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Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Objectivism and Humanism

The Religion and Philosophy of Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957), encompassed her ideas of rationalism, individualism, and capitalism within a dystopian United States.

Ayn Rand fled Bolshevik-controlled Russia in 1926 to live where her ideas could breathe and thrive: in America. Her philosophy slowly took shape in the form of novels: We the Living (1936), Anthem (1938), and The Fountainhead (1943.)

Frustrated with her intellectual climate, novelist and lay philosopher Ayn Rand (1905–82) collected ideas from a variety of philosophers and cobbled them into a unique view that she named Objectivism. By the mid-forties, she had given her philosophy a name: objectivism. Objectivism so impassioned Rand that she ultimately gave her talent over to it. With the completion of Atlas Shrugged in 1957, she had metamorphosed from writer to philosopher. Her subsequent work focused upon creating the “new intellectuals” through objectivism.

'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand (ISBN 451191145) Rand expounded on this personal worldview in her novel Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957. Rand defends Aristotle’s ideas that reality exists objectively and authoritatively, that the laws of logic guide our understanding, and that consciousness is the seat of humans’ ability to know. She defends the rationalist ideas that morality is objective and that conscious rationality bestows special moral significance. And she also defends the classical liberal idea that each person is obligated to respect every person’s right to pursue her interests, so long as those pursuits do not interfere with another person’s right to do so. Rand then argues that the only sociopolitical system consistent with these ideas is laissez-faire capitalism, that is, a free market economy.

One controversial implication is what Rand calls “the virtue of selfishness.” Since each person is intrinsically valuable, one’s primary moral obligation is to pursue one’s own interests. This pursuit is limited only by the recognition that others are also valuable, and thus no one has the right to deceive or coerce others. Selfish interests cannot conflict because it cannot be in our interests to have something to which we have no right. Although some goods may result from collective action, such goods never justify the use of force.

Many would deny that Ayn Rand was a humanist, for many have seen only the political side of her philosophy or heard only the most sensational remarks she has made. But Rand’s objectivism begs a higher level of understanding, a more holistic interpretation, which focuses not on the eccentricities of its founder but on its basic tenets. Objectivism, with humans its center and reason its instrument, in fact, rings of humanism.

Humanism is a broad term which has been applied to several disciplines—science, ethics, psychology—and no two people are likely to agree on any one interpretation. I will refer to a small number of unifying characteristics for the sake of this argument.

  • First of all, humanism is primarily concerned with humans—their self-actualization, fulfillment, and happiness on this Earth, in this life. Distinct from all other species on Earth, humans strive constantly to improve their lot herehence the term self-actualization—not simply to reproduce and exist. Humanism acknowledges humankind’s intelligence and creativity, placing the power of humans’ “destiny” in their own hands. And while humanism does not aggrandize human beings—they are but tiny specks in a small galaxy within a vast universe—they are seen as their own means and ends.
  • Humanism holds human intelligence sacrosanct; the ability to reason sets humans apart from all other life on Earth. Humanism is committed to this ability and to its nurturance and evolution. Curiosity has driven humankind to wonder about its surroundings, to ask “why” of all it experiences; humanism rewards this. Khoren Arisian, an ethics leader, recognized this distinction of humanism in his essay, “Ethics and Humanist Imagination,” when he wrote: “If Existentialism yields a timeless mood and mysticism yields a timeless psychology, then Humanism yields a timeless imagination, a universal sensibility.” It is their timeless imagination that will keep humans in search of the truth.
  • Finally, humanism abhors supernatural beliefs. Humanism sees dogma as a danger in that it tempts people to passively accept tenets without critical examination. Religion—in any form, a primitive and unscientific venture—is to be avoided. Furthermore, humanism teaches that human beings are accountable only to themselves, not to any supposed higher being. Humanity’s savior, if there could be such a thing, would be humans themselves.

'The Fountainhead' by Ayn Rand (ISBN 451191153) On all these points, Rand’s objectivism agrees with humanism: her view of humans and their position in the cosmos, her upholding of reason as the course humankind must take, and her opinion of religion as the course humans must obviate.

Rand was an outspoken proponent of humankind; in her philosophy and in her fiction, she portrayed humans as survivors, idealists, and heroes. The Randian hero is cooperative and aids others not simply because he or she learned to through socialization but because these characteristics are incorporated into a personal value system, a matter of personal integrity. Rand explains in The Virtue of Selfishness: For instance, if one’s friend is starving, it is not a sacrifice, but an act of integrity to give him money for food rather than buy some insignificant gadget for oneself, because his welfare is important in the scale of one’s personal values. If the gadget means more than the friend’s suffering, one had no business pretending to be his friend. Rand continues by arguing that survival, as well, is a matter of personal values: “If one values human life, one cannot value its destroyers.” Humanism, in the Randian society, would not only be taught but would be integrated into the very value system of the individual.

Rand considered herself a student of Aristotle—the only philosopher she credited for her formulation of objectivism- owing the very name of her philosophy to his quest for objective reality. Humans are gifted with reason, which enables them to understand their external world and, at the same time, their own consciousnesses. Rand saw reason as humankind’s only true knowledge and, therefore, as something which must be cultivated. According to Rand in The Virtue of Selfishness: For man, the basic means of survival is reason …. A process of thought is not automatic nor instinctive nor involuntary-nor infallible. Man has to initiate it, to sustain it and to bear responsibility for its results.

Religion, and the belief in some higher being to whom humans are obligated, is the antithesis of objectivism; it is in direct opposition to humankind’s ability to reason through critical analysis. Religion teaches people to place the direction of their lives in the hands of an unseen other, to follow ancient dogma without question, and to belittle themselves in the process. “Death is the ultimate goal and standard of value,” Rand writes of religion.

“Resignation, self-denial, and every other form of suffering, including self-destruction, are the virtues it advocates.” Religious people, forsaking themselves, live for the day when they will be reunited with their God in death; the Randian person lives the life he or she has. Humanism and objectivism seem bound by the same thread: humankind and its survival, progress, and fulfillment on this Earth. Ayn Rand may not have been a humanist per se, but the scope of her philosophy is undeniably humanistic.

Ayn Rand said in Atlas Shrugged, “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

Rand’s philosophy continues to spark controversy, especially among those who argue that some “social goods” cannot be achieved by individuals and that unacceptable economic inequalities result from unregulated trade. Though not all capitalists would call themselves Objectivists, many cite Rand as a formative influence, including economist Walter Williams (b. 1936) and politician Ron Paul (b. 1935).

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Posted in Philosophy and Wisdom

The Social Responsibility of Business: Define and Live Your High Purpose

'Managing Corporate Social Responsibility' by Timothy Coombs (ISBN 1444336452) High-purpose companies survive to serve basic human needs, advance society, and nurture an advanced form of capitalism. They address serious problems and make more money as an outcome. For example, in 1997 British Petroleum took a stand on global warming. By 2003, the company had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by over 10 percent, and become the foremost provider of cleaner-burning fuels and the second-largest manufacturer of solar panels. BP generated $650 million worth of value on a $20 million investment in ecologically friendly products and policies.

Examples of Corporate Social Responsibility

Examples of Corporate Social Responsibility

Comparable examples abound.

  • Interface Corporation, the largest commercial carpet and textile manufacturer, saved $230 million in overhead costs and increased market share because of its pledge to environmental sustainability.
  • Green Mountain Coffee Roasters grew fast because of its commitment to fair trade.
  • Stonyfield Farm Yogurt Company became the biggest organic brand in the U.S. though practices that helped struggling dairy farmers to survive.
  • Hewlett-Packard has positioned itself for long-term by helping close the digital divide.

Each of these companies is dedicated to a wider concept of social responsibility— no longer an postscript, a compliance issue, PR gimmick, or ugly stepchild to profit and strategy. It can help your business prosper. Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School characterizes the approach of the new givers, “We fixed American business; now we need to fix charity.”

Five Keys to Purpose First, Profits Second

The ability of successful entrepreneurs to generate considerable wealth is obvious. As such, their capacity to contribute from their resources to projects and organizations with a specific social enhancement agenda is also apparent. This potential for successful entrepreneurs to improve the quality of the society or societies in which they live and to become role models of philanthropic attempt is exemplified by the recent commitments of two of the most high profile and successful entrepreneurs in the United States, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. There has nevertheless been little scholarly investigation into the comparative tendency for entrepreneurs to participate in philanthropic endeavor, and whether entrepreneurs are inclined to adopt specific forms or tactics to their philanthropy.

Here are five keys to cultivating your performance via social responsibility and a high-purpose strategy:

  • 'People Over Profit' by Dale Partridge (ISBN 0718021746) Face the truth. To take up a higher purpose, you need to “own up” to your past. Carefully evaluate your company’s impact on society and the environment. Often, this review can divulge opportunities and can serve as a powerful catalyst to stimulate your organization and enable it to move in unison towards the best solutions. Today’s new rich have the opportunity to shape America-and the world-just as intensely as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller did. However, so far most have declined to take it.
  • Choose a relevant crusade. Your company can create more social and financial value by supporting a cause that directly relates to your business. What problems are unique to your company or category? What issues are most pressing to your customers, employees, suppliers, or shareholders? Discover financially self-sustaining charitable models that are relevant to your business. Effective charitable programs pay for themselves. The purpose of the crusade is to provide communities with practical experience in philanthropy and the opportunity to think consciously about giving back to society.
  • Do something that no one else can. What does your company do better than anyone else does? How can you use the company’s fortes, resources, and expertise to help solve the chosen problem? Develop an line of attack that cannot be easily mimicked. This way your core assets become recognized as being of service to humanity, thus rising the company’s value.
  • Put the problem first. Although every company should aim to secure rewards from their high-purpose initiatives, the character of the chosen social or environmental problem should point the direction. Take a needs-based approach. Study the problem, the circumstances surrounding it, and the people most affected by it. Then, engineer business-building solutions.
  • Expand definitions of success. Rather than define success solely in terms of short-term cost-effectiveness, build value and sustainability in all forms. Define and monitor your performance. The firm set up the foundation by means of its growing role in society. Managers faced operational and strategic quandaries concerning the host-countries’ poor public healthcare provision and in coming up with operative solutions.

Importance of Corporate Social Responsibility

Importance of Corporate Social Responsibility

The paybacks that you gain through high-purpose strategies range from competitive edge and growth opportunities to better stakeholder relationships, higher innovation, quality, efficiency, and lower overhead costs. This approach to philanthropy increases dependency and reduces initiative and enterprise. It doesn’t create the necessary human capacity to make communities self-sustaining and independent.

Today you must deliver social value. Companies that compete unfairly or function without regard to the collective interests will fail in the long term. High-purpose strategies do not disrupt companies from achieving the highest financial returns for shareholders. On the contrary, they build business, making them one of the best investments a company can make. Globalization is weakening the ties that bound companies to the communities that gave them birth.

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Posted in Business and Strategy Management and Leadership

Social Responsibility is a Business Imperative

Social Responsibility is a Business Imperative

Is your company and industry doing enough to fulfill its social responsibilities?

Obviously, we can all do more. It’s not just a responsibility—for us it’s a business imperative. When we work to make our communities more vibrant, beautiful and prosperous, we’re investing in making them more attractive to our visitors and giving them a reason to travel. Of course social responsibility is not just about investing in places—it’s also about investing in our people.

A guiding principle at our company is when we take care of our associates, they take care of our customers. When we provide a community’s young people with education and training, we enhance the quality of the labor pool. And when we do our part to make entire communities or countries more prosperous, we broaden and deepen a global middle class who can afford to buy the services we sell.

Community service initiatives are laboratories for leadership. They help identify and develop promising leaders, build teamwork, and improve loyalty. And obviously, when our companies demonstrate social responsibility, we add to our industry’s reservoir of goodwill from governments, customers, and the general public.

Real and effective social responsibility is shared by the entire company. Although we set policies for Marriott’s “Spirit to serve our communities” program, our leaders worldwide are strongly encouraged to get involved on a personal level in their communities.

Knowing what a community needs is critical to social responsibility. Just swooping in and offering some global cookie-cutter program and acting as though we know bestjust doesn’t work. Our communities know best what they need—and how to achieve it.

In 47 cities—worldwide, our general managers form business councils representing all of the brands in their market. One top priority is to pool their capital and human resources to serve the needs of their communities.

Of course, there are many needs, and we can’t meet them all. So, we try to leverage our core expertise. That might mean offering ballroom space for charitable fundraisers, or donating surplus furniture to housing programs.

It also means tapping the experience of our leaders. For instance, 50 percent of Marriott’s managers come from the hourly ranks, and those people personally know how rewarding it is to climb the economic ladder. And those same leaders have helped to bring thousands of chronically unemployed people into the work force. Our leaders are the spirit behind a program we call “pathways to independence” —where people learn to find and keep good jobs.

In our pathways program, we match participants with mentors, train them, and help them with solutions to problems that get in the way of work-like childcare and transportation. When they complete the program, they’re guaranteed a job offer.

Environmental protection is another example of social responsibility. In environmentally fragile areas, we might support the community and its tourism-reliant economy by protecting endangered species. For example, at the JW Marriott Phuket Resort nearly 2,500 guests and locals gathered at sunset to release 10,000 baby turtles into the ocean—helping to raise awareness about the plight of these creatures.

Sometimes meeting local needs means building a roof over someone’s head. At a recent Habitat for Humanity project in Costa Rica, associates and top executives from Marriott worked side by side to help build several homes for local families. We’re doing the same in Washington, D.C., and many other cities.

We also need to invest in our communities by investing in our people and improving their lives. Travel and tourism is a 24/7 business, so we help our people deal with this. Every parent knows childcare can be a challenge, but when you’re working the overnight shift at a hotel, it can be almost impossible. That’s why we offer several resources to help families. One example is our associate resource line, which provides access to local services for help with family, legal, and other issues. We also coordinate closely with our people to find flexible and creative solutions to childcare needs. At our Desert Springs resort in California, for instance, six housekeepers with 11 children formed a “childcare cooperative” where they take turns caring for each other’s kids. The property helps coordinate their work schedules—and it works!

Now, all of these ideas are fine, but meaningless if we don’t address our industry’s challenges. We need to work together to get people traveling again.

Travel and tourism’s “perfect storm” has created great challenges. Yet, in every dark cloud there is a silver lining. The events of the last three years have significantly raised awareness about the vital importance of travel and tourism.

Our industry has top-of-mind awareness among world leaders. We must continue to educate our leaders about the tremendous value of our industry. We need to be active champions for our industry and continually ask, “Are we doing enough to make travel and tourism work for everyone?” We are doing a lot, but I hope we never allow ourselves to believe it’s enough in social responsibility, as in leadership, success is never final.

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Posted in Investing and Finance Management and Leadership

Milton Friedman on Corporate Social Responsibility

Milton Friedman, American Economist

Milton Friedman, American economist, argued against the concept of corporate social responsibilities in a famous article called “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.” Friedman was the most prominent advocate of free markets and won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1976.

Those who advocate such a concept, Friedman argued are unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of free society. Friedman cites the fiduciary responsibility of a company to maximize its profits for shareholders. Any expenditure elsewhere (e.g. to a charitable cause) is equivalent to theft from the shareholders.

Businesspersons who talk this way are unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.

In each of these cases, the corporate executive would be spending someone else’s money for a general social interest. Insofar as his actions in accord with his “social responsibility” reduce returns to stockholders, he is spending their money. Insofar as his actions raise the price to customers, he is spending the customers’ money. Insofar as his actions lower the wages of some employees, he is spending their money.

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Posted in Business and Strategy