Movies

Atlas Meets The Godfather Meets Braveheart

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Dagny Taggart almost got into the olive oil business in 1972, when

…15 years after the publication of Atlas, [Albert S.] Ruddy, fresh from producing "The Godfather," decided to make a run at Rand, who was already in her late 60s. Atlas Shrugged, let's face it, was probably the most important novel of the 20th century that was never a film,' he said." …

Rand told Ruddy she has worried the "Soviets might try to take over Paramount to block the project."

"I told her, 'The Russians aren't that desperate to wreck your book,'" Ruddy recalled in a recent interview with the International Herald Tribune.

Now there's another effort to make Atlas into a movie, starring Angelina Jolie. Delivery of a screenplay written by Randall Wallace, who wrote "Braveheart," is expected this month. The film is being produced by the team that made "Ray."

At least Wallace won't have one of the hurdles that Ruddy faced: Ayn Rand herself.

Rand's agents warned him to expect rejection, he said, but reluctantly set up an appointment. Ruddy said he warned Rand that it was not her ideas that interested him. "Forget philosophy," he said. "The abstract of the story is quite lovely: the power and the sustainability of the great individual, of the creative person, of the entrepreneur." Rand, he said, "thought that was brilliant, because that's how she saw her book," as a story first.

But Ruddy refused to grant Rand final script approval, and their courtship quickly broke off. "It's a fool's game to spend a lot of money and time only to have her say, 'I think you should take this out,'" he said. So, he recalled, he told Rand that he would wait for her to "drop dead" and then make the movie on his own terms.

Via A&L Daily

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  1. So, he recalled, he told Rand that he would wait for her to “drop dead” and then make the movie on his own terms.

    How very Randian of him.

  2. Way back when in the 70’s, SIL NEWS had a casting survey for Atlas. Anybody have the winners’ list? It would be interesting to see who should be cast in 2007 vs. then. As I recall, Diana Rigg won for “Dagny.”

  3. As long as we’re talking about people who are difficult to work with…

    Will the set designer dynamite the studio near the end of production, when he realizes that the movie can never live up to his vision and the studio executives who will profit from his work are all ideological enemies?

    Oh, wait, wrong novel. Sorry.

  4. I actually just saw the 1949 version of The Fountainhead. It was absolutely hilarious, although I am not sure if that’s because of the difference in film style, or because it truly was an awful screenplay (Rand wrote it herself). I didn’t really even like the book all that much.

    “I’m sorry I ever showed you my…. building.”

  5. I remember that 70’s poll and I too voted for Diana Rigg.

    Emma Peel, Emma Peel
    Soft as velvet, Hard as steel

  6. Oh wow, I can’t wait to never see another movie with Angelina Jolie. Big actors can only ruin a big book movie, especially with all the baggage today’s stars carry.

  7. Will there be a part for Jennifer Aniston?

  8. all the baggage today’s stars carry

    That’s why actors must resort to, um, acting, Lamar.

  9. Aniston is the obvious choice to play Lillian Rearden. I must admit i kind of have a love hate relationship with Atlas Shrugged. I admire the ideas but find so much of the drama ludicrous. Maybe it’s just because so many of the ideas are no longer as radical as they used to be, but John Galt’s 100 page speech at the end was painful to read. Of course I already believed most of what he said anyways…

  10. It was only 60 pages. But yes (har har) it seemed like 100.

  11. I think Ahnold would find her ideas pretty radical.

    But he wouldn’t remember for very long either.

  12. Until now, at least, no one in Hollywood has figured out a formula that promises both to sell popcorn and to do justice to the original text…

    I used to believe it impossible. After Peter Jackson’s fantastic work with the Rings trilogy, though, I’m not so sure.

  13. Ruddy said he warned Rand that it was not her ideas that interested him.

    That’s a good sign – maybe the movie will actually be watchable. I don’t think mainstream movie audiences are desperate for an interminable rant about the virtue of wealth. Who wants to pay for a movie just to be lectured about how it’s your own damn fault you’re not fabulously wealthy?

    John Galt’s 100 page speech at the end was painful to read. Of course I already believed most of what he said anyways…

    It’s easy to believe if, say, you’re an upper-middle class college student, which neatly describes all of the Ayn Rand fans I’ve met. If that speech was delivered by Robert Nardelli – the former Home Depot exec who made hundreds of millions for lousy performance – would you still find it appealing? Steve Jobs or Bill Gates could pull it off, but I can’t believe that anyone is still under the illusion that all of the “captains of industry” are driving human progress and deserve their wealth.

  14. Will it be better than Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix?

  15. Dave T, I believe that Rand started her career as a screenwriter on contract, so maybe you just don’t like old movies. Actually, I don’t like very many old movies either. Didn’t care for the Fountainhead myself (movie or book).

    he recalled, he told Rand that he would wait for her to “drop dead” and then make the movie on his own terms….

    LOL, except now he has to deal with the Water Boy. I can’t imagine Piekoff being any easier to deal with with than Rand.

    Dagny Taggart almost got into the olive oil business in 1972, when..

    Nice segue Ms MW.

  16. Nat, you and I think the Home Depot guy was a putz and that he was grossly overcompensated. But nobody put a gun to the Board of Directors collective head and offered to spill their brains onto the conference table if they didn’t sign that contract with Nardelli.

    Lots of options for you and I starting with shopping at Lowes and not buying Home Depot stock.

  17. It actually is a pretty neat story. A good screenwriter will make the characters more believable, which was my main problem with the book–Rand had something of a tin ear for how people really interact.

    The problem with objectivism is not its ideas–I believe they are true to a large extent. The problem is that everyone who reads it comes to think they’re one of the elite, even if they aren’t, so most objectivists I’ve met are insufferably arrogant pricks. (I’m humble enough to admit I’m no John Galt).

    John Galt: There Can Be Only One.

  18. upper-middle class college student, which neatly describes all of the Ayn Rand fans I’ve met

    My mother was a poor high school grad who married at 18, raised 6 kids, and never set foot in a college. She loves Rand’s novels.

  19. Nat,

    I’m still OK as a philosophical point that the profit motive is not a bad thing relative to human transaction. The CEO problem to me is one of valuation. Comparing magic motor for medical care versus the Janitor making 25k, the CEO $250M (yeah, yeah free market, I know).

    Rand’s biggest gap for me is on children and procreation – a huge function of humanity that she illuminated not at all.

  20. everyone who reads it comes to think they’re one of the elite, even if they aren’t

    Generalize much, jb?

  21. The main problem I have with Rand is that altruism, at least the way she defined it, is a philisophical illusion. She didn’t really seem to respect choice any more than the system against which she fought.

    – Rick

  22. I am a huge Rand fan. Some may say a bit of a Rand hack. Atlas Shrugged is my favorite novel. (Disclosure: Nat Echols nailed it on the head; I am, in fact a middle-class college student.)

    That said, I really hope this movie doesn’t happen.

  23. “That’s why actors must resort to, um, acting, Lamar.”

    After popping a lung laughing thinking about Angelina Jolie’s “acting,” I realized that the stars have nothing to do with it. While it surely is absurd to say that Jolie can act well enough to make us forget her celebrity antics, this isn’t the point. I want to see a movie that takes me somewhere else, not to the front pages of US Weekly.

  24. I’ve always felt the best work Rand did was We the Living, and I could see Jolie as the protagonist (in fact, I’m seeing it right now in my mind)…

  25. i’m hoping for a will to power lite version of battlefield earth myself.

  26. There’s only one John Galt: The rest of you are second-handers.

  27. Somehow, through the dim mists of memory I recall that the late Natalie Wood was once slated to play Dagny Taggart in a proposed film version of Atlas Shrugged. Sometime back in the 70’s I think it was. She’d have been believable.

  28. I want to see a movie that takes me somewhere else, not to the front pages of US Weekly.

    Agree 100%. Also, if this comes to pass, I won’t be able to concentrate on the movie because those big fat lips are so disturbing. The inevitable appearance of Brad Pitt will ease that, however.

  29. I admire the ideas but find so much of the drama ludicrous.

    Pretty much sums up every Ayn Rand novel for me. I liked Anthem. Interesting read and mercifuly short.

    most objectivists I’ve met are insufferably arrogant pricks.

    Some of them can be, for sure, as well as close-minded, frustratingly obtuse and lacking in a sense of humor. The big difference are people who simply like her ideas as opposed to people who are obsessed by them or want to exemplify the Objectivist ideal.

    And Howard Roark is probably the most boring protagonist in literature history. Yeah, the movie with Gary Cooper was pretty dismal.

    The main problem I have with Rand is that altruism, at least the way she defined it, is a philisophical illusion. She didn’t really seem to respect choice any more than the system against which she fought.

    Both the Prometheus Institute and (surprisingly) Nathaniel Brandon have interesting critiques of Objectivism and Rand.

    Here
    http://www.prometheusinstitute.net/philosophy/objectivism1.htm

    and Here
    http://rous.redbarn.org/objectivism/Writing/NathanielBranden/BenefitsAndHazards.html

  30. Brad Pitt as John Galt will be okay, I guess. But if casting is going to be based largely upoon whom Angelina is romantically involved with, it would have been much more interesting to have made this move several years ago when she was married to Billy Bob Thornton. Now, there’s a Galt.

  31. I agree that Angelina would make a terrible Dagny…yet, I’m having difficulty thinking of exactly which modern actress would be a believable fit.

  32. I won’t be able to concentrate on the movie because those big fat lips are so disturbing.

    Don’t forget the boobies.

  33. Johnny Depp would have to make an appearance as Danneskjold.

  34. Dagny: Angelina Jolie. Francisco D’Anconia: Benicio Del Toro. Hank Rearden: Johnny Depp. Ellis Wyatt: Edward Norton. Eddie Willers: Phillip Seymour Hoffman. James Taggart: Paul Giammati. Lillian Rearden: Julia Roberts. Midas Mulligan: Michael Clarke Duncan. Hugh Akton: Michael Caine. John Galt would have to be played by a heretofor unknown actor.

  35. Oh yeah and Leo DiCaprio as Danneskjold

  36. John Galt: There Can Be Only One.

    Oooh, how about some Rand/Highlander crossover fanfic, in keeping with another thread from today?

  37. Oooh, how about some Rand/Highlander crossover fanfic, in keeping with another thread from today?

    Why not? They’ve already got a Rand/Star Trek crossover (Andromeda). But they’re clunkily portrayed though interestingly not clearly good or bad guys as a whole. Unfortunately the show sucks.

  38. ED: Self-conscious much? Of the objectivists I’ve met in person, they break down into two groups: Really arrogant, really brilliant types who could go on to run the world(1-10%), and people who think they belong to the first group and won’t shut up about it(90-99%). Never have I met, in person, an adherent of Ayn Rand who doesn’t think of him/herself as John Galt.

    I realize not necessarily all Objectivists are like that, but the incidence is high.

  39. I’ve encountered several Rand adherents over the years in the media and have found many of them unpleasant.

    Lot’s of people I know (my mom, for eample) have read Rand and even liked her books without becoming a “believer.” Of the folks I know who really were strong Rand lovers, one become a nun. Another owned a business that ran into financial problems. After he got married and had kids, he chilled out a little on the Rand thing.

  40. “Oh yeah and Leo DiCaprio as Danneskjold”

    Are you high?

    Peter Stormare would make a perfect Ragnar.

  41. “Who wants to pay for a movie just to be lectured about how it’s your own damn fault you’re not fabulously wealthy?”

    Anyone who’s ever gone to a self-help seminar?

  42. Oooh, how about some Rand/Highlander crossover fanfic, in keeping with another thread from today?

    Would never work – the characters from Highlander were far too concise.

    “I have something to say: It’s better to burn out than to fade away!”

  43. The problem with objectivism is not its ideas–I believe they are true to a large extent. The problem is that everyone who reads it comes to think they’re one of the elite, even if they aren’t, so most objectivists I’ve met are insufferably arrogant pricks.

    I totally agree. This is why I much prefer the company of “progressives”, who are the world’s most humble, unpretentious, and down-to-earth people.

  44. I agree that Angelina would make a terrible Dagny…yet, I’m having difficulty thinking of exactly which modern actress would be a believable fit.

    Hank Rearden: Edward James Olmos
    Lillian Rearden: Sigourney Weaver
    Dagny Taggart: Meg Ryan

  45. Both the Prometheus Institute and (surprisingly) Nathaniel Brandon have interesting critiques of Objectivism and Rand.

    Here
    http://www.prometheusinstitute.net/philosophy/objectivism1.htm

    and Here
    http://rous.redbarn.org/objectivism/Writing/NathanielBranden/BenefitsAndHazards.html

    Thanks – I’ll check them out. I wrote my own critique of Rand, if you’d like to check it out:

    http://www.geocities.com/freedomphiles/archives/rand.html

    Let me know what you think!

    – R

  46. Cuffy Meigs: Dustin Diamond

  47. Statue of Nat Taggart: Keanu Reeves

  48. I wrote my own critique of Rand, if you’d like to check it out…Let me know what you think!

    Interesting, thought provoking and a delightful read, RSDavis. You’re a good writer. Of course I disagree with some of your assertions.

    BTW, you don’t really critique Rand at all. You explain why you don’t believe in true altruism using The Fountainhead and Star Trek as you foils. Which is cool. But you make an interesting logical error that is common to Objectivists.

    Consider your statement, “Let’s continue to examine Mother Teresa – was she an altruist? I don’t think so. I don’t think she – or anyone else, for that matter – would dedicate their lives to others if they didn’t gain satisfaction from it.

    You assert that because she gained satisfaction from her work, it is not “altruistic.”

    According to wikipedia: Altruism is unselfish concern for the welfare of others.

    The Objectivist notion is that satisfaction from an act of generosity or sacrifice is actually selfish and thereby negates the altruism.

    That’s silly. There’s nothing in any definition of altruism that says you can’t be satisfied by the act.

    This is a silly word game that oversimplifies a much more complex – and natural – part of man’s emotional, evolutionary and rational makeup.

    After examining Mother Teresa’s motives for altruism you make a conclusion based on Rand’s opinion regarding altruism e.i. “Every major horror of history was committed in the name of an altruistic motive.”

    Surely you can appreciate the difference ‘tween a sincere act or feeling of altruism…and an evil act committed under the cover of an altruistic claim. This, for me, is a major weakness of Rand and all of her prattle against altruism.

    As for your criticism of Roddenberry’s universe and the idea that the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few translate to “It means that you are a slave” would be a lot easier to buy if the characters in Star Trek acted and behaved like slaves. But since they all seem to be remarkably well-adjusted, sensitive, art-appreciating, well-educated people and the plots frequently revolve around freedom and personal achievement. I’d say you’ve got a ways to go to demonstrate your thesis.

    Fortunately, I’m sure it will be a good read.

    It’s not altruism, but forced altruism

    This is another head scratcher I hear from Objectivists. There’s no such thing as “forced altruism”. Again, this is a word game used by Rand to defend a flawed premise.

    If you buy the premise that Altruism is unselfish concern for the welfare of others, then how can anyone force you to be unselfish? Altruism, by definition , arises from a feeling. No one can force you to feel anything. No one can force you to be happy, or caring or any other way.

    Objectivists often make the case that taxation + welfare = forced altruism. While I can buy that Communism can be characterized as ‘forced altruism’ (at least for the purpose of making a point) the welfare example is just conservatives co-opting Rand’s word games and, like the devil quoting scripture, using it for their own purposes.

    I loved your insight on Christianity through the lens of you Catholic upbringing and pean to Dogma. Might surprise you to know I’m a Christian. Might also surprise you to know that many Christian writers have made similar points.

    In all a good read. I look forward to visiting you blog again.

    Margarita time!

  49. Hank Rearden: Vince Vaughn
    Eddie Willers: Owen Wilson
    Dagny: Rosie O’Donnell
    James Taggart: Donald Trump
    Lillian Rearden: Gong Li
    Ellis Wyatt: Frankie Muniz
    Danneskjold: Ving Rhames
    Francisco: Ellen Degeneres
    And John Galt: Beetlejuice (of Howard Stern fame)

  50. No wait, Trump as Rearden and Vince Vaughan as Taggart…or wait…

  51. madpad, why the surprise at Brandon? Didn’t you know he got summarily drummed out of Rand’s camp?

  52. Those of you who think Objectivists are a bunch of arrogant pricks — to an extent maybe you’re right. But I think your generalization is not accurate.

    There are quite a few of us out here who were strongly influenced by Rand in our younger years, yet saw also her warts.

    I still think a lot (but by no means all) of Rand’s ideas were right. But I don’t talk about it with people much, for the same reasons I generally don’t tell people I’m an atheist. The knee-jerk emotional response from all quarters is just not something I’ve got time to deal with on a regular basis.

    There’s a reason Rand’s been nearly as popular as the bible. Her influence has been real, and it has not catagorically led to OP (Objectivist Prickology).

    When it comes to tackling questions that can be dealt with using pure analytical reasoning, Rand was one of history’s Grand Masters. Her biggest wart (my opinion) is that she was absolutely unable to deal with any degree of ambiguity.

    Not all problems are amenable to a mathematical-like analysis. That “fact of reality” was one that she spent her life at war with. As Aristotle said (roughly), “the wise man does not expect more certainty of a subject, than the subject naturally admits of.”

    Rand did not “admit” the existence of subjects, or problems, that she could not be razor-precise about.

  53. madpad, I checked out the Prometheous website, thanks for the link. There’s some fuzzy thinking there, but also some interesting stuff. I liked for example the one about third parties, why they don’t fly, and why they shouldn’t.

  54. btw, somewhere in the Director’s commentary of the Atlas Shrugged movie, somebody needs to get a line in there about Objectivist Prickology and what it’s done on college campuses nation wide.

  55. madpad, why the surprise at Brandon? Didn’t you know he got summarily drummed out of Rand’s camp?

    Yeah I knew that. But he wasn’t drummed out because of differences over Objectivism. He was drummed out because of differences over who he could have sex with.

    I say “surprisingly”, because while I thought I knew a lot about the subject, I only found out last year about his critique. I figured since I was surprised, others might be surprised as well. Hence the use of the word, “surprisingly.”

  56. madpad, I don’t think we are too far apart in our opinions on Rand. I believe we both think the basis for Ayn’s assertion that altruism is inherently evil is flawed, because we both recognize that good people can do good things and feel good about it, and no one gets hurt.

    It is Rand’s definition of altruism, which is the sacrifice of your own interests for those of others, with which I take umbrage. I don’t think anyone sacrifices their interests for those of others. I merely think that because of one’s value-system, one can take on another’s interests as their own, another’s well-being as a source of their own happiness. Married people and parents do it all the time. There is no real sacrifice involved because a parent or spouse’s happiness is intricately tied up in the well being of the other person. They are still working toward their own happiness – their means to that end have just changed.

    As for the Star Trek references, I wasn’t speaking of the whole universe, but the motto of the supposedly “logical” Spock: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. I wanted to show how that is neither reasoned nor practical, and could have never been the conclusion of a purely logical mind.

    Thanks for the comments and compliments, and I look forward to hearing back from you!

    – Rick

  57. I say reverse the gender roles and make all the leads hotties. Angelina Jolie? Sure! Salma Hayek? You bet! Scarlett Johansson? Absolutely!

  58. Rick/RSDavis, well stated. Regarding your idea that “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one” and your thought that it is “neither reasoned nor practical, and could have never been the conclusion of a purely logical mind” I say, “Hmmm.”

    Admittedly, you did put forth a well-reasoned and interestingly deep defense of your position. If I could pick one weakness to probe, I would pick your examples of European and Russian needs versus African, Polish, Chech or Afgani needs.

    It’s difficult to take an maxim that applies in one circumstance (man sacrificing himself for his comrades) and apply it to another (using same maxim to justify enslavement or oppression).

    Simply put, Spock’s circumstance allowed his choice while the oppressed and eslaved peoples from your example did not.

    A better comparison might be a man ordered into a circumstance of certain death in order to save a larger number of men. His choice is no longer simply to commit an altruistic act but whether or not to follow an order which means his certain death. Notions of duty, honor and saving other no doubt come in but the argument becomes more complicated.

    Additionally, while one of these situations – Spocks choice – clearly fits neatly into your maxim, the colonial aspirations of governments is decidedly more complicated. Other factors come into play.

    For instance, one factor that comes into you colonial example is one of justice. It is clearly unjust by today’s standard to oppress a people for their labor and raw materials. On that basis, we can clearly say that the idea that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few is (at best) a flat no or (at worst) unanswerable.

    In Spocks case, the question of justice is not even a component.

  59. Rick,

    [notice: this is a long post]

    Good article, and I commend you for taking on a hard problem that needs to be worked. I think you’re right as far as you go, but I also think you haven’t gotten all the way through the fog bank just yet. Here’s why.

    Mother Teresa lived – as Ayn put it – “up to [her] highest possibility.” True, she dedicated her lives to others and to God, but she did this by choice. Her calling was to be altruistic – I doubt she would have been happy any other way.

    The fact that it made Mother Teresa happy does not justify the choice. I could argue that Jack the Ripper also would not have been happy being anything other than what he was.

    This is why I think altruism is a myth. The only time it is truly bad is when you are doing it out of a sense of responsibility and not because it is what makes you happy.

    You are right that altruism is a myth, in the sense that it rarely motivates real people. But that doesn’t alter the fact that Rand was right — if you allow altruism to be held up as an ideal (and what else is the Mother Teresa example?), then somebody else will use it to justify this —

    …altruism doesn’t exist, except as a motive for tyranny – it is something elites expect of other…

    That is precisely the danger Rand was warning us of. She lived through it.

    It’s not altruism, but forced altruism, that is dangerous and an affront to liberty.

    Perhaps you’re right here. But there is still a distinction missing somewhere in all of this (and I don’t pretend to have the answer).

    You see, in any of these instances, you are doing the one thing that will maximize your happiness.

    Murdering the assholes who vote to take away my freedoms might “maximize my happiness”, perhaps, but that would not justify such a choice if I made it. You may argue that I’m violating their rights with my choice, but I could then argue that they’ve already violated mine. So how do you resolve this little problem?

    Something more is needed here…..

    Now that I’ve exploded the myth of altruism

    I don’t think you’ve done that just yet.

    but there is a place in the world for irrational emotionalism – just not in any intellectual pursuit.

    Have you read Brandon’s article on the relationship between reason and emotion? It’s excellent, and has direct bearing on what you’re trying to say here. Suffice it to say that after reading Brandon’s article, you may understand why I disagree with this statement.

    I don’t know where to find Brandon’s article online (if it even is), but you can find it in Appendix A: Emotions of _The Disowned Self_, which he said was an excerpt from _The Psychology of Self Esteem_ (which I have not read).

    If you find happiness in the sit-stand-kneel of Sunday mass or in giving yourself for the public good, more power to you. Just don’t try to force others to share your values. Whether you think the locus of origin is God, the Earth, Mother Nature, King Kong, or your own self, your mission is the same.

    Rand’s problem — and mine — with this philosophical position, is that the irrationality that people end up advocating in the name of God, or today Mother Earth. In a free society, where majority opinion can ultimately impact laws (and violate the Bill of Rights, as is happening today), it is exceedingly dangerous to tell people they can follow whatever whims they please. Because soon enough, it will please them most to impose their whims on others.

    Rand saw the only solution to this problem, to be cutting off the whims at their root. I’m not sure she was wrong about that.

    OTOH, you are also hitting on a highly valid point with altruism. Rand lumped a lot of things into “altruism” that may not belong there. I have long felt that her concept of altruism was a proverbial “intellectual package deal” that contains, somewhere within it, “a false dichotomy”. I just haven’t put my fingers on where yet. But there are reasons a person may not follow Rand’s heirarchy of values strictly. Or maybe, Rand’s heirarchy could take on a form that she herself did not admit?

    Rand’s philosophy applies well to capitalism at its best. This means (to me), capitalism at the stage where a nation is building its wealth up from, perhaps, an agrarian economy. Like the US in the 1800’s.

    In Rand’s mind, the next step along the road is Francesco deAnconia. He just wants to make even more money, but that begs the question — for what purpose? Francesco arguably has more money than he’ll ever be able to spend. If you say “he should do it, because it is the only moral thing to do”, that’s on the ragged edge of being an altruistic argument.

    What should a Frencesco want to do with himself, and why? What about Batman (in the sense of “Batman Begins”), would this be a rational pursuit or not?

    In short, what kinds of things should the rational person desire to do once they’ve reached the top of Maslov’s pyramid? Rand utterly failed to address this question in a convincing way.

    To say it’s okay for Bruce Wayne to give away his billions requires some careful justifying. Because what he’s doing will, like Mother Teresa, soon enough become the example that is held up to justify tyrrany — and it is nearly impossible to fight against this argument once it hits the streets.

    To say “you should not force people by law to be altruistic” isn’t going to cut it (it isn’t today, look at what the Democrats argue and get away with). Government is all about forcing people via laws. If altruism, Mother Teresa style, is “good”, then tell me why the government shouldn’t force people to do it? By the time the argument has gotten this far, you’ve already lost it.

    Again I commend you for tackling a hard problem, and you do write well. I encourage you to keep chewing on this yourself.

  60. Admittedly, you did put forth a well-reasoned and interestingly deep defense of your position. If I could pick one weakness to probe, I would pick your examples of European and Russian needs versus African, Polish, Chech or Afgani needs.

    It’s difficult to take an maxim that applies in one circumstance (man sacrificing himself for his comrades) and apply it to another (using same maxim to justify enslavement or oppression).

    Simply put, Spock’s circumstance allowed his choice while the oppressed and eslaved peoples from your example did not.

    A better comparison might be a man ordered into a circumstance of certain death in order to save a larger number of men. His choice is no longer simply to commit an altruistic act but whether or not to follow an order which means his certain death. Notions of duty, honor and saving other no doubt come in but the argument becomes more complicated.
    _______________________________________________

    Point taken. Although, I am not sure if it matters. If Spock’s maxim is true that communal needs outweigh individual needs, then it further can be decided that it is the right of the community to take from the individual, as their needs take precidence over his.

    That being said, following a logical course from the situation that presented itself to Spock would not have led a rational, dispassionate mind in the direction his took. He’d simply realize that he had two choices:

    1. Save everyone and he dies.
    2. Save no one and they all die.

    There is no cost to this decision, as he will die anyway. So, logically, the best way to maximize a positive outcome would be to make his individual death useful to his mates.
    _______________________________________________

    Additionally, while one of these situations – Spocks choice – clearly fits neatly into your maxim, the colonial aspirations of governments is decidedly more complicated. Other factors come into play.

    For instance, one factor that comes into you colonial example is one of justice. It is clearly unjust by today’s standard to oppress a people for their labor and raw materials. On that basis, we can clearly say that the idea that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few is (at best) a flat no or (at worst) unanswerable.

    In Spocks case, the question of justice is not even a component.
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    Maybe I misunderstand you, but I don’t think there is anything both a government and an individual would do that would be moral for the former and immoral for the latter. I don’t think any complications that arise when you add beuracracy to the mix changes the moral components of a choice.

    I also don’t think justice is subjective to its time. I think we develop a broader understanding of justice, but justice doesn’t change.

    For instance, colonial slavery was just as wrong as the slavery currently practiced in Sub-Saharan Africa. The world is more enlightened now, but right and wrong are the same.

    Great discussion!

    – Rick

  61. Genghis Kahn | January 13, 2007, 4:24pm | #
    Good article, and I commend you for taking on a hard problem that needs to be worked.

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    Thanks! 🙂 I love praise.
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    I think you’re right as far as you go, but I also think you haven’t gotten all the way through the fog bank just yet. Here’s why….

    The fact that [the choice to dedicate her life to others] made Mother Teresa happy does not justify the choice. I could argue that Jack the Ripper also would not have been happy being anything other than what he was.
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    No, you’re right – it does not justify the choice. If I were seeking to justify the choice to commit one’s self to others it would be that it makes one happy and harms no one.

    Ayn seeks to actually discredit that choice as altruism, as if that is a bad word. As free-born human beings, I would agree with Ayn that our only responsability is to maximize our own happiness.

    The problem with Ayn is that she seemed to believe the only way to do that was through her own narrow vision of a useful and productive person. She seemed to ignore the fact that for some people, dedicating themselves to others is the only way for them to find happiness and fufillment. As long as they are not hurting anyone or forcing anyone to help them, I think we should refrain from judging that kind of a choice.
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    You are right that altruism is a myth, in the sense that it rarely motivates real people. But that doesn’t alter the fact that Rand was right — if you allow altruism to be held up as an ideal (and what else is the Mother Teresa example?), then somebody else will use it to justify this….

    Murdering the assholes who vote to take away my freedoms might “maximize my happiness”, perhaps, but that would not justify such a choice if I made it. You may argue that I’m violating their rights with my choice, but I could then argue that they’ve already violated mine. So how do you resolve this little problem?
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    Well, I was never saying that choices to maximize one’s happiness are never wrong. But to be personally altruistic harms no one, so it shouldn’t be incongruous with a principle of non-violence.
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    Rand’s problem — and mine — with this philosophical position, is that the irrationality that people end up advocating in the name of God, or today Mother Earth. In a free society, where majority opinion can ultimately impact laws (and violate the Bill of Rights, as is happening today), it is exceedingly dangerous to tell people they can follow whatever whims they please. Because soon enough, it will please them most to impose their whims on others.

    Rand saw the only solution to this problem, to be cutting off the whims at their root. I’m not sure she was wrong about that.
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    Perhaps not, but what is the alternative? It seems that is a concern for which the cure is worse than the disease (look to her own homeland to see that much).

    The key is not to force everyone to be completely rational all the time, but to hold dear to the principles of The Enlightenment, like tolerance and justice and imprescribable rights.

    For instance, do you think that Islam is inherently more violent than Christianity? I do not. Christianity has had a violent past, surely, but why is it only violent at its most extreme fringes now? The Enlightenment, of course.

    Our nation was founded on these principles, and most of what we do is filtered through that prism. That’s why we don’t have terrorist wars between religions on our soil, even though we have our own Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. All of those religions in America have been changed by the principles of tolerance that our country holds dear.

    Surely, we have a long way to go in realizing perfect tolerance, but the story of this country has been one of progress on that front, not devolution.
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    OTOH, you are also hitting on a highly valid point with altruism. Rand lumped a lot of things into “altruism” that may not belong there. I have long felt that her concept of altruism was a proverbial “intellectual package deal” that contains, somewhere within it, “a false dichotomy”. I just haven’t put my fingers on where yet. But there are reasons a person may not follow Rand’s heirarchy of values strictly. Or maybe, Rand’s heirarchy could take on a form that she herself did not admit?
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    I don’t know if it can. Her views on personal philosophy were so fixed. I’ve always found the rigidity of her personal philosophy to be at odds with the “do as you will” of her governmental and economic philosophy.

    In fact, I have little use for her personal philosophy. I think dealing with your familial and friendly relationships with that level of selfishness won’t win you many friends.

    Which leads us to…
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    Rand’s philosophy applies well to capitalism at its best. This means (to me), capitalism at the stage where a nation is building its wealth up from, perhaps, an agrarian economy. Like the US in the 1800’s.

    In Rand’s mind, the next step along the road is Francesco deAnconia. He just wants to make even more money, but that begs the question — for what purpose? Francesco arguably has more money than he’ll ever be able to spend. If you say “he should do it, because it is the only moral thing to do”, that’s on the ragged edge of being an altruistic argument.

    What should a Frencesco want to do with himself, and why? What about Batman (in the sense of “Batman Begins”), would this be a rational pursuit or not?
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    This is the crux of the bisquit, no? Where I differ from Rand is that I do not want to impose my values on Frencesco. I think he should make more money if he wants, burn it, throw it away, give it away – it’s his money. As long as he doesn’t try to make me do anything, I could care less. His only responsability is to find his own path to happiness without infringing upon the rights of other people.
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    In short, what kinds of things should the rational person desire to do once they’ve reached the top of Maslov’s pyramid? Rand utterly failed to address this question in a convincing way.
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    The rational person, no matter where they are, should desire whatever they want to desire. This is not up to you, me, or Rand. This is up to the individual.
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    To say it’s okay for Bruce Wayne to give away his billions requires some careful justifying. Because what he’s doing will, like Mother Teresa, soon enough become the example that is held up to justify tyrrany — and it is nearly impossible to fight against this argument once it hits the streets.

    To say “you should not force people by law to be altruistic” isn’t going to cut it (it isn’t today, look at what the Democrats argue and get away with). Government is all about forcing people via laws. If altruism, Mother Teresa style, is “good”, then tell me why the government shouldn’t force people to do it? By the time the argument has gotten this far, you’ve already lost it.
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    This is where you will find my most vehement disagreement. If we cannot distinguish between what is right and what is law, we have already lost.

    Isn’t that the fulcrum of the libertarian position? The disconnect between what is moral and what is legal? For instance, just because some might think it’s immoral to do heroin or see a prostitute, it shouldn’t be illegal because all parties consented to the crime.

    I don’t see how it would be any harder to defend a position that it’s nice to do things for people, as long as you do it of your own free will. This is something even the writers of the Bible got, in the ideas of free-will vs. coerced virtue.
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    Have you read Brandon’s article on the relationship between reason and emotion? It’s excellent, and has direct bearing on what you’re trying to say here. Suffice it to say that after reading Brandon’s article, you may understand why I disagree with this statement.

    I don’t know where to find Brandon’s article online (if it even is), but you can find it in Appendix A: Emotions of _The Disowned Self_, which he said was an excerpt from _The Psychology of Self Esteem_ (which I have not read).
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    Thanks, I’ll definitely check that out. I don’t know much about him other than what I saw in The Passion of Ayn Rand, hahaha…

    Great chatting with you!

    – Rick

  62. It might be cool if the composer is a punk-rocker who refuses to write any more songs because punk sold out long ago.

  63. The problem with Ayn is that she seemed to believe the only way to do that was through her own narrow vision of a useful and productive person.

    You can say that again.

    The key is not to force everyone to be completely rational all the time, but to hold dear to the principles of The Enlightenment, like tolerance and justice and imprescribable rights.

    I agree. Though I’m not sure what imprescribable means. Is this a new way of saying that a particular beer is sooo goood, that you just can’t put it in words?

    This is where you will find my most vehement disagreement. If we cannot distinguish between what is right and what is law, we have already lost.

    Well, yes. But my point was/is, that this whole matter can get much stickier than it looks.

    Isn’t that the fulcrum of the libertarian position? The disconnect between what is moral and what is legal?

    The crux of this biscuit, amounts to figuring out how much of what is moral should also be made law.

    “Thou shalt not murder.” We have no problem here. Perhaps.

    “Thou shalt not pollute the environment.” Whoa doggy!

    For instance, just because some might think it’s immoral to do heroin or see a prostitute, it shouldn’t be illegal because all parties consented to the crime.

    I agree with you. I’m just saying, there’s “something” that still needs defining here, that’s all. And it falls in the same vein as “there’s nothing wrong with Mother Teresa doing what she decided to do.”

    Not that I have the answer, I’m just saying, the argument from the libertarian side has not yet been completed.

  64. I think that guy in the New York subway who saved the other guy who fell on the tracks was a good example of pure altruism. He definitely had a choice and notice no one else did anything. He risked his life, with no apparent gain to himself. Sure, he’s reaping some rewards now but there wasn’t time to examine that possibility when he jumped onto the tracks. Since he had nothing to gain and his life to lose, Rand probably would have called him evil.

  65. Howard Stern as Lillian Rearden.

  66. I don’t think there is anything both a government and an individual would do that would be moral for the former and immoral for the latter.

    Not sure I’m understanding you on this one. I didn’t make a distinction of morality ‘twixt governments and individuals. I merely suggested that Spock’s choice was a much simpler one than the colonial example you used. By the way, I like your explanation of Spock’s logic. I’ll be chewing on that for days.

    I also don’t think justice is subjective to its time.

    My use of certain phrases shouldn’t be construed as an apology for slavery or oppression based on the norms of the times. It was simply my recognition that those were the norms at the time.

    I’ve been thinking of your “needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few” and I’ve actually come up with a fine support of it in our own Bill of Rights.

    It’s probably no stretch to assert that – in terms of actually needing to use or exert them – most of the people in our society will have little need for many of the various 10 ammendments making up the document. Comparitively few people have or will ever exercise the need for the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th amendments.

    Indeed, the “Big Discussion”, as framed by the Bush Adminsitration is that need for safety of the many U.S. citizens outweighs the needs of a few folks to be given due process rights.

    Most libertarians seem to appreciate the fact that not only are the needs of the few more important than the needs of the many, in this example…but the needs of the few are critical to protecting the needs of the many.

    As for Gengis’s most astute remark: I’m just saying, there’s “something” that still needs defining here, that’s all… maybe it’s this: If an individual is happy doing something altruistic and doesn’t force someone else to join in, we should honor his choice. When a politician asserts anything altruistic and claims we all need to join in, be suspicious.

  67. For me, the problem with Rand and Objectivism is one of Absolutism.

    It’s all fine and nice to assert man’s need for individual choice. It’s terrific to sneer at the pedestrian mentalities that jockey for position amongst lesser talents and use collectivist arguments to convince people to value broader mediocrity over individual greatness because it’s safe.

    But to live life aspiring to a world as imagined by Rand is to live in a world many people just don’t want to live in. And living up to the demands of Rand’s example takes a level of energy most folks can’t maintain when they’ve got to deal with kids, mortages, neighbors and the minutiea of daily life.

    Don’t get me wrong here, please. Rand points the way to a great and dynamic way to live ones life. But let’s be honest, Rand herself didn’t even live up to her own examples. In addition to her talent and influence, she could also be vain, petty, selfish, irrational, overly-pedantic and sometimes just plain screwy.

    It’s great if your life has been influenced by Rand’s work. Despite my occassional detractions, I can admit where her writing has influenced me in my path. But as I’ve said before, a wise adherant understands the limits of his philosophy…lest he become a fanatic.

    Tieing that back to absolutism, there’s little difference between a Rand follower who insist on labelling everyone who allows a taint of collectivism in their philosophy as immoral…and a Christian fundamentalist who asserts everyone who doesn’t believe in their brand of Christianity is going to hell.

    In any case, I tend to take all things philosophically. Rand is a prominent influence in the marketplace of ideas. To demand more than that is not only tilting at windmills…it’s giving her more credit than she deserves. Is her influence more important than Locke? Jesus Christ? Adam Smith? Neitze? Ghandi? Mother Teresa? Ceaser? Napolean?

    There’s no right answer. It’s a personal choice and decision. What’s more Randian than that?

  68. I caught the tail end of The Fountainhead on Cable TV a while ago. Strange film – I wasn’t sure what to make of it until I looked it up on the Internet. Gary Cooper as a Randian superman who gives not one iota for anyone’s opinion but his own, and who insists on building a modernist building over his opponents who prefer neo-classicism (and when modernism had already trumped neo-classicism anyway!) Somehow I don’t think Ayn Rand’s ideal society would be anymore successful than the Communist one she escaped from.

  69. MadPad, Ghengis – Thanks for the best conversation I’ve had in some time!

    – Rick

  70. Likewise, RS & Genghis.

  71. One last thing to add regarding:

    twowhitean’nerdy | January 13, 2007, 9:33pm | #

    I think that guy in the New York subway who saved the other guy who fell on the tracks was a good example of pure altruism. He definitely had a choice and notice no one else did anything. He risked his life, with no apparent gain to himself. Sure, he’s reaping some rewards now but there wasn’t time to examine that possibility when he jumped onto the tracks. Since he had nothing to gain and his life to lose, Rand probably would have called him evil.
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    Haha, she probably would. That is her failing.

    She understood the dollars and cents of economics very well, but I don’t think completely understood that all economics is is the study of human choices.

    A human is a choice machine, and it will always make the choice that maximizes its own happiness. Where things vary is that each machine has different values and priorities, making each machine’s recipe for happiness as different and varied as a fingerprint.

    What the man on the subway realized in the instant he made his choice is that he values the lives of others as much as his own, or at least enough to make the risk he took saving the man worth it to him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t take the risk at all.

    Simple as that.

    All other opinions must neccessarily hinge upon whether or not we agree with his value system.

    But no decision is selfless – just merely an expression of the values of the machine that makes it.

    – Rick

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