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The Truth About Ayn Rand: Origins of Objectivism

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Stefan Molyneux has been described as the most popular internet philosopher. He is an anarchist but he has great admiration for Ayn Rand.

Here he goes into the roots of Ayn Rand's philosophy from her early life experiences. He gets passionate near the end.

1 hour 23 minutes

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It was a nice monologue. but he did not present a single fact not already known from Ayn Rand herself, her supportive biographers, or her detractors.

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It was a nice monologue. but he did not present a single fact not already known from Ayn Rand herself, her supportive biographers, or her detractors.

Why does that matter?

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I listened to the beginning 3 or 4 minutes and had to stop.

Molyneux starts with the famous surveys, like the one where Atlas Shrugged was considered by the American public as second in influence only to the Bible. It's a well known fact that the voting in these surveys was spiked by Rand fans. And if I remember correctly, the sample was around 2,000 or so. Yet he presents the results as if they were established fact for the entire culture.

That's one "truth about Ayn Rand" that's pretty misleading in his catalog of "truths."

I might watch the rest, but up to the point I saw, it looked like a sophomoric collection of factoids gleaned from Google and regurgitated in one fell swoop like a theme paper or class assignment. That's good for sophomores in school, I guess, but not much value otherwise.

Michael

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I listened to the beginning 3 or 4 minutes and had to stop.

Molyneux starts with the famous surveys, like the one where Atlas Shrugged was considered by the American public as second in influence only to the Bible. It's a well known fact that the voting in these surveys was spiked by Rand fans. And if I remember correctly, the sample was around 2,000 or so. Yet he presents the results as if they were established fact for the entire culture.

That's one "truth about Ayn Rand" that's pretty misleading in his catalog of "truths."

I might watch the rest, but up to the point I saw, it looked like a sophomoric collection of factoids gleaned from Google and regurgitated in one fell swoop like a theme paper or class assignment. That's good for sophomores in school, I guess, but not much value otherwise.

Michael

From what I could find the survey was done in 1991 of 5000 Book Club of The Month members and I couldn't find anything on it being Spiked by Ayn Rand Fans. Regardless I agree it shouldn't be used to represent all of American Culture but I was just interested where I could find the fact showing it was spiked.

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David,

I forgot where I read that. I think it was in one of the older O-Land groups or on an article by someone who participated.

On Googling, here are the numbers I remember from the 1991 Book of the Month Club survey of the Library of Congress: There were 2,032 responses. See here. Look at the blurb in that article for the information, not the text, which is misleading.

Anyway, here's how it works. Someone in O-Land gets wind that there is a survey being taken. Said person spreads the word to all Rand fans possible to vote in the survey and get others to vote. They call, email, visit houses, turn it into a voting campaign to get Rand's books up as high as possible on the survey, even though everybody knows this will misrepresent reality. If it's possible to vote more than once, they are encouraged to keep voting over and over.

In other words, they treat surveys as competitions to win unearned prestige for Rand, not as surveys to gather information on actual prestige. I think the whole enterprise is silly. Rand's impact on the culture is real and does not depend on faking reality.

On further Googling, I came across a good source that goes into this: Atlas Shrugged FAQ at the Objectivism Reference Center. Scroll down to question "6.4 Is it true that Atlas Shrugged is the second most influential book ever written?" Here's the full quote:

No one knows exactly how influential Atlas Shrugged is, because there has never been a proper study done to check. The "second most influential" claim comes from a Survey of Lifetime Reading Habits conducted in 1991 by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress. Printed surveys were sent to members of the Club, asking them what books had most influenced their own lives. A little over 2,000 responses were received. The Bible ranked first, and Atlas Shrugged ranked a distant second. Because the survey targeted an audience of book lovers (members of the Club) and an active effort was required to mail in a response, it is likely that the results were skewed towards people who were influenced especially strongly by a particular book. Such a result cannot be reliably interpreted as reflecting the entire US population, although enthusiastic promoters of the novel sometimes make such claims. (The survey is also often inaccurately described as a "poll" or "study," and various incorrect sources are cited for it.)

Similar concerns affect a more recent list to an even greater degree. In 1998, book publisher Random House ran an online vote asking readers to name the "best" English-language novels of the 20th century. Atlas Shrugged placed first in this vote, with Rand's other novels placing high on the list as well. However, there was a considerable amount of campaigning by special-interest groups to promote particular authors and books. There were also only limited controls to prevent repeat voting and other "ballot stuffing" techniques. In the end, the results probably reflected the intensity of feeling among the most highly motived voters as much or more than the breadth of support for any of the top vote-getters.

Because of the limitations of these surveys, some critics attack them as "invalid" or "unscientific," but that isn't entirely accurate. The survey results are legitimate as long as one understands their biases and limitations. They reflect the strength of influence that the books listed have had on the specific groups involved in the surveys. What is invalid and unscientific is to attempt to generalize the findings beyond those groups without accounting for the skewed participation.


I saw this up close on RoR. There is a section called "Activism" which is no longer very active. The most favored projects back when I participated on the forum were finding surveys where Rand-related works and people were possible to vote for and spiking them. You even got incentives like RoR Atlas points for taking part. The more you voted, the more Atlas points you got.

This, coming from a philosophy where the virtue of integrity is supposed to be one of the top values.

In my view, that kind of bullshit tarnishes the image of Objectivists, if not the philosophy, when people find out.

Michael

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David,

I forgot where I read that. I think it was in one of the older O-Land groups or on an article by someone who participated.

On Googling, here are the numbers I remember from the 1991 Book of the Month Club survey of the Library of Congress: There were 2,032 responses. See here. Look at the blurb in that article for the information, not the text, which is misleading.

Anyway, here's how it works. Someone in O-Land gets wind that there is a survey being taken. Said person spreads the word to all Rand fans possible to vote in the survey and get others to vote. They call, email, visit houses, turn it into a voting campaign to get Rand's books up as high as possible on the survey, even though everybody knows this will misrepresent reality. If it's possible to vote more than once, they are encouraged to keep voting over and over.

In other words, they treat surveys as competitions to win unearned prestige for Rand, not as surveys to gather information on actual prestige. I think the whole enterprise is silly. Rand's impact on the culture is real and does not depend on faking reality.

On further Googling, I came across a good source that goes into this: Atlas Shrugged FAQ at the Objectivism Reference Center. Scroll down to question "6.4 Is it true that Atlas Shrugged is the second most influential book ever written?" Here's the full quote:

No one knows exactly how influential Atlas Shrugged is, because there has never been a proper study done to check. The "second most influential" claim comes from a Survey of Lifetime Reading Habits conducted in 1991 by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress. Printed surveys were sent to members of the Club, asking them what books had most influenced their own lives. A little over 2,000 responses were received. The Bible ranked first, and Atlas Shrugged ranked a distant second. Because the survey targeted an audience of book lovers (members of the Club) and an active effort was required to mail in a response, it is likely that the results were skewed towards people who were influenced especially strongly by a particular book. Such a result cannot be reliably interpreted as reflecting the entire US population, although enthusiastic promoters of the novel sometimes make such claims. (The survey is also often inaccurately described as a "poll" or "study," and various incorrect sources are cited for it.)

Similar concerns affect a more recent list to an even greater degree. In 1998, book publisher Random House ran an online vote asking readers to name the "best" English-language novels of the 20th century. Atlas Shrugged placed first in this vote, with Rand's other novels placing high on the list as well. However, there was a considerable amount of campaigning by special-interest groups to promote particular authors and books. There were also only limited controls to prevent repeat voting and other "ballot stuffing" techniques. In the end, the results probably reflected the intensity of feeling among the most highly motived voters as much or more than the breadth of support for any of the top vote-getters.

Because of the limitations of these surveys, some critics attack them as "invalid" or "unscientific," but that isn't entirely accurate. The survey results are legitimate as long as one understands their biases and limitations. They reflect the strength of influence that the books listed have had on the specific groups involved in the surveys. What is invalid and unscientific is to attempt to generalize the findings beyond those groups without accounting for the skewed participation.

I saw this up close on RoR. There is a section called "Activism" which is no longer very active. The most favored projects back when I participated on the forum were finding surveys where Rand-related works and people were possible to vote for and spiking them. You even got incentives like RoR Atlas points for taking part. The more you voted, the more Atlas points you got.

This, coming from a philosophy where the virtue of integrity is supposed to be one of the top values.

In my view, that kind of bullshit tarnishes the image of Objectivists, if not the philosophy, when people find out.

Michael

Thank you for supporting your claim. I just want to point out how the number I got was listed on Wikipedia which I now have learned is quite misleading. On the Atlas Shrugged page it says "According to a 1991 survey done for the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club, Atlas Shrugged was situated between the Bibleand M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled as the book that made the most difference in the lives of 5,000 Book-of-the-Month club members surveyed, with a "large gap existing between the #1 book and the rest of the list"". 5,000 people were sent the survey but only around 2000 responded. The definition of surveyed is technically just to ask the question but doesn’t mean you have to respond. Regardless I completely agree, that these kind of studies hurt the philosophy.

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Regardless I completely agree, that these kind of studies hurt the philosophy.

David,

The surveys don't do the damage.

It's the behavior of Objectivists who think stuffing ballots is OK.

They have to stop that shit.

Stuffing ballots is not OK.

Besides, the level of their amateurishness and crowing about the results later is embarrassing. If they want to be corrupt, at least they could try to be competent about it and layer in some deniability... :smile:

Michael

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This, coming from a philosophy where the virtue of integrity is supposed to be one of the top values.

In my view, that kind of bullshit tarnishes the image of Objectivists, if not the philosophy, when people find out.

Michael

Objectivists should not call themselves "Objectivists" for the lack of objectivism in Objectivism.

--Brant

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Here's Charles Murray leading with the same crap:

How Ayn Rand Captured The Magic Of American Life
Ayn Rand was a philosophical hypocrite, but a magical novelist.
by Charles Murray
Oct. 16, 2014
The Federalist

From the article:

In 1991, the book-of-the-month club conducted a survey asking people what book had most influenced their lives. The Bible ranked number one and Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” was number two. In 1998, the Modern Library released two lists of the top 100 books of the twentieth century. One was compiled from the votes of the Modern Library’s Board, consisting of luminaries such as Joyce Carol Oates, Maya Angelou, Edmund Morris, and Salman Rushdie. The two top-ranked books on the Board’s list were “Ulysses” and “The Great Gatsby.”

The other list was based on more than 200,000 votes cast online by anyone who wanted to vote. The top two on that list were “Atlas Shrugged” (1957) and “The Fountainhead” (1943).


I like Murray, but he's smart enough to know the worth of this information is crap.

Propaganda.

Misleading bullshit.

As a nice touch, he used his sub-headline to call Ayn Rand a hypocrite.

Way to go, Charlie...

Some things need no further comment.

:smile:

Michael

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Here's Charles Murray leading with the same crap:

How Ayn Rand Captured The Magic Of American Life

Ayn Rand was a philosophical hypocrite, but a magical novelist.

by Charles Murray

Oct. 16, 2014

The Federalist

From the article:

In 1991, the book-of-the-month club conducted a survey asking people what book had most influenced their lives. The Bible ranked number one and Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” was number two. In 1998, the Modern Library released two lists of the top 100 books of the twentieth century. One was compiled from the votes of the Modern Library’s Board, consisting of luminaries such as Joyce Carol Oates, Maya Angelou, Edmund Morris, and Salman Rushdie. The two top-ranked books on the Board’s list were “Ulysses” and “The Great Gatsby.”

The other list was based on more than 200,000 votes cast online by anyone who wanted to vote. The top two on that list were “Atlas Shrugged” (1957) and “The Fountainhead” (1943).

I like Murray, but he's smart enough to know the worth of this information is crap.

Propaganda.

Misleading bullshit.

As a nice touch, he used his sub-headline to call Ayn Rand a hypocrite.

Way to go, Charlie...

Some things need no further comment.

:smile:

Michael

It's fashionable for those who care about fashion to lube up their Ayn Rand complements with crap to get people to swallow them--those who like to eat crap. Just because I love to put crap into my body--ice cream and Dorritos--doesn't mean I love to put crap into my brain, so I don't care about the gentleman's Ayn Rand (worthless anyway) complement. (Rand and "magic" don't mix.) Rand also deserves better than to be called a "hyprocite" for hero and hypocrite don't mix and not being a hero when it came to x, y or z doesn't mean she wan't a hero when it came to A, B or C.

--Brant

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I thought that Murray's piece was good. He supports his accusation of Rand's hypocrisy with examples. He is absolutely correct. He's even pretty gentle and generous in his judgments of her hypocrisies, and he doesn't allow them to stand in the way of his adoration of her creativity and artistry.

Read the article. Don't most of us here feel the same as Murray does?

J

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Read the article. Don't most of us here feel the same as Murray does?

Jonathan,

Based on your recommendation, I will read it in more depth, but I most definitely don't agree that Atlas Shrugged is the second ranked book (behind the Bible) that most influences the lives of Americans. That's the image people try to convey when they lead with that survey, or even bring it up.

Nor do I agree that calling Rand a hypocrite in a headline (even a sub-headline) is good writing unless one is pandering to her critics and enemies. It might be a good point in the article, but placing it in the headline makes it appear like the article is mostly about Randian hypocrisy. After years online in O-Land, something sounds a little too familiar already...

Murray lost me on both of those accounts. As a normal reader, in my mind, after I see that--within the context of everything else there is to read in the news this morning, including ebola, ISIS, economy, elections, etc.--I think why should I read further? I've seen that kind of crap a gazillion times already.

Reader attention isn't baseball where you get three strikes before you're out.

:)

Frankly, I used to think Murray was better than that. But there he is--wallowing in cheap propaganda about Rand (positive and negative) to get people to read his stuff.

Michael

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I thought that Murray's piece was good. He supports his accusation of Rand's hypocrisy with examples. He is absolutely correct. He's even pretty gentle and generous in his judgments of her hypocrisies, and he doesn't allow them to stand in the way of his adoration of her creativity and artistry.

Read the article. Don't most of us here feel the same as Murray does?

J

Oh, sure, if you want a recap of two recent bios. I'm mostly objecting to calling Rand a "philosophical hypocrite" and "magical novelist." That the article is full of Rand truths doesn't support these two ideas. Rand's blatant hypocrisy was in her personal life.

I stopped reading both Heller and Burns before finishing when I realized Heller was secondhand Barbara Branden and I knew more than the biographers' "facts" and evaluations if only from first-hand experience. Burns's was far better done than Heller's, however, considering her access to the ARI archives. I expect to go back to her, but not through Murray.

--Brant

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+/- 60years of adulthood is a long -long- time. Too many opportunities for moral error and self-contradiction. Outside of those few instances we all know of, what can one induce and suppose of that bulk of intervening time throughout which Rand, in personal life and in (especially) her teaching, was not "a hypocrite", and did not "fake reality"?

Judging a life in retrospect allows one the luxury and errors of cherry picking - according to quasi-religious standards of 'perfection'. If Rand were perfect, if it were possible for all individuals to be consistently and heroically perfect, we would hardly need philosophy and morality in the first place. That she ddn't achieve the unattainable heights of minute by minute 'perfection', is immaterial I think, compared to the fact that she extolled and exemplified the realistic striving to personal excellence, as few have before and since.

And if there is a "derivative" element to Objectivism? Since basic reality is unchanging, great minds of all ages often do think alike: and all that previous thinking/knowledge is next to useless without another mind to grasp its truth - then to comprehensively add further to it, put it all together in a complete system and to disseminate it to we many ordinary, unscholarly folk.

All in all though, I thought the artice was quite balanced and honest, if mistaken.

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Jonathan,

Based on your recommendation, I will read it in more depth, but I most definitely don't agree that Atlas Shrugged is the second ranked book (behind the Bible) that most influences the lives of Americans. That's the image people try to convey when they lead with that survey, or even bring it up.

Yeah, the ranking of AS's influence is bullshit. I didn't get the impression that Murray was trying to pull a fast one, though. It just seems that it didn't occur to him to investigate the claim before repeating it.

Those book surveys show up again every few years. Then people go back and find old posts in which the claims have been refuted, and people stop making the claims for a while. Then the claims pop back up again.

Nor do I agree that calling Rand a hypocrite in a headline (even a sub-headline) is good writing unless one is pandering to her critics and enemies. It might be a good point in the article, but placing it in the headline makes it appear like the article is mostly about Randian hypocrisy.

The article IS about Rand's hypocrisies and discrepancies, and about Murray's admiration for her and her art despite her faking of reality in her own life.

J

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The subtitle goes overboard since he doesn't explain how she was hypocritical.

The article explains her hypocrisy in the section titled "A Predilection for Faking Reality Began Early."

J

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Oh, sure, if you want a recap of two recent bios. I'm mostly objecting to calling Rand a "philosophical hypocrite" and "magical novelist."

Why do you object to her being called a "magical novelist"?

That the article is full of Rand truths doesn't support these two ideas. Rand's blatant hypocrisy was in her personal life.

Murray addresses that:

"But there’s no getting around it: taken as a whole, there is a dismaying discrepancy between the Ayn Rand of real life and Ayn Rand as she presented herself to the world. The discrepancy is important because Rand herself made such a big deal about living a life that was the embodiment of her philosophy. 'My personal life is a postscript to my novels,' she wrote in the afterword to Atlas Shrugged. 'It consists of the sentence: And I mean it. I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books—and it has worked for me, as it works for my characters.' As both books document, that statement was self-delusion on a grand scale."

J

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The article explains her hypocrisy in the section titled "A Predilection for Faking Reality Began Early."

"Hypocrisy is the claim or pretense of holding beliefs, feelings, standards, qualities, opinions, behaviors, virtues, motivations, or other characteristics that one does not in actual fact hold. It is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another. In moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one’s own expressed moral rules and principles" (Wikipedia, my bold).

When I wrote #17 I thought of "hypocrisy" as meaning the last two sentences, but not the first. I see now that faking reality satisfies the first sentence. Anyway, 'Ayn Rand faked reality, but was a magical novelist' as the subtitle, or no subtitle, would have been better.

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Oh, sure, if you want a recap of two recent bios. I'm mostly objecting to calling Rand a "philosophical hypocrite" and "magical novelist."

Why do you object to her being called a "magical novelist"?

That the article is full of Rand truths doesn't support these two ideas. Rand's blatant hypocrisy was in her personal life.

Murray addresses that:

"But there’s no getting around it: taken as a whole, there is a dismaying discrepancy between the Ayn Rand of real life and Ayn Rand as she presented herself to the world. The discrepancy is important because Rand herself made such a big deal about living a life that was the embodiment of her philosophy. 'My personal life is a postscript to my novels,' she wrote in the afterword to Atlas Shrugged. 'It consists of the sentence: And I mean it. I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books—and it has worked for me, as it works for my characters.' As both books document, that statement was self-delusion on a grand scale."

J

"Magical" to me are demons and funny wizards walking through walls and flying about engaged in semi-mortal combat[TM]. (The phrase is my invention.)

As for the rest, I simply slice the pie differently than Murray. Derivatively, I get easily bored over things I thought of myself years ago. In his defense he wasn't writing for me but contra that my ego doesn't get buttered up so nutz to that. Rand was good at buttering up the egos of her readers. All they had to do was agree with her about just about anything and everything to be embraced by her magical reality.

--Brant

(oops)

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I thought that Murray's piece was good. He supports his accusation of Rand's hypocrisy with examples. He is absolutely correct. He's even pretty gentle and generous in his judgments of her hypocrisies, and he doesn't allow them to stand in the way of his adoration of her creativity and artistry.

Read the article. Don't most of us here feel the same as Murray does?

J

I read the article when it came out. I haven't re-read it, but as I recall it, I don't feel as Murray does and don't think he was "pretty gentle and generous." He seemed to disapprove of the fact of the affair, and I think he described Rand as "deeply flawed." If Rand was deeply flawed, what's left for moral monsters?

Ellen

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I think of Rand not as deeply flawed so much as a river that overflowed its banks--the artificial reality with artificial people she created for herself and where she decided to live. Deeply powerful strikes me as more accurate than flawed.

--Brant

and as for the "moral monsters"?

(my tongue is in my cheek)

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http://hell devil photo: Devil AAA_9651hsrtgfh.jpg

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