First, a primer. Objectivism was stated by a Russian exile to America, Ayn Rand, in the early half of the last century, and unlike other such treatises, Rand appealed to the public through her books, one of them Fountainhead, which was excellently received in its time and another Atlas Shrugged, which didn’t receive quite the adulation she expected but is nevertheless today considered the cornerstone of her philosophy. It is different from more popular and established schools of thought in that it equates egotism with moral excellence; indeed one of the corner-stones of the philosophy, often quoted, is that “Selfishness is a virtue”. Ayn Rand further expounds that the basis of every man’s actions is his “moral code”, and the only way establish a just moral code (which she then elaborates in a 20+ page speech by a character in Atlas Shrugged) is to be firmly rooted in reality.
You cannot have your cake and eat it too, she says. “A is A” – the Aritstotelean observation is from where she starts her thesis, and she arrives at her conclusions – which are numerous, widely debated and often contentious, but which certainly are radical.
One of the major criticisms of the philosophy is that it is too ideal – utopian; it doesn’t touch a chord with many people because it doesn’t describe the world around them. To use a more mundane but perhaps apt comparison, Objectivism is the Superman of philosophies; it has grace, poise and laser shooting eyes, but arrogance often pales to something more real: your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman definitely scores more points. (Completely off topic, but the new Spidey trailer is amazing <g>). Most of the characters in Rand’s novels are superhuman, they don’t seem to face life the way normal people do, they aren’t shaken by calamity, they weather every storm and reach the port safely, much like many a romance novel.
I remember defending the edicts of objectivism on numerous occasions because I used to consider myself an objectivist. Used to, because although I certainly admire most of the basic tenets, I’ve found some facts that do not fit my life.
One: Selfishness is a virtue, most definitely. But I’m also somebody who strongly believes in love. Not to mention that I’ve grown up in a school that has as its motto, “Men for others”. Selfishness in the traditional definition (as in Me, Me and Me) cannot encompass something that is very relevant and important to humanity: compassion. I would propose a new definition, but I’ll leave that to future articles on the subject.
Two: Humility. There is no such thing as a humble objectivist. Arrogance and pride (even deserved pride) are certainly good qualities, but an equally good quality is humility. Something which allows human beings to share the rewards, acknowledge the good graces of others, and something which makes every one of us more likable.
Three: The reluctance to dialogue. Objectivists tend to divide the world into two spheres: the believers and the non-believers, and after such a separation has been achieved, they believe that any dialogue with the outcasts is useless. They believe that if people can’t realize the basic tenets of the law before them (the ‘laws’ are certainly simple when examined at a glance), they will never come to terms with them, and any futher conversation with such people is anathema. This I reject because of plain common sense – any philosophy if it has to succeed has to evolve.
Let’s stop it at three. There are some more, but they are smaller issues best discussed later. Objectivism isn’t a fundamentally flawed philosophy, it isn’t even that egotist if you examine it in a certain manner, but it certainly has some flaws. The very fact that Objectivists haven’t come up in a big way anywhere certainly points to that. How to refine this philosophy to make it succeed is frankly, way beyond me. But I’ll encourage you to think on it.