2012-08-14

You Hypocrite

So, presumptive Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan used to draw ideas and inspiration from the works of Ayn Rand. Predictably, this fact is causing a bit of a media stir. It is a rather odd sort of smear campaign, maligning someone by pinning their politics to a particular philosopher's ideas.

Breaking News From 1905: Ayn Rand Was Only Human
Keeping the context in this situation is relatively important. Ayn Rand serves as a bit of a weather vein for liberal-media types. Our college professors have done a good job training the verbal-reasoning crowd to reject Ayn Rand, disparaging her as a "pop philosopher," a drug addict, and the leader of a cult. Few mere peddlers of ideas have inspired such vitriol from their ideological opposites. Rand stands alone in that regard.

The core problem with Rand's work is that it is insufficiently academic and several orders of magnitude too polemic to contribute meaningfully to a level-headed discussion of philosophy. That's just the objective truth of the matter. But that doesn't mean she's "all wrong." Nor does it really discredit the merits of her ideas. This 2009 Maverick Philosopher post does a good job of discussing the shortcomings of Rand's work. While I do not necessarily agree with it all, I think the author is fair to Rand and her ideas, which is far more than can be said for most other critics of Rand.

But it is not the critics' fault that Rand's work was insufficiently academic and far too polemic. That is Rand's fault, and she lived with the consequences of those facts.

If she was a poor advocate of her ideas, it is her fault that she has been misunderstood. It strikes me as being incredibly unlikely, however that she really was a poor advocate of her ideas. Her book continues to sell well, her ideas continue to change lives, and many millions of people throughout the world continue to subscribe to their understanding of Rand's Objectivism. These are not the features of a terrible philosopher.

I readily state that Objectivism has flaws and that Rand was not a perfect human being. However, there is a serious problem with the standard to which Rand is held in public opinion. No one ever argues, for example, that Immanuel Kant is an excellent philosopher by virtue of the fact that his ideas are irrefutable and he lived them to the letter. Right? Right?

Not so with Rand. The fact that some of her ideas are poorly argued in writing, combined with the fact that she lead a less-than-perfect life are enough to win her adversaries well into posthumanity.

To put it lightly, this is unfair.

Hypocrisy Is To Ideology As Imperfection Is To Humanity
I am not a Republican, nor do I hold any particular level of respect of Paul Ryan. Truthfully, I know little about him and have no faith in - and little respect for - rightist politics.

That being said, lambasting anyone - anyone - for failing to live up to the perfection of their chosen creed is a despicable and morally weak attack on anyone.  It takes courage to discover a sense of conviction. It is a lifelong journey to develop a code of ethics that works for you. Along the way, you are bound to contradict yourself.

This is the nature of morality. This is what it means to be human. We will never live up to all of our own expectations for ourselves. Our expectations will even change over time. The fact that someone once read and enjoyed Atlas Shrugged or The Communist Manifesto or any other controversial set of moral ideas should never, ever be used as a Scarlet Letter against anyone.

The fact that someone is interested in developing a sense of ethics, regardless of what general ideological pattern those ethics follow, is the mark of an inquisitive person who wishes to be good. If Paul Ryan - or anyone else for that matter - is a bad person or an unelectable politician, let us say so by analyzing his record, his platform, and his actions.

That, as opposed to demonizing him for having once subscribed to a moral code held by millions worldwide. If you wish to attack Objectivism, do so. If you wish to attack Ryan's politics, do so. Do not make one guilty of evil by mere association with the other. After all, your own beliefs may be called into question one day, and it will be just as easy to demonstrate that your lack of perfection is hypocrisy. You big hypocrite, you.