By Rishabh Madhok:
Recently, everybody’s favourite late night talk show host/journalist John Oliver asked a question – “How is Ayn Rand still a thing?”. Turns out, that is a pretty scintillating question. Why are we still obsessed with a woman who professed selfishness, greed and a stone cold rational approach to life? A woman who loved the rich and dissed on the poor? A woman who regarded religious people as nuts? The present pope recently said that “he believes in angels”. We should be discussing that awesome topic. It should be a global concern if there are people dressed in white flying around messing with our lives. But we are still concerned about what that evil woman said. Maybe what she said wasn’t evil. Maybe what she said makes sense if you try and understand it. Also, maybe we are still obsessed about it because it rings true to our nature as human beings. The maybes were just there to ease you into the fact that I agree with Rand’s philosophy. She wasn’t evil. Maybe a bit strong worded about her thoughts. But not evil.
There are three different ways in which you can react if you read her books on Objectivism (that’s what she called her philosophy). One is ‘Meh…too many words..can’t focus for this long’. Or your second reaction might be ‘What kind of satanic evil is she professing!?’. Probably because it will directly hit against everything that has been taught to you about your role in this world since you were born. Your third reaction, if you really get what she means and give it a deep deep thought will most probably be ‘F*ck me, that made too much sense’. Being from India, where one can hear the chants of socialism and theism around every corner, the book made a bigger impact on me. A country where individual life is almost worthless, where mob mentality takes over basic reason, where billions are spent over imaginary beings is a country where even a whiff of Objectivism smells like fresh baked cookies. In a country of a billion people, creating your individual identity is tough. Since the time you are born, you are categorised based on religion, caste, community, politics and whatnot. Trying to force your way out of these dogmas is nearly impossible when everyone around you follows the same way of life. Freeing the mind, letting it form it’s own thoughts, making it capable enough to ask questions about everything is a difficult task. Not even our education system is equipped to open a child’s mind to the vast possibilities of thoughts and ideas. Even an inquisitive mind needs a proper nudge. A nudge that opens up the mind to other possibilities. And Atlas Shrugged was my nudge. It wasn’t just the philosophy that effected me. It was just the basic simple idea of letting go of previously held thoughts. That was a big load off my head. Just bringing your mind into that phase where it is ready to accept new ideas as long as they make sense is a pretty great feat. Some prefer to remain shackled for life to the ideas they were taught.
Back to the evil woman. Whenever I hear Ayn Rand being talked about by someone who read about her on wikipedia or in an article, it’s mostly the same half baked judgements based on what their minds could decipher. Rand never had the patience to reason with the people who rejected and disagreed with her philosophy. Because these people had given up reason long ago and just thrived on raw human emotions. These people created their moral rules based on what they felt and believed was right and wrong, usually disregarding even a shred of reason in that process. What I am trying to achieve here is to build an interest about Ayn Rand’s work. She has been masked in a series of sensational criticism by people who couldn’t understand her work. Here, I am trying to unmask those false pretences as simply as possible. To understand her ideas more, you will have to just pick up one of her books.
Objectivism has always been associated with narcissism. And that’s wrong. Egoism is the correct term. Both are completely different in nature. But most importantly, objectivism is associated with a man’s ability to reason. The most important characteristic that makes us different from animals. Look at the world around you. Every tiny achievement came from this ability, and objectivism uses that as it’s central idea. The conscious use of reason and logic to make decisions disregarding any emotions, faith, or forced ideas to reach a conclusion. No matter how cold this approach looks, decisions based on emotions have always been whimsical in nature. They have no basis or sense. And that is a frightening approach and in no ways a virtue. Some fine folks say – go with what the heart tells you. Tell them that is a similar approach used by a terrorist with a bomb attached to his body.
Another idea of Objectivism that people can’t seem to digest is the whole “be selfish” approach. That’s understandable. We have been told that altruism and selflessness is a good thing since we were pooping in our diapers. Hearing something completely different from that rock solid moral code will obviously be rejected by the mind. But you will be surprised that a selfish approach makes a lot more sense than any selfless one. The reason is pretty simple – pursuit of happiness. Every person wants to be happy. We wake up every morning to achieve things that would make us happy. It’s in the innate nature of man to pursue happiness. Making selfish decisions that would make us happy is something we do on a daily basis, and it’s in no way wrong. A person’s own well being and related happiness is of the highest moral value and therefore it is necessary to make selfish decisions in our own favour. Being selfish is often confused with being greedy and in-compassionate, and this is one of the greatest dogmas of Objectivism. Even when we help a fellow being out of compassion, we are being selfish. If helping someone gives us a feeling of joy, that is our selfish motive. You might say that you have done a selfless deed, but that would be untrue. There is always a selfish motive behind whatever we do and it’s not immoral as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. Whenever you help someone learn to observe your selfish motive in it; whether you are showing-off (in the case of most charities and donations) or just basking in the happiness of helping someone, there is always a selfish motive. Like Joey said to Phoebe in an episode in Friends – “There are no selfless deeds”, and that dude was right on spot. All those deeds are only moral if they don’t require you to sacrifice your happiness. Donate if you have the luxury, the time, and you appreciate the values associated with that charity. The funny thing about altruism or self sacrifice is that you will see a lot of people preaching it, but won’t find any person practicing it in it’s pure form. And if you do find one, you will see that he is miserable and has no clue why. After all, altruism is suppose to get him closer to God and make him happy. But the only thing true about altruism is that it’s unnatural. Man isn’t here to sacrifice himself for his fellow beings selflessly.
Moving on to a more well-debated topic- that of God. Any philosophy that holds reason and logic in esteem rejects the idea of God as a mystical being created by man, and Objectivism is one of them. Objectivism doesn’t harp on belief, faith or any mystical thoughts and for a very simple reason – it has no reasonable or logical backing or proof. I won’t dig much into this topic right now. I will leave this part by only mentioning one thing – God (any one of those ‘supreme’ beings) has the same probability of existence as superman. Maybe there is an answer to how and why we were created. But we haven’t found it yet. So, my God as a three-legged unicorn running through space shitting stars is as true as your God. The difference is I can’t find more followers. Maybe, and I am just throwing it out to you, maybe it’s better if we don’t kill each other over fictional stories created just to scare us. If your religion is the only thing keeping you moral than you have a deep deep problem and you should be locked up. Our morality is not handed to us in a book by God. We created and developed it through reason throughout the centuries of our existence. And we still continue to do so.
Finally, moving on to the economic and political view point of Objectivism, which is Capitalism. Again a pretty hated system by people who never understood Capitalism. It does in no way favour the rich and disregard the poor. Capitalism is not designed for that. It is designed to help the more competitive and talented individuals grow. The laissez-faire capitalism doesn’t allow any state interference and favours, unlike Socialism. Pure and free competition dictates this system and that is achieved only through private means of production. In simple words, no one can force any other person in any way and violate his rights. State and economics are separated in this system, and they should be. Any Government involvement in any business simply throws away the competitive factor and leads to corruption. Corruption’s basic cause is unreasonable power to the Government in areas where it has no right to be in. Do that and corruption will automatically follow, no matter how intrinsically moral a society is. “Capitalism demands the best of every man—his rationality—and rewards him accordingly. It leaves every man free to choose the work he likes, to specialise in it, to trade his product for the products of others, and to go as far on the road of achievement as his ability and ambition will carry him”. Socialism, on the other hand, seeks to achieve anything for “the common good”. In Socialism, everyone is rewarded equally, disregarding individual talent and competition. Think about it. Once you remove the factor of competition, the whole system falls. Talented individuals won’t work with positive motivation when they are rewarded equally to their untalented peers. In Socialism, the needy is rewarded rather than the talented, and that system can in no way be moral.
I think I pretty much chalked out why Ayn Rand is still a thing, and I suppose she will continue to be a thing. Whether she is appreciated or misunderstood, her ideas continue to test the tides of time.