|The problem with Objectivism.|
|Written by L. M. Lloyd|
|Friday, 04 September 2009 08:52|
There has not been a single voice which has shaped the modern concept of Capitalism, more than Ayn Rand's. In fact, modern American Capitalism is so rooted in Rand's Objectivist philosophy, that few people realize how indivisible they are. For anyone not familliar with Objectivism, I suggest you read up on it a bit at either the Ayn Rand Institute, or on Wikipedia. At it's core though Objectivism is the belief that there is an indisputable objective reality, which can only be known through pure reason, and that objective reality dictates that there is no moral imperative other than individual self-interest, no higher calling that the pursuit of one's own happiness, no sin other than sacrificing for the sake of another, and no way to achieve one's own happiness but through laissez-faire capitalism. It is a belief that says the only legitimate role of government, is to protect the Haves, from having their possessions forcibly taken from them by the Have-Nots. It is a belief that says that faith, in anything but Objectivist ideals, has no place in a modern society. It is a belief that denounces concepts of equality, emotion, compassion and empathy as irrational anachronisms of a bygone era, which have no place in modern discussion. It is a belief that has no place for humor or humility, as Ayn Rand herself said that to laugh at yourself is to condemn yourself. It is also a belief held by most prominent capitalists and financial industry insiders, such as Alen Greenspan and his cronies, who were so close to Ayn Rand that they proofread her manuscripts for her.
"Every man is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.” Ayn Rand
Now, I have spent a couple of decades pointing out the philosophical and logical flaws with Objectivism, and will probably continue for decades more, but for the purpose of this essay, I will try to contain myself to the political realities relevant to the current discussion on health care. I should say that many people, when they become aware of Objectivism, recoil for moral and ethical reasons. There is plenty to recoil from on those grounds, as Objectivism is about as morally advanced as Satanism (which in fact comes to the same conclusions as Objectivism), but that is not what bothers me. What bothers me, is that Objectivism, like most products of late 20th century America, is shockingly naive, myopic and profoundly ignorant of the real history of mankind.Â At issue is the fact that Objectivism comes from the all too common belief that if religion is not true, then everything religion teaches must be superstitious nonsense. Objectivism is not the only modern philosophy to go down this path, since it also figures heavily in Postmodernism, and most Subjectivist beliefs as well. However, that is fundamentally misunderstanding the role mythology serves, and makes the classic error of confusing the medium with the message.
Mythology, is nothing more than a teaching tool. Parables are a way to pass lessons from one generation to another, and mythology is nothing more than parable. Sure, convincing the unenlightened that they have to unquestioningly believe your mythology is a great way to amass power and influence, but it is also a great way to make sure they remember the lessons. Seeing past the dogma of the religion, and realizing there is no big judge in the sky grading you on your every action is all well and good, but realizing the dogma is dogma, does not remove the lesson from the parable. Objectivism mistakenly says that since there is no God, then there is no reason to listen to the lessons put forth in the name of this nonexistent god, and thus, there is no morality outside of personal self interest, as defined by Objectivism. What this misses, is the possibility that those parables might still hold meaning, outside of the context of the religion. To be more specific, all those various dead and dying mythologies hold the collective wisdom of the several millennia leading up to the point where Objectivism could be created. Objectivism seeks to wipe the slate clean, and create new modern and 'rational' morals, but ignores the underpinnings that made this modernity possible.
Compassion, empathy, humility, charity, Objectivism views all these as useless, or even destructive, superstitions, held by people who were fooled into sublimating their own personal interest, through the threat of retribution from a big ghost in the sky. I contend that what it fails to realize, is that the big ghost in the sky was just the way to get people to listen to lessons that were required for society to function properly, and the fact that society has advanced enough to not need the big ghost, does not mean that society has advanced to a point where it doesn't still need the lessons. This can be demonstrated by the single biggest logical fallacy of supposedly rational Objectivist belief. The patron saint of Objectivism, Ayn Rand herself, held that there was no moral imperative but one's own self-interest, and there were no laws but the natural laws as perfectly expressed by capitalism, except that no one should take from another by physical force. So, according to the beliefs of Objectivism, you can take away a man's livelihood, and if his family starves to death, then that is on his head, because he was not strong-willed enough, or competent enough, or smart enough to stop you from taking away his livelihood, however if a man walks up and starts punching you in the face until you give him all your money, Objectivism would have you believe that is an unforgivable crime. This belief in a cut-throat Darwinian survival of the fittest in the boardroom, but not on the street, highlights the complete failure of Objectivism. If there is supposedly no moral outside of self-interest, and if you should never sacrifice for the good of another, then why is it not your fault for failing to be strong enough to stop the man from punching you in the face?Â Why would an exercise of physical might be out of bounds, when exercises of financial or intellectual might are revered? The answer is quite simple, because Objectivism is a belief system crafted in the cozy, pampering bosom of a civilized world, and as such takes civilization for granted, unlike the mythology of the old religions that gave birth to civilization.
What Objectivism seeks to do, is condone, and even encourage, the return of it's believers to a state of uncivilized behavior, while trying to enjoy the protections of a civilized world. It is a fundamental belief in the concept that only the strong deserve to survive, though not literally the strongest, but rather the most monied. They are massive proponents of a safe, contained, sanitized sort of 'natural law' in the form of capitalism, which allows them to ruin thousands, or even millions, of lives without ever having to actually consider or worry about the lives they've ruined, but they are vehemently opposed to actual natural law, where if you want to take food out of a man's mouth, you first have to fight him for it. Implicit in its very tenets, is the realization that at the core of their faith is a contradiction, because surely their ruthless, self-serving, and brazen actions would eventually incur the wrath of someone capable of doing them physical harm, and that would ruin the whole game. This is where in their search for a post-religious rational belief structure, they became completely irrational. See, the golden rule, do unto others, compassion, charity, altruism, whatever you want to call it, isn't some warm and fluffy delusion born of weak wills and an irrational faith in a supernatural entity ruling over the world. It is the product of very wise people realizing that if we were ever going to move past the point where the guy with the biggest stick could just walk in and take whatever he wanted, then there would need to be a minimum level of societal empathy. Humility, by the same token, has nothing to do with offending God, it is the product of wise oracles understanding that some people, like Objectivists, are not smart enough to realize that if you stroll past a starving man, bragging about your unimaginable wealth, he just might find killing you for your money too great a temptation to resist. In fact, most of the 'antiquated morals' the Objectivists feel they have risen above, are the glue holding civilization together. All of civilization is nothing more than a social compact, held together with the understanding that everyone will work together to improve life as a whole, as defined by the very morals spurned by Objectivism. Objectivism seeks to retain the benefits of civilization, while breaking the social compact on which civilization is built.
When it comes down to it, all that money, and property, and all your skills and education don't mean a thing if some bigger, stronger, more physically capable predator decides to bash your head in and take what he wants. The only thing stopping someone from doing that right now, is those old 'irrational' superstitions you thought you were too smart to believe. You might think it is the police, or the government, protecting you, but you would be wrong. When you cut the pay of your entire workforce, or layoff 10,000 people, there aren't enough police in the world to protect you if all those people decided to just take what they feel you owe them. For that matter, even if you could hire enough police, then the only thing keeping them from turning their guns on you and demanding everything you have, would be the very same morals you say are anachronistic relics of the past. You might think that your money and power protect you, but you would once again be wrong. The history of humanity is floating on a sea of the blood of aristocracy who thought they were too powerful to be eviscerated by the helpless peasants. This is why I say Objectivism is hopelessly naive and myopic. The reality is that the very morals the Objectivist renounces and excoriates, are the only thing allowing him to enjoy his Objectivist fantasy. This delusion that you can throw away any concern for the plight of your fellow man is not self-interest, it is simple shortsightedness. A wise man would realize that each and every one of us has a very selfish reason to worry about our fellow man, because none of us want to live in a world where the only moral is self-interest. That is where we started, and it has taken millennia to build a society safe enough that people like Objectivists can forget the repercussions of a world where all anyone thinks about is there own short-term self-interest.
Of course by now I'm sure you are asking what the hell any of this has to do with health care? The reality is that a great many people in this country have been sold on Objectivist ideals, whether they realize it or not. You can hear it in every debate on health care, and it always takes the same form. Whether or not the person forwarding the idea realizes the Objectivist underpinnings, the question is always "why should I have to sacrifice, just because someone else isn't capable of getting their own insurance." Now the romantic in me wants to say something like "umm... because you might want to try having a speck of humanity," but the realist in me will put it in more concrete and objective terms. You should sacrifice because you don't want to find out that your broken arm is going to cost you $15,000, when you thought you were one of the lucky ones who had good coverage. You should sacrifice, because you don't want to get treated by a doctor who was just told his cancer treatment wouldn't be paid for, because it was a preexisting condition. You should sacrifice, because when your kid goes off to college, and his part-time job doesn't cover him, you don't want his friend to pull out an abscessed tooth with some pliers, because he can't afford to go to the dentist. You should sacrifice, because you don't want to be in the hospital when the guy walks in with the automatic weapon, because his daughter died when they refused her treatment for lack of insurance. You should sacrifice, because that sacrifice upholds your end of the social compact that constitutes civilization, and thus lowers the chance that you will wake up one day, to someone standing in your bedroom with a gun, having decided that civilization turned it's back on him, so he will turn his back on civilization. You should sacrifice, because you want to live in a nation that functions like a civilized society, not like a prison yard. It is as simple as that. I know it is a lot less empowering than the whimsical belief that you don't owe anyone anything, and should never worry about anyone but yourself, but the reality is that we all owe a great deal to the society which keeps us from having to spend every day looking over our shoulder, to see if someone is coming up behind us to take whatever they want. That is where we started, and a little basic human compassion is a small price to pay not to go back.
|Last Updated ( Friday, 26 March 2010 10:42 )|
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