Greed, Logic, and AI Doom in Atlas Shrugged
Enjoyed this one! My explanation for the popularity of Ayn Rand is that it allows people who have made, or inherited, a lot of money to escape the cognitive dissonance that makes them feel like they should maybe use their wealth to help others. It’s a very convenient worldview for that.
I also get similar vibes about the MIRI style AI doom people, I feel like the reality will be less black and white and more confusing. But, whatever happens it’s going to be dangerous and chaotic.
Very thought provoking post! I definitely agree there is a deep flaw in most logical systems that inevitably leads to some a negative result when they are taken to the extreme. I do have one question/bit of push back, how is capitalism a stable system? Its econ 101 that capitalism is a system in crisis, the crisis is just pushed onto things/people that have no power to resist (colonies, natural systems etc...)
Read Atlas Shrugged first time when I was about thirteen **bad idea**. Read it a second time in my mid twenties; my views had already softened a lot. Noticed on that second read that the heroes all hated their families and did not have children.
Loved this post.
This was a great analysis. I think most inquisitive people encounter Rand and fall in love with her ideas at some point. I teach high school English and it’s interesting to see how a young mind will take her ideas and assume they’re the “good” guys. Rand’s ideas are charismatic, we want to believe them because it simplifies the world. It makes us feel bad to think we’re lucky so we must be deserving. Just like the Puritans we’re “anointed” in some sense. I took a grad class on film history and we watched Triumph of the Will and Birth of a Nation. Both films were actually good and that was the scary part. These were objectively nauseating ideas and philosophies that were made attractive because of the way they were dressed up. I don’t think Rand is that bad, but I put her ideas in that category. Again this was great!
I appreciate the concepts of the post a lot! For further reading on the role of reason when logical argument and emotional appeal are mixed, my recc is Baggini's The Edge of Reason.
Very important note: a false dichotomy only invalidates one proposition, not an entire propositional law. Rather than throwing out Non-Contradiction, we should exercise rigor when creating propositions with hidden dichotomies-- which may not be propositions at all but rather sets of propositions that have multiple truth values (or none). (Saying we should exercise rigor and knowing how to exercise rigor are whole different things of course, not the most helpful.)
Going from there, ironically, provability and truth value are a false dichotomy. Provability decides information about sets of truth values not a single truth value-- EVEN IN THE CASE that all members of a set have the same truth value, these are still NOT equivalent. A set can't be reduced.
Likewise, probability & truth value are usually not a dichotomy, with many probabilities deciding sets of propositions and others never deciding any propositions at all. The only instances in which we could consider a probability equivalent to a truth value is when a probability is a set of one: 0% or 100% probabilities. (Things do actually get muggy when we are examining probabilities that are infinitely close to 0 or 100 and converge, so if I really want to earn my wise-sage badge, I suppose I could make a statement about how infinite truth is equivalent to no truth at all.
I'm not actually a wise sage; I simply spent two years in an apartment with a hardcore marxist, a hardcore libertarian, and a clown. From a fourth-party perspective, it was really obvious that the libertarian and the marxist were no more logical than the clown. Thankfully, their friendships have outlived their beliefs.)
There is another system not tried yet. Decentralized capitalism.
We need to decentralize everything, and then have our systems be transparent to prevent corruption.
Communism and Capitalism are both corruptible systems.
Do you understand the LAST HAND ON THE BAT THEORY of systems? Read more here:
A different flaw in Ayn Rand's work is that her practical ethics don't seem to follow from her meta-ethics. Pure egoism/selfishness without any concern for others would suggest an attitude more like some Ayn Rand villains: if you can "get away with" doing things that benefit you at others' expense, such as theft, you should do them.
I can tell you the short version of the argument for AI Doom if you want?
It's hard for me to understand the common sentiment that Communism is rooted in optimism. I mean, if a strong conception of the labor theory of value were true, then whenever someone opened a restaurant, hired some cooks and servers for wages, and gained a profit on the business, then one person would be an insidious thief and the others all a combination of dupes and slaves. Exploitation would be going on everywhere, right in front of our eyes, appearing consensual and mutually benefical. That sounds very fucking pessimistic to me.
While most people read Ayn Rand, virtually nobody reads Karl Marx, and so they rely on other peoples' (usually negative and simplified) depictions of his work without actually reading what he wrote. The "From each..." passage is a favorite, taken out of context from Marx's *Critique of the Gotha Program*. However, if you read the entire thing you would find passages like this:
"One man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. … Further, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labor, and hence an equal [share] in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal."
So, the difference is, one is a caricature, the other is an accurate representation of what the person actually wrote. Not sure those are equal.
Let me take a mild swing at a possible oversimplification of Rands framing of capitalism.
"But fortunately I don't need to do all that. Rand undermines her own “greed is good”5 argument in two ways. First, the main characters—heroic inventors and industrialists—aren’t driven by greed, but by the sheer love of seeing their creations come to life."
A capitalistic society is probably the best model we have developed so far, if the point is to deliver high quality for the most reasonable price. A truly capitalistic society implies a meritocratic society whereby the potentials in each individual is sought maximized. Rand detests the corrupt, the freeloaders the regulators of bad conscience. In other words, she hates communism and by implication crooked capitalism (Which is what we have most places, do enlighten me on any specific instance of true capitalism in practice.)
Thus as with communism, all "new" marxists simply claim the "old ones" were not properly following the doctrine, but if only they came to power it would all be swell. Well, most capitalist societies would likely degrade into crooked capitalism over time. But it likely would provide a longer timeframe of relative superior quality of life for the inhabitants before devolving.
Since I do not subscribe any longer to the idea that material wealth provides "contentment" as there is no internal cup of contentment to "fill up". I do not buy any concept of pure capitalism = utopia. I do however believe it is the superior construct for new development of ideas and conversion into quality goods.
Naturally, my framing/interpretation might be completely off ;)
Reason is a means, and means are coloured by their ends and take the normative vector of said ends. It is the Consequent that is key. And so given that understanding:
Emotion and its incorporation (or lack thereof) is ultimately dependant on what sort of pursuit is generated by said move.
If anything, something sub-rational (like emotion) certainly has its time and place; but the other pieces moving with it need to likewise be properly calibrated.
“Reason” in general (as per its formal etymological breakdown into its initial PIE roots of *re- and *ar-) has already failed.
This is because its ends these past few centuries or so have diverged radically from the primordial notions contained in aforementioned roots:
[In particular, the notion of “to fit together” is long dead.]
“Reason” properly exercised has given rise to fundamental dogmas which are so repugnant to the Human Being, that is it any wonder that people look elsewhere?
So pursuits of the Sub-rational (i.e. Emotion) and the Supra-rational (i.e. Revelation) are making a comeback onto the scene.
However, whether or not they are relevant overall when it comes to generating certain normative outcomes; that differs widely and ought to be examined critically whenever possible
"that’s $50k/year, far more than the median American earns."
Seems mistaken, this source says 56k\year https://www.sofi.com/learn/content/average-salary-in-us/
A wealthy heir living great without working is very different from someone living great by exploiting others. So "pure Capitalism is just as perverse as pure Communism" seems excessive (at least not supported by the argument provided).
The problem with "communism bad; opposite of bad is great; capitalism is the opposite of communism; therefore capitalism is great" is not logic but "conceptualization". When we say comm is bad, we use bad as an adjective, we don't mean that comm is identical to evil itself. Therefore it's mistaken to assign to communism all the properties of evil itself (like its opposite being good). The idea that capitalism is the opposite of communism is also somewhat problematic.
I liked the quote abt extricating yourself. For instance I seek the physical everyday because ideas like Freudianism live in my mould. In fact i never plan to get shut of Freud because of what you and Dostoyevsky say: it seems a good enough system. I could not build one like it. Good title, funny, i thought one if my local crack addicts would make us all despair of tge efficacy of daily work. Likely i was catastrophizing. Thanks for this letter. For instance i just got off the phone with my pop and after my year of holding forth in this vein he says it was all greek to him. Too bad for this baby. Fuck it, i could have guessed he would. A super liberal who never the less fell for the drumming for war after 9/11. At the end of my ye a r I kind of threw in the towel telling my readers to read Black Swan by Taleb for a new friend.