A brief reflection on Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged'

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Crazeddemon
 
Reply Tue 10 Jun, 2008 08:47 pm
@AmericanPop,
To Didymos Thomas:

I do not see her views on ethics to be flawed in any way at the most basic form. She may have taken some stances I do not agree with, but that is because we are subjective human beings living in an objective world and we must disagree at times. I believe all of her ethics revolved around values, self worth, and the right of all people to their own liberty and self value. No man should be forced to do another man's work. Why do people find this such an elementary idea? That things actually have a value to some people!? That a man may claim responsibility over his own possessions and business and no one else's? Give me one reason why sacrificing my own values for another's that is inconsequential or unimportant to me is necessary and good?

Regardless of your views on "art" and "good literature" you must be understanding of what the author intended. The intention of the author to the book as compared to the actual meaning or purpose you got from the book is what makes writing good, is it not? The ability to communicate an idea or concept to others is the point of writing? The details are superfluous and unimportant to the main body of the writing and can be enjoyed if you like things to be pretty for no reason, that's fine by me but you cannot say it was written poorly.
 
AmericanPop
 
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2008 02:10 am
@Crazeddemon,
Crazeddemon,

Her ethics have certainly drawn me to the right but I cannot help but have some reservations:

1) The first pertains to monopolization. During the entirety of the book the 'looters' consistently plot government-supported extortions at the expense of the 'prime movers'. The 'Anti-dog-eat-dog' bill, the first example, was a plan aimed at limiting the growth of any one business in the name of healthy competition.

I found the Rand spends very little time discussing the evils of monopolization and its detriments to industry. I believe she only gave one brief mention of it, slipped slyly into Francisco D'Anconia's speech at James Taggart's wedding, in which he affirms that industrialists who attempt to 'sit' on their money will inevitably start to lose it. How? I point to the current instance of oil. What are independent competitors to do when the very commodity they rely upon is finite (as in all natural resources), and the sole supply of that commodity is safeguarded by the property rights of one/a few individual(s)? Which brings me to my next point.

2) Rand's ethics seem to make sense in a 1950s world but are they anything but an anachronism in a 21st century globalised world economy? As earth is a closed system, what happens when economic growth comes at a very precarious expense, such as the sustenance of the environment? Technological ingenuity is an obvious solution. But does there come a point when the repercussions of liberalized business are too many and too imminent for technological progress to keep pace? To give but a few examples:

How can a state ensure intellectual property rights without a co-operative effort with up-and-coming governments like that of China?

How can governments ensure a peaceful environment for production and trade when:
a- mobile technology ensures the internationalization of organized crime?
b- bio-technology gives any wacko with a chemistry set the opportunity to blow up important financial centres?
c- small adversarial governments like North Korea are increasingly capable of acquiring nuclear weapons?


On another note, Ayn Rand has lots to say about the evils of "pull", but what does this term "pull" really mean? By her definition it would seem that anybody who makes decisions on a political level, anybody who weighs the social consequences while making his/her decisions. As unfortunate as it sounds, people's actions are not guided by some objective physical law, as in the sciences. Capitalism is a sensitive man-made system that only survives if enough people allow it to. Rand seems to off-load a lot the blame for her wearying dystopia on others; those who do not accept her creed of hardcore reason She seems to delude herself by believing that to be human is to be rational. Now it would be great if this were true, but to do so would require some freak, and might I say dehumanizing, eugenics experiment.

Which brings me to my next criticism. Rand somehow manages to tie human emotion in with human rationality, as if the former were merely a byproduct of the latter. Despite granting her characters spurts of rapture every time they indulge in the righteousness of their own reason, this supposition receives little rational justification in the book. Transforming mind into matter is a good feeling indeed, but to call it bliss is almost laughable.

Anyway just some thoughts.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2008 02:34 am
@AmericanPop,
Quote:
I do not see her views on ethics to be flawed in any way at the most basic form.


This is simply a matter of how much we might agree with Rand. I find her ethics to be fundamentally flawed, but that probably just means that we have fundamental ethical disagreements Smile

Quote:
She may have taken some stances I do not agree with, but that is because we are subjective human beings living in an objective world and we must disagree at times.


Disagreements of moral philosophy are not so easily explained away by saying we all view things a little differently (the subjective nature of our experience). For instance, Rand suggests that self interest is moral, and selflessness immoral. To suggest the reverse, that selflessness is moral, selfishness immoral, is a bit more substantial than glass half full/empty disagreements.

Quote:
I believe all of her ethics revolved around values, self worth, and the right of all people to their own liberty and self value. No man should be forced to do another man's work.


We could agree that no man should be forced to do another's work and still fundamentally disagree with Rand's ethics. We could agree that no man should be forced to do another's work while one of us suggests that self is entirely illusory.

That's one of my problems with her style of philosophy - either you agree with her, or you think all men should be slaves, ect. She shows absolutely no respect for any variety in human perspectives - except for Aristotle.

Quote:
Give me one reason why sacrificing my own values for another's that is inconsequential or unimportant to me is necessary and good?


Perhaps in doing so you would learn greater respect for that which others value, and maybe even a little about what you value and why you value what you value.

It seems to me that what we value changes - our values are not static. Perhaps clinging to these values isn't so healthy.

Quote:
Regardless of your views on "art" and "good literature" you must be understanding of what the author intended. The intention of the author to the book as compared to the actual meaning or purpose you got from the book is what makes writing good, is it not? The ability to communicate an idea or concept to others is the point of writing? The details are superfluous and unimportant to the main body of the writing and can be enjoyed if you like things to be pretty for no reason, that's fine by me but you cannot say it was written poorly.


Sure I can say the book was poorly written. My views on art and good literature are not to be thrown out the window when looking at an example of art and literature.

I understand what the author intended - a great master piece championing the virtue of selfishness. And I think Rand failed miserably in that endeavor. I would suggest 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra' for an example of a successful attempt.

My criticism of Atlas is not the same as my criticism of Rand's philosophy. Those are two very different issues.

If the details are unimportant, they should not have been included. That is one of my criticisms - Atlas is terribly, unnecessarily long. The book can be enjoyed; I enjoyed the book for the most part. But airport romance novels can also be enjoyed, yet they are hardly examples of good literature.

AmericanPop - One thing worth remembering when considering Rand's ethics is that Rand thought her ethical doctrine to be impossible for most. Her's was truly an elitist program.

You say
Quote:
She seems to delude herself by believing that to be human is to be rational. Now it would be great if this were true, but to do so would require some freak, and might I say dehumanizing, eugenics experiment.


And you're right, expecting everyone to be rational in the way Rand suggests we should be rational is impossible. But Rand, surprisingly, understood this.
 
Crazeddemon
 
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2008 08:59 am
@Didymos Thomas,
First off I would like to thank you Didymos and AmericanPop for such a comprehensive collection of thoughts and I will get to them all if i can at some point, but it might take me a bit lol. I hardly get much challenge from opponents in situations where i am given a decent amount of time to formulate my response. I see all of your points very clearly (i believe lol) and can understand the reasoning just fine.

The topic of monopolies is, as you pointed out, barely touched on in Atlas Shrugged. She may have talked in other writings about it but i'm not very sure at the moment. Regardless, I personally agree with you to a point. I feel that businesses should be fair but you cannot necessarily expect it or trust them. I don't have a solution to the monopoly problem, but I am sure it would not be too incredibly hard to deal with. The government should still play some role in regulation of very large corporations and companies who are in the position to have a monopoly, but only to a point. What that point is i'm not sure myself, this is just what i believe is possible for humans to deal with.

I know very little about the economic status of China and can therefore not provide any points relating, but you said:
Quote:
How can governments ensure a peaceful environment for production and trade when:
a- mobile technology ensures the internationalization of organized crime?
b- bio-technology gives any wacko with a chemistry set the opportunity to blow up important financial centres?
c- small adversarial governments like North Korea are increasingly capable of acquiring nuclear weapons?
I think Rand would have found those to be arguments that have no real importance to her philosophy because they are things that must be dealt with when they occur as would any natural disaster or normal crime problem. Crime, accidents, and evil must be expected and dealt with, but I believe she would consider it more harm to more people if her ideas of the economic system were unused because of a couple kinks in the rope. You may believe that they are more dangerous than i make them out to be, but if you were to change your ideas based on threats then it's like negotiating with terrorists IMO.

Quote:
Perhaps in doing so you would learn greater respect for that which others value, and maybe even a little about what you value and why you value what you value.

It seems to me that what we value changes - our values are not static. Perhaps clinging to these values isn't so healthy.
Perhaps, but I have no reason to respect what others value, unless the other is a value to me. I mean, I wouldn't show disrespect, but i would be indifferent. I feel it is better to determine what i value based on my interactions with people more than my self sacrifice for people because it is a true, trusting, and balanced relationship as opposed to a relationship that may be balanced, but may only be balanced from one perspective and allows for less disagreements (though i guess that idea is arguable).

While values may change, it is generally based on needs or wants in the life of the individual. The individual should have the insight and self control to understand not to hang on to values when they have lost their value to them would be the argument of Rand I believe.

Quote:
Disagreements of moral philosophy are not so easily explained away by saying we all view things a little differently (the subjective nature of our experience). For instance, Rand suggests that self interest is moral, and selflessness immoral. To suggest the reverse, that selflessness is moral, selfishness immoral, is a bit more substantial than glass half full/empty disagreements.
I did not mean pre-fundamental ideas that i disagreed with, nor did I intend to mislead (not that you're saying i am, i'm just pointing it out). I meant more issues that are derived from the fundamental points of the moral philosophy. But they are not necessarily worth discussing. I merely meant that I do not agree with everything she ever said.

Quote:
We could agree that no man should be forced to do another's work and still fundamentally disagree with Rand's ethics. We could agree that no man should be forced to do another's work while one of us suggests that self is entirely illusory.

That's one of my problems with her style of philosophy - either you agree with her, or you think all men should be slaves, ect. She shows absolutely no respect for any variety in human perspectives - except for Aristotle.
I can totally agree with you here. She was very narrow minded about taking other people's opinions very seriously at all. I feel it is very important to get a wide variety of ideas and take the good from all (though i am guilty of being close minded about philosophies from time to time)

Quote:
If the details are unimportant, they should not have been included. That is one of my criticisms - Atlas is terribly, unnecessarily long. The book can be enjoyed; I enjoyed the book for the most part. But airport romance novels can also be enjoyed, yet they are hardly examples of good literature.
I see your point and will concede that it can be enjoyed on varying degrees or levels...or unenjoyed for that matter, hah.

Quote:
Which brings me to my next criticism. Rand somehow manages to tie human emotion in with human rationality, as if the former were merely a byproduct of the latter. Despite granting her characters spurts of rapture every time they indulge in the righteousness of their own reason, this supposition receives little rational justification in the book. Transforming mind into matter is a good feeling indeed, but to call it bliss is almost laughable.
I disagree with her on this point too. I find it more realistic to think that humans should try to control their emotions with reason rather than that they are the byproduct of reason. The rational justification for the righteousness of their own reason is the fact that it is righteous, lol. To clarify it's because they know that they have understood what is meant to be for balance and fairness.

Again thanks for taking the time to really have some good responses.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Wed 11 Jun, 2008 06:22 pm
@Crazeddemon,
Quote:
Perhaps, but I have no reason to respect what others value, unless the other is a value to me. I mean, I wouldn't show disrespect, but i would be indifferent. I feel it is better to determine what i value based on my interactions with people more than my self sacrifice for people because it is a true, trusting, and balanced relationship as opposed to a relationship that may be balanced, but may only be balanced from one perspective and allows for less disagreements (though i guess that idea is arguable).


I was just giving some food for thought about Rand's ethics.

What Rand suggests is that the other should not be a value to you. That's a fundamental disagreement I have with Rand - I suggest other people should be supremely valuable to you.
So, if other people should be valued by you, then the interests of other people should be valued by you, at least to the extent that others are concerned - for example, we shouldn't ridicule our deeply religious friend's faith tradition. We should be considerate of our friend.

From "I feel it is better to determine...." I completely lost you.

Quote:
While values may change, it is generally based on needs or wants in the life of the individual. The individual should have the insight and self control to understand not to hang on to values when they have lost their value to them would be the argument of Rand I believe.


Right, and Rand claims that everyone should be supremely concerned with their own values, even though those values are in a constant tumult, and that we should pursue these ever shifting values for our own sake, damn everyone else.

We end up chasing ghosts, without any respect for our fellow man if we follow Rand's ethics. That's why I said Rand's ethics are the playground ethics of a five year old. It's my ball - I don't like to share!

This is my summary of Rand - Poor writer. Not a philosopher. Read some Nietzsche.

That's everything in three short phrases.

And here is the worst of her ethical system - as criticisms leak in, as the system shows itself to be impossible and wretched, Rand defends herself by claiming that her ethics are for an elite few, those of such great self interest. So, if her system is flawed, you just are not good enough for her system.

A least Nietzsche could turn a phrase.
 
Crazeddemon
 
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2008 10:08 am
@Didymos Thomas,
Quote:
What Rand suggests is that the other should not be a value to you. That's a fundamental disagreement I have with Rand - I suggest other people should be supremely valuable to you.
So, if other people should be valued by you, then the interests of other people should be valued by you, at least to the extent that others are concerned - for example, we shouldn't ridicule our deeply religious friend's faith tradition. We should be considerate of our friend.
Do you remember the end of Atlas Shrugged? The whole point of the ending was to show that caring for others is nothing to be shunned as long as it is still in your best interest because the other is valuable to you. Of course you should not value others when they have nothing of value to give you. This is the concept most people struggle with or do not understand in the philosophy (not that i'm saying you don't).

Quote:

We end up chasing ghosts, without any respect for our fellow man if we follow Rand's ethics. That's why I said Rand's ethics are the playground ethics of a five year old. It's my ball - I don't like to share!
Without respect???? No, without UNDESERVED respect, surely this concept is nothing new if you have read Aristotle.

There is still no reason to share unless it increases the enjoyment the ball gives you.

Quote:
And here is the worst of her ethical system - as criticisms leak in, as the system shows itself to be impossible and wretched, Rand defends herself by claiming that her ethics are for an elite few, those of such great self interest. So, if her system is flawed, you just are not good enough for her system.
I do not believe she would ever claim her philosophy to be impossible. Obviously people are not perfect. The heroes of her philosophy would be perfect, but that's what they are: HEROES. The constant struggle for the ideal will lead us into ruin is what you are saying, just because the ideal is not necessarily possible. Just because it isn't possible doesn't mean it isn't necessary or good. Nor does it mean that the struggle is bad. I would rather die struggling for good than to just "accept" I can never do anything good and live to please others and hope they please me back.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Fri 13 Jun, 2008 03:08 pm
@Crazeddemon,
Quote:
Do you remember the end of Atlas Shrugged? The whole point of the ending was to show that caring for others is nothing to be shunned as long as it is still in your best interest because the other is valuable to you. Of course you should not value others when they have nothing of value to give you.


'Caring' for others out of your own self interest is not caring for others, that's caring for yourself.
Rand suggests that other people should be valuable to you only to the extent that they benefit you.

Quote:
Without respect???? No, without UNDESERVED respect, surely this concept is nothing new if you have read Aristotle.


Surely if you've read Rand and Aristotle you know their views to be entirely different. And if you've read Rand you know that there is no respect for our fellow man, only the search for self benefit from others.

Quote:
There is still no reason to share unless it increases the enjoyment the ball gives you.


Sure there is reason to share - for the sake of those around you.

Quote:
I do not believe she would ever claim her philosophy to be impossible.


Right, she thought herself to be a shinning example of her philosophy.

Quote:
The heroes of her philosophy would be perfect, but that's what they are: HEROES.


And heroes are never perfect. Look back through all of the great heroes of literature, and none have been perfect. They all have some character flaw.

Quote:
The constant struggle for the ideal will lead us into ruin is what you are saying, just because the ideal is not necessarily possible.


No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that in the face of criticism, Rand falls back onto the claim that her philosophy is for the few, the moral elite, and that the rest of us are simply not good enough to follow her ethics, or good enough to recognize their value.

Quote:
Just because it isn't possible doesn't mean it isn't necessary or good. Nor does it mean that the struggle is bad.


When we are talking about ethical doctrines, the doctrine is pretty useless unless we can apply it.

Quote:
I would rather die struggling for good than to just "accept" I can never do anything good and live to please others and hope they please me back.


Okay, but your options are not limited to these. Of course, I would suggest that Rand's ethics are ultimately destructive, and that spending our lives helping others, without the expectation of them returning the favor, is the 'good' way to live our lives.
 
AmericanPop
 
Reply Sat 14 Jun, 2008 03:13 am
@Didymos Thomas,
-----------------------------
 
Farthender
 
Reply Fri 8 Aug, 2008 11:33 pm
@AmericanPop,
Well, I haven't read Atlas Shrugged, but I am somewhat familiar with Ayn Rand's philosophy, and rather it is morally right or not, doing everything for selfish reasons is nevertheless how we humans act. That's what I think, anyway.

I mean, let's consider it with a scenario: You help a beggar by putting some money in his hat. A considerable chunk, in fact: $200. Now, why did you do this? You could say to help the person, but really it was for the satisfaction of helping that person. Also in the ball example, one would probably not share the ball unless one benefits from sharing it. This benefit may come in the satisfaction that he has acted "morally". I mean, the way I see it, we all act only out of self-interest toward the attainment of happiness. Much of happiness is the satisfaction of behaving how we feel is "right", so this satisfaction is a reason to help others. One would not help others if one did not derive any satisfaction from it. Whether this is moral or not, I don't know, but that is simply how humans behave.
 
IndividualLoner
 
Reply Thu 11 Sep, 2008 01:08 pm
@boagie,
Personally, I took Anthem to be one of her better works. Mainly for irony. But Atlas Shrugged was something that even Tolstoy would say is too long. Honestly, a speech takes over thirty pages?
Though her ideas were there in spirit, she didn't make John Gall and the head of the industries any more interesting.

:poke-eye:
 
Khethil
 
Reply Thu 11 Sep, 2008 02:02 pm
@IndividualLoner,
Ok, that's it...

*adds book to his reading list*
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Thu 11 Sep, 2008 06:33 pm
@Khethil,
I wouldn't, Khetil. Honestly, if I could go back I would never have picked up a single book by Rand. It's just a waste of time. So many better things to read.
 
Theaetetus
 
Reply Thu 11 Sep, 2008 10:01 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Do not bother with Rand. To begin with, she ignores most other philosophers, misinterprets the one's that she bothers with, and blatantly plagiarizes some of the finest in ways that the original would roll in their grave (to use a dead metaphor). To put it this way, in the time it takes to read all of Atlas Shrugged (including the 80 page speech--seriously), you could read all of Plato's dialogues minus The Laws or all of the most important works by Jose Ortega y Gasset or Alan Watts. Or you could read real philosophical novels like something by a Tom Robbins, Dostoevsky, or Tolstoy and use the time more constructively.

I read Atlas Shrugged because I wanted to know reasons why the U.S. is ****ed up (since the book was voted #2 behind the Bible as most influential in a poll by Random House and the Library of Congress). Not to mention I thought I could probably bull**** my way through a paper and receive some sort of scholarship from the Ayn Rand Institute. In the end, I felt it would be dirty money, and time better spent sniffing glue or eating paint chips.

The problem with Atlas Shrugged rests in the fact that these characters are not real. These characters are misguided by morals that seem to be lazy attempts at ripping off Aristotle's prescriptions documented in Nichomachean Ethics. Thus, people that read this trash are often inspired to think they are greater than they are. What she fails to even hint at in the book is that it takes hard work to become emotionally guided by reason. Rand then conveniently has all of her characters that come from different views of her own lacking this intense moral training and, thus, deficient in everything. Thus, it appears that people who think they are awesome and act as if they are live the happy life.

After that trash, I had to read one of her "philosophical" texts. Pure garbage. The Virtue of Selfishness plain old sucks. She pretty much makes up stuff to justify this idea that selfishness is what Aristotle would probably call practical wisdom. It is done so in a way that is seductive, but such a poor way of thinking that it justifies injustice. It obvious why her "philosophy" is attractive to non-philosophers. It appeals to people that have little experience with the vast history of philosophy and, thus, cannot see through all of the bull****.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2009 09:30 pm
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus;24552 wrote:

After that trash, I had to read one of her "philosophical" texts. Pure garbage. The Virtue of Selfishness plain old sucks. She pretty much makes up stuff to justify this idea that selfishness is what Aristotle would probably call practical wisdom. It is done so in a way that is seductive, but such a poor way of thinking that it justifies injustice. It obvious why her "philosophy" is attractive to non-philosophers. It appeals to people that have little experience with the vast history of philosophy and, thus, cannot see through all of the bull****.

She is flawed, yes. And her novels I have never been able to read, with the exception of Anthem, which is fascinating if one is young enough. (It's no 1984).

Yes, she will appeal most to those without exposure to philosophy. She writes in clear non-technical English. She reminds me of a Pop-Nietzsche stripped down to an ethic, minus his irony and sophisticated epistemology.

But she was meaningful to me. I bumper into her as a teen who had not been exposed to selfishness presented so "intellectually." What she offers is a clarity. "Cut the bulls*t. Life is about the selfish pursuit of excellence and happiness." Compared to the contradictions of organized religion, this is progress. Rand was a bit of a monster, in her way. She had the blood of a fanatic. He anti-religion became a religion. Reason became a religion. If she would have narrowed her scope, she would have been more respectable. Instead she was a like a cult-daddy with an opinion on everything. She offered a Catholic (universal) philosophy. I believe the Objectivists pretty much say that you have to accept their system completely or screw off. It seems like some byproduct of the French revolution, this simultaneous worship of reason and individuality. She didn't see the contradiction, that objectivity functions as a dominating absolute.
 
Reconstructo
 
Reply Sun 27 Dec, 2009 11:43 pm
@boagie,
boagie;14909 wrote:
Hi Y'all!Smile

Ayn Rand, is she even considered in the same context as the great thinkers, what does the philosophical community, the intellectual community feel about her works. You realize that if she does not make the grade, she will be martyred, crown of thorns and all, the eternal sufferer of all womanhood-its a touch subject:p What's this, the oldboys club?:p



Well, she always called herself a "man worshiper." I found that endearing. It does seem to be a Boy's Club, doesn't it?
 
 

 
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