The Looters Win Again

As we all know, Ayn Rand is the greatest genius in the history of the human race, and her book Atlas Shrugged is her highest achievement and therefore the highest achievement of our entire species. Thanks to her, we’ve learned that sheer determination can surmount any obstacle, up to and including the laws of thermodynamics, to create value and earn its bearer a profit. All of which makes it inexplicable that her magnum opus is bombing at the box office:

Twelve days after opening “Atlas Shrugged: Part 1,” the producer of the Ayn Rand adaptation said Tuesday that he is reconsidering his plans to make Parts 2 and 3 because of scathing reviews and flagging box office returns for the film…

“Atlas Shrugged” was the top-grossing limited release in its opening weekend, generating $1.7 million on 299 screens and earning a respectable $5,640 per screen. But the box office dropped off 47% in the film’s second week in release even as “Atlas Shrugged” expanded to 425 screens.

John Aglialoro, CEO of the exercise equipment company Cybex, spent almost 20 years and $20 million of his own money making this movie. He advertised it heavily to conservative audiences, including showing a world premiere of the trailer at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year. But despite the dauntless labor of this heroic capitalist individual, the movie turned out to be a flop, grossing only $3 million so far and getting panned even by such free-market stalwarts as the Wall Street Journal and Reason. There’s an obligatory hilarious quote from an earlier Reason article, whose author can’t quite keep the disappointment from shining through: he writes that Taylor Schilling, the actress who plays Dagny Taggart, “sometimes seemed too much like a normal human being for a Randian romantic heroine”.

In an interview, Aglialoro was not at all bitter:

“Why should I put up all of that money if the critics are coming in like lemmings?” said Aglialoro… “I’ll make my money back and I’ll make a profit, but do I wanna go and do two? Maybe I just wanna see my grandkids and go on strike.”

Wait – he wants to see his grandchildren? What kind of moocher socialist talk is this? There’s no purpose to interacting with other human beings if it doesn’t earn you a profit. Faithful Randians know that the correct way of dealing with your offspring is to put them to work in a coal mine as soon as they turn twelve, as demonstrated by Ken Danagger, one of the capitalist titans of Atlas Shrugged.

Alas, just as in the world of Atlas, the heroic ambitions of a noble soul like Aglialoro have been laid low by the worthless, parasitic looters who make up the majority of humanity, and who doubtless refused to pay to see his movie because they despise the accomplishments of productive people. Or could it just be that Objectivists aren’t nearly as numerous as they make themselves seem through sheer clamor and volume? In either case, I’d advise him to consider retiring and moving to Galt’s Gulch, where his talents will be appreciated. I hear that despite their hologram projectors and perpetual motion machines, they could really use someone there who knows how to manufacture free weights.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Nathaniel

    Nonsense. What’s happened is that those enlightened Objectivists who wish to see the movie know that it is in their self interest to only pay for the things they have to. Given that pretty much all movies are now available in torrent form, they simply downloaded it. Some people would claim that this is mooching and parasitic. Such people are not Galtian producers, and therefore are incapable of seeing how this is all justifiable. Poor fools.

  • Andrew T.

    Daylight Atheism pieces don’t often leave me gleefully bursting into laughter when I read them, but this one did.

    (I’m looking forward to reading your review/rebuttal of the book itself, by the way.)

  • Nathaniel

    I’m not. That would require Adam to read that door stopper. I would only recommend it to my worst enemy.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    Yesterday, I watched a ReThink Review by Jonathan Kim about this movie. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XUoAHgYU3w) The review was really entertaining. I do plan on reading the book sometime in the future, just out of curiosity.
    -Ani Sharmin

  • http://www.commonsensethoughtcontrol.com Tim

    Sharmin, skip Atlas, read The Fountainhead. It’s better.

    Of course, it seems people who claim to have read it and such don’t actually understand it. The argument that “charity is bad” isn’t made. Instead, the book says that “charity is not selfless” and it’s lying, conniving, and manipulative to try and get other people to feel bad for you because you’re doing something “out of the kindness of your heart.” Basically, it says “give to charity if you want, just don’t lie about the reasons. If it makes you feel good to help others, do so, but do it because it serves your own rational self interest, not some abstract notion of egalitarianism.”

    It seems people love to beat up on it, and sure, there are many things worthy of disembowelment. The idea of defecting from society is silly, the characters are often wooden, but to make fun of a writer because she writes some science-fiction like ideas for energy generation? Come on, you can do better than that!

    As for the movie, I don’t expect it to be any good, the source material is wanting. Much better for them to have turned Faith of the Fallen into a flick than Atlas. Perhaps I’ll see it when it comes out on DVD. Perhaps.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    This was the first I heard the movie had either been made or released. And usually I’m bombarded with this shit. Not sure what that says about the movie…

    Of course, I’ve never read the book.

  • http://www.noforbiddenquestions.com NFQ

    I hope that the later movies get made, if only so I can have a hilarious movie marathon night with some friends making fun of the characters and cheesy dialog (assuming it’s anything like the book). But I admit, I’m not going to pay to see it in theaters.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    @Nathaniel: Oh, I’ve read Atlas, every last word of it (yes, including the speeches). I’m still thinking about doing a chapter-by-chapter review of it, maybe starting this summer after the ongoing Language of God series is done.

  • Nathaniel

    @Ebonmuse

    Oh you poor dear. How did you manage to slog through it? Isn’t somewhere around 1200 pages, with an selfishness endorsing rant for 80 straight pages? Euugh.

    Still, I would love you to see you repay Rand the favor by giving it a review. I get the feeling it may take a while though.

    BTW, was Rand’s consensual rape fetish present in that book, or does it only bless other works?

  • Alex Weaver

    BTW, was Rand’s consensual rape fetish present in that book, or does it only bless other works?

    I think you probably want to label that either “reluctance” or “not-unwelcome sexual aggression” because “consensual rape” is a contradiction in terms with all sorts of Unfortunate Implications. >.> [EDIT] apparently “ravishment” is a term that gets thrown around in sexual roleplaying communities[/EDIT]

    And the sad thing is, that particular fetish is probably the most interesting thing about her work.

  • Nathaniel

    I know full well that consensual rape is a contra in terms. Rand has never been known for her logic.

    And yes, her kink is “interesting,” and that “really sad that she had to resort to writing her own porn” kind of way.

  • http://infidel753.blogspot.com Infidel753

    Having actually read the thing, with its cardboard characters, clichéd situations, interminable repetitious rants, and hectoring authorial voice, I can hardly imagine what an awful movie it must have made.

    Overbearing-message movies have to be especially good in other ways to get audiences to accept being hammered with ideology; this one would be just the opposite.

    The only redeeming features of Rand’s philosophy — her atheism and her advocacy of sexual freedom — are most likely toned down to fit the modern right’s theocratic tendencies.

    And no, the book has no fantasy rape scene à la The Fountainhead, so the film won’t even attract those who are into that sort of thing.

    Atlas Shrugged the book is like the Bible — fiercely held sacred in rhetoric but far too long and turgid to actually wade through more than (at most) once. No wonder even teabaggers are staying away.

  • Paul

    Read on Pharyngula’s endless thread that the guy that made the movie got 3 mil in corporate welfare a few years back. How Randian.

  • Alex Weaver

    And yes, her kink is “interesting,” and that “really sad that she had to resort to writing her own porn” kind of way.

    Greta, do you want to bite this one or should I? >.>

    On a side note…

    Instead, the book says that “charity is not selfless” and it’s lying, conniving, and manipulative to try and get other people to feel bad for you because you’re doing something “out of the kindness of your heart.” Basically, it says “give to charity if you want, just don’t lie about the reasons. If it makes you feel good to help others, do so, but do it because it serves your own rational self interest, not some abstract notion of egalitarianism.”

    This “idea” that charity isn’t “altruistic” if you do it because it makes you feel good, reminds me of the conceit that humans can’t have “free will” if our minds are made of matter.

    There’s apparently at least one foundational assumption that’s non-obvious and not being verbalized, probably because, if stated explicitly, it’s very, very stupid. >.>

  • Nathaniel

    @Alex Weaver,

    Sorry bout that bit regarding the porn, realized it was flippant after writing it. What I didn’t express, and is the crux of the matter, is that Rand makes the all too common mistake of assuming her kinks define the true nature of male-female sexual interaction.

  • http://www.commonsensethoughtcontrol.com Tim

    This “idea” that charity isn’t “altruistic” if you do it because it makes you feel good, reminds me of the conceit that humans can’t have “free will” if our minds are made of matter.

    There’s apparently at least one foundational assumption that’s non-obvious and not being verbalized, probably because, if stated explicitly, it’s very, very stupid. >.>

    I think it’s a commentary that just because you think something is right, and it makes you feel good, doesn’t give you the right to enforce doing what makes you feel good upon other people. There’s nothing very stupid about that, and I can demonstrate it. Christians often talk about how good they feel during worship, and how it’s selflessly giving themselves up to god because it’s the right thing to do. Some go so far as to say everyone should give themselves up to god like they do, because it’s only in that selfless expression of love that you can find … whatever (peace, love, happiness, satisfaction, pick one or more). Now, we look at that claim and know it’s silly, because we see that there’s nothing selfless in the act, it’s entirely based on their good feelings for doing so, whether those feelings are rational or not. It gives them no right to say “you must worship” or “worship because it will make you feel good”. Worship and positive feelings aren’t related for us.

    Charity is no more altruistic than worship is selfless. If people didn’t think they felt god, that could be a key to deconversion (personal experience). Certainly, charity helps others, and engaging in it produces many of the same positive neurochemical reactions that worship, sex, or other things produce. There’s nothing wrong in recognizing that, and still advocating for charity. The motivating factor changes, though. Rather than “it’s the right thing to do”, one could approach the idea as “it’s the thing that will ultimately produce the greatest feeling of pleasure for you” or “helping this person stabilizes society to your mutual benefit.” Essentially, the foundational assumption is that people have a self-interest reason for choosing to engage in any action. Whether that self-interest is driven by the evolutionary reinforcement of reproductive success, such as the case of a parent going hungry so their progeny may live, or is a product of their mind’s reward system associating certain actions with good outcomes, it does not change something chosen because it meets the rational self-interest of the person, based on their internal self-interest.

    As for free will, that’s it’s own ball of yarn, and we could go back and forth some other time. My general response to someone claiming that line of thought is “if determinism is correct, does it matter that I believe in free will?”

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @Tim: Thanks for the advice about The Fountainhead. A cousin actually suggested it to me as well, which is how I heard of Ayn Rand in the first place.

    As for altruism, certainly, doing charity work feels good, but since it actually does help others (as you noted) I’m not sure if I agree with your assessment that “Charity is no more altruistic than worship”. I think the reason for promoting charity by emphasizing the benefit to others, rather than self interest (in addition to it just being the right thing to do) is because there are going to be situations when helping others might not have much of a benefit for the person doing it compared to the risk (perhaps in extreme cases like a person risking their life for a non-family member) or when the benefit to the person doing it might be equal to the benefit they’d receive by being selfish, so the fact that it benefits the recipient might tip the scales in favor of the charity work.

    @Nathaniel (comment 9):

    Oh you poor dear. How did you manage to slog through it? Isn’t somewhere around 1200 pages, with an selfishness endorsing rant for 80 straight pages? Euugh.
    Still, I would love you to see you repay Rand the favor by giving it a review.

    I’ve heard about the selfishness endorsing rant. It sounds rather dreadful.

    @Infidel753 (comment 12):

    Overbearing-message movies have to be especially good in other ways to get audiences to accept being hammered with ideology

    Agreed. There are times when I enjoy a novel despite disagreeing with the central point or ideology its characters are espousing, but it has to be a good novel. It seems like a bad novel with such an ideological point is only going to be liked by people who agree with the ideology.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    For all of Rand’s touting of heroic business owners and capitalism, I don’t think she ever ran a business or knew the first thing about running a business. It was all an abstract ideal to her, sort of like people who romanticize medieval knights as the epitome of virtue.

  • http://forums.penny-arcade.com/ Jeep-Eep

    @Sharmin: Knock yourself out.
    http://galtse.cx/

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    I’ve read it twice… and both times I skipped that 80 page speech at the end.

    The second time around the train tunnel incident really got to me. I hadn’t noticed the first time around how eager Rand was to justify the deaths of children.

  • Nathaniel

    Rand actually mentioned children? I was under the impression that the useless, parasitic things didn’t exist in her world.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    The Objectivists are a much more dangerous bunch of conspirators than the Masons or the Illuminati.

    Look what great things they’ve done at the Fed!

  • http://www.commonsensethoughtcontrol.com Tim

    Sharmin, I’m going by the dictionary definition of altruism here:
    Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.
    Zoology. Instinctive behavior that is detrimental to the individual but favors the survival or spread of that individual’s genes, as by benefiting its relatives.

    The fact is, in neither case you cited were the actions actually selfless. Merely citing the benefit to others does not remove your own interest in undertaking the action. I never stated that people do something because it benefits them, though it is a means of appeal to another’s reason I gave. Instead, I stated that “something [is] chosen because it meets the rational self-interest of the person, based on their internal self-interest.” Now, perhaps the zoological definition is the only one where you could say “subconscious or inbred responses aren’t rational self-interest.” I would concede that when talking about Rand, I don’t think she gave half a damn about evolutionary imperatives and implications on choice (she thinks we somehow get to consciously choose our internal imperatives). For me, though, I’d say internal imperatives still sit in the realm of self-interest (that is, things that interest you in undertaking), because something internal to you has caused you to act in a manner that you have weighed to be correct. In short: people do things because they want to do them, not because those things are inherently right or wrong.

    As for the “selfishness” rant… Well, it’s a bit dry, but certainly a lot of it applies to us as atheists, and it certainly contains many things Adam has written about in these pages. Ah well, not worth fighting people’s internalized opinions about a subject :)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    @Nathaniel: Although there was no rape scene in Atlas like the one I’ve heard about in The Fountainhead, there was a sex scene between Hank and Dagny in which, if I recall correctly, Rand is careful to describe his behavior as demonstrating his contempt for her. I remember it jumped out at me as being blatantly misogynist the first time I saw it.

    What I didn’t express, and is the crux of the matter, is that Rand makes the all too common mistake of assuming her kinks define the true nature of male-female sexual interaction.

    Very much so. See also her praise for smoking, which she treats as some kind of heroic expression of man’s dominion over nature, when it’s pretty obvious she just put all those scenes in the book because she was addicted to smoking.

  • heliobates

    The idea of defecting from society is silly, the characters are often wooden, but to make fun of a writer because she writes some science-fiction like ideas for energy generation? Come on, you can do better than that!

    We’ve had this go-round before, Tim. And what bbk said still applies.

    If the uber-rationalist, realist-ne-plus-ultra, who with the ability to make a story come out any way she intended, had to resort to cheap deus ex machina to make her ideal society work, then that tells you everything you need to know about her qualities as a thinker.

    I still call “bunk” on the whole thing.

    My general response to someone claiming that line of thought is “if determinism is correct, does it matter that I believe in free will?”.

    Yes, it does.

  • http://www.commonsensethoughtcontrol.com Tim

    Heliobates, we haven’t “had this go around”. Truth is, I missed the rest of the discussion that took place 3 days after my comment. The criticism is still lousy, because it presupposes that we’re at a static state of technological development. While the claim is along the lines of “ha, perpetual energy, idiot!”, is it really so hard to suppose a source of _very cheap_ energy could be made and used? A new way to extract power from the sun with much greater efficiency, a way to use piezoelectrics and a tower setup to capture vibrations of rainfall, etc. Hell, even modern nuclear reactor designs (thorium, pebble bed, etc) could arguably suit the role of cheap power, and one of those was even around at the time (pebble bed). The point is, you’re sticking to cheap potshots rather than discussing something of weight.

    I think Adam does a much better job in pointing out things like “smoking as a heroic expression” being no more than justification for her own addiction. It addresses a point she makes without resorting to the logical fallacy of poisoning the well. Namely, it shows that despite her insistence that all choices she makes are conscious, there are clear instances where her unconscious desires affected her rational judgement. You can go even farther when she felt slighted in love and caused that huge falling out, but that’s a different topic. The point is, you can certainly take down parts of her philosophy without resorting to cheap pot shots at story elements which may have close, though not perfect, analogs in the real-world.

    As for your link on determinism. No, it doesn’t actually have any impact. If the result of determinism is that I believe in free will, then the determinism doesn’t have any impact, because I have no way to do anything but believe in free will, and any thing I do was deterministically set into motion without any influence. Determinism is like the god that exists but has no measurable impact on the world. Whether I believe in it or not has no impact on my life, so I live as if I have free will and the choices I make matter.

  • Dan L.

    In short: people do things because they want to do them, not because those things are inherently right or wrong.

    Yes, obviously. The tension between altruistic behavior and self-interest has been discussed by philosophers for a few thousand years now. Making short-term sacrifices for one’s long-term self interest is pretty much equivalent to some types of altruism (altruism towards a future self that might not even exist, and probably won’t be the person you expect). There’s also recriprocity, in which you do things for other people because you’d want people to do those things for you were you in their position. Sometimes I find myself in a situation in which I’m trying to help a person even though I really don’t want to — some unconscious part of myself won’t let me turn down the request for help.

    In short, there’s many varieties of altruistic behaviors and many different motivations for those behaviors; as far as I can tell, Rand never said anything interesting about this at all.

  • Dan L.

    The criticism is still lousy, because it presupposes that we’re at a static state of technological development. While the claim is along the lines of “ha, perpetual energy, idiot!”, is it really so hard to suppose a source of _very cheap_ energy could be made and used?

    The criticism is that she used deus ex machina to resolve the major conflict in the story which completely hamstrings any philosophical or economical argument she might have been trying to make. If economic scarcity is the source of conflict in the story, then introducing a Star Trek-style replicator will ruin any larger thematic point Rand was trying to make. The solution wasn’t the ubermen moving to Galt’s gulch, the solution was a magic stuff machine. bbk’s point that a magic stuff machine obviates the need for the story in the first place is sound.

    Also, sci fi fans typically resent when “hey it’s science fiction, man!” is used as an excuse to smuggle in deus ex machina. In good science fiction, the author typically has a pretty clear idea of the technological capabilities and limitations of the civilization being depicted. Using made-up technology to smuggle in magic is not a hallmark of good science fiction (even if it happens a lot on Star Trek).

  • heliobates

    Dan L. hits it on the head, Tim.

    The point is, you’re sticking to cheap potshots rather than discussing something of weight.

    Your rebuke is closer to a “cheap potshot” in that it skates over the point I make; that Rand intended The Fountainhead as a serious treatment of her Objectivist ideas — a working out of her philosophy and its implications. She’s the author. She can control and contrive each element of the story to make it consistent with her precepts. But instead she decides to retreat into fantasy. Do you really not get this? The uber-rationalist can’t demonstrate the validity of her worldview, can’t show us how things would work without resorting to a tired cliche, that completely abandons the economics underpinning her defense of selfishness. This damns her as an artist and a thinker.

    Fuck man, I’m just trying to hold Rand to the same standard that she demanded from other artists.

    As for your other point, since you can read an article that contains these sentences:

    Fatalism has it that a particular fate is in store for me no matter what I do, that my actions don’t play a role in how events unfold. But they do, just as much or more than anything else in my vicinity.

    And still type this:

    … then the determinism doesn’t have any impact, because I have no way to do anything but believe in free will, and any thing I do was deterministically set into motion without any influence.

    … I’m starting to understand our failure to communicate.

  • heliobates

    Tim,

    In case you think I’m pulling things out of my ass, here’s Teh Rand™ herself on Art:

    It is not journalistic information or scientific education or moral guidance that man seeks from a work of art (though these may be involved as secondary consequences), but the fulfillment of a more profound need: a confirmation of his view of existence—a confirmation, not in the sense of resolving cognitive doubts, but in the sense of permitting him to contemplate his abstractions outside his own mind, in the form of existential concretes.

    That’s from The Romantic Manifesto. Yanno, written by Ayn Rand. The chapter is “Art and the Sense of Life”, p. 38, in my edition. Do you recognize The Fountainhead anywhere in there?

    Like I said, Bubba, Rand doesn’t even live up to her own uber-rationalist expectations.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    I prefer The Atlashead. It’s about an architect who refuses to compromise his vision of putting a railroad on the side of a building.

    Ebonmuse “Oh, I’ve read Atlas, every last word of it (yes, including the speeches). I’m still thinking about doing a chapter-by-chapter review of it…”
    You monster!

    “See also her praise for smoking, which she treats as some kind of heroic expression of man’s dominion over nature, when it’s pretty obvious she just put all those scenes in the book because she was addicted to smoking.”
    Lies! She objectively and rationally examined the facts. She got about two hours into that and needed a smoke.

    Gaius Sempronius Gracchus “Look what great things they’ve done at the Fed!”
    Objectivists, who are against the State interfering in the Market, working for the State to interfere in the Market do it for the irony.
    That’s my bumpersticker. I have a very wide car.*

    heliobates “If the uber-rationalist, realist-ne-plus-ultra, who with the ability to make a story come out any way she intended, had to resort to cheap deus ex machina to make her ideal society work, then that tells you everything you need to know about her qualities as a thinker.”
    Granted, my knowledge of Rand is spotty at best, but it sounds an interesting model, actually. I wonder if she realized her perfect retreat of perfect people to a perfect village with perfect defenses would end up with electricians, carpenters and plumbers on top.
    Producers with chiseled alpine features are no match for a blown fuse, squeaky staircase or clogged pipe.

    * With another wide car welded on to the side.

  • heliobates

    . I wonder if she realized her perfect retreat of perfect people to a perfect village with perfect defenses would end up with electricians, carpenters and plumbers on top.

    That’s the industrial strength stupid concentrate at the core of Atlas Shrugged. Rand had to invent Zowie Magictech! because otherwise, her village of self-made Objectivist Supermen would still need to keep a bunch of those dirty poor people around. Someone has to mine the coal!

    P.S.: I’ve been getting my ubermensch fantasy books mixed up. I realize we’re talking about Atlas Shrugged, even though I’ve been calling it The Fountainhead. Clearly determinism made me do it.

  • Tom

    Interesting variant on the childish “You didn’t fire me, cos I just quit” face-saving routine. “You didn’t put me out of business by not wanting my product, cos I just went on strike!”

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Or could it just be that Objectivists aren’t nearly as numerous as they make themselves seem through sheer clamor and volume?

    In the comments section to an article that didn’t mention Atlast Shrugged Pt 1 as being one of the top 5 or 10 money making movies in its opening weekend, one of the Randroids was convinced that it was some kind of conspiracy to downplay the popularity of the movie because he claimed that the matinee showing he attended was full.

  • http://www.commonsensethoughtcontrol.com Tim

    As for your other point, since you can read an article that contains these sentences:

    Fatalism has it that a particular fate is in store for me no matter what I do, that my actions don’t play a role in how events unfold. But they do, just as much or more than anything else in my vicinity.

    And still type this:

    … then the determinism doesn’t have any impact, because I have no way to do anything but believe in free will, and any thing I do was deterministically set into motion without any influence.

    … I’m starting to understand our failure to communicate.

    Because you’re totally missing my point and misconstruing me as a fatalist or deterministic person, rather than seeing I was making a critique about fatalism? Yeah, I can see how we’re failing to communicate. You’re so bent on saying “everything about Rand is shit” that you’ve stopped paying attention to what I’m actually saying and are just attacking some strawman of my position. I am saying that I believe and live my life as if it has free will. If somebody is so convinced that I don’t, then it doesn’t really matter to me, because even if they are right, it’s not something I could ever measure or perceive since the deterministic patterns force me not to perceive them (until such time they do?). I say the same damn thing as the article, and you still want to tell me how wrong I am. It’s simple, I’m saying that just because we may be entirely causal and a simulation with the right variables and equations would definitely output the same string of events, doesn’t change the fact I live like my choices matter, because, from my perception, they do.

    As for whether Rand treats Atlas as a serious view of how objectivism should work or not, I think you have it right in that if she does, it’s a funny thing to claim that but rely on deus ex machina. My point really isn’t to defend her writing, but more to say that she wasn’t too far off what could happen if everyone in the world were assholes, some of whom had ideas that required them to sacrifice of themselves, but when they wanted to reap the rewards, every other asshole voted that they should have to give away their R&D for free. Basically, she projected some of her own character flaws upon others (her Asperger-like demeanor that doesn’t recognize any of the internal, interpersonal mechanisms that prompt action).

    If I were to take a stab at something similar, it would probably include Galt’s gulch having an illegal pebble-bed or thorium reactor. The story would be more along the lines of “the government (moochers if I choose to write like her) never bothered pursuing these things because they couldn’t be used to make weapons, but we found they are a safe and cheap form of power, that allows us to power our robotic workers for very cheap. Now, we spend most of our time learning about stuff and screwing like bunnies. We’d totally bring this to the outside if we didn’t fear the feds locking us up.” Yeah, I’d make a poor Randian objectivist, because I’d be see something like that and become super excited and want to share it with everyone because it’s so cool, rather than being an asshole and charging a million bucks for what I can produce for 10 cents. Still, my sharing it would be doing so for my own reasons, and not because I was forced to by an eminent domain vote or similar.

  • heliobates

    I say the same damn thing as the article, and you still want to tell me how wrong I am.

    Sorry Tim. I apologize for misconstruing your stance on freewill. Even on rereading the sentence I quoted, it still looks to as if you’re implying that determinism implies fatalism, but I’ll take your word for it that you don’t.

    If I were to take a stab at something similar, it would probably include Galt’s gulch having an illegal pebble-bed or thorium reactor.

    … but this is still missing my point. It’s emphatically not that the tech is magic. The tech doesn’t matter at all. What does matter is that the magic tech exists in her story to allow her to dodge the expectation she has created to show how her Objectivist society would work. How does her society come together so that even the fetchers of water and hewers of wood are able to live in a nexus of contracts free from any economic or social coercion?

    Rand had no idea—I suspect she even knew it wouldn’t work—so she shirked the obligation. Given her stance on everything else, this is fatal to her credibility.

    Basically, she projected some of her own character flaws upon others (her Asperger-like demeanor that doesn’t recognize any of the internal, interpersonal mechanisms that prompt action.

    Yes! Exactly. The “she wasn’t too far off what could happen if everyone in the world were assholes”, counts for nothing with me because the if in that sentence shows the extent to which this self-proclaimed uber-rationalist had to go in order to invent circumstances that would justify the extremism implicit in her worldview (do you really buy her rationalizations for why everyone on that train deserved to die?) On this basis alone, I don’t understand why she should be rehabilitated.

    Sorry about the talking past you part. I’ll just leave it at this: you may be right in that everything about Rand wasn’t shit, but I’m not interested in picking through all of the shit that she did write on the promise that there might be one or two peanuts of wisdom somewhere in the whole stinking pile.

  • Enriqo

    “Wait – he wants to see his grandchildren? What kind of moocher socialist talk is this? There’s no purpose to interacting with other human beings if it doesn’t earn you a profit. Faithful Randians know that the correct way of dealing with your offspring is to put them to work in a coal mine as soon as they turn twelve, as demonstrated by Ken Danagger, one of the capitalist titans of Atlas Shrugged.”

    Thank you for demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of rational self interest. Perhaps you should understand your subject first. This was about as entertaining a read as an evolution denier’s screed.

  • Tom

    Enriqo, the only rational, self-interested reason that I can think of (without resorting to such irrational things as empathy or biological imperative) for expending the tremendous amount of resources, time and effort necessary to both have kids and raise them in a happy, healthy environment is in the hope that they’ll keep you similarly happy and healthy in your old age, or if you should meet with a crippling accident or disease, when you’re no longer able to work. Of course, in an imaginary Randian world where everybody’s perfectly intelligent, as perfect rational self-interest demands, there’s no way the kids wouldn’t realise they were just being cynically manipulated by someone who had no real feeling for them in order to be his human pension scheme and probably end up deeply resenting it, even if they were kept in conditions that should have made them comfortable and happy.

    This does not strike me as a social structure even slightly conducive to emotional or mental health; in fact, like just about every other aspect of Rand’s idea of utopia, in its ideal form it’d be a society composed entirely of psycho/sociopaths, or of robots – which makes it utterly worthless for real human beings like myself (I don’t claim to be a perfect specimen of humanity; far from it, I’m well aware I have many flaws. But I’m not a callous, anempathic, self-serving logic box either.)

    Besides, such an arrangement is an implied, unwritten social contract one is born into in presumed agreement with, with no opt-out clause other than to be left to die of exposure, and despisal of exactly such “coercion” as this is the absolute bedrock of so-called Objectivist thought. In order for Objectivist ideals to be satisfied, every child would need to be conceived fully rational, and immediately presented, before a single joule of effort were expended in feeding, clothing, housing or raising them, with a contract to sign in which they explicitly accepted or declined the arrangement, and the conditions of its repayment.

    As I mentioned, this is the only reason that springs to mind, and I’ve explained why I find it dubious. If you have any other reasons by which to demonstrate that having kids and keeping them healthy and happy can purely be a result of rational self interest, do please share them; I’d be genuinely interested to know them (not, if you’re an objectivist, that stating this should increase the odds that you will do so, since neither my intellectual satisfaction nor the basic civility of giving me a response would further your own rational self-interest a jot, but consider this: if you can persuade me of its validity, you bring me closer to supporting your position, bringing the objectivist utopia closer)

    You may realise I’ve assumed you’re an objectivist. If this is not the case, I apologise, but since your post contained only a mildly-insulting denunciation without even the slightest attempt at rational proof or justification, you provided no actual information from which to surmise your position, if any. If you’re going to accuse people of ignorance, you might at least provide pointers to the information necessary to remedy this. Simply saying “you don’t understand” furthers the discussion little (though perhaps it makes you feel better even whilst wasting the time of the rest of us – is that the result of enlightened self interest?)

  • Tom

    Some may take offence at my accidental implication that sociopaths may not qualify as real humans. I think I perhaps went rather too far with that; “fully functional human beings” would have been closer to what I was trying to say, but the edit box has timed out. It raises an interesting question, though: assuming one defines a human being as the pattern of thoughts that exists in a human brain (simple thought experiment – take a human brain, remove the entire body but keep it alive, connected to sensors – is it the same person? Is it human? Now connect an electronic replacement across every synapse in parallel, such that the original structure is still working but now every electronic cell is mirroring its biological counterpart – same person? Human? Now dissolve away the original synapses whilst their electronic counterparts keep firing, so you’ve got a purely electronic brain but have maintained continuity of consciousness throughout – same person? Human? Carry out the same procedure again, connecting wires to each electronic synapse linking them to similar mirrors purely in a software program, again keeping them synchronised, then turn off the electronic synapses. Now what?) – if you take the view that a completely non-functional brain is not a person, not a human being, ditto for an undeveloped embryonic brain, there arises the question of where to put the cut-off point. One form of mental disorder, some defect in its functioning, may not disqualify a mind from being human, but maybe twenty might, if it were possible for so many to exist in one individual (if it turned out that a brain simply couldn’t function at all with such a number of superposed disorders, resulting in death, one could argue that this is a de-facto confirmation of the hypothesis – a dead human is by definition no longer a human being, unless you want to invoke the concept of something like a soul). Or should it be a grey scale – is someone missing a mental mechanism commonly found in other humans, empathy for example, perhaps ever so slightly less human?

    These are hard, unsettling questions – if they make the reader uncomfortable, I apologise. It makes me uncomfortable just to ask them. But they’re important and answers would be useful, if perhaps not pleasant. As the most obvious examples of their importance, consider that abortion and euthanasia are amongst the most pressing debates of our day; I rather feel they will never be concluded until the more fundamental question of how you define a human being or person (or, if we’re talking grey scales, the fraction thereof) in, say, the stages of gestation or mental decay, is answered.

  • lpetrich

    Ayn Rand’s ethic reminds me of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s ethic. Nietzsche and Rand both admired heroic assertiveness, and both thought that the only people who count are those at the top, Rand’s business leaders or Nietzsche’s aristocratic artist-tyrants. The rest of humanity was either “looters” or the “bungled and botched”, and at best a means to the ends of the great heroes. As Bertrand Russell had noted, Nietzsche had thought Abraham Lincoln abject and Napoleon magnificent.

    They both were anti-egalitarian. Rand stated that movies ought to avoid deifying the “common man”, and Nietzsche stated “Everything that pampers, that softens, and that brings the ‘people’ or ‘woman’ to the front, operates in favour of universal suffrage–that is to say, the dominion of ‘inferior’ men.”

    They both considered compassion a vice. Rand had nothing but contempt for altruism, and Nietzsche stated “The object is to attain that enormous energy of greatness which can model the man of the future by means of discipline and also by means of the annihilation of millions of the bungled and botched, and which can yet avoid going to ruin at the sight of the suffering created thereby, the like of which has never been seen before.”

    They were both atheists, and they both considered submission to a deity to be demeaning and degrading, though submission to their heroes was a different story.

  • Nathaniel

    In regards to the dialogue going on about self interest above, I always found the complete and total lack of children in Rand’s stories to be telling. Irrational beings who depend utterly on others for their continued health and existence, and those who take care of them in turn only doing so out of affection and love, simply does not compute in Rand’s world.

    At best, she would sneer at the sentimental weakness of people who choose to be parents. At worst, she simply pretends them away, along with anything else that doesn’t tidily fit into her tiny world.

  • Tom

    I suspect a strong, if not entirely rigorous, case for the value of empathy and altruism can be made based simply by observing that it occurs, with significant frequency, in multiple populations worldwide, and did occur even when those populations were largely cut-off from one another, and applying basic evolutionary principles. It must, on average, have significant cost to the altruist or empath, otherwise it would be a non-issue, and it must, on average, have no obvious gain to the same person, otherwise those who attribute all motivations purely to self-interest would not denounce it, and yet in the face of this apparent net harm to the individual, it has not been eliminated by natural selection, either of genes or of memes, as one would expect of a detrimental mutation. Since nobody has yet found or applied a way to entirely halt social or biological evolution, and such evolution has not eliminated empathy and altruism, one can only conclude that it must have some net benefit to the species (which is not necessarily to say it benefits the individual directly, which could explain why a sense of pleasure is internally wired to altruistic acts within the altruist, if a direct material return on the action cannot be relied upon. Getting into deeper philosophical water, this also depends upon one considering sociopathic and non-sociopathic human beings to be the same species; if this division counts as an evolutionary fork, the implications are potentially quite nasty. Peter Watts messes around with this, and a great deal else that is considered to be the definition of “human,” in the novel Blindsight).

    On a related note, I recall reading (I’m afraid I forget where) that calculations using game theory have suggested a population of mostly individuals who could be considered socially adjusted can tolerate (and support) up to about 4% sociopaths before overall detriment becomes significant. It’s not much of a stretch to assume that actual human society has evolved to approach this point; it would certainly explain a hell of a lot. If true, it would also indicate strongly that, though sociopathic individuals and ideologies such as objectivism may always be with us, or repeatedly be reinvented every few generations, there’s little chance of them ever gaining a real foothold, and an inversely strong chance they will swiftly collapse and be sidelined again if they ever did.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    I could be wrong but my impression is that everybody in this thread, including our host, is opposed to the ethics and politics of the Randians.

    And this is true though “Ein” Rand was probably the closest thing to a New Atheist to be found, in her time.

    Her very pubic unbelief was undeniably coupled with undisguised hatred of the clergy and clerical power as well as loathing for traditional Christian ethics.

    But all that was of a piece with her rage at and contempt for the entire political left from the most moderate liberalism all the way across to the most aggressive Marxist-Leninism, seeing all of these things as she did through distorted Nietzschean glasses (John Gault was her idea of a Superman).

    And so it seems the attitude toward her of other atheists and atheist blogs has been determined, not by her opposition to religion or her unflinching secularism, but by her position in the broader political struggles of her and our times.

    For that matter, the exact same thing can be said of the attitude toward her of religious believers and blogs.

    About her, perhaps for everyone, everything takes a back seat to the position she so forthrightly staked out in the class war.

    And perhaps this phenomenon of letting one’s attitude toward strong and public exponents of atheism be determined, or at least heavily colored, by one’s attitude toward their other views is partly responsible for the coolness or even hostility of so many atheists toward the gnus.

    Not that they are by any means all of a piece, but the attitudes and writings of Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, anyway, toward Muslim terrorism, Islamism, Islam, and Israel have put them at various distances to the right of most people on our side of the class war.

    That is to say, their views of these topics place them – again, at various distances – closer in some ways to the neocons than most liberals, atheists included, want to get.

    For those who may not be familiar with these matters it can easily be summed up like this.

    These high-profile gnus are broadly sympathetic toward the use and meaning of the word, “Islamofascism” and critical of the use and the meaning of the word, “Islamophobia,” perhaps sometimes finding “dhimmitude” a more legitimate conception.

    And that is so though they have shown they well understand that the hostility toward Muslims of some on the right is something very like the right’s historic Jew-hatred, secular or religious.

    [Aside:]

    Haven’t we seen a similar hostile reaction develop toward Bill Maher among people and bloggers usually much more approving of his views, precisely in relation to his attitude toward Islam and Israel?

    [/Aside]

    I have developed the impression that perhaps the atheists who consider themselves more hostile to the gnus than not are thinking not only, not so much, or even not at all of their attitudes toward Christianity and secularism in the Occident but also or instead of their attitudes toward some or all of the items in the whole package of issues surrounding militant Islam and Israel.

    The public clashes between the gnus and their atheist critics are not ostensibly about any of that, I agree, being focused on differences of outlook concerning relations between atheists and Christians – liberal or not – at home in the West.

    But if that is all there is to this conflict the venom seems excessive, don’t you think?

    Perhaps behind the publicly admitted clash on atheist-Christian relations lurk other and perhaps more deeply felt clashes.

    And I suspect those include a significant divergence on those issues surrounding militant Islam and Israel.

  • Alex Weaver

    Basically, she projected some of her own character flaws upon others (her Asperger-like demeanor that doesn’t recognize any of the internal, interpersonal mechanisms that prompt action)

    You’ve obviously never met someone with Asperger’s (or, at least, actually listened to them for more than two seconds). Rand’s attitude as revealed in her statements and writing is consistent with malignant narcissism more than anything.

    (Perhaps I’ve been hanging around Pharyngula too long; my first impulse was “fuck you too.”)

  • Alex Weaver

    Yeah, I’d make a poor Randian objectivist, because I’d be see something like that and become super excited and want to share it with everyone because it’s so cool, rather than being an asshole and charging a million bucks for what I can produce for 10 cents. Still, my sharing it would be doing so for my own reasons, and not because I was forced to by an eminent domain vote or similar.

    This seems like a fairly masturbatory definition of “freedom.” I’d think someone calling themselves “OBJECTIVE-ist” would be a little more…results-oriented.

    Enriqo, the only rational, self-interested reason that I can think of (without resorting to such irrational things as empathy or biological imperative) for expending the tremendous amount of resources, time and effort necessary to both have kids and raise them in a happy, healthy environment is in the hope that they’ll keep you similarly happy and healthy in your old age, or if you should meet with a crippling accident or disease, when you’re no longer able to work.

    I suspect that the issue is that you have attributed an attitude to Rand that even her fans recognize as reprehensible, and therefore, since she and her philosophy are perfect, you must be, at best, misunderstanding her – obvious implications of the principles and views she articulated or no.

    These are hard, unsettling questions – if they make the reader uncomfortable, I apologise.

    Never do this.

    (Making the reader uncomfortable with hard, unsettling questions is not something one should apologize for. Harassment in demanding an answer, of course, kind of is.)

  • Alex Weaver

    They were both atheists, and they both considered submission to a deity to be demeaning and degrading, though submission to their heroes was a different story.

    Sounds to me like they enthusiastically endorsed the existence of deities, or at least the social function thereof – they just wanted to knock down the ones for whom the job of “prophet” was already taken.

  • Alex Weaver

    Haven’t we seen a similar hostile reaction develop toward Bill Maher among people and bloggers usually much more approving of his views, precisely in relation to his attitude toward Islam and Israel?

    I don’t know about his position on Israel, but his historical embrace of anti-vaccine kookery and other unscientific and destructive woo has certainly come off as a big “kick me” sign.

  • Tom

    “Never do this.

    (Making the reader uncomfortable with hard, unsettling questions is not something one should apologize for. Harassment in demanding an answer, of course, kind of is.)”

    You’re right. I shouldn’t have apologised, but sympathised.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    The argument that “charity is bad” isn’t made.

    But isn’t that simply enabling the “moochers?” If someone needs charity it is because they have not embraced the Objectivist way of life and become a rational, capitalistic superhuman yet. By giving them charity, you are enabling them to mooch and gain what they don’t deserve because they have not earned it through their reason, intellect, and skill. So, yeah, Rand is saying charity is bad.

  • http://www.commonsensethoughtcontrol.com Tim

    You’ve obviously never met someone with Asperger’s (or, at least, actually listened to them for more than two seconds).

    Quite the opposite, in my field I see it more often than I care to. It takes many forms, but most don’t recognize the power of emotional (generally evolutionary) imperatives. Perhaps this is coupled with narcissism, but the result is the same, the lack of empathetic understanding is projected to be a common trait among all people. The result of such is that she tends to express that nobody should factor how something makes them feel into their choices.

    This seems like a fairly masturbatory definition of “freedom.” I’d think someone calling themselves “OBJECTIVE-ist” would be a little more…results-oriented.

    What is freedom but the ability to be masturbatory so long as your doing so doesn’t directly harm your neighbor? As for “objective-ist” – there are certainly different ways you could approach what it means to be objectivist. It could mean what you think – preoccupied with results – or it could be something else: uninfluenced by emotion, concerned with the physical, that there are truths existing outside of independent views, etc. Rand’s views tends to stick with the “concerned with the physical”. That is, she goes on and on about how an object is an object regardless of how we perceive it, and our perception of the object is stable enough to obtain meaningful information about the object. She takes a very Kant-like approach with regards to the object in itself versus our perception of the object.

    I said I’d make a poor Randian objectivist because I tend to think of it as “there are truths existing outside of independent view”. That is, an unbiased, well-knowing (I’ll skip omniscient) observer could weigh a situation and determine if an action taken is beneficial or detrimental to each of the actors involved. Once such a determination is made, this viewer could decide whether it’s “good” or “bad” to do a particular actor, based on a system of minimized harm.

    Anyway, this is going on way too long, and I am behind in work due to spending a few hours at the blood bank giving platelets today, so I’m going to respectfully bow out of any further discussion on this topic, for now :)

  • Broggly

    >And this is true though “Ein” Rand was probably the closest thing to a New Atheist to be found, in her time.
    Bertrand Russell would be a much better candidate in my opinion

  • Rebecca Lamey

    I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s, and the suggestion that I am therefore narcissistic and lacking in empathy hurts me very deeply. (And keep in mind that you’re referring to millions of other people as well.) I have followed this blog for years because I think that humanism and atheism affirm the value of all human beings, not just myself. If there is something I don’t understand about “normal” people, it is how they interact and form relationships without being disabled by the fear and insecurity that make my life miserable and lonely. It’s a difficult thing to explain and I’m not going to try to do so with the space I have here. But I sure as hell WISH that I understood it, because I would be a lot happier if I did. The ability to be socially “normal” doesn’t make me hate and feel contempt for other people; on the contrary, it makes me envy them. (And, by the way, I am not very familiar with Ayn Rand, but, based on what I do know, her philosophy doesn’t appeal to me at all.)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s, and the suggestion that I am therefore narcissistic and lacking in empathy hurts me very deeply.

    Thank you, Rebecca (and Alex), for pointing this out. There are many things to criticize about Rand’s interpersonal philosophy, but I don’t think that it’s in any way related to the characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome. It’s clear that she simply disdained interacting with people who didn’t share her views. But as Rebecca said, for people with Asperger’s, interpersonal interaction is something that matters a great deal even if it can be a struggle. Let’s not be too glib in our comparisons – people on the autism spectrum deserve better than that.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    Broggly @ 51.

    I guess I’d like to know what specifically you have in mind that makes him a better candidate.

    But since you mention him he’s certainly a tie, anyway.

    Perhaps not as well known to American readers, though.

    Good thought.

  • Katie M

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/05/06/973829/-I-Saw-Atlas-Shrugged

    Some brave soul went to see it. In the end, they had a blast-they think it’s the best comedy of 2011 so far :)

  • Alex Weaver
    You’ve obviously never met someone with Asperger’s (or, at least, actually listened to them for more than two seconds).

    Quite the opposite, in my field I see it more often than I care to. It takes many forms, but most don’t recognize the power of emotional (generally evolutionary) imperatives. Perhaps this is coupled with narcissism, but the result is the same, the lack of empathetic understanding is projected to be a common trait among all people. The result of such is that she tends to express that nobody should factor how something makes them feel into their choices.

    Okay, I see the second possibility I raised is a winner and my initial response was entirely appropriate.

    Assuming, perhaps rashly, that you’ve dealt with people with an actual diagnosis and aren’t just throwing the label at people who’ve met who match a stereotype you have in your head, a few useful notes. People with Asperger’s tend to have difficulty picking up on others’ cues about their emotional states and may have difficulty processing or expressing their own emotions, particularly within the straitjacket of what is socially acceptable. This is not the same as not caring or as being unemotional. I can’t imagine where you got the rest of that, unless it’s an incredibly distorted rendering of the fact that people with Asperger’s tend to be less vulnerable to certain kinds of emotional manipulation (IE, they have less of a tendency to change their decisions, in game scenarios, based on whether a move is presented as a gain or as avoiding a loss). In any case, I don’t appreciate being “corrected” on what my psychological state “actually” is. That strikes me as considerably more arrogant and offensive than any behavior I’ve ever observed from anyone on the spectrum.

    By “masturbatory” I mean self-gratifying but unproductive. Like insisting that a man trapped at the bottom of a pit but subject to no rules except the laws of physics that keep him there is somehow “freer” in some meaningful sense than a man on the surface who has to abide by his part of the social contract.