Well, all this is interesting to me, anyway, and that's what matters here. The Internet is a terrible thing for someone like me, who finds almost everything interesting.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Ayn Rand's serial killer hero
There are a couple of things I find interesting about this. First, it surprises me that so many Republicans can idolize this woman, while completely ignoring the fact that she was a staunch atheist.
Oh, I can understand getting ideas from everyone, while not agreeing with them about everything. But so many people on the right really seem to worship Ayn Rand. That's a little different.
Now from my perspective, I think she gives atheists a bad name. But we atheists are a diverse bunch with diverse views. We have no dogma. In the latest video from The Atheist Experience, for example, one of the callers is an atheist opposed to gay marriage.
Yes, much of the opposition to gay rights is based on religion, but that doesn't mean that all atheists will automatically take the other side. Atheists don't believe that a god or gods exist. Period. Any other similarities are, at most, a side effect of that. (Since most of us base our non-belief on the lack of evidence, most of us probably use evidence and reason when it comes to our other opinions, too. But unfortunately, that's not inevitable.)
So the fact that Ayn Rand was an atheist makes no difference to me in evaluating her other positions. But at a time when pretty much any deviation from right-wing orthodoxy gets Republicans accused of being traitors - from others within their own party - I'm amazed that these people can completely ignore Rand's position on religion.
You know, I suspect that this shows the factionalism hidden in the seemingly-monolithic GOP. Many Republicans are religious fundamentalists, culture warriors determined to turn America into a Christian nation, as they imagine it. But many others are equally determined on turning America into an oligarchy, a nation of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy.
Many Republicans are eager supporters of both factions, no doubt - believers in that nonsensical prosperity theology (which would seem to contradict most of what the Bible says about wealth). But I suspect that most, on both sides, are simply willing to use the other side in order to gain political power.
Thus, the theocrats are willing to give tax cuts to the rich, because the rich fund the party. Ayn Rand supporters - the wealthy and their hangers-on - are willing to let the religious nuts rail against homosexuality and the separation of church and state, because those true believers are their the foot-soldiers. That's where the votes come from to get those tax cuts for the rich. It's an unholy alliance.
Well, that's my hypothesis, anyway. Of course, I don't think any of these people are too rational, so I wouldn't actually expect them to be consistent. In both cases, they're faith-based, so I suppose I shouldn't expect that holding contradictory beliefs would bother them much. Still, this distinction would explain why Rand's atheism hasn't been a problem for them.
The other point that interests me about this video is that it demonstrates perhaps my biggest problem with libertarians. As I've said before, I've never known a libertarian who didn't go completely off the deep end, following their philosophy to its most absurd conclusions. Well, Ayn Rand clearly seems to show this tendency, too.
Leaving aside the question of whether William Edward Hickman can really be considered a "serial killer" (the truth is plenty bad enough!), it's just absurd that Rand could have found anything admirable about him, let alone consider him a "superman." Hickman was a complete sociopath. That's not a good model for a human being. (I can't believe I even have to say that!)
But this is where Ayn Rand - and her libertarian followers - really get it wrong. Human beings are social animals. We evolved as social animals and we remain social animals. We live in groups. We survive as a group, not as individuals.
Our fundamental characteristic, speech, was the key development that made human societies wildly successful. Other animals use tools, but only human beings can talk to each other. Sociopaths aren't the ideal humans. They're aberrant individuals. They're sick. They're missing what's essential in normal human beings.
Even hermits are aberrant human beings, really. For better or worse, we are social animals. And our modern governments are only the latest manifestation of social organization that's been the key to human survival since humans first evolved (and even before that - look at chimpanzee societies, for example).
Ignoring all that for some theory of a selfish hero, striving only for himself, is completely nuts. But even crazier is following this thinking off a cliff, so that you consider a murdering sociopath - a man who kidnapped a 12-year-old girl and then, after the ransom had been paid, returned her dismembered and gutted body to her parents - a "superman," simply because he had no conscience!
Hickman was about as far from a "superman" as you can get. How did Rand go completely off the deep end like this? Well, that's one of the problems with using reason without evidence. Reason without evidence can end up in a complete flight of fancy. Rand was right about the value of reason, but it must be reason and evidence, together. That's the only way to stay grounded in reality.
Unfortunately, Rand's followers tend to suffer from that same flaw. All too often, they'll follow their "reason" into complete idiocy. (Just look at Paul Ryan's budgetplan. Or Tim Pawlenty's tax proposals.)
Reason can become just as crazy as faith, if it's not kept restrained by evidence. That's been the gift of the modern scientific method. Even the ancients, often enough, recognized the value of reason. But by and large, they didn't match that with real-world evidence.
I'm a skeptic. I think it makes sense to have reasons for what I believe, so I apportion my belief to the evidence. You're welcome to disagree. Please, tell me I'm wrong. I probably don't agree with anyone about everything. Why should disagreement be a problem? Check the Pages section below for series posts and links to book reviews and game posts, as well as contact info. Unfortunately, I rarely blog at all, anymore. So don't expect new posts. - Bill
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It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong - Richard Feynman
The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other. - Sir Francis Bacon
When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Speculation is perfectly all right, but if you stay there you've only founded a superstition. If you test it, you've started a science. - Hal Clement
No matter how many times a theory meets its tests successfully, there can be no certainty that it will not be overthrown by the next observation. This, then, is a cornerstone of modern natural philosophy. It makes no claim of attaining ultimate truth. In fact, the phrase "ultimate truth" becomes meaningless, because there is no way in which enough observations can be made to make truth certain and, therefore, "ultimate". - Isaac Asimov
The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion. - Treaty of Tripoli, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate and signed by President John Adams (1797)
I don't doubt the sincerity of dowsers, but even after we've demonstrated that they can't produce results that are any better than chance they'll still go away believing in their abilities... It is like the mother whose son is caught shoplifting on tape. She wonders why someone would want to frame her child by producing a fake video. - James Randi
During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church ... imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood. Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. - Mark Twain
Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths. - Bertrand Russell
A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. - Friedrich Nietzsche
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The formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat. - Shekhar Gupta
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The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence. Science is simply common sense at its best - that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic. - Thomas Huxley
There is no absurdity so obvious that it cannot be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to impose it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity. - Arthur Schopenhauer
Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. ... Erecting the "wall of separation between church and state," therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society. - President Thomas Jefferson
To be elected in America, no matter from what party, the candidates have no choice but to year after year pledge to lower taxes further and further. We have become the nation of Ken and Barbie, looking good but very poor at the math. - Rack Jite
Invisible Pink Unicorns are beings of great spiritual power. We know this because they are capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorns is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that they are pink; we logically know that they are invisible because we can't see them. - Steve Eley
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