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.


  1. I'm with you on the other GOPs you mention, but I don't know where you get that Ron Paul came from wealth and privilege. His parents were dairy farmers, hardly in the same league as the Quayles or Romneys. Ron started working at age five and seemingly never stopped. He delivered milk, then newspapers, mowed lawns, worked in a local drugstore, then went to school to study and become a doctor (the first year of college he paid for with his lawn mowing and newspaper delivery savings). Perhaps a Ron Paul retraction/correction is in order. :-)

  2. I grant that Ron Paul was probably not as privileged as, say, Dan Quayle. Of course, I don't know what kind of operation his family's dairy farm was, but he was clearly raised in a privileged environment. Even if the dairy farm was a relatively small business, owners of such a business are not hobbled by crushing poverty.

    Another question: How many poor, especially poor and non-white, students managed to attend an elite private school like Gettysburg College in the 1950s? After all, just being white and male in the pre-civil rights era was a source of privilege.

    And, by the way, lots of us delivered newspapers, mowed lawns, etc., in our younger days. Those of us who did so were able to get such jobs by virtue of our suburban upbringings and the connections our middle class families gave us.

    The sin, in my opinion, is not in being born to privilege (as you and I were), but being so born and then claiming that the playing field is even for everyone, and, on that basis, calling for small government. The war cry of "small government" is really just a way to denounce public policy that offers the deprived and disadvantaged a reasonable chance to get ahead.

  3. I understand what you're saying in terms of the level playing field philosophy. Still, your definition of "privileged" is ANY person who doesn't deal with "crushing poverty"? Wow. I would say that farmers, at least small/mid-scale farmers (not the evil bastards at Monsanto), scrape by and do the 365-days-a-year work that it takes to keep a farm going sometimes because it's the only life they know.

    Years ago, I got stuck in a blizzard in a tiny town in Kansas and became buddies with a 50-something-yr-old lifelong farmer also stuck there. He was thin but sturdy and looked like he was 70... like life had kicked his ass. He told me about farming and how much work it is. I asked him about how they ever take a vacation, and he told me how that's not even a thought because you simply cannot take a day off. True, he's not dodging gunfire in the ghettos of Compton, but I would hardly call his and other family farmers' lives "privileged" just by virtue of being white. Yes, of course being white in the 50s gave a person countless opportunities compared to being black, but in terms of the Paul family, as you say, you don't know what kind of operation their dairy farm was. Perhaps they did struggle. Perhaps they struggled a lot. Just because they were white doesn't mean life was easy and they didn't live hand-to-mouth.

    I'm simply saying that including Ron Paul in (or anywhere near) the same category as the Romneys, Quayles, and spoiled-brat Bushes of the world is unfair, inaccurate, and overstates your case, which we all know only serves to weaken it. Of course, I know it's hard to get you to admit you were off on something, but I had to give it a shot. ;-) I guess "granting" that Ron Paul was "probably not as privileged as, say, Dan Quayle" ("'probably' not"?!) is as close to that as I'll get.

    On a related note, a friend of mine was talking to a couple of Hollywood managers last month, trying to sell them on me and mentioned my work experience in the business and my script winning a recent contest. You'll be thrilled to know that their reply was, "Is she white?" "Yes," said my friend. "Well, we can't help her, then." (True story.) Ah, how the tides have turned. Finally, my luxurious cab-driving-dad, lower-middle-class privilege is being squelched!

  4. I know about the demands of farm life. I've spent a good deal of time on a farm in Switzerland where Darla was once an exchange student. Really lovely people, the Swiss Family Castellas, and very hard-working.

    I said Ron Paul was "probably" not on Quayle's level simply because I don't know what kind of operation his family ran. Knowing his outlook on the world, I would say it was "probably" about on the scale of my family's business in the 1960s, which depended on the long hours of labor of a certain Poppy of our acquaintance who was then struggling to make the business a success. That's when I was going to high school and college, so they were my launching pad years. I was definitely raised in a middle middle class environment.

    If Ron Paul's family was on about this level, this would put him not in Quayle's league, but he would still be considered privileged according to normal class/status calculations that sociologists and statisticians make.

    Again the question: How does a person manage to go to an elite private school like Gettysburg (or Ithaca for that matter), without the privileges that a middle class family and the money, connections, and solid secondary schooling that these provide? These are only some of the advantages that middle class (and mainly white) people have traditionally enjoyed. In my case I managed to go to an expensive college because of these privileges plus some information about a very generous scholarship that I only knew about because a relative clued me in to it.

    I would have to say that your home, your neighborhood, your high school and college experiences make you middle middle class, Ms. Tracy.

    I feel for you on the affirmative action front. I don't remember how many jobs I was not considered for back in the 1980s because of my white maleness. But, at the time, it seemed to me that, in all of those situations, had I been on the hiring end, I too would have looked for qualified minority faculty in an effort to redress the injustices of the past. See - it's the "greatest generation's" fault!

    I recall one job description from the University of South Florida which was clearly and specifically designed for female applicants ( to teach women's studies courses, etc...). In a fit of frustration and smart aleckiness, I sent in a letter of application that included this sentence: "Though I am not female, many of my ancestors were."

    Didn't get the job.