Reading Rand

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture
Submitted by Kyrel Zantonavitch on Sun, 2015-05-17 21:25

On May 12, 2015, at Georgetown University (Washington, DC), at an intellectual symposium on eradicating poverty, President Barack Obama spoke of: "...cold-hearted, free market, uh, capitalist-types who, uh, you know, are reading Ayn Rand...[slow derisive laughter from crowd]...and, uh, you know, think everybody's moochers [sic]..."

Notwithstanding the contemptuous amusement of that brain-dead, empty-souled room of baboons, Ayn Rand is the greatest philosopher that ever lived during the past two thousand years. She knew far more about politics, government, and the law -- let alone about enriching the poor -- than everyone at that conference combined. Thus the hopeless nitwits and pitiful lowlifes at that symposium need to read Ayn Rand and learn from her -- not chuckle at some inaccurate, primitive caricature of her ideas. Lazy, arrogant, malicious, dimbulb Obama needs to study her most of all.

To be sure, it isn't entirely easy to read Ayn Rand. She's a tremendous radical and philosophical world revolutionary. She's immensely controversial, by today's standards, and is arguably about five times as intense and ferocious as Friedrich Nietzsche. She's also very challenging personally and psychologically. Like the most extreme of political and religious fanatics, Rand can scare the living hell out of you. Karl Marx and Martin Luther are practically pikers next to her.

And Ayn Rand frequently writes like a thundering prophet -- not a disquisitional sage. Whatever her strengths and demerits on this, she doesn't quietly, coolly, ruminatively, patiently, systematically lay out the truth for her readers to slowly and dispassionately peruse. Far more Rand tends to startle and stun.

Still, almost everything she says radiates simple rationality, common sense, familiar experience, and aspects of the obvious. So people most assuredly should make the effort to learn what she has to teach.

Rand writes in a kind of direct, non-nonsense, fierce, stylized, middlebrow manner, without much jargon or intellectual complexity, which is relatively easy to comprehend. This is especially so if the reader begins at the beginning, and tries to read the easy stuff first. You may need to read some of it twice and think it thru rather carefully. But in considering her enormously powerful and important ideas you need to evaluate her writings on your own, and in your own way, deriving whatever truth or value you can get from them, if any. Do not take anyone's word on the material, including mine.

The best way to initially approach the surprising, amazing, thrilling, exacting philosophy of Ayn Rand, probably, is to brace yourself for both raw intellectual newness; and for a subtly hectoring, judgmental, fierce, intellectual style, which will sometimes resemble a fire-and-brimstones sermon. Moreover Rand -- in all her relentless radicalism and revolutionism -- sometimes judges her readers, and presumed intellectual opponents, as evil even before she presents her avant-garde ideas to them. Obviously this isn't fair, professional, or properly philosophical. But Rand is a ruthless fighter seeking to overwhelm and overthrow the world's philosophical, cultural, social, and political status quo. And she seeks this apocalypse now.

For all this, however, Ayn Rand's ideas are still quite accessible and comprehensible, generally. They're even rather friendly, hopeful, and inspiring. And, should you prefer it, there are a decent number of philosophical summaries and introductions out there with which to get you started.

Ayn Rand is a one-person Second Enlightenment, and probably has as much to impart and educate as Bacon, Locke, Smith, Voltaire, Jefferson, Mises, Hayek, and Friedman combined. So she's eminently worth reading and being informed by. Rand can also significantly alter and enhance your entire life.

Ayn Rand and her dynamic, noble philosophy have the ability to massively intellectually educate, morally uplift, and spiritually exalt. Sadly, our world today is a philosophical and cultural Dark Age. But Rand constitutes a superlative antidote. She's a virtual supernova of intellectual, moral, and spiritual enlightenment.


Video

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

All publicity is good publicity! Smiling

Kyrel, elsewhere

gregster's picture

Your video interview gets a repeat by William of Shirk here:

http://www.objectivistliving.c...

And that thread has Duncan's afraid of fire confessional.

A Bit Of My Background

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Thanks, Olivia! It's wonderful to hear from someone as intelligent and spirited as you after such a long time. Smiling The Objectivist Movement desperately needs more female participants -- for all kinds of reasons.

You seem to be too young to remember the world of Objectivism in the early 1980s. It was soooo icy cold, sterile, stilted, empty, and dead. Just a strange Talibani or Scientology style cult, really. Nothing of real value. And overwhelmingly politically conservative. I originally came from the Left and have despised the Right all of my existence. So what a wretched thing the Objectivists of the early 1980s were to me!

I didn't give up much. But I did miss out on David Kelley's surprise revival of Objectivism starting with his new group in 1989. I heard about this event about nine years too late.

But to say I was "intellectually dead for 18 years" is excessive. I still read, and thought, and lived my life based on real Objectivist principles -- not the evil, false, diseased, cult version of Peikoff, and his intellectual goons and jackasses.

Kyrel...

Olivia's picture

you are very articulate in this, well done!

I applaud your individualism, though I don't get why you were intellectually dead for 18 years. I too love Epicurus as a philosopher and I agree that before Rand, there were many thinkers leading the way toward liberalism and Objectivism ought to be absorbed in that context. I think Rand would agree, not that that matters.

Spelling Right

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

A rational speller? Yep.

Gennady

Neil Parille's picture

"As for Gennady, he's ascending pretty much like a rocket . . . . "

Was he the guy who referred to "filosofy" or whatever?

Neil

Kyrel - your video post

gregster's picture

I watched some last night and will look again tonight to finish, I hope. (I have friends over). That was one of the best things I've seen. Keep them coming.

Many Thanks!

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Thanks, Lindsay! High compliments from an almost impossible-to-please curmudgeon like yourself! Smiling

As for Gennady, he's ascending pretty much like a rocket, and is already one of the most impressive people on the earth. A kind of amazing and universal genius. As far as I can tell, he's going to be running this planet in a decade or two.

Still, he tends to be excessively polite and gentlemanly. You and I suffer from no such disease. Eye I would love to do an interview with you! We could stick to only the hardest questions, and the areas where you and I disagree. Whatever is the ubiquitous, unending, and unObjectivist evasion and cowardice of David Kelley, Leonard Peikoff, William Thomas, Harry Binswanger, etc. when it comes to intellectual conflict, and debate with the well-informed, I'm not like them, and have no such weakness or fear. A YouTube, Google Hangout, etc. type interview would be a big challenge, but also huge fun for me!

And I would love to make mincemeat of all of the rest of the above in some kind of debate. Any time, any place, any subject. As always, I claim to be the strongest neoliberal theorist on the planet. I think I know more about current and historical liberal philosophy and culture than any man on earth. I think I should be put to the test.

Fascinating!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I didn't expect to spend the first hour of my day listening to you and Stolyarov, Kyrel, but seeing your link, I clicked on it, and clicking on it, I got sucked in. It was very enjoyable, and the kind of discussion one yearns for more of and which is hard to come by. Gennady seems to have changed dramatically from the time when he frequented SOLO and was much more the Randroid type whom you discuss. If memory serves he even advocated the banning of tobacco at one point, and his general deportment was such that I took to calling him Stalinyarov. Here he seems reasonable and thoughtful and even slightly passionate (he was very Spock-like in his Stalinyarov incarnation). You, Kyrel, are highly passionate as always, but as unguided a missile as ever. If I had my own YT channel I'd love to interview you. I suppose that's something I should get round to, but my current serial pessimism corrodes my motivation.

Further Discussion

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

I recently discussed elitism, the domination of the intellectuals, the impotence of the masses, my misanthropy, and related topics with Gennady Stolyarov on YouTube (apologies for the poor quality of my video feed):

Rand

Neil Parille's picture

I believe her depictions of philosophers such as Kant and Hume were more or less standard at the time.

There are more sophisticated readings of them in recent years, which make them seem much less "anti-reason" or whatever you want to call it.

NEIL

The Virtue of Elitism

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Greg -- Great answer! Wonderful, scholarly, detailed exegesis of "elitism"! Smiling

But "selfishness" could be seen as an anti-concept too. Rand reclaimed it. I think we should reclaim elitism. I, for one, am happy to be called an elitist. Everything in your definition above seems right and good to me.

I want the elite -- or aristocracy -- to rule our species. Not the masses. Of course the intellectual and moral elite should rule 100% by persuasion, 0% by coercion. (And no, that's not even microscopically naive or pollyannaish.)

I think the elite should be consistently honored and celebrated -- not the hoi polloi. I think most of society should be dedicated to their betterment. When they prosper, all will prosper. That's the most efficient way to promote "the public interest" and "the common good".

Ours is a sad, bad, weak, failed, "man of the people", "man in the streets", "average Joe" world. Such is the fatuous and depraved conservo-progressive philosophy of today. The Right favors "the salt of the earth", while the Left favors "the poor and working class". I favor the rare dynamos and heros who achieve greatness and transcendence. This ultra-tiny group uplifts mankind magnificently.

I'm a proud defiant elitist. If Ayn Rand wasn't or couldn't be, too bad for her.

Zombieland

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Neil -- Well, it's pretty sad if Meek Jimmy is a zombie of a zombie! Sticking out tongue But to give the devils their due, Rand invented Randroidism. It's not just raw evil from Peikoff and Valliant that comes out of nowhere. Ayn Rand is the foundation of this perversion. That's the painful truth. Yes, her servile, submissive, sissified, second-hander, second-rate followers consistently and systematically undermined her with their blind prophet-worship (not rational hero worship), but she's still the one who quietly and between-the-lines promoted Objectivism the Religion, implicitly wanting it believed and followed, based on her Authority, and as a matter of Faith.

You say the cultists made "changes in six books of Rand material published after her death." What are they? For me the outrage is with their completely untrustable and unenjoyable books about her question-and-answers, diaries, and letters. What else?

Kyrel

Neil Parille's picture

Kyrel,

Yes, I realize Valliant isn't Perigo's poodle. I just like making fun of Linz for praising a book that includes among its key pieces of evidence against theBrandens the fact that they threw a surprise party. I disagree with Linz and Valliant that surprise parties are evil and evidence of an intent to "control [someone's] context by deception."

Valliant isn't a Rand zombie, he's a Peikoff zombie. In PARC, he attacked Kay Nolte Smith for allowing a change in one line of Rand's play in a public performance. Valliant called this "systematic and personal betrayal" of Rand. Yet when Peikoff allows Harriman, et al. to make changes in six books of Rand material published after her death, Valliant supports it.

He has greater respect for Peikoff than Rand.

NP

Elitism

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Greg comment, Greg! But I need a few days to think and decently reply.

Kyrel

gregster's picture

http://www.thefreedictionary.c...
1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their superiority, as in intelligence, social standing, or wealth.
2.
a. Behavior arising from or indicative of such a belief.
b. Control, rule, or domination by the members of an elite.

Kyrel: I think she should have written with greater sophistication and philosophicalness, and aimed for a more elite audience.

Rand shared her philosophy for living, for all of Man, and disliked the implications of the term elitist. The terms elitist and elitism are anti-concepts because they equivocate between “favored groups” (as in the definition above) and people who actually are deserving of favored treatment. As the AR Lexicon puts it, anti-concept; an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept.

Rand, quoted in OPAR, p 137; “words that represent attempts to integrate errors, contradictions, or false propositions [..] or words without specific definitions, without referents, which can mean anything to anyone, such as modern ‘anti-concepts’ [these are deliberately equivocal terms, such as “extremism,” “McCarthyism,” “isolationism”]”

Chip Joyce may or may not mind me quoting him here “Why [elitist] seems to be more insidious than a package deal is that it smuggles in a resentment for anyone being treated specially, even if they deserve it. Why? To destroy justice and to instil egalitarianism.” To which your fair-weather friend Harry Binswanger replied; “I think it is an anti-concept. Ayn Rand once said to me in passing that she hated the term. I was not quick-thinking enough to ask her why. I kick myself for so many times I didn't ask that question (which she always welcomed).”

Roderick Long, in Rand’s Dystopian Masterpiece, Laissez-Faire Today; “Again like Orwell, Rand would later go on to analyze the political abuse of language in her nonfiction as well, describing “extremism,” for example, as an illegitimate term, or “anti-concept,” designed to blur the distinction between thoroughgoing advocacy of freedom and thoroughgoing advocacy of violence and authoritarianism.”

David Kelley; “Because Rand portrays these high achievers as the Atlases who have carried the world and portrays the world as collapsing without them, she is often described as an elitist, as someone claiming that intelligent, talented people are a class unto themselves who should rule over their inferiors.

In his review of Atlas Shrugged Part 1, for example, James Kirkpatrick said, “Atlas Shrugged is one of the most forthright defenses of the aristocratic principle ever penned.” (“ Selfishness, the Movie ,” AlternativeRight, April 15, 2011) Kirkpatrick is a conservative; he meant the comment as praise. More often, the charge of elitism is hostile: Rand espoused an elitist, oligarchic philosophy that is both fundamentally anti-American and deeply at odds with the tea party's own ‘we the people’ cause…. Rand and her heroes hold ordinary people in great contempt.” (Vladimir Shlapentokh, “ How is Elitist Ayn Rand a Tea Party Hero? ” Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 14, 2010)

“Rand viewed the capitalists, not the workers, as the producers of all wealth, and the workers, not the capitalists, as useless parasites.” (Jonathan Chait, “ War on the Weak ,” Newsweek, April 10, 2011)
In calling Rand an “elitist,” these and other commentators interpret her as saying a) that her Atlases should rule over others; and/or b) that they are morally superior to others. Both interpretations are false. Rand made it perfectly clear that she rejected both of those positions.”

Kyrel; Seems like a legit term and compliment to me. If the intention in its usage is understood it could be, but it smuggles in a derogatory connotation at the same time.

Well

Brant Gaede's picture

Well, Kyrel, intellectuals rule nothing, IMO. Mass media, corporate money, fascists and entrenched bureaucrats do courtesy of feckless voters in love with being taken care of. So marches the left. "Liberals" have become "progressives" for the same reason "anthropogenic global warming" has become "climate change." Too hard to defend. These bozos of the left gave up ideas during the Vietnam War protests. They have no ideas, only power lust. Rand herself commented on the difference between Newton Minow and what intellectual discourse had degenerated into. You could argue, discuss and debate him. Now, when was that? The Kennedy Administration. There was literally no one on the other side to talk to afterwards.

--Brant
okay, let's just say it was garbage, Neil

Brain-dead Freak

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Neil -- No-one feels more contempt, disgust, and revulsion toward Jimmy Poltroon than me. But he isn't Lindsay's poodle. He's Rand's zombie. The horror is he actually seems to be proud of it. Poltroon is a classic example of a fan Rand probably hated.

Target Audience

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Brant -- I wish Ayn Rand had publicly and formally discussed more philosophers and addressed a wider variety of intellectual issues -- as she evidently did so in abundance privately. She was a wonderful and effective battering ram in her middlebrow style. But that's the problem. The masses and middle class she addressed don't rule; the intellectuals and elite do.

Brant

Neil Parille's picture

Valliant's book is not a "prosecutor's brief."

I was a prosecutor and I've defended prosecutors sued for malfeasance, so I know what I am talking about.

If a criminal defendant was convicted of perjury and appealed his conviction, the prosecutor would marshal the evidence showing that the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt,

No competent prosecutor would say "Jones was convicted of forgery, there is strong evidence against Jones because Jones threw surprise parties in an attempt to control people's context through deception."

The only people who think this is a good argument are Perigo and his poodle Jim Valliant.

-NP

quote

Brant Gaede's picture

Kyrel, If you could quote an especially lucid paragraph or two that would be valuable aside from making your point better.

Writing Style

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Lindsay -- At most I'm buying into a small fallacy or making a minor false dichotomy. But I'm also making a point in normal English which can't entirely be gainsaid.

I relish the writing style of modern intellectual journals (usually monthlies and quarterlies). The content may be wrong, but their intellectual and rhetorical approach seems way superior to the writing style of even liberal icons Locke, Smith, Voltaire, Diderot, etc.

Maybe I misremember the genesis of the term "Brandroid." But James Valliant (his name finally came to me) seemed to rapturously embrace it as a revelation and deliverance. Au contraire. I may do an exegesis of that dubious term.

Elitist

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Greg -- How is "elitist" an anti-concept? Seems like a legit term and compliment to me.

Rand nicey nice to intellectual lice--puleeez!

Brant Gaede's picture

Branden never said Rand was widely read amongst philosophers only that she knew more about philosophy generally than she wrote about. If anything, he said she simply didn't do all that much reading and that she could read a little and know a lot about what was to follow just from that.

"The Virtue of Selfishness" was the correct title to her book of that name. Unfortunately she didn't go far enough with what she meant by "selfishness." "Concern with ones own interests" didn't hack it. That's not selfishness commonly understood, in any dictionary or what not. Rand at the door of 1950s and 1960s intellectual dominant culture with a battering ram battering away was what she was about, not rounded, sophisticated addresses to the elite. I have something else to criticize her and Branden for, but not that.

--Brant
Rand the pussy would have been Rand the nothing as in not read

for anything new from Heller and Burns please give page references

Valliant's book was a prosecutor's brief of some hard-rock mining value for those who know how to use scholarly dynamite for more than refutation per se for a properly refined product

Brandroid

Neil Parille's picture

Linz,

I believe you started using the term during the PARC Wars to refer to people who considered the Brandens' account accurate. We now know (thanks to the Heller and Burns biographies) that the Brandens were basically correct. Thanks to me, we know that Valliant's book is nonsense.

-Neil

Kyrel

Lindsay Perigo's picture

As far as I know I was the first to use the term "Brandroid," but there may well have been others before me. It's obvious enough, after all. The important thing is, the concept does have referents in reality (O-Lying, anyone?), and their unfortunate relevance to this debate is that they emotionally disarm the good guys with their proscribing of anger—the antithesis of "thundering prophet." Did you ever pay attention to the long battle between Babs and me?

Nothing sinister in your edit of your post not appearing—I probably posted my response before you'd added it. Once someone replies to a post you can't alter that post. The lost bit just reiterates the dichotomy you've embraced that I've already mentioned, namely:

In buying into a dichotomy between a "hard, clear, emphatic direct style" and a "wise, full-bodied philosophical approach to life and issues" you are buying into every fallacy in the book.

No Such Thing, No Such Person

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

I've said it a hundred times before, but I don't mind repeating: "Brandroids" don't exist. If they did, I'd reject them. Not one person on the planet is more anti-religion and anti-cult than me. "Brandroid" is a fraudulent term invented by those two ARIan zombies whose names I forget. It was an inadvertent stunning psychological confession by the main guy. In a moment of false revelation, he could only think of two possibilities (both wrong, obviously) and so decided to go with the better of the two evils. He knew not the proper alternative i.e. philosophy.

p.s. Part of what I said above which was strangely lost was roughly this: I reject the academic style of Sciabarra, and note that Branden lost much of his rhetorical power as he aged. Rand's "angry young man" style was clearly superior, if somewhat anti-philosophical. But she didn't let you see her think -- or much allow you to live, breathe, enjoy, or philosophize on your own.

Kyrel

gregster's picture

I like your regular essays generally. I liked this one too with a few exceptions. I don't agree that Rand should have aimed for a more elite audience. She already over-estimates the average intellect and probably foresaw that her available readership would become further dumbed-down. And elitist is what she termed an anti-concept. Further detail which I found helpful is Tara Smith's work. I love Rand's economy. And if it startled that just describes the frame of reference of the reader, and is not a fault of Rand's style. Being revolutionary necessitated being confrontational, as you understand. "Many philosophers think she had no depth" I'd say that is their shortcoming.

Curious

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Curious! You seem to have replied to my comment before I posted (and edited and proofread) it, Lindsay. No idea how that's possible... I also lost a few parts of my original comment. Vanished into the ether with no back-button rescue possible! Sad

Not so

Lindsay Perigo's picture

There' are more stylistic options in philosophy than that of the "arid, pretentious" and the thundering prophet. Again, Aristotle didn't write thus. It's interesting, lindsay, that you seem to find "The Brandens [and] Sciabarra" such enemies. Infinitely worse are the censorship and excommunication vermin of Peikoff, Schwartz, Binswanger, etc. Can't hurt philosophy and rational speculation (and Objectivism and neoliberalism, and progress and mankind) much more than them!

I reject Randroids and Brandroids equally, Kyrel. You embrace the latter. Your prerogative. I'll go with the "thundering prophet." I thought in your essay you did too.

Ayn loved Aristotle. Doesn't mean that she had to be as "temperate" as he. In buying into a dichotomy between a "hard, clear, emphatic direct style" and a "wise, full-bodied philosophical approach to life and issues" you are buying into every fallacy in the book.

Beg to Differ

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Lindsay -- I think she should have been more ruminative and rounded in her discussion of the issues. Aristotle wrote thus. Rand wrote in a kind of definitive "case closed" manner as if hers was the final word on the various subjects forever. But it's pretty much always possible to extend and enrich a given discussion. Her manner of explaining the issues both manifested a bit of religiosity and cultism, and led to them. Her hard, clear, emphatic, direct style does indeed have many aspects of greatness. But it discourages a wise, full-bodied philosophical approach to life and issues.

There' are more stylistic options in philosophy than that of the "arid, pretentious" and the thundering prophet. Again, Aristotle didn't write thus. It's interesting, lindsay, that you seem to find "The Brandens [and] Sciabarra" such enemies. Infinitely worse are the censorship and excommunication vermin of Peikoff, Schwartz, Binswanger, etc. Can't hurt philosophy and rational speculation (and Objectivism and neoliberalism, and progress and mankind) much more than them!

Oh please!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I think she should have written with greater sophistication and philosophicalness, and aimed for a more elite audience.

Is that a leg-pull? It contradicts everything in your essay, Kyrel.

Everything she wrote was eminently (note—not "imminently") ultra-mega-philosophical; she just didn't couch it in the arid, pretentious style of pomowankers which would have won the approval of The Brandens, Sciabarra and all the other mealy-mouths. Good for her! Therein, in part, lies her genius. For a few precious moments, Kyrel, I thought that was what you were saying.

Ayn Rand's Writing Style

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Thanks, Neil!

If my memory is correct, Ayn Rand once said to someone that non-fiction writing is easy -- all you need to do is "strive for clarity." But I dislike her chosen middlebrow, multi-level, Shakespeare-like style. I think she should have written with greater sophistication and philosophicalness, and aimed for a more elite audience. All she had to do was emulate the ultra-common style of the intellectual journals like 'Commentary,' 'Foreign Policy,' or 'American Scholar' (but with a style more lofty and intellectual than the leftist 'New Republic' or the rightist "The Nation'; but not dry, empty, sterile "academise," as Lindsay puts it).

Whenever I try to argue with Ayn in my own mind it almost always turns out that her simple-seeming words have a great deal more carefulness and deep thought behind them than meets the eye. What frustration! No wonder so many critics just give up on her, rather than try to refute her. Her well-crafted arguments are like diamonds, with almost no weak spots. Not in content, nor in style (generally). So you're right, Neil, to conclude that "many philosophers think she had no depth." Most regular people too.

Still, I like and enjoy her confrontationalism and polemicism. But Nathaniel Branden noted she read, knew, and commonly privately discussed, far more philosophers and diverse ideas than she ever actually mentioned in print. That too was a mistake, in my view. It also made her seem shallow to friend and foe.

Kyrel

Neil Parille's picture

You make some good points.

Rand wrote in a relatively easy to understand manner. For this reason, many philosophers think she had no depth. In this respect, she is like C. S. Lewis. They appealed to a middlebrow audience and thus is somewhat looked down upon.

I do think Rand's polemics got in the way. It would have been better if she wrote in defense of "rational selfishness" or "rational self interest" instead of "selfishness." But anyone can see that she doesn't mean by "selfishness" that you should violate others' rights. So I don't think those on the left have an excuse for misunderstanding her.

-Neil Parille

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