BioShock: An Objectivist on the Objectivism

  By Shamus   Mar 5, 2009   206 comments

When I learned that BioShock was set in an Objectivist society that had self-destructed, I assumed that the story was an attempt by the writer to refute the ideas of Objectivism. I imagined that the author read one of Rand’s books, was irritated by it, and set up the plot of BioShock to demonstrate it to be a load of crap. I was curious to see how much truth there was in that. (Short answer: None, really.) I’m not an Objectivist myself and I’m not interested in actually playing the game, but I thought I’d see what Objectivists had to say about the thing.

And I came up empty. Google had nothing to offer on the subject. Here is a game with a plot that is built around the philosophy, and not one Objectivist has written an analysis on it? How is that possible? If the game had been talking about specific political parties or religions, then the flame war would have gone on until the internet ran out of hard drive space. But not one Objectivist has played the game and talked about it?

I decided to ask an Objectivist myself. I asked Jennifer Snow, who graces the comment threads around here from time to time. She hadn’t played the game, but she put me in contact with The Inspector, who was kind enough to give me a lengthy and detailed look at Objectivism in the game. It turned out I wasn’t giving the writer nearly enough credit. The game isn’t a direct attack on the philosophy and the city of of Rapture isn’t a strawman.

I found The Inspector’s answer so interesting that I thought I’d share. With his permission, here is the email he sent in reply:

While I consider myself an Objectivist, I don’t speak for Objectivism in any official capacity – only for myself. What you hear from me is my own best take on it. For the official source, you’ll want to visit The Ayn Rand Institute.

There are going to be some very heavy spoilers here – I’ll warn you of that right off the bat.

Is Bioshock an attack on Objectivism? Well, granted, it does portray a “perfect” society that most certainly has gone to hell, but there’s really a lot more to it than that.

For starters, there’s a major plot twist 3/4 through the game where you discover, basically, that you’ve been manipulated and lied to all along by the villain. And pretty much everyone else has, too. Once you discover this, with some thinking, you can see how just about every bit of information that’s been fed to you to demonize Andrew Ryan is actually misleading and taken out of context. There’s a lot made in the game of how everything’s looking all scary with arrests and martial law, but when you get right down to it, the people arrested really *were* working for the villain. In the end, you don’t really get the full story, but there is at least the possibility that Ryan really didn’t do anything morally wrong at all.

And, really, what you find in the game is that hardly any of the people in the city actually subscribe to Ryan’s vision. The thing that ultimately does them in is that so many of them are willing to lie, cheat, steal, and see no problem with working with this slimeball villain who’s trying the bring the whole place down. And even then, there’s a lot of conspiracy and manipulation on the villain’s part. It’s not really Ryan’s pseudo-Objectivist philosophy that’s failing, so much as it’s an example of what might happen to a society built on that philosophy if less than 1% of its constituant members actually subscribed to it. I don’t think that this, as a message, is any real threat to Objectivism since none of us has ever claimed that everything will get magically better if the law is structured right but society remains culturally and philosophically where it is. Every legitimate Objectivist organization I know of is saying that trying for political change is hopeless until we can achieve a cultural change – i.e. toward reason and individual rights.

Now of course, in the end the city does fall, and regardless of the fact that it’s all a grand conspiracy, this still does say something about the author’s view of the ideas on which the city was founded. But not, I think, in a direct I’m-against-Objectivism sort of way. Having talked to Ken Levine, I can say that the theme he’s after is wider than that. He’s making a comment on human nature itself. It’s not so much that he thinks Objectivism is specifically wrong – in fact he’s told me that from the limited amount of it he is familiar with, he found a lot of it to be quite admirable. But he’s one of those people that just doesn’t think that men can live up to it.

Getting specific, it’s a matter of certainty. Philosophic certainty, that is. Levine, like a lot of folks who were raised on modern philosophy, has an aversion to anyone or anything that claims to have certainty. When you think about it, the 20th century has been a display of many ideologies which claimed to be able to solve mankind’s problems with a grand restructuring of morality and society. One of the reactions to this is that some people have simply become afraid of anything that has a grand and certain vision.

This is actually quite ironic. It was Skeptical calls to philosophic uncertainty just like this which ended the Enlightment, thus paving the way to the totalitarian ideologies which followed. All such movements denied reason and scientific certainty – they had to, in order to deny rights, which were a product of that Enlightenment thought. A lot of people think that Marxism advocated reason or certainty, but that’s just because they’ve never deeply studied it. It actually rejects logic and reason in favor of a bunch of soothsaying mysticism dressed up in complicated-sounding terms like “dialectical materialism,” which have about as much to do with reason as that crazy guy on the corner who likes to yell things at passers-by. But most people have no idea of the actual cause of Nazism and Communism.

I think this sort of fear is a product of not really knowing the history of philosophy (well, that and the influence of philosophic Skepticism). I’m not exactly a professional scholar of it, myself, but there’s a lot of great Objectivist literature out there that really lays out the basics in an easy-to-understand fashion. Totalitarian states didn’t just happen out of nowhere – or simply because some people had a large vision that they tried to carry out, but human nature failed or something. They happened for very specific, repeatable, reasons. All totalitarian disasters share common philosophic premises and roots, such as collectivism and altruism – the idea that men exist to serve the collective. Once you learn that the philosophers behind Communism said that men don’t have rights, and morality consisted of whatever the collective wanted, then it isn’t surprising that their practitioners felt free to start marching people into gulags and gas chambers. And not only that, but the ideologies which created them can clearly be traced back through the movements and philosophers which gave root to them. They didn’t happen randomly, but rather because specific, related schools of thought became prevalent for decades before the disasters ensued.

So is Bioshock an indictment of Objectivism? I’d say no – and I’d even go so far as to say that it wasn’t even the author’s intent for it to be. He does have some tragic themes about human nature and certainty in there, which are definitely in disagreement with Objectivism, but I think that’s going at least three or four levels deeper than most folks will.

I know already that some of this is going to rub some people the wrong way, and that any discussion is inevitably going to trend towards politics and rancor. It wouldn’t be very fair for me to post this and then deny dissenters a chance to have their say, so I’m going to lift my moratorium on that sort of thing for this thread. On the other hand, the last few paragraphs tap into the very heat source for most hot-button topics. Individual freedom vs. the collective is at the root of every major political argument currently simmering out there, and a free-for-all thread is likely to have us swimming in magma before we know it.

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So please remember that this is a geek blog. We have a nice community here. We get along well enough, and I’d hate to see bitter feuds appear over previously obscured fault lines in the group. Keep it civil and don’t make it personal. Don’t post angry. I’d rather get along and talk about gaming than have a fight which will cause division without changing anyone’s mind, and I hope the above is a stimulating read no matter where you’re coming from.

A Hundred!A Hundred!6206 COMMENTS? What are you people talking about?!?


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  1. Uncle Festy says:

    Hm. Pretty interesting, I have to –
    Wait, arguments? AAAAAHHHH!
    *dives into internet fallout shelter, locks door*
    EDIT: First! Woot!

  2. Hal says:

    (Dons his asbestos typing gloves)

    I never played Bioshock, but philosophical ideas, distilled down to simple themes, tend to go over well in popular media. The Matrix, for example, was a pretty clear reference to Descartes’s “evil genius” scenario.

    I do agree with The Inspector, though. Most people don’t know enough about philosophy, and even people who make it their business tend not to think carefully enough about it (having been a philosophy minor in college, I have a small bit of experience with that). Most people tend not to enjoy breaking out of a certain mode of thinking, so it’s generally easier to keep things in simpler terms and not push various ideas into extended consequences. In other words, most people are okay just keeping it at “X is evil” without ever wondering why anybody would have believed/followed “X” in the first place.

  3. Yay! I’m so glad you got what you were looking for, Shamus. If anyone has specific questions about Objectivist ideas and how they relate to things they’ve found in Bioshock or elsewhere, I’d like to make myself available as a resource. I haven’t played the game so you’ll have to TELL me what happened and what you think about it, but I’ve gotten pretty good at this sort of thing.

    I’d like to add, though, that Inspector’s caveat applies to me, also. I’m not a professional academic Objectivist scholar and I am NOT a spokesman for Objectivism in any way. I’ve simply been a student of Objectivism for 14 years and hopefully have the ability to point people in the right direction if they’re looking for info.

    Oh, and to answer Shamus’s question about why there’s no literature on the subject–there are very few Objectivists out there and most of the vocal academic ones DON’T PLAY VIDEO GAMES. Yaron Brook, the “face man” for the Ayn Rand Institute and basically The Spokesman to the extent that there is one, released a brief op-ed on the subject where he simply said that he had no complaints whatsoever about Bioshock. He figured it was good press and if it got people interested in Objectivism, so much the better. From watching his son play it, he believed that the philosophy in the game was flawed, but anything that got people interested in asking the questions was fine by him. That’s pretty much the extent of the official Objectivist reaction to Bioshock. If I didn’t administrate a major Objectivist forum, I’d NEVER have been able to help Shamus.

  4. Neil says:

    I’m not an Objectivist myself, but I do appreciate the system’s goals as worthy ones. I like that someone else saw this game as something more than “lol, Rand is teh suxzors”, which is the most common response I have seen.
    As to the failure of your Google Fu, Objectivism isn’t really considered a legitimate philosophy by modern professional philosophers, so the community tends to stick to itself without much dialog outside of it.
    Is Bioshock’s story worth the money? There is a hell of a lot more to it than most of the “1. You are a space marine 2. there are aliens 3. you have a gun, figure out the rest” plots floating around, and I would have bought it if not for the DRM.

  5. Aergoth says:

    The problem with politics is not politics. The problem with politics is people.

  6. Aergoth, that’s like saying that the problem with clothing not fitting isn’t the clothing, it’s that the people are the wrong shape. A system designed FOR people (politics) ought to be based on what people actually ARE, not on what philosophers imagine they ought to be.

  7. Magnus says:

    For me, I saw it as a general problem with society, some person(s) with vision starts a grand new way of living/thinking, and it is brought low by the most petty of people, so desperate for personal gain, that they spoil it for the whole. This is seen time and time again. Dare I bring in the banking crisis?

    The higher levels of thought presented by the game were completely masked for me by a few gameplay factors though. The Big Twist in particular, which completely broke the immersion. I could see it coming, all the clues were boldy displayed, and yet I could do nothing about it, and instead of feeling like that was the intention, it just felt as though I was being forced along a path with no other options. There wasn’t even the illusion of choice.

  8. lebkin says:

    I am no fan of Ayn Rand’s work, which colors my perception of Objectivism. But even with an inherent bias, I did not come away from Bioshock thinking the game thought Objectivism was negative. As stated above, the game is more about human nature than any philosophy. The Fontaine is fighting Andrew Ryan over the control of the city in the pursuit of power, not because of Ryan’s ideals. That is a flaw that can bring down any government, regardless of its structure.

  9. OEP says:

    Not having played Bioshock except for the excruciatingly dull demo, I can’t comment directly on the game. However I have found that authors who philosophize at the expense of plot and character development tend to lose me as a reader. Terry Goodkind, whose Sword of Truth series started out well, took his success and used it to bludgeon us with his ham-handed Neo-Objectivism. Philosophy can sure ruin a good series.

  10. That’s quite a collectivist assumption, Magnus. What, exactly, did the villain propose to gain via his acts of destruction?

    A major part of Objectivism is that acts of short-range, out of context whim-worship are not motivated by selfishness, but by whim-worship. A truly selfish person is reality-oriented and knows that lying, cheating, and destruction does not benefit them in the long run. It isn’t profit-seeking that is the problem, it’s people acting short-range while trying to evade knowledge of the consequences of their actions.

    In terms of the banking crisis, for instance, the problem wasn’t greedy or profit-seeking bankers, but the government putting in place institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that “guaranteed” the high-risk loans. In more personal terms, this is like a trainer telling an injured athelete “I’ll just numb it to take the pain away so you can keep playing”. End result? The athelete plays on a ruptured ACL and rips it entirely, thus causing the ruin of their career. This is especially horrific when they could have taken a break, gotten surgery, had physical therapy, and enjoyed many more years of their beloved career.

    You tell me who the bad guy there is.

  11. Robyrt says:

    Even if the “authorial intent” of the plot is against Objectivism (which isn’t necessarily true), the most dynamic and memorable character in the story is Andrew Ryan. He is now my go-to guy for Objectivist and libertarian quotes.

    “A man creates. A parasite asks, Where is my share?”

  12. Nova says:

    @Hal: You missed out the inevitable conclusion that the Matrix is more similar to Plato’s cave; the simulated world is the cave, with shadows on the wall that we think are real, and Neo goes through his (painful) climb into reality (the philosophers journey into the real world), then goes back in an attempt to enlighten others.

    It’s definitely interesting that philosophical concepts are being expressed through the medium of video games/interpretive dance. Could this be some sort of new rise of the video game as a true art, similar to literature or painting? It could be in a couple of hundred years time Bioshock will be a museum piece similar to Robinson Crusoe today.

  13. @OEP: You’re right about that, in fact, Ayn Rand herself tried to teach people not to produce art with a didactic motive in mind. Yes, art can *contain* a “message” if the artwork itself is strong enough to hold that message, but the purpose of art isn’t to teach but to demonstrate directly the *consequences* of certain philosophical conclusions.

    An Objectivist painter, for instance, would not go around painting dollar signs and giving long boring speeches about the symbolic significance of the dollar, etc. Instead, they might portray a man working in a factory or at a desk in a beautiful, bright, sunlit way that left no question that the artist thought this was a wonderful and meaningful activity proper to humans and to human happiness.

    This is immensely hard to do, however, so it seems like we mostly get one or the other. I mean, video game writers aren’t exactly renowned for creating stories of great depth, complexity, and originality anyway, and that’s the sort of artist you need to be if you want to put some heavy philosophy in your work. Most game writers have trouble with simple themes such as the generic struggle between good and evil.

  14. Factoid says:

    Jennifer Snow: The founding fathers of the United States struggled with that very issue when framing our constitution. There were many in the convention who believed that the document should reflect the pie-in-the-sky version of what humanity ought to be, and those who wanted it to reflect the gritty reality of real life. In the end what we ended up with was an elegant (at times) blending of both. It’s reflected over and over again throughout the whole document actually.

    The House of Representatives is a body made up from direct representatives of small (at the time) groups of people who represented the real needs and wants of their constituents. The Senate is a smaller and more deliberative body designed to think on a more national level, but ultimately for the good of an entire state.

    The entire legislative process is one where we start (hopefully) with a concept of what “should be” and end up with a law that addresses reality, hopefully still retaining a bit of the “should”.

    I actually did a whole project on this in an undergrad philosophy class years ago. It was fun trolling through the constitution and breaking it down between the utilitarians and idealists.

  15. @Nova: You could draw parallels between The Matrix and almost any philosophy out there, because almost all philosophies other than Objectivism and perhaps Aristotle endorse some version of the mind/body dichotomy AND the moral/practical dichotomy.

  16. @Factoid: You are correct, but I’m not against enjoining people to be what they should be (far from it!), but against basing your ideas of what people should be on something other than facts, which is what most philosophers indulge in orgiastically. This is precisely what results in such dichotomies as “the moral versus the practical” or “the mind versus the body”.

    Objectivism rejects these viewpoints utterly. To us, the moral IS the practical, because we don’t form any vision of what is moral without first looking at reality.

  17. Magnus says:

    @Jennifer Snow:

    To use your athelete example, surely the athelete should be aware that numbing the pain is not a cure, and there is still inherent risk in running. The athelete has to make the choice between short and long term gains for themself, and cannot just turn around and accuse the physio. There is a duality of responsibility, but it seems that the short terms goals will often be chosen even if the long term goal would provide greater reward. The difference in reward has to be very notable for the long term approach to be taken instead.

  18. MaxOverdrive says:

    what’s wrong with you people, where’s the flames? where’s the degeneration into leet speak? I’m losing faith in forums as the venting place for the degenerates of the internet!..
    Maybe the degenerates are the 50% of internet users who don’t scroll down, or won’t read any article more than a page long. hmmm

  19. DPhantom says:

    I’m not a fan of objectivism, but I never found the game itself to be arguing against it. Ryan never really seemed to be all that attached to his ideals. He set up Rapture as an objectivist society because that philosophy did the most to enhance the position he was already in. When Fontaine started turning the tables against Ryan, Ryan fairly quickly abandoned his ideals in favor of his greed. Again, a lot more about human nature.

  20. Strangeite says:

    Jennifer Snow: “To us, the moral IS the practical, because we don’t form any vision of what is moral without first looking at reality.”

    Lofty goal but the very antithesis of the basis of moral thought for the majority of individuals on the planet. I was actually a Philisophy major in college AND loathed Ayn Rand (which made for very interesting drunken bull sessions with friends).

    I think Hal has said the most interesting thing yet in these comments; “philosophical ideas, distilled down to simple themes, tend to go over well in popular media.”

    Simple yet hints at a truth deeper than observed on first glance.

  21. OEP says:

    @Jennifer Snow.

    There are numerous components that led to the current banking crisis. Blaming just government institutions like Fannie and Freddie is just as over-simplistic and inaccurate as solely blaming “greedy bankers”. There is enough blame to go around.

    And clearly, in this current crisis, there have certainly been enough enough examples of overwhelming greed such as Madoff. To belabor a metaphor, Madoff and his ilk are not athletes running on a numbed ACL. They are the Mafiosi fixing the game, encouraging the athletes, so they can bilk the investors.

  22. It strikes me that there are at least three problematic assumptions there, Ms. Snow. (Um, in your post #10, which was the last one when I started writing this)
    First, there’s a tacit assumption that people are effectively immortal. That is, true selfishness is not necessarily concerned with the long run when “in the long run, we are all dead”.
    Second, there’s an assumption that the future holds relatively little uncertainty. That is, the notion that a truly selfish person will plan for the long term over the short (and therefore will in effect play relatively nicely) assumes that truly long-term planning can be effective, or at least more effective than the successive accumulation of short-term gains. This is questionable, and particularly questionable in a “free market” style economy.

    Third, getting to the more specific question of the banking crisis, there is an assumption that there is somehow an iron curtain between private sector actors such as “bankers” and government, or if there is interaction it is one primarily of government affecting those private actors and not the other way around–government as “coach”, banks as “athlete”. In fact, most government policies relating to financial institutions in our political economy are almost precisely those policies lobbied for by the financial industry. Indeed, most of the relevant government decision makers were previously decision makers in the financial industry, and most of them expect to rejoin the financial industry after their stint in government is done. Given that, it’s a bit much to say “Oh, it’s all the big bad government’s fault–the financial institutions weren’t responsible for anything they did.” They got the environment they asked, and indeed pressured and bribed and subverted democracy, for.

    I might said “They’ve made their bed, now let them lie in it”, except I’ve seen no evidence that any of it could be considered a mistake from the point of view of individual top financiers. The results, while terrible for the economy at large, have had no real negative impacts on the individual top bankers who created the mess. They’re still drawing their salaries and bonuses and tucking away their cuts of the bailouts.

    The lesson here in fact is that in an unfettered environment, fraud and venality work. They work very well. They work so well, in fact, that thinking in the long term in ways that reduce cheating ceases to be an effective selfish option. Consider “Prisoner’s dilemma”. Normally, “tit for tat” is the best strategy over a long series of games. But what happens if you’re only going to play 100 games and the payoff for defecting to a sucker who co-operates, rather than 5, is 10,000? And you happen to know there’s a bunch of “tit for tat” players out there? Successfully defect *just once* and your payoff is far better than any of the “tit for tat” players successfully co-operating 99 times out of 100.

    Deregulation as driven by the financial industry is the process of jacking up the benefits for cheating, so they can make big payoffs that way instead of working for a living.

  23. Danath says:

    Interesting, although I dont agree with his assessment of totalitarian forms of ideology, or Enlightenment, but I’m not here to write an entire article in your comments section, SO! Rights are something created by people for people… you can’t deny them when you didn’t have them in the first place, if you remember how crippled Germany was before Hitler came into power, when you look at the rise of the Nazi party, and people seem to completely EMBRACE grand and certain visions, as long as it resonates with what they themselves want and/or believe.

    Simplistic, doesn’t really get into the meat and bones of the email, but I think I’ll just cut off my train of thought there.

    Also, Dawn of War 2 is fun D:

  24. @Magnus: Of course, and it’s just a metaphor. The reason why the government is the *ultimate* and *fundamental* cause of the situation (as opposed to the many, many proximate and derivative causes) is that it takes a national organization (i.e. the government) to cause a *national* crisis. One or two or three banks might have tried stupid schemes without the government encouragement, “guarantees” and bailouts, but they would have gone under on their own with no one to prop them up and their apparatus would have been bought out and taken over by their competent competitors. As it is, we’re stuck, *by government decree*, with the same crop of incompetent money-burners as the government *takes money away* from productive citizens to give it to people who are essentially throwing it away.

  25. BarGamer says:

    Random comments: The Sword of Truth series were good fantasy, up until the last three books, which were wall-bangers. Faith of the Fallen, particularly, made me question large portions of my Christian faith, for the better, I think.

    PS: Kasumi is HAWT.

  26. Nihil says:

    You didn’t Google hard enough, Shamus.

    http://zealfortruth.org/2008/06/game-review-bioshock-welcome-to-rapture-ready-to-post/

    http://www.feministgamers.com/?p=296

    They’re both quite passionate in their pro- and anti-Objectivism, but put together they make for a fine read.

  27. Magnus says:

    @Jennifer Snow:

    I guess the position I take is that just because such guarantees had been made by the US government, I feel it was not necessary for so many banks to jump on it and run with it. These are supposed to be intelligent people, and yet they couldn’t even see what those in their own banks were doing, let alone rival banking groups.

    I’m in a slightly poor position talking about the US specifically though, as I’m from the UK, and we have a slightly different set of problems, some of which are due to our banks investing in the US sub-prime market. A downside of globalisation I suppose.

    The bailouts are a whole new ball game, which I feel underqualified to talk about, since much of it just rubs me up the wrong way! Couple that with the markets plummeting despite all the government intervention and it begins to look like the sky is falling.

  28. Jos Metadi says:

    Any philosophy that is logically constructed based on reality cannot be disproved using logic and reality.

    I think there probably are logical flaws in objectivism (though I’m not interested enough in it to go hunting for them), but I have yet to see anyone actually point them out. I hear arguments to emotion, arguments to authority, and ad hominem attacks on Rand and her supporters.

    In designing a form of government, it is necessary to make disobeying the social contract cost more than obeying it. Any system that fails to do so will collapse (hence the failure of socialism/communism). Also, any system that requires 100% of it’s citizens to adhere to it’s principles in order to work will collapse (why pacifism will never work).

    I think objectivism as a philosophy has less potential as stable form of government than Christianity, but far more stable than nihilism or humanism.

  29. pakman2000 says:

    This has been a stimulating and quite mature discussion!

    I would add that although I agree Bioshock is not intended as a direct assault on Objectivism (indeed Levine has stated many times that it is an attempt to expose what he sees as dangers in ANY form of idealism), it does position itself to undermine Atlas Shrugged specifically.

    I find Jennifer Snow’s comment that Ayn Rand encouraged non-didactic art quite interesting, as based on my own experience with it, I found Atlas Shrugged to be exactly that. Now, it may be that Rand shifted gears following its publication and changed her style. I have to profess not having much familiarity with her work beyond Atlas.

    The problem I had with Atlas was that the characters rang especially false, and while I could appreciate many of the ideas being put forth (and I am all about humanism and the falsity of mind/body separation) I didn’t think Rand was really playing fair with her detractors. The Objectivists in the novel tended to be painted as saintly, as the only people who understood the world, trapped in an existence populated by buffoons and morons. Every socially/economically liberal character in the book is made to be insufferable and annoying. Now, Rand has every right to have opinions about people, but portraying those who disagree with you in such an inane manner is going to be a failure at effecting mass cultural change. So the book ends up shooting itself in the foot both as a thesis and as a narrative.

    Bioshock, by contrast, is populated with subtly shaded, three-dimensional characters. To be sure, everyone in the story has an agenda, but it’s not always nearly as clear as it may first appear just what that agenda is. Most characters have both flaws and noble traits. I interpreted Rapture not as being populated by only 1% objectivists but as being populated by a majority of objectivists who also happened to be real people (unlike Galt’s Gulch). So one central theme of the work (as I read it) is that if you were to populate Galt’s Gulch with real (if well-intentioned) people, it would fall. This certainly doesn’t have to mean that Objectivism is a bunk philosophy, but it does present a skeptical view of the idealized sort of society envisioned in Rand’s most famous work.

  30. @ Purple Library Guy:

    “It strikes me that there are at least three problematic assumptions there, Ms. Snow.”

    They would indeed seem problematic to me if I didn’t know the context. That’s why I’m here, to answer questions.

    “First, there’s a tacit assumption that people are effectively immortal.”

    No–there’s just the assumption that people generally live longer than just a few weeks. The term “long range” applies in the context of the foreseeable length of human life.

    “That is, true selfishness is not necessarily concerned with the long run when “in the long run, we are all dead”.

    This is true, and a properly selfish person does pay some heed to this fact. It’s just not as important to him as the fact that he’d prefer to hold off that inevitable death for as long as possible–not just for one week or the span of a month-long spree, but for years and years of happy life.

    Second, there’s an assumption that the future holds relatively little uncertainty. That is, the notion that a truly selfish person will plan for the long term over the short (and therefore will in effect play relatively nicely) assumes that truly long-term planning can be effective, or at least more effective than the successive accumulation of short-term gains. This is questionable, and particularly questionable in a “free market” style economy.

    Is it? Well, this is the sort of question that can only be answered by looking at reality. However, I’ll make a short remark that might help indicate to you the direction to go to answer this for yourself: as Ayn Rand says, anyone who believes that we live in an unpredictable universe where disaster can strike at any moment ought to observe the fortunes made by insurance companies.

    The Benevolent Universe premise is a part of Objectivism. Not benevolent in the sense of kindly or well-intentioned, but that the universe is “auspicious to human life” if you take heed of your means of survival (your mind) and use it to your fullest capacity.

    And as for your contention that successive short-term gains are more efficacious than planned long-term gains, tell me, do you know any drug dealers richer than Bill Gates? Do you know any bank robbers wealthier than Donald Trump? No. Living short-term is like playing Russian Roulette. You might be able to get away with it for quite a long time, and even “run out the clock” by dying of something else before the consequences of your irresponsibility catch up with you. That’s not a rational way to live, however.

    “Third, getting to the more specific question of the banking crisis, there is an assumption that there is somehow an iron curtain between private sector actors such as “bankers” and government, or if there is interaction it is one primarily of government affecting those private actors and not the other way around–government as “coach”, banks as “athlete”. In fact, most government policies relating to financial institutions in our political economy are almost precisely those policies lobbied for by the financial industry. Indeed, most of the relevant government decision makers were previously decision makers in the financial industry, and most of them expect to rejoin the financial industry after their stint in government is done. Given that, it’s a bit much to say “Oh, it’s all the big bad government’s fault–the financial institutions weren’t responsible for anything they did.” They got the environment they asked, and indeed pressured and bribed and subverted democracy, for.”

    I know, and it’s quite sad that they’re so stupid, but I didn’t say that the bankers were *necessarily* virtuous just because the government’s behavior in this situation is necessarily NOT virtuous. The *lack* of an iron curtain between economics and politics is precisely what causes this mess–men grow richer not by productive work but by begging political favors from men empowered to deliver them.

    True capitalism, the type that Objectivists advocate, *requires* a separation between economy and state identical to the theoretical separation between church and state, and for the same reasons.

    “I might said “They’ve made their bed, now let them lie in it”, except I’ve seen no evidence that any of it could be considered a mistake from the point of view of individual top financiers. The results, while terrible for the economy at large, have had no real negative impacts on the individual top bankers who created the mess. They’re still drawing their salaries and bonuses and tucking away their cuts of the bailouts.”

    This, also, is a consequence of the nature of the mixed economy–people are insulated from suffering the consequences of their actions. So, of course, their actions are going to be distorted. When proper behavior becomes self-sacrifice, something is indeed wrong in the world.

    “The lesson here in fact is that in an unfettered environment, fraud and venality work.”

    HAH! Goodness, what a bait and switch. That’s not the lesson here at all. The lesson here is that ANY form of government intrusion into the economy is BAD. We don’t have a truly unfettered economy and we have NEVER had one. It amuses me terribly when people say things like this, because it amounts to saying, literally, “This collusion between business and government is bad. So we should have MORE collusion between business and government.” Sick men asking for more of the poison that is killing them.

  31. Incidentally, at the end of the original post, Shamus mentioned “Individual freedom vs. the collective is at the root of every major political argument currently simmering out there”
    IMO this is not entirely true. In fact, it could be argued that it is a focus most strongly felt in the United States and the Anglo world more generally, and also that to the extent that it is a true conflict it is only applicable to the so-called “negative” freedoms. With regard to “positive” freedoms it is quite the reverse–there are a lot of things you either just can’t do without some kind of collective, or which are greatly enabled or enhanced by its existence. So if I want to write symphonies, I suppose I could do it in an atomized society, but it would be kind of pointless. You need an orchestra to play it. And if I’m in an orchestra, sure there are constraints on my playing (when I’m there), but there are compensations–we can make music that I couldn’t make on my own, and it’s arguably uplifting and fun just to be sharing this project with a bunch of other musicians. It wouldn’t be good to be *drafted* into an orchestra, but its *existence* is a good thing.

  32. Tim Skirvin says:

    Yes, they did talk about it. You just didn’t check the Usenet archives.

  33. Ludo says:

    I’ve never even heard of Objectivism. Is there a way to acquire more information in French ?
    I decided to buy Bioshock on Steam, curiosity needs to be sated :)

  34. Snorus says:

    It’s worth noting that Objectivism is irrefutably, demonstratably incorrect.

  35. How ridiculously intelligent this thread is. I guess I better bring it down a notch.

    Personally, I’ve never even heard of Objectivism. I lead a sheltered life in a small mountain town, what can I say? It’s a bit hard to follow the argument going on here, but I do have a few words (likely the result of ignorance.)

    I know lots of people place value on individualism and their self-identity. I’ve never really understood that. Your self-identity is something that you can never share and disappears when you die. It’s only important to YOU, and you’re one in a few billion. You simply don’t matter.

    Is it even possible to be important as an individual? Without Newton, we had Leibnitz. Without Einstein, we had others. It’s hard to argue that even the greatest minds of humanity were ever important. They were each a sign of the times and a personification of the ideas that were already coming to the surface.

    It seems the only impact an individual can have is to contribute to society. The value of your self-identity is ultimately how it fits in with the whole. It doesn’t really matter what ideas or values you’re promoting; if the majority of society likes and also promotes your idea, then it will win. The world is a war of ideas, all fighting for top dog.

    Unfortunately, many of us are caught between many different ideas, stretched from the middle and unable to make a decision. I’m one of those guys.

    I see a lot of value in libertarian ideals, but I also recognize that they only work when people are intelligent and are willing to be responsible for their freedom.

    And I know there’s no chance of that in the real world.

    So what will this all add up to? How will this idea war end? I’ll be dead before then, thank God.

  36. Snorus: I am basically very far opposed to Objectivism, but saying it’s incorrect is still not an argument.

  37. Mr. Venditelli: I see your point, but surely it works in the other direction as well. Can society have a point other than contributing to individuals? What value can it have outside of them?

  38. @Magnus:

    “I guess the position I take is that just because such guarantees had been made by the US government, I feel it was not necessary for so many banks to jump on it and run with it. These are supposed to be intelligent people, and yet they couldn’t even see what those in their own banks were doing, let alone rival banking groups.”

    You’re absolutely right, it wasn’t necessary for so many banks to jump on it and run with it, and many didn’t. John Allison, the CEO of BB&T (he’s an Objectivist, hee) foresaw this and his bank is just dandy. And he was *forced*, by threat of losing his bank’s accredited status, to take bailout money because our so-lovely gov’t didn’t want to “stigmatize” the failing banks. Let’s read that again–THE GOV’T DID NOT WANT CONSUMERS TO HAVE ANY RELIABLE WAY TO KNOW PRECISELY WHICH BANKS WERE FAILING SO THAT THEY COULD INVEST WISELY. Who is bilking whom, here?

    And keep in mind that if a financial institution takes a certain course and forgoes investments that many, many financial experts are claiming loudly are “perfectly safe”, they then have to justify that action to their investors and shareholders. This is not always easy to do and many CEO’s aren’t interested in going to war in this fashion when they’ve got so much other work to do.

    Oh, and let’s not forget the Community Reinvestment Act, greatly expanded under the Clinton administration to give “community” pressure groups such as ACORN leverage to *demand* loans (again, at the risk of losing accredited status) from banks in the name of preventing “redlining”. A lot of banks expected that they’d have to write off those loans (and they did), they just accepted this with weary resignation as part of “the price of doing business”.

    As Ayn Rand said in Atlas Shrugged: “And there arose a situation that no one cared to examine too closely or to discuss.”

  39. TuringAI says:

    It’s also worth noting that pi is irrefutably, demonstratably exactly 3. And I won’t argue the details because that’s exactly what you “pi is not 3″ers want!

  40. @Purple Library Guy in 31:

    It is true, because you’re dropping the context. A group, will ye, nil ye, is not a “collective”. A collective, in political terms, is a group established *by force* which enforces its edicts on the members *by force* and which the members are expected to serve above, beyond, and *instead of* their own interests or needs.

    Voluntary associations (like an orchestra or a rational country) are a part of individualist society, and the men who partake of them join of their own free will, observe the rules of the association of their own free will, and leave of their own free will. It’s a very significant difference.

  41. Oh, TuringAI, don’t dignify that with a response! Sheesh. :D

  42. John R says:

    Well, I might be the first to point this out which amazes me:

    As much as I’m not a fan of those cheap anagram/letter games for getting meaning (and thought that they were bollocks in the Da Vinci Code), Andrew Ryan is kinda fun – yoink the R off Ryan and add it to Andrew, you get the first four letters “Rand”, and the remaining “yan” from Ryan anagrams to Ayn…

    :D CONSPIRACY THEORIES AHOY!

  43. Magnus says:

    @Jennifer Snow:

    Yes, thats a very good point (I have almost no knowledge of the community reinvestment act! All I heard was Clinton “made it easier for poorer people to buy a home”). The government supports the banks, the banks support the government, and the people have little to no say. There are many people, and I am one of them, that feel utterly powerless in this crisis, I caused little or none of it, but I will pay for it, and I will have to live through it, and the consequences down the line.

    As Ayn Rand said in Atlas Shrugged: “And there arose a situation that no one cared to examine too closely or to discuss.”

    I think that it was even worse than this, if you discussed the economy in a negative light, or cast doubt upon its robustness you are “talking down the economy”.

    If something so large is so fragile that a few harsh words can make it crumble, something is terribly wrong.

    It seems we live in interesting times. If this is indeed as bad as the twenties/thirties, then we have a lot more to worry about.

  44. @Purple Library Guy:

    Mike is just fine. >.>

    It’s true, society elevates our own intelligence and heightens further contributions. Consider how much we’ve advanced each as individuals just because of our access to technology and the improvement of the art and culture around us.

    I mean, it makes sense. A self-identity is purely a collection of memories. If the memories are based on an advanced society, then we ourselves are advanced. It’s a two-way street and that’s a good thing.

    This whole discussion is moot anyway. Decades from now, organic and synthetic intelligence shall subsist upon one another. We will all be brethren of one mind, of one network. Hurray for the future! :P

  45. naa says:

    >Individual freedom vs. the collective is at the root of every major political argument currently simmering out there, and a free-for-all thread is likely to have us swimming in magma before we know it.

    That’s an ethnocentric statement. The moral of the empowered one is the only one he sees, but there are cultures over there who don’t give a shit about “individual freedom vs. the collective”. That makes a few billions people.

    >I could see it coming, all the clues were boldy displayed, and yet I could do nothing about it, and instead of feeling like that was the intention, it just felt as though I was being forced along a path with no other options. There wasn’t even the illusion of choice.

    Well, in such a situation, my character choose to do something that the game doesnt allow which translates into me stopping to play the game.
    I remember never entering baldur’s gates.

    • Shamus says:

      naa: Excuse me for making an ethnocentric statement on my English-speaking blog about tabletop games. I had no idea this site was so popular among all those billions of people.

      Sheesh.

  46. @Ludo: According to the Ayn Rand Institute “Translations” page (http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ayn_rand_works_translations) there are translations of Anthem, The Fountainhead, and The Virtue of Selfishness available on French Amazon.com, so I’d go there first. I really recommend reading them in English if you can hack it, though (possibly AFTER reading them in French).

  47. @naa: “ethnocentric?”

    The reason why most of the world’s population is perishing in poverty is precisely because they don’t even grasp that there is such a thing as a conflict between the individual and the collective. How is it “ethnocentric” to wish to save civilization so that even primitives may some day enjoy the same privileges and prosperity? Are you saying that BECAUSE of their ethnicity, these people DESERVE to exist permanently in a state of primordial savagery and that civilized peoples should damn well make sure that they stay there?

    If there is a naked essence of evil, then that is it.

  48. Hey, everybody, I’m having a grand time here (and I hope you are too! Lots of very good and insightful comments!) but I have to go to work. I’ll check the comments when I get home around 7pm EST and try to make as many replies as I can.

    Ciao!

  49. Zel says:

    @32 Ludo: I’m not surprised you never heard about it, Objectivism is not very well known in France. In the US, its influence seems much greater. According to Wikipedia, the Congress Library cited the book as the second most influential after the Bible. During my studies, I had courses (University level) on philosophy, politics and epistemology, yet never heard of it either. Is Objectivism generally taught in school in the USA ? If it is, at what level ?

    As such, I think the whole philosophical implications of Bioshock’s plot just went over my head, and I was left with a story about obvious manipulations (lots of) and selfishness, both of which are not very enjoyable things to endure. Who knows, it may be the reason why I didn’t enjoy it, although I have to say games I played that try to convey philosophy have always failed (Xenosaga with Nietsche, just … no).

  50. Namfoodle says:

    So there was a guy on the Escapist boards trying to use Objectivism as a justification for pirating computer games.

    I’ve never bothered to register there, so I couldn’t call shenaningans on him.

  51. Brandon says:

    I am not steeped in philosophy, but rather psychology. Psychology tells us that the more information/stress/activities/whatever a person has to manage, the less forward-looking they will be. The less someone has to juggle the more capable they are of being forward looking. It doesn’t mean they will be, but it does mean they are more capable. This is an important consideration. There’s more than philosophy and culture at stake here. There’s the very core operation of our bodies and brains.

    Our bodies are designed for survival, part of the reason we have trouble losing weight. You lost about, like, 10% of your body fat and your muscles get 40% more energy efficient (this according to the latest Popular Science). That’s just one example, but our physiology and brain chemistry are often against us in our endeavors to plan ahead. Sure, culture CAN overcome biology in interesting ways, but the amount of biology we have to overcome to achieve true “rational”, long-term sight and goals is overwhelming and we may go extinct before we finally achieve it.

  52. wumpus says:

    Howdy,

    Jennifer Snow wrote:

    True capitalism, the type that Objectivists advocate, *requires* a separation between economy and state identical to the theoretical separation between church and state, and for the same reasons.

    I don’t see how this is even vaguely possible, nor can I think of any government (current or historical) that has taken this approach. If you could give an example of this type of government, it’d help my understanding.

    Without such an example I’m guessing the idea is to create an extreme libertarian ‘government’ which is empowered only to act to prevent the initiation of force or fraud? How is this government to be paid for without affecting the economy? How can you define fraud without effectively creating regulations? Would this government be functionally different in practice than that of, say, Somalia?

    Wonderin’,
    Alex

  53. Greebo says:

    @Purple in 52. If you are asking “Wouldn’t it be” of Namfoodle in 51, absolutely not. (Edit to correct name, sorry!)

    Piracy is theft of intellectual property. Objectivists are adamant supporters of property rights, including the right to intellectual property. We must be, if we are to be capitalists.

    If you are addressing some other post, you should specify that in your responses.

  54. Jos says:

    I think the main message of Bioshock is that any philosophy that is reliant on people not being bastards is doomed to failure. Perhaps there are ways of ‘perfecting’ human beings – if only someone could come up with a definition of ‘perfect’ that everybody could agree to – but I don’t think it’ll be achieved by thrusting the current human population into a situation where they have to be perfect.

    Anyways…

    I’ve always wondered how Objectivism proposes to deal with the mentally challenged or the chronically ill. No matter how heroic a being man might eventually become, I have a hard time accepting that certain wires will never again be crossed and that nobody will ever again be born with an extra chromosome.

    Since an Objectivist government is, according to Wikipedia, only allowed to support the police, the military and the courts (which it pays for… how?), I take it care of the less fortunate in society would have to be arranged by charities?

    And if so, how would these charities be capable of taking care of everyone? Where would their funds come from? For that matter, where would their employees come from?

  55. wumpus says:

    Howdy,

    And another question for Jennifer Snow:

    When proper behavior becomes self-sacrifice, something is indeed wrong in the world.

    This statement made my head hurt. Is proper Objectivist behavior self-indulgence, then? It seems to me that any functioning society (group, organization) needs to balance the two things. And I think Christ (among others) had something to say about this subject…

    Alex

  56. Greebo says:

    @Wumpus in 54

    The US Government is as close as any has gotten, but the Commerce Clause undermines the separation of Government and Economy.

    One needs rule of law to protect individual rights. One doesn’t need regulation. Fraud is a form of force, and is criminal, just as assault and theft are forms of force.

    As to the broad specifics of paying for Government actions, assuming a culture dominated by reason, just as public figures willingly pay for protection by body guards, rational people would willingly pay to support Government in its duty to protect their own liberty. Being limited in their role, the cost of Government would be substantially less, as well.

    A society unwilling to pay for its own defense would die a quick death, after all.

  57. Greebo says:

    @Jos: You assume that Government is required to care for the needy. Strong arguments exist that dependence upon Government has only expanded the roles of the needy, not empowered them.

    @Wumpus in 57: No, self indulgence is whim worship. Rational self interest is not the same as self indulgence. Objectivists believe that there is a rational foundation for moral behavior, and whim worshiping is not included in that set of behaviors.

  58. John F. Schmidley says:

    @Brandon

    I think you would find the Objectivist theory of Concepts (Or, really, the entire Objectivist Epistemology) to be more your forte than simple moral talk.

    While I’m no specialist, I believe the Objectivist position is that man can never really “overload” on information, as long as they follow the proper epistemological processes. For instance, instead of individually tracking every human being we ever have seen in our mind individually, we dump them into a single, much more simple concept of “man,” as defined by the specific attributes of human beings. Then, when we need to get more specific, we simply focus on one aspect of that concept, in this case, a specific human being. In this way, we are able to compress information that would otherwise drive us crazy.

  59. wumpus says:

    Howdy,

    I don’t find the ‘the government caused the current financial crisis via Fannie & Freddie & the CRA’ explanations at all persuasive (though I do recognize them as Republican talking points). If the problem was loan guarantees, why are banks failing? Their loans are guaranteed – it should be the guaranteeing organization that fails.

    The explanation that made the most sense to me was the one outlined on This American Life, which ran:

    1) Making some basic assumptions about the housing market, mortgages are a really good investment.

    2) This investment can be made available not just to individual banks, but, by repackaging them, to the wider market (mortgage backed securities).

    3) Wow! Demand sure is high – how can we get together more of these things… Hmmm… We’ll relax lending standards and stop verifying THE VERY FACTS THAT WE BASED THE ASSUMPTIONS IN STEP 1 on, artificially pushing up housing prices while way over-extending credit. I don’t see how anything could go wrong here…

    Mix in some level of fraud on the part of almost every actor in the circuit, and huge payoffs (many to people who have since left the market), and, well, looks like greed wins in the short term, which is pretty much the story of (un- or poorly-regulated) capitalism.

    Additionally, there seem to have been at least a few other markets (credit default swaps, other bond and insurance markets nobody really seems to understand) that had similar trajectories, all, it seems, due to the easy availability of credit and the lack of regulation (which the industries in question demanded and got). And when the first card in the house slipped and fell, well, the whole thing came tumbling down.

    It was painfully obvious to anyone paying attention (to the housing stuff, at least), that the market was unsustainable. (Seriously – how long had people been calling it a ‘bubble’?) But there was a lack of political will (on the part of the Bush administration, mainly) to do anything about it. Heck, they moved all the FBI agents responsible for investigating this stuff over to our ‘real’ fight: terrorism. Anyway, I don’t think any reputable economist is advocating less regulation as a solution.

    Alex

  60. Ms Snow (re. #40)
    Point taken about voluntary vs. enforced. An orchestra is not (normally) truly a collective. Although your definition is problematic as well; it seems to leave out an awful lot of possible cases which normal people *would* want to define as a collective. It is if anything a caricature of the nature of most collectives–even of totalitarian ones, let alone more normal ones. Take for instance a democratic nation-state. Such a thing *could* be established by force–the US was–but need not have been. Canada as a political entity, for instance, was established without any wars through a combination of legislative action by elected representatives internally with negotiations externally.
    And such a state generally *does* “enforce its edicts on the members *by force*”–but there are two important caveats. One is that members can leave if they don’t like it, and when things get bad in a nation-state many people do leave. The other is that to the extent that the state is actually democratic (often not very in modern practice, to be sure) that enforcement is due to laws and institutions that the members wanted. This in turn brings up the question–if you have a group of people, and they want to enforce some norms in the group, what is the ethical nature of trying to force them *not* to do so?

    Finally, “and which the members are expected to serve above, beyond, and *instead of* their own interests or needs” is a caricature pure and simple. What I mentioned to Mr. Venditelli *should* be the case, that the point of society is to contribute to individuals, to a fair extent actually *is* both the theory underpinning most actually existing “collectives” and the actual results of their operations–except to the extent that they get successfully hijacked by powerful, selfish individuals. So for instance, in the US there is an explicit devotion to the “pursuit of happiness” as one of the bases of its existence as a collective.

    That brings us down to the more factual question, *why* would anyone *want* to limit their own freedom by allowing the collective to enforce certain behaviour? Objectivism, if I understand you correctly, puts all of this amazingly widespread and longstanding pattern of human activity down to “whim”. Objectivism posits that true selfishness leads to the kind of behaviour that builds societies rather than detracting from them, in the absence of any coerced limits to behaviour. Taking that as a given, if people were *truly* selfish, and *truly* understood what courses of action got them the most goodies in the long term, they would build rather than destroying.

    The problem with that is, the given simply isn’t true–as I pointed out in my post 22. I don’t consider your response to have refuted it particularly. The fact is that both externalities and free-rider effects are very real, and as to short-termism your reference to Bill Gates is self-refuting. I have read a fair amount about the career of Bill Gates, and in doing so two things have stood out. One is that in fact, his career was built largely on clever, ruthless decisions that were decidedly short-term oriented. These decisions led to significant problems for Microsoft in the longer term, but not enough to counterbalance the increased money and market control they gave Microsoft in the short term. Second, that the dominance of Microsoft has actually damaged the general state of computing in the world, partly because of those short term decisions and partly because of successful selfishness devoted to undermining things like neutral standards.
    Related to this is your concept of private enterprise run by selfish individuals, and state, completely separated, with neither able to influence the other. But the situation I described in which the financial institutions strongly influence the state didn’t happen by accident. It’s not that we happen to exist in one possible world where it was like this, where in lots of others that’s not what went on. Any kind of government if it exists at all has resources and some power. Any selfish individual running a private enterprise has an interest in taking those resources and making that power work for him. This is not because the individual is stupid or misreads his interests; the interest is quite genuine. As I pointed out, it is continuing to pay off for the individuals involved even though society is paying a huge price. Therefore, any society in which separation between state and private enterprise is established, but the state has no enforcement powers vis-a-vis private enterprise, will find that situation doesn’t last long at all. Inevitably, the individuals running the private enterprises will use their power to undermine the separation so they can get their hands on the governmental goodies, whether indirectly by buying legislation, or directly a la Halliburton. For them to do otherwise would go against their interests.

    I saw a summary of the role of government regulation once upon a time.
    “Competition in horse breeding is good. Competition in horse stealing is bad. If competition in horse stealing is not stopped, competition in horse breeding is doomed.”

    Ms. Snow, you would have me believe that rational, selfish actors would choose horse breeding over horse stealing in the absence of any coercion forcing that choice. It isn’t true. Horse stealing really is individually profitable on the human time scale, even if it does destroy things given a wider horizon. Externalities and free-rider effects [b]are real[/b].

  61. Pickly says:

    Well at least I now understand somewhat better the rabid internet libertarians on some forums I used to post on.

    HAH! Goodness, what a bait and switch. That’s not the lesson here at all. The lesson here is that ANY form of government intrusion into the economy is BAD. We don’t have a truly unfettered economy and we have NEVER had one. It amuses me terribly when people say things like this, because it amounts to saying, literally, “This collusion between business and government is bad. So we should have MORE collusion between business and government.” Sick men asking for more of the poison that is killing them.

    It’s easy to point to the bank bailouts, or other business type issues and say “obviously the government screwed up, therefore government is bad.” It ignores, though a, lot of functions governments do perform in society that have proven quite useful over time (more organized societies tend to have less murder than less organized ones, property, census data, etc. is easier to maintain in large groups of people with a central organized society, a lot of technology has been developed by government related policies that would have been quite difficult to get started otherwise.) All of these activities influence economics, and in order to get money to carry out functions, governments must interfere in the economy.

    In order to tell, for example, whether certain types of government involvement actually are a good idea or not, you’d need to have some alternative for comparison. Simply pointing to something that went wrong isn’t enough, as one example does not show whether something else would have gone wrong had a different decision been made.

    You’re absolutely right, it wasn’t necessary for so many banks to jump on it and run with it, and many didn’t…

    And keep in mind that if a financial institution takes a certain course and forgoes investments that many, many financial experts are claiming loudly are “perfectly safe”, they then have to justify that action to their investors and shareholders. This is not always easy to do and many CEO’s aren’t interested in going to war in this fashion when they’ve got so much other work to do.

    The second paragraph is a problem with how incentives are set up within businesses, not directly a government problem. (It probably does involve indirect government issues, but as said above people would need to have examples of different sort of lawmaking to know for sure whether those decisions were bad ones or not.)

    Oh, and let’s not forget the Community Reinvestment Act, greatly expanded under the Clinton administration to give “community” pressure groups such as ACORN leverage to *demand* loans (again, at the risk of losing accredited status) from banks in the name of preventing “redlining”. A lot of banks expected that they’d have to write off those loans (and they did), they just accepted this with weary resignation as part of “the price of doing business”.

    I’ve heard a number of arguments from different points of view related to the community reinvestment act, and what really would be useful for having an opinion on it is the actual amount of mortages made under the act, the default rates, and other numbers for how they effected the banks.

    Is it? Well, this is the sort of question that can only be answered by looking at reality. However, I’ll make a short remark that might help indicate to you the direction to go to answer this for yourself: as Ayn Rand says, anyone who believes that we live in an unpredictable universe where disaster can strike at any moment ought to observe the fortunes made by insurance companies.

    Insurance companies handle certain types of risks that can be statistically averaged, so over a large group of people, they can be more predictably profitable. For individual people, though, the events still have a lot of randomness remaining.

    In addition, a lot of the big society events are not predictable, simply from lack of information. there is still quite a lot of incomplete information, though, that makes making long term decisions quite foggy. (Technology development is full of unintended consequences, for example.)

    This, also, is a consequence of the nature of the mixed economy–people are insulated from suffering the consequences of their actions. So, of course, their actions are going to be distorted. When proper behavior becomes self-sacrifice, something is indeed wrong in the world.

    For some non-“mixed economy” examples:

    Someone’s playing their music too loud next door. I can ask them to stop, but unless they have an individual need to be seen as nice people, or unless I have some method (either socially, or some other way) of causing problems for them, they have no reason to turn the music down.

    When making agreements with people, I could be honest with them, but in terms of pure personal advantage there is no reason to unless they have some way of punishing me if they find out.

    On an internet forum, I could be a pain in the rear if I so wanted. the other forum members may not like it, but unless they have someone running the forum willing to kick me off or cause other problems, there is nothing they can do about it.

    In all of these examples, unless some outside source intervenes, or most people agree to make some “self sacrifice” in some way, there aren’t really any consequences that can encourage people to stop doing things.

    (I do have more quotes to respond to, but this has taken about 40 minutes to write or so.)

  62. @Purple Library Guy

    I don’t know if this is what you meant, but it’s the lesson I take away from your giant post:

    Life is a lot like roleplaying. You get a few players that are really interested in the experience itself, with the rules of play taking a backseat. Then you get the lawyers and munchkins that are just out to take advantage of the system’s loopholes. They care less about the flow of the game and are far more interested in taking what they can get away with. They push as far as it will go and drive the GM governing completely insane.

    What’s a GM to do?

    EDIT: Pickly says it much better. Some people are just gonna mess with everyone, regardless of idealogy. Without an external force to put pressure on them, they’ll pretty much do whatever they want, regardless of the rest of us.

    As for the horse stealing analogy. You could always bring up the act of piracy… but that would be throwing coals on the embers of this thread.

  63. Jos says:

    @59
    Government – or government-funded institutions – may indeed not be the ideal caretakers of the insane. The family probably isn’t either, unless there happen to be a few members with degrees in whatever is applicable.

    So I will assume that in Objectivist utopia, it’ll have to be a non-profit, non-government organisation.

    Which will be funded… how?

    Well, unless Objectivism actually argues that mental and/or intensive healthcare should be for profit. In which case, how would that work?

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3 Trackbacks

  1. By Objectivism? « Gamer Granola on March 6, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    […] Objectivism? Posted on 6 March 2009 by bobisimo I played through the demo of BioShock but didn’t feel grabbed. Normally I might have given it more of a chance but I have too many other games for which I am excited to play. Another time, perhaps. For now, though, I’m enjoying a discussion that popped up that delves into Objectivism and Ayn Rand and how they relate to BioShock. [shamusyoung.com] […]

  2. By Gamer Granola » Blog Archive » Objectivism? on April 27, 2010 at 12:35 am

    […] I played through the demo of BioShock but didn’t feel grabbed. Normally I might have given it more of a chance but I have too many other games for which I am excited to play. Another time, perhaps. For now, though, I’m enjoying a discussion that popped up that delves into Objectivism and Ayn Rand and how they relate to BioShock. [shamusyoung.com] […]

  3. By BioShock | Ludonarratology on August 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    […] was not universal, however. Shamus Young interviewed an Objectivist on the subject, who argued that BioShock really aims its criticisms at the idea of philosophical certainty. In his very interesting Marxist critique, Richard Terrell lays out a case that the game […]

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