28 August 2011

Randians abandon Sam Harris

Apparently there were quite a number of Ayn Rand devotees who, until recently, were fans of Sam Harris. But when Harris wrote a blog post in support of higher (i.e. fairer) taxes on the rich, the Randians were not impressed.

As a former Objectivist sympathiser, I can understand why Randians would see a kindred spirit in Harris. The guy’s an outspoken atheist, an advocate for science, reason and knowledge, and a proponent of objective morality. But when Harris made the (entirely rational) case for tax increases on America’s super-rich, boy, did he royally piss off the Cult of Virtuous Selfishness.

I stopped believing in many Objectivist ideas for several reasons, both intellectual and emotional. One such reason was my realisation that the Objectivist view of justice – that people got only what they deserved – was simply wrong. Harris explains why (emphasis his):

Many of my critics pretend that they have been entirely self-made. They seem to feel responsible for their intellectual gifts, for their freedom from injury and disease, and for the fact that they were born at a specific moment in history. Many appear to have absolutely no awareness of how lucky one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, to not have cerebral palsy, or to not have been bankrupted in middle age by the mortal illness of a spouse.

And that’s what Objectivists refuse to admit – their accomplishments are not entirely a result of their own awesomeness and hard graft. Other external factors contributed to their successes, whether they acknowledge this or not. Conversely, unsuccessful or poor people didn’t get that way simply because they were lazy and stupid. “But for Fortune there go I” is a phrase that is anathema to the Objectivist conception of self-betterment.

It’s a pity that the Randians have excommunicated Sam Harris from their intellectual life. He has so much to offer those who care about ideas. Well, it’s their loss. That the person the Objectivists denounce is actually more rational than them is an all too common irony.


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