Monday, October 13, 2014

An Interview That Doesn't Deserve to Be Loved

Last night I watched Mike Wallace's 1959 interview of Ayn Rand. It's probably most notorious for the part where Rand says "most people don't deserve to be loved":

The obvious problem on a political level, of course, is that, contrary to her fantasy world, most large private fortunes were not created in any substantial part by the owner's own labor -- either manual or intellectual -- but, rather, by exploiting that of others: workers prevented from accessing the means of production created mostly by past workers, or keeping the full fruit of their labor thereupon, "at the point of a gun" as libertarians like to say -- not thanks to the kind of special government favors she liked to denounce, but through the enforcement of private property itself. I recall that, where in her writings she presents her cartoonish idea of what pre-class society was like, she asserts that the creation of private property in land was the prerequisite of civilization, but conveniently glosses over the question of how this creation occurred. You could call this the "shabby little secret" of her philosophy, to borrow the phrase she used for the state power backing paper legal tender.

On the philosophical level, this interview reminded me of how thoroughly, behind the rhetoric of "reason" and "objectivity," Rand based her doctrine on superstitious premises. For one thing, she repeatedly talks about "free will." I've never even seen an empirical definition of this concept, let alone verification of its reality. Second, there's her assumption that there are objective moral values and objective duties. Since moral statements, unlike physical statements, are assertions of what "should" be rather than of what is, they can have no empirical truth value. So to assert their objective existence as principles, independent of individual human brains, is essentially just a more abstract version of a belief in ghosts.

Given the above statement, you may wonder what my objection is to her saying most people don't deserve to be loved. It's that she's trying to impose her pseudo-objective definitions of "achievement" and "deserts," which simply reflect the bias of her class background, on a species which has evolved the emotion of love for a function that her definition ill-suits. Wallace points out its ridiculousness as applied to infants who haven't achieved anything yet but tend to receive our most unconditional love -- a point she never really answers -- although it was well spoofed in a *Simpsons* episode depicting the "Ayn Rand School for Tots" ( The *objective* fact is that we humans have an instinctual urge to help each other that is completely independent of "achievement." This is widely practiced not because of any philosophical doctrine but because it's human nature -- and it's human nature because it's beneficial for our species, and hence has been favored by natural selection. The only reason that, in spite of this, Rand's doctrine enjoys such a large megaphone now is that there's a minority exploiting class with both the means and motive to misdirect people's anger at the institutions this same class dominates -- church and state -- toward further strengthening their own domination over the rest of us.

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