Ayn Rand Article in New York Times

I am a believer in synchronicity. You hear a word for the first time, and suddenly you find it everywhere. A song from the 80’s pops into your head, and the next day some disc jockey on WBLM pulls it up from the archives for the first time in two years. You quote a line from a movie, and later that night the exact movie is playing on your favorite cable station. A political discussion on my blog leads to the topic of Ayn Rand (see previous posts and comments) and two days later there is an article about her in the NEW YORK TIMES.

Bear in mind, that I do not claim to be a philosopher. I am only discussing here what I’ve understood of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, not that I’m an expert. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would love to point out each and every instance of my “wrong-thinking” on this, and I welcome them to do so. Let’s learn together. So here goes:

I used to be a huge Rand fan. I read THE FOUNTAINHEAD and was intrigued. I read ATLAS SHRUGGED, and I was convinced–for a time. Rand’s Libertarian vision was so simple, so rational. Let everyone start out with the gifts they are given, let each person do with those gifts what they will, and let each person reap the consequences (re: profit or loss) of his/her own actions with no interference by society or government. Anything less than this total freedom, in Rand’s philosophy, was evil–a set of shackles binding the individual from reaching his or her personal potential.

For awhile I considered myself a Libertarian, and I still find some Libertarian arguments compelling. However, what I saw in the world over the ensuing years didn’t exactly fit with the neatly-structured plotline of ATLAS SHRUGGED. Not every community-financed venture devolved into corruption and ruin. Not every capitalistic venture shone as a beacon of pure light and fair profit. While it may be possible to claim that some socialists are “thugs” who want to take your money and empower themselves and enslave you, it also seems to me that there are plenty of capitalists “thugs” out there who don’t play by the rules and destroy the competition unfairly or at a huge cost to human and environmental health in order to empower themselves and enslave many.

Rand’s argument against social welfare was that nobody should force an individual to pay for the life of someone else. If you valued someone who needed help, then you could choose to help them. Rational, right? For some reason, though, when it came time to vote on whether or not to enact social welfare programs, a majority of people in our country voted in favor, especially in the years of the Great Depression and again in the 1960’s. Why? Were they just ignorant and stupid? Duped by evil, corrupt, socialist boogeymen? Did they simply see a way to get something they hadn’t earned?

(This was a big idea with Rand. That people in the lower income brackets vote to take from the higher income brackets, but then in turn the even lower income brackets vote to take from them in a downward spiral until all the wealth and resources have been squandered in the hands of the least-common-denominator.)

On the other hand, perhaps a majority of people looked out and saw poverty and despair and lack of hope. They saw power and wealth concentrated in the hands of a few who used their power and wealth to stack the deck, to bend or create rules that benefited ONLY those with power and wealth at their disposal. Americans, as a society, decided something had to be done to give hope and comfort and a minimum level of security to those less “fortunate.” The majority (by electing representatives who supported social welfare legislation) decided to give the government the power to collect money for this purpose, and they created a “safety net.” Does this infringe on the rights and freedoms of the minority? You bet. If you believe “freedom” is the ideal which trumps all others, then of course you are miffed.

I like freedom, myself. I believe that in cases where it is difficult to decide what is right as a society (let’s not forget that we ARE a society, a State), it is better to err on the side of freedom and let each individual decide for themselves. However, there are times when we need to join together for the common good. How do we decide, as a society comprised on individuals with individual beliefs, what those times are?

We are a respresentative form of government. We vote for representatives who are supposed to function within the legislative body as the voice of the people. The representatives debate and decide how to act. (Part of our problem is that we individuals feel that our representatives aren’t speaking for us as much as they are speaking for other interests) In any case, for now, the people seem to be electing representatives who are NOT Libertarian-minded. Again, this is majority rules. Whoever gets the most votes, wins. Not everyone is going to be satisfied with the outcome.

The ultimate battlefield of philosophy is the street, the home, the blogs, the editorial pages of the newspaper, wherever individuals meet and talk and discuss. IF at some time the Liberatarian philosophy wins the battle for our hearts, minds, and votes, we will elect representatives who will voice this choice within the legislative body. It’s how our government was set up. There will never be a time when everyone is happy with the way things are. There is no perfect form of government. There is no perfect society.

At the end of ATLAS SHRUGGED, the capitalists of the world have “gone on strike” and have withdrawn from society. They have begun their own society in a hidden place in the mountains. They are digging ore for steel. They are building railroads. They are living the Libertarian ideal. But I am left wondering this: what happens when they run out of ore? What is happening in the chaotic outer world? Are small communities of individuals banding together and finding alternative lifestyles? Will the Galtians make swords and bullets from their steel and invade these communities in order to get to their resources? Or will they attempt to pay for the resources? What if some communities decide not to sell? Where does it end?

After talking with one of my Libertarian-minded friends this week, I kept thinking about the depressing reality that because the majority votes one way, the minority are obliged to go along (or go to jail). I agreed that it didn’t really seem fair. I mean, if you don’t want to send you kids to public school, you don’t recognize the value of education for the masses, you’d rather starve than go on food stamps, you don’t want someone else to pay for your health care, you’d rather save money for retirement rather than participate in Social Security, you don’t care about using the public library, or the fire department, or the police department–then why should you be forced to pay for these things?

So I thought, what if we simply allowed individuals to “opt-out” of society? How would that work? I can imagine a bunch of different scenarios, but I’d like to get some input from my readers. What do you think? Could something like that work? What if we just said, “Okay, go ahead.” Would we “opted-outs” be allowed employment by businesses operating within the system? And would those businesses be able to pay us whatever they wanted, with no regard for minimum wage and other labor laws? If we weren’t required to pay property taxes, would we also give up the services of the fire, police, and ambulance departments? What about road and bridge repair? Maybe we “opted-outs” would still pay a vehicle registration fee in order to pay their fair share of the roads we use. We could perhaps grow whatever “illegal” plants we wanted, but those within the system who bought it could be prosecuted.

What are some other areas that would need to be addressed? Could “opted-outs” change their minds at some point and re-enter the system? I think it would have to cost a stiff penalty because I could see people changing their minds only when the money ran out, a health issue came up, or some other need reared its ugly head. It’s like health insurance. When you are healthy, it seems like a waste of money. When you are really sick, it looks alot like salvation.

If we could, would we really chose to live without a safety net? Or would we only chose it if EVERYONE had to fly on that same trapeze? Let me know. I’m really curious.

8 responses to “Ayn Rand Article in New York Times

  1. you seem to begin to ramble lately, I did not get what you were driving at.
    However, keep up the good blog.

  2. Sorry, Pat. Thanks for reading.

  3. OMg! I just read a quote on a totally random email and thought, “cool quote. Who is Ayn Rand?” then, bam! there you are to explain.
    Small world…..

    “The question isn’t
    who is going to
    let me;
    it’s who is going to
    stop me.”

    –Ayn Rand

    • See? That’s what I meant by synchronicity–when things just kinda come together in an unexpected turn of events. You should read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. The plots are good, even though the books are long and some of the big speeches the character’s make make my rambling blog post look like a tweet!

  4. I absolutely would IF I was allowed to truly do it i.e. no Social Security or Income tax. It would be my responsibility to ensure my familie’s welfare. If you look at any city with a “progressive” government,you will undoubtably find a welfare state. Detroit Michigan has 17% unemployment, the highest or very nearly the highest murder rate in the country,and some of the lowest property values in the country. What incentive is there for the people to change? The government is taking care of them. How much of our treasure has been spent on the inner city poor since the 1960’s? Has it really made any TRUE difference? I submit that it has not and if anything it perpetuates the problems. We’re now into the 3rd generation since Great Society and the cities are as bad as ever. It will never change unless people help themselves. Your husband busts his ass,as do I, working to ensure his family is taken care of. I find it to be most insulting, and to some extent, degrading, being forced, nearly at gunpoint, to give my money to people who are not willing to take care of themselves. If someone is in need and is trying, I willbe the first to step forward to help. Do not force me.
    Ayn Rand was very idealistic. She had had some very serious personal flaws. In an imperfect world full of imperfect people,her vision probably wouldn’t work 100%. But it is still a beautiful vision.

  5. I get what you are saying–have been there, especially when I was working as a checkout clerk at Shop n Save and eating mac n cheese from the box while the food-stamp recipients bought steak and ringdings, not to mention the occassional lobster. Oh, and not being very pleasant to me as I rang them out or bagged their free groceries, either. Never mind that my payroll taxes were funding their meal.

    However, do I want to see us return to the America of the early Industrial era? No way. It was great if you were an owner. If you were the poor five year old born into an impoverished family and forced to go work twelve hours a day in the textile mill, life wasn’t so pleasant. I really would not want return to that kind of society.

    I have to ask again, if it was all working so well, why did we change it in the first place?

    I do like the idea of giving people a chance to “opt out.” That would be the ultimate freedom, right? If our government said, “Okay, if you don’t agree with how we are running things, you are free to operate outside the parameters of society and good luck to you” maybe we wouldn’t have anything to complain about. What would we do with all our extra time? LOL.

    Always nice talking with you, Jim. Feel free to write some more.

  6. On last thing: I was talking with “dear hubby” about this yesterday, and we both agreed that even though we don’t particularly enjoy paying our taxes and don’t always agree with how the government spends it (we’d really like to see fiscal conservatism make a comeback, i.e. a balanced budget), even after paying those dreaded taxes, we have more than enough money to be happy. A roof over our heads, cars in the driveway, food on the table, clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet, books on the bookshelves, computers and televisions and other “toys.” Do we get wild when we think his hard-earned money is being squandered on useless government projects? Yes. But there is some good being done out there, as well. And the theory of personal charitable contributions? Well, if we are honest, we have to admit we wouldn’t give a half, a third, or even a quarter of what we pay in taxes if we had the choice. That old selfish gene. Maybe everyone else is less selfish than we are . . . but I doubt it.

  7. Thank you for a lovely blog. I dream of freedom. The possibility of running away from the beaten path which we’re obligated to live our lives upon. We must do this or we must do that, because of conventional wisdom, tradition or well meaning social engineers… I beg those folks to please leave me alone. Grant me the liberty to find my own way, carve out my own direction. Grant me the opportunity to offer my contribution to society the way I see fit. Allow me to be able to earn a legal and ethical living through my own wit and my own effort. Let me be able to keep more than pennies for my effort. Let me be able to raise my kids in peace, without the nanny state telling me which T to cross or I to dot. Let me worship my God, without opinions being offered. Liberty is a precious commodity, which needs to be preserved. I wish those in power would pledge to safe guard it, and think twice before the enact any law which curtails it based on their faulty assumption that they know better!
    I love the ideas flowing out of this blog! Cheers!

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