Following up from yesterday’s post – what do we answer to people who are fascinated with Ayn Rand? There are millions of them, probably billions globally if we count those who never heard of her but embody her ideas and values. Well, these values aren’t hers to begin with but she distilled them nicely for those few who need to put a label to their approach to life.
I’m afraid we don’t have an easy answer. We have easy answers to Christianity, we have easy answers to Islam, we have easy answers to non-Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Hindus, we have easy answers to ordinary people receptive of our message, we have solid arguments for the atheists, we have easy arguments for the scientists, we can talk about evolution, we can talk about astronomy, we can talk about Big Bang, but we don’t have compelling arguments against Ayn Rand.
We sure can employ any of our trusted, go to arguments about existence of the soul, reincarnation etc but they won’t be compelling. The main reason is that objectivists aren’t rational. They might declare logic and reason as the only legitimate means of understanding the world but they do not actually follow their principles. As a philosophical school objectivism has been roundly discredited, as I said yesterday, it’s just a bunch of big sounding words for those who only want to appear learned. Here’s a quote about it (source):
Objectivism has not met wide acceptance in academia. When they bother to comment on it at all, academic philosophers usually dismiss it as a rather juvenile imitation of a real philosophy.
There’s more about it on that page if you want the details.
The implication being is that we can’t “defeat” objectivism by appealing to logic and reason, that’s now how objectivism works. Their behavior does not follow from rational arguments, it’s the other way around – they invent arguments to rationalize their behavior. It’s especially true about their ethics – they are like kids who would say anything to justify their plain selfishness and egoism.
Any rational debate with these people ends at “I wants it” point. There’s no arguing against that because “wants” are hold above anything else, they are sacred, and the rest of the world must accommodate them.
For Rand, the goal of life is “self-realization”, which means fulfilling one’s desires. The stronger the desires, the bigger need to fulfill them, the more you fulfill them, the more “self-realized” you are. Incidentally, there’s a special entry for “strange definitions” on the page I linked earlier.
So, we can’t appeal to “Randroids”, as they are called there, without solving their fixation on selfishness. Btw, “Randroid” is just a specific word invented, perhaps, for that particular site only, but similar kind of irrational stubbornness could be found anywhere Rand-like ideas are popular – among Tea Party faithful, for example.
As an aside – in this week US elections Republican party soundly beat Democrats but, interestingly, on the local issues that were voted on at the same time, exactly the same people supported policies directly contradicting Republican agenda, like raising minimum wage. There might be some rational explanation as to why an average voter now looks like a die hard Republican against tax breaks for oil companies, for more business regulation, for minimum wage raise, and for smoking pot (example).
The point is, we can understand this kind of behavior but we probably can’t rationalize it, we have to deal with people’s desires, not intelligence. In Rand’s world, desires trump everything. I’m not talking about ordinary sense gratification, they are far above that, they talk about primary, base desire to control the world according to one’s will. Sense gratification is then subjugated to pursuing bigger goals, you can see it from Atlas Shrugged quote I gave yesterday (emphasis mine):
The exhaustion was gone by the time she stepped back into the office. No matter what night preceded it, she had never known a morning when she did not feel the rise of a quiet excitement that became a tightening energy in her body and a hunger for action in her mind-because this was the beginning of day and it was a day of her life.
She sat down at her desk, smiling in defiance at the distastefulness of her job. She hated the reports that she had to finish reading, but it was her job, it was her railroad, it was morning…
We can’t talk to Rand-om people without addressing this need to fulfill themselves through hard work and sacrifice. They want to control the world, they want to make their mark on it, they want to apply themselves, and nothing can stop them.
We can talk about this desire to be God, we can denounce it, but we can’t change these people’s minds, they are too far under the influence of the mode of passion (among other things), and so we need to address this basic, underlying issue first. It’s compounded by total rejection of any idea of God so “you can do it, but do it for Kṛṣṇa” argument won’t hold. They are not going to do anything for our “imaginary” God, the only language they understand is of self-interest, and they must feel it like they feel irresistible attraction of their work, they won’t do it on faith.
It becomes even harder for us if we realize that we, as devotees, aren’t much different in this regard. I remember the days when computers were becoming a thing and many new devotees saw them in the temple for the first time in their lives. At the time I was doing some accounting and there was this young assistant pūjārī who just couldn’t stay away from “my” computer. It was simply impossible to keep him separated. He loved the darned machine more than anything, and he applied himself to discovering how it works through trial and error. It wasn’t unusual for me to turn it on and find a new BIOS password on it, for example, just because that devotee discovered he could do it himself. Eventually he became a go to computer guy for the whole congregation but he is still a pūjārī, too.
There was another devotee who, after chanting for nearly twenty years, got his first second hand computer. I heard his wife complaining that he stayed up until 2 AM playing some silly games on it. This kind of attraction affects everybody, when we want something there’s no stopping us, nothing can stand in our way, and, again, it’s far above ordinary sense gratification.
The other day I heard something in Bhāgavatam class that supports this point – people usually think that sex is the biggest attraction in the world but it’s only true for those who never tasted power. I don’t know how legitimate this statement it, in my observation it is true – power is irresistible, we can easily forget sex when we get to exercise it. The bigger the power, the more we want to it.
Rand-om people know it too well, they consider exercising such God-given power as everyone’s primary duty as a human. Everyone must also seek such power, one’s value as a man is validated only when one finds it within himself – that’s what their self-realization means. Forget Rand, this is what modern society teaches all kids from the very early age, every teenager must find some special talent and develop it, or fail miserably, and not just fail at something, but fail in life in general.
So, we need to find an answer to this kind of attraction, attraction of power. It’s not easy, I got some ideas but maybe not today. I also can’t find some crucial supporting quotes so I’ll leave it here for now.