What was Ayn Rand wrong about?

In answer to Quora question "What was Ayn Rand wrong about?"

Rand’s errors are numerous, despite her popular appeal. Most of them stem from her investment in atomism and its solipsistic extensions, but many are also self-contradictory or reflect a poorly educated understanding of human psychology and behavior. We could sum up her central ideas with a statement like “Human beings should aim to be rational, autonomous agents whose primary moral obligation is to advocate for their own interests and ignore or reject interference with self-directed liberty.” But humans aren’t all that rational – even those who claim to be – and in fact humans are mainly irrational and impulsive creatures who post-rationalize many if not most decisions. Even in situations where we carefully analyze our course of action ahead of time, it is our emotions that provide a “conviction of rightness” for any given course; without such emotions, we couldn’t even make a decision (see Antonio Damasio's research). We are also not autonomous. Our existence and identity – indeed even our sense of individual agency – is entirely dependent on our education, enculturation, upbringing and current social context and interactions. We are prosocially interdependent critters whose “individual” totality is the sum of a thousand factors entirely out of our control; even if we lived alone in some isolated wilderness, our self-concept would be formed through interaction with that environment. We do not exist as independent atoms, but as highly permeable organisms that require sunlight, nourishment, attention, interaction and stimulation that we ourselves cannot provide. Even a person who believes they are entirely self-defined and self-sufficient will completely fall apart if left in a sensory deprivation environment for more than a day. Perhaps most importantly, however, we cannot, as members of a society, be “free” unless everyone else in that society agrees to the terms and boundaries of our freedom; collective agreement is a prerequisite for individual liberty (I write more about this here: The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom). And, lastly, what is “moral” is also defined through our sociality; there is no empirical evidence to support an independent, isolated, self-referential universe in which my actions do not impact other people or my environment. This is why, if anyone lives solipsism to its natural extreme, they will end up hospitalized as delusional or psychotic. Therefore, assessing our choices and behavior in light of our interactions with others and impact on the world around us (i.e. developing the empathy that was anathema to Rand) is the only framing consistent with reality as we can empirically observe and measure it. This is also what is viewed as “moral maturity” in many philosophical and spiritual traditions, and I refer to the fruition of this trajectory as “the unitive principle” (you can read more about this line of reasoning here: Political Economy and the Unitive Principle : T.Collins Logan : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive). So in my view Rand was simply not aware of the overwhelming evidence that undermines her views, and was perhaps just voicing a postmodern rejection of traditional values. But she was very impressed with her own conclusions – and perhaps that arrogance was the greatest error of all. She was also wrong about cigarettes.

My 2 cents.


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