Atlas Shrugged: Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt

Atlas Shrugged, part I, chapter VII

Dagny and James Taggart are being driven to a black-tie dinner at the New York Business Council, where James has promised that Dagny will speak about Rearden Metal. James is nervous and fretful about the progress of the Rio Norte Line and an increasingly hostile political climate:

“That report of the special committee of the National Council of Metal Industries – what do you think of it?”

“You know what I think of it.”

“They said Rearden Metal is a threat to public safety. They said its chemical composition is unsound, it’s brittle, it’s decomposing molecularly, and it will crack suddenly, without warning…” [p.164]

Dagny is dismissive of these concerns, but her demeanor changes suddenly when James tells her that this isn’t a presentation, as she had assumed, but a debate – with Bertram Scudder:

“On the air. It’s going to be a radio broadcast. You’re going to debate with him the question: ‘Is Rearden Metal a lethal product of greed?’”

She leaned forward. She pulled open the glass partition of the front seat, ordering, “Stop the car!” [p.166]

Much to James’ horror, she refuses to participate and storms out of the car, yelling at him, “You goddamn fool, do you I think I consider their question debatable?”

Given Rand’s love of big, clunky speeches, you’d expect a dramatic scene where Dagny nails the evil socialist to the wall, but that isn’t what happens. Then again, maybe that’s the problem: Rand liked writing speeches in which her heroes can lecture uninterrupted – not so much debates where they had to confront an opposing viewpoint. In that respect, Rand’s heroes are much like Rand herself, who expected her followers to instantly accept her words as dogma and reacted with great anger to any hint of challenge or dissent.

Next, there’s a scene where a visitor from the State Science Institute (guess if they’re evil or not!) comes to meet Hank Rearden and asks him to pull Rearden Metal from the market, offering to buy the patent from him. Naturally, Hank refuses, brushing off the man’s veiled threats. In retaliation, the evil government scientists put out a press release meant to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about Rearden Metal, as we find out in another scene with Eddie Willers and Dagny:

“The State Science Institute,” he said quietly, when they were alone in her office, “has issued a statement warning people against the use of Rearden Metal.”

…She saw at a glance what they had done. She saw the sentences: “It may be possible that after a period of heavy usage, a sudden fissure may appear… The possibility of a molecular reaction, at present unknown, cannot be entirely discounted… Although there is no evidence to support the contention that the use of the metal should be prohibited, a further study of its properties would be of value.”

“We can’t fight it. It can’t be answered,” Eddie was saying. “We can’t demand a retraction. We can’t show them our tests or prove anything. They’ve said nothing. They haven’t said a thing that could be refuted and embarrass them professionally. It’s the job of a coward. You’d expect it from some con-man or blackmailer. But, Dagny! It’s the State Science Institute!” [p.174]

In the world of the book, we’re meant to treat this as wildly unfair. We’re supposed to just know that Rearden Metal is good because the brave capitalist heroes vouch for it, and the people who are raising concerns about its safety are a bunch of cowardly backstabbers from the State Science Institute. In Rand’s black-and-white world, businessmen are always right and anyone working for the government is always wrong, so that should be all we need to make up our minds.

Eddie acts as if it’s impossible to refute the State Science Institute’s claim that Rearden Metal could be dangerous, but isn’t this how things should work? Shouldn’t the creator of a new product have to meet some reasonable burden of proof to demonstrate its safety, as opposed to just asserting its safety and expecting the public to take their word for it? Safety regulations don’t exist because of arbitrary government heavy-handedness, but bitter experience which tells us that products put on the market without sufficient testing often prove to be dangerous in unexpected ways.

I’ve mentioned the obvious case of tobacco, but there are plenty of others. During the Industrial Revolution, asbestos was thought of as a revolutionary material for its many useful properties: a flame retardant, an excellent insulator, and versatile enough to be turned into everything from textiles to concrete. (You might say it was the Rearden Metal of its day.) Of course, it also has the minor drawback of causing malignant mesothelioma.

Or take lead, which was added to paint and gasoline with good intentions. Lead makes paint brighter, more durable and resistant to water, corrosion and color fading, while tetraethyl lead in gasoline controls engine knocking (i.e., premature ignition of fuel), reducing wear and tear and increasing efficiency. But lead is also a potent neurotoxin, especially in the developing and vulnerable brains of children, causing reduced intelligence, increased aggression and lowered impulse control. In many places, the phase-out of lead additives has correlated startlingly well with a drop in crime rates.

And then there are chlorofluorocarbons, which in one of history’s grand ironies came into widespread use because they were thought to be a miracle substance: a non-toxic, non-flammable refrigerant much safer than the alternatives of sulfur dioxide and methyl chloride. But when CFCs make it into the upper atmosphere, ultraviolet light breaks them apart into chlorine free radicals, which tear a hole in the ozone layer. (In another of those grand historical ironies, the same person – a chemist named Thomas Midgley – was the inventor of both CFCs and leaded gasoline. It reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, where Pollution has replaced Pestilence as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and wanders the world in human guise causing industrial accidents and spills everywhere he goes.)

The list could go on and on – radioactive water (yes, really), Vioxx, fenfluramine, and even heroin, which was originally sold as, believe it or not, a cough suppressant. But in the alternate history of Randworld, none of these things ever happened. When a muckraking journalist or a government scientific agency claims that a new product introduced by a rich industrialist might be a danger to the public, we should conclude that their claims are false and their motive is pure jealousy and spite toward the producers, nothing more.

Great for kids!

Incidentally, would it have made a difference if it had been a rival company, rather than an evil government bureaucrat, spreading FUD about Hank Rearden’s invention? The question is never addressed, because in the world of Atlas all private-sector businessmen are flawlessly ethical and would never resort to any kind of underhanded tactics to hurt a competitor. You can judge for yourself how true to reality this is, especially considering that the meme “fear, uncertainty and doubt” itself originated in the private sector, as a way of describing the tactics of IBM salesmen.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Other posts in this series:

Thoughts on the Chapel Hill Shooting
Weekend Coffee: February 22
Atlas Shrugged: Sixteen Tons
Book Review: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
About Adam Lee

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

  • Verbose Stoic

    From what’s quoted, what the institute did sounds a lot like them simply saying that there might be problems — but giving no reason to think so — and then calling for more study and implying that maybe it should be banned. The most obvious one is their claim that a molecular reaction “cannot be discounted”. But that sounds like a demand for absolute certainty as opposed to simple additional testing, which is likely why Eddie comments that they can’t show them all the testing they’ve done because they can still say that there might be something that they hadn’t tested that might show up in the future. Sure, there might be, but how long and how many tests would you want to impose before you can decide to just go ahead and try it out?

    Even in the cases you cite, the new results came later. There were good reasons to think that the options, at the time, were better or at least weren’t going to cause harm. So, in a lot of those cases, it was a matter of them testing it as well as they could at the time, finding a new case that they hadn’t thought of, and then dealing with that when it came up. At what point, even in those cases, would it have been tested enough to put into use so that we would never have run into those issues?

    That’s why, I think, it isn’t really a problem here for her to consider this more of an obstructionist way to maintain the status quo than a real and valid objection; you can stifle anything with “Well, maybe it’ll have problems that we just didn’t think of”, but maybe it won’t, and there has to be some point where you say “This is the best we can do right now and we’re going to go with it.” To do otherwise would be, dare I say it, unscientific.

  • busterggi

    “We can’t show them our tests or prove anything. ”
    Wait, you mean you didn’t test this stuff or did the tests show it is as faulty as your opponents claim? Bad science either way.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Eddie is talking about how the press release is deliberately worded to prevent refutation. “Using this material may cause something bad to happen at some unknown point in the future through processes we can’t even guess at.” As it stands, the press release essentially boils down to “entropy happens”.

    Of course, in the real world, such a vague and meatless warning would be laughed at by profit-driven corporate executives — and rightly so — but I’m sure it’ll be compelling in Rand’s world where weak-willed government lackeys jump at every government whim.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    There’s no doubt that the press release was being used as an obstructionist way to maintain the status quo in the story. The suggestion, though, is that this is what Ayn Rand thinks regulation is always for.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I’m amused by the idea that the government in Rand’s world can regulate corporate competition and individual employment with impunity, but it’s helpless in the face of a businessman refusing to voluntarily “turn over” his patents — as though a patent is meaningful without government enforcement.

  • Science Avenger

    The implication is that the motives of the SSI are completely politcal, some sort of conspiracy to ruin Rearden because he won’t play the political game. Even more than her assumption that capitalist motives are pure, for Rand, government motives are ALWAYS evil. And science is merely politics by another name. One of the very weird things about Rand’s writing is that there is no science, good or bad. Ironically, its as if she has swallowed the rhetoric of creationists that says there is no objective science, only different interpretations of the data. This is a glaring inconsistency for someone who strives to understand the world in objective terms. For Rand, like the GOP in general, it is morality that is objective, whereas science is just a matter of opinion.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    There are actual engineering tests for properties like brittleness, and for simulating processes like aging. There are actual standards for acceptability of such properties for various uses. In the real world, either the guvmint would be negligent for implying the possibility of an incident without test results to back it up, or else Rearden would be negligent for not running such tests which establish that it meets standards fro safety. If they had run such tests, I can think of no reason why they would unable to show the results.

  • ahermit

    The Canadian Transport Safety Board has been recommending for twenty years that rail cars used to transport petroleum products be made more resistant to rupture.

    But that would cost money, so…

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    In the real world, yes. The government publishes safety standards and requires companies to meet them. Both entities perform tests. Ideally, the standards that are set will straddle the fine line between adequate safety and economic viability.

    In Atlas Shrugged, the government didn’t set any standards. They fabricated vague “concerns” that can’t be refuted, because the goalposts can always be moved. That’s what Eddie is talking about. It’s not about science. He’s talking about fighting propaganda. One thing we have seen in the real world is that simply publishing your test results is not sufficient to fight a propaganda campaign.

    The issue here is that, while you and I can make the distinction between the motives and processes of government regulators in the real world and those in Atlas Shrugged, I’m not so sure Rand and her followers do.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I think a big part of the problem is Eddie’s “We can’t show them our tests or prove anything.” One could read that as saying Reardon Metals didn’t run any tests. From the context, I’m choosing to assume what he means is that showing the test results won’t matter because the SSI didn’t make any specific claims and won’t accept their tests as adequate.

    This is another example of Ayn Rand’s ignorance of how both business and government work. She appears to believe that regulators operate on whatever whim they have against a given target, and corporations are effectively helpless before their might. In the real world, regulators follow specific standards that are hammered out between government and business over years and decades of experience and, if anything, it’s the regulators who have inadequate resources to enforce those standards.

  • skyblue

    The complete disregard for public safety is really disgusting.

    This reminds me of the story of Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey – she’s the FDA pharmacologist who was assigned the task of deciding whether or not to approve thalidomide for sale in the US in 1960. She was suspicious of the data provided to her by the drug’s manufacturer and wanted more data before giving her approval. Not surprisingly, this did not make Dr. Kelsey very popular with the drug company (they were losing out on so much money from such a populous market!), and she was the target of much harassment and attempts to remove her from the case. Her repeated refusal to approve thalidomide continued until it became obvious elsewhere around the world that the drug was not safe.

    Nowadays, we consider Dr. Kelsey a hero – but in Randland, who would be the heroes, and how would the story have ended?

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    *waves his paw a bit and mutters something about “the market”*

    You’re forgetting that Dagny looked at the Reardon Metal formula and pronounced it Good. If there’s once thing I’ve learned from years of watching Star Trek, it’s that the heroes are able to boil complex processes down to a formula that they can punch into a console with a dozen fingertaps, and it will work the first time and without flaw*, even when it shouldn’t. Maybe Atlas Shrugged takes place in the same universe, what with all the socialism and the genetically superior ubermensch wrecking society.

    *(Aside from the occasional inconvenient wormhole or time warp.)

  • David Andrew Kearney

    ‘Is Rearden Metal a lethal product of greed?’

    Ha! I wouldn’t debate that either. I think the lethality of Rearden Metal has nothing to do with whether or not it’s concieved in greed.

    Bertram Scudder is what, a literary critic? I keep coming back to this again and again with regard to the “looters:” why do they care? I can’t imagine someone like Scudder giving a rats ass about some new alloy. Does Rand get around to expaining their rationale?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Stadler explains why the SSI is trying to destroy Rearden Metal:

    …if you consider that for thirteen years this Institute has had a department of metallurgical research, which has cost over twenty million dollars and has produced nothing but a new silver polish and a new anti-corrosive preparation, which, I believe, is not so good as the old ones – you can imagine what the reaction will be if some private individual comes out with a product that revolutionizes the entire science of metallurgy and proves to be sensationally successful!

    Oh you collectivist parasites, you’re always so incompetent!

  • Nancy McClernan

    Exactly. The parasites hate Rearden for his greatness, which makes their incompetence, the inevitable result of their collectivism, more obvious. So they use regulations.

    Although as we will soon see, the parasites are somehow unable to enforce their regulations when somebody wants to drive a train through residential zones at 100 miles an hour. Or test a bridge made of Rearden metal by driving a train full of people over it.

  • Jason Wexler

    Wow apparently yet another example of the common mis-belief that scientists are all working lonely in a lab by themselves trying everything until they get something that works. Science is by it’s very nature a collectivist activity, we build on each others work, we borrow ideas we correct each other, I mean that is how science works. It is a myth that anyone has ever created something new and revolutionary from whole cloth working on their own. Based on how Rand describes the genesis of Reardon metal I too would be skeptical of it’s functionality and perfection.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes and of course Rand was a huge hypocrite – she adored the space program, an entirely government-funded venture, and hated Woodstock, which was entirely privately funded.

    But then she hated Woodstock New York twelve years before the hippies showed up, as we shall see…

  • smrnda

    The problem is that her books is supposed to be about the real world, and she’s not depicting it accurately; since we have better means of testing product safety, products have to pass more tests than they originally did, and since so many products were so harmful in the past we have good reason to seriously vet new products that could be harmful.

    Within the world of her *unrealistic* book, it’s just obstructionism based on vague worries that something might go wrong. The problem is that her mindless randiod followers take her writing and conclude that *all consumer protection laws and all product safety standards are wrong and were always wrong at all times.* Her book isn’t just unrealistic as in fiction, it’s distorted to be propaganda.

  • smrnda

    The problem is that Rand is ignorant of engineering, but assumes that since she read Aristotle she can reason anything out correctly, and that she has no need to do research or learn.

  • smrnda

    Could some of this (I thought with your name and your familiarity with her work you might know) just be a result of her being ignorant of science? I recall reading her ‘refutation’ of Einstein’s relativity, and it was clear she had no idea what he was talking about.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Oh, and she wrote an essay called The Fascist New Frontier. You can hear her reading it here:

    The space program was of course a component of the New Frontier.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Luckily for Rand, her entire social circle consisted of sycophants and so nobody would dare point out the hypocrisy. And of course anybody who did seriously challenge her caused her to have a rage-filled meltdown, thus ending the conversation. That’s how Rand got the reputation of always winning arguments – any argument that represented an actual challenge would end the argument.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957. Many of Adam’s examples and, I presume, a lot of your examples and “better means of testing” came about AFTER that time. You can’t call a novel or a philosophy unrealistic because of things that we found out AFTER it was written … or, at least, not in any way that assigns anything to the author of philosopher, and this is happening quite commonly in criticisms of the work (ie basing ideas that her actions/ideas are bad/wrong/unrealistic because they would violate the standards we have today).

    As for the book, it seems like this specific case really was a case where it was obstructionism rather an actual, legitimate complaint. Thus, novel-wise, it worked to establish what it was trying to do and, philosophically, it works as well since we can indeed believe that those people in similar circumstances might well have been that obstructionist. You can counter that it isn’t a necessary outcome, and I won’t deny that … but what’s presented here doesn’t suggest it would be.

  • Verbose Stoic

    I haven’t read the book and am not an expert on Objectivism, but knowing quite a bit about Egoism and Enlightened Egoism I suspect that a big part of the distrust of enforcement agencies is the idea that they are supposed to be looking after the common good and the interests of everyone, and not after their own interests, even when those who are indeed doing the testing and giving the information do have relevant self-interests. In this case, from what was said elsewhere, the people doing the testing and making the comments are indeed people who have an interest in maintaining the status quo, if for no other reason than to avoid looking incompetent for not finding it first. The problem with the press release, then, is that it pretends to be serving the public interest but is really serving the interest of those behind it, fooling the people.

    Without regulation and in a world where everyone cares about their own self-interest primarily, If Rearden said that he had this wonderful and safe new metal, anyone who wanted to use it would have to decide if it benefited them to do so, and protect their interests in an intelligent way. So they’d test it themselves, and not rely on others to do it for them, others who may have reasons for accepting or rejecting the metal based themselves on their own self-interest. If a competitor tested it and pointed out safety issues, again they’d know and accept that the self-interest of the competitor would be to say that, so they’d test it themselves, and not just rely on their say-so.

    So the only way regulation can work, in that mindset, is to make it in the self-interest of the regulators to do their jobs properly. An argument can be made that it can be done, and if done it saves a lot of people doing a lot of work when you can centralize it in one place, and one group. So the debate, for the Enlightened Egoist, is whether they can indeed trust that centralized group enough to save themselves the time and expense of testing it themselves. If they can’t, then if they have to do the testing anyway it seems that the regulatory bodies add no benefit whatsoever.

    Of course, this presumes that all relevant people will be intelligent and Enlightened Egoists, and not short-sighted and single-minded. So far, evidence suggests that we aren’t going to get that state.

  • skyblue

    I think you have figured out the only way in which Rand’s writing makes any sense – it’s some sort of weird sci-fi taking place in a bizarro alternate universe.

    I keep thinking of Rand’s world ending up as a dead, polluted wasteland with flaming train wrecks and collapsed buildings scattered here and there, but, yeah, if I just remember that as long as her heroes are allowed to do whatever they want and everyone else falls in line, everything will be wonderful, because that’s how her world works by definition!

  • Science Avenger

    AFAICT Rand rejected the entire modern scientific enterprise. As one other poster here mentioned, she saw discovery as a solitary endeavor, not at all like it actually happens. Do you have a link to her relativity rejection? I’m not familiar with it.

  • sealiagh

    I found Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From” very helpful on this topic.

  • smrnda

    On what basis does she reject the enterprise? I can’t call modern medicine ‘quackery’ when it works. If I reject the way software is designed, I’m kind of required to *actually show how my way is better with real, not fictional results* before I can go mouthing off.

    I’m trying to find a good source, the rationalwiki just says she rejected it, but I recall she actually had an essay, though it might have been one of her followers. I recall that it mistakenly linked relativity to daylight savings time. I’m going to keep digging though…

  • smrnda

    The way you deal with people like that is, you let them fume and rage, and then say “hey, I kind of *zoned out there* for a few minutes. Can you go back and repeat that?”

  • Nancy McClernan

    Are you suggesting that Rand’s depiction of the US in Atlas Shrugged was accurate for 1957?

  • Nancy McClernan

    What’s an Enlightened Egoist?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes – I just read one of Rand’s essays “The Goal of My Writing” which has this to say:

    The motive and purpose of my writing is the projection of an ideal man…

    …I had to define and present the conditions that make him possible and which his existence requires. Since man’s character is the product of his premises,.. Since man acts among and deals with other men, I had to present the kind of social system that makes it possible for ideal men to exist and to function – a free, productive, rational system, which demands and rewards the best in every man, great or average, and which is, obviously, laissez-faire capitalism.

    Presumably Rand considered the women at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory appropriately rewarded in 1911, thanks to the regulation-free world of laissez-faire capitalism.

  • Anna

    “acts as if it’s impossible to refute the State Science Institute’s claim”

    I think the idea here is that the Institute has said that it may fail, that it hasn’t been 100% proven it could never fail, which they could pretty much say about anything.

    “It may be possible that after a period of heavy usage, a sudden fissure may appear… The possibility of a molecular reaction, at present unknown, cannot be entirely discounted… Although there is no evidence to support the contention that the use of the metal should be prohibited…”

  • J_Enigma32

    What makes Rand’s hate-on for the government so freakin’ bizarre is that she goes on to defend the existence of a government this interview:

    But project a society of millions, in which there is every kind of viewpoint, every kind of brain, every kind of morality—and no government. That’s the Middle Ages, your no-government society. Man was left at the mercy of bandits, because without government, every criminally inclined individual resorts to force, and every morally inclined individual is helpless. Government is an absolute necessity if individual rights are to be protected, because you don’t leave force at the arbitrary whim of other individuals. Libertarian anarchism is pure whim worship, because what they refuse to recognize is the need of objectivity among men—particularly men of different views. And it’s good that people within a nation should have different views, provided we respect each other’s rights.

    So she clearly believed that a government was necessary for the continued existence of individual rights (a claim she is absolutely right about), but to come along and read this later – where the government is clearly trampling civil rights in the most strawmanny way possible – is the equivalent to philosophical whiplash. She has her justifications (“Rational men…,” she goes on to say, probably, like the Libertarians she’s criticizing so harshly, acknowledging on some level that her philosophy cannot work in the real world), but the world doesn’t work like what she’s got up there in her novel, either. So, the real question, then, is one I pose to so-called “skeptical” libertarians all the time: if you know it doesn’t work and it won’t work, why do you believe it anyway? How is that any different from, say, prayer?

  • Adam Lee

    If you find it, I’d like to see that link as well. I don’t recall seeing it in the biographies of her I read (or else I just didn’t make a note of it). Could she really have rejected a scientific theory just because it was called “relativity”?

  • Adam Lee

    Yes, eventually she does: she says the looters hate capitalism because they ultimately hate life itself. They detest all the rational, productive people who make it possible for human beings to live, and they want to kill themselves while taking as many productive people as possible with them.

    I promise I’m not making this up.

  • Nancy McClernan

    It’s a safe bet that Rand would never agree that she believed that her philosophy could not work in the real world.

    It’s important to remember though just how much Objectivism is really about Ayn Rand’s personal predilections – she expected followers of Objectivism to agree with her about everything, including that Beethoven’s music was a “malevolent universe.” She would hound old friends over disagreements in artistic taste until they couldn’t stand it any more and broke with her.

    And the only reason Objectivism became a thing is because Rand’s follower Nathaniel Branden began promoting it through the Nathaniel Branden Institute. And the entire thing was about worshipping Ayn Rand, for as Branden says in his memoirs:

    Suspicion, if not hostility, towards emotion was the message that we in the Collective absorbed from Ayn’s novels and from Ayn herself. The subtle encouragement of emotional repression, and therefore the encouragement of self-alienation, was a powerful component of our world – side by side with exhortations toward greater emotional honesty and authenticity. Absorbing this dangerous message made it easier to absorb others that were equally dangerous.
    There were implicit premises in our world to which everyone in our circle subscribed. We transmitted these to our students at NBI. These were the premises:

    -> Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived.
    -> Atlas Shrugged is the greatest human achievement in the history of the world.
    -> Ayn Rand, by virtue of her philosophical genius, is the supreme arbiter in any issue pertaining to what is rational, moral, or appropriate to man’s life on earth
    -> Once one is acquainted with Ayn Rand and her work, the measure of one’s virtue is intrinsically tied to the position that one takes regarding her and her work.
    -> No one who does not admire what Ayn Rand admires and condemn what Ayn Rand condemns can be a good Objectivist. No one who disagrees with Ayn Rand on any fundamental issue can be a fully consistent individualist.
    -> Because Ayn Rand has designated Nathaniel Branden as her “intellectual heir” and has repeatedly proclaimed him to be an ideal exponent of her philosophy, he is to be accorded only marginally less reverence than Ayn herself.
    -> It is best not to say most of these things explicitly (excepting, perhaps, the first two items). One must always maintain that one arrives at one’s belief solely by reason.

    You’d think that Rand would have been pretty happy about all this, but in 1968, when Branden refused to resume the sexual relationship he had had with Rand years earlier, because he had become involved with another woman, Rand “denounced him” and destroyed the whole operation. She could not simply have Branden as a loyal follower, talented promoter of her very own cult and good friend. It came down to an ultimatum – have sex with Ayn Rand or she would destroy everything they built together.

    Rand had other followers though, and she changed her will so that her “intellectual heir” was Leonard Peikoff, and he made sure that Objectivism and all things Rand continued after her death, since he earns money from all sales of Rand’s work. Which is why Objectivism hasn’t completely died out. Yet.

  • Nancy McClernan

    It’s part of Rand’s concept of the “malevolent sense of life” – Beethoven, Shakespeare had that, vs. the “benevolent sense of life” – Ayn Rand and Mickey Spillane had that.

  • Azkyroth

    She doesn’t seem to know anything else, why wouldn’t she confuse “patent” with “trade secret?”

  • Azkyroth

    Serious, systematic investigation into metal properties was well underway in the first half of the 20th century. For instance. The tools available were less sophisticated, but claiming there were no tests that could be done that could establish a reasonable expectation about its safety is ridiculous. Try again.

  • fanganga

    This business about the SSI report puts me in mind of [url=]The Greasy Pole episode of Yes Minister[/url], in which the minister in question encourages a chemist to insert enough doubt into a report to allow the minister enough cover to block construction of a plant manufacturing a chemical that causes PR problems yet can’t be proven dangerous – so similar shenanigans happen in an exaggerated-for-comedy version of the British government and an exaggerated-for-polemics version of the American government.

    The exact issue makes me think of [url=]The De Havilland Comet[/url], whose failures illustrate how unanticipated dangers arising from new developments in transportation were handled in the real world around the time Rand was writing.

  • Science Avenger

    I think the basis was her refusal to accept the results of brainstorming, and the value of an empirical test over a reasoned conclusion. She was emphatic about thinking being a solitary exercise, which shows how little time she spent in the upper echelons of academia. She was really a throwback to the rationalist age, not of the scientific age. She rejected Galileo for Aristotle, forgetting how history remembers that clash.

  • Science Avenger

    Since man’s character is the product of his premises

    This reveals Rand’s explicit belief in the blank slate of the mind, with “will” as the ghost in the machine (hat tip – Stephen Pinker) that produces the man. She is completely oblivious to the effect culture has on our character, and how that in many ways dictates our premises. She gets the causality completely backwards, which I suppose is why she had to essentially believe in magic to make it work.

  • Science Avenger

    Ugh. Rand’s commentary on art might be the worst of all. She loathed Beethoven, but loved the Partridge family theme. She even tried to invent an idiosyncratic definition of what qualified as “music”. Any added sound effects disqualified the work. So to her, Brittney Spears made music, but Pink Floyd made noise. I can only guess what she’d think of rap, although I confess I’d probably agree with her on that.

  • Science Avenger

    I think it’s dangerous to claim someone is promoting something they deep down know won’t work. It’s too akin to Christians who tell us atheists that deep down, we really believe in gods. It cuts off productive discourse.

    I can certainly speak for myself and say that when I was an Objectivist, I certainly believed it would work, but that those who would lose a fair battle in the marketplace conspired to keep it from happening. There are just enough actual examples of that sort of mindset in life (ie “participation trophies”) to sustain that view, provided you aren’t aware of how many libertarian solutions ruled the day in the past and did not produce the wonderful results Rand claims they would. I’m not sure any libertarian mindset could sustain itself through a detailed study of the United States 1861-1900, where among other things, the collectivist Union (with their socialized railroads and such) whipped the rugged individuals of the Confederacy.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Actually “the effect culture has on our character” is what Steven Pinker excoriates when he uses the term “the blank slate.” Pinker is a proponent of socio-biology (aka “evolutionary psychology.”)

    In other words, according to Pinker it’s good to minimize, if not necessarily “be oblivious to” cultural influences.

    As the New Yorker review of “The Blank Slate” says:

    Steven Pinker is a psychology professor at M.I.T. and the author of an entertaining and popular book on language (his specialty), called “The Language Instinct,” and a more wide-ranging volume, also popular, called “How the Mind Works.” His new book, “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature” (Viking; $27.95), recycles some of the material published in “How the Mind Works” but puts it to a more prescriptive use. Pinker has a robust faith in “the new sciences of human nature” (his phrase)—he was formerly the director of M.I.T.’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience—but his views in “The Blank Slate” are based almost entirely on two branches of the new sciences: evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics.

    These are both efforts to explain mind and behavior biologically, as products of natural selection and genetic endowment. Unless you are a creationist, there is nothing exceptionable about the approach. If opposable thumbs are the result of natural selection, there is no reason not to assume that the design of the brain is as well. And if we inherit our eye color and degree of hairiness from our ancestors we probably inherit our talents and temperaments from them, too. The question isn’t whether there is a biological basis for human nature. We’re organisms through and through; biology goes, as they say, all the way down. The question is how much biology explains about life out here on the twenty-first-century street.

    Pinker’s idea is that it explains much more than some people—he calls these people “intellectuals”—think it does, and that the failure, or refusal, to acknowledge this has led to many regrettable things, including the French Revolution, modern architecture, and the crimes of Josef Stalin. Intellectuals deny biology, according to Pinker, because it interferes with their pet theories of mind and behavior. These are the Blank Slate (the belief that the mind is wholly shaped by the environment), the Noble Savage (the notion that people are born good but are corrupted by society), and the Ghost in the Machine (the idea that there is a nonbiological agent in our heads with the power to change our nature at will). The “intellectuals” in Pinker’s book are social scientists, progressive educators, radical feminists, academic Marxists, liberal columnists, avant-garde arts types, government planners, and postmodernist relativists. The good guys are the cognitive scientists and ordinary folks, whose common sense, except when it has been damaged by listening to intellectuals, generally correlates with what cognitive science has discovered. I wish I could say that Pinker’s view of the world of ideas is more nuanced than this.

    I don’t think Steven Pinker is any less of a ninny than Ayn Rand. And they seemed to dislike the same kinds of people people: social scientists, progressive educators, radical feminists, academic Marxists, liberal columnists, avant-garde arts types, government planners, and postmodernist relativists.

    Although actually Pinker and Rand don’t like garden-variety feminists, much less radical ones – the only kind of “feminist” Pinker approves of in The Blank Slate is so-called “equity feminists” like Camille Paglia, a fan of Rush Limbaugh.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Also Rand was opposed to “the will” as a driving force of human motivation – she criticized Schopenhauer for saying it was. Rationality was the driving force, according to Rand.

    I happen to think Schopenhauer is right, and although Schopenhauer expressed the concept of The Will in metaphysical terms, I think that it is entirely biological, if not well-understood.

  • smrnda

    I used to be a mathematician, and mathematics is *entirely* about reasoning from premises (axioms) but even that is far from a solitary exercise. If it was more of one in the past, it was because there were fewer educated people to collaborate.

    The problem with that approach is that it assumes (without proof) that you’re operating from all the assumptions you need to reach a solid conclusion; the experimental method exists since you can’t be sure, *ever* that there isn’t something you don’t know about at all that might be relevant. It’s like assuming that you *already have all the knowledge you can ever need.*

    I guess I see how Catholics use Aristotle via Aquinas in the same way – in fact, their ‘Natural Law’ arguments about sexuality, with its obfuscating jargon, is pretty similar to Rand on economics.

  • smrnda

    Wouldn’t the ideal man be determined by who did best under *REAL* rather than *IMAGINARY* conditions? Isn’t this just saying “if I create a world and make all the rules, then I win?”

  • smrnda

    The problem is, as far as I can tell, the science of stereotype threat, gender biases and such is pretty well established. We’ve *PROVEN* sexism exists and is a factor repeatedly, so Pinker must be hand-waving away the field of social psychology. There’s also not much support among neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists for *innate differences* in gender.

    If he’s arguing for evo psych over social psych, evo psych relies heavily on speculation which relies on more speculation about what human prehistory was like.

    As far as his straw-positions go, I don’t know anyone who ascribes to any of them, but he seems to be pretty much arguing for total biological determinism. I’m sure human biology is a factor, but the idea that it’s *proven* that men and women *should* play different roles in society is just false. There’s also the idea that (which he does not seem to be admitting), though we have biases owing to our biology, we can find ways to overcome them. The whole experimental method is a way of us overcoming our cognitive biases to systematically investigate our world.

    Perhaps I’m also pissed since, as a woman working in the tech field, if he’s going to argue that it’s ability and not misogyny that keeps women out of this area, then he’s just full of shit.

  • smrnda

    What… a… PHILISTINE. Anybody with such bad taste should have been ridiculed non-stop.

    I wonder where Rand acquired such arrogant faith in her own opinions? She must have had that before she got her horde of Randoid followers.

    I mean, I actually *like* music that’s a lot of noise, but I agree that a lot of this is personal taste, and I tend to like art and music that’s ugly and abrasive, but I also view this as just an extension of my personality and not a manifestation of some eternal truth.

  • smrnda

    Replace “Rand” with “Chairman Mao” or “The Eternal Leader” and make the appropriate changes. Exercise left to the reader.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes, there is plenty of evidence against Pinker’s claims. Researcher Elizabeth Spelke isn’t the media darling that Pinker is – mainly because she spends her time doing actual science, not writing speculative bullshit like Pinker does (and then when Pinker isn’t treated to the usual worship that he normally gets from the media – the New Yorker is one of the very few media outlets that actually examines his claims critically – he whines about it and then links to racist Razib Khan to defend his work.)

    Spelke gives Pinker a well-deserved empiricism-based smack-down here:

    And Larry Summers has Steven Pinker to thank for fucking up his chance to be Chairman of the Fed – I am convinced that Summers’ infamous “ladybrains can’t do math and science as good as menzbrains” speech was one of the factors that made his appointment too much of a liability to Obama.

    Summers learned everything he knew about the inferiority of ladybrains from evolutionary psychology, specifically from Steven Pinker who was at Harvard when Summers was President.

    Speaking of the New Yorker, there is an awesome parody of Larry Summers’ speech in a recent issue:

  • Nancy McClernan

    Exactly. Also, we don’t actually see Rand’s ideal men operating under laissez-faire capitalism in Atlas Shrugged. We only see Rand’s ideal men suffering under and then destroying the incompetent collectivist moronocracy posited in Atlas Shrugged. Only at the end of the novel does Galt decide it’s time for his band of Ubermensch to take socio-economic advantage over the wreckage that Galt has wrought and presumably impose laissez-faire capitalism on the parasite morons for their own good.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The most puzzling aspect of this “malevolent universe” to me is her apparent denial of the human condition – she’s speaking of Beethoven here:

    …his message is malevolent universe: man’s heroic fight against destiny, and man’s defeat. That’s the opposite of my sense of life.

    We know she was an atheist, so unlike a Christian she doesn’t believe that death is just the portal to eternal life. So from that perspective, why wouldn’t it be proper for any artist to address the fact that we are all doomed to die, no matter how victorious we are in life?

    Her “sense of life” seems to consist of denying the reality of death. Which seems insane, so it’s difficult for me to believe that’s what she’s saying – but I’ve yet to find anything to clarify it.

    Kurt Vonnegut once graphed Christianity’s “storyline” – which looks to me like Ayn Rand’s “sense of life” if I understand her correctly.

  • smrnda

    I used to cite Pinker’s “Better Angels” but knowing this makes me less inclined to do so, even if that book might have something going for it. I’ll have to find another source to document the decline in violence.

    All said, *ugh, evo psych.* I wonder how these evo psych menbrainz would do in my mathematics intensive job?

  • Azkyroth

    Don’t encourage him. >.>

  • smrnda

    I actually encounter libertarians who say that they acknowledge that implementing their policies might lead to lots of deaths, chaos, a decreased standard of living for most people and perhaps even a significant drop in the general state of technological civilization, but that they’re *for it anyway* since the inherent virtues of limited government is worth going back about 200 years in terms of standard of living.

    I suspect those people are just spouting nonsense to sound rebellious.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I can’t provide a critique of Better Angels because I haven’t read it. But the New Yorker review raised many interesting questions, none of which Razib Khan is a reasonable choice to answer, given that his primary research interest is to prove innate intellectual inferiority of women but especially those humans whose ancestors have come most directly from Africa.

    And he’s a hard-core conservative:

    Unfortunately most of the New Yorker review is behind a paywall, but here’s some of it:

    I will speculate that evolutionary psychology causes the problems that the New Yorker review points to, because Pinker’s view of human culture is based on evolution, and the history of human violence he describes happened in a less-than-evolutionary time frame. And so he has no research strategy to rely on when trying to explain, exactly why human society has allegedly become less violent, other than basically, people started to think better things.

    And of course there’s the issue of how he measures “violence”. An excerpt from behind the paywall:

    According to his own calculations, the Second World War was, proportionally speaking, the ninth-deadliest conflict of all time – in absolute terms, it was far and away the deadliest – yet the war lasted just six years. The Arab slave trade, which ranks as No. 3 on Pinker’s hit list, was an atrocity that took more than a millenium to unfold. The Mongol conquests, coming in at No. 2, spanned nearly a century.

    But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we accept that the Second World War was only the ninth-bloodiest conflict in the history of our species, and the First World War the sixteenth. Isn’t this still a problem? The heart of Pinker’s argument is that trends and historical forces associated with modernity have steadily diminished violence. Though he hesitates to label the Second World War an out-and-out fluke, he is reduced to claiming that, as far as his thesis is concerned, it doesn’t really count. Accidents happen, and the Nazi’s rise to power was one of them. A series of unfortunate events ensued, but it’s important not to rush to judgement…

    It reminds me of Krugman’s critique of Greenspan:

  • Azkyroth

    Perfectly illustrating the perversity of disregarding results when making moral or “pragmatic” judgments.

  • Science Avenger

    Enlightened Egoist – someone who sees past the moment, who understands reciprocity and other long term consequences of our behavior.

  • Science Avenger

    I don’t think Steven Pinker is any less of a ninny than Ayn Rand.

    Ninny perhaps, but as much as Rand? I don’t think that’s close. As for my reference to Pinker, it was solely for the concepts of the blank slate and the ghost in the machine, and not necessarily his conclusions about or theories on them.

    Rand was opposed to “the will” as a driving force of human motivation – she criticized Schopenhauer for saying it was. Rationality was the driving force, according to Rand.

    I’m not familiar with that criticism, but think we may be victims of Rand’s annoying habit of idiosyncratic word usage, and don’t really disagree. She clearly has the position in her writings that I’ve covered that we are not driven by or limited by our genes or culture, but that what ultimately moves us is our mind. We think. We make decisions. “I exist, therefore I’ll think”. And that act of deciding is independent, magic really, though she’d never call it that. A soul without the religious baggage. This is why she rejected all social science, or the ideas that racism or sexism (as far as she’d grant it was irrational, which really wasn’t that far. She had both in good measure) could hold a man back. His mind, his decisions, overrode everything. And in light of brain and social science done since (or perhaps even before), that’s all a load of crap.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I agree that Rand’s concept that humans – or at least the best, Objectivist humans – do everything via rational reflection is clearly wrong – as Rand herself demonstrated in her own life. You couldn’t have a bigger contrast between how her supermen respond to Dagny’s dumping them for John Galt – both Rearden and D’anconia basically say “yeah, John Galt is the greatest man ever, so it’s completely understandable, you don’t even have to tell me it’s over, I already know” – compared to Rand’s response to her former boyfriend not even dumping her, but just refusing to resume a sexual relationship after years of “just friends.” Rand had a complete meltdown. Which of course she considered completely rational.

    I guess because although Rearden and D’anconia could agree that “rationally” Galt was a better match for Dagny, Rand could not agree that her ex-boyfriend Nathaniel’s new girlfriend Patrecia, a genial 20-something model who didn’t take herself too seriously – was objectively superior to herself.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Thanks, but I wanted to know how Verbose Stoic defined the term – unless you’re the same person…

  • Nancy McClernan

    You might have gotten The Blank Slate concept from Pinker, but you seemed to have redefined it. Because what you said was:

    This reveals Rand’s explicit belief in the blank slate of the mind… that produces the man. “

    Then you followed up your statement about Rand’s belief in the blank slate with this:

    She is completely oblivious to the effect culture has on our character, and how that in many ways dictates our premises.

    If you say that Rand believed in the blank slate, and yet was oblivious to the effect culture has on our character, it’s a contradiction, because the effect culture has on our character is what the blank slate is all about – as opposed to inherent traits that Pinker believes in. For example:

    The blank slate theory says that the most likely cause for women to have less successful STEM careers is because culture has reduced women’s access to STEM opportunities.

    Evolutionary psychology says that the most likely cause for women to have less successful STEM careers is because women have evolved to have less aptitude in STEM subjects.

    That is what Pinker says in The Blank Slate, and what Larry Summers said, more directly in his 2005 speech to a room full of women at a Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce.

    Of course the blank slate is used by Pinker as a strawman to claim that “intellectuals” believe that there are no biological underpinnings to any human behavior.

    And Larry Summers didn’t say that inferior female aptitude was the only reason for less successful STEM careers – only the most likely (emphasis mine):

    So my best guess, to provoke you, of what’s behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people’s legitimate family desires and employers’ current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination.

    In response to the speech and the controversy…

    The newspaper quoted Steven Pinker, a psychology professor, as saying that the Summers talk was “masterly” and that “All his claims were well supported in the scientific literature.”

    But the Globe quoted Elizabeth Spelke, another psychology professor, as saying: “I disagree point for point. There is not a shred of evidence for the biological factor, based both on my own research and my reading of other people’s research.”

    Read more:

    Inside Higher Ed

    I would have linked directly to the Globe story but it’s behind a paywall.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Finally, someone gets the context right:

    Webcomic biography of Ayn Rand

  • antialiasis

    Eh, while of course in the real world concerns about health and safety should be taken seriously, within the world of the novel the SSI is clearly being monstrously unscientific and not voicing legitimate health and safety concerns. They wrote a vague, unrefutable criticism with no real substance (suggesting only that there “may” be concerns but there is no evidence for them at present) and refuse to look at actual test data. By writing it that way, Rand has of course completely removed the scenario’s relevance to when actual real-life products are deemed unsafe, but it does mean that within the narrative of the book, they really are in the wrong and would be even if we didn’t know beforehand that Rand’s protagonists are always right.

  • smrnda

    There’s also the issue that the ‘ideal human’ is the product of a particular time and place. Just check how different heroes from different cultures and ages were – heck, just check how movie protagonists are different when you compare different decades (Captain Kirk vs. Picard.)

  • smrnda

    I think for some people, their willingness to put ideals ahead of results is a point of pride, a sort of “I believe in something more valuable than the physical universe or our life in it” but it’s really just nonsense, the same as when people act like we should make ourselves miserable appeasing some deity.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Science Avenger is roughly right. You could also call them Egoists who pursue rational self-interest rather than simple self-interest, which is what allows them to do what Science Avenger says they should do.

    So, everyone ought to look out for their own self-interest — the Egoist part — but ought to do so rationally. Which is what always interests me about the Game Theory arguments about morality and altruism and the like; Enlightened Egoists would always go along with exactly those arguments, leading me to wonder why those who advocate them shouldn’t be called Egoists.

  • Verbose Stoic

    I didn’t claim that there were no tests that could be done to establish that reasonable expectation, and in fact pointed out that in the context of the work it seems like Rearden did that, since the institute couldn’t point to any tests that they didn’t do. But smrnda specifically commented that we have more and betters tests than we had originally, and that presumes a difference between what we have today and what we had in the past, and given a lot of, say, Adam’s examples it really does sound like things that are better today than we had in 1957 … but for Rand to not anticipate future methods does not support any interesting charge that the work is “unrealistic”.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Nope. I’m suggesting that at least some of the criticisms of it being “unrealistic” are based on applying today’s standards to the standards of that time, which doesn’t work as an argument.

  • Science Avenger

    I’d especially be interested to see how Rand would have her heroes act when it became evident that their heads were destined for pikes once they gained control.

  • Science Avenger

    I suspect those people are just spouting nonsense to sound rebellious.

    Perhaps, but again in my case I recall doing exactly that in all sincerity, telling a liberal cousin that “if my worldview leads to more people living in slums, then that just proves that’s how they should live.” And its not a view that’s entirely wacko, since its of the same form as the classic philosophy question of whether it would be moral to torture an innocent being slowly to death if the result was peace on earth for everyone else. The problem isn’t the logic, but the premise, the notion that a social safety net is as morally far out of bounds as torture.

    It’s a tight little circle Objectivists argue in – their system is more moral than others, and the proof is in the results, which are judged to be just fine…by their own standards. The Inquisition could make the same claim.

  • Azkyroth

    Would you mind doing that in private?

  • David Andrew Kearney

    I just have to wonder what Beethoven she was listening to. The ninth symphony, in particular, does not end in “man’s defeat;” it ends in triumph. Same thing with the fifith symphony.

  • smrnda

    I was suspecting that you were more the type who thinks things *would get better* but I can see how the idea that people living in slums got what they deserved can fit in with some kind of a just world hypothesis – the current order is out of balance since ‘looters’ and being given the fruits of the ‘producers’ and they would simply fall apart if that stopped.

    The circular reasoning is definitely a factor in many other ideologies. It’s like people claiming that you need Jesus to be ‘fully alive’ and then having to invent the idea that people who are not Christians are all bitter on the inside, or self-deluded.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Is there anybody who does not look out for their own self interest? And what makes an Egoist’s self interest particularly “rational”?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Which standards are you thinking of?

  • Nancy McClernan

    True – Rand has Stadler explain that the reason SSI opposes Rearden Metal is because the SSI is the home of bumbling idiots who can’t do anything right and Rearden would show them up. The parasites hate the Ubermensch for their greatness. Which is par for the course for Rand’s antagonists. She created a field full of strawmen and then sends her protagonists out to burn them down… after the requisite lengthy and tiresome lecture.

    Although of course the bumbling idiots aren’t so stupid that they refrain from operating in their own self-interest to keep their jobs and their reputations. But self-interest doesn’t count for strawmen.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Are you talking about the mechanical chicken incident? Something that many people probably don’t realize is that the scenario of a mother making her 5-year-old child give away a favorite toy appears in Atlas Shrugged, right after John Galt gives his endless speech and inspires the superior members of society to go Galt:

    …the case of a woman with a fractured jaw: she had been slapped in the face by a total stranger, who had heard her ordering her five-year-old son to give his best toy to the children of neighbors.

    And as if that wasn’t enough, Rand presents the same scenario in one of her essays in “The Romantic Manifesto”

    If parents attempt to inculcate a moral ideal of the kind contained in such admonitions as: “Don’t be selfish – give your best toys away to the children next door!” or if parents go “progressive” and teach a child to be guided by his whims – the damage to the child’s moral character may be irreparable.

    Apparently Rand was convinced that there was an epidemic of parents forcing their children to give their best toys away to other children.

    You just know the name of the mechanical chicken was Rosebud, right?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes and then there’s the idea that she can know that Beethoven has a certain “sense of life” based on music. Especially since the choral work in the 9th is upbeat. And Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, portrays love and justice triumphant.

    What do you have to do to please some people?

    Although no doubt she hated the Pastoral Symphony since she hated the beauty of nature, as she will make clear in Dagny and Rearden’s upcoming road trip.

  • smrnda

    The Blank Slate (Tabula Rasa) was kind of a big thing in the Enlightenment, with the idea that people are entirely the product of their upbringing and social conditioning. Part of this could have just been realizing that people’s behavior and thinking *is* to a great extent socially conditioned (which is why different cultures have different social norms and that people have different values, or react differently to similar situations) and then pushing the idea too far.

    The lack of understanding of the actual brain was probably a factor there as well.

  • smrnda

    I think to Rand, telling a kid ‘don’t snatch up all the toys’ sounds exactly the same as “give away all your best toys.” She seems to conflate positions that are really not the same, like how Reardon’s wife saying “You don’t care about *anything* but business” is taken to be an assault on caring about business at all. She depicts anything that isn’t total selfishness as a demand for a level of self-denial that nobody is asking for.She’s either too dense to see the difference, or else is engaging in some kind of sleight of hand that any call *not to be totally selfish* is a call to be a doormat.

    All said, Rand had no children, and I do not believe she ever worked with kids, so I don’t see how she thinks she’s entitled to give advice but then again… lack of knowledge hasn’t stopped her before.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The link provided by GuddaBumpkin points to an illustration of an incident from Rand’s own childhood in which her mother had Rand and her sister give their toys to an orphanage with the promise they’d get them back. Rand gave her favorite toy, a mechanical chicken, away. They never got them back.

    Clearly it made a huge impression on Rand, enough for her to get figurative payback by having a stranger punch the mother in the face, in Atlas Shrugged.

    And in another book Rand warns parents not to force their children to give their best toys away. As if that’s a real issue for anybody.

    And remember, this incident in Atlas Shrugged is recounted as one of the ways in which John Galt has inspired some of the average people to live up to higher principles. Rand doesn’t actually offer that many examples – so it’s especially weird that such an unlikely thing for a mother to do – force her child to give his BEST toy away for no apparent reason – is included, in order for a no-name, no-description stranger to demonstrate the high principles of Objectivism by slugging the mother in the face.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Egoists argue that the only moral obligation one has is to pursue one’s own self-interest. And Enlightened Egoists go further in arguing that they pursue their self-interest rationally, according to the best available information and assessments of their self-interest, and not the mere shallow self-interest that others might think represents their self-interest.

  • Verbose Stoic

    I talked about that elsewhere, as this is a reply to smrnda. I don’t really see the point in rehashing it until smrnda clarifies what tests they think Rearden didn’t do.

  • Nancy McClernan

    So if you call yourself an Enlightened Egoist this is considered a declaration that you pursue your self-interest rationally, and anybody who does not declare themselves an Enlightened Egoist is probably based on “shallow self-interest.”
    Could you give an example?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Going back and reading Adam’s initial posting, it appears that the exact type of standards are irrelevant. He’s suggesting that standards get better as we learn that something that was once considered beneficial turns out to be harmful. Through analysis of the thing in question.

    Rand appears to be entirely discarding the possibility that Rearden Metal could be tested to refute the claims of the SSI.

    The problem is that the world of Atlas Shrugged behaves according to the whims of Ayn Rand, not based on the world as it was in 1957 – or 2013 for that matter. So that all government organizations are incompetent and evil. Not just some – every one, by the very nature of being a government organization.

    Not only is this obviously untrue, but Rand herself adored the space program which was a government program run entirely by a government organization.
    The issue isn’t that Rand was proven wrong – the issue is that Rand would never admit she was proven wrong and her sycophants would never point it out to her.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    To clarify: I was referring only to the portrayal of Rand in a webcomic, which seems the appropriate venue for someone with such a cartoonish philosophy. I was not referring to the actual content of that particular webcomic.

  • Science Avenger

    What makes you think the declaration is relevant?

    Examples? Sure: observe most teenagers, especially the ones who spend their life in front of their xbox.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Without the declaration, how can you tell the Enlightened Egoist from someone who is not an Enlightened Egoist, given that you can’t tell whether other people are basing their self-interest on rationality or on shallow self-interest?
    Is the teenager in front of an XBOX operating under rational or shallow self-interest?

  • Science Avenger

    While there are certainly difficult cases, there are also an abundance of easy ones. In the example I’m thinking of, self-interest doesn’t enter into it. He’s merely pursuing the most instant gratification available. There is no thought of anything past the moment.

    Why don’t you spare us the Socratic elongation of the discussion and skip to whatever point you are trying to make?

  • Science Avenger

    Oh I did think things would get better. I was responding to his contention that “if you have your way, more people would live in slums.” I had the standard libertarian naivete that if we just set up the proper negative feedback loop, all those lazy losers would shape up and act right. We see this attitude a lot lately in all the talk of cutting welfare unless the people receiving it get drug tested, enter work programs, etc.The people making those suggestions have no clue what it’s like to be raised poor.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I’m not trying to make a point yet. I’m trying to find out where you are coming from.
    So far all I’ve learned is that as an Enlightened Egoist, you’ve determined that a teenager playing XBOX is not operating under rational self-interest, due to “instant gratification.”

    It may be obvious to you why playing a video game is instant gratification and how instant gratification is incompatible with rational self-interest, but it isn’t obvious to me. And also it’s unclear if you oppose gratification generally or merely the more rapidly delivered forms. And if quicker-activated forms of gratification are less rational than more slower forms, what is the velocity tipping point between rational and irrational gratification?

    But if you find it tiresome to explain your beliefs you are under no obligation to continue this conversation.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Remember that the key point is that your only moral obligation is TO your own self-interest, which is the hallmark of the Egoist. You can pursue your own self-interest in some cases and not be an Egoist, as long as you don’t make it your sole — or perhaps primary — moral obligation.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Actually, Rand being proven wrong or people accepting it isn’t the issue. From what is quoted here, the novel pretty much presents it as Rearden having done all of the tests one could reasonably expect him to, and the SSI is reduced to making vague implications in an attempt to obstruct Rearden. There’s no evidence of anything else, and asserting that somehow there are tests that could have been run when the SSI can’t mention them — and thus, allow Rearden et al to demonstrate that it works — is an invalid charge.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Since everybody pursues their own self-interest, the only distinction claimed by Enlightened Egoists, in this discussion so far, is that they act rationally in their own self-interest, while those who are not Enlightened Egoists do not.

    The question then is what exactly constitutes “rational” self-interest.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I must have missed something because what I saw from what is quoted here is Eddie Willers saying:

    We can’t demand a retraction. We can’t show them our tests or prove anything.

    Which does not address the issue of “Rearden having done all the tests one could reasonably expect him to do.”

    But maybe I missed that. Where in Adam’s discussion does it present information on which tests were done?

  • Nancy McClernan

    And Rand’s being wrong about the way government works, now or in 1957 is the issue if you are going to say, as you have,

    for Rand to not anticipate future methods does not support any interesting charge that the work is “unrealistic”.

    If “future methods” – meaning now – are no different from 1957 then your defense of Rand’s unrealistic portrayal of government regulatory activities in Atlas Shrugged is invalid.

  • Science Avenger

    But if you find it tiresome to explain your beliefs you are under no obligation to continue this conversation.

    Normally there is nothing I enjoy more, but not when doing so involves parsing verbose obtuseness that pretends to not understand why our teen xboxer is a poorer example of an enlightened egoist than, say, one who spends his time studying for his college entrance exams. Unlike John Galt, I don’t have the luxury of spending 3 hours to explain such a simple point.

  • Science Avenger

    Everyone pursues their self-interest? Now you’re just being silly.

  • Science Avenger

    It’s more of what wasn’t said. Willers doesn’t say “we need to do more tests”, or “we should have done tests”. He says [parentheticals mine]:

    “We can’t demand a retraction [because they haven't really said anything concrete against us]. We can’t show them our tests [a funny thing to say if one didn't do any tests] or prove anything [again, because the SSI didn't make any claim solid enough to argue against].

  • Nancy McClernan

    LOL! I thought I was being “Socratic.”

    Yes and you probably didn’t invent a cloaking device for a valley in the Rockies.

    Is that a thing for Rand fans? Ask yourselves What Would John Galt Do when flummoxed?

  • Nancy McClernan

    No doubt there’s a special definition for self interest only comprehensible to the rational mind of an Enlightened Egoist.

  • Nancy McClernan

    So you had to fix what Rand wrote.

    And you need to stick to one screen name here instead of constantly switching between Science Avenger and Verbose Stoic.

  • Azkyroth

    ..wait, they’re the same person?

    That explains so much..

    …oh, it’s just you presuming you’re entitled to not have anyone else respond to a public comment except the person you intended.

    That’s kind of ridiculous.

  • smrnda

    I wonder this too. She seems to argue that a hero should rather die than *enslave* others to some government welfare scheme, but her characters don’t get sick, grow old, or become unable to work or anything like that, so it’s a bunch of empty rhetoric.

    I’m kind of surprised she doesn’t have her heroes get killed and then society fall apart, but I suspect she can only write around certain types of characters, and that would be too hard.

  • smrnda

    Or they seem to be unable to suspect that poor people are already working *way too hard* but that The Market (and why we act like ‘the market’ is some abstraction rather than the result of actual human choices) just doesn’t pay them enough.

  • smrnda

    Um, the lives of Somalians still more or less suck. If I decide to stop doing heroin and I take up dilaudid, that might be an improvement (a cleaner substance) but that person’s logic would suggest that people not currently using drugs should take up dilaudid.

  • smrnda

    They also don’t have any health problems or disabilities of any kind. I do, so I know how much I depend on civilization (which requires a government that regulates, levies taxes and provides services) to survive. Her characters never even get sick.

  • Nancy McClernan

    No it isn’t “just me” – they take turns answering for each other in a single conversation. Just take a moment to read the conversations and you’ll see.

    I’d never mistake you for anybody else – there’s no mistaking your own special brand of charm.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Why do you keep ignoring the “sole/primary moral obligation” part? Do YOU think that was is moral is determined solely or primarily by what is in your own self-interest, and screw everyone else? Most people don’t think that (you can run the thought experiments and discover that). You are right that pretty much everyone cares about their own self-interest and benefits in some way, but most people when asked can easily understand and accept scenarios where they do indeed have to sacrifice their own self-interest for that of others in order to be moral … even if there’s no balancing potential gain to them somewhere down the line (ie not the Game Theory examples).

    If you don’t think that, then you’re an Egoist, and are therefore open to the sort of selfish behaviour that Rand at least SHOULD be advocating.

  • Verbose Stoic

    I think I said elsewhere in this thread that generalizing it to a government always working that way would be a step too far, although noted that under what I think of as a Randian Enlightened Egoist view the distrust comes from the implication that the government committee is acting “altruistically” … only for the benefit of others, and has no relevant self-interests. That at any time a government committee MIGHT act on the basis of self-interest and politics rather than the public good is, well, something that we obviously know can and does happen; we’ve seen it in many. many cases over recorded human history. That is ALWAYS has to be that way is debatable. But in the work itself, right here, it isn’t unrealistic to think that the SSI might well be playing politics with Rearden Metal, and so there’s no reason for us to accept that it isn’t on the basis of simply asserted tests that they didn’t do but that somehow the SSI won’t outline.

    Again, in order to make government organizations trustworthy — I think both according to Rand and according to common sense — you have to make it so that the self-interest of the participants and the public good are always in lock step. That way, if they act selfishly they’ll still do what they’re supposed to, and if they act non-selfishly they’ll obviously do what they’re supposed to. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen that’s not always the case.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Since it doesn’t present it either way — the SSI doesn’t list any tests that they didn’t do — there is no reason to assume that Eddie’s comments are “We didn’t do any tests” as opposed to “They aren’t listing any facts that we can show tests to refute”. You’re reading your own interpretation of the words, but that isn’t the one that seems to make the most sense. Although, in my case, I can only go from what Adam quoted. Do you have any other context to demonstrate that your interpretation is the most reasonable one? Noting that when Dagny decides to use Rearden Metal, her main argument is that she’s seen the tests, and so we know that at least SOME tests were done. Add in that Rearden is explicitly noted for being scrupulously honest and always delivering on his promises, and we really should presume that he made sure he did everything he needed to.

  • Verbose Stoic

    We’re not the same person.

    And he didn’t fix what Rand wrote. His additions are perfectly valid interpretations of the words in context. I think it’s your dislike for Randian philosophy and your assumption that they can’t consider rational self-interest that makes you assume that they would be so short-sighted as to not do reasonable testing on the product in the, what, 10 years it was in development before trying to sell it.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Gee, you followed that along from a couple of specific comments where we happen to roughly agree … ignoring all of the other ones where only one of us posts or, gasp, we argue with each other …

  • Nancy McClernan

    “Roughly” agree? I asked Verbose Stoic what an Enlightened Egoist was – Science Avenger answers. Then throughout the conversation on EE, you each answer for the other, including when I said I was trying to understand “your personal philosophy.”

    But OK, whatever, maybe you’re just extremely alike. I can debate you both at the same time. Your arguments are indistinguishable from each others on the issues at hand.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Nobody said Eddie’s comments mean “we didn’t do any tests” YOU said

    From what is quoted here, the novel pretty much presents it as Rearden having done all of the tests one could reasonably expect him to

    OK so you yourself limited the issue to “from what is quoted here.” So what is quoted here?

    “We can’t fight it. It can’t be answered,” Eddie was saying. “We can’t demand a retraction. We can’t show them our tests or prove anything. They’ve said nothing. They haven’t said a thing that could be refuted and embarrass them professionally. It’s the job of a coward. You’d expect it from some con-man or blackmailer. But, Dagny! It’s the State Science Institute!”

    The novel does not present Rearden having done all of the tests in what is quoted here. The only thing it says is that there was more than one test. Period.

    But given the custom-tailored universe that Rand has created, there’s no point in asking for plausibility or fairness. Rand has already decided that in this world, there is good and evil. The SSI, along with all government bodies (except the military, which Ragnar Danneskjold generously refrains from robbing) are evil, and nothing they do makes sense. So even if Rearden had done all the tests one could reasonably expect of him – and then shown them – the outcome would likely have been the same anyway. So to a certain extent I’m not sure why Adam picked this particular issue.

    Especially when there will be plenty of clear-cut examples of Rand’s disdain for testing and regulations in the book soon enough – in the cases of the Rearden Metal bridge and the Taggart Transcontinental’s race through small town America.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I think that it’s likely that “Enlightened Egoists” define what self-interest means as they wish. So that if someone says they are doing something good for society, the EE assumes that the person doesn’t also believe that the good for society is in their own self-interest.

    So the more interesting question is how an EE decides that their self-interest is rational and that of others is not. And apparently it’s irrational to play video games. Although we are supposed to leap to the conclusion that someone playing video games is incapable of doing anything else.

    Apparently “enlightened” means whatever suits the Enlightened Egoist’s personal prejudices.

  • Science Avenger

    And apparently it’s irrational to play video games.

    Oh FFS, no one here said that. I talked of someone who spends their LIFE playing video games. Hell, back in the day I was the champ of the quarter video arcades. You won’t find many people my age (pushing 50) who are as tolerant of them as I am. However, there is a world of difference between playing once in a while and doing nothing else. But of course, it takes a person interested in honest discourse and truly understanding the other side’s perspective to make the trifling effort it takes to recognize this, and your tedious intentional obtuseness has convinced me that you are neither.

  • Science Avenger

    Fuck you. We are two different people, as anyone with the slightest skill at discerning different writing styles could tell.

    You are the poster child for why so many Objectivists claim all their critics are dishonest and misrepresent them. STFU already.

  • Science Avenger

    Yeah, she does seem to have a priviledged perspective that entitles her to control who says what where.

    I invite Adam to check whatever he needs to check to confirm that we are different people so we can show this presumptuous fool for what she is. I won’t wait for an apology though, she clearly doesn’t have the integrity for that.

  • Science Avenger

    “The Market” is effectively God for secular republicans. You can replace the two terms in their comments without any loss of clarity.

  • Science Avenger

    While I don’t doubt “a” libertarian told you that, unless libertarianism has changed a lot over the last 20 years (and I don’t think it has, ie Ron Paul) that’s quite a minority position. Most libs believe in a very minimal government, ignoring that with a far more complex society than we had ~240 years ago, we need a far more complex government.

  • jejune



    The guy was just an idiot on yahoo news

    But I was kinda shocked to learn that all first world countries, not just the USA, would BENEFIT from moving to Somalian like ‘government’

    He could have been a troll but it’s so hard to tell these days, you know?

  • Science Avenger

    My apologies to Adam and everyone else for the outburst. I don’t take kindly to being misrepresented or falsely accused of dishonesty, and she did both. I may be an asshole, but I’m an honest asshole.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Since you had no idea what the term meant until a very short time ago, why do you now feel so confident as to be able to pronounce on what they’d think? Especially since I gave you, repeatedly, examples of what an EE would consider rational or enlightened self-interest: the various examples from Game Theory, like the Iterative Prisoner’s Dilemma.

    Now, in some sense self-interest is indeed personal. Your own self-interest is always related to what you want, and at least some wants are subjective. So, for some, it is in their rational self-interest to play video games as entertainment. But one shouldn’t decide to satisfy that desire if the consequence is, say, that they do that instead of studying, which means that they fail their courses, which means that they aren’t able to get that better job that is clearly MORE in their self-interest than that short time playing video games.

    EEs, essentially, argued against the strawman of Egoism that you didn’t have to be stupidly selfish if you considered your own self-interest to be your primary moral concern. The focus on your own self-interest comes from Egoism itself.

  • Verbose Stoic

    If Rearden HADN’T done all the tests that one could be reasonably expected to have done, then the SSI could have pointed to that test to pay politics. But they can’t, so the reasonable interpretation IN THE CONTEXT OF THE WORK is that he did what anyone in society would have expected him to do (whether or not that would be sufficient is another matter). And yes, it is odd that Adam picked this one since there is no indication in what he gave that Rearden did anything wrong in this.

  • Verbose Stoic

    And then I answered, pointing out that he was roughly right but talking about other things. You replied to that one. And I dare you to find one case where I answered for him.

  • TBP100

    Just heard the op. 130, with the Grosse Fuge. I think it pretty much covers the waterfront of human emotion. Not all art has to be so all-encompassing, but art isn’t supposed to be one-dimensional, espressing just happy thoughts in one particular way.

  • Beth Clarkson

    Thanks. I’ve been quite enjoying your Atlas Shrugged series.

  • J_Enigma32

    I’ve seen a number of Libertarian arguments that read like one of C.S. Lewis’ apologetics. Supposedly, they’re written by “hyperskeptics” who can’t possibly understand why an atheist would stop worshiping God and then start worshiping the government. You’ve got apologetics, you’ve got inclosed groups where dissent isn’t really allowed, you’ve got the No True Scotsman fallacy in play anytime you bring up something inconvenient to them, and projection. Sounds like a full blow cult to me.

    One of the things I do when I find Libertarians online is I corner them and force them to admit they’re fine with letting people die if those people don’t have any useful skills that the Market wants, and then hammer them with that every time they open their mouth. Since I don’t argue against them so much as I argue for any fence setters, it’s very useful to have them say, in their own words, that they don’t care if homeless people or disabled people or people who just happen to have hit on a hard time die. It makes ‘em look like the cold blooded bastards they are.

  • J_Enigma32

    I can see where the danger lies in making that argument, true. I still think it’s justified, though, since Rand goes through an awful lot tearing the government down completely in this novel only to present it as a necessity in that particular interview I linked to. If I see an atheist who rips apart God and Church as completely immoral and absolutely evil but then turns around and says both are absolutely necessary to maintain order, I’d question what type of atheist they were and if they really believed what they said or not; you’re spouting two contradictory things, neither of which can be true at the same time (even though Rand is right about the government).

    Now, one thing I didn’t know about Rand until I read her autobiography (the wonderful little webcomic linked elsewhere in the thread) is that she was a hardcore authoritarian. You could swap her with Stalin and nothing would change. Authoritarians are capable of internalizing contradictory positions, because they compartmentalize, so I may very well be wrong. It may be a case of Rand displaying blackwhite duckspeak.

  • Science Avenger

    I think you’ve gotten the wrong impression of Rand’s views. She was not an anarchist. She tears down the government completely in AS because it was the embodiment of an evil government per her standards. But a government that restricted itself to standard libertarian limits was just fine with her.There is no contradiction here, just the usual weaknesses of libertarianism.

  • A Real Libertarian

    “Could she really have rejected a scientific theory just because it was called ‘relativity’?”

    Andrew Schlafly does:

  • Science Avenger

    The modern scientific process of peer review and collaboration runs counter to Rand’s view of the solitary mind at work. She explicitly says that one cannot be forced to think, or think in groups, which shows how much she paid attention to what actually occurs in the world. I’m pretty sure she says “there is no such thing as a group mind” in her works. You’ll notice that her heroes never work with anyone else when they are solving problems, not even each other.

  • Science Avenger

    Here’s a comment from one of the Objectivist sites that I skimmed this morning, and it’s a good example of the sort of thing you’ll run into trying to discuss this subject with Objectivists:

    “If modern physics isn’t based on a rational epistemology, then the physicists will need to explain what their epistemology is. No science, including physics, can arise without a philosophical foundation of some kind.”

    In other words, to hell with your observations if you can’t explain it in a manner I find acceptable.

  • Don Sakers

    Please remember the time when the book was written — the very time that asbestos, lead paint, and tobacco were unregulated and openly sold. It was an era when people actually believed that business owners were benevolent and wouldn’t sell products that were harmful. It was a different world.

    When Atlas Shrugged was published, Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed was still 8 years in the future.