Professor Strawman’s Hilarious Attack on Ayn Rand’s Ethics
A Facebook friend asked me to comment on a ridiculous, mediocre 1987 essay written by a certain Prof. Fischer. At first I thought of ignoring the request, but when I scanned the article I was surprised by the author’s utter stupidity and ignorance, as his essay is full of strawman arguments, context-dropping and misrepresentation.
The essay is titled THE VICE OF SELFISHNESS: A critique of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism by Professor Fischer. I read the first few paragraphs of the article until I stumbled upon this line: “Ayn Rand’s philosophy has a certain appeal and, for a time, I considered myself a disciple of Objectivism. But, ultimately, Objectivism is flawed and cannot be considered a plausible ethical theory.” This got me interested to know a professor’s critique of Ayn Rand’s ethics and philosophy of Objectivism. Another thing that made me interested is the professor’s claim that he was once a “disciple of Objectivism.” Really? A disciple? Let’s find out!
So professor Fischer opened his essay with the following paragraphs:
Animals have it easy. The family dog never wrestles with his conscience over the need to leave some Alpo in his bowl for the poor and hungry strays. Bulls don’t apportion the cows to ensure the joys of family life for all concerned. And, once an amoeba splits, the two halves feel no need to keep in touch.
People, however, do not have such an easy time of it. The enlightened, modern person usually measures the progress of civilization by discerning how well its members look after their comrades. While some limited altruism has been documented in nature, conscious altruism can fairly be described as an invention of human beings. Whether it is the Christian axiom to “love thy neighbor as thyself” or the socialist dictum requiring “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” altruism is widely considered the progressive, humane stance.
So, it would seem a barbaric throwback when Ayn Rand has the hero of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt, state, “I swear–by my life and my love of it–that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” Yet, it is the thrust of Rand’s novel and her objectivist philosophy that it is the altruists in their various forms that are the true barbarians. According to Rand, it is the parasitism of the mythologist (read religious) and collectivist (read socialist) altruists that will eventually sap the productive effort of the few real men and cause the collapse of civilization. Only purely self-interested individuals unburdened by the needs of non-producers, say the objectivists, can keep the progress of civilization on the upward track.
I read Atlas Shrugged and The Virtue of Selfishness. I even went so far as to subscribe to The Objectivist Forum. Ayn Rand’s philosophy has a certain appeal and, for a time, I considered myself a disciple of Objectivism. But, ultimately, Objectivism is flawed and cannot be considered a plausible ethical theory.
The major strength of Objectivism is its attack on the socialist concept, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Rand correctly points out that such a philosophy kills ability and breeds need. In Atlas Shrugged, she gives the fictional example of a factory taken over by its workers that institutes this system. The workers progressively hide their abilities to avoid the demands the system makes on them. The workers also exaggerate their needs to gain greater compensation. In the end, the factory grinds to halt, becoming non-productive and serving no one’s interests.
OK. But this paragraph caught my attention:
“But, even in the realm of economics philosophy, flaws can be found in John Galt’s oath. Because, not only does never living for the sake of another logically preclude any sort of social welfare system, but Rand’s writings specifically attack such a system. Now, the U.S. welfare system certainly has its flaws, but the removal of the total “safety net” for the underprivileged is tantamount to murder.”
Here’s how Ayn Rand described her ethics of rational self-interest: “Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.”
If the author really read Atlas Shrugged, it seems that he didn’t clearly understand what he read and Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. He states, “the removal of the total “safety net” for the underprivileged is tantamount to murder.” It seems that he forgot or never encountered the following line: “neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.” So according to Fischer, the US welfare system is moral and justifiable so long as it cares for the underprivileged, as he regarded the removal of “safety net” as tantamount to “murder.”
This exposes the author as a welfarist or an altruist. According to him, he understands the flaws of welfare system, however, he is still hooked on the politics of pragmatism. In effect, he considers “welfare” as a pragmatic way to help the underprivileged.
To support his very crude and ignorant evaluation of Rand’s ethics, he states: “This week’s Time magazine quotes a study by the Physicians Task Force on Hunger in America as saying that some 20 million Americans go hungry on a regular basis. The recent increase in this number is attributed to new food stamp restrictions. If restrictions can make twenty million hungry, then destruction could quite possibly starve to death vast numbers of people.”
This is the reason why he calls the removal of safety net is “tantamount to murder.” Murder by whom? Perhaps by those who support the abrogation of welfare system. Here, Mr. Fischer argues like a Leftist. Observe his appeal to emotion. It’s like he’s trying to say, “if you remove welfare system, you’re going to kill 20 million people.”
But here, it’s Mr. Fischer’s view of economics that is fatally flawed. Why is there rampant hunger in America? It’s because of BIG GOVERNMENT. It’s because of too much regulations and intervention. For instance, the 2008 economic crisis was caused by American government’s altruistic policies, such as the creation of the Community Reinvestment Act in 1977 and the Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac so to help the poor, and the forcing of banks and insurance companies to lend money to the poor and to accept applicants in spite of their preexisting conditions. The root of America’s financial crisis is Altruism.
Richard Salsman, an investment forecasting and consulting expert, explains here the moral root of the financial crisis that hit the United States in 2008.
From a state monopoly on money, to state guarantees of bank liabilities, to state sponsorship of mortgages, to state ownership of banks–the progression in the past century has been to move away from free markets toward socialist banking. Why? The fundamental answer is: altruism. The fitful, halting lurches toward ever greater government intervention in American finance follow logically from the altruistic premise that permeates our culture and resounds throughout the halls of power–the premise that being moral consists in self-sacrificially serving those in need. The welfare state and its main financier, the Federal Reserve, are ultimately “justified” on the grounds that the government has a moral duty to provide the needy with goods and services–from education to health insurance to mortgages.
On the premise that a free banking system inadequately served the poor, the Federal Reserve was formed. On the premise that welfare spending is too important to be tied down to an objective system of money, the gold standard was abolished. On the premise that taxpayers have a moral duty to bail out needy banks and careless depositors, the FDIC was established. On the premise that we all have a moral duty to help needy, low-income families “achieve the American dream,” the GSEs were established. On the premise that Americans have a moral duty to preserve America’s financial institutions, Washington is now nationalizing them–ensuring the full politicization of lending, a perpetual flight of private capital, and an endless drain on taxpayers’ wallets.
The fact that each of these interventions has caused (and continues to cause) financial-economic turmoil and wealth destruction is, to those who believe the interventions were moral, simply beside the point. By demanding that one consider the needs of others above all else, altruism morally forbids one to consider the facts of reality that conflict with that mandate. Thus, in the case of a banker who embraces altruism, the fact that a loan applicant is not creditworthy matters not; the fact that default rates are rising matters not; the fact that his bank is nearing insolvency matters not. These are mere economic facts, whereas altruism speaks of moral truth–and in any contest between economics (or common sense) and morality, morality always wins.
Acceptance of altruism leads people to abandon their self-interest, the profit motive, the basic principles of economics, and the basic principle of America: the principle of individual rights. But these values are essential to good living, to wealth creation, to a healthy economy, and to a just society. America’s financial market is suffering not because of greed or freedom, but because of the widespread acceptance of altruism and the consequent government intervention in banking.
Also, here’s what Ayn Rand said: “Poverty is not a mortgage on the labor of others—misfortune is not a mortgage on achievement—failure is not a mortgage on success—suffering is not a claim check, and its relief is not the goal of existence—man is not a sacrificial animal on anyone’s altar nor for anyone’s cause—life is not one huge hospital.”
By merely focusing on this issue alone it is very clear that Mr. Fischer’s evaluation of Ayn Rand’s ethics is utterly flawed due to his ignorance and POOR UNDERSTANDING of economics, metaphysics and even epistemology.
Also, this paragraph shows that Mr. Fischer doesn’t have enough brain cells to understand Rand’s philosophy: “In addition, there are a variety of individual actions which fall under the category of intuitively wrong and, perhaps, self-defeating. Would an Objectivist’s child be taught to share the last piece of cake with his brother? Could an Objectivist businessman hire hit men to polish off his competition? Should an Objectivist smoker put out his cigarette in the presence of a person allergic to smoke? In each case, pure self-interest dictates the intuitively wrong decision and creates a social situation that would be ultimately self-defeating to all.”
As to the question, “Would an Objectivist’s child be taught to share the last piece of cake with his brother?”
My answer: LMAO! The child may share the last piece of his cake so long as he is not taught to sacrifice himself to others. For instance, I don’t mind sharing the last piece of my cake to my brother if that makes me happy. If sharing makes you happy, then there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s for your selfish motive: TO BE HAPPY. If your brother is a VALUE to you, you wouldn’t mind sharing the last piece of your cake- or even the whole cake- with him.
Here’s what Ayn Rand said when it comes to this issue:
“Sacrifice” does not mean the rejection of the worthless, but of the precious. “Sacrifice” does not mean the rejection of the evil for the sake of the good, but of the good for the sake of the evil. “Sacrifice” is the surrender of that which you value in favor of that which you don’t. If you exchange a penny for a dollar, it is not a sacrifice; if you exchange a dollar for a penny, it is. If you achieve the career you wanted, after years of struggle, it is not a sacrifice; if you then renounce it for the sake of a rival, it is. If you own a bottle of milk and give it to your starving child, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to your neighbor’s child and let your own die, it is.”
As to the question, “Could an Objectivist businessman hire hit men to polish off his competition?”
My answer: OF COURSE NOT! Such a line makes me think that Mr. Fischer is NOTHING but mendacious. He says: “Ayn Rand’s philosophy has a certain appeal and, for a time, I considered myself a disciple of Objectivism.” But I think that’s a lie. The ethics of Ayn Rand is very clear: “Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others.” This means the businessman should NOT sacrifice others to himself, including his competitors. Why? Because that’s not an act of selfishness, but an act of SELF-DESTRUCTION.
There are two things that this alleged professor miserably missed: 1) the concept of individual rights, and 2) the proper role of government.
As to individual rights, Ayn Rand states: “It is not society, nor any social right, that forbids you to kill—but the inalienable individual right of another man to live. This is not a “compromise” between two rights—but a line of division that preserves both rights untouched. The division is not derived from an edict of society—but from your own inalienable individual right. The definition of this limit is not set arbitrarily by society—but is implicit in the definition of your own right. Within the sphere of your own rights, your freedom is absolute.”
This means that man must respect the rights of other men if he is to live as a rational individual.
Mr. Fischer simply equates selfishness with self-indulgence. If you violate the rights of others- or if you’re a businessman and you killed your competitors- the proper role of the government is to bring you to justice and make you pay for your crimes.
As to the question, “Should an Objectivist smoker put out his cigarette in the presence of a person allergic to smoke?”
My answer: The question is, is that a rational thing to do? Would you derive any value from smoking in the presence of a person allergic to smoking? If Mr. Fischer indeed considered himself “a disciple of Objectivism”, then he should have known/learned that RATIONALITY is “is man’s basic virtue, the source of all his other virtues”. What does this mean? Let Ayn Rand explain this basic virtue:
“Man’s basic vice, the source of all his evils, is the act of unfocusing his mind, the suspension of his consciousness, which is not blindness, but the refusal to see, not ignorance, but the refusal to know. Irrationality is the rejection of man’s means of survival and, therefore, a commitment to a course of blind destruction; that which is anti-mind, is anti-life.
“The virtue of Rationality means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action. It means one’s total commitment to a state of full, conscious awareness, to the maintenance of a full mental focus in all issues, in all choices, in all of one’s waking hours. It means a commitment to the fullest perception of reality within one’s power and to the constant, active expansion of one’s perception, i.e., of one’s knowledge. It means a commitment to the reality of one’s own existence, i.e., to the principle that all of one’s goals, values and actions take place in reality and, therefore, that one must never place any value or consideration whatsoever above one’s perception of reality. It means a commitment to the principle that all of one’s convictions, values, goals, desires and actions must be based on, derived from, chosen and validated by a process of thought—as precise and scrupulous a process of thought, directed by as ruthlessly strict an application of logic, as one’s fullest capacity permits. It means one’s acceptance of the responsibility of forming one’s own judgments and of living by the work of one’s own mind (which is the virtue of Independence). It means that one must never sacrifice one’s convictions to the opinions or wishes of others (which is the virtue of Integrity)—that one must never attempt to fake reality in any manner (which is the virtue of Honesty)—that one must never seek or grant the unearned and undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit (which is the virtue of Justice). It means that one must never desire effects without causes, and that one must never enact a cause without assuming full responsibility for its effects—that one must never act like a zombie, i.e., without knowing one’s own purposes and motives—that one must never make any decisions, form any convictions or seek any values out of context, i.e., apart from or against the total, integrated sum of one’s knowledge—and, above all, that one must never seek to get away with contradictions. It means the rejection of any form of mysticism, i.e., any claim to some nonsensory, nonrational, nondefinable, supernatural source of knowledge. It means a commitment to reason, not in sporadic fits or on selected issues or in special emergencies, but as a permanent way of life.”
Therefore, Mr. Fischer is NOTHING but an altruist and ignorant of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Mr. Fischer should be called ‘Professor Strawman’.