Ayn Rand hates Twin Oaks

from Keenan’s Twin Oaks blog Jan 29, 2012


Ayn Rand when she first hears about Twin Oaks

Ayn Rand drives me nuts!  Her philosophy of greed and selfishness is antithetical to everything I do and believe. But imagine my shock when I  discovered a few weeks ago that the feeling is mutual. In the midst of one of my Ayn Rand rants, Kristen told me that Ayn Rand specifically mentioned Twin Oaks as a failed philosophy in an article. Really!?

I googled “Ayn Rand, Twin Oaks” and there it was–a reference to her book, Philosophy: Who needs it where Ayn Rand  criticizes Twin Oaks–for two pages!  This world-famous philosopher of selfishness, greed, and individualism singles out Twin Oaks community as a bastion of the failed philosophy of egalitarianism and cooperation.  Hallelujah!  That is about the highest praise that Twin Oaks may ever receive! She ends her screed on Twin Oaks with this sentence:  “For my comments on this [why Twin Oaks will fail], see Atlas Shrugged.”

So I did. Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand’s magnum Opus. A 1066 page best-selling novel that describes the societal collapse that would ensue if the 40 or 50 most competent people in the world went on strike. Ironically, about two-thirds of the way into the novel these gifted elite gather together on Galt’s Gulch,  a “Utopia of Greed,” which sounds a lot like an off-the-grid survivalist commune. Maybe commune isn’t the right word since the communards say “We’re just a voluntary association of men held together by nothing but every man’s self interest.”  

Welcome to Galt’s Gulch!

From the conservapedia:

However, the Gulch had several unwritten customs which arose as a reaction to the  things that the residents sought to rest from. No one ever remained in the Gulch at another person’s expense, nor asked nor granted any unremunerated favors. Every resident was expected to pay his rent, or else pay room and board to the leaseholder of any house in which he stayed. Similarly, no one ever “borrowed” something belonging to another; instead one rented it and was expected to negotiate a rent with the owner…[as] an example of “resting” from the constant stress of living in a society in which one’s fellow citizens constantly demanded certain things of one and expressed no willingness to pay for those things.

Other than these details, Ayn Rand doesn’t bother to describe how greedy, self-interested capitalists would actually structure their little utopia.  This may be why Ayn Rand goes out of her way to pick on Twin Oaks–because  the founders of Twin Oaks were inspired by the behaviorist, B.F. Skinner.  Behaviorism,  as described by B.F. Skinner, was a philosophy of how to control human behavior.  Since Ayn Rand believed any constraint on individual behavior was immoral,  she deplored behaviorism.

B.F. Skinner wished to illuminate how his behaviorist principles could be implemented so he, too, wrote a novel ,Walden Two, describing a  group of people living in a communal utopia.  In B.F. Skinner’s case the communards are living according to behaviorist principles.
In 1967 Kat Kinkade and a handful of other people were inspired enough by Walden Two  to set out and actually set up a behaviorist utopia. This group bought land and began bringing Dr. Skinner’s ideals to fruition. That is what set Ayn Rand off; she was seething that a theoretician who she fundamentally opposed had real people setting up real experiments to prove his theory.
For all of Ayn Rand’s ire, Twin Oaks was never able to implement Skinner’s theories.  The details of how to actually control human behavior weren’t covered in  Walden Two. In fact, it turns out that human behavior is far too complex to set up contingencies of reinforcement for every possible behavior. Psychology students touring Twin Oaks inevitably come away disappointed at the abandonment of Behaviorism.
These days if you google “Galt’s Gulch, ” a housing development in Argentina comes up. Why are there no attempts among Ayn Rand’s acolytes  to create a utopia of greed? Here’s why: her fundamental theories of human nature are fiction and will always and only exist in the realm of fiction. There can be no real world experiment because real people choosing how to live together will never choose “selfishness”  as the core concept around which to coalesce.

Ayn Rand’s name has been in the news of late because of the recent meltdown of the economy.  Many of the captains of industry are followers of the theories of Ayn Rand. In her writings, Ayn Rand goes on and on about “looters,”  bureaucrats who take the wealth of hard-working people without having earned it.  What has been revealed in the most recent economic crash in disturbing detail is that successful capitalists can be the worst looters, taking the accumulated wealth of hard-working homeowners and then tossing them out of their houses and then re-selling the empty houses.  Alan Greenspan, ex Fed chairman and an uncritical disciple of Ayn Rand, finally admitted that maybe Ayn Rand’s theories (that had been guiding his approach to the global economy) were incorrect. Thanks, Al.
I had to fly down to Florida and  so on a whim I picked  up a copy of Harvard Business Review. I was pleased and stunned that in article after article the basic premises of Ayn Rand were challenged.  I mean, the Harvard Business Review…

The editors of HBR write, “…emerging research from neuroscience, psychology, and economics makes the link between a thriving workforce and better business performance absolutely clear. Happiness can have an impact at both the company and the country level.”
Bruno S. Frey and Margit Osterloh write, “The evidence keeps growing that pay for performance is ineffective.”

Christopher Meyer and Julia Kirby write, “The overall objective  of commerce in society was then, like now, to better people’s welfare…Today 41 countries have initiatives under way related to measuring happiness  [as an alternative to GDP]… [I really love this next one] the effect of empowering alpha competitors is not to make an economy more competitive [Take THAT Ayn Rand!]…Capitalism can evolve and center on new pursuits…competition…moves over for collaboration…Suppose capitalism really centered on the pursuit of value–the greatest good for the greatest number.”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter  writes “IBM, P&G, PepsiCo, and many other companies are aligning enduring value with social good.”  Wait a minute!  I know her! Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote a book back in the seventies about communes, Commitment and Community,  where she devoted a whole chapter to Twin Oaks and why it is doomed to fail because Twin Oaks doesn’t have the right culture to get people to commit and stay.  (Ironic that Twin Oaks’ turnover has slowed to a trickle.) Now she is a professor of business at Harvard. This is getting spooky! Why do all these political/social theorists go out of their way to pick on Twin Oaks?

It’s a pink book .
Anyway, there is hope for the world if even  hard-core capitalists have abandoned Ayn Rand’s theories. Her theories can’t stand up to the bright light of empirical analysis. And yet the application of those theories has been the impetus for much global  destruction of capital and general misery.
Twin Oaks, despite Ayn Rand’s prediction is thriving; Ayn Rand was wrong about Twin Oaks.  Ayn Rand also was wrong about human nature.  Attempting to sculpt a world, little or big, based on greed and selfishness will only ever result in failure and human misery. Let us hope that Ayn Rand’s theories will soon be tossed into the compost bin of history.
Ayn Rand hates Twin Oaks

One thought on “Ayn Rand hates Twin Oaks

  1. Allen Butcher says:

    Rosabeth Moss Canter was an editor of the Harvard Business Review for many years (saw her recently on TV). Sort of like Corrine McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson of Sirius Community who wrote a book about community (Builders of the Dawn) then applied what they learned to politics (Spiritual Politics I think is the title), Rosabeth Kanter took her learning about community into business. She printed some great articles in the HBR around 1990 (I had copies but lost them). At the time of Kanter’s visit to TO In 1971 it was not clear that TO would survive. She said the community was at a subsistence level, so I would not criticize how she portrayed TO, as it had not at that time distinguished itself from the pack of other communes that all eventually passed away. I actually think that society is coming around now to a better appreciation of communalism and TO, thanks to its success. There is now a growing emphasis upon socially-responsible businesses, an ongoing interest of the Harvard Business Reviewc for which TO provides one good model.


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