We all remember the story of Adam and Eve. They are the second and third characters to pop up in the bible. Eventually Eve is out wandering by the Tree Of The Knowledge Of Good And Evil. This is the one tree that God told Adam and Eve not to eat from. Until this point Eve was naked and unashamed. Until this point Eve had no conscience. But then a serpent appeared to Eve in the tree. The serpent was possessed by satan. The serpent persuaded Eve to take and eat a piece of fruit from the Tree Of The Knowledge Of Good And Evil. So Eve at it. And suddenly she saw. She quickly persuaded Adam to eat the fruit as well. He gobbled it down. They were then both aware of their nakedness and both became ashamed. They became so ashamed that they were compelled to hide from God. But eventually God found them. And their consequences for eating from the forbidden tree were expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
I’d like to throw out a wild idea: Imagine the analogy of Ayn Rand to Eve. Rand was tempted by the fruit of capitalism and she bought into the virtue of selfishness.
Now I hesitate to offer my critique of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Some of it is quite aligned with natural law – and yet she all but leaves out any mention of conscience and doesn’t mention community. But since she is perhaps the most capitalistic of philosophers, she deserves to be thoroughly deconstructed. One blog certainly won’t do the job completely, but I’d like to offer a few initial insights on her philosophy.
1. Her concept of “value” is woefully inadequate. So much so that I wonder if she actually knew what it was that she valued. Perhaps only herself. This passage of hers comes from The Virtue Of Selfishness
Is the concept of value, of “good or evil” an arbitrary human invention, unrelated to, underived from and unsupported by any facts of reality – or is it based on a metaphysical fact, on an unalterable condition of man’s existence.) Does an arbitrary human convention, a mere custom, decree that man must guide his actions by a set of principles – or is there a fact of reality that demands it? Is ethics the province of whims: of personal emotions, social edicts and mystic revelations – or is it the province of reason? Is ethics a subjective luxury – or an objective necessity…
…”Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The concept “value” is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exist, no goals and no values are possible.
Rand’s connection of value to the concepts of good and evil are embarrassingly naive. To say that you value the good over the evil or vice verse is the very essence of dualism. Dualism as an ideology or a justification for ideology will only lead to divisions. Divisions lead to conflict. Conflict leads to violence. Violence leads to more violence. So Rand’s definition of value leads to violence.
Rand’s concept of value must be called a “false value.”
Her other concept of value is directed at “gaining” or “keeping” something. This leads to attachment. Attachment leads to jealousy and envy. These too can lead to violence.
2. Ms. Rand seems to believe that all desires of humanity will innately lead to conflict. She espouses a desire of self-destruction. I quote again.
When a “desire” regardless of its nature or cause, is taken as an ethical primary, and the gratification of any and all desires is taken as an ethical goal (such as “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”) – men have no choice but to hate, fear and fight one another, because their desires and their interests will necessarily clash. If “desire” is the ethical standard, then one man’s desire to produce and another man’s desire to rob him have equal ethical validity; one man’s desire to be free and another man’s desire to enslave him have equal ethical validity; one man’s desire to be loved and admired for his virtues and another man’s desire for undeserved love and unearned admiration have equal ethical validity. And if the frustration of any desire constitutes a sacrifice, then a man who owns an automobile and is robbed of it is being sacrificed, but so is the man who wants or “aspires to” an automobile which the owner refuses to give him – and these two “sacrifices” have equal ethical status. If so, then man’s only choice is to rob or be robbed, to destroy or be destroyed, to sacrifice others to any desire of his own or to sacrifice himself to any desire of others; then man’s only ethical alternative is to be a sadist or a masochist.
Do you see how limited her thinking is? She is making a claim on reality which she argues is objective, when the limitations she imposes on humanity’s actions are clearly subjective i.e. of her own whim.
3. There is no such thing as a “virtue” of selfishness. There is only the necessity of selfishness of which is demanded of us by nature. Eat. Fuck. Sleep. These are the most base selfish actions we can do in a day. And yet, even these actions can (and should be) done with others.