Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Aaronson stomps Rand

I really need to try to at least skim Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead. I've only read bits of the originals; the stupidity burned.

I think I was too old when I came across them, they need to be read in early adolescence.

I need to read them now because, like Intelligent Design and climate change denialism, they're a form of pseudo-rationalism with impressive cultural persistence. If I read them, I can join the rationalist counter-attack with a clean conscience.

In the meantime I can only point to Scott Aaronson's monster takedown: Shtetl-Optimized - The complement of Atlas Shrugged.

I can't recall such as smash job outside of the, well, the past 8 years of reviews of the Bush administration. Aaronson doesn't merely rend Randism, he burns the shreds in a plasma canon.

Number 3 is just one of 10 ...

... Family. Whittaker Chambers (of pumpkin patch fame) pointed out this startling omission in his review of 1957. The characters in Atlas mate often enough, but they never reproduce, or even discuss the possibility of reproduction (if only to take precautions against it). Also, the only family relationships portrayed at length are entirely negative in character: Rearden’s mother, brother, and wife are all contemptible collectivists who mooch off the great man even as they despise him, while Dagny’s brother Jim is the wretched prince of looters. Any Republicans seeking solace in Atlas should be warned: Ayn Rand is not your go-to philosopher for family values (much less “Judeo-Christian” ones).

If Rand had had to deal with the disability of childhood, injury, heredity or age her stark brutality would have been inescapable.

1 comment:

Richard said...

Aaronson's 'stomps' utterly miss their target.

When Aaronson speaks of his "Aynfatuation around the age of 14" he immediately reveals 1) his bias and 2) paper-thin depth of understanding, .

Anyone over 25, could surely grasp the rarity of a 14 year old who is so well-versed in the realities of the world —and in philosophy itself—, who can draw an adequate understanding of Rand's multilevel meanings. Yet Aaronson would have us believe he was THAT thorough and knowledgeable a child!

First, I suggest readers examine the following partial(!) rebuttals to Chambers's dishonest review of Atlas Shrugged. They may be found here, and here. Chambers's review is so laughably at odds with the actual nature of Atlas Shrugged that one could easily believe Chambers never properly read it.

Aaronson's first two points,
1. Recent technologies and
2. Curiosity about the physical universe,
simply demand that Rand include ideas that HE thinks are important, while disregarding those she DID include. What would such extra ideas, as those Aaronson expects, contribute to the theme and plot of the story? —Nothing. The more abstract arguments Rand presents in Atlas Shrugged acknowledge the value of such ideas without naming them. A thinking reader will not need Aaronson's extra concretes to grasp their value.

3. Family
Aaronson relies on Chambers for this. Chambers completely ignores the lives of the children in Galt's Gulch. Children whose mother was devoted to and sought to educate rationally. Rand's non-fiction deals with children and education in several ways, most notable is her article "The Comprachicos".

4. Angular vs Shapeless People, and
5. Personalities

It is remarkable that people who complain about the way Rand handles appearance and characterization also complain that the book is too long. She only included what was germane to the plot and theme, more would have been silly pandering to those who need to know what sort of make-up Dagny used, and whether she ever read Archie comics as a teenager.

6. Positive portrayal of uncertainty
Aaronson writes, "being uncertain—with admitting you’re wrong, changing your mind, withholding judgment—simply does not exist in Rand’s universe." Neither Rand's novel, nor any philosophy, constitutes a complete prescription for solving every issue with which humans are faced. If you wish to understand her view of uncertainty then, for goodness sake, study her "An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology", examine Leonard Peikoff's explanation of the epistemological status of the certain, the probably, the possible and the arbitrary. This also applies to
7. Honest Disagreements.

8. History
I can only think that Aaronson implicitly believes Rand should have written her novel as a single tutorial for him. E.g. does he not know that the Nazis were socialists? She sure did. What would "real events, like (say) World War II or the Cold War" contribute to her novel? Nothing, even for Aaronson, if he were willing to think through the more abstract ideas, grasp them, and then apply them to real events himself.

9. Efficient evil people. Again Aaronson drops the context of the novel, which is focusing on the proper and productive running of a railroad. To then, incredibly, bring in the Holocaust constitutes the same level of wickedness as Chambers's review. Were the Nazi railroads to the gas chambers "efficient"?? The Nazis destroyed their entire country and the lives of millions upon millions of people, through their own belief system. If self destruction is "efficient" then Aaronson might have a point, but he Steals the Concept of efficiency by disregarding what efficiency is for! That is, he narrows its meaning so as to exclude the aforementioned destruction, solely to make his point. Such intellectual techniques fall into the realm of rationalization.

10. Ethnicity
Aaronson could have grasped, from Rand's fiction alone, that what matters is the character and mind of a man. To invoke ethnicity suggests that skin-color HAS importance to him. It did not to Rand. In faulting her for that, he puts himself on the side of bigotry. If he means multicultural differences, then he makes a similar error, except inferior cultures are inferior and he seeks to pretend otherwise.

In conclusion, for someone who has read both of her major novels, Aaronson is shockingly out of touch with Rand's ideas, and has no grasp of their incredible misrepresentation by Whittaker Chambers.

Since both novels are about thinking for oneself, he has done more to demonstrate his failure to do so, than to actually find fault with Rand's ideas.

Gordon might also want to grasp that lesson.