Eviscerating Ayn Rand

This isn’t a rhetorical exercise, by the way. I’m reading Matt Taibbi’s “Griftopia” and he points out how every shitty, destructive decision made by Alan Greenspan as he wrecked the economy was in line with Rand’s teachings. And now someone like wingnut Paul Ryan, who also worships Rand, is in charge of the House pursestrings and will blissfully slash and burn, just as Greenspan did.

So when your relatives start praising “Atlas Shrugged” at a family party, it would behoove you to tell them just how stupendously wrong they are. Dave Winer:

When I was 17, I read Atlas Shrugged and it “changed my life.” For about a year. In that book I heard that I was great and there were a few others like me, and most of the rest of the people were bullshitters. Grifters, looters, politicos, people who asked for us, the great ones, to work for them, because we could and they couldn’t. And all the time they put down the great people, said they were ungrateful, bad people etc etc. The great ones got tired of working for everyone and not being appreciated, so they all went and hid in their rooms until the world fell apart without them, and the people begged them to come back, saying they were sorry and they didn’t realize how cool they were. The great ones came back, straightened everything out, lived forever, never got sick, never got hit by a car, or had their house invaded by burglars, or burned down by fire. Etc etc.

It’s a beautful story for a person caught between childhood and adulthood. You’re not yet aware of how the world actually works, in any real sense, and you remember all the issues of being a child (you still are a child at 17, despite how your body looks). Over the horizon is adulthood, which is beginning to come into view. You’re trying to imagine yourself as an adult. It’s understandable that the child, looking out to the future, wants to create something that looks a lot like the past. But it doesn’t work that way.

In New York this week we had a massive snow storm. It’s hard to know for sure if it could have been handled smoothly like so much in NY is. In normal times, NY is an amazing place. A busy street can be transformed into a street fair in a few hours, then switch back to being a busy street just in time for Monday morning. But throw a huge curveball at the city, like last week’s storm, and all bets are off.

So in the Ayn Rand view, who’s supposed to plow the streets when a Snowpocalypse happens? That’s a detail she never seemed to have gotten to.

[…] Here’s the truth, and no matter how hard you argue, I’m not likely to sway in my belief of this. Ayn Rand’s philosophy might have worked in an agrarian society when people lived far apart, and couldn’t pool their resources. When there wasn’t much technology, so there wasn’t much point in trying to fight disease or keep the trains running, because there was no medicine or trains. But with almost seven billion people on the planet, and a complex financial system that no one understands and therefore can be manipulated by looters who look like captains of industry, how do you find the Great Ones, and if you do, what exactly can they do to differentiate themselves from the rest of us poor slobs?

And I don’t really think there are any of those great people, btw. I’ve traveled in some pretty high circles, I’ve met Bill Gates and a couple of Nobel laureates. I’ve been to Davos, and been part of an IPO. I’m on John Brockman’s Edge list. Big fucking deal. All these people who are so great aren’t really that much greater than the average schmuck on the subway. There really isn’t that much range in the smartness or fitness of human beings. We all have about the same lifespan, have the same experiences, birth, childhood, puberty, etc. To think there are some people that are so much better than the rest of us, well, I wouldn’t trust that so much.

The truth is we’re way out on a limb. If you want to go back to the point where we decided to be socialist and try to undo it, you’re going to have to kill most of the people on the planet who depend on the current system for sustenance. And like it or not, that probably includes you. It certainly includes most of the idiots running around preaching Ayn Rand these days


5 thoughts on “Eviscerating Ayn Rand

  1. I was a teenage Randite, and outgrew it largely because I realized that there was no way to protect the ecology in Atlas Shrugged– the idea of the Commons is explicitly denied. But I remember what made me roll with it for quite some time: her villains were extremely easy to despise. Some of them were feckless whiners, some were corrupt thugs, some were privileged wankers; the main bad guy, Jim Taggart, was all of the above, and a remarkably repulsive character.

    Thing is, however, that as spokespeople for collectivism, they’re all made of the purest cardboard. Where they suck, they suck in all the same ways as the real-world privileged elites conservatives revere. George Bush was Jim Taggart in so many ways, from trying feebly to fill his daddy’s shoes to subjecting his enemies to torture. Indeed, I think you could cast the movie’s villains entirely from the ranks of the Bush maladministration: Donald Rumsfeld would be perfect as Floyd Ferris, Dick Cheney as Cuffy Meigs, Ari Fleischer as radio flack Chick Morrison, etc.

    By and large, the people who profess their devotion to Ayn Rand the loudest hardly follow her teachings any more consistently than the rest of us. Did Ron Paul not notice how little use Rand had for Bible thumpers? Or does he imagine there’s a valid egoist argument against abortion?

  2. The thing I noticed about Rand’s novels is that there aren’t any children. Just how do children prove their value, anyway?

  3. It has been a very long time since I’ve read any Ayn Rand, but I remember thinking at the time that it was really a sort of porn for die-hard Capitalists. Communism was still alive and kicking back then, so I think the only reason Rand really got published is the same reason Ann Coulter ever got published. Tell ’em what they want to hear, stroke their egos, and Conservative Capitalists will decide you’re a genius. Face it, it’s basically Fascism “-the union of state and corporate power-” re-loaded, with a brand-new happy face painted on…

  4. “In that book I heard that I was great and there were a few others like me, and most of the rest of the people were bullshitters.”

    What sort of sad sack has to read a book to come to that conclusion when they’re 17?

  5. i note with interest it was the Randian MOUs who nearly wrecked
    the world and it was the DFHs that have had to clean up the
    mess. REmember when that fool Greenspan said the problem
    was the surplus Clinton created was too big. well bush and
    greenspan took care of that. have some catfood granny. and
    by the way, if your kiddie dies, he dies.

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