In Existential Aspirations: Reflections of a Self-Taught Philosopher I make the case not only that Ayn Rand was an egotist and an amphetamine addict, but also that her philosophy, when squared with the reality of human behavior, flies in the face of scientific evidence about how our minds work. Objectivism is not just wrong; it’s dangerously wrong because it undermines ethical human relations by presupposing we are something we are not, and that we act in ways that we don’t. Just ask Alan Greenspan.
Capitalism has improved, and continues to improve, the lives of millions of people. But a philosophy based entirely on one arbitrary aspect of economics—and taken to extreme as if it were the only part of life that really counts—is patently absurd and morally bankrupt to boot. To assume, as many Rand devotees do, that theirs is the only path to a proper society (precisely because they are so mistaken about human psychology), is tantamount to patients writing prescriptions for doctors. Worse, it’s an example of narcissists defining etiquette, ethics, and morality itself.
That we have individuals elected to public office who consider themselves Ayn Rand followers, not to mention the bastion of Rand devotees on Wall Street, is prima facie evidence for explaining the economic mess we are in. Recent history makes this clear: There are no John Galts, and thus perfection in business ethics by superior individuals is a daydream.
Moreover, the working poor near the bottom of the economic ladder are not parasites. Indeed, the goods and services they provide make life tenable for those of us who are more fortunate, for without a bottom, there is no middle, and without a middle, no top. We grow up being accustomed to inequality legally enforced by those with the political influence to keep their economic advantage, and we mistake the resulting injustice for the state of nature.
Each economic layer of society represents an enormous asset of humanity—each is made up of individual human beings who deserve a fair chance at a good life, and that includes a living wage, no matter what kind of work they do. They deserve a society that is not rigged by the winners to keep wages low and avoid competition. Jobs that do not include a living wage are tasks better left undone. Rand disciples pretend to worship the idea of competition, but our history of economics proves beyond doubt that, whenever the opportunity for competition presents itself, they will use lobbyists to ensure legislation to avoid it.
Parasites live off the efforts of others who actually do the work, precisely in keeping with the way the Wall Street financial industry operates. Instead of actually creating wealth, Wall Street’s real contribution of late can best be described as looting.
House of Representatives Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan would seem by most acceptable standards to be an educated adult, and yet, according to a recent Newsweek article, he is an “Ayn Rand nut.” The article by Jonathan Chait described Rand herself as “kind of a politicized L. Ron Hubbard,” which I can’t top.
Do you suppose Congressman Ryan knows anything at all about human psychology? Don’t people in positions of power bear some responsibility for keeping up with what cutting-edge research is revealing about human behavior? How could anyone with access to the discoveries in psychology and neuroscience in the last two decades view Ayn Rand as anything but a radically mistaken, narcissistic zealot whose psychological profile bears many striking similarities to that of a sociopath?