Ayn Rand Would Have Hated This

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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14 Responses to Ayn Rand Would Have Hated This

  1. andrewclunn says:

    I wonder how happy people are when a large portion of their money is taken by taxation, some for wars, some for bureaucratic corruption, and some for the welfare state. My guess is not very. I have no problem with appealing to people’s social nature to ask them to give. They can always say no. It’s the use of guilt and the use of force to shame or intimidate people into giving that I have a problem with. People have the RIGHT to be selfish. That’s what Ayn Rand was all about. I guess my response would be these videos:

    Sometimes really helping means being able to quiet your emotions to fight against such appeals, because if we are always lead by our “sense of community” and being “pro-social” then there are plenty of schemers ready to use that as a means to rip us off.

  2. Kullervo says:

    People have the RIGHT to be selfish.

    Where does that right come from?

    • andrewclunn says:

      From the fact that if you try to steal my shit I shoot you in the face.

      • Kullervo says:

        Of course, if you try to shoot me in the face, I can always just, shoot you first or shoot you back. In any case, I don’t see any distinction between what you are calling a “right” to do a thing and the mere ability to do a thing, other than the suggestion that anything you can do is morally or ethically justified (but if everything you can do is morally and ethically justified, then moral and ethical justification are meaningless because they can’t be distinguished from the lack thereof).

        If there’s a 1:1 correspondence between what I am able to do and what I have the right to do, then that talk of “rights” adds no meaning and makes no distinctions. So you don’t have the “right” to be selfish because rights don’t actually exist.

      • andrewclunn says:

        You’re missing the point. Life is governed by a “whatever works” system that happens to have given rise to a humanity with certain neurological predispositions towards specific social interactions. Our “happiness from sharing” comes from the same place as “getting revenge on those who have hurt us.” There is of course variation among human beings and there are different narratives told to promote specific types of behaviors among individuals and different laws in government.

        Again, the rules that determine what is ‘right’ are based on what works. The Communists might take power, but every time they do the society doesn’t fair so well until it abandons the Communist ideology. The Theocrats might take over but good luck avoiding costly warfare when your political system is married to an exclusive religious doctrine. Ultimately what makes the selfish, “fuck the poor” capitalist like myself right is that our system works, and consistently out competes other systems. The reason my morality of, “Steal my shit and I’ll shoot you!” works is because though you might say that you could always shoot me first, the hypothetical robber will almost always go for the easy target first.

        The fact that we get a boost to happiness from sharing is an evolutionary tool. Building community cohesion makes us better prepared to resist foreign tribes. It doesn’t scale without blatant in-group out-group tribalism though (My race, my faith, my gender, my etc…) If you don’t think about the evolutionary origins of this behavior you might think that “being kind” is some kind of positive ends within itself, and might miss the exclusive group thought in-group out-group collectivism tied to it. Who can determine the ideal balance of individuality and collectivism? Each individual can. And not because the individual is smarter, but because the individuals that chose correctly will out compete those who don’t. Emergence, variation, natural selection. These are the only true meta ethics.

      • Santi Tafarella says:


        You made a great point. Andrew is dancing around for a justification that obscures your excellent point. Ethical justification cannot be grounded in evolution because evolutionary strategies run the gambit from “shark strategies” (predatory) to “bonobo strategies” (cooperative). In evolution, whatever works, works.

        But in the absence of an appeal to authority (a particular God, a holy book, etc.), it’s hard to know how one really grounds ethics.

        Rand would ground ethics in values (the values chosen by individuals), but what if those individuals don’t give a shit about whether they harm others in the pursuit of them?

        Perhaps it’s best to say that there are no universal values; absent God, there’s simply no ground there.

        Panic in the disco.

        Really, the only way to ground ethics and values is to get most people on the same general page in a community and then use the police to enforce them. Myths and culture then justify them further (God, hero stories, etc.). As a practical matter, that’s how humans do it.

        Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, is a fantasy of trying to get like-minded Randians walled off and living together, sharing their values and keeping others out. People generally agree with or tolerate one another until they don’t, and separate.

        Red state, blue state.


      • andrewclunn says:

        “Ethical justification cannot be grounded in evolution because evolutionary strategies run the gambit from “shark strategies” (predatory) to “bonobo strategies” (cooperative). In evolution, whatever works, works.”

        Sounds like somebody is confusing ethics (societal rules) with morality (or personal strategies).

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        You’re correct. Sloppy of me. Thanks for the clarification.


  3. Marlen says:

    Recommendation of the day: The Trap by Adam Curtis http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZt2HhFXB3M
    This is to understand why common welfare is usually eroded by claiming it is naive to attempt to make the world a better place.

  4. Paradigm says:

    “Ultimately what makes the selfish, “fuck the poor” capitalist like myself right is that our system works, and consistently out competes other systems.”

    And where is that system actually implemented? Looking good on paper is easy.

  5. Gato Precambriano says:

    Yeah Paradigm

    I would like to see the US “capitalist system” outcompete anybody without the US Marines…

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