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How Ayn Rand Ruined My Childhood
April 15, 2011 6:10 PM   Subscribe

"We were wondering if you would petition to be emancipated," he said in his lawyer voice. "What does that mean?" I asked, picking at the mauve paint on my hands. I later discovered that for most kids, declaring emancipation is an extreme measure -- something you do if your parents are crack addicts or deadbeats. "You would need to become financially independent," he said. "You could work for me at my law firm and pay rent to live here." This was my moment of truth as an objectivist. If I believed in the glory of the individual, I would've signed the petition papers then and there. But as much as Rand's novels had taught me to believe in meritocracy, they had not prepared me to go it alone financially and emotionally. I began to cry and refused.
posted by fernabelle (102 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think this was linked to in the open O'Rourke thread.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:12 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nowadays, Rand's bit is best summed up by the rapper Drake, who sang: "Imma do me."

+1
posted by k8t at 6:14 PM on April 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


I searched for the link several ways before posting...apologies if this is a duplicate.
posted by fernabelle at 6:17 PM on April 15, 2011


You might be familiar with Rand from a high school reading assignment.
Seriously?
posted by Flunkie at 6:27 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


That read like the start of a long essay, then it seems like the author got either bored, distracted or came to terms with her father, so she stopped writing. That or the editor was screaming the nth time about finished copy.

It was not a good piece of writing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:29 PM on April 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Seriously?

There's an objectivist society that sponsors a high school essay competition. It's a sneaky way of getting the book into curricula.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:30 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think kids should read a bit of Rand. And a bit of Marx.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:34 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


While other kids my age were going to Bible study, I took evening classes from the institute via phone. (I half-listened while clicking through lolcat photos.)

Lolcats have only existed for about 5 years. And she's in grad school.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:35 PM on April 15, 2011 [28 favorites]


Yay! Yet another MetaHate thread against straw man Objectivism!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:35 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wrote an essay for that contest when I was a high school senior (at a Catholic high school, no less). It led to the standard college-age infatuation with Rand.

Good Lord, I was a stupid kid.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 6:35 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


"You would need to become financially independent," he said. "You could work for me at my law firm and pay rent to live here."

Yes, nothing says objectivist independence like working for your dad's law firm.

He claimed the philosophy appealed to him because it's based solely on logic.

Do you deny A=A?! It was sort of depressing, yesterday, I was at the local meat market and I got to talking to a girl who told me she loved philosophy. I practically had to keep my Karl Popper in my pants after that. Would we be talking of Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard? Had I found the perfect girl? "I love Atlas Shrugged ..."
posted by geoff. at 6:37 PM on April 15, 2011 [20 favorites]


Good Lord, I was a stupid kid.

Don't beat yourself up. It's much easier to be victimized by propaganda when you're young. Always remember that they are the bad guys, not you.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:37 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Lolcats have only existed for about 5 years. And she's in grad school.

via wikipedia
posted by wildcrdj at 6:37 PM on April 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


Confessional nonsense.
posted by nj_subgenius at 6:37 PM on April 15, 2011


Those weren't called lolcats in 1885, nor were they an internet sensation.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:40 PM on April 15, 2011


Confessional nonsense.

Oh, come now. Ayn Rand was doing her best as a writer!
posted by liketitanic at 6:41 PM on April 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


> Would we be talking of Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard?

Talking about the Melancholy Dane on a date doesn't seem likely to lead to further cordial relations.
posted by jfuller at 6:44 PM on April 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


against straw man Objectivism!

I'd enjoy seeing a strong case for Objectivism, if anyone would like to take this opportunity to make one. I find Rand's stories full of interesting ideas and occasional flashes of brilliance. I re-read The Fountainhead periodically for pleasure and food for thought.

But I don't get the claim that objectivism is build on solid logic. It sounds like gibberish to me. (Then again, a lot of philosophical reasoning sounds like abuse of logic to me, objectivism isn't completely unique in this regard). It might be a flaw in my ability to parse the logic, but then again, I did manage to get through four years of university mathematics, so I'm not so sure about that.

If you don't want straw-man objectivism to be the lone voice, by all means, have someone stand up and give us the real thing, full strength.
posted by weston at 6:44 PM on April 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


Well, OK...if I had to think anyone was influenced by the so-called power elite, Ayn Rand would be at the front of the line. Speak wealth lies to the dispossessed. The article noted here is foolish, appears to be culturally challenged, and has about as much impact as that execrable movie just released.
posted by nj_subgenius at 6:47 PM on April 15, 2011


I'd enjoy seeing a strong case for Objectivism

A scene from the recently released Atlas Shrugs movie might illuminate you on the benefits. As you can see, the bad guy in this scene is trying to prevent the good guy from running a train full of people over a bridge that has not been tested for safety.

Now, this would mean that a rich person would make slightly less money in order to keep people from dying. This is a result we can all agree should be avoided.

The next scene is pretty good too.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:50 PM on April 15, 2011 [39 favorites]


I would be interested in understanding more about Rand's idea of "rational self interest". To me, objectivism just seems like an excuse to be completely selfish. How close is this to truth?
posted by nasayre at 6:53 PM on April 15, 2011


Talking about the Melancholy Dane on a date doesn't seem likely to lead to further cordial relations.

You're just not being inventive enough coming up with ideas to put on both sides of Either/Or.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:54 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Talking about the Melancholy Dane on a date doesn't seem likely to lead to further cordial relations.

It was a random girl hitting on me at a bar. Asking if I like philosophy and then bringing up Ayn Rand is asking if I like art and bringing up Thomas Kinkade.

(I get the joke, not being thin skinned, just saying)
posted by geoff. at 6:55 PM on April 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


I don't know this young woman's dad, but he doesn't seem like a very good one. I'll provide some anecdotal reference of my own, but I wouldn't be surprised that many of us would feel better about their father than this asshole.

My pops sacrificed pretty much all of himself to raise our family ( nine kids ). He was downright selfless about it in all his moments of attending swim-meets or coaching soccer, seeing choir concerts and math bees, selling candy with the Boy Scouts, paying for who-ever's speeding ticket or insurance, helping out when we fucked up rather than telling us how stupid we are, helping anyone move from apartment to apartment, or when there wasn't money for rent or food or healthcare. Pretty much anything for his children, with reasonable, well understood limits.

We're all ( my siblings ) doing our best growing up, we've all moved out and its just him and Mom now. Its all taken a toll on him. He'll fall asleep at 10:45 watching 'The Wire' with her, and wake up early in the morning around 4:30 or 4:35, not knowing what to do. He has completed all his chores. What to do at that time in the morning. No cows to milk or babies to soothe or drunken children to pick up from the police. No news papers to deliver. Less responsibility as a father.

He'll never be rich, never drive a beamer, never make a name for himself. Maybe he's a loser or something, but he is one of the kindest human beings I've met in my time and I'd pray a thousand fucking rosaries for this young woman to have a father who understands that investing time and money into your family pays in returns that are not countable in any form of currency. And I don't even own a rosary anymore.
posted by localhuman at 7:00 PM on April 15, 2011 [144 favorites]


>Seriously?

Seriously. My daughter's freshman English class read Anthem, V for Vendetta and 1984 together. My hs english classes were pretty lame in comparison.

This guy's story is more of a chicken-and-egg mystery. Did Rand turn him into a tremendous asshole, or did he turn to Rand because he was a tremendous asshole?
posted by 2N2222 at 7:01 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


It sounds like gibberish to me. (Then again, a lot of philosophical reasoning sounds like abuse of logic to me, objectivism isn't completely unique in this regard). It might be a flaw in my ability to parse the logic, but then again, I did manage to get through four years of university mathematics, so I'm not so sure about that.

FWIW, as an undergraduate minoring in philosophy, I took advanced courses in formal logic and a graduate-level course focusing on Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations, and I can vouch for the fact that Rand's philosophical reasoning actually just is gibberish. It's not a logical system at all; it's an odd mix of tautologies and non-sequiturs--basically, schizo-logic.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:03 PM on April 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


Sooner or later, someone will jump into this thread with both feet to belittle Ms. Bereznak, defend objectivism, and praise Rand at great length, long after most other posters have said to hell with it and tried to let the whole thing drop.

A few days later, it will be discovered that that person is Ayn Rand. Not even more than a quarter century of death will stop her.
posted by Naberius at 7:06 PM on April 15, 2011 [17 favorites]


Localhuman - I'd favorite that a thousand times if I could.
posted by Lord_Pall at 7:10 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lolcats have only existed for about 5 years. And she's in grad school.

Time. Just time.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 7:20 PM on April 15, 2011


Letters to Cary Tennis? Can we please have more YouTube videos of cute kittens, instead? Cuz this could be straight-up fiction or a stab at a book deal or the beginning of a bright career in YA novels.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:20 PM on April 15, 2011


"Yay! Yet another MetaHate thread against straw man Objectivism!"

Maybe you can save us, One True Scotsman!
posted by klangklangston at 7:21 PM on April 15, 2011 [28 favorites]


While other kids my age were going to Bible study, I took evening classes from the institute via phone. (I half-listened while clicking through lolcat photos.)

I didn't skip to the end to know about the author and honestly thought this story must have taken place in the 1980s or earlier. By the time I got to the Harry Potter reference I had to read about the author.
posted by birdherder at 7:21 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


It was a random girl hitting on me at a bar. Asking if I like philosophy and then bringing up Ayn Rand is asking if I like art and bringing up Thomas Kinkade.

THE PAINTER OF LIGHT(TM) AND I ARE BOTH REALLY OFFENDED.
posted by liketitanic at 7:23 PM on April 15, 2011 [5 favorites]




Yay! Yet another MetaHate thread against straw man Objectivism!

Actually, it's based on very real objectivism. I'm sorry so many of your co-religionists are whiny tax-dodging narcissists, but I guess that's the burden of being homo superior.
posted by rodgerd at 7:28 PM on April 15, 2011 [6 favorites]




"It was a random girl hitting on me at a bar. Asking if I like philosophy and then bringing up Ayn Rand is asking if I like art and bringing up Thomas Kinkade." - That should be a bumper sticker.
posted by jackspace at 7:35 PM on April 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


via wikipedia

Those are posed dead cats. Evil.
posted by orthogonality at 7:37 PM on April 15, 2011


The incongruous thing about objectivists praising Bush and dismissing Obama is that Obama is ten times the self-made man that Bush is. Bush had his path through Yale, HBS, and beyond paved for him by centuries-old ties in New England. Obama came from a no-name interracial couple in fricken Hawaii to become a leading American legal scholar. It'd seem like a meritless family dynasty like the Bushes would be something merit-obsessed Rand followers would be happy to disrupt, not celebrate. (And I usually come out as a borderline Dem/Libertarian when I take those internet politics quizzes.)
posted by mnemonic at 7:41 PM on April 15, 2011 [17 favorites]


Lolcats have only existed for about 5 years.

Cats doing silly things on the internet have been around for a long time. I would give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she may have meant silly cat pictures in general, not necessarily specifically 'lolcats".
posted by marsha56 at 7:52 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you deny A=A?! It was sort of depressing, yesterday, I was at the local meat market and I got to talking to a girl who told me she loved philosophy. I practically had to keep my Karl Popper in my pants after that. Would we be talking of Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard? Had I found the perfect girl? "I love Atlas Shrugged ..."

That's nothing. Someone once told me loftily that she'd "been reading philosophy", and it turned out she meant she'd been reading books by Robert Fulghum. My (former) sister-in-law told me she liked to read books about spirituality and it turned she meant the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.
posted by orange swan at 8:00 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would give her the benefit of the doubt and...

That is not the Internet way. You must attribute the most despicable and venal character traits possible to the person in question and assume they act from worst possible motives.
posted by y2karl at 8:05 PM on April 15, 2011 [17 favorites]


There's an objectivist society that sponsors a high school essay competition. It's a sneaky way of getting the book into curricula.

Scholarships, too! Got $1500 my senior year of high school, and for a very, very long time, when you did a google search of my name, that was the first thing that came up.

(And she wasn't required reading; I only read her to impress a guy I had a crush on)
posted by Ideal Impulse at 8:08 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


ZenMasterThis: The real Adam Smith would have abhorred the way his message has been tortured and mangled into a defense of industrial feudalism. But he had an excuse, being precapitalist and not a part of a world where large sociopathic organizations are able to whip entire governments around to do their bidding.

Rand had no such excuse. Claiming "individualism" in a society and species that has never--and likely will never--exist in any such way, is pure idiocy.
posted by anarch at 8:12 PM on April 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Do you deny A=A?!

Yeah, I do. Wanna know why? Because A isn't a fucking number.

Unless Rand was working in hex, at which point, yeah, I guess it does.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:12 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


If it hadn't been Ayn Rand, that man would have found another guru to excuse his a-holery.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:12 PM on April 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, St. Alia, but some ideologies are more conducive to a-holery. "Objectivism's" insistence that altruism is immoral doesn't just excuse selfishness, it goes further and ennobles it.
posted by orthogonality at 8:19 PM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not only an Objectivist, but a lawyer. Poor girl.
posted by blargerz at 8:24 PM on April 15, 2011


Haven't read her in quite awhile, but I'm pretty sure she made a distinction between involuntary and voluntary altruism.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:26 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do these objectivist societies give money for essay contests? If I were an objectivist you'd get my money when you pried it from my cold, dead hands.
posted by Tashtego at 8:58 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Claiming that your philosophical beliefs issue solely from logic is usually a bad idea.

If your beliefs can be derived entirely from claims like "Either the cat is on the mat or it isn't," they just can't be very interesting.

Philosophy without logic may be blind, but logic without philosophy is empty.
posted by voltairemodern at 9:09 PM on April 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


Wow furiousxgeorge, that clip was the first thing i had seen of the Atlas Shrugged movie, and um, are those professional actors? She reads her lines like a bad youtube actress.

IF that's the best objectivist can do in the acting department. Why couldn't they just get Drew Carey in all the roles. That would be worth seeing.
posted by djduckie at 9:17 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


A scene from the recently released Atlas Shrugs movie might illuminate you on the benefits. As you can see, the bad guy in this scene is trying to prevent the good guy from running a train full of people over a bridge that has not been tested for safety.

I like the part where the protagonist inspects his own meat.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:18 PM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'll step out there... On that ledge...

How many of you have read We the Living? I have. I've read almost all of Rand's work in it's entirety. I even trudged through Virtue of selfishness, when I was in a waiting room during my sister's lengthy and perilous surgery.

I will venture to say that I somewhat liked her narratives, but I guess I never fully understood her "philosophy", if I can call it that. This, you could say, is peculiar, since I was and I am a registered Socialist (Worker's Party shows up on some forms... Dunno why).

I ask if you'd read We The Living, because it reveals everything that made Ayn Rand Ayn Rand. A girl, already accustomed to her standard of living, watches as her father is slowly emasculated and rendered impotent by "society" taking from him what he felt he deserved. She then exploits a representatively virile member of the group that crushed her father, while dallying with some blowhard who is priding himself as the future lead of those who will crush the group that crushed her father. You see where I'm going...

That's what this was all about. In Ayn's head, Karl Marx ruined her dad and her life, and she focused her life on refuting socialism. Now, we can argue about a lot in this regard, but if your quoted as describing happiness as the following... You fucking lost:

"Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy--a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction, not the joy of escaping from your mind, but of using your mind's fullest power, not the joy of faking reality, but of achieving values that are real, not the joy of a drunkard, but of a producer."
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:23 PM on April 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


I wonder if there is still time to shoehorn "belief that fiction can prove one worldview over others" into the DSM-5.
posted by adipocere at 9:37 PM on April 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


As I understand it, Ayn Rand is relevant as a philosopher, as she posits very interesting questions regarding category theory. Unfortunately, The Crazy takes over, and turns these interesting questions into the logical extension of Aristotelian Thought, abnegating anything anyone thought from from Plutarch to Pascal in order to espouse a S&M fetish masquerading as economics and aesthetics. Then they all laughed at her.

Except the me-first absolutists... one Phi prof I know said that he was happy that Ayn Rand happened, as these psychopaths now at least had some sort of ethical system to live by.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:37 PM on April 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, dude, at least it's an ethos..."
posted by voltairemodern at 10:05 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


As I understand it, Ayn Rand is relevant as a philosopher

Here's a Yahoo answer to the question: Why do most philosophers not take Ayn Rand's Objectivism seriously? that kind of suggests she isn't really as relevant as she probably considered herself.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:06 PM on April 15, 2011


I keep thinking of Nietzsche's line.

"It seems to me more and more that the philosopher, as a necessary man of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, has always found himself, and always had to find himself, in opposition to his today: the ideal of the day was always his enemy. "

Rand was a philosopher in Soviet Russia, the problem was she didn't adjust her philosophy when she got to America.
posted by Grimgrin at 10:11 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


More sophist than philosopher. sorry. i... i can't help myself.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:14 PM on April 15, 2011


Rand was a philosopher in Soviet Russia, the problem was she didn't adjust her philosophy when she got to America.

Is it just a coincidence that it's almost identical with commonplace American ideology then?
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:50 PM on April 15, 2011


The real title should be "How My Father Ruined My Childhood". Regardless of how one views "Objectivism", this guy obviously had less a hold of it than he had hold the pieces supporting his behavior -- not unlike how other 'fundamentalists' pick pieces of Christianity or Islam to support their agenda. That's not to say perhaps even large parts of Objectivism support considerable parts of the related behavior, at least superficially. One can surely see how he reasoned from point A to point B. Clearly, though, the real issue is that the guy was an asshole. Chicken and egg this all you like, but an asshole will always find a way to support his assholeishness in any philosophy or other consideration.

Beyond that, the writer doesn't do a good job relating how his/her childhood was "ruined" -- that is to say, it didn't leave much of an impression on me compared to the kind of lousy parenting many grew up with. I'm sure the story will resonate horrifically the more to the "enlightened"* left one is. I imagine there is more touching material to relate here but the impression given is that the writer didn't care to touch us. Seems like a real deadline filler to me.

* That is to say, leftists who pride themselves on being insular and intolerant of non-leftist tropes. Not a potshot at leftistists of any flock. There's a direct relationship here to the more one eagerly scoffs, often fairly ignorantly, at the mention various prodding points, Rand being chief among them.

I'd note that I am not an Objectivist nor a Rand apologist, though I certainly do not look down on her as many, in large part due to the unfortunate association her works have amongst Neo-Cons, gleefully do.
posted by rob paxon at 11:51 PM on April 15, 2011


Anyhow, Objectivism fails at being an ethical philosophy proper and anyone would do better to look at it as a work of idealism, judging it from there. The subject's father adopted an ethical philosophy as a zealot and found it all too easy to support almost any behavior as he had already predetermined to see fit. The anecdote about the brother eating all of the food is really quite laughable and there'd be endless ways to challenge the father's reasoning, based on Objectivism or any other given criteria.
posted by rob paxon at 11:59 PM on April 15, 2011


"It was a random girl hitting on me at a bar. Asking if I like philosophy and then bringing up Ayn Rand is asking if I like art and bringing up Thomas Kinkade."

She just wanted you to know upfront that she likes it rough. ;)
posted by Jacqueline at 12:37 AM on April 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


When I first read geoff.'s comment I understood him to mean a literal meat market, like, a butcher's shop. And thought it was weird that this girl would make a pass like that at the butcher's counter. I didn't question this assumption till geoff. referred to her as a "random girl" at a bar.

Anyway, for a couple seconds there I believed Ayn Rand fans like to make their moves while buying actual meat.


I'm pretty sleepy.
posted by Neofelis at 12:55 AM on April 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thank you, Ayn Rand, for making crack heads seem more human.
posted by telstar at 2:38 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jac,

Hilarious.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:46 AM on April 16, 2011


Ayn Rand interviewed by Phil Donahue.

If she was so important, how come she wasn't interviewed by Oprah?
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:16 AM on April 16, 2011


The Yahoo! answer saulgoodman linked connects a dot that has been lurking in the back of my head some time. He calls Rand's would-be philosophy "ethical egoism." Rand did not invent or even popularize egoism; that was done more than two hundred years ago by a French fellow named Donatien Alphonse Francoise de Sade. Egoism would probably be called Sadism except that we use that word for something else Sade popularized.

The parallels between Rand and Sade are really striking once the connection is made, right down to their parallel cases of hypergraphia. But there are a couple of differences. As Colin Wilson pointed out, Sade seemed to understand that (as his own life proved) adherence to the tenets of Egoism would not make one triumphant; in fact, "his writings are littered with the dead bodies of his libertines." Sade seems to have thought egoism was necessary if you were to be true to yourself, but also that keeping to egoistic principles would require some courage because ultimately the whole of society would band together to crush you for your trouble.

But even more, Sade was honest about his own motivations and acted as if the highest good was to have some fun with it while you could. In the time travel movie where they meet one another I easily see Sade chastizing Rand for being way too fucking serious.
posted by localroger at 6:30 AM on April 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why do these objectivist societies give money for essay contests?

It's an investment. Seed the ground with a few bucks to kids, reap in the big bucks when the suckers grow up to chair the Federal Reserve.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:08 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It'd seem like a meritless family dynasty like the Bushes would be something merit-obsessed Rand followers would be happy to disrupt, not celebrate.

Keep in mind that an individualist who then espouses the values of "collectivism" -- in the form of social safety nets, regulation, societal contracts and so on -- is even more pitiable and detestable than someone who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Such a man (obviously not a woman, because the subject of a conversation should be a man) is a traitor, and is fundamentally evil, because he fights for "selflessness," the betrayal of self.


The real title should be "How My Father Ruined My Childhood". Regardless of how one views "Objectivism", this guy obviously had less a hold of it than he had hold the pieces supporting his behavior...

One of the primary bedrocks of Objectivism is that selfishness is good, and selflessness is bad. His behavior was selfish, in the sense that he did not do things that he didn't want to do -- like supporting his daughter. Her father's objectivist philosophy may have been a rationalization for terrible things (she says that directly when describing how he adopted it), Rand never pretended otherwise. She considered it a feature, not a bug.


The anecdote about the brother eating all of the food is really quite laughable and there'd be endless ways to challenge the father's reasoning, based on Objectivism or any other given criteria.

Yeah, the fucked up part about the writer's anecdote wasn't that her dad's reasoning was flawed. It was that she, a child, was left to fend for herself in basic familial situations and was expected to mount a rhetorical defense of her own right to eat before her father would intervene. That's fucked up.
posted by verb at 7:10 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


If she was so important, how come she wasn't interviewed by Oprah?

Actually, at the time of that appearance, Donahue would have been THE power interviewer. His show was really beyond important for more than a few years in the 80s, before daytime hour-long chat shows became the fluffy things they are now. Phil would bring on actually important people and grill them pretty strongly for an hour every weekday, and it was mesmerizing television.

posted by hippybear at 7:56 AM on April 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Bathtub Bobsled: How many of you have read We the Living?

I have, and I think that's a fair analysis (I've always said it was my favorite of her books and now I think it's the only one worth reading as something other than self-defense) -- but I'm not sure I understand your closer. If you're saying that Ayn's not remotely obtaining to the standards for happiness outlined in that quote (which I think is from We, the Living), then I'm with you.
posted by lodurr at 8:24 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the time travel movie where they meet one another I easily see Sade chastizing Rand for being way too fucking serious.

Alphonse And Ayn's Excellent Adventure: Be excellent to yourself... and party on, dudes!
posted by InfidelZombie at 8:32 AM on April 16, 2011


For a number of years, I've found it really interesting to contrast Objectivism with General Semantics.

Both come out of the same period in time and both are inspired by different aspects of the same period of upheaval. Rand is driven by bad shit that happened to her and her family (not least being a radical reversal of her social position, from upper-bourgeois to counter-revolutionary untouchable) during the Revolution. Korzybski is driven by bad shit that happened to him during the Great War (he was an artillery officer, and by the time the war was over his country no longer existed).

Both made fairly grand philosophical claims and neither is taken very seriously as a philosopher these days. Both inspired people to nigh-religious devotion (although to be fair, Korzybski only did that through the shoddy proxy of L. Ron Hubbard).

They key difference is in what the upheavals they'd seen taught them about the nature of reality.

They taught Rand that there is an objective reality, and that when people don't hew to it, they suffer. A = A. Aristotle is the greatest philosopher. We need to be purely selfish.

They taught Korzybski that the biggest problem in the world was that people didn't understand one another. That 'A = A' was an obsolete basis for philosophical speculation, and that Aristotelianism was at the root of more or less all modern evil.

I find Korzybski kind of fascinating. I don't think his philosophy was nearly as important as he thought it was, but on the other hand, if you practice the kind of thinking he advocates, it's not likely to harm you, or anyone else. (What Hubbard did with it is Hubbard's sin, not Korzybski's. Look to Robert Anton Wilson for a better example of what Korzybski could inspire.)
posted by lodurr at 8:36 AM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ther's zn aspect to the emancipation request that I'm surprised hasn't come up: as an emancipated minor, he'd no longer be liable for her support.
posted by lodurr at 9:32 AM on April 16, 2011


Okay. I'm finally curious enough about this to ask for an explanation. What the heck is the "A = A" thing?

I've seen it brought up several times in Ayn Rand discussions, but I've never known what exactly was meant by it. What's the whole argument that's supposed to start with "A = A"?

And why couldn't I successfully Google this? I feel like a failure!
posted by meese at 9:42 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ther's zn aspect to the emancipation request that I'm surprised hasn't come up: as an emancipated minor, he'd no longer be liable for her support.

Except that it's mentioned directly in the essay.
Hardcore objectivists often criticize liberals for basing decisions on emotion, rather than reason. My father saw our family politics no differently. In his mind, it was reasonable to ask that I emancipate myself and work for a living. To me, it felt like he was asking me to sacrifice my childhood so he didn't have to pay child support. To me, it felt like abandonment.
posted by hippybear at 9:50 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Argh. I blame it on small screen (reading on my nook* while otherwise occupied).

--
*This is the actual bona fide reason for "zn" instead of "an": there are no arrow keys on the virtual keyboard of a nook color, and the logout link is so perilously close to where that was in the textarea that I was afraid to try to touch-place the cursor. typical parasite, blaming his fear of logout for poor typing.
posted by lodurr at 9:55 AM on April 16, 2011


What the heck is the "A = A" thing?

Basically, this means that an object is the same thing as itself. Sort of like if you see an apple, it is an apple.

Its called the law of identity.

For Rand, this suggested that the mind doesn't create reality - the mind discovers reality.

It may seem obvious, but in philosophical history questions "what is real?" are of great significance. Rand's answer to this question might be "if you see an apple, its an apple."
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:05 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's also a key point of contrast with General Semantics, which is obsessed with the fact that things are not what we say they are -- more specifically, they are not identical with the words we use to describe them. "The map is not the territory that it represents," as Korzybski was fond of hectoring.

One's modernist, the other post-modernist.
posted by lodurr at 11:08 AM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's nothing. Someone once told me loftily that she'd "been reading philosophy", and it turned out she meant she'd been reading books by Robert Fulghum. My (former) sister-in-law told me she liked to read books about spirituality and it turned she meant the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

When I began my studies for my philosophy BA, a friend from my "world music" & "electronica" (terms I find unsatisfactory, but that's another topic) musical circles, where woo tends to run wide and deep, kept trying to convince me that this guy named Eckhart Toile (whose name, subsequently, I always hear as Icky Toilet) was an important philosopher. A quick perusal of his writings revealed the usual New Age quasi-profundities rife with questionable and often outright absurd premises.

That and various other encounters where I was unwise enough to mention my studies led me to appreciate why my PhD in philosophy uncle consistently demurs from discussing philosophy with random people, and even within the family.

It's sad what passes for deep thought in mainstream society.
posted by Philofacts at 11:12 AM on April 16, 2011


She just wanted you to know upfront that she likes it rough. ;)

I think this is truer than a wink.

In the time travel movie where they meet one another I easily see Sade chastizing Rand for being way too fucking serious.

When I see the phrase "Sade chastizing Rand," I imagine something that I can't unsee.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:16 AM on April 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sorry, I wasn't clear. What is the argument that Rand gives that starts with "A = A" and then ends with... something? Joey Michaels, you seem to be suggesting that she's a naive realist, but how does her argument go, exactly, after A = A?

Is it something like: a thing is identical to itself; I see an apple; an apple is an apple; therefore, there is an apple?

I'm pretty familiar with the history of metaphysics; what I'm not familiar with is what Rand's mocked for saying.
posted by meese at 11:22 AM on April 16, 2011






"Being selfish is a good thing," he said. "To be selfless is to deny one's self. To be selfish is to embrace the self, and accept your wants and needs."

It was my dad's classic response -- a grandiose philosophical answer to a simple real-world problem. But who cared about logic? All I wanted was another serving of mashed potatoes.


How is this a grandoise philospohical answer, or even logical reasoning? All he's stating is that being selfish means your get more for yourself.
Yup. He's got that part down. But he's relying on the principle that having more for yourself is inherently better. I'm not saying it's not better, I'm just saying it's not inherent.
posted by shesaysgo at 11:54 AM on April 16, 2011


When I see the phrase "Sade chastizing Rand," I imagine something that I can't unsee.

It's not a bug, it's a feature.
posted by localroger at 12:01 PM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


As much as Rand fetishized logic, she really seems to have been mostly interested in it as a form of poetry. For example, take this passage from Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged:
Whatever you choose to consider, be it an object, an attribute or an action, the law of identity remains the same. A leaf cannot be a stone at the same time, it cannot be all red and all green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time. A is A. Or, if you wish it stated in simpler language: You cannot have your cake and eat it, too.
None of the things she's claiming as examples of "A is A" are examples of "A is A". She's taking "A is A" to be equivalent to "A is not B", which is something you really don't want as a general axiom, because a lot of statements of the form "A is B" are in fact true (for example, "Socrates is a man", "Zero is the additive identity", "I am the only person in this room" -- the last of which can't be a logically necessary truth, because it's going to become false in a few minutes). You can make a conceptual distinction between attributes like these and pairs of necessarily-contradictory predicates like "is all red" and "is all green", but that distinction is not found in the statement "A is A"; it's found in our knowledge of what the words "red" and "green" mean, which means it's an additional premise, and we're not simply deriving from "A is A". In fact, our statement of this additional premise would probably take a form something like "For no A is it the case that A is both all red and all green", which means we can just substitute in our leaf for A and be done without using the Law of Identity at all.

But Rand isn't interested in logic, she just wants to bolster her rhetoric with the power of the bold, clear statement. A is A! Agree with me or look like you're equivocating!
posted by baf at 12:16 PM on April 16, 2011 [17 favorites]


What baf said.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:19 PM on April 16, 2011


Okay, now I see. Thanks!
posted by meese at 12:22 PM on April 16, 2011


She just wanted you to know upfront that she likes it rough

I've come across many online dating profiles of women proudly stating that Rand is one of their favorite authors. I think the intention of this is to sound like a strong feminist and/or a judicious, independent person, but for those of us who don't think highly of Rand, it does not have that effect.
posted by hellslinger at 1:40 PM on April 16, 2011


"Being selfish is a good thing," he said. "To be selfless is to deny one's self. To be selfish is to embrace the self, and accept your wants and needs."

You can really see her influence on Anton Lavey there. The thing I'm not keen on is there really aren't any limits to how far you take it. That what makes it too poorly thought out to be a true philosophy. You end up with one bad ass psycho on a pile of corpses.
On an unrealated note, don't forget to celebrate the 45th satanic new year April 30...
posted by Redhush at 1:56 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I got a good chuckle at what comedian Eugene Mirman had to say about living life and The Fountainhead at my brother's high school graduation.

[at 3.45]
posted by Lisitasan at 3:36 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think kids should read a bit of Rand. And a bit of Marx.

That sounds pretty interesting. And if I had to slog through James Fenimore Cooper, you can slog through polemics thinly disguised as a novel. At least Marx got beyond 1+1=2
posted by krinklyfig at 6:04 PM on April 16, 2011


The most interesting thing I've read about Ayn Rand is Sewer, Gas, and Electric.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:22 PM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


This guy's story is more of a chicken-and-egg mystery. Did Rand turn him into a tremendous asshole, or did he turn to Rand because he was a tremendous asshole?

Rand arrived to the US as an immigrant with the determination to escape the social upheaval in Russia after the revolution upended her family's life as a child, as well as all the resentment she harbored from these events. She allowed this resentment to blossom into a a coping mechanism, which she mistook for the seeds of a new philosophy. It must have been her determination which drove her to record her thoughts in writing and share with the world her lingering bitterness- Rand's gift to humanity, as it were, along with some of the most dreadful writing ever published.

Admittedly, this is just armchair psychology... But I have always felt that a lot of people who are strongly drawn to Rand's ideas have some of their own resentments. This isn't to say that those who find value in her ideas are bad people... Her work allowed some otherwise intelligent people to believe that their own personal issues relating to people were in fact indications that they were far and above smarter and therefore better the rest of humanity, which can be kind of toxic to certain people at the right time- usually in high school or college. Don't get me wrong. I definitely had the gifted-kid-social-misfit issues growing up, pretty much the ideal candidate for a future Objectivist. Looking back I am just glad I lacked the attention span to embrace her stilted writing style, particularly when I was at the age where it could have done some real damage. Instead I discovered Kurt Vonnegut, also a misfit, but one with a big fat heart which he regularly poured out onto the page...
posted by krinklyfig at 8:25 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Monsieur Caution: Is it just a coincidence that it's almost identical with commonplace American ideology then?

Nobody else bit on this, but I think it's important to point out that this just isn't true. Sure, plenty of her ideas are useful to the wealthy & powerful, and she lent her support to a great many standard American right-wing positions. She was also fiercely, stridently anti-religious, and her ethical system is profoundly unlike what most Americans are taught by their families, religious institutions, and schools.
posted by brennen at 9:06 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for taking that up. I've only read her novels, but Rand seems to espouse something an awful lot like standard, off-the-shelf American ideology to me. And not just to me. A year before Ayn Rand published The Fountainhead, Margaret Mead published her study of American national character, And Keep Your Powder Dry.

It's a flawed study in many ways, but the topics she identified are nonetheless relevant. Guess what Mead focused on? The American sense of rugged individualism, the denial of class as a crucial factor in a person's social make-up, and the yearning for personal achievement to prove yourself greater than others. Toss in rabid capitalism, and yeah, commonplace American ideals that Mead identified before Rand became popular are pretty clearly what Rand fell in love with here.

I'll grant her stance on religion is not the norm. What she seems to have done there is lay bare how American ideology is in tension with religious traditions and advocate abandoning them in favor of a purer ideology we already mostly shared. You don't usually get popular by telling people things they don't already feel in some way. Do you think Ayn Rand is as popular in, say, Japan or China as she is here? Or even France? Italy? I'm pretty sure she isn't, and I think one reason, among others, is that she's saying things that Americans have a much easier time identifying with.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:09 AM on April 17, 2011


What she seems to have done there is lay bare how American ideology is in tension with religious traditions

In my experience with people who actually buy her type of thought, there is no conflict. Religious obligations are clearly separated from obligations to government. A good Christian will be generous to the poor, but it is a sin to take the wealth of someone else to give to the poor.

It's pretty logical, really. It sees the government as Robin Hood, and the rob from the rich to give to the poor idea has always been debated.

They don't see it as refusing to help the poor, they see it as refusing to decide that YOU have to help the poor even if you don't want to.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:32 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good observation. That's also very reminiscent of several early American religious leaders who were opposed to including a tax power in the Constitution on the grounds of it being a violation of natural rights.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:00 AM on April 17, 2011


Rand despised communism because of the deep personal losses her family suffered under it, so she put her bitterness and personal resentment into a pseudo-philosophy that she considered to be a direct, logical negation of the communist ethos.

Her ideas originated in bitterness and spite, and were formed in direct opposition to communist ideology--so Objectivism is ultimately a parasitic ideology that only really coheres so long as there's a system like communism for it to attach itself to. That's what makes it so dangerous and misguided, IMO.

And I disagree, Monsieur Caution: Objectivism's not actually true to the boiler-plate American ideology at all (which, you know, had a pretty substantial component to it having to do with "the People" and "the general welfare"). Where does the spirit that inspired the words to Emma Lazarus' famous poem that adorns the Statue of Liberty find a home in Randian thought? ("Bring us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free...") It doesn't. There's no concern for the well-being of humanity in Rand's dogma.

No, objectivism is a morally impoverished perversion of a small subset of traditional American beliefs that were specifically reformulated to serve as a critique of communism. Don't kid yourselves: Communism played far greater a role in defining Randian thought than did the revolutionary spirit and the egalitarian Enlightenment era principles that fueled the American revolution. Mark Twain would have mocked someone like Rand mercilessly, and for good reason.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:04 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


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