Tag Archives: Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand was a philosopher and writer. She wrote philosophy and two of the best novels ever written: “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead”.
Ayn Rand created her own philosophy, Objectivism.

Parts from ET’s “How People Get Socially Conditioned”

This is from a FI Email Discussion Group post by Elliot Temple named “How People Get Socially Conditioned” that I liked.

Kate goes to school. Imagine around 1st grade (6-7 years old). People socialize. Kate finds when she behaves in some ways she’s mocked, embarrassed, harassed, disliked, not invited to play, left out, etc. When she behaves in other ways, people tell her secrets, seek her out, want her attention, look up to her, follow her lead, listen to her ideas, and so on. This is *social status* but she doesn’t know the term. She just knows some of her actions get good results and others get bad results. She sees the consequences.

Sometimes it’s pretty hard to connect an action – like wearing a particular piece of clothing – with a result like gaining or losing social status. Over the years, with many examples, Kate gets better at understanding how to behave when dealing with people, both in the more straightforward cases (like don’t say things that get immediate, overt negative reactions) and in much more subtle cases.

Kate forms habits. She doesn’t know, conceptually, what all the social rules are. Her concepts and explanations are vague, incomplete and inaccurate. She keeps trying out different behavior and doing more of what works. She does a lot of learning by trial and error. Lots of her knowledge is fragile: she knows X works and Y doesn’t work, but she doesn’t know why, so trying out Z is risky (it’s hard for her to predict if Z would work or fail). This leads to living conservatively: being risk adverse, being bland and focusing on fitting in. Only a minority are skilled enough, or willing to risk downsides enough, that they can take the lead on new behaviors, innovate and be trend setters. Most people aren’t leaders because they don’t want to risk an error and they are having a hard enough time just trying to do OK and not suffer too much.

Kate doesn’t just learn from her own trials and errors. She spends a lot of her life observing other people and trying to understand what they are doing, and whether it gains or loses social status. It’s safer to be the second person to do something, after seeing if the first person gets viewed positively or negatively. It’s even safer to wait for 25-75% of people to do it before joining in. And note that the vast majority of all possible changes are errors.

So Kate ends up with habits based on rules of thumb and based on partial, vague explanations. And the years go by and she doesn’t remember most of the evidence she used to create her habits. It’s just how she lives now. It feels natural to her. It’s automatic and intuitive.

Her habits are highly adapted and hard to change. They’re social conditioning. They’re static memes. They’re entrenched. They’re irrational. She has very little ability to introspect about them *and doesn’t want to*. Introspecting about her habits is dangerous. During childhood she tried, thousands of times, to introspect and understand herself and improve herself. And she got punished for it most of the time. When she tried to use reason to improve things, the results were painful – over and over and over. She learned it’s better to just accept nonsense, and it’s harder to follow it if you try to rationally analyze it. It’s better if you have intuitive habits instead of second-guessing yourself. It’s better if you only have one voice in your head – the voice of social conditioning – which you follow enthusiastically, rather than if you have a second voice confusing you and giving contrary advice.

To deal with the pain of rejecting reason, child-Kate rationalized her worldview. She came up with excuses to help her feel OK with not questioning her habits and approach to life. This was a defense against suffering which merits sympathy. That’s not the only thing that was going on and she’s wasn’t just an innocent victim, but it’s a substantial part of what happens. Kids do have lots of innocence and are victims in big ways. Now she’s hostile to introspection, examining her life, and so on. She’s attached to her long-held reasons for avoiding that and has convinced herself that *not* thinking is more rational and makes more sense.

Remember, again, that this is the story of approximately everyone. And, btw, scarily, most of the exceptions are now called “autistic” or “diagnosed” with another “mental illness”, and experts (in conformity and conventionality, called psychiatrists and psychologists) are brought in to make them conform. If someone’s parents, peers, priests, teachers and culture (Facebook, TV, magazines, instagram, twitter, etc.) aren’t enough to make a child conform, the war against the individual child will usually be escalated. First the parents usually try to escalate by themselves: they get stricter, read books with advice, etc. If that doesn’t work, a *lot* of parents will now get “experts” involved. (And even if parents don’t want “experts” or drugs involved, often a teacher will push for it, often successfully.) And the support for “expert” meddling in the raising of children has been trending upward. It wasn’t that long ago that parents expected far more control over their children and teachers played a much smaller role, and now government teachers do a massive part of raising most children and psychiatrists and psychologists are doing more and more too.

[…]

This is everyone’s life and it’s so sad. Most people hide it more than Kate by means of staying away from people capable of seeing what’s going on and analyzing it. Kate has, for whatever unusual reasons, spent years giving more info and examples about her irrationality (by actually doing it, not by sharing examples) without leaving even though she hasn’t been making progress. (She made some progress early on which impressed her, but then she ran into some parts that were hard for her, got stuck, and has stayed stuck and become very dishonest about her situation. BTW it’s somewhat common for people to make some progress initially until they reach some part that is hard for them and then get stuck. That’s the standard pattern for people who make any progress at all. But people usually leave much sooner after getting stuck.)

I recommend reading the comments in the link as well (I am currently reading them).

Young persons who hold that conviction [that ideas matter, that truth matters], do not have to “throw off the leading conformity of the only society they have known.” They do not conform in the first place: they judge and evaluate; if they accept any part of the prevalent social trends, it is through intellectual agreement (which may be mistaken), not through conformity. They do not need to know different types of society in order to discover the evils, falsehoods or contradictions of the one in which they live: intellectual honesty is the only tool required.

Ayn Rand, “The Inexplicable Personal Alchemy,”
Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution

Who is destroying the world?

You might not think that the economic views you hold are promoting socialism, but many of you would be wrong.

70 years ago, Ludwig von Mises, wrote an argument against the Middle-of-the-Road Policy that is very prominent in many self-proclaimed capitalist countries today.

Even in this country which owes to a century of “rugged individualism” the highest standard of living ever attained by any nation, public opinion condemns laissez-faire. In the last fifty years, thousands of books have been published to indict capitalism and to advocate radical interventionism, the welfare state, and socialism. The few books which tried to explain adequately the working of the free-market economy were hardly noticed by the public. Their authors remained obscure, while such authors as Veblen, Commons, John Dewey, and Laski were exuberantly praised. It is a well-known fact that the legitimate stage as well as the Hollywood industry are no less radically critical of free enterprise than are many novels. There are in this country many periodicals which in every issue furiously attack economic freedom. There is hardly any magazine of opinion that would plead for the system that supplied the immense majority of the people with good food and shelter, with cars, refrigerators, radio sets, and other things which the subjects of other countries call luxuries.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You should read Mises, and other champions of reason, and make an effort to understand good ideas better.

If you chose not to care, to ignore it, I echo the words from Atlas Shrugged:

Do not ask, ‘Who is destroying the world?’ You are.

Programming and Philosophy

I am learning programming. The programming language I chose to learn is Scheme.

Why learn Scheme, a symbolic programming language, of all things?

The reason is that I want to understand the conceptual thinking of programming. Regarding programming, Curi (Elliot Temple), told me:

you need the big picture instead of to treat it like a bunch of math.

Scheme looks to have good resources for doing that. From Simply Scheme’s foreword:

It [Simply Scheme] emphasizes programming as a way to express ideas, rather than just a way to get computers to perform tasks.

This is the essence of how good philosophy works as well: learning to understand concepts, integrating them into the big picture, and avoiding contradictions in the process. Objectivism teaches this. In Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, Ayn Rand writes:

There are two different methods of learning: by memorizing and by understanding. The first belongs primarily to the perceptual level of a human consciousness, the second to the conceptual.
[…] The second method of learning—by a process of understanding—is possible only to man. To understand means to focus on the content of a given subject (as against the sensory—visual or auditory—form in which it is communicated), to isolate its essentials, to establish its relationship to the previously known, and to integrate it with the appropriate categories of other subjects. Integration is the essential part of understanding.

Rand, in Atlas Shrugged:

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

Do you see the similarities between good philosophy and Scheme programming?

By learning programming I work on philosophy – and by learning philosophy I work on my programming.

I am using Simply Scheme to learn Scheme.

“Well, that might sound good in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice.”

Sometimes, when you try to make an argument in a discussion, someone might say something like “Well, that might sound good in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice.”

Let us consider that for a moment. What do they mean when they say something like that? If it actually sounds good in theory, why are they so fast to say it won’t work in reality?

In “Philosophy: Who Needs It” (chapter 2, Philosophical Detection), Ayn Rand, explores on this:

“This may be good in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice.” What is a theory? It is a set of abstract principles purporting to be either a correct description of reality or a set of guidelines for man’s actions. Correspondence to reality is the standard of value by which one estimates a theory. If a theory is inapplicable to reality, by what standard can it be estimated as “good”? If one were to accept that notion, it would mean: a. that the activity of man’s mind is unrelated to reality; b. that the purpose of thinking is neither to acquire knowledge nor to guide man’s actions. (The purpose of that catch phrase is to invalidate man’s conceptual faculty.)