There have been quite a number of diaries lately addressing Mr. Ryan's love for Ayn Rand. Many have addressed the philosopher's beliefs and the irony that she, ultimately, had to rely on social security in her declining years to avoid medical-related financial catastrophe. Of course, there has also been an in depth discussion about the atheistic world view Ryan derived many of her views from and how this is antithetical to the many fundies that support Ryan. There have finally been a few intrepid souls that have detailed for us the history of this philosophy and its origins and offshoots such as nazism. Some of this I can follow, and frankly some I can not. But I would propose a more direct approach to the analysis of Randian (Objectivist) philosophy...
It is right or wrong in terms of the predictions and outcomes it can achieve overall? This is typically NOT a question asked of philosophies. Philosophies typically deal in "truth" but rely on the faithful for the perpetuation. In real fact, truth has very little to do with it under the microscope of 21st century definitions. "Truth" to us today is better defined by the story of Aristotle. "The heavier object falls at a faster rate than the lighter one..." so there you have it. And why is this so? Because it makes sense given a world view of philosophical construct. Aristotle believed certain things about the universal meaning, therefore this make sense. Unfortunately for him, the statement predicts incorrect outcomes. Aside from whether the experience is devoid of existence in the sense of "phenomenology theory" you know, the idea that you can only perceive facts, but not know them. If I want to predict future observations (perceived or known) this simply fails the test. All objects fall at the same rate. Deviations from that rate come from air resistance and thus the model we use today, based in predictive-outcome observation, manages to cover just about all conceivable scenarios (like dropping a hammer and feather together on the moon). So, my point is here, that there are philosophies and there are philosophies, but all philosophies are not equivalent in assessing outcomes. This is the trouble with philosophy wonks like Ryan. Left unchecked, philosophical world views can become nothing more than mental masturbation with little meaning in a predictive-leaning world. Its kind of like always getting the crosswords right because you draw extra squares on the puzzle where needed. It doesnt teach you much, but it makes you feel smart if you let it.
So anti-collectivism (I interchange this with Objectivist) - is it right or is it wrong in terms of predictive outcomes for a society? By right or wrong, I am not talking about its morality, its philosophical underpinnings, its logic or its religious implications. I speak only of the potential to produce a society that thrives and exalts the individual to self actualization. If pursuit of happiness for the largest number of community members is the goal, can Objectivist Philosophies achieve this in a predictable way?
First, I must say that I am taking the fundamentals of this philosophy to be enlightened self interest and the creation of the human "hero" as Rand describes in her Playboy Interviews, as the simplified version of the philosophy. Paul Ryan repeats this as, "the denial of collectivism."
Here specifically, Rand denies the existence of the collective anything, whereas, Ryan denies the existence of a collective good. So there is a little difference here, though I am not sure Ryan is aware of this.
But for predictive outcomes, this is provably false - in either case. It isnt a believe it or dont believe it situation. The information contained within a collective can be utilized to provide predictive outcomes that are generally more accurate than the component parts of the collective are able to make. In other words, the collective has its own sort of intelligence. This is basic information theory and has been demonstrated in more than a few laboratory settings. Collective decision making makes better decisions than our "heros" of Atlas Shrugged, on average and always will. There are of course some caveats as to how the information is collected, collated, and used. These caveats use the concepts of markets, but in a very different way from the markets that Rand/Ryan understand. Specifically, they require individuals to bet on outcomes, but then collapse those bets into predictions. And, as the popularized work "Wisdom of Crowds" points out, the outcomes are typically better using this collective intelligence. What is amazing is that this can be carried further. The use of the internet has been studied to aid in the diagnosis of illness for instance. The broad range of symptoms and disease associations available today on the internet has been shown to be at least as accurate as the individual physician in diagnosing certain ailments. Though this was a limited study, I will try and post the reference - it is buried on my desk somewhere... never the less, it is a promising new tool. But I digress. My point is simply that one can not writeoff the collective intelligence as Ryan and Rand do by philosophically wishing it were not that way. In a predictive sense, the concept of wise crowds holds more use for us as a society than their "mobs." You say, "well JEEZZ, working together as a market is more efficient than having everything be an individual unfettered competition, that's a no brainer." Yes, but unfortunately a misunderstanding of social darwinism and market forces has blinded many in our community to this fact (perceived or known).
Secondly, Rand/Ryan are wrong about the application of collectivism to government. Collectivism in a governmental sense is away of better extracting value. Interestingly, no one doubts this when it comes to Sams Clubs, but when it comes to pooling our resources to make education, roads, military spending, police forces, fire departments, health insurance, charitable giving, etc. more efficient and cheaper for everyone, well then that is evil collectivism. I suppose that in some cynical way I could say that Ryan/Rand have simply made Eric Hofers "devil" out of the government because to achieve a following you must have a devil. Maybe so. But people banding together to protect their livelihoods and enhance their well being is certainly a right and freedom as well. And from the shared resources of our communities, we can lower the burden on everyone. I will say that historically, there is no evidence that such shared resources reduces the creativity, productivity, or attained self actualization of a society. History of course is a funny thing and hard to interpret, but I will further go so far to say that societies that have not collected taxes and shared resources have failed to thrive historically. So again, on wealth generation and human development, it seems to me at least that objectivism fails in its predictive value as well.
So shared resources coupled with healthy and cooperative markets, seem to yield a model that have predictable outcomes. Oddly, Objectivism doesnt have such predictability. I say oddly, because it is said to be based on observation and rationalization. But it actual fact, I suspect it is just so much moral soothing for those that do not wish to understand the connected nature of mankind.
Another odd thing about this is that a wide swath of the American population is actually on board with this. Americans by in large are Abrahamic - Christian cultists that are very much realists by nature. Take your average tea partier (please), no really. If you sit down and talk to them, Ryan = good, Obama = bad. Things Ryan believes in (without using references like liberal and conservative) = bad, things Obama believes in = good. Why? Christianity, Islam, Judaism, they are all collectivist in nature. Sure the seeds of selective fascism are there as well, but generally speaking the "help your brother because it is right" verbage has been memorized by us all. This is what Rand was trying to demonize in her stance against religions. It was a fundamental denial of one of the few things religions get right. So as I say, very odd that so many Americans can be bought and sold at the hands of message branders. The Ryan/Rand philosophy, promoted by the Bushes and Reagan, and touted by fundies and TPers the nation over, is something they truly do not believe. And they dont believe it because it really doesnt result in outcomes that are predictably desired.
So here is my ending. If polls are right, there is a good chance that the presidency, and both house and senate can belong to this philosophy come november. If fact, it seems a very good chance. Now communities and societies should tend toward greater organization and adoption of better predictive models for their lives according to social darwinism. History would tell us that this doesnt actually happen and that America is following in some large footsteps the other way - Ancient Greece, Rome, etc. Has religion failed us? Have we failed to educate ourselves? I wish I knew why. Any ideas out there in Kos-Land?