Leave a comment

Objectivism: A Whole Philosophy Considered

Ayn Rand’s fiction and nonfiction works have been read by millions of readers across the world. Like most philosophers, Rand has received much admiration as well as vitriol. Supporters of her philosophy, Objectivism, speak about ideas such as reason, individualism, and egoism. Detractors often speak of Objectivism as a belief that encourages egotism, which essentially teaches individuals to do anything they wish to get ahead in life, regardless of whom they harm along the way.

As a person who enjoys Rand’s works and supports her philosophy, I can at least understand the detractors’ criticism. Already egotistical personalities could read Rand’s work superficially and with preconceived notions guiding them to a selective interpretation. Given Rand’s focus on self-interest, personal happiness, and praise for success, it wouldn’t be too difficult to find tidbits that embolden the egotistical readers’ worldview and provide justification for their harmful behavior. The egotistical interpretation would go something like this:

“This says that being selfish is good! So I can lie, cheat, and steal because my happiness is all that matters!” “Money! It’s only about getting rich, who cares how you get there.” “Rich and successful people are winners and everyone else is a loser!” “I’m not successful because people are too dense to understand my brilliance.” “I am successful, so I should be revered.”

I think it is fair to say that most detractors are (rightfully) appalled by this egotistical interpretation. But an important question must be addressed:

Where this egotistical interpretation exists,  is it a fault of the works or are the interpretations faulty?

Rand presented an entire philosophy—from metaphysics and epistemology to human nature and ethics. The philosophy is integrated from beginning to end, each piece interdependent. Thus, a superficial and selective interpretation is misleading at best.

I hope that explaining my personal experience with Rand’s works in juxtaposition to the egotistical interpretation above will highlight how different the philosophy reads when the whole philosophy is considered.

My Experience

When I first read Rand, I knew nothing about her. This enabled me to approach her works with an open mind. I enjoyed reading Atlas Shrugged. While the story kept me captivated, I was even more intrigued by her focus on ethics. I was thus inspired to read The Fountainhead and then her nonfiction works. Unlike the detractors, I found great value in Rand’s philosophy. She helped me to connect a number of puzzle pieces that had eluded me for years. Some of the key takeaways for me included:

  • Acknowledge reality for what it is, not what I wish it to be
  • Objectively assess reality, not letting fleeting emotions to drive my perspective
  • Act upon reality with honesty to myself and others
  • Hold myself accountable and learn from my mistakes
  • Appreciate the people that bring value to my life
  • Reciprocate value-for-value
  • Take credit only when I have earned it
  • Take pride in what I have earned honestly
  • Maintain integrity by living my principles consistently
  • Understand that life is not a zero-sum game; someone else’s success is not an obstacle to my success
  • Don’t allow naysayers to stop me from chasing my goals so long as I am acting with integrity and have diligently considered my actions

It all sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? Own our mistakes. Be honest. Work hard. Go after our goals. But Rand understood that, for the most part, these basic virtues have become platitudes. Too often people talk about the importance of honesty but become angry when confronted with the truth. Too often people expect others to be accountable but cover up their own mistakes to avoid consequences. Too often people condemn cheating while eagerly looking for ways to try to cheat their own way to success. Too often people vilify others for being irresponsible while ignoring their own responsibilities. Too often people blame others for their own failings.

To be honest in this kind of world is risky. To accept accountability can appear as an invitation for others to dump their mistakes on you. To be responsible can open the door to people using you because they don’t want to be responsible themselves. To give value is to risk being taken advantage of by people who think reciprocity is an imposition. To be a hard worker often means that you will be given extra work to make up for the slack left by people who give half effort. In this kind of world, sometimes your successes will be maligned by people who don’t share in that success.

If this is the world we live in, why not be egotistical? Why not “hurt them before they hurt us?” Manipulation is easy enough. People usually believe what we say, so all we have to do is speak of virtues as if they mean something and avoid honest confrontation. Most people will conclude from this that we have integrity. We can have it all—the facade of integrity without the effort, without the inevitable struggle.

So why bother being egoistical? Why be consistent in our principles? Why struggle, sometimes painfully, against the grain?

This was the most important piece of the puzzle for me. And Rand gave me the answer.

Being principled has nothing to do with what others think of us. It has to do with how we think of ourselves. We should struggle against the grain because we can’t un-know the truth. If we have taken a short-cut on our professed principles—if we have lied, cheated, or stolen; if we have given half effort at work; if we have treated someone we value poorly; if we have refused to act on new knowledge, etc.—and we have refused to accept accountability for it, then we know that we are frauds. No matter how skillfully we try to hide it or to forget it, we can’t change the fact that there is no substance behind the mask.

We have one, short life. Do we want to spend it in a whirlwind of never-ending hypocrisy? Or should we step out of the whirlwind and fight like hell to be the person we would like to see more of in this world?

After considering Rand’s whole philosophy, my answer is:

The only way to achieve peace within ourselves, happiness with our lives, and pride in our choices is to live by our principles. This is a choice we have to make every second of every day. At the end of my days, I want to know I’ve fought like hell to do just that. No mask needed.

So maybe, all things considered, Rand’s philosophy doesn’t encourage some of the worst traits of mankind. Instead, maybe Objectivism encourages the best within us as long as we are open to the suggestion.

Leave a comment

Authenticity: As Rare as Mink Earmuffs at Church

After my mom ghosted us, my dad struggled to raise myself and my brother. Then he remarried and started his own consultancy business. Over time, the hand-me-down clothes were exchanged for clothes from discount stores and, eventually, we began shopping at the local mall. It was slow but certain progress.

One Christmas during this financial transition, my stepmom received a mink coat. As surprising as this was, I was stunned speechless when she opened a set of matching mink earmuffs. My stepmom was overjoyed with the gifts “she’d always wanted,” but I couldn’t rectify our recent family financial history with such extravagance.

My confusion turned to teenage embarrassment when my stepmom decided to wear her new fur coat and earmuffs to church that Sunday. Showing off a mink coat at church seemed abhorrent to me. Wasn’t humility a virtue? I was certain we were going to be laughed out of church. I was wrong.

While waiting for services to begin, I watched my stepmom chatting and laughing with a group of women. The others seemed oblivious to my stepmom’s mink ensemble, which she still wore even though the church was well heated. As I watched, a pattern emerged. One woman gestured broadly with ring-infested hands. Another woman flipped her hair incessantly, exposing her diamond-clad earlobes. Another woman, not decked out like the others, couldn’t take her eyes off of her cup of coffee, yet she nodded her agreement and laughed on cue.

I was witnessing Hypocrisy 101 and it felt like crushing disappointment. I wasn’t immediately able to identify why I was so upset; it wasn’t the mink coat as such. But, over time, I came to realize that these women had proudly professed adherence to a specific set of values, which included a rejection of vanity, while their behavior contradicted those values. They were fake. Not one of them was living authentically. I relived this scene years later when I read the scene in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged in which Lillian Rearden hosts an anniversary party. The ostentatious women at my church, vying for attention, would have fit right in.

One caveat I’ll offer the church ladies is that authenticity is hard work. It requires that we identify who we are, what we believe, and why we believe it. This is particularly tough to do when we are so often pressured by hypocrisy.

So, how do we learn to live authentically?

Rand says that we must “live consciously.” This means: Take the time to self-analyze. Pay attention to our behavior and, when it falls out of line with our fundamental values, own it in order to change it. Once we start to live consciously, we can implement our values daily.

Then comes the real payday—dignity. As Magatte Wade, owner of Tiossan, a company founded on the concept of authenticity, explains: “Dignity, honor, and courage are a result of authenticity . . . and dignity is, I think, the biggest need of man, as humanity. I would rather not eat and conserve my dignity rather than eat and not have it.”

Leave a comment

The Moral Catastrophe of Gosnell’s House of Horrors

Kermit B. Gosnell, M.D. and several members of his staff are on trial for the first-degree murder of seven newborn babies. He is also on trial for performing illegal late-term abortions, running a corrupt enterprise, among other charges. He is also being charged in a separate trial for illegally dispensing narcotics. You can read details about the trial here  or, as I did, you can read the 281 page Grand Jury Report.

Let’s be frank. This “doctor” didn’t run an abortion clinic; he ran a house of horrors. Newborn babies (actual babies–not “fetuses”) brutally murdered, mutilated women, blood stains everywhere, urine on the walls, body parts in freezers, toilets, and waste bags, faulty and missing medical equipment, and unqualified staff, including a 15 year old girl. And this is just a snapshot. (If you have any doubt about the horrifying actions of Gosnell, simply read the Grand Jury Report; it is very convincing).

An important question has been repeatedly posed about the media largely ignoring such a horrific and obviously newsworthy story; and legitimate concerns have been issued about both sides of the political divide making the case about politics. However, I think there is a separate and much more important point to make about this case.

Biohazard.svgGosnell’s employees were aware of the full horror of Gosnell’s crimes; city and state inspectors as well as certifying agents walked through his facility and were aware of the filthy and dangerous conditions; governmental agencies were aware of the patterned lawsuits that showed similar negligence across time–not to mention the continued complaints against Gosnell; and, doctors and nurses from other hospitals and facilities were aware of some of the illegality and the irresponsible ineptitude with which Gosnell and his staff performed many procedures.

Yet, out of all of these people (over the course of decades) only two individuals stand out as having honestly tried to sound the alarm: one doctor and one inspector. Though, several hospitals also reported him according to protocol when his patients ended up there due to his negligence.

In other words, there were (at least) hundreds of individuals who knew either through complaints, inspections, or first-hand experience that Gosnell was breaking numerous laws and regulations and that he was a danger to the women under his care. If so many people knew, how come nothing was done to stop him?

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

Regardless of whatever new psycho-sociological name our society has created to excuse ignoring flagrant evil, there is just one source for it–moral cowardice.

MedizinrechtThe people who knew about Gosnell didn’t want to rock the boat; they chose to ignore reality rather than to contend with it; they chose to blindly comply rather than to question authority. This is a modern-day, moral catastrophe. Because these people chose not to act on their knowledge of Gosnell, countless women and babies suffered the kind of horrors we would normally attribute to third-world countries–not to a developed, liberty-loving, and individual-rights-based nation.

It takes confidence and courage to speak out against evil:

  • People will be upset and they will likely take it out on us.
  • People will get in trouble and they may even go to jail.
  • It could cause chaos in our own lives.

Facing these challenges, the people who knew of Gosnell’s crimes folded. They were weak, not confident. They were cowardly, not courageous.

But without confident and courageous people standing up to and speaking out against evil, as Edmund Burke so eloquently stated, then evil triumphs. Without interference, bad people will continue to do bad things and innocent victims will continue to suffer. We cannot wait for someone else to interfere for us–passing the buck from coward to coward–for if we all did this, then we end up where we are now, with someone like Gosnell being able to perpetrate evil for decades.

When we can ourselves have the integrity of the person we criticize others for not being, people like Gosnell will no longer be allowed to thrive in our society.

Leave a comment

In Honor of Margaret Thatcher


October 13, 1925 – April 8, 2013

“The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

  • The only female prime minister of Great Britain.
  • Called the Iron Lady, for her personal and political toughness.
  • Only British prime minister of the 20th century to win three consecutive terms.
  • She emphasized the rights of the individual versus that of the state, moral absolutism and nationalism.
  • Enjoyed a close friendship and working relationship with President Ronald Reagan.

“Do you know that one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.”  — Margaret Thatcher

“There are significant differences between the American and European version of capitalism. The American traditiionally emphasizes the need for limited government, light regulations, low taxes and maximum labour-market flexibility. Its success has been shown above all in the ability to create new jobs, in which it is consistently more successful than Europe.” — Margaret Thatcher

Leave a comment

Four Counter Points to MSNBC’s “Lean Forward”

In an advertisement entitled “Lean Forward,” MSNBC co-host Melissa Harris-Perry takes Hillary Clinton’s “It Takes a Village” to a new level. Ball criticizes Americans for not holding a “collective notion [that] these are our children.” She goes on to explain that “[w]e have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents.” If this wasn’t enough to get your attention, she concludes with the assertion that kids don’t belong to their parents or families, rather “kids belong to whole communities.”

Counter #1: MSNBC’s Theory is Inaccurate

First, there is no such thing as a “society” in the sense that it thinks or acts as one entity. Society is a collection of individuals and the individuals who make up that society all have different ideas, opinions, and moral convictions. In MSNBC’s context, society is the majority opinion of all of these individuals; but the majority opinion is always in flux. Right now that majority opinion may be liberal, but in two years it may be libertarian, and two years after that it may be religious-conservatism. MSNBC’s theory also assumes that there is only one best way to raise a child–society’s way. Yet, as society’s views are always in flux, the “one best way” of how to raise a child will also be in flux. Thus, the “one best way” to raise children would change; and this means that there can be no one way.

Counter #2: MSNBC’s Theory Denies Children Individuality

Secondly, children are not collective entities; children are individuals with their own needs, interests, and preferences. And who knows better the individual qualities and needs of children than their parents? According to MSNBC’s theory, society does, even though “society” doesn’t know the individual children. Therefore, the importance is not placed on the child and what is best for each individual child; rather the importance is placed on what the majority opinion perceives to be best according to its principles; and it is assumed that whatever is best for the majority must be best for each child. This theory exposes an amazing amount of hubris because it robs children of their individuality for the sake of the majority’s convictions.

Counter #3: Self-Interest, Not Hubris, Dictates What is “Best”

It’s also important to note that nobody is better situated to raise a child in the best manner possible than the child’s parents. Parents love their children, they have an intimate knowledge of each child’s needs and desires, and they are connected to their children for the duration of their lives. Thus, it is in the parent’s self-interest to do everything possible to raise their children to be happy, healthy, and successful adults. Society, on the other hand, has no knowledge of or interest in the child’s individuality and is not bound either through love or life to the child. Exposing another round of hubris, MSNBC’s social theory of child-rearing upholds its own convictions at the expense of the value of parental self-interest to children.

Counter #4: Reality and Liberty

At the end of the day, MSNBC’s theory boils down to the idea that some people don’t like how other people raise their children. I’m sure many liberals would disagree with the way in which conservatives raise their children. I’m just as sure that many conservatives would disagree with the way in which liberals raise their children. This is all okay–it is okay to disagree. However, disagreeing with somebody does not give anyone the power to force other people to comply with their beliefs. After all, this is America–the Land of Liberty.

*Edited on 4/10 with new link (better summary) and name correction.

Leave a comment

North Korea and Kim Jong-un – Bark or Bite?

We’ve spent the past two decades fighting wars in the Middle East and before that we had the Cold War with Russia. So little attention has been given to North Korea in the media until very recently, making it difficult for the average citizen to understand how much of a threat, if any, North Korea poses for us.

North Korea: A Brief Overview

Photo Credit: takepart.com

Photo Credit: takepart.com

Not much has changed in North Korea over the years. For three generations, the country has been run by the same family and the same political party–the communist Korean Workers Party. Due to North Korea’s isolationist policies and centralized economic system, the people have continuously suffered economic hardships: food shortages, shortages of fuel and electricity, and high unemployment (2). And though the conditions for people are deplorable, North Korea has clamped down on its borders in an attempt to prevent people from defecting. Reports indicate that those who attempt to defect are jailed and in some circumstances killed (1).


Photo Credit: npr.org

While the people of North Korea suffer, the political establishment has been erecting a facade of prosperity in the capital, Pyongyang, to bolster the image of the new leader, Kim Jong-un. Among other things, they’ve built new apartments and an amusement park for the children of the elite. Women walk through the city chatting on their cell phones  [restricted to national calls only] (2).

Kim Jong-Un: When Spoiled Immaturity Meets Omnipotence

Photo Credit: Tuomas Venhola

Photo Credit: Tuomas Venhola

From all indications, Kim Jong-un is a spoiled and immature thirty-something (his birth date remains uncertain). He is known to be a heavy drinker who enjoys a lavish lifestyle (2); and he is fascinated with the NBA, as seen with Dennis Rodman’s recent visit (3).

Photo Credit: Kok Leng Yeo from Singapore

Photo Credit: Kok Leng Yeo from Singapore

As the youngest son of the former dictator, Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un was provided with the best education money can buy, including two college degrees. (Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he earned these degrees. Given the power of his family, it is feasible that he was granted these degrees with minimal or no effort on his part).

Kim Jong-un took over as “Supreme Leader” of North Korea when his father died in 2011. Years prior, when the line of succession had been decided, a propaganda campaign was initiated to create a cult of personality for him, including bestowing nicknames on him such as “Brilliant Comrade.” He was also given numerous political titles in the years prior to his father’s death in order to boost his reputation (1).

It has been reported by defectors, intelligence agencies, and human rights workers that Kim Jong-un’s hold on power is much more precarious than his father’s, however. There even has been a recent assassination attempt (1) (2). However, with the government’s fierce and violent grip over its citizens, it is not likely that a revolution will occur any time soon.

Are the Recent Threats Bark or Bite?

Photo Credit: telegraph.co.uk

Photo Credit: telegraph.co.uk

Given that Kim Jong-un is used to getting his way, it seems reasonable that the instability of his power will cause him to react harshly. It also seems reasonable that he is more likely than the average dictator to intentionally incite military aggression. A war would not only gift his people with a common enemy, it would also allow him to present himself as a great defender and savior, thus adding stability to his power.

MissileWould the U.S. be in danger if he acts on his threats? Regretfully, due to North Korea’s long-standing isolationism, we don’t have full knowledge of their weaponry. This has caused endless speculation with little consensus. It is certain that North Korean missiles can reach our allies South Korea and Japan. It is less certain, but likely, that they could hit Guam and possibly Hawaii. It is even less certain if they can strike the U.S. mainland or not. The only definitive conclusion we can make from all of this is that whether we face an imminent threat or not, we will be a part of the military solution if Kim Jong-un acts on his threats. (4) (5) (6).


(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Jong-un

(2) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/world/asia/north-koreans-say-life-has-not-improved.html?ref=northkorea&_r=0

(3) http://www.heraldsun.com.au/opinion/dennis-rodman-worms-his-way-into-north-korean-leader-kim-jong-uns-affections/story-fncw91kq-1226612820351

(4) http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/04/politics/koreas-u-s-/index.html

(5) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/04/04/map-this-is-how-far-those-north-korean-missiles-can-actually-reach/

(6) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/9970859/North-Korea-missile-threat-latest-live.html

Leave a comment

Why Moms Love Capitalism (Even if they don’t realize it)

Nicolaes_Maes_-_The_Naughty_Drummer_Boy_-_WGA13816Whether they are employed at a full-time or part-time job or if they take care of their children full-time, moms often seek ways to earn supplemental income for their families. Moms are very active in the few, conspicuous forms of free-market capitalism still in existence: selling cosmetics, candles, and lingerie through at-home parties, holding garage sales, or selling items through online markets such as Ebay.

GARAGE_SALE_SIGN_ATTACHED_TO_A_TREE_OFF_MULHOLLAND_DRIVE_IN_THE_SANTA_MONICA_MOUNTAINS_DENOTES_RECENT_DEVELOPMENT..._-_NARA_-_557556.tifThese at-home methods of earning supplemental income require the mom-seller to offer a product to a customer at a price that will cover her costs and leave her with some profit. No license is required because if she is bad at selling, she simply won’t make money. There is no process that the mom-seller has to go through to have her items deemed “viable for sale.” If she sells bad items or misleads her customers, word-of-mouth will put her out of business in no time. And, she isn’t forced to charge a certain price. If she wants to put a $50 sticker on her son’s used pajamas, she is free to. But, unless her son is Justin Bieber, she will never sell them. So it benefits her to set the price reasonably. These are all hallmark qualities of the business-side of a free market. What about the consumer?

The customer views the item for sale and decides if the item is valuable enough for her to exchange the money required for the purchase (the selling price). Not only can she examine the item first-hand, or if the item is being sold online, she can look at pictures, previous customers’ reviews, and ratings. Either way, she can ask questions of the seller directly. Again, these are all hallmark qualities of a free market, but from the consumer side.

Dollar_sign_(reflective_metallic)Thus we have a win-win situation. Through at-home parties, garage sales, and online markets such as Ebay, customers can often get items that either they could never find at their local stores or they can find them at cheaper prices. On the flip-side, mom-sellers get to make a profit, determine their own schedules, do a job without a particular degree or work experience, work without government regulators breathing down their necks and costing them money, and they don’t have to pay an additional 35% to the federal government for having their own business. This is free-market capitalism.

But, if I were a betting woman, I would say that these havens of free-market capitalism won’t last long. Many local governments are already jumping on the profit-bandwagon by requiring permits for garage sales (1). Also, state governments are starting to implement sales taxes for online purchases (2). And if the a mom’s customers have to pay more for her items, she will either have to charge less or risk losing buyers. Either way, government interference in her formerly free-market will cost her some of her profits. So, moms, enjoy it while you can!


(1) http://biztaxlaw.about.com/od/typesofbusinesstaxes/a/Garage-Sale-Taxes-Licenses-Permits.htm

(2) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444097904577536971916035192.html