Why Individualism is not Selfish: Refuting critics of Ayn Rand with the work of Joseph Campbell

Watching the below segment of The Daily Show featuring a question intended to be sarcastic regarding Ayn Rand it came to my mind that its time to make a legitimate argument against the general sentiment of today’s average political centralist, and Democrat. The segment attacked Ayn Rand’s philosophy in favor of self-interest over altruism by placing candidates running for president currently in alignment with the work of the controversial writer as a way to indirectly associate them as representatives of meanness. Politics in 2015 have been moved so far to the political left after over 100 years in argument in favor of altruism and collectivism, that today’s centralist would have been considered a radical left-winger in yesterday’s world—the world where America produced the Greatest Generation. So it is clearly time to re-evaluate the situation as Ayn Rand’s work was created on the heels of the greatest generation as the radical communists and extreme leftists were making themselves known—which today is the new standard. People are so confused as to what the proper behavior is for their society, that they no longer know what is up, down, left or right. They only react to the feelings and temperament of contemporary society shaped by years of chaos and wrecked philosophy.

The biggest attack against Ayn Rand is her philosophy which features a priority on self-interest. For generations of people raised within strict religious leanings featuring altruism as a sign of goodness, and a political system built on wealth-redistribution backing their inner mentality shaped by those same religious motivations the question has failed to be asked or answered as to whether or not we should help the poor and destitute. The comment was simply made that we should because it’s good—but good was never properly defined—so a valueless assumption was required to accept the proclamation which then constitutes the typical Democratic voting behavior. There should have been a sought after proven answer framing the cause of what makes people poor to begin with. But there wasn’t, only a kind of primitive belief similar to the tribes of yesteryear who believed that a rain dance would bring rain to their dried up crops. What factors make an individual poor? That is a question that deserves an answer such as why won’t my car start? Well, for the car, it might be a low battery, a bad starter, the car may be out of gas—those types of things. But in essence it makes logical sense—there is a cause and an effect. However, for the poor person, there is no attempt to designate a cause because the assumption is based on faith that some mythical gods have granted advantages to some while denying opportunity to others. While this was true in Medieval Europe, America was an invention to out-grow those limitations driven by philosophy which challenged the previous vantage point of victim hood.

The rest of the world largely driven by philosophies of collectivism, as they had been for millennia the last several thousand years worshipping kings and gods putting the sanctity of their nationality before their individual rights have set the stage for our current dilemmas in politics. America formed with an emphasis on individuality and rights as opposed to sacrifice. The economical means of this nation was capitalism—driven by individual need and desire. In America money was created not dispatched to the population through a top down hierarchy from kings and a ruling class. The rest of planet earth functioned from classic collectivism whereas America was experimenting with a practice specific to individual value using money as a measurement of productive enterprise. In Europe, Russia, Africa and the rest of Asia the general philosophy of those regions is that things happen to you due to an ancient belief that some god was in charge and that people were just along for the ride through life. In America, even though it was formed by religious men, they sought to run their nation by rational decisions conducted by men for the higher moral purpose of goodness—and that goodness eventually benefited God. The economical means to measure that goodness was money—because it was the only way to guarantee that good products purchased by individual self-interest would bring to the surface the best and brightest of our society. Capitalism couldn’t prevent people from wanting to cheat and take short cuts to wealth, but generally, a free society is able to reject the services of an organization they deem unworthy—and could vote with their dollars.

Trickle down economics such as what works best in America takes into account that not all people work hard, or are creative, but those who do and are—create opportunities for everyone. Those who take the most risk and have the most skin in the game generally make the most money as opposed to those most highly connected to the political structure of a ruling class. Over time, Washington D.C. has elected themselves the type of power that the ruling classes of Europe still enjoy—and have always benefited from. But those politicians do not represent the essence of America—or the philosophy which emerged from the rapid benefits which exploded from capitalism’s American experiment. That is the reason for the current issues of political corruption and the cries of the people for European style socialism, and communism. Under this corruption, communism has been as attractive to young people as it has been in Europe where peasants have no other means of stepping out of poverty and living equally to the richest of their nation. America has been and continues to be a place where anybody who works hard can brush shoulders with the very rich and powerful. In America classes are not divided as they are in Europe as upper, middle, and lower—they are divided by those who work hard and those who don’t—at least traditionally. Slowly over time as the nation has moved so far to the radical left, more European influence has won the day as opposed to the righteousness of the American experiment.

After witnessing all these elements several writers emerged to chronicle the pros and cons of what had occurred during the first two hundred years of American experience. One of course was Ayn Rand who has run up against the classic opposition such as what was seen in the Daily Show episode—where her announcement that self-interest is what actually leads to morality was considered preposterous viewed through the lens of the classic European progressive model. But another writer whom I think is much more important than Ayn Rand did at the same time much broader work which arrived at essentially the same conclusions by comparing all the mythologies and religions of the world and came up with the now popular term, “Follow your bliss.”

As Ayn Rand was writing The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Joseph Campbell was writing The Hero with a Thousand Faces. These books were uniquely American and have turned the literary world upside down challenging thousands and thousands of years of human thought. Campbell unlike Rand is much more inclusive in his comparative studies. He has a reverence for many progressive leaders uttering insight from the early 20th century, like Nietzsche, Jung, Joyce, Mann, Steinbeck and many others whom he read incessantly then compared them to his vast encyclopedia of knowledge of the world’s religions. His conclusions were that every individual on the face of planet earth needed to “follow their bliss” meaning their own internal call to living. They had to listen with an individual’s ear to the calls of their own life’s adventures. This was really revolutionary work done by Campbell as he was conducting it during the Red Decade in the presence of extreme left-winged radicals and open communists. Yet he took a path to scholarship that was unique to him and let the facts come in as he analyzed them—and his report was what is likely the most important book of the previous century and so far of the 21st. The Hero with a Thousand Faces explains why Atlas Shrugged is so powerful to so many people.

The Hero of a Thousand Faces would not have been written by a lettered academic at Oxford or any other major institution. Joseph Campbell led a life of unique individuality and his scholarship is a direct product of a very unusual life remarkably free of social strings conducting his thoughts and conclusions. His life’s work essentially became the Star Wars saga which is currently unleashing upon the world brand new updated religions and philosophies. George Lucas himself will declare that he could not have made Star Wars without the influence of Joseph Campbell. In Campbell’s work the individual has much more value over the collective—as described in the Navaho legend of the Twin War Gods who were on a quest to meet their father the Sun. They had to leave their village on a grand adventure as their people were being attacked by monsters. Everyone had tried just about everything and nobody had a solution, so the Twin War Gods had to travel in a direction nobody else had yet tried and endured a number of trial and tribulations to bring the boon of their discovery to their people.

There is no politics in Campbell’s work. His admires include radical leftists like Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead to Bill Moyers from the very left leaning PBS network. Campbell just let the facts speak about the nature of reality, and he was uniquely qualified to surmise the details through stories of this own. It is the clear distinction that Campbell makes through a lifetime of scholarship that it is the individual that moves the world and not the sacrifice of individuals to the collective good. Although sacrifice has been the mode of behavior that has driven most of society, it is the individual following their own unique bliss that brings the boons to society. Society does not bring boons to the individual. It is a fantasy that a collectivist hierarchy can bring joy and wonder to people of differing needs. The best way for people to serve each other is to allow their own lives to live to their own potential for the aims of their individual achievements. By doing that they create things that the rest of the world needs. Joseph Campbell’s outlook is uniquely American, just as Ayn Rand was. Both were authors of works that shook the foundations of thought, and their conclusions are here to stay leaving in their wake the destruction of the old modes of operation. Collectivism and religions of sacrifice are a way of the past that is in quick decline. The Daily Show in their presentation against Rand knows it. That much is evident by the type of people running for president in 2016. On one hand you have the collectivist Hillary Clinton representing the socialists and Democrats, then on the other, at least two candidates directly formed by the freedom loving Tea Party—the type of people who openly love the work of Ayn Rand.

As much as many from the old European world would like to see a continuation of their brand of collectivism, it is writers like Ayn Rand and Joseph Campbell who are shaping the world of tomorrow—and that is why their popularity is increasing while the desire for extremists like Karl Marx is declining. The weak and lazy still look to Marx, but there is no “Following your Bliss” in communism. You do what you are told, and that is not the way to lifetime fulfillment—just stifled misery and suffering due to unlived lives encumbered by sacrifice to speculative assumptions. Capitalism allows individuals to “Follow their Bliss” which is a long storied concept that started for Campbell in the radical troubadours of the High Middle Ages, (1100-1350AD ) from France. They were some of the first to challenge the collectivism of arranged marriages and sacrifice of the self to the many. America inherited from them the concept of courtly love and chivalry which eventually found their way into our western mythology. Before the troubadours marriages were all arranged for the benefits of a collective need and the individual was looked upon as something to be despised, and vanquished out of preservation for the many. But it never worked and never will work because whenever the collective is served values are what is sacrificed, because value is an individual assessment—not a collective one. Once values are sacrificed, a society crumbles into nothing to create the four-part cycle of Giambattista Vico–the age of gods, the age of heroes, the age of man and the age of chaos—more expressively described as theocracy, aristocracy, democracy and anarchy. Joseph Campbell and Ayn Rand proposed to Americans the notion that civilization should get off the circular highway going nowhere in between the aristocracy and democracy portions of that cycle and to emerge independent of collective influence toward an unknown horizon. By action out of each and every person’s “bliss” individuals would then do the job they were created for in the first place—and this is what gives the old world the anger toward Rand that they have—that management of those individual lives does not come from the church, or the political order—but the very essence of the soul encapsulated within every living thing. To grapple with such a thing means that society at large need to understand what a soul is, and how it functions within them. And to find that out, one cannot be told by a parent, a grandparent, a teacher or a lover what it is—you have to find it out for yourself. For the timid and weak, this is a scary prospect. For the brave and valiant—it is the essence of adventure. For society—it is through adventurers that new things come to sustain all life. It is in the timid that all things decay. The timid should not be cast aside, but should follow in the path of the brave toward a destiny their lack of courage would have never allowed them to behold otherwise. And the brave should allow those in their wake to follow their example without robbing them of the treasures of discovery—taken on an individual basis. Not everyone can slay a dragon, or race a car through danger, but everyone can find discoveries under a common rock and a path paved by their own intentions in their own way.

The answer to what makes wealth is found in the adventurer and the cure to the poor is to spark in them the essence of life—and for them to follow their own bliss instead of becoming dependent off a collective society. Once they find themselves dependent on others, they find themselves either poor, or like the classic European peasant—begging for bread and water by the political elites. And among them, there will always be other weaklings like Hillary Clinton who desires the old way of Europe so that meaning to their meaningless lives can have some measure of fulfillment. The way to make the poor into the rich is to get them to follow their bliss—and that is what Ayn Rand’s novels were all about. It is always why collectivists of all sizes and shapes hate her—because they can see within her work the end of their line of thought. But as to the science of why Ayn Rand works, all one need to do is look toward Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Heroes are not collectivists, and they don’t sacrifice themselves aimlessly for the needs of the many unless they discover that it is part of their bliss to do so—a bliss arrived at through their own individuality.

Rich Hoffman


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