Monday, August 16, 2010

Quakers Vs. Ayn Rand

No, not really. The Quakers aren't against anybody - that's one of the amazing things about them. They are at odds at some of Rand's concepts, however, as I mentioned in a recent note. Notably her idea that altruism is evil (her own words), and that the only good use of taxes is for defense. Quakers don't have any use for any military - and anyway the word "defense" is used even when offense is the plan.

Quakers like to see the light of good (or God, depending on your point of view) in everyone. And it's not always easy - especially with the more challenging people who are determined to justify bad behavior - by themselves or others.

"Wealth is attended with power, by which bargains and oppression, carried on with worldly policy and order, clothes itself with the name of justice and becomes like a seed of discord in the soul. ... So the seeds of war swell and sprout and grow and become strong until much fruit is ripened. ... May we look upon our treasures ... and try whether the seeds of war have nourishment in these our possessions." - John Woolman, American Quaker, c.1764

There are some ideas of Ayn Rand's that I agree with - such as "every purchase is a vote". What we spend our money on supports the creation and the distributors of those things. This is the sort of thing that Quakers embrace.

Ideally - I would have a completely solar home - with no use of electricity except that which was created by wind or solar. While most of the coal that is used to create electricity for my home is from Southern Indiana - the supplier is also involved in mountaintop removal - which I abhor. Same with oil - the only good thing to do is to not use vehicles or airplanes or anything such thing that uses oil. For now I have the most fuel efficient car possible - and many days I don't go anywhere. I nearly always combine errands into as few as trips as I can manage.

One of the concepts of Ayn Rand's that I have a problem with the way in which she justifies selfishness. She does things by including obvious, ordinary things like eating and suggesting that that is selfish. Her idea that love is selfish is similar. Yes - if someone wants they can take the point of view that one's positive connections with others are selfish on our part because of the good effects such relationships have on our life. But I think that miss-uses the term.

Definitions of selfishness:

"Stinginess resulting from a concern for your own welfare and a disregard of others."

"The quality or state of being selfish; exclusive regard to one's own interest or happiness; that supreme self-love or self-preference which leads a person to direct his purposes to the advancement of his own interest, power, or happiness, without regarding those of others."
"A vice utterly at variance with the happiness of him who harbors it, and, as such, condemned by self-love."

Ayn Rand contended... "the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests." “Introduction,” The Virtue of Selfishness, vii.


If Ayn Rand's whole point had been that people need not feel guilty for eating when they were hungry, for taking some time for one's self instead of always taking care of others, etcetera, Rand's ideas would be of a different sort - have a different effect. But where her ideas lead - where she takes them - anad where her followers take them is somewhere completely different.

They want to go beyond doing just basic fulfilling of needs. They want to rail against being a part of a group that takes care of those with special needs. Specifically they don't want to be taxed so that there are roads, fire stations, schools, health care or any other thing - except for the protection of property or against violence. The "free-market" would presumably provide for everything and charity would provide for everything else.

If people who pushed this idea such as Rush Limbaugh, gave to charities all of his $20 million yearly except for what he needed to live on (more like $50,000), and that is what all wealthy Libertarians did AND they had this philosophy - THAT would be a different matter. If Hospitals / Health Care, Schools (University for all), Road, Fire Protection, etc. were all covered, it could be a different story. If there were a charity FDA that worked well (protecting the safety of food), if all industries operated ethically and responsibly and used the best pollution blocking devices possible because those in charge were so rational that they refused to justify the selfishness required to pollute one's own or any other environment - it would be a different story.

Rand wrote: "The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness—which means: the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the “aspirations,” the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment." “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 31

The problem is that people are not that rational. People who advocate for less government are not interested in having a plan to ensure "man’s survival qua man". They may present an outward image of rationality - but the policies put in place by pro-free-market, anti-regulatory capitalism are similar to the actions of "irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices". Other people and their livelihoods are sacrificed left and right. The brutes do not recognize the critical human and animal need for a clean and safe environment.

(She also wrote, "For a woman qua woman, the essence of femininity is hero-worship - the desire to look up to man." Some men no doubt love that concept. Yuck.)

On selfishness from (refers to Ayn Rand)
"By what standard does one judge the good from the evil?"
"Man's life is the standard of value. All that supports a man's life is good, and all that destroys man's life is evil.

From that definition - Free-Market Capitalism is evil - as it exploits people and resources and destroys lives and environments. Taxes are not evil by that definition - because a graduated income tax does not destroy lives. Even if people who make $20 million a year were taxed at 90% - so they only got to keep $2 million would not be "destroyed". They would still have $2 million dollars. If the $18 million was used to help others - pay for health care and food - there would be no lives that were "destroyed" - there would be less. (If Bushes tax cuts expire for those making over $200,000 - the 33% bracket would become 36%. And the 35% bracket would rise to 39.6%.)

If Ayn Rand had written a couple of books and that was it - she may have been of little consequence But the fact is that she influenced people who have made huge inpacts on the US economy and government - such as Alan Greenspan, Milton Friedman and Ben Bernancke. (Greenspan was briefly married to artist Joan Mitchell- and met Rand through her.) The whole Neo-con philosophy is essentially Randian.

Following the financial collapse, under Senate questioning about deregulation, Greenspan said that there "a was a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak."

"According to Babiak and Hare, white-collar psychopaths are not apt to become serial rapists or murderers. Rather, they are prone to being ''subcriminal'' psychopaths: smooth-talking, energetic individuals who easily charm their way into jobs and promotions but who are also exceedingly manipulative, narcissistic and ruthless... As Hare put it in one interview, ''If I couldn't study psychopaths in prison, I would go down to the Stock Exchange.'' From "Psychopathic C.E.O.'s" By Michael Steinberger

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