Atlas Shrugged, I Vomited

So, according to CNN – not the most reliable of sources, but hey – the works of Ayn Rand are starting to sell again. And that, my friends, is a sure sign of the beginning of the end. Because the kind of crazy selfish thinking that Ayn Rand encouraged and glorified, and the entirely absurd belief in the religion of capitalism, is exactly what has led us to this point. And the sheer insanity of pretending that Obama’s actions are somehow anti-capitalist or even socialist is… well, insane. Of course, to Ayn Rand cultists even the slightest intervention of the state – even when it does nothing but throw money to the rich – is a crime.

Then again, what Obama is doing is not state intervention. It is, for the most part, the state acting out the orders of the rich, which is the perfectly predictable result of a system based on profit. And pretending that he is some kind of socialist is the best way of pushing for even more capitalist tactics. And of confusing those individuals, perfect victims for Rand, who are unhappy with what’s going but cannot pinpoint the source of the problem.

I’m not sure what to say. How can you argue with what is clearly a mixture of a very peculiar religion and a profound fear of society? This isn’t about analyzing how capitalism does or doesn’t work. It’s about the profound belief in the idea that thinking of nothing but yourself is somehow good, and that having to take any part in something social – such as helping others out – is a crime against your personal freedom. And from there it proceeds to glorify the one system that allows people to be truly antisocial, not having the slightest sense of morality or of being a part of something: total capitalism.

The irony, of course, is that ultimately even those values of Rand’s that one might consider positive – such as individual rights – will always be subverted by the capitalist system, which by its nature always leads to the tyranny of the rich. And her hatred of the environmental movement, well… even the most heroic of male egocentric protagonists isn’t going to survive when there’s no more air to breathe.

Something more sensible to read: Why Socialism?, by Albert Einstein. Yes, that guy.

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21 Comments

  1. JM

     /  April 28, 2009

    Funny how in Germany – and I presume in other parts of Europe, too – the works of Marx and other critics of capitalism are skyrocketing in sales. And in the US, books from the other side of the spectrum. America is going down, as I told you many times, there’s no room among the masses for socialist ideas across the Atlantic.

  2. I don’t think that’s true. Recently a study found 20% of Americans in favour of socialism.

  3. JM

     /  April 28, 2009

    That’s low by comparision. There’s one for Germany saying that 50% in the west and 73% in the east favor the ideas of socialism. I don’t think both polls really say much, but still, if you compare it with Germany of all places, not even France, Scandinavia, Italy, Greece etc., it shows that they’re still individiualistic and capitalistic TO THE CORE! 😉

  4. MH

     /  April 29, 2009

    The depth of your ignorance is astounding. I didn’t see one accurate description of Rand’s philosophy. Essentially the argument which refutes the entirety of your ill conceived and poorly researched blog is thus:
    Please, by all means help anyone you want (capitalists are the largest contributors to charity in the world) just don’t point a gun at my head and force me to give to someone I don’t agree with.

    All of welfare, all of the bailouts, all of the corporate welfare in all its forms is doing just that in the form of taxes. And yes, if I don’t pay my taxes they will point a gun at me and send me to jail.

  5. Please, by all means help anyone you want (capitalists are the largest contributors to charity in the world) just don’t point a gun at my head and force me to give to someone I don’t agree with.

    All of welfare, all of the bailouts, all of the corporate welfare in all its forms is doing just that in the form of taxes. And yes, if I don’t pay my taxes they will point a gun at me and send me to jail.

    This is, I fear, nonsense of highest order. Charity is not the same as a sensible socio-economic organization; and, as you may well have noticed, not all the charity of all the rich capitalists in the world has made enough of a difference to keep the gap between the rich and the poor expanding further and further. (And really, when you earn billions and then give one or two millions to charity, is that so impressive?)

    Furthermore, this paranoid fear of taxation is really ultimately just a fear of society, of being a part of something. Taxation, when fair, doesn’t take away your personal freedoms. It is simply part of the social covenant of money and how we treat it.

    Einstein already said it better than I can, so I won’t repeat myself here.

  6. I didn’t see one accurate description of Rand’s philosophy.

    I’ve read quite a bit of Rand’s unpleasant philosophy. The supreme value of egoism is central to it, as well as her rejection of any state intervention. Hers is a philosophy which uses the word “freedom” to create a world of economic slavery – which is exactly where things have ended. A world where the rich 1% have enough power to control everything, from governments to individuals’ lives.

  7. JohnG

     /  July 14, 2009

    “…The supreme value of egoism is central to it, as well as her rejection of any state intervention. Hers is a philosophy which uses the word “freedom” to create a world of economic slavery – which is exactly where things have ended. A world where the rich 1% have enough power to control everything, from governments to individuals’ lives.”

    I see that “MH” was quite right. You really don’t know anything about it.

  8. I see that “MH” was quite right. You really don’t know anything about it.

    Then enlighten me. Because I have read up on the subject pretty well.

  9. JohnG

     /  July 14, 2009

    Pull the other one.

    “It’s about the profound belief in the idea that thinking of nothing but yourself is somehow good, and that having to take any part in something social – such as helping others out – is a crime against your personal freedom.”

    Can you offer quotes to support the above statement? Because Ayn Rand certainly didn’t claim that “thinking of nothing but yourself is somehow good” or that “helping others out is a crime against your personal freedom”. Or this:

    “And from there it proceeds to glorify the one system that allows people to be truly antisocial, not having the slightest sense of morality or of being a part of something: total capitalism.”

    Morality is just a code of values; something, I’m sorry to say, you do not have a monopoly on. I don’t know what you mean by “anti-social” either – freedom of association is just as important as freedom of speech and if people don’t want to be part of something, that’s up to them.

    And this, by the way, is absurd:

    “Then again, what Obama is doing is not state intervention.”

    Is Obama the head of state? Yes or No?
    Was the bailout, orchestrated by his government, not intervention? Yes or No?

  10. Ayn Rand certainly didn’t claim that “thinking of nothing but yourself is somehow good”

    Are we talking about the same Ayn Rand here? The same Ayn Rand whose entire way of thinking is based on the value of egoism and the rejection of any kind of altruism?

    I don’t know what you mean by “anti-social” either

    Read the essay by Einstein. It expresses it much more clearly than I can.

    Is Obama the head of state? Yes or No?
    Was the bailout, orchestrated by his government, not intervention? Yes or No?

    Yes and no. It is not state intervention in the sense that it gets described by insane people on Fox News – it’s not socialism, or social democracy, or anything like that. It’s simply the result of the state having no function except to bow to the wishes of the capitalist elite, and giving them more money. Which is a natural outgrowth of the profit system. But in another sense, yes, it is state intervention, and it is something I’m sure Ayn Rand would be deeply opposed to, for all the wrong reasons.

  11. JohnG

     /  July 15, 2009

    “Are we talking about the same Ayn Rand here? The same Ayn Rand whose entire way of thinking is based on the value of egoism and the rejection of any kind of altruism?”

    I don’t think you understand those concepts as Rand described them. I doubt you’d have bought this up if you had.

    “Read the essay by Einstein. It expresses it much more clearly than I can.”

    There is no mention of anti-social behaviour.

    “Yes and no. It is not state intervention in the sense that it gets described by insane people on Fox News – it’s not socialism, or social democracy, or anything like that.”

    What is the difference, in principle?

    “It’s simply the result of the state having no function except to bow to the wishes of the capitalist elite, and giving them more money.”

    Are you seriously trying to tell me that is the only function the US government performs?

  12. I don’t think you understand those concepts as Rand described them. I doubt you’d have bought this up if you had.

    Oh, really? Well, I’ve read enough Ayn Rand to think I’m pretty right about this. So enlighten me as to how her values are actually different.

    There is no mention of anti-social behaviour.

    Antisocial in the sense of a rejection of the concept of society and the glorification of individualism. That’s one of the central things in that essay.

    What is the difference, in principle?

    I just said what the difference is. Both the cause and the effect are entirely different.

    Are you seriously trying to tell me that is the only function the US government performs?

    Iraq. Afghanistan. Pakistan. Serbia. Bailout. Tax cuts. The dismantling of social security. And so on.
    So, yes.

  13. JohnG

     /  July 15, 2009

    “Oh, really? Well, I’ve read enough Ayn Rand to think I’m pretty right about this.”

    I don’t. You’ve perhaps flicked through a book or read some second-hand summary from some socialist website. You could have got a more accurate definition by just looking at wikipedia.

    “Antisocial in the sense of a rejection of the concept of society”

    I don’t reject the concept of society. However, I reject the idea that it’s something morally superior to the sum of its parts.

    “Iraq. Afghanistan. Pakistan. Serbia. Bailout. Tax cuts. The dismantling of social security. And so on.”

    So if I was to look at a pie chart of government spending, I would see money spent on anything else besides these? Someone isn’t being truthful.

    And the US is 11.5 trillion dollars in debt, with almost 58 trillion dollars of unfunded liabilites (including social security). Cutbacks in every department are going to be inevitable.

  14. I don’t. You’ve perhaps flicked through a book or read some second-hand summary from some socialist website. You could have got a more accurate definition by just looking at wikipedia.

    I have actually looked at the Wikipedia entry, as well as read actual texts by Rand. The Wikipedia summary reads:

    Rand’s political views, reflected in both her fiction and her theoretical work, emphasize individual rights (including property rights) and laissez-faire capitalism, enforced by constitutionally limited government. She was a fierce opponent of all forms of collectivism and statism, including fascism, communism, and the welfare state. She was also an atheist and promoted ethical egoism (which she termed “rational self-interest”) while condemning altruism.

    And again, please enlighten me as to what I said was wrong. What *does* Ayn Rand stand for, if not greed and egoism as the highest of human values?

    So if I was to look at a pie chart of government spending, I would see money spent on anything else besides these? Someone isn’t being truthful.

    Oh, come on. Give me a bloody break. That’s ridiculous.

    And the US is 11.5 trillion dollars in debt, with almost 58 trillion dollars of unfunded liabilites (including social security). Cutbacks in every department are going to be inevitable.

    Really? Why? And why only in the departments that affect the quality of life of everyday people? What about that 1% that has all the wealth? Why should they get more support?

  15. JohnG

     /  July 16, 2009

    “And again, please enlighten me as to what I said was wrong. What *does* Ayn Rand stand for, if not greed and egoism as the highest of human values?”

    That’s not the issue. I want to hear your interpretation of greed and egoism and I’ll show you how Rand’s definition differs.

    “Oh, come on. Give me a bloody break. That’s ridiculous.”

    Is that a yes or a no? Seriously, look the government spending figures.

    “Really? Why? And why only in the departments that affect the quality of life of everyday people?”

    Which part of “every department” did you not understand?

    “What about that 1% that has all the wealth?”

    1% don’t have all the wealth. Do they have *your* wealth and can they spend it as they like? Of course not. There’s no static quantity of wealth anyway.

    “Why should they get more support?”

    They shouldn’t get any support.

  16. That’s not the issue. I want to hear your interpretation of greed and egoism and I’ll show you how Rand’s definition differs.

    Umm, no. I already wrote what I think. If it’s impossible for you to formulate what Rand actually has to say, I don’t see the point of this discussion.

    Is that a yes or a no? Seriously, look the government spending figures.

    You’re just taking it to an irrational extreme, pretending that this proves your argument. Government spending on other issues does not disprove the subservience of the government to financial interests. There is more than enough proof to show what the government’s priorities are.

    Which part of “every department” did you not understand?

    Which part of me questioning what you said didn’t you understand? Every time they say “everyone will have to sacrifice something” they mean “working people will have to sacrifice something”.

    1% don’t have all the wealth. Do they have *your* wealth and can they spend it as they like? Of course not. There’s no static quantity of wealth anyway.

    What kind of dream world do you live in? Have you ever looked at any statistics concerning the distribution of wealth? 1% of the population have more than they could spend in ten lifetimes while a large majority cannot afford health insurance – or electricity or even housing.

    They shouldn’t get any support.

    But they are, and they will continue getting more support as the logical consequence of the profit system. Ayn Rand’s idea of laissez-faire capitalism would make the problem worse, not better.

  17. JohnG

     /  July 17, 2009

    “Umm, no. I already wrote what I think. If it’s impossible for you to formulate what Rand actually has to say, I don’t see the point of this discussion.”

    Seeing as you’re declining to answer, I’ll answer for you: Greed and egoism = doing whatever you want, trampling on everyone, oppressing the poor etc. etc. That’s what you think, isn’t it? Yes, I know full well what was implied, seeing as you used these words as negatives. What is not mentioned anywhere are ideas like the non-initiation of force or the idea that sacrificing yourself to others or others to yourself is not necessary. Can you see how that conflicts with the commonly understood definitions of greed and egoism?

    “Government spending on other issues does not disprove the subservience of the government to financial interests. There is more than enough proof to show what the government’s priorities are.”

    All the more reason to separate business and state. What a shame you don’t advocate something similar.

    “Every time they say “everyone will have to sacrifice something” they mean “working people will have to sacrifice something”.”

    Look, it doesn’t make any difference. Someone has spent beyond their means, the ones who have need to stop and pay off the debt. Of course, this isn’t going to happen because those doing most of the spending are actually spending other peoples money and are completely unaccountable for it.

    “What kind of dream world do you live in? Have you ever looked at any statistics concerning the distribution of wealth? 1% of the population have more than they could spend in ten lifetimes”

    And how is this relevant what I actually posted? Does this 1% own *your* wealth? And why does the fact that some people have more than they could ever spend imply that the wealth must presumably be ill-gotten?

    “while a large majority cannot afford health insurance – or electricity or even housing.”

    You’re trying to tell me that a “large majority” (which is going to be what, 150,000,000+ people, assuming a 300m population?) in America can’t afford heath insurance, electricity or even housing?

    “But they are, and they will continue getting more support as the logical consequence of the profit system. Ayn Rand’s idea of laissez-faire capitalism would make the problem worse, not better.”

    How would a limited government, lacking the legal ability to redistribute wealth, first seize money of the population and then hand out money to one particular group without compromising its principles in the process and encouraging some sort of public backlash?

  18. Seeing as you’re declining to answer, I’ll answer for you: Greed and egoism = doing whatever you want, trampling on everyone, oppressing the poor etc. etc. That’s what you think, isn’t it? Yes, I know full well what was implied, seeing as you used these words as negatives.

    No, those are the results of greed. Greed is to have the desire for more possessions as the central axis of one’s behaviour.

    What is not mentioned anywhere are ideas like the non-initiation of force

    Which sounds wonderful, but is essentially empty idealism. If the driving force of a society is greed, eventually force will come into play, because it becomes the best way of continuing to acquire things. Economic oppression is also an unavoidable result, as it is the rational result of trying to maximize one’s profit.

    or the idea that sacrificing yourself to others or others to yourself is not necessary.

    And since when is it not necessary? I would easily argue that the entirety of human history proves the opposite – that it has often been extremely necessary to sacrifice oneself for others. So many people have fought to give the generations that followed them a better life. These people would have had it a lot easier not doing that, and they gained nothing for themselves by doing so – and yet that is how humanity has gotten where it is.

    Can you see how that conflicts with the commonly understood definitions of greed and egoism?

    Ask some of the greediest and most immoral people alive, and they are likely to come up with something similar. Sugar-coating the problem with pretty words doesn’t change its essential real-world impact.

    All the more reason to separate business and state. What a shame you don’t advocate something similar.

    Why? I’d rather be ruled by a representative government than by a group of corporations. Because that’s exactly what happens: in a system where everything is defined by profit, wealth accumultes in the hands of the few. The few control jobs, they control electricity, they control water, healthcare – everything. And then you have a dictatorship.

    Look, it doesn’t make any difference.

    No, it makes all the difference in the world. The large majority of the population does all the work, while a tiny minority lives off of that despite not producing anything. And despite that, workers have to pay for the mistakes of the rich and the failure of the system.

    And how is this relevant what I actually posted? Does this 1% own *your* wealth? And why does the fact that some people have more than they could ever spend imply that the wealth must presumably be ill-gotten?

    Because a system in which huge parts of the population are suffering due to their lack of wealth while a tiny minority has more than they can ever spend (more than they rationally need) is clearly and utterly broken. And yes, this 1% does own wealth that belongs to others, because they are not actually working. The real work is done by the majority, who receive next to nothing for it.

    You’re trying to tell me that a “large majority” (which is going to be what, 150,000,000+ people, assuming a 300m population?) in America can’t afford heath insurance, electricity or even housing?

    Let’s see:

    [According to ACOG] An estimated 47 million people in the US are uninsured, and every 24 minutes, an uninsured American dies because adequate health care is out of reach. With the economy in recession and some of the worst job losses seen in decades, the number of uninsured is projected to skyrocket to more than 54 million by 2019.

    Is that the majority? No. But the reality of the health insurance system is that a great many (if not most) people are effectively uninsured, because the amounts they are still required to pay are big enough to ruin their life savings. Hell, look at Peter S. Beagle and how his mother’s illness destroyed him financially after he spent 40+ years writing some of the best novels the world has ever seen.

    How would a limited government, lacking the legal ability to redistribute wealth, first seize money of the population and then hand out money to one particular group without compromising its principles in the process and encouraging some sort of public backlash?

    Because limited government is just another world for “government by corporation”. And because even in your ideal scenario, if it was useful, corporations would use the government to fulfill their goals. Rand still envisions the government having a military and police force. So… need a new pipeline through a country that’s opposed to that? There you go, the government can take care of you for that, a little bombing will do the trick. Because if profit is the highest value of the land, corruption is the immediate result, and democracy becomes impossible.

  19. JohnG

     /  July 18, 2009

    “No, those are the results of greed. Greed is to have the desire for more possessions as the central axis of one’s behaviour.”

    A postion Rand did not hold. It would seem that this is playing out as predicted.

    “Which sounds wonderful, but is essentially empty idealism. If the driving force of a society is greed, eventually force will come into play,”

    This is phony for two reasons: Firstly, you have no issue with the initiation of force, as is evidenct in this exchange. Secondly, force universally counterproductive.

    “because it becomes the best way of continuing to acquire things.”

    Stealing is destructive and isn’t in one’s self interest. That’s why property rights are important.

    “Economic oppression is also an unavoidable result, as it is the rational result of trying to maximize one’s profit.”

    Repeating a long-refuted myth won’t make it true. This “immiseration of the working class” thing had been proven false before even Lenin came on the scene.

    “And since when is it not necessary?”

    It never has been.

    “I would easily argue that the entirety of human history proves the opposite – that it has often been extremely necessary to sacrifice oneself for others. So many people have fought to give the generations that followed them a better life.”

    That’s not sacrfice, providing they did it out of choice, so the point is moot.

    “Ask some of the greediest and most immoral people alive, and they are likely to come up with something similar.”

    Except that they’re not and none of them ever have. You’re attacking a straw man. Thank you for confirming my theory.

    “Why? I’d rather be ruled by a representative government than by a group of corporations. Because that’s exactly what happens: in a system where everything is defined by profit, wealth accumultes in the hands of the few. The few control jobs, they control electricity, they control water, healthcare – everything. And then you have a dictatorship.”

    So in other words, you want the government in charge of everything in order to prevent dictatorship. Do I need to point out what’s wrong with that?

    “No, it makes all the difference in the world. The large majority of the population does all the work, while a tiny minority lives off of that despite not producing anything. And despite that, workers have to pay for the mistakes of the rich and the failure of the system.”

    There are people living off others at all economic levels. It’s sad that you’re only capable of seeing one type of parasite.

    “Because a system in which huge parts of the population are suffering due to their lack of wealth while a tiny minority has more than they can ever spend (more than they rationally need) is clearly and utterly broken.”

    That isn’t the answer to the question I asked. You haven’t provided evidence that this wealth is universally ill-gotten.
    Those genuinely suffering are a tiny minority, who, in a free society can be dealt with at minimal expense.

    “And yes, this 1% does own wealth that belongs to others, because they are not actually working.”

    I can invent something worth millions and live off the proceeds without ever working again. People can save their own money, build factories and shops and end up being so sucessful that they end up in a similar situation. That’s not some monstrous injustice, nor is paying people for their labour in order to get in that situation. My house does not belong to the house builder. My car does no belong to whoever manufactured it. It belongs to the person they sold it to.

    “Is that the majority? No.”

    Then why did you say it was? Subsituting truth for dramatic effect?

    “Because limited government is just another world for “government by corporation”.”

    Another cheap straw man. Did you know that a corporation was government-created entity, didn’t you?

  20. A postion Rand did not hold. It would seem that this is playing out as predicted.

    Ah, yes, all-knowing one, your predictive powers are mightly impressive.
    Rand is wrong. That’s my point. Her propaganda does not apply to reality.

    This is phony for two reasons: Firstly, you have no issue with the initiation of force, as is evidenct in this exchange.

    WHAT? WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

    Secondly, force universally counterproductive.

    Yes, in the long term. But the long term doesn’t affect the people who initiate force, so from a perspective of egoism they’re fine.

    Stealing is destructive and isn’t in one’s self interest. That’s why property rights are important.

    But our society doesn’t consider it stealing if it’s described the right way – think of the war in Iraq.

    Repeating a long-refuted myth won’t make it true. This “immiseration of the working class” thing had been proven false before even Lenin came on the scene.

    Umm… why don’t you take a trip to Detroit? Or visit the poorer sections of your own town?

    It never has been.

    Why?

    That’s not sacrfice, providing they did it out of choice, so the point is moot.

    Sacrifice is by definition a choice. And the point is not moot at all – it is altruistic behaviour, which Rand opposed.

    Except that they’re not and none of them ever have. You’re attacking a straw man. Thank you for confirming my theory.

    Confirming your theory? A straw man? Are you completely out of touch with basic reality? So all the business people and CEOs out there are all wonderful angels of morality, and none of them has ever spouted forth another version of egoism-is-good?

    So in other words, you want the government in charge of everything in order to prevent dictatorship. Do I need to point out what’s wrong with that?

    Are you aware of the concept of democracy?

    There are people living off others at all economic levels. It’s sad that you’re only capable of seeing one type of parasite.

    That’s just ridiculous. The levels of economic oppression and injustice involved aren’t even remotely comparable.

    That isn’t the answer to the question I asked. You haven’t provided evidence that this wealth is universally ill-gotten.

    Define ill-gotten. Illegal or immoral? Exploitation can be legal.

    Those genuinely suffering are a tiny minority, who, in a free society can be dealt with at minimal expense.

    And that’s where you finally confirm you’re insane. Sorry, but you are. A tiny minority? Have you looked at unemployment statistics? The amount of people living below the poverty line? The amount of homeless people?

    I can invent something worth millions and live off the proceeds without ever working again. People can save their own money, build factories and shops and end up being so sucessful that they end up in a similar situation. That’s not some monstrous injustice, nor is paying people for their labour in order to get in that situation. My house does not belong to the house builder. My car does no belong to whoever manufactured it. It belongs to the person they sold it to.

    And you think that it’s perfectly fair for people not get even a tiny amount of profit for the work they put in? To work for shitty wages while someone else sits around not doing nothing and earns millions off of their work?

    Then why did you say it was? Subsituting truth for dramatic effect?

    Ignoring the rest of what I said because it’s inconvenient, are we?

    Another cheap straw man. Did you know that a corporation was government-created entity, didn’t you?

    A cheap straw man? So you truly believe that corporations are powerless? That Bush and his buddies invaded Iraq for the fun of it? That all the wonderful things the big companies pulled in South America was… a misunderstanding? And so on.
    And a society in which all the means of productions are controlled by a few tiny groups of people, as are electricity, water, communications, transportation, etc… that is a free society?

  21. It seems like business is still getting hit hard. Is anybody seeing an upswing in their respective niches? Health reform seems like a mess. I generate long term care insurance leads and annuity leads for the insurance industry, but volume has been terrible in the last two months. I am afraid the worst is yet to come, but maybe it is just my attitude.