The Worst Philosophers in the World

Vance MacEwen

A monkey staring at its reflection in a compact mirror it's holding
Photo by Andre Mouton.

January 8, 2022

It's shades of gray, right?

Ayn Rand argued we should selfishly pursue profit by consolidating wealth.

Karl Marx argued we should selflessly eliminate profit by distributing wealth.

The two philosophies neatly cancel each other out. They are extremes at either end of the same pole, a pole that posts in /r/iamverysmart and says, “I’ve figured out how the world works and reduced it to two variables.” That pole is stupid. The world is messier than Randian or Marxist thought can tolerate. And so Randian and Marxist thought do not tolerate the world.

Welcome to the USA, the poster child for Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. Rand hated religion, but we stitched her profit worship onto Christianity and created a hulking chimera with a Joel Osteen smile and a very un-Jesus-like disdain for public welfare. We don’t do public transportation here, and we’re not into paying living wages, so you may need to drive eight hours a week so you can work forty to sixty hours a week.

Institutionalized slavery built our economy on the backs of Black bodies for 450 years, and without it, we depend on a prison industrial complex and a toxic work culture to grow our GDP. If you work really hard, you can give half your rent to your landlord and spend the rest on subscription boxes and streaming services to numb the pain. On your way to work, you may be stopped by a police offer, who can confiscate your assets and shoot you.

After you get shot, the ambulance ride can bankrupt you by the time you reach the hospital. The ICU will turn you away because all its beds are full of unvaccinated COVID patients watching Fox News as nurses on twelve-hour shifts struggle to maintain their oxygen levels. The patients’ families get to watch them die over Zoom on an iPad. The freedom is intoxicating.

Man, capitalism sucks. Communism must be so much better, right? Mao Zedong, Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Nicolae Ceaușescu thought so, among others. It turns out having one centralized power in charge of collecting all the wealth in the country and redistributing it works… really, really poorly. Communist regimes throughout history have been totalitarian police states responsible for tens of millions of deaths, most often by famine, and most grotesquely by organized mass murder.

Well, nuts. I guess killing all the whales and exploiting workers to send billionaires to space is the lesser of two evils. At least capitalism helped us develop technologies like virtual reality we can escape the grind with and modern medicine we can reject after doing our own research on Facebook.

Guys. (Sidebar: Did you know the term “guy” originally referred to effigies of Guy Fawkes, conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot? Fawkes was a Christian extremist who wanted to blow up the House of Lords and reinstate a Catholic monarchy, but V for Vendetta gave us a much more sympathetic rebel image)

A forked dirt trail in a rich green forest
Photo by Beth MacDonald

There are more than two options. When a Marxist communist says “Let’s jump off a cliff” and a Randian capitalist says “No, let’s drink bleach”, you don’t have to do either. One way or another, we need to develop a third option. It is far too profitable, for far too few people, to keep us pointing fingers at each other while a red-and-blue plutocratic oligarchy methodically extracts wealth from our bodies.

Empathy. Balance. Compassion. And a tolerance for ambiguity. We will need these things if we want to unshackle ourselves from this embarrassingly repetitive history. Businesses need to think more like nonprofits. Politicians need to be public servants, not public siphons. Diversity of thought must be embraced. When we look at history, we look in the mirror. If we never practice loving compassion, we may never like what we see looking back at us.

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