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Adrian Roberts

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Everything posted by Adrian Roberts

  1. Taxation is not theft

    If taxation was voluntary, hardly anyone would pay any taxes! People might think they should be able to not contribute to healthcare if they use private healthcare, or education if they have no children. But everyone needs the Police, the armed forces, and the infrastructure of roads, bridges etc. To try to administer selective opt-outs would need another army of government employees. And the PC brigade would want to opt out of their taxes being used for the nuclear deterrent. It would be much simpler to for the media to keep debating about how taxes should be spent, rather than about whether we should have any.
  2. ATLAS SHRUGGED: a First Time Reader’s Thoughts. WARNING – CONTAINS SPOILERS! I joined this forum in late 2015, having become intrigued by Ayn Rand from what I read on the internet, and then reading “The Voice of Reason” and “The Romantic Manifesto”. I then tackled “Atlas Shrugged”, and with all the other things in my life it took nearly a year to read it. To clarify my perspective: I am not your typical “Atlas Shrugged” reader. I am an Englishman in my late 50s; I work for the National Health Service [NHS], the ultimate in socialised medicine, and for much of my life I have been a Christian and a socialist. The socialism started to crumble in my 30s when I realised that I valued individualism and heroic achievement too much, but altruism and politically correct liberalism are more deeply entrenched. My Christianity crumbled over the last fifteen years, primarily over the issue of human suffering vis-à-vis a supposedly all-loving and all-powerful God. So Objectivism offered an intriguing new perspective that in some ways struck a chord with me (remember that Ayn Rand is hardly known this side of the Atlantic, so it really was new to me). The first thing to say is that Ayn Rand’s descriptions, of people, of nature, and of cities, are evocative and often lyrical and a masterful use of language. This is remarkable considering that English was not her first language, and that from what we see in film clips of her speaking, her speech was not as articulate as her writing. Her writing is a little less assured when it comes to dialogue and to action sequences (such as the last chapter where the main characters turn into something like the Three Musketeers and D’Artagnan). There is frequent and valid criticism that she should have allowed more editing; she makes the same points many times, and there are long discourses that interrupt the narrative. The tramp Jeff Allen launches into a ten-page account of the demise of the Twentieth-Century Motor Corporation having just been at death’s door from starvation. It is scarcely conceivable that President Thompson and his team, let alone the rest of the nation, would have sat through more than the first few minutes of John Galt’s speech, let alone going from seeing him as their enemy to trying to force him to be their ruler. Would they have really have been dense enough not to see the contradiction there, and desperate enough to give up their own power? But none of this need detract from the book’s message. I treated those passages like the songs in a musical; you suspend notions of reality during the songs and return to the plot when they finish. Rand’s choice of technology as a plot driver is interesting. In the 1950’s when the book was written, airlines rather than railroads were seen as the future. During that decade the USA had the most comprehensive system of domestic feeder-airlines that has any country has ever had or probably ever will have. Their story would have fitted in well with her themes: small entrepreneurs struggling to keep their airlines independent, but finding it impossible without government subsidy and then having to accept Federal regulations to stay in business. But AR is clearly not confident with aviation; her references to aircraft are usually somewhat vague, though her evocative description of the view during Dagny’s night flight suggests she may have flown as a passenger at night. In reality, Dagny wouldn’t have had time to learn to fly during the busiest period of her life, or survived an unintentional spin close to the ground in poor visibility (I have some experience as a pilot but have only experienced intentional spins). But Ayn Rand writes about what she knows and she is clearly inspired by railroads; she describes their workings in convincing detail and uses the locomotive as a metaphor for something with power and purpose. Her description of Dagny’s journey in the cab of the Taggart Comet is a superb piece of writing with plenty of detail, especially of the cab itself, and I wonder if AR had managed to have a journey in a diesel engine cab as part of her research. Her description of Hank Reardon’s steelworks is sufficiently atmospheric to suggest that she has visited one. The heart of the book is her Objectivist political and moral philosophy. Does she overstate her case? She certainly repeats it many times. In the UK we think of the 1950s as the decade of the American Dream, of individualism rather than statism. Perhaps Americans have a different view. Certainly it was also the decade of McCarthyism. But there was a Republican Administration, under Eisenhower. Were things that bad? Was there ever anything at the time she was writing in the real world comparable to the “anti-dog-eat-dog” legislation? Even before America’s downfall in the book, the rest of the world are already People’s Republics. This sounds ridiculous, but in reality, Britain in the late 1940s was as near to being a Socialist state as it has ever been, though not of course a republic. Every major industry was nationalised. Medical care was nationalised as the NHS (which sounds socialist to Americans but we are still rather attached to it). And we gave the design of the most advanced jet engine in the world, the Rolls-Royce Nene, to the Russians: the Americans were less than happy when they found out, especially when it was used to power the MiG-15 that opposed them in Korea. Jeff Allen’s description of the way in which people turned on each other like animals after the workers were given control of the Starnesville factory appears exaggerated, especially if what is being described is merely a social democratic, liberal society as most of Europe now is. It really isn’t that bad! On the other hand, the press in the UK occasionally carries stories of how delinquent children have allegedly been taken on foreign holidays at the taxpayers expense, or pregnant teenagers are automatically given their own flats. But the fact that these headlines are critical should give us hope. If, however AR is describing a Marxist utopia, then perhaps it would be as bad as she described; as for instance the Cultural Revolution in Maoist China. Certainly in the book, the imposition of Directive 10-289 sounds like a full-blown totalitarian take-over, but Fascist rather than Communist, given the alliance of business with government. But when we meet the dictator, Mr Thompson, he seems disappointingly colourless and indecisive (but then, how often have we met managers who make us wonder how they got their jobs?). Has the tide is turned away from the socialism that AR feared? Under Reagan and Thatcher, there came about a greater degree of freedom for business. In the UK, the nationalised industries were sold off to private enterprise. The left has never accepted this and the debate continues, e.g. about whether the railways provided a better service when nationalised than now that they are privatised. The issue of a state health service is viewed very differently in the UK than the USA. Here, no government would survive taking away our free health service. This is the main area where I would compromise Objectivist principles: I do not believe that in a civilised society people should die from not being able to afford healthcare. In Atlas Shrugged, there is a passage dealing with the supposed evils of state controlled medication; the fear is that Doctors will be forced by the government to decide which patients die and which live; there is a similar chapter by Leonard Peikoff in The Voice of Reason. All I can say is that I work with Doctors in the NHS and they don’t seem particularly oppressed and powerless to me. The issue of funding the NHS is another matter. It isn’t really free of course; it is funded by taxpayers, whether they like it or not. But its debt is increasing and its service provision is decreasing unsustainably. There are howls of protest from the Left at any suggestion of wholesale privatisation. Certainly the government is increasingly selling certain functions to the private sector which then provides the care under government contract. I am prepared to apply Reason here, and say that if we do believe in a Health Service funded by the taxpayer rather than paid for by the directly by consumer, does it matter if some of it is provided by private health companies under contract to the government, rather than directly by the state-run service? There is a valid debate about which model is the most efficient. But the Left will not even consider more privatisation of the Health Service and this is clearly ideologically driven rather than derived from Reason. AR’s attitude to violence has given many readers cause for concern. The most controversial passage is when Hank Rearden, normally portrayed as entirely honourable, threatens to hit his wife during their row when he leaves her. If the reader is expected to disapprove, this is not made clear. AR appears to be saying that Hank’s threat was acceptable because he was morally superior to Lilian. Even allowing for the difference between 1950s social attitudes and 21st century ones, it is hard to make excuses for this. (And yet, we are supposed to believe that Hank did not get in the least angry with Dagny when she left him for John Galt!). Some of this is an example of AR’s very black and white views of people that she either approves of or disapproves of. In the last chapter, Dagny shoots a terrified man in the back when she could have tied him up; the only justification being that he was a snivelling wimp. And every single passenger who died in the tunnel accident apparently deserved it, including the children. (It makes me feel the way I used to when I was a Christian and had to justify the genocide when Joshua’s Israelite army sacked Jericho). On the other hand, the language that AR uses when describing the horror of the sound-ray gun, the ultimate weapon, is reminiscent of the language used by CND about nuclear weapons. I wonder what AR thought about nuclear weapons? The military is never spoken of positively in Atlas Shrugged. (Incidentally: Ragnar Danneskjold – where was the US Navy?). The concept of all the independently minded geniuses and wealth-creators removing themselves from the economy was an original thought at the time. But leaving their responsibilities raises many questions. It foresees the “turn-on, tune-in and drop-out” of Timothy Leary’s hippy culture but predates it by over ten years. In some ways the values of Woodstock and the values of Galt’s Gulch are diametrically opposed, but if we see the hippies as irresponsible, then how are Ellis Wyatt, Francisco D’Anconia et al also not irresponsible? The Objectivist answer would be about not allowing their talents to be exploited by Government, though what the hippies would have said would have been not dissimilar. But did they need to also destroy the means of producing their commodities – Wyatt’s Torch? I understand that AR herself described the whole concept as a plot device, so maybe we are not meant to scrutinise the plot, as distinct from the philosophy, too closely. It certainly makes the point that wealth is not created by labour alone. But the community in Colorado seems a little too cosy to be true. One wonders how they would have coped with dissent between their members, especially considering how badly the Objectivist movement coped with it from the 60’s onwards. So what difference has the book made to my life and am I an Objectivist? I don’t know how many total sceptics have read the book and been converted. When I decided to read it, I was at least sympathetic to its ideals of reason, freedom and human achievement. Several times at work since, I have pulled back from using phrases such as “perhaps we should….”, or “I wonder if…” in emails, and used the kind of more assertive phrase that Dagny would have approved of. And I am less likely to have a negative or cynical reaction when I see someone in a very expensive car; I am now more likely to assume that are entitled to it because they work hard and take financial risks. I was annoyed when BBC Radio broadcast a series on Andrew Carnegie, JD Rockefeller etc titled “The Robber Barons”. I didn’t have time to listen to the programmes but the title didn’t bode well for their impartiality. But I cannot go as far as AR would on state medicine and social care. A civilised society cannot let people die in the streets, even if that means taxing some people against their will. If you are going to apply Reason to an argument, you have to define your framework, and what is Reasonable must be informed by human decency and compassion. AR was not an anarchist. On the other hand, as I observed above, the country cannot afford to fund all the demands on the NHS, any more than the US could afford Obamacare. I hope that medicine can continue to be free at the point of use, but I am more open than most of my colleagues to at least consider funding private companies to provide the care. I disagree with the premise that there is always a right and a wrong and the middle-ground is always evil. For instance, if the two extremes are of dictatorship and anarchy, then the middle ground is more nearly right. I try to be more open-minded about Donald Trump than most of my compatriots, though I read that even Alan Greenspan has said that he did not vote for either presidential candidate. Is Trump an Objectivist? He appears to be far too interventionist. Perhaps he is an Orren Boyle rather than a Hank Rearden. It is a weakness of the book that Hank is the only industrialist to have started off poor and so illustrate the book’s premise that anyone can get rich by hard work and using their brain: Dagny and Francisco had inherited wealth. Those in our time who are closer to AR’s vision are such as Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Jimmy Wales, Richard Branson. John Galt says in his speech that the vilest form of self-abasement is to subordinate your mind to the mind of another. I followed world-views unthinkingly in the past and am not going to do so again. As soon as I say “I am an Objectivist, and that means I agree with all that Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff etc say without criticsm”, I stop being an Objectivist because I have surrendered my critical faculties once again. But if asked am I sympathetic to Objectivism and its ideals, and has it informed my thinking to a considerable degree, then my answer is yes. Adrian Roberts February 2017
  3. Atlas Shrugged: An English newbie's review.

    Repairman - Probably that is the problem; not necessarily that the government blatantly grabs power, but that the people - or more accurately the media - expect the government to "do something", and the government wants to win the next election so it puts more rules and control in place. I'm not well-informed on the interactions between business and government, but in the NHS and social services it is very evident. Child Abuse is something which has always gone on and is devastating in its consequences - some of my clients are victims so I know this is not about being PC - but now there is an entire new army of social workers, safeguarding agencies, specialist Police Units etc, all with their infrastructure of meetings and procedures, and staff who are terrified of making a mistake, and so perfectly normal families are terrified of asking for help in case their children get taken away. Smoking is another issue. I don't smoke myself, but I defend the right of people to do it. Recently smoking was banned in the acute psychiatric wards of the hospital that my patients are admitted to. So people suffering from severe anxiety are offered nicotine patches and have to break their smoking habit while at the rock bottom of their lives. The ward sometimes lets them out of the front of the hospital to smoke: and low and behold, the other day a patient got hold of some pills and took an overdose while on "smoking leave". Reidy, thanks for this. I can imagine that Lindbergh, the anti-establishment misfit who achieved greatness against the odds, would have been a hero of hers. Rand doesn't fit the stereotype of the railway enthusiast, but railways do seem to have fired her imagination. Edit - we call railroads "railways" over here!
  4. What do Objectivists on this forum think about the EU Referendum? Should the UK leave or remain in the European Union? I am especially interested to hear what other British forum members think, but Americans or members of any other nationality are welcome to give their perspective; Undoubtedly, the European Union is bureaucratic, controlling; clearly a statist organisation. But it was intended to be an organisation to break down national boundaries and allow freedom of trade and business. It was intended to facilitate Capitalism; contrary to the some of it’s opponents it is not a Socialist organisation – social democrat maybe, reflecting the governments of many of the component states. And of course it became bloated and bureaucratic: that is human nature; show me an organisation that hasn’t. The above suggests that I am making excuses for it; admittedly I am leaning towards voting to stay in, if only as a “least worst” option. But I have not yet totally made up my mind. Are the “Leave” camp any less statist? During the 1975 referendum, I was too young to vote, but I remember thinking that those who wanted to leave the EEC (as it was called then) were the extremists on both sides: Tony Benn on the Left; Enoch Powell on the Right. It is the same today. Generally the extreme Left want to leave. Admittedly Jeremy Corbyn has said he is in favour of staying in (for Americans: he is the leader of the Labour Party; makes Bernie Sanders look like Milton Friedman). This may be more about the unity of his party than his personal convictions. But the likes of George Galloway (makes Lenin look like Milton Friedman) are certainly in favour of leaving: the Left certainly don’t see the EU as a socialist organisation. The Right Wing elements of the Leave campaign certainly present themselves as individualists, who seek freedom from being controlled by unelected bureaucrats. But their policies would involve a considerable degree of Trade Protectionism and therefore state interference in British Industry. And many would seek to restrict individual freedom in areas of abortion and sexuality. Nigel Farage is presented as the acceptable face of the United Kingdom Independence Party, and he is probably relatively Libertarian and secular. But in his party and the others of the Right, there are a lot of people who would like to control people’s sexuality, and discriminate against ethnic minorities and women, which can only be done by state interference. There is also an undercurrent of religious motivation among the extreme right; some are evangelical Christians who believe that the EU is the “beast” of the book of Revelation. I am not going to be voting for reasons of nationalism or patriotism. These sentiments have no place in Objectivism. Certainly “my country right or wrong” is not justifiable using Reason. If the honest application of Reason leads us to see that our country or lifestyle is preferable to other countries, that would be a different matter. In fact the values of Britain and the USA probably are superior to most others in terms of individual liberty and affluent lifestyles – but that can he said about most of the EU countries. The question of Immigration plays a large part in the EU debate, often as a cover for racism. But Objectively, it should be purely a practical issue about how many more people can be allowed into the country and how we can control the flow. So, the choice should be made purely on the basis of which option is best for the economy of the nation and therefore best for me, and on whether leaving or staying gives us more or less control over immigration. And frankly it is very difficult to decide on the answers to these when experts give totally opposing predictions. I fear that a huge decision for the nation will be decided purely by the prejudices or at best the gut feelings of the voters, rather than on reasoned analysis. Has the reasoned analysis of anyone here led them to a specific conclusion?
  5. British European Union referendum

    Jon's list of reasons for Leaving is more thoughtful than many. I am noticing that if you ask British people which way they will vote, the answer is either: "Definitely Leave, we will definitely be freer and better-off", or "I'm not really sure but I guess probably Remain I suppose". People, including me, are trying to balance the arguments for not trusting the EU as in Jon's list, with the risk that if we leave it will cause financial and legislative chaos, with the hope of an eventual improvement not being a foregone conclusion. In many ways, the stated benefits of Leaving appeal to my ideals of individualism and self-determination; the same reasons that Objectivism appeals. But what happens if we Leave the EU and then get a Corbyn government? We will have even less freedom and more state control and probably less affluence due to his socialist policies, without the restraint and safety-net that the EU could provide.
  6. British European Union referendum

    Well, certainly the Leave people such as Condell are more passionate than the Stay campaigners. The question is, where does Reason take us?
  7. British European Union referendum

    It is certainly true that most of the Leave faction want to have their cake and eat it. It is often said that if we vote to leave, the negotiations are likely to be protracted and messy, and leave us in limbo for a long time, probably years, which won't be great for the economy, especially investment and therefore employment. Even if ultimately we can do better out of the EU, the effects of the change will be very long-lasting. In terms of immigration: I don't think too many people have a problem with French or Polish people coming over here to work, especially as an equal number of Brits work in other EU countries. There is concern about what happens if Turkey joins the EU, but other EU countries have the same reservations. The main concern at present is the refugees from the middle east and North Africa, and the possibility of terrorists using the refugee routes as cover. I wonder whether, if we were not in the EU, the French would simply allow all theirs to come over here, and we would be faced with huge refugee camps similar to the one in Calais. So, to what extent do we sacrifice our own needs for others? Most of our immigrants are nothing to do with the EU; they come from the Commonwealth Nations, in particular Nigeria, India and Pakistan. In that sense, we are the victim of our own success in creating a comparatively pleasant society. There are some localities in the big cities dominated by various immigrant communities, and no doubt there are some jihadist mullahs in some of the mosques, and some people especially the older women who have never learned to speak English. But the majority have assimilated very well. Sometimes their young people in the poorer areas form into criminal gangs, but so do some disaffected white youths. Of course immigration has to be controlled, but the country would grind to a halt without it's ethnic minorities. The National Health Service is largely staffed by Nigerians and Zimbabweans (at least in London - and I'm not exaggerating; in my NHS team I am the only white male). If we go out for a meal we will almost always go to an Indian curry house; the plumbers and electricians are mostly Polish; Starbucks and Pizza Express are mainly run by Czechs; and the prostitutes are mainly Hungarian (I'm told!)
  8. Ayn Rand believed strongly that we make our own choices and are responsible for them. She believed we are free agents who use Volition in deciding on our life choices, and rejected any kind of Determinism. Probably that is what attracted most of us to her philosophy. However, since she was writing, psychology and neurology have moved on considerably. I am not claiming to be expert enough to go into details of the proof of this, but it seems that the current scientific understanding is that people's character traits depend on how their brains work, at least to some extent. How their brains work is a mixture of genes and early developmental experiences. I don't think that many would claim that this takes away free will entirely, rather that people's genes or upbringing mean that they are more likely to make certain decisions. I can walk past a casino or betting shop and not feel the need to go inside and place a bet. I have my vices, but I am too mean for gambling to be one of them. But someone with an addiction to gambling would not be able to walk past without being tempted to go inside. At least that would be his excuse “I couldn't help myself!” The reality is that he does have a choice, but it is more difficult to exercise it. That is how his brain works – his temptations are due to his genes. Similarly with homosexuality: current Reason-based scientific thinking is that this trait is either genetic, or if developmental then it is rooted so early in a child's development that it might as well be genetic. A person does not choose to be gay. They have a choice, not about their orientation but about who they have sex with, or very often in the past Society imposes that choice on them: but their genes will influence their choices about whether they go against social norms. Generally, I think people are free and have volition, but their choices will be channelled by genetic or societal factors. Does this distinction pose any problems for Objectivism? I wonder how much of my own development has been of my own choice. For most of my life I was a Christian. I was over forty before doubts started to creep in and over fifty before I ditched religion and became effectively an atheist. Most churches are very close communities where everyone reinforces each other's thinking and most people cannot conceive that they could possibly be wrong. Why did I break out and everyone else not? I like to think it is because I am more intelligent but I am sure that is not the case: there are highly intelligent people who are Christians. Possibly I am more likely to use Reason to follow my thinking to its logical conclusion, and change my mind if faced with enough evidence. I would like to think that free-thinking was my Volition and therefore a moral strength, but more likely that trait pre-exists within me, probably genetic in origin. Some psychologists have postulated the idea that people are religious because they have a religious gene: which is nonsense if taken literally, but feasible if it means that a certain combination of genes may cause people to surrender their thoughts to a religious code. In which case, presumably I changed because I don't have that gene combination and my religiosity was socially driven: my friends and family have always been mainly from Church circles. But after leaving religion, why did I turn to Objectivism? Not all atheists are Objectivists; Marx and Lenin weren't! Obviously it was because there were certain aspects of Objectivism that chimed with me. I wasn't converted as such; I found something that I like: but how much of my leaning towards Objectivism was due to a process of Reason, and how much to my underlying personality, I am not sure. Thoughts, anyone?
  9. The heroes that Ayn Rand writes about have achieved great things, and made their fortunes, by producing goods, often of their own invention or design, and selling to a market that didn't need to be created. They work very hard at this and risk their own money and careers. So far so good, and there are many real-life entrepreneurs who have done the same: e.g Mark Zuckerberg may not have created a physical product but he certainly came up with an idea for a product that people want. But what about the Financial Traders, who do not produce anything but move other people's money between different markets, and do not take risks with their own money? Essentially, paid gamblers. And what about loan sharks who make money by lending at huge rates of interest, often to poor people? Does it matter to Objectivism how people make their money?
  10. In the UK, religion doesn't have the same influence as in the USA, though when people reject organised religion they tend to take refuge in some kind of vague spirituality. They will say "my dead relative is now an angel in heaven", which isn't even Christian theology, but avoids the reasonable but unpalatable conclusion that there is no afterlife. And the politically correct brigade seek to impose a new kind of puritanism on us, and of course its fine to criticise Christianity but we must never criticise Islam. As you say, people are not demanding a laissez-faire economy. To be fair, I don't think it occurs to most people that we need an alternative to what we have got. The Welfare state has become part of our national psyche. The answer to any problem is to spend more money on it. There are howls of protest and on-line petitions if someone is denied a new and very expensive medical treatment on the grounds that it will take money away from other needy people. I don't think I could go as far as dismantling the welfare system altogether, but the unpalatable truth is that there is just not enough money to for the government to do all that people think it should do. "Wishing it was true don't make it so". The nightmare scenario would be Jeremy Corbyn getting into power and trying to turn the clock back to the 1970s. If the electorate are really fed up he may just get the vote in the same way as Donald Trump might.
  11. I didn't realise that marijuana was now legal in the USA; is it just in some states? Over here, on the whole consumption of hard drugs such has heroin has declined, though cocaine use has risen. I do think that on the whole, young people take life and their career more seriously than we did in the 1970s. Perhaps having to pay for university tuition fees is creating a sense of ownership! Certainly it is not "cool" among youngsters to have no ambition or purpose in life, so maybe things have improved since the 60s. I said on another thread that Margaret Thatcher introduced ideals in the 1980s that were essentially objective; people like me who were young in the 80s thought we knew better, but in fact her premiership was a watershed in British culture. State ownership of utilities was dismantled in that decade. (I am not sure what is the current term for "cool" these days; my children tell me that if I say "cool", I'm not).
  12. You would have thought this would be self-evident, but sadly not. As Richard Feynman said when asked (in the 60s) why he didn't experiment with drugs "I don't like to mess with the machine" [his mind]. Sadly, there were plenty of pseudo-intellectuals at the time, the Timothy Learys of this world, who were only too willing to do so. And sadly, experimenting with drugs has become a rite of passage for young people which leads some into addiction. I would like to be able to say that if it is "only cannabis" it is less of a problem than alcohol, but unfortunately the latest, stronger varieties, called "skunk" in the UK, almost certainly cause or at least exacerbate psychosis. So perhaps legalisation would be a step too far in the Libertarian direction.
  13. That makes sense; so it is the Anarchist element of Libertarianism that is the problem; Anarchy will inevitably lead to a statist government emerging out of the strongest gangs in a lawless environment; and Objectivism is much better defined and thought-through than Libertarianism. Going back to "Defending the Undefendable": I'm going to have to think through the implications. I don't see a problem with prostitution being legal, so long as the sex workers concerned have chosen this role voluntarily, i.e are not victims of trafficking. But when it comes to drugs: some of the clients that I work with are drug users; there is an ongoing debate about to what extent their addiction is medical rather than moral, and I am not sure whether legalising drugs would help.
  14. Once more, Objectivism is challenging my thinking in areas that I had not been open about before. I became interested in Objectivism because I had always admired individualism, heroism and achievement, but had balked at some of the implications - such as those I cited above. But now I can see that this was based on assumptions that I had never questioned, but that are very deeply ingrained (perhaps more so in Europe where I come from, than in the USA). I read the Amazon review that Reidy posted a link to, of Block's Defending the Undefendible. There is a quote from the forward by Hayek that sums it up: "Looking through Defending the Undefendable made me feel that I was once more exposed to the shock therapy by which, more than fifty years ago, the late Ludwig von Mises converted me to a consistent free market position. … Some may find it too strong a medicine, but it will still do them good even if they hate it. A real understanding of economics demands that one disabuses oneself of many dear prejudices and illusions...." I've always liked to think of myself as open-minded but there are clearly some sacred cows that I haven't thought to question. However, this leads to another question. Block, Hayek, etc are Libertarians, and this is a position that I find attractive. One of the Amazon reviews of the book pointed out that Ayn Rand opposed the Libertarian position. I was aware of this from reading "The Voice of Reason", but it is not very clear from that book (which is a selection of essays, not always in a clear context) what the distinction is between Objectivism and Libertarianism. Can someone sum up the distinction and the reasons for AR's opposition, please?
  15. Volition vs Determinism; Nature vs Nuture.

    Thanks for the comments. I've been debating on other forums with people who believe that our genes mean there is no such thing as free will. Not unexpectedly, these people would label themselves as left-wing. Objectivism's emphasis on volition may not be totally attainable, but it is still a higher ideal to aim for. The point is to make the best of whatever opportunities we do have, and break out of constraints that may be imaginary.
  16. My name is Adrian Roberts. I have recently become interested in Ayn Rand and Objectivism, and I'm hoping that people on this forum can help me thrash out a few questions, to see whether I can truly be an Objectivist, or just someone who has sympathy with some aspects of Objectivism. I must be pretty unusual on this forum. I'm British, I live near London, and I work in the National Health Service [NHS], which must be the ultimate exercise in Statism and Altruism. I'm 56, and hadn't heard of Ayn Rand until a couple of years ago. For much of my life I have been a Christian, but I have moved away from that position now, for reasons too long to go into here but mainly due to being unable to reconcile a supposedly all-loving and all-powerful God with human suffering and the way the world actually is. At last I am free to think and reason without constraint. I can't remember exactly how I came across AR. It might have been on one of the Atheist websites. But over the last few months I started by reading the Wikipedia article and the book reviews on Amazon, and now I have read “Voice of Reason” and “The Romantic Manifesto”. Tackling the novels is somewhat daunting; I don't have that much time to read a thousand-page novel, but I am wondering about asking for “Atlas Shrugged” for Christmas even if it takes me another year to read it. What strikes a chord for me is the emphasis on individualism, on Freedom, the notion of Man as Romantic hero who seeks self-actualisation in achieving great things in whatever field he chooses. I have always tried to live by these principles, or at at least admire those who do: heroes such as Lindbergh. I have even watched the film “The Passion of Ayn Rand”, mainly to get some more idea of how she was as a person. I realise the film was made from the Branden's point of view so is bound to be somewhat skewed, but interestingly it didn't put me off Ayn Rand. To what extent the reason that I continue to be drawn to her is about Reason and to what extent it is about more deep-seated psychological reasons, is another matter. But I do still moderate all this in the manner of Barbara's last words in the film: “Compassion! It's what humans do!” For much of my life I would have said that my politics were difficult to define in left-right terms, which I see is a description applied to AR in one of the Objectivist websites. When I have been more politically active at various points in my life, I have been drawn to the left, even to socialism. But in Europe, this is more normal and less weird or shocking than it would be to Americans. In America, you react to the threat of Big Government by turning to the Right; over here people tend to react by turning to the Left. Of course, what idealistic Left-wingers forget is that a socialist solution is by its very nature going to mean more control by the state, not less. George Orwell realised this long ago. True freedom can only mean Anarcho-Capitalism; Anarcho-Socialism is a contradiction in terms. I have always believed that having a Collectivist Utopia where everyone has enough to eat, is pointless if no-one has great things to aspire to (AR's Apollo 11 article argues this point). I joined the NHS to train as a Psychiatric Nurse when I was young and idealistic. I still enjoy the job. But the NHS is in massive financial trouble; the country cannot afford it. I do understand the American opposition to Obamacare. But a solution that involves Privatisation is politically impossible at the moment in the UK. Until recently I would have gone along with the knee-jerk opposition to privatising the NHS that pervades most of UK society, but exposing myself to Objectivist thought has caused me to think that at least, I need to be open-minded about it and such a decision must be made on the grounds of Reason not of political ideology. In the meantime, how can I live out Objectivist principles in a State Institution that thrives on Altruism? If caring for my patients and doing a good job counts as Altruism, then I will continue to be guilty. But I am very good at compartmentalising my life; however much of my self-esteem comes from my job, I have things that inspire and motivate me outside of it. I fly gliders as a hobby; this is the principal example of where I have exercised Rational Self-Interest and achieved self-actualisation in what matters to me (though if I was being truly Rational I would be saving the money not spending it!). And I have always said that my aspiration for my clients is to be able to fulfil their maximum potential and achieve self-actualisation in whatever way they wish. Finally for the moment, I will qualify all this by saying that I certainly would only ever consider myself an Open Objectivist, rather than a Strict AR loyalist. I am not sure which way this forum leans; if that gets me kicked off the forum, so be it. The world is too complex for one ideology to be the answer to everything. I haven't spent all my life capitulating to one ideology (Christianity), in order to now surrender my intellectual freedom to another (Objectivism or anything else). Surely it is incongruous for an ideology that values human freedom and Reason to insist on a narrow interpretation of its ideas and to allow no dissent. There is a lot about Objectivism that resonates with me, but if the above means that I am at best an Objectivist sympathiser, or just “interested in Objectivism”, then so be it. Adrian Roberts 29th November 2015.
  17. Ayn Rand believed strongly that we make our own choices and are responsible for them. She believed we are free agents who use Volition in deciding on our life choices, and rejected any kind of Determinism. Probably that is what attracted most of us to her philosophy. However, since she was writing, psychology and neurology have moved on considerably. I am not claiming to be expert enough to go into details of the proof of this, but it seems that the current scientific understanding is that people's character traits depend on how their brains work, at least to some extent. How their brains work is a mixture of genes and early developmental experiences. I don't think that many would claim that this takes away free will entirely, rather that people's genes or upbringing mean that they are more likely to make certain decisions. I can walk past a casino or betting shop and not feel the need to go inside and place a bet. I have my vices, but I am too mean for gambling to be one of them. But someone with an addiction to gambling would not be able to walk past without being tempted to go inside. At least that would be his excuse “I couldn't help myself!” The reality is that he does have a choice, but it is more difficult to exercise it. That is how his brain works – his temptations are due to his genes. Similarly with homosexuality: current Reason-based scientific thinking is that this trait is either genetic, or if developmental then it is rooted so early in a child's development that it might as well be genetic. A person does not choose to be gay. They have a choice, not about their orientation but about who they have sex with, or very often in the past Society imposes that choice on them: but their genes will influence their choices about whether they go against social norms. Generally, I think people are free and have volition, but their choices will be channelled by genetic or societal factors. Does this distinction pose any problems for Objectivism? I wonder how much of my own development has been of my own choice. For most of my life I was a Christian. I was over forty before doubts started to creep in and over fifty before I ditched religion and became effectively an atheist. Most churches are very close communities where everyone reinforces each other's thinking and most people cannot conceive that they could possibly be wrong. Why did I break out and everyone else not? I like to think it is because I am more intelligent but I am sure that is not the case: there are highly intelligent people who are Christians. Possibly I am more likely to use Reason to follow my thinking to its logical conclusion, and change my mind if faced with enough evidence. I would like to think that free-thinking was my Volition and therefore a moral strength, but more likely that trait pre-exists within me, probably genetic in origin. Some psychologists have postulated the idea that people are religious because they have a religious gene: which is nonsense if taken literally, but feasible if it means that a certain combination of genes may cause people to surrender their thoughts to a religious code. In which case, presumably I changed because I don't have that gene combination and my religiosity was socially driven: my friends and family have always been mainly from Church circles. But after leaving religion, why did I turn to Objectivism? Not all atheists are Objectivists; Marx and Lenin weren't! Obviously it was because there were certain aspects of Objectivism that chimed with me. I wasn't converted as such; I found something that I like: but how much of my leaning towards Objectivism was due to a process of Reason, and how much to my underlying personality, I am not sure. Thoughts, anyone?
  18. How Would An Objectivist Handle This Debate About Minimum Wage?

    I see that in one sense voting for something that will require more taxes could be seen as force of the majority over a minority. But this kind of force is a whole lot better that the force wielded by a dictator, or the local gangleader. As has been said (by Churchill I think), Democracy is a bad system but it is better than the alternative. The alternative would be anarchy, which I understand is not an Oist principle, and anarchy leads to dictatorship. In reality, people who have lost an election have to put up with the consequences. There have been plenty of examples in third-world countries where a party that has lost an election tries to hang onto power, and chaos and eventual dictatorship result. Again, it is about starting from where we are, and working for change by winning hearts and minds
  19. How Would An Objectivist Handle This Debate About Minimum Wage?

    t SN - When it comes to voting, in reality it would not just be the unemployed who would vote against a government that proposed stopping unemployment benefit; I think most of the rest of the country would oppose such a measure. And I think I would agree with them; a civilised country would be one who would provide some degree of security for those citizens who are genuinely in distress. The question is how much money should be spent; how can we avoid creating dependency, and in the case of healthcare, can the money come from private insurance rather than the taxpayer? As I said in another thread, since the time of Margaret Thatcher (the most Objectivist of British politicians whether or not she had any formal links to the movement), the British government has been trying to undo the most Socialist aspects of health and welfare, and runs into a lot of opposition for doing so. Perhaps some would say that my compromises mean that I am not a true Objectivist. As I have also said before, I have spent too much of my life surrendering my thinking to other people, in Christianity, and now that I have got free of that, I am not letting anyone else tell me what to think; neither Ayn Rand, nor Jesus, nor Marx. Objectivism is the ideology that I find most attractive at the moment: but basing a system on Reason means that we have to start thinking how to put our ideals into practice by starting from how a situation is now. Proposing a change that we believe is ideologically sound but is impossible to put into practice in the real world, is not Reasonable. Imposing our beliefs on society will just make us another form of Statist. One way that I try to apply Objectivism, in a massively simplified version of the conversation that started this thread, is that when I am in discussion with work [National Health Service] colleagues about Privatisation, the way I would argue is to say that a solution has to be found to the NHS funding crisis. Raising taxes is not a good thing, and if Privatisation is the only solution, then we should accept that this is the practical solution and not be influenced by prejudice or ideology. That way, I am employing Reason rather than ideology, and inviting them to do the same.
  20. How Would An Objectivist Handle This Debate About Minimum Wage?

    Until recently I would have said that "of course a minimum wage is necessary, otherwise people won't have enough to live on and employers would exploit workers by paying them very little". This is the simplistic "of course" argument that doesn't require any thought. Having now become interested in Objectivism, attracted by the emphasis on Reason and human achievement, I am looking at political and economic questions from a different angle and can see the reasons against a Minimum Wage. Jon summarises these above. Under a free market, if employers maximise profits by paying people as little as possible, it should benefit the whole economy and create more prospects for the workforce. It also means that in reality the minimum wage would not be set by the government, but would be the level at which it was possible for the workers to find an employer that paid more, and go and work for him instead - so an employer benefits himself by paying enough to keep his workforce and motivate them. I am trying to work out one problem with not having a statutory MW: the relation to Unemployment Benefits. We have Unemployment Benefit here in the UK (it is now called "Employment Support Allowance"); I don't know how it works in the USA. Perhaps some Objectivists would say that people have no right to such government handouts, but in reality, this is the situation and no government would get elected if it proposed scrapping it. Of course these Benefits have created a degree of dependency for at least some recipients. The current UK government is trying to reform the Benefits system by ensuring that every recipient can always receive more money by working that by being on Benefits (Americans might be shocked to hear that this was often not the case). But a problem with this, is that if we are going to ensure that "it always pays to work", then there may a need for a minimum wage, simply because otherwise it will be impossible to determine what level Benefits must be kept down to, in order that they are less than people could earn. How can we get round that problem?
  21. I am new to Objectivism, though I realise now that I have believed many of it’s principles for many years. I posted about myself in the Introductions section a couple of weeks ago. I want to pose a couple of situations to test the limits of ethical selfishness, of living without Altrusim. I can see that Altrusim (as defined by AR) is an imposition on the human spirit. I suspect the reality is that most people make most decisions according to their own self-interest in any case, even if their reasons are subconscious or mixed, or they don’t like to admit it. But there are two scenarios that I can think of, at the limits of human experience, and which most of us will never have to endure, when it would seem that self-sacrifice is inescapable, and generally considered admirable. I must stress that I am not arguing against Objectivsim here, or even trying to be Devil’s Advocate; I am just trying to see what are the thoughts of Objectivist thinkers about these extreme cases. The first situation is about War. This always has the expectation that a person will at least put their life, their pursuit of happiness, on hold for the duration, and will risk losing it altogether. War is always tragic, but it is a fundamental part of the human psyche, a universal meme, which provides many of the myths which give us our identity. The freedom for a Man to be an End in Himself has been bought in blood. The Medal of Honour or Victoria Cross hero who sacrifices his life to protect his comrades, or who tries to rescue wounded comrades under fire, is part of our heritage. We could consider as an example the American War of Independence. I am British but I am not trying to be provocative here, just trying to think of a example of a war which most people reading this would agree had to be fought. The concept of the Hero does in any case tie in with AR’s concept of Man as a Romantic and Noble being – there is nothing romantic about war, but there can be about individual acts. Does this sacrifice count as Altrusim, and if so is it to be deplored? The other situation is more common for those of us who live comfortable safe lives. Some of us have to dedicate our lives to looking after children with cerebral palsy or learning difficulties, or parents with dementia. In my work, I meet people who have no time or money for anything in their lives other than looking after a son with schizophrenia, or a spouse with intractable depression. If we believe in limiting the role of the State, then it is going to be down to the relatives to look after them. Is their life Altruistic, and is there any alternative? Perhaps the only answer to challenges such as these is to make the most of our own lives, to pursue happiness, while we still can, so that the sacrifices of others is not in vain.
  22. Altruism or not? Some extreme cases.

    Jon Of course PFI is a disaster; where I live in SE London, there are at least two district acute hospitals built with PFI money; lovely buildings but they have pushed NHS London into even more debt, leading to closures elsewhere and management dismissals (usually with a Golden Handshake several times my salary). My small mental health NHS trust, which was doing well financially, has had £4million taken from it to pay for the shortfall in he acute sector. I'm not an economist or a businessman, but I suspect that this because a mixed economy leads to the worst of both worlds as in your quote from AR. And I completely agree that the NHS gives largely satisfactory care - though as someone else said, we can never know if privately-run healthcare would have been better. I have certainly considered getting Private Health Insurance for my family but I just can't afford it. If as you suggest the government was to encourage Private Health Insurance, perhaps the one incentive would if people who bought it had their National Insurance payments reduced - not that NI has much correlation to healthcare these days. Basically it is all a bit of a mess, and if things were to change, it would have to be very slowly over at least a generation - the Turning the Supertanker problem. It is probably easier to apply Objectivism to our own lives rather than to the economics of a nation. I have been reading your discussions with SL and Snerd - I have no intention of joining in, but I have noted some of your points, especially the difference between causality and duty.
  23. Altruism or not? Some extreme cases.

    Softward Nerd Thank you for this. Clearly Objectivists have to start from where we are at present. And, yes, the media in Europe, particularly the populist left, does promote the view that in America the poor die in the streets. I do have to think of this because of my job, working in the NHS, not just planning for my own future. Since looking at Objectivism, I have realised that I am attracted to it because of its emphasis on Individuality and Reason and Progress, and yet I have always lived with a contradiction in that I have subscribed to a knee-jerk approach that is completely against the idea of increased Private involvement in Healthcare, or anything else. Objectivism has encouraged me to at least be open-minded about this, especially as I have never had an answer to the looming black hole in NHS funding if we were to continue to expect money from the State via the taxpayer. It won't make me popular with my colleagues if I champion privatisation - and I shall still retire before any privatisation agenda can mess with my pension! I wonder if Margaret Thatcher was an Objectivist? Certainly she would have been familiar with Alan Greenspan's thinking, and of course she was friend of Ronald Reagan. She started to break the power of the Unions and the Nationalised industries in the 1980s. She has been vilified and demonised for this ever since, and I'm afraid I was a part of that: I was in my 20s when she was in power, and so it was cool and trendy among students like myself to be negative about anything that she did. Her policies were gradually continued with under Tony Blair (nominally Labour, but actually to the Right of most pre-Thatcher Conservatives), and the current government under Cameron has an agenda to continue with Privatisation, but they dare not be open about it. Can any UK readers comment? Jon?
  24. Altruism or not? Some extreme cases.

    I realise that this is the Objectivist view, and in many respects it appears entirely reasonable. However, it is not easy to work out how to apply this to people in the real world who are disadvantaged by genuine poverty or ill-health. Given the situation as it now is, with these people having expectations of the government (I'm talking about Europe rather than the US), it will be very difficult for any government to dismantle the welfare state and remain electable. The replies above by SoftwareNerd and Jon show some of the difficulties: I work with people with long-term mental health conditions; who are almost all living on Benefits paid for by the taxpayer. Their need is genuine; is there any other way of providing for them? Consider one example (I am disguising the details for Confidentiality reasons): A young man jumped from a tall building in a suicide bid while depressed; he survived but is now paralysed from the waist down. So his original illness was not his fault; his injuries were self-inflicted but he was mentally ill at the time. He is not going to be able to work to support himself, and will need to be supported financially for the rest of his life. This is in the UK. Can someone tell me: 1] What would happen to this person if he lived in the USA at the moment - does he get his living expenses and healthcare paid for by the state, or by some other means, or not at all? I am asking what actually happens, not what Objectivists think should happen. 2] What do Objectivists think should happen to support this person? Should anything "happen"? Should he be supported? Some chapters in "Voice of Reason" talk vaguely about support from charities. Since I started writing this post, Strictly Logical has posted a reply "....there would be people willing and able to take this responsibility...", but in reality the person concerned needs something more definite in place immediately if they are not going to starve. As I said before, I am sympathetic to the basic premises of Objectivism, but I am trying to see how far it can be stretched to fit the real world.
  25. Altruism or not? Some extreme cases.

    A brief reply: True, we don't need permission from the government to help each other, but if it was left to individuals, will people who genuinely need help always get that help, and even if individuals wanted to help them, would they be able to? I can only speak for what happens in the UK; I don't know how these things work in the USA. Here we take the state-run NHS for granted, and no-one complains too much about funding it: but most people choose not to think about the fact that the nation is bankrupting itself by funding it. In fact, the government is introducing public funding in some sections of the NHS, but gets a lot of knee-jerk criticism for it "selling off the NHS". All too many vocal left-wingers would rather cut military spending, despite the fact that there is not much point having an NHS if we are being bombed by ISIS or by the Russians, and anyway defence spending accounts for less than 3% of government spending, and the NHS takes nearly 20%. So, a massive hot potato with endemic non-rational thinking. It will take at least a generation before people accept your last sentence about private institutions doing the job better.
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