Saturday, January 15, 2005

First Impression's of Ayn Rand's Objectivism

To start my blog, I'm posting a letter which I wrote to a friend of mine, who himself has a great blog.

I've been reading some Ayn Rand lately. She had some good insights into life, despite some errors and omissions in her philosophy. She believed in the primacy of Existence and the Aristotelian Law of Identity: A is A; nothing can exist and not exist at the same time in the same way. Thus she also believed in man's independent identity and reason/rationality as the correct way or perceiving and affecting reality. She rejected Platonic/Kantian philosophies that thought that consciousness affected and/or determined existence--consciousness as the subject rather than the object of reality (thus the phrase "objectivism" as her philosophy). Thus she notoriously rejects altruism--that an individual should exist through and for other people.

Unfortunately, she also rejected Christianity. She was an atheist for the reasons alot of free-thinking intelligent people are: they cannot perceive God, and don't believe in anything that cannot be perceived; it’s literally unreasonable to do so. She also rejected the quasi-Kantian nature of Christianity--believe in a Consciousness above nature, that this Consciousness effects and affects nature, and that altruism is a primary virtue.

Rand describes her Objectivism as "a philosophy for living on Earth." I think that such a statement exposes Objectivism's limitations and flaws. She contemplates the nature of existence, but does not consider the origins of that existence: questions such as "How Earth?" "Why Earth?". She doesn't believe in a God that cannot be perceived. Yet everything that can be perceived--everything that exists--must come from Something that cannot be perceived and does not exist in our world, but transcends it in a way we cannot imagine.

Nevertheless, she makes some good points. Man cannot alter reality with his consciousness or will; God created man to use his rational ability to work in the physical world by the physical laws He has set. Miracles can occur which suspend those physical laws, but they are the exception and not the rule, and effected only by God and not man. As for the nature of altruism, she has some insights that do not necessarily contradict Christianity. She rejects complete, utter and total self-sacrifice to other people. But is that what Jesus taught? Jesus said "Do to others what you would have them do to you." Amazing how Jesus can make such a statement understandable to children but confounding to philosophers! Imagine Christian A and Christian B. A approaches B and says "Jesus told me to live my life doing kind things for you. What would you like?" Is B, as a Christian, going to say "Give me everything you have and become to me a total mindless slave completely subservient to my will!" Of course not; no Christian would say that! Instead, B would say something more like "By all means, don't trouble yourself. Continue to lead an full and prosperous life. Just do what it is you do best and be the full person God intended you to be. And when you do something great and good, just let me share in the fruits of you success. When you grow good food, give me a chance to eat some. When you build a new invention, let me buy one and try it out. When you write a great book or paint a great painting, let me see it or read it." etc. Such a mode of life sound awfully close to what Rand envisioned. Compare the Golden Rule to Kant's flawed "categorical imperative": If everyone completely and utterly sacrificed themselves to everyone else, the result would not be a utopia but the extinction of humanity. [Insert a reference to "nirvana" ironically being a word for "extinction" here.]

There are some other interesting points about Rand's philosophy. It would seem that, like the Atkins diet, Rand's philosophy started to became popular only in the last years of its creator. She wrote her last work in the 70s, regretting a world dominated by communism and liberalism, and died in 1982. Around that time, Ronald Reagan became President and Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, who stand up for individualism and capitalism. “Yuppies” emerged in the 80s, who, despite whatever flaws rightly or wrongly attributed to them, committed themselves to free-will capitalism (albeit little else). Atlas finally shrugged in the Eastern Bloc and communism collapses. Rush Limbaugh "pop-conservatism" emerges. (At certain points in his radio monologues, I find that Rush restates Objectivist philosophy almost exactly. It wouldn't be inaccurate to call him a "working man's Ayn Rand".) Capitalism becomes universally accepted as good, while the welfare state becomes universally accepted as flawed, just like Rand would've like. If there is a First Circle of Hell, Ayn Rand is there, observing the world grinning in smug self-satisfaction.

During all this political-philosophical movement in the past twenty-odd years, there were also evangelical Christians. One would think that they would've leaned against Rand philosophies instead of for them. Christianity believes in three concepts that Rand soundly denounced: mysticism (a God you cannot see), collectivism (koinonia gathering and worship), and altruism (agape love). Instead, in practice, evangelical Christians are one of the most loyal, staunchest supporters of conservatism. On further thought, reasons for this trend become apparent. For one, philosophically, Christians have alot more in common with Ayn Rand than with relativist philosophers. Both believe in absolute truth and reject the subjective existence of the universe. Both believe in human virtue. Both rejected living "second-hand" whether leaching off of other people's wealth or validating oneself through popularity or tribalism. I regret that Rand came so close, but never made the logical steps necessary to accept Christianity. She admires creativity, but not the Creator who made the universe. She admired an independent individual person unfettered by other men, but not a independent sovereign God built without human hands. She admired the laws of nature, but not the logos that put those laws in place.


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