Continuing the discussion on Ayn Rand, Capitalism and Reason

I live and work in Gujarat, where I think I see a version of capitalism. Ours is a middle class locality with its typicalities, but never before have I seen a more stifling ground for heterogeneity and individual freedom. Heterogeneity because I know that the residents see the same people and live identical lives, watch the same soaps, and visit the same temples, think the same thoughts(?). Individual freedom, because you are under constant scrutiny by neighbors who know and anticipate and keenly involve themselves in your doings and undertakings.

I think that the underlying ideals to this sort of world are lust greed and power. It’s an each creature to her or himself kind of world, where even things like religion are bent to serve the market.
I’m a Muslim. And I don’t want to proselytize but the application of reason is an important aspect of Islamic theology, I’ve come across the phrases, “In it are signs for those who think”, “You are responsible for bringing good into your own life”, “To each his own…”  in places in the Quran. There is a great emphasis on individual responsibility and collective conscience, hand in glove. I have been for the past few months trying to think philosophically about Islam, using some ideas from liberation theology, in an Indian perspective.

Now that I’ve laid out the context let me get to Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand’s influence on my own thinking was profound in my growing years. A lot of young people I knew had the same experience. She’s a philosopher who wrote for the public. Her work therefore, like the writers of good science fiction was trying to make some very key concepts very accessible, through fiction. And what I’m attempting to do is give her ideas some testing ground in the milieu where I’m from.

Then, September 11, and Gujarat 2002 happened. And my mind had to be shattered open to let in all pluralistic and diverse points of view. I was part of the movement against US imperialism and capitalism. I didn’t understand all of what was going on but after a trip to Gujarat 8 months after the horror of February 2002, I realised what the violence of a homogenous society can be. The secular movement was where I stood, because it seemed to be the ideal ground for growing up. Not that that wasn’t a colonization of sorts but we’ll get to that later. But I owe a great deal to the movement for peace, democracy and cultural pluralism in India.

There is also a big impact of the media in all of this. Gujarat 2002 was largely the pits of charred remains which I’m still gathering in my head every day I live here. And September 11 was that enormous world-wide spectacle where you sat gaping disbelievingly at a screen knowing how entirely helpless you are as the New York World Trade Center was felled, by airplanes, and then as two whole countries were taken into war, strife and desolation.

Now in the backdrop of all of this is Capitalism, primarily, and its tendencies towards homogeneity. In an every creature for him or herrself;) model, I think that structures need to be created to breed difference, which sadly enough, our scientific technological rationality driven paradigm does not support, in my opinion.

Continuing the discussion from here


7 thoughts on “Continuing the discussion on Ayn Rand, Capitalism and Reason

  1. Keep in mind free market implies a free market of ideas as well as goods. One is free to create any type of structures or ideas as one chooses, in a true free market (which does not exist anywhere). In my opinion, it is the State, along with Corporations that create the false markets that lead to the homogeneity you refer to. Large corporations are not usually in favor of free markets, they are more in favor of using their power to keep away competition. They convince governments to go war to protect their interests (speaking in a very general way here. I do not mean all corporations). It is a good idea to find ways to fight authoritarianism wherever it rears its ugly head, but I do not pretend that it is not a natural thing or that I somehow have rights that are inalienable.

    If you think about it honestly, I think you can begin to see that religion has the same tendency. Each organized religion is advocating a given set of rituals, controlled in a more or less rigorous way by its own authorities.

    I don’t have any *real* problem with people having their own religious beliefs or superstitions, as long as they follow the golden rule, don’t kill other people over their beliefs, or take other people’s property. Unfortunately, there are always some that pick and choose the ugly bits out of the Bible or Koran and use those bits as an excuse to kill and hurt others. Fortunately, most religious people just take the nice bits and focus on that. I look at all the bits (I am more familiar with the Bible in my culture), see self contradictions, contradictions with today’s known science, and do not believe in them. Personally, I think religious text was mostly written by primitive men to control primitive people and has much less value today. The Koran was written relatively recently since the Bible, so I would expect its moral lessons and beliefs to be more in line with today, but there is nothing magical or mystical about that.

    I enjoy, romantic love, listening to nice music, playing piano and synthesizer, and writing my own science fiction (none of these are “rational” activities, just really pure pleasurable experiences), but I understand that some people find beauty and comfort in their religions with their rituals, beautiful masks, churches, and so on. I enjoy very much listening to is J.S. Bach, and he was undeniably inspired by his deep religious beliefs, but then he did not have the benefit of being born after Darwin, Einstein, Hawking and so on.

    The scientific method is a good, non-dogmatic way of figuring out how stuff works. It has no rival as far as I have seen. Unfortunately, politics to often gets in the way, and of course scientists are human beings and prone to the suduction of tax dollars and grants. Some people have committed some horrific atrocities in the name of rational thought and science (there is not just faith-based killing going on out there in the world). Stalin thought he was rational and scientific. There are some radical “Greens” who seem to have little regard for human beings, and they think they are rational and scientifically minded. There are those that take science and use it to build destructive and terrible weapons.

    I liked reading Ayn Rand as well, and appreciated her anti-war stance in the 60s, but I think in real life she was not so easy to get along with. She had a tendency toward the dogmatic, in my opinion, and many of her followers seem in some way blinded in an almost religious zealous way. Since here time, scientists have learned a great deal more about how the mind works and the importance of emotions. Nathaniel Brandon was a part of her inner-circle and I think that perhaps some of his ideas and differences were upsetting to Ayn Rand. Murry Rothbard’s ideas made her upset as well. At least that is my recollection – perhaps this was all urban legend, I dont know. Probably, most Randians (or whatever), tend to ignore the ugly bits in their sacred texts as well 😉 I would like to move beyond that debate and on to something more interesting.

    Her opinions were not all that original, but it is true that she popularized free market ideas in new and interesting ways.

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