Several months ago I had a nice email back-and-forth with two folks who I really respect about the merits of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism. It all started when I got a trackback ping from somebody who said that I was a bit “subjectivist” and, not knowing what that meant, the learning process began. One guy was telling me, “She’s an idiotic theoretician who believes self-interest should come above all us.” The other guy was telling me, “Her thinking has emerged into a legit philosophy over the last 30 years and her novels are extraordinary.”
At some point I want to tackle her most famous novels – Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead – but for now I just read For the New Intellectual, a book by Rand that breaks down the philosophies presented in her famous novels. (I also read Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time which contained a thorough debunking of Rand the person.)
My key lesson learned is this: there is a big difference between being a fan of her novels and being a fan of her philosophy. I get the sense that her novels have strong characters, a compelling plot, etc. But you can like her novels and not embrace the philosophy. There are many things, in my early research, that I find quite appealing. Its emphasis on knowledge/intellectualism – one of core values – is awesome. Its emphasis on not feeling guilty when acting in self-interest I also can sympathize with. My chief complaint, though, is how it seems to operate on extremes. If you are selfless or the least bit philanthropic then by default you put aside all self-interest and pleasure in the name of others. There IS a grey area, but this doesn’t seem to be sufficiently promoted in the philosophy.
My exploration continues….