The Contradiction that is Ayn Rand—or is Ayn Rand a fundamental idiot?

Okay, of course Ayn Rand isn’t an idiot. She might even be a genius. But I can’t read Ayn Rand anymore than I can read Karl Marx—both of whom know everything, which right there is a contradiction.

And granted, I’m a little behind the times here, talking about a person whose most famous works came out in the ’40s and ’50s, although folks still bow at her altar today—as do Marxists for Marx, that cantankerous, boil-butted fundamentalist. The thing is, they’re both so verbally autocratic—and then others translate this emotion with a hammer in hand. Anyway, I read the following quote the other day, from Ayn Rand, who is the author of the massive-sellers The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. She is also the ‘founder’ of Objectivism. She writes:

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.

Who outside of, well, possibly God (who never precisely returns my emails), lunatic dictators and fundamentalists of all sorts, religious or non-religious, could really believe this?

In other words, I must contradict Ayn Rand. I think I’ll write her a letter that I think she’ll read. Even though she’s dead. Those two ideas may be a contradiction.

That hat contradicts both logic and fashion, so does smoking and freedom. ‘I am free to smoke, and then smoking chains me by addiction, gives me cancer, and I am anything but free.’ A contradiction.

Definition: Contradictory: of words or propositions so related that both cannot be true and both cannot be false; “‘perfect’ and ‘imperfect’ are contradictory terms.”

The letter:

Dear Ayn,

We live on a perpetually spinning yet life-producing round rock, and we don’t fall off, though we fall down, and it’s going nobody-knows-where, warmed by the sun, cooled by water falling from clouds, yet we claim to be in control of our own lives; we feel and/or long to be ‘free,’ yet are utterly dependent on everything—nature, air and others; we are imbued with a relentless yearn for life, yet must die, all the while living in a curious balancing act of choices and non-choices, controls and freedoms. And by our very physical design, we misperceive what we believe is certain.

So Ayn, to say contradictions do not exist, is naughty. And silly. And some would say idiotic. Calling you naughty may be a contradiction to what you really are. Although that hat is rather naughty. And I’ll give you this: you are thought-provoking—but you’re actually a fundamentalist. Minus the fun. Although the ‘fun’ in fundamentalism might also be a contradiction. Or maybe I don’t know what a contradiction is. Which would mean my so-called logic has contradicted itself. Damn.

Love,

Paradox

Ditto with this:

“People create their own questions because they are afraid to look straight. All you have to do is look straight and see the road, and when you see it, don’t sit looking at it—walk.”

As long as the ‘straight’ is the same direction as Ayn Rand. Otherwise, according to the above, one doesn’t understand. Anything. Unless you’re saying two people can go in opposite directions and both be right. But that would be a contradiction, and generally leads to war, or worse, ill-feeling. I went over all this with Atlas, and he shrugged.

My life—a very fortunate and wonderful life—my existence, is all bound together and pulled apart by contradiction. Which may be a contradiction.

Feel free to contradict me.

Yours in love and contradiction,

Pete

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15 Responses to “The Contradiction that is Ayn Rand—or is Ayn Rand a fundamental idiot?”

  1. Kaman Davidson says:

    Fist off, I would like to say that I am not a proponent of Ayn Rand’s philosophy in any way and I think to call her a philosopher may even be a discredit to all the great philosophers that have come before and will come after her. That being said, I think that you are not quite understanding what it means for something to be a true contradiction. If I were to make the claim that it is either raining outside right now or it is not, must by NECESSITY be a true statement, because for both to be true would not be logically possible. It would be like saying 2+2=4 and 2+2 does not equal for and holding both to be true. I hope this clears up the confusion.

  2. Thanks for your comment. No, I indeed do understand. It just so happens that you and I have a different take on the word contradiction, which would be a contradiction in itself. Everyone from me to Christopher Hitchens (because I read him saying it lately) understand, despite the differences of opinion, that conflicting desires and unavoidabilities make countless things in life utter contradictions. Not everything, but some things. Fundamentalists may not agree. Ayn Rand, for example, was a proponent of freedom, following your truth, but when her young lover left her for another woman, she went ballistic and threatened him etc., etc. I empathize with her breakdown, wish her happiness etc., but between her actions and beliefs, we have, in my opinion, a contradiction. And this contradiction shows the nuances that make a life of (stated) no contradiction an impossibility, contradicting Ayn’s own position of no contradiction. I could go on forever, although I’ll be dead long before that, not that I want to die, but I have no choice, yet the goal is to be free: countless contradictions. Good luck, although luck may or may not play any role in anything—but that’s a different blog.

    Pete

  3. Kaman Davidson says:

    So just to be clear, you’re saying that it is completely possible for it to be BOTH raining and not raining in the exact same place at the exact same time?

  4. Ah, nice. Alas, no, my friend. As I said, some things are NOT contradictory, as per your example, but, I added, some things are, and that is self evident, at least to me. Many of those deal with emotions, desires, wants etc.

    Indeed, I know many people, perhaps yourself, who feel they are rationalists. They listen to reason. With their rationale they argue over and over again with people they believe to be irrational—often in relationship, often man to woman. Without success. Indeed, things often get worse. Alas, their actions, doing the same thing over and over to prove their rationality, is irrational. Their belief and the reality is contradictory.

    If Ayn Rand is talking about things you’re talking about, rain and not raining in the same place at the same time, the point, to me, is pointless. I believe her to be talking about human emotional experience. And for the record, quantum physics (possibly) could still screw your point up, making it contradictory.

    But let’s just leave it at that. I see some things as contradictory, some things not. That serves me well. You see nothing as contradictory and you have Ayn Rand on your side. May that serve you well!

    Pete

  5. Anonymous says:

    Ayn Rand, for example, was a proponent of freedom, following your truth, but when her young lover left her for another woman, she went ballistic and threatened him etc.

    between her actions and beliefs, we have, in my opinion, a contradiction.

    I’m curious about your premises here. Are you saying she was contradicting her own nature? Strange considering you’ve never met her and admit at the start you can’t read her literature, that your knowledge of her nature lets you call this a contradiction.
    Check your premises, starting with the one assuming Ayn Rand wouldn’t be mad if her partner left her.

  6. My friend, I said I don’t much enjoy her literature, like I can’t read her polar opposite, yet also a fundamentalist, Karl Marx (which wasn’t literature), either. But her literature, ie her novels, was not her. So I haven’t read much of her literature, ie fiction, as I said, but I’ve read about her, I’ve listened to many of her interviews, which are alway provocative, and she is full of great originality, and I agree with some stuff, and deeply disagree with some stuff. Much of her thesis, let’s say, is about using the rational mind, and about freedom, as she defines it.

    What I wrote about, obviously half or more tongue in cheek (heaven forbid humour, which, like Marx, she seemed to sorely lack—often a sign of fundamentalism, also often evident in followers) was about my belief, right and wrong, that contradiction exists, not in everything, but in countless things, mostly dealing with emotion. I applaud your right and joy in exalting Ayn Rand, and disagreeing with the notion that contradiction exists. And I am glad your life lacks contradiction. Mine does not. At all.

    Anyway, I just went on-line for literally ten seconds, and found this, from her former lover, Nathaniel Brandon, called The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand. It may be of no interest to you, or really interesting. He wrote :

    Our relationship went through many stages over the next eighteen years. It came to an end in the summer of 1968. There was an explosive parting of the ways. [she was furious it turns out**]. I intend to write about that break one day, but I shall not concern myself with it here.

    From 1958 to 1968, through the Nathaniel Branden Institute in New York City, I lectured on her philosophy and offered courses on her philosophy via tape transcription in some eighty other cities throughout North America. My first book, published in 1962, was Who Is Ayn Rand? It was a study of her life and work.

    Following the break, I moved to Los Angeles, and in my public lectures in Los Angeles and elsewhere through the country I encountered many people, admirers of Miss Rand, students of objectivism, who wanted to talk to me about their own experiences with objectivism as they struggled to apply Rand’s teachings to their own lives. Perhaps because of my break with her, they now felt freer to speak openly to me than they would have in the past. Of course they talked of the many benefits they had derived from Rand’s work. But, they also disclosed much suffering, conflict, guilt, and confusion. At first my almost reflexive response was to think that they had somehow failed to understand objectivism adequately. But as time went by and I saw the magnitude of the problem, I realized that answer was not good enough — and that I needed to take a fresh look at what the philosophy of Ayn Rand was saying to people.

    This conviction was reinforced by many men and women who came to me for psychotherapy who were admirers of Ayn Rand. Here again I was exposed to problems relating to objectivism that cried out for an explanation.

    Later as I conducted more lectures and seminars, I met literally thousands of people around the country who described themselves as students of objectivism and admirers of Ayn Rand’s books, and while I saw the great benefits and values her work offered to their lives, I also saw the dark side, the difficulties, the feelings of guilt, confusion and self-alienation that clearly seemed related, in some way, to the impact of Ayn Rand’s work. Perhaps the evidence had always been there — I think it was — only now I was freer to see it because of my own growth and emancipation.

    In discussing Rand’s philosophy, there are certain difficulties. One is the task of separating her basic ideas from her own style of presentation. She could be abrasive, she could make sweeping generalizations [ie that contradiction doesn't exist!—couldn't resist] that needed explanations that she did not provide; she made very little effort to understand someone else’s intellectual context and to build a bridge from their context to hers.

    A further difficulty lies in the fact that she was a novelist and chose principally to present her philosophy in fiction

    Further, which may make her behaviour contradictory to what she teaches, (very human, but contradictory), are in bold:

    Objectivism teaches:

    That reality is what it is, that things are what they are, independent of anyone’s beliefs, feelings, judgments or opinions — that existence exists, that A is A;

    That reason, the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by the various senses, is fully competent, in principle, to understand the facts of reality;

    That any form of irrationalism, supernaturalism, or mysticism, any claim to a nonsensory, nonrational form of knowledge, is to be rejected;

    That a rational code of ethics is possible and is derivable from an appropriate assessment of the nature of human beings as well as the nature of reality;

    That the standard of the good is not God or the alleged needs of society but rather “Man’s life,” that which is objectively required for man’s or woman’s life, survival, and well-being;

    That a human being is an end in him- or herself, that each one of us has the right to exist for our own sake, neither sacrificing others to self nor self to others;

    That the principles of justice and respect for individuality autonomy, and personal rights must replace the principle of sacrifice in human relationships;

    And finally:

    Reason is at once a faculty and a process of identifying and integrating the data present or given in awareness. Reason means integration in accordance with the law of noncontradiction. If you think of it in these terms — as a process of noncontradictory integration — it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could be opposed to it.

    Here is the problem: There is a difference between reason as a process and what any person or any group of people, at any time in history, may regard as “the reasonable.” This is a distinction that very few people are able to keep clear. We all exist in history, not just in some timeless vacuum, and probably none of us can entirely escape contemporary notions of “the reasonable.” It’s always important to remember that reason or rationality, on the one hand, and what people may regard as “the reasonable,” on the other hand, don’t mean the same thing.

    The consequence of failing to make this distinction, and this is markedly apparent in the case of Ayn Rand, is that if someone disagrees with your notion of “the reasonable,” it can feel very appropriate to accuse him or her of being “irrational” or “against reason.”

    If you read her books, or her essays in The Objectivist, or if you listen to her lectures, you will notice with what frequency and ease she branded any viewpoint she did not share as not merely mistaken but “irrational” or “mystical.” In other words, anything that challenged her particular model of reality was not merely wrong but “irrational” and “mystical” — to say nothing, of course, of its being “evil,” another word she loved to use with extraordinary frequency.

    Fascinating woman. I have no issue with being wrong here. I am wrong most everywhere. Why? For one cosmological reason, as physicist Brian Greene once said, the world is demonstrably not as we see it. But also just right here, in the world of Newtonian physics, I really have little idea of what is really going on, fuck up regularly, and get profoundly confused (and this may be an example) despite ongoing effort. Appreciate your steadfast belief, if that’s what you have, in Ayn Rand and the notion that contradiction does not exist. Good luck!

    Pete

    **From Branden—and I understand this is but one side:

    Ayn naively thought that once she had denounced me, none of her admirers would deal with me. She assumed they would automatically place her judgment above their first-hand experience of who I was. She never had much esteem for most of her followers and this is an example. A major effort was made to make me persona non grata among Objectivists, which didn’t work. Of course some people turned against me and are still convinced I am a villain, but they are a minority.

    And :

    When, for instance, she broke with someone—say, Murray Rothbard or Edith Efron—she never could acknowledge anything good about them, not even that they were intelligent, no matter how much she might have praised their intelligence in the past. Suddenly nothing about them was any good and never had been.

    That is, from my point of view, irrational, by definition. Continuing:

    For a brief while Ayn Rand even tried to sell the idea to some people that I had never been more to her than a student, not even a close personal friend — after removing the dedication to me from Atlas, when maybe 2 million copies with the dedication were already in print!

    And:

    If Objectivism stands for anything, it stands for respect for reality, facts, and truth. But you see, this is what I meant in Judgment Day when I said that once someone is declared an “enemy” of Ayn Rand, all morality is suspended. My own view is that the ultimate test of our integrity is not how we deal with those whom we agree with, those on “our side,” but how we deal with those who do not agree, those on the “other side.”

  7. Anonymous says:

    >contradiction exists, not in everything, but in countless things, mostly dealing with emotion.
    This is the point i was arguing against.

    >She could be abrasive
    >she never could acknowledge anything good about them, not even that they were intelligent, no matter how much she might have praised their intelligence in the past. Suddenly nothing about them was any good and never had been.
    >once someone is declared an “enemy” of Ayn Rand, all morality is suspended.
    All i meant to say was, your premises seems to me to be
    “Ayn Rand’s teachings are always consistent with her actions”
    “Ayn Rand is incapable of holding a grudge”
    “Ayn Rand is not abrasive at times”

    A person is not a computer, at times a person is very irrational emotionally, and often may act very irrationally.
    >contradiction exists, not in everything, but in countless things, mostly dealing with emotion.
    Doesn’t this only work on the premise that emotion and reason are inseparable from each other?

    I’m neither a fundamentalist nor an objectivist, i’m only after the truth in any situation, if that helps.

  8. Your description of my premises as incorrect is fine—as I said I was being slightly tongue in cheek, so I wasn’t actually giving some sort of dictum. I was making a suggestion about anybody even stating what is rational and not rational. These are very subjective. You see, anyone can suggest that the world is random, but no one lives that way. One can suggest nothing inherently has meaning, but no one (except perhaps the insane) live that way. That is the way it is, with worldview theories. The last person who went at me for saying that “there may be Absolute Truth, and you may have it, but I personally cannot say what that is,” was a Christian fundamentalist. She just could not accept that I couldn’t personally believe I was capable of saying what Absolute Truth was: in her case, Jesus Christ.

    So it is, FOR ME, with Ayn Rand’s world without contradictions. For me, even if Ayn Rand is correct from some other unreachable, unseeable plane, her point carries in it an undeniable dose of irrationality, even hopelessness, in this world (notwithstanding whatever great insights it may also offer). This is, to me, self-evident. There are countless rational behaviours, according to some, that have wreaked brutal misery on the world. Lying can be stunningly right or wrong. So-called rational behaviour can be cruel or kind. One may be able find their own truth in any situation, but The Truth? Still, I really wish you great insight, and also big emotion (to quote Bruce Lee: “Don’t think, feel…”—I just finished a documentary about him), tons of joy and excitement with a worldview that either works for you in believing there is, or there isn’t, such a thing as contradiction in this journey.

    The journey continues,

    Pete

  9. mike says:

    I thinks she is merely claiming that there are no valid contradictory objective arguments. In the grand scheme of things a subjective argument is as irrelevant as my favorite flavor of ice cream. Two people seeing an object differently doesn’t change it’s nature.

    My biggest complaint from what I read of her was that her attempted application of objective standards to aesthetics was quite silly. She was rife with contradictions, but I think she definitely was onto something. She just needed to check some of her premises…

  10. FeRD says:

    Anyway, I just went on-line for literally ten seconds, and found this, from her former lover, Nathaniel Brandon, called The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand. It may be of no interest to you, or really interesting.

    …Or both! ;-)

  11. Greg Potoano says:

    You are grossly misrepresenting or simply misunderstanding Ayn Rand’s argument about contradictions. Her argument from the book, “Atlas Shrugged” was not that ‘contradictions’ as in the term, itself, do not exist; it was that when a human is seemingly contradicting itself, check its premises and you won’t find contradiction, you’ll find a self-perpetuating system. NOTE: As is exemplar from your photo of Rand smoking a cigarette– contradiction is easy to see (albeit tyrannical even) when its from an observer but could be entirely different according to their own view or self-perpetuating system of views on the subject (in this case Rand’s

    Also, Rand’s philosophy was an optimistic one in that it showed that there really IS meaning on the level of individual human lives. How is that not the most life-affirming and joy-giving idea ever? Isn’t that sort of optimism preferable to the Eastern and more leftist optimism that states that individual lives are meaningless and that hope is the source of suffering?

    Your idea that contradiction exists in emotion seems flawed to me as well. You and many others that tend to think along these lines of philosophy have the naive notion that emotion can actually be separated from reason within human beings. No doubt the popularity of this idea in the 19th century is owed to Freudian thought. Besides depression, which many doctors consider to be a sort of mild-dementia (think forgetfulness), I’m not aware of common or normal cases where a person’s emotion is contradictory. Could you explain your opinion on this?

    I mostly think your assertion may be due to believing that your emotion is one entity and your reason is another. That seems almost superstitious though, doesn’t it?

  12. dan says:

    “The moral precept to adopt…is: Judge, and be prepared to be judged.”
    ~ Ayn Rand

  13. dan says:

    Ayn Rand was not what one would refer to as a shrinking violet.

    She certainly was outspoken and to the oft, the portions of her literary contributions that were cited as quotations, reflected a vigor and ferocity that she may have adopted to establish a voice. Quite possibly this contributed to the manifestation of an underlying anti establishment tone, which , at the very core was fueled by a sexist societal structure against which she courageously spoke out.
    Ayn Rands value as one of histories great social commentators is that she did not have a singular focal topic. Her legacy is one that should inspire all that exists to exercise its chance to manifest and be, over and over again.
    Many of Ayn Rands quotation can be seen as contradictory, though she never said them at the same moment time. The point being she didnt stop, she continued to think and express the resultant ideas.
    WRT ” Contradictions don’t exist…” at that moment for her they did not, that is fact not questionable fodder for debate.
    I have found that quotation extremely useful in reassessing points of contention.
    Having said that I have found it hard to submit in any format as its absolute nature by definitions is ambiguous.

    A later quote.

    ““Free competition enforced by law” is a grotesque contradiction in terms.” ~ Ayn Rand.

    Thanks Pete. I wish she were here to stoush it out.

    In doing so she

  14. Ged Byrne says:

    Hi Mike,

    “Two people seeing an object differently doesn’t change it’s nature.”

    Have you met met my friend quantum physics?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect_(physics)

    “here are no valid contradictory objective arguments.”

    Are you saying that philosophers are able to achieve a level of objectivity in chaotic realms that surpasses physicists in their simple realm?

  15. Paul says:

    Every single thing you pointed out as a contradiction, isn’t. You are operating under false premises. You presume to define why she smokes, why she’s wearing a hat, whether she cares about fashion, that she ever said she new “everything”. The biggest false premise is the obligation of consequence. We apply consequence to an action or inaction or a statement and perceive the consequence. We then in some way interpret that consequence to be in some form mandatory. Either mandatory to her motives, to the act itself, or what will/should happen. The false premise is our failing to understand that these consequences may simply be ignored by her. We think she’s foolish. Perhaps she doesn’t care. We think she’s wrong, perhaps our approval is not a requisite to the philosophy. You have to understand, her statements were strongly holding with the view point that opinion and perspective are completely irrelevant. An act, is what it is. One person may approve it, another may not, some may not even understand it. But the act itself does not change based on these perspectives. A good example is art. Everyone has an opinion in art. But not one of these opinions changes the art. It stays the same color, size, whatever. Art doesn’t care if you like it. It’s not relevant. So if you remove emotion or opinion, yeah there really are no such things as contradictions

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