Archive for the ‘Objectivism’ Category

The Philosophy of Objectivism

March 26, 2008

I saw “The Corporation” last night, a 2003 Canadian documentary film critical of the modern-day corporation, considering it as a class of person and evaluating its behaviour towards society and the world at large as a psychologist might evaluate an ordinary person.

I found this quote particularly compelling:

“Drawing the metaphor of the early attempts to fly. The man going off of a very high cliff in his airplane, with the wings flapping, and the guys flapping the wings and the wind is in his face, and this poor fool thinks he’s flying, but, in fact, he’s in free fall, and he just doesn’t know it yet because the ground is so far away, but, of course, the craft is doomed to crash.

That’s the way our civilization is, the very high cliff represents the virtually unlimited resources we seem to have when we began this journey. The craft isn’t flying because it’s not built according to the laws of aerodynamics and it’s subject to the law of gravity.

Our civilization is not flying because it’s not built according to the laws of aerodynamics for civilizations that would fly. And, of course, the ground is still a long way away, but some people have seen that ground rushing up sooner than the rest of us have.

The visionaries have seen it and have told us it’s coming. There’s not a single scientific, peer-reviewed paper published in the last 25 years that would contradict this scenario: every living system of earth is in decline, every life support system of earth is in decline, and these together constitute the biosphere, the biosphere that supports and nurtures all of life, and not just our life but perhaps 30 million other species that share this planet with us.”

—Ray Anderson, founder of Interface, The Corporation

 Robert Hessen, who critiques “The Corporation,” calls it propaganda and makes an argument that “The Corporation” should not be shown in 8th grade classes because children of that age do not have the intellectual sophistication to make an argument against what is presented.

“Everyone in the world could, at a cost, reduce the chance of his or her death.  You could chose to not to walk across the street.  The question is, is whether that person is willing to pay for it.  Consumers should be free to decide what type of risk they want to bear.  And the government has the right to provide courts of law to allow people to sue corporations if (for example) they fraudulently conceal gas tanks that are not sufficiently safe to protect the consumer.  

Strangely, people are not willing to pay very much.   And people do many stupid things that can lead to their death.  People jump out planes, people smoke, even thought they know that it’s bad for them.  But the underlying principle is that individuals should be able to decide how much they are willing to pay.  It has nothing to do with evil corporations.”

So, the folks who are promoting “The Corporation” are jumping up and down, saying that our current economic system is not sustainable, and we’re gonna crash because we’re gonna run out of resources to use.

Hessen replies that there are plenty of resources, and doing things much differently than we are currently doing it would be cutting our own throats, for no reason.

Hessen’s main critique of “The Corporation” is that corporations are an agreement between individuals — “the corporation” and “the consumer”;  the corporation is a product of the freedom of association, and Hessan sees that any criticism of the corporate form is a criticism of that freedom. 

Hessen is a “Randian”, a follower of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.  The Objectivists believe that the fundamental right is the right to life— that is, the right to act in furtherance of one’s own life — not the right to have ones life protected or to have ones survival guaranteed by the involuntary effort of other human beings.  Secondly Objectivists believe in the right to property: one person’s right to life cannot entail the right to dispose of another’s private property, under any circumstances. 

Objectivism holds that human beings have the right to manipulate nature in any way they see fit, as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others.

 Ok, so if you’ve read this far, this is what got me — from Wikipedia:

“On the Objectivist account, the rights of other human beings are not of direct moral import to the agent who respects them; they acquire their moral purchase through an intermediate step.

An Objectivist respects the rights of other human beings out of the recognition of the value to himself or herself of living in a world in which the freedom of action of other rational (or potentially rational) human beings is respected.

Ones respect for the rights of others is founded on the value, to oneself, of other persons as actual or potential partners in cooperation and trade.”

Really, the fact that very powerful humans, humans who control our planet through the use of its resources and disposal of commercial waste, live and operate by this philosophy is terrifying. 

And it explains a lot.