Before actually beginning to talk about this book, let me just mention how glad I am to be able to finally write this post. I received this book (from a friend who knew I really wanted it)…I think nearly two years ago now, and I somehow didn’t get around to finishing it until today. Even after having started reading it over a month ago, other stuff (such as my exams) kept getting in the way. Thankfully, I can finally say I’ve finished it.
The question of whether I liked it or not is a complicated one. You might be thinking “Come on! It’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ type of question. What can possibly be so complicated?” That’s true, but I’m afraid that I’ll have to say “yes” to some parts, and “no” to other parts of it. Don’t mistake this for a “maybe”, which implies an evasive answer, or some grayness. Taking the “gray” attitude, particularly when it comes to something written by Ayn Rand, would be ironic, to say the least (for those who are not familiar with her writings, she highly condemns not choosing a side).
You see, I’m a fan of the general idea of acting out of what Ayn Rand terms “selfishness”, word which she uses differently than it is normally used. We generally use the term to talk about someone who is highly immoral, and would do anything to achieve what he or she wants. Rand, on the other hand, uses the term to mean “concern with one’s own interest”. As such, she points out that acting out of selfishness isn’t merely desirable, but necessary.
The part that I don’t like is that her entire philosophy is resting on a tremendous misunderstanding of human psychology. Mainly, she assumes that the workings of the human mind are like a “blank slate”, which can easily be modified by the values one has. The problem is that this was proven to be false. We come into the world with a sort of baggage, dictated by our genes. Of course, our environment also plays a role in defining us, but it is not the only factor. This may not make her theory impossible, but it surely makes it a lot more difficult to use.
I won’t go into more details explaining her philosophy (except for indirectly, through the lessons I’ll outline), but you can imagine that with this big mistake in using human psychology, the rest of her ideas have to suffer as well. However, she still makes some very good points, and I believe those shouldn’t be left neglected.
1) Morality is Not Only Useful, but Necessary for Us
Rand points out that morality offers us with much needed guidance to proper interaction between people. Also, it helps us identify the right type of values to hold.
2) One Must Take Responsibility for His/Her Actions
Yeah, no kidding, huh? However, despite the fact that this is quite a popular principle, very few people seem to actually put it in practice. It’s easy to take responsibility for our actions when they amount to good things, but when they’re consequences are bad, we’ll do quite a lot to hide them, or even to blame others for them. Perhaps we should pay more attention to this.
3) Unethical People’s Survival is Made Possible by Those Who Are Ethical
A good example for this is a robber. The only reason he has something to steal is because there is someone who made the money in the “right way” to begin with. If it were not for that person, the robber would starve.
4) Sacrificing is Giving Up Something You Value for Something of a Lesser Value
If you use this definition for the word, then it becomes quite obvious why Rand is so quick to go against this act. Keep in mind the implications of this definition: if you give up watching the soccer game to help your friend, this doesn’t mean you’ve sacrificed. That’s because you value your friend more than you value the soccer game, so giving one up for the other doesn’t mean you’re losing value.
5) Judging People Isn’t Bad
Rand explains that you should assess people in order to be able to interact with them accordingly. However, this assessment should be made based on rational grounds, not on a whim.
These are the main lessons that can be taken from the book, though there are a lot more. If you have any questions, make sure to let me know! I’ll try my best to answer them (considering I am not a philosopher).
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