Thursday, August 6, 2009

Being Ayn Rand

Earlier this week an astute young lady wrote a piece on Ayn Rand, "Tribute to the American Businessman", that was very thoughtful. I have long been a reader of Rand and very much appreciate her solid steal-trap mind. As with with all of us, our history weighs on our outlook. The fact that Rand grew up in Russia during the oppressive Bolshevik regime has undoubtedly influenced her lone voice of individualism and objectivism. Each person is responsible for his or her actions and the objectivity is sought after. This I understand. But the question is who's doing the objectifying? Usually a subjective being.

Besides individual responsibilities, there are collective responsibilities as well. There is individualism and collectivism. There is objectivism and subjectivism. There are those that encourage and enable us to do the right thing, that change or subjective sense. Others are important even in if they are examples of what not to do. Rand does acknowledge this. But it is always the case with such a one, even with Jesus Christ himself, that interpretations often prevail. Rand, though, without a doubt, has written enough so we can get a clear picture of what it meant by ojectivism.

It is indeed very difficult to be totally objective. Rand's philosophy itself points to this, even to the apparent destruction of her personal life. She had isolated so many people, even those who really cared for her. Having read more than a few biographies on her, it appears as if her individualism and intense objectivism perhaps caused her to objectify others. This is always a great danger. The danger is that is that objectivism or subjectivism relies on both us and others outside of ourselves to even be crystallized or understood. Other matter confirm or reject our understanding, whether they are present or absent, in the mind or actual, and how this is crystallized is how others receive it. Rand seemed to sometimes miss this very basic knowing.

Rand's work is appreciated very much, neither do I stand in judgment of her personal journey either. But it is important to consider sometimes the whole writer, especially in matters of philosophy. While Rand is an icon in the business world, former Fed Chairman, Alan Greenspan, was a friend and devotee, it is important to always consider that she was basically a philosopher and was not herself a businesswoman. Sometimes it's far easier to philosophize than to actualize. There is no disrespect intended here at all.

Most of us, philosophize instead of actualize often on a whole host of things. We are hearers and speakers and not doers. This, however, does not necessarily negate the truth of words if the words are spoken and not done. But it most certainly can negatively affect others, especially impressionable minds, and these are not merely kids and young people. Our existence here is not merely about us, but about others. So, in our speaking it is important that we seek to live out our words. But there is no ill-judgement from me, as I am well aware that we are on this journey at different places.

The desire to distinguish between philosophizing and actualizing is very important in business. It is not about whether one can have good ideas as I see it, but about whether these good ideas can be actualized in real settings where human relations matter most, even if all else is essential. For example, I can sit in my office day after day and think of brilliant ideas. If I never put those ideas to action, if I never test them which usually include other matter, what is the efficacy of the ideas? People matter. Other people and the philosophy by which we integrate our ideas are very important. But without action they are words words words. Faith (belief) without works (action) is dead."

If the mind alone is actualization, as Rand has been purported to believe, it can be a great detriment to business. The mind can be a debilitating crippling thing, even with, especially with a philosophy. The mind itself does not necessarily propel action. On a physiological level, if this was so paraplegics would be able to move their arms and legs and walk, as their mind alone would propel them to do so. They are certainly thoughtful.

While there are missing signals to the brain, paraplegics often say that they can walk, but they cannot. I am now thinking of the brilliant physicist, Stephen Hawking. He cannot even talk on his own, but his mind is more sharp and active than most. I am incredibly in awe of him. Hmm? I guess what he does would be most certainly considered action. He is also not a businessman, producing products or services in trade. His ideas, however, propel others into action, i.e., into space etc.

The immobility of our actions, yet the constant contemplating of our minds, often brings about a malaise in business. Thinking is never enough for anything. When considering children, if we do not teach them through our daily reinforcement of words and actions propelled by conscious thought, they would never be taught. They would not evolve beyond infancy even though their bodies will develop. The integration that Rand speaks of is one of the mind but requires action beyond it. As paraplegics there are many missing signals without action. The mind alone is not enough and it is often other matter that propels us to actualization. We are helpers one to another and this include matter of all kind. I learn from trees. "I see trees as men."

Here is Rand on objectivism:
You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational convictions – or a grab bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew.

But the principles you accept (consciously or unconsciously) may clash with or contradict one another; they too have to be integrated. What integrates them? Philosophy. A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation, or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown.
- -Ayn Rand, 1974 "Philosophy: Who Needs It?"

Statements like these are the reasons I so admire Rand. She is a powerful thinker. It is clear that she understands the necessity of what Hegel wrote of and Sartre later determined as being in the world for oneself and being in the world for others. It is always a constant integration, often both known and unknown. It seems that Rand’s interest is lining up the subconscious so that action is better directed. The "ball and chain" about which she spoke is an undisciplined mind. But I know very many disciplined people who are a far cry from great entrepreneurs. In fact, many of my business friends who really are very successful in business did not even go to college. This may simply mean that there are various forms of discipline which in one sense undermines objectivism. If there are many objectivities, are these not subjectivities?

Rand's notion that the basics of capitalism is trade, instead of a coercion, is readily acknowledged. But to leave it up to the State or the markets, without regulation is to essentially have coercion. At the best of capitalism is freedom. This is the core of her philosophy that I so appreciate and this is what I was most referring to when I spoke of her history influencing her philosophy. From my very basic spiritual base there is no better system than capitalism, as choice is even the basics of my faith. But capitalism without restraint and a moral compass is destructive as we have seen. "Money answers all things."


DB said...

I think, with a few possible exceptions, action precedes inspiration and life precedes philosophy. Rand says we can't halp having a philosophy, but we also can't help being subjective. Objectivism may be a process of putting the pieces together in a moral and rational way, but where do those pieces come from if not from living and experiencing.

One day, in a conference, the speaker asked if anyone in the room had read all of Atlas Shrugged. I raised my hand. I think I was the only one who did. There is no doubt that her books, that and The Fountinhead, in particular, influenced my thinking and behavior in many ways.

Ideas put into practice create more ideas. The final result may be philosophy. In fact, I think it is. But it is not the first principle. Action is. And action begins with desire.


Judith Ellis said...

Thank you, DB, for your thoughtful response, as always, dear sir. I agree with much of what you have written. I am, however. in doubt that action precede thought. Action begin with desire but without thought there is no action. I doubt it seriously if we ever act without thought. There may be reflexes but it would seem to me that such at one particular time was formed through thought, sense memory, past experiences, etc.

I appreciate in particular these words: "Objectivism may be a process of putting the pieces together in a moral and rational way, but where do those pieces come from if not from living and experiencing."

The fact that "ideas put into practice create more ideas" has been born out again and again. What I find incredibly infinitely exciting is that once action begins what you thought was so isn't exactly as your had thought a bit down the road. Adjustments are needed and clarity ensues.

I also agree that philosophy should be the last result after thought and ideas. But often it is not.

Thanks again, DB.

DB said...

Of course there is thought, there is always thought. We never stop thinking. But is it calculation, concentration or contemplation? When I say action begins with desire it has to use an active type of thought. One doesn't unually say "Gee, I wonder if I should eat something." One usually says "I'm hungry" then the calculation begins because action is needed. Once you are fed is the time to contemplate the meaning of having had dinner. DB

Judith Ellis said...

OK, DB. I got it. With regards to your three distinction of thought, there may not be a clear-cut distinction between these, though they seem distinct. Can we think without contemplation, calculation and concentration? They are all the matter of judgment. I'm not sure if any of these three are without the other. It seems like a natural function of the brain to reason through elimination. With regards to your food example, before saying "I'm hungry," I wonder if there is some sort of eliminating process. Perhaps this is biological. But there maybe the question before the knowing as in before saying "I'm hungry."

By the way, we are engaging here in precisely what holds many businesspersons back from action: this pondering of what comes first or an over exaggeration of what to do based on what comes first. Now, as a lover of philosophy, in particular ontology, phenomenology, and empiricism, I could go on and on. It's enjoyable. But many businesspersons seem to believe that if they think about a thing over and over again that essentially that's action enough. I know this is not your belief. But it is that of many as evident in their not doing.

DB said...

Judith, I appreciate you reasoning on this subject. I mentioned those three activities of the mind, but of course there are many others, such as imagination, intuition, expansion of a thought or idea, design and so on. Yes I think they all can work together. Having had little experience in the business world, I haven't observed business people thinking and not doing. In the performing arts there is no such thing as thinking without doing, except among the laggards in rehearsal. I tend to measure human action in terms of objectives, but that does not mean there is no subjectivity involved. On the other hand, I have witnessed doing without thinking which can be a disastrous process for art, personal life and, I'm sure, business.

Judith Ellis said...

DB - I too appreciate your reasoning and I do not mind having such discussions at all. In fact, I value it.

Having spent many years in the arts and business, there is not difference in that both require thought and action. Actually, is there anything that's worthwhile that doesn't require both?

I have been a performaning artist for many years. There are without a doubt many levels of thinking that go into preparation and performance. In fact, when a role is done repeatedly as you well know, various thinking is needed to keep the role fresh and your audience with you. The same is true of business which require innovation and constant change to be competitive and to keep your customer base.

With regards to doing without thinking, there is undoubtedly quite a lot of thing that we do by route or habitually that do not require thinking, like walking, riding a bike, or driving a stick shift. After we have learned these things they become second nature. We don't need to think about doing these things or be innovative or creative.

For the most part, I concur that thinking in relation to just about all else is paramount. But actions is equally as essential, as I know that you agree. By the way, what would make a Laurence Olivier different from an actor on off off broadway if they are giving the same cast and blocking on the same stage and in the same theater. I think individuals bring their experience, passion and understanding to each role. The same is true in business. Though, the supporting cast or team members in business matter a lot.

DB said...

Judith, thank you for your explanations about the business world. It's true we can do many things habitually that we don't have to think about, or think through. When I mentioned those who act without thinking, I was meaning the fools who rush in where angels don't. I have seen fights happen because there was action, reaction and no thinking.

Judith Ellis said...

The end of your comment made me think of a saying that a friend emailed me this morning about blogging and discussion. They are often "not a forum for reflective dialogue. Too much heat; not enough light."

I hope that is never the case here. Of course, with you commenting, DB, we can be assured that this will never be the case here. :-) Thanks for your comments, always.

Dave Wheeler said...

Judith and DB,

Thank you for that terrific and thoughtful exchange. Gives me much to think about...the fusion of personal and business philosophies for one. What is the better road to travel given the fact that our "philosophy" is linked to our knowledge and experience?

Judith Ellis said...

Dave - Honesty is always the best policy. If we are honest and willing, we will continue to be open and challenge our own beliefs. This is the forever becoming.

Dave Wheeler said...


"Honesty is always the best policy. If we are honest and willing, we will continue to be open and challenge our own beliefs. This is the forever becoming."

To true...the abiliy to be open and step outside one's self can make life better and much interesting indeed!

Judith Ellis said...

Dave - I am not sure if we ever truly step outside of ourselves. But what I know for sure is that in trying to do so we hear others better and through this hearing who we are is challenged and changes. I am humbled when I hear others in this way. In so doing I hear myself.

Meena said...

Wow, love the post and comments. I'm not going to comment on it all, but I do love this line:

"The mind can be a debilitating crippling thing, even with, especially with a philosophy."

I believe there you have encapsulated the heart and source of what is often termed depression - a mind with an idea, but an idea that cannot be realized ... maybe cause of action or lack of ability to action