"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."
THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.
Monday, May 21, 2012
MY OBJECTION TO "OBJECTIVISM"
Don’t get me wrong; I am a fan of Ayn Rand.
Though a mediocre and exceedingly long-winded novelist, Russian born Rand (1905-1982) made a name for herself primarily via her books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. These works reflected and put before the public her personal philosophy, a system which eventually became known as Objectivism. When famously asked by a reporter to define her philosophy while standing on one foot, Rand replied; “Metaphysics = Objective Reality; Epistemology = Reason; Ethics = Self-interest; Politics = Capitalism.” Or to put it another way, reality exists independently of human thought or existence, reason is the only way to understand reality, the purpose of human existence is to find happiness and self-fulfilment, and a hands-off free market society facilitates the rest. For Rand, the most important thing was to think for oneself and never let those in authority—government, religious, or otherwise—dictate truth. Her “rational self-interest” included within it full respect for the individual rights of others, and encouraged people to take their ideals and through the manipulation of reality imbue them with physical form—art in the highest sense. Rand’s is an attractive, reasonable philosophy that would do away with a great deal of the idiocy we live with today. It is hard NOT to agree with her.
But the problem with Rand is that she died before the Gospel According to Bjork;
If you ever get close to a human, and human behavior, be ready to get confused. There’s definitely no logic to human behavior…
That Rand spectacularly misjudged the human animal is clear from her own personal life. For her, human beings could be taught to rationally judge their actions and act in their best interests. What she failed to consider is that a substantial portion of human behavior, quite possibly even the bulk of it, is instinctual, and that our actions tend to be dictated by subconscious impulses rather than rational and considered responses. I would submit before the court exhibit A, Rand’s own infamous affair with Nathaniel Branden.
Twenty-five years her junior, Branden was a follower of Rand’s and one of the arch-advocates of Objectivism. The two became close, and then romantically involved, despite the fact that both were already married and the considerable age gap between them. Both managed to convince their spouses, however, that their affair was supremely logical. It was only reasonable that two intellectuals of their calibre be drawn to one another. Thus the relationship went forward with spousal consent, and Branden rose to become Rand’s second-in-command and “intellectual heir.”
Nothing wrong with this; everyone seems happy. But wait…here comes the punch line.
Eventually similar “logic” convinced Branden it was time for him to take up with an attractive younger model, in addition to his wife and Rand. Furious, Rand made a public spectacle of disowning Branden and villifying him, the Ur-Objectivist proving the old cliché about hell, fury, and scorned women holds true for even the supremely rational. Her pain and rage devastated the organization they had built together, causing a rift amongst Objectivists. To my mind, there is no clearer indication that Objectivism is deeply flawed when its two highest advocates were incapable of acting in their own rational self-interests.
Message, Spock? “Humans, Ayn, ain’t Vulcans.”
No system of philosophy can succeed so long as it fails to take into account our animal natures. Behaviors demonized by religions and ignored by Objectivism have in fact contributed to the survival of our species, otherwise, either they would no longer exist orwe wouldn’t. Even the most basic understanding of natural selection bears this out. We may tell ourselves that our territoriality, violent impulses, and over-powering sexual urges are—like the appendix—useless vestiges of a primal past, but very little in human history or current events bears this out. As uncomfortable as “civilized” people are with the fact, there is very little in modern human behavior that is functionally any different from other pack-mammals. Like chimpanzees or wolves we have hierarchically organized packs, we remain fiercely territorial, will kill to defend our territory, and once our bellies are full spend considerable amounts of time thinking about breeding. If modern Americans, ancient Romans, and a band of gorillas all have much the same behaviors, perhaps it is time to acknowledge they are vital aspects of our being.
Rand also makes the mistake of assuming everybody wants to be “John Galt.” The truth is, there are many types of people, some of whom are fiercely independent, some who want to lead, and some to whom the idea of standing out fills them with mortal terror. Again, we see the same in other species, and it may be something in our DNA. I’ve heard the arguments that if we teach people to think for themselves, they all would, but such egalitarianism excludes the possibility that many people like to be told what to do. And while I would agree that our current education system is designed to create workers rather than free thinkers, isn’t it odd that some free thinkers still emerge from the system? Perhaps free-thinking is something inherent in their natures, something that cannot be beaten out of them even through the banality of modern education.
It would be nice to think that everyone could learn personal responsibility and act rationally. But there are a great many people who will have sex without that condom knowing the dangers, people who smoke knowing it might kill them, people who reach for the sixth or seventh drink before they have to drive home. Surely they have been educated to the dangers, but the fact is the urge to feel good often triumphs over reason. It may well be that before we can improve the human condition, we need to figure out some way to safely satisfy and indulge our animal behaviors. Ignoring them hasn’t seemed to have worked so well, not for Rand or anyone else.