Response to Intellectual Smears

 Posted by on 10 November 2009 at 5:00 am  Objectivism
Nov 102009
 

Back in September, I received the following e-mail from some random guy “alan” in response to some promotion I was doing for the Atlas Shrugged Reading Groups:

Date: 11 September 2009 9:18:54 AM MDT
From: alan
To: Diana Hsieh
Subject: I know some about A.R., but have a question or 2

Hello Diana,

I have read that the fittest survive, that the best get the most, that those who deserve more get more (sports players, CEO, etc.), but is there not a place for compassion in her teaching?  Noblese Oblige (sp.?)  Take of the least of you?  You are your brother’s keeper?  Moral obligation? And the like?  Is there not a sense of greater responsibility in the Rand teaching?  If not then is anyone responsible for the pressing (planetary, national, social) needs of the moment, or is it merely me, me, me?  I get that some have been given the ability to develop their intelligence ( & have a “big” brain), but how about a ”big” heart.  Would that not be crucial in these day especially?  And if we are not “balanced” like that, ie. wise & prudent, then is there any chance of human or planetary survival?  Maybe humans have a death wish individually AND collectively.  And who would want to live in a world of no love anyway?  No compassion?  No openness to the sweetness of the connectedness/oneness of life?  That WOULD be delusional, & most sad.  You’d think there’d be a lesson there. 

Ya thank?
Sincerely, A.

Here’s my reply:

Date: 11 September 2009 9:44:18 AM MDT
From: Diana Hsieh
To: alan
Subject: Re: I know some about A.R., but have a question or 2

[quoted text omitted]

Ayn Rand does not advocate the “survival of the fittest.”  She advocates each person pursuing his own life and happiness by reason, with the voluntary, non-sacrificial cooperation of other rational people.

Compassion and kindness are part of AR’s values, albeit not primary virtues.  You see them in her heros in Atlas Shrugged, and she practiced them in her own life.  In contrast — and just as in real life — the people who claim to be motivated by such feelings are often indifferent to the sufferings of innocent people.  Plus, kindness towards others is a very different matter than sacrificing yourself to them — or thinking yourself obligated to “keep” them.

If you want to discuss these issues more, I’d definitely recommend that you join one of the Atlas Shrugged Reading Groups, if you can.  I think you’d find much of interest in AR’s views — as opposed to these common misconceptions about them.

– DMH

Then the conversation went downhill:

Date: 14 September 2009 12:06:28 AM MDT
From: alan
To: Diana Hsieh
Subject: Re: I know some about A.R., but have a question or 2

Who are these people you mention that claim to be motivated by compassion & kindness & are indifferent to the suffering of innocent people.  Would they be religious fundamentalist conservative politicians who are all so keen to kill people all around the world & let them be killed & suffer in Africa?  Possibly like Hitler & the like who are elitists, which reminds me of libertarians.  The only reasonable thing to know is that very intelligent people are all so rational just like the Nazis in their zeal for a better more pure world free of racial “impurity”.  And so it would be more rational to realize the folly of anything other than to follow the heart, or as I say mind your heart.  A common saying is that the mind is a terrible master, but an wonderful servant (of the heart).  The longest distance is between the head (mind) & the heart.  I ask questions to hear your response – that’s all.  Many/some would follow their bliss, & advise to be in one’s heart, in one’s body, in the (holy) moment or present.  A common misconception is that we as people are our mind, & it is essentially worshiped.

AKG

My reply wasn’t so friendly. (I decided to ignore the difference between libertarianism and Objectivism in this context, as I just didn’t think it relevant.)

Date: 14 September 2009 7:49:09 AM MDT
From: Diana Hsieh
To: alan
Subject: Re: I know some about A.R., but have a question or 2

[quoted text omitted]

Wow, you just likened me to Hilter.  I suppose that’s where “following your heart rather than your head” takes you.  Who cares about the lack of any actual connection?  Who cares about the fact that I’m explicitly opposed to every philosophical principle and action of the Third Reich?  Why bother with pesky things like facts?  You just feel that I’m mean — and Hitler was mean too, right?

That’s not just absurd; it’s crazy-talk.  One cannot have a sensible conversation on that basis.  That’s where your distain for reason takes you: you cannot muster the semblance of rational exchange.

In fact, Hitler was an ardent proponent of following the heart rather than the head.  Reason would never sanction his racism, nor his brutality, nor his totalitarian state, nor killing a single innocent person.  He did that by that preaching exactly what you preach: ignore facts, reason, and logic; indulge the emotions; the heart is superior to the head.  The result — the inevitable result of that — is killing fields.

I’m sure you won’t worry about that very real connection between Hitler’s views and your own.  After all, you’re full of warm and fuzzy emotions — not mean ones like Hitler!  That’s why you likened me to a mass murderer in your second e-mail.  Yeah, that was very nice, very warm and fuzzy.  Not.

Civilization requires people to deal with each other as rational persons.  Since you reject that — not just in the abstract but in your very method of spewing words without thought — this conversation is over.

– DMH

Looking back on it now, I’m not happy with that response. Sure, the guy deserved all that. He deserved plenty more. Yet I cannot imagine that my words did any good whatsoever. So I ask: Should I have responded differently? Or not responded at all? And why?

I try to avoid such exchanges as much as possible. Yet when I find myself in them, I often feel like I ought to say something. I hate to leave such awful and wrong claims about Ayn Rand’s views unchallenged. Yet everything that I might say either seems too soft to be just — or too harsh to be of any use.

What do you think?

   
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