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Ben Archer

Interesting Facebook argument...not sure on response.

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A Facebook friend had been posting particularly depressing statuses the other day, so I tried to offer some advice, and recommended Atlas Shrugged since she seemed intelligent and interested in philosophy.

The original status was "no one is worth the pain, because in the end all we are is blood, skin, noise, and shit"

I responded and quoted from Atlas Shrugged. The "argument" proceeded from there:

Her: I knew before I'd finished your second paragraph here that you're under the influence Ben. The influence of Ayn that is.

It sounds a lot like how I used to sound back when I consumed everything she'd written, and indeed it did start a "fire" inside and quite quickly made me able to accomplish so much in short period of my life that it was ludicrous- but it wasn't to be. I was swayed by other things and quickly led off track. The point here is that I swayed- not because I was too weak- but because this conviction was not my own, was not based off of my life experiences, and thus became a vanity, an elaborate yet dishonest construct of personality. I searched for answers in other places because, deep down, I knew the Randist perspective is not sufficient for me.

Ps, Ben, if volitional consciousness if to defined by the ability to think and to choose, then we can't say that human beings are the only animals possessing it; rather I would say that human beings are the only verbally intelligent species, which allows for more complexity of thought, abstraction, etc- I still recommend the Objectivity Epistemology to many.

Me:It's not something you can really turn away from. It's not meant to be a solution but an acknowledgement. I felt the same way before reading Rand...her books really helped solidify it for me though, seeing it through her characters. And seeing how she laid out her value system helped remove any doubt from my mind about the way I am I guess.

Her: Ayn Rand is a marvelously persuasive writer, and I do believe some of those fundamental ideas underlying her philosophy, e.g., the intrinsic goodness of human beings, the special nature of human consciousness and the ability to choose and reason, the importance of life and progress over mysticism and hopes for afterlife, and so on.

However, I don't believe in "selfishness" as she presents it, simply because it has been used as a means to philosophically justify the capitalist system, which by its nature cannot help but to end in the fusion of business and government as time goes on, not to mention the formation of monopolies, decisions made for profit over the welfare of human beings, or the environment, the reduction of social mobility, wars for profit, and etc.

Me: I only recommend the books to people who I think can grasp its concepts. I'm not sure how you conclude that capitalism leads to the "fusion of business and government." But you probably need to understand a bit more about a free market society if you believe that there's a difference between a decision made for profit, and a decision made for the "welfare of a human being." Not to mention that in a free market, a monopoly independent of the laws of supply and demand, and free of competition, is impossible without government intervention. No monopoly has ever existed in an unregulated market.

Hope you find what you're looking for. Sorry I misjudged you.

Her: Examples:

Watered down gasoline

Genetically engineered crops

Processed foods

Gasoline- These are just some examples of how big businesses modify their products in ways that endanger human beings and the environment- in favor of the immediate profit derived from them. The idealism behind this trust of the market uses the argument that human beings are inherently good and that pure selfishness in its true sense can lead to no harm. (This is never really stated, but it implied by Rand's ideas that: pure individualist thought leads to the creation of values and the ability to distinguish between the basic life-affirming "good" and life-denying "wrong;" she tells us that is alright to let natural human selfishness decide the course of society. )

You say that no monopoly has ever existed in an unregulated market- I say that an unregulated market has never existed. I would indeed know more about free market societies if there were authentic models to study. While it might sound very beautiful, I have found that there is no such thing in this world and never has been. Really quite simply, wealth is power, and always will be as long as it equates directly to material and contributes to social status. So no wonder there is such lobbying within our own government, such corruption- in America, the truest example of capitalism there ever was.

Note: I realize that I mentioned gasoline twice just now- watered down gasoline was one point. I should have elaborated the second time- I meant the continued dependence upon gasoline despite its obvious negative effects on the environment (global warming, oil spill).. I'm sure you've heard about the BP crisis in the gulf right? And how they are in the process of separating the spilled oil from gulf water- because they want to salvage as much oil as they can in order to sell it? They were doing that while oil was pouring into the gulf.

Wondering if anyone knew a quick way to try to enlighten her on the fundamentals of Objectivism. As far as her BP claims go, I'm not sure if there's any validity to them, but even if there were it would say nothing about Objectivism itself, just BP.

Just thought I'd share this while I mull this one over. Thanks for reading!

Edited by Ben Archer

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She sure does seem intelligent and to be a thinking person!

When she says she was "swayed" away from Obj., what actually happened? She seems to blame the philosophy for not controlling her mind...

Her complaints against business and her fears of big-business/gov. alliances and abuses are legitimate concerns. There are answers to why a proper, constitutional government would, in its checks and balances and explicit priorities and authorities give honest people the means to counter and correct such abuses. The system provides solutions to efforts to distort and abuse it. It just takes people to stand up and initiate constitutional challenges, etc.

Maybe you can get her to join OO, she could pose her problems, and find more people who are living the philosophy.


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Two problems I noticed on her end:

Thinking Rand suggested selfishness is natural. That would be psychological egoism, which is not supported by Rand.

All people are, deep down, good people. This is not supported by Rand as is made clear that there are plenty of bad people in the world in her fiction works.

Those misconceptions about Rand absolutely do lead to the conclusions she is arriving at. All I think you really can do is emphasize that Objectivist ethics advocates putting YOUR life first and then doing all the things that further YOUR interests. This means that your own interests aren't seen in a self-evident manner and that since some people have the choice to be bad people, acting against those who initiate force is proper, especially if some people attempt to use money in order to subjugate others.

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Thank both of you very much for your perspective...I wasn't sure how to best address her questions and points. Directing her to this forum and your responses is a great idea.

She is definitely intelligent (she also has a career as a model :wub: )

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Quoted you both and linked her this thread, so we'll see what happens. In the meantime, here's one of her modeling shots I thought I'd share:



Edited by Ben Archer

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She has two main points.

1) Ayn Rand's philosophy is practical. It isn't for me however because it doesn't fit with my life or experience.

Re) This is total subjectivist non-sense. There isn't some uniqueness hiding in her brain that makes what she is special or valuable. If she is wrong, she needs to change to being right, not try to find things that fit with her wrong. She has already stated that Objectivism is actually functional, but it just doesn't jive with her. Too bad. You only get to live one life, no one is worth giving that up, even your "self".

I have heard people on the chat call this Kantian Egoism, because it sees the ego as this mysterious absolute that can't be really questioned. Max Stirner's egoism is the best example of this thinking. It is totally wrong, consciousness has an identity and has no value (I don't know if the word value is appropriate in this context, perhaps function makes more sense here) apart from its ability to deal with reality.

2) Capitalism leads to tyranny.

Re) I suspect she is a libertarian socialist, because those sorts of people make this argument quite a lot. Essentially they say that the free market as a process hasn't existed and can not exist. Anything attempting to come close to this system will inevitably become a means to promote inequality, and from that it will promote oppression, as all oppression is rooted in inequality.

First of all there doesn't seem to be any link necessitating a relationship between inequality and oppression. This is an illusion that comes from the modern political spectrum which measures thought in terms of egalitarian vs hierarchy. This puts Anarchists (real Anarchists, not "Anarcho"-"Capitalists") on the left, and Nazis, Stalinists, Liberals, Conservatives, Theocrats, Monarchists, and Free Marketers on the right. So in their eyes all of these groups are very similar, just their methods of oppression are different.

The fallacy of this can be highligthed by the Anarchist/Libertarian Socialist's inability to pick friends and allies. While Objectivsts are betrayed by conservatives and libertarians quite often, they never do anything real horrible. Even a centrist like Bush wasn't all that bad compared to presidents in the past such as Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt.

Look at the spanish civil war though. What sides were fighting? From wikipedia.

The "Right"

The Falange

* National Syndicalism was to be the official ideology of the State.

o Corporate state in which class struggle would be superseded by the Vertical Trade Union, forcing workers and owners into one organization.

o Roman Catholicism

o Attention to the Castilian farmers

o Nationalist pride in the history of the Spanish Empire

o Anti-separatism

o Anti-communism, anti-anarchism and anti-capitalism

o Anti-democratic, anti-liberal, anti-parliamentarian ideology

o Paramilitarian

Is this capitalism? I mean, could you even call this conservative? Even right wing in the American sense of the word? Not even Neo-Cons or Paleo-Cons, the more embarrassing right wingers in America, would call any of these ideas desirable. Except anti-communism.

They also had some smaller factions such as Nazis and other groups.

The Left-



Democratic Socialists

Moscow Communists

Non-Moscow Communists.

So the spanish civil war was a fight between anti-capitalists with medievalist-futurists (Fascists love contradiction) tendencies and the leftists all basically had the same egalitarian-humanist value systems. Sure the the leftists disagreed with one another about the role of authority and the state, periods of transition, and what should be up for election. But they all opposed the oppression and inequality caused by capitalism, they all have the same damn value system.

What happened? Anarchists, who do in some way support liberty, continually either defaulted on their anti-state views or got gunned down by their supposed allies. This happens time and time again all over the world. It happened during the Russian revolution as well where the Bolsheviks fired artillery on a an Anarchists occupied city. Che and Castro killed Anarchists. Noam Chomsky, said he had hopes for Pol Pots regime.

When I said they default on their beliefs, read this http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/bcaplan/spain.htm.

It doesn't seem like Capitalists are the ones in danger of supporting an impossible system that will tend towards tyranny. At least our ideological allies on the right don't kill us or commit genocide. In fact the closer you tend to get towards capitalism the more free things are, the closer you tend to get towards socialism (the further away from markets, or the more egalitarian you get), the more things get worse.


- Pick your ideas based on what right, not what fits you.

- History shows that there is a conflict between two types of anti-capitalists, one is considered the center, the other the left. The Spanish Civil War was an exquisite example of leftists slaughtering one another (at least some American Corporations could profit off it.

- Anarchists, who believe in liberty and equality at the same time, pick sides with the other egalitarians.

- They are back stabbed or give up their liberty supporting beliefs.

- On the American Right, even the most irrational people who could be called right are not going to shoot us or commit genocide or anything of the sort.

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I think it sounds like she had been following general Objectivist virtues for a while with great results, but she had some lingering doubts based upon some personal observations which left her feeling conflicted. Following the virtues while she wasn't entirely convinced of their sound basis for herself I agree would be kind of fake due to being second-handed in nature. She wasn't acting on her own understanding entirely, just taking somebody's word for it because it seemed to sound good and they seemed pretty confident of their belief. It's good to examine those doubts and to act on your own convictions, but I think part of the problem here may be that when she went to examine the areas of her doubts, she may have been a bit biased in which side she gave how much of a chance to speak sort of. It's like if John Doe was a guy you knew and had some past problems with who was now in court being charged with a crime and so, because you already have experiences which lead you to believe he is a bad guy, you pay more attention to the evidence provided by the prosecution. I think if she were to bring her questions about seeming contradictions between her observations and the philosophy of Objectivism and its claims to not just or mostly pursuing people and ideas which would seem to agree with her thoughts on her observations, but to other people who seem to have a pretty good understanding of Objectivism too who she could ask, she could well find that she could live with that fire and amazing productivity without it all being a "vanity" or "construct" as she put it.

Basically, I'm suggesting she try asking people like some of the more knowledgeable members around here about what things she thinks her observations refute. But not in this thread, there are too many topics to try to discuss all of them in one thread. Some of them though she could probably find good discussions on already through the search function as long as she may be looking on this forum anyway.

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However, I don't believe in "selfishness" as she presents it, simply because it has been used as a means to philosophically justify the capitalist system, which by its nature cannot help but to end in the fusion of business and government as time goes on, ...

What evidence could she possibly have to support that statement? The nature of capitalism is to end in a fusion of business & government? No. The nature of capitalism is voluntary trade between free individuals. The nature of government is the monopoly on retaliatory force. The first time it was ever even tried to restrict government properly applied to its nature was in founding of the America. With a nearly perfect founding document (the Declaration of Independence) and an imperfect, but mostly well intentioned Constitution, what has followed has propelled wealth, science, knowledge and individual freedom exponentially further in 250 years than any other period in history. That's a pretty significant first try.

Also, it is illogical to reject the validity of one concept "simply because" it may be used as a justification in some other context. She sounds like she is in some need of a refresher in logic, reason and reality. Blood, skin noise and shit cannot feel depressed. So obviously she's more than those things.

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I think her very first sentence said it all VERY clearly:

It sounds a lot like how I used to sound back when I consumed everything she'd written, and indeed it did start a "fire" inside and quite quickly made me able to accomplish so much in short period of my life that it was ludicrous- but it wasn't to be.

Right there, she has said plainly that following objectism IMPROVED her life, and goes onto say that not following it has caused deterioration... until the point where she is engaging in horrible reductionism.

I would simply point out her first sentence and say... "Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong."


Remember also, that it is not your job to turn her into an objectivist. If she doesn't want to accept reason, I would tell her simply that she is wrong, and that if she wants proof, examine her own life. Then leave the conversation. You simply can't "logic" an irrational person into reason. If you could, not a single person on earth would 'believe in god'.

Good Luck

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