Monday, June 04, 2007

Distorting Self-Interest

Joseph Sobran takes on Ayn Rand’s ethics in his latest column, dated May 14, 2007. It is a shoddy argument that distorts Miss Rand’s ideas so grossly as to be irresponsible. One wonders if Mr. Sobran wants to be taken seriously.

Mr. Sobran equates the morality of self-interest with Darwinism.

Of course we all want to survive. But we want just as strongly for others to survive too. Darwinism can’t explain the environmentalist movement…

Admit it, you atheists: the sight of an old geezer with a cane brings out something sweet in you that, according to Darwin, can’t be there. The truth is that love for others is a profound instinct, a powerful atavism so to speak, harder to resist than hate.

Darwinism is a biological theory of evolution; it has nothing to do with ethics. Mr. Sobran creates a straw man here in order to paint the morality of self-interest as one in which men struggle against one another to survive. Ethics is not a competition. If one man or a million achieve happiness, it does not come at the expense of the rest of humanity. Mr. Sobran mischaracterizes rational egoism as cynical egoism, the idea that being selfish means screwing over other people to get what you want.

To equate Ayn Rand’s morality of rational selfishness with Darwinism is comparable to redrawing the Mona Lisa in crayon, then blaming Da Vinci for drawing in crayon.
Altruism sticks in the craws of the reductionists who think man is, and ought to be, selfish. Ayn Rand tried in vain to persuade us that Moses and Jesus were wrong, that altruism is bad, and that selfishness is a virtue. She failed to make much of a dent in the popularity of St. Francis of Assisi.
Give her time. Objectivism has only been around half a century.

Man is separated from the beasts by the faculty of reason, of course — the point the old philosophers used to harp on; but I prefer to stress his capacity for praise and appreciation, disinterested joy in things outside himself. A boy in love doesn’t just desire the girl; he may not even desire her at all. He simply marvels that so lovely a creature can exist, as he may marvel at Mozart’s music or Shakespeare’s poetry, things that offer nothing beyond themselves to desire.
Mr. Sobran doesn’t understand that spiritual values are as selfish as material values. Admiring a beautiful girl and great art are not disinterested acts; they are deeply selfish because they are a pleasure in themselves and they give one spiritual fuel to continue struggling to achieve goals. Aesthetic admiration is not some platonic love that exists apart from this world.

The piece ends with this outrageous paragraph:

I suppose killing your own children makes some sort of sense from an atheistic and Darwinian point of view. If survival is a ruthless competition, your kids are your competitors, right? No wonder Darwin’s legions are in favor of this “choice.” It accords perfectly, methinks, with Ayn Rand’s “virtue of selfishness.”
Yes, of course, Mr. Sobran! Objectivist ethics leads to killing one’s own children. Ayn Rand really did eat babies for breakfast. (Of course, a fetus is not a child, but that is a whole other post.)

As bad as leftists are, and they are horrible, if you want a master of smear and distortion, you still have to turn to a conservative like Joseph Sobran.

UPDATE: Revised.


madmax said...

It seems that conservatives hate Darwin more than they hate Ayn Rand. Any thinker which destroys the fantasy world which they believe in always fills them with loathing.

madmax said...

Let me add that it fills them with loathing because it fills them with fear.

Larry said...

Nice job Myrhaf, the fact that people will take it seriously, and come at me later with those same arguments shows the depth, or lack thereof, of peoples ability to reason.

Larry said...

By 'it' I was referring to the article on which you were commenting.

Apollo said...

By the way Myrhaf, Sobran isnt just a conservative, he's an Anarchist conservative(paleolibertarian anarcho-capitalist to be more exact) or as he calls himself, a "theo-anarchist".

If you read his other articles you will know that he has a gripe against Ayn Rand for other reasons too.