Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A is A

You owe it to yourself to read the front page article in this month's issue of Reason magazine. It discusses the interesting life and troublesome ideas of "libertarian" thinker/author/novelist Ayn Rand on the event of the 100th anniversary of her birth.

I said "libertarian" because Rand is often connected with the libertarian way of thought and argument. I imagine this is because of her unabashed support for free markets, open trade and individualism. Rand, however, rejected the entire libertarian movement because it relied on many causes and arguments for liberty instead of Rand's sole reliance on reason.

Ever since I encountered the ideas of Ayn Rand they have interested me and troubled me at the same time. I have always been an advocate of a society of individuals free to pursue their destinies provided they do not damage the life or property of others. Unencumbered by weighty government regulation and needless laws, I envision a society of minimal government and high personal responsibility, where people are free to live their lives.

On this, I agree with Rand. Her ideas that I find puzzling are her stances on religion, philosophy and reason. First, religion. I am not a particularly religious person (at least in any formal sense) and Rand herself was a life-long atheist. She saw no value in religion, even to the point of a Marxian "opiate of the people" stance, calling religion the path to servitude and weakness. While not religious myself, I recognize that religion helps people in their lives and can even give it meaning. I have known several "true believers" in my day and they are well-adjusted, successful people. Religion seems unreasonable, so Rand rejected it. Simple as that? It shouldn't be.

Second, philosophy and reason. The center of Rand's philosophy is reason. What irked me the most about her beating the reader over the head with reason as if she had invented it. Reason has been a central idea in Western philosophy for thousands of years. Plato, Aristotle, the Pre-Socratics, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, Bishop Berkeley, Spinoza, Descartes (I could go on, but you get the point). Reason is a central notion in exploring human thought. I cannot believe, however, that all behaviors, all humans in all they think, do and say could ever act completely as reasonable. Some of the greatest things about BEING HUMAN are those things that seem to never make sense/are unreasonable. It is what maintains the spice and grit of real life on earth, not some fantasy world of heroic architects, evil compassionate villains with feelings and uncompromising reason.

I don't think anyone could honestly live like that. It would suck the very joy and wonderment out of life, leaving it cold bland and mathematical. If that is how it is to be, then I want no part of it.

So, where does that leave us vis-a-vis the erstwhile Ms. Rand? Like anything, she must be considered for what she is/is not, dealt with mentally and learned from in whatever way possible. Read a few of her books and see what you think, but beware! Maintain critical focus and see her not for what her supporters (who are organized and somewhat scary) or detractors. If you are really interested, read the books by Mimi Gladstein and Chris Schiabarra mentioned in the Reason article.

Make up your own mind for a change. Maybe not reasonable, but it will be yours.

Isn't that what we do as flawed creatures trying to make sense of it all?

No comments: