Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Of realism and reason

Social-realism, that is, and "reason" according to [eyes roll] Ayn Rand.

Abiola Lapite dittoes a Libertarian Alliance review of The Passion of Ayn Rand by David Ramsay Steele. (Do they scourge her? 'Cause I'd totally pay ten bucks to see that! I don't think so, but the movie version was direct to Showtime so be ready for homoeroticism. Boy-boy or girl-girl?*)

One question I can easily envision being asked is why I and other subscribers to libertarianism would be so antagonistic to the work of someone who subscribes to largely the same set of values we do - individualism, a healthy respect for self-interest, and a belief in free-markets as the right way to go. I can't say with confidence that my answer will necessarily be typical of that offered by other libertarians, but for me at least, all questions of literary merit aside, I do not believe that my cause is really furthered in the long-run by fallacious and simple-minded arguments; what is more, I find the cultish tendencies of the Randroids extremely disturbing as a believer in individualism. If I were intent on discrediting libertarianism as a body of ideas, I could think of no easier and surer way to do so than to allow it to become associated in the public mind with Objectivism, neo-Confederate "paleolibertarianism", gold-standard fetishism, and other kooky movements that would give pause to any reasonable person who was exposed to them. The more sensible liberals were wise enough to recognize the folly of the notion that there could be "no enemies on the left", and sensible libertarians likewise recognize that there are movements that aren't worth associating with.
From the review itself
Well, there is a lot of talk about reason and individualism, just as among Bolsheviks there is a lot of talk about science. But reason does not consist in shrieking the word 'reason' all the time. It consists in subjecting one's ideas to rational criticism, holding every position tentatively, and being prepared to abandon any position if it is successfully criticised. Reason consists, as Socrates put it, in 'following the argument wherever it leads', especially. of course, if it leads where you don't want to go. There is no evidence that the Randists understood the most elementary requirements of rational discourse. Branden quotes Sidney Hook, from his review of Rand's For the New Intellectual: "Despite the great play with the word 'reason', one is struck by the absence of any serious argument in this unique combination of tautology and extravagant absurdity." (321) That is exactly right. The Objectivists, no less than the devotees of a theistic sect, are engaged in abusing their minds by reiterating articles of faith.
Rand asserts that ethics is entirely based on reason, and that the supreme moral virtue is selfishness. or rational self-interest....This seems clear enough: it is moral to do what is to one's advantage, and immoral to do what is against one's advantage. It follows that it is moral to cheat, murder, and steal, on those occasions where a rational analysis shows this to be to one's advantage. But no such conclusion is drawn by Rand. Respecting other people's lives and property, even when this hurts one's bank balance or survival prospects, is stated to be in one's rational self-interest. From a biological point of view - maximising one's chances of survival, good health, or reproduction - this is obviously not always the case.....[T]here is no clear stipulation of how the nature of man as a rational being, or the values which it is permissible for a rational egoist to cherish. are to be determined. The outcome is that Rand appears to be urging egoism. but is actually urging unselfish sacrifice of one's interests to what she tells us is the life proper to a rational being. All this terrible confusion and double-talk arises because Rand cannot stomach the manifest truth that it can be to a person's advantage to violate the rights of another person. If ethics is to tell us that people's rights may not he violated, it must tell us that we ought sometimes to do things against our own interests.
Abiola approvingly notes the reviewer's reference to Rand's appropriation of social-realist aesthetics. This isn't often brought up, probably as a result of rabid reactions by Rand fanatics at the slightest insinuation that their prophet (pbuh) ripped off a bunch of collectivists. However, Rand formulated her philosophy and organized her "movement" deliberately as a mirror universe version of Marxism.

Abiola Lapite has been linked under Current Affairs

*Also from Steele's review
[Barbara Branden, the author of The Passion of Ayn Rand] does note that Rand had problems with her own femininity, that when she was young she had a fierce crush on a beautiful female tennis-player, that Rand wore short hair and a cape, chain-smoked. and for a while even carried a cane, that she was always strangely drawn to beautiful women. Naively or wisely, Branden who psychologises a lot on other matters, does not speculate about this.
One imdb user review of the film adaptation entitled "Testimony of a disgruntled former associate" that starts "I didn't rate the film (having not seen it and having only read the book)" and finishes "This is the position of the Barbara Branden book - to suggest Rand's achievements are trivial without demonstrating the capability to challenge them" also complains,
And although I have no basis to comment on casting, it would be a good idea in future film treatment of her character to use a European actress, not an American one, to portray her - as done here. It takes a European to play one, since they have a different educational history than what American public education has afforded its actresses. In other words, most American actresses couldn't handle the literate dialog.
emphasis mine
The reviewer, occupant-1, correctly notes that Ayn Rand was European, specifically Russian. In the film, Rand is played by London native Helen Mirren, born Ilyena Vasilievna Mironova, granddaughter of a Russian aristocrat stranded in Britain by the Bolshevik Revolution.

I normally wouldn't pass judgment on someone on the basis of an imdb user review, but I'm making an exception in this case. Congratulations, occupant-1, not only have you made it onto the Way of the Intercepting Fisk Official List of "Fackin' Eedjits" in record time, but you've managed to debut at Number #1 on your very first try, not unlike a Beatles of the f*ckwit charts.

(Does Helen Mirren get naked in this one? I don't know but, judging from her track record, I'd say your chances of middle-aged-yet-somehow-still-scorchingly-hot Anglo-Russian nudity are pretty good. So there's a possibility of Helen Mirren-Julie Delpy nekkid girl-on-girl action? Sweet.)