Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Selection of the Month: "Philosophy: Who Needs It" by Ayn Rand

rand-philosophy.JPG Book Selection of the Month (February 2010): Philosophy: Who Needs It by Ayn Rand (featuring the 1960 speech “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World”)

A fine anthology of philosophical essays and fiction snippets for the newcomer to Rand’s thinking, this collection contains in particular the aptly-titled speech “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World,” outlining in admirably clear terms the two means by which humans avoid moral and logical consequences — muscle and intellectual evasion.

Of course, I will myself be chopping out long, extra-crazy passages about the evils of altruism when I do my own rendition of the speech in two days (followed by two more renditions right here in New York City a couple months from now).  Michael Malice, who has called himself “more Rand than Rand,” has already chastised me for the planned excisions, saying, oh, sure, the speech has just been influential for fifty years and stood the test of time, so why not chop out the parts you don’t like to suit your own thinking?

Nonetheless, unless the Man (as opposed to man qua man) at Yale stops me, I will deliver the slightly-abbreviated speech at three locations, each on the fiftieth anniversary of the day of Rand originally gave it in that location:

•Yale University on February 17, 1960 (6pm Yale’s Harkness Hall, 100 Wall Street, Room 119, New Haven, CT)
•Brooklyn College on April 4, 1960
•Columbia University on May 5, 1960.

As I’ve noted before, these dates happen to fall on Ash Wednesday, Easter Sunday, and Cinco de Mayo, so I hope Catholics in particular will learn from the speech, despite their stubborn resistance to rational thought and skeptical analysis, knowing as they do that their entire worldview hangs like a shaking, dried leaf upon the outmost branch of human gullibility, unsupported by a scrap of evidence or an iota of common sense.  Religion of all stripes speaks to people — and to their travails — on an emotional level, just as the idea of the boogeyman in the closet or unicorns prancing in an unseen part of the local woods undeniably speaks to a five-year-old.  This is not truth, though.  This is not basic intellectual integrity.

I will endeavor to make that point on Wednesday, possibly to a room full of people with ash on their foreheads who believe that the occasional statue smeared with chicken blood by children or con artists has come to life and is weeping tears.  For shame.

Incidentally, I applied to — and was accepted to — the entire Ivy League back in the day except for Yale, which I had completely avoided applying to because I feared its famed divinity school would mean the campus was crawling with Christians (ha!  the Div School is, of course, instead full of pagans and Sofia-worshippers).  Ironically (due, some would argue, to divine  or Satanic intervention), years later I nonetheless ended up dating a Yale religious studies major, Helen Rittelmeyer, who at one point headed OSGaY (the Objectivist Study Group at Yale), the very same Yale Party of the Right branch essentially devoted to “deprogramming” Objectivists and responsible for hosting me this week — but I will attempt, in both my “performance” as Rand and any subsequent Q&A, to offer something of a middle ground, acknowledging both Rand’s strengths and weaknesses, which only I am fit to judge (having lived a life uniquely devoted to rationality and sober skepticism), as most fair-minded readers of this blog will readily agree.

Incidentally, Rand herself, admittedly waxing rationalistic but hitting on a fairly large grain of truth, said that the answer to the question in this book’s title is “everyone.”  That is, no one is truly without a philosophy — it’s just a question of whether one’s philosophy is coherent or a junk heap of contradictions.  Not that consistency is always less dangerous than a junk heap, of course.


Ali T. Kokmen said...

Somebody at one of these events better have a flip video…

Todd Seavey said...

[...] Depicting Andrei as basically a good man actually does fit neatly into Rand’s thinking, though: She said repeatedly that one would be better off dealing with a principled Marxist, who at least feels obliged to render his thoughts coherent, than with a mush-minded welfare statist with no clear principles. The former offers the opportunity for rational persuasion, but the latter, as we know from everyday life in the U.S., is largely immune and can simply shift gears, in an almost postmodern fashion, when cornered. Indeed, the Rand speech I read to Yale students on Wednesday ended with the prediction that the mushy middle would not hold and that the future would belong to one or the other principled extreme: Objectivism or Communism (this inspired one student to ask if I’m an Objectivist and, when I said no, to follow up with the amusing question, “Well, then, are you a Communist?” — Rand greatly underestimated people’s willingness to muddle along somewhere in the middle, right up to and perhaps beyond the point of the welfare state’s collapse). [...]