Thursday, March 31, 2016


Upon reading the work, Anthem, by Ayn Rand, I came to appreciate the value of “I” that I, and probably many others, so often dismiss.  With our lives busy with the endless list of things to do, sometimes things for others like a parent, spouse and/or children, it is easy to lose oneself. We are susceptible to attach our value to those that depend on us so that in turn we feel only as valuable as what we do for them. Rand, through the narrator created a plot that screams to the reader “you are important because of you” . The narrator, Equality 7-2521 later named Prometheus, introduces a collectivist society where the rules are set in place with one goal in mind - to make the society as the one and only valuable entity. Every aspect of their lives were summum bonum. Some of these rules include never saying I, never deterring from the job set to its citizens and wearing the same plain clothing. He always refers to himself as “we” and struggles with his human nature to think and explore because of the rules. The narrator feels a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction in such society. The negativity we feel as a reader with respect to the close-minded society, compared to the relaxed “freedom at last” feeling we get at the end of the work, moves me toward supporting rational egoism. It seems clear the collectivist society described certainly isn’t a way to live yet a deeper understanding of rational egoism doesn’t seem to fit either.
Firstly, it’s important to name what went wrong in the dystopian society created by Rand. It includes dissatisfaction, lack of individuality and the loss of simple pleasures in life. When the narrator breaks free and finds the house in the woods, he feels like he can be a human, not just a number. A human that understands that not everything is vital to “we” and there’s a whole world beyond what the Councils limited them to. After noting that “I” is what is important, rational egoism is a logical extension. It is a theory that proclaims that those selfish acts that are done out of reason are morally right. It is a counter to collectivism in that it asserts that public good should not be a consideration when making decisions. Humanity comes into play as collectivist agree their system would ensure a more humane world while rational egoists say the only human action is the one done for it’s own self. The humane world exists when everybody does the best for themselves because it generates the greatest good.
Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like Rational Egoism would be such a simple solution. One can be doing something rationally but still bad. For example, when a starving man steals from another as a last resort. The starving man is doing something selfish because he is the only beneficiary and it was within reason because it was his only considerable action to survive. Yet, it still wrong to steal as the victim of his crime suffers to some degree. Some egoist believe there are inherent rules everyone should regard while others don’t. Another problem would be conflicts of interest. We all live in the same world and for the most part are made up the same so it is natural that there will come a time that we would want the same things. Therefore, if we do things for our own benefit, even if it was rational, can cause chaos. Another problem with Rational Egoism is brought forth by Alexander Moseley who describes the Prisoner's Dilemma which negates the proposal that when people make choices that would in their own best interest, the greatest outcome would result. He describes a scenario where there are two prisoners involved in a crime to which the police want a confession for. The police offer a better judgement to the one who confesses first so it would be in the best interest of the prisoners to get the deal. However, when it is mathematically added up, the results show that the total overall prison time, which would signify the best end result, is if neither pursues their best interest and confesses.

While Rational Egoism poses some problems, I recognize it is important to value oneself for one’s own sake. It’s important to remember, despite our busy lives, I matter because I am me.

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