Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sobering Thoughts For The Author Of Sobering Thoughts

Recently, I was directed towards a Toronto-based blog entitled Sobering Thoughts which, I've been informed, is well-written and generally reasonable (although I cannot vouch for that myself; I haven't read it before today). In a post that was published on Friday, however, the author Paul Tuns linked to a famous Phil Donahue interview of Ayn Rand, appearing just a couple of years before her death. It was the first interview that Miss Rand gave following the passing of her beloved husband Frank O'Connor.

Paul Tuns's commentary attending Part II of the interview proceeded as follows:

Rand explains what she means by her opposition to altruism, which is horrifying when she describes why it is wrong to give assistance to people with physical or mental disabilities.

Here is the link to the relevant section of the interview:

Judge for yourself.

As far as I can tell, there ought to be no confusion as to what exactly Miss Rand is advocating here. Moreover, it is transparently disingenuous to suggest, as Mr. Tuns does, that she argues that "it is wrong to give assistance to people with physical or mental disabilities."

The issue at hand is that of altruism:

People can want to help other people properly and with very good reasons. But that isn't altruism. Altruism doesn't mean merely helping people. It means sacrificing yourself to others. Placing the interests of others above your own. It's the self-sacrificng person who is an altruist.

When Rand addresses the question of thousands of millions of taxpayer dollars being allocated to funding the mentally retarded, there are two distinct issues at hand: (1) implicitly, whether it is appropriate to coerce money from citizens for public programs, and (2) in the context of a coercive redirection of resources in the way of public funding for education, whether it is proper to focus this money on the permanently unproductive and least gifted members of society - to wit, the mentally retarded. This stance is meant to be understood in contrast to the common Christian bromide that the worth of a society is to be judged by the well-being of its lowest members. Of course, the lower ranks of any capitalist state are significantly better off than they are in any mixed economy or socialistic country but the point is that the lowest ought not to be our standard. Rather, our focus ought to be on the best, on the greatest.

Briefly put, Rand's point was that any policy that embraces altruism - i.e. the sacrifice of a greater value for a lesser or non-value - is immoral. In this context, the proposal that Rand analyzes clearly fits that bill. Just as clearly, Rand is not opposed to private charity to fund the treatment of the subnormal.

Says Publius:

In the comments to his post Paul Tuns suggest that Rand doesn't want funding for disabled children. She does, however, clearly explain that she believes these children should be taken care of by voluntary charity. Her objection is to modern public education, which diverts resources from gifted students to the retarded, which is a form [of] altruism - punishing the talented for being talented. Rand made a similar point in a brief scene (redesign of the Stoddard Temple) in The Fountainhead.

Paul Tuns's apparent distaste for rational self-interest does not give him license to re-write reality to suit his ideology.

Just a few sobering thoughts for the author of Sobering Thoughts.

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