Ayn Rand Institute board chair talks morality, society at Berkeley Forum event

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Yaron Brook, board chair of the Ayn Rand Institute, which teaches and promotes Ayn Rand’s ideas, spoke about the morality of self-interest and the role it plays in capitalism and politics at the Berkeley Forum on Thursday.

About 30 attendees came together in Morrison Hall to hear Brook explain and share his perspective on the relevance of objectivism. Rand, a controversial Russian American writer and philosopher best known for her book “Atlas Shrugged,” developed objectivism as a philosophy that makes the moral case for following reason rather than emotions or faith and promotes the pursuit of self-interest.

“For reason to be fully efficacious, the mind must be free — free from coercion, free from force, free from authority,” Brook said during his presentation. “A government that protects us from those who would use force against us — that’s capitalism.”

Brook applied objectivism to politics and economics, crediting capitalism with immense improvements in quality of life. He said that while socialism is “super popular these days, it’s like everybody wants to starve,” adding that limits to freedom placed upon society by socialism also result in increased death and poverty.

Brook said socialism is based on moral codes that value altruism, saying that Rand challenges and rejects ideas that promote self-sacrifice for others and the expectation that similar sacrifices be reciprocated. Instead, he spoke about focusing on one’s own life and how reason should guide decision-making for a successful life. Instead of being a force for good, Brook claimed that altruism has been used as a political tool by authoritarian leaders to control human behavior through guilt.

Applying objectivism to foreign policy, Brook suggested that the United States should refrain from intervention into other countries unless there are “clear American interests” at stake. He said that because the role of the government is to protect the lives and property of American citizens, the United States should remain uninvolved for any reason short of the loss of American lives.

I actually agreed with a lot of the things he said about objectivism and egoism and how that ties into politics, and especially economics now,” said campus sophomore Andrew Santoso. “The one thing I don’t understand is the rejection of altruism in objectivism — humans want to be altruistic.”

Many academic philosophers have criticized objectivism, but Brooks defended Rand’s work, claiming she simply used different terms than other philosophers and made her ideas accessible to the general public.

According to Brook, Rand was a “system builder” whose blend of philosophy, politics and economic theory provides answers to many of the issues in the humanities today but is difficult for other philosophers to grasp.

Campus student Amaan Kazi said that while he appreciated Brook’s points, he felt some parts of objectivism are not “applicable in dynamic society.”

“Part of our mission statement is to bring folks who cover as diverse a set of disciplines as possible, as diverse a set of schools of thought,” said Berkeley Forum President Michael Chien. “So I think the folks that came looking for a perspective on that issue or school of thought had a really good time.”

Contact Emily Hom at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hom_emily.