EVE Online appears to be an uncompromising dog-eat-dog gaming environment where only the creative and ruthless can prevail. At first glance, nothing in EVE restricts the individual player from pursuing their vision. Those who work towards their objectives relentlessly are rewarded if they do not allow themselves to be hindered by compassion or altruism. In the field of industry, great tycoons can freely develop their business empires. In battle, those who lead their fleets to victory can become powerful warlords. The most strong-willed and dedicated technocrats may even become leaders of great empires. No law or political power stands in their way, and nobody is entitled to get a share of their achievements in the name of egalitarianism. Only those who genuinely contribute can enjoy the fruits of success.
It all sounds like this game could have been conceived by 20th century writer and activist Ayn Rand. With the Caldari State there is even an entity built into the game’s lore which is very much based on her ideals.
Who Is Ayn Rand Anyway?
In 1926, 21 year-old Alisa Rosenbaum arrived in the United States from Russia to visit relatives. The experience left a deep impression on her. She became an American citizen, changed her name to Ayn Rand and never returned home. Her idea was, that there are certain fundamental virtues in United States society which show great potential, and she began to develop a philosophy as her own logical conclusion. As she matured, she turned to writing and activism in an effort to spread that philosophy which she called objectivism.
Ayn Rand was largely ignored by the academia of her time and even today political philosophers and social scientists would rather not be associated with her ideas.  Her fictional writing, which she used as the main method to propagate her ideology, was subjected to heavy criticism, even outright rejection. Still, her works reached the bestseller lists and achieved significant popularity. After her death in 1982, a new generation of entrepreneurs drew inspiration from her work. Throughout the 1990s the concepts of objectivism and the writings of Ayn Rand became a significant influence among the businessmen of Silicon Valley such as Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison. Some even considered themselves real-world versions of the fictional heroes Ayn Rand had imagined as exemplars of the virtues she advocated. Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged ranked second place after the Bible in a 1991 Library of Congress survey on the most influential books in people’s lives.
Objectivism In One Paragraph (Or Two)
“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute”.
– Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand’s view of the United States was that of a country made great by its entrepreneurs and their freedom to turn rational visions into reality. Rand was very much in favour of negative liberty.  She also believed that only pure rational and individualist action of a society’s elite will lead to the full realisation of humanity’s potential. Those who are able to develop groundbreaking ideas should be allowed to pursue them without constraints. That does not only include constraints from without, such as laws, politics or state authority, but also any personal traits which might get in the way. She argued that we should rid ourselves of such irrational notions as altruism, compassion or unconditional love. Of course she also rejected any form of religion or faith categorically.
The heroically depicted protagonists of Ayn Rand’s stories are architects, industrialists, engineers and entrepreneurs who are capable of great works but are antagonised by governments, an irrational public, and a wider ideology of profiteering from the achievement of individuals by subjecting them to taxation and forcing them to contribute to a society which offers them nothing in return, all in the name of social equality. Rand used her narrative and its main characters as vehicle to exemplify the virtues she believed in and to demonstrate the negative effects which political power and irrational ideology have according to her. She even included examples of romance and sexual relationships to illustrate how those should ideally develop in her view: Love should not be causeless and self-sacrificial, but earned and deserved through virtue and achievement.
25.000 Years In The Future
CCP likes to project an image of EVE in their trailers that closely resembles a world as Ayn Rand would envision it, but New Eden is not a pure Randian utopia. One of the clearest examples to the contrary is the rise and fall of Li3 Alliance under Jadecougar. Here we have an idealistic dreamer who has a vision of building something great by forging wormhole settlers and nullsec pilots into one alliance and have all benefit from the synergies of his concept. His ambition and plan could just as well have come from the pages of Rand’s novels. As if to fit the template, he is even an industrialist in-game. Soon, however, he has to realize that a vision and the will to lead are not enough. His dream of building something great and unique strands on the rocky shores of realpolitik and human psychology alike.
The real-world Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and the disciples of Ayn Rand herself also thought they could revolutionise society with their ideas, but in this world as in EVE, things are not as simple as the brainchild of one utopian writer might postulate, and consequently they failed.
As I have already discussed in previous articles, EVE superficially looks like an environment of ruthless competition, but in fact large groups of players have chosen to walk a different path. Strong organisational and political paradigms have been a reality of in-game interaction since the first major alliances of nullsec emerged. They exist to create structure, social cohesion, collective success, reduce risk and in some cases even provide for the weak and docile. Those paradigms also project outward and influence interaction in EVE on a larger scale. Once they achieve a certain prominence, even those who seek the purest form of in-game competition and focus only on PVP, whether it be combat or economic, will have to find a way work within the political structure that has evolved. It may be true that the ruthless pursuit of power leads to some degree of success in EVE, but altruism still exists too. Even selfless dedication to a greater cause can be observed regularly in players.
Falsified By Experiment
Based on her superficial impression of the United States, Ayn Rand thought up a philosophy that has fundamental flaws at its core. Those flaws plagued her both on the level of public intellectual discourse and in her personal relationships. In the end, not even her own inner circle of followers – or she herself for that matter – could live up to the ideals she proposed, no matter how hard they tried.
She proposed a way how humans should behave, but at the same time rejected any form of guidance for the individual. She also rejected the influence of psychology on human behaviour and any form of moral ethics based on abstract values, stating that only objective values truly exist and will be “discovered” by those who act purely rational.
I would not be surprised if EVE Online was at least partially conceived as an experimental testbed for objectivist theory. Hilmar Veigar Pétursson is from that generation of entrepreneurs in the new economy who thought that online interaction could turn us all into empowered beings who are masters of their own destiny. As if to reflect the version of reality Ayn Rand postulates, there are objective values built into EVE which the players can discover and leverage by acting rationally. Many players act according to a very different set of values though. Rather than purely pursuing personal happiness, they actually create systems which are designed to provide in-game content for whole collectives, and some of the most competent players are dedicating themselves to that purpose. The Mittani talking about “protecting his space tribe” or Sort Dragon presenting his overtanked titan as a tempting target to draw fire during the battle of B-R are examples of that. Even line members fit the profile: the hero tacklers and interdictors who enter a fight and know they will lose their ships first, or the jump freighter pilots who keep their alliance supplied. They act on behalf of a collective goal rather than a purely individual one.
In EVE, as in real-life, people do not act purely rational and only serve themselves. Human psychology and interaction simply does not work like that. There are exceptions, but in general people value their social collectives. Even in the harsh environment of EVE, friendship and affinity develop as a consequence of emotional bonds and human psychology. Such bonds are not based simply on the objectivist virtues of a person which make them deserving of such kinship.
Whether EVE Online was intended as an experiment in objectivism or not, it clearly failed to prove that philosophy’s validity. In the end, Ayn Rand’s objectivism is insufficient to describe the behaviour of people in EVE. Despite the fact that the environment is stacked in favour of her philosophy.
 I myself am risking my job and my credibility by daring to discuss her here 🙂
 Refer to my previous piece for an explanation of that term
 Listen to Jadecougar’s lament about his experience at http://eveoverheated.com/2014/06/10/eve-overheated-episode-12/ before that historical recording vanishes.
Tags: Ayn Rand, philosophy, politics, tarek
Former nullsec spy (no not under that name of course) and current failure at lowsec solo PVP, Tarek spends his time not logging in to the game as much as he keeps thinking about its social and metagame nature and sharing some of those thoughts with the CZ readers.