A Redeeming Quality in Ayn Rand

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I've never been much of a fan of Ayn Rand. Her egoism gets the motivations for moral living completely wrong. I'm not much sympathetic to her atheism. Her libertarianism on free will is contrary to my own compatibilism. Her political libertarianism is motivated in her egoism and ends up with results that I think are contrary to my own political conservatism, even on the economic and structural matters where conservatives and libertarians often agree. But it's nice to find one redeeming quality in her work. David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy notes one way she influenced him that I can't help but agree with.

First, she indirectly persuaded me that caring about the success of strangers on sports teams that happen to carry the name of my city or school is a waste of time. This freed up thousands of hours for other endeavors more directly related to my own life.

I never needed convincing on this, but it's nice to see that Ayn Rand at least got one thing right. There are so many conceptual confusions, misrepresentations of views she's arguing against, and just complete howlers of arguments in what I've read of her writing, and I'm sure I'd disagree with her reasoning even on this one point. (I'm actually not sure how she can consistently argue against people choosing to do this out of enjoyment.) But until now about the only thing I've been able to credit her with is sheer force of will in maintaining her commitment to a ridiculous thesis (that morality consists only and completely in being selfish). Now I can at least acknowledge her recognition of one of the biggest wastes of time in American culture for what it is.

(Note: I'm not saying that it's not an enjoyable waste of time for those who enjoy it. That would be obviously false. I just can't see how that particular enjoyable activity should be better than other ones that are much more productive, self-improving, other-improving, and so on, and I can't see how it can be worth all the money that gets thrown into it, the permanent injuries that arise among those involved with certain sports, or the level of importance given to watching it that trumps all other endeavors. I certainly have my own obsessions, but I think mine all have at least some deeper importance, even if I might take them too far.)

5 Comments

She does have some other redeeming qualities, at least for me. Reading her essays helped get me excited and interested about political philosophy and her "if you want something do it yourself" ideas served as a big source of motivation for me.

Come now Jeremy, is reading sci-fi and fantasy really that more valuable than enjoying sports? I think the mythic themes that drive our interest in such literature also drive much sports fandom. One man's Achilles is another man's Harry Potter is another man's Tiger Woods. =)

Science fiction and fantasy are ripe for ethical and more generally philosophical reflection. They also involve a kind of creativity and imagination that I think reflect God's intentions for us a lot more significantly than running into each other and beating us up could possibly involve.

I'm not talking about all sports, either, or all participation in sports. Some people's roles in sports involve a lot of creativity and intellectual ability. The guy that revamped the Oakland A's demonstrated this pretty well. But I have a hard time with the huge salaries of the stars, the amount of money that goes into it in general;, the prices of tickets, the exploitation of the poor (who are very much targeted), the huge amount of time people devote to this in their personal lives, the heightened identification with one's home team or favored team to the point of letting it affect their relationships, their unwillingness to do other, important things because a game is on, the violence involved in much of it, the danger of permanent injury to players, and so on.

I suppose science fiction and fantasy might get to that level with a few of those things, but I think it's got much greater benefits besides just enjoyment (which isn't a problem in itself) without a lot of the negative elements and with much less danger of the negative elements getting to the same degree.

So is your problem with sports about the lack of "a kind of creativity and imagination that I think reflect God's intentions for us" or the ridiculous amount of attention/obsession our culture has thrown upon sports. Or is it both? I'll disagree with the former, agree with the latter.


I'd also ask if you see value in competition. If you do see value in it, where does that come up in science fiction? Not that it has to, you can see the value in competition without demanding every endeavor/hobby include it. But if there is value in competition, it would seem sports could be a good outlet for this.


I'd also say that sports has plenty of room for ethical reflection. Just pick up the sports page and you'll get plenty of it. In fact, if I were an ethics professor, I'd find all sorts of material for discussion in the sports page or on ESPN. There is far more to sports than running into each other and beating each other up.


Finally, just to clarify, I assume you're talking about the obsessive following of sports rather than participating in sports, since the benefits of being athletically involved are obvious.

It's the latter. I find nothing inherently wrong with sports. It's our culture's attitude toward it that I often have a problem with, and yes it's the obsession with it and not the participation (although participation in professional sports with a high risk of permanent injury might be too self-destructive to be worth it).

I see value in friendly competition if it's competition engaged in for the sake of bettering all parties or encouraging all parties to better themselves. I don't think that's always the case with sports (or with lots of other competitive activities). I don't see any value in mere competition for its own sake.

There's certainly place for discussing the ethics of sports (isn't that what I'm doing here, in fact?), but I don't see that as a motive for participating in sports or attaching oneself to a team one puts a lot of emotional stock into. I do think the ethical and other philosophical questions raised in science fiction are one of the draws of the genre. I don't think they're parallel in that.

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