Saturday, August 27, 2011

Assorted Evils of Capitalsim, Libertarianism, and Objectivism

by Dr. Albert Ellis

Image: Greenspan Shrugged
From Rand's views on economics and politics stem "assorted evils,' some of which I shall now briefly consider.   These are not all the nasty corollaries of her basic philosophies; but they are some of the more important negative consequences of these views.

          Deification of productiveness :   The objectivists apotheosize and deify productiveness.   They not only think that human achievement is good--which indeed it may be--but that it is practically the be-all and end-all of existence.   Branden states the position in these terms: "The virtue of productiveness is the basic expression of rationality in man's relationship to nature--and it is obvious why a morality of survival would attach especial importance to this virtue." (1965b). He says that the characters whom Ayn Rand presents such as Hank Rearden, Francisco d'Anconia and Dagny Taggart, a composer such as Richard Halley, and men of lesser ability and a smaller-scale ambition such as Eddie Willers--have one common attribute: a passionate love of their work, a dedication to achieving the utmost possible, a profound sense that thought and effort are not a burden or a duty.   By regulating their lives through intelligent productiveness, people gain control of their own lives that non-humans cannot achieve.   Productive work is the supremely human act, because animals must adjust themselves to their physical background and humans adjust their physical background to themselves.   Although this view includes some good points, it also includes several mistaken views:

          1.        Branden, closely following Rand, defines rationality in terms of productiveness, when obviously reason goes far beyond that.   A person can be rational when idly contemplating the tides, planning a work of art that he will never produce, philosophizing about the order of the universe, thinking about himself and his problems, and when doing a hundred things that are essentially unproductive and that may never lead to any kind of productivity.   But if people were completely unproductive, they would starve to death (unless living in a region where food and shelter were most easily available); and they would then be, presumably, irrational.   But this hardly means that all or most of people's rationality stems from their productiveness, or that all of it be spent on productive efforts.

          2.        Frequently the more productive an individual is, the less rational she tends to be.   For while she is busily producing, she cannot easily stop and think about why she is producing, or what is the best way to produce, or what is the main purpose of her life.

          3.        Many people produce beautifully for the wrong reasons.   They may despise themselves if they don't produce, and therefore compulsively achieve.   Or they may think they need the approval of others and can only gain that approval through notable production.   Or they may foolishly believe that they have to produce much more than they can ever possibly consume and may engage in compulsive hoarding.   This kind of behavior is not particularly useful or rational.

          4.        Although a morality of survival may well attach   virtue to productiveness, such a survivalist mentality does not exist in large parts of the world today--such as in our own country. Consequently, we might do better to de-emphasize the virtues of productiveness and consumption, and perhaps emphasize other virtues. Indeed, to dedicate one's life to productivity is to ignore and neglect the other important aspects of life: It is to lead an unbalanced life.

          5.        For Ayn Rand's productive heroes to intrinsically enjoy their work is fine.   As I emphasize in the theory of rational emotive behavior therapy (Ellis, 1962, 1999, 2001a, 2001b; Ellis & Becker, 1983; Ellis & Harper, 1968), people who acquire a vital absorbing interest in some aspect of life, and who work hard to fulfill this interest, are generally happier than those who are less absorbed.

          But when John Galt, Hank Rearden, and others have "a dedication to achieving the utmost possible to them," we become suspicious of their motives.   It seems obvious they are perfectionistic, demanding of themselves that they achieve the utmost possible and, if they don't, they are no good and do not deserve to live this supposedly happy life of working arduously all the time.   This (as I pointed out in Chapter 2) is an enormous danger of Randism--it promotes the view that people's personal value depends on their achieving in an outstanding manner.   Emotional disturbance lies in that direction!

          6.        It is difficult to see how productive work is the supremely human act.   In fact, it seems that productive work is not necessarily highly intelligent.   Animals, such as beavers, seem to work very hard at what they do; and innumerable animals, such as birds, bees, and ants, seem to work ceaselessly at the process of feeding and protecting themselves and their progeny.   Remarkable human acts, which these animals never seem to perform, lie much more in the realm of high-level thinking, of imagining, of devising works of art, and of enjoying esthetic pursuits (such as writing, acting, and opera singing).   While these kinds of supremely human activities involve some amount of work and productivity, they also may be contemplative, imaginative, and playful.

          Non-acceptance of biological limitations .   Because Rand squarely places virtually all-human evils at the door of restricted capitalism and statism, she fails to see that humans have distinct biological limitations--and that these very limitations on their rationality frequentlycause some of the non-ideal conditions, which she so hysterically deplores.   Here are a few indications of her failure to think in biological and sociological terms:

          1.        Branden following Rand, excoriates Erich Fromm for his views on human alienation, which Fromm traces to some biological limitations that people are forced to confront, and to some contradictions inherent in life itself.   Branden admits that there are a good many men who are alienated from themselves, from their fellow men, and from nature (1965c), as Fromm holds (1963); but he goes on to state: Large numbers of people suffer a chronic preoccupation with death; bitterly resent the fact that they cannot simultaneously be a concert pianist, a business tycoon, a railroad engineer, a baseball player and a deep-sea diver.   They therefore find their existence an unendurable burden.   Many people may be found in the offices of psychotherapists; they are called neurotics. "But why does Fromm choose tramps, morons, and neurotics as his symbols of humanity, as his image of man?   Why does he claim that theirs is the state all men   and out of which they must struggle for?

          The answer to Branden's question is: Because Fromm is much more realistic than Branden and Rand.   He sees that what we frequently call "neurosis" is partly or largely the human condition; and that it inevitably accompanies, to some degree, our biological makeup as well as the fact that we live in social groups.   Actually, as I have shown in the final chapter ofReason and Emotion in Psychotherapy (Ellis, 1962), there are many important ways in which people are restricted by their biological tendencies and are strongly biased toward behaving neurotically.   This does not mean they cannot improve remarkably.   They can teach and train themselves to overcome many of their innate limitations and to behave more rationally.   But this does not gainsay the fact that in many ways it is easier for them to be irrational than sane, (Ellis, 1976, 2001b, 2002, 2003, 2005).

          Rather than admit this, objectivists speak pejoratively of most humans as "tramps, morons, and neurotics," dehumanizing them, and assume that just as soon as they see Rand's   light they will become hardworking, noble citizens.   But, if they do not see the light, they deserve to perish. This anti-biological bias leads them into all kinds of other anti-empirical conclusions, some of which we have already seen and many of which will be examined in the chapter on objectivism and religion.

          2.        Rand also does not face the fact that adolescents have an innate tendency to think crookedly and to be highly suggestible and overemotional.   She writes, People, by the time they reach adolescence, have sufficient knowledge to deal with fundamentals of life, (1964).   But this is the period when they become aware of the need to become conscious beings and formulate principles, ideals, and values and, for self-assertion.   But because nothing is done, in our anti-rational culture, to young people in this crucial transition, the result is a frantic, hysterical irrationality of most adolescents.   Minds go through a process of atrophy at the time set by nature for their growth.

          Note, here, the strong implication that adolescents are innately uncrippled, non-frantic, and non-hysterical, and that it is only the non-Randian philosophy with which they are instilled in this society that makes them unthinking and disturbed.   Not that our anti-rational culture does not help adolescents to become more upsettable, anxious, and hostile than they otherwise might be.   It does!   But adolescents easily acquire and make use of silly ideas: Their general tendencies are merely aggravated, and by no means caused, by the nonsense of our culture (Cloninger, 1999; Ellis, 1966c, 1976, 2001b, 2002).

          3.        Rand's anti-biological notions are carried over into her views of people and their economic behavior.   She paints this idealistic and unrealistic picture of a trader: "a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved." (1964). He supposedly treats people as independent equals.   He deals with them by means of a free, voluntary, unforced, un-coerced exchange.   "A trader does not expect to be paid for his defaults, only for his achievements."   He does not blame others for his failures, and does not mortgage his life into bondage to the failures of others.

          It could be argued, the reverse of this picture is true.   All over the world in various kinds of economies, a trader generally is mainly interested in taking what he does not (according to Ms. Rand's standards) deserve.   One siren call of capitalists is "caveat emptor" or "let the buyer beware." As stated above, Socrates lamented that the only law of a trader was "to buy low and sell high." A trader does not treat people as independent equals, but usually tries to fool them, even enslave them to his wishes.   He prefers to deal with them by means of trickery or forced and coercive exchange--without competition--trying to get them to do his bidding, whether they like it or not.   He does expect to be paid for his defaults as well as his achievements.   And,   in most cases, he tries to blame others for his failures--not to mention to rationalize, when he does fail, and pretend that he has not.   Rand's picture of the capitalist producer and trader is ideal; and it is an ideal that is so far removed from social and biological reality that it probably never will be realized.   Worse, she deludes herself that her ideal is reality, that people are the way she pictures them.   No wonder she is so horribly disillusioned with people's actual behavior!

          Inconsistency and illogicality.   Probably all people and all philosophies are somewhat inconsistent. That is hardly surprising, because human animals are not always logical in their thinking. Rand, however, pretends to be exceptionally logical and rational; and keeps emphasizing the Aristotelian law of identity--that A cannot, at the same time, be both A and not A; that a person is a person; that reality is.   Consequently, we might expect her to be reasonably consistent in her beliefs.

          Unfortunately, her main consistency springs from her premises rather than her rationality.   She constantly sets up un-provable axioms--as I have been showing throughout this book--and then, for the most part, she proceeds logically. However, what she deduces from these rather meaningless, and sometimes downright irrational, propositions is therefore just as meaningless and irrational.   Like most religions, therefore, objectivism is fairly consistent.   However, Rand's statements are internally inconsistent in several important respects, including the following:

          1.        While touting the New York skyline as "a monument of a splendor that no pyramids or palaces will ever equal or approach," Rand insists that the skyscrapers of Moscow and the great Soviet dams were not fine achievements because "it is impossible to compute the human suffering, degradation, deprivation, and horror that went to pay for a single, much-touted skyscraper of Moscow." (1964). But it is also impossible to compute the human suffering, degradation, deprivation, and horror that went to pay for a single, much-touted skyscrapers of New York.   Who can say how many Americans, in the course of building such   skyscrapers, went bankrupt, ruined their lives with business worries, killed themselves with heart attacks, deprived themselves of good times, and otherwise suffered?

          Rand contention that the Russian skyscrapers were erected more inefficiently than were their American counterparts may be true.   But for her to deny Russian achievements--especially considering how far behind Americans the Russians were at the beginning of their revolution in 1917--is for her to use quite a different yardstick in measuring the two sets of accomplishments.

          Dualistically, the dark side of these "accomplishments" is that many died, many were maimed, and many more were injured in, or deprived by, the building of these largely unnecessary, monumental tombstones.

          2.        "It is not," states Rand, "a man's ancestors or relatives or genes or body chemistry that count in a free market, but only one human attribute: productive ability." (1964). It is by people's individual ability and ambition that capitalism judges them and rewards them accordingly.   But what, if not people's ancestors, relatives, genes, and body chemistry,creates this productive ability?   If they were basically born with this ability, their genes and body chemistry obviously were involved; and if they were raised rather than born with it, then obviously their ancestors and relatives were involved.   Unless, of course, Rand believes in magic.

          3.        In Rand's book, The Virtue of Selfishness, Nathaniel Branden says:   "Pleasure, for man, is not a luxury, but a profound psychological need."   Pleasure accompanies life, the reward of successful action.   Pain accompanies failure, destruction, and death.   On the very next page, Branden states, "it is his values that determine what a man seeks for pleasure." (1964b.)

          Now, which is it?   If pleasure is actually a need--meaning a necessity --of humans, and if it automatically flows from their successful actions, how can it also depend on values or philosophies?   Suppose a man believes--as I, for one, do--that he does not need pleasure, but merely desires it strongly.   Is it then one of his necessities?   Or suppose he believes--as I, even more strongly, do--that he can enjoy himself even when his actions fail and when he is not achieving anything notable in life.   Can he then experience enjoyment in spite of his non-achievement?

          Pleasure, actually, stems from (a) physical enjoyment or release from pain and/or (b) psychological enjoyment, which stems from evaluating something as "good' (whether or not others similarly evaluate it).   Rand, who ostensibly has a value-system concept of pleasure, is so overly-eager to deify successful action that she becomes inconsistent in her concepts of pleasure, and wrongly connects it with successful action instead of with the human's view of his or her successful action.   She declares that every person is an end in themselves, not a means to the ends of others.   She is not a sacrificial animal.   As a living being, she must exist for her own sake, neither sacrificing herself to others nor sacrificing others.

          The achievement of his own happiness is man's highest moral purpose, Rand claims.   Ironically, if man is to achieve his own happiness he'd better (at times, at least) make moderate sacrifices for others; otherwise, they will probably not sacrifice time and energy for him when he needs their help.   Complete selfishness is a serious contradiction: As long as man lives in a social group, and as long as he wants to be happy while so living, complete selfishness will alienate him, help make him miserable,   and perhaps destroy him.

          5.        In For the New Intellectual, Ayn Rand flip-flops: "The New Intellectual will be the man who lives up to the exact meaning of his title: a man who is guided by his intellect--not a zombie guided by feelings, instincts, urges, wishes, whims, or revelations." (1961b). Later, in the same paragraph, she says that people will know that they need philosophy for the purpose of living on earth.   Then, she asks: "Who--in this damned universe--who can tell me why I should live for anything but for that which I want?"

          Here again we have the basic contradiction between Rand and Branden's divergent views on thought and emotion.   On the one hand, they admit that emotion springs from human thinking and imply that you can virtually always be happy, if you think straight, no matter what are the circumstances of your life.   But when you do this, you'd better acknowledge the fact that many people seem to be quite happy when they think thoughts that are clearly anti-Randian--if, for example, they are orthodox followers of conventional religious sects, or if they believe in collectivism rather than in capitalism.

          Consequently, Rand and Branden demand that the happy and un-neurotic individual think the right thoughts, and not be guided by the wrong thoughts--that which lead to feelings, instincts, urges, wishes, whims, or revelations which the objectivists cannot go along with.   They state that "a rational, self-confident man is motivated by a love of values and by a desire to achieve them," (Branden, 1964b); but they really mean that he is motivated by a love of objectivist-approved values.   Nothing else will do!

          Again, objectivism states that "emotions and desires are not causeless, irreducible primaries: they are the product of the premises one has accepted," (Branden, 1964c).   But then Rand insists that "desires (or feelings or emotions or wishes or whims) are not tools of cognition; they are not a valid standard of value," (1964).   The problem here, as I pointed out in the first chapter of this book, is that Rand first claims that all emotions only spring from human values; then contends that some emotions--particularly desires and whims--have an independent existence.   If she recognized that emotions also spring from physical, biologically based urges as well as from values, she would not be so inconsistent.   But her need to have people possess only proper, objectivist-inspired values leads her astray.

          6.        Rand claims to be ultra-rational and utterly logical--but continually usesshoulds, oughts, and musts to describe the proper behavior of men.   She talks incessantly about the necessity of accepting reality (which itself is a contradiction, since it's highly desirable, but certainly not necessary that we accept the world around us)--but she abjures probability and demands absolute certainty, which does not appear to exist in this universe.   She says she is not religious--but she deifies much of human behavior (e.g., pure capitalism and unadulterated selfishness) and vilifies other behavior (e.g., collectivism and adulterated selfishness).   Conventional religionists similarly deify what they like and vilify what they dislike.

          "I win by means of nothing but logic and I surrender to nothing but logic," John Galt   proclaims.   "When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter."   Yet, in the same paragraph, he insists: "I deal with men as my nature and theirs demands: by means of reason." (Rand, 1957.)    Demands?   Reality does not demand; it merely is.   It is unrealistic humans--and especially Randian humans--who demand--and who whine, and cry, and rant, and hate, when reality does not give them exactly what they demand.

          7.        Rand inveighs against the Judeo-Christian-Islam concept of sin.   Says John Galt : "Damnation is the start of your morality, destruction is its purpose, means and end.   Your code begins by damning man as evil, and then demands that he practice a good, which it defines as impossible for him to practice....   The name of this monstrous absurdity is Original Sin." (1957). Good comment!   But Rand and objectivism start their morality by damnation--by damning all non-capitalistic, un-achieving, imperfectly thinking individuals.   They demand that people practice a good, which is probably impossible for them to practice--pure capitalism, pure selfishness, and pure reason.   It consequently begins--and ends--with Original S
in: human fallibility and anti-objectivism!

          8.        One Randian absolute often tends to contradict another.   Thus, in Atlas Shrugged, John Galt thunders: "This greatest of countries was built on my morality--on the inviolate supremacy of man's right to exist."   Then, he uses absolutes again: "Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival."   If people are to live on earth, it is right for them to use their mind, it is right to act on their own free judgment, it isright to work for their values and to keep the product of their work.   If life on earth is their purpose, they have a right to live as rational humans.   Nature forbids them the irrational.

          What Rand seems to be saying here is that (a) you have an inviolate right to exist, provided that (b) you do as I say you should do and use your mind, act on your free judgment,   work for your values, and keep the product of your work according to orthodox objectivist principles.   Otherwise! --You presumably have no right to exist.

          9.        Nathaniel Branden tells us that in Atlas Shrugged "Ayn Rand brings an inexhaustible richness and originality or perception and analysis," (1965b).   She treats all issues in a fresh and startlingly illuminating way.   Her slogan in Atlas Shrugged is "Check your premises."   She demands of her readers: to check, to re-examine, and to rethink the most fundamental premises at the root of their convictions and of their culture.   Fine!   But unfortunately Rand and her associates spent virtually no time checking her premises.   If they would do so, the rational ones among them would see that these premises are almost entirely definitional and tautological.   They exist because they exist--because Ayn Rand has proposed them.   Any empirical evidence does not back them; and they frequently lead to pernicious results for the people who hold them.   It is ironic that the originator of the sensible "Check your premises" slogan so rarely follows her own advice.

          Objectivist ethics.   A special system of ethical postulates underlies the entire Randian position.   We have been examining some of these postulates under other headings in this book; now is the time to look at them more systematically.   Here are some of the major errors in Rand's ethical theories.

  Or does reality demand it?   Is ethics the province of whims: of personal emotions, social edicts and mystical revelations?   Or is it the province of reason?   Is it a subjective luxury--or is it an objective necessity?   Among the several mistakes   Rand makes in this declaration are these:

          1.        Ayn Rand begins her discussion of ethics with this statement: "Is the concept ofvalue, of "good or evil' an arbitrary human invention, unrelated to, underived from, and unsupported by any facts of reality?" (1964).   Or, she continues, is the concept based on ametaphysical fact, on an unchangeable condition of people's existence?   Does arbitrary human convention, a mere custom, decree that people must guide their actions by a set of principles? 

          a.        Although value and ethics may be based on reality, how can they be based on "an unalterable condition of man's existence"?   How does Ms. Rand know whether man's existence is unalterable or what is unchangeable about it?   All of human history tends to show the opposite: that the condition of human existence is highly alterable; and modern sociological thinking tends to heavily espouse the view that utopia will probably never exist because it implies a perfect, changeless society, while all human societies do change.

          b.        The facts of reality do not demand anything--including the point "that man must guide his actions by a set of principles." (1964). If man wants to survive and if he wants to live in a reasonably stable and happy manner, then it seems much wiser that he have a set of ethical principles than to live without such principles.   But people do not have to survive, they need not be happy, and even reality must not exist.   Consequently, ethics is neither a subjective luxury nor an objective necessity.   It is a set of rules that people had betterestablish and guide themselves by (and keep revising!) if they want to attain reasonable security and order.

          2.        Rand continues: It is only the concept of "Life" that makes the concept of "value" possible.   It is only to a living person that things can be good or evil.   This statement is true--but tautological.   A human evaluates because he is alive; and value, or good and evil, is meaningful only to a living being.   For a human to live means for him to perceive, think, evaluate, and act.

          3.        "Let me stress the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life." (Rand, 1964.) Thus we achieve the validation of value judgments by referring to the facts of reality.   The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.   What "is" is the same as what "ought" to be.

          Whoa, there!   First of all, human functioning hardly necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value that for any given living entity is its own life. There is no reason why a living entity has to keep existing and much proof that it cannot live forever. There are many different kinds of values by which living humans can, if they wish to do so, continue to exist; and it is probably impossible to say what an ultimate value for life's continued existence actually is.   The only ultimate value that I can think of is the value that life itself feels good a majority of the time, and that therefore the organism should continue to exist.   But even this value, as noted in (a) in this paragraph, is not a necessary derivative of one's existence.

          For life to continue, the only "ultimate" values that are needed are the purely biological ones involved with breathing, eating, drinking, defecating, etc.   Here is a true identity, an "a" is "a" that she refuses to see: To exist, a human does not have to be intelligent, happy, artistic, or highly reasoning.   He or she just has to be alive.

          Secondly, I know not where Rand magically dug out of the ether her view, "Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality."   It is true that the individual's existence itself is a fact of reality.   Therefore, any values she holds arepart of reality.   But what are valid value judgments and how do they relate to reality?   According to the dictionary, valid means "1. Sound; well grounded on principles or evidence; able to withstand criticism or objection, as an argument; 2. Effective, effectual, cogent, etc."   Now, how is reality to judge whether the individual's values are sound, effective, or cogent?   According to the dictionary, again, value is "that quality of a thing according to which it is thought of as being more or less desirable, useful, estimable, important, etc."   Well, is realityto judge whether anything is desirable, useful, estimable, or important?   Or is it not the human person, the evaluator, who judges the value of something?   It seems to me it is the latter.

          Does evaluating have anything to do with reality?   Probably.   For example, if you value your life highly, and value milk highly because it presumably will prolong your life; and if you happen to be seriously allergic to milk, ignore your allergy, and it kills you when you drink it, your evaluation of it has been wrong--dead wrong!   So if you do value, you inevitably have to evaluate some aspects of reality, and you may easily be fooled to do so to your own detriment.   But--note well--even so, it is you who have evaluated wrongly (in relation to reality); and it is hardly the facts of reality that have made you wrong.   Actually, it is your poor judgment(your false evaluation) of these facts that is the issue.   You refer (as Rand says, but in a rather obscure way) your valuing (that life is good and drinking milk prolongs life) to the facts of reality (that you are allergic to milk); and part of your valuing (that drinking milk will prolong your life) turns out to be invalid, in the light of these facts.

          Your checking these evaluations with the facts of reality, therefore, may partly validate your evaluation of yourself and of the world's influences on you.   But not completely!   For the most important part of your evaluating is your value judgment that your life is good, and that it is better that you continue.   Thus, reality around you could be replete with cold, famine, solitude, and other unfortunate circumstances--and you, because of your religious beliefs, could still evaluate your own living as "good" and choose to continue it.   Or the facts of reality could be that you are intelligent, talented, handsome, rich, and physically healthy--and yet because of your social philosophy you could decide that life wasn't worth living, and kill yourself. Both attitudes are irrational but have occurred throughout history.

          Ayn Rand's implication, therefore, that the validation of all your value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality does not seem to be correct.   Probably all these judgments are in part significantly influenced by reality; but in the final analysis, you decide [1]whether to live or to die; and very often, as well, whether to be happy or unhappy, whether to focus on one thing or another, whether to think or not to think.   The objectivist theory of volition and emotion points this out; but its theory of ethics seems to forget this very important fact.

          Third, Rand's statement that "the fact that a living entity is, determines what it oughtto do," is even more farfetched than her previous statements.   Indeed, it seems to be almost a complete non-sequitur.   It is the living thing itself, and not the fact of its existence that determines what it ought, or would like, to do.   The fact that I exist by no means determines that I should live, or that I should love you, or that I should accept objectivism, or that Ishould do anything else.   Naturally, all these oughts are contingent on my remaining alive: since, dead, I would have no choices.   But as long as I am alive, I have many choices as to what I should or ought to do.   These may be limited; but they still exist. "To a living consciousness, every "is' implies an "ought'," writes Rand.   People are free to choose not to be conscious, but not free to escape the penalty of unconsciousness: destruction.

          What she seems to mean here,   is that if you choose to live and be happy, you had better choose to be conscious: to use your reason to focus intently on solving life's problems.   She forgets, however, that you do not have to choose to live, certainly not to the absurd maximum she demands; and that   if you do choose to live, you still have a wide choice of different oughts.   The fact that I am gives me a choice of what I ought to do; my mere existence does not make me take certain paths, except possibly a few paths regulated by my automatic nervous system.   That is, it makes me breathe, have a beating heart, and undergo certain other involuntary bodily functions.   But it does not make me select one set of values or another, even though it probably biases me in favor of life and against death.

          4.        Ayn Rand continues: The standard of value of the objectivist ethics is the standard by which you judge what is good or evil--is your life: that which is required for your survival is the standard.   Since reason is your basic means of survival, that which sustains the life of a rational person is the good.   That which negates life is evil. (1964). We can easily find flaws in this statement:

          a.        Rand may take human life as the standard by which one judges good or evil; but no one else has to accept this standard if he does not wish to do so.   To repeat: Man has to live in order to value; but he doesn't have to live.   And many men in the course of human events have decided, volitionally, to die instead of to live.   Some of them, at least, would seem to have been eminently sane: since they chose to die because they were in physical pain, because life was too arduous for them, or because they had little possibility of gaining notable satisfactions if they continued to live.   Ethics, therefore, need not be based on your life but on the satisfactions, the pleasures, you think you are likely to gain while living.   That, it seems to me, would be a more sensible standard than the standard of life itself.   But you can, of course, base your wish to continue living on various other standards: such as on saintliness, on productivity, or creativity.
          b.        Even if human survival is taken as the basic good, it is pointless to say that, since reason is man's main means of survival that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good.   For several things besides reason are man's basic means of survival: for example, perceiving, emoting, and doing.   Can we therefore conclude, that which is proper to the life of a perceiving person is good?   What about corpses, for example?   A perceiving person at some time during his life perceives a corpse or two.   Is, consequently, a corpse good?

          And what about emoting?   An emoting being tends to become anxious, hysterical, guilty, and hostile.   Are anxiety, hysteria, guilt, and hostility necessarily good?

          The main point is that all kinds of human attributes and reactions seem to be natural to humans and to be part of their "basic" means of survival.   According to Rand, all these attributes and reactions should therefore be seen as "good."   The fact that some of these human traits, such as reasoning, may lead to greater human happiness than do other traits, such as hysteria, is held by Rand as her criterion of good behavior; and her system of ethics therefore tends to become meaningless.
          Rand writes that since people have to discover everything by their own mind and effort, "The two essentials of the method of survival proper to the rational being are: thinking and productive work."   Ah, now the cat is out of the bag!

          Rand pretty clearly started with the (unverifiable) assumption that productive work is the best possible thing for humans; then she asked herself how this assumption could be sustained; then she figured out that thinking or reasoning individuals will produce more work than will non-rational people; then she glorified rationality in her ethical system.   Her ethics start with the double-headed premise and unjustified conclusion: "Because living is indubitably good, and because productive work by living beings is essential...." it is therefore morally necessary to maximize at all times one's personal productivity to be good, to be happy.   And her system proceeds from these premises to establish on "rational" grounds its derivative postulates.   Her two main premises and primary conclusion are, however, quite arguable.

          By Rand's "logic," incidentally, one could just as well claim: "Since everything people need for survival has to be strongly evaluated and felt emotionally, their survival depends on their intense emotions."   Rationality, by this kind of definition, would be synonymous with intense emotion--and where would objectivist ethics be then?

          Another caution: Even if people should survive, and even if reason is their basic means of survival, it is still dangerous to say that what is good for the life of a rational being is good and that what negates, opposes or destroys it is evil.   For the implication here is that the good is the good, and the evil is the evil, at all times and places.   But this is false.   The conditions for people's survival (and happiness!) continually change.   It is possible that under certain conditions they might survive better if they were irrational than if he were rational.   If all the nations of the world, for example, adopted Nazism, only stupid and irrational people might ultimately survive.   Under those conditions, is that which is proper to the life of a rational person really good?

          Rand is so palpably determined to prove that an immutable system of ethics exists, that it relates to human survival, and that reason is such an intrinsically "good" force that it will always lead to human survival and hence to the "good," that she ignores facts and sticks almost exclusively with her own definitions of what the "real" world is.

          Rand is also stuck in survival mode. Just as the communists defeat themselves with their survival motto, "From each according to their ability; to each according to their need," Rand is stuck in hers, "From each according to their ability, to each as much as the market will bear." Both attempt to maximize production. Once we have enough to survive, certainly when we have luxuries, both of these extremes become pretty silly. For who is going to do work they do not like so others can have luxuries, or for luxuries for themselves that they cannot use? Only neurotic, disturbed people--extreme capitalists and collectivists.

          5.        John Galt, the hero of Rand's Atlas Shrugged says: "If I were to speak your kind of language, I would say that man's only moral commandment is: Thou shall think." (1957.) But no, moral commandments are chosen, are not forced; understood, nor obeyed.   It almost looks like Rand is accepting the point that morals are invariably chosen--and can always be re-chosen.   What she really seems to mean, however, is that once we "understand" the "true" nature of reality, of life, and of reason, we shall feel intellectually compelled to pick her objectivist, or absolutist view of ethics.

          As ever, she is devoutly definitional and religious in her imposing "truth" on not only her followers but, really, on all the rest of us.   This is akin to the pope and his cardinals saying that everyone, including non-Catholics, has to be baptized and regularly go to confession if they are to survive and be "saved!"

          6.        The most pernicious aspect, perhaps, of Rand's ethics is shown in her attitude toward "personal immorality:" ( Learn to distinguish the difference between your errors of knowledge and breaches of morality.   If you are willing to correct it, your error of knowledge is not a moral flaw.   If you judge humans by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience, you are a mystic.   When you don't know something that is not immorality. "But if you refuse to know, it is an account of infamy growing in your soul.   Allow yourself errors of knowledge; but do not forgive or accept any breach of morality. Give the benefit of the doubt to those who try to know; but treat as potential killers those specimens of insolent depravity who demand that you do things without reason."   Such people proclaim a license that they "just feel' you should take.   Beware of people who reject an irrefutable argument by saying: "It's only logic."   They mean: "It's only reality."   "The only realm opposed to reality is the realm and premise of death." (1960).

          Here are several objections to Rand's ethical, or unethical viewpoint:

          a.        To say that a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil seems sensible enough.   But to include also as an immorality a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought, runs into territory that is not easily demarcated, and that is quite dangerous.   Suppose, for example, that you are ashamed of your feelings of hostility to, say, your mother.   You therefore, consciously or unconsciously, avoid thinking about her, and perhaps avoid the topic of mothers in general.   Are you immoral because of your conscious evasion or unconscious repression?   If so, which of us is not frequently immoral?

          b.        Assuming that you refuse to face certain facts or to investigate some aspects of knowledge because of your shame or anxiety, are you really an infamous person?   Should you be eternally damned for this behavioral error?

          c.        If you discover that you or one of your associates is immoral in the sense that you or she refuses to know something, should you be unforgiving forever?   Granted that an ethical error may exist (at least, by Rand's standards), should the mistaken individual be condemned as a person for all time just because she has chosen to be wrong?   If so, this is truly a cruel "ethical" doctrine!   And it seems to forget that the purpose of morality, presumably, is to help human beings, rather than to consign them to some kind of eternal hell.

          d.        If you volitionally do a wrong act or refuse to face knowledge, you would be pretty crazy if you did not have some kind of reason for making this error.   Thus, if you deliberately and needlessly harm another human being, you probably will be thinking, as you do so, that she deserves this harm, or that you are so angry that you can't help harming her, or that, even though you are wrong about harming her, for you to act otherwise would be still more wrong.   And if you choose to avoid knowing something, you probably will do so because you think it would be worse to face it than to avoid it.   These choices may be erroneous; but since you made them for misguided reasons (as humans frequently will do), should you be looked upon forever as a horribly immoral person who is deserving of severe punishment?

          7.        Morality is normally based on the philosophy of enlightened self-interest.   Sinceyou do not wish to be needlessly harmed by others and since you would like to be aided by others when you are in unfortunate circumstances, you agree that it would be better if you didn't harm others and that you would come to their aid in their hour of need, (Ellis, 1965b, 2001b, 2003).
          Objectivism, however, is so one-sidedly obsessed with the virtue of pure selfishness (whatever that really is!) that it can in no way see a morality that is partly based on helping others when they are troubled and needy.   Writes Rand in this connection: a morality that holds need as a claim, holds emptiness--and non-existence--as its standard of value.   "It rewards an absence, a defect: weakness, inability, incompetence, suffering, disease, disaster, the lack, the fault, the flaw--the zero," (1957).

          What Rand will not face here--and she is, by her own standards, presumably immoralfor not facing--is the fact that virtually all humans, on many occasions during their life, are weak, unable, incompetent, suffering, diseased, disaster-ridden, lacking, faulted, and flawed.   It is too bad that they often are that way; but they are hardly, therefore, totally worthless.   Rand's morality, clearly, is designed only to help the competent, able, and strong--the heroesof the world, and let the rest of us suffer and die!

          This does not mean that every single one of us, to be moral, must spend his life giving to the poor, helping the suffering, and uplifting the weak.   If we want to define morality as (a) first, taking care of ourselves and (b) second, avoiding needless harm to others, and (c) never damning them totally (giving them, in REBT terms, unconditional other acceptance [UOA]), that seems fine.

          At least we will meet minimal moral requirements for individual and social living.   But if we want to go beyond this to add (d) helping those who are less fortunate than we are, (while not foolishly sacrificing ourselves,) this too would seem to be a rational moral code, especially when we teach and help them to become more independent.   But Rand insists that any amount of sacrifice for others is irrational and immoral--and she thereby constructs an unrealistic and impractical ethical system.   Only in heaven--in which Rand obviously does not believe--might such a system work!

          8.        The inherent perfectionism of the objectivist code of ethics is nicely stated by Ayn Rand's   favorite hero, John Galt: "Man has a single basic choice: to think or not, and thatis the gauge of his virtue." (1957). He and Rand hold that moral perfection is an unbreached rationality--not the degree of your intelligence, but the full and relentless use of your mind; not the extent of your knowledge, but the acceptance of reason as an absolute.   Well, that certainly wraps it up!   If you are in the least irrational or if you do not absolutely accept reason as the determiner of all that is good in the world, you are clearly immoral.   Shall we get the hell fires ready for you now?

          9.        Further, contrary to the principals laid down by Skinner and the behaviorists, Rand seems to believe that pure punishment without clear explanation and a scientific schedule of application will change people -- or that they deserve to suffer and die if they do not change under such a system. Skinner, etc. al., showed that people will not learn from such a method of punishment. From reading Rand one gets the sense that she does not believe her system will change anyone either -- that she is really advocating economic social Darwinism with her "reality" as the executioner. The huge problem with this is that almost everyone will be executed with the remainder mired in a producers' hell without rest or customers, since everyone is producing all the time.
          Sexual Puritanism.   Along with her unrealistic theories of economics, politics, and human worth, Rand has some views of human sexuality that are divorced from facts, and that have overtones of a puritanical nature.   For example:

          1.        Branden declares, "A man falls in love with and sexually desires the person who reflects his own deepest values," (1964b).   Since when?   Innumerable men fall in love with women who reflect their shallowest, let alone their deepest, values.   They fall in love with women who disagree with them violently in politico-economic areas, who have radically different philosophies of life, and who represent almost everything they do not like.

          As for sexual attraction, the relationship between it and one's deepest values is practically nil.   Any male whose hormones are working properly tends to sexually desire innumerable women who do not in the least reflect his own values--except in so far as he values large breasts, well-shaped behinds, sensuous lips, long legs, or certain other attributes.   There is often almost as little correlation between a man's sex desires and his deepest values, as there are between his tastes in food and those same values.

          2.        To a man of self-esteem, Branden continues, "sex is an act of celebration, it's meaning is a tribute to himself, and to the woman he has chosen.   It is the ultimate form of experiencing concretely and in his person the value and joy of being alive," (1964b).    But the fact remains that to a man of self-esteem sex is very often one hell of a good time and little more.   Only occasionally is it a special act of celebration with a rare woman he has chosen.   He can have sex simply because he enjoys it--and not to celebrate the fact that he is alive or to prove anything at all.

          3.        "Man's sexual choice is the result and sum of his fundamental convictions.   Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life."   Rand continues, if you show me the woman a man sleeps with, I will tell you how he values himself.   Sex, when cut off from your code of values, is a fool's self-fraud.   Only the man who extols the purity of a love without desire is depraved by his desire devoid of love. (Rand, 1957).

          What frightful puritanical rot!   As noted above, there exists considerable observational, autobiographical, historical, and clinical evidence that whom a man finds sexually attractive may have practically nothing to do with his basic philosophy of life and his valuation of himself.   In fact, the more he unqualifiedly values himself, the more he is usually able to sleep with allkinds of women, and to refrain from thinking himself a worm when his bedmates are not from the "right" social class.   It is men of objectivist and similar persuasion, who cannot stand that they sleep with the "wrong" women, and who therefore have serious problems of low self-acceptance.   And, of course, their status-seeking philosophy in part causes them to have such problems.

          As for sexual desire devoid of love being depravity--shades of nineteenth-century Puritanism!   To virtually any self-accepting contemporary individual, sex is good in, of, by, and for itself.   It may often be better, or more enjoyable, when it is experienced in the context of a loving human relationship.   But loveless sex is not in the least depraved--except by arbitrary, puritanical definitions (Ellis, 1958, 2002b, 2003b; Ellis & Blau, 1998).   Just as the insistence that sex be embedded in a love relationship is typical of modern religious groups which once used to condemn it under all circumstances, so Rand's Puritanism goes with the religiosity inherent in objectivism.

          The objectivist attitudes about sex epitomize the basic tenets of objectivism, which take it out of the realm of science and reason and place it squarely in the field of religious devoutness.   In swearing allegiance to the dogmas of Ayn Rand and her associates, people gain the salvation of their soul by (a) having profound faith in unverifiable, ultra-idealistic assumptions; (b) continually working in a highly productive manner; (c) achieving pride in their own superiority over others; and (d) rigorously abstaining from any purely sensual or sexual enjoyments.

          It is revealing that most orthodox religions, particularly those steeped in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, emphasize these puritanical sex views, and that Rand--whether or not she is fully conscious of the fact--does precisely the same thing.

[1] Determinists believe that since all chemical reactions are predictable and that your brain is just a complicated chemical reaction, that all decisions are predetermined by the interaction of stimuli and your brain's chemistry like a complex spreadsheet or equation.

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