Saturday, June 20, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
What would Ayn Rand do?
Several months ago, my best friend called to ask if I could bring him the Emergency Room; he’d smacked his head hard after his bike tires got caught in railroad tracks.
Though Rand never wrote about bicycles in her several thousand pages of fiction, presumably she would have left my buddy lying dazed by the tracks. Helping him, she’d say, would only prevent him from taking responsibility for his own acts, dampening his ability to learn to avoid train crossings.
Some Rand followers would object to such a cold interpretation, but refusal to help others is the essence of her Objectivism philosophy, summed up by hero John Galt in Atlas Shrugged: “Do not cry that you need us. We do not consider ‘need’ a claim.”
Many say it less bluntly as, “Help others by helping yourself,” but however you phrase it, it has an appealing core. Be selfish! When you go after what you want, that’s also best for other people. Helping others hurts them, so don’t bother; just get what’s yours.
Does that sound too extreme? Former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan now suggests it is, a change of heart that Objectivists label “cowardly,” and “traitorous.” After decades of following Rand (she nicknamed him “the undertaker” because of his gloomy disposition), Greenspan admitted that unregulated derivative trading hurt markets in ways he hadn’t expected:
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) pressed him to clarify his words. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,”
“Absolutely, precisely,” Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”
It was going well until there was a crisis, as is true for many people’s lives. You may not often need medical malpractice laws, or environmental regulation, or a vibrant support system, but when you do, they prove their worth.
I don’t want a government dictating our every move. You should be free to bike where you want, for instance. But for those rare times you take a fall, it’s good to know that there’s a hand ready to help you get back on your feet.