Concerning
Ayn Rand's Critics

I   
have read a number of critical reviews of the works of Ayn Rand and find that none do her adequate credit and many are simply vicious character attacks. The best I have encountered is Barbara Branden's recollections. Despite being raked over the coals by Miss Rand's errors in judgement, she managed impartiality in her account, made it interesting and actually recognized the importance of the woman and the relative smallness of her own wounds.

I shall state at the outset that I regard this woman as the most intelligent female to have yet lived on Earth. In fact, the only men who can hold a candle to her are perhaps Newton, Aristotle, Gauss, Euler, Leonardo and just a few others. If you had seen her cause a crowd to audibly gasp at a simple "idea", you would know what power she wielded. She had no peer in any intellectual debate, yielded to no one and absolutely (in her later years) was not be caught off guard by any intellectual assault. She needed no assistance from anyone to do battle with any number of attackers.

On the backside, her treatment of people close to her (her biggest supporters) appears to have been on the order of a "suicide". She drove them away with her domineering attitude more effectively than had she chased them with a stick with dog poop on the end.

At the core of her being was a truth so clear to her that it could not be assaulted in any way imaginable ... man as a "heroic" being ... not to be given up ... neither to be sullied nor diluted. Do you see why she is still revered and hated even in death? If we should lose this vision all is then meaningless, soulless, aimless, pointlessly impossible. Some desire this state as the fulfillment of their personal ideal ... or ... its opposite. These are extremes. She was an extremist. One must strive mightily to be extreme ... or ... give up entirely.

Concerning attacks on one's work

Here is an example of a "review" of my tome "Nature of Man".

A weird set of statements on the development of humans, with over-generalized, sweeping declarations about evolution, tabula rasa, etc.
So shallow it is amusing!
Could be used to provoke students to be constructively critical.

Now, what can I know about the author of this?

I must conclude that this critic is more knowledgeable that I in this matter ... and ... considerably more so if he/she is able to determine my best effort to be "so shallow as to be amusing", i.e. the work of a dummy.

But ... I could not possibly be a "dummy" having a measured IQ of around 165 ... and ... this is the distillation of about 20,000 hours of thought on the subject over a 30 year period.

Therefore, I conclude that the author must be an alien from another planet who has access to the galactic database and a personal education spanning perhaps thousands of years of study ... and the critic must know that I am wrong in all my basic assumptions.

Well ... you don't believe this was written by an alien? Hmmmm ... then ... it must have been written by ... an earthling. But ... if written by an earthling, he/she must be one of the greatest minds on the planet (being that he/she is SOoo o... far ahead of me) ... and since one's acumen in a given subject is roughly proportional to the product of intelligence multiplied by experience ... we should expect ... that the writer shouldst visit upon us "dummies" the beneficence of his/her expertise in the form of ... a book (for sale at Barnes & Noble?).

These little sniper attacks are all over in Ayn Rand's case. They are written by "mini-critics" (Lilliputians or simply fruit flies) and therefore count for nothing. Of the more formal critics (who write entire books about her books) there are very few. And of these, only a handful will pen any kind of alternative philosophy. And ... when you get to these, all have a measure of admiration for her along with their critical appraisals for they know what effort is required to bring forth "new ideas" even if flawed in their judgement.

As I have said elsewhere, for a critic to be taken seriously, he must "put up his own stuff" in the genre of his criticism ... for ... after all ... he knows so much, he should be able to do the thing named. At least he must make one righteous example in the genre. My "stuff" is up ... so let us proceed to the matter of inquiry.

We, the Living

Of her three major works, this is the first and most artistic ... and least pointedly philosophical. It also gets the least flack and is the least well liked by her admirers. It is dark and dismal and was intended to be so yet it flows so evenly that we must suppose that the author is digging into her personal experiences. She knows what she is talking about from experience rather than from abstract philosophical insight or reflection.

She is "identifying" the concepts that she will later lay out on the table ("under-stand") in "The Fountainhead" ... and then expand and dissect entirely in "Atlas Shrugged".

I have read this work, I believe, three times and browsed it the equivalent of another reading. I have never found anything in it to indicate that it should be categorized as anything other than a classic work of literature. And if she had produced the other works along these same lines, I would not be here writing about them. Nor would I bother to critique other classic works I have read such as "The Count of Monte Christo" or "Les Miserables" or "Robinson Crusoe". The reason being that these are ends in themselves made for the enjoyment and marginal edification of its readers. I enjoy them as well but my interest lies elsewhere than reviewing purely literary works.

The Fountainhead

This work begins to get a little "choppy". In painter's lingo "crabbed". This is inevitable. She is writing about something she has little experience in.

And ... more importantly ...

She is making something recognizable to her audience as a "general form", i.e. an archetype. Imagine a sculptor who makes a "model" glob thingy. It looks kinda' nice but you can't really say what it is. The "artist" calls it ... "Man, Alive" so you look at it and see, "Hmmm ... yeah, I sort of see a man there in some rather bizarre position" ... And everybody applauds it as a great creation and masterpiece.

Now, the next poor fool tries to make a "real" man and everybody recognizes the head, arms, legs, etc. for what they are and since the human form is the most recognizable (we all take a shower with one every day ... well ... I do ... almost every day), they start to pick it apart saying, "Hey, his nose is too long", or, "The hands are too small", etc. Therefore, because this artist has taken the greater risk with his thematic choice, his work may be denigrated even though he has done much more than the first guy would have dared.

This is fair. As Leonardo put it, "The greatest artist is he who best depicts the thing represented". Thus, the difficulty goes up with the square of the degree of difficulty. Make something twice as difficult and it will be four times harder to do.

So you can see why so many flaws can be "seen" in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. She's going for the whole enchilada.

She has to :
  • 1) Make an interesting story
  • 2) Figure out an entire philosophy
  • 3) Get passed critics who make a living pointing out flaws
  • 4) Endure numerous complaints, mild death threats, etc.
  • The main flaw pointed out by the above is that a character like Ellsworth Toohey is psychologically impossible. I have seen this in several books and articles. He is said to be impossible because such a being [one who is consciously aware of his own evil] would self-destruct by means of that knowledge. It is claimed that those who are evil inevitably classify themselves as "the good" and therefore convince themselves that whatever horror they commit is actually at least indirectly ... good.

    Newsflash

    Roll call :

    Genrikh G. Yagoda
    Nikolay I. Yezhov
    Lavrenty P. Beria
    Reinhard Heydrich
    Heinrich Himmler
    etc ........... ad infinitum

    Such people do indeed exist ... but they don't seek psychological assistance ... so there is no formal record of the reality of this class. They don't seek assistance because they are content with being evil.

    I will grant that this class of being is much less numerous than the class of those who do evil but twist it to good in their own minds. The fact that psychologists don't recognize them tells us more about psychology than anything else. (I guess they don't get out much, i.e. into the "real" world.)

    These people do exist in capacities such as Ellsworth Toohey and make

    NO BONES ABOUT IT.

    Another complaint is that The Fountainhead is not "realistic". Well ... duh? ... It isn't supposed to be. It is a work of Idealism. It is supposed to be "idealistic". Get it? They're complaining that it has a specific identity as a literary work ... or ... anything not swmming in realism is NOT literature!?

    An idealistic work tends to be more highly structured (even crabbed) than a realistic "On the Road" (Kerouac) type tome, i.e. you can tell what the thing is and what the people portrayed are doing and why they are doing it (most importantly "why"). It has explicit philosophical ideas in character statements rather than implicit philosophical generalities.

    Atlas Shrugged

    This is my favorite all time book. I have read it about ten times and perused it the equivalent of about three times more (though I have not read it in the last two decades ... I don't read much fiction anymore ... some would say ... "heh, heh ... you produce it" ;o).

    What bugs me most about Atlas Shrugged is "the motor". Being of a physics bent, I know this is impossible by way of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics ... and it serves a kind of "Deus ex Machina" in the plot. John Galt is philosophically supported by an impossible device. Put another way, I would have "the balls" to do all sorts of things if I were buoyed up by nature herself. Consider what sort of reception JG would get if he were to say "I am an inventor who discovered a principle which can supply us with limitless, almost costless energy ... and ... I'm gonna' build a working model based on my theories as soon as you guys stop supporting this philosophy of altruism.".

    They would give him a quarter saying, "Get a cup a' coffee, Mac.".

    But I am familiar with this error of realism. I am simply demanding that the book be something which it is not. It is Idealism not Realism. Hence, one can imagine or pretend that this particular non-essential (essential in reality but non-essential in an art work) exists. In fact, I often enjoy a movie which others consider to be too fantastic by simply taking it as a picture of somebody's dream (like "Last Action Hero" or "Adventures of Baron Munchausen").

    The philosophical part is more problematical. Without nature unequivocally backing him up, John Galt is in my position. I know I'm right ... but ... I have no physical evidence to support it, i.e. I can't build an atom bomb or anything new of great importance. Therefore, I won't be taken seriously. Whereas, if I cured half of mankind's diseases I would get "bocu" attention (well, my maser resonance might just do that, eh?).

    John Galt is like Dennis Rodman ... he can do whatever he pleases and he knows he will get away with it. In Galt's case his confidence comes from his proven understanding of nature while Rodman's comes from pure bravado, i.e. "What's the worst that can happen ... a fine? ... suspension? ... whuduhfuk!".

    Another supposed failing is that the character of John Galt is a cardboard one. I thought this once as well. Again, from the idealist point of view he is well drawn ... it's just that he is drawn in the form of other characters. That is to say, there is only one character here ... the ideal human being. Character development is given for this "ideal being" quite well in the two main developmental characters of the novel - Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden. We extrapolate the characters of Galt, D'Anconia, etc. by seeing them through the "lens" of this actual character development.

    I believe Rand did not want to sully the main character Galt (vis a vis the plot) with any earthy personal history and therefore gave none. What point would be made to show Galt as a teenager being spurned by his first love, or the second love? This could show development but since that development takes place in the other characters it is a non-essential.

    Always remember this ...

    The woman spent about ten years (virtually every day of that time) writing this novel. Do you really believe that you can think of something that she did not think of? I hardly think so. Every word and sentence was put in there for a reason which was much lengthier than the sentence itself. That's why Atlas is the least "flowing" of the three novels and the one with the greatest explicit philosophical content.

    It takes about ten days to read this novel. You absolutely cannot speed read it. If you attempt to read fast, you get bogged down ... lost in the ... what? Certainly, the language is not difficult. Rather, it is the degree of integration of the piece. Your mind recognizes that integration even if you don't at the conscious level. Therefore, it slows down to accommodate an increased information density.

    Yes, Virginia, the quantity of information contained in a written document is often much more than the number of bytes it takes to send it by email. A highly integrated document such as Atlas shrugged is like a program rather than a file. It comes to you in the guise of a file and then ... when you start thinking about it ... executes its program within your skull and begins reorganizing the contents therein.

    Notice how someone who is new to Ayn Rand's work often becomes rabidly "Randian" and says and thinks of others, "Are you blind? Can't you see that ... blah, blah, blah ... ?" . When the program is finished running, the reprogrammed person is set loose in the world as (temporarily) an Ayn Rand clone. But this state comes to an end as the individual is forced to assimilate new data on his own and he "comes back to himself" as a separate individual again ... but quite a bit wiser for the influence. And some of that influence is in error ... I readily conceed. No one can put up this much stuff and be right all the time. (This includes yours truly. ;o) It is your responsibility as an autonomous being to "snap" out of it and regain ownership of your own mind after assimilating Rand. You will be a different person, a better one, but you must be your own person. This is an absolute law of life, "You belong to you".

    Note this final point of interest.

    The only works of fiction I have ever reread with the exception of "Robinson Crusoe", are those of Ayn Rand. Now, why is that? What would cause someone to "reread" a book?

    Could it be ... to learn something?
    Could it be that there is something there "worth" reading over and over (meaning that you must "study" the material in order to integrate it into your own psychological makeup)?
    Could it be that the mainstream philosophers are wrong in their assessment (read ... non-assessment) of the body of her work?

    Naaaaaaaaaaahhhhh !!!

    I just read in a critique book that the contribution of Rand to philosophy was ... nothing ... all her ideas are derivative ... nothing new here. And I thought, "This is the way a disreputable corporation breaks a patent.". They divide it into component parts and show that each part was invented before and therefore ... there is nothing new here and proceed to cheat the now discredited inventor out of his life's work ... which simply consisted of integrating all the parts into something usable and in hindsight "obvious".

    They always say "It's obvious" ... like the guy who developed the button to release the socket from a rachet wrench. Sears beat him out of it by getting its lowyers (< not a typo ;o) to break the patent. That government office said it was "too obvious to patent". Well, if it's obvious why wasn't it on the damn thing 100 years ago? See what I mean?

    Examine any compendium of philosophy and/or philosophers. You will most often find that no mention is made of her name or work even in those concerning 20th century philosophers.

    Of course, one might ascribe this to the subjects they now study. At one time philosophy was the study of everything (Aristotle). Then its scope narrowed to the study of ethics, reasons for living the good life, etc. and the "everything else" was left as "science". Now they have abandoned the study of "What is the good in life and why and what must we do to achieve happiness on Earth?" in favor of "linguistic analysis" and the study of esoteric logical principles which have no bearing on the conduct of human life.

    Note: Study now means dwelling on impossible logic like a chicken staring at a straight white line painted on the floor ( Russell's Paradox Paralysis).
    But one fact is abundantly clear. Any Rand is the most obvious

    Locus of Philosophical Activity

    in the twentieth century and probably the twentyfirst. No other philosopher is so talked about by so many people (look at the web sites dedicated to her). Therefore, by their continuing denouncement or shunning of the "leper", I must say that

    "I have no respect for this profession in general
    and regard it as ... devoid of worth ...
    and its members as ... impotent non-essentials."

    
    
    It may be that Conan was right.

    "Conan, What is best in life?"

    "Kill yor enemies ... see dem driffen before you ... an hear ... duh lamentations uff der wimen !"

    
    
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