In a comparison contrarian enough to befit a scholar from the Ayn Rand institute, Ghate described our idea that selfishness is a root and cause of evil as similar to the once-prevalent ideas that African-Americans were less human or women could not be trusted to vote. He dedicated much of the beginning of his talk not to defending selfishness, but rather to establishing this defense of selfishness as a moral crusade. After declaring outright that “Selfishness is a virtue,” Ghate depicted Ayn Rand and her followers as moral crusaders championing selfishness as an important value to live by.
Ghate was fully aware of the anomaly of his position. “You’re in a strange position when you’re challenging perceived moral views, because when you’re challenging them, well, your position is immoral!” He didn’t take this as a crutch but rather a challenge. “Real moral crusaders don’t back down from that kind of fight.”
In his first attack presented against societal conceptions of selfishness, Ghate lambasted the simplified way our moral system views selfishness. “We need selfishness to suppress evil and selfishness is evil… so morality becomes a ‘knife that slashes away at your desires’,” he explained, quoting Rand. This view, according to Ghate, is a fraud that forces one to choose between becoming “a victim or an executioner.” “No, there’s a third alternative,” Ghate asserted, “in which [you] neither exploit other people nor do you surrender yourself.”
Ghate returned to his example of Bill Gates to illustrate persecution against selfishness. As a direct result of his fortune, Ghate lamented, we have the idea that Gates is selfish. “And if he’s selfish, he must be an exploiter, he must make victims of others.”
Ghate’s frustration with this phenomenon led him to make his first political implication. As a result of our deep-seated assumption that selfishness implies exploitation, Ghates said, Gates “was dragged in front of the justice system, basically for the crime of being too good… that he was better than his competitors… the crime of giving away Internet Explorer for free.” The investigation that tore through Gates’ personal property and reputation was another “tremendous injustice” born of the same irrational aversion to purusing self-interest, Ghate concluded.
His second political implication was a defense of partisan politics in congress. He criticized the common idea that Republicans are “selfish for holding the country hostage.” This, he stated, is a baseless reason to call for compromise and for Republicans to “give in and give up their ideas.” He explicitly disagreed with the Republican party’s ideas themselves, but rejected the premise that Republicans are at fault simply because they are “selfish to be concerned with what they think is right and with their principles.”
He went further, comparing the Republicans with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who was also “denounced as extreme.” Ghate upheld Garrison as an example of selfishness, lauding his refusal to compromise. “He held fast to his extreme position. That’s selfish.”
The message drew about 75 students and community members to the Stanford Law School, and a live online screening, organized in part by the national campus publication The Undercurrent, broadcasted it to an additional 300 viewers. The Objectivists of Stanford hosted the event and objectivist student groups from 7 campuses across the nation organized viewings of the talk.