The rantings of a beautiful mind

On life, society, and computer technology.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I live in the Fortress of Solitude. I drive the Silver Beast. My obsession is justice. I used to be a Windows software developer. I retired in 2000 when my stock options helped me achieve financial security.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Failings of Objectivism

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
Ayn Rand

It is claimed that Objectivism is the only true path to achieving happiness.

As I said before, Objectivism is a very nice theory. But it is only a theory. Unlike Marxism, it has never been put to the test. Its conclusions are drawn from a beautiful theoretical construct, not from empirical evidence. Show me an objectivist society where the people are demonstrably happier than we are.

Having researched Objectivism, I have to say I agree with many of its basic tenets. How can I not? They’re based on logic and reason! But I also disagree with its final conclusions.

The problem is, people are not totally reasonable beings. Life is not, and cannot, be lived on a purely reasonable basis. Human beings are driven by emotions and base instincts and the pleasure/pain response. We live our lives largely on this foundation.

Our laws and judicial system recognize this fact. So do our social and foreign policies. The way we structure our society is motivated as much by fear and compassion as by reason.

A close friend of mine has said on several occasions that people “must be held to account for their own actions.” This is Objectivist-speak which, when translated, means “if you fouled your bed, you clean it up – don’t expect anyone else to help you with it.”

The homeless have no one to blame but themselves. They’re the ones who shot poison up their veins. They’re the ones who poured solvent down their throats. They’re the ones who suffer the demons and hobgoblins of their fractured minds.

The hungry of our society? They didn’t work hard enough. They didn’t EARN their survival. We are NOT obligated to help them, says the Objectivist. We MAY help them, but it is entirely OUR CHOICE to do so,...or not.

Voluntary charity has, so far, worked so well. There’s no need to institutionalize help for these downtrodden.

Objectivism fails to recognize a universal truth: We are all flawed human beings. We almost always need others’ help when we slip and fall. And, yes, very often the fall is of our own doing (the term “personal mistake” is absent from the Objectivist’s vocabulary). But when help is forthcoming, many of these people find redemption and continue to live healthful and productive lives.

Objectivism does not say any of this. However, the “purity” of the Objectivist’s reason-based philosophy eventually leads to a denial of this reality.

Objectivism also very clearly eschews religion. This is problematic on a planet where more than three quarters of the people subscribe to one religion or another. This is the second major failing of this philosophy.

A theory that has no practical applicability is nothing more than a “castle in the air.” That’s why I believe in having a balanced philosophy, one where we can take the best from opposing ideologies and meld them into something that addresses the issues of the REAL world in which we live, not of some idealized fantasy world.


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