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Friday, 20 March 2015

Belief systems - Money - Ayn Rand's Rational Egoism

In my view, every human being acts in his/her own self interest. In each situation we - either consciously or subconsciously - consider the "What's in it for me?" question. Even "doing good" towards others is self interest as it may imply an "I owe you", a future return favour, or scoring points in the eyes of our God. Let's call this idea "Rational Egoism" (Ayn Rand, 1905-1982).

Once we start believing into something bigger, like Money, then we lose our rational self interest. Greed is irrational self interest rather than extreme rational interest. Irrational because we no longer think about the consequences of our actions. The love for money has all the characteristics of love: forgiving, finding excuses and suppressing conflicting rational thoughts.

To some extent I am fascinated by Ayn Rand. I also mentioned her in one of my earlier blogs (http://leonoudejans.blogspot.nl/2015/02/cybertopia-seasteading-and-ayn-rand.html). I wasn't able to include her in my recent blog about Money as a belief system. Yet I felt that her opinions do matter as they are often used - better: misused - as a justification for greed. It's easy to see why her opinions are often misused.

Russian Jewish born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum (1905-1982) outlined her philosophic ideas for future society - which she referred to as Objectivism - mostly in a novel called Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected faith and religion. She supported rational and ethical egoism, and rejected altruism. In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral and opposed collectivism and statism as well as anarchism, instead supporting laissez-faire capitalism, which she defined as the system based on recognising individual rights (source: Wikipedia).

I am convinced that her choice of words - egoism - is the reason for misinterpretation of her opinions. Clearly she refers to self-interest. Ayn Rand defines rational egoism (also called rational selfishness) as the principle that an action is rational if and only if it maximises one's self-interest. Ethical egoism is the normative ethical position that one ought to do what is in one's own self-interest. Lastly, psychological egoism is the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest, even in what seem to be acts of altruism.

The adjective rational - in rational egoism - is clearly her restriction towards the word egoism (i.e. rational egoism versus egoism). People misusing her opinions view "rational egoism" as the opposite of "emotional amoral egoism" (http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Emotional_amoral_egoism). The Ayn Rand quotes I have listed below make her look very different from the person whom Republicans love and Democrats love to hate. I think I would have loved her.

Relevant Ayn Rand quotes (source: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/ayn_rand.html):
- Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.
- Upper classes are a nation's past; the middle class is its future.
- Money is the barometer of a society's virtue.
- Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason.
- Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper's bell of an approaching looter.
- Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think.