Reason as the Leading Motive

Virtual Objectivists

Posted by Jerry on October 30, 2007

There appears to be a particular affinity for Ayn Rand–or at least for the individualistic passion of her classic hero Howard Roark–among many people in the IT/software industry.

I assume we all know that Jimmy Wales, the famous creator of the Wikipedia, is an explicit Objectivist (I think Diana from Noodlefood is even friends with him). He describes himself as an “Objectivist to the core” and has even named his daughter Kira–after Ayn Rand’s heroine in We The Living.

But Michael Berliner of the Ayn Rand Institute revealed some additional names from the software industry who seem like Ayn Rand admirers, in an article titled Ayn Rand Inspired High-Tech Capitalism:

“I know that T.J. Rogers [of Cypress Semiconductors] loves Atlas Shrugged,” says Michael Berliner, the director of the Ayn Rand Institute in Marina del Rey, Calif. “Both Gates and [Michael] Milken have read it. But they’re afraid of what it has to say.

The 1997 article goes on to discuss the popularity of Ayn Rand in the Silicon Valley:

If a decade ago students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could be seen lugging around copies of Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, today many of the same guys are pulling down million-dollar-a-year salaries in a tiny pocket of economic affluence known as Silicon Valley.

… in the meritocratic manner in which they run their companies, many high-tech business leaders would be more at home with architect Howard Roark, Rand’s heroic iconoclast who propelled The Fountainhead to the top of the best-seller lists, than Ben and Jerry, who sell heart disease by the pint all the while claiming that their “1 percent for peace” philosophy is rooted in something deeper than the bottom line.

As a demonstration of the fact that meritocracy is the law of the land at Silicon Valley, in one incident…

Rogers lambasted a group of Roman Catholic nuns who, owning 7,000 shares of stock in Cypress, felt compelled to tell him they thought he should place women and racial minorities on its board of directors. Rogers, after telling the letter’s author, Sister Doris Gormely, to get off her “moral high horse,” went on to say that it would be immoral for him to heed to the nun’s request, especially since there are few women with the engineering or business experience to qualify them to sit on the Cypress board.

Then there is this recent post by Yahoo! Web Developer Isaac Schlueter, who considers The Fountainhead as one of his favorite books. He writes about a Howard Roark residing in each web developer:

Yahoo’s internal web developer mailing list flares up in these delightful debates once or twice a month, and it always warms my heart to be reminded that there’s an intransigent little Roark inside each one of us. Some 50 years before the Internet was even a spark in TBL’s eye, Ayn Rand managed to capture the timeless essence of a web developer in the character of Howard Roark.

If you’re wondering what is it about web developers and people in the software business that find such an appeal in Ayn Rand’s intransigently individualistic philosophy, I’ll venture to offer that the clue lies in the individualistic nature of their work, the uncompromising demand for personal merit and skill on the job, the inventiveness and imaginativeness of their products, the intimacy between the creator and the emergence of the product being created, and in the privately creative process of their production.

8 Responses to “Virtual Objectivists”

  1. I resent, “heart disease by the pint.” Ice cream does not kill people, PEOPLE kill people. Now I need to get some vanilla ice cream from my freezer.

  2. Deep said

    I found the letter by Cypress S. CEO T.J.Rodgers to the nuns.

    A brilliant read, to say the least. I am still smiling. 🙂

  3. Ergo said

    Deep, thanks a lot for that link. The letter is truly brilliant!

  4. rambodoc said

    ” the clue lies in the individualistic nature of their work, the uncompromising demand for personal merit and skill on the job, the inventiveness and imaginativeness of their products, the intimacy between the creator and the emergence of the product being created, and in the privately creative process of their production.”
    By this token, most of the good surgeons and obstetricians would be Rand admirers. It is a matter of fact that they would all be Rand admirers, if only they knew that the Rand is a form of currency!

  5. Ergo said

    hehee… Rambodoc, that’s fine, only so far as the surgeon does not “create” an appendix when performing an appendectomy! 😉

  6. Thanks for the link!

    I think you hit the nail on the head. The inherent meritocratic nature of software development makes it a very fertile environment for Rand’s ideas. Roark-ish types are naturally drawn to these fields.

  7. Butler T. Reynolds said

    The fact that most software developers have a Peter Keating as a boss helps endear them to Howard Roark as well.

  8. In addition to the explanations you have suggested, I would add another possibility: The software industry is largely unregulated compared to traditional industries such as banking and railroading. More adventuresome individuals tend to be attracted to such an environment.

    The same explanations you have offered for software workers applied thirty to forty years ago in the electronics industry, which was then the technology frontier, as software is today. I know, as a (former) writer, editor, and publisher in the electronics industry, because I saw such people in relatively large numbers.

    One problem remains, however: How would one explain the presence of other philosophical types: environmentalists, socialists, religionists (such as the God Squad Mormons at one company in which I worked)?

    I will never forget the posters on the walls of the cubicles of some electronic-engineering designers — posters showing the burning of a Bank of America branch-bank in Riverside, California. The arson was committed by leftists opposing the Vietnam War (our previous War of Sacrifice). The gleeful caption was: Burn, Baby, Burn!

    Burgess Laughlin

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