Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

19 March 2016

Cummins on Ayn Rand's View of Human Nature

Dr. Denise Cummins wrote an article entitled This is what happens when you take Ayn Rand seriously, on which I commented extensively.  She has followed that article up with another in which she takes exception to one of my comments and generally finds fault with Ayn Rand for not embracing altruism.  Her second article is entitled What Ayn Rand got wrong about human nature.  She starts her article by saying that the complaints of Rand's followers "primarily objected to my assertion that Rand celebrated unbridled self-interest."

Her first quote and the only quote of such a "follower" was taken from one of my comments.  This is that quote:
Rand’s good people do care about others. They do not care to be forced to give away the fruits of their invested time to others, but they are delighted to trade what they produce to others and delighted to see those trades improve the lives of others.
To which her only direct comment is "Such objections are without merit." Oddly enough, she then quoted Ayn Rand
Man gains enormous values from dealing with other men; living in a human society is his proper way of life — but only on certain conditions. Man is not a lone wolf and he is not a social animal. He is a contractual animal. He has to plan his life long-range, make his own choices, and deal with other men by voluntary agreement (and he has to be able to rely on their observance of the agreements they entered). The choice is not self-sacrifice or domination.
showing that she also believed in goodwill towards others provided our associations and trades are of a voluntary nature.  She introduces this quote of Rand's by saying that she acknowledged that human beings are social animals who should "look beyond their own immediate self-interest in order to function."  Looking beyond "immediate self-interest" is consistent with Rand's general philosophy and with my comment that Cummins claimed had no merit.  Note the sleight of hand by Cummins in claiming that Rand believed in "unbridled self-interest" in the first paragraph of her article even as she now acknowledges that Rand looks beyond "immediate self-interest."  Actually, Rand and I believe that rational man pursues his rational self-interest, not an "unbridled self-interest."  An unbridled self-interest is an emotion-driven and short-range viewpoint of others and one's relations with them which is not bridled by rational assessment and long-range planning of one's life.

Cummins then claims:
Despite embracing sociality, Rand saw more evil than good in this kind of interdependence between people. As she wrote in “The Fountainhead,” “The choice is independence or dependence. All that which proceeds from man’s independent ego is good. All that which proceeds from man’s dependence upon men is evil.”
Note that in the quote she gives here, Rand is discussing man's independent ego.  She is not discussing an independence from the trade of values with others.  Rand is saying that one's ego should not be dependent upon what others think of you or that you should not let others tell you what to think or whether you have self-value.  The contradiction Cummins claims is not supported by this quote.

Cummins then claims that Ayn Rand somewhat embraces altruism:
Perhaps the key to understanding this contradiction lies in a journal entry in which she writes, “Selfishness does not mean only to do things for one’s self. One may do things, affecting others, for his own pleasure and benefit. This is not immoral, but the highest of morality.”
Seen in this light, altruistic acts are sanctioned insofar as they bring pleasure or other benefit to the giver, who has no moral obligation to offer help to those who are suffering.
 Ayn Rand defines altruism as the act of sacrificing one's own self-interest for the sake of the interest of others.  Cummins appears to believe that any act done for the sake of others is an act of altruism.  There are certainly many situations in which a rational man will act to enhance the interest of others without sacrificing his own interest and indeed by enhancing his own self-interest as well.  Cummins wants to provide legitimacy for altruism by claiming it subsumes both the sacrificial and the self-interested acts that help others.  For strong moral reasons, Ayn Rand wants to separate these very different actions with respect to relations and associations with others.  Cummins wants to muddle them together.

Cummins next takes exception to Rand's claims that socialism does not work.  Cummins says that socialism can lead to abuse and poverty, but it can also lead to wealth, health, and happiness superior to capitalism.  So, she proves this by stating that a certain Prosperity Index lists the United States as the 11th most "prosperous" nation after a number of nations she calls socialist nations.  The criteria for this ranking are not given by her link and that link does not link to the criteria either.  But in any case, one critical assumption in her "proof" is that the USA is an example of an unadulterated capitalist country.  In fact the Cato Institute 2015 Economic Freedom of the World report ranked the USA as only the 16th country in economic freedoms.  The Heritage Foundation Economic Freedom Index of 2016 lists the USA as #11 in economic freedom.  So, it should not be a surprising result of an index of prosperity to rank the USA #11.  According to the Cato Economic Freedom of the World report, New Zealand, Switzerland, Ireland and Canada are economically more free than the USA.  According to the Heritage Foundation Economic Freedom Index, New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, and Ireland all have more economic freedom than does the USA.  Apparently, Cummins is unaware of the many socialist programs and economic controls that American governments have saddled our business sector with.

Oddly, Cummins claims that
while a given individual can benefit from cooperating, he or she can usually do better by reneging.  The end result is that altruists go extinct.  But Trivers showed that altruists can survive if one simple condition is satisfied: Those who fail to reciprocate must be punished through exclusion from subsequent cooperative ventures.
Once again, Cummins is implicitly claiming that one who cooperates and does their part is an altruist, while the rational self-interested person will renege.  But, she says the altruist can do well in cooperative transactions if the reneger is not allowed to enter into future cooperative ventures.  So, the long-range rational self-interest of a person is not to renege, which takes us right back to Ayn Rand's self-interest -- one of rational thought and long-range planning!  Cummins then tries to make a strong contrast between future exclusion and the enforcement of contracts.  The enforcement of contracts as advocated by Ayn Rand does help to prevent harm to the partner in a cooperative endeavor who will live up to the spirit of the endeavor.  The one who does not is subject to legal action to recover damages and also to future exclusion from cooperative endeavors.

Cummins claims that Rand's idea of enforceable contracts says Rand expects "government to play a role in maintaining fairness in market transactions."  She may be trying to claim this opens the door to a version of fairness as Cummins would see fairness, not as Rand would see it.  If this is not the case, I do not see why she has brought this up.

Not surprisingly, Cummins claims that laissez-faire capitalism failed in the 2008 financial crisis.  She fails entirely to recognize the many ways in which that crisis was caused by government policies and the many ways that government policies iced a recovery.

Cummins wraps her article up with the Elizabeth Warren quote that every individual has a collectivist debt, which may be extracted by force, because we gain from living in a society in which we exchange values, sometimes voluntarily, sometimes at the point of a gun.  Well, of course, we gain from living in a society in which we are allowed to choose our own values and act, often in cooperation with others, in the pursuit of our values.  That is central to Rand's philosophy.

Warren claims that we gain even from those goods or services delivered by the force of government that provide us some benefit, even if that benefit cost us far more in expense than is the value of the benefit.  We owe the collective for allowing us to use the roads, no matter how badly government builds and maintains roads.  We owe the collective for long-term unemployment insurance, no matter how irresponsible the beneficiary is for not getting another job or creating his own job.  This is Warren's inversion of cause and effect and hers a great way to reduce productive and creative work.  It is also most strange that she is only interested in laying forceful claim to the products of creative and productive work.  There is no compensation to the creative and productive person in the hours others have invested into their entertainments and pleasures of a non-creative and non-productive manner.  Warren is simply a bank-robber, who claims it is moral to be a thief.

Of course we gain by living in a society in which the knowledge gained by others and the produce of others can be freely traded and made available to us.  Most people who act in the private sector do leave a legacy of values behind them which make it easier for others to survive and flourish in the future.  This is a major benefit of a free society.  It is not a benefit if these benefits of a free society are undermined by the claim that the legacy of prior productive people allows a moral right to take by force whatever one wants in the future from that legacy beneficiary.  This claim does nothing but infest with rot the process of productive and creative thinking and the actions needed to turn those thoughts into actual goods and services.  We rightly admire those who have led productive and creative lives, but this does not make us slaves either to them or to others in society who may not be very productive and creative.  To claim that the legacy of other productive and creative people should be a justification for the use of force to steal the fruits of the time and effort that others invest in their productive and creative work is a sacrilege against that legacy and the good people who left it.

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