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Atlas Flubbed

19 Jan

As part of the project, as well as part of my duties as keeper of this blog, I’ve been going through and making some notes on comics and creators whose work I either know well enough to talk about confidently, or that I know well enough that I have a sense of where to start. As part of that one of the entries that was on my list was Alan Grant and his character Anarky. As the name might suggest, Anarky began life as an anarchist who was a foil for Batman. Unfortunately he didn’t really stay that way, and poor Anarky found himself a mouthpiece for “Neo-Tech,” which is a bastard child of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

I don’t know a single philosopher who consider Ayn Rand’s work to have been philosophy, or who considers Rand herself to have been a philosopher. This doesn’t mean there aren’t any, just that I don’t happen to know any. I’m perfectly content to keep it that way, because Ayn Rand was full of shit. Oh, she makes a few valid points along the way. There is in fact a world that is external to my mind. This point of view is called metaphysical realism, and off the top of my head I can’t think of a philosopher whose work I’m familiar with that doesn’t agree with it. This is even true of the brain in a vat/Matrix reality people, because even if we are living in some sort of incredibly complex simulation, that simulation still has rules that operate outside of my thoughts.

This does not mean, however, that things like values and knowledge originate outside the mind. This particular view is a transcendent view of values. If you’ll remember a few posts back, those are the kind of thing that Nietzsche spent a great deal of time critiquing as destructive. It’s also the easy way out. Claiming that there are knowledge and values which originate outside of us, regardless of if they come from some magical man in the sky, or are an inherent, objective part of reality, means that so long as we discover them we don’t have to ask ourselves the hard questions.  Questions about how maybe things like knowledge and values are entirely conditional.

I could go on, but I won’t because I don’t want to lend secondhand legitimacy to shite by spending time doing an in-depth critique. Suffice to say that Rand cribbed from the work of actual philosophers, and made a mess of more than she didn’t.

What I’m actually interested in is why such a slipshod, second-rate thinker has managed to be so influential. Not only has she inspired people who whine that we should take Rand more seriously as a philosopher, but her work inspired at least three comic characters that I’m aware of; Anarky, The Question, and Mr. A. I asked a philosopher wiser than I about it, and she suggested it might be because Rand’s work is, by comparison to actual philosophy, accessible. I think this is a not unfair assessment, but I also think it is because, quite frankly, Rand is easy. She tells readers what they want to hear. Selfishness is okay. Capitalism is good. Of course both Rand and the Libertarians are wrong, because we see exactly where capitalism and self-interest have landed us lately… government bailouts and unethical practices are a far cry from a magical land of self-regulating corporations out to benefit everyone.

Personally I don’t have a problem with work being accessible. It’s what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog, after all. The easy, though… you’re not going to get that from me. Living philosophically is one of the most valuable things a person can do, but looking in the mirror of philosophy and being honest, critical and reflective… I’m not sure I can conceive of a more difficult task.

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8 Comments

Posted by on January 19, 2011 in Comics, Philosophy

 

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8 responses to “Atlas Flubbed

  1. Bleeyargh

    January 19, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Now, be fair. The great selfish capitalist is not required to care what sort of problems his “morality” has landed the country or the neighbours in, so long as he’s still rich and celebrated.

     
    • Josh Benton

      January 19, 2011 at 7:45 pm

      This is not untrue, though obviously Rand’s protagonists are meant to convince us otherwise. Indeed many people seem to believe otherwise, hence my dig at libertarians. In particular I once heard Penn Jilette, a man whose opinions I respect more often than I don’t, explain that if governments regulated private enterprise less private enterprise would self-regulate. Perhaps he was talking about Bizarro world, and I happened to miss that part.

      To be fair I’m fine with a relatively open market, but I do take issue when the market is allowed to bulldoze over everything else.

       
  2. Bleeyargh

    January 25, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Private enterprise would absolutely self-regulate. Mind you, these regulations would not necessarily be in the same vein as the ones the government would want to install. Nor would this regulation necessarily be cooperative (as implied), rather than installed by the dominant party, and it wouldn’t necessarily apply equally to all parties. Once you accept these propositions, I think you can accept Penn’s statements at face value. 😛

     
    • Josh Benton

      January 25, 2011 at 8:43 am

      I’m relying on memory in this case, so I freely admit that I could be misremembering. But I believe the particular comments were to the effect that private enterprise would self-regulate to ensure things like consumer safety. I think we’re seen pretty much the opposite of that to date. Which doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do it, but in an environment that thus far has decided that product recalls are cheaper than doing it right the first time, or venting toxic sludge in rivers in India (which Coke infamously did), suggests that it isn’t likely.

      Of course I suspect that’s the sort of thing you meant as not being in the same vein or cooperative, I just wanted to try and make my original point a bit clearer.

       
  3. Matt

    January 27, 2011 at 6:34 am

    When corporations and government are one, is it still capitalism? If the government hands out no-bid contracts, offers bailouts to banks and car manufacturers, won’t allow for currency competition, subsidizes industries and caps liabilities, which all amount to corporate welfare designed to enable failed business practices, it probably doesn’t fit the bill as capitalism. I think you’re confusing corporatism for capitalism. Furthermore, for example, Blackwater is full of ex-government workers. BP took inspectors out for lunches, lapdances, meth parties and offered future jobs to the government workers inspecting their deep water rigs. Where do you draw the line between corporations and government, because I see them working in unison. Granted, I have never read Rand and don’t care to, but I do subscribe to Austrian economic theory which has been completely marginalized over the last century. I think the myth of a capitalist economy is blinding the masses to to the reality of the, feudal class structure built on a skeleton of corporate formalities. The big, bad “capitalists” are every bit the paranoid delusion that the “gay agenda” is for social reactionaries. If you keep the masses swinging at shadows, they’re much less inclined to disturb the status quo.

     
    • Josh Benton

      January 27, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      Matt,

      While you have an interesting argument I think you’re failing to take into account that none of the problems I highlight with capitalism are anything new. Abuses in capitalist systems go back to pretty much the birth of capitalist systems. The Industrial Revolution right up through the early 20th century featured more than their fair share of problems. On the other hand, I won’t deny that in many respects capitalism does bear a disturbing resemblance to feudal structures, but again I think this was in place well before corporations become so influential with governments. This has also become apparent to at least one former Randian, in this case Alan Greenspan, who has been quoted in an article or two lately as giving voice to some decidedly non-Randian thoughts.

      I’m also not interested in keeping the people swinging at shadows in the form of the “big, bad capitalists.” As I’ve said before I have no problem with the idea of an open market, my problem is when the market is allowed to become an unchecked force in the ways that it has. I’m also not interested in telling people to not participate in the market. As things stand that would entail a radical shift that would cause more harm than any good it might do. I will, however, still bring people’s attention to cases where I think corporations are engaging in the kind of abusive behaviors that we shouldn’t tolerate.

       
  4. Bleeyargh

    January 30, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Marriage to the concept of capitalism, as opposed to whatever effects/results its institution might have, is a pretty bad approach to discussion. No, I am not accusing anyone of taking this approach.

    The results of free market economy are well-established. Regulation is in place precisely because said results are not good for enough people. People will misbehave and act in self-interest in any given economic situation, which is why every economic system seems to require a lot of tweaking and regulation in practice. Clever dicks can find a way to screw people in almost any context, given time.

    Of course, since government is also filled with said clever dicks (not just board rooms), one can be disappointed with the results of certain forms of regulation.

     
    • Josh Benton

      January 30, 2011 at 3:16 pm

      You do have a point, and I confess that I should be more careful about using the term capitalism to refer to all free-market models. I’m sure at times I make Bertrand Russell spin in his grave. Then again, if I ever met Russell I’d likely remark “The current king of France talks to God on a regular basis. Discuss.”, and watch as his head exploded. Of course I’m probably a bit biased since the primary purpose of this blog is to illustrate the ways in which “meaningless” concepts (fictional stories and characters) can serve as the locus from which to engage in philosophical thinking. In fairness, I like some of Russell’s work, but his essay on the failure of ordinary language doesn’t work for me, and was heavily influential in launching the often silly movement that was logical positivism.

      I’ve also admittedly wandered off the topic at this point.

       

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