Aya Rand professed to believing in Objectivism “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 as his only absolute.” (according to wikipedia) What I take this to mean and what her followers seem to believe is that an individual’s wants (happiness) are more important than anything else. Selfishness is the name of the game. Altruism or supporting others defeats the purpose of life (to achieve our own happiness)and only holds us back. People don’t need others and shouldn’t depend on them. We are ultimately alone and should be happy that way.
For example, a woman is at a party and having a wonderful time. Her friend calls her and says “Hay, I’m in trouble and I need your help. Can you come pick me up?” If she subscribes to the Ayn Rand belief system the woman’s answer would be “No. I’m having a great time, you take care of your own problem.” At which point she would hang up. After all her happiness is all important and her friend shouldn’t need her help.
In fact in Ayn Rands version of the world that phone conversation would never happen because according to her, we are all strong and perfectly capable of being alone. We would never ask for help. But unfortunately we don’t live in a utopian world where no one needs anyone else, and we have all been in a situation where our wants (happiness) is at odds with another person’s needs. It is this very situation that defines us as a person. Choosing our wants above another’s needs, makes us selfish. Choosing their needs over our wants makes us altruistic.
I recently watched a documentary about Ayn Rands life and in it they say that she had an affair with a married man and kept it secret. She told the man that she loved him and needed him in her life. When after four years he fell in love with another woman and left her, she was unbelievably angry and called it a betrayal.
I feel that if she were truly a believer in her own Objectivism she would have lived her life by its tenants. If she really believed that people should be strong and not need others she probably would not have had an affair in the first place. She definitely wouldn’t have been unhappy when it ended or have been upset by his falling in love with someone else. She would not have seen it as a betrayal because she would have not have needed him in the first place. Her belief that it was a betrayal shows that she needed him to be in her life.
Ayn also claimed that no one could object to the affair, but by keeping it secret, she in essence was admitting that she knew people would disagree with what she was doing. Apparently peoples opinion of her was more important than her professed idealism.
Ultimately her actions were selfish, because they were at the expense of other people’s feelings, and in the end she did not believe that the man should care more about his own happiness than hers. She felt that he should be loyal to her and constant in his affection.
Science has recently come to the conclusion that co-operation and altruism plays a large role in the animal kingdom. The Vampire bat for example lives in large groups and goes out hunting every night. But only 40% or so of the bats are successful in finding blood. These bats need to consume blood every day in order to survive, therefore bats that come back to the cave and share blood are more likely to get blood on a night that they are unsuccessful at finding some. Meaning that sharing, saves lives. It’s not just an act of love, affection or devotion. Some would claim that it proves Ayns point, sharing in this context is essentially selfish. Perhaps the altruistic drive is selfish in the long run, but in the short run it is not. Those bats could not share and consume all the blood they collected. Just like that party girl above. But we have a phrase for that “cutting off your own nose to spite your face”. But these bats are a simple example. In human relationships many altruistic acts don’t necessarily expect a return on favors. We know that giving is its own reward.
But what interests me in the story of the selfish party girl is that I’m almost positive that no one would choose to have her as a friend. But I wonder if those that subscribe to Ayn Rands philosophy would choose to -be- the party girl in the story?
Ultimately Ayn Rands ideas are very appealing to the selfish among us, because they pretend that we don’t need to sacrifice our wants. That we can treat others however we want to with no consequence. That being successful is own own achievement, independent of others. That individuals are all important, society should have no rules and that we should never have to sacrifice for others, ever.
In essence her ideas ignore reality. Reality is that humans are frail. We cannot survive alone. We would die if our mothers and fathers did not raise us and protect us. If they chose not to do this we would be lost. We are dependent on the good will and support of society. We are not independent. Altruism, loyalty, and love, contrary to her opinion are not holding us back, they are what made us thrive as a species, and make us who we are today. If the human race is to continue we can’t all be party girls living at the expense of others.