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Is Objectivism Hopelessly Naive

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Swerve of Shore
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A lot of good stuff here that will take me some time to digest. But let me put my comment about naivete of Objectivism in a nutshell: Galt's Gulch. It is clearly a Utopian ideal. Putting aside technological objections (e.g., where did they get the electricity), Galt's Gulch could not happen in real life because it would be impossible to find 50 or 100 or 500 (or, I believe, even 5 or 10) people who not only are genius movers-and-shakers but also would strictly adhere to Objectivist morality.

Oh dear, this is a common problem.

Atlas Shrugged is a novel. I.E. it is art and not a thesis on a philosophy. Rand used it to highlight a philosophy that she developed through the nature of the story she was telling, but it is till a story. A story abstracts the ideas and recreates them in the context of plot, drama, characterization, and a host of other things that are intended for the story, not the philosophy.

Things like the Gulch are simply an example of the books themes and ideas. The point wasn’t mundane unessential points, like how did Midas trade with people on the outside that in turn did not feed the looters, but the fact that men of ability and action can do any job when left in peace, and do it well. It dramatizes the issues. Why didn’t the Government round every man names John Galt to question them? Because it did not serve the plot and ideas Rand wanted to tell.

A great quote from a Sci-Fi writer who was once asked how fast a Starfury flies on the sci-fi show Babylon 5: “It travels at the speed of plot”.

Not to be rude but did you actually read t he book? The electricity is a pretty huge plot point since half the books mystery is based on it.

Anyway, the point is if you want to understand a philosophy then you need to actually read the work on it, not the art.

Edited by Spiral Architect
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My point was NOT how capitalism is a corruption of Objectivism, but rather that human beings are inherently corrupt and corruptible and that Objectivism (like Maoism) seems to think humans are perfectible.

Having rephrased the question, let me take a shot at answering it. Comments here and my own ponderings have led me to see a possible solution. I'd like to know what others think of it. Here it is: Objectivism is not expected to be a natural state of being. Rather, it is intended to be an ideal state that democratic institutions would strive to acheive if the public were to accept Objectivism as the ideal. The goal of those on this forum is to educate people to this end. The fact that nobody acheives Objectivist (or Christian or any other moral system) ideals perfectly does not mean that they should not strive to use them as the basis for institutions (i.e., the law, the police and the courts).

If you think the purpose of morality is to reach some unattainable goal then you really missed some big principles in the Oist ethics. It says no such thing and presents itself as a philosophy for living as a man here on earth. If it is not real then it is not moral since it is not open to your choices. The goal of life is to live, and by life it means to thrive. What helps you do that is the good and what does not is bad. What is not open to choice simply is and is neutral ethically.

Objectivism is a philosophy that is about recognizing realty and using reason to live as a man, which is about as close to “naturally” as you can get since the nature of things are those points. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed”.

Objectivism is not essentially a political ideology, but a philosophic system that will naturally reach a political conclusion when applied. Politics are a consequence of reason applied to the social application of ethics and ethics are a consequence of reason applied to the nature of man. Oism is a philosophy but if you apply it you end up with a political system that allows man to live naturally to his best ability to achieve his values and thrive.

But those are talking points; I think we really need to just start over from the beginning.

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" where did they get the electricity"!!!!

You clearly did not read Atlas Shrugged. Galt's motor is central to understanding most of the book and not just the part that explains where Galt's Gultch got its power. Now, this of course, is periphery to your claims, except in informing others about your familiarity with the subject matter.

Edited by Plasmatic
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There's nothing in Objectivism that an honest reader could ever interpret as that, by mistake, either.

Given that Swerve (as stated in his profile) has only read Atlas Shrugged, there is actually a lot that can be construed as suggesting all sorts of interpretations.

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Why did Rand not show Galt's early development. In The Fountainhead , she shows Roark's formative years. I wonder why she declined to add any backround to Galt.

An educated guess would be that it would not further the story and it might even hinder it since he is the mystery that is not revealed to part three. The only real depth we get in background is Dagny, likely because she is the main character from a narration stand point so it’s her journey were see the ideas play out.

Otherwise it isn’t needed. Notice that the second main character used for narration is Rearden and we get nothing really on his history outside a few essentials. Odd facts, like the fact Midas loaned him money is mentioned later as an almost toss away comment – accept Rand never made toss away comments so even it served a purpose. But he is the only character to have an in depth relationship with his family. This is because it allows the author to use his journey through interacting with his family to present ideas on relationships.

Rand only used what she needed to paint a picture of something then everything else was left “off camera”, or as she would say “omitted” since it was unessential to the story.

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Yes, bluecherry, that's right about the electricity. I forgot about the engine. It is the breadth of the technology available in the Gulch with so few hands to implement it that is rather a stretch. But, like I said, I am not hung up on the level of realism in Atlas Shrugged, it is largely a parable more than an intended representation of possible reality. That's why, I am realizing, the Utopian aspects and naivete about human nature in it are not such a problem.

As for Nicky, he always shows a tendency to throw out judgements without thinking through the context. (Evidence: two posts in a row, rather than consolidating in one, suggests he did not take the time to think carefully about either.) As for whether Objectivism believes in perfectibility, that is the whole point of this post - so, rather more of an on-topic discussion would be more useful than a one-line attack. As for taxes, it is Objectivism's dislike of most taxes that leads me to say "tax breaks" are where Objectivists are likely to lobby for "special" treatment. Understandable that Nicky would not get my point since I made it in a very abbreviated way here. I expect to do a later post on Capital Gains taxation that will spell out my thinking more clearly.

(Irrelevant sidenote: I prefer to spell out Objectivism instead of using the Oism abbreviation since the latter makes me think of Onanism.)

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Considering that Galt developed the Gulch over many years, I don't find it to be much of a utopia. Galt's Gulch is no Shangri La where there is utter perfection of existence with the finest food and comforts available. As far as anything remotely science fiction, it's not much of a portrayal of utopia. It has nice people and all, each one carefully told about how to come and many of them extremely savvy individuals. They probably wouldn't last long eventually as a secluded place, hence the work of Francisco and Ragnar in working towards an end of undoing the damage of an altruistic code of ethics. I do not find working towards big goals like that as utopianism actually. There weren't any suppositions that the Gulch was what perfection ought to be built out of. It was a place to at least live decently for a time where selectivity is possible.

As for human nature, I don't know of any portrayals within Atlas Shrugged where there is suggestion that humans ought to be perfected, or that human nature is inherently good or evil. Perhaps you'd say Galt had no flaws and never made errors. But this is impossible to know in the context of the book. He's just a person pursuing goals, and really doesn't mind going as far as necessary to reach those goals. Regarding Dagny, we see a huge part of her intellectual development. I don't know what you mean by naivete about human nature. I explained in an earlier post why there is not a belief that all people will be rational if only evil people would leave them alone. But if a world is to not collapse into total dystopia, the idea is that it can be improved through education and knowledge - if people choose that. I can't address naivete more than this until you answer FeatherFall's question on the previous page.

Regarding Objectivism "disliking" taxes, it's because it's seen as an initiation of force. Lobbying for tax breaks or special treatment is totally unjust to the extent it's advocating "oh, it's an initiation of force for me, but I don't mind if you initiate force on all those other people". Lobbying for any special treatment I would find to be a failure to act on principle - a principle of justice. You seemed to suggest that no one would be able to resist temptation and develop a bias that they are "owed" tax breaks that no one else should get. Still, I think it's overly pessimistic to say "power corrupts". I can think of bad powerful people, I can think of good powerful people. Perhaps some will rationalize, some won't. There is no promise either way.

Edited by Eiuol
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It depends what you mean by perfected. If you mean moral perfection, I think Atlas Shrugged does suggest that that is something humans can achieve and that it's not only reserved for Rand's heroes, but for any ordinary person who chooses reason as his sole guide.

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Oso, interesting to see that your reading of Atlas Shrugged matches mine. Some interviews with Ayn Rand (sorry, I don't have cites) suggest she did see people as perfectable in this sense. But, although she is the creator, Rand is not the living embodiment of Objectivist ethics. (Correct?) Spiral Architect, I think you are spot on in your response - "speed of plot" is a great image.

To go back a ways to the comment on the Killing Fields, they are hardly an inevitable result of socialism. There are no Killing Fields in socialist Norway.

And apologies again for the slip of my mind on electricity. It was a horrible example (which I stupidly and unthinkingly repeated from the uncyclopedia entry for John Galt). Spiral Architect has answered my intended point.

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Morally they can be perfect, yes, but keep in mind all that means is trying your best within your context of knowledge to live your life guided by reason, including not resorting to force or fraud to get things. If you go against this for any reason at any point, admit to it, face whatever consequences that entails, then get back up on that horse. That's it in a nut shell. Notice some things not included: nothing says you have to be brilliant or omniscient or make discoveries or inventions or have never done something irrational or be the best at anything or never take any assistance from anybody. I'd say I know of at least a handful of people off the top of my head that meet that criteria.

Edited by bluecherry
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Norway is not a socialist country. It has a market economy and a democratically elected government.

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Norway: "The economy of Norway is a developed mixed economy with heavy state-ownership in strategic areas of the economy. ... As socialism became part of the mainstream labor movement, it also became part of the mainstream political discourse."

It is true that Norway is not a communist country, but its socialist movement and features are among the most pronounced in Europe. Ayn Rand would certainly have considered socialist and, I suspect, most of the Objectivists in this forum would as well. Yes, it is a democracy, but there is a thing called "democratic socialism". At the very least, Norway's political and economic system is a "compromise" between capitalism and socialism. The original Killing Fields comment said there could be no compromise with socialism.

I would agree that all totalitarian communist regimes have there own "Killing Fields" to some extent or another: e.g., Stalin and Mao's purges were not as horrific as Pol Pot's reign of terror, but were horrific enough in their own right.

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According to http://en.wikipedia....onomy_of_Norway: "The economy of Norway is a developed mixed economy with heavy state-ownership in strategic areas of the economy. ... As socialism became part of the mainstream labor movement, it also became part of the mainstream political discourse."

It is true that Norway is not a communist country, but its socialist movement and features are among the most pronounced in Europe. Ayn Rand would certainly have considered socialist and, I suspect, most of the Objectivists in this forum would as well. Yes, it is a democracy, but there is a thing called "democratic socialism". At the very least, Norway's political and economic system is a "compromise" between capitalism and socialism. The original Killing Fields comment said there could be no compromise with socialism.

I would agree that all totalitarian communist regimes have there own "Killing Fields" to some extent or another: e.g., Stalin and Mao's purges were not as horrific as Pol Pot's reign of terror, but were horrific enough in their own right.

http://heritage.org/index/country/norway

The Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom ranks Norway the 40th freest economy in the world. The index is by no means perfect, but its lists a lot ways in which Norway is no socialistic including its efficient judicial system, low inflation, relatively light business regulations, and lack of trade barriers.

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Oso, interesting to see that your reading of Atlas Shrugged matches mine. Some interviews with Ayn Rand (sorry, I don't have cites) suggest she did see people as perfectable in this sense. But, although she is the creator, Rand is not the living embodiment of Objectivist ethics. (Correct?) Spiral Architect, I think you are spot on in your response - "speed of plot" is a great image.

To go back a ways to the comment on the Killing Fields, they are hardly an inevitable result of socialism. There are no Killing Fields in socialist Norway.

And apologies again for the slip of my mind on electricity. It was a horrible example (which I stupidly and unthinkingly repeated from the uncyclopedia entry for John Galt). Spiral Architect has answered my intended point.

You really think that was your main mistake in this thread, that you got wrong where electricity came from in Galt's Gulch? Everything you're saying about Objectivism (and about socialism, too, by the way), is dead wrong. Not even close.

Socialism is not a light form of communism. If anything, it's the other way ariound. Look it up, please.

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Socialism is not a light form of communism. If anything, it's the other way ariound. Look it up, please.

Actually, socialism is a far vaguer term than communism, so it is hard to state anything definitively. Wikipedia says this about socialism: "There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them. They differ in the type of social ownership they advocate, the degree to which they rely on markets or planning, how management is to be organised within productive institutions, and the role of the state in constructing socialism." If you prefer not to consider "social democrats" to be "truly" socialist, that is your perogative.

If you want to talk about Marx's definitions of socialism and communism, here is the Wikipedia discussion of "Socialism (Marxist)": "In Marxist theory, socialism, lower-stage communism or the socialist mode of production, refers to a specific historical phase of economic development and its corresponding set of social relations, that eventually supersede capitalism in the schema of historical materialism." You are quite right that the Marxist definition of "socialism" is much "heavier" than the popular definition, but it is still "lighter" than the Marxist definition of "communism".

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You really think that was your main mistake in this thread, that you got wrong where electricity came from in Galt's Gulch? Everything you're saying about Objectivism (and about socialism, too, by the way), is dead wrong. Not even close.

Actually, electricity was the main "mistake" I made in the thread. The rest are "points of discussion" and "areas of disagreement". (I distinguish the two because others on this board have convinced me of their viewpoint on some of the points of discussion.) If you prefer to only communicate with wholly like-minded people, then by all means go ahead and be rude and dismissive of everyone you disagree with. As for me, if you were the only other person posting in these forums, I would leave the "sandbox" for you to play in alone. But there are more than enough other participants with whom a respectful conversation is possible to keep me coming back.

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It is true that Norway is not a communist country, but its socialist movement and features are among the most pronounced in Europe. Ayn Rand would certainly have considered socialist and, I suspect, most of the Objectivists in this forum would as well. Yes, it is a democracy, but there is a thing called "democratic socialism". At the very least, Norway's political and economic system is a "compromise" between capitalism and socialism. The original Killing Fields comment said there could be no compromise with socialism

Actually, I'd bet most here would call Norway a mixed economy. To say anything more, I'd need to know about specific policies Norway as implemented that are explicitly regarding social ownership as a policy, rather than just singular instances of social ownership. Even people who advocate for government ownership of roads for the most part argue in terms of social ownership or that roads are too important for individuals to own, but that's not really a policy of social ownership.

But, although she is the creator, Rand is not the living embodiment of Objectivist ethics.

I don't quite understand this line. This is related to previous questions/posts in here of mine: What, in your estimation, would be an embodiment of Objectivist ethics? What sort of person would this be?

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Given what the OP has said since Id like to comment on my tone in #28. I've seen much worse errors by some who claimed to read Ms. Rand's fiction. I was at a friends party once where his sister gave a present of the Fountainhead and while explaining Rand's core ideas called her a socialist!

When thinking on certain philosophical points in AS (such as if striking is something that would work in life),I myself have questioned if it was realistic without the tremendous technological tools like the ray screen etc.

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Norway is an interesting example that is usually held up as the symbol of socialism working. The truth is Norway, by its own admission, maintains its State controlled lifestyle because it houses the largest supply of oil and gas outside of the Middle-East. They admit that without those resources (to sell to countries that do generate wealth) they could not maintain their own expenditures. If you look at their counterpoints in Sweden and Denmark you will see attempts by those states to encourage business since they need the wealth generation to pay the bills.

These arguments do not point to the effectiveness or efficiency mind you, only that the country works and pays it bills despite having cradle to grave wealthy transfer to state planned social services. The fact that they sit on a gold mine of resources that they simply live off of is not considered or how countries without that can generate the sustainable wealth to buy it.

More fun facts about Norway:

  1. Like many countries it punishes hard work and success through progressive taxation.
  2. It punishes savings by taxing net worth. No, that is not a typo. They tax you for how much total worth you save for the future. But reward you with the services if you do it or not. The mind churns.
  3. They punish production with the VAT tax

Picture the mind that is subjected to a state that punishes you for working hard, saving for the future, and increasingly punishes proportionally to the complexity of the job you perform, but rewards you for not doing any of that with free benefits.

It’s a testament to the failure of State Planning (Norway is a mixed economy but the major companies are owned by Government fiat) that a small country with such resources cannot build wealth, only consume it, and they need countries that have economies that are more free to pay for the resources they only know how to consume.

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The original Killing Fields comment said there could be no compromise with socialism.

I would agree that all totalitarian communist regimes have there own "Killing Fields" to some extent or another: e.g., Stalin and Mao's purges were not as horrific as Pol Pot's reign of terror, but were horrific enough in their own right.

Cambodia is naturally one polar example of collectivism run amok in its purest form. Most collectivists obviously don’t condone open murder or that militant environmental/agro way it took place. But the point here is that Cambodia is the end of the line, the poison fully exposed that should be only seen in a horror story but actually happened, and ethically speaking why anyone would want to compromise with that? You can make a case the Soviet Union was a compromise between that and Western society just like you can make the case the EU is now a compromise with that. Just because you don’t have open butchering of people right now does not change the fact you are using Government force to forcibly plan people’s lives.

People are not play things and a means to someone else’s ends.

If you look at all of the mixed economies of Europe you see similar failures by the compromise with forced state planning. Whether it is the UK where sick patients come to America to get treatment because the waiting line for Government planned health care is to long for them to wait (i.e. they will be dead before they get treatment), France with it’s ridiculous punitive tax laws and labor regulations that have kept unemployment high for years, or people shambling about in protest in the streets of Greece because the so-called “austerity” measures cut miniscule amounts of the wealth transferred to them from those who earned it. It’s not corpses but the light of human greatness is slowly going out to be replaced by rabble that occupies random locations to proudly proclaim they are a number.

Compromise isn’t always a corpse. Imagine a poor kid who could be the next Rockefeller growing up on Norway but at a young age learns he will never be able to do what he sees with the oil companies since it is all state planned and his genius would be subordinated to bearcats and panels, so he ends up working in a field where the government does not regulate. Imagine the kid in France who loves his town and becomes a great soccer player but is forced to pay the new taxes so he leaves his home so he can keep his work, imagine the kid in Germany who thinks hard work is a virtue then discovers he doesn’t need to work so hard since their unemployment insurance will cover him based on his need (for example, if he has a family) not based on his work ethic.

In all these cases at some point the light of fire that is the mind behind those eyes will dim or go out since they have no need or ability to live to their potential when they can coast and get by at the minimum. That is what I meant by my early comment when I said we are going from thoughtful adults to cunning children of all ages. It might not be the environmental paradise of Cambodia’s empty fields littered with human skulls but the dimming of the mind behind those eyes is a tragedy of the same sort – A corpse is a body without the spark of living and the compromise here is a life where that spark is dimmed or goes out, to be replaced by a body that gets by working the system someone else has forced it into.

Hmmm… A fitting analogy for Halloween - The walking dead. Alive but not willing or unable to fully live. Undead in its real form thanks to the collectivist planning.

Hell… that sounds worse than death!

Edited by Spiral Architect
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From my conversations with Anarchists and reading their works, I understand that socialism is a system by which workers own the means of production collectively. This can be through a state apparatus, or without it (depending on whether or not you are an Anarchist). The issue of Communism vs Socialism is now defined (in modern times) as the conflict between those who believe in wage labor and those who don't.

Anarcho-Syndicalists do not mind the idea of maintaining currency and paying wages to their members. They take inspiration from trade unions and medieval guilds, so their form of socialism incorporates wages.

Anarcho-Communists are more extreme in that they wish to abolish currency and wages altogether. Depending on their attitude towards technology this means either a reversion to a more primitive state of man or a reliance on computer systems for economic calculation.

No real socialist would ever claim that Norway was socialist. The only people who call Norway socialist are ignorant American Progressives who don't know anything about the world outside of The United States.

(Anarchism does not mean "Anarcho"-"Capitalism", which ironically is neither Anarchist, or Capitalist)

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No real socialist would ever claim that Norway was socialist. The only people who call Norway socialist are ignorant American Progressives who don't know anything about the world outside of The United States.

LOL. Speaking carefully, as a Progressive, I would not call Norway socialist. I would say there are many socialists in Norway, including in government, and that Norway has many socialist features. Spiral Architect's post makes clear that clear-thinking Objectivists also consider Norway to have strong socialist features ... and are highly critical of its tax and state-ownership apects. I am very pleased that those posting on this thread do not throw the "socialist" epithet around lightly. I was particularly impressed by the link to the Heritage Foundation's work: there was nothing knee-jerk about that. In any cases, Norway is clearly more socialist than Obama, but I have heard many Republicans as well as Objectivists elsewhere in this forum use that epithet for him.

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