Sunday, May 1, 2011

G.O.P. + A.R.

My all time favorite student told me that, back in 1981, the first thing she knew about me was that I didn’t like Ayn Rand. Apparently another student confided this to her in a restroom chat.

Well, my opinion of Ayn Rand has changed since then. In 1981 I vaguely disliked Rand because I considered her a misguided egotist who wrote shlocky books shaped by a ludicrously naive philosophy. Now, having read a mini-biography of her by Johann Hari in Slate, I must say I was wrong to think of her as merely wrongheaded. She was something of a psychopath and much more of a monster than I realized.

According to the Slate bio, Rand was scarred by her childhood experiences in the USSR when her family was reduced to poverty by the Bolsheviks’ seizure of their property. Of course, millions of prosperous families in Russia, China, Cuba and other such places have had their property seized by communists. Many people from these once prosperous families deeply resent communism for the injustice that they feel it has dealt them. But none evolved into the kind of nasty, egomaniacal nutcase that Ayn Rand became. She was special.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy, which she called “objectivism,” is wildly subjective. Rand claimed to base her views on reason, but they are actually based on a blinkered self-regard that declares, “Some people (like me, for instance) are superior and should not be hindered by restrictive laws designed for the good of community or society.” On the basis of this narcissistic philosophy, Rand created a cult that continues to influence conservatives to this day.

Ayn Rand’s objectivism, by the way, is not taken seriously by real philosophers, and there is a reason for this. It makes no sense.

In the Slate article, Hari refers to a 1927 crime by a young man named William Hickman, who raped, murdered and dismembered a 12-year-old girl, sending the pieces of her body to the police. “Rand wrote great stretches of praise for him, saying he represented ‘the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. … Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.’ She called him ‘a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy,’ shimmering with ‘immense, explicit egotism.’”

That's Ayn Rand - glorifier of individualism and hero of conservatives. She too “shimmers with immense, explicit egotism.”

Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness (aka, Screw You)

Rand was a fanatic promoter of unregulated capitalism. She believed that in capitalist competition superior people rise to the top and inferiors are left behind. Rand’s objectivism, with its glorification of selfishness and competition explains how heroic supermen like Dan Quayle and George W. Bush got so far in life: They are simply made of better stuff than the rest of us.

Paul Ryan, the new darling of the GOP is a big Ayn Rand fan. At a D.C. gathering in 2006 Ryan said, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand” (from The New Republic).

The GOP loves Ayn Rand despite her nuttiness and her nasty streak. They love her because she helps them promote the cult of competition that they want to believe in, and, more importantly, they want us to believe in.

Paul Ryan, George W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Eric Cantor, and other GOP leaders are children of privilege. Privilege is the beginning of the explanation for their prominence. But the particular serving of bullshit that they want us to accept is that even if they had been born Hispanic or Haitian, children of migrant workers, or slum-dwelling wretches, their superior qualities would have lifted them to prominence in America’s competitive arena. The good and worthy, they claim, naturally rise in society (like they did!); those left behind deserve what they get. Government, with its annoying democratic principles, need not interfere.

Ayn Rand would be proud to know that her muddled “objectivism,” for all its ludicrous irrationality, has helped this gaggle of right wingers find comfort in the foggy mists of their own self-delusion. For the rest of us, well, perhaps we can take some comfort from the fact that the latest film version of her Atlas Shrugged, has turned out to be as weird and unlikable as the writer herself.