Skip to comments.The Zen of Rand (or, When can we stop butchering for peace?)
Posted on 11/14/2009 8:55:55 AM PST by Talisker
Way, way back in Econ 101 you might remember hearing about a guy named Adam Smith. He described what nowadays would be called an "emergent event of a complex system" that he named "the invisible hand of the free market."
Simply put, it means that the economic market is too complex for conscious control, but is self-correcting (the invisible hand) if everyone pursues their own interests on a level playing field (equal rules).
After Smith, some historical stuff happened for awhile, and then a writer appeared named Ayn Rand. People read her books, and immediately started arguing whether she is a saint, or the devil. This argument continues feverishly to this day, and often leads to fisticuffs, denouncements, broken engagements and even duels at dawn.
Which reminds me of the comparison between Zen Buddhism and Hinduism (thanks for asking). Hinduism acknowledges a certain universal organization largely shared by Zen Buddhism (including meditation), except that Hinduism acknowledges and talks about God, while Zen Buddhism remains mute on the subject and just give the instruction to meditate.
Because of this, many people feel that Zen Buddhism does not include God, but they are mistaken. The attitude of Zen Buddhism towards God is that unless you actually have the experience of God, you're left only with words and beliefs, which will not convince you. So, shut up and meditate and at least sharpen the tool you're using for your search.
Ayn Rand is nothing other than an economic Zen master. She doesn't lecture about emergent events from complex economic systems. She doesn't invoke Adam Smith and his invisible hand. Instead, she just gets right down into the daily life of everyday people and says, get to work. Don't look for a handout. Don't expect to be helped. Roll up your sleeves and do it yourself, think of yourself, and if everyone does that, we'll all be fine.
So, like with Zen Buddhism, people say that Rand doesn't believe in God, either literally or figuratively. That she is selfish, that she has no heart, that she doesn't care about people, that she's immoral and depraved.
Yet millions read her writings and breathe a breath of fresh air. They look around and suddenly politics click into place, and the various factions become clear. The poison of collective seduction is revealed, and the incredible social value of personal hard work makes sense.
Same with Zen. While reviled for being godless, actually practicing Zen meditation for awhile brings clarity, simplicity, patience, kindness, and a deeper understanding that is enormously surprising - and of permanently memorable effect.
People who talk constantly about social responsibility build concentration camps. People who talk constantly about God... well, didn't Jesus say that when you pray, to go to a private place, and that those who pray in public have their reward?
Maybe it's the same in economics - if everyone just did their own work, for themselves (but of necessity through contractual interactions with others), we as a society would find ourselves overloaded with plenty, and at peace, without the need for collective punishments for "not caring enough."
In any event, shouldn't we be giving more careful thought to alternatives to a collectivist theory that butchered over a hundred million people in the last century? Where was the "social justice" in that? Or do more millions need to be butchered for peace? Or billions?
Compared to that still-threatening, extremely real horror, how can Ayn Rand's arguments be considered soulless? To do so would require the same level of hypocrisy as the declaration by American liberals that no war ever brought peace, while they enjoy their Constitutional rights and ignore the cries of agony of the millions killed by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro and Che.
Like us all, Rand was a flawed human being. But she survived a collectivist terror and did her best to warn a free people of the methods of its terrible danger. For that truly noble effort, she is forever loved and studied by those who seek freedom, and forever loathed and slandered by those who would deny it.
The article is ignorant of Rand and Zen.
Adam Smith...The Wealth of Nations..
No, Rand literally didn't believe in God. Goodness man, either agree or disagree with Rand's opinions, but at least learn what they are before you do so.
In Ethics of Emergencies Ayn Rand states that man is not a sacrificial animal, and helping others is not his sacrificial duty. The rational man identifies and evaluates instances involving helping others and offers non-sacrificial help to others when it is in accordance with his own hierarchy of rational values and never sacrifices a greater value to a lesser one.
The opposite idea was stated by Hitler in the form of "This state of mind, which subordinates the interests of the ego to the conservation of the community, is really the first premise for every truly human culture...The basic attitude from which such activity arise, we call - to distinguish it from egoism and selfishness - idealism. By this we understand only the individual's capacity to make sacrifices for the community, for his fellow men."
I found it to be well-intentioned, not gibberish, and pleasantly quixotic. I practically laughed out loud at the, “...and then some historical stuff happened...” line. Come on, folks. I’ve read most of Rand and she was fascinating; but we need to recognize some light humor sprinkled with philosophy, when it comes along.
Having a strong, negative reaction to this piece is a bit like having a strong, negative reaction to a football game. Games are for enjoying. If you lose sght of that, you have lost your taste for life and have allowed people you disagree with to affect you at your own core. Don’t cede your core.
Good point. Simply put - get a life.
To read Rand and then to think that she didn't believe in God just because she said so, is to not understand why she wrote at all. She stood up to monumental evil solely to try to protect human life from catastrophe. That, to me, is belief in God. That she declared herself atheist merely means she never found a religion that appealed to her.
I recommend Luke 10:25-37 for an example of what Jesus taught about the value of doing over saying in the eyes of God - the difference is nothing less than eternal life.
Shoot - I was trying for malignant clarity. Oh well.
Shoot - I was trying for malignant clarity. Oh well.
LOL, excellent retort :-)
I myself aim for irreverent sanctimony, but often settle for simple complexity.
How Zen of you ; )