Top 10 Reasons Ayn Rand was Dead Wrong

Last Updated Apr 12, 2011 9:03 AM EDT

RELATED POSTS: This post is about an absurd philosophy that got sold to the world of business and government, creating a world of havoc in the United States. The philosophy, called "Objectivism," came from the hack writer Ayn Rand, whose disciple is Alan Greenspan, architect of the great recession.

Objectivism is important to sales professionals because it's the kind of philosophy that, if you believe in it, you're going to screw up your ability to sell effectively. As a profession, Sales has moved beyond the attempt to manipulate people selfishly for one's own ends, which is how Objectivism plays itself out in the real world.

Most successful sales professionals feel that they are in service to something greater than themselves. Unfortunately, that's not a belief that often shared by their top management, as pointed out in the BNET blog post "Why Do CEOs (Still) Love Ayn Rand." That post summarized Objectivism as:
  • 1) Reality is an objective absolute. Facts trump man's feelings, wishes, hopes, and fears.
  • 2) Reason is the only way to perceive reality and the sole knowledge source. It is man's only guide to action and means to survival.
  • 3) Every man exists for his own sake. Pursuit of his own rational self-interest and his own happiness is his life's moral purpose.
  • 4) The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism.
Everything I know about life and business says that the above philosophy is a total crock. Here are my top ten reasons why:
  1. Laissez-Faire capitalism doesn't work. Laissez-Faire capitalism is a utopian fantasy. And like all utopias, it cannot actually exist. Therefore, as a philosophy, it needs to be judged on how it gets implemented in the real world, with all the real world's inherent inconsistencies. Just like Marxism, in the real world, produced the Soviet system in Russia, the real world implementation of laissez-faire capitalism, led by Rand-disciple Greenspan, produced the great recession.
  2. Reason has real-world limitations. While I'm all for valuing reason over superstition, the notion that one can use reason without emotion is science fiction. Maybe that works on the planet Vulcan, but human beings swim in a vast ocean of emotion. Emotion governs the "why" behind every exercise of reason, determining our choices of interest and intention. In the real world, people use reason as a way to buttress what their emotions desire.
  3. Ayn Rand was a emotional nut case. Regardless of what you think of her philosophy and writing, Rand's personal life was a complete shambles. She became involved in an adulterous affair with a disciple (a "reasonable" decision on her part, of course), and then went all "old bat of out hell" when he made the "reasonable" decision to start boinking some younger woman. The resulting emotional pyrotechnics were a perfect example of the impotence of Objectivism as a life creed.
  4. Her philosophy is devoid of gratitude. While individualism has some value, Objectivism largely discounts the fact the every successful person stands on the shoulders of those who have come before. In addition, success always involves an element of luck, often consisting of having had the luck to be born into a rich family with plenty of connections. Success devoid of gratitude and the noblesse oblige to help others brings out the worst in people.
  5. Reality is NOT an objective absolute. There's no way to tell whether reality is objective or not because it can only be perceived subjectively. While it could be argued that the consensus of multiple subjective realities equals objective reality, the exact same logic would also assign objective reality to Jung's archetypes, which appear inside every human being's dreams. In any case, measuring something changes the thing measured, so simply perceiving "reality" changes the nature of reality. Therefore, so it can't be absolute.
  6. Howard Roark was a lousy architect. If Roark (the hero of Rand's book The Fountainhead) wanted his "vision" to be his alone, he had no business getting other people to bankroll it. Instead, he should have done something like the Watts Towers, where he'd be responsible for every part of the project, including its construction. Large scale architecture is a collaborative venture that involves satisfying the desires and needs of the client. Good architects are expert at managing client expectations and working through creative differences.
  7. Facts do NOT trump feelings, wishes, hopes, and fears. As any sales professional knows, when dealing with human beings, facts ALWAYS run a distant fifth. That's particularly true when dealing with people who are operating under the fantasy that their decisions are based upon "fact." Emotion trumps reason every time, and nobody is easier to influence emotionally than those who are so unaware of that their emotions that they think they're making "reasonable" decisions.
  8. Every man does NOT exist for his own sake. While Rand believed that pursuit of one's own rational self-interest and one's own happiness is his life's moral purpose, the scientific fact is that man evolved as a communal creature, with bonds of family and community being tightly tied to health, happiness, longevity, and pretty much everything that makes life pleasurable. Objectivism thus runs counter to demonstrable scientific fact.
  9. Reading Rand creates instant jackasses. Anyone who's been subjected to a friend who suddenly "discovers" Rand knows that reading her works causes people to act like selfish idiots. They combine a patina of "reason" over a self-righteous justification of whatever their "id" happens to want at the time and then insist that they're just pursuing their own self-interest. They also become incredibly boring, about on the level of a newly converted Scientologist.
  10. Rand is the CEOs' favorite philosopher. Most CEOs already have CEO disease, which the medical profession defines as "the enlargement of the sphincter so that it covers the entire body, creating an overwhelming itch that can only be calmed by the frequent osculation of underlings." Let's face it: if there was ever an human ilk who don't need a philosophy that drives them to be even more selfish, it's the overpaid and overpampered CEOs of the world.
IMHO, it's long past time to consign Objectivism to the same intellectual dustbin where we've thrown Marxism and Absolute Monarchy.

As a bonus, we won't be forced any longer to listen to newly minted Rand fanboys drone on and on and on and on about how much more enlightened they are than the rest of us hoi-polloi. Puleeze! (eye roll)

NOTE: If you want an example of the kind of behavior you can expect from Rand-influenced CEOs (as well as other assorted follies) check out these posts:
  • Geoffrey James

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