Friday, February 15, 2008

Survival! Fallacies of Dianetics and Ayn Rand

Unbelievably they share one feature, which is the curious notion that the biggest imperative in human life is survival. It's curious because both L. Ron Hubbard and Rand, in her "The Virtue of Selfishness, for instance" try to say that they're for the development of parts of society beyond a really basic level, the level that most people call bare survival. Both of them modify their notion of "Survival" to mean, somehow, that making artwork and pursuing the humanities is included in Survival.

Hubbard openly cites Herbert Spencer, forerunner of Social Darwinism, as one of his philosophical sources, while Rand doesn't even though it's probably where she got the idea.

Survival. I'd hope that society would come together enough so that people would be able to transcend the basic struggle for survival and get to focus on things that are easier when you don't have to stress about day to day living. Survival is the lowest rung on the ladder, and from what I gather is a sort of artificial state, because much simpler societies have been able to live without the constant threat of not surviving in the sense meant by Western writers. It seems like the idea of Survival, with a big 'S', present today owes itself to industrial society, where it's possible to absolutely starve in a way that in an agricultural society wouldn't be as easy to accomplish. There are crop failures and many things that can go wrong, to be sure, but starving in the middle of a concrete jungle looks like something unique to industrial capitalism and the consequent proletarianization of large groups of people. The poverty in a Dickens novel is different than the poverty in the country.

Survival implicitly becomes a reason to create tension instead of humanistic self realization. If we have to be bound by the social dictates of survival of the fittest we can't pay attention to things like human fulfillment, now can we? That's an overindulgent luxury that the hard dictates of natural capitalism, where competition, the purer the better, won't allow. So people end up chasing their tails, trying to get at the basic rung of the ladder leading up to some state where they can do what they like and explore the possibilities for self development. Survival type dictates and thinking create an artificial situation where people suffer unnecessarily and work unnecessarily hard. Competition in capitalism is partly amplified not by any real dictates but by the ideology of the capitalists themselves, who change their behavior in order to intensify the competitive nature of capitalism in order to try to make a few more bucks for themselves.

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