Ayn Rand some more

[From Bill Powers (940818.0920 MDT)]

Bruce Buchanan (940818.0108) --
RE: Ayn Rand, Whitehead

... it seems to me that PCT helps to elucidate the human basis for, and
the intellectual and social processes through which, along with life
and all its circumstances, more complex (i.e. abstract) values are
derived and can indeed develop.

Yes, and it does so in the way that Whitehead described, not by
recommending any one set of values but by looking at the process of
valuation itself, to see how it works and where it comes from. This is
why the true PCTer can't take people like Rand too seriously. She is
trying to make a particular set of values serve in place of an
understanding of valuation itself, a task for which no one set of values
is adequate, whether they are religious or political, or as Rand claims,
erroneously, "philosophical."

Perhaps I am only providing a gratuitous reminder to CSG-L regulars of
what they already know well...

I think your making the connection with Whitehead's remarks is very
useful; I've never said exactly that, although I've sort of thought it.

Oh, yes, holograms, from an earlier post. The "reference beam" doesn't
serve as a standard to which a variable hologram is matched by actions
on it, does it? So it doesn't serve the same function as a reference
signal. Maybe it could. But PCT doesn't depend on the mechanisms by
which the various functions are realized.


Bill Leach (940817.2032 EDT)--

She was, I think, trying to justify on a logical basis alone, the
"American System of Economics" along with a generally accepted system
of ethics and morality.

You're right about justifying the American system of economics: she even
spoke of "treason against capitalism." But as to a "generally accepted
system of ethics and morality," I think she spoke for a very small part
of the population: the people on top, whose ethics and morality are
generally very carefully selected to justify their position relative to
the "less fortunate."

Though just my own opinion of course, I feel that her efforts were at
least as good as any previous philosopher and probably better. There
is little doubt in my mind that an understanding of PCT would have been
"an awsome" weapon in her hands.

That's a tough call: I haven't found many philosphers who impress me
much, either, but her efforts don't impress me as a lot worse. However,
I'm very glad that she wasn't around to tailor PCT to her needs. As I
noted, she had some very agreeable insights about the structure of the
whole system, from which PCT could easily have been developed. But
you'll notice that she didn't do that. Instead, she used these basic
concepts to justify a system in which each person had a duty only to
"him"self. Even her heroes felt compelled to explain to their women that
when they sacrificed themselves to save their loved ones, they were
really just thinking of themselves; no sacrifice was actually involved
(that would be theoretically incorrect). With such a pre-formed opinion,
it wasn't likely that she would be able to develop an ideology-free view
of how the human system works, even though her basic ideas were headed
in that direction.

Throughout her work (I think) that you continually see an undefined

understanding that people function best (overall) when not interfered
with or forced.

Yes, that's what she says. But to build a philosophy on this idea, she
has to make up a lot of facts about people -- for example, the "fact"
that truly rational people will never have clashes with each other
Actually, her sidekick Nathaniel Branden said that, but she included a
lot of his stuff in her "Virtue" book and obviously endorsed it. (What
tdo they do when one life-ring is tossed to two of them? Do they decide
rationally who has the greater objective right to it?).

It's true that people function best when not interfered with, but
unfortunately there are too many people who, if you fail to interfere
with them, will function very well to make life miserable for many other
people. Some of these people are called criminals, and Ayn Rand would
have no problem in deciding how to deal with them. Others, however, are
called businessmen, and Rand really has to scramble to find a way to
justify what she calls "full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-
faire capitalism" which presumably would be carried on only by people
who pursue their own rational self-interest in -- well, not an
altruistic way, obviously -- in a way that doesn't harm enough people to
matter. What she doesn't talk about is the fact that this sort of
capitalism, which had a pretty free reign in the 1800s, tended to be
conducted by thugs who didn't mess around with namby-pamby ideas like
"the greatest good for the greatest number."

Rand's philosophy has a lot in common with communism, in that it relies
on the existence of a certain mythical kind of person. The communists
proclaimed "to each according to his need, from each according to his
ability." This is fine if you have a large need and a small ability, but
as soon as people show up who have a large ability, they turn out to
have even larger needs. This is Rand's problem, too. When you have only
rationally self-interested people who consider _all_ their goals, and
realize for example that when you manufacture things you have to pay
people enough to buy them, everything works out fine. The same tide
lifts the yachts and the rowboats. But this whole utopia breaks down
when these rationally-self-interested people realize that they are up
against a lot of rationally-self-interested _competitors_, and decide
that the best they can do for themselves is to grab all they can and pay
as little for it as possible, and to hell with philosophy and ethics.

It's obvious that neither Ayn Rand nor her colleagues in theory, the
communists, were willing to deal with people as they actually are. Both
spent a lot of time sermonizing, telling people that if they knew what
was good for them they would act in some particular idealized way. But
when you have to criticize people into behaving right, something is
wrong with your understanding of people: you're trying to live in a
fantasy world, not the one that exists. Rand in effect berates people
for not having the maximum possible self-esteem, but it's hard to
imagine what effect this might have on a person with low self-esteem
other than to reduce it further. This is like telling a 50-year-old man
who can barely read to improve his income by getting training for a
high-tech job.

However, when taken to "their logical conclusions" (which she did do in
at least one of her works) her ideas seem to "be missing something".

I agree, and it's educational try to to see what was missing. I think
that the basic problem was that she worked almost exclusively at the
principle and program levels, and relied for her facts about human
nature mostly on imagination. If she had really considered system
concepts, it would have occurred to her that social systems are just as
real as self-systems -- that we need a concept of a society in which we
can live in freedom and comfort, but that this requires assuring that
most others can live in the same way. She is confused about self-

interest in which the only system of importance is the individual
person, and self-interest in the larger sense of creating a world in
which one's self has the best chance possible of living the good life.
To focus too narrowly on the small picture of one's personal logic and
intentions is to miss the larger picture in which everyone else is seen
as also having logic and intentions, with the greatest problems arising
from conflicts. This is a problem with all very successful capitalists:
it never seems to occur to them that life might be better, all things
considered, if it could be lived elsewhere than behind walls and bars,
with guards to keep the rest of the world from stealing what they have.
Pure self-interest just doesn't work out -- even though we recognize
that people can and do adopt any concept of self-interest or other-
interest that they find agreeable. It's like the Zen or Christian koan,
which says in effect that in order to gain the world you have to lose

Thus, it would seem that some means of allowing maximum freedom (which
necessitates minimum control or attempts at control from external
sources) for individuals would be best. Yet it is Rand herself that
literally proposes anarchy as the best "form of government".

I try to approach this in a different way. The concept of "allowing"
freedom is almost self-cancelling, isn't it? Who does the allowing, and
by implication the disallowing of what is not allowed -- and how? When
you talk about allowing freedom, you're assuming that if it isn't
allowed, people aren't free. But my message is that people are free,
always and under all circumstances. Nobody can make them do anything
that their own brains don't decide to do. Even presented with the most
compelling choice, such as between being tortured to death and living a
live of luxury, nothing will happen unless a brain chooses between these

The only thing we are not free to do is to determine the consequences of
our acts. Those consequences are decided by the world as it actually is,
both physically and socially. At one level, we can arrange our local
worlds to control what consequences may happen, but at another level,
once we have decided to do that, the things we must do to the world in
order to change the consequences are again determined by the world, not
by us. So while we are free to select among possible consequences, we
are not free to select the acts by which we bring those consequences
about. We must select acts which do in fact have the desired
consequences and which we can in fact perform. If you are tied up and
guarded and are told that the consequence of not confessing is death,
you are not free to live by means of not confessing. But you are free to
choose to live or not to live. If your system concept of a world worth
living in is of a particular sort, you may well say "Up yours" and
prepare yourself for the bullet.

So freedom is not the issue: we are already as free as we are ever going
to get. What is important is the system under which we decide to live
together -- in effect, the consequences of our actions that we agree to
allow to be established, in addition to the natural physical ones. This
is something we have to decide upon together; anarchy is no answer,
since it just means not making any decision.

There are so many people that actually reaching a group decision is
impossible. What happens instead is that societies evolve. When
artificial consequences are no long acceptable to enough people, they
are changed. They're not changed in a systematic way, but in any way
that seems, for the moment, to make things better. The only places where
we find actual deliberations taking place is in small groups; adherents
of PCT or of Ayn Rand or of the Continental Congress. So people try a
lot of social systems, and some work better, and last longer, than
others. The idea of any one person working out a social system that is
satisfactory to everyone in the world is ridiculous. The only rational

approach is to learn to understand social systems, so you can know what
to expect from them. And of course you're free to try to persuade others
to test out your own idea. Just don't hold your breath until the
revolution sweeps the nation.

I tend to agree with her that "No individual has the right to initiate
the use of force against another individual."

I don't see "rights" has having any particular effect unless people
agree that they are rights. Your proposal isn't workable anyway, because
the first time you encounter a child molester in action you will violate
it. There isn't any one-size-fits all moral rule. The best you can do is
point out consequences, in case someone else hasn't realized what they
are. You can say to the child-molester, "Stop what you're doing or I'll
clobber you." From there on it's up to the child molester as to whether
he gets clobbered, and up to you whether you follow through.

I don't know why people "sacrifice" themselves for their spouse,
children, church or whatever. But I do know that they ARE controlling
their own perceptions and that if you somehow "put them on easy street"
they WILL find away to remain the weary self-sacrificing people that
they perceive themselves to be.

Who's this "they?" This sounds like a relative who bugged you. Actually,
now that social security and pensions have put me on easy street
(something for nothing, every month!) I seem to be working harder than
ever. I think you've bought into a myth: the "lazy poor" who will do
nothing for themselves if you make their lot any easier. I don't think
you'll find any more of that kind of people among the poor than among
the rich. I, for one, am quite cheerful about throwing a buck into the
guitar-case of a street musician if the music is any good. We need
freeloaders in the world, like me. It's only people who are free of the
daily grind who have any time to produce art, entertainment, and just
plain interesting ways of living and thinking. We ought to give more of
them a chance. We can afford it.

On a rerun of the Voyager visit to Saturn, a commenator told how much it
cost each U.S. citizen: two beers. A 12-pack per family, over a year. We
can afford it.

Bill P.

<[Bill Leach 940818.18:09 EST(EDT)]

[Bill Powers (940818.0920 MDT)]

Humm, as usual you caught me in some "shallow" thinking and also as
usual, somethings were not presented well enough to be understood.


Knowledge of PCT might have changed her approach in many ways and might
have been "bad" for both Objectivism and PCT. Understanding of PCT
definately would have caused changes. Changes such that Objectivism
would not be recognizable. I am reasonably convinced (with full
knowledge that I am really just guessing) that Rand was driven by her
unique experience (as is everyone) but that in her case, she grew up in
what she experienced as an "oppressive", "hopeless" environment (Soviet
Russia). She then experienced the U.S. but saw what she believed was a
trend toward the same sort of government as she had escaped.

Her work then reflects her beliefs concerning what "fundamental"
operative practices caused the difference between the two countries.

With such a pre-formed opinion, it wasn't likely that she would be able
to develop an ideology-free view of how the human system works, even
though her basic ideas were headed in that direction.

Actually, I certainly hope that I did not "come across" at any time as
though I thought that she was "close". I do believe that she had some
measure of understanding that S-R was just plain wrong and that people
"somehow were not ever happy if they could not 'control their own
destinies' to some significant degree" but I don't for a moment believe
that she really understood the significance of control or even the
applicability to people.

Yes, that's what she says. But to build a philosophy on this idea, she
has to make up a lot of facts about people -- for example, the "fact"
that truly rational people will never have clashes with each other

She may never have stated in public such a thing but such a concept is
indeed basic to her thinking. I think that it was this very attitude
that bothered me the most. I "know" that I no more "review and carefully
consider every possible ramification" of my plans than I calculate the
dynamics of motion to pick up a cup of coffee.

She definately pushed for "long view" thinking in her "Selfishness is
Virtue" proposal. Indeed, she was using the real dictionary definition
for the term. It occurred to me just now that PCT fully supports her
literal definition and description of the term "Selfishness" and even her
assertion that to act otherwise is "insane" though at the same time PCT
is rather removing the significance of the term in human affairs.

What I am saying is that it seems to me that if one takes "Selfishness"
to be roughly "acting in one's own self-interest (and recognize that only
the individual can really determine for himself his own self-interest)
then acting in any other manner would not be control based behaviour. Of
then the term has little meaning since no matter what an observer might
conclude, the observed is always acting to control their own perception
which is in their own best interest at that instant as they perceive it.