Trying to take Rand Seriously: a Note on Hobbes and Rand

Hobbes excluded women from his model in which “man” in a “state of nature” lives a life that is “nasty, brutish and short” because Hobbesian “man” never cooperates in a sustainable way, but sooner or later and of necessity comes to blows with his mates.

Hobbes plainly needed to get out more. He never saw real ordinary men take care of their families (if “man” contends with “man” why will I forgive my sons for never talking to me? For I will, goddamnit), nor ladies cooperate in baking a cake or making lasagna.

Hobbes, unlike Rand, did not believe in a “rationality” that would cause men by magic to agree on the most “rational” course of action. Rand thought that labour unions would always see the “rationality” of individual secret contracts with employers and self-dissolve.

Rand’s “rationality” all stems from “self identity”, the proposition what is, is, a=a. Although she never read Kant, and hated him in her ignorant fashion, she actually here reinvented the wheel of “the transcendental unity of apperception” on which, in Kant, our ability to reason is based, for unlike babies before a certain age and alcoholics in a blackout (if you prefer, Bismarck’s “drunks, children and the USA” whom he said “God will protect”), we transcendentally know, as a precondition of ordinary knowledge, that “I experience a manifold of sensations and thoughts based on sensations and those experiences and thoughts are mine, they make up Me”.

That is, in Kant, it is a synthetic apriori that ordinary knowledge, call it k, is preconditioned by transcendental knowledge call it K. K->k.

Rand seems to have believed that only right-wing right-thinkers actually have transcendental unity of apperception and know that a=a, whereas liberals are like Bismarck’s “drunks and children” who enter fugue states and blackouts in which the sense of an “I” only flickers in and out: and in their madness, they pass laws for welfare, unemployment insurance, public libraries and day care centers. The classic case would be the alcoholic in a blackout who’s still apparently functioning (let’s say he’s laying bets in a casino or voting in the Senate) but will have no memory the next morning because he’s burned out or temporarily shut down brain wiring that records events while retaining some brain function.

Old joke: Lincoln got drunk. When he woke up, he said, “I freed what?”

I would note, pace Rand and even Kant, that nobody has complete transcendental unity of apperception because we all forget things. As Shakespeare’s Henry V said upon St Crispin’s day,

Old men forget, yet all men forget
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall their names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Be in their flowing cups, freshly remembered:
Harry the King, Bedford, Exeter, Warwick and Talbot!

This shows that the unified Kantian self is not perfect. If it were, it would forget nothing. While John von Neumann, a mathematician and early computer scientist, observed that “there’s no true forgetting in the human nervous system”, and it is possible to “recover” memories, the Kantian “transcendental unity of apperception” is an ideal and a limit, and Rand seems not to have understood this in the slightest.

Whence, I believe, her “male” contempt for altruism (based on forgetting the Self) and “weakness”. Whence the profoundly irritating habit of CEOs and other thugs of pretending to know and remember everything, and to call their employees or opponents liars when their employees or opponents point out aporias and contradictions in what they say. To “stonewall” as Richard Nixon’s advisers recommended in Watergate, or as SCOTUS justice Clarence Thomas stonewalled Anita Hill, admitting not a jot or tittle of fault…not even a grinning confession of having been a badass when younger…after being confronted with her claims that he’d sexually harassed her.

The fact that “Stonewalling” didn’t really exist before Nixon, and that President Johnson and Defense Secretary McNamara found themselves unable to lie to themselves about Vietnam only four years before Watergate, and its ready usage since Watergate, especially by the members of George W Bush’s administration, shows us that it’s an historical development, a new response, one that may be literally psychotic. The fact is that Tony Blair may now be regarded as a psychopath by the majority of Britons and, whatever your politics, the troubling split between Blair’s own self-opinion and the opinion others have of him, such as the parents of British soldiers whose lives were thrown away by Blair, is very troubling, for it indicates a deep change in human nature…in which Leviathan, the Hobbesian ruler, lives in a state of nature while ordinary people don’t. We have to face facts with Marx’s sober senses: the fucks at the top have become nasty and brutish. A lot of them are short, too, and this started with Napoleon, perhaps the first step in this devolution. But a long digression here must be nipped in the bud.

A society dominated by such legends in their own minds, such would-be uber mensch, such neo-Troglodytes, is one of an eternal self-presence that can never admit it is wrong, that, iike the Bourbons, “learns nothing, forgets nothing” and, in the words of a theorist of organizational dysfunction (Anne Wilson Schaef), is an “addictive system” “which has no memory”: precisely because it insists that it does.

Napoleon’s treatment of General Hoche at Marengo comes to mind, but again, I digress. I’d forget my own head if it wasn’t attached but somehow I remember this. Today’s tendencies organically exist even in the distant past. And note: it never occured to Danton or Robespierre to stonewall or lie: Danton was always pretty forthright about his centrist and pro-bourgeois views while acknowledging the needs of the Mountain, and Robespierre ended up as a target of mockery because of his sincere refusal to do without the concept of a Supreme Being, which, unlike later dictators, admits that the dictator has a Higher Power and therefore unlike a “real” dictator. If you can’t follow this stuff, which is based on the French Revolution, don’t worry about it.

In such a society, to admit any forgetfulness, where a is not a, is to be femininized. If you’re a woman, this is to be relegated to historical status as baby factory. If you’re a man, you’re part of an underclass. New Men lie without compunction, steal ideas and will take all the credit and your girl, as did Napoleon to Hoche (Josephine de Beauharnais was actually Hoche’s bint: but I digress, for the last time).


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