Saturday, May 31, 2014

Guest post: Ayn Rand

I wrote because I've read you've an interest in Ayn Rand; I found this quote from her early private journals, which I thought might interest you:

"Some day I’ll find out whether I’m an unusual specimen of humanity in that my instincts and reason are so inseparably one, with the reason ruling the instincts. Am I unusual or merely normal and healthy? Am I trying to impose my own peculiarities as a philosophical system? Am I unusually intelligent or merely unusually honest? I think this last. Unless—honesty is also a form of superior intelligence."

This was written in 1934, prior to the publication of her novels, and representative of her less respectable "Nietzschean period" characterized by an overt sense of superiority over the human majority. I'm currently reading Anne C. Heller's biography Ayn Rand and the World She Made with a desire to understand Rand's psychology in light of neurodiversity. Rand is clearly a narcissist, and while too affective and inflexible for a perfect psychopath herself, she shows more than a few sociopathic tendencies as well as a consistent admiration for selective psychopathic qualities.

In relation to the above quote, I'm not at all sure that her mature universalism correctly resolved the question of her relation to the rest of her species. I wonder if her intelligence, low empathy, ambitious drive, social distance, public charisma, manipulative dominance, and purely intellectual conscience place her somewhere towards the extremes of the antisocial spectrum. This is certainly not a new idea for her detractors. I can't help but calculate that if 1% (or 4%) or Americans qualify as sociopaths, then Ayn Rand must surely have been more sociopathic by degree than 99% of any population.


  1. Rand's relation to sociopathy, in the opinion of her detractors:

  2. Ayn Rand DID have a God complex and she was a cult leader
    as well. She ruled with an iron fist, and used her intellect as a
    battering ram. She was an atheist as well. Anyone who escaped
    her influence felt like they were emerging from a dungeon into
    the sunshine.

  3. It's official now. Just about anyone with a lick of success and an ego for it, has been labelled a sociopath by M.E. Thomas.

  4. If one thinks Ayn Rand is a sociopath, I would be inclined to think that person is the sociopath.

  5. For the record, I happened to write the above guest post. I am honored if M.E. Thomas considers my words worth the risk of association with her reputation, but the responsibility for this conjecture is solely mine. As it happens, I did not say that I consider Rand to have been "a sociopath" (and after much exploration I am not entirely certain that sociopathy exists as a discrete human category). My claim is that Ayn Rand was a narcissist with some sociopathic characteristics, an explicit admirer of selective psychopathic human character traits, and to the extreme end of a distribution of many sociopathic traits in a human population.

    I stand by these claims and am prepared to argue them with reason, if anyone else is prepared to exchange opinion in this currency. Rand's narcissism, in particular, is a conscious central theme of Anne Heller's biography, which is subtitled "and the world she made" in reference to her tendency to displace human social reality with the idealized, self-justificatory world of her own imagination. Please do your research.

    And, as should be clear, I do not consider the term "sociopath" a pejorative, as applied to Rand or to myself. This seems a rather strange internet venue to use it as such.

    1. Someone who wants to reason about facts, following the logic to whatever conclusions they lead to, however uncomfortable? You are probably a bit lonely. I hope however, that you are happy, relaxed and wise.

      Thanks for your nice post. If it is any consolation - not that you need it - I can't see any holes in your logic. Although I'm a sociopath/psychopath, I couldn't get upset about Rand or agree with her, because reasoning about morals (as opposed to reality) doesn't grip my attention. So I don't see a reason to condemn Rand, nor do I see a reason to condemn people that are charitable.

    2. I was actually reading something about this the other day. I can't seem to find the link, but it had several statements from other people about what a warm and caring person she was. That's not dispositive, of course, but it was interesting. If I can find it, I will post the link.

    3. Empathy is the result of a specific neural network. Rand did not have those neurons. Her corpse can easily be analyzed for that because her bone morrow would still have readable DNA. Furthermore, we could tell if she was a psychopath (they neednt be out of control maniacs to be a psychopath)

  6. Ayn Rand, from what I know of her, was a complex human being. She might have admired the sociopathic traits that affirm individualism. Collectivism at its worst can indeed reduce a society to its lowest common denominator. Individualism at its worst denies any mentoring, cooperation or trust between individuals. Both can spell the demise of a society.
    The following quote from her indicates in my opinion (assuming she applied her philosophy to herself) that she was not a sociopath. The sociopath has a fluid sense of self and of reality as it applies to others. Lying is second nature to a sociopath. They adapt to the environment and to the moment. I interpret the quote as saying that over time, a liar becomes a prisoner of his lies, because they create a reality catered to the recipient of the lie, and that Ayn Rand will not allow herself to be such.

    "People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked…The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on…There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all."


    1. Yes, that passage is one of Rearden's reflections towards the end of Atlas Shrugged. Rand's focus on integrity and honesty as primary virtues are indeed one of the reasons I would distinguish her character and ethical teaching from sociopathy.

      Nevertheless, it's worth looking at the *reasons* Rand denounces dishonesty—as a consistent egoist, entirely in relation the effects of the potential liar—and, more specifically on the grounds that a liar *loses a power struggle* to the lied. The target of the lie, whom any conventional ethics would consider the victim and relevant moral patient, doesn't even appear in the analysis, except as a prop to the self-interested individual contemplating the merits of deceit. This goes beyond egoism—there's no reason a self-interested case against lying couldn't *mention* another person's dignity or feelings. It's closer to inexperience of the other as a moral person. The conclusion may not be classically sociopathic, but the implicit focus reveals an absence of empathy which should seem curious compared to the human average. And this absence does consistently characterize Rand, in theory, fiction and in practice, and from childhood. This is a mind who feels less emotional presence from other people than does the typical person, by an order of magnitude.

      As for Rand's application of philosophy to life, I think she both lived her philosophy intensely and was quite capable of lying to herself and to others—she was, indeed, a complex human being. Heller's biography demonstrates that she was capable of deception (for instance, she concealed her Jewish ethnicity for several decades), mostly in relatively normal ways which appear problematic only in light of the demanding moralism which the mature Rand erected in philosophical defense of her own unbounded selfishness.

      I personally find her *self*-deception more interesting. Heller calls attention to her continual fictionalization of her life, “improving” her genuinely impressive life-narrative into a flawless epic of romantic self-creation. One rather cruel result was Rand's ability to “edit out” the memory of people who no longer pleased her—and she clearly shows a tendency to believe her own revisions, creating a self-image scoured of friends, benefactors, and influences. This is narcissistic self-deception, ironically blameworthy in her own ethics precisely on the grounds of the psychological effect lying did indeed inflict upon her. Heller's story is the tragedy of a woman who in time became a prisoner of her own illusions, who found fictional creations more real than the people around her, and who could rarely connect with or care for others.

      I have no doubt Rand was a narcissist. Her early mind is gleefully arrogant and amoral and bespeaks the kind of healthy, stable narcissism which is also typical of a sociopath, and feels like a natural expression more than a reaction. Her later years, where she has congealed into a rigid identity and domineering morality, feel more like the insecure and self-destructive psychology of a narcissist proper. Here my heavy suspicion is that there exists more of a spectrum to antisociality and its development than the organized psychiatric profession presently admits.

    2. I don't believe rand openly divulged the fact that her idea was constructed for the purpose of killing certain kinds of people (those who she would label as "parasites").


  8. Could anyone answer this question? Does conduct disorder
    ALWAYS proceed sociopathy?
    Could a person have a "normal" childhood and develop into a
    sociopath at the age 19? Or, would they display sociopathic traits
    long before then?
    Histronic Personality Disorder has many simularities to sociopathy,
    but sympathems first occur at age 20. So I was wondering must a
    person display conduct disorder prior to the age of 20 to be a
    true sociopath?

    1. very, very unlikely. Besides conduct disorder the second marker is the "callous unemotional" set of traits- without this even a child with conduct disorder is unlikely to develop into a full blown sociopath. Antisocial behavior is certainly possible, but it's more because of environmental causes. A true sociopath has a strong genetic basis for their behavior.

    2. I was playing with a random stranger today that irritated me.

      It was related to a parking space. I parked within the lines, but so close to his car that he couldn't enter his car comfortably. I did it on purpose, gleefully anticipating whatever displeasure it would bring to my neighbor.

      As it happened, the guy appeared just as I was getting out of my car.

      He demanded I move my car. I pointed out that I was within the lines. He called me names and so on. At one point I told him I was afraid of him and would call the cops. It wasn't true - I wasn't afraid of him. I was just doing it to ratchet things up, and respond to his exclamations.

      In the end I thought the better of it. I felt I'd made a mistake. So I apologized to him, admitted I was wrong and it was all my fault. I offered to buy him lunch. I felt a little remorse, and that was enough for me to turn on a dime and cave completely.

      He said it was enough that I'd said I was sorry, that he'd overreacted and that he had a traumatic brain injury.

      It occurred to me that I was an even bigger asshole. He probably got his brain fucked up in Iraq or Afghanistan trying to help keep us safe. I was just born a dick.

      I explained that since I was a kid I had a terrible sense of humor. It occurred to me that I was lying - a more complete thing would be to say, "I'm a callous/unemotional with sadistic and anti-social tendencies," but you don't say that, so I didn't. I did tell him that I'd try to be nicer to other people, which is true. It is simply lazy to go around being a maximally irritating dick to people.

      He actually seemed to give a shit about not damaging my car as he got into it, which seemed pointless and a bit tragic. I'd gone out of my way to fuck with him and he was being nice. So I explained to him that the car isn't worth anything (I've dented the hell out of it with my carelessness) and that he didn't have to be careful.

    3. This sounds like an Eric story. I like it. Kept me entertained before shut eye.

    4. I would have looked you like you were retarded and left it at that

  9. M.E. aren't you way to creative to be a sociopath? Your very fascinating, but I really think your just a cold hearted bitch that thinks too much. I can't imagime sociopaths being this introspective, I just really don't. Your a narcissistic mastermind type but not nearly deranged enough to be a sociopath. With your intelligence you would have been stinkin' ritch if you really wouldn't give a shit.

  10. Ayn Rand is almost the protypical psychopath, she expounds honestly the reasoning of the psychopath so well that her illucid ramblings and moral logiism provides an invaluable insight iinto the minds of all who profound her shortsighted atack on her own species a somehow in any way redeemable.
    A stone cold psychopath who wrote a guide book of self rationalisation whose overall theme is the same as satanism.
    do what though wilt, fuck the consequences.
    her books will be viewed by history with as much distaste as mein kampf.


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