T Nation

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, and Objectivism


#1

I just started reading Atlas Shrugged a few days ago for no other reason than it looked like it would take a while. Since, I have found myself unable to put it down. Her ideas, which I am just becoming familiar with, on the moral nature of business enterprise is intriguing. I am only halfway through but have stumbled upon a contradiction I cannot sort out and would like to discuss.

It is made quite clear that the heroes of the text believe profit seeking as a virtue. Ayn Rand seems to point to gain and self-interest as the true motive force of the world, and not something to be ashamed of but rather extolled. In a speech by Francisco D'Anconia about the nature of money ,during James Taggart's wedding, seems to indicate that money is a means by which man exchanges the best effort of his mind for that of the best effort of other men; that his effort is worth the effort he recieves and both parties gain.

My question is thus, if a man exchanges something of equal worth in such transactions, can one ever truly make a profit? My answer leads me to believe that only those who do not justly deserve what they recieve can ever profit in a business transaction. The true quest for profit is that of the looters who seek to seize that which is unearned. Doesn't then profit seeking serve as a contradiction within Rand's view of the world?


#2

Some good thinking. Wait until you finish the book to make any decisions or judgments on her theory. A lot will be reconciled. She has written some philosophy books that are not novels as well if you're interested. Her theory is Objectivism. Some really interesting stuff, and I agree with some of her points. I disagree with a lot, but it's really thought-provoking.


#3

Rand's view of the world is very limited.

I don't understand the fascination with her.


#4

It is. But I think she has some interesting ideas. I agree with her about Prime Movers and Second Raters. I just don't agree with her about how we should lead our lives in response to this and things related to it.


#5

It is different, and I find her fiction thus far compelling. Much more enjoyable a read than The World According to Garp.


#6

It has been at least 15 years since I read any of her stuff.

Maybe I should have another go at it.


#7

I'm not going to get myself started on this.....
I love her too much.


#8

you:

My question is thus, if a man exchanges something of equal worth in such transactions, can one ever truly make a profit?<<

me:
But Rand never implies that all men's efforts or minds are of equal value. The book almost celebrates profit as a symbol of greater effort and ingenuity. Though I haven't read it in quite some time.
Did you not like ..Garp? Irving's writing style is definitely a lot better than Rand's IMO; he can bring you to a dark sad place and then make you laugh out loud all in one paragraph. Rand is a philosopher first, writer second: eloquent, but lacking in humor.


#9

I'll check her out, consider I didn't find Garp all that bad.


#10

I loved the Fountainhead.

It appears as it more and more people are going back to Rand for a few reads these days.


#11

I am willing to pay you what the object is worth to me. The worth of the object is not defined by what resources it took to produce... instead it is worth what the buyer deems it worth.

So, you make a computer. I cannot make a computer. Instead, I build you a pool. You do not know how to do that.

Do I pay you what it cost you to make the computer? No. I pay you what I deem the computer is worth.

You do the same for the pool.

In this way all men enter into the agreement of free will, and the exchange is equal based in the mind of each individual consumer.

If my pool isn't worth 15k to you, then you walk away with your computer...

Hope this helps...

If you go to Ayn's site there are some entry level seminars on her ideas...

You can just put them on your Ipod and listen to them.

As you get more adapted to the idea of people having to pay their own way, check out Mises.org

He is an austrian economist...

There are about 1000+ hours of lecture material on that site...

too sweet....

MIT has a bunch of great stuff also....

If finance is your deal, there is a finance prof at Fuqua that has all of his lectures on AVI files to download... just google..

Hope these links help...

Jumanji


#12

Haven't read it, only heard about it.

Perhaps Value is relativised by supply and demand and specific need.

I've got lots of food, you've got lots of water, lets make a deal.


#13

I agree with the above that her philosophy is limited. She also didn't practice what she preached in her most private life, meaning she took the emotional way even if it contradicted the rational approach associated with objectivism.

For example, she had a long time affair with (damn I can't remember his name but he was like second in command in her camp for decades) until he said he'd like to get back with his wife and Ayn better look after her own husband since her adultery is turning him into an alcoholic. She said okay, you're fired. And every book that he contributed to now has a caveat stating that he is no longer associated with objectivism. She wouldn't take members into her group if their spouses didn't practice objectivism (and they wonder why the word 'cult' always shows up with Rand, or Mentzer for that matter), and the best one is she made everyone dance the Cha-Cha since it is the most rational of all dances.

I can't stand her fiction; it's full of paper characters and incredibly long winded; Gault takes about 100 pages in his famous speech to pretty much say the same thing over and over. Notice that her villains know they are villains and take down themselves. Rand was influenced by the American Romantics of the late 19th century like Melville, who created unrealistic allegorical characters to tell their tales. She also says no one ever helped her do anything and she did it all herself, which isn't true. Just ask the family members that smuggled her out of Russia and gave her room and board to live in the land of the free.

Her collections of essays are nothing more than transcripts of pre-written soft-ball questions from her students. She also refused to debate anyone not associated with objectivism, which is unfortunate since she may have found some allies if she did. Read some biographies on her both pro and con. Sorry for the rant, former girlfriend was a huge Rand cultist, I mean supporter.


#14

Iago~

I guess all of that was well and good, but I can do you one better:

She was ugly as hell. There, I said it.

Wait, aren't we discussing objectivism?

So what are the faults with objectivism, in your opinion?

BTW~

I think it was Peikoff who got the boot. I am not too sure, but am an eastern philo type guy, so I'd love to hear pros and cons of the ugly Ruskies thoughts... not life.


#15

Yep, this is mainly what I was going to write. Even though most items require a certain amount of absolute material (metal, wood, etc) there is also relative material (time) and each person puts a separate value on their time. Even if you knew ahead of time how much the person was willing to pay/sell, both sides would still most likely profit because of the concept of specialization. Since I am better at producing X and you are better at producing Y, we can trade equal amounts of each, and each be better off than before. This concept is certainly not originating from Rand, most economics also include this idea.

All those who are wondering who Miss Rand had the affair with, it was Nathaniel Brandon. Leonard Peikoff is Ayn Rand's intellectual heir and is thus the "top dog" of the organization.

I don't want to get into Objectivism since so many people have incredible misconceptions about it. But then that happen with just about all philosophies. Ask someone about Plato, Aristotle, Kant, etc and they have so much messed up. So before you listed to what anyone has to say about any philosophy, you'd better make sure they know what they are talking about. It can be a lot to get into. But especially look out for the Ad Hominem's. As someone wrote just above, there is a lot of discrediting of the originator going on, that somehow is supposed to reflect on the philosophy. But it is possible the a philosophy can be completely consistent while a person may not be. The nature of human's is that they can mess up. Anyway, looking at any great historical figure, you can discredit them the same way. That doesn't mean they had nothing to offer or they were wrong in other aspects of their lives.

Most people actually start with the Fountainhead or Anthem, than Atlas Shrugged. You may want to check out those books as well.


#16

I had to put the Fountanhead down because it wasn't going anywhere and the story line was a bi gay. I know she was trying to make a point through the story, but the gayness overrided everything else.-


#17

Goldi~

My bad, I knew it couldn't be Peikoff because he gives one of the lectures...

Thanks for the insight...

And, agreed.

Jumanji


#18

As a whole, it's amateurish. Her ethics boils down to a rational metaphysics (A=A, cha-cha-cha) based heavily in causality. There is only right and wrong, no middle ground -- which is very unrealistic when dealing with psychology.

Rand had a very poor grasp of human psychology, or at least an unusual one. Take her female characters. They are secondary to the males and they fall in love with the ones that take them violently ' I say this is unusual coming from a self-proclaimed strong woman. It's been at least a decade since I read her works, but I remember I thought her arguments were flawed. She assumed her answers without arguing for them, especially in her later work. The guy was Nathaniel Branden.

And yes, she looked like a Toad beaten with a baseball bat.

And I'm not discrediting the author with an Ad hominem fallacy. If I would have stated that her work is flawed because of the way she lived her life, then yes I'd be wrong. I'm stating that she didn't live by her principles in her private moments, and was much closer to the 'barbarians' (her quote) that she wrote about. Meaning that man is a more irrational creature than rational and will more likely make a decision based on emotional ties than rational -- just like she did. I believe that you cannot look at philosophers' contributions outside of their lives.

What was going on in their lives when they wrote their greatest work' Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Socrates' ...well he didn't write anything, but we don't live in vacuums and there is a reason why these people thought in a certain way.


#19

I understand the dynamics of a transaction. While I might clear cash above cost in a trade, this is not to what I am referring. Let me try to explain it again. Monetary transaction is described by Rand as a best effort trade by honest men. Each brings to the table the products of that effort in an attempt to reap for himself the greatest reward. While the value of that effort is in the eye of the beholder (I will pay no more than what I believe something to be worth), my belief now ascribes to that effort a most certain and concrete value. A man's produce might be worth 50 or 5000 dollars, but my willingness to pay creates that value of his effort.

In order for successful transaction, he must believe the value of my effort to be equal or greater than that of his; I must believe his to be equal or greater than that of mine. Since its already been established the belief of value (in willingness to pay) creates value, the only way this can occur is if the trade is equitable. His effort must by neccessity equal mine, whether they did in cost of creation or not.

My assertion then, in a fair trade situation (one in which effort is valued and exchanged for like) it is impossible to profit. The only way to profit is if one party recieves less than what they value the other's effort to be.

as a side note, I don't own an Ipod. I suppose from your assumption that I then am the last person on earth without one.


#20

I was bored to tears with Garp. The story did nothing for me personally, but I did enjoy Irving's style. A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my favorites.