Our place in history ...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A flashback posting by request:

For SRFC and all others who have found themselves talking Ayn Rand around the dinner table/over the phone since Thanksgiving ...


A Corrolary to Ayn Rand's Philosophy
By Unai Montes-Irueste '98
Published on Monday, October 20, 1997
THE DARTMOUTH (thedartmouth.com)

Like many Dartmouth students and Upper Valley residents I recently attended the viewing of Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life and was instantly reminded of the controversy incited by this author's life and works. Perhaps most noteworthy for me was the painful reminder of Rand's view of the absolute and supreme value of human selfishness, citing it as the only true manifestation of human rights such as freedom and the embodiment of the most distinct human characteristics, namely logic and reason. However, while I do not wish this piece of writing to embody any sort of debate over Rand's hierarchical establishment of the individual far above the collective, I do wish to add a corollary to what I understand a central thesis of her philosophy to be.

Rand concludes that capitalism's inherent value stems from its embodiment of objectivism in that an individual can rationally decide what they would like to do (what job they would like/what role in society they wish to play) and can subsequently retain the earnings and material gains associated with the choice they have made. The author sees this as not only the key to unlocking the positive selfishness in human nature, but also as the best way to ensure that individual freedom to auto-determine their goals, values and mores based on their rational and logical understanding of the material world.

Taking this summary of Rand's views and assuming that they are true, we are forced to also admit to ourselves that, in order for these ideas to be actualized in an "ideal" way, societal conditions of ceteris peribus must exist. Indeed, for any individual to have the ability to choose what they will be and to define their value systems based on a sophisticated understanding of the world around them, that individual must be both educated enough to make an informed decision of what direction/career he/she wishes to pursue, as well as informed enough about the conditions prevalent in different sectors of society for he/she to draw conclusions about what dynamics and rules one individual's relationship with other individuals ought to be based upon.

Rand's ability to attain a university education was a privilege which allowed her the education to determine and define her career expectations and her self-expectations. Her first hand contact with the people and cultures of several European cultures, including that of her Russian birthland, provided her enough first hand information to successfully define her philosophy of objectivism and provided greater substance for her arguments in favor of individualism, as well as in opposition of collectivism.

Yet, Ayn Rand, without her formal education or the information gained from the first hand experiences of her life, is not capable of becoming one of the most controversial and influential female figures of the 20th century. Her contact with difference in the framework of philosophical ideas in text and via exposure to a plurality of cultures in travel provide the necessary depth and dimension to her pre-existing individual talent to overcome such barriers as a heavy Russian accent and sexism in Western society.

In the 1960s many individuals criticized capitalist orders because of their inherent contradictions and prevalent inequalities. One standard philosophy which provided weight for many of these criticisms was Marxism; and while many of those who sympathized with Marx's ideas were not themselves Marxists, they nonetheless came to embody radical leftism, revolution and the war against the concentration of wealth and private property. I in no way wish to pit Rand as the defender of capitalism against Marx, but I do wish to use Marxism as a key to understanding a loophole in Rand's conclusions.

Marx sought to erase class barriers between people and to place all persons in a society upon the same level, while Rand pushed for all individuals to selfishly pursue a course in life which they had rationally defined for themselves. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive. In order for someone to selfishly pursue their chosen course in life they must have the ability to define their own talents and be allotted the same opportunities to arrive at their maximum expression of individuality as all other individuals in society. In short, all persons must be equally prepared for individualism by having been exposed as individuals to the options which are theoretically available to all individuals in a non-legally or socially discriminating society.

Take me for example. Had I not had the advantage of having relatively educated parents as a child I perhaps would have not come to know the world of higher education as something easily achievable for me. Had I not had the experience of living in a diverse community in Southern California I perhaps would not have reached an early understanding of the often blurry line between class and race/ethnicity in contemporary US America.

Had I not come to Dartmouth, I perhaps would not have had the chance to academically compare the role of political and economic actors in other countries, and the ways of living and different value systems of peoples living in different communities throughout the Americas. As a result of experiential and academic learning I can now effectively realize Rand's philosophies if I wish to, but that is only because I am in essence more "equal" today to those who Marx would eventually expect me to overthrow than I would have been had I been born to parents without formal education, and/or if I had never come to Dartmouth.

Had I been born into a family where poverty always dominated family concerns creating doubt over the togetherness of my household and wonder as to how my immediate needs would be satiated; had I lived in one neighborhood my whole life in which adolescent pregnancy, violence, alcohol abuse and drug distribution were more prevalent than the presence of professional and educated individuals; had I not had the opportunity to formerly learn the language of my parents (often important to the children of immigrants such as myself) so that I could express my feelings over my extended family to them in writing; had I not had the opportunity to take classes on the history of Latino/Hispanics in the United States which allowed me a greater understanding of the reasons that many Latino/Hispanic immigrants had not been able to achieve what other immigrant communities in the US had been able to achieve in terms of social mobility and per-capita wealth, I would not be able to fully unlock the selfishness inherent in my human nature, nor would I be able to exercise my freedom to auto-determine my goals, values and mores because I would have no logical and rational understanding of a material world in which I, a contributing number to the US census statistical data on Latino/Hispanics am more likely to die young of AIDS, poverty/lack of adequate health care, gang violence, or simply end up in prison than my white/Caucasian statistical counterpart.


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