Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What Ayn Rand was right on

Because a while ago, there was an accusation that I hadn't actually read her work. Even a stopped clock is right two times a day. The thing is, the positive points she makes have little to do with socialism as it actually exists, or as it rhetorically existed, but with liberal culture in the United States and England. What Rand's really talking about is liberalism, particularly what would be called welfare state liberalism, and not Soviet Communism, even though she imputes the same sorts of ideas to it.

Basically, it comes down to this: there are quite a few liberal folks in the US and elsewhere who make large, emotional, appeals to people in order to get them to do things out of a concern with and interest in humanity, out of some sort of general sense of moral concern, without much thought behind it, and without much substance. Save the Children, with the spokeswoman being skewered on South Park for being fat while advocating for helping people, is a prime example. Rock stars group charity songs in the '80s is another one. The folks who do these things expect you to just go along with their program because of the intensity of their emotional appeal, which is stupid, quite frankly. Rand criticizes this, and in so far as these people and their attitudes actually exist she's right on. Some people really are just a bundle of emotional preferences without any real thought behind them. However, the truth of the matter is that the better liberals in the U.S. rise above that sort of thing and actually provide reasons for what they do and for what they want to happen in the world above and beyond making emotional appeals. They provide justifications for why people in general should fund it, as well, that are compelling and go beyond guilt tripping.

Conservatives, particularly followers of Rand, tend to act like these reasons and justifications don't actually exist, and that only emotional appeals rule the day with liberals, which provides a cheap excuse not to actually look at the evidence to the contrary.

As for the strength of emotional appeals versus Reason regarding conservatism and liberalism, we now have over ten years of prime evidence regarding conservative group think that employs heavy emotional appeals to justify war, spying, the squashing of dissent, invasion of privacy, and torture. All of those things also involve monetary sacrifices as well as sacrifices of individual liberty. Although some libertarian groups have consistently opposed all of it, the greater right wing, the same people, like Glenn Beck, who cheer on Ayn Rand, have been the perpetrators of it. They haven't checked it as being not rational, they've implemented it. To me, that sort of skewers the idea that it's only liberals who engage in emotional group think.

Regarding the Left itself, and if the Left, particularly that of Soviet Russia where Rand got her street cred from, ever resembled the caricature that she portrays, let's just say that the ethos of Stalin was far only being believed in by Old Joe alone. Although Stalin took it to murderous extremes, most hard line Soviet socialists, were far from indulgent to people who Rand would consider to be social parasites. Stalin left a trail of human misery in his wake, but it wasn't because he was indulgent and soft, it was because he was strict and unsympathetic to humanitarian ideas, being content to let people starve to death rather than help them. In a much, much, less perverse and extreme fashion, the general ethos of supporting hard work, productivity, and value, was shared by much of Bolshevik and worker culture.

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