Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Ayn Rand on the Daily Show

Jennifer Burns has just written a biography of Ayn Rand, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, and having just finished reading a review of the book (written in less than laudatory fashion by Jeff Perren) I was less than expectant about viewing her being interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

“The book, apparently by design, is a long series of contradictions,” says Jeff in the review (to be published in the next Free Radical magazine) -- contradictions “about Rand, her philosophy, and the people she affected.”  So given Burns’s book and Stewart’s satire, I expected the worst from the interview – but instead was pleasantly surprised.  As Diana summarises at Noodle Food (where there’s a good discussion under way):

    “The interview was remarkably good until Jon Stewart said, "it's almost as if [Ayn Rand] would have a totalitarian state of individualists." Sigh. However, that was the worst of it. Stewart was seriously interested in the right's appropriation of Ayn Rand when convenient, then ignoring other ideas like her atheism. (I'm glad he pointed that out!) In attempting to critique the philosophy as elitist, Stewart said, "Objectivism works really well for extraordinary people." While Objectivism is not elitist -- and Burns did a reasonably good job of defending Ayn Rand against that charge -- that strikes me as praising with faint damnation. At least, it's great PR. If more extraordinary people read Ayn Rand and become advocates of her ideas, I won't complain!
    “More of all though, Jon Stewart took Ayn Rand seriously -- far more so than I expected. He knew something about her ideas, and he did not treat her as an object of ridicule.
    “Consider this near-final exchange:

Stewart: "[Ayn Rand was] an incredibly impressive person. Sheer force of will to drive this entire framework. But in some ways, her body of work is a refutation of the society that she wants. Because I don't think everyone, no matter what, could attain and accomplish what she did."
Burns: "Right, well she was creating ideals, things to aspire to. That's really what people take from her -- this vision of 'I can be the hero of my own life. I can aspire to be like John Galt or Howard Roark or Dagny Taggart.' That's what she wanted.
Stewart: She wrote "The Secret"!
Burns: "She sort of did. There is a lot of self-help and spiritual energy in these books, and a lot of people take that from her."
Stewart: "And a lot of dirty, dirty, dirty sex."
Burns: "This is true."
Stewart (slyly): "Oh, I've read."
    “That's the kind of interview that will intrigue people about Ayn Rand's ideas. Given what might have happened in that interview, I count it as a huge win.”

I’d have to agree:

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  1. Does the market suppose to work even where there is collapse. I mean total collapse, such as a magnitude that is so huge and unseen in the history of mankind since he came down from trees to build shelters on the ground and start trading with each other as humans?

    Such collapse will lead to lawlessness. So, if such scenario is likely, then I believe there must be some small government interventions here and there to prevent such likely scenario.

    A similar scenario that comes to mind was the Hurricane Katrina, where lawlessness nearly erupted into full scale.

    So, can someone enlighten us here regarding the hypothetical scenario that I have highlighted above.

  2. PC,

    I find Stewart generally on the unfunny side of purile, so was not expecting much either. But he engaged with a fair grade of respect, and Burns' replies helped that along. Overall a plus. Perhaps there's still those on the left who care about ideas enough to get into the arena... honest enough to know they need some.

  3. FF, I'd like to (briefly) answer your question this way.

    Firstly, why wouldn't the market work? "The market" can be as simple as, say, the exchange of eggs for tomatoes.

    Secondly, let's use (by coincidence) the Oct '89 SF quake as a small example.

    It happened just after 5pm on a mid-autumn evening, where in very short order it grew dark. Chaos ensued in certain parts of the city where the damage was greatest with major fires. No power, no phones (pre-cell era), no access to cash, nothing.

    Homeless people, bless their hearts, leapt into action & manually directed traffic at city intersections for hours, leaving police free to undertake emergency work. There was no looting - none. A code of ethics really did prevail.

    People provided shelter, possessions, food & drink to the displaced. Shopkeepers arranged their own credit systems with customers until services were re-established -- and the latter took some time.

    People were patient in traffic enduring massive delays & detours. In other words, it was a lousy time, but people sorted themselves out pretty well.

    Just a case in point. Cheers.

  4. Lambcut shrugs: Rand lacked intellectual rigor and was melodramatic to the point of silliness in the communication of her ideas. She wasn't taken seriously by academics then and she isn't now. She is not and never was any help to the right.

  5. Lambcut

    She's no help to the "right" because they are wrong. Simple really.


  6. @LAMBCUT: Well, if we're talking "lack of intellectual rigour" your own post has to be a leading example.

    Of supporting evidence there is none. But of silliness there is plenty, which is pretty good for so few words.

    And since Rand never intended to be "any help to the right," I'm pleased that you think she achieved that.

  7. FF,

    To your point on katrina: IF there was no expectation of government aid, and people knew that they would be left to their own devices, would the situation not have turned out differently? Surely more people would have evacuated earlier if they knew that there would be no help arriving later? Surely people would have been more prepared since they knew they were on their own?

    I think that (and this is purely my opinion) Katrina was a disaster caused not by a government not intervening, but by a government vaguely promising intervention. As Sus alluded: in LA after the quake nobody expected government to rebuild their houses, or provide their every need, so they "Made do, or did without", instead of sitting on their hands waiting for a saviour.

  8. Quoth the Raven21 Oct 2009, 18:57:00

    Far be it from me to defend Rand, but there are plenty of intellectuals interested in her work. Take Roderick Long for example and he's a lefty like myself.

  9. Falafulu Fisi,

    Objectivism recognizes that a free market can only exist to the degree that the use of physical force by one or more persons to gain, withhold, or destroy the values of another or others is absent. So Objectivism advocates a capitalist government in which the sole purpose of laws and their enforcement is to minimize such uses of force.

    Therefore, under a capitalist free market government, eradicating lawlessness is not only the government's first priority, it is its only priority. To the degree the government is successful, the market will be free, because no transactions can occur except by the free choice of the participants.


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