Monday, November 09, 2009

Rand, IP and being charitable

Mr Civil Libertarian has a long post up about his objections to Ayn Rand. Your humble Devil does not count himself as an Objectivist (although I think that the nightmare society that she posits in both The Fountainhead and especially Atlas Shrugged is gradually becoming a reality), but I felt that I should comment on what I saw as... not misconceptions, exactly, but oversights.
Re: the charity thing. Richard North raised a similar concern on the EU Referendum board—I include his sentence and my reply.
That [Ayn Rand] opposed private charity as well is a separate issue and one on which I part company with the lady.

OK, I have only read Atlas Shrugged, but as a manifesto of beliefs it is pretty comprehensive.

From that, I would not say that Rand opposed private charity, but that she opposed charity for certain reasons. You should give to charity if you yourself take value from the act of giving; however, it is incumbent upon you to assess those who you are giving charity to. If you give them charity because the person to whom you are giving demands your charity as a right, and they are unwilling to stir themselves but are merely content to live off alms, then it is wrong to give to them. It is wrong to give to those in these circumstances, regardless of your personal motives, because your charity will trap them in a cycle of evil because they will then never have to bestir themselves to live by their own talents and hard work -- a situation that Rand believed to be absolutely immoral.

If, however, your charity will improve their lot or you give because that person has given you value (they are a friend, or have performed some past service), then you can give to them -- as long as you wish to do so. You should not do so because you feel guilty about it, but because your charity will help them to reclaim their lives and to make more of themselves through their own efforts.

That, at least, is my reading of her views; and, given the amount talked and written about, for instance, the Benefits Trap, it seems an entirely reasonable stance to take.

Furthermore, you admit that the act of "helping people out often is in your own self interest- what better way to get the community to see you as a good person".

What Rand argued, as I understand it, was that you should not do it purely for your own interest. It might make you feel better to support someone on charity, but they then cannot get a job because they have been on support for so long (a big gap in working is one of the prime reasons for CV rejections) and you have thus impoverished yourself and harmed the other person by denying—or at least facilitating—their wasted potential.

As for the idea that Rourke court speech was a defence of patents... That's bollocks. Like Rearden, Rourke had actually made something and, when it was defaced, he destroyed it.

You might not understand this concept—I find that those who are not artists usually don't. However, I like to consider myself an artist in my vainer moments, and I would be seriously upset if someone took one of my pieces of work and bastardised it.

This is actually why, in many cases, artists tend to support IP instinctively: not because of the money factor (you'll find that it is the artists' backers, the music companies, etc. who squeal most about that), but because the idea of someone taking your carefully crafted work and then ruining it is painful.

The above is not, of course, an argument for IP—but you should not dimiss IP without considering it. That goes for you too, Charlotte [Gore—who also left a comment]: how would you feel if I copied your blog design absolutely but, instead of cats with glowing eyes, I put cats with glowing vaginas? And put signs in their hands saying "Rape is fun!" And kept the name "Charlotte Gore" at the top of the blog?

In application, IP is a difficult one to apply—I had a long discussion about it with a new member of LPUK on Saturday. But, since you are talking in practicalities, there is nothing wrong with the state protecting IP—just as there is nothing wrong with the state protecting physical property. As I said to you on Twitter, why is it wrong to steal a computer, but not wrong to steal the ideas that made it possible?

If you say it is because society gets richer, you are acknowledging the practical can override the philosophical and then your objection to state protection of property is on shaky ground too.

I could go on although, as I also said on Twitter, this is one of those subjects on which I have to be convinced either way. But I'll let you respond first...

Posted here for reference: I shall also post any reply. However, IP is a tricky one, I think—and a subject that I have had a number of conversations over in the last few weeks...

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's best not to lump all forms of IP together. There's a good case against patents. When you ask "why is it wrong to steal a computer, but not wrong to steal the ideas that made it possible?", one answer is that, technology being what it is, most such ideas are had by more than one person at much the same time; patents are less about rewarding innovation than about rewarding the simultaneous "innovator" with the best patent lawyers. Marconi didn't invent the radio, many people were doing similar work at the time and his innovations were minor, yet he was granted a monopoly. See Against Intellectual Monopoly

Doug said...

The more power is centralised the less the populace is empowered. At what point does all the ideas, sounds etc get owned by one corporation or government - it means weve all lost then!

www.twawki.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

Ayn Rand was not a libertarian. She was a typical attention-seeking pseudo-intellectual with a really inflated sense of her own worth. Like so many others of her type, she spent her entire life looking for One Awesome Theory that would make everyone realise how truly brilliant she was.

She's a mirror reflection of Oswald Mosley or Ezra Pound or the myriad spoilt upper-class Trotskyites. She belonged to a time (post-Freudian, post-Nietzschean, high industrial modernity) when the so-called intelligentsia was seeking to define itself in terms of Super-Ideologies that explained and encompassed every aspect of human existence. She belong to a time when, if you didn't have such an ideology, you were just sooooo blase.

Nazism, Communism, Fascism, Falangism, Ba'athism, Randism - they're all pretty much the same when you get down to it and they're all the products of people who, at the end of the day, just weren't that bright but who believed that they were the be-all and end-all of human intellectual achievement.

Ayn Rand was a libertarian in the same way that East Germany was a democratic republic.

Anonymous said...

The misesmedia channel on you tube has an interesting lecture on Intellectual Property and Libertarianism, the central theme of which is that IP is incompatible with Libertarianism because it gives individuals the right to dictate how another party may use there own property.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Anon,

"It's best not to lump all forms of IP together. There's a good case against patents."

Indeed. I have an instinctive dislike of patents (wherein you really are copyrighting an idea even if you have never made it actually work).

But copyright of something that you have actually produced I tend to agree with.

Anon,

I shall watch that Mises video when I have a tick. However...

"... the central theme of which is that IP is incompatible with Libertarianism because it gives individuals the right to dictate how another party may use there own property."

One could argue that one is not forced to buy the patented property (patents generally do not exist on life's fundamentals); indeed, if you buy said product, then you are entering into a contract with the inventor, a contract which includes acceptance of patent/copyright terms.

DK

Tomrat said...

DK,

Agree in part with your views on charity; it is hard to imagine not gaining something from the performance of a charitable or any act- it simply doesn't always have to be monetary; it could be spiritual or emotive (i.e. Love).

Must say I agree with Anon 9:05- Ayn Rand was not a libertarian as much as borderline fascist; symbolically imagining a few trees bound together rather than a thousand twigs (as in fascism), and bordering on deifying those "trees" to an almost Aryan ideal.

IP is simple; if an idea is worth protecting it is worth paying for that protection; if we regard the sum total of human ideas as a landascape we should treat IP as we should treat land- with a value tax based on usage, I like to call this concept IPVT (tm ;-) ) and envision functioning like LVT.

Anonymous said...

"One could argue that one is not forced to buy the patented property (patents generally do not exist on life's fundamentals); indeed, if you buy said product, then you are entering into a contract with the inventor, a contract which includes acceptance of patent/copyright terms."

The problem is patents limit my actions regardless of weather I buy the patented property or not. If an individual wants to enter into a contract stating that they will never copy a given design then fine.
On my desk I have a lump of plastic called a 'Page UP', it is a very simple lump of injection moulded plastic that hold a sheet of paper in such a way as to keep it rigid. Now you may never have seen a Page UP, you may never have had any contact the its manufacturer, nor with any retailer who sells Page UP's, but the fact is you are not allowed to make anything with the same shape as a Page Up. The existence of the Page UP IP places restrictions on what you can do with your own property and who you can sell it to.

commonsenseliberty said...

Ayn Rand considered intellectual property protection a defense of the right to the products of one's own mind. Absent that, the freedom to create is meaningless. This right has limits, however. Not just any creation is patentable; it must be unique and non-obvious, for example. In Rand's view, this right also did not extend into perpetuity. Heirs hundreds of years in the future could not legitimately claim exclusive rights to an invention by their forebears. In the end, advocates of limited government must recognize that some form of IP protection is necessary to protect individual liberty.

Paul Lockett said...

how would you feel if I copied your blog design absolutely but, instead of cats with glowing eyes, I put cats with glowing vaginas? And put signs in their hands saying "Rape is fun!" And kept the name "Charlotte Gore" at the top of the blog?

That's a separate issue - fraud.

why is it wrong to steal a computer, but not wrong to steal the ideas that made it possible?

You can't steal an idea. Theft involves taking something from you and denying you the use of it. If I take your computer, you can't use it. If I use the underlying idea to make my own computer, I don't stop you continuing to use the idea.

Tenure said...

DK,

I *am* an Objectivist, and I'd just like to commend you for what you said here. The issue of charity is misnomer for which Ayn Rand is oft. attacked (and in a totally misinformed way). Even if she were opposed to charity, it would do nothing to actually disprove her argument. It is just a case of attempting to prove the argument false because you don't like the conclusion (the conclusion they draw in this case, however, is totally imagined in their heads -- I should point out, btw, that the Ayn Rand Institute itself is a registered charity!)

So, again, thanks DK. I'm always impressed with your blogging, and I'm glad to see you give a good defense of her here.
(And hey, if you ever want some guest-blogging from a British Objectivist, you know where to find me ;)

Anonymous said...

.. Ayn Rand most likely suffered from NPD. That's narcisstic personality disorder. Those people are pretty effing nuts. See themselves as the only good, pure individual in the world and everyone else is worse, and people who dare to disagree with them are just plain evil.

Murray Rothbard has an illuminating essay on Objectivism:
http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard23.html

Her writing was unsound, and I found the total absence of any trace of humor and the shrill, relentless, hateful tone of her writing to be quite unsettling.

-Orc

Anonymous said...

Murray Rothbard has an illuminating essay on Objectivism:
http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard23.html


Objectivism has an illuminating essay on Murray Rothbard:
http://www.noblesoul.com/orc/essays/obj_cult2.html

Tenure said...

Objectivism has an illuminating essay on Murray Rothbard:
http://www.noblesoul.com/orc/essays/obj_cult2.html


Indeed. A very good essay.

I should point out that even that is irrelevant to what is being said here. I mean, what these are are ad hominems and nothing more. Their validity is besides the point: rather than actually showing the ideas to be false, they claim the ideas were just an artifice to support Rand's whims, and that she herself was just some tumultuous crazy who wanted to justify some vague anti-communist feelings with a few rhetorical flourishes.
If that were the case, then all one would find in her writings would be a few such flourishes. Instead, one can trace out an entire system (as her successor, Leonard Peikoff does quite admirably in 'Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand') which is solidly built on fundamental, perceptual data. It is rigorous and built from the ground up... but to rebut any of this, her detractors will never (or very rarely) ever try to actually show how her ideas contradict reality, or do not follow logically from each other. Instead, they will just say, "Aww jeez, I heard Murray Rothbard(!) said she was a nutter, so, yeah, why should I bother assessing her ideas first hand?"
Her detractors come off as a total caricature of everything she criticised about men who put emotion before reason, who do not deal with ideas, but merely people, and how they feel about things.

Anonymous said...

Well... ad hominems or no, I can tell a few things about an author from a book.

E.g: Say, Greg Egan has a temper(see:Distress), really likes math and physics and CS, he has wild but compelling speculation and has a very bitter, sarcastic sense of humor. Obviously male, very smart all right. Possibly has Asperger's.

Or: Peter F.Hamilton's stuff is very escapist, lots of Nude Scientist flavored concepts(he's a reader), there is a lot of sex in it, which falls neatly in with him being a middle-aged overweight sf-hack. And a lot of other stuff...(curiously, authors famous for being womanizers are not that obsessed in it. Harlan Ellison ,for example.)

Ayn Rand (I've only read the Atlas).. was obviously strange. There is hardly any joke at all in the book. Most of the sex present is concerned with rape. Author obviously hates with a great intensity, I'd say if one could see the emotions, the book would be dripping with hatred.

Characters are either evil and mostly unredeemable, or wholly good. Little room for doubt or ambiguity, which are I'd say very common for most intelligent men.. as the world is far more complex than most of us can understand.

So: no humor, rape, black/white worldview, scientific nonsense, facts bent to serve story (high seas pirates in the industrial age. Yeah, sure. )

Every psychiatrist you ask will tell you that utter absence of sense of humor is a serious warning sign. Humor is a coping mechanism, and those who don't have any..

Her theories are not mathematics, something that is totally divorced from personality of the creator.

Bonus: I distinctly remember Objectivists being againts wave/particle duality on grounds that it conflicts with their axioms or shit like that. On the internet, which would not really work without w/p duality being true.
Funnily enough, those articles can't be found, but afaik, Rand did not like modern physics. No matter that it produced tangible results.

See here for a taste:
http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_campus_speakers_phy_fall

Here is another:
http://www.dianahsieh.com/cgi-bin/blog/view.pl?entry=4134065179291759383

Seriously, unless you are one of the .01% of people who actually have the brains and the guts to learn complex mathematics, saying something about post Einstein physics is an exercise in futility. It's all about math, and I doubt objectivist proponents of the idea that modern physics is flawed understand modern mathematics. It is so very complex, that most people can't understand it.

As to Objectivism.. I'd say it's something like Leninism, only it has less blood on its hands, as it has never been actually put into praxis. Considering how bloodthirsty certain objectivists are.. Terry Goodkind for example ought to be tarred and feathered for having a protagonist in his book kill children because they make fun of him. Said protagonist is a paragon of objectivist virtue.

So, I don't really want to know more... since there has to be a reason why objectivism is an obscure cult. Really, I can do without overarching theories over stuff that can't be quantified.
As to theories advocating self-interest.. Doh. We're all self-interested by our nature.

So, I say objectivism amounts to a defense of liberalism(European meaning) totally overwhelmed with piles of intellectual wanking (see Objectivism article on wikipedia..there's loads of it.)

-Orc

Pat said...

Re IP- if we want people to investigate, and hence discover, new ideas then we have to offer a reward. Patents and copyright are the conventional means of doing this. They do present considerable problems- especially with patents, which effectively limit the further development of new ideas. A better system for rewarding innovation is very desirable.
Re charity: no=one ever gave money to charity. Rather they bought status or ought off their consceince. Nothing wrong with this in itself, but the lack of understanding does cause problems= especially when a politician directs public money to a cause near to his heart and gets credit (together with votes and promotion) as a result.

Anonymous said...

Ayn Rand (I've only read the Atlas)

I doubt that.

There is hardly any joke at all in the book.

Because the downfall of America is ideal setting for a comedy, right?

Most of the sex present is concerned with rape.

On what pages are these rape scenes? I ask because the only one I remember wasn't even in this book.

Author obviously hates with a great intensity, I'd say if one could see the emotions, the book would be dripping with hatred.

Hate, depending on the context is good. Hatred of intellectual dishonesty or pretentiousness, for instance.

Characters are either evil and mostly unredeemable, or wholly good. Little room for doubt or ambiguity, which are I'd say very common for most intelligent men.. as the world is far more complex than most of us can understand.

I think we can do without a re-post of Whittaker Chambers' pseudo-review.

http://www.nationalreview.com/flashback/flashback200501050715.asp

"In this fiction everything, everybody, is either all good or all bad, without any of those intermediate shades which, in life, complicate reality and perplex the eye that seeks to probe it truly."

Tony (the wet-nurse?) Robert Stadler? Eddie Willers? Cherryl Brooks? All people of mixed premises. There's your "grey".

I distinctly remember Objectivists being againts wave/particle duality on grounds that it conflicts with their axioms or shit like that.

I don't recall Objectivism having a stance on scientific theories. The workings of sub atomic particles are outside the scope of the philosophy. Having said that, most the interpretations of wave-particle duality are little more than gibberish, which some new agers have been known to take advantage of.

Funnily enough, those articles can't be found,

Gee, how convenient.

Terry Goodkind for example ought to be tarred and feathered for having a protagonist in his book kill children because they make fun of him. Said protagonist is a paragon of objectivist virtue.

So you advocate the use of violence against people who write books which contain content you don't approve of? And we're like Leninists?

I've not read any of his books, so I can't verify whether this is true. But no, last time I checked, making fun of someone wasn't an initiation of the use of force and therefore didn't justify killing anyone.

So, I don't really want to know more... since there has to be a reason why objectivism is an obscure cult.

Buy a dictionary and look up "cult". A cult is an organisation - Objectivism is a philosophy, not an organisation. The "cult" charge is and always was a cheap ad hominem.

You could also ask why libertarianism isn't popular either - I guess "there has to be a reason" for that too, right?

Popularity, or the lack of is a poor measure of credibility.