Re: Rebutting Ayn Rand

Wed, 21 Feb 1996 10:23:25 -0500

I agree with you all that we should in some form counter the arguments
made by the Ayn Rand folks. However, I am not certain that they way many of
you are doing so does anthropology a service. It is my understanding that
the Ayn Rand folks isolate certain "traits" from cultures, then overly
highlight them, with no regard for the basic anthropological principles of
context, evolution, adaptation, systems, meanings, emics, cultural relativism,
etc., etc.

In other words, they say things like "The Native Americans were worse than
Europeans becasue they belived X and did Y." Of course, this sort of
statement ignores context, and subscribes to what Lowie called the "threads
and patches" view of culture.

Yet, don't we do the same if we counter them by saying, "Hey, but the Ancient
Peruvians did A, and the Mayans did B, and the whomever practiced C, D and E,
all well before the Europeans." Then we end up debating about what did what,
and which culture did it first.

It seems that we should stress that any culture's institutions, beliefs, etc.,
needs to be understood in context, etc., etc., and the difficulties with
cross-cultural moral judgements of the sort that "this culture is better
than that culture, or more advanced, because they practiced X and Y, whereas
your culture only did Q and Z."

After all, arguing about who invented the first calendar, or which culture
had surgery before the other one, really is kind of silly, in that it suggests
that, in spite of the fact that the Ayn Rand folks have false data, their
method of argumentation and logic is still correct.

Eric Silverman
DePauw University