Rand’s Evolutionary Psychology

It’s about time I finished off my Randian piece from earlier.

I’ve finished reading “Atlas Shrugged” a few days ago. Actually I gave up about 300 pages from the end (of 1000), after Galt’s speech to his “troops” in their secret Utopian Atlantis, and could only bring myself to skim the rest including his speech to his “fellow Americans” across the public air-waves. 

I guess it’s a book of its times; hopelessly McArthyist and US-centric in its early 50’s outlook, and no surpise that Rand’s main message is about the good of the individual vs the bad of the collective. I really tried, but I could not discern any argument to support that, or any basis of what makes good other than progress in some sense. No Pirsigian would argue with that, but the whole basis just looked like alien straw-men to me. The whole first two thirds of the book, about the rise of self-made industrialists and then their demise under collective “bad government” is a great argument for the value of “freedom” and a case for needing “good” government, but absolutely no basis for defining either freedom or good, or concluding that any form of collective government is necessarily bad.

Those first two thirds are just so fictionally implausible, not to mention wretchedly written as Alice pointed out, that the final third set in that Utopia where entrepreneurs have withdrawn their services from society at large is just too naive to swallow. A germ of an interesting idea ruined by a dreadful book. I just could not suspend disbelief for 1000 pages.

OK, so why after that does Rand’s “objectivism” look just like evolutionary psychology too ? Let’s be honest here, even Pirsig was writing about society’s values going to the dogs in the 50’s – in our time. Chalk or cheese, it’s still the moon we’re looking at. The trouble is Rand ends where Pirsig started – and what is “good” Phaedrus.

Rand’s objectivism is summarised in her own words “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason his only absolute.” The only clue as to why she sees this as “objectivism” is in the metaphysical foundation of reason. The real clues are in man, his, his, his ….

In fact she further summarises her philosophy as follows :

1. Metaphysics – objective reality
“Nature to be commanded must be obeyed”

2. Epistemology – reason
“You can’t eat your cake and have it too”

3. Ethics – self-interest
“Man is an end in himself”

4. Politics – capitalism
“Given me liberty or give me death”

The confusion here is the implied “man” – the species. She doesn’t say individual, but she does say me, me, me …. (Elsewhere it is clear she abhors any collective concepts.) Clearly she sees man as part of nature and mind as man’s defining tool. Although she doesn’t say it in so many words – she shares the Pirsigian view that the biological and social must not limit the intellectual.

Though logically irrelevant I can excuse her anthropocentric presumption of “man” as the pinnacle of reason (so far). Despite her abhorrence also of determinism – god given or otherwise- she ultimately fails to see that her “absolute” view of the existence of reason and mind places them outside the nature of creativity and progress she holds so dear in other aspects of reality.

Trapped in a psychology that doesn’t recognise its own evolution.
Phew ! May I never have to suffer reading her words again.

[Post note : to follow-up – man’s aim, happiness. Mill, utilitarianism, Heylighen.]

One thought on “Rand’s Evolutionary Psychology”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.