I was recently talking to a friend on my thoughts about Ayn Rand. I figured I’d write them down here because: why not?
The reading I’ve done of Ayn Rand’s work includes: I’ve read The Fountainhead, Anthem, and watched some video interviews/read other snippets of her writing. So I certainly haven’t read everything she’s written.
From what I can tell, Rand’s conclusion is that, “All humans should do only things which improve themselves/make themselves better/push them to create wonderful things.” Every person should dedicate their life to being the best at the thing(s) they most enjoy, and as a result, society will be better off.
There’s an inherent judgement that only things that are great are worth doing. If everyone followed this philosophy, the only music that would be produced would be of the same quality as Mozart/Beethoven. All basketball players would be as good as Lebron James/Michael Jordan. All chefs would only cook extremely high quality meals.
My main issue with this philosophy is: “Why should everything that every human does be great?” Great works are enjoyable, and so are mediocre works. If I’m a great artist, it makes sense that I like great art. But a great artist might love pizza and ice cream. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Basically, I don’t see any logical justification for the goal. The notion that “Everything that exists should be of the highest quality” may please you. But it might not please me, and sometimes I’ll want more greatness/sometimes less greatness. This is saying “I like it when people put a huge amount of effort into a field, and spend their life learning it. Everyone should do that, because I like it.” The only justification of why everyone should do that, is so that their works will please me personally. It doesn’t make sense.
Some consequences of these ideas:
If I only care about my own interests, then by definition I ignore others’ interests. If my interests aren’t ethical, then it’s easy to ignore the welfare of the community/the environment. Others’ concerns don’t matter, and so if my actions negatively impact others, then that doesn’t matter.
Devaluing of others when you don’t like them
If my highest ethical standard is “create/consume things which please me”, then anyone who doesn’t create/consume things which I judge as valuable is effectively worthless. The value of a person is determined by how much they can please me. If the person produces masterpieces of film, they’re idolized. If they create crappy film, they’re demonized. Why? Because the person doesn’t please me. This is ridiculous.
It can be fun to indulge in things that aren’t “The Greatest” sometimes. I’d rather live in a world where I had the option to consume/create work on a scale of quality from “crappy” to “masterpiece”, than a world where everyone should only consume/create “masterpiece”s.
The goal is meaningless
I can create a separate philosophy, where the goal is to get all people to create the most horrible, crappy work they possibly can, because that (for some reason) pleases me. And it would be just as valid as Rand’s philosophy.
The goal is limiting
Reality can be constructed in a near-infinite number of ways by re-organizing atoms in different configurations. This philosophy says, “We should only construct reality in this way. All other ways are worthless/a waste of time/not worth doing.” I think it’s more interesting to think of what can be done, and see what comes about, than to only focus on one thing. For example: in biology, an example of ‘mediocrity’ might be biologists who compile ‘Lists of fun facts about African insects.’ An example of ‘greatness’ might be biologists who discover fundamental biological knowledge – IE: the helix structure of DNA. I don’t think people who compile lists of fun facts about insects are worthless, because they’re not solving the world’s grand problems immediately. On the contrary, these things make life more fun and interesting.
A disconnect from reality
A person’s desires don’t really exist. A person is just a process of atoms moving in pre-determined patterns through space, over time. Stating “This set of atoms which are labeled as ‘I’ is more important than another set of atoms labeled as ‘other humans'” doesn’t make sense.