The Raving Theist

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She Ayn’t What You Think She Is

May 10, 2006 | 51 Comments

Ayn Rand is thought of as an atheist philosopher, but was she? In response to an Objectivist who was “apoplectic” that Austin Cline hadn’t included the writer on his list of American philosophers, Cline disputes her credentials as a deep thinker:

There’s good reason why I don’t list Ayn Rand as an American philosopher: I don’t consider her a philosopher. Neither do other philosophers — you won’t find her works taught in most (any?) philosophy departments. You also won’t find her discussed in any standard works on the history of philosophy — either in general or specifically American philosophy.

At least, I haven’t seen her mentioned in any of the works I’ve read and used. She doesn’t appear to be in Grayling’s two volume introduction to philosophy, the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, or Kuklick’s history of American philosophy — just to name a couple of sources at hand. I suppose there must be some philosophy reference works out there which at least mention Rand and Objectivism, but it doesn’t appear to be common — and for good reason, I think.

Cline nevertheless notes that he finds it “appropriate” to maintain several pages of Rand/Objectivism related links and information because “Objectivism is an atheistic ideology and this is a site that deals with atheism.”

But should Rand be considered more of an atheist than she was a philosopher? She certainly identified herself as an atheist, but I’d say she wrote far more that would qualify as “philosophical” than “atheistic.” In fact, I’m not aware that she wrote so much as a single essay setting forth her reasons for disbelief in God; she was no Anthony Flew or George Smith or Michael Martin or Robert Ingersoll. As I understand it, she felt theological questions were unworthy of much analysis, to be brushed aside in favor of more important topics. And lack of god-belief wasn’t a prominent theme in either of her major works, The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. So featuring her in any significant way on an atheism site is questionable. Novelists Robert Ludlum and Mary Clark Higgins may well be Christians (I don’t know), but nobody would include them on a Christian apologetics website by reason of their bare religious affiliations.

Similarly, it’s misleading to characterize Objectivism as “atheistic.” It’s the equivalent of speaking of “atheistic communism,” where atheism is not meaningfully the centerpiece of what is ultimately a socio-economic theory. Rand’s protege and populizer, Nathaniel Branden, was once asked whether he thought there was something about Rand’s philosophy that “doesn’t track with a belief in God.” He indicated that the relationship between Objectivism and atheism was somewhat incidental:


I would put it differently. I would say that as an advocate of reason and as an opponent of any form of revelation or faith or supernaturalism she would regard the belief in God as something that could only be an act of faith and therefore groundless philosophically. And therefore it isn’t that we were “anti-god” but there would be no grounds within our view of reality to put up the idea of a supernatural being. I was personally an atheist long before I ever read Ayn Rand. I was an atheist when I was 12 years old for reasons unrelated to anything that she wrote. And most of the people in our circle actually were before — as far as I could say they — read Ayn Rand although I’m not certain that that’s true in every case. The interesting thing is, you know, if you are keenly interested then this is kind of a hot issue for objectivism but you must understand that for us it was not a hot issue. Meaning we were not polemicists we were not militants on the subject. We were simply non-believers.

Perhaps, then, atheism is a common by-product (or premise) of Objectivism, insofar as Objectivism promotes reason. But most philosophies or ideologies purport to advocate reason — few openly declare that they are employing illogic — so it’s unclear how Objectivism stakes a special claim as an incubator of godlessness (it may even be consistent in some ways with God-belief; see my series on that issue here, here, here and here). Historically, yes, there has been an identifiable association between Objectivism and atheism, but whether Objectivism is an “atheistic ideology” is a separate question.

Comments

51 Responses to “She Ayn’t What You Think She Is”

  1. Mookie
    May 10th, 2006 @ 3:55 pm

    I figure the lack of gods is in response to xianity and other religions encouraging charity, which involves sharing, a big no-no for selfishness and greed.

  2. bernarda
    May 10th, 2006 @ 3:56 pm

    Ayn Rand and “objectivism” are simply a stage people–like me–go through at between 18 and 20 something. Almost everyone outgrows it.

  3. Aaron Kinney
    May 10th, 2006 @ 6:26 pm

    Actually, in The Fountainhead, the main character cites that his reason for being an architect was because he never believed in God.

    And a major part of the book involves the main character building a religious temple that ends up being a sort of a shrine to man rather than any higher form of spirituality, no doubt because of his atheistic views. This ends up getting him in a big deal of trouble.

  4. Aaron
    May 11th, 2006 @ 12:15 am

    I remember an enormous passage in Atlas Shrugged where atheism is discussed. As a matter of fact, I think it’s in that long passage when Galt gets on the radio and talks for, like, a hundred pages. At any rate, I remember it as something specifically atheist. I know I’m not being too helpful here, but I am positive it’s a large part of Rand’s discussion in that sequence.

  5. Solidus
    May 11th, 2006 @ 3:41 am

    I’m just glad the its the Raving Atheist posting instead of the Unaborted Atheist!

  6. hermesten
    May 11th, 2006 @ 8:37 am

    Whatever her flaws, I still think her contributions to the social discourse remain on the net positive side. She has probably helped put a lot of people on the right path, even though, as bernarda says, we eventually leave her behind.

  7. Viole
    May 11th, 2006 @ 10:08 am

    I’m not so sure. In my experience, the true believers of Objectivism are the most dogmatic atheists out there. They don’t just believe they’re right(and most people assume they’ve got a decent grasp on reality), they believe everyone else is wrong.

    Ayn Rand turned capitalism into a religion.

  8. Mookie
    May 11th, 2006 @ 10:50 am

    Game theory has since disproved or nullified much of what she had to say. Natural human decency also destroys her greed logic. Had humans been like what she wanted us to be, our species would have died out long ago. Hobbes was wrong, and so is she.

  9. Kafkaesquí
    May 11th, 2006 @ 1:54 pm

    Mookie, that’s actually what came to mind when I first learned about Nash’s theory. I thought “Boy, Ayn must have felt like a right idiot when this hit.”

    How naive I once was.

  10. Mister Swill
    May 11th, 2006 @ 2:24 pm

    Ayn Rand is a good example of something that I have argued on this site in the past: It is not belief in God, per se, that leads to the problems discussed here. The website’s tag line, “How Religious Devotion Trivializes American Law and Politics,” is apt if “religious” is taken to mean “fervently believed.” The issue is not what a person believes, but how that person believes.

    Among my problems with Rand and her followers is their unbending devotion to abstract ideals. Rand herself even uses the word “religious” (in the same sense that I use it above) to describe Howard Roark, hero of The Fountainhead and illustration of “the ideal man:”

    “Mr. Stoddard, I’m afraid you’ve made a mistake,” [Roark] said, his voice slow and tired. “I don’t think I’m the man you want. I don’t think it would be right for me to undertake it. I don’t believe in God.”

    He was astonished to see Hopton Stoddard’s expression of delight and triumph. … He drew himself up with new confidence, and he said firmly, for the first time in the tone of an old man addressing a youth, wise and gently patronizing:

    “That doesn’t matter. You’re a profoundly religious man, Mr. Roark — in your own way. I can see that in your buildings.”

    He wondered why Roark stared at him like that, without moving, for such a long time.

    “That’s true,” said Roark. It was almost a whisper.

    Rand and her followers may not believe in God, but they are certainly devoted to a set of concepts that are treated as absolutes. Rand actually argued that she had arrived at her moral system — and, if I’m not mistaken, her aesthetic taste — through logic alone, unaided by the biases of emotion. She believed that she had discovered the objective set of values (hence Objectivism) by which humanity could be judged.

    But, as I have argued many times, abstract values such as good and bad, moral and immoral, beautiful and ugly, are inherently subjective. And whether one believes that they were handed down by an infallible God or arrived at through infallible logic, to treat a subjective value as objective silly at best, dangerous at worst.

  11. hermesten
    May 11th, 2006 @ 2:35 pm

    “Rand and her followers may not believe in God, but they are certainly devoted to a set of concepts that are treated as absolutes.”

    This is probably her biggest negative. I also give high negatives to her dogmatic promotion of capitalism and her dogmatic attacks on communism. And I admit, Mr. Swill, that it took me years to shed some of her dogmatic notions on aestheticism. Today, maybe the negatives overcome the positives, but many years ago, when I read Rand, there wasn’t much in the way of readily available alternatives to the status quo –at least any that were safe to persue in the “Land of the Free.”

  12. Mister Swill
    May 11th, 2006 @ 2:58 pm

    Oh, I can totally understand how someone could get sucked in to Ayn Rand, especially when they’re younger. The first bit in The Fountainhead in which Howard Roark calmly explains to the dean why he doesn’t care that he’s being kicked out of the architecture program hooked me right away. I’m sure if I had read it at 14 I would have become a follower of hers for a time. Fortunately, I didn’t have the attention span at 14 to wade through the ponderous prose of the prodigious parable.

  13. NickOtani
    May 11th, 2006 @ 6:16 pm

    It is unfortunate some philosophers don’t consider Rand a philosopher. She is, at least, a good popularizer of philosophy, in the same sense that Mortimer Adler is. She had philosopher friends for awhile. John Hospers is a respected philosopher who quoted her often in his textbooks. Philosophers such as Dr. Hazel E. Barnes and William F. O’Neill have written about her extensively.

    A few of her followers, Piekoff and Kelly, are PhD’s in philosophy.

    As an atheist, she said some eloquent things about Christian morality. Here is what John Galt said about the concept of original sin:

    [quote]Damnation is the start of your morality. Destruction is its purpose, means, and end. Your code begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good which it defines as impossible for him to practice. It demands, as his first proof of virtue, that he accept his own depravity without proof. It demands that he start, not with a standard of value, but with a standard of evil, which is himself, by means of which he is then to define the good: the good is that which he is not.

    The name of this monstrous absurdity is Original Sin.

    A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it, if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man’s sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man’s nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, justice, and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched. Yet that is the root of your code.

    –Ayn Rand, “Atlas Shrugged” 1957[/quote]

    She didn’t spend a lot of time trying to prove that God does not exist, and she didn’t give theists credit enough to criticize over and over again, but she did make points worth citing against subjugation to a Christian or Abrahamic God.

    bis bald,

    Nick

  14. Mark Plus
    May 11th, 2006 @ 11:22 pm

    Rand implicitly deifies her concept of the “ideal man.” Consider how uncomfortable she felt with the fact that sex in the real world often leads to babies, and that even the most “productive” man eventually goes on the permanent strike called death. She didn’t want to show her deified heroes working their asses off to support kids, with only the grave to look forward to. I mean, could you imagine Dagny chasing around a toddler all day instead of running her railroad?

  15. jahrta
    May 12th, 2006 @ 12:30 pm

    looks as if comment participation is really grinding down to a trickle, huh, RA? If only we could somehow pinpoint this decrease in feedback to some known factor.

    I doubt it has anything to do with the number of pirates in the world, though.

  16. TheAnswer
    May 12th, 2006 @ 12:51 pm

    jahrta:
    Are you so clueless that you haven’t yet figured out why the comments have died out?

    It’s because irrational rants by folks such as you have driven all the theists away. When you atheists are left to talk amongst yourselves, you have literally nothing worthwhile to say.

    The worst thing about atheism is what an utter bore it turns atheists into.

  17. Thorngod
    May 12th, 2006 @ 1:10 pm

    Against boredom, even the gods struggle in vain. -Nietsche.
    -And it is certainly true that atheism is a simple, straightforward proposition as against the teeming jungles of superstition.

  18. jahrta
    May 12th, 2006 @ 1:19 pm

    “Are you so clueless that you haven’t yet figured out why the comments have died out?

    It’s because irrational rants by folks such as you have driven all the theists away. When you atheists are left to talk amongst yourselves, you have literally nothing worthwhile to say.

    The worst thing about atheism is what an utter bore it turns atheists into.”

    I’m not here to entertain you, you miserable little assclown. Let me just disabuse you of that notion here and now. If anything, people like you (aka mentally ill theists, to paraphrase Cal) come here in droves to entertain us.

    That being said, thanks for adding something of interest to this post, so that we may now entertain ourselves by viewing the excreta that is sure to flow from your keyboard like some sort of verbal diarrhea “horn of plenty” – go on, don’t disappoint.

  19. TheAnswer
    May 12th, 2006 @ 1:55 pm

    I’m not here to entertain you, you miserable little assclown.

    Could have fooled me. That last steaming pile was the funniest thing I’ve read in ages. LOL!!!! Please, Please, do continue….I beg you!

  20. Kate
    May 12th, 2006 @ 2:20 pm

    Jahrta only responds to begging if you’re on your knees.

  21. Dada Saves
    May 12th, 2006 @ 2:26 pm

    Mister Swill has it about right, but I’ll go one further: anyone who believes in ‘absolute morality’ believes in something supernatural. As such, Ayn Rand was no atheist.

  22. Liquidus
    May 12th, 2006 @ 2:37 pm

    Ayn Rand made me a Marxist!

  23. Kage no Kami
    May 12th, 2006 @ 4:09 pm

    Ditto

  24. MB
    May 13th, 2006 @ 6:00 am

    Anyone who doesn’t realize that Marxism is a failed political philosophy that inevitably degenerates into rule of the gun, is ignoring the history of the last century. In contrast, Objectivism at least gives a moral justification for a system *that works*. We may not like or respect Rand’s fanatical followers or her dogmatism, but she did synthesize and popularize some interesting and worthwhile ideas:

    1. Morality is an individual issue, not a social issue. Even an individual living in isolation needs to figure out how he should live. Rule 1: use reason not faith.

    2. Enslavement of one individual to the needs of other individuals is wrong, even if the enslaved individual is rich and the other individuals are poor (or vice versa). Marxism somehow managed to miss that one, as did Jesusism. The result in the case of Marxism? Poverty for all but those in power. How noble and inspiring!

    3. Exchanging value for value (capitalism) is a moral and practical system. Rand wiped out the concept that being “good” was impractical and that being practical meant being immoral. She rejected the Jesus-inspired morality that was used even by Marxism.

    I could go on. The point is, if one can read her critically and ignore the absolutism and polemics, Rand has a lot to say that is worth thinking about. Somehow, a lot of what she said is consistent with the evidence in front of our eyes: free markets (“capitalism”) and individual self-interest are moral and they work.

    It is also worth noting that the Libertarian movement in the US was inspired by Rand and would probably not have existed without her.

  25. bernarda
    May 13th, 2006 @ 7:24 am

    “free markets (“capitalism”) and individual self-interest are moral and they work.” What evidence is there for either part of that statement?

    As the economist Proudhon so rightly said, “property is theft”. When humans went from hunter-gatherers to farmers, who decided who got what “property”? There was no owner to “buy” it from. Basicallyl, “property” comes from might-makes-right.

    Self-proclamed rulers became a self-proclamed aristocracy with the “ownership” of the best land, or property. They had no more “moral” right to it than anyone else. They simply had the power to take it.

    Then they invented heredity so they could give their “property” to their children, and in doing so excluded the children of others from benefitting. So now the best property is concentrated in the hands of the few.

    In today’s capitalist world, 80% of the population lives in poverty or even dire poverty. Tens of millions of people die each year, mainly children, because they lack access to basic necessities. How can you say that capitalism is moral when only profits at maximum 20% of the population?

    Individual self-interest cannot exist in a vacuum. It can only exist as a subset of collective interest. Individuals rely on the work of previous collective generations. One person in a cave or house protecting “his” individual property against all intruders would not have a very easy or pleasant life.

    Of course the rulers who seized good land for themselves also invented the forces of “law and order”, which are not there to protect the population, but to protect the property-holders. Protecting society members from “crime” is the pretext they use. Of course that rarely applies to their own crimes of pillaging resources for their own benefit and to the detriment of the vast majority.

    Look over the development of capitalism just from the discovery of the new world. It developed through pillage. The Brits in North America and the Spanish in South America developed on the seizing of “property”, i.e. resources. Even that wasn’t enough so they pillaged “human resources” through the Atlantic slave trade.

    Industrial society was largely financed in this way.

  26. markm
    May 13th, 2006 @ 11:12 am

    “In today’s capitalist world, 80% of the population lives in poverty or even dire poverty. Tens of millions of people die each year, mainly children, because they lack access to basic necessities. How can you say that capitalism is moral when only profits at maximum 20% of the population?” What country are you talking about here? If that’s your picture of the USA, I suggest you try taking off the shit-colored glasses.

    Yes, most of the world is mired in dire poverty. Most of the world is also socialist, or has a government that uses socialism or some other collectivist “ism” as an excuse to grab anything they see that they want, or have no effective government besides street gangs because the government discredited itself through acting like street gangs. These are not capitalist countries, and they’re the same ones that are desperately poor. The countries that are rich are the ones where private property is usually protected and the government doesn’t mess around too much with the capitalists. The country that has for the last century gave the best protection for private property and burdened capital the least is the USA, and it is by far the richest of any country with more than a few million people – so rich that our welfare payments match middle class income in most of the world.

  27. markm
    May 13th, 2006 @ 11:27 am

    Uh, what was the topic again? Right, Ayn Rand. A dreadful writer except when she poured her emotions and her personal experience with Communism into the pages of We the Living.

    The first trouble with Objectivism is with it’s first practitioner – in her case at least, it’s a fraud. Rand didn’t reason to a conclusion. She arrived at conclusions emotionally and then tried to construct a rational trail to that conclusion. She did happen to reach correct conclusions about Communism, but this was in the same way that someone that’s just had a leg bit off doesn’t have to think much to conclude that its bad to have great white sharks in the swimming area.

    So I’ve got no trouble with a University Philosophy department that determines that she just doesn’t use logic well enough to qualify as a philosopher – if they’re consistent, and also don’t allow muddy leftist thinkers like Sartre and Marx in. But from what I’ve seen of American universities lately, I think it’s far more likely that she’s excluded because of the message than because of how she arrived at it.

    Finally, it is certainly possible to be an atheist and still rely on the supernatural. Marxism is the most obvious example, but there’s some of that in Ayn Rand’s work and in the beliefs of other uncompromising Libertarians.

  28. Mookie
    May 13th, 2006 @ 1:38 pm

    MB,

    If the professed goal of communism is to remove class as a social structure, yet those who attempt to implement it deliberately go against this professed goal, how does that mean they are still communist (or socialist, in this case)? They are not. Well, with capitalism, such goals are not considered. What matters is the bottom line for the company or corporation, most often acquired at the expense of society. Think of all the money they save by pushing external costs on the consumer and indigenous peoples the world over.

    Please check out game theory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_theory

    and for an overview of what Marx REALLY said, check out: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0850360730/002-9889998-6344024?v=glance&n=283155

    I don’t think you will, though, because you believe what you want, regardless of what Marx actually said, and what capitalism really is. Here’s a hint though: if capitalism is good, and the US is a capitalist country, and the administration is composed almost entirely of people with ties to big business, and they’re interest in Iraq is based on monetary concerns, then it is a good thing that 100,000 Iraqis have died, millions more have gone without food, water, and basic electricity to power A/C, because now we have their oil, and oil companies have reported record profits recently. But its okay, they’re just dirty muslim desert-dwellers anyway. Their suffering is our gain!

    Also, listen to what bernarda said, and consider doing some of your own research on social structures of other cultures and civilizations. If you really want to argue about this stuff, you’re going to have a lot of background information. Spouting out heart-felt propaganda does not count as valid arguments, as the religious on this blog have discovered.

  29. MB
    May 13th, 2006 @ 6:24 pm

    Ok, you guys win. Marxism is a great, sadly misunderstood system and Ayn Rand was a terrible writer who contributed nothing to free thought.

    Funny, though, that in the pseudo-capitalist countries like the US, we live like kings compared to the lives of the poor wretches in pseudo-communist countries. Funny that China is pulling itself out of poverty by adopting capitalist-inspired economics.

    I must be blind not to see how this proves that Marxism is a superior system. Obviously, poverty in non-capitalist countries PROVES that capitalism is evil and communism is great. How stupid of me not to realize that.

    I don’t much care whether the rich control most of the property in capitalist countries. What I care about is the opportunity and high standard of living for everyone in such countries. Marxism would rather see us all poor than have anyone, even a person of greater ability, be richer than his neighbor. That’s why it has always failed and always will.

    The definition of irrationality is to ignore evidence. The evidence of the last century is that, try as they might, Marxists can’t put together a system that isn’t rife with corruption and poverty. Capitalism may be prone to corruption as well (witness GWB and his disgusting cronies) but at least we don’t starve in the process like the North Koreans do.

  30. Mookie
    May 13th, 2006 @ 7:54 pm

    They’re called books. They have little leaves of paper with squiggles on them, bound up with glue to form a rectangular solid. They impart a great deal of information in a small volume – provided you actually open them up and bother to read them.

  31. MB
    May 13th, 2006 @ 10:32 pm

    Mookie, if that was intended as a reply to my post, it was condescending, insulting, and intellectually lazy. It shows that you are intellectually weak and unable to respond to the content of my argument. My bookshelves brim with volumes, such as the Feynman Lectures in Physics, that you probably couldn’t comprehend.

    Speaking of what’s on my bookshelves, why don’t you try von Mises’ landmark “Socialism”? It demonstrates the many pitfalls of the command-and-control economy so beloved by the left. Among these is the impossibility of useful financial calculation in a system were prices are not freely determined. It goes a long way toward explaining why communist economies had (and have) so much trouble bringing home the bacon.

  32. Chris O'Connor
    May 14th, 2006 @ 11:38 am

    Mookie said, “I figure the lack of gods is in response to xianity and other religions encouraging charity, which involves sharing, a big no-no for selfishness and greed.”

    This is flatly wrong. Ayn Rand never advocated greed and only tongue-in-cheek used the term “selfishness.” Her point was that people should not be compelled to help others. Charity should come from a voluntary decision made at the individual level. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing within this post, but simply saying that Ayn Rand did NOT consider sharing and charity a big “no-no.”

  33. Mookie
    May 14th, 2006 @ 12:53 pm

    MB,

    I hate explaining these things to you, because you could just read a book on your own and discover what I’m saying. I understand your misunderstanding about what has been attempted in the name of communism (Animal Farm?). If it hops like a frog, croaks like a frog, and catches flies like a frog, it is probably not a duck. See? I’ll be nice now. Whatever you think socialism/communism is, ought to be based on what Marx and subsequent thinkers wrote. No where in such texts is the claim made that everyone should be poor. Nor is the claim made that the only way to form a socialist economy is with top-down instructions. Power structures exist top-down, not bottom up. That goes for corporations as well (look up fascism). Communism, as a final goal of socialism, would not be top-down. This would go against the idea of a classless society. Does this mean that communism just can’t work? Not at all. Just means we’re going to have to try it without using force and domineering government entities.

    I have read some anti-communism books, Ayn Rand’s The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, which I thought was horrible. Other criticisms of socialism/communism take private property as a natural, innate system to human interactions. Exploitation is brushed off with a flippant wave of the hand. No, thank you, I’d rather not let people suffer. There is plenty for all, provided people don’t take more than their fair share.

    Change begins with the individual. It is the choices you make as a consumer that determines the course of our economy, and thus, our society. As an example of a business model that will hopefully be more prevalent in the future, check out: http://wheatsville.coop/faqc.html
    It is a cooperatively-run, member-owned grocery store. The people are nice, friendly, and helpful. The produce is healthy, organic more often than not, the packaged products are of the highest quality, and in many cases, locally made. Members participate in elections, can make suggestions, and are encouraged to become more involved in the community. Bottom-up, tailored to the community – this is what socialism is all about.

    Believe it or not, but some socialists (the ones that have actually read the books and understand what’s REALLY going on) are not all that bad. We don’t like the bad things that are done because capital concentrates in the hands of a few. We see the link between big business and big government, and shake our heads sadly when folks claim that communism is always bad, and free market capitalism always good. We are aware that power corrupts, regardless of whether it is wielded by corporations or state entities. We recognize that the disparity between wealth of different segments of society leads to crime and civil unrest. We notice that human potential is not being fully realized when access to quality education is determined by material wealth. We see the wanton destruction of the environment at the hands of profit-seeking corporations. Our consumer culture is doing massive harm to the earth and to other people.

    If you want to make a difference, consider making a few lifestyle choices. Have fewer kids, eat less meat (go vegetarian!), drive less and use more fuel-efficient vehicles. Walk, bike, or ride the bus to get around. Live closer to the inner city, instead of way out in the inefficient suburbs. Avoid television and other passive media outlets, as well as grotesque and bloated spectator events. Purchase organic produce over pre-processed and packaged goods. Try to buy products made in countries that don’t use violence and oppression against their people: China, for example. Get involved in your community to raise awareness of the issues facing our society. Smoke pot – prolonged THC use is known to reduce testosterone levels in males, which helps in having fewer kids, and decreases the chance of you being angry, violent, and power-hungry (the drive for wealth is all about the peacock feathers anyway).

    We can disagree on how the economy should look, but we can agree on the fact that our actions do have consequences, and that what we do now will affect future generations. With this in mind, we can both do things that will minimize harm to others and the environment. After a while, when we take into account all that we do, and the effects thereof, we’ll see that it is not the drive for wealth that makes good things happen, it is the talent, the gumption, and good old elbow grease that does it. I would rather see humans cultivated to be all that they can be, rather than shaped into perfect worker robots/consumer drones to make some rich old white guy even richer.

  34. MB
    May 14th, 2006 @ 4:56 pm

    Mookie,

    I have no issue whatsoever with things like co-ops, communes, vegetarianism, using less energy, etc, as long as those are free choices. (I’m a vegetarian myself.) The free market has room for whatever arrangements peaceful individuals want to make.

    Libertarians like myself don’t claim that capitalists are always good. Quite the contrary, we realize that most people will try to take advantage of the political system when it is possible. Hence, we want to put as much as possible in the free market and get government power, which is inherently coercive, out of the equation. Let free people make free choices. Some people’s best choice in life is working for “some rich old white guy” (kind of a racist comment, isn’t it?). Another person’s best choice in life is working in a coop. The free market lets them both choose.

    Collective control is just another form of tyranny, particularly when it is imposed from above by the government. China and the Soviet Union had collective farms, and they failed. Why? Because people are not willing to work hard for the benefit of others. We didn’t evolve that way. People had to be forced into the collective farms against their wills. In such cases, it is often if not always the most brutal who rise to the top, with great bloodshed as the result. That’s what happens when communists get into power and try to countermand millions of years of evolved behavior.

    The Soviets claimed they’d eliminate the profit motive and its role in productivity by bringing about “new Soviet man,” a totally selfless person who would work to his limit for the benefit of others. Not surprisingly for those who have a little common sense and life experience, this mythical being never existed.

    Would you be in favor of putting THC in the water supply to reduce testosterone levels in men, or forcing men to take THC supplements? If not, why not, since you blame testosterone for so much? Maybe the Soviets would have succeeded if they’d had more weed.

    The drive for wealth has many good consequences in the free market. For example, looking around my house: the computer I’m using to write this message. The wireless network that lets me do it while reclining in comfort. The digital camera that lets me record my family’s life. The refridgerator that keeps our food fresh and the appliances that we use to cook. The electricity supply that keeps it all going. The automobile that gives us the freedom to travel and see more than our legs would allow. The variety of foods from around the world that we enjoy thanks to modern transportation and logistics. The pharmaceuticals that help me manage a chronic illness. All of these and many more resulted from people trying to accumulate wealth. And to that I say: Thanks to all those anonymous, striving, hard-working, self-interested people! I hope they got rich or at least lived in comfort.

    Private property is not necessarily a natural system, but it is by far the most effective way of organizing and developing the factors of production. When people can own things, they become responsible for them. When things are owned collectively, they get abused. When people can profit from organizing factors of production, productivity increases. When they can’t profit, motivation and productivity fall, and there is widespread poverty. The drive for wealth is the main factor that gets the “gumption, and good old elbow grease” organized and working. Otherwise, people have no motivation to work hard. Again, that’s why large-scale collectivism only happens at the point of a gun.

    Any individual who saves money, builds up equity in a house, improves something he owns and then sells it, etc, is making a profit. Is that evil? No, it is just good sense, working toward a better life for oneself and those one values. Any individual who isn’t making a profit is consuming more value than he creates. In a free economy, a “rich old white guy” who can organize the activities of thousands of people into a profit-making enterprise is benefiting not only himself, but those thousands plus the stockholders and the customers. In a command-and-control economy, that same individual may still be wealthy due to his exceptional agression or ability, but the lot of the common people will be much worse.

  35. bernarda
    May 15th, 2006 @ 6:19 am

    I wish to thank mookie as the only one who took notice of the historical, anthropological, and philosophical points I made. I don’t know to what extent he agrees with me, but at least he was willing to consider the points I made and not blurt out slogans like

    “The country that has for the last century gave the best protection for private property and burdened capital the least is the USA, and it is by far the richest of any country with more than a few million people – so rich that our welfare payments match middle class income in most of the world.”

    What private property? That seized from the native population. Look at the ideological bent, “burdened capital”. Why not “burdened labor” with capitalist exploiters?

    In the 19th century, when the U.S. seized Hawaii, was if for the benefit of the natives? When the U.S. seized the Philippines, was it for the benefit of the natives? In that case there was a long war highlighted by American war crimes against the population.

    In Central America, U.S. corporations stole land from the peasants and created the banana republics with decades of dictators and death squads. Millions have been killed over a hundred years by U.S. henchmen protecting corporate “private poperty”.

    The U.S. is rich primarily because it has squatted a major part of the world’s resources. The U.S. with 5% of the world’s population rips off the other 95%, particularly in the developing world.

    The now sacro-sanct corporation is a pure fiction invented in the 19th century. What does it mean to be a “legal” person as opposed to a real person. A member of a corporation has limited financial responsibility. That means they are not completely responsible if their frauds and cheating are discovered. How does that square with the idea of private property? Corporations can steal and defraud and pillage–and they do worldwide–with only a very very limited requirement to compensate their victims.

    Private property is a system meaning that some people have the right to live, because they seized property, and that others have the right to die because their property was seized or they were not strong enough to seize someone else’s “property”.

  36. Tony Tie
    May 15th, 2006 @ 6:22 am

    I also thought that atheism is having no belief in religion of any kind period. And as such, you can’t say someone is not an atheist or not.

  37. hermesten
    May 15th, 2006 @ 10:30 am

    “free markets (“capitalism”) and individual self-interest are moral and they work.”

    I used to consider myself a Libertarian, even worked worked for the Libertarian party back in the day. Now, most of the libertarians I hear from seem to live in their own little fantasy world where there is some kind of “free market” capitalism at work. All I hear from these people is “free market, free market, free market.” There is no “free market,” there never has been, and there never will be –the people in power are never going to allow it. If you think you’re living in a “free market” economy, you either don’t understand the concept of a free market, or you are astoundingly ignorant of how our economy actually works –you know, one of those people who think NAFTA was a “free trade” agreement.

    People like MB seem to know all the catch-phrases and slogans, and have apparently mastered the ability to pretend that all these pretty terms actually apply to the conditions under which they live. But how seriously can you take someone who includes “the electricity supply” in a list of consequences of the “free market”? My point is not that a “free market” doesn’t do good things, merely that a free market simply does not exist. Yeah, there are some “sub markets” that come closer than others to being “free,” but most markets appear “free” only to those who are ignorant of the details about how a particular market actually operates. And the “electricity supply” is one of the most heavily regulated and rigged markets of all –and most especially in those places where it has supposedly been “deregulated.” But, hey, it seems that “free market,” “deregulation,” “capitalism,” and “profit” are magic words to a lot of people these days who fancy themselves to be “libertarians.”

  38. marxrepented
    May 15th, 2006 @ 11:23 am

    Mookie

    Respectfully I have to disagree with you and agree with MB.

    Notwithstanding, MB forgot to point that there is a lot of successfully cooperatives in the capitalist world that are successful because they take advantage from institutions and rules outside them. Price system, money system, central banking, monetary police, credit, public transportation, public defense and a set of laws that protects property, even cooperative property. Beside, there is a government and economic policies for protecting “my cooperative” against the other’s countries cooperatives. It must be pointed out that cooperatives as corporation have its own rate of mortality, and that they have to deal with the same lazy people and freewheelers that all system of production have to deal with. Other thing is the “Biggest cooperative”, that is to say, when a country transforms in a socialist property system. When the change of scales occurs, insurmountable problems arise. I won’t speak about that, there is an entire library on these problems, and MB has named a very important one. But maybe you don’t believe in these books, well, then go to the facts. Is that human ability cannot design a socialist country that works? Or it is the system in itself that doesn’t works? It is dictatorship? well China is thriving with a dictatorship, and capitalist Chile did the same under Pinochet. China was constantly hungry and under threat of famine until Den Xiao Ping arrived. The fact is that no one communist country have succeeded in satisfying basic needs and at the same time create a free environment for thinking, being the only exception present China, and only because they changed the economic rules to a extent, that you can no more name China “communist”. But, China, as we very well know is far from being a free country.

    Human Nature? It is the selfish man? I don’t want to correct Bentham and Mills, but I think that men are no selfish by nature, but that changes when family appears. They are selfish about family. The parents are willingly to sacrifice for their children, then for their spouse, then for the bigger family (grand parents, aunts, etc), then for friends and neighbors, and then for the countrymen, more or less in that order. First of all, a father/mother want to secure food, shelter, clothes, health, education and a safe future for their siblings. Maybe is evolution? It seems to be that capitalism is better aligned with these interests. But there are a lot of flavors of capitalism because this one is more than property rights. In fact at the end it has to be with politics. I don’t think there is a secret on how to work with capitalism and at the same time having a balanced society; Sweden has been there for decades. Yes, yes, Sweden has problems but then again there is not a perfect society free of problems, because perfection is an impossible goal. But tell me if it is no good to have a society with freedom, that cover all their citizens in matter of health with a good system, and the same goes for food, education, shelter and security? It is no a shame that the Opulent Society have some 25% of its citizens without health coverage, being the skin the most valuable thing the man has? (Well, some say it is the soul, but it doesn’t need a pediatrician).

    As the Swedish say, the problem is not who owns the cow, but how is shared the milk, in a way that the cow’s owner always have some interest in adding a cow to the herd.

  39. Mookie
    May 15th, 2006 @ 11:39 am

    History is written by the “victors”, but this does not make them good. People love the economic system, but are surprised and shocked when capital is used to infiltrate OR BECOME the government, leading to wide-spread abuse and mismanagement.

    MB,

    Please, please, open a book one day. I know you don’t like communism, you do like capitalism, and I also know you have no idea what either are. Capitalism is when a few people exploit a great many people. Your idea of communism is exactly the same. Same results, different name. Just as many, if not more, people have been killed, displaced, impoverished, and otherwise fucked-with in the name of profits as have in the name of “collectivism”. Well-meaning dogma only goes so far in covering up these blemishes. After that, its just sheer denial.

    Start from the beginning of human history, of human culture, and work your way to the present. This will explain a few things to you, and put everything we have said here in perspective. When you get this “me versus the world” mentality out of your head, suddenly everything isn’t so scary.

  40. marxrepented
    May 15th, 2006 @ 5:16 pm

    Hermesten,

    All of us know that markets are imperfect. The questios is if we have a better and viable alternative.

  41. hermesten
    May 16th, 2006 @ 11:06 am

    “All of us know that markets are imperfect. ”

    I guess that depends on who you mean by “us.” Most of the people posting here may know that, for instance, but most of the people I work with, don’t — –or, at least, they are utterly without the perspective necessary to judge the extent of these “imperfections.” And some of these people are instrumental in making policy in the particular market that I happen to be associated with.

    “The questios is if we have a better and viable alternative.”

    Actually, I don’t think that’s the question. And the way you ask it seems to suggest a juxtaposition between the current system and some other system. Our current system is closer to fascism than capitalism (you can call it “crony capitalism” if it makes you feel better). If we continue along the present path, “capitalism” may well turn out to be worse than socialism, or even communism. The kind of “capitalism” libertarians talk about can’t exist in a moral vacuum. I refer to the analysis of Hillaire Belloc. Our system is now so corrupt I doubt whether it can even be saved. But it certainly cannot be saved by pretending we live in a free-market capitalist country and fixing policy around a fantasy of what could be rather than the reality of what is. Acting like we live under a free market ecconomy when we don’t does nothing but concentrate power in the hands of people who are already abusing it. It’s sort of like handing your gun over to a thug because he’s dressed like a cop. If we want to remain free, if we want to have “free markets,” we have to limit the power one group or person has over another group or person. We have to prevent concentrations of power whether that power is actually labeled “State power,” or is mrerely State power disguised as corporate power.

  42. KellyO
    May 16th, 2006 @ 11:54 am

    Sometimes, I have a feeling that the reason people are turned off by Ayn Rand is because of her outspoken views on Capitalism and her insistance of absolutes. I think people are turned off by her because she was a female that expressed specific opinions, sometimes condemning others (ie Communists, believers in God, Socialists). She had the confidence and boldness required to declare certain things as being absolute – such as existence. This is a challenge to philosophers because nearly all philosophers love to say the phrase “there are no absolutes” while they conveniently neglect to point out that they just uttered one by saying that. :)

  43. Rhinoqulous
    May 16th, 2006 @ 1:46 pm

    KellyO said:

    “Sometimes, I have a feeling that the reason people are turned off by Ayn Rand is because of her outspoken views on Capitalism and her insistance of absolutes. I think people are turned off by her because she was a female that expressed specific opinions, sometimes condemning others (ie Communists, believers in God, Socialists). She had the confidence and boldness required to declare certain things as being absolute – such as existence. This is a challenge to philosophers because nearly all philosophers love to say the phrase “there are no absolutes” while they conveniently neglect to point out that they just uttered one by saying that. ”

    Yes, the overwhelmingly majority of philosophy and philosophers reject Ayn Rand because she has outspoken views, as no one else in philosophy posits controversial concepts (wait, what about Peter Singer, to name just one from the last few years). Rand turns off philosophers because she is female, because there is no such thing as female philosophers (Luce Irigaray, Jennifer Hornsby, Michele Moody-Adams, Iris Marion Young, Ruth Millikan, Onora O’Neill, to name a few). She has the confidence to make bold, baseless statements that are at best tautologies and at worst meaningless. Rand is a ten-inch Nietzsche, but without the syphilis infection to give her a little bit of pizzazz. Ayn Rand is not a challenge to philosophy, as she is not even considered (for the most part) to being doing philosophy. She wrote long, boring rambling novels. Some people like her novels. Some people liked to get pooped on during sex as well.

  44. marxrepented
    May 16th, 2006 @ 3:47 pm

    #37

    “There is no “free market,” there never has been, and there never will be –the people in power are never going to allow it. ”

    #41

    “If we want to remain free, if we want to have “free markets,” we have to limit the power one group or person has over another group or person. ”

    If I assume that always there will be people in power, your words look a little bit contradictory. It seems to be that the only condition for having free markets is “to limit the power one group or person have over another group or persons”. Suppose the governing group is exactly who believes in markets, are you suggestin to limit its power over the the other group or persons?.

  45. Brian Macker
    May 17th, 2006 @ 9:38 pm

    Mookie says: “Please, please, open a book one day. I know you don’t like communism, you do like capitalism, and I also know you have no idea what either are.”

    Hmm… Mookie quite pretentious of you. You somehow know that MB has never opened a book. Further you make no specific suggestions. How about I make a suggestion for you. It is quite clear that it is you who do not understand the arguments of those who are pro-Captialism. Go pick up the book

  46. MB
    May 18th, 2006 @ 6:44 am

    Mookie,

    You are a condescending jerk. Your comments in no way address the content of my comments. Instead, you demean me by implying that I don’t read.

    You are the kind of leftist, elitist intellectual that Ayn Rand so accurately warned people to fear.

    Oh, you are so much wiser than the rest of us. We should sit at your feet, at the point of a gun if necessary, but we should sit at your feet!

  47. Mookie
    May 19th, 2006 @ 1:10 pm

    MB,

    “You are a condescending jerk. Your comments in no way address the content of my comments. Instead, you demean me by implying that I don’t read.”

    I will try to be as clear as possible.

    You stated:

    “Anyone who doesn’t realize that Marxism is a failed political philosophy that inevitably degenerates into rule of the gun…”

    This was the beginning of the insult and the misunderstanding. Primitive communism was the dominant “government” for most of human existence. More on this later.

    “1. Morality is an individual issue, not a social issue. Even an individual living in isolation needs to figure out how he should live.”
    Wrong. I gave you that link to game theory so you could see for yourself that some games, like the Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Stag Hunt, show that individual self-interest is not as good as GROUP-interest. When I said that humans would have died out long ago had they not catered to the survivability of the group, I wasn’t kidding, and I have evidence.

    “2. Enslavement of one individual to the needs of other individuals is wrong, even if the enslaved individual is rich and the other individuals are poor (or vice versa). Poverty for all but those in power. How noble and inspiring!”
    Wrong. Individual survivability is in many cases dependent on group survivability. It is not cool for one person to gain at the expense of society, because it makes it worse for everyone, including the individual seeking to “gain”. Your last two sentences of this statement can apply to capitalism just the same.

    3. Exchanging value for value (capitalism) is a moral and practical system. Rand wiped out the concept that being “good” was impractical and that being practical meant being immoral.
    Actually, she was flat out wrong, as game theory shows. In her view, looking after #1 was the way to go, when in many cases, catering to society has far more benefits to the individual. Capitalism is based on exploitation and arbitrary patterns of ownership, it is not moral.

    Rand’s take on human interactions is a lot like Hobbes’ – predicated on the idea that every individual is separate and opposed to every other individual. This understanding is faulty, as I have illustrated. Small, egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers were the norm back in the day, and the survivability of the group depended on the survivability of the individual, and vice versa. A person who did not share resources was shunned and looked-down upon, not on game theory grounds, but on biological grounds. We don’t like greed, because it goes against the social order and is a threat to group survivability. Empathy also has a lot to do with this.

    If all preconceived notions of who owned what were suddenly forgotten, it would be a mad grab for anything that was available to take. Those who would succeed would be the ones with guns, the ones with goons, and the ones who seek power and dominion over others. Our current system is based on this, but these events occured in the past (again, with arms), well before the century of what you call “communism”. This development occured after farming/domestication of herding animals took place, as there was little need to fight over vast tracts of sparsely populated land.

    Capitalism, by its very nature, must screw society to the benefit of the individual. For a prime example, look at patents. One company makes a drug that cures cancer, and has the gummint prevent anyone else from making it, so they (the guys at the top of the corporate ladder) can guarantee a profit. Competition between companies is often wasteful and counterproductive. Game theory shows us this. When I rambled on about external costs, and the effects of our actions on other countries and peoples, I was hoping you would notice these things too and see how what we are doing is not moral. You agreed about Iraq, but fail to see that its systemic. Other cases abound, as bernarda has illustrated. What happened in the East has an analogue in the West. A brutal regime under Stalin existed as state capitalism, which you have erroneously labeled communism. Here, we have fascism, or crony capitalism, as herm pointed out. Just because “our” system “won”, doesn’t mean it is “moral” or just. It just means, for whatever reason, it was more able to survive to do more harm.

    I supplied that link to a Marxist book in the hopes that you would read it, or at least do some research on it on your own. Those here who claim to be Marxist are not power-hungry jerks who want to shoot you in the name of collectivism. We just have read the literature, recognize what’s REALLY going on, and choose to maintain our new understanding internally, letting it affect and shape our actions. The ideas don’t destabilize in our minds and make us think we need to get guns and point them at people. I don’t even – and never will – own a gun; I abhor guns and violence. You saying that we support brutal dictatorships was the first insult, but also demonstrated your (willful?) ignorance as to what we mean by Marxism. I would also like to mention that some of the ideals we have in this country have led to abuse and dictators; take the case of the French Revolution as an example. Had America not formed before it, many in aristocrats and nobles in Europe would have claimed that giving the power to the masses was horrible and always leads to abuse. Kind of like what they say about Marxism now.

    As to your free market peddling: I understand what you are saying. My stepmother, father, and grandfather own/ed their own businesses. I myself am self-employed. Many of the interactions between economic entities is relatively fair and, disregarding some nasty companies, is, for a large part, harmless. That’s because many of the interactions benefit the whole of society, generally with little to no loss to the individuals or brown foreigners. This is true in any country. But when you close your eyes to what happens when money concentrates in the hands of a few because you believe in the ideal, not the reality, then it goes beyond a reality-based understanding to an internal assumption-based understanding. This is when things get scary. Money is a coercive power, and when 1% of the population owns 90% of the wealth, then abuse WILL occur. I would like to point out here that my fellow Marxists and I are not stupid – we recognize that power maintained in the hands of the few will lead to abuse, whether its in “communist” countries or “free market capitalism” countries, or even in social/religious institutions like the Catholic church. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Money is the carrot, those who wield it determine our fates, especially those of the wage-earners. We are the donkey. Do you understand?

    My comment about the coop was to point out that there are alternatives to the top-down, corporate structure, which is, I believe, one of the main reasons for abuse of power and the suffering of people in other places. One line in the movie Office Space also comes to mind: “you only work hard enough not to get fired”. If people were partial owners of their business, they will take more pride in their work, abuse is less likely, and they would recognize that they have a stake in the endeavor, instead of it just being for some rich old white guy. Their collective attitude is great for encouraging productivity, and the democratic approach can carry over into other areas of their lives, hopefully making things more fair and amenable to personal and community development. I imagine more of these types of economic entities to be what Marx had in mind. Check out the Paris Commune of 1871, and the spontaneous communes that appeared during the Spanish Civil War.

    My comment on individual responsibility when it comes to being a consumer was to point out that we can help curb abuse and suffering by making informed choices and purchases. We can also alter our behaviors to do less harm to society, and, ultimately, to ourselves. An economy is a great many small decisions, summed up to become some larger whole. If the whole is corrupt, sick, and destructive, then the smaller, individual decisions need to be adjusted to prevent this. Consumerism is the natural outgrowth of profit-seeking capitalism, and is by far my strongest complaint. It makes us into consumer drones, brainwashing us with ads and making us docile and uncaring, devoid of empathy because we don’t see and willfully ignore the consequences of our actions. You can walk through a mall and make all sorts of purchases, because you “want” to, without ever considering where the items were made, by whom, and how they came to be there. In many cases, it was some brown person that is stuck in a factory because their faraway country was hijacked by “free trade” agreements, with a right-wing puppet dictator propped up to maintain order. You poo-poo the abuse of PRC, but whole-heartedly defend the economic system that grants us such close economic ties to it.

    As for myself, I am an anarcho-socialist (libertarian socialist). Look it up. Please. As such, I see little difference between what was done in the USSR and is being done in China and the abuse of power done in the name of profits. Top-down control is inefficient, it is wasteful, it is about domination, and it leads to abuse. Corporate and state power are very much mixed up with one another. What you think of as communism was actually “state capitalism”, and if you let corporations have their way in this country, you will end up with its cousin, fascism. Look it up. Please. I don’t condone the abuse done in the name of “collectivism” nor under the guise of “profits”. I don’t think that subjugating people makes it better for all.

    My intent was not to be condescending or demeaning. I provided those links for a reason, and I knew you wouldn’t check them out, even before you didn’t do it. For us to make sense to you, you will have to do some research to find out where we are starting, otherwise there is gross miscommunication, and you end up thinking we’re all a bunch of ignorant, brutal-dictator-supporters. Quite insulting, if you stop to think about it. Doesn’t speak well of your open mindedness either. In many ways, Ayn Rand was wrong. In many tangible ways, capitalism (fascism) is wrong. Do you see now why I asked you to check these things out before arguing? I was trying to spare myself the time of typing this out for you, and to prevent this from degrading into ad hominem attacks.

    I hope I have provided enough information to satisfy your curiosity and to assuage any misunderstandings you may have about Marxism and the people who adhere to these ideas. If you have any legitimate, well-thought-out, lucid, and pertinent questions to ask of me or the other Marxists here, feel free to do so. Just do the research first. We don’t want to hear unsubstantiated drivel. We get enough of that from the theists.

  48. Brian Macker
    May 20th, 2006 @ 1:34 pm

    Mookie,

    I don’t know about what MB knows but you haven’t provided any information that I wasn’t aware of. You provide plenty of unsubstantiated “facts” and conclusions stated as “facts”, and untrue “facts”. Just because we don’t buy your conclusions doesn’t mean we are ignorant boobs. There are plenty of intelligent people who disagree on things. I don’t think you are stupid either, just ignorant and ill informed.

    You have to understand that economics is a science but it is also a social science so it has attracted its fair share of crackpots with social agendas. One of those crackpots was Marx. He was a third rate economist who neither addressed nor understood many economic issues. There have been other crackpots like Keynes who have been as popular in economics and just as wrong. Both are fairly easy to refute on economic grounds. I think Thomas Sowell did a good job on Marx in his book “Marxism”, and Henry Hazlitt did a good one on Keynes called The Failure of the New Economics I’ve read both.

    I am familiar with lots of ideologies and every one I have come into contact with is wrong on some issue or assumption. I think Rand was wrong on many issues but I also believe Marx was too. These are not the only philosophies I have explored. I generally identify myself as a Libertarian but I don’t actually believe many of it’s precepts, foundational assumptions, and rationales. However, as a general philosophy it comes the closest to a good model on certain issues than of any of the other ones I have been exposed too.

    If I had to only choose between Rand and Marx I would have to go with Rand. At least she takes a working system and gives a justification for it. Social systems are complex so designing one from scratch is a fool’s errand. She wasn’t playing the part of social engineer. Marx was or at least he was acting as a social critic that lead people to believe that they could use his faulty theories for social engineering. Thus whereas I think Rand is merely wrong I think Marx a fool. Nor is it that I think Rand was as original in her thinking as she claims. She borrowed a lot of stuff from great thinkers and scientists. I don’t think she always understood them completely but at least she had enough understanding to pick the correct ones.

    How do you justify Marx’s labor theory of value? This is just bad economics. He doesn’t understand capital and a score of other economic concepts either. He also has a poor understanding of ethical issues, much like Rand, which shows in his personal life.

    Mookie, how do you square your activism with Marx’s historicism?

    There is an inherent contradiction in Marx’s theories due to his historicism. I gather that you understand that if his historicism is true then there really is no point in being a political Marxist or communist. That is there is no point in forcing the natural succession of economic developments. Thus supposedly, all those evil dictators are not “true believers” because they try to force things. However, if you think about it carefully just as there is nothing to be done politically to advance this natural conversion of capitalism to the next and final stage there is also nothing to be done non-politically either. Since the path to a Marxist society is inevitable there is no need to advocate the position. It will happen no matter what you or anyone has to say according to Marx. So why are you arguing with anybody about Marxism?

    The reason most people argue with others is to change their behavior. The assumption is that if they know something then the change in their behavior can make them avoid some bad consequence, or bring some good consequence into fruition. Since my behavior, one way or another is not going to stop the economic stages outlined by Marx that will lead to his utopia, why bother talking to me or anybody else about it? Why the attempt at a conversion to your religion if it is fatalistic?

    Any philosophy with inherent contradictions is going to spawn new variations in which people try to resolve these contradictions in one way or another. They may even do so in a way that is contradictory because it really doesn’t make things any worse philosophically speaking. Since you already accept the contradictions from the original theory then what is the problem with yet one more contradiction.

    In the case of Marxist ideologues this has tended to follow a certain progression. Many have rejected the contradiction of Marxist historicism and tried to actually implement communism; to help it through its birth pangs. The problem is that Marxist theory like all socialist theory is really bad economics so when any attempt is made to institute it the results are bad economically. The socialists do not understand these bad side effects and why they happen so they often turn to conspiracy theories for explanations of why things are going wrong. They don’t realize that the problems are due to their bad engineering and assume that there are bad people out there working against their obviously superior intelligence. Since they really are trying to defy economic laws that are just as real as any laws of physics there are no “bad actors” other than themselves. That doesn’t mean they don’t find scapegoats, and they often do so in a very broad-brush manner. Since they think in terms of “class struggle” it is often entire social strata that are demonized. You should know the story from there, it’s been repeated often enough. The same pattern is followed over and over. A socialist system is instituted, the economic shit hits the fan, and then the atrocities start.

    Here is a cartoon version of Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” which shows a very common pathway taken by socialists. This formula has been repeated many times in the past and keeps happening even now. Stalin, Mao, Hitler in the distant past, Pol Pot, African and Arab socialism in the midterm, with more recent examples being Saddam’s Iraq and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

    There have been other cases where socialism was tried on non-ideological grounds, the bad results were experienced and the socialist policy itself was blamed and revoked. The story of Thanksgiving is one of many such incidents. That colony was instituted on a socialist model and ended when the starvation that was occurring was associated with the socialist style “sharing” of work and the product of that work. Flipping to private property saved the day.

    Other outcomes at socialism are also possible depending on which socialist errors are mitigated by what policies, and which socialist policies are implemented in the first place. They are generally mitigated with much concession to free market reality. Communist China is bad not because of it’s concessions to free market reality but specifically because of it’s rejection of property rights. You’ve got it backwards.

    There are certain books I would recommend to Objectivists to jar them out of their notions and the same goes for Marxists. Thomas Sowell is an ex-Marxist who gave up his ideology to become pro-capitalist. He’s also a black man, which I only mention because you seem to think skin color counts for something more than it should. Read his book titled Marxism.

    If you would like me to rip some big holes in the stuff you have already mentioned then I will be more than glad to do so. I have found Internet forums and comments sections particularly bad places to get your point across. I can give it a wing though.

    For example this statement of yours:

    If the professed goal of communism is to remove class as a social structure, yet those who attempt to implement it deliberately go against this professed goal, how does that mean they are still communist (or socialist, in this case)? They are not. Well, with capitalism, such goals are not considered. What matters is the bottom line for the company or corporation, most often acquired at the expense of society. Think of all the money they save by pushing external costs on the consumer and indigenous peoples the world over.

    The answer to the first question is that professed goals are often unattainable. Since communism has not only asked the wrong questions and misunderstood the problems of course the solution will result in something other than the stated goal. If the true test of being a communist is reaching the goal of “removing class as a social structure” via Marxist economics then no one can be a true communist.

    Your claim that capitalism considers no goals except the bottom line of the corporation is ludicrous. This is a Marxist stereotype, a straw man, and ignorant understanding of capitalism and it’s foundations. “Capitalism” or free-market systems are based on individual rights, not profit.

    Of course this all depends on how you define capitalism. Since Marx coined the term as a derogatory shadow of the real thing perhaps free marketers should abandon the term completely. Marx’s definition has very little to do with what goes on in “capitalist” societies and reflect his poor understanding of economic mechanics more than reality. He defined the term in his own framework of class struggle. It really is just a pejorative term within his own ideological system for a class of people, their selfish interests and the methods they supposedly use to obtain maintain the class structure.

    Statements that end with “most often acquired at the expense of society” show a very poor grasp of economics. For someone who trumpets game theory you know very little about zero sum games. Good economics deals quite extensively with zero sum games, since that essentially one of the reasons free market systems work so much better than socialist ones.

    You say, “Think of all the money they save by pushing external costs on the consumer and indigenous peoples the world over.” This is a subject that is covered quite extensively in economics. There are very few things that can truly count as external costs, especially under a system of individual rights. One of those few things are carbon dioxide emissions. The problem I have with your reasoning here is that again you are counting this against one system and failing to tally it up for alternative systems, without considering the very real side effects of those other systems. Any society you propose is going to have externalities that effect other people. Do you think that socialism is going to magically defy the laws of chemistry and physics and allow our current level of energy consumption without carbon dioxide emissions? That is just plain silly. In fact, externalities increase under socialist systems, not decrease, precisely because clear control of property is not delineated. You couldn’t possibly feed the current population of the earth without the externality of carbon dioxide emissions. The carrying capacity of the earth without the consumption of petroleum products is several orders of magnitude less than we currently sustain. The more socialism the smaller this carrying capacity is on the same amount of fuel. Thus switching to a socialist system with the same population levels can only result in more externalities. This is both theoretically and empirically true. So why on earth do you think that socialism is a solution to the problem of externalities?

    Petroleum utilization is a genie that is already out of the bottle. This is a problem that you have no power to place back in the bottle without the initiation of force. Since you are an arachno-socialist, or should I say an apparent subspecies of this an arachno-communist, this really isn’t an option open to you. Do you think that Marxist historicism makes the claim that one-day people are just going to stop using oil of their own accord? That is, before it runs out?

    BTW, I really hate the fact that socialists first stole the label “Liberal” and now having screwed up the reputation of that ideology, classical liberalism, have now moved on to call themselves “libertarian socialists”. It stinks of intellectual dishonesty and riding other people’s coattails. Besides it is an oxymoron.

    If you are using Ayn Rand as your sole critic of socialism then you haven’t scratched the surface and are using a second hand source.

    When you state things like: “Consumerism is the natural outgrowth of profit-seeking capitalism, and is by far my strongest complaint. It makes us into consumer drones, brainwashing us with ads and making us docile and uncaring, devoid of empathy because we don’t see and willfully ignore the consequences of our actions.”, I know exactly what you are talking about and so does MB. We still think you are wrong. Doesn’t that tell you something?

    I will be specific in this case. One specific example of this is pollution and it’s solution recycling. According to your ideology consumerism leads people not to see the connection between what they buy for their own selfish desires and the harm it does to other people and the environment. Is that a good summation? Answer that, and then since you have read so many books and understand MB and me so well, please also give a complete summation of our response on this one specific example, and why you think that response is wrong.

  49. Mookie
    May 20th, 2006 @ 3:14 pm

    I wish I could believe my actions didn’t have consequences. Then I could do whatever I want.

  50. Brian Macker
    May 22nd, 2006 @ 7:45 am

    Mookie,

    Was that statement supposed to be responsive to my post? If so then you didn’t understand what I had to say. Historicists don’t believe that if you run in front of a truck that you won’t be killed. It’s not fatalistic at the individual level. Marx didn’t say it is inevitable that trucks will hit us all individually next Wednesday. His fatalism was at the group level. He said capitalism and class structure would naturally dissolve into a workers paradise some day.

    Frankly, it’s a religious prophecy more than anything else since it isn’t based on good economic science. If you ignore the science and believe Marx’s message on grounds of faith then you might like to spread the “good word” for emotional reasons. You might want to give people hope that some day things will be different, but you would never spread a historicist theory on the presumption that it would change things. As far as I know Marx didn’t say that his message would be necessary to cause the transformation. What he said was that it was an economic law and would happen regardless of human belief about the matter. The emotions and processes that drive history through it’s Marxist stages don’t require Marx. He came at the second to last phase, capitalism, and all the prior stages did not require human understanding for them to be fulfilled, why would the transformation to the last stage require Marxist theory. Marxist theory is suppose to be descriptive.

    I consider whether I like moral and philosophical theories on issues broader than whether they are descriptive but on their proscriptive notions. Not only that but I judge them not merely what their proscriptive commands will theoretically result in but on what the actual results are.

    Let me use objectivism as an example of what I mean.

    Theoretically a society structured on Objectivist theory would result in a free market individualist social structure, a very non-authoritarian structure. In practice that is not the case. If you look how the actual official Objectivists operate it is very authoritarian. This happened because of internal contradictions within the philosophy, and contradictions between the philosophy and reality.

    One contradiction is the fact is that one cannot start with a set of axioms and deduce the entirety of rational thought. That is not in fact how Rand operated, although that is the religious myth, everything she came up with was original with her. Objectivists believe that this deductive methodology is what rationalism is. They further believe that to be irrational is to be immoral, or evil. Since objectivism is rationality then the failure to believe in it is a moral evil. Rand didn’t tolerate other people’s deductions from the facts either. There was no tolerance at an intellectual level and if you believe differently you are evil.

    So her philosophy essentially amounts to a revealed religion.

    As in all revealed religions there is absolute truth and heresy, plus the notion that spreading beliefs other than the “absolute truth” of Objectivism, and they equate rationality with Objectivism, is an moral evil. She borrowed this from Christianity, knowingly or unknowingly. Just as not believing in Christ is a sin in Christianity similarly not believing in Rand is a sin in Objectivism. I sort of picked up on this when I was reading her stuff but did not realize how powerful the pull of that one notion would be for so many of her followers. I had to read the actual history of her cult to fully appreciate that fact.

    Objectivism also shares a lot of other bad features with Christianity like psychologizing. It’s not merely that you have made a mistake but that you have evil psychological motivations behind your heresies.

    The same sorts of arguments can be made regarding Marxism. It too is a revealed religion. It too brands people who come to different conclusions as evil. It too practices psychologizing. It is these among other aspects of this politico-economic-philosophic religion called Marxism that result in the authoritarian regimes that spring up when it is put into practice.

    There are certain aspects of Objectivism that would result in far less social havoc than Marxism causes. Among them respect for individuality. Marxism as a philosophy has absolutely no respect for individual rights. That is why I find Objectivism preferable to Marxism if those were the only two choices, not because it is somehow the truth.

  51. hermesten
    May 22nd, 2006 @ 10:31 am

    marxrepented, I can see how the two statements you excerpted can be taken as a contradiction. I should have been more careful with my wording. One way to fix the contradiction is merely to say “people currently in power” instead of “people in power” (in which I include both major parties, and the machinery of the State, even to the extent that it is independent of party interests). However, this rewording suggests an optimism that I don’t really have. I guess it would be more accurate to let the contradiction remain and explain it as the product of an irrational hope. As I indicated in my previous remarks, I think we’ve already passed the point where correction is possible. The system is now too corrupt to be “repaired.” Change will only come after the consequences of this corruption become catastrophic and the system collapses of its own weight. I don’t know when this will be, but my guess is that I will not live to see it.

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