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One of the key messages of Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged is that you should go on strike and not share your achievements with the world since they will be used against you anyway. People vilify achievements and value mediocrity? Let them see what that attitude gets them (destruction).

I'm no expert on Rand's life, but AFAIK, and from researching a bit online, she never went on strike herself. She wrote many books, sold millions of copies, gave interviews, wrote a newsletter, had students, agreed to have some of her books turned into movies, and so on. These achievements were then used against her in due course, as her philosophy predicts.

Is Rand a hypocrite for not following her own philosophy by sharing it with the world – or is there something I'm not seeing?

PS: Please don't use this question as an opportunity to lay into Rand (for example, I've already heard the claim that she was a hypocrite for accepting social welfare later in life – mentioning it now since somebody is bound to bring it up). I'm genuinely interested if there's something I'm not seeing as I'm guessing this is my mistake not hers.

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    IIRC, she says somewhere that the conditions justifying the Strike (note that The Strike was the working title of Atlas Shrugged) did not obtain in the real America of her time. She was not so aggressive as some of her followers tend to be; remember that Dagny Taggart would have hesitated to shoot a helpless rabbit even if she did shoot a man helping hold John Galt hostage. Oct 12, 2023 at 19:31
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    "as she explains in Atlas Shrugged" - as she claims in Atlas Shrugged. You're still using loaded words.
    – benrg
    Oct 12, 2023 at 21:36
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    Do you have a refutation of her claim? Oct 12, 2023 at 21:39
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    FWIW I think she does more than just claim. She explains a great deal, too. I go into some detail here: blog.dennishackethal.com/posts/charity-vs-justice Oct 12, 2023 at 21:44
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    You are conflating wildly different things. There is no reason to think she intended for her fictional story to inspire real-life emulators. That is not remotely the same as saying that she didn't intend to convey a message or that her work shouldn't be taken seriously. Tolkien intended for his work to be taken seriously and meant for it to have a message, but he didn't intend for people to go looking for orcs to kill. Oct 13, 2023 at 22:01

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One of the key messages of Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged is that you should go on strike and not share your achievements with the world since they will be used against you anyway. People vilify achievements and value mediocrity? Let them see what that attitude gets them (destruction).

In AS the government and its corporate cronies make laws to expropriate productive people. This is enabled by people having contempt and hatred for productive people. According to Rand, this isn't an innocent mistake: anyone with a brain can spot that government intervention in the economy makes everyone worse off so the only reason for doing it is malice. As a result the strikers decide that if people don't want productive people around then they should leave.

I'm no expert on Rand's life, but AFAIK, and from researching a bit online, she never went on strike herself. She wrote many books, sold millions of copies, gave interviews, wrote a newsletter, had students, agreed to have some of her books turned into movies, and so on. These achievements were then used against her in due course, as her philosophy predicts.

Rand's philosophy doesn't predict abuse of productive people. It sez if such people are abused they are under no obligation to provide their services and they should consider withdrawing them.

The world of AS is worse than the real world in some respects. Governments and their cronies are corrupt, malicious and stupid as described in AS. For example, the Manhattan project had a medical wing that deliberately poisoned American citizens with radioactive material without their consent

https://bioethicsarchive.georgetown.edu/achre/final/intro_3.html

And governments have committed even worse crimes, such as deliberately stealing food from people to starve them to death (many communist regimes) or murdering people in camps (Nazis and the British government during the Boer war). However, there is a substantial minority of people who dislike this kind of thing and are willing to say so. So the real world isn't quite as bad as the world of AS at least in some countries.

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  • So in essence, it sounds like you're suggesting that things were never bad enough in the real world for Rand to go on strike herself – got it, thanks. Oct 13, 2023 at 20:10
  • +1 For noting that while she was rightfully opposed to collectivist and governmental abuses, but that she unironically used "going on strike", a literal collectivist action and never did so (either literally or metaphorically) because her later experience of the world was derived from her upper-class lifestyle that benefited from her "radical capitalism". It's easy to be cavalier to altruism when you have a full belly and wealthy groupies. No one "strikes" when they benefit from chanting "yay me, boo altruism" and passing it off as rigorous ethics and epistemology.
    – J D
    Oct 19, 2023 at 22:21
  • A person refusing to work for people who despise him isn't a collectivist action. Rand's epistemology is mostly no worse than that of most philosophers and in some respects it is better direct.curi.us/1579-objectivist-and-popperian-epistemology
    – alanf
    Oct 20, 2023 at 9:38
  • J D, your writing is confusing. "+1 For noting that while she [...] but that she [...] and never did so" wut? I think you mean '+1 for noting that she was rightfully opposed to collectivist and governmental abuses, but she...' and so on. Otherwise, it sounds like you're attributing things to alanf that I don't think he wrote or meant. Oct 20, 2023 at 12:03
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In the general sense, a strike is a collective work-stoppage meant to give leverage against a powerful industry-owner, usually to protest and redress poor working conditions. Rand — in her inimitable way — has reframed things to cast nation-states as the powerful industry-owners and place 'men of mind' (wealthy industrialists, prominent artists, inventors, etc.) as the unfairly treated laborers suffering under poor working conditions. The question raised by much of the book is how a railroad baron or copper magnate can possibly thrive when weighed down by regulations, taxes, and other governmental oppression. This sets up the John Galt plot line where 'men of mind' cease to contribute their efforts to society, or actively sabotage their own industries (similar to the way labor unions might cease labor at a factory or monkey-wrench equipment to shut down production). The ideal is that a walk-out by economic creators should shut down the national economy and force the government into compliance, which is essentially what happens in the book.

Not much is said in the book about what happens to the actual laborers who work for these striking 'men of mind'. One assumes there was a significant die-off…

Even under this principle, however, Rand herself would not feel an obligation to go on strike. In the context of the novel, she would place herself in the role of John Galt: the philosophical voice promoting and organizing the collective activity. Philosophers of that type cannot remove themselves entirely from the greater nation; they need to continue spreading the philosophical ideal even as economic creators are withdrawing their efforts. There would be no hypocrisy here even if the premises of the novel were true and the kind of draconian proto-nationalist governmental structure she imagined were realistic, as opposed to a hyper-capitalist fever-dream.

There are plenty of other things we can critique Rand on, no need for over-reach.

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  • "Rand herself would not feel an obligation to go on strike. In the context of the novel, she would place herself in the role of John Galt" Galt went on strike (or 'quit' or whatever we want to call it). He purposely kept his greatest invention (his motor) from the world. He only shared his philosophy with more than a select few once the collapse of society was imminent. PS When I asked people not to shit on Rand, that includes plausibly deniably. Oct 12, 2023 at 21:32
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    @DennisHackethal: We could argue about your first point, but even if true I don't think it counters the point that modern Western countries haven't rises to the level where a 'men of mind' strike might be useful or needed. Not even in the EU, much less the US... And apologies, but being asked to take Rand seriously leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I wasn't aiming for deniability, just bleeding off steam instead of spitting fire. Oct 12, 2023 at 21:43
  • This is similar to my line of thinking when I read the question. Why would someone who wrote the John Galt monologue not want to share her philosophy with others? I think it's pretty clear from Atlas Shrugged that she approved of spending large amounts of time educating the public on her ideals, and did not see that as a bad thing.
    – JMac
    Oct 13, 2023 at 13:10
  • @JMac Then why did Galt stay hidden and refuse to share his philosophy with the world until the collapse of society was imminent? Oct 13, 2023 at 19:46
  • @JMac To be clear, I think you'll find the answer to your question in the answer to mine. Oct 13, 2023 at 20:14
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One of the key messages of Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged is that you should go on strike and not share your achievements with the world since they will be used against you anyway. People vilify achievements and value mediocrity?

The best term I've come across to describe Rand's activities in relation to philosophy is public philosopher. From WP:

Some public philosophers are academic professionals, such as Cornel West, Jürgen Habermas, Martha Nussbaum, Richard Rorty,[6] James Tully, Jack Russell Weinstein , but others may work outside of the usual academic contexts of teaching and writing for peer-reviewed journals such as social activist Jane Addams[7] and novelist Ayn Rand.[8]

That obviously puts Rand in a pickle because on the one hand, she recognized the phenomenon of what I often call "the conspiracy of mediocrity" wherein people who often see beyond the contours of their immediate milieu are indeed confronted and sabotaged by those who are afraid, jealous, and petty towards those who are more individual with their intellect and accomplishment. But on the other hand, what good is having good thoughts and writing novels if no one reads them? Thus, on the face, their seems to be a contradiction.

That being said, Objectivism, which is a better-thought-out position on contemporary libertarianism than the sort embraced by preppers and right-wing extremists is an intellectual rather than visceral credo that does have a currency with libertarian-leaning (mainly US) intellectuals in the same way that Austrian economics does. If one has the same sort of disposition to resist communal and communist thinking (which was obviously a more threatening political reality when she was alive then today for intellectuals), then one would need to know that others are also resistant to the overarching demands to identify with some collectivist political identity.

Thus, Rand, who was clearly no idiot, was walking a fine line between "going on strike" and sharing her achievements with the world because she was attempting to share her achievements, not with the "world", but rather like minded-intellectuals. In fact, what you need to understand is that "going on strike" is a metaphor, and it makes sense in the context that she had little hope in society, certainly many people, and had a distrust of government. Thus, "going on strike" is not a call to asceticism as you seem to be suggesting, but rather a call to skepticism, specifically in relying on others. In this way, Rand was and will always be thoroughly entrenched in the American Myth of Rugged Individualism. (Myth here invoking the sense of over-arching narrative or element of worldview rather than critique of the values it represents.)

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  • "But on the other hand, what good is having good thoughts and writing novels if no one reads them?" Presumably you wouldn't write the novels in the first place. Or you could write them solely for your own pleasure. Galt did build the motor, after all, but kept it hidden. Atlas Shrugged says that acting in a way that harms yourself is immoral, so sharing your achievements knowing they will be used against you would be acting immorally. Regarding your idea that the strike is a metaphor: I hadn't thought of that. Will consider it. Oct 13, 2023 at 19:35
  • If acting in a way that harms yourself is immoral, then the opportunity cost of not sharing your achievements knowing they won't be used to benefit you would be acting immorally also. This is related to the strand in philosophical thinking that inaction is a form of action. Therefore, you cannot strip the act from the context as you attempt to do. Ethics in this way are often situational.
    – J D
    Oct 13, 2023 at 20:16
  • It's our first impulse to reduce ethical precepts to categorical imperatives, but those imperatives, in the real world, must be applied heuristically, not absolutely, because reason is defeasible. Therefore the application of "Do not harm yourself" must be applied broadly across all aspects of one's life and seen in the widest possible terms given a variety of contexts. Hope that helps.
    – J D
    Oct 13, 2023 at 20:20
  • J D, re your first comment: this is an interesting problem readers of AS face when it comes to the question of what lessons from AS to apply to one's own life and how: specifically, whether one should 'quit'. I guess it involves weighing the cost of quitting against the cost of not quitting, each cost being a result of one's hierarchy of values. Oct 13, 2023 at 20:24
  • Re your second comment, it sounds like you're saying all reason is defeasible. That doesn't sound right to me. All reason is fallible, sure – but, contra defeasibility, people do arrive at valid deductions sometimes. But yes your thoughts do help, thanks. Oct 13, 2023 at 20:29
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It helps to view Rand in the social context of Communism. Rand’s novels are mainly political, rather than philosophical, and she wrote to identify and oppose political enemies - one charitable interpretation might be to say that she mainly writes preventatively, rather than proscriptively, in order to try to prevent the collapse she sees as following from the worlds and forces she depicts in her novels.

Indeed, the world emerging in recent years seems very much a kind of plutocratic feudalism, where a select few wield disproportionate power as a consequence of market capitalism, that she would have highly approved of! Why should Jeff Bezos strike when he does in fact have more money than he might ever reasonably expect to spend?

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    It sounds like you're shitting on Rand in a way I requested not to by describing a philosopher's magnum opus as "mainly political, rather than philosophical". Separately, I don't think she would have approved of what you consider "plutocratic feudalism", nor would she (presumably) have considered the current American economic system to be "market capitalism" but rather some sort of crony capitalism. But I think that's out of scope for my question unless you find some way to tie it back. Oct 12, 2023 at 19:49
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    I dispute that! The purpose of her work was very much to make a statement about the role of the individual in public life at a time in history where this was exactly the topic du jour, and Rand wrote as part of a general political campaign. It would not have furthered that campaign to disengage from it - hence, there is no inconsistency here, because the work is political. That’s not an attempt to denigrate, just an observation of the works’ context.
    – Paul Ross
    Oct 12, 2023 at 20:00
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    "Rand wrote as part of a general political campaign" What campaign? Oct 12, 2023 at 20:05
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    I've read the links. I think you'll need more evidence to show that Rand's work is more political than it is philosophical. It sounds like you're underestimating her philosophical contributions, and maybe ignoring the fact that one's politics are downstream of one's political philosophy anyway. Oct 12, 2023 at 20:21
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    That most philosophers dislike Rand probably has to do with her criticizing academia instead of shmoozing, and not compromising and not being left-wing (whereas many philosophers are). Oct 12, 2023 at 20:44
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Individuals can't strike. They can only quit. Striking is a collective action. To do collective action, individuals must organize into a collective. The collective must control enough of the supply of the desired good that the cost of replacing them exceeds the long-term cost of acceding to their demands. To organize into a collective, individuals must communicate the desirability of organizing into a collective with other individuals.

I haven't read Rand, so it's possible that the question doesn't have the obvious answer... but the question appears to reduce to:

"If Rand desired to do something which she could not do except by organizing into a collective with other individuals, why did she attempt that which is required in order to organize into a collective with other individuals?"

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    Interestingly, I think Rand would probably have argued actively against the kind of Strike action you describe here. This, she would say, is a kind of ransom, where the individual withholding of labour rather than consenting to exploitation is a morally justified act of heroism.
    – Paul Ross
    Oct 12, 2023 at 19:48
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    g s, since you haven't read Rand: I think her focus on the individual implies that she would have advocated striking (or 'quitting') for individuals as well. In Atlas Shrugged, business magnates quit one by one, and not by appealing to their collectivist sensibilities like a union leader might. Regardless, Rand did succeed in forming a collective around her ideas, yet AFAIK, neither did that collective ever strike nor did any of its members ever quit. Oct 12, 2023 at 19:56
  • @PaulRoss I'm guessing you mean 'whereas' instead of "where" or else it sounds like you're saying Rand would "argue[] actively against [a] kind of Strike action" she considers "a morally justified act of heroism". Oct 12, 2023 at 21:02
  • i tend to agree with @PaulRoss but i'm just going on vibes. incidentallty, you can go on strike as one person, but it's slow work.
    – user67675
    Oct 13, 2023 at 12:43

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