Wrong Again

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

As a fan of Ayn Rand's fiction and an advocate of her philosophy of Objectivism, I have seen the following charges made ad nauseam by her admitted opponents and false friends alike. [Note: In the below, Cathy Young's words are in plain type, my responses are in italics.]

1. Her vision, articulated in several novels and later in nonfiction essays as the philosophy of Objectivism, earned her a sometimes cult-like following in her lifetime and beyond it.

Nearly every major modern thinker attracts the professed allegiance of people who are not looking for intellectual guidance, but rather want to be told what to do.

The question to which any thinker can and ought to be subject is, "Do his ideas encourage or necessitate such slavish, dependence?" Objectivism does not. Cathy Young's charge that Objectivism "earned" for Ayn Rand such a following is thus, to the degree that this even happened, false. Such behavior, when it does happen, is despite the content and meaning of Rand's ideas.

Young's hedging this falsehood by saying "cult-like" is a both a confession that she lacks facts to back her position up and a harbinger of things to come in the rest of her article.

Finally, "in her lifetime and beyond it" is a feeble attempt to preempt anyone challenging her word, and a variety of an argument that Rand once identified: The Argument from Intimidation. To wit: My standing up for Rand does not,
ipso facto, make me a "cultist."

2. One of those flaws [in her moral case for capitalism] is Rand's unwillingness to consider the possibility that the values of the free market can coexist with other, non-individualistic and non-market-based virtues--those of family and community, for example.

Would Cathy Young, one wonders, regard it as one of modern medicine's "flaws," that it does not hold that the principles of achieving and maintaining good health can "coexist" with whim-driven behavior or mystic ritualism? As for the notion that "family and community" require self-sacrifice, that's also untrue, and probably accounts for Young's expressed belief that Rand despises family life.

It is noteworthy that Ayn Rand once identified this type of error on Young's part. She called it the "
package deal." Family and community need not imply self-immolation. See below on the former and recall Galt's Gulch on the latter.

3. Family fares even worse in Rand's universe. In her 1964 Playboy interview Rand flatly declared that it was "immoral" to place family ties and friendship above productive work; in her fiction, family life is depicted as a stifling swamp.

Cathy Young obviously missed or chose to ignore the passage in Atlas Shrugged about motherhood, not to mention the numerous comments about education Rand makes throughout the body of her non-fiction.

What part of "They [her sons --ed] represent my particular career, Miss Taggart," does Cathy Young not understand?

Here, we don't need Ayn Rand's help to identify an error. This is just wrong.


4. Rand's detractors have often branded her a fascist. The label is unfair, but her work does have shades of a totalitarian or dictatorial mentality. ...

...

Rand does not advocate these people's murder (though she is sympathetic to a trainmaster who chooses not to avert the disaster, partly in revenge against the regulators). Yet she clearly suggests that they had it coming. Both in Atlas Shrugged and in Rand's nonfiction essays, political and ideological debates are treated as wars with no innocent bystanders.

If Ayn Rand said nothing else, she made the case that ideas matter. In particular, they have consequences when put into practice. If you advocate socialism, get a leader like Hugo Chavez, and find yourself mysteriously sitting in the dark due to blackouts (or beaten to a pulp), you got exactly what you asked for, whether or not you knew or admitted to yourself what the consequences of central planning would be.

Cathy Young would have us believe that warning us that bad ideas have bad consequence is of the same moral category as cheering on fascism. I don't know what to say to that, but to ask: Why?


5. [Rand's]
extremism limits her value as a messenger, and our current intellectual climate makes it likely that many of her new admirers will adopt not her best traits but her worst: intolerance, paranoia, and dehumanization of the enemy.

As for her charge of "extremism," I'll allow Rand to speak for herself this time: "If an uncompromising stand is to be smeared as 'extremism,' then that smear is directed at any devotion to values, any loyalty to principles, any profound conviction, any consistency, any steadfastness, any passion, any dedication to an unbreached, inviolate truth -- any man of integrity." (From "'Extremism' or The Art of Smearing", Chapter 17 of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal)
Young ends where she began: Blaming Ayn Rand for the problems inherent in "our current intellectual climate." Among these problems are massive confusion about fundamental philosophical principles and the commonness of people lacking in integrity. Blaming Ayn Rand for these problems will help solve them about as much as ignoring her or, worse, putting words in her mouth and laying unearned blame at her feet. And attacking her and those who wish to carry on her fight for their integrity is unconscionable.

-- CAV

13 comments:

Cogito said...

Good response to the cult accusation, but I think the real cause behind such claims is the pervasiveness of religion: many people cannot understand the fact that there is a difference between living with the guidance of a philosophy and living for the sake of a philosophy, and since the primary example of the latter is religion, most people view anyone who practices and advocates a consistent set of ideals as religious. Of course, since there aren't enough Objectivists, Objectivism is classified as a cult instead of a religion, but the essence remains the same.

Andrew Dalton said...

Sometimes I think that leftists, conservatives, and libertarians are in a secret competition to see who can say the most transparently false, head-poundingly stupid things about Ayn Rand.

Myrhaf said...

I gave this post some Twitter love:
http://twitter.com/WilliamGreeley

Mike N said...

A good fisking. Ms. Young is obviously not a credible intellectual. She has accepted uncritically the social norms handed down and/or taught to her.

The attacks on Rand have been getting more frequent and vociferous lately and I take that as a good sign.

Bill said...

Good job Gus! I remember Cathy Young, with loathing and irritation, from when she first starting writing for Reason. She was one of the reasons I did not renew. I hate her style, which I characterize as a drive-by style, hinting at arguments, starting to make a point, but backing off.

For example, consider this offering to the God of WTF,
"Rand's detractors have often branded her a fascist. The label is unfair, but her work does have shades of a totalitarian or dictatorial mentality. To refute this charge, Rand's defenders point to her explicit statements that force is acceptable only in self-defense. Yet her fiction sometimes seems to contradict this principle."
May I explicate by paraphrasing. "Some have said that Cathy Young is a lying whoring bitch, clearly sleeping with someone at Reason. That is unfair, but her writing does suggest that to some, certainly not me though. I would personally not think that of any woman, certainly not one for whom it was maybe, possibly true. To refute this charge, I would point out that many men have said that she wears underwear. Yet, her whoring would call this into question."

Gus Van Horn said...

Cogito,

That's a good point, although whether the pervasiveness of religion as the MAIN reason may be debatable.

Andrew,

Indeed.

In fact, it's almost like they all have this as an initiation ritual to their respective cults!

Myrhaf,

Thank you, sir!

And that goes for Trey, as well.

Mike,

Right on both counts.

Let them babble about her. If it causes curiosity, she'll set things right.

Basically, that's how I learned about Ayn Rand.

GUs

Gus Van Horn said...

Bill,

Nice paraphrase there, although perhaps heavy on the artistic license, and I'm not saying that sleeping around doesn't occur at Reason.

As for myself, I never have, and never will, subscribe to that rag.

Gus

Mo said...

lots of trash in this lady's writings. Apparently we are just mindless drones and zealots who judge other people through paranoia and delusional thoughts. Bullshit to that I say. We are men of pride and principles and reason guides us.

Gus Van Horn said...

"Apparently, we are just mindless drones and zealots who judge other people through paranoia and delusional thoughts"

Look again at that bit about having sympathy for someone who appears to have caused a train wreck and ask yourself whether this person might be exhibiting psychological projection on that score.

Steve D said...

A good response although Cathy Young’s thought process and writing is really bad and it is hard to see how it can fool anyone.

“The attacks on Rand have been getting more frequent and vociferous lately and I take that as a good sign.”

An excellent sign I would say. People like Cathy Young are helping us without realizing it. If I had never read Rand one of these essays would certainly spur me to read her. So as far as the attacks are concerned I say bring it on!

Ayn Rand was a very radical thinker with a very distinctive style who was way outside of most people’s experience and this might partly explain why her followers are sometimes viewed as cult-like. If you do not understand the ideas then from a superficial perspective it may look like a cult. You have a group of people who do agree with other, except in this case it is through rational persuasion rather than irrationality.

Also, some people do accept her ideas without properly thinking them through and thus act in a cult-like manner. It is rather easy when someone is right so often to fall into the trap of assuming she is right all the time without giving the matter the thought it disserves.

In this respect Rand’s experience reminds me of how Aristotle’s ideas were treated in the Middle Ages. All of his science was accepted on his authority even though in his works he explicitly said that people should not accept statements based on authority. The fact that he was right about so many things led people to believe that he must be right about everything. No need to expend the effort to think then, just read the master. And the cult-like following for Aristotle was an actual cult name Christianity!

Gus Van Horn said...

Steve,

That's an excellent point and I wish I'd thought of it myself.

I recall being introduced to The Philosopher in Catholic university and not liking him at first since everything was presented in that manner, at least in the reading I was assigned.

Gus

Jim May said...

The question to which any thinker can and ought to be subject is, "Do his ideas encourage or necessitate such slavish, dependence?" Objectivism does not. Cathy Young's charge that Objectivism "earned" for Ayn Rand such a following is thus, to the degree that this even happened, false. Such behavior, when it does happen, is despite the content and meaning of Rand's ideas.

Accordingly, if Objectivism does not encourage such slavish dependence, one should expect to see a pattern of "self-cleaning" in the movement, as consistent adherents of the philosophy tell the pretenders, shysters and hypocrites to take a hike and stop identifying themselves as adherents.

Of course, when Objectivists do this, suddenly it's "enforcing orthodoxy" or somesuch nonsense. If we didn't do this, we'd be tagged with the losers (and false flag operators) as examples of the movement. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Gus Van Horn said...

Damned straight!