Why Ayn Rand is Wrong

Collective Decisions vs. Tyrannical Decisions

 In the quest to end tyranny if we abandon collective decision making it means abandoning being humans

 What is the most important thing that distinguishes humans from animals? It is collective decision making. We became humans when we started gathering food in one place and prepared it (cooked it) with the help of all in the group. No other animal does this, except super-organisms like ants and bees. No matter how much social an animal is, all of them eat their own food. They don’t gather it in a place before eating it. Thus this gave rise to collective decision making. We make rules among ourselves and follow them.

 Almost all the discussions that take place regarding society and polity revolve around the extent to which collective decision making can be made, the process of making the decision and implementing it. We can think that political science emerged around 6 thousand years ago when the first civilization emerged in modern Iraq. From that point onwards the central focus of political science has been decision making and implementing. 

The ancient city of Uruk as imagined by artists

 No one ever doubted the legitimacy of collective decision making. The only question was who should make it and how it should be implemented. Ayn Rand for the first time rebuked the sheer legitimacy of collective decision making. Not only that but she also openly declared that the Christian tradition of love towards each other in society is a farce. This led to the famous statement by Margaret Thatcher “there is no society – only individuals”.

Rand - the proponent of objectivism

 Why did she do this? The state emerged as an instrument of suppression of the many by a few. This nature of the state got diminished in the modern times. Gradually with the ascent of democracy the state is getting to be controlled not by a few but by the entire society. But at the time Ayn Rand developed objectivism various shades of Fascism were rampant – where only a few controlled the state to an extent not seen before. As a reaction to this tyranny Rand reacted extremely. She held that the state can only be an instrument of oppression. Thus she wanted to emasculate the state by limiting its power to providing only physical security to people and their property.

 She held that any collective decision, even made completely democratically with the participation of all, is a tyrannical one as at least some people are being forced to do what they don’t want to do. Thus no such process of decision making is legitimate.

 But here she didn’t realise that collective decision making preceded the state by millions of years. The state emerged a few thousands of years ago while collective decision making is what made us humans. Any philosophy should first explain the existence of human society as no other animal lives in a society like ours. Only then can we explain the problems of domination and oppression and solutions on how to solve them.

 If one reads the book “collapse” by Jared Diamond one can find out several such instances where collective decision was good. For example in Japan they saved the nature and themselves by deciding not to cut off the trees on mountains. Take the present day problems of global warming and ecological destruction. These require a collective global response. Take the case of lead in petrol or the hole in the ozone. These were all solved by collective action only. So our goal should be to ensure that the decisions made in society are really good for the society through the participation of all.

Jared Diamond

 We should ensure that a few (however many the few may be) do not control the decision making process and enforce their decisions, taken for their interest, on the rest of the society. This leads us to the observation that when a person always makes the decisions and enforces it on another person then it is nothing but slavery. (link to another article on slavery). Thus tyranny is when someone has such power where they can literally enforce whatever they want on another while the other person has no choice. This does not require the state. Even within a marriage, one person can be enslaved by another. At the workplace one person can be enslaved by another. Such slavery is continuing even today in various forms.

 Actually after the Second World War, with the emergence of human rights, liberty and social security, such domination of one person over another is at an all-time low. It has been decreasing until recently. It is interesting that the demand to emasculate the state is being heard in the era when the state finally is not just an instrument of suppression but is liberating people.

 Tyranny does not end by emasculating the state. It ends by ensuring that the state is not dominated by anyone. By ensuring that the state is not used for the vested interests of any. In the quest to end tyranny if we abandon collective decision making it means abandoning being humans. 


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