I wrote this essay in my LiveJournal recently as a sort of exploration of my own feelings regarding the philosophy and as a form of intellectual activism. I am still new to Objectivism, so if I've made some error in my reasoning, let me know. So far it's received only positive feedback and open questions.
In Defense of Ayn Rand
"It should be pretty obvious by this point that I've gotten into Objectivism in a big way lately. Unfortunately I see a lot of misconception and outright ignorance or slanderous attack on it. This upsets me, because in all my time studying various ways of thought, I hadn't felt very passionately nor seen as much truth than I have in this idea. It disgusts me to see so much revile coming from those that disagree with it, not because they disagree with it, but because I haven't seen a cogent argument against the reasoning. All I ever see are misrepresentations, misunderstandings, or outright personal attacks--either on Ayn Rand, or even on myself because I hold these thoughts to be true.
As someone who would identify themselves as an Objectivist, I feel like a great injustice is being done and that I have to clear up these misconceptions and hopefully provide a clear view of what is really being said, so those who misunderstand it may reconsider, and those who have never heard of it may seek to learn for themselves. I'm going to attempt to do that in the most open and simplistic manner I can, so everyone who reads this can get the idea.
Since some of you may not know what Objectivism is, here's the jist: Objectivism is the philosophy outlined by Ayn Rand and her intellectual heir, Leonard Peikoff. It is essentially based in three basic principles: 1.) That reality exists, and there's nothing you can do to avoid that. 2.) That a person's life is their own moral ruler, and the ruler they use to estimate what is of value to them. 3.) That logic and a reasoning mind are your only way to understand reality. From these three statements, all else in the philosophy flow.
Objectivism is a philosophy that is in love with life and truth. Specifically, the life of human beings. It holds that human life is a higher value than any other thing in the world, because it states that only human beings have the ability to reason and to act volitionally, according to their free will. It rejects unjust authority and the idea that any social collective--whether race, society, country or religion--holds more importance than the life of an individual. The idea that men belong to gods, kings or even other men is anathema.
It rejects fallacy and contradiction, and states that if you come to a contradiction in your reasoning, you should check your premises, because one of them is wrong.
It is a philosophy of peace--it states that you only have the right to resort to force at the threat of force, or in self-defense. That people should deal with each other as equals in rights, as traders, exchanging value for value, and that debate should be held in the same manner.
It states that there is such a thing as absolutes, moral good and evil, and that those things are measured by human life. If something helps you to live, then it is good. If it destroys your life--or keeps you from living your life freely--then it is evil. Outside of human life, there are no moral universals.
This does not mean however that you have the right to another person's property or life simply because it would make your life better or easier. Only by recognizing the intrinsic rights of other human beings to their life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness, do you yourself retain your own. These rights are not granted by any government or god. They are your birthright as a human being. To claim you have them and no one else does is a contradiction.
Refutation of Misrepresentation
People will say that Objectivism is like a cult, and certainly it is obvious why they would say this. It is a philosophy concerned with what is morally right and it holds those things to be absolute. In this way it reminds many people of righteous religious dogma--which can be an immediate turn-off to those raised in such irrational communities. The difference is that Objectivism bases it's reason on what is good for human life, rather than on the word of some indefinable deity. Likewise, there is a certain excitement and seeming zealotry that many Objectivists feel about their philosophy, and some claim that they revere Ayn Rand like a great Leader, as would any members of a cult. While some can take it this far, I would not consider these people Objectivists. Rand herself hated the mentality that accepts the word of an authority unquestioningly, and even some Objectivists derisively call these people "Randoids".
Another common complaint about Objectivism is that it is a philosophy based in selfishness and greed. This is not entirely untrue. Rand herself used the phrase "rational self-interest". In philosophy, this is called Rational Egoism. That is, holding your life as your highest value, and taking pride in what you are capable of doing, but not going so far as to destroy yourself by destroying or taking advantage of others. Rand attempted to emphasize the positive qualities of selfishness (self-esteem) and greed (productiveness, innovation). This is where she loses a lot of people in feeling a distaste at the idea of being childishly selfish. This was not however her intention in use of the word. Her attempt was at reclaiming the words just as she attempted to reclaim many words (such as "soul") and forms of mythological symbolism that are usually thought of as mystic.
People will claim that Objectivism is about uncontrolled capitalism and "wage slavery". My only response to this is to define for yourself what you consider those two things to mean. It is true that Rand was a major proponent of Capitalism as a political ideology. She felt that it was the most moral way that human beings can deal with each other, because it involved an exchange of values that each person involved must estimate for themselves. In essence, it represents the most fair and equal manner of exchange between two people, so long as force or fraud do no enter the equation. In those cases, a person has the right to appeal to courts to resolve the issue, just as we do now. But she also felt that it was evil that the government restricted how people decided in what way they dealt with each other, because it was a preemptive control over individual freedom.
Some will claim that Objectivists hate the poor and the unfortunate. That they despise the act of charity. This is utterly false. Objectivists despise what Rand called "second-handers". These are people who refuse to work for their own gain, or who feel that they are entitled to the work or product of others--whether that be doctors, engineers, artists, or even you yourself and the money you make at your work. They do not hold that those who are born with disability or who are injured or sick and unable to work should suffer and die. They believe that charity is a natural part of a rationally selfish world, because by volunteering the resources to help such people, we are all made to live in a better world. Keyword, volunteering. There is nothing an Objectivist hates more than unearned guilt or the insistence that he somehow owes other people a good life, money, or respect.
These same people will argue about the Social Contract/Compact. The social contract is a philosophical concept that all the world and it's amenities were here before you were born and that all the people and all the good work that still goes on makes you indebted to society from the moment of your birth. That because you exist, you owe, because without all those great works, you may have never been born/lived up until now. Note that underlying implication here is one of force: "You either pay us back, or you can go off in the woods and die."
Refutation of Fallacious Arguments
Many people, even my own professors, have dismissed Rand because her ideas seem almost a retaliation toward the communist society that she lived through in the Soviet Union. Ask yourself if you think that just because a truth comes out of the mouth of a foreigner, or in response to one ideology, if that makes it wrong.
Others will bring up Rand's personal life, concerning her "inner circle" of students and fellow writers, as well as the affair she had with a man in the group. I honestly don't know much about it, nor do I care. Most of this seems like rumor-mongering, gossiping, and the drama that immature people love in our modern age. It smacks of the same social cannibalism that you see toward any person of ability or achievement or just plain celebrity. Even if it isn't true, it doesn't affect my estimation of her ideas. Just because the person who said them had flaws, doesn't mean those flaws taint the ideas. Thomas Jefferson may have had a mistress in his slave girl. Aristotle may have practiced pederasty. Walt Whitman supposedly was a pedophile. None of these things change my mind about the good that came from these people's minds.
Another common argument I will see is that these ideas are not popular. That philosophy professors and chair-holders at universities almost universally denounce Rand's "philosophy", as they would put it, as unreasoned. They never really offer why this is the case. But more importantly you should ask yourself if an idea is wrong simply because a majority doesn't agree with it. Another thing you should consider is the source of this weak attack and whether their cushy positions lecturing about no certain truths or knowledge would be threatened by a philosophy which claims exactly the opposite.
You'll hear people say that Rand was a fascist. That Objectivists are fascists. This is so grossly false that I'd be amazed by it if it weren't for the fact I hear it so often. If you can't see how the above outlined philosophy rejects the force of other people in their lives or in their thoughts, I don't know what else to say to you. Other people will claim that Rand was a bad writer--this is your opinion. I personally don't find her to be the best, but I still like her work. Still others will claim she had no new ideas and was not a particularly remarkable person. I can only laugh at this. She was a woman who made her own way in the world and openly advocated a philosophy which was in favor of atheism in a time when McCarthyism and "In God We Trust" were the rule of the day. When women were expected to be making baked goods, not being interviewed by Mike Wallace on national television and inventing new ways of thinking. People who will try to demean her in this way just show how ignorant they are.
Although I wish I could write a practical treatise on this subject, I just don't have the time right now or the memory to recall every argument against it. I encourage questions and debates on this topic in my comments, so long as they are reasoned and the commentators in question leave the possibility of being wrong open in their mind. Despite what some would claim of me for being an Objectivist, I do always remain open-minded and willing to listen to a logical position. It would be stupid and self-defeating of me to hold a belief that wasn't true. I would hope the same would be felt by anyone else who reads this. Otherwise what would be the point in discussing it.
Ultimately, I see a lot of the same arguments, and it gets very tiring over time, refuting the same positions and banging my head against the wall that is other people's willful ignorance. I will endeavor to be patient however.
For those that are interested in learning more about Objectivism, I recommend you read her novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, as well as her books which contain essays on the subjects I've discussed, For the New Intellectual, The Virtue of Selfishness, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Philosophy: Who Needs It?.
For online resources, you can check out:
The Ayn Rand Institute - http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=index
Ayn Rand Lexicon (includes many excerpts) - http://www.aynrandlexicon.com/
John Galt's Speech from Atlas Shrugged (the philosophy in a single speech, 20 part YouTube series) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_qQt9IrUc0
Objectivism Online Forum (for reasoned debate/discussion with more veteran O'ists) - http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?"