Re: PHIL: Egoism (Was ART: What Art Is)

From: Dan Fabulich (
Date: Sun May 28 2000 - 19:48:45 MDT

QueeneMuse corrected:

> In a message dated 5/28/2000 10:21:34 AM Pacific Daylight Time,
> writes:
> > I suppose I can see how her ideas on "egoism" might lead an others-centered
> > person (such as, apparently, yourself) to view her ideas this way.

> I did not say I was others centered. That's preposterous. I said I
> was a person who loved. I love myself. I love things passionately
> ... thing outside myself: my lover, my family, my smallest closest
> circle of friends, new people, things, animals, genres of art,
> music, TV, books, conversation, this list...

It should be noted that Rand in particular uses a lot of terms in a
different way from... Well, anybody else really. (This is almost
certainly a bad practice. I am not a Randian.)

A consistent egoist can still love others; you may notice that many
characters in Rand's books fall in love, even risk their own lives to
save others.

The difference here lies in the emphasis. If you think that you OUGHT
to love others, on account of a moral obligation to Love, an egoist
must disagree. If you just happen to love others and act on that
inclination, no egoist has room to criticize you.

(Though they may be doubtful and/or skeptical that you don't *really*
love others as you say... all too many people these days are told
that they ought to love others as themselves, and therefore claim to
do so, even while harboring extreme resentment, or even

> IMO we are all born self centered. This is normal, but hopefully we
> learn to curb that impulse when we learn the rest of the world is
> interactive. Being a grabby child at 35 is OK BY ME ... but OFTEN it
> doesn't serve the situation, or infringes on other's boundaries or
> causes pain to others.

Again, I don't think anybody is arguing that you are morally obligated
to be "grabby." No one's arguing that the act of helping others while
suffering material disadvantage or material risk is wrong. Rand's
good characters DO that. Nor is it unacceptable to love others. Her
good characters do THAT, too.

Again, your reading of Rand is understandable, given the words she
uses to describe her philosophy and the overtones which our society
puts on the terms "selfish" and "egoism." It's often useful to
differentiate between "egoism" and "egotism," the latter being a
special case of the former. The egotist has no inclinations to aid
others, no desire to suffer material disadvantage for the benefit of
loved ones. The egotist is a "grabby child." The egotist has no
"loved ones."

The egoist, on the other hand, is simply commited to only acting on
those principles which they actually believe in, to love only when
they actually feel love for another, rather than out of supposed moral
obligation. (You become an objectivist when you add that the
principles which we believe in are necessarily right, though we
believe in the right principles only contingently.)

> The character in the Fountainhead would NEVER have been a follower of dogma
> that's the funny part. Howard Roarke at an objectivists gathering?? bahaha
> gimme a break.

It depends on what they were there for. If it was an organization of
objectivists sitting around planning something interesting, I think
he'd be there. Would he show up to any old "yay Rand" party? I
would expect not.

> A healthy person does not need to be told to be more selfish, it comes
> naturally to love one's self and to have integrity to one's own ego. A
> healthy person also doesn't need THAT much control over others -- or need to
> smugly put-down those who haven't learned to take care of themselves, and to
> build themselves up with bogus pomposity and leering condescension for
> everyone else.

This is the second main point I want to criticize. I disagree with
your assertion that she dislikes the masses. She believes that, deep
down inside, we all realize that each of us can only be motivated by
those desires and beliefs which are valid to each. She thinks that we
know that egoism is right (not that egotism is right), but most of us
have been misled or forced into submission. You may disagree with
that, but that claim is what (she thinks) justifies her in saying that
most of us ARE good, especially the masses. [Think of Plato teaching
the boy how to double a circle by asking the boy questions... Thus,
he concludes, the boy must have already KNOWN the answer]

You will see condescension towards people who actively disagree with
her. For example, I bet she'd just assume that you "love" others
because you've been taught to do so, rather than out of genuine love,
which comes from your own heart. (Your OWN heart.) I know too many
people who hate themselves and love others. I'm sure she'd be
condescending towards you if she thought you were like that.

BUT she is also fundamentally hopeful about mankind. She thinks that
most of us ARE good, even if the bad ones are really bad. It that
respect, the masses are good.

> TO ME it always boils down to the fact that selfish-self absorbed
> people are often "rigid and lacking in experience".

Here, I think, you're right, in saying that she's rigid, but wrong in
arguing that this has to do with her being self absorbed. Rand isn't
as respectful as she could be towards those who disagree with her.
Part of this has to do with her commitment to the objectivity of her
beliefs, but largely, this is just a fact about Rand. It's not only
possible to be fully committed to one's own beliefs while remaining
respectful of others, but it's certain to make you more effective at
rhetoric. In THAT respect, she is rigid... one can only assume it has
to do with a lack of worldliness.

The mistake, however, is to think that this rigidity has to do with
her selfishness or her being self-absorbed. It's easy to assume that
Rand has elevated her OWN beliefs, as such, to "objective" status; to
assume that Rand says that "Rand is right." However, Rand's position
is that she happens to be right, not that *whatever* she thinks is
right. The difference is subtle, but extremely important. The latter
is a statement of ignoring all positions which aren't your own. The
former is the wholehearted embracement of a position that "belongs" to
no one, which may be open minded (though, coincidentally, Rand
probably isn't).

If you hold a more subjectivist view about the relationship between
our beliefs and reality, you might think that this is impossible. You
might think that people who make religious claims are merely promoting
"their" beliefs over the beliefs of others, that realist scientists
prioritize their own conceptual scheme at the neglect of everyone
else's, that claims of objectivity are simply claims of "I'm right,
you're wrong."

Even if you insist that this IS what's going on, you should at least see
how a good, honest, and most of all open-minded person would hold the
opposite view: Rand, for example, would hold that a particular view is
right, regardless of what she, or anyone else, thinks about it. She
would hold that if she changed her mind, she would become wrong,
and that if she had an open mind, she would soon switch back to her
original position. Compare this to the feudal view that the King
makes the law; that if His Majesty changes his mind, then the truth
sways with the King. Or compare it with certain brands of sollipcism,
where, again, the self decides on what the world will be like.

> How can you be UTTERLY focused on yourself 100% of the time and find
> the time to look openly at life outside your own sphere? To be open
> minded? Listen? Especially since people are ALWAYS contradicting
> you, challenging your ideas, disagreeing?

It depends on what you're looking for. People usually disagree with
me when we argue, but we usually don't argue. So people don't usually
disagree with me.


      -unless you love someone-
    -nothing else makes any sense-
           e.e. cummings

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