The Strawman

 Posted by on 18 July 2005 at 12:21 am  Uncategorized
Jul 182005

Over the years, I’ve heard quite a number of egregious misrepresentations of Ayn Rand’s views. Last fall, I endured two in the course of TA’ing for “Introduction to Ethics.” The professor casually described “Ann Rand” as a psychological egoist in lecture. Far less excusably, the assigned reading on ethical egoism from James Rachels’ book The Elements of Moral Philosophy included a wholly invented argument against altruism attributed to Ayn Rand, with refutations indicating a failure to grasp the basics of her ethics. Those incidents were annoying at the time, but not particularly noteworthy.

This smug commentary on “Ayn Rand (ianism) and Loneliness” is worth singling out, however. It truly deserves The Grand Prize for the Most Egregious Misrepresentation of Ayn Rand So Far Managed by a Philosophy Professor. Below a substantial Amazon link to The Virtue of Selfishness, “James D. Carmine PhD” writes:

Every semester I ask first-year college students what they would do if they suddenly had infinite money. Rare is the one who can come up with anything better than the piggish pursuit of pleasure: cars, sex, houses, vacations, bling and more cars, sex, houses, vacations and bling. They imagine that pleasure, buying the fetishistic trinkets of our consumer culture, will make them happy. But happiness is not pleasure. Ten more minutes on the playground will not make a child happy, nor will a house in Aspen make an adult happy. Oh certainly these will provide pleasure, and so will heroin. Grandma was right, money cannot buy happiness, and only the childish, or the Ayn Randyian egoist would think otherwise.

The resurgence of contemporary Ayn Randyianism comes naturally with the demise of communism and the realization that individual moral agency is superior to the mindless amorality of various “collectivisms,” which include death-worshipping extremists, radical religions, as well as communism. But despite the Ayn Randyian’s notion that the individual is the locus of responsibility, their glorification of childish egoism, eliminates for them anything other than personal pleasure. Happiness will forever elude me, me, me Ayn Randyians.

Happiness, unlike pleasure, comes only from fulfilling your most personal human gifts. Happiness, as 2,500 years of Western Culture teaches, comes only from being fully human and that means being virtuous, or more simply, by being a good human being, a really human, human being, and only the fully human, human being can love. Randyians are left to love no more than their own appetites. They have reduced themselves to a variety of egoistic loneliness that is utterly inhuman. Love is not merely objective self-love. Human love always entails love of something or someone beyond oneself. Only the human being would sacrifice his own life to save his child or his friend or even to protect his ideas. Only a human being can recognize the moral fittingness of the behavior one’s hated opponent. “I may hate that jerk, but I recognize he is a good father, good mechanic, good tennis player, etc.” A loveless objectivist egoist could not recognize the goodness of others unless it served them personally. For the world of the egoist is a most primitive animal world of personal appetite and personal gain. Randyian Objectivism is ultimately solipsism it seems.

Imagine a handsaw and ask yourself if it would be happier if it were dull or sharp. Imagine a dog, would it be happier in locker room or a hay field. Now imagine yourself: Would you be happier acting like a pig or a person? As a fool who only knows appetite, or a human being who recognizes that the clarity of intellect is best used in the service of those you love beyond yourself? I urge you then: pursue happiness with all your reason and discover that there is reason in loving others. Love others, dear Ayn Randyians, and thereby be human too.

I presume — or at least I hope — that I do not need to explain why the above misrepresents Ayn Rand’s views. (If you aren’t clear on that, all that you need do is read the book so prominently linked at the top: The Virtue of Selfishness.)

However, I did want to note the smooth rhetorical slide from derogation of the hedonistic pursuit of mindless pleasure to the advocacy of selfless altruism — all in the name of promoting human happiness. The genuinely Objectivist position — in which the moral person pursues his own life and happiness by means of long-range, fact-based, life-promoting, rational moral principles — is never even considered.

I must admit, I’m pretty darn impressed by that handsomely dressed strawman.

Crossposted to The Egosphere.

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