Ayn Rand – consequences

Ayn Rand quote on consequences

[ 19/July/22 Dirk posted an Ayn Rand quote “You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality”]

She is exactly right, in what she wrote, but she is one of the worst examples in philosophy of doing exactly that, and letting her dogma blind her to the realities of the strategic domains behind evolutionary biology and culture. She is guilty of over simplifying reality to the point of destruction.

We are deeply complex entities. We are both individuals and members of groups, and both natures are deeply embedded in our biology, our neural networks, and our social and conceptual systems. Cooperation and responsibility are fundamental to the strategic basis of our long term survival as both individuals and a species. Rand was blind to that reality, blinded by overly simplistic dogma.

[followed by Dirk replied in part “But she had refined some great ideas, which originally stemmed from Thomas Aquinus and later Friedrich Nietzsche and she was a cool writer too.”…]

Hi Dirk,

Like I said previously, I put a lot of time into studying Rand – several years. I read everything she wrote, and was very active in Objectivist circles in the late 80s, via a service called Dialogue – which predated the internet.

Her biggest error is in assuming that we are primarily individuals; but we are both individuals and members of groups – and the strategic underpinnings of the long term survival of both is deeply complex, and to a good first order approximation – is predicated on both trust and cooperation.

[followed by 20/7/22 Dirk responded in part …”Rand was right, that the individual is the smallest member of a group or especially a democratic society and the oppression of even one individual already is a dictatorship.”]

Hi Dirk,

Kind of, but not really – it is actually deeply more complex than that.

We do not get to choose all the groups we belong to, some yes, but not all.

We get born into the species Homo sapiens, we get born into a country and a community. Long before we are capable of speech the ecosystem that is the Sun the Earth and all the lifeforms on the planet, play a role in us being and becoming. If in our ignorance and arrogance we destroy the very things that make us possible, that is not a recipe for either long term survival nor long term enlightenment.

We have responsibilities to the ecosystem, to other humans, to the societies we exist in, simply by the fact of the amazing depths of complexity present that allow us to be us. There is nothing voluntary in that – it is just simply a fact of our existence – one that Rand happily ignored.

There is a sort of dictatorship about gravity. It does not give a rats arse whether we believe in it or not, whether we want it or not, it is simply there, and it does what it does, and if we step off the edge of a tall cliff it will probably be responsible for the end of our existence, even as under normal conditions it is a fundamental part of what makes our existence possible. Water is a bit like that too. Too much we drown, too little we desiccate, and when we have just the right amount we barely even notice it (our brains tend to bring to our attention the difference between what we expect to see and what our senses detect – and ignore most of the expected – necessarily, because there is too much of it).

So we have no real choice about some of the groups, and all things have necessary sets of conditions for their continued survival, and we need to be responsible for those.

And beyond that, yes, we need as much choice as we are capable of responsibly exercising, without causing major harm to the biosphere, or other individuals.

And most people have their neural networks captured by some levels of “faith” in some sets of “Truths” that they do not actively question; and in some contexts those Truths are not compatible with survival.

So it is a deeply complex reality we find ourselves in, and I am very definitely a strong advocate for the greatest degrees of individual freedom that individuals can responsibly handle – without being an unreasonable danger to themselves or anyone else. And I get that there is no such thing as perfect safety, there is some degree of risk inherent in existence, necessarily, and that can be reduced to minima in contexts. And I have had more than a few close encounters with death (20+), doing all manner of things that were a bit to close to boundaries, and some just bad luck.

The current economic system is not fit for purpose. Most of current economic theory is so deeply flawed it imposes existential level risk. Most current political systems are deeply flawed – due in part to the overly simplistic assumptions at their bases.

It seems to me that we have the possibility of survival, of living in a world with more options than most people think possible, but that demands responsibility from us, at all levels. We cannot have indefinite population growth on this planet, nor can we have indefinite economic growth. Quite a bit of room for growth off planet, but we are very close to limits down here (with our current agricultural practices we are past those limits, but there is still room for better practices to be developed; but not a lot of room – we are approaching thermodynamic limits).

Choice, without responsibility, leads to destruction. The logic, the mathematics, the strategy, of that is inescapable.

Rand was heavy on choice but light on responsibility. She was far too ignorant of biology and geology and cosmology – all of which are essential parts of what make us what we are. And biology in this sense for me means understanding the fundamental uncertainties of quantum chemistry, the depths of the strategies involved in the emergence of levels of complexity, and the fundamental roles of search and cooperation in complex life.

[followed by]

Hi Dirk,

Yes – I put a lot of time into her work for a reason. She had something, something very worthwhile, and it is not enough, alone. What is needed is deeply more complex.

And like her, I am against slavery, in any form; and much of modern economics fits the definition of slavery, in one group creating a context where another group has to meet their needs. And Rand didn’t look at that nearly closely enough. And given that she came out of Russia, and what was going on there was clear wrong, I agree we need to cut her some slack – and I did.

What worries me is the people who simply take her words as Truth, when they clearly are not. Seeing them as contextually useful approximations to something is far more accurate. That I can do, did, and appreciated as such.

She is kind of like Nietzsche, who I also enjoyed studying, but who also over simplified complex situations. His biggest error was in ascribing Christian theology to slave morality, which hid from him the much deeper strategic reality that cooperation is fundamental to the survival of complexity. That is something Christianity got close enough to be very useful. Dismissing it as Nietzche did was understandable, but not really helpful. And to be fair to him the concept sets simply did not exist in his time, and would not be explicitly formulated until the 1970s (and some would say 1980s).

So we agree, that central control is not a good thing, and individual responsibility is the optimal thing, and that requires cooperation and coordination to some significant degrees, and there are eternal tensions between the simplicity and economic efficiency of central control (which removes individual freedom and imposes systemic fragility) versus distributed agency and multiple levels of redundant systems (which reduce economic efficiency but improve systemic resilience and freedom) {recurs through all levels of complexity present}.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) with reasonable security, tools, resources and degrees of freedom, and reasonable examples of the natural environment; and that is going to demand responsibility from all of us - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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