A BLOG of PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTIONS & SPECULATIONS

The Actuality of Ayn Rand

Published on Tuesday April 12th, 2011

Slavoj Žižek in The Actuality of Ayn Rand:

From my high school days, I remember the strange gesture of a good friend of mine that shocked me considerably at the time. The teacher asked us to write an essay on “what satisfaction does it provide to accomplish a good deed of helping one’s neighbor”—the idea being that each of us should describe the profound satisfaction that comes from the awareness that we did something good. My friend put the paper and pen down on the table and, in contrast to others who quickly scribbled their notes, just sat motionless. When the teacher asked him what was wrong, he answered that he was unable to write anything, because he simply never felt either the need for (or satisfaction of) such acts—he never did something good. The teacher was so shocked that she gave my friend a special opportunity: he could write his paper at home after school—surely he would remember some good deed.

Next day, my friend came to school with the same blank paper, stating that he thought a lot about it the previous afternoon. There was simply no good deed of his that he could recall. The desperate teacher then blurted out: “But could you not simply invent some story along these lines?,” to which my friend answered that he had no imagination that would run in this direction, that it was beyond his scope to imagine such things. When the teacher made clear to him that his stubborn attitude could cost him dearly—the lowest grade he could get would seriously damage his standings—my friend insisted that he could not help it. He was completely powerless, since it was beyond his scope to think along these lines, his mind was simply blank.

This refusal to compromise one’s attitude is ethics at its purest, ethics as opposed to morality, to moral compassion. My friend was, in his deeds, an extremely helpful and “good” person; what was absolutely unpalatable for him was to find narcissistic satisfaction in observing himself doing good deeds. In his mind, such a reflexive turn equaled the profoundest ethical betrayal.

Colloqium

Readers of this post have also read

July 16th, 2009

How sex-positive is anti-sex

This was a comment I made in response to a blog post about a new sex-positive social networking site called Blackbox Republic: I think you are right about the extremes. On one side, the traditional viewpoint thinks you should be ashamed for enjoying yourself. On the other, the sex-positive folks who think you should be ashamed for not enjoying yourself. The…

Read more →
March 22nd, 2011

The Greatest Lie of Capitalism

Zizek on the bleak hand of capitalist realism: The greatest lie of capitalism is perhaps its naturalisation – the idea that it is simply the law of nature that it is this way. The cuts cannot be helped, just as capitalism cannot be helped. Deborah Orr, at the high of the student protests displays this logic with stunning clarity. “Fiscal discipline…

Read more →
January 12th, 2011

Politeness v. Tact

Zizek in Good Manners In the Age of Wikileaks: Imagine you inadvertently enter a bathroom where a woman is standing naked under the shower. Politeness requires that you quickly close the door and say, “Pardon, Madame!”, whereas tact would be to quickly close the door and say: “Pardon, Monsieur!…

Read more →

Recent Popular Posts

February 13th, 2014

Left Activism Goes Corporate

One of the most tedious features of the Silicon Valley Hype Machine is its endless repetition of progressive sounding marketing slogans about democracy and freedom, all while promoting a pro-business agenda. But it's too easy to read this as a sinister corporate ploy to co-opt the language of activists and twisting…

Read more →
December 20th, 2013

Civility: A Distance That
Brings Us Together

Just in time for the holidays, Apple's marketing department released Misunderstood, an ad about a surly teenager absorbed in his iPhone in the midst of scenes of his family's idyllic Christmas togetherness. But he surprises everyone when he reveals that the whole time he was making a touching video for everyone to document their familial bliss, moving them to tears. A…

Read more →
January 26th, 2014

Ten Parenting Lessons
I Learned from Franz Kafka

Here's an adage which I think is true: every theory of parenting is implicitly a theory of society. It follows that even if you aren't a parent now, nor ever intend to be one, if you're interested in society and culture, you ought to be interested in the topic because the problems that we parents face (or believe we face) is…

Read more →