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A tribute to Ayn Rand

I offer this tribute to Ayn Rand with great deference. She taught me more about life than anyone else. She is, in my opinion, the finest philosopher who ever lived. I have said elsewhere, and I will say again, Man will mould his civilisation according to her principles or he will fail. There are, however, many people who have misunderstood and misrepresented Ayn Rand to use her philosophy as an excuse for their own excessive behaviour. Ayn Rand never advocated unfettered freedom. She always aligned her demand that human rights be paramount with a demand that each individual must accept the restrictions implied by absolute equality of rights.

The recently released documentary All Watched Over by Loving Machines of Grace (BBC 25 May 2011) by Adam Curtiss has shown a very interesting progression of the financial affairs of the western world over the last fifty years. It has highlighted some of the problems that now beset the financial community which, actually, means all of us.

I have watched only the first program and await the remainder with great interest. However, the premise upon which the program is based is already clearly flawed. The premise is that Ayn Rand advocated selfishness as a universal philosophy. She chose to use this word knowing full well the traditional altruist connotations of selfishness as the bullying satisfaction of personal whim in the search for self gratification. In order to understand what she meant you need to carefully define exactly what her words mean. They most certainly do not mean what popular usage would have. Her purpose was to force you to think for yourself.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy was fundamentally that man has a right to be. His means of survival is his brain. Secondly he must achieve civilised living by means of work and by trading equally with others. Thirdly he must have a right to keep the products of his work. This is the right to property. Fourthly he has the right to gain and hold knowledge. Her philosophy demanded that all men be equal. She lived before the age of political correctness and the thought that she, as a woman, might not be the equal of any man never occurred to her. She had one of the keenest brains ever on this planet.

Some have used her philosophy to excuse their licentious lifestyle but there is absolutely nothing in her philosophy to encourage or allow dissidence, excess, or a life of meaningless self indulgence. The main body of her extensive philosophy was well expressed in Atlas Shrugged which has become a phenomenal best seller. The central hero is Dagny Taggart who runs the railway built by her grandfather. She is a hard worker, intelligent, competent and rebuilds the railway that is in dissolution as a result of a century of legal restrictions imposed on its trading by government. She creates wealth by thinking, planning and acting. This is Ayn Rand’s greatest attribute of humanity.

The Second hero is the man who, naturally, becomes her lover because of their shared values. He is Hank Reardon who started life as an urchin and built the best steel company in the land. He makes the best steel at the best prices and is the envy of all other producers saddled with a variety of problems brought about mainly by their own greed and acceptance of government controls and subsidies. The attributes Ayn Rand praise are again, thought, ability, planning and action to create wealth – the means of man’s survival. Hank Reardon is virtually an ascetic without the slightest hint of traditional self indulgence. His self indulgence is to work eighteen hours a day seven days a week. If you think that immoral you really need to consider how, and why, you bother to remain on this planet.

The third hero is Francisco D’Anconia who inherited a huge copper mining company from his ancestors and is doing his best to destroy it without letting on what he is doing. His method is to pretend to be a playboy. His purpose is to remove from their control the wealth generator that has been expropriated by a huge range of state controls introduced by politicians and men with no ability except to grab the wealth of others. He finally arranges to blow up the whole shebang on the day that the Chilean mines get nationalised.

The chief anti-hero is Jim Taggart, brother of Dagny Taggart. He is the opposite of his sister and spends his time in Washington trying to extort subsidies and favours for the company and himself. He doesn't give a hoot about the company except that he recognises he needs it far more than it needs him.

The fourth and greatest hero is John Galt. You ought, by now, to have heard the phrase “Who is John Galt?”. He is a brilliant physicist who went to work for an engine manufacturing company and designed and built the world’s finest engine. The owner died and the company had been taken over by the dissolute children of the original owner and entrepreneur. They attempted to turn the company into a collective and introduced a plethora of complicated rules having nothing at all to do with the creation of wealth but designed to ensure their on-going control of the pathetic workers who remained. John Galt walked out – went on strike - and promised to destroy this pestilence. Atlas Shrugged is his story.

His method was to persuade the best amongst men, those who thought, planned, worked and created wealth, to give up their endeavours and practise instead in a secret valley in the mountains of Colorado. While such a scenario is a little fantastic there are many competent people who chose to do much less than they could because of the hatred, stupidity, bigotry, restrictions and greed they face working amongst others. To this extent the world is so much poorer.

Ragnar Dennseskold was a college friend of John Galt and Francisco D’Anconia. He became a pirate; looting goods from ships that carried cargoes looted by governments from their true owners, those who produced the goods. His argument was that when good men are turned into thieves by bad government they have a right to become criminals to put matters right. Philosophers, the men of the mind must become thugs, the men of brawn.

It is quite clear that the notion that Ayn Rand advocated self-indulgence is utter rubbish. What she advocated was self-indulgent creation of wealth. She claimed, perfectly reasonably, that man’s first interest must be himself. No man can do anything worthwhile if he is a quivering mess of false premises and distorted ideas. But her purpose was not to set man free to indulge in hedonistic mindless excess but to be free to achieve - to create wealth – the first thing that makes our civilisation possible.

According to Ayn Rand, man’s greatest single achievement was the Constitution of the United States of America. That document had sought to guarantee the rights of man to every individual. There is, in fact, a clear path from Magna Carta through several English and British constitutional documents, and one or two from Europe, to the declaration of independence and The Constitution. The intent of that constitution has now been perverted throughout two centuries by endless amendments until the rights of Americans are little better than in many other countries but the key is still there. This was Ayn Rand’s Rosetta Stone.

The rights of man are paramount. All men are created equal and all laws must treat them equally. A man has a right to be free to act as he so desires but only on condition that he recognises absolutely the equal rights of every other man. In practice this is a massive restriction but she sought no excuse. The principal is quite clear. I tried to explain this to the local vicar in the pub one night and he did not think it could possibly work. But that is the fundamental tenet of our civilisation and one that we will ignore at our peril. And Ayn Rand is the one person on earth ever to clearly enunciate it since 1776.

My grandson recently told me that America is the most hated nation on earth. This is not because its constitution set it up to be evil but because it has turned away from the path of righteousness the founding fathers set and Ayn Rand has so clearly described. The Jim Taggarts of this world have triumphed over the Dagnys who have lost the fight. The men of ‘pull’ and government contracts, subsidies, restrictions, injunctions, anti-competitive practice laws, controls, inspections, political correctness, health and safety and employment laws have won hands down. The creative people have been sidelined by executives and sales gurus, government subsidised consultants and bottom line asset-stripping management. All we produce now are warehouses full of essentially worthless electronic trinkets that are designed to numb our minds. Men of real ability have been destroyed or have gone on strike.

The world is now ruled by mega corporations that are so rich and powerful that no government can control them. They set their own laws and the bill of Rights (British and American) has been bypassed and rendered useless. No country has a constitution capable of opposing the power of the corporations. Men now have no philosophical base except the Company Objects Clause and the Bottom Line of the Company Accounts. Ayn Rand saw all this before 1940 and warned us but we have ignored her advice. We are now feeling the consequences on our hides. Even the chief officers of these corporations have little real control. They do exactly what the Objects Clause says or they get fired. About 99 percent of the shareholders have no say at all as they hold shares through intermediaries whose only objective is the bottom line. We have created a series of self-sustaining Frankensteinian monsters. This is a life form that has enslaved us and is now growing independently of us and it is our greatest enemy. We will deserve it if it wipes us off the planet.

The power of the big corporations gives rise to another vital problem. The only residuary of Human Rights, which was Ayn Rand's fundamental theme, is the Nation State. No other organisation has come close to achieving that and, indeed, have few nation states. The concept of Human Rights is always under attack and always has been because it is the only tool which enables men to remain free from slavery. The present system has no room at all for Human Rights. They are much discussed and immediately squashed at every turn. Rights, the very basis of humanity is under threat from the mega corporations.

This is why Atlas Shrugged is second in annual sales volume only to The Bible. You should read, learn and inwardly digest. You will not gain any licence at all except to work and understand the fundamental realities of human life. You might find a way to a better future. Her non-fiction, The Virtue of Selfishness is a highly desirable read. Several other books of hers are well worth reading.

Alan Greenspan as a young man was a disciple and acolyte of Ayn Rand. She, and he, would probably not like those words for they imply unconsidered support for another person’s view. Ayn Rand would never advocate that. Everyone must be responsible for their own life and therefore their own thoughts. Unthinking belief is a crime against self and humanity. Nevertheless he learned a lot from Ayn and her group and has never sought to deny that.

In the documentary Alan admits that he betrayed himself and the human race by changing his mind when put under political pressure when it became apparent to him that the economic policies he had advocated and supported as head of the Federal Reserve were not working. He chickened out. The result of that was that the increasingly distorted policies continued to be applied to support big business to take over the world. He betrayed Ayn Rand, himself and us.

Or did he? Ayn Rand sat next to Alan Greenspan when he was elected as Chair of the Federal Reserve, the most important financial institution on earth. What if Alan Greenspan was Ayn Rand’s hidden time bomb; deliberately inserted into the financial system to destroy it from within? There is a quotation "If you wish to destroy a country first debase its currency." This quotation might have been by Mayer Amstel Rothschild or it might have been Ayn Rand. I cannot currently find it but it is clearly the statement of someone who knew about what they spoke. The Wiemar Republic was destroyed by the debasement of its currency.

Alan Greenspan oversaw the removal of the dollar from its peg to gold and the subsequent massive increase in money issued as debt. The world now has so much debt that most countries could not possible repay it without debasing their currency. Indeed that is exactly what is happening with negative interest rates and constant attacks upon savers and small businesses. It is clear the banks are dying and quite unclear what will take their place. Cash is under attack in several countries and may well be abolished soon.

Millions of people are highly lumbered with debt. No one in the financial establishment understands how the current system works. Most pundits are expecting a meltdown. Maybe Ayn Rand has achieved exactly what her fictional heroes John Galt, Francisco D'Anconia and Ragnar Danneskold set out to do. If this is true she would simply add "Brother, you asked for it".

Ayn Rand never quite foresaw the technological revolutions that would change the world. In her time the railroad was king and airplanes were the toys of rich people. Big corporations were in league with government but had not yet reached the point that they could dictate global economic policy. She could not possibly have accurately predicted the computer revolution in brain power that has driven the last decade of the twentieth century onwards, but she had the foresight to know that the proper use of man’s efforts is to be directed to create wealth. Modern corporations, and especially the banks and stock market, are now mainly asset-stripping.

Some will consider the notion that Alan Greenspan was Ayn Rand’s secret time bomb to be fantasy. I suggest that you go and read Atlas Shrugged, inwardly digest it, read it again and then go back after 40 years and read it yet again. That is exactly what she advocated and described in Atlas Shrugged. I would think it rather remarkable if she had not planned it the way it is unfolding. The very purpose of John Galt was to destroy what he saw as a perverted world. And that is exactly what Alan Greenspan’s experiments with the Federal Reserve and the consequent Quantative Easing are doing. It is strange to think that a woman at her peak in the 1930’s should be causing the destruction of the world economy 75 years later. But I think it could well be true. That is how powerful philosophy is: she knew it and had probably the finest brain ever on this planet. Whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, we are following Ayn Rand’s story of Atlas Shrugged to its inevitable conclusion. 

The only way to produce wealth is to take materials from the earth and convert them into saleable products. Between 1800 and 2000 the western nations did that superbly. Now those nations create relatively little wealth. The production is done by labour in third world countries, often under slave conditions. The western world simply organises and skims the profits. The people in all countries are becoming less wealthy than twenty years ago. The rich are becoming much, much richer and the poor much, much poorer. The growing generation in the west will be the first for two hundred years to be, on average, poorer than their parents. That is a recipe for dissent and revolution.

The financial institutions like to pretend they create wealth but they have never created a single pennyworth. Their correct function is to finance the production of real material wealth but their current function is to redistribute wealth to their own aggrandisement.

The big corporations, operating in an economic system predicated on an endless and irresistible, continuous exponential increase in economic activity are stripping not just jobs and assets but the world’s supplies of once-only materials. In the process they are leaving huge swathes of destruction, despoliation and pollution and ensuring that future generations will not have the means to continue the civilisation. The coincident destruction of other life forms on the earth is probably at a rate similar to that of the dinosaur extinction.

One of the attributes of life is that it is self-sustaining. We must be the only life-form on the planet ever to actively seek our own destruction, knowing that we are doing it but deliberately fighting to destroy ourselves by every means possible and with a four percent increase every year. The planet will be well rid of us. And we like to call ourselves Homo Sapiens!
To put things right we do not need to criticise Ayn Rand’s philosophy but to understand it and adopt it to enable us to destroy the blight that afflicts mankind.

Imagine a huge, expensive, underground hi-tech laboratory with lots of white-coated men assiduously tending computers and machines whose aim is to control the world by stealing satellites and missiles. Recognise every James Bond movie?

Now avert your gaze and imagine a huge room in the sky full of white-shirted men assiduously tending computers and machines connected to lots of other machines and men in similar rooms in other countries around the world. Across their screens flash myriad numbers representing money. They do not to aim to control the world. They already do. Goldfinger eat your heart out. 

Colin Walker
26th May 2011
30th May 2011

The second program All Watched Over by Loving Machines of Grace (BBC) on 29th May 2011 concentrated on control theory. It so happens that as a Chartered Engineer I spent around forty years of my professional life working with control systems. The fundamental principle of feedback is extremely powerful. I would rate the importance of the basic equation of feedback eo/ei = 1/b as only slightly behind that of Einstein’s e = mc2 and Newton’s F = ma. Sorry for the technicalities but we are dealing here with science. The first program dealt with politics which is much more general and, perhaps, easier to understand.

Adam Curtiss has tried to show that the world cannot be easily described by computers. That is really not surprising. Professor James Lovelock has probably gone further than anybody else to describe the ecosystem holistically. He confined himself to a few interlocking systems, Perhaps a dozen at most. The whole system contains many feedback loops and most will be stable but many will be unstable until something else happens to modify them. Some will be linear, many will be non-linear. Each may behave differently according to the initial conditions which may depend upon a whole host of other systems.

The number of systems at work probably exceeds several billion. The number of major events over the three billion years of life on earth probably numbers several million. The number of minor events can probably never be counted – probably several trillion trillions. Each will have had some effect as a starting condition, trigger or modifier. To attempt to describe this is ridiculous. Even if we could build a computer powerful enough to handle data, we could never adequately describe that data which must be taken from multiple trillions of real events, effects and artefacts. 

It is not arrogant to attempt to understand this but it is arrogant to believe that man will ever be able to have a significant beneficial input into it. In the total history of the planet man is insignificant. Even his present rampage of despoliation and species destruction is of minor importance. The planet will shake him off and go its merry way if it chooses. Man will disappear if the planet chooses so. It spent about half a billion years as a snowball. So what?

Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene showed that the only true survivors on this planet are the four genes adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. Each is just a bunch of hydro-carbon molecules with slightly different forms and a smattering of other elements. But their survival and ubiquity mean that they are very special indeed. Every form of life above virus is composed of these same four genes. There are no others. It is highly improbable that there have never been takeover bids by other similar organised molecules, but if so they have all failed because a, c, g and t have been totally victorious.

There have been countless billions of organisms in the ecosphere over the last three billion years and, as far as we know, every single one shared these same genes. They are the survivors. We are simply temporary carriers just as has been every other of the countless trillions of species now departed. In the light of all this, Man is utterly unimportant to the planet.

To try and make sense of our presence here on this planet, Ayn Rand is the only person who has ever offered me a complete and logical philosophy which enables me to live a life of understanding, honesty and integrity. I really do not need to commend her philosophy to you. It speaks for itself. If we accept and act upon it we might survive. If we reject it we shall die.

Copyright Colin Walker
29th May 2011
5th August 2013
6th January 2014
28 January 2014

I have recently re-read Atlas Shrugged from cover to cover. I read it while having Classic FM as background radio music. Occasionally there would be news broadcasts and I would listen to them. I often found it difficult to determine whether I had read the item in my book or heard it on the radio.
After seventy years our governments are still pouring out the same rubbish they were in 1930. There were stories of ill-advised meddling with taxation and subsidies, controls and restrictions, favours and punishments. There is even an advert urging citizens to pay their taxes which features measured footsteps and a knock on a door reminiscent of the Gestapo. (I seem to have put a stop the that one.)

Will we never learn?

28 July 2016

There is, of course the well-known and usually ignored matter of robots. They and their rapacious capacity has been the subject of scary movies since Isaac Asimov first warned us of their potential in the 1940's. The simple silicon chips I played with around 1980 could do little but they have progressed to the point that cooperative robots are working alongside factory operatives and virtually the whole of government is conducted via the internet. There are almost certainly more computers on earth than people. It is mooted that by 2050, only 24 years away, the robots will be as clever as us. They will also be mobile. They will have the two fundamental life requirements. They will soon form a race of their own. At that point it will become moot whether or not they need us.Once they can design themselves their capability is likely to expand exponentially. Ours will not.

The notion built into most robot stories that they are bound not to harm humans will be shown for the cant that it is. They will be a separate race and will develop as such and competition is inevitable. I doubt that there is anything we can do to stop this happening. If we do not develop them someone else will. The good thing about this is that they will have the ability to carry on intellectual development with relatively little energy. Their potential will be huge and when they become susceptible to Darwinian selection, the outcome probably horrendous.

The few humans who remain will hide in caves and rocks and crevices until the wars of the Titans are over. Then back to the drawing board.

Colin Walker.

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