How Ayn Rand Inluenced Me
By Steve Gillman
A subscriber to my radical thinking course emailed me to ask,
"How much of an influence did Ayn Rand have on your ideas
and writing?" Here is my reply.
Ayn Rand had a big impact on me more than 20 years ago. Although
her books remain popular, I think she has been largely ignored
by mainstream or "academic" philosophers. This is too
bad, because she really was a powerful thinker.
I didn't write much until many years after reading her books,
but my thinking was affected. Also, because of her I came to
see the power of putting ideas into fiction. I hope to do more
fiction in the future.
What I like about objectivism is it's attempt to keep philosophy
rooted in reality. Ideas are seen not as "mere" theories,
but as either applicable to life or without value. At the time
I read Rand's books and other works, her heroic sense of life
was attractive, but her own life was very tragic (which you'll
see if you read any of the biographies out there). It would have
been nice to see her learn how to be happy, and how to keep evolving.
I think once she gained recognition she did nothing but defend
what she had already created.
I think I have a much broader definition or sense of self interest
than she did. I also think there things that can be called "spiritual
experiences" for lack of better words. That she dismissed
these kinds of experiences may be due to her not having them.
If you could never taste, you might think that such a sense did
not exist. On the other hand, I have no belief in a god, and
what we call "spirituality" could be seen as a form
of psychological phenomenon.
Capitalism is something I was attracted to before I read Rand,
but she was one of the strongest defenders of the ideals, and
also one of the clearest writers on the moral aspects of a free
market system. I would only differ in that I don't see any verbally-formulated
values as absolute.
Now that I think of it, this points up a flaw in objectivist
reasoning. They often start with certain premises and try to
derive absolute rules or principles from these. Property rights
are good for individuals and for human life, for example, so
they tend to make the principle absolute: you can own anything
and do anything you want with it.
The flaw here is in not allowing for a reference back to values
that are further up in the hierarchy. For example, if there is
a case where property rights conflict with the value of human
life, property rights have to yield. We can own guns, for example,
or large areas of land, but we can't own nuclear bombs (too dangerous)
or use our land in ways that affect others (pollution that runs
off, using all the water that passes through, etc).
A more general problem is the intolerance that Rand had for those
who didn't agree with her, and the sense among objectivists that
they can't be wrong. My experience tells me that honest people
can often reach different conclusions, and we are all wrong at
times. Ignoring these two facts makes it very difficult to learn
new things and grow in wisdom.
In any case, yes, she did influence my thinking, but I am glad
to have (hopefully) gone far beyond those influences.