Jan 4, 2011

Objectivism: a controversial criterion in LD

By Guest-Blogger Bri Castellini

I'm one of those crazy people that actually read the monstrosity that is Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's 1200+ page book that was essentially a really long, complicated rant against communism. It was fascinating. Then I also read The Anthem, which is about 100 pages at most and which I would most definitely recommend. Ms. Rand, I believe, is an under appreciated genius, called “crazy” by many modern critics. While I won't disagree on your “crazy” point, I think her philosophical theory of Objectivism could be an interesting criterion. Maybe not for the current juvenile violent felonies topic, which deals more with the ideas of utilitarianism and society, but definitely for more individualistic topics.

Objectivism is basically individualism to the extreme. “There is no mental process that can change the laws of nature or erase facts. The function of consciousness is not to create reality, but to apprehend it.” It holds that man's only responsibility is to himself:
Reason is man's only proper judge of values and his only proper guide to action. The proper standard of ethics is: man's survival qua man—i.e., that which is required by man's nature for his survival as a rational being (not his momentary physical survival as a mindless brute). Rationality is man's basic virtue, and his three fundamental values are: reason, purpose, self-esteem. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.
I could definitely see this as a potential criterion to counter basic utilitarian arguments (which come up a lot). As in, we can't make decisions for the good of the whole if a rational individual is harmed unnecessarily. It takes away man's ability to be an end in himself. It'll be controversial, but it's a legitimate moral stance that judges may find refreshing.

It also deals a lot with politics. “"The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that no man has the right to seek values from others by means of physical force—i.e., no man or group has the right to initiate the use of physical force against others. Men have the right to use force only in self-defense and only against those who initiate its use. Men must deal with one another as traders, giving value for value, by free, mutual consent to mutual benefit.”

This could be applied to last year's sanctions topic, or other war topics. Instead of the regular “war is bad because it kills people” defense, you could use Objectivism as a “war is bad because it hurts trade, which benefits everyone and is the basic social principle of existence.”

Before I get any nasty anti-Rand commenters, let me be clear. I'm not advocating Objectivism as a philosophy, because it's definitely too cut and dried for my taste. But then again, so is utilitarianism. The fact is, philosophy isn't supposed to make us believe one thing over another. It's supposed to make us think. The reason I am supporting it as a potential criterion is because it's unconventional, which is always nice, and because it has value in certain topics. Sometimes you have to debate things you don't necessarily agree with. Does anyone remember the affirmative action PF topic from last year? Ugh.

Potential value pairings:

Governmental legitimacy, individualism, civil rights.


Brief Summary of Objectivism
Essentials of Objectivism
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Ayn Rand

Bri Castellini debated in both Public Forum and Lincoln Douglas during high school, and is now a college IPDA debater. She blogs frequently at Bri's Own World, and posts way too frequently on Twitter.


Anonymous said...

That is a very thoughtful criterion I am in fact hoping to use it in the juvenile as adults topic because I have a moderate understanding from her books that i have read

Bri said...

I'm glad it helped! How exactly are you planning to apply it, though? I'm curious

Anonymous said...

I remember attempting to read Atlas Shrugged, and getting to the mid-700s in page number before getting fed up and stopping. It was an interesting idea, but I found myself unable to sympathize with any of the supposed "good" characters. An extreme example is the pirate (whose name I don't quite remember, but it sounds Scandinavian) who destroys relief ships sent to poor countries in Europe. So, not only is murder permissible in the promotion of Rand-like ideals, but preventing others from exercising their own ideals is wrong enough to warrant the death penalty...

Onto the topic of LD, though, I think this isn't an argument that could resonate with people. It may be an interesting idea, but the presumption that "man's only responsibility is himself" would be lost on almost anyone you tried to present it to. If I were to encounter this, I'd probably appeal to the fact that we have a cooperative society, and that looking out only for yourself isn't even beneficial to you. To add to that, there's the additional moral objection that humans don't behave in a vacuum. Their actions have effects on other people, and simply looking out for oneself even in the context of this is immoral. Finally, you can apply the principal of Universality: "If everyone followed this philosophy, where would we be?" In this case, a very, very bad place. Currently, it's impossible for humans to live and enjoy the amenities we do if everything needs to do everything only to help themselves.

Now, I don't think that these arguments I've presented are necessarily flawless, but this philosophical position probably wouldn't seem very compelling to judges.

Anonymous said...

except for the fact that "Governmental legitimacy, individualism, civil rights" aren't values that affirm the resolution, rand has very little in the way of warrants and consists mostly of making assertion after assertion. there's a reason why she has the cred that she does especially in the ld community, because she makes claims and not arguments. please, keep rand out of ld.

Jim Anderson said...

First Anonymous, it took you 700 pages to give up in frustration? That level of patience is positively saintly.

Nicholas said...

I choose not to explicitly state that I'm using Objectivism. The whole selfishness is morality thing doesn't go well with lay judges, and most seasoned judges I know are uber progressive. So I usually sneak it into my criterion as a quote from Rand.

Nicholas said...

This worked incredibly well for the Aff side of the economic sanctions resolution last year.