Thursday, February 03, 2005

Define Second Hander

In Edward Rothstein's article on Ayn Rand, he takes a kind of pragmatic and tragic view of both Romanticism and Ayn Rand. He seems to regard her with some degree of respect, although he doesn't seem to fully understand her concepts. These are not the trivial dreams of a "subtle philosopher".

Perhaps when he read her (if in fact he did, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt here) there were not as many other resources for exploring her philosophy. While I'm no expert I have beneifitted from her own explanations of her philosophy in works such as Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, The Voice of Reason, and The Ayn Rand Lexicon, not to mention Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff, which I plan to start tonight. So to me this author's statement:
"Did Rand really believe that the world should be run by such creators while second-handers (ordinary workers like most of us) humbly deferred?"
among others, makes me believe that his knowledge of her work is only a superficial "first blush" impression. It is certainly not Rand's position that "ordinary workers like most of us" should be "humbly deferred". To my understanding, her work encourages everyone to take responsibility for themselves. Second-hander therefore refers to those who try to live through other people. It is possible that most of Mr. Rothstein's audience are second-handers, but that is by their choice, and does not have anything to do with being an ordinary worker.

Ayn Rand did support meritocracy, but she believed each individual man had the means to be his own personal best, and that is more important than your super hero status. Or more clearly, any man has the potential to be a hero, and his status as such depends on the amount of effort he exerts in pursuit of his highest values, which Ayn Rand said ought to be life-oriented, reality based, and reasonable. This gives each individual ordinary worker the ability to rise above the ordinary should he so choose.

She strips man of the limits of determinism and cultural handicap, and that I think is what upsets most people. They are so comfortable within their limits, that the thought of being expected to accomplish more makes them bitter and angry. But Ayn Rand doesn't propose to strip people of their right to be the lowest underachiever. Rather she defends the individual unilaterally, unless he attempts to harm someone else. However, she does advocate not letting these underachievers be the ones to run everything. Rather the most competant, the most able, and the most moral men should hold the top offices in a rational society.

The Nature Of The Second-Hander, from a conversation between Roark and his friend Gail Wynand (Fountainhead):
"Second-handers have no sense of reality. Their reality is not within them, but somewhere in that space which divides one human body from another. Not an entity, but a relation—anchored to nothing. That's the emptiness I couldn't understand in people. [snip]Men without an ego. Opinion without a rational process. Motion without brakes or motor. Power without responsibility. The second-hander acts, but the source of his actions is scattered in every other living person. It's everywhere and nowhere and you can't reason with him. He's not open to reason. You can't speak to him—he can't hear. You're tried by an empty bench. A blind mass running amuck, to crush you without sense or purpose .... "
"What would happen to the world without those who do, think, work, produce? Those are the egoists. You don't think through another's brain and you don't work through another's hands ...."


Blogger M.T. Daffenberg said...

I take umbrage with the idea that 'second-handers' are there by choice. A major problem with Ayn is that she had herself fooled into believing that she could control the direction of her life. Many people cite her as the birth-mother of the idea that you can be whatever you want, you just have to work hard enough. And that is not true. I speak from experience. You are who you are; rarely are you who you wanted to be. I fooled myself for a while, but unless everybody shares the same priorities (impossible, in my humble opinion), there will always be people who dictate to other people. I want to be President of the United States, but it just ain't gonna happen. I want to be a pro basketball player, but it just ain't gonna happen. I want to be a writer, I am a writer, but what I want is to make my living on my writing--it just ain't gonna happen. I know that I'm being a little flip, it's my Schtick, but I hope you see that some people on the bottom did things the right way, yet remain on the bottom--that is the reality. Oh, yeah, philosophy just doesn't pay :). (I know if I ever get published, you'll be waving this post obnoxiously in my face).

9:43 AM  
Blogger Sarah Beth said...

I know your cynicism and your irony are part of your Sctick too, and I understand where it comes from, hey I have it too, but don't you see that the premise that no matter how hard you work, you can't get what you want, will insure that you don't, while the premise that you can get what you work for, doesn't insure you get what you want, but just what you have worked for. If you work for what you want, then it is attainable. If you expect it to come to you, then it is not attainable, nothing is free, and usually things are overpriced, but that just means they cost more, not that they are impossible to attain.

10:06 AM  

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