I discovered an interesting site called Ayn Rand Myths this morning through Twitter. Ayn Rand Myths is a collection of myths that are submitted and addressed through crowdsourcing – users are able to submit a myth and/or address a myth on the site, with appropriate references, of course. As of this morning there are 22 myths listed, but I am sure that there are many, many more which will appear on the site over time.
I am constantly shocked at how misunderstood the writings of Ayn Rand, and Objectivist principles are misunderstood. Ironically enough, many of these counter points are provided in emotional outbursts lacking any true logic, but there are many other instances where someone truly lacks an understanding of her writings. This site could be a good way to debunk these myths, especially those who are new to Ayn Rand.
Here are a couple common myths that caught my attention from the site:
1. She was selfish: Granted, this isn’t really a myth, but people generally throw this out as their first argument against Ayn Rand. In fact, Rand was self-interested, which is consistent with the dictionary definition of selfishness. Consider the following passage from “The Virtue of Selfishness”:
“The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word ‘selfishness’ is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual “package-deal,” which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.
In popular usage, the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil: the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being but pursues the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.
Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is” concern within one’s own interests.”
So really, Ayn Rand was selfish if we are to use the preceding dictionary definition, self-interested if one wanted to be less controversial.
2. Ayn Rand admirers would not lift a finger to help little old ladies cross the street or with their luggage at the airport: This is really a question of altruism versus benevolence. Rand condemns altruism and she believed that it was not man’s moral obligation to help others, but was in favor of benevolence, or the ability of someone to help another in need if it is within their own power and will to do so. Obligation versus choice. Here is the response, or truth as presented on the Ayn Rand Myths website:
“From “The Ethics of Emergencies,” in her book The Virtue of Selfishness, she refers to ” those psychopaths who … proclaim their rebellion against self-sacrifice by announcing that they are totally indifferent to anything living and would not lift a finger to help a man or a dog left mangled by a hit-and-run driver … .”
And from her The Objectivist Calendar, Dec. 1976, “The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: “Merry Christmas”—not “Weep and Repent.” And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form—by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance . . . .”
And from “The Question of Scholarships,” in her newsletter The Objectivist, June 1966, “The fact that a man has no claim on others … does not preclude or prohibit good will among men and does not make it immoral to offer or to accept voluntary, non-sacrificial assistance.”
And from a 1964 Playboy interview: “There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them.” (By worthy here she refers to a general benevolence among men and assumes they too are benevolent and rational and do not repeatedly cause their own misfortune.)”
Again, this is not a question of is helping people bad or good, it is really altruism versus benevolence or obligation versus free will.
There are many other myths to read through and to gain a sense of some of the common misconceptions about Ayn Rand.
Another interesting read I had found along similar lines was a book called Myths About Ayn Rand: Popular Errors and the Insights They Conceal by David Kelley, William R Thomas, Alexander R. Cohen, and Laurie Rice. This book is a quick read, inexpensive, and debunks many of the common myths and misconceptions. One part that really stood out for me was the difference between Objectivism and conservative beliefs which continues to be a major misconception and point of contention among many.
1. Ayn Rand – The Virtue of Selfishness:
2. Ayn Rand Myths: http://www.aynrandmyths.com/
3. David Kelley, William R. Thomas, Alexander R Cohen, and Laurie Rice: Myths About Ayn Rand: Popular Errors and the Insights They Conceal: