Monday 21 December 2009

Ayn Rand villains

Caplan had to look back to the 30s and 40s to find real world examples of Randian villains.

The most recent Monbiot column does have a certain Ellsworth Toohey feel to it....
This is bigger than climate change. It is a battle to redefine humanity.

It's hard for a species used to ever-expanding frontiers, but survival depends on accepting we live within limits.

The summit's premise is that the age of heroism is over. We have entered the age of accommodation. No longer may we live without restraint. No longer may we swing our fists regardless of whose nose might be in the way. In everything we do we must now be mindful of the lives of others, cautious, constrained, meticulous. We may no longer live in the moment, as if there were no tomorrow.


  1. Monbiot sounds like an Austrian economist. Austrianists write that way about the alleged disaster caused by central banking and fiat money and how we need to live within the Malthusian discipline of the gold standard to keep that from happening again.

  2. Half the Austrians are hard core "fractional reserve is fraud" guys; the other side goes with Larry White and George Selgin on free banking. I lean very heavily toward the latter.

  3. You have to wonder, though, how valid a Randian argument is - aside from its inherent faults as a philosophical system, and that fact that it's only taken seriously by the seriously maladjusted - when you have to excise huge chunks from both Monbiot's article and Rand's work to get them to fit as an argument.

    I keep wondering at what point we, as a race, decided to decry rationality and decided to slowly unravel the lessons of the Enlightenment. Monbiot "even sounds like a Rand villain", and the environmentalist's plan is to "crush our spirits" and "about breaking the ambition of man the achiever-the explorer, the adventurer, the discoverer, the builder-and replacing him with man the meek, a modest little paper-shuffler constrained to live a small, inoffensive existence".

    Jesus Christ, man. It's starting to sound like a McCarthyite witch-hunt on both sides, and it's starting to sound really tiring, like some kind of giant feedback loop constructed entirely of runny shit.

    However wrong Monbiot can get, you can always guarantee on a Randian interpretation to get everything many more magnitudes of wrong.

    So when did we decide to combat the batshit insane with other magnitudes of batshit insane?

  4. @Chris: Rationality's never been all that popular overall.

    Regardless of merits of the Randian argument, it's pretty hard not to get that flavour from the most recent Monbiot piece linked-to. One of the bits I didn't post first time round:

    "Humanity is no longer split between conservatives and liberals, reactionaries and progressives, though both sides are informed by the older politics. Today the battle lines are drawn between expanders and restrainers; those who believe that there should be no impediments and those who believe that we must live within limits. The vicious battles we have seen so far between greens and climate change deniers, road safety campaigners and speed freaks, real grassroots groups and corporate-sponsored astroturfers are just the beginning. This war will become much uglier as people kick against the limits that decency demands."

  5. @Eric

    I think that's the worst thing about it - partly that people think it's something new that there's almost all-out war between two extreme factions, and partly because they don't think it's their side that's being stupid, ugly or unreasonable.

    Take this, from the Toohey speech you linked:

    "Yet the test should be so simple: just listen to any prophet and if you hear him speak of sacrifice – run. Run faster than from a plague. It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there’s someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master."

    I wonder who, exactly, people think she's talking about, and it's an example of the blindness of the faults of your own camp - the kind of stuff that perpetuates the same kind of arguments over and over again.

    I keep thinking back to the times when I've heard a politician telling us, in our world of liberal capitalism, that we have to "tighten our belts", or that some people are born to lead and others to follow, or who's the one with the right to serve or to be waited upon.

    Reason always belongs to someone, and never to the other. And although I'm loath to mention his name, Adorno wins on this count, because as he said, reason has stopped belonging to anyone.