Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Objectivism, Reason And A Pressing Need For Nicotine

Despite - or maybe because of - my own inability to be rational (or indeed to focus on anything) for more than about ten minutes at a time, I have a deep respect for reason: I've long nurtured the notion that if human beings were rational all the time they'd be good-humoured and constructive and really, really nice to each other, and the world's problems would be sorted faster than you can say 'Jack Robinson'. Regrettably this simple faith has taken a bit of a bashing in recent years and the latest in a long run of culprits for this sorry state of affairs is the philosophy known as Objectivism.

I really don't want to go into too much detail about what precisely Objectivism consists of (partly because I'm lazy, and partly because it'll take me beyond my ten minute 'focus window', and mostly because the more I delve into it the more confusing and contradictory it all seems to be) but I'll do a copy and paste at the end of this blog of the four essential principles, and you can Google for the rest. The point is that Objectivism is supposed to be the ultimate rationalistic endeavour, the cream of the cream of all philosophies, and the end result of this is a system of ideas whose lack of humanity and common decency appals me. It could very well be that I'm missing some fundamental quality in the writings of Ayn Rand or her successors that in some way mitigates the consequences of exalting selfishness as moral principle, but if so then I'm sure someone will point it out to me. In the meantime all I can say is that if this is the fruit of reason then I suspect I'm going to be happier in an irrational world.

To be fair to Objectivism and Objectivists it has to be said that there is much in the philosophy that is good, that celebrates human beings and human life as something wonderful, but it seems to me to denigrate and misunderstand much about human beings that is every bit as worthy as reason and personal ambition. Too, there was never any possibility that I would ultimately embrace a philosophy which - inexplicably to my mind - extols laissez-faire capitalism as the ideal socio-political system: if you're young, healthy and in a position to make some money then you can see why it appeals; if you're old, sick and unemployed then it doesn't seem very clever at all.

My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

  1. Reality exists as an objective absolutefacts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
  2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses) is man's only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
  3. Manevery manis an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
  4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man's rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church. {Ayn Rand}
I wish I hadn't given up smoking!

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