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Ayn Rand the Valuer

November 19th, 2009 by Myrhaf · 13 Comments · Uncategorized

The increase of interest in Ayn Rand is great, but seeing the same old misconceptions is wearying. Two Reason videos features variants of the same error.

At an event attended by David Kelley two of the panelists called Rand a “hater.” It is true that Ayn Rand vehemently denounced those she opposed. The problem with this word is that it connotes irrationality and emotionalism. Racist idiots are haters. Ayn Rand herself was sensitive to this connotation, and somewhere — I forget where — she says she would use the word “loathe.”

The word “hater” is worse because it isn’t fundamental. Why did Ayn Rand loathe some people? Why was she so quick to denounce those she opposed? Because Ayn Rand was a valuer. In Ayn Rand there was no mind-body dichotomy. When someone said something that was not true, she made an immediate valuation that it was bad, and values are the cause of emotions. Strong values cause strong emotions.

The relationship of fact and value is one of the hardest aspects of Objectivism for people to understand. Traditionally, they think rational people are a little like Mr. Spock on “Star Trek” — emotionless. They are baffled that a philosopher of reason could be so emotionally passionate. They think Rand must be a hypocrite to let herself be emotional.

In another video Joshua Zader thinks Buddhism is the way to practice the ideas of Objectivism. His mistake is also on the nature of holding values. Buddhism, like epicurianism and stoicism, teaches that the way to happiness is through not valuing. Look at the Four Noble Truths:

    1. Life as we know it ultimately is or leads to suffering/uneasiness (dukkha) in one way or another.
    2. Suffering is caused by craving or attachments to worldly pleasures of all kinds. This is often expressed as a deluded clinging to a certain sense of existence, to selfhood, or to the things or phenomena that we consider the cause of happiness or unhappiness.
    3. Suffering ends when craving ends, when one is freed from desire. This is achieved by eliminating all delusion, thereby reaching a liberated state of Enlightenment (bodhi);
    4. Reaching this liberated state is achieved by following the path laid out by the Buddha.

Suffering ends when craving ends. In other words, to reach a “liberated state” one must stop valuing.

It gets worse. Buddhism preaches non-self. How

In the Nikayas, anatta is not meant as a metaphysical assertion, but as an approach for gaining release from suffering. In fact, the Buddha rejected both of the metaphysical assertions “I have a Self” and “I have no Self” as ontological views that bind one to suffering.[53] By analyzing the constantly changing physical and mental constituents (skandhas) of a person or object, the practitioner comes to the conclusion that neither the respective parts nor the person as a whole comprise a Self.

Buddhism doesn’t just wipe out the self, it wipes out all of reality.

For Nāgārjuna, as for the Buddha in the early texts, it is not merely sentient beings that are empty of ātman; all phenomena (dharmas) are without any svabhāva, literally “own-nature” or “self-nature”, and thus without any underlying essence; they are empty of being independent…

Considering Ayn Rand’s commitment to reason and reality, her rational selfishness, and her passionate valuing, can you think of anyone less Buddhist?

UPDATE: Corrected the spelling of “loathe” and added “some” to that sentence to clarify that Ayn Rand did not loathe all people.

13 Comments so far ↓

  • Dave

    Joshua Zader does not endorse Buddhism, only some of it’s practices. He made this clear when he said that “Buddhism is a set of practices in search of a philosophy”, and you could know more about just what he thinks of Buddhism’s actual philosophical positions if you cared to read what he’s written.

    He would be the first one to agree with you that the Buddhist passages you quotes are fundamentally inimical to Objectivism, but that doesn’t make some of the wisdom Buddhists have gained (mostly about things like emotional awareness, introspection in general, and appreciating the complexity of why others do the things they do – and mostly through meditation practice) is inimical to Objectivism.

    If anything, incorporating the practices (and some of the underlying ides which are compatible with Objectivism, even if the explanations by their Buddhist practitioners are explicitly not) means that an Objectivist who does so is even *more* of a valuer than someone who writes something you have here. He’s someone who’s looking to incorporate things like an acceptance of reality, an ability to understand things without letting emotinal baggage get in his way, etc, into every part of his being; instead of having those things just be good for complaining about politics and the like.

    By writing this post, you’re just using his comments as an opportunity to prove your meddle, as you must do periodically, lest you come under suspicion from the more rationalistic side of the Objectivist scene.

  • madmax


    You could have made the somewhat interesting point that there are some potentially rational elements to Buddhism without resorting to insults and the never-ending (and all-purpose) accusation of rationalism. You nullify whatever valuable points you might make and you come off as someone with a grudge against the ARI “scene” who is in attack mode for no good reason. A post like yours adds nothing.

  • Myrhaf

    Dave, Buddhism is more than a set of practices, it has a philosophy. Its practices come from its philosophy. To integrate Buddhism with Objectivism, you have to pick and choose the more superficial Buddhist practices you like and ignore the more fundamental philosophy.

  • Dave


    Myrhaf was in attack mode for “no good reason.” All Mr. Zader did was to talk about his belief that some of the things commonly associated with Buddhism are compatable with Objectivism, and Myrhaf writes up this post attacking a straw man.

    Also, you know full well that my post ads something. Even if you were correct that my “insult” was just an insult – and not an apt description of what Myrhaf was doing by writing what he did – you could still gain value from what I said (you admitted that they were “interesting” anyways).

  • Dave


    I disagree that Buddhism has a philosophy. There are so many schools, and many of them contradict each other on fundamentals. But even if that weren’t true – if they were all aligned with the Four Noble Truths – it doesn’t follow that it was those premises which gave rise to Buddhist practices (the valuable ones and the useless ones alike). Of course I agree that it is a person’s fundamental ideas which guide his actions, but before those fundamental ideas are formulated into ideas, they are held unidentified as sayings, colloqualisms, personality traits, etc. It’s probably certainly true that many people took to meditation, and then created Buddhism, as a way of escaping from themselves (and from reality in general), but couldn’t it also be true that there were psychologically healthy people who were doing those things as a way to calm themselves down so that they could better deal with reality (and thus preserve themselves)? That whatever after-the-fact philosophical mistakes they made were just that: mistakes?

    Also, for the record, Joshua Zader is not, has not, and likely never will attempt to “integrate” Buddhism with Objectivism. He’s well aware that it’s philosophical ideas are incompatable (here’s proof of his awareness: All he’s trying to do is to use some of the practices people generally regard as Buddhist in order to more fully realize the moral goal Objectivism identifies: complete. thorough, and authentic personal fulfillment.

    So yes, Mr. Zader is ignoring the philosophy. I disagree that in order to say “meditation is good” you have to regard the philosophy as “fundamental”, and thereby ignore it, but fundamental or not, he is ignoring it. Who said he wasn’t? His interview did not at all give the impression that he was trying to say it was the same philosophy as Objectivism. Why are you ascribing that motivation to him – unless all you’re doing is taking an opportunity to show off of all of the other “ARI types” who read this blog?

  • TW

    “Why did Ayn Rand loath people?”

    I don’t mean to be pedantic, but you can’t “loath” someone. The word “loath” is an adjective, meaning something like “reluctant to do X,” as in “I am loath to criticize people’s spelling” (which I am obviously not).

    The verb “loathe” has the meaning you are looking for. I’m not sure that’s any better or worse than hating someone, though.

  • Myrhaf

    Thanks, TW. I corrected the spelling and added “some” to that sentence because I don’t mean that Ayn Rand loathed all people.

  • Myrhaf

    Dave, what is the purpose of Buddhist practices? To achieve Buddhist values. I’ve never heard Buddhism claim that its goal was to make help make people passionate valuers. Quite the opposite. Buddhists talk about “emptiness,” “non-self” and so on. So anyone using Buddhist practices to find happiness is not just separating them from the rest of Buddhism, but from the purpose for which they were designed. Good luck with that.

    If Mr. Zader is just saying “meditation is good,” he would do well to leave Buddhism out entirely and not to liken Howard Roark to a Buddhist. If he is going to use the word Buddhist, can you blame anyone for taking him seriously?

    I write what I understand to be true for whomever wishes to read this blog. You seem to think my judgment was clouded because I saw a chance to impress the “ARI types” by going after their enemy. That would make my motivation rather second-handed and servile. My allegiance is to reality and the truth, and I call it as I see it in these posts.

  • Dave

    Myrhaf, as with all unreal values, Buddhist values cannot be achieved. One can make oneself a composite of the ideas of others (2nd hander), but one’s self still remains – even if it’s only to be described as “a composite of others.” And certainly no one ever sets out to achieve such a state consciously. So it goes with Buddhism. A race of people can spend centuries locked in monestaries, high in the mountains of Tibet, trying to let go of all desire for external sources of pleasure and all personal distinguishing characteristics, but all that ends up happening is that they become proficient at things like decorative art, music, architecture; and accidentally become damn good surveyors of the human psyche to boot.

    Additionally, their descendants can sincerely believe that what they’re after is “emptiness” or “non-self” – just like American Christians can say with a straight face that they’re after God’s love and entry to everlasting paradise – but what they’re really after by *practicing* their religion(‘s practices) are the real world benefits. With American Christians it’s professional and social networking in the lobby after church, and with Buddhists it’s being able to sit on a park bench and actually enjoy the surroundings without having to figit with something or ruminate about one’s worries.

    I wouldn’t ever disagree with you that there are serious flaws in the conscious ideas Buddhist thinkers concocted to explain why they started the practices they did, but that’s like saying that the Founder Fathers of the United States were completely worthless human beings because they gave the Christian God credit for all of the social insights and political achievements they made. You’re absolutely right that to an extent – a large extent – the irrational metaphysics of Buddhism hindered the development of cultures practicing it, but that was after the fact. The core of Buddhism is it’s traditional practices (meditation, self-awareness, a deep appreciation for the complexity of why others do what they do). Those are the things Joshua Zader was claiming made “Buddhists” Roark-like. He only used the word “Buddhist” so that people would know, roughly, which set of beliefs he was refering to.

    As I said in my first comment, Mr. Zader’s comment that Buddhism was “a set of practices in search of a philosophy” should have, at least, made you pause and more seriously consider your opinion that he takes the religion’s metaphysics serious before you shared it with the world on this blog. So yes, I can “blame you for taking him seriously”, and given the almost mechanical, routine, ultimately useless, unoriginal, and seemingly obligatory way in which “ARI types” go out of their way to trash “Kelleyites”, I think I know why you did.

  • Mike

    “and with Buddhists it’s being able to sit on a park bench and actually enjoy the surroundings without having to figit with something or ruminate about one’s worries.”

    That’s an interesting observation. I’ve heard the like from New Agers and such before, and I think you’ve captured it authentically.

    That said, who says you need mysticism to appreciate those things? I never appreciated a simple look out the window into a rain shower as much as I did after a nice, heavy-workload science class. The beauty in nature is enhanced, I think, not degraded, by wanting to analyze it as finely as one might like, rather than scrubbing the mental palate clean and just “feeling” it. Case in point: Fractals.

    Fidgeting? Sure. We live in an information-now era and I’m as bad as anyone at letting an incoming text message break my revery. Whether this is a bug or a feature is up to you.

    The place where I disagree most strongly is on the issue of Worrying. If there is one lesson that has been beaten into me soundly and still resonates logically, it’s that the only reliable way to eliminate one’s worry is to solve the underlying issues and get things done. Meditate all you like: that bill won’t pay itself. I wish someone had had the patience to try to teach me this rationally when I was younger instead of just instructing me to “pray for it” when I was preoccupied with a concern.

  • Dave

    Mike, I don’t think there’s anything mystical about meditation (or the other, few practices associated with Buddhism which I value). It’s simply a recognition of the nature of the human mind.

    I agree with you that it can be extremely pleasurable to analyze something, however I don’t think that’s possible when one is constantly, needlessly distracted. That’s what meditation seeks to remedy. It doesn’t make the sources of distraction go away, only your reaction to them. The particular type of meditation I (and Joshua Zader) practice doesn’t literally advocate thinking about/focusing on nothing. It recognizes that such a thing is impossible. It simply advocates that not all mental activity needs to be conceptual all of the time. That being in a perceptual state – “taking in the surroundings” – is conducive not only to emotional peace, but also to the kind of contemplation you say you profoundly enjoy.

    As for worrying about things: of course the ultimate solution to worry is to solve the source of the worry. That being said, it’s not always possible to do that the moment you identify what it is and what needs to be done. So what’s the point in thinking about it any more? Meditation helps you to be in the habit of not doing that (needlessly thinking). It also – as I alluded to above – helps you to get to the bottom of worrysome things anyways (by settling your emotions down and making you better able to calmly, systematically analyze reality without any amount of emotional resistence to any sliver of it).

  • Mike

    “Mike, I don’t think there’s anything mystical about meditation”

    Dave, I promise you there is zero snark in this reply.

    If you’re “meditating” without a superstitious/mystical component, you’re not meditating. You’re just resting.

    It is the superstitious/mystical element that MAKES calm repose into “meditation.” That’s what gives the term its meaning.

    Look, I think you seem like a sharp fellow, but you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too… and you’re just making it difficult for yourself. You’re drawing a distinction between a “perceptual state” and conceptual state… really, all you’re talking about is the difference between attention and inattention. (Or, to credit your apparent intent: between *specific* and *nonspecific* attention.) This is nothing new. There are some who would simply call the difference “supervision” versus “woolgathering.” 🙂

    In today’s New Age social and political marketing machine, there is great import placed on the talismen and trappings of being a “spiritual” person and being in touch with one’s “spirituality,” and meditation is one such element — but since there is no such thing as a spirit and thus no such thing as spirituality, it really boils back down to a simple notion of whether someone is being alert or just pondering while sitting in a twisty position. In the meanwhile, the manufacturers of Yoga mats and Feng Shui design guides and the absurd lucite “crystals” they sell at the college bookstore are laughing all the way to the bank.

  • Jim May

    Last comment Mike: From what I have learned from others in my kung fu class years ago, meditation taken apart from mysticism is not merely “resting”, anymore than sleep is. Rather, it seems to be a process of having certain parts — but not the whole — of the brain enter into a sleeplike state. I do not recall with certainty what the purported benefits are, but I think it has to do with improving one’s focus in the practise of kung fu.

    Something roughly similar will occasionally happen by accident when one is partially woken out of certain specific phases of sleep. I can remember once being woken up by my alarm clock and recognizing the sound, but oddly being unable to visually locate the damn thing in 3D space for several seconds, even though my ears told me it was right in front of me.

    My kung fu instructor told me once of meditating with a friend, and the phone rang. He was able to consciously recognize the phone ringing and to locate and answer it, but when he put the handset to his head, his mouth wouldn’t work — so he simply handed the phone to his friend.