Why don’t people like Ayn Rand?

I have no earthly idea, myself. Her analyses always seem so coherent. For instance, here she is discussing Zen Buddhism.

If all the manufacturers of railroad engines suddenly went irrational and
began to manufacture covered wagons instead, nobody would accept the
claim that this is a progressive innovation or that the iron horse has failed;
and many men would step into the industrial vacuum to start manufacturing
railroad engines. But when this happens in philosophy—when we are
offered Zen Buddhism and its equivalents as the latest word in human
thought—nobody, so far, has chosen to step into the intellectual vacuum to
carry on the work of man’s mind.
Thus our great industrial civilization is now expected to run railroads,
airlines, intercontinental missiles and H-bomb stock piles by the guidance of
philosophical doctrines created by and for barefoot savages who lived in
mudholes, scratched the soil for a handful of grain and gave thanks to the
statues of distorted animals whom they worshipped as superior to man.

That’s from “For The New Intellectual” BTW, in case you were wondering. Well, as an undoubtedly “old” intellectual, let’s see if I can examine this, just a little bit.

In the first place, I’d like to congratulate the Chinese and Japanese peoples, you’ve disguised your barefooted savagery pretty well, bravo! Let’s see, where do I go from here? Could it be that the whole “statues of distorted animals” thing is completely and utterly wrong? Neither Zen Buddhism, nor Shinto, the two major religious forces in Japan, have any sort of animal statuary, that I know of, though people can feel free to correct me, since iconography isn’t my strong suit, for obvious reasons.

India has some pretty funky statues, though they’re mostly “twisted humanoids”, if you want to characterize them that way, which I don’t. Living in mudholes? Really Ms. Rand? You do know the Chinese and Japanese like, totally lived in, and continue to live in, houses and stuff, don’t you? Scratching for a handful of grain? China at least was one of the larger empires of history, notwithstanding various breakups, often between Northern and Southern China. Do you really think they subsisted on handfuls of grain?

This quote is so incredibly wrong, not to mention staggeringly racist, that I’m really not sure where to go from here. From interviews I’ve seen, her main gripe with Zen Buddhism seems to be, A. it’s foreign, and B. it’s old. Of course we shouldn’t run large railroads, airlines, and H-bomb stockpiles by Zen Buddhism, because, here’s a shocking revelation, that’s not what Zen Buddhism is about, AT ALL! Actually I take that back, we should run the H-bomb stockpiles by Zen Buddhism, because then we wouldn’t have any H-Bomb stockpiles, and the world would be a better place.

Well, maybe I just caught Ms. Rand having a bad day though. She’s all about achievement and human greatness! So surely she’s got a better idea of humanity as a whole, you know, we’re a noble rational species that can achieve all sorts of awesome things, that kind of stuff? Please allow me to introduce you to a phrase of Ms. Rand’s, “human ballast”. First, let’s meat “attila” and “the witch doctor” though.

Attila, the man who rules by brute force, acts on the range of the moment, is
concerned with nothing but the physical reality immediately before him,
respects nothing but man’s muscles, and regards a fist, a club or a gun as the
only answer to any problem—and the Witch Doctor, the man who dreads
physical reality, dreads the necessity of practical action, and escapes into his
emotions, into visions of some mystic realm where his wishes enjoy a
supernatural power unlimited by the absolute of nature.

After a bunch of explanatory blather, we find that these two are in an alliance against a third group of people. Ah, you’re thinking, they’re in an alliance against the awesome men of ability, the intellectuals that produce stuff! Yep! OK, so we have attila, who beats people up to rule them, and the witch doctor, who tricks people to rule them, and the poor poor beleaguered men of ability. But are their other people? I’m so glad you asked!

Against whom is this alliance formed? Against those men whose
existence and character both Attila and the Witch Doctor refuse to admit into
their view of the universe: the men who produce. In any age or society, there
are men who think and work, who discover how to deal with existence, how
to produce the intellectual and the material values it requires. These are the
men whose effort is the only means of survival for the parasites of all
varieties: the Attilas, the Witch Doctors and the human ballast. The ballast
consists of those who go through life in a state of unfocused stupor, merely
repeating the words and the motions they learned from others. But the men
from whom they learn, the men who are first to discover any scrap of new
knowledge, are the men who deal with reality, with the task of conquering
nature, and who, to that extent, assume the responsibility of cognition: of
exercising their rational faculty.
A producer is any man who works and knows what he is doing. He may
function on a fully human, conceptual level of awareness only some part of
his time, but, to that extent, he is the Atlas who supports the existence of
mankind; he may spend the rest of his time in an unthinking daze, like the
others, and, to that extent, he is the exploited, drained, tortured, selfdestroying
victim of their schemes.

So there you go kids. You’re either a producer, in which case you’re probably being victimized. But you’re probably not because, let’s face it, when’s the last time you helped conquer nature, huh punk? When’s the last time you really knew what you were doing, completely, with no doubts? Come on now, be honest, for most of us that hardly ever happens. So you probably go into one of the other three buckets. Which is good because honestly, I gotta give Ms. Rand one thing, supporting all of mankind sounds pretty damn tiring!

OK, so let’s see, you’re not a producer. That means you’re a parasite. Ha! See how Ms. Rand tricked you there? You think there are four classes of humanity, but in reality there are only two! See, if you were a producer you would have instantly realized that the other three are subdivisions of the parasite class! That just proves you’re not a producer! You shouldn’t even be reading this, it’ll probably hurt your poor little mind! Get back to your mudhole and try to scratch out a handful of grain, you barefoot savage!

OK, where was I? Oh yes, parasites! So assuming you’re not a producer, and even though everybody wants to be not everybody can be, that’s the law of averages for you, that means you’re a parasite. So take a good long look in the mirror, and ask yourself: Do I try to trick people with my mind? Do I beat people up? Do I just flail around ineptly repeating what others say like a parrot? Because those are your options. You’re either “attila”, “the witch doctor”, or “human ballast”. Those are your Randian options. This prompts me to ask a question.

This is the flip side of “people are totally awesome and we should celebrate achievement!” That’s generally what those who admire Rand say they get out of her, this grand vision that yes we can achieve, we can do all sorts of things, we can be rational, Etc. Curiously though, nobody wants to talk about the flip side, which is, the rest of humanity are a bunch of parasites. Why should I take Ayn Rand’s gibberish seriously again?

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2 Responses to Why don’t people like Ayn Rand?

  1. Henry Emrich says:

    Several reasons (unfortunately): Ayn Rand didn’t really "originate" a goddamn thing. This is important to understand, both because of how creativity and ‘innovation" really work (see your previous post about "9 things nobody told me"), and because it will help you to NOT be surprised when the REAL axioms underlying Rand’s bullshit keep coming up other places. What do I mean by this? 1. Everything Ayn Rand ever wrote falls into one of the following categories: A. Her Metaphysics is basically extremely-garbled Aristotle. B. her epistemology is basically Pre-Aristotelian, in that it accepts the rigid dichotomy between "Reason" (symbolized by Apollo) and "Passion"/emotion (symbolized by Dionysus). Hence, the utterly contradictory claim that Emotions are the product of "automatic value-judgements in response to one’s values") which are much faster than rational thought, but one must NEVER be "guided" by those indicators, because then one is an "emotionalist". (This claim is odd, if you think about it: if I had a car which is explicitly designed to give me indications of how it is functioning, am I supposed to ignore — or continuously second-guess — those indicator gauges, on the grounds that they "might" be malfunctioning, but in the absence of any actuall evidence of such a malfunction? Her whole thing, is a David Hume-style skepticism of (and contempt for) one’s own emotions: she HAS to explain why they exist, but she still has to demonize them as much as possible — much like some variants of Christianity, in regard to sexuality. So for Rand, emotions are basically a "necessary evil". C. Her ethics, are straight out of Nietzsche. The "men of ability" are his Ubermenschen, and the clearest way you can see this, is to remember her statement not merely condoning, but actually CELEBRATING the attempted-genocide of the indigenous tribal populations of what is now the U.S.A., on the grounds that they weren’t using their resources "in a human fashion" or "were living like animals" or however she worded it. Add to that, the fact that she so obviously presumes "Ability" to be an innate (rather than developed) quality, that she doesn’t bother to provide a technique for developing it. For want of a better term, Rand’s ubermenschen are just basically "talented": there’s no way to develop their abilities, and really no way NOT to become one of them, if you possess the correct "talent". They’re basically a "race" unto themselves, in this regard. Rand and Nazi ideology are parallel in another way, too: The Nazis had "The Jews", and the notion that a purer Aryan civilization was being degraded by "Jewish" propaganda fronts such as communism, capitalism, Christianity, jazz, conceptual art, etc. etc. Well, Rand’s system has that too, except Immanuel Kant is Rand’s "eternal jew", and basically everything in philosophy or culture she doesn’t happen to like originating after his time, is condemned as "Kantian" — environmentalism, feminism, anybody who would dare to protest against the actions of her Ubermenschen, etc. Really, the ONLY difference between Rand and the Nazis, is that in regard to the Jewish (oops, I mean "Kantian") Question, the Nazis elected to take a more active role in ridding the world of "human ballast", so that the Aryan Ubermenschen could flourish. Rand, by contrast, at her "best" merely advocates some variant of "let nature take it’s course" (especially since helping the looter/moocher/ballast would constitute some form of "altruism". So the first reason to take Rand seriously, is the fact of where her pernicious bullshit is recycled FROM. 2. Another reason to take her seriously, is she is the primary source of apologia used by the lying pukes who want us all to ignore the REAL economic system we live in (Transnational, corporate oligarchy), or mistake it for the totally-mythical construct called "The Free Market". That way, government will never actually reign in the pernicious abuses of the corporatocracy, because doing so can be demonized as "meddling with the Free Market". Libertarians, Objectivists, and the half-literate idiot-fest calling itself the "Tea Party" are all Rand’s bastard stepchildren, in this regard. 3. Another reason to take Rand VERY seriously, is that her bullshit (and it’s various derivatives) is really seductive (and comforting) for the various demographics usually demeaned as "nerds" or "geeks": people who like learning, don’t hang out with their "clique", and aren’t really "into" popularity. Rand’s stuff could be very powerful for people like that: it says "the jocks and "popular" kids are just jealous! They hate you because you’re good!" Then, when the high-school game is over, but the "popularity cliques" continue after you graduate (in the form of celebrity-gossip and other bullshit), Rand gives a plausible reason to NOT help out the aforementioned jock/cheerleader/assholes (or even give them a "living wage") when they end up working for your business, if you’re one of those nerd/geeks lucky enough to have the seed-capital to start a business, etc. I’m not saying all nerd/geek/intellectual types will be seduced by Rand. For a good example of where ELSE the nerd/geek thing can go, you need look no further than Richard Stallman and the whole "open-source" scene (which is just about as Anti-Randian as you can get, while, ironically enough, ALSO actually managing to be much closer to the otherwise-mythical "Free market", than the proprietary-software scene could ever be). So yeah, there’s a hell of a lot of reasons to take Rand seriously, even if you think her "philosophy" is total bullshit.

  2. khomus says:

    Very well put. Just to clarify, I meant "take seriously" in the sense of, actually wish to follow. I do take it seriously in your sense, hence the quotes and commentary. I’m a firm believer that people need to see the actual crazy. You shouldn’t just get to go, oh Hitler was crazy, or Pat Robertson is crazy, or whatever. Sometimes, you should read/listen to a speech, watch their show, see their political positions in debate, Etc. Don’t just blow it off as crazy, because then you don’t really understand what you’re talking about. Hence the extensive quotations, here, have a real look at this person’s thought. <br/> <br/>I do this for two reasons, the extensive quotation this is. In the first place, I think snippets don’t really give you a full view. In the second place, I don’t want my admittedly sarcastic commentary to distort the originals. You don’t have to take my word for it, you can see the very things I’m talking about, and decide whether you agree with me or not. <br/> <br/>This as opposed to Rand. For instance, just who exactly, Ca. 1960, was telling us to run railroads and large H-bomb stockpiles via Zen Buddhism? We have no idea whatsoever, because Rand gives no examples, let alone quotations. So even if I say, that’s crazy, which it is BTW, how do I actually refute it? That becomes a lot more difficult, since I have no idea who or what she was referring to. Maybe there was somebody who really advocated that, I have no idea.

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