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Understanding Ayn Rand - Traders

This is the last of a 6 part series designed to explain several important aspects of Ayn Rand’s influential Atlas Shrugged, or at least correct widespread misconceptions regarding Atlas Shrugged that disastrously influence modern culture. You can pick up the start of this series here.

The previous posts in this series established the influence of Atlas Shrugged and corrected misconceptions usually attributed to Rand’s alter ego John Galt. We also established common ground with Galt regarding mutuality by keying in on themes he speaks to such as honesty, not forcing others against their will, and not viewing each other with “a cannibal’s lust.” In doing so our intent is to strongly encourage you to begin thinking afresh about Rand and how she, too, speaks to mutuality by aligning self-interest and others-interest through relationships.

Rand’s prominence and influence would be far more valuable, not to mention accurate, redirected toward mutuality rather than misinterpretations around self-interest. In the passage of Galt’s speech discussed in the previous post, she speaks plainly against standard elements of economic abuses in favor of seeking self-interest in mutuality with others. Continuing with the next paragraph in that same passage of Galt’s speech:

The symbol of all relationships among such men, the moral symbol of respect for human beings, is the trader. We, who live by values, not by loot, are traders, both in matter and in spirit. A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved.

(Did you catch the evolution of Rand’s/Galt’s use of symbols? From the symbol of the dollar sign set high above Galt’s Gulch earlier in the book to now the symbol of the trader at the end of the book.)

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From this part of Galt’s speech we note the use of the word relationships, itself a counter to notions of self-interest without regard for others. Rand then explicitly espouses respect for human beings and names her moral ideal “traders,” those who live by values and do not loot others. Those who do not give or take the undeserved but earn in fair exchanges by trading value for value. What Rand calls traders we call partners—people we are confident will find solutions and power in Partnership Economics.

From the next paragraph in Galt’s speech:

I deal with men as my nature and theirs demands: by means of reason. I seek or desire nothing from them except such relations as they care to enter of their own voluntary choice. It is only with their mind that I can deal and only for my own self-interest, when they see that my interest coincides with theirs. When they don’t, I enter into no relationship . . . I have nothing to gain from fools or cowards; I have no benefits to seek from human vices: from stupidity, dishonesty or fear.

Opposite of taking advantage of others in the name of self-interest, Rand again plainly disavows gaining at the expense of others: “I seek or desire nothing from them except such relations as they care to enter of their own voluntary choice.” She advocates for dealing with others and engaging in relationships voluntarily when self-interest coincides with the other’s interest.

These lines of Rand are also particularly resonant with MLK Jr.’s description of true alliances, which are “based upon some self-interest of each component group and a common interest into which they merge. For an alliance to have permanence and loyal commitment from its various elements, each of them must have a goal from which it benefits and none must have an outlook in basic conflict with the others.” Does it read and sound to you like both Rand and MLK Jr. are consistent in their advocating for common interests and an ethic of mutuality?

Even in the limited space of this series of posts we think we’ve reasonably showed that enlightened mutuality is firmly present in Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and in the voice of John Galt. If you’re not yet convinced or if you're concerned that we cherry-picked texts, recall that Rand herself identified Galt’s speech as the perfect presentation of her philosophy; and we quoted and examined from that speech not selectively severed phrases but groupings of full sentences, including some from three consecutive paragraphs. With clearer vision, Rand’s prominent voice can be understood as part of the chorus pointing away from what we call plantation systems and toward what we call Partnership Economics.

If our rehabilitating of Rand seems a bridge too far, we strongly encourage you to read Galt’s speech for yourself. We’re not asking you to accept our interpretation until you’re convinced, but likewise we’re insisting that you don’t dismiss it until you’ve fully investigated it. See for yourself, and see if you don’t agree that Ayn Rand is a powerful voice advocating for an ethic of mutuality consistent with Partnership Economics and the path to better capitalism.

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