Ayn Rand/Objectivism Sightings
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Objectivism and Military Service
Ayn Rand identified logic as non-contradictory thinking. I believe that serving in the military is not necessarily contradictory to the virtues of selfishness.
At first inspection, the rational individualism of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism seems contrary to the requirements of military service. Everyone dressing alike is the most visible fact. Following orders without question is the deeper problem, of course, especially as that can lead to your own death. Groups are sacrificed in feints and gambits. The military shares well with other institutions the vice of inertial conservativism. Innovators such as Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell and Adm. William Sowden Sims were perfect examples of those whose heroism was not in standing tall against deadly weapons but in persistently confronting mediocrity to the demise of their own careers. However, in fact, admirers of Ayn Rand’s philosophy and fiction can be found easily in U.S. military ranks. See, for example, Love My Rifle More than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army by Kayla Williams (W. W. Norton, 2005) and The Leader’s Bookshelf, edited by Adm. James Stavridis USN (Ret.) and R. Manning Ancell (Naval Institute Press, 2017). But it is also easy to find Christians in the military, even though Christianity insists that we love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and obey a commandment not to kill. Clearly, people have the ability to explain away their moral standards in order to rationalize their choices. I assert that military service per se is as morally neutral as any other career. The ethics of its practice depends on the values of the actor.
First, we have to clear away a lot of rubbish. Our common culture includes both underlying and overarching narratives of mysticism, altruism, and collectivism. Ayn Rand’s fiction famously portrays good and evil architects and good and evil physicists. The Code of Ethics of the American Institute of Architects (http://content.aia.org/sites/default/files/2020-05/2020_Code_of_Ethics.pdf) and the Code of Ethics of the American Physical Society (https://www.aps.org/policy/statements/) are not alone among professional codes that include well-meaning, but arguable assertions of civic engagement, environmental protection, and political neutrality. The fact remains: You are not responsible for every assertion made by any or all other practitioners of your profession.
The military is a proper function of government. Its practice has not been properly defined and articulated in the past. What follows here is one soldier’s viewpoint after five years of part-time service. It is not an integrated philosophical treatise. I present something closer to that in an essay on my blog, NecessaryFacts. See “Shifting the Paradigm of Private Security” here. https://necessaryfacts.blogspot.com/2012/11/shifting-paradigm-of-private-security.html
But that was written after a decade in private security while I completed an associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s in criminology. Some of that clearly applies to military service. Other aspects may not.
From November 22, 2014 to October 29, 2019, I was a petty officer in the Maritime Regiment of the Texas State Guard. About a dozen states have their own active home guards. By law, they are within the same state departments as the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. (There is no Navy National Guard.) They all report to the same adjutant general. By federal law, the state guards cannot be federalized or sent overseas. They answer to their governors only, never to the President. Generally, today, they are not issued weapons, though most states grant that power to the governor in response to an emergency. Historically, the Texas State Guard has patrolled the international border with Mexico, been military police, and provided civic riot control. Generally, the primary purpose all state guards today is emergency response to mass casualty events such as tornados, floods, fires, and hurricanes. My primary duties were editing and writing policies, plans, and procedures for the general staff. I also was assigned to 14 months of fulltime employment as a specialist in the Domestic Operations Taskforce where I was one of six state guard sergeants working for national guard colonels in plans and training. My direct supervisors were young lieutenants and captains returned from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. In my five years, I was deployed as a computer operator in command and control for four emergencies. The last of them was Hurricane Harvey, for me, 24 straight 12-hour duty days. Among the citations on my ribbon rack are two humanitarian service awards, two meritorious service awards, a national guard service award, and an adjutant general’s individual achievement medal.
That last speaks directly to the Objectivist virtues of military service. Contrary to the common narrative that individuality is erased in the making of humans into mindless killing machines, the military encourages and rewards initiative, values human life, and reinforces dignity, respect, and self-esteem. As with any other profession, you bring yourself to its practice.
“To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason—Purpose—Self-esteem. Reason, as his only tool of knowledge—Purpose, as his choice of the happiness which that tool must proceed to achieve—Self-esteem, as his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means: is worthy of living. These three values imply and require all of man’s virtues, and all his virtues pertain to the relation of existence and consciousness: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride.” – Galt’s Speech.
In the military we wear our resumes. We do not pin ribbon awards on our work uniforms. We do wear up to four skill badges, subdued and black. Additionally, up to three special skill tabs can be worn on the sleeve. Those, along with rank and unit insignias, show everyone who you are and what you have achieved. You can earn them in order to impress other people. But that person is also easy to identify. The soldier, sailor, marine, or airman who is a self-motivated self-starter is also easy to identify.
At my second drill, going over the rules paragraph by paragraph, a JAG lawyer said to me, “There’s black and white and gray. If you stay out of the gray, you never have to worry about the black and white.”
“Honor is self-esteem made visible in action.” – Philosophy Who Needs It.
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