DLW is an occasional blog about how people spend the time of their lives (every moment) to enable health, balance, meaning and fulfillment. As a blogspot about doing, it draws from personal stories and from studies of everyday living. It's main idea is that to be well, people must be involved fully in what they do. The activities that occupy our days help to connect us to the world, define who we are, and keep us healthy.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Looking Out for Our Neighbors- Ayn Rand Revisited

The blogosphere has been buzzing lately with commentary about Atlas Shrugged, the novel written by author Ayn Rand in 1957. Considered one of the most popular US novels during the second half of the twentieth century, Atlas Shrugged tells the tale of a revolt by innovators and others in society whose ideas and work efforts create wealth and opportunity. The books lays out a philosophy that has come to be known as Objectivism, and advocates free market capitalism, objective reality, and enlightened self-interest.

Opponents of the economic stimulus plan, particularly far right conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh, and others, frequently cite Atlas Shrugged as a type of manifesto that justifies their position that people who have lost jobs or are losing their homes should not be helped by the government because this is contrary to free market individualism. Typically, their argument holds that people (which is usually code for themselves) should not be asked to contribute tax dollars toward efforts that are seen as contrary to free market philosophy. Objectivism's emphasis on an individual's right to pursue happiness and self interest without feeling an obligation toward others is central to the current misguided argument used by anti-stimulus adversaries who cite Rand.

So what does this have to do with doing life well? An oft-cited viewpoint expressed in previous posts on this blogsite is that because we are group-living animals, we are interdependent creatures. We each depend on others, and our species requires altruism and cooperation for its survival. Objectivism rejects unbridled altruism, and its principles have been misrepresented by Limbaugh and others as justifying the kind of selfish "look out for yourself only" type of attitude that led to the unprecedented transfer of wealth over the past decade to the wealthiest one percent of the population. Social Darwinism, which is the kind of winner-take-all mentality that characterizes some viewpoints, misses two points. First, it presumes that by accumulating enough wealth, people don't really have to worry about the greater environment because they can enjoy their riches in protected isolation.

They are so wrong about this. Everything that we know about happiness and the enjoyment of life involves sharing experiences with others. Studies consistently show that we need others for our happiness. But more importantly, advocates who use Rand's book as a justification for their selfish philosophy didn't read the book closely enough. Rand does not advocate the kind of selfishness that some use to as justification to deny unemployment checks to people who are out of work for reasons unrelated to their performance. Rather, she advocates reasoned, rational and enlightened self-interest, which is different than the hedonistic, pleasure seeking, "I refuse to share my rice bowl with others" self-interest that typifies so much of the superficial Rand-citing that is moving across the conservative blogosphere these days. In the interest of creating the kind of world we can all share, whether rich or not rich, it is important to set the record straight. Ayn Rand never justified selfishness in the hedonistic sense that anti-stimulus adversaries are now contending. The Irish proverb is worth citing again: "the people live in the shelter of each other."


  1. Anonymous3/12/2009

    I'm surprised to see such a "political" post here, but I think your point is accurate, and I agree that the stimulus package is about creating environments where we can ALL thrive.

  2. Anonymous3/12/2009

    The Opinionator ran a column on March 6 about Atlas Shrugged and the novel's story of "wealth producers" going on strike. The protagonist of Atlas Shrugged is a character named John Galt, and the expression "Going Galt" is now used to refer to a kind of silly passive aggressive behavior advocated to protest the policies now being pursued by the Obama administration. It reminds me of my three year old being told he cannot eat another chocolate bar and then refusing to take a bath. The opionator column is found here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/06/going-galt-everyones-doing-it/

  3. Anonymous3/14/2009

    Dude, I still don't get what this has to do with the topic of your website???


About Me

I am a writer, lifelong student, former academic and new blogger. My passion continues to be everyday living. I am interested in what people do, how, when and why they do it, and what it means for their their understanding of the world and hence, their well being.