further irony, I’m not entirely sure we would even find her thinking so edgy or even rebellious if not for the way she presented it and packaged it all. And perhaps that was her weakness. That was where she lacked an ability to be totally rational… She perhaps valued ego (and showmanship) in its lesser forms a bit too much. And yet on the other hand, perhaps she felt the need to “highlight things” in a way, because it’s so easy to be “nice” and not truly good or loving.
My biggest qualms with her are actually that she didn’t believe a priori knowledge exists and obviously that she was an atheist. But I don’t let that keep me from evaluating her as a whole and appreciating whatever truth I believe she could offer.