the wikipedia review

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Sympathy for the Sanger

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I was thinking of posting this directly to Larry Sanger’s blog on, but it’s too long, and Dr. Sanger would probably object. Also, it’s a bit personal, and I don’t like to be seen as a grudge-bearer, but sometimes you just have to speak out… So, just to follow up on my post from yesterday, I’d like to ask our highly appreciated and valued readers to indulge me, just this once.

Calm down, fellas

Calm down, fellas.

In 2001, I was working for a small Midwestern (USA) IT company, a VAR actually, and one day we were told that the owner was moving to the West Coast and had sold the company to another guy, who we’ll just call “New Owner.” Well, it turned out that New Owner was an Ayn Rand fanatic who would wax ebullient over her “objectivist philosophy” whenever he got the chance, and even kept extra copies of Ayn’s literary masterworks in his desk drawer to hand out to people. (This is how I got my copy of The Fountainhead, which I ultimately threw away after being utterly appalled by the first 80 pages or so).

New Owner proceeded to drive the company into the dirt: He lied to customers, misprioritized their projects, promised things to the staff that he clearly had no intention whatsoever of delivering, stole credit for their ideas, bought into questionable business opportunities because he thought they would be “easy,” and even double-sold software licenses - for which he was nearly sued, and in so doing also lost the company’s certifications on its most lucrative channel product. Every single employee of the company had quit within 10 months of his taking over, except for one who was fired, and of their (even fewer in number) replacements, all of them were gone within a year. Some didn’t last more than a few weeks.

I would have tossed this off as just another “Dilbert-land” example of a company being destroyed by a lousy businessman, except that two years ago I was working on-site as a contractor at another company, and I saw the exact same thing happen. This was actually a division of a larger company, so this guy wasn’t a new owner, but otherwise the similarities were eerie: Same Ayn Rand fanaticism, extra copies of the books in the desk drawer (not out where people could see them, mind you), lies/distortions/broken promises to customers and employees, credit-grabbing, misprioritization, “improvement initiatives” that existed only in the form of enthusiastic announcement memos that were immediately forgotten and never mentioned again… and above all, that same sense of entitlement, as if being in charge was the only thing that could possibly matter to anyone. And like New Owner, every employee in that division was gone within a year. Every single one.

Long story short, I know this is only two anecdotal cases, but I really believe now that there’s something to the idea that a businessman’s devotion to Ayn Rand is a sure signal that he can’t be respected, relied on, or trusted - with anything. Reading Ayn Rand will rot your brain and then turn the rotten remnants to butterscotch pudding just for good measure, but if you try it anyway, you’ll encounter plenty of fundamental support for - and defense of - all the attitudes and mental processes required by today’s selfish, narcissistic, incompetent businessmonster. Enough, in my opinion, to transform a seemingly regular guy into someone you’d never want to work for in a million years, just by reading a few books of fiction-based cornball “philosophy.”

Too often, people focus on Rand’s ideas regarding the supposed worthlessness of altruism and charity, since that’s probably her most inflammatory belief. In so doing, they miss what may be an even more insidious set of ideas about how business leaders relate to the rest of the world.

As for accountability…? It is to laugh - these guys don’t think the term applies to them in any way whatsoever.

Anyway, Dr. Sanger, if you’re reading this I suspect you already know about all that, but maybe you didn’t want to say it yourself, and this is the sort of thing I do best.


Written by Somey

April 9th, 2009 at 5:44 pm

Posted in Jimbo Wales

8 Responses to 'Sympathy for the Sanger'

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  1. This is very perceptive. One of the sources of criticism of capitalism in general comes from the fact that business leaders often treat the concept of “business morality” (or perhaps more properly ethics) as an oxymoron. They believe that in the ultimate capitalist space, it’s all about money, and not about trust, ethics, and relationships.

    In fact, the money is only a way of keeping track of things, and turns out to be a bad one. Marketplaces, in the general sense of “anywhere business operates”, exist only as a result of trust, and in the absence of trusted marketplaces (the Greek “agora”), meaningful capitalism comes to a halt.

    This is what happened in the financial crisis last fall — people forgot about business ethics, about the need for the other side to get good value in what they were buying, and in the end the poorly-regulated marketplace was abandoned.

    Wikipedia, with its Randian origins, is a poorly-regulated marketplace of ideas, lacking in trust. Thus its failure, now and inevitably.


    9 Apr 09 at 6:12 pm

  2. Ayn Rand is like Machiavelli. Both are considered philosophers by some biographers. But not all observers consider them to have made a positive contribution to thinking.

    In particular, where Ayn Rand (and Machiavelli) fail is in reckoning the role of emotions in decisions and learning.

    It’s interesting to compare Ayn Rand to Nathaniel Branden, since they were such complementary figures.

    Ayn Rand’s characters typically arrive on the scene fully formed; there is no Bildungsroman phase of their character development. As a result, her characters tend not to display the kind of emotions that attend the experiential learning process.

    Nathaniel Branden, being a psychologist, tended to focus on the interplay of emotions and personal growth, with special attention to the difficult passages.

    Somewhere in there, one finds the Dry Valley of the Learning Disabled, where character development is lamentably troubled and arrested. Most likely, the deepest deficit is associated with the development of empathy for others.

    Wikipedia seems to be one of those dry valleys, where empathy for others is in short supply. Then again, that’s what one would expect of an MMPORG, where efficiently dispatching one’s enemies is just part of the game.


    9 Apr 09 at 7:02 pm

  3. Excellent, and not at all too long. Concise and accurate way of describing
    the Objectivist state of mind. I do not think this anecdote is too anecdotal,
    as it compares with my personal experiences.

    I’ve been working for a living in the electronics industry for 30 years,
    and can say the following with considerable confidence and from
    direct experience:

    If you ever find yourself working for someone who is either a) a Mormon,
    b) a Scientologist, or c) a dedicated Objectivist…..find another job.


    10 Apr 09 at 4:42 am

  4. Funny… Rand’s Atlas Shrugged has a flashback sequence where a company (the one John Galt worked for at the time) was taken over by an ardent egalitarian communitarian socialist, and is run into the ground as a result.

    Dan T.

    10 Apr 09 at 6:35 pm

  5. Machiavelli was a political genius. Little wonder that Moulton despises someone much more intelligent than him.

    John A

    11 Jun 09 at 10:42 pm

  6. Machiavelli was a highly original thinker whose work is full of insights - both psychological and philosophical. His low reputation has more to do with his oppositon to the Catholic Church th any weakness in his intellectual arguments.

    Ayn Rand, on the other hand, was a second-rate novelist and screen writer whose work contains no original thought or insights. I summarised her work for Larry Sanger’s boring website, Citizendium while Philosophy editor there ( I was thrown off later) as follows:

    (It’s a long quote from not the current page - but beear with it, the aim is to illustrate Rand’s credentials as a philosopher ARE TOTALLY BOGUS AND ONLY A MOULTON WOULD THINK OTHERWISE. Otherwise it provides a ‘neutral’ assessment of Rand.

    Rand was born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and studied a mixture of social sciences and history before going on to become a screenwriter, a career which eventually took her to Hollywood where she ‘odd-jobbed’ for a number of years including appearing as an extra in Cecil B. DeMille’s film, The King of Kings. It was while working on this film that she met her future husband, Frank O’Connor.

    Her first published novel was a critical and semi-autobigraphical account of Soviet Russia called We the Living (1936) but neither this book nor the next had much critical or commercial success. However, her third book, The Fountainhead, which appeared in 1943 rapidly found amass market, and is claimed to have now sold over six million copies. This book presents the entrepreneur as hero, a theme developed in due course by her best known work, Atlas Shrugged (1957). Atlas’s plot involves a dystopian United States of America in which industrialists and other creative individuals decide to go on strike and retreat to a mountainous hideaway where they build an independent free economy .

    After the popular success of Atlas Shrugged, Rand increasingly promoted her ‘philosophy’ of ‘Objectivism’, editing a newsletter devoted to the subject. As to the origins of the philosophy, The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z, quotes her as saying:

    “The only philosophical debt I can acknowledge is to Aristotle. I most emphatically disagree with a great many parts of his philosophy–but his definition of the laws of logic and of the means of human knowledge is so great an achievement that his errors are irrelevant by comparison.” [7]

    In the same book, she elaborates:

    Aristotle’s philosophy was the intellect’s Declaration of Independence. Aristotle, the father of logic, should be given the title of the world’s first intellectual, in the purest and noblest sense of that word. No matter what remnants of Platonism did exist in Aristotle’s system, his incomparable achievement lay in the fact that he defined the basic principles of a rational view of existence and of man’s consciousness: that there is only one reality, the one which man perceives–that it exists as an objective absolute (which means: independently of the consciousness, the wishes or the feelings of any perceiver)–that the task of man’s consciousness is to perceive, not to create, reality - that abstractions are man’s method of integrating his sensory material - that man’s mind is his only tool of knowledge - that A is A. If we consider the fact that to this day everything that makes us civilized beings, every rational value that we possess - including the birth of science, the industrial revolution, the creation of the United States, even of the structure of our language - is the result of Aristotle’s influence, of the degree to which, explicitly or implicitly, men accepted his epistemological principles, we would have to say: never have so many owed so much to one man.” [8]

    Atlas Shrugged

    The heart of Atlas Shrugged is a speech by its ‘hero’, John Galt. In it, Galt explains the philosophy of Objectivism. [9] Here, Rand echoes Nietzsche’s contempt for the Christina virtues of sacrifice:

    “This is an age of moral crisis, brought about by the doctrine of sacrifice ” and “The essence of previous moral codes is to demand that you surrender your mind and your life to the whims of God or society.”

    In place of this, Rand offers an argument from selfishness:

    “If you must act to benefit others, why is it acceptable for others to accept such benefits? Because they did not earn them. At its core, the Doctrine of Sacrifice is a doctrine that seeks the unearned.”


    “To maintain its life, any organism must act in accordance with its means of survival. For man, this means living by the exercise of his mind.” And: “Man’s life — the life of man qua rational being — is the proper standard of value. Your own life — and happiness as its emotional concomitant — is the purpose of morality.”

    Rand believes that the proper means of interaction with others is trade. Rand offers a vision of free-market economics:

    “In a society of trade, there is no conflict of interests among men at different levels in the pyramid of ability. The most talented people, who make new discoveries and invent new products and technologies, contribute the most to others; while those at the bottom, who are engaged in mere physical labor, benefit the most. ”

    The speech is very long, spanning 56 pages in one paperback edition (the only interruption occurs after the first paragraph), and appears in the chapter “This is John Galt Speaking” in the third section of the book. Later in the book, the speech is referred to as being approximately three hours long.

    The speech, like the book, like the ‘philosophy’ of ‘objectivism’ finishes:

    “You will win when you are ready to pronounce this oath: “I swear — by my life and my love of it — that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” ”
    Among many 1957 reviews in the mainstream media, Granville Hicks, in the New York Times (daily circulation approximately 800,000), began his lengthy review with:
    This gargantuan book comes among us as a demonstrative act rather than as a literary work. Its size seems an expression of the author’s determination to crush the enemies of truth — her truth, of course — as a battering ram demolishes the walls of a hostile city. Not in any literary sense a serious novel, it is an earnest one, belligerent and unremitting in its earnestness. It howls in the reader’s ear and beats him about the head in order to secure his attention, and then, when it has him subdued, harangues him for page upon page. It has only two moods, the melodramatic and the didactic, and it both it knows no bounds. [10]

    Atlas Shrugged was also reviewed by the highly conversative National Review, a magazine with a circulation of approximately 30,000 and that might appear to be more ideologically favorable to Rand’s ideas. William F. Buckley Jr., however, who had founded the magazine, and Rand despised one another; Buckley, a devout Catholic, was especially angered by her views on religion. The review was scathing. It called the book “sophomoric” and “remarkably silly,” and, echoing the New York Times said that it “can be called a novel only by devaluing the term.”

    A 1990 National Review retrospective of the 1957 review does contain the memorable line calling her “the Jackie Collins of ideological novelists”.[11]


    And Moulton says: “Ayn Rand is like Machiavelli”! Standards on WR are tumbling!

    Anyway, as far as Sanger Somey’s post go, the interesting thing is that Sanger tried to defend Rand as a ‘philosopher’ and to water down any criticism of her work on the site. The present page partially reflects that effort…


    28 Jun 09 at 1:29 pm

  7. Astounding expose of how Randism can sink a company.


    21 Mar 12 at 2:04 am

  8. It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate to this outstanding blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to new updates and will share this website with my Facebook group. Talk soon!


    19 Sep 14 at 12:47 pm

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