The Left tries to create a false dilemma that opposes progressivism to Rand-ism — or what they imagine to be Rand-ism, a blend of authentically Randian moralizing about moochers and takers with a kind of Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism, an atomistic society that denies community and despises the philanthropic impulse. Actual conservatives are more likely to be found in church, where, among other things, they exercise the philanthropic impulse in community.
People just don’t take books that seriously anymore. I think The Bell Curve might have been our last genuinely controversial book. If you were not around in the 1990s, it is hard to imagine how all-encompassing that controversy was: Everybody was reading The Bell Curve, or at least opening it up and turning immediately to the naughty bits. (Or at least pretending to have read it.) You could not not have an opinion on The Bell Curve if you were the sort of person who read books. My impression from the career of Michel Houellebecq is that the French-speaking world is still up for a literary controversy. I envy that a little. I’ve always liked the story about the riot following the first performance of Rite of Spring, not because I like riots but because I want to live in a world in which people take Igor Stravinsky seriously enough to fight over him. The idea of a novelist — a mediocre one at that — occupying as much cultural real estate as Ayn Rand seems like a relic from another time. Which I suppose it is.
I happen to be in New York City while writing this, surrounded by a who’s-who of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. I don’t expect to meet any Randians. But I’ll let you know if I do.
Kevin D. Williamson, “The Parochial Progressive Obsession with Ayn Rand”, National Review, 2016-12-14.
December 26, 2016
December 25, 2016
November 27, 2015
Robert Tracinski on Uber as a form of “Objectivist LARP“:
If it sometimes seems like it’s impossible to restore the free market, as if every new wave of government regulation is irreversible, then consider that one form of regulation, which is common in the most dogmatically big-government enclaves in the country, is being pretty much completely dismantled before our eyes. And it’s the hippest thing ever.
I was reminded of this by a recent report about yet another attempt to help traditional taxis compete with “ride-sharing” services like Uber and Lyft: a new app called Arro, which allows you to both hail a traditional taxi and pay for it from your phone. So Arro takes a twentieth-century business and finally drags into the twenty-first century. This certainly might help improve the taxi experience relative to how things were done before. But it won’t fend off Uber and Lyft, because it doesn’t change the central issues, which are political rather than technological.
Uber has been hit with complaints that it’s running “an Objectivist LARP,” a live-action role playing of a capitalist utopia from an Ayn Rand novel. That’s pretty much what it is doing, and the results are awesome. And the benefits don’t stop with more drivers and lower rates. Uber is ploughing a fair portion of its profits into another wave of technological innovation—self-driving cars—that promises to offer even greater improvements in the future.
All of this should counter some of the despair about how to promote free markets, especially among urban elites who have been programmed by their college educations to embrace the rhetoric of the Left. Give them half a chance, and they will flock to capitalist innovations run according to the laws of the market.
The problem is that they don’t want to admit it. That’s where the euphemism “ride-sharing” comes in. To cover up the capitalistic nature of the activity, they tell themselves they’re “sharing” something that they are quite obviously paying for, and paying at market rates. Imagine what could be accomplished if they were just willing to drop the euphemisms and embrace the free market.
May 15, 2014
ESR linked to an older blog post by Eliezer Yudkowsky which seems to explain how fanatical cults survive the impact of events that on the surface should cause them to give up their faith:
Early studiers of cults were surprised to discover than when cults receive a major shock — a prophecy fails to come true, a moral flaw of the founder is revealed — they often come back stronger than before, with increased belief and fanaticism. The Jehovah’s Witnesses placed Armageddon in 1975, based on Biblical calculations; 1975 has come and passed. The Unarian cult, still going strong today, survived the nonappearance of an intergalactic spacefleet on September 27, 1975. (The Wikipedia article on Unarianism mentions a failed prophecy in 2001, but makes no mention of the earlier failure in 1975, interestingly enough.)
Why would a group belief become stronger after encountering crushing counterevidence?
The conventional interpretation of this phenomenon is based on cognitive dissonance. When people have taken “irrevocable” actions in the service of a belief — given away all their property in anticipation of the saucers landing — they cannot possibly admit they were mistaken. The challenge to their belief presents an immense cognitive dissonance; they must find reinforcing thoughts to counter the shock, and so become more fanatical. In this interpretation, the increased group fanaticism is the result of increased individual fanaticism.
I was looking at a Java applet which demonstrates the use of evaporative cooling to form a Bose-Einstein condensate, when it occurred to me that another force entirely might operate to increase fanaticism. Evaporative cooling sets up a potential energy barrier around a collection of hot atoms. Thermal energy is essentially statistical in nature — not all atoms are moving at the exact same speed. The kinetic energy of any given atom varies as the atoms collide with each other. If you set up a potential energy barrier that’s just a little higher than the average thermal energy, the workings of chance will give an occasional atom a kinetic energy high enough to escape the trap. When an unusually fast atom escapes, it takes with an unusually large amount of kinetic energy, and the average energy decreases. The group becomes substantially cooler than the potential energy barrier around it. Playing with the Java applet may make this clearer.
In Festinger’s classic “When Prophecy Fails”, one of the cult members walked out the door immediately after the flying saucer failed to land. Who gets fed up and leaves first? An average cult member? Or a relatively more skeptical member, who previously might have been acting as a voice of moderation, a brake on the more fanatic members?
After the members with the highest kinetic energy escape, the remaining discussions will be between the extreme fanatics on one end and the slightly less extreme fanatics on the other end, with the group consensus somewhere in the “middle”.
When Ayn Rand’s long-running affair with Nathaniel Branden was revealed to the Objectivist membership, a substantial fraction of the Objectivist membership broke off and followed Branden into espousing an “open system” of Objectivism not bound so tightly to Ayn Rand. Who stayed with Ayn Rand even after the scandal broke? The ones who really, really believed in her — and perhaps some of the undecideds, who, after the voices of moderation left, heard arguments from only one side. This may account for how the Ayn Rand Institute is (reportedly) more fanatic after the breakup, than the original core group of Objectivists under Branden and Rand.
ESR thinks the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) groups are starting to suffer this same phenomenon.
Here’s a major sign of evaporative cooling: the American Physical Society has since appointed a committee of working scientists (one of whom is Curry herself) to reexamine and possibly reverse its public commitment to AGW alarmism. As well it should; the alarmists’ predictions have failed so massively that they no longer have a scientific case – they’re going to have to rebuild one with a set of models that at least retrodicts the actual data.
Whatever findings the APS committee issues, the very fact that it has been convened at all is a sign that (in Yudkowsky’s analogy) the higher-energy molecules have become excited by the counterevidence and are exiting the cold trap. Or, in the metaphor of an earlier day, the rats are looking for a way off the sinking ship…
This is happening at the same time that the IPCC’s AR5 (Fifth Assessment Report) asserts its highest ever level of confidence that the (nonexistent for 15+ years) global warming is human-cased. What Yudkowsky tells us is that AR5′s apparently crazed assertion is a natural result of the mounting counterevidence. The voices of sanity and moderation, such as they are in the AGW crowd, are evaporating out; increasingly, even more than in the past, their game will be run by the fanatics and the evidence-blind.
May 7, 2014
L. Neil Smith has been off working on a pair of novels, so he only recently heard about “thick” and “thin” libertarianism. He’s underwhelmed:
One item that has broken through my self-imposed “cone of silence” is the embarrassingly dumb pseudo-issue of “thick” versus “thin” libertarianism. It’s an idea almost as stupid as “right” versus “left” libertarianism.
Read and understand this: a libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being for any reason whatever; nor will a proper libertarian advocate the initiation of force, or delegate it to anyone else.
Individuals who act consistently with this principle are genuine libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim.
I call it the “Zero Aggression Principle”. Tell me: where’s the “right” and “left” to that? You’re either libertarian or you’re not. Period.
If I understand the pushers of this new conceptoid, they believe — and insist — there must be more to libertarianism than the Zero Aggression Principle, that we must incorporate into the movement and its underlying philosophy concerns that properly belong to creatures who have dirtied the word “liberal” so badly they now call themselves “progressives”.
Since I first became a conscious libertarian, 52 years ago (when you get to be my age, time flies whether you’re having fun or not), and certainly since the founding of the Libertarian Party, a decade later, there have always been individuals attempting to redefine libertarianism — usually downward—to suit their own prejudices and purposes.
I have always thought, and I believe that history backs me up in this, that it was a serious mistake to try to establish an Objectivist aesthetic. Aesthetics are purely arbitrary, a matter of whatever we’ve become accustomed to. Look at the way the idealized feminine form has changed (driven, some say, by the economics of feast and famine) from the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens to the images of Lesley “Twiggy” Lawson. Or, over a much shorter span, from Jayne Mansfield to Mia Farrow.
The purveyors of “thick” libertarianism are making a mistake as obvious and pathetically foolish as Rand’s. They want to take a 987 Porsche Boxter — the sleek, slim Zero Aggression Principle — glue cardboard shoeboxes, empty coffee cans, and dead cats on it at random, and herald it as something new and wonderful. But new and wonderful it ain’t.
It’s the same old crap.
A short term for “thick” libertarians is “liberals”.
January 26, 2013
Libertarians are often derided for being unapologetically selfish. I don’t think that’s a fair criticism of libertarian thinking. It is a fair criticism of Randianism/Objectivism. But the two aren’t the same. (I will concede that too many libertarians don’t make enough of an effort to distinguish the two.)
Libertarianism is a philosophy of governing, and only of governing. Ayn Rand’s politics were also her personal creed and ethos. Her political beliefs dictated her taste in art, friends, music, food, and men. I find all of that rather horrifying. One of the main reasons I’m a libertarian is that I loathe politics, and I want politics to play as diminished a role in my day-to-day life as possible. Letting politics dictate my friends, loves, and interests to me sounds like a pretty miserable existence.
When it comes to “the virtue of selfishness” I think the difference between Randianism and libertarianism is best explained this way: Randianism is a celebration of self-interest. Libertarianism is merely the recognition of it.
Radley Balko, “James Buchanan, RIP”, Huffington Post, 2013-01-09
April 7, 2011
The victim of Objectivist intimidation is poor little P.J. O’Rourke, who has to be very careful how he reviews Atlas Shrugged:
Atlas shrugged. And so did I.
The movie version of Ayn Rand’s novel treats its source material with such formal, reverent ceremoniousness that the uninitiated will feel they’ve wandered without a guide into the midst of the elaborate and interminable rituals of some obscure exotic tribe.
Meanwhile, members of that tribe of “Atlas Shrugged” fans will be wondering why director Paul Johansson doesn’t knock it off with the incantations, sacraments and recitations of liturgy and cut to the human sacrifice.
But that’s about as far as he dares to go, risking retribution from Randian cultists. Oh, wait . . . he does go a tiny bit further towards martyrdom after all:
But I will not pan “Atlas Shrugged.” I don’t have the guts. If you associate with Randians — and I do — saying anything critical about Ayn Rand is almost as scary as saying anything critical to Ayn Rand. What’s more, given how protective Randians are of Rand, I’m not sure she’s dead.
The woman is a force. But, let us not forget, she’s a force for good. Millions of people have read “Atlas Shruggged” and been brought around to common sense, never mind that the author and her characters don’t exhibit much of it. Ayn Rand, perhaps better than anyone in the 20th century, understood that the individual self-seeking we call an evil actually stands in noble contrast to the real evil of self-seeking collectives. (A rather Randian sentence.) It’s easy to make fun of Rand for being a simplistic philosopher, bombastic writer and — I’m just saying — crazy old bat. But the 20th century was no joke. A hundred years, from Bolsheviks to Al Qaeda, were spent proving Ayn Rand right.
February 12, 2011
More information at http://www.atlasshruggedpart1.com/.
April 1, 2010
February 5, 2010
Theodore Dalrymple, in his mundane disguise, looks at the founding deity of Objectivism:
Rand’s virtues were as follows: she was highly intelligent; she was brave and uncompromising in defense of her ideas; she had a kind of iron integrity; and, though a fierce defender of capitalism, she was by no means avid for money herself. The propagation of truth as she saw it was far more important to her than her own material ease. Her vices, of course, were the mirror-image of her virtues, but, in my opinion, the mirror was a magnifying one. Her intelligence was narrow rather than broad. Though in theory a defender of freedom of thought and action, she was dogmatic, inflexible, and intolerant, not only in opinion but in behavior, and it led her to personal cruelty. In the name of her ideas, she was prepared to be deeply unpleasant. She hardened her ideas into ideology. Her integrity led to a lack of self-criticism; she frequently wrote twenty thousand words where one would do.
Rand believed all people to be possessed of equal rights, but she found relations of equality with others insupportable. Though she could be charming, it was not something she could keep up for long. She was deeply ungrateful to those who had helped her and many of her friendships ended in acrimony. Her biographer tells us that she sometimes told jokes, but, in the absence of any supportive evidence, I treat reports of her sense of humor much as I treat reports of sightings of the Loch Ness monster: apocryphal at best.
A passionate hater of religion, Rand founded a cult around her own person, complete with rituals of excommunication; a passionate believer in rationality and logic, she was incapable of seeing the contradictions in her own work. She was a rationalist who was not entirely rational; she could not distinguish between rationalism and rationality. Of narrow aesthetic sympathies, she laid down the law in matters of artistic judgment like a panjandrum; a believer in honesty, she was adept at self-deception and special pleading. I have rarely read a biography of a writer I should have cared so little to meet.
I’ve read a fair bit of Ayn Rand’s non-fiction, but I’ve always found her fiction to be a tough slog: as Daniels says, “[h]er work properly belongs to the history of Russian, not American, literature — and nineteenth-century Russian literature at that.”
Update, 8 February: Publius always found that Frédéric Bastiat’s dictum “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended” really was correct for Objectivism:
Having met a very large number [of Objectivists], my own anecdotal assessment is that about three-quarters are high-functioning neurotics. Highly intelligent, quite disciplined, but utter social misfits with low self-confidence. They are walking, and sadly talking, liabilities to the philosophy. Now this will seem like an admission of guilt. Wacky people adhere to wacky ideas. Hardly. Some of the most wacky ideas in history were adhered to by perfectly ordinary and decent people. Take socialism as a modern example. Some very important ideas, like representative government, were early on advocated by people who were certifiable flakes. I don’t think the wall between personal philosophy and personal psychology is an iron one. There is some overlap. Jean Jacques Rousseau, for example, was the embodiment of his beliefs. An emotional mess of a man advocating an emotional mess of a philosophy.
But new and radical philosophies tend to attract marginal people, those somehow discontented with life as it is.
October 29, 2009
Andrew Corsello tries to exorcise the ghost of Ayn Rand:
A weirdly specific thing happens with the books of Ayn Rand. It’s not just the what of the books, but when a reader discovers them — almost always during the first or second year of college. Rand grabs a reader at a time of maximum vulnerability and malleability, when he’s getting his first accurate sense of how he measures up in the world in terms of intellect and talent. The longing to regard oneself as misunderstood and underrated can be powerful; the temptation to project oneself as such, irresistible. But how? How to stand above and apart?
Enter Howard Roark, the heroic and misunderstood architect, square of jaw and Asperger-ish of mien, who at the end of The Fountainhead blows up his own masterpiece after a bunch of sniveling “parasites” and “second-handers” tinker with the blueprints.
Then enter Atlas Shrugged‘s John Galt, the heroic and misunderstood engineer, square of jaw and Asperger-ish of mien, who, after persuading “men of talent” to retreat to his Colorado aerie while the country goes to seed (in order to show the “mediocrities” left behind what life is like without their betters), delivers a 35,000-word speech decrying bureaucrats and regulators.
SIXTY PAGES, BITCHES!
Finally, enter Objectivism, the name Rand gave to her moral defense of “reason,” individualism, and unfettered capitalism.
And hats off to Nick Gillespie for the best quote in the article:
“In terms of literary influence, only Kerouac compares,” says Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv (offshoots of Reason, the libertarian magazine founded in 1968 by a Randian). Pointing out that Atlas Shrugged and On the Road were both published in 1957, he adds, “Kerouac has had a more diffuse influence on American culture. He created a broad-based conception of what was cool and hip. Rand hasn’t brushed the culture as widely. She touches individuals — immensely and deeply. It’s useful to think about her impact in terms of Catcher in the Rye, another novel of individuation. Everyone agrees it’s beautifully written, but it’s losing its grasp on the public imagination. Same with Catch-22. Yossarian was a perfect antihero for the ’60s generation, but does anybody give a shit about him now? Or about Portnoy? A few days ago, I was watching an old clip of Andrew Dice Clay’s stand-up act from 1987. He made a joke about jerking off into a liver, and no one in the audience knew what he was talking about. Think about that. You can still make Howard Roark jokes that play, but it’s been at least twenty years since you could do that with Portnoy. Portnoy’s dead. Philip Roth is a great writer, but his signature character has had far less purchase on the collective imagination than Galt or Roark. No matter what you think of Rand, there’s no denying that the woman just swings a really big dick.”