I came across your site a few days ago after a friend posted a link to your "What Skills Do You Need to be an Entrepreneur? Only Two" article. While I've read many different blogging sites about similar topics, there was something about your writing that has compelled me to stay on your site and read through dozens of your articles. In fact, of all the sites/blogs I have read, you are the first I have attempted to contact. You seem like a really interesting guy, and you have certainly inspired me.
Anyways, I read in one of your works that you aren't much a fan of small talk (nor am I), so I'll cut straight to my questions:
What are you thoughts on Ayn Rand? Have you read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead? The reason I ask is because a lot of your writing seems to reflect some of the core points of her philosophy, at least on an individual perspective (as portrayed in The Fountainhead). I'm not sure how you feel about her philosophy for a society as a whole, as in Atlas Shrugged.
If you've never read her before, here is a good excerpt of her thoughts on money (to get an idea of what her books are like):
From reading your work, your lifestyle also fascinates me and I would love to do something similar someday. I hope I can learn a lot from you.
Yes, I've read Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, Anthem, and a bit of her nonfiction. It's good stuff.
I had the mixed pleasure of reading Atlas Shrugged first before any of her other works... which is too bad in a way. After Atlas, The Fountainhead felt more wooden and clumsy, less alive. I guess if you read Fountainhead first it'd seem amazing, and then Atlas would go to a whole other level. So I'll give Fountainhead a mixed slightly positive review, just because it covers the same ground as Atlas but without that same level of depth and richness. That said, I liked Atlas Shrugged a whole lot - it's probably my third favorite piece of fiction, after Musashi and Hussain Hadawy's translation of Arabian Nights.
I won't sing the praises of Rand here - I guess I'd be preaching to the converted. So instead, let me point out the biggest flaw of Rand.
She is unwilling or unable to ascribe positive motivations to her antagonists. All the statists and controllers and equalizers in her books are driven by a mix of fear, hatred, jealousy, envy, and things like that.
To be sure, there are elements of that among the kind of people she describes, but she misses that many people actually really sincerely believe that if Marxist-type policies were implemented successfully, the world would be a better place.
The historical record bears that out as nonsense. But have you ever read Marx? For the untrained eye, he can be very convincing and emotional. You see, this is one of the biggest tricks of charlatans of the ages. They put out 95% of a true story, but slip in one or two little details that are false, but they get eaten up along with the correct stuff.
You know, Marx describes some things that are true. Oppression does happen. He just gets the cause and effect backwards - private property and accumulation of resources doesn't lead to oppression. Rather, the application of violence and coercion leads to oppression. If you look at many different societies, it's not typically the traders, inventors, merchants, etc. that do oppressing - it's the people with the swords and guns and control of the courts to legitimize the whole thing.
Marx sometimes describes things almost correctly, but then slips in one little mistake. For instance, Marx doesn't acknowledge that one option can be the lesser of two evils. If you're starving to death in the countryside and someone offers you subsistence wages in the city, are they oppressing you?
But let's say you're a starry eyed 20 year old straight out of suburbia, no life experience, no reference points, no understanding of where wealth or progress comes from. You see people living on subsistence wages. The professor of sociology (a professor! he must know what he's talking about to be in such an authoritative position!) tells you that the capitalists are oppressing the subsistence worker, etc, etc, etc.
Never mind that socialism always devolves into banditry and poverty and ruin. Never mind that places that go through an era of choosing the least-bad-option become wealthy and successful, like Taiwan and Korea and West Germany and Japan after the various wars. (Compare those places to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and pre-Deng Xiaoping China... and it's silly that anyone could still believe socialism is better for people than a free market system)
But I'm digressing... back to Rand, and Rand's views of her antagonists. Rand more or less paints the 20 year old suburban kid who knows nothing of the real world as just driven by hate and fear and envy. I don't think that's the case. The arguments for socialism and social control are emotionally powerful if you fail to study history. You know, the socialists write checks they can't cash, but those checks look really good to people before they bounce.
So the 20 year old suburbanite joins that side, and gradually bases an identity around "saving the people" and "fighting oppression" and soon all his/her friends believe the same thing, and now asking the suburbanite to take a closer look at history threatens his or her entire social circle, entire identity, entire fabric of their being.
But, here's where I think Rand goes wrong. A lot of these people are really decent, caring, empathetic people. If you could somehow get them to shift away from the nonsense for a moment, they could be a powerful force for good. The equalizers and social control-loving-types tend to think wealth is a zero sum game, which it's really obviously not. But if you could somehow get them playing positive sum games, you might be able to make some good things happen.
Like, take Habitat for Humanity. This kind of sidesteps the whole social control and tyranny thing, and just does good. Build some houses and infrastructure. Voluntarily charitably-built infrastructure is almost always a good thing.
So I think this is the biggest flaw of Rand - she overlooks the suburbanite as potentially valuable for the forces of good, because she's written the suburbanite off as driven just by jealously, hatred, fear, and envy. To be sure, there are bad people in that camp. But not most of them. Most of them are good people who were given an incorrect argument on how the world works and how to make it a better place.... gradually that incorrect argument fills their life, and it's near impossible to get thme to change their minds because they'd need to give up everything they believe in to do so.
The hack around that, I think, is to find positive-sum games that we can all agree are good. Build infrastructure, invent things, voluntary charity.
By definition, someone poor is unwilling or unable to do the things required to get wealthy. Now, that might not be possible in a society that's full of corruption and banditry. But in any reasonably free society, doing productive work, delaying gratification, taking care of your nutrition and emotions, constantly learning, helping people, contributing to the community... these things quickly make you not poor.
Throw in a little goal setting, planning, personal finance, negotiation skills, and suddenly people do what happened in my bloodlines - from dirt poor foster care during the Great Depression to... well, we'll see how far I get. But it's not rocket surgery - do productive things, delay gratification, avoid stupid consumption, set goals, master yourself, help people, contribute, learn some basic probability, learn some basic negotiation, things like that.
And the fact is, a lot of the would-be equalizer types could get on board with this, I think. I'm violently opposed to the cause of social control. After seeing the Killing Fields and Security Center 21 in Cambodia, I swore an oath that this would never happen on my watch in a country I had a duty to. I'm not sure where the line I'd grab a rifle is, but I wold if we got a Khmer Rouge style uprising again. It's hell and horror and madness, and we can't let it happen again.
But most people who believe in social control haven't studied history. They haven't studied industry. They haven't studied (actual) economics. They don't know where wealth comes from. By the time they've got some experience, the social control message is deeply entangled in their identity.
Still, that doesn't mean they're driven by hatred and envy and fear and jealousy. They get in with empathy and caring, and they're in deep before they learn better. Rand describes the effects of social control excellently - she was from the Soviet Union originally, so she had firsthand experience.
But she doesn't realize that the people who could go over to the side of social control could also come over to ours, if we were cool and friendly and non-adverserial about it. Don't even try to convince them that social control is wrong and Marxism is nonsense. Yes, social control is wrong. Yes, Marxism is nonsense. But don't bother trying to convince someone who built their identity on it.
Instead, work hands on with them to do actual good works - build infrastructure, invent, voluntary charity, and teach people the skills that really are needed to be successful.
I think Rand has some brilliant points. But I don't think the other side is beyond redemption, demonic and hateful. No, they just learned some persuasive-but-incorrect stuff early in their development and now their identity is built around it. But I think, with some tact and diplomacy, we can sidestep this problem and all work on stuff that clearly does work - infrastructure, education, voluntary charity, etc, etc, etc.
The other camp isn't malicious and evil. They're mostly good people who've got a couple facts wrong, but now will look stupid to everyone they care about if they change their mind publicly. So let's try to sidestep the whole discussion, and work on things that are suitable to people of all backgrounds. It avoids the conflict and bloodshed and wasted energy spent on politics and politicking, and all of that.
Thanks for the letter, and best regards,
I'm myself am partial to Christopher Hitchens' reply to a similar question on Rand:
So a working class revolution to take control of the means of production is the same thing as a peasant revolt and driving everyone out of the cities (away from the means of production) into the country side and executing enough so the land can support the peasant society?
That is not at all Marxism... He was more influenced by Buddha than Marx.
You can claim Marxism is the same as peasant socialism but ITS NOT.
And you didn't respond to any of my other points where you get Marx completely wrong....
I don’t know why I started this since I should have known it would go no where, haha. I always tell myself, ‘don’t argue on the Internet’, but end up doing it again and again.
So I’ll just leave at this: If you actually have read the Communist Manifesto, Capital, works of Lenin and Trotsky and Engels, and so on you’d know your distorted representation of Marxists views is just that, distorted.
I found this hard to read after seeing your misinterpretations of Marx, so I'd like to correct a few things.
First, inventors, merchants and traders are not necessarily capitalists. At all. Marx never makes a claim of inventors being oppressors, that simply makes no sense.
Secondly, the fact that one must work a wage earning job does not mean that that system is not ultimately oppressive and alienating to the worker.
Your 'lesser of two evils' makes it seem like you think Marx was opposed to people earning wages... I'm not sure what you mean there. Maybe even opposed to reforms? This is not true at all as well.
And there is far too much to go into with Russia, Korea, China, Cambodia (really, Cambodia? Pol Pot's philosophy wasn't even close to Marxism and anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge of Marxism who was being honest would admit that.)
I'd just suggest you reread the Marx you have read because you did not get what he was actually saying.
" ou see, this is one of the biggest tricks of charlatans of the ages. They put out 95% of a true story, but slip in one or two little details that are false, "
Its called sandwiching. I suppose the idiom "devil in details" might been derived from such activity. But related or not this activity also bring to my mind the saying " The biggest trick that devil pulled is that to convince people that he doesn't exist". hmm What about the Illuminati !
Sandwiching (adulteration) has also been done with the Bible, Torah & many other religious text books.
Anyway Im just happy to know that you are not oblivious to such devilish acts. I wonder what would it take to be on your guard all the time to this.
Agreed. It's to the point where I actually don't identify with Rand publicly, and don't look at it as a a strong indicator of character when learning about someone if they do/don't like her. I don't think it's a flaw in her or her writing; she's a storyteller, and archetypes are a fine literary device. But people interpret her far too literally, which is I think a big mistake; the themes she presents are real, but they're far from the full picture.
I don't like making mistakes. In fact, I think I dislike it more than most people.
Yet, in any discipline that includes new and novel and pioneering things, mistakes must be made. This is not a good thing, per se. But it's not a bad thing either. It's just a thing.
Embarrassment is something else entirely. The vast majority of mistakes won't be noticed by anyone else, but embarrassment is when you do something that you don't like how it reflects on you to other people.
While most mistakes can be fixed and then mostly shrugged off, I think embarrassment cuts people much deeper. In fact, I've heard plenty of anecdotes of a person getting embarrassed the first time they tried to do something, and then not trying again for a few years. Or quitting entirely, even.
Books are cheap, invaluable sources of knowledge and wisdom. But let's be honest, not every book is a good book. And not every good book will make an impact on you. Today, I decided to make a short list of the books that changed my life in one way or another:
As you can see, topics vary from Atheism and Philosophy to Picking up girls and Self development. Needless to say, I recommend that you read all of them.
Now it's your turn: Do you read? If so, what are the books that changed your life?