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Gary Robinson

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  1. I see we were writing at the same time. Thank you for your further clarification. This whole discussion is very helpful to me, and perhaps will be to some others who are wondering about the same things I am. I'm going to stop writing now -- I'm going to get into bed and read Atlas Shrugged on my Kindle, keeping this discussion in mind.
  2. Maybe it's just because I read The Fountainhead so long ago that I'm not remembering it correctly. But I'm reading Atlas Shrugged now, and Reardon does say of the issue of "the underprivileged", "I don't care about it at all." I do completely recall and understand the issue of Keating's second-handedness. Actually one of my favorite book lines of all time was when Roark is dealing with a woman who had a number of second-hand opinions of how her house should be designed, and couldn't hear Roark at all, and Roark realized "There was no such person as Mrs. Wayne Wilmont." That's how I recall the sentence about 25 or 30 years after reading it; I wonder how close I am to remembering the the woman's name. I have occasionally felt similarly to how Roark felt then. I think I'll go back and reread the Foundtainhead; I don't remember the bit about him saving the night watchman. But I remain struck by what Rearden said about not caring at all about the underprivileged. Perhaps as I move through Atlas Shrugged in my current rereading I'll see more of Rearden that is consistent with your view. What you say here is good. And in fact, I have been gleaning my impressions on this matter "second-hand" on the Web; I don't have the book these journal entries originally appear in. So if what you're saying is correct, I have erred in allowing myself to rely on such second-hand sources. I should get that book. I think that the key to this is that, in Rand's view, more good will be done by capitalism than by charity. So, there's no reason for a producer/capitalist to distract himself with charity if he doesn't happen to feel inclined that way; more good will be done if he acts in his own self-interest without such distraction. Needless suffering of innocents SHOULD be alleviated; but the realistic way to do that is by letting producers do what they feel is in their own interests, and that will help everyone. It may appear "selfish" but this approach will in fact will alleviate the suffering of innocents more than "altruistic" behavior will. Would you say this is consistent with Rand's thinking? I think the common perception is that Rand does not think the suffering of non-producers matters. You seem to be saying that as you read Rand, she does think it matters, but the way to help is not to focus on charity but on making a better world for everyone through unrestricted capitalism. I appreciate your thoughtful responses, especially in light have how rusty I am with my Rand memories/understandings. I will keep these thoughts in mind as I continue rereading Atlas Shrugged.
  3. I agree with your points above. On the other hand, without empathy there doesn't appear to be any reason to attempt to do anything about those problems, in which case the question of acting thoughtfully vs. unthoughtfully does not seem like it will be an issue. It's not that they override it, they don't have it to start with -- at least in a number of cases that have beens studied, the relevant physical parts of their brains just don't have much activity in them. That sounds exactly like how Rand describes Roark when she says "He was born without the ability to consider others." Though, as we noted earlier in this thread, Roark doesn't need to make people suffer to get his jollies, so there's a difference there. But I'm not sure a Roark can really exist. It may be that the brain is naturally configured such that if you're really born without the ability to consider others -- and some are in fact born that way -- you're going to be a psychopath, not a Roark. Please don't take what I'm about to say as unconsciously obeying Godwin's law. And also please don't interpret it as my being negative or attacking. I'm only trying to understand the points of view you and others here hold. I personally am attracted to Rand's ideas in many ways, but I have problems with certain aspects and I am investigating. People with no affinity for Ayn Rand or Objectivism often say that it sounds like Nazism to them. I think one reason why is exactly what you're saying above. Members of the SS were not all psychopaths. Many of them felt for their victims as they shot them and bulldozed them into mass graves, and they overrode those feelings because of what they believed to be the long-term good of their people. It was very difficult for many of them, but they did it anyway. Were they heroes? They were told that they were, for doing what was so difficult for them to do. If one is going to overcome one's empathy for the sake of a concept, one had better be very sure that that concept is really for the long-term good (and hopefully, not just for one's own tribe). And I don't think anybody can really know that for sure, because nobody is without any risk of making a logical error. It seems a safer to have some healthy respect for one's feelings of empathy. But getting back to the original point -- as I read Rand, people like Rearden or Roark simply don't care about suffering non-acquaintences in the first place, so they don't even have to overcome empathy. If anyone here cares to give me an answer, I'd really like to know: Do you really believe that, if Rearden was in a situation where he could save others from immense needless suffering, but didn't, and told you it was because "I don't care about it at all" (as Rand has him say), would he really be completely virtuous in your world-view? Or is that that only by lessez-faire capitalism can anyone really be helped, so, ONLY by acting in one's own self-interest can any real good possibly come for others?
  4. By way of introduction, I read a number of Ayn Rand's fiction and nonfiction books some years ago. Saw the movie, last night, enjoyed it very much, and have started rereading Atlas Shrugged. I think she got a lot of things right, but I wonder about empathy (which I hold as quite different from altruism). =========== "You don't really care about helping the underprivileged, do you?" Philip asked--and Rearden heard, unable to believe it, that the tone of his voice was reproachful. "No, Phil, I don't care about it at all. I only wanted you to be happy." "But that money is not for me. I am not collecting it for any personal motive. I have no selfish interest in the matter at all." His voice was cold, with a note of self-conscious virtue. =========== Now, as I read the above quote, Philip is a bit pathetic. He seems to feel that he needs to suffer to help others. He gets no joy in it. I can see part of why an Objectivist would have no respect for Philip. On the other hand, I can't relate to Rearden not caring whatsoever about "the underprivileged." Let's take a very concrete example. Millions of people die every year from malaria. It's not a pleasant death. Moreover, the vast majority of them are suffering for no fault of their own but happening to have been born in a particular time and place where there is a lot of susceptibility to the disease. Someone like Rearden (or Bill Gates) is in a position to help -- perhaps a solution can be found: a cure, or eradicating mosquitoes, or a vaccine, or whatever. Maybe there's no solution, but it seems much more likely that there is one, given enough research. That costs money. I can understand the idea that Rearden shouldn't be guilt-tripped into contributing to the solution. On the other hand, I can't relate to him not caring at ALL about the unnecessary suffering. I can't relate to him being in his position and not being interested in taking joy in helping solve the problem. I think Bill Gates has it exactly right -- he was fairly ruthless as a businessman, did extremely well for himself, but now feels more joy in helping out than in not doing so. I think this is why Objectivism has such a bad name with so many people. It seems, to them, to be a synonym of psychopathy. Of course, in reality an Objectivist doesn't take pleasure in causing needless suffering, so that's a major distinguishing point. On the other hand, the technical definition of psychopathy stresses the total lack of empathy, ultimately, according to recent research with MRI's, based on physical brain differences -- the part of the brain responsible for empathy just isn't lit up. Rand seems to like the idea of that part of the brain simply not being there from birth. She said of Roark, "He was born without the ability to consider others." And in the last few days, I've read some of her notes praising William Hickman, saying he had a "genuinely beautiful soul." Hickman had kidnapped and dismembered a 12-year-old girl, and said he thought she was awake when the dismembering occurred. Having read several books on psychopathy, and having regularly discussed psychopathy with my sister who is a psychologist who works professionally with diagnosed psychopaths, in my personal judgment Hickman was a classic psychopath. Now, I'm pretty sure that Rand didn't generally think highly of people who go around torturing 12-year-old girls. Those were her private notes, so I expect she wasn't taking a lot of care to be sure she wouldn't be misinterpreted. On the other hand, it all makes me wonder. She really doesn't seem to think other people's underserved suffering is something to be interested in or concerned about. If I understand her ideas correctly (which I certainly may not), she approved of helping someone if the helper honestly felt joy in doing so. On the other hand, if somebody had many billions of dollars, and could help many people suffering terribly, who simply happened to have been born in the wrong time and place, and he didn't feel like doing so, it doesn't seem like Rand would have any problem with that person at all. To the extent this unconcern was due to being "born without the ability to consider others," it appears that she would think it was commendable. And my take on it is that she would think it was morally wrong for him to be guilt-tripped about his indifference. I personally feel that one person's unpleasant experience of guilt is a less important matter than a large number of people suffering horribly and dying unnecessarily. As I read Rand, she wouldn't agree with me on that. Getting back to Philip, I think he is pathetic because he takes no joy in helping, and does it only because he doesn't feel like he has right to live except by virtue of helping others. But, other than that, I don't think he would be wrong in trying to convince Rearden that his total lack of concern for "the underpriviliged" might not really reflect the highest good. I'd be very interested in any reflections anyone in this forum might care to share regarding the thoughts above. Gary
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