Talking to Rand Fans 1.3A, B, and C.

Talking to Rand Fans, 1.3A. Introduction, The Virtue of Selfishness, 1.3B and C are further below.

Sentences 1 through 4i:  In Rand’s first four sentences are elements of Rand’s rhetoric which can be found throughout the Objectivist canon. Rand’s rhetoric may affect a Rand Fan’s ability to converse with other people.

Sentence One: “The title of this book might evoke the type of question that I hear once in a while, ‘why do you use the word “selfishness” to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people for whom it does not mean the things you mean?’”

  • Rand introduces the first strong, negative emotion, “antagonizes”.
  • Rand tells us that she is important. People ask her questions. Her words cause strong reactions in the general public. “So many people” are “antagonized”; instead of puzzled. Or dismissive.
  • Rand has been told that her definition of “selfishness” is different than most English speakers.
  • Rand is aware that her use of words is not emotionally neutral.
  • Rand’s world is a world of conflict. There are so many antagonists out there.
  • The population of this sentence is Rand, several questioners, the many people who have been antagonized and the reader. There is no single individual in Rand’s rhetoric. It’s crowds of people.

Sentence Two: “To those who ask it, my answer is, ‘For the same reason you fear it.’”

  • She introduces another strong, negative emotion in the second sentence, “fear”.
  • She makes an accusation based on a ridiculous assumption. Who reading the phrase “Virtue of Selfishness” felt fear? Nobody. It is purely a product of Rand’s rhetoric.
  • Since nobody felt fear, there is no way to know what reason she is talking about. We are more in the dark than when we started.
  • She says she is deliberately antagonizing people.
  • Rand claims to be responding to people’s questions. She didn’t start this.

Sentence Three: “But there are others who would not ask that question, sensing the moral cowardice it implies, but who are unable to formulate my actual reason or to identify the profound moral issue involved.”

  • She introduces more people.
  • She introduces a third strong, negative emotion in the third sentence, “cowardice”.
  • She makes an accusation of moral cowardice for simply asking what she means.
  • Her new characters are not capable of “formulating” or “identifying” what Rand is talking about. Rand is saying that these folks are without the necessary intellectual ability to understand her profound issues and clever reasoning. Or she is saying that she is incomprehensible, but that is unlikely.
  • These new people aren’t using rational thought, but “sensing” things accurately- seemingly in contradiction to Rand’s philosophy of rationality.
  • Rand’s new friends agree that questions are for cowards.
  • If these people do not ask questions and cannot verbalize her reasoning or discuss the issue, Rand cannot know they sense cowardice; and she cannot deduce an inability to formulate or identify from their silence. Perhaps they are fictional people.
  • She claims her choice of words is due to a “profound” moral issue; reminding us that she is an intellectual, plumbing depths others cannot formulate or identify.

Sentence Four: “It is to them I will give a more explicit answer.”

•     She deigns to inform the stupid, but not the cowards. The ignorant people and the cowardly evaders show up repeatedly in Objectivist material. The premise of her philosophy is that it is objectively true, meaning you can see it. Therefore, everybody already agrees with Ayn Rand; except through lack of knowledge or suicidal pretense. There is no other reason for questioning Rand, for it is simply not possible to have any other concept of reality. “Only through ignorance or evasion can a man project such an alternative.”ii

Summing up the first four sentences: In a barrage of emotions and accusations, Rand has just told us what she thinks of people who question her. If you ask a Rand Fan questions, they have already been told you are a moral coward and an antagonist. Or you are ignorant and inarticulate. If the conversation doesn’t go well, maybe one of the reasons is Ayn Rand’s rhetoric.

Next: Talking to Rand Fans 1.3B, continuing a close analysis of The Introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness[1], sentences 5 through 8.

The story so far: Rand is explaining the meaning of the word “selfishness”.

Sentence 5: “This is not a mere semantic issue nor a matter of arbitrary choice.”

  • Since “semantic” means “having to do with signification and meaning” and Rand is explaining the meaning of a word; then this by definition is a semantic issue. Rand’s statement does not make sense.
  • The word “mere” is used frequently by Rand to impart disparagement.
  • The phrase “mere semantic issue” is a cliché which means that semantics are a petty concern. Since we see below that Rand feels the issue is one of the most important facing mankind and not “mere” at all, the cliché is not applicable.
  • She disparages “semantics” because the field of semantics contradicts her theory that language has no meaning beyond words which refer to things.
  • She disparages “choice” because it implies there is more to words and concepts than the mechanical application of her “Logic of Non-contradictory Identification”[2]. As she says elsewhere, “This does not meant the content of concepts depends on an individual’s subjective (arbitrary) choice. The only issue open to an individual’s choice in this matter is how much knowledge he will seek to acquire… …of the facts of reality.”[3] (Parenthesis in Rand’s original.)
  • The word “arbitrary” is often used by Rand to disparage individual choice and subjectivity.

Sentence 6: “The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word ‘selfishness’ is not merely wrong; it represents an intellectual ‘package-deal’ which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.”

  • Rand provides no evidence for her assertion that mankind, comprised of all humans on earth, possesses a unified belief system which, as a whole, can develop or be arrested.
  • Rand’s assertion that the morality of the human race is arrested is contradicted by Rand’s usage of the word selfishness. Since Rand’s use of the word is not the popular usage and her ethics are in opposition to the “package deal” about to be explained, her morality and the morality of people who share her views must not be arrested. Since she, and they, are human beings; mankind cannot be said to have arrested moral development. Her statement is meaningless.
  • Her statement assumes the premise that morality “develops”.
  • She believes the way most people speak English is wrong.

Sentence 7: “In popular usage, the word “selfishness “ is a synonym of evil: the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.”

  • She packs the sentence with negatively charged words- “evil, murderous, brute, tramples, corpses, no, nothing, mindless”. While it is her choice to do so, she ascribes it to “the popular usage”.
  • She chooses repellent imagery of violence which arouses strong emotional response- “murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses’’. She blames the other side for this, hoping that if you reject the imagery, you should reject the other side.
  • The level of hyperbole invites ridicule of the purported popular usage.
  • She creates a straw man for her argument. Suppose the image of “selfishness” for most people was: a child who refuses to share and ruins a birthday party by eating all the cake. That example would not support her claim for a synonym of evil. Or suppose the image of a pathetic miser, calculating and scheming alone with his gold. That would not support her characterization of “mindless whims of the immediate moment”. Neither of those examples suit her violent rhetorical style; yet, both of those examples fit the popular usage of “selfishness”.
  • Rand disparages choice as transient conviction, mindless and a word she frequently uses for it, “whim”. By nestling her disparagement within the purported popular usage, she creates a false agreement with her premises.

Sentence 8: “Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is: concern with one’s own interests.” (italics in Rand’s original)

  • The Oxford Dictionary of the English Language provides a different definition[4]. Rand’s statement is false. This is the only fact-checkable statement in eight sentences and it is false.
  • A “dictionary” definition of any word is merely a documentation of how that word has been used by people[5]. If people change their use of a word, dictionaries change their definitions. When Rand draws a distinction between popular usage and a dictionary definition, she is making an error.
  • Since dictionaries are a record of popular usage; if this sentence were true, then Rand’s description of popular usage in the previous sentence would be false.
  • No word has an “exact meaning”[6]. Rand’s statement is nonsensical.
  • If Rand’s definition were true, it would mean that the moral development of the entire human race would not have been arrested if only somebody had read the dictionary.
  • If Rand’s definition were true, the people who read dictionaries and the people who write them would not be subject to arrested morals. Therefore, mankind as a whole would not have arrested morals. Rand has contradicted herself.

Talking to Rand Fans 1.3C: Summing up the first eight sentences of the Introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness.

In these eight sentences, Rand refers to people 29 different ways. She makes six references to herself: she hears questions, her use of the word selfishness is known to other people, she uses selfishness differently than other people, she has an answer, she has an actual reason, she gives a more explicit answer.

Of the 23 references to other people:

  • 13 references are negative: People who are antagonized, fear the word selfish, are moral cowards, cannot formulate her reasons, cannot identify profound moral issues, have arrested moral development, are the populous which uses “selfishness” incorrectly, pursue immediate gratification. Also, murderous, brute, corpses, uncaring, and mindless.
  • Nine references are neutral: People who question her- three times. Then; many people, people who have a different meaning for selfishness, a person with ends, a person with interests, living being and those who do not question her.
  • Six of the nine neutral references are associated with a negative reference, e.g. a questioner (neutral) is also a moral coward (negative), “many people” are “antagonized”, etc.
  • Only one reference to other people could be interpreted as positive: the people who do not question her because they sense moral cowardice. However, this reference is associated with the negative references of being unable to formulate reasons or identify moral issues.

The first eight sentences of the Introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness are an introduction to Ayn Rand’s violent, demeaning rhetorical style. Verbal abuse is what Rand Fans are used to. If you question a Rand Fan and get an aggressive tirade of insults, violent imagery and hyperbolic bombast- Ayn Rand’s rhetoric might be why.

[1] The sentences are all from pg. vii, Introduction, The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand, Signet, New American Library, 1964

[2] pg 11, Introduction to Objective Epistemology, Ayn Rand, Mentor, New American Library, 1967

[3] pg 56, Introduction to Objective Epistemology, Ayn Rand, Mentor, New American Library, 1967

[4] Oxford Unabridged

[5] pg. 34, 35, Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action,Harcourt Brace & Co. 1992

[6] ibid

[7] pg 56, Introduction to Objective Epistemology, Ayn Rand, Mentor, New American Library, 1967

ipg. vii, The Virtue of Selfishness Introduction, Rand, Signet, New American Library, 1964

iipg. 157, Piekoff, The Analytic/Synthetic Dichotomy Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Ayn Rand, Mentor, New American Library 1967