Whimsy and studiousness from a nice lady who lives in Michigan and loves Objectivism.

My Photo
Name: Amy
Location: United States

I'm a good-natured person who enjoys living.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ayn Rand and Scrabble

Happy Memorial Day weekend! During Saturday's meeting, you could say we had a memorial to Ayn Rand as we listened to Harry Binswanger and Allan Gotthelf's talk on Ayn Rand's character and personality. It was story after story of how she took her values seriously, especially the positive ones, and innumerable instances of her personal warmth, caring and friendship.

I've also transcribed my favorite excerpt from one of Harry Binswanger's recollections, for your referential pleasure:

When I got to know her best, I used to go over to play Scrabble with her. And I just thought you would like to know what kind of Scrabble player this genius, ruthless Egoist was. She played cooperative Scrabble. She said, “Do you want me not to go there?” “Were you planning to go there, because I don’t want to mess up what you’re doing.” She was not competitive – she was cooperative. And I reciprocated.

One time, an opportunity opened up. Now if you know Scrabble, the bottom row was opened up, and there were two columns going down into it, so it was theoretically possible that you could go across one triple-word score all the way to the other triple-word score and get nine-fold of your score. And she’s got some blanks, so she’s looking at her rack, and I say, “let me see what you got,” and she shows me what she’s got, and this is how far things degenerated. And I said, “let me look through the dictionary, because you’ve got a ‘Q’ and if you could get your ‘Q’ on the double-letter score, that already would be 180 points.” …

So she’s sitting there with a ‘Q’, and the logical possibility of the bottom row being filled in for a triple-triple. So I pick up the Scrabble dictionary and within one second I see “seaquake,” an earthquake at sea. And I look down at her tiles, and she has it! … And she puts down “seaquake,” and the ‘Q’ lands on the double-letter score. So she gets 180 points, and I think she got over 300 points, but it was totally phony, because we cheated. I didn’t know “seaquake.” But that was the way she played Scrabble. She played as an act of friendship and cooperation and enjoyment. She was not a cutthroat player at all.
What a wonderful way of looking at a game! I just love it. This is very funny to me, because I've seen Objectivists in the past think that game-playing must be inherently competitive and based on the strict principles of justice -- that it is somehow immoral and unjust to go outside the rules of the game. (Of course this depends of what values and rules both parties agree to in advance.)

What struck me about this story was that Ayn Rand didn't desire to be the winner of this game. She wanted to do the best she could and especially wanted to see Harry do the best he could, and they worked together to produce the best word-plays. She valued seeing the best within her and other's minds regardless of who won the game. There have been many moments when I've read her works or read about her life that I felt the desire to reach out and give her a hug if she were still living, and this is one of them.

(This brings to mind the scene in Atlas Shrugged where Dagny was playing tennis with Francisco. Having first interpreted this scene as Dagny wanting to win for her own achievement, I think she won it so that Francisco could take enjoyment in seeing her do her best, along with the other elements of courtship involved -- no pun intended!)

This pro-learning, pro-effort mentality, regardless of the outcome of a game or who you might impress, is truly the most individualistic, and the most successful method of personal improvement. Comparing yourself to others will not make you better. It's looking at yourself, limits AND strengths, and finding out the best way to be the most productive with what you have. If there is someone better than you at a given task, it's a great opportunity to find out what that person is doing right, and emulate it.

This reminds me of a short news video we watched at the meeting about a 12 year old girl basketball player being kicked off the boy's team because she played too well. This sounds horrible, of course, but listen to what a boy teammate has to say about her effect on the team (about a third of the way through the video). One would hope with that nice story being broadcast nationally that The Hoops team would be pressured to correct their evil ways!


Blogger softwareNerd said...

Cool clip of that girl who plays basketball. Thanks for sharing.

May 26, 2008 12:34 PM  
Blogger Burgess Laughlin said...

> "It was story after story of how she took her values seriously, especially the positive ones, and . . ."

What would be an example of a negative value? In other words, what would be an example of seeking to gain and keep a negative?

June 14, 2008 7:41 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Good question, Burgess! I was trying to express (and perhaps was failing) that when she really loved something (a positive value, or higher value - one which you have strong positive feelings for), she really relished it, as something she loved doing or having. And she didn't take it for granted.

I didn't mean to imply that Ayn Rand held non-values (sacrifice, befriending statists, etc.). There were values that she held and thought were important, but had no desire or reason to do at first, or even to develop or improve on later. For example, she did not like public speaking -- one reason being her thick Russian accent. However, she held it as a value in the context of spreading her ideas at the Ford Hall Forum, as something she had to do in order to obtain a greater value.

And even though she did not like her accent, she did not spend a substantial amount of her time trying to improve her ability. She understood her ability was effective, but not ideal, in that people could understand her when she spoke, but she was never statisfied with her accent. I wouldn't use the term "negative value," but "lesser value" to describe this, as "negative value" is contradictory, and synonymous with "non-value."

I see your concern with using "positive value." However, the term "higher value" does not necessarily imply strong, happy emotions. (Getting out of Communist Russia was a high value, but was not a purely happy occasion, as she had to leave her family, etc.) This is why I used the term "positive value." I appreciate your question -- it helped me clarify what I was writing. And for this, I thank you!

June 14, 2008 11:31 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home