What Can We Apply From Ayn Rand?


PBS.org posted an opinion piece taking down Ayn Rand. One of my favorite personal philosophical ideas is to take bits of process from various sources to create your own process. I first wrote about this idea in the context of building an investment process but I believe it can pertain to other aspects of life. My most recent post on this took inspiration from an episode of The Walking Dead, "take what you need, leave what you don't." I am certainly no Rand scholar but a couple of her ideas interest me and I have taken those, so to speak, and left a lot of it.

To take her writing literally, she believed in putting self interest in the extreme above all else, she seemed to eschew things like community, which she referred to as tribalism, and altruism. There is of course much more to her work but it is her thoughts on self interest and then how to integrate that self interest into an interesting and productive life.

At apparent exact odds with Rand is the idea of living a life of service which I believe in wholeheartedly, which I have written about many times and is how my wife and I live our lives. Here is an interesting quote from Rand taken from the PBS article;

> For instance, when discussing the social instinct — does it matter whether it had existed in the early savages? Supposing men were born social (and even that is a question) — does it mean that they have to remain so? If man started as a social animal — isn’t all progress and civilization directed toward making him an individual? Isn’t that the only possible progress? If men are the highest of animals, isn’t man the next step?

I actually think this idea should be inverted. Developing as an individual, even selfishly, is what can lead to a life of robust service while still having selfish objectives or taking rewarding opportunities.

In my 20's and into my early 30's my wife and I worked hard, built something of a financial foundation that gave us optionality in terms of being able to move to Walker (the little mountain community outside Prescott, AZ where we live) and take a couple of risks in terms of starting the current phase of my career. The idea of taking this kind of risk seems to me to be in line with the self interest that Rand wrote about (my interpretation). I focused on getting started and wasn't really engaging with the community right away.

Shortly thereafter I joined the fire department and my career logistics of working from home allowed my to become increasingly engaged with the department. My interests in joining were at first somewhat selfish, I thought I would have fun with it and would face different challenges than I would have otherwise gotten to experience.

I started blogging in 2004 with similarly selfish motives, I thought it would be fun and that it would help grow my business which it did. But as I progressed with both endeavors they pivoted from selfish to community in that they both helped people, they both fulfill the idea of living a life of service. I derive benefits from both to be sure but my blog posts reach far more people than I could ever hope to take on as clients and helping people with a medical problem or putting out a fire is the literal definition of community involvement.

The benefits derived from both could be summed up as getting to meet people I would never otherwise get to meet and do things I would never otherwise get to do. Financially I have never made much money from the blog but it led to two well paid side gigs, first with the Street.com and then with AdvisorShares. I've mentioned many times that the path to deriving an income not directly from the fire department but utilizing the training I have working on large fires which pays very well. At this point I don't know if I will ever try to monetize this aspect of my fire involvement but I know what steps to take if I want to.

The benefit I derive from engaging in my community is immense and I believe this opportunity is available to most people. You are genuinely helping people and getting plenty in return. Assuming you enjoy the manner in which you choose to engage your community as much as I enjoy how I engage mine, this would seem to be exactly what Rand was talking about, again this is my interpretation.