An Ongoing Discussion Between a Young Man and Old Klaus
This super-simple webpage is a largely-unedited version of some ongoing discussions I have been having, via Facebook messages, with a young man -- who is very sincerely interested in learning about Objectivism and Ayn Rand.
He asks about what interests him. I answer -- to the best of my ability. That is all.
Our messaging is all very quick and off-the-cuff -- but that enforces an economy in our discussions which I think is good.
And recently, both of us agreed that this material might also be of interest to others.
I have only made some slight edits to hide his identity and fix some typos -- aside from that, this is an exact copy of our discussions.
Needless to say: All my answers are my answers. I don't speak "on behalf of Objectivism and Ayn Rand" -- this is just my own current understanding, which I hope is of help to my friend. And now also to others.
I will add to this webpage, as our discussions progress.
PS: There will be many spoilers here, for those who have not read Ayn Rand's novels! So you might want to not read this, if you are still a "virgin".
CUI Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
VOS The Virtue of Selfishness
AS Atlas Shrugged
TF The Fountainhead
OPAR Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand
HWK How We Know
Please click here to read the second part.
Please click here to read the third part.
Friend: Would you be willing to discuss the topic of abortion in a private message? I am NOT well educated on the subject, and therefore I am undetermined in my opinion.
Klaus: Well, I am a hard-core Objectivist -- and for such people, the issue comes down to the RIGHTS of the ONLY fully actual human being involved: The woman. In that sense, on that level of abstraction, that is all there is to the abortion issue.
Friend: Interesting. I have never considered that perspective. How does an unborn child not have rights, and how is aborting not murder? I ask out of curiosity, not condemnation. I would consider myself an objectivist based on the definition of the word, but I have never read any of Ayn Rand's publications.
Klaus: Well, my good man -- I do think you then need to read AR's works. I promise you won't regret it. :-) You need to learn the nature of rights as rooted in the human faculty of reason. AR discusses this brilliantly in her work. Her essay "Man's Rights" is the place to start, in the CUI book. And then you might want to read Peikoff's OPAR on the topic of rights, where he elaborates on her points. That is my BEST advice to you now. You gotta do some mental leg-work of your own! That is a big part of being an Objectivist -- to study and think for yourself.
Friend: Oh I know. I have always been like that. I am in the process of reading several books right now: "Money Mischief" & "The Road to Serfdom" & "Economic Facts and Fallacies". Just to name a few.
Klaus: OK, good. FWIW: Ayn Rand -- and we solid Oists -- despise the Hayek book you mention.
Friend: I don't agree with some of it either. I'm still going to read it though. Next on my reading list is a book by John Keynes. I'm of the mindset that in order to defeat an opponent, you must first understand them.
Klaus: Yes, all fine.
Friend: The hardest part of educating oneself is the constant struggle against the willfully ignorant. The sheep, if you will.
Klaus: Well, in educating ONESELF -- you do not have to consider anyone else.
Friend: I suppose that's true. I guess I meant discussing ideas is difficult. How long have you been an Objectivist?
Klaus: 34 years.
Friend: I've had a somewhat diverse political background. I was raised a conservative Christian in the Southeast United States. When I was a teenager, I rejected religion and embraced liberalism as a way of solidifying that rejection. When I began to understand the nature of modern politics, I began studying anarchy in its many forms. I soon realized that anarchy was silly, and began studying economics and ethics. For the past several years, economics and its various applications has been my true passion.
Klaus: Then, my good man, I think you have long been on a righteous path! Next thing to explore for you: AR & Oism. It is where it "all comes together": freedom, atheism, capitalism, etc. Feel free to ask me for further guidance.
Friend: It has been on the list for about a year now. Xxxxxxx first introduced me to objectivism, & I was intrigued by it. I'm only XX years old, so I'm sure I have plenty of time.
Klaus: That is a good age! I was 23 when I discovered AR. But I wish I had done so at age 18. I would have been ripe for it then -- and it would have saved me many woes.
Friend: How so?
Klaus: The years from 18 to 23 were hard on me in many ways, psychologically. Oism would have helped majorly.
Friend: A majority of my emotional and psychological distress has come from my family. Most of them consider themselves religious, and any deviation from that path is viewed quite negatively.
Klaus: Yes, it is a common problem, alas. My issues were not of that kind -- my parents were agnostic-atheist people, so religion was never an issue.
Friend: The psychological hold the religious ideology can have has always fascinated me. On an unrelated note, what is your opinion of the United States? Other people's perceptions of the United States, especially non-residents, interests me greatly.
Klaus: I have twice in past years tried to immigrate to the US -- in 1997 and 2005. I gave up. You are now xenophobic -- and possibly bound for a worse fate down the road than Scandinavia is. You have gone soooooooooo much to hell in the past dozen years, that it is sickening.
Friend: An accurate description. I get a similar reaction from most non-residents that I ask.
Klaus: So I am kind of relieved now -- that I did not manage to immigrate.
Friend: What barred you from immigration? And I can't blame you. If I had the financial means, I would likely move my family elsewhere. America's radical policy changes in the past decade set a dangerous precedent for the future, and it scares me.
Klaus: The YEARS of red tape and UNCERTAINTY it would entail to live in America -- never knowing if I would be able to stay or have to leave, in the end. And also the money-side: I did not have the financial means to hire all the legal assistance I would have needed to navigate those horrid waters.
Friend: Why do you think the federal government makes it so difficult to enter or leave America as a citizen?
Klaus: Why does an ever-growing, ever-less-free State want to control anything? It is just yet another manifestation of the loss of individual liberty.
Friend: I theorize that it likely has something to do with maintaining a steady tax base. To an over-reaching state such as America, citizens become a little more than tax cows.
Klaus: That is a more concrete perspective. I am not convinced it plays such a major part.
Friend: Nor am I, but I'm sure it is a factor nonetheless. I believe similar thinking is the reason for the continued use of the income tax. Such a tax is widely considered to be the most economically damaging form of taxation, and yet it persists. I believe it may be due in part to the government's desire for an easily controlled and steady tax source.
Friend: What text(s) should I purchase in order to learn the most about Objectivism?
Klaus: It depends on your own current level of knowledge -- and what you are most selfishly interested in. So many books now!
Friend: The only tidbits that I know about objectivism I have learned from your various Facebook posts and the comments therein. Regarding specific topics, I have no preference. I enjoy knowledge in all its forms.
Klaus: Well, but still -- do you more like ethics over politics? Or epistemology over esthetics? Selfish values should rule what you would most like to investigate.
Friend: Since you put it that way... I enjoy ethics and economics.
Klaus: All right. Then "The Virtue of Selfishness" and "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" are your two books.
Friend: Excellent. I appreciate your advice. "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged" are also on my list, hopefully to be completed by the end of the year.
(Then he started to read AS.)
Friend: I believe "Atlas Shrugged" may be the most intriguing novel I have ever read, and I consider myself a rather well-read individual.
Klaus: Great! How much have you read so far?
Friend: I purchased it in audio form in order to listen during my commute to and from work. I am halfway into chapter 4, and Jim Taggart just learned that Mexico nationalized the San Sebastian Mines.
Klaus: Aha! Well, then you have mountains of Great Stuff to look forward to!
Friend: I am curious: how many times have you read this novel?
Klaus: In full, 7 or 8 times. Plus a lot of dip-reading of numerous favorite sections. Now ask me about my reading of TF. :-)
Friend: You prefer The Fountainhead?
Klaus: It is my personal favorite. AS is the Greatest Work of hers, no doubt. But there are many personal reasons why TF resonates more with me than AS does. I have read TF in full more than 20 times. Have lost count. I have also publicly lectured on literary-philosophical aspects of TF. There is no literary work in the world I love more or know better.
Friend: That is quite impressive. It will be my next audio purchase, followed by printed versions of the texts you recommended.
Klaus: Keep me posted about your AS readings. Given that you like it so well so early on -- I doubt you will be disappointed with the rest.
Friend: Ayn Rand was obviously an immensely talented and intelligent individual. I am glad she was able to produce so many works during her lifetime. I would also like to thank you for your past and future contributions to my own advancement into Objectivism.
Klaus: Thank you for your thanks! AR was a "sui generis" person. Alas, I never met her -- but I am friends with people who did know her, so I have heard various great anecdotes about her from such mutual friends. If you'd like to learn to know her better as a person -- after you have read the two novels, to avoid spoilers -- this is the best book for that: 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand. It's simply interviews with 100 people who knew her.
Friend: That is fascinating! There are only a handful of famous individuals with whom I would enjoy spending time, and Rand is well on her way to becoming one of them.
Klaus: Yes, she on top of my list of People I Would Have Liked to Meet.
Friend: Another person whose name comes up a lot is Leonard Peikoff. I intend to purchase some of his work as well. I have seen you mention him many times on Facebook.
Klaus: Yes. He was AR's friend and student for 30 years, and he inherited her Estate. He is brilliant himself and has produced tons of great works. And yes, I have met and talked to Peikoff several times. :-)
Friend: What a wonderful opportunity! I am reading his wikipedia page now. I had no idea he was so close to her.
Klaus: LP is the undisputed champion of knowing AR's thoughts and life. When you feel ready, this is the one great LP tome you might want to investigate: Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.
Friend: I will add it to my list. Thank you! Are there other "champions" of Objectivism, other than Peikoff? Who will continue his work after he dies?
Klaus: Yes, there are many other great scholars continuing the work. One of them is my good friend Harry Binswanger, who knew AR well for the last decade of her life. He is the author of this brilliant book -- which I am the graphic designer of (and I also provided much editing input): How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation.
Friend: What is your opinion of David Kelley?
Klaus: It is very low. He is an appeasing compromiser, who is watering down Objectivism. And yes, I have met Kelley personally, too, and was friendly with him for several years in the late 1980s. But he screwed up royally, alas. A damn shame, as he is a brilliant man.
Friend: So you view Objectivism to be absolute, with no chance or reason for amendment or addition?
Klaus: Yes. Objectivism is the body of truth which AR discovered and integrated. Other people can apply those ideas and discover new truths, of course -- both LP and HB are indubitably doing that, for example -- but they would not say that their own new ideas are a part of Objectivism. In fact, they both deny that firmly.
Friend: So the misunderstanding between Peikoff and Kelley was not about the expansion of AR's ideals, but rather Kelley's intention to modify Objectivism specifically. Is that correct?
Klaus: It is a messy, complex issue -- which is not easy to sum up. You are much, much better off just ignoring ALL about that, and instead just jump in and enjoy AR's writings.
Friend: I will avoid the headache then. I appreciate your time, and will update you in a few days on my AS progress. Have a great evening!
Klaus: Thanks, ditto!
Friend: Hank Rearden's dialogue during his trial regarding the morality of capitalism is one of the most brilliant bits of text I have ever read.
Klaus: Glad to hear it! Yes, it is an awesome section.
Friend: I've been finding it difficult to keep track of the many valuable excerpts within the novel. I do have a question, however: what exactly is Ayn Rand’s philosophy of sexuality? If Hank and Dagney are meant to be the symbols of Objectivism, I am curious how their physical relationship relates to Objectivism.
Klaus: There will be much more about sex throughout the novel. What is crucial to keep in mind is this: Sex is psychology. Sex is not philosophy. So Objectivism, as such, has nothing to say about sex -- except this: "Sex is good."
Klaus: I am the first to admit that there are many aspects of AR's psychological remarks and depictions of sex which I do not agree with myself, on the personal level. But again: Objectivism qua philosophy has almost nothing to say here. This is all very personal stuff on the psychological level -- and I am under no obligation to agree with AR in all her views and depictions, despite that I am a hard-core Objectivist. :-)
Friend: A fair response. But what of the relationship between the two characters? Hank is forceful and demanding, sometimes to the point of violence. Dagney accepts it, and Rand has even suggested that her resistance is pointless, as she is but a sexual object to Hank and he will do as he pleases regardless. Is this tied in any way to Rand’s opinion on the psychology of sex?
Klaus: Yes, AR herself has a VERY dominant-submissive view of sex between a man and a woman. This is in all her books. It's what turned HER on! :-) An anecdote: AR once gave a lecture to a group of women-only. It was a book club, I think. And during that talk, one of the women in the audience said, "Miss Rand, how do you come up with all the marvelous sexual-romantic material in your books?" AR's instant, blunt answer: "Wishful thinking!"
Friend: Haha! How clever. So the experiences between Dagney and Francisco and Dagney and Hank have no bearing on her views of Objectivism then. That is good to know, as the thought has plagued me since I began the novel.
Klaus: It is a common complaint, indeed. Leonard Peikoff is on record as having asked AR what philosophy has to say about sex -- as opposed to psychology. AR's answer was what I intimated above: "It is good."
Friend: I suppose from a philosophical standpoint, sexuality is not worth considering too much. I appreciate the clarification. One cannot help but draw parallels of the novel to current events. I saw online that, following the economic crisis of 2008, sales of AS surged into the millions.
Klaus: If not millions in one year, it surged into the range of, I think, 600-700,000 copies in one year -- more than it had ever sold at any time. So LP is sitting pretty, due to all his royalties!
Friend: How evil of him, to profit so readily while millions go hungry every day. :-)
Klaus: That is of course an astounding sales figure for a novel which is around 55 years old.
Friend: It certainly is! I wonder, what is so appealing about the "morality" of altruism? Could it be the false sense of charity that it provides its supporters? I cannot fathom how more people refuse to see past it's inherent evil.
Klaus: Altruism: That's a very deep question, it involves a lot of cultural and psychological issues, not just philosophy. My briefest take here: altruism represents a man's fear of living by his own mind and effort. Egoism is scary, because it involves independence -- living FOR yourself BY your own unaided effort. But altruism is "safe" -- since it ties your life and survival to other men.
Klaus: That's my quickest take. AR writes much about altruism in countless essays. But it is possibly TF where she delves most into the psychological aspects of altruism.
Friend: Luckily that will be my next undertaking. I know it must be late in Norway, so I shall not take up more of your time. If you will permit it, I will contact you within a week or so for further discussion of the book.
Klaus: Sure! Good night.
Friend: How are the elderly and otherwise incapable cared for in an Objectivist society?
Klaus: This is the best answer I know of, one which rejects all altruist-collectivist premises baked into that question: "If YOU want to help them -- no one will stop you."
Friend: I understand the altruistic nature of the question. But I can't convince myself of the "survival of the fittest" appearance of Objectivism. It seems... barbaric. There must be more to it that I cannot yet see.
Klaus: We don't really deal with a Darwinistic-Nietszchean "survival of the fittest" approach. We just don't regard the puny number of people actually incapable of surviving unaided to be a significant problem -- in a fully free world.
Friend: So the work could be accomplished successfully by charity, perhaps?
Klaus: For how much more private, voluntary charity would YOU have engaged in -- if the State did not extort you of 30-40-50% of your income? I myself would gladly do more charity -- in a free world, where ALL my income was MINE. Instead of our present horror-world. I bet the same holds for you, too.
Klaus: So this is a pseudo-problem, really. Existing in our nasty world. Not in a free world -- where private wealth would be immeasurably vaster, and ever-increasing at a rapid pace.
Friend: I have pondered this question for a few years now, since my search for truth began: what can be done to fix things? I began this search as a freshly public-educated leftist, when I began noticing logical fallacies and inconsistencies. My search went from left to right, then to anarchism, then to libertarianism, and is residing presently in Objectivism. Each group seems to promise it's own fix, but most of them are doomed to failure. I have not yet seen Objectivism's "fix," but I predict it will be much more realistic than the others.
Klaus: Our "fix" is both simple and complex: Spread more rational ideas in our culture. That is what ARI is methodically doing, on all levels. But we all know this is no quick, easy "fix". Still, it is the only possible method. It is what I am doing on FB and other venues. As do all other serious Objectivists. We present better ideas -- to a world choking on rotten ideas.
Friend: I see. Such a daunting task, especially in a culture that seems immune to reason. Dagney just discovered the nationalization of the railroad. I was upset by her decision to leave Galt's Gulch. On a related note, I recently became aware of your reason for using "Galt" in your FB posts. :-)
Klaus: Heh! Dagny's problems aren't over yet -- by far!
Friend: I predict a confrontation with Rearden. I also wonder what her reaction will be when she discovers Galt's employment by Taggart Transcontinental. She has made it clear that it will take a catastrophic collapse of the railroad to convince her to return, and I'm sure that is near. Nationalization is the cry of a dying and desperate country.
Please click here to read the second part.
Please click here to read the third part.