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cachi

True objectivists in real life

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Having read Atlas Shrugged, I think one common critique is that the characters are caricatures -- they simply do not exist in real life. Ayn Rand herself seems aware of this, as she writes: "I trust that no one will me that men such as I write about don't exist. That this book has been written -- and published -- is my proof that they do." While certainly clever, this statement doesn't actually prove anything.

But sure, the Hank Reardens and Dagny Taggarts are supposed to be rare. As a test, I'm wondering if it might be possible to identify just 5 individuals in the past century who were true Randians / Objectivists. A true Objectivist, in my mind, is uncompromisingly honest, productive and successful, in favour of limited government, skeptical of religion, and dedicated toward acting rationally towards one's own selfish interests.

Yet, even those who espouse Rand's teachings fall far short of this mark (think Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz in politics with re: honesty and, of course, re: limits on the powers of government) Many successful businessmen are philanthropic and altruistic in a way that Rand would most certainly disapprove. Who do you think would fit the criteria of being a True Objectivist? Who are the Hank Reardens and Dagny Taggarts of our world today?

(Offhand, the only qualifying example seems to be Ayn Rand herself. Does anyone else even come close? Or is it indeed the case that these characters simply do not exist in real life?)

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The point of the novel is that true individualists would probably drop out of our society and never be heard from again. Why are you looking for examples among our celebrities? A real life John Galt is probably homesteading in some remote wilderness. 

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I don't think the right way to look at it is who the "true" Objectivists are. It would be more powerful to think of any moral upstanding individuals you can think of. They don't have to be famous; they might live in the woods, they might write books out of the suburban house, they might be a dear friend of yours that died very young. Productivity doesn't have to mean making a ton of money, even though it could. Success can be measured on the individual level.

Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz don't espouse anything about rational selfishness except maybe some lip service to enjoying Atlas Shrugged. It's less important what people say, than what they do. We don't need to give someone a philosophy test and see what they agree with or disagree with. I've known people who speak about doing good in an altruistic way, but their actions are far more selfish than their words show.

The idea of characters as caricatures isn't even a unique criticism of Rand. Even Victor Hugo has been accused of that, or really any story that has heroes instead of just "normal" people. For whatever reason, a lot of people like "flawed" people because somehow that is more realistic. Rand's views on fiction writing were not that the world was supposed to be portrayed as it is, but how it might and could be. Characters are supposed to be larger-than-life. At the same time, there isn't any reason to think these characters couldn't exist.

By the way, I personally don't think of Rand as an important figure of moral action. Just because she had really good ideas does not mean she ever lived up to them. I'm sure some people disagree with me. I never found her to be an honest person about her own life and personal history, even though she was honest about her abstract ideas. The point is, you need to think on the individual level. Who are the people you know? Do you live up to your ideals? Do you know people who are uncompromisingly honest?

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15 hours ago, cachi said:

"I trust that no one will me that men such as I write about don't exist. That this book has been written -- and published -- is my proof that they do."

Could the quote you are alluding to be this one cited here?

Quote

The only exception to that last line is my husband, Frank O'Connor. The Fountainhead is dedicated to him. He is my best proof that people such as I write about can and do exist in real life.

The Letters of Ayn Rand
Appendix: A Letter From Ayn Rand
"To The Readers Of The Fountainhead" (1945)

 

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16 hours ago, cachi said:

As a test, I'm wondering if it might be possible to identify just 5 individuals in the past century who were true Randians / Objectivists. A true Objectivist, in my mind, is uncompromisingly honest, productive and successful, in favour of limited government, skeptical of religion, and dedicated toward acting rationally towards one's own selfish interests.

I believe this book was produced to answer your request:

https://www.amazon.com/John-Galt-Innovators-Villainous-Destroying/dp/1511384468

I must confess I have not read it. 

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Rodney Stich (1923 - 2015)  author of The Unfriendly Skies, Defrauding America, ...

Robert I. Friedman (1950 - 2002) author of Red Mafia.

John Sack (1930-2004) author of An Eye for an Eye.

Julian Assange

Edward Snowden

Thomas Drake

William Binney

... many others

 

 

Edited by Dupin

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On 10/17/2019 at 1:32 AM, cachi said:

Having read Atlas Shrugged, I think one common critique is that the characters are caricatures --...

There's a sense in which they are. Rand wanted her heroes to be perfect. So, it would not be enough to give Howard Roark his single-minded passion and rationality; she also had to have him be right in his choices.


Rationality can lead to the "right" conclusion in the sense that it is the conclusion that all the available evidence, known to the decider at that point in time. points to that conclusion.  Unfortunately, this is not how reality works: rationality does not lead to coming to the "retrospectively-right" conclusion 100% of the time. Rational people have to re-evaluate, correct mistake, an change path all the time. This is something that Rand's writing misses.

Further, humans are not rational in every moment. We are rational animals... not just rational "beings".  Our rationality allows us to be alert about our "animal" impulses and our irrational biases, and allows us to correct conclusions and actions that arise from them. So, once again, the process is not smooth. 

If you look at some of Rand's positive characters: Rearden is often used as an example, but you have Dominque and Steve Mallory and so on... then Rand does give them some flaws and idiosyncrasies. But, she seems to have had this idea that the hero should be flawless.

So, if you want to look for a Howard Roark in the real world, ask yourself if the real world has got people who have a single-minded vision, and pursued it against contemporary advice, and had to fight all sort of battles, but came out vindicated and successful in the end. Turn on the NPR "How I Built This" podcast, and you should find a few examples.

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S'nerd, I agree. I like your "animals"reminder. One correction, there are certainly some characters in Rand's fiction who were initially "flawed" but realized 'the error of their ways' and changed their minds and subsequent acts. This capability, too, is the epitome of a volitional consciousness. So I don't think her writing misses that. That free will concept is the essence of Romantic Realism in art, as you know, and it must mean that 'Naturalist' acts have to be minimized and human flaws to not be the defining feature of men . In especially TF, where the greater emphasis is placed upon Roark's character virtues (shown in his action, mostly). But he's not "perfect". While implicitly, the reader should know he is human, has human emotions and does human things - making them descriptively explicit to the reader is less "important". Overmuch, intricately detailed description, is one aspect of determinist/naturalist art, which makes for dull reading anyway. Purposeful actions speak louder.

The one "perfect" man in her writing  is John Galt. 

Edited by whYNOT

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22 hours ago, whYNOT said:

..., there are certainly some characters in Rand's fiction who were initially "flawed" but realized 'the error of their ways

Yeah, that's why I mentioned Rearden, Mallory and Dominique.

22 hours ago, whYNOT said:

That free will concept is the essence of Romantic Realism in art, as you know, and it must mean that 'Naturalist' acts have to be minimized and human flaws to not be the defining feature of men .

This might be Rand's major aesthetic shortcoming: to think that depicting the final outcome in a character is better than depicting the process. To depict the "perfect hero" as being in a state where he has already gone through the volitional internal mental processes and struggles, before the reader encounters him... I think that's an aesthetic error, and the main non-Romantic Realist aspect of her fiction.

 

22 hours ago, whYNOT said:

The one "perfect" man in her writing  is John Galt. 

I don't see him as being more aesthetically perfect even compared to Francisco -- who is portrayed as pretty damned flawless. 

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10 hours ago, softwareNerd said:

Yeah, that's why I mentioned Rearden, Mallory and Dominique.

This might be Rand's major aesthetic shortcoming: to think that depicting the final outcome in a character is better than depicting the process. To depict the "perfect hero" as being in a state where he has already gone through the volitional internal mental processes and struggles, before the reader encounters him... I think that's an aesthetic error, and the main non-Romantic Realist aspect of her fiction.

 

"Before the reader encounters him" - is fair criticism. The process of creating virtue has already occurred, one is not (explicitly) privy to earlier effort, and now we see him/her cashing in on it. But the struggles remain through the plot, and we can see their rational virtues being sorely tried and tested, toward ultimate success. Even a staunchly virtuous individual can falter (and recover).

In the final analysis, romantic art depicts man as he could be/should be. Yes, more or less in their completed state (like a statue). For us readers at the time and in later recall, it provides "spiritual fuel" for our own struggles.

Important, this: NOT to "mold" oneself into a Randian-hero perfection; instead to take the essentials of her characters away for ourselves. 

Edited by whYNOT

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cachi, I have to admit you've presented a challenge. I would recommend you investigate the history of the Great Northern Railroad, funded entirely by private entrepreneurs at a time when most railroads exploited government subsidies, and still failed. While this is not an example of a person, there are examples of many people of extraordinary ability, such as Nikola Tesla. While not very business savvy, Tesla had a scientific mind that may have inspired a John Galt. If there is one man I think deserves recognition as a "man of the mind," it is Robert Green Ingersoll, an orator and lawyer, who best represented the Free Thought movement of the 19th century. If it were possible to combine the best characteristics of these examples, you would have your Objectivist champion.

 Perhaps the Randian heroic caricatures are pure fiction. Or perhaps they've merely avoided celebrity in favor of focusing on their discoveries or other endeavors. There may be a great many such heroes we've never heard of for this reason. My best wishes are for all to strive to be one's own Objectivist hero. And welcome to the forum.

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5 hours ago, softwareNerd said:

Nope. Not by Rand's definition. The book can be about extremely evil people, and nothing else, and it would still be Romantic Realism.

They are mutually inclusive. In which case, did not Rand's novel portray "a volitional consciousness" as what man "ought to be"?

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2 hours ago, whYNOT said:
3 hours ago, whYNOT said:

They are mutually inclusive. In which case, did not Rand's novel portray "a volitional consciousness" as what man "ought to be"?

Correction:

...as what you the individual reader "ought to be".

 

Romantic Realism holds man as a volitional being. Dr. Robert Stadler, for instance,  Wesley Mouch and Elsworth Toohey had ink dedicated to providing a background to be taken into consideration.

3 hours ago, whYNOT said:

I'm puzzled by how evil people would still portray Romantic Realism. 

Are you puzzled how an evil person could produce Romantic Realism, or how evil people could be portrayed via Romantic Realism?

The artist that holds and portrays the soul of man as a sewer can attempt to do so via Naturalism or Romantic Realism. Although I would have to question if this alone could be sufficient for an evil verdict.

 

Edited by dream_weaver

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3 hours ago, dream_weaver said:

 

Romantic Realism holds man as a volitional being. Dr. Robert Stadler, for instance,  Wesley Mouch and Elsworth Toohey had ink dedicated to providing a background to be taken into consideration.

Are you puzzled how an evil person could produce Romantic Realism, or how evil people could be portrayed via Romantic Realism?

The artist that holds and portrays the soul of man as a sewer can attempt to do so via Naturalism or Romantic Realism. Although I would have to question if this alone could be sufficient for an evil verdict.

 

Right, sure RR does. My point was about classical romanticism, that it was the precursor, respected by Rand in such passages as "...consider two statues of man: one as a Greek God, the other as a deformed medieval monstrosity. Both are metaphysical estimates of man ..."etc. 

And:

"The most important principle of the esthetics of literature was formulated by Aristotle who said that fiction is of greater philosophical importance than history because "history represents things as they are, while fiction represents them as they might be and ought to be"". p80

I queried SNerd's remark that a novel can contain ~only~ evil people and still be Romantic Realism. What he's saying, I guess, and you are saying, is that evil people ("man", too) also have a volitional capacity (and supposedly don't activate their free will for rationality).

I question if such a novel of such characters can possibly depict Romantic Realism when it shows a reader only the evil consequences of volition's opposite. "A deformed medieval monstrosity" comes to mind. 

And, yes: Naturalism (in novels and esp. modern movies, etc.) is the um, 'ideal' vehicle to represent men as helpless, determined victims in a pointless existence - or having evil "souls".

 

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Consider a tyrant that plots to take over the world and an author that portrays the obstacles and struggles to overcome them and succeed at accomplishing the sinister objective.

It may not be Romantic Realism in painting a picture that inspires you personally, but a power luster may find it inspirational to keep it under his pillow at night. 

It is like exploring the 'dark side' of the power of art. 

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Alongside Victor Hugo, Rand classified Dostoyevsky as a Romantic Realist. Most authors want to portray heroes, not just evil characters. So, it is easy to mistake this usually-present aspect for the essential characteristic. But, the essential characteristic of Romanticism (i.e. Rand's concept of it) is: volitional thought and action. 
 

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