"She screamed: 'You have rejected me? You have dared to reject me? Me, your highest value?'"
November 2, 2009 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Two new biographies examine the life and legacy of Ayn Rand. Johann Hari of Slate reads them both responds with a crystaline and scathing evisceration of Rand's philosophy based on the context of the events of her life.

Editorial note: I typically despise Slate for their overtly contrarian bent, but found this to be rather good.
posted by Lacking Subtlety (124 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
She meant it. Her diaries from that time, while she worked as a receptionist and an extra, lay out the Nietzschean mentality that underpins all her later writings. The newspapers were filled for months with stories about serial killer called William Hickman, who kidnapped a 12-year-old girl called Marion Parker from her junior high school, raped her, and dismembered her body, which he sent mockingly to the police in pieces. 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." Rand had only one regret: "A strong man can eventually trample society under its feet. That boy [Hickman] was not strong enough."

The modern conservative movement, in a nutshell.
posted by empath at 2:09 PM on November 2, 2009 [25 favorites]


We all live every day with the victory of this fifth-rate Nietzsche of the mini-malls.

Was that the crystalline part?
posted by Joe Beese at 2:09 PM on November 2, 2009


Is Anti-Rand the new black?
posted by HTuttle at 2:09 PM on November 2, 2009


She regularly tops any list of books that Americans say have most influenced them.

In my experience, almost 100% of the people who have said this to me either 1) have never actually read one of the books; 2) if they have read her, it's almost always only The Fountainhead - and even then the work is almost universally misunderstood as a nice novel about a guy who just really wants to follow his heart.

the other thing that surprised me about this article was that, ostensibly, Rush Limbaugh reads???
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:10 PM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


More info on Ayn Rand's fascination with a serial killer.
posted by empath at 2:12 PM on November 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


Eck. I hate it when people who haven't read Nietzsche just can't stop talking about Nietzsche. It's pretty clear that Hari hasn't read much Nietzsche.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:13 PM on November 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


Also in the Book Review this past weekend.
posted by The Straightener at 2:16 PM on November 2, 2009


There's an S in Nietzsche. There isn't an S in Ayn Rand.
posted by sciurus at 2:19 PM on November 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


Oh, does that mean Selina Jones is a philosopher?
posted by Naberius at 2:21 PM on November 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Choice quote from empath's excellent link:

I found myself questioning whether it was really possible that Ayn Rand admired William Edward Hickman, the child kidnapper and multiple murderer whose credo Rand quotes with unblinking approval in her journal. Although my opinion of Rand is very low, it has never been quite that low
posted by KokuRyu at 2:22 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


A nice line from Hari's piece: The figure Ayn Rand most resembles in American life is L. Ron Hubbard, another crazed, pitiable charlatan who used trashy potboilers to whip up a cult.
posted by jayder at 2:22 PM on November 2, 2009 [11 favorites]


Anybody in her circle who disagreed with her was subjected to a show trial in front of the whole group in which they would be required to repent or face expulsion. (et al.)

Heh. It's funny, some time ago I found myself sitting in Central Park reading Atlas Shrugged when I was approached by an elderly couple who told me how wonderful it was that young people like myself were still reading Rand. How pertinent it all was! (coincidentally, this was the summer that the RNC was held in NYC). They sat with me and we had a long chat about Rand. Turns out, they were good friends of hers back in the day and part of her inner circle. The one thing they could not stop fucking saying about her was how very kind she was, how generous, how empathetic and lovely, how so very kind she was.

I thought all the obsequious praise a little strange, given her reputation. And then, as I strolled with the couple out of the park, I saw them enter their apartment building, which happened to be the Dakota. She said the United States should be a "democracy of superiors only," with superiority defined by being rich. QED.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:22 PM on November 2, 2009 [25 favorites]


...I saw them enter their apartment building, which happened to be the Dakota.

It that a punchline that I need to live in New York City to get?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:26 PM on November 2, 2009


It that a punchline that I need to live in New York City to get?

Sorry, yeah. It's a really famous apartment building on Central Park West. It's been inhabited at various times by Leonard Bernstein, John Lennon, etc. In any case, it's up there with the swankiest real estate in NYC...
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:28 PM on November 2, 2009


I think the reason so many people are attracted to Rand is because her viewpoint is based on a logical counterpoint to an extreme philosophy (communism), but then they seemingly miss the fact that she takes that logical counterpoint to extreme herself. And yes defending child/rapist/murders as "good for the cause!" makes you fucking batshit extreme.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 2:29 PM on November 2, 2009


Its a bit late to bash Ayn Rand. The basic ideas that she preached (briefly, self interest is good, collectivism is bad) have pretty much dominated American business life (and hence most of the world) for the last 20 to 30 years. Her side had basically won the battle of ideas there before most of us were born. Sure, her version is more extreme than the version that actually took hold, but thats how it always is with ideals vs the practicality of real life.
posted by memebake at 2:36 PM on November 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


^^ not that I agree with her particularly, but her influence extended to places most philosophers can only ... philosophise about.
posted by memebake at 2:38 PM on November 2, 2009


For better and for worse, she's the Voice of the Angry Teen in print. As with Lovecraft, the extremism is less a matter of writerly craft than naked personal need. And as with Lovecraft, hey, that's okay.

The only problem is that, whereas with HPL, the demon-worshiping Cthulhu contingent is a small (if active and growing) sector of the political Right, the Randian creed-- filtered through a fundamentalist Christian overlay-- really is the blueprint and guidebook of the modern GOP.

Man, I sound like a broken record.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:43 PM on November 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


The article's parallel to L. Ron Hubbard is rather apt. In fact, Ayn Rand is quite admired in Scientology circles and her books are studied with great care in several Scientology-affiliated schools.
posted by Diagonalize at 2:53 PM on November 2, 2009


An expert on Nietzsche on the supposed Nietzsche/Rand connection.
posted by leibniz at 3:00 PM on November 2, 2009 [5 favorites]



Its a bit late to bash Ayn Rand. The basic ideas that she preached (briefly, self interest is good, collectivism is bad) have pretty much dominated American business life (and hence most of the world) for the last 20 to 30 years. Her side had basically won the battle of ideas there before most of us were born.


Social neuroscience to the rescue! As it turns out, there's abundant evidence that people need people: emotionally, mentally, physically, perhaps even spiritually. If you think about it, it's pretty clear that it's nearly impossible to be happy without others: we don't think of a person who has become a billionaire but has no friends, family or partner as a "success."

Other than sociopaths and perhaps some autistic people, I don't think you'd find many people saying "Yeah, I'd take a billion if it meant that I could have no meaningful, close relationships" (though people may obviously not-exactly-intentionally continually privilege riches over relationships over time).

Further, virtually all studies looking at the connections between relationships and mental and physical health find that the more and better relationships you have, the healthier you are whether the condition studied is risk for heart disease or post-traumatic stress disorder. Being kind and generous is both healthy and productive.

Before you even teach them explicitly, in fact, toddlers will offer to help adults struggling with a task that they know how to do-- and even some nonhuman primates show this cooperative behavior. Infants cry when they hear other infants cry-- and under many conditions, people respond to each other in ways that demonstrate cooperation, rather than competition.

The economy itself requires trust-- economies in which people don't trust people outside of their families are highly corrupt, unstable and unproductive. And you can't have trust if everyone behaves sociopathically because your policing costs, lawyer costs, etc. tax every transaction way more heavily than in situations in which people expect others to be fair. Cooperative societies outcompete selfish ones, essentially.

So, she's demonstrably wrong about human nature being essentially and in all situations primarily selfish and about the "virtue of selfishness." And I think the recession is beginning to wake people up to this-- at least I hope so.
posted by Maias at 3:01 PM on November 2, 2009 [57 favorites]


Thanks to Metafilter I have a regular opportunity to ask myself "I wonder if Saint Aardvark the Carpeted's "Floating Head of Ayn Rand Timeline" is still extant?" Once again the answer is a resounding "Yes!"
posted by nanojath at 3:02 PM on November 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


One of my mother's friends that I occasionally did odd jobs for as a youngun is a nearly-religious Randian. She says that Rand is the most important writer and philosopher in history and she modeled her life on Atlas Shrugged. She works as a building manager.

Last time my parents, this lady, and I get together, she extolled Rand, but then shared that she might be losing her job because one of her superiors is trying to get rid of her in a climate that is already unfriendly to real estate people, and that her superior could get a leg-up my disposing of her. The lady has no real support network, she is divorced and her family is mostly gone or doesn't associate with her.

I laughed in her face and drank all her wine before leaving. When I get a clear chance, I will probably try to rip her off for as much capital as I can, hopefully before she loses her job so I can get a solid score. It's ok because she said that she totally disagreed with my compassionate social-serving ways and said that the only moral imperative is to act in one's own best interests.

I would feel terrible about planning to rob one of my mother's best friends but according to her own philosophy I would be wrong if I didn't try to screw her over for my own gain. Strange people, these Randians.
posted by fuq at 3:03 PM on November 2, 2009 [37 favorites]


From a UK perspective, the strength of feelings (both pro and con) that Ayn Rand's work continues to provoke in the US look truly bizarre. I very much doubt that here you'd find anyone here of any political stripe who seriously espouses objectivism as a creed for living. And equally I don't think you'd find many people who passionately hate Rand.

I suppose if I was bombarded by people telling me how wonderful she was, I'd feel more strongly. But as it is, like most Brits, I view her as a historical curiosity and see Atlas Shrugged as a (very long) period piece.
posted by rhymer at 3:05 PM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was massively into Ayn Rand for about two weeks when I was about 20. I met an older guy at a party who seemed to know what he was talking about and he couldn't recommend her books enough, particularly Atlas Shrugged, which I promptly bought and dove into with great enthusiasm. As I recall, I got maybe a quarter of the way through it when it suddenly occurred to me that none of these people EVER had any fun.

Meanwhile, I'd moved out of Vancouver to work on a ski hill and, quite by mistake, rented a basement suite from a certain small town's biggest drug dealer. This lead to me doing a lot of LSD and slowly, over maybe a month or so, coming to the realization that Atlas Shrugged was in fact a hilarious work of gut-busting satire ...

Jump a head a few years when it became my great goal to develop it into an Airplane-style wacky comedy. I actually put a lot of work into it, read the whole damned thing twice, took reams of notes ... until finally, tragically, one stormy afternoon at the edge of a golf course in Hawaii, I got mugged (a drug deal gone wrong) and though I didn't lose my cash, I did lose my backpack which had my dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged, and all my notes.

The moral of the story? Fuck if I know. Maybe something to do with Objectivism, sarcasm and illicit drugs not being a good mix.

Alternately, I've heard it said that RUSH may have the answer.
posted by philip-random at 3:11 PM on November 2, 2009 [44 favorites]


Nitpicking: empath's link states: "Then he heroically invoked the insanity defense – the first use of this tactic in American history."

Wasn't this used by Daniel Sickles in 1859? Or is that considered a different animal because Sickles was claiming temporary insanity?
posted by Morrigan at 3:13 PM on November 2, 2009


While I will admit to having a college sophomore crush on Dagny Taggart, it astounds me how Rand's right-wing acolytes can be so irony-impaired as to not see the lunacy of the so-called "Christian nation" crowd marching in lock-step behind an atheist who practiced open marriage. I'd love to imagine the contortions they'd generate trying to justify her as a presidential candidate.

Unfortunately, nanojath beat me to the St. Aardvark link, but don't miss it for the opportunity to send people e-cards bearing the floating head of Ayn Rand.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 3:27 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hated that Slate article so much that it actually had me sympathizing with Ayn Rand for a second. Quite a coup, Johann Hari--you made me sympathize with someone I have hated with a fiery passion for more than 30 years. Please do not write about Kenny G or Carrot Top, Johann Hari.

Nitpicking: empath's link states: "Then he heroically invoked the insanity defense – the first use of this tactic in American history."

I think we agreed in the thread that that was a mistake by the writer of the FPPed article.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:28 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ayn Rand is for bright teenagers who are in the "reject everything" stage. Most of them grow out of it.

I was a devout Randian for some time, but gradually became more and more liberal as I found Randian justifications for every liberal position. It's simply selfish to want equal rights and opportunities for everyone, since inequality hampers the meritocracy that is the true Randian vision. Rejecting equality under the law because you believe yourself to be superior to the herd is simply delusional.

Of course, Rand was delusional, since she didn't follow her train of reasoning to its conclusion, but stopped at a point that satisfied her own ego.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:41 PM on November 2, 2009 [9 favorites]


While I will admit to having a college sophomore crush on Dagny Taggart, it astounds me how Rand's right-wing acolytes can be so irony-impaired as to not see the lunacy of the so-called "Christian nation" crowd marching in lock-step behind an atheist who practiced open marriage.

If you listen to someone like Bill Kristol, you can see how they justify it, because he clearly does not care about the same issues, though he talks about them as being important to other people. The neoconservative movement was largely made of former liberals who turned conservative, not born-again Christians. But the vast majority of them are Randians at heart. They are willing to use Christian messages as propaganda, but do you really think they believe it? Sure, Pat Buchanan does, and so does Huckabee, but those guys weren't the people behind George W Bush.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:44 PM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


Only in America
posted by mattoxic at 3:51 PM on November 2, 2009


I hated that Slate article so much that it actually had me sympathizing with Ayn Rand for a second. Quite a coup, Johann Hari--you made me sympathize with someone I have hated with a fiery passion for more than 30 years. Please do not write about Kenny G or Carrot Top, Johann Hari.

Nitpicking: empath's link states: "Then he heroically invoked the insanity defense – the first use of this tactic in American history."

I think we agreed in the thread that that was a mistake by the writer of the FPPed article.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:28 PM on November 2 [+] [!]


"Well you just don't like anyone, do you?"

-okay that was a 30 rock line. More seriously though... huh? What made you hate the article? Genuinely curious cause I have absolutely no idea why you did based on what you said. Thanks.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 4:10 PM on November 2, 2009


Ayn Rand was a really evil version of Hitler.

Come to think of it, that might even be true.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 4:17 PM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


I hated that Slate article so much that it actually had me sympathizing with Ayn Rand for a second. Quite a coup, Johann Hari--you made me sympathize with someone I have hated with a fiery passion for more than 30 years. Please do not write about Kenny G or Carrot Top, Johann Hari.

Uh, you want to provide any detail, or just letting us know you hate it?
posted by xmutex at 4:24 PM on November 2, 2009


Ayn Rand is for bright teenagers who are in the "reject everything" stage. Most of them grow out of it.

Yep, that was me from about age 16-20, when I was super-Randian. Read all her fiction, a good bit of her philosophy, even wrote a paper in a freshman psychology class on "The Objectivist Answer to Skepticism." (I should pull it out one of these days and see if it is total nonsense or what.) Like many young people, I refused to believe that racism, sexism, etc. still existed in any meaningful form, so a libertarian-minded economic/social system seemed to be the only logical way to run things. Let everyone get out there and do their best, and the world will be perfect! If we all respect each other as independent individuals but work for our own best interests within that ethical framework, we'll be able to build a capitalist dream society where everyone is successful and creative and happy! Any other system, that tries to govern people or enforce morality is simply slavery, and we can see its evidence all around us in the shitty pop culture and poverty that exists for so many. But, of course, they are to blame because they don't nut up and take control of their own lives.

The interesting thing is that, as Jimmy Havok says, there are ways in which some of Rand's principles can be made to support a lot of good, non-sociopathological policies. I think that's part of what attracted me to her work, in that I did appreciate her focus on individual freedom, but I also imagined myself to be a heroic Howard Roark in training, that I would one day prove to the world just how awesome and smart I am, so fuck you to all those girls who wouldn't go out on a date with me.

But I gradually started realizing just how simple-minded her attempt to systematize the world based on meaningless principles like A=A really was. She basically expressed a number of really diverse and unconnected opinions -- free market industrialism is the perfect example of the highest human accomplishment, rock and jazz music is primitive jungle nonsense that destroys humanity, photography isn't really an art, women want to be dominated sexually by powerful men -- and used some pseudo-philosophy to justify it.

I really don't understand why modern Republicans/Conservatives take to her so strongly, as I feel that she would probably despise them -- one thing to say about her is that she was fairly effective at getting to the core principles of other people's politics. I remember reading something she wrote where she said Republicans (referring to the party from Nixon on) don't really care about the free market -- they care about controlling people. I think there's some truth to that. I don't think she had much use for corporate welfare or imperialist ventures into other countries. But then again, I think she'd love the fact that multi-national corporations set public policy and can protect their assets with private armies, so I really don't know.

I think what it comes down to is that she didn't really understand her own philosophy too well. She believed in the ultimate primacy of individual freedom and logic, but she also believed in absolutely unlimited free market corporatism, which, in my opinion (and, apparently, in the opinion of the last 40 years of world history), does not have any necessary relationship to human liberation and achievement, and, if anything, tends to work directly contrary to it. I wonder what her life and work would have been like if she had just dropped the economic/political side of her thought and focused instead on individual expression as a goal. I also would love to have seen her in a debate with some of the prominent leftist thinkers of the 20th century, like Foucault or Derrida. That would have made for some entertaining TV.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:30 PM on November 2, 2009 [20 favorites]


Unfortunately, nanojath beat me to the St. Aardvark link, but don't miss it for the opportunity to send people e-cards bearing the floating head of Ayn Rand.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll


Oh noes!

It doesn't work!
posted by Windigo at 4:30 PM on November 2, 2009


Both she and the Soviets insisted a small revolutionary elite in possession of absolute rationality must seize power and impose its vision on a malleable, imbecilic mass. The only difference was that Lenin thought the parasites to be stomped on were the rich, while Rand thought they were the poor.

This is the observation in the Slate article that really resonated for me. I was a big Ayn Rand fan and even a Libertarian for almost a year in my freshman term in college, due to reading The Fountainhead. What appealed to me about that book was the way it echoed the longstanding US concept of a "natural aristocracy" who rise based solely on merit. Too bad I then read Atlas Shrugged, because that is when it finally became clear to me what complete contempt Rand had for "regular" people. Unlike her, I could not say, even at that much younger age, that people who suffer misfortune deserve it because they are merely ordinary.
At bottom I think Rand's views are callous and cruel. Plus . . .

As it turns out, there's abundant evidence that people need people: emotionally, mentally, physically, perhaps even spiritually.

Indeed. And I have also figured out with time that people don't prosper or fail based on merit: a hell of a lot of what happens to us has more to do with simple luck.
posted by bearwife at 4:32 PM on November 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


Well, if admiring serial killers disqualifies you from being taken seriously as novelist or socio-political thinker, then I suppose that coshes the reputation of virtually anyone who's ever admired Napoleon, Mao, Castro, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, Winston Churchill or any of a dozen other respectable overseers of mass killings whose scale and magnitude could only be dreamed of by the lone psycho praised by Rand. All of us secretly or openly respect the powerful and ruthless exponents of what we think are our own ideals, whether they are Black nationalists "offing pigs" or pro-lifers offing abortion doctors. G.B. Shaw and H.G. Welles admired Lenin -- killer of thousands -- and many another thinker and artist has admired Trotsky, a cruel killer of men, women and children. You wouldn't expect Ayn Rand to look up to any of these state-sponsored psychos. She hated the State! So she chose to express admiration for the lone killer, all perfectly congruent with her individualist philosophy. Now, let anyone who has never written and spoken in admiration of a killer -- for example, Sitting Bull, John Brown, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, among others -- throw the first stone...
posted by Faze at 4:34 PM on November 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Rand's ideas are stock aristocratic drivel, but they sure sound great at a cocktail party!
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 4:42 PM on November 2, 2009



Well, if admiring serial killers disqualifies you from being taken seriously as novelist or socio-political thinker, then I suppose that coshes the reputation of virtually anyone who's ever admired Napoleon, Mao, Castro, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, Winston Churchill or any of a dozen other respectable overseers of mass killings whose scale and magnitude could only be dreamed of by the lone psycho praised by Rand. All of us secretly or openly respect the powerful and ruthless exponents of what we think are our own ideals, whether they are Black nationalists "offing pigs" or pro-lifers offing abortion doctors. G.B. Shaw and H.G. Welles admired Lenin -- killer of thousands -- and many another thinker and artist has admired Trotsky, a cruel killer of men, women and children. You wouldn't expect Ayn Rand to look up to any of these state-sponsored psychos. She hated the State! So she chose to express admiration for the lone killer, all perfectly congruent with her individualist philosophy. Now, let anyone who has never written and spoken in admiration of a killer -- for example, Sitting Bull, John Brown, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, among others -- throw the first stone...
posted by Faze at 4:34 PM on November 2 [+] [!]


This comparison seems to make no distinction between a solider and crazy rapist child murderer.

So here's me throwing the stone.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 4:43 PM on November 2, 2009 [17 favorites]


I'm pondering the possibilities of marketing bumper stickers saying:

"WE DON'T NEED YOU" - JOHN GALT

and

WE DON'T NEED YOU, JOHN GALT.

Or just promise the former and deliver the latter. No guarantees, people.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:47 PM on November 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Oh noes! It doesn't work!

Bummer, you're right. I think I last sent one two years ago, so there's been a lot of time for bit rot to set in.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:50 PM on November 2, 2009


Just to be absolutely, blindingly clear.... I have no sympathy for Rand's views.
posted by Morrigan at 4:54 PM on November 2, 2009


"Well, if admiring serial killers...."

There aren't enough stones. You're comparing things- or maybe stuff?-- that have no relationship at all. Is this that moral relativism I keep hearing about?
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 4:54 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


If we're posting the bits that most resonated with us, for me it was this section:

What I do find incomprehensible is that there are people—large numbers of people—who see her writing not as psychopathy but as philosophy, and urge us to follow her. Why? What in American culture did she drill into?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:55 PM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Faze is the trolling sophisticate of the thread, methinks.

We can argue over whether all the individual people you mentioned are good/bad/indifferent, but at the very least, I think it is poor reasoning to equate people who kill in defense of an ideal and those who kill to enforce an ideal. Or perhaps it is better put that there are those who kill to exercise power over others (bad), and those who do not wish to exercise power over others but who are put in a kill or be killed position in the pursuit of an ideal (good or indifferent). I know that I didn't exactly express it perfectly, but there you go.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:01 PM on November 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Ayn Rand was the Evel Knievel of jumping to conclusions. (New York Magazine book review of Anne Heller’s biography, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. )
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:03 PM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


As a teenager, I was saved from the siren's song of Objectivism by the fact that Atlas Shrugged is soul-crushingly boring and badly written. I can't, for the life of me, figure out how a book that dull could beguile the minds of the innocent.
posted by lekvar at 5:03 PM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


If we're posting the bits that most resonated with us, for me it was this section:

What I do find incomprehensible is that there are people—large numbers of people—who see her writing not as psychopathy but as philosophy, and urge us to follow her. Why? What in American culture did she drill into?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:55 PM on November 2 [+] [!]


The part where people are pacified by a philosophy that advocates their own selfishness?*

* let it be said this is not to imply that if you were once attracted to rand you were willingly buying into selfishness, but simply that that was the end result. I find a lot of people buy into it because they are dissatisfied with the other other political/philosophical options and more specifically the people identified with them. The idea of an upstanding, mentally fierce advocate for the bright individual is very alluring to someone who really doesn't really jibe with the other more popular options. I think eventually the objectivist thing wears itself out and they move towards more broad philosophies because they realize doing so doesn't necessarily rob themselves of their core identity. It's not like "joining a herd": something the others of said individual's youth were actually doing or something the individual just sort of just assumed they were doing.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 5:10 PM on November 2, 2009


Well, if admiring serial killers disqualifies you from being taken seriously as novelist or socio-political thinker, then I suppose that coshes the reputation of virtually anyone who's ever admired Napoleon, Mao, Castro, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, Winston Churchill or any of a dozen other respectable

There is a huge difference between managing a war and raping a little girl, cutting up her body, and mailing the parts to the police.
posted by delmoi at 5:17 PM on November 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


I've just realized I can't be Objective about Ayn Rand. Sweet.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 5:20 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is a huge difference between managing a war and raping a little girl, cutting up her body, and mailing the parts to the police.

Sure. You don't have to deal with the postal service when waging a war.
posted by xmutex at 5:33 PM on November 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


If I meet anybody over the age 25 who still had Ayn Rand on their bookshelf, I can never take them very seriously, because, while I might be able to forgive their stunted intellectual development, I could never forgive the lack of taste required to display her books.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:36 PM on November 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


Atlas Shrugged is soul-crushingly boring and badly written

It was one of the few books I was unable to finish in high school. Possibly the only one.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:38 PM on November 2, 2009


Lutoslawski: "In my experience, almost 100% of the people who have said this to me either 1) have never actually read one of the books;

Atlas Shrugged was immensely influential on me, personally. I started reading it as a rabid conservative. I finished it, six months of eye-rolling later, a pretty thorough liberal.

posted by notsnot at 5:48 PM on November 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


Goddamn forgetting to close italics...
posted by notsnot at 5:48 PM on November 2, 2009


I've actually been meaning to pick up a used copy of Atlas Shrugged, as I haven't read it and I'd like to see if it's as bad as I keep hearing.

So AZ, if for some reason you're ever at my house, please keep that in mind. There are plenty of other reasons not to take me seriously.
posted by brundlefly at 5:52 PM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


So would it be worth taking Atlas Shrugged out of the library so that I can laugh at it while I read it and then be more able to laugh at Randoids or is it really too boring to get through?
posted by octothorpe at 5:52 PM on November 2, 2009


I really don't understand why modern Republicans/Conservatives take to her so strongly, as I feel that she would probably despise them

From the SLATE article:

We all become weak at some point in our lives, so a thinker who despises weakness will end up despising herself.

Ms. Rand clearly carried a lot of hate, self-directed otherwise. Kind of like GG Allin without the talent.
posted by philip-random at 5:52 PM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


So AZ, if for some reason you're ever at my house, please keep that in mind. There are plenty of other reasons not to take me seriously.

I didn't say you can't own a copy, as long as you hide it like some especially repugnant pornography, the latter of which you may display.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:09 PM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


To re-iterate from last time: (objective=moral)=stupid idea.

Also: the objectivist theory of aesthetics: (art which reflects my politics is good, other arts are bad) = social realism (communist style).

and: Atlas Shrugged is soul-crushingly boring and badly written
posted by ovvl at 6:12 PM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


Perhaps I should clarify: The Fountainhead is also badly written, but not entirely soul-crushingly boring: there are moments of horrid fascination as her protagonists enact incredibly stupid moral programs, which we are presumably supposed to admire.
posted by ovvl at 6:23 PM on November 2, 2009


Fabulous comment from Slate's discussion board, The Fray:
Yeah, the Superman theory.

Here's the thing about that. So, humans of exceptional talent are not bound by any conventions of morality- no Golden Rule, no eschewing of murder, no recognition of the lives or rights of others, especially us untermenschen.

Okay, fair enough. One can certainly adopt that paradigm and live by it. But as was done to Mr. Hickman, those who operate under that paradigm must be identified, hunted down and put down like rabid dogs, whether they do anything or not. By their own philosophy, there is no reason for society to wait around for those super assholes to harm it. There is no right or wrong but what is right for the state, and the state is society, so society should hunt down these fuckers and kill them. In fact, they should be killed in the slowest, most publicly horrific means available in order to discourage others from engaging in similar philosophies. Crucifixion comes to mind, but I'm open to suggestions.
Reminds me of Simmons on personal moral obligation to the law: you don't have a moral obligation to follow the law, but the state has a moral obligation to coerce you into following it.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 6:25 PM on November 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


I was very into Rand from about 16 to 20 as well. It sort of lost its appeal when I realized I was much more of an Eddie Willers than a John Galt.
posted by vilthuril at 6:30 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, humans of exceptional talent are not bound by any conventions of morality- no Golden Rule, no eschewing of murder, no recognition of the lives or rights of others, especially us untermenschen.

The fact that this is actually Rand's philosophy tells me that she either never read or furiously cribbed from Crime and Punishment, as it's exactly what Raskolnikov, and was presented as being madness in the book. Well, not exactly, as Raskolnikov wanted to help people and Rand doesn't. So kudos to her for taking madness and adding an extra spin of egomania.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:32 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


It was one of the few books I was unable to finish in high school. Possibly the only one.

Oh man, me too. In fact, as one of those kids who would read cereal boxes, Highlights magazine, and Reader's Digest stories like "I Am Joe's Spleen" if nothing else was handy, Rand's Fountainhead was my Waterloo, or actually, my Russian winter. In that she just wore me down until I had no hope and no desire to continue.

I had never encountered a work of fiction which I was simply incapable of reading all the way to the end until that moment. It was so disheartening, especially since there was a scholarship competition for Fountainhead essays, and I thought that was an easy 100 bucks (or whatever it was).

However, it did make slogging through Tom Jones my sophomore year of college less unbearable.
posted by emjaybee at 6:36 PM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've linked to this before in a Rand thread, so my apologies if you've seen this. But I actually did a multiweek storyline in my webcomic about what a pain in the ass it is to deal with someone who reads Rand and immediately assumes that he's the oppressed genius (starts here). I was pretty proud of those strips, especially because I've dealt with so many jackasses who were the oppressed genius.

I do think her biographical arc's pretty fascinating, and her fixations make a lot more sense if you look at it as a lifetime of reacting to the Soviet revolution...
posted by COBRA! at 6:43 PM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


So would it be worth taking Atlas Shrugged out of the library so that I can laugh at it while I read it and then be more able to laugh at Randoids or is it really too boring to get through?

I recently read Atlas Shrugged out of curiosity. What struck me immediately was that it is full of rhetorical straw men. The uninitiated should also note that it contains a complete transcript of a three-hour radio address, which was 56 pages long in the edition I read -- over 5% of the novel. Reading that part of the novel was a good way to wind down quickly at the end of a day. This despite that the address is a major event on the way to the climax of the novel.

But then I laughed out loud at the circular reasoning (or is it ego?) in the Rand-penned "About the Author" section on the last page:
I trust that no-one will tell me that men such as I write about don't exist. That this book has been written -- and published -- is my proof that they do.
The story arc has its moments, but in my estimation it's little more than a clumsily-written mystery where the antagonists have simply unbelievable motivations. If it weren't full of such Big Ideas, it would have been forgotten long ago.

I'm glad that I read it, but I won't read it again.
posted by timing at 7:01 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I laughed in her face and drank all her wine before leaving. When I get a clear chance, I will probably try to rip her off for as much capital as I can, hopefully before she loses her job so I can get a solid score. It's ok because she said that she totally disagreed with my compassionate social-serving ways and said that the only moral imperative is to act in one's own best interests.

That is fucking awesome.

I'm going to make it a point each time I attend a party with Randians/Republicans/Whackos to laugh in their faces and drink all their wine. Epic win.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:14 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


For another take on the the superman unbound by morality, consider Judge Holden of Blood Meridian.

And the answer, said the judge. If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? Wolves cull themselves, man. What other creature could? And is the race of man not more predacious yet? The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day. He loves games? Let him play for stakes. This you see here, these ruins wondered at by tribes of savages, do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again. With other people, with other sons.
The judge looked about him. He was sat before the fire naked save for his breeches and his hands rested palm down upon his knees. His eyes were empty slots. None among the company harbored any notion as to what this attitude implied, yet so like an icon was he in his sitting that they grew cautious and spoke with circumspection among themselves as if they would not waken something that had better been left sleeping.

posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:22 PM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


It seems like Rand taps into a vein of American culture similar to the one that created prosperity theology.
posted by drezdn at 7:23 PM on November 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


I love this story:

When Bennett Cerf, a head of Random House, begged her to cut Galt’s speech, Rand replied with what Heller calls “a comment that became publishing legend”: “Would you cut the Bible?” One can imagine what Cerf thought — he had already told Rand plainly, “I find your political philosophy abhorrent” — but the strange thing is that Rand’s grandiosity turned out to be perfectly justified.

In fact, any editor certainly would cut the Bible, if an agent submitted it as a new work of fiction. But Cerf offered Rand an alternative: if she gave up 7 cents per copy in royalties, she could have the extra paper needed to print Galt’s oration. That she agreed is a sign of the great contradiction that haunts her writing and especially her life.
posted by lukemeister at 7:41 PM on November 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


I read The Fountainhead, and I finished for the same reason that I enjoyed The Aristocrats.
posted by clockzero at 7:43 PM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


from the The Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time: Ayn Rand’s A Selfish Christmas, by MetaFilter's own jscalzi.
posted by lukemeister at 7:50 PM on November 2, 2009 [6 favorites]


Alisa Rosenbaum (her original name) was born in the icy winter of czarism, not long after the failed 1905 revolution ripped through her home city of St. Petersburg. Her father was a self-made Jewish pharmacist, while her mother was an aristocratic dilettante who loathed her three daughters. She would tell them she never wanted children, and she kept them only out of duty. Alisa became a surly, friendless child. In elementary school, her class was asked to write an essay about why being a child was a joyous thing. She instead wrote "a scathing denunciation of childhood," headed with a quote from Pascal: "I would prefer an intelligent hell to a stupid paradise."

In the springtime, she made meat helmets.
posted by Slap Factory at 7:50 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think it is poor reasoning to equate people who kill in defense of an ideal and those who kill to enforce an ideal. Or perhaps it is better put that there are those who kill to exercise power over others (bad), and those who do not wish to exercise power over others but who are put in a kill or be killed position in the pursuit of an ideal (good or indifferent). I know that I didn't exactly express it perfectly, but there you go.

Sure, state-sponsored killers kill to enforce some collectivist ideal. Rand's admired psycho killed to enforce his individualist ideal. They are equivalent. What's worse about collectivist killers is that they usually have individualist goals (Napoleon, most obvious example) which they clothe in the ideals of the state: They are the lone psycho, with the whole power of government behind them. Ayn Rand's ideas, whatever their merit or lack of merit, never led to mass murder as did the ideas of the whole leftist cohort of writers and thinkers led by Marx, Lenin, or Mao. Her bad novels never led to genocide, or foolish wars, like those started in our own time by statist conservatives. All Ayn Rand's ideas threaten is that some talented, driven people should be successful and get to keep their money -- even if they happen to be assholes. Well, good for them anyway.
posted by Faze at 8:05 PM on November 2, 2009


The NBC affiliate in Paducah, Ky refused to broadcast the second or third season of Saturday Night Live and instead ran old movies. One of them movies was "The Fountainhead."

I went ahead and watched the whole thing due mainly to the fact that I lived in the country and my choices were as slim as two stations. In my early 20s I had never heard of Ayn Rand or her book and I was completely at sea about what was going on and the motivations and crazy behavior of the characters as well as their bizarre dialogue.

Ten or so years later as a Teamster democrat I became aware of Rand and began to really, really hate a dead woman.

Some time after that a movie I had long forgotten was scheduled on TCM based on that crazy woman's scribbling and I was anxious to have a look. There it was. It all came back.

Point----I just love that absurd movie. I watch it every chance I get.
posted by wrapper at 8:13 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jimmy Havok: Fabulous comment from Slate's discussion board, The Fray:

I am pretty much the polar opposite of a Randian Objectivist in all respects, but the philosophy of that comment, and what it advocates, is something just as or even more vile and morally repellent than the Superman theory, and I'm kind of shocked that you call it "fabulous." The belief that there is "no right or wrong but what is right for the state" and "the state is society" is, basically, the philosophy of totalitarianism. The subsequent suggestion that people should be publically killed by the state in the most horrific fashion possible for believing certain things even if they don't act on them only reinforces that conclusion, needless to say. I don't think the author of that comment actually believed what they were writing, but responding to a morally repellent philosophy by embracing an equally or even more repellent one that is perceived as its opposite is... well, just what Rand herself did, actually.

On the topic of Rand, one thing which I was amazed to discover is that her whole "virtue of selfishness" philosophy is extremely similar to that of Nikolai Chernyshevsky, one of the most influential figures among the Russian radicals of the 1800s and a great influence on none other than Vladimir Lenin himself. Chernyshevsky called his philosophy "rational egoism", and like Rand believed that the ideal human being cared for nothing but their own interests- unlike Rand, though, Chernyshevsky was a socialist who believed that this egoism would somehow lead to the communist ideal of equality, harmony and cooperation. Rand, of course, had a far more realistic idea of what a "virtue of selfishness" would entail, the distinguishing (and horrifying) feature of her philosophy being that she thought this was a positive thing. Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" has been mentioned in the thread, and if that book reads like a refutation of Randian philosophy, that's because it was aimed at a very similar one- there are some interesting excerpts here from an article on Chernyshevsky's "rational egoism" and Dostoevsky's attack on it in "Notes From Underground". I think the conclusion of the Johann Hari article that Objectivism is Bolshevism's twin is right on the mark, and the Chernyshevsky connection is just one more example of it. There actually are quite a large number of similarities between Objectivists and Leninists, I think. (Dogmatic materialism and hatred of religion, an obsession with the glories of industry and the machine, a firm belief that only one social class has any worth, aggressive intolerance of dissenting views, a complete scorn for traditional morality, cults of personality, a rather similar artistic aesthetic, and that's just what comes to mind off the top of my head.)
posted by a louis wain cat at 8:21 PM on November 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


emjaybee: I had never encountered a work of fiction which I was simply incapable of reading all the way to the end until that moment. It was so disheartening, especially since there was a scholarship competition for Fountainhead essays, and I thought that was an easy 100 bucks (or whatever it was).

Hell, I had that situation literally presented - my father, a fairly serious randian, offered to pay me that exact sum if I could read that book. I couldn't do it. It's the literary equivalent of eating sand - tons of volume, but there's no nutrition or taste to be had.

And this is from a person who buys and reads books on particle physics for fun.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:04 PM on November 2, 2009


Point----I just love that absurd movie. I watch it every chance I get.

Yup, the Fountainhead is right up there with St Elmos Fire for me as train-wrecks-I-can't-turn-away-from-once-I-start-watching.

Pure weird genius.
posted by philip-random at 9:12 PM on November 2, 2009


the whole leftist cohort of writers and thinkers led by Marx, Lenin, or Mao.

Three very different people, with very different philosophies, especially Marx. Marx himself stated, "I am not a Marxist," rejecting the political movement that took his ideas and ran somewhere else with them.

what it advocates, is something just as or even more vile and morally repellent than the Superman theory

What, that society should protect itself against psychopaths? Rand advocated psychopathology as a political stance, and the only thing that protected us from her was her fear of the law. She presented mass murder as an admirable action in her novels, and we can thank her cowardice for the fact that they are still being read.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 9:15 PM on November 2, 2009


The Fountainhead: Patricia Neal disciplines Gary Cooper ... and gets exactly what she wants.
posted by philip-random at 9:16 PM on November 2, 2009


This is what happens when you use methamphetamine while writing books.
posted by hortense at 9:39 PM on November 2, 2009


What I do find incomprehensible is that there are people—large numbers of people—who see her writing not as psychopathy but as philosophy, and urge us to follow her. Why? What in American culture did she drill into?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:55 PM on November 2


Let me try to explain it. Many neocons and Rand enthusiasts did not have a background similar to Rand's, but their parents (fathers) probably had an experience similar to her father's in their native Europe. Remember, most neocons are the sons of immigrant/refugee fathers. Consider Bill Kristol (son of Irving) and Ben Stein (son of Herbert).

I believe that a driving force in many of these men's lives has been trying to live up to their fathers's expectations driven into them through very autocratic parenting. Imaine your dad was a refugee from the Nazi's or the Bolsheviks, and he came to the US and reached the top of academia, politics, or the like. For the American born sons, the pressure was massive - if I could make it and I started out chased from my home but thugs and criminals, you with such a head start should achieve nothing less than greatness on a national scale. In the process of trying to meet this expectation, these sons co-opted their fathers resentments and anger towards the mob that chased then from their homes and drove them here. That resentment, that struggle against a perceived mob that wanted nothing more than to steal from the successful, became their driving force.

But for the American-born, that wasn't real. It wasn't tempered by compassion bourne of memories of how hard it was for the poor or the disenfranchised in those pre-war countries.

So Rand steps it, and feeds them this narrative that resonates with the stories their fathers told, cast in the same heroic language, and with the added benefit of absolving them of any need for compassion or social justice that their religious tradition would have otherwise instilled in them.

The irony, the truly tragic irony of all of this, is that these men who have reached the heights did so solely on willpower. They were by no means the most talented, or the brightest. They never actually made anything the way Roark or Taggart did in the stories. They just pushed or disgusted others out of their way on their rise to the top.

And once there, once in power, their incompetence was set free and it destroyed the country. They undid in one generation what men like Rockefeller, Carnegie, Edison and their predecessors built over the course of American history. Yes, business was business. But business was not life. Life was social change - building hospitals, libraries, etc. The real historical businessmen (not corporatists but true men of business) would never have sympathized with Taggart, Rand, or Kristol.

Because they were themselves once poor. They never had contempt for the poor. They had a lot of contempt for the forces of American aristocracy that they felt kept people poor, but they never hated the poor. The trusted the poor. They saw that being poor often built character and honor that was absent from the indulgent and idiotic offspring of the elite. Unlike Rand, they never trusted wealth.

The core tenet of Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth is that those who have the means to help have the responsibility to help. They must - not should, must - divest themselves of their wealth to ensure that it be put to good use, lest it fall in to the hands of those looking to make some easy money as caretakers of it.

The Gospel of Wealth is gone from American culture. Only Bill Gates seems to acknowledge the virtue and importance of Carnegie's idea today. Even Buffett, the folksy investor (actually the son of a Congressman) couldn't be bothered to look into the dispensation of his fortune, and plans to turn it over to Gates's foundation.

Today we have Objectivism, which is actually Subjectivisim form the viewpoint of the person who has the money but didn't actually earn it. Objectivism got us GM, failing infrastructure, lousy mediocre everything, and Bill Kristol as a resident expert on Fox News.

200 years of a glorious progressive history cast aside by a dozen brats trying to impress their daddies.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:20 PM on November 2, 2009 [35 favorites]


What, that society should protect itself against psychopaths? Rand advocated psychopathology as a political stance, and the only thing that protected us from her was her fear of the law. She presented mass murder as an admirable action in her novels, and we can thank her cowardice for the fact that they are still being read.

Of course society should protect itself against psychopaths- doing this by literally crucifying anyone it even suspects of being a psychopath, as that comment advocated, though, is a cure far, far worse than the disease. And the combined idea that right and wrong is what the state says it is and that society is the state is, as I say, the philosophy of totalitarianism. The actual, historical totalitarians often stated as much. In a way, it's extremely similar to the Superman theory itself, the difference being that the morality-transcending "Superman" is seen as a collective entity rather than a single person. Taking it seriously as a general principle results in a position that is a mixture of incoherent and repugnant- to bring up just one obvious problem with it, do we believe that right and wrong is what the state says it is if the state is, say, North Korea, or South Africa during the apartheid era? And as for "society is the state", how can apartheid South Africa be seen as a true representative of the society it governed in any sense? The ideas expressed in that comment that society is the state, morality is determined by the state, and that the state should kill people horrifically just for believing certain things are what I was calling worse than the Superman theory, not the idea that society should protect itself from psychopaths.

I don't disagree that Rand's philosophy is morally bankrupt, and basically a glorification of psychopathology, but that doesn't warrant embracing equally psychopathic belief systems ourselves in reaction to it. The question of how to best respond to morally bankrupt political philosophies is an extremely fraught and complicated one- but if you do get people who think that their superior nature gives them the right to murder, it seems to me that they are best dealt with through the existing justice system, and if there's some philosophy out there that's inspiring them, the best way to attack it is with speech, not by killing anyone you suspect believes in the philosophy, which both makes you as bad or worse than the people you're fighting and doesn't actually tend to work well anyway. (Was invading Iraq and torturing people a good way of fighting al-Qaeda?)
posted by a louis wain cat at 10:22 PM on November 2, 2009


I used to think Ayn Rand was no big deal, a late teen obsession, an opinion I reached after reading Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, books which I found fascinating and ridiculous at the same time even when I was that age. (For a real laugh, watch The Fountainhead with the hilariously miscast Gary Cooper.) But that was before I learned that Alan Motherfucking Greenspan is one of her disciples. I can hardly believe it even now. Who else in mighty positions of power have drunk from that poisonous well?
posted by telstar at 11:17 PM on November 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


By the way if you're going to condemn Rand for amphetamines, I guess you'll have to do the same with Jean Paul Sartre.

By the late 1970s, Jean-Paul Sartre's body began to rebel. He smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, drank heavily, and used amphetamines while writing. For all this talk about logic and individual will, Sartre could not stop his bad habits.
posted by telstar at 11:33 PM on November 2, 2009


The core tenet of Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth is that those who have the means to help have the responsibility to help.

Well, unless they're your employees, then you have them killed. I know, I know. They were union. We all know, collective bargaining is Communisim.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:26 AM on November 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


My primary experience with Ayn Rand was during my stay at Oberlin College. The Objectivists and the Marxists got into a poster war during my junior year. They would literally slap up posters over top of each other, just pictures of Marx and Rand and nonsensical slogans that were dog whistles so high I doubt even most of their cohorts understood them. They also doubled the size of the student newspaper by sending in "Letters to the Editor" that were just ten-page excerpts from the magnum opii of their figurehead of choice. I think there were even actual shouting matches between semi-organized mobs, though I may have imagined that part.

It was pure street theater at its absolute best. God, I miss that town.
posted by Scattercat at 2:41 AM on November 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Given her weakness for murdering psychos, I'm surprised Ms. Rand wasn't more fond of Stalin.
posted by dortmunder at 4:12 AM on November 3, 2009


The thing I love about all the Randian supermen--the rugged individual! Watch me do it all on my own!--is that, to a one, they forget that they did not spring fully formed from the forehead of Zeus.

Each and every one of them started out as a human infant, one of the weakest and least capable mammalian babies on the planet. For years on end, someone had to feed them, clothe them, wipe their asses and snotty noses. Each and every one of them never knew the alphabet or their numbers or their history until someone, usually many many someones, carefully taught and reinforced those lessons, for years on end. Good luck being a superman without all of that selfless care.

No surprise that most of the people who usually do those jobs are women, and most of the people who hew most closely to Rand are men. And adolescents, who are finally starting to comprehend the debt they owe their parents and have a hard time coping with it.

One of the most flaming Libertarians I know just sired a baby for the first time, in his fifties. He really should know better, and now, I think he may finally actually catch the clue. I cannot.wait. to see how this turns out.
posted by Sublimity at 5:03 AM on November 3, 2009 [8 favorites]


I missed that part in Teddy Roosevelt's biography where he sent bits of a little girl to someone parcel post. But, I'll have to admit I was reading a used copy that someone had spilled false dichotomy all over.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:47 AM on November 3, 2009 [8 favorites]


Like a lot of people, I was huuugely into Rand when I was about 14-16. I was this smart, angry friendless little thing, and here were all these books telling me I didn't NEED anyone else, I was better than everyone else anyway, and if they didn't understand that they just all deserved to go to hell. Because if you're totally disaffected and lonely, the headiest thing you can read is something that gives you a reason to justify it and a way to convince yourself that it's noble. There's more to it than that, for a lot of people, but that was the hook for me. Then I got a brain and a social conscience and grew out of it. What worries me is these people that in all other ways look like normal, well-adjusted adults, and then you find out they're Randians and I wonder...psychologically, are these people in the same place I was in when I was 14 and had headgear and stuff? Because that's terrifying.

Also, my introduction to the Wonderful World of Rand happened one rainy day when I was bored and looking for something to read, and my mother gave me Atlas Shrugged and said "here, this is a pretty good story, if you ignore all the philosophy and the stuff about trains." Thanks mom.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 6:48 AM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


By the way if you're going to condemn Rand for amphetamines, I guess you'll have to do the same with Jean Paul Sartre.

Was Sartre's personal philosophy called "Objectivism"? I think not. Further, from Hari's article: "In her 70s Rand found herself dying of lung cancer, after insisting that her followers smoke because it symbolized "man's victory over fire" and the studies showing it caused lung cancer were Communist propaganda. By then she had driven almost everyone away." She set the height of the bar that she couldn't clear.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:33 AM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Objectivists and the Marxists got into a poster war during my junior year.

In my early Undergrad years (late 1970s) it was the competing communists that were tearing into each other (Marxist-Leninists vs Trotskyists as I recall; yup, just like Judean Peoples Front vs the Peoples Front of Judea) ... with the grand climax (off campus actually) where the two warring tribes actually took each other on in a local park, using placards as clubs, etc. People went to hospital. People were arrested. I've been deeply, deeply skeptical of any self-defined "Radical" ever since. What a bunch of absurd morons!
posted by philip-random at 7:58 AM on November 3, 2009


She set the height of the bar that she couldn't clear.

Ms. Rand's ultimate failure is exactly this. Her philosophy was impossible to live up to. Her biography proves this, as do the recent worldwide financial meltdowns. Proof in the pudding as it were.
posted by philip-random at 8:01 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had never encountered a work of fiction which I was simply incapable of reading all the way to the end until that moment. It was so disheartening, especially since there was a scholarship competition for Fountainhead essays, and I thought that was an easy 100 bucks (or whatever it was).

I made it through the Fountainhead in high school, loved it for about 2/3s of the way through, and then realized that the vivid, speechifying characters were championing an abhorrent worldview, and that the book was actually dreadfully dull and sort of stupid. Somehow, though, I finished, maybe just to confirm my opinion all the way through.

Jude the Obscure, however, I could not manage to finish. Who the hell assigns that novel to 11th graders?
posted by LooseFilter at 8:03 AM on November 3, 2009


(Marxist-Leninists vs Trotskyists as I recall; yup, just like Judean Peoples Front vs the Peoples Front of Judea)

Obligatory:
BRIAN: Are you the Judean People's Front?
REG: Fuck off!
BRIAN: What?
REG: Judean People's Front. We're the People's Front of Judea! Judean People's Front. Cawk.
FRANCIS: Wankers.
BRIAN: Can I... join your group?
REG: No. Piss off.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:06 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read The Fountainhead because a friend I had great respect for praised it as one of the greatest works she'd ever read.

We were no longer friends after that. The end.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:13 AM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Like many young people, I refused to believe that racism, sexism, etc. still existed in any meaningful form, so a libertarian-minded economic/social system seemed to be the only logical way to run things. Let everyone get out there and do their best, and the world will be perfect! If we all respect each other as independent individuals but work for our own best interests within that ethical framework, we'll be able to build a capitalist dream society where everyone is successful and creative and happy! Any other system, that tries to govern people or enforce morality is simply slavery, and we can see its evidence all around us in the shitty pop culture and poverty that exists for so many. But, of course, they are to blame because they don't nut up and take control of their own lives.

saxon kane, thank you. For the first time in my life I think I can understand what some people see in Objectivism and why they find it so compelling. If what they are imagining is some sort of utopia where everyone is rewarded for their efforts in rational ways and things run logically, then, yeah, I kind of get why it inspires, um, passion, in some young people.
posted by jokeefe at 9:31 AM on November 3, 2009


"responds with a crystaline and scathing evisceration of Rand's philosophy based on the context of the events of her life."

You mean, like, ad hominem?
posted by rush at 10:07 AM on November 3, 2009


Plural of "opus" is "opera".
posted by JimDe at 10:27 AM on November 3, 2009


it was the competing communists that were tearing into each other

I ran into this in Seattle in the early '90s, through commie friends who formed their own faction. Very amusing!
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:34 AM on November 3, 2009


Faze: All Ayn Rand's ideas threaten is that some talented, driven people should be successful and get to keep their money -- even if they happen to be assholes. Well, good for them anyway.

Since when have talented, driven people not been allowed to be successful? Was that ever a problem?
posted by jayder at 11:39 AM on November 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I know a number of people who insist that they're being held back from being successful. They usually insist it has to do with paying taxes, or contributing to welfare, or paying for public schools their children don't attend. It has little enough to do with the facts of the matter and everything to do with the perception of being the oppressed minority.

Now that I think about it, a large part of Rand's schtick isn't so much about freeing oneself as making oneself the persecuted victim of society and blaming others for one's own lack of material success; sure, I might be a white, heterosexual, middle-class male, but I could be so much more if I wasn't oppressed!
posted by lekvar at 11:58 AM on November 3, 2009 [6 favorites]


You mean, like, ad hominem?
posted by rush at 1:07 PM on November 3


An ad hominem attack is an attack on the proponent of an argument made to undermine the argument itself. But the examination of Rand's life is not presented in this essay to refute her argument. It is presented to help understand her argument.

In this case, the examination of her life is relevant - actually, it is necessary - to understand her philosophy and how she came to create it. The author of the essay does not suggest that her philosophy is invalid because her childhood unfolded as it did. Rather, he answers the question of how one could articulate a philosophy that explicitly shuns compassion and rewards selfishness by examining that person's formative childhood experiences.

The fact is that Objectivism cannot be argued against because it is not itself an argument. It does not begin from a factual premise and proceed logically to a conclusion. It begins with a set of Rand's own biases and assumptions and proceeds only as far as she levels an subjective opinion about them.

The term itself is pure doublethink: nothing in Objectivism is objective. It is based entirely on her subjective view of the world. What the term really means is that objectivism views the world as a series of objectives - goals, targets, achievements. The fundamental unit of goal-seeking is money. You earn some fraction of money each instant your are in pursuit of some goal.

There isn't anything wrong with this. If that's how you want to live your life, it's not anyone else's business. In my opinion, this is the life of a machine. Yes, you make a lot of money. So what? There's no cosmic high score list ranking history's top earners, and if there was, you wouldn't know about it after you were dead anyway.

What I find amazing about Rand is that there must be some truth in her books somewhere for it to resonate with readers. So I wonder about these public figures who found her writing so true that they embraced it as a core belief their whole lives. To me, her philosophy is monstrous and destructive, primarily because it is vindictive in nature and appeals not to the 'great men' but to megalomaniacs who believe themselves great despite having done nothing to earn that title.

They become so convinced of their greatness that their conviction convinces the less critical/analytical among us that it must be true that they are great. And they become elevated to positions of complete incompetence, and wreak havoc upon the world.

Bill Kristol is a Rand fanatic and an architect/apologist of the Iraq war. Richard Perle is the Roark of that war. Given the utter decimation of the polity, culture, and civilization of Iraq, can you really blame the Iraqis if they want run screaming to seize the assets of these neocons? Isn't it in fact absolutely true that these men enriched themselves by impoverishing these peolpe through war? (Particularly Perle who made money from defense contractor Global Crossing even while he was at DoD.)

Supporters of Rand, ask yourselves: if you consider the facts of the last decade honestly, rationally, and objectively, do those facts support the Objectivist view of the world, or the Marxist view? Which theory is more factually accurate?

Furthermore ask yourselves this question, which I am beginning to learn in all aspects of life is an extremely dangerous an upsetting question: Why do you like this thing? Why does it attract you to it? What is it about your life and your outlook prior to encountering this thing that made it inevitable that you would embrace it upon encountering it? Do you have the ability to answer these questions with facts ("Because I was raised to believe that hard work was all it takes to succeed.") instead of opinions ("Because I too am a great man.")

Don't run from these questions. If you do not like this thing (in this case the thing is Rand's oeuvre, but it could be anything), then ask yourselves the negatives - Why don't you like it? ("Perhaps you lack confidence and do not believe yourself capable of achieving anything?", etc.) Whatever. Dwell on the question. Let it weigh on you. When the answers, the real answers emerge--not the ones that come to you at first which are assuredly defensive and protective, but the real ones that rise out of the corners of your mind when you don't expect them weeks later--don't run from them.

The unexamined life is not worth living, and the truth shall set you free.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:10 PM on November 3, 2009 [11 favorites]


...and the truth shall set you free.

Sometimes. Sometimes the truth is like a kick in the head, or like having your heart ripped out of your body. Sometimes you realize they don't love you, or you are truly screwed, or that something is hopeless despite your hard work, or that being a good person didn't actually help you at all.

I mean, not to derail. And living in fantasy is not workable, and is destructive. But reality? Not always a picnic either.
posted by emjaybee at 1:35 PM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


A friend whose opinion I valued handed me The Fountainhead when I was 17. At the time I was going through a lot of shit and had been hurt by other people's opinions. It was a good book for me to read at that time, and my friend presented it as such. I still defend The Fountainhead as a book that's useful to read when you're in need of a particular viewpoint.

In other words, if you're so upset at everyone else in the world (in that way that teenagers are so good at being) that you may be lead to consider suicide, Ayn Rand is a good alternative and may lead you instead to a few cold hearted achievements. Hopefully it wears off in a few months. Unfortunately, it doesn't always.
posted by threeturtles at 2:09 PM on November 3, 2009


She's not a philosopher; she's a dogmatic hack, shallow ideologue and crappy novelist who grinds her axe with a tedious contempt for intellectual subtlety. It's not at all surprising she's been so popular: she embodies the laissez-faire wish-fulfillment of every Cold War Conservative think tank and Wall Street wet dream. If she didn't exist, Madison Avenue would have had to invent her.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 2:14 PM on November 3, 2009


Oh, sorry. For people who want to know why I hated that Slate article--that wasn't a hit-and-run, except insofar as I was hit by a horrible flu headache and had to run to bed.

I hated the article for its weird sexism. The problem with Ayn Rand isn't that she was a "flawed woman"--the problem is that she was a shitty writer with a horrible, hateful philosophy. Hari's portrayal of Rand's outrage at Branden's dumping her has a strong subtext of "well of course he dumped an old woman for a hot 23-year-old babe; how dare she be such a bitch about it?"

I hated the article for its stupidly facile references to Nietzsche. Yes, Rand didn't get Nietzsche, but Hari doesn't demonstrate any evidence that he gets Nietzsche either. It reminded me of the guy on the high school debate team who thinks that "Nietzsche" is like "SHAZAM" in being a word of power rather than a reference to a philosopher who wrote a bunch of fascinating and often self-contradictory stuff.

I hated the article for oversimplifying Rand's philosophy to "it's the farthest extreme from Communism" and, worse, for reducing that to some kind of lifelong grudge against the mean kids. I loathe Rand with all my soul, but her idiotic philosophy is more complex than that.

The best thing anyone ever wrote about Rand, ever, was when someone (and I really wish I knew who this was!) said, more or less, "Teenagers have no sense of reality, and this shows in their two favorite writers, Ayn Rand and J. R. R. Tolkien. One creates a completely unrealistic fantasy world populated by monstrous villains and larger than life heroes with no plausible resemblance to reality, and the other writes about hobbits."
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:19 PM on November 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


Also, the same friend turned me into a fan of Marilyn Manson. Marilyn Manson has had much longer lasting intellectual appeal.
posted by threeturtles at 2:31 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


My Rand phase was firey, passionate, extreme, and short-lived.

If I meet anybody over the age 25 who still had Ayn Rand on their bookshelf, I can never take them very seriously, because, while I might be able to forgive their stunted intellectual development, I could never forgive the lack of taste required to display her books.
I'm 30+. I keep mine in the bookcase as a reminder that I should never take myself too seriously- and I think humility and a sense of humor don't indicate bad taste.
posted by variella at 2:56 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think one of the other things that appealed to me about Rand was her attempt to make a systematic philosophy of the modern world that could explain everything: art, politics, relationships, etc. The bug -- or feature, depending on how you look at it -- is that it can be made to support just about anything. Why don't people like my band? Because they are threatened by our relentless pursuit of the highest value: rewriting the world in our own image! Why wouldn't that chick go out with me? Because she was threatened by my egoist pursuit of the highest good for myself, and she wanted me to sacrifice myself to her but I refused, because the individual is sovereign! Why did that professor give me a bad grade on my paper? Because he is so locked into his own irrational mode of thinking that promotes false values that he can't see that I'm breaking down barriers to express true philosophy! The logic "behind" the conclusions is actually in front, a fairly facile covering for a bunch of question-begging opinions and neuroses.

When I think of Rand, I sometimes think of people I've known who can PROVE that Guns N' Roses is the best band ever, or that Jimi Hendrix was not influential in rock music, or Stephen King is the greatest horror writer ever, or whatever other nonsense. They could prove it as fact (based on a whole bunch of flawed logic). I'm so glad that I abandoned her when I did, or else I would have become one of those junior ideologues trapped in a silly little world of my own petty tyrannies and opinions held on to with a death grip. Although, in a way, I should be thankful that I read her, because even though she was a bad philosopher, she did get me interested in philosophy and critical theory as subjects of study. Still, though, I'd pay to see a prominent leftist thinker take her on. Maybe we can get a collection going to pay Noam Chomsky or Slavoj Zizek or someone to write a critical commentary on her work. That would be awesome.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:55 PM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe we can get a collection going to pay Noam Chomsky or Slavoj Zizek or someone to write a critical commentary on her work.

Wow, I never even thought to look for actual intellectual refutation of her works. To me, Ayn Rand's ideas are self-refuting. Have I stumbled on a new definition of Objectivism : "self-refuting"???
posted by telstar at 6:14 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Slavoj Žižek has written, and, I think, said in the documentary Žižek!, that he considers the Fountainhead the best American film of all time.
posted by Gnatcho at 7:53 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


This Žižek fellow bears futher looking into, thanks for the reference!
posted by telstar at 8:56 PM on November 3, 2009


Gnatcho: That is awesome. And the best thing about it is that statement could mean so many things coming from Zizek.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:03 PM on November 3, 2009


The fact that this is actually Rand's philosophy tells me that she either never read or furiously cribbed from Crime and Punishment, as it's exactly what Raskolnikov, and was presented as being madness in the book.

In my experience, Dostoevsky is a devastatingly humanizing influence, regardless of whether one comes from the right, left, or some wacky combination of the two. I don't think a propagandist could possibly have a serious encounter with his work and remain a propagandist.
posted by treepour at 9:38 PM on November 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Through no merit of my own, I was raised in a household where the prayers before eating often focused on accepting as your own personal responsibility all the suffering of every living creature in all the millions of universes. A philosophy thats suggests self-interest is in any way a moral position baffles me in a way I think a trip to the top of the Empire State Building would baffle some sort of Amazonian mole.
posted by milarepa at 10:52 AM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


In her 70s Rand found herself dying of lung cancer, after insisting that her followers smoke because it symbolized "man's victory over fire" and the studies showing it caused lung cancer were Communist propaganda.
I feel bad, but the embarrassing truth is that I literally LOLed.
posted by Flunkie at 12:20 PM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


...reality? Not always a picnic...

Nope, trying to access reality isn't a picnic. That's why so many people reject it in favor of the greasy, sugary picnic food of pre-processed opinion.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:30 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hari's portrayal of Rand's outrage at Branden's dumping her has a strong subtext of "well of course he dumped an old woman for a hot 23-year-old babe; how dare she be such a bitch about it?"

Funny, I didn't notice that subtext at all. What I got was an overt text that instead of a philosophy, she had a cult of personality, with herself as the chief worshiper, and her rage when she was treated as she had treated her own spouse was a symptom of that.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:40 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ayn Rand (well, a simulacra of her) is a character in "Sewer, Gas, and Electric". I found it amusing.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:58 AM on November 5, 2009


The newspapers were filled for months with stories about serial killer called William Hickman, who kidnapped a 12-year-old girl called Marion Parker from her junior high school, raped her, and dismembered her body, which he sent mockingly to the police in pieces.

Wow, that is so far from the truth of what happened at Christmas 1927 in Los Angeles that I hesitate to believe another word Johann Hari writes. in reality Hickman maybe killed twice, but the first slaying was during a robbery attempt and was likely not intended. Hickman was convicted and executed for kidnapping, killing and mutilating Marion Parker, but not of raping her. Nothing was ever sent by Hickman to the police, whom he professed to loath: ransom notes were sent to Marion's father Perry Parker, and her torso and head with eyes wired open were delivered to Parker on a dark street in return for a cash ransom. The remaining body parts -- lower limbs and viscera -- were discovered the following day, wrapped in newspaper, scattered in Elysian Park. Hickman, who committed the crime for $1500 with which he planned to attend divinity school, was likely a schizophrenic and operating under a delusional belief system in which a white figure called Providence directed him to slay the child, whom he otherwise seemed to like.

Hickman was a good looking kid, though, and histrionically articulate ("I am like the state, what's good for me is right"). No surprise that Ayn Rand crushed out on him. Marion Parker likely thought he was cute, too, and look where that got her.
posted by Scram at 9:37 PM on November 7, 2009


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