A = Ayn, B = Britain, C = Cameron, D = Doh!
November 1, 2013 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Ayn Rand: More Relevant Now than Ever
The speaker was the CEO of Saxo Bank, Lars Seier Christensen. As the head of an investment bank based in socialist Denmark, Christensen is particularly enraged by high taxation, social welfare and banking regulation. "The world is on the wrong track," he told us. "A malady that has long beset Europe is currently spreading to the US". Apparently we are experiencing a "socialist revival" to which "Ayn Rand is the only answer".
posted by urbanwhaleshark (123 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Christensen said he first found Rand as an "insecure" 37-year-old businessman. He had been searching for a "moral argument for capitalism", and when a colleague gave him a copy of Atlas Shrugged he was saved.

Sadly, everyone around him was doomed.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:13 AM on November 1, 2013 [47 favorites]


as a finance guys let me be the first to say:
The only thing worse than a randroid is a finance randroid. Like literally the most delusional group of people on earth.


The saddest part is that I assumed non-Anglo-Saxon countries were rand-plague free.
posted by JPD at 6:21 AM on November 1, 2013 [33 favorites]


Hey Lars: it's only $1,773 to fly from Copenhagen to Mogadishu. Let me know how your banking career goes over down there.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:30 AM on November 1, 2013 [39 favorites]


"A malady that has long beset Europe is currently spreading to the US"

Jesus. You pass one, flawed, healthcare law and the randroids think the world is exploding.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:34 AM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


If Ayn Rand is the only answer, you're definitely asking the wrong questions...
posted by jim in austin at 6:34 AM on November 1, 2013 [26 favorites]


If Ayn Rand is the only answer, you're definitely asking the wrong questions...

How can I benefit, regardless of the harm it does anyone else? -vs- How can I prosper within a system that lets everyone prosper.

They (and I really think 'us vs them' applies in this given the damage the Randian right can, will, and is doing to society) are running off a different set of principals. Not a lack of principals, just ones that the left sees as psychopathic and destructive to society. Which also happens to be fairly self-destructive if any of these people happen to enjoy the things that a functioning society offers like a lack of peasant revolts and People's Courts.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:41 AM on November 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


"A malady that has long beset Europe is currently spreading to the US"

Not fast enough for me. I wish that the US would adopt more European ideas, but I get the feeling that we borrow all the bureaucracy without the soul or social compact to make it successful.
posted by dgran at 6:43 AM on November 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


The only thing worse than a randroid is a finance randroid. Like literally the most delusional group of people on earth.

It's amazing how the most useless group of people on earth is infested with people obsessed with their own superiority.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:43 AM on November 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


The saddest part is that I assumed non-Anglo-Saxon countries were rand-plague free.
posted by JPD at 2:21 PM on November 1 [3 favorites +] [!]


They are. As indeed is Britain. This is just one of a very few nuts. You get those everywhere. I can pretty confidently say that most British people haven't even heard of Ayn Rand. Those who have, and have had the misfortune to read any of her laughably shallow and mean-minded work just see her as a joke, or a particularly American ailment, like ketchup and therapy.
posted by Decani at 6:44 AM on November 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


Here won't be present revolts or People's Courts. One government intervention Randoids are willing to pay for is an extensive and interventionist security network.
posted by happyroach at 6:44 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Which also happens to be fairly self-destructive if any of these people happen to enjoy the things that a functioning society offers like a lack of peasant revolts and People's Courts.

Taxes are that fairly minor fee that the wealthy pay to keep their blood inside their bodies. You'd think they'd figure it out eventually.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:45 AM on November 1, 2013 [65 favorites]


"Ketchup and Therapy" is the name of my Rush cover band.
posted by Foosnark at 6:45 AM on November 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged? For those of us who have libertarian friends on our holiday gift list.
posted by Beholder at 6:49 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Christensen said he first found Rand as an "insecure" 37-year-old businessman. He had been searching for a "moral argument for capitalism", and when a colleague gave him a copy of Atlas Shrugged he was saved.

Yeah, always start with the conclusion and then find a justification. That always works out for the best.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:50 AM on November 1, 2013 [19 favorites]


Be the spare change you want to see in the world.
posted by srboisvert at 6:52 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey, you leave ketchup out of this.
posted by mrbula at 6:53 AM on November 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


I like the part where he uncritically latches on to a philosophy that reinforces his preconceived ideas as soon as he can find it in print form. A more self-aware person might take a moment to ask themselves some hard questions about that. But not this guy!
posted by mhoye at 6:54 AM on November 1, 2013 [27 favorites]


Reading the first paragraph, it's clear that this is not an attempt to provide a thoughtful look at anything. Rational self-interest is not, in fact "Do whatever the fuck you want and screw everyone else." Rational self-interest is, "Do what makes the most sense for you in your position", which includes helping other people, because mutual aid is both effective and rational.

Not to mention the snide slut-shaming about how Rand dared to "mix sex with politics" and OMG WHAT IF SHE SLEPT WITH GREENSPAN.
posted by corb at 6:55 AM on November 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I find it interesting that Christensen was insecure and searching for a moral argument.To me it implies that he had a conscience at one point which needed to be salved and that instead of being convinced by Rand he is merely using her ideas to justify stuff he knows deep down to be wrong.

Instead of confronting the trade off he was making - money, security and social status at the expense of the well being of the rest of society he looks around for a way to reconcile himself with what he's doing. He's not making a disinterested calculus.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 6:56 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


As the head of an investment bank based in socialist Denmark, Christensen is particularly enraged by high taxation, social welfare and banking regulation. "The world is on the wrong track," he told us"

Well, you seem to have gotten pretty far with those horrible, terrible, no good strictures.

What's that line about pulling up the ladder behind you?
posted by notsnot at 6:59 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I once worked for a guy who gave every new employee a Hayek book.

Not as good as a different guy I worked for who gave out "The Road" at the 2008 holiday party.
posted by JPD at 7:00 AM on November 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ayn Rand: More Relevant Now than Ever

Really, it's true, with the introduction of a new entitlement program in America, her model of sucking off the teat of big government while simultaneously railing against those that do are more and more common in this day and age. Just ask her namesake!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:03 AM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged?

The Jefferson Bible?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:03 AM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged?

How about just the regular Bible, you know that whole New Testament thing?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:07 AM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Reading the first paragraph, it's clear that this is not an attempt to provide a thoughtful look at anything.

I think its safe to say that there have been many thoughtful looks in on Randian philosophy and that at this point, we can point and laugh a bit.

I think the talk on mixing sex with politics was less a dig at perceived slutiness and more a dig at Rands self-interest in (exclusively) boning certain people among her social circle was really damaging to said social circle in the long run and should serve as a useful indication of how self-destructive the philosophy is for future would-be followers.

Wait, no, I don't actually think the author intended that, he was probably just attacking Rand personally. Easy, lowest common denominator, low hanging fruit, etc etc.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:07 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The saddest part is that I assumed non-Anglo-Saxon countries were rand-plague free.
(pedantry)(the Angles pretty much came from what is now Denmark)(pedantry)
posted by runincircles at 7:09 AM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Ayn Rand, Hugely Popular Author and Inspiration to Right-Wing Leaders, Was a Big Admirer of Serial Killer.

Let's meet William Hickman, the "genuinely beautiful soul" and inspiration to Ayn Rand. What you will read below -- the real story, details included, of what made Hickman a "superman" in Ayn Rand's eyes -- is extremely gory and upsetting, even if you're well acquainted with true crime stories -- so prepare yourself. But it's necessary to read this to understand Rand, and to repeat this over and over until all of America understands what made her tick.

All of Denmark too, apparently.
posted by rory at 7:11 AM on November 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


I just realized that the Randian/Thatcherite "there is no society, just groups of people" is pseudo-paleo-tribalism at its worst, wholly ignoring the benefits from centuries of (fairly) civil societies that (somewhat) care for the collective whole, and support those who can't support themselves (like Rand at the end of her life).
posted by filthy light thief at 7:12 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not a pulp novel, but this article notes that socialism, specifically in Sweden, is no barrier to getting rich. In fact, they have more billionaires per capita than the US, and Norway is right behind.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:13 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged?

How about just the regular Bible, you know that whole New Testament thing?


A = WWJD ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:16 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seems like its time to update the usual Rand quote: "There are two novels that can change [an insecure thirty-seven-year-old banker's] life . . ."
posted by Zonker at 7:27 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


A = WWJD ?

It's "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" vs. "do unto others before they get a chance to do it unto you".

God so loved the world that he established a free market meritocracy so that only those that truly deserved to rose to the top.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:28 AM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


He had been searching for a "moral argument for capitalism", and when a colleague gave him a copy of Atlas Shrugged he was saved.

Kids these days. Mammon isn't good enough for them, no, they want mammon and salvation!
posted by octobersurprise at 7:30 AM on November 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


(I think less than 9% of people in the U.S. claim English heritage, and "English heritage" in that particular sense usually refers to a Celtic-Romano-Scandinavian-Anglo-Saxon-Jute-Norman mix. If we mean English-speaking, maybe we should just say that.)
posted by kyrademon at 7:32 AM on November 1, 2013


Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged?

It's better than pulpy, but what you're after is Sewer, Gas, and Electric by Matt Ruff. It actually features an AI copy of Ayn Rand that lives in a lamp.

Reading the first paragraph, it's clear that this is not an attempt to provide a thoughtful look at anything.

Probably not, but a thoughtful look at Rand is like a thoughtful look at Battlefield Earth or 50 Shades of Grey or, if people started following it, the story of Kahless the Unforgettable. You could write something reasonably valuable and thoughtful about the sociology of who becomes interested or the psychology of the cultish groups who follow them, but the works themselves are just silly nonsense that can't bear the weight of serious analysis.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:32 AM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


One of these days, I'm going to read Atlas Shrugged. Just so I can see if it's about what I think it's about.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 7:36 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's about 1088 pages.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:39 AM on November 1, 2013 [26 favorites]


How about just the regular Bible,

Sell that cloak, buy a sword!
Make slaves of the neighbouring countries people.

Yup, quite the counterpoint to Ayn's work.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:40 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Same as in town.
posted by Kabanos at 7:40 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Christensen said he first found Rand as an "insecure" 37-year-old businessman. He had been searching for a "moral argument for capitalism", and when a colleague gave him a copy of Atlas Shrugged he was saved.

No, you were a 37-year-old businessman who leapt at the paper-thin philosophical facade and currently-flashing-in-the-pan legitimacy of Objectivism to fight back the creeping shame of having built a life around selfishness, like thousands before you.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:41 AM on November 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


One of these days, I'm going to read Atlas Shrugged. Just so I can see if it's about what I think it's about.

The first two-thirds of a marvelously earnest and silly movie adaptation are on Netflix.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:42 AM on November 1, 2013


> "It's about 1088 pages."

Including a speech by a single character that proceeds uninterrupted for about 90 pages.
posted by kyrademon at 7:42 AM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged? For those of us who have libertarian friends on our holiday gift list.

I like this one.

It's really not about Christmas at all.
posted by jokeefe at 7:44 AM on November 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


Sell that cloak, buy a sword!
Make slaves of the neighbouring countries people.

Yup, quite the counterpoint to Ayn's work.


Keep reading, it gets better!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:47 AM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sell that cloak, buy a sword!
Make slaves of the neighbouring countries people.

Yup, quite the counterpoint to Ayn's work.

Keep reading, it gets better!


I should note here, your mistake is pretty common. Lots of Randian types find all sorts of justifications for their immorality in there and quit at that point, the problem is that the book has a second half.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:53 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Including a speech by a single character that proceeds uninterrupted for about 90 pages.

In fairness, he does take over the radio station, so it's not like other action can take place while he's talking.

It's also a utopian story about Job Creators deciding they've had Enough of Your Freeloading Taxation so they all go off to live together in a mysterious hidden valley somewhere, where (IIRC) the Heroic Male Ideal character of the book makes the Strong But Subordinate Female viewpoint character into his slave who will have to do menial labor to earn her freedom. That's the ideal presented toward the end of the book.

The economic basis of the story presupposes the existence of a magic metal and a perpetual motion machine, which should tell you all you need to know about how seriously it should be taken as a work of economics.
posted by gauche at 7:56 AM on November 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


(pretty sure the bible thing is a derail, I'm trying not to add my two cents)
posted by jepler at 8:00 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


> "In fairness, he does take over the radio station ..."

Isn't that basically saying, "In fairness, she wrote the story so it would happen that way, so that is the way the story was written"?
posted by kyrademon at 8:01 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


OMG WHAT IF SHE SLEPT WITH GREENSPAN

That would make sense. Ayn Rand fucked Greenspan; Greenspan fucked the world economy.
posted by Grangousier at 8:02 AM on November 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


fact "Do whatever the fuck you want and screw everyone else." Rational self-interest is, "Do what makes the most sense for you in your position", which includes helping other people, because mutual aid is both effective and rational.

The problem being that in a lot of Rand's work, "screw everyone else" usually does seem to be how rational self-interest plays out, partly because her morality is so binaristic and her romanticism so reductive. The world is divided into awful, horrible "moochers" and heroic, superhuman "producers," and the "moochers" will always try to victimize and destroy the producers out of irrational envy.

Mutuality can only occur between the heroic figures in Rand's novels, and mutual aid is the result of a coincidence of self-interests which Rand can only guarantee because the self-interested share a common, heroic nature which guarantees that their desires will always fall within a strikingly narrow range of aesthetic, sexual, economic, and personal preferences.* As a result, Rand's ideas rely on monocultural visions of the world and a very constrained concept of what constitutes rightful self-interest.

It's old that now to point out that Rand's work is little more than a naive inversion of Marxism-Leninism as she understood it, and her novels are little more than a reductive reapplication of social realism for capitalists with all the problems of the most formulaic works of social realism. Her work really doesn't make much sense outside of a Red Scare/Cold War ideological context, which may be why her disciples today seem to extend the terms of that context indefinitely forwards and backwards so that all history is little more than a conflict between collectivism and individualism as defined by contemporary libertarian or conservative thought. (Of course, this is just vulgar Marxism turned upside down.)

A few other features of Rand's work flow from this central problem: she's essentially an industrial modernist, and her work looks sillier and sillier for assuming that this was ne plus ultra of Western, let alone global, development. She supports capitalism but ends up arguing for the creation of artificial scarcity; Atlas Shrugged posits a method for creating infinite, free energy and preserves capitalism by essentially saying that John Galt's self-interest involves fostering and enforcing his intellectual property rights sot hat he can still sell power (electrical and economic) even though his invention should make the price curve for energy a flat line.

Basically, Rand tries to make IP function as physical property. The aesthetics of a building, the method for making a free energy generator, and the formula for a super-metal have to become personal property. Ironically, of course, the only way to genuinely preserve intellectual property is to have a quite robust state; IP enforcement relies on courts. Rand gets around this partially by simply positing a world of people too stupid to even copy or worm towards Galt's brilliant design, but this looks dumber and dumber with time. It didn't make much sense even at the time of publication, but the transformation of scientific and engineering work into a collaborative process dependent on the free exchange of information makes Galt look either unrealistic or perversely totalitarian.

Again, that's the result of Rand's intellectual simplicity and willful lack of reflexivity**; because she simply flips over the ideological system she hates without honestly, intelligently examining it, she just reproduces it in chiral form.*** She is a tendentious pseudophilosopher at best, a kind of cargo cult reactionary. She appeals most of all to the sort of people who hate reflective thought and despise historicism for complicating and troubling their pinhole vision of the world around them.

* Rand would almost certainly hate this language of "preferences," or at least she'd want to moralize about which preferences are always rational and right as opposed to those that are always irrational and wrong. Of course, this doesn't really fit very well with the laissez-faire capitalism she seemed to advocate, in which preferences can be trivial or even mildly irrational without much consequence because the market is supposed to be a mechanism of rationalization.

** Alternatively, she knew exactly what she was doing, which makes her intellectually dishonest instead. Pick the option you prefer. It's even worse in her epistemology, where the contiguity between sense impressions and physical realities must be so total that the idea of thought as immaterial becomes an unnecessary proposition. Only Rand's devotion to romanticism, the result of her axiomatic ethics, forces her to retain a place for "spirit" and "will" in her system.

*** Hilariously, as many have pointed out, Galt's Gulch functions more like an agrarian commune than a capitalist economy. The end of the novel, in which the heroes get a tractor to work, suggests that they will gradually reproduce an industrialized capitalist economy. Of course, this means that they will reenact the German idealist narrative of history, which is supposed to be one of Objectivism's chief philosophical adversaries.
posted by kewb at 8:02 AM on November 1, 2013 [85 favorites]


It's also a utopian story about Job Creators deciding they've had Enough of Your Freeloading Taxation so they all go off to live together in a mysterious hidden valley somewhere.

It's a great intellectual exercise - what would happen if all the great people in the world just stopped producing stuff for us plebs to consume ? What if Thomas Edison one day just stops inventing ? Or JP Morgan just quits investing ?

Clearly, it is best to keep them happy and acquiesce to their demands or they might one day just go away and what would we do then ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:04 AM on November 1, 2013


Isn't that basically saying, "In fairness, she wrote the story so it would happen that way, so that is the way the story was written"?

I clearly didn't apply enough dripping sarcasm to that explanation.
posted by gauche at 8:05 AM on November 1, 2013


Ah, sorry. Internet, tone, hard to read, etc.
posted by kyrademon at 8:07 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged?

Uh, Valley Of The Dolls?

Not a novel, exactly, or pulpy, my favorite Rand parody is Tuccille's It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand. Or I read it as a parody, many years ago, but a little googling suggests that not every reader takes it as such.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:07 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged? For those of us who have libertarian friends on our holiday gift list.

This had me thinking, has anybody ever introduced a libertarian gamer friend to Bioshock, and gauged their reaction?
posted by eddydamascene at 8:09 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a great intellectual exercise - what would happen if all the great people in the world just stopped producing stuff for us plebs to consume ? What if Thomas Edison one day just stops inventing ? Or JP Morgan just quits investing ?

It's my belief that, in any kind of functioning economic system, somebody else would step in and decide to make the money that JP Morgan decided to leave on the table, and we probably would not even notice.

There is always the possibility that a given system of taxation and regulation can make it so there's not enough money to cover the risk involved in performing a given economic function, but those are hardly the circumstances in which Atlas Shrugged's thought exercise applies (e.g., if there's no money in commercial banking, the kind of Great Men who Randians fetishize about taking their ball and going home aren't going to be working there anyway.)
posted by gauche at 8:10 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged?

How about The Jungle?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 8:24 AM on November 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


Mutuality can only occur between the heroic figures in Rand's novels, and mutual aid is the result of a coincidence of self-interests which Rand can only guarantee because the self-interested share a common, heroic nature which guarantees that their desires will always fall within a strikingly narrow range of aesthetic, sexual, economic, and personal preferences.

I think the concept of mutuality only occurring between similarly interested individuals is not an ethic confined to Rand, but in this case I would point out that not all self-interests align even in Atlas Shrugged. For example - Dagny, a heroic figure is attempting to run her railroad and have it succeed despite challenges. She is very disturbed by the disappearances and attempts to persuade others not to do so - only to failure, however, as their self-interests do not, in fact, align with hers. Franconia and Rearden and Galt all want and are dreaming and working towards the same woman - while the first two are gracious about it when Galt steps in, it can hardly be argued that their interests align.

Or are you arguing that the heroic nature itself is by definition stifling and narrow?

This had me thinking, has anybody ever introduced a libertarian gamer friend to Bioshock, and gauged their reaction?

Yes, me. Current reaction: man, if the gameplay wasn't so fucking choppy with bad targeting, I might be able to see whatever I was supposed to see here!
posted by corb at 8:25 AM on November 1, 2013


This had me thinking, has anybody ever introduced a libertarian gamer friend to Bioshock, and gauged their reaction?

"But if they had just done this one, small thing Rapture would have succeeded!"
posted by Slackermagee at 8:28 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is my usual explanation of what is wrong with Ayn Rand.

Capitalism is an excellent tool for maximizing wealth, it is not an excellent tool for maintaining civilization. The supposed creators exist because of a social fabric that supports them--and under our current system, are allowed to abuse that social fabric with distressing frequency. Take them out of that social fabric and they're not going to be doing any better than anybody else. Accordingly, it is good and proper for them to help pay for that social fabric, although fine with me if they get more toys than the average person.

In doing so, you will no longer be maximizing wealth, but who decided that was supposed to be humanity's main purpose, anyway? How many people have really bought into this notion that the whole of the law is that he who dies with the most stuff wins? Seems to me that basically the guys like this are in the serious minority; most of the people I've heard espouse the wonders of Ayn Rand are conservative Christians who seem to have absolutely no idea what she was really on about.
posted by Sequence at 8:30 AM on November 1, 2013 [17 favorites]


It seems* to me that the great fallacy of this thinking, is that these great and wonderful producers are buoyed only by their huge egos, believing they are incredible people. When in fact that the only thing that got them there is in fact, chance. Yes, one has to have the intelligence and gumption to rise to the task of being a great leader. But The Superman doesn't actually exist. There's plenty of intelligent hard working people who never had the opportunities.

*"seems", because as I mentioned before, I've never read the book.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 8:34 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's amazing how the most useless group of people on earth is infested with people obsessed with their own superiority.

How Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard Came Up With Their Big Ideas: "I wonder, if I could take the worst, most selfish, misguided people and make them worse...douches and make them douchier...oh, that would be delicious."

Good ol' Ayn, still trolling from beyond the grave.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:34 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Wind Done Gone is a retelling of Gone With The Wind, told from a slave's perspective and offering a very different tale. Atlas Shrugged would seem to be ripe fodder for that sort of treatment.
posted by fatbird at 8:40 AM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


This past weekend I found myself having a 90 minute "discussion" with a Randian barkeep. Actually, it was more of a harangue by a fiery-eyed partisan cultivating a fine Randroid Rage.

All sorts of eyepopping things emerged from this man's mouth: the EPA is the epitome of evil and the largest cause of pollution in America; there's no need for antitrust laws because competition will inevitably take down any monopolies that are not the most efficient business solutions; de facto segregation has no relationship to de jure segregation because nonstate enforcement or harassment has no impact on anyone with a true interest in living where they wish; the Founding Fathers hated government and saw it as tyranny. And, of course, the central premise that there is a collective, social, or public good is purest pap.

To me, the interesting thing about these interchange was the bar owner's attempt to psychoanalyze me. He believed that all truly intelligent people with their eyes open to empirical reality would agree with his worldview. (My take on that: he's a smart man surrounded by 22-year-olds out drinking, who have no interest in politics, rhetorical skills, or being yelled at by some "old guy," and he conflates their inability to defend their disagreement with his assertions such as "accusations of racism are the true problem in the U.S. today, not racism itself" with his positions being truly unassailable.) Anyway, he declared me to be intelligent. And thus he needed to explain why I had left a career in the law and taken a vastly poorer-paying job in public education. My own explanation--that I feel morally invested in contributing what I can to the public good--he considered a ridiculous delusion. He couldn't decide, then, if I was a leech sucking on the teat of government, demanding things like tenure, or if I merely felt more fulfilled in a job where I was surrounded by nubile, admiring students who would bow to my intellectual prowess.

It was a strange encounter, and in the end, I was left finding him as opaque to me as my motivations were to him. I cannot understand how Randians can base their entire philosophy on the counterfactual of radical individualist genius, when humans are by nature a social species. I can't understand how a man who was so desperate for intellectual engagement could not see the primacy of the basic social impulse in himself. I can't understand how adults can assert with a straight face a toddler morality of "me me me!"

In any case, I think I've had my dose of Randroids for a year at least.
posted by DrMew at 8:43 AM on November 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged?

There have been two askmes about that a while back. My rec on a good literary takedown of the "superior human" myth is Crime and Punishment. Hardly a light read, but at least it's shorter than Atlas Shrugged.
posted by Ndwright at 8:45 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just want to throw The Illuminatus! Trilogy into the pot of "pulpy counterpoints to Atlas Shrugged". I read it in my early twenties, and I'm pretty sure it simultaneously introduced me to Rand and inoculated me against her.
posted by egypturnash at 9:00 AM on November 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged? For those of us who have libertarian friends on our holiday gift list.

The Woman Chaser by Charles Willeford, which is an actual pulp novel. It's about a used car salesman who evolves into a Randian hero -- a domineering creative who brooks no argument from lessers, who produces a film that everyone agrees is a masterpiece that exposes the lie of society being a just and supportive world, and who, when little minds try to undermine him, destroys his own creation rather than have it neutered, and burns down the studio with it. He's the sort of guy Rand would love -- tough-talking, no nonsense, and willing to slap a woman around a little.

He is also an utter psychopath, his view of humanity a grotesque piece of selfishness and cynicism, and his filmic masterpiece a thing that nobody can show and nobody would want to see.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:05 AM on November 1, 2013


I'd rather read The Illuminatus Trilogy than Atlas Shrugged.....(or it's erotic fanfic, Atlas Hugged)
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 9:05 AM on November 1, 2013


I feel like we're kind of long overdue for the Objectivist dystopia version of 1984 or Brave New World. Like how V for Vendetta was the Thatcherist dystopia entry into that legacy. BioShock was kinda sorta there, but the cultural takeaway from that largely overlooked the substance for the style and resulted in mostly a lot of DIY Big Daddy costumes. Honestly the ideal popular medium for it right now is probably a long form cable drama.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:15 AM on November 1, 2013


> "It's about 1088 pages."

As it happens, just right for propping up the corner of my bed. Thanks Ayn!
posted by klanawa at 9:17 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sticherbeast: "Hey Lars: it's only $1,773 to fly from Copenhagen to Mogadishu. Let me know how your banking career goes over down there."
Lars Seier Christensen is of course living in tax exile in Switzerland.

That doesn't stop him from owning a professional bicycle racing team (led by self-confessed doped TdF winner Bjarne Riis), the Danish version of Free Republic, a political party represented in the Danish parliament and a think tank that is the Danish equivalent of the Heritage Foundation.
posted by brokkr at 9:24 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged?"

Well, I don't consider him pulpy, but others do (including, I believe, the author
himself) but, anything by Vonnegut, no? The self-styled writer of "bitter-coated
sugar pills". So many times in his writings, he betrays contempt for the elite
and the "great men". Some would bring up the contrapositive "Harrison Bergeron"
(William F. Buckley's favorite Vonnegut story). These are not *sniff* our kinds of
people.
posted by Chitownfats at 9:33 AM on November 1, 2013


This Obamacare rollout is straight out of Atlas Shrugged. When Rand describes a looter society and its bungled attempts to manipulate politics and the economy, both the Republican shutdown and the Democrat healthcare fiasco are real-world case studies thereof.
posted by Ardiril at 9:38 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't that nice?
posted by octobersurprise at 9:41 AM on November 1, 2013


Dear Randroids:

Show us true supermen. Show us that your ideas are so profound, lucrative and horizon-tilting that you can execute them and make a profit NO MATTER HOW MANY REGULATIONS STAND IN YOUR WAY.

Anyone can say, "Don't slap my wrist!" A true superman takes the slap on the wrist, and 10 others besides, and can say, "This is still a great idea, and will work without having to dismantle regulatory or societal oversight to achieve it."

Otherwise you're punks, amateurs, has-beens with damp underwear and the shaming heat of your mommy's stinging slap still lighting up your ass.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 9:44 AM on November 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


It's common to read about people like this and be reminded of the John Kenneth Galbraith quote that "the modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

But it's a bit more rare (I think) to see someone like Christensen say so directly, "Yes, I am a conservative and this was exactly what I was doing when I read Ayn Rand."
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 9:47 AM on November 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Courtesy of the Kung Fu Monkey blog…


"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."
posted by C.A.S. at 9:49 AM on November 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


"Dear Randroids: Show us true supermen."

Don't mistake Randroids for actual objectivists. After all, many Tea Partiers also claim to be 'Christians'.
posted by Ardiril at 9:54 AM on November 1, 2013


Not to mention the Libertarians who claim to be libertarian, but that's for another day.
posted by Ardiril at 9:56 AM on November 1, 2013


I think the concept of mutuality only occurring between similarly interested individuals is not an ethic confined to Rand, but in this case I would point out that not all self-interests align even in Atlas Shrugged. For example - Dagny, a heroic figure is attempting to run her railroad and have it succeed despite challenges. She is very disturbed by the disappearances and attempts to persuade others not to do so - only to failure, however, as their self-interests do not, in fact, align with hers.

AH, but the arc of the novel is towards Dagny's realization that their interests do, after all, align. Rand's concept of "the sanction of the victim," by which the producers foolishly try to "carry" the moochers or pardon and tolerate them, means that Dagny is simply not fully cognizant of her true self-interest. Once she realizes the looters will coerce Galt, she joins the walkout. Her story is the story of conversion to Objectivism, of her belated recognition of what Rand intends as her truly "heroic" nature.

Franconia and Rearden and Galt all want and are dreaming and working towards the same woman - while the first two are gracious about it when Galt steps in, it can hardly be argued that their interests align.

Except that Rand arranges this plot by positing a universal preference among these heroic male figures for one female "type;" Dagny is objectively desirable, aesthetically and morally, and so she attracts aesthetically and morally correct men.

As for the romance between Dagny and Galt, it's made painfully, tediously clear that Galt is the epitome of masculine virtue as Rand sees it. Dagny picks him and the others stand aside graciously because "rational" people, to Rand, would all recognize that Galt embodies the rational, heroic ideal.

Let's quote from the novel itself:
This is the world and the core of it, this is what made the city – they go together, the angular shapes of the buildings, and the angular lines of a face stripped of everything but purpose – the rising steps of steel and the steps of being intent upon his goal.
Rand equates architectural beauty and human beauty here, and not purely for symbolic purposes, as her other writings -- including the nonfiction -- make clear. Rand similarly treats love and sexual attraction not as personal preference but as the mutual, objective recognition of absolute values in a sexual partner. Here, for example, is how Dagny's trysting with Rearden is described:
It was the ultimate form of our admiration for each other, with full knowledge of the values by which we made our choice. We are those who do not disconnect the values of their minds from the actions of their bodies.


Joh Galt represents the purest, most idealized distillation of these values, which Rand unambiguously treats as both real and transparently recognizable for the unfettered "rational" mind. Indeed, if the rational mind couldn't always easily recognize these objective qualities, then a lot of Rand's epistemology simply doesn't work any more. It's not called "Subjectivism," after all. If sense-perception and rational thought do not always correspond to objective values in the world, then Objectivism completely stops working.

Presumably, Hank can perceive all this as well; his gracious stepping aside occurs with the following speech:
No, you did not make it worse for me, you set me free, you saved us both, you redeemed our past....I am happy that I have seen the truth – even if my power of sight is all that's left to me now.
Hank's ability and willingness to step aside are proof that he finally "sees" value objectively and rationally after spending the novel under "the sanction of the victim" to a far greater extent than does Dagny. Indeed, his greater susceptibility to this "irrational guilt" becomes part of what makes Galt, who escapes such "delusions" entirely, the superior and thus more objectively desirable man. Thus Hank doesn't get the girl, because he's not quite *the* superman in the novel.

Francisco's final speech isn't too far removed from Hank's dialogue here; Dagny remains an avatar of Randian feminine virtue to both men, but because Galt is the superior avatar of masculine virtue, the best outcome in Rand's "objective" system would be for her to end up with Galt. She needs all the characters to recognize this in order for her larger pseudophilosophical system to work; as a side effect, then, the ending requires that al four parties' interests do indeed align.

To continue to pursue Dagny after Galt steps in, for Rand and thus her heroic characters, would be to succumb to an irrational refusal to recognize either Galt's or Taggart's objective values and the degree to which those values most suitably coincide with those embodied in the other half of the supercouple. In other words, it would be to allow mere emotion or prejudice -- subjectivity -- to overcome objective, rational recognition. And per Rand, irrationalism is inherently opposed to self-interest.

If this doesn't make sense to you given your actual experience of human being, consider that it *must* make sense for Rand's philosophy to work.
posted by kewb at 10:01 AM on November 1, 2013 [19 favorites]


This Obamacare rollout is straight out of Atlas Shrugged. When Rand describes a looter society and its bungled attempts to manipulate politics and the economy, both the Republican shutdown and the Democrat healthcare fiasco are real-world case studies thereof.

So the looters of society compromised with the Democrats in making healthcare exchanges (with medical-loss ratio profits as the mechanism of 'looting' in this case being curtailed) and then the party who enjoys opposing the current President decided to walk away from government for a spell to show everyone how necessary they are? If that sounds a little incongruous to the plot of the book, that's intended.

From what I saw, the shutdown wasn't a passive thing, it was very actively brought about by rules changes made by the GOP, so rather than walking away they were setting the fires that forced everyone else out for a time. Akin to the Job Creators seeding the cities they left (back to Atlas Shrugged) with spent fuel-rod waste and then claiming that the rapidly emptying city couldn't sustain itself lacking their god-like presence.

That, and while a great deal of damage was done to the country, the GOP will burn at the polls next year for the absolutely evil tactic of threatening the financial lives of people to push an ideological agenda.

So I'm not really understanding how this is straight out of Atlas Shrugged.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:07 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


What if Thomas Edison one day just stops inventing ?

Not to be a total jerk, but Edison is a particularly poor example of Randian virtue. He relied heavily on collaborative work, stole credit, and employed rather hideous tactics to secure intellectual property and libel competing inventors and technologies. (For what it's worth, I suspect most Randians prefer Tesla anyway, ignoring certain other problems with him as an idealized figure.)
posted by kewb at 10:07 AM on November 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


My apologies, Slacker, that I placed a size 8 glove on a size 7 hand.
posted by Ardiril at 10:12 AM on November 1, 2013


If only someone had given this guy a copy of The Illuminatus! Trilogy instead.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 10:15 AM on November 1, 2013


I have probably mentioned this on the blue before, but one of the things on my To Maybe Do list is write an as-faithful-as-possible reinterpretation of Atlas Shrugged that simply rights all of the various ideological wrongs of Objectivism without losing the plot—that is, to make it into a narrative of a government that can't function properly because of the leecher corporations who are preventing it from doing basic shit for its citizens, while also following the idealists in business who attempt to create big industry that is less spectacularly shitty, only to see their own misplaced ideals subverted and turned into excuses for yet more pillaging.

No idea yet how I'm gonna handle the sex scenes, though.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:17 AM on November 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think you're trying to say that the fit of the analogy wasn't perfect but that it was roughly the right shape? Because I don't think that's the case. The GOP and the health insurance industry were very much not hand-in-glove (to mix, confuse, and adulterate metaphors) in the run up to the shutdown. Which makes the analogy fit more a size 8 glove on a 18cm foot (handedness hardly mattering, and oh God I love mixing things too much).

The shutdown was less a reaction to Obamacare on the part of Industry through their puppets (not what I actually think) in the GOP and more elements of pure self-interest within the GOP pushing a very reluctant moderate core of the party off a cliff.

I was also under the impression that, medical loss ratio aside, Obamacare is a very nice thing for the insurance industry. The customer base is now the population in its entire and individual costs are discounted via the government's accounts as opposed to policies being price-fixed.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:19 AM on November 1, 2013


Rand placed the GOP in the same basket as the rest of the looters. Libertarians too. Why should they run away? Their livelihoods depend on fighting the Liberals, much as pro wrestlers rely on public rivalries.
posted by Ardiril at 10:23 AM on November 1, 2013


[O]ne of the things on my To Maybe Do list is write an as-faithful-as-possible reinterpretation of Atlas Shrugged that simply rights all of the various ideological wrongs of Objectivism without losing the plot...

That's essentially the late realist novel, or perhaps the social realist novel if you keep the Romanticism. Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair seem like obvious models.
posted by kewb at 10:24 AM on November 1, 2013


AH, but the arc of the novel is towards Dagny's realization that their interests do, after all, align. Rand's concept of "the sanction of the victim," by which the producers foolishly try to "carry" the moochers or pardon and tolerate them, means that Dagny is simply not fully cognizant of her true self-interest. Once she realizes the looters will coerce Galt, she joins the walkout. Her story is the story of conversion to Objectivism, of her belated recognition of what Rand intends as her truly "heroic" nature.

This is all absolutely true - but I would argue that her heroic nature is actually expressed and sanctioned earlier, before her acknowledgement of her "true self interest". Consider that she is recognized as the feminine heroic ideal of that universal preference (which is, sadly, not uncommon to fiction) before she actually travels to the Gulch or recognizes that she needs to abandon everything she has built previously.

Rand similarly treats love and sexual attraction not as personal preference but as the mutual, objective recognition of absolute values in a sexual partner.

Soooort of. I think the most authorial-voice of her statements about love and sexual attraction can be seen in D'Anconia (not Franconia, no idea where that came from) talking to Rearden about the different types of men - which is one of the few preachy passages that I actually really found interesting.
Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy on life. Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself....His body will always follow the ultimate logic of his deepest convictions; if he believes that flaws are values, he has damned existence as evil and only the evil will attract him. He has damned himself and he will feel that depravity is all he is worthy of enjoying. He has equated virtue with pain and he will feel that vice is the only realm of pleasure. Then he will scream that his body has vicious desires of its own which his mind cannot conquer, that sex is sin, that true love is a pure emotion of the spirit. And then he will wonder why love brings him nothing but boredom, and sex–nothing but shame.”
It's less, I think, that preference doesn't enter into things, and more that spiritual beauty or admiration cannot and should not be separated from sexual desire - that the person who attracts you most is either the one you find most attractive, or the one you think you are superior to. (There's also a bit about submission and dominance, but I just chalk that up to her being closeted about BDSM)

To continue to pursue Dagny after Galt steps in, for Rand and thus her heroic characters, would be to succumb to an irrational refusal to recognize either Galt's or Taggart's objective values and the degree to which those values most suitably coincide with those embodied in the other half of the supercouple.

Perhaps - I read it more as a recognition that Dagny had chosen elsewhere, chosen someone who was better than they were, and that they should gracefully bow out for her choice - who wasn't someone unworthy of her that they could plausibly make a case for protecting her from, but their highest ideal.
posted by corb at 10:25 AM on November 1, 2013


No serious discussion of Ayn Rand would be complete without a link to the podcast where she is extensively interviewed by a time-travelling H.G. Wells.
posted by forgetful snow at 10:26 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I cannot get through Atlas Shrugged. I'm about a quarter of a way through, but it really is the silliest collection of two dimensional stereotypes. And all of the people you're supposed to be cheering for are the privileged children of wealthy industrialists who never get sick, never get in accidents, and never experience a single failure unless it's the result of caricatured liberal bureaucrats who (without exception) are terrible at everything related to business and technology.

It is not even a serious attempt at philosophy, and the more I read, the more I am confused by the intellectual appeal of biased, hypothetical, shallow characters going through the plot points necessary to prove Ayn Rand is right. Every single point of conflict is about some evil bureaucrat plotting to shut down successful entrepreneurs. The word masturbatory is almost kind. But that is just more evidence that the central idea she tried to present can only survive in pretend situations. Basic economics and an elementary sense of justice are simply too obvious for objectivism to survive in reality.

"No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged."

--Adam Smith, Chapter VIII, The Wealth of Nations
posted by deanklear at 10:27 AM on November 1, 2013 [16 favorites]


I will note, though, that the success of Galt's Gulch - and indeed, of all successful libertarian societies currently posited - lies in the ability to keep borders closed, to keep the other people physically out. Galt's Gulch had camouflage technology and existed in an inaccessible area; the recent libertarian state envisioned was on an island, which presumably has better border defense.
posted by corb at 10:32 AM on November 1, 2013


Randians (and many Libertarians) often make me think of people having a discussion about a Batman/Superman comic book, and debating the pros and cons of both characters, while a jumped-up kid keeps talking about how Goku from Dragonball could beat both of them, and everyone, and is the best ever. After numerous times trying to be polite, the original two are like "Yeah, that's cool and all, but we're talking about a specific thing here" and the kid goes "WHATEVER CARTOONS ARE STUPID ANYWAY"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:33 AM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Consider that she is recognized as the feminine heroic ideal of that universal preference (which is, sadly, not uncommon to fiction) before she actually travels to the Gulch or recognizes that she needs to abandon everything she has built previously.

Well, yeah, because the virtues have to be there to be recognized. "The sanction of the victim" was how Rand explained the supposed tendency of the visibly capable and successful to sometimes choose something other than Objectivism. In essence, she explains that they misrecognize their own innate, heroic traits thanks to the "looter" mentality that surrounds them. It's lifted almost wholesale from Nietzsche's notion of the slave morality keeping the superman down.

As to Francisco, notice that his model of love belongs to a chivalrous, premodern, Old World romanticism; when he loses Dagny in the novel, she moves on to Rearden and then Galt, both of whom exemplify Rand's modern, industrial romance. Since Rand elsewhere links this industrial romanticism to objective value, Francisco becomes an inferior, if still heroic and virtuous specimen. (Again, your use of "better" suggests an acknowledgement of the value system Rand wishes the love plot to impart, but you seem resistant to Rand's vehement protestations of, well, objectivity.)

Perhaps - I read it more as a recognition that Dagny had chosen elsewhere, chosen someone who was better than they were, and that they should gracefully bow out for her choice - who wasn't someone unworthy of her that they could plausibly make a case for protecting her from, but their highest ideal. [emphasis added]

This is a distinction without a difference.
posted by kewb at 10:34 AM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


"He has equated virtue with pain and he will feel that vice is the only realm of pleasure."

I might actually read it if this is typical of the sexy-talk freestyle stuff in there. Is it like De Sade in places?

I mean, we've had Freud and the 60s and Reich and God knows what else, and so reading this I wonder how could anyone not engage with Rand primarily on the basis of the psycho-sexual unconscious of what she writes?
posted by colie at 11:00 AM on November 1, 2013


Interesting cover story from Time magazine: Why Texas Is Our Future.
posted by four panels at 11:12 AM on November 1, 2013


the success of Galt's Gulch - and indeed, of all successful libertarian societies currently posited - lies in the ability to keep borders closed

Which is just another way of saying that they are all wish-fulfillment fantasies. They might as well be Erewhon or Oz or The Land That Time Forgot. Aside from the utter tediousness of Rand's prose, the real problem with Rand isn't that she chose to write a lost world story, it's that too many people think they can actually go there.

(Extra credit: Ayn Rand as the Henry Darger of politics: discuss.)

Galt's Gulch had camouflage technology and existed in an inaccessible area;

Scott Fitzgerald was there years before Rand. " ... If the moon shone down here, you'd see that we're in a big gulch," said Percy ... "
posted by octobersurprise at 11:39 AM on November 1, 2013


I feel like we're kind of long overdue for the Objectivist dystopia version of 1984 or Brave New World.

It's called Bioshock.
posted by Ndwright at 11:50 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there a single pulpy novel that can act as a counterpoint to Atlas Shrugged?

Not a novel, but "Breaking Bad"... Walter White was a far more realistic depiction of the Objectivist Hero than John Galt.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:29 PM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd rather read The Illuminatus Trilogy than Atlas Shrugged.....(or it's erotic fanfic, Atlas Hugged)

Hell yes. When you read Illuminatus!, you'll come across a passage in which the authors are actually making fun the very book you're reading. Brilliant.
posted by grubi at 12:37 PM on November 1, 2013


I feel like we're kind of long overdue for the Objectivist dystopia version of 1984 or Brave New World.

It's called Bioshock.


Or the entire cyberpunk genre, really. But then, Libertarians gave Snow Crash an award for describing their utopia...
posted by Foosnark at 12:53 PM on November 1, 2013


If you didn't want Rand, you should've probably prevented Stalin.

Also, didn't the Koch brothers' dad make his money off Stalin?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:05 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you didn't want Rand, you should've probably prevented Stalin.

You think it's easy? I went back in time to get him before he really got started, but somehow he figured it out and went by the name Ioseb Besarionis dze Jugashvili!
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:47 PM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you didn't want Rand, you should've probably prevented Stalin.

And if you wanted me to prevent Stalin you should've said so at the time!
posted by octobersurprise at 1:52 PM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Don't mistake Randroids for actual objectivists. After all, many Tea Partiers also claim to be 'Christians'.
posted by Ardiril at 9:54 AM on November 1 [+] [!]


No True Scotsman Libertarian Christian Socialist Objectivist. Etc.

An incoherent philosophy in its purest, most rigorous form (whatever that might mean) is not more coherent than the same philosophy in its most degraded form. I think in this instance the comparison between Christianity and Objectivism is apt for many reasons, none of them favourable to either.
posted by klanawa at 1:57 PM on November 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


If you didn't want Rand, you should've probably prevented Stalin.

And if you wanted me to prevent Stalin you should've said so at the time!


So now people have to ask you for everything? GOSH.
posted by grubi at 2:00 PM on November 1, 2013


If Lenin and Trotsky couldn't prevent Stalin, what was anyone else supposed to do?
posted by kewb at 2:15 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


So now people have to ask you for everything? GOSH.

I'm just saying maybe I had other stuff on my mind. Call my attention to these things, you know?
posted by octobersurprise at 2:25 PM on November 1, 2013


Stalin wasn't that bad compared to the hedge fund guys. There are gulag factories all over the world but people queue up to get into them. The underclass is taken care of elsewhere in slums.
posted by colie at 2:51 PM on November 1, 2013


forgetful snow: "No serious discussion of Ayn Rand would be complete without a link to the podcast where she is extensively interviewed by a time-travelling H.G. Wells."

Thank you. I was going to post this if nobody had done it yet.

"Sometimes I will take a couple Bennies with Halston at Studio 54, and I will grind my teeth for a long time - more than usual, you know? And I will find my fingers digging into the banquettes at Studio 54, do you know? And I will just stare at everybody who passes by... "

"I must forge a new railway out of the Rearden Metal of my mind to go faster and faster and write more and more on toilet paper in the women's bathroom at Studio 54 on Benzedrine."
posted by krinklyfig at 3:11 PM on November 1, 2013


Also see the advice column: Ask Ayn
posted by krinklyfig at 4:05 PM on November 1, 2013


Keep reading, it [the bible] gets better!

... the book has a second half.


Not to derail, but these sorts of statements verge on a covert anti-Semitism. The first "half" of the Bible (actually much more than half) is the "Old" Testament -- that is, the Hebrew Bible. To say that the "New" Testament is "better" or somehow more moral or humane is to assert the sort of Christian supersessionism that has been the cause of much violence against Jews for the last 2000 or so years. It is also betrays a really ignorant understanding of the texts.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:08 PM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ignorance is one thing, but that's the bar for anti-semitism now? I think the New Testament as well as the Quran have both been hugely superseded by recent works - who does that make me racist against?
posted by forgetful snow at 4:28 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think you really understood what I was trying to say.

A statement was made that suggested that the "second half" of the Bible -- the Christian scriptures contained in the so-called "New Testament" -- is "better" as a moral document than the first half -- the Hebrew scriptures contained in the so-called "Old Testament." I think it should be pretty obvious that such a statement implies the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. This is the foundation of traditional Christian supersessionism: that is, the idea that the Hebrew scriptures are incomplete, inferior, outdated, and the Christian scriptures complete, improve upon, replace them. Such a view is blinkered, parochial, insulting, and quite potentially anti-Semitic.

Now, I'm not saying that The 10th Regiment of Foot (the person whose statements I'm quoting) is him/herself anti-Semitic. In fact, I highly doubt he/she is at all. The problem is that statements such as "keep reading, it gets better" converge in an unthinking manner with rather insidious anti-Semitic interpretations of the Bible.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:56 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a kick right in the testaments.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:22 PM on November 1, 2013


Okay, memailing rather than derailling.
posted by forgetful snow at 5:30 PM on November 1, 2013


The really interesting thing would be to acknowledge the striking common sense intuitions that Randian rhetoric plays upon, its massive feeling of obviousness to many minds. A new Rand reader often feels like someone is finally pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. "What's mine is mine -- what right does the government have to take it by force and give it to someone else?" asks Rand. "Yeah! Exactly!" goes the reader.

Someone needs to write something equally intuitive and rhetorically compelling that refutes it. I haven't seen that yet. Most all refutations of Rand take the form of either

a) complex philosophical logic-chopping
b) Rand was a hypocrite
c) objectivists are motivated by selfishness
d) capitalists have benefitted from gov't (Randians object -- in theory -- to this kind of capitalism)

None of these target the heart of the appeal.
posted by shivohum at 8:53 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


How about:

"You wouldn't have any of what's yours if it weren't for the government and other people, so give something back, you selfish prick."
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:13 PM on November 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Someone needs to write something equally intuitive and rhetorically compelling that refutes it.

That did kind of exist before Rand, back when labor movements were really picking up steam. For every well thought out logical, academic argument in favor of unionization and workers' rights there were a dozen bits of populist, sloganized feel-good easy answers that kind of hit the same "...of course, it's so simple!" buttons Randian talking points do. I think they both benefited greatly from right place, right time to pull that off, because if people aren't really looking for easy answers to your pet problem it's a bit "stop trying to make fetch happen!" when you try to provide them.

Something that just crossed my mind thinking of the early 20th century labor movements: Rand is the black costume to the labor movement's Spider-Man, and the "I built this!" wing of the Tea Party is Venom as a separate entity. (I think the dudes with confederate flags are Carnage in this analogy.) Angry suburbanite blue-collar workers only got where they were because they were given power with a heaping helping of great responsibility, but boy it got nuts when they put on that costume and saw what they could do without the pesky voice of Uncle Ben in the back of their heads. Long story short I think sonic attacks are the way to go so we need to lure Ted Cruz up into a bell tower. Also now I'm terrified of this analogy because it puts us right at the start of McFarlane's popularity, which means Liefeld and the Image age of American politics is right around the corner.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:47 PM on November 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


We already know that basic sloganeering can and often does trump more complex messaging, even if the slogan is based on a lie. The world is a complicated and messy place with many shades of grey, and while it's comforting to be presented with a reality that has clearly defined good and bad, winners and losers, right and wrong, it's not actually correct.

The heart of Randian appeal is that it is easily reduced to soundbites - A is A, enlightened self-interest - and tells the reader that they are the most important person in the room, merely by virtue of being themselves and having read this book, or heard this philosophy.

It's a seductive way of thinking, because a lot of complicated intellectual and emotional work can be done very easily. It's also fundamentally wrong, but refuting a simplistic manner of thinking isn't as easy as believing it, as we see time and again in these threads when no matter the objection brought up, it gets dismissed out of hand, usually as irrelevant even when it's not, or not true Objectivism and/or Libertarianism, or a defence argued from a version of words and the world not mutually agreed upon.

Objectivism allows someone to be a superhero in a simple, understandable world, and it's hard to destroy that with equally simple sloganeering. Especially when the essential argument is that things can be tough and you're not that special. Delusional self-righteousness has a lot of appeal compared to that.
posted by gadge emeritus at 9:53 PM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Objectivism allows someone to be a superhero in a simple, understandable world

This is the essential appeal of it, the killer feature. It pats you on the back the whole way, it's a prepackaged narrative where you're a genius who sees the world for what it really is. It's built in to the whole thing that the detractors aren't just people who disagree, they're deluded. The world is They Live and you're Roddy Piper. The MRA bullshit and their "red pill" language is a blatant example of that same thing. Or Goldwater and "In your heart, you know he's right".
posted by jason_steakums at 10:33 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think the great American philosopher Charles Peirce wrote a compelling (pre-)refutation of Rand toward the end of his 1869 essay on the "Grounds of the Validity of the Laws of Logic," where he writes [emphasis added]:
Upon our theory of reality and of logic, it can be shown that no inference of any individual can be thoroughly logical without certain determinations of his mind which do not concern any one inference immediately; for we have seen that that mode of inference which alone can teach us anything, or carry us at all beyond what was implied in our premisses -- in fact, does not give us to know any more than we knew before; only, we know that, by faithfully adhering to that mode of inference, we shall, on the whole, approximate to the truth. Each of us is an insurance company, in short. But, now, suppose that an insurance company, among its risks, should take one exceeding in amount the sum of all the others. Plainly, it would then have no security whatever. Now, has not every single man such a risk? What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? If a man has a transcendent personal interest infinitely outweighing all others, then, upon the theory of validity of inference just developed, he is devoid of all security, and can make no valid inference whatever. What follows? That logic rigidly requires, before all else, that no determinate fact, nothing which can happen to a man's self, should be of more consequence to him than everything else. He who would not sacrifice his own soul to save the whole world, is illogical in all his inferences, collectively. So the social principle is rooted intrinsically in logic.

That being the case, it becomes interesting to inquire how it is with men as a matter of fact. There is a psychological theory that man cannot act without a view to his own pleasure. This theory is based on a falsely assumed subjectivism. Upon our principles of the objectivity of knowledge, it could not be based; and if they are correct, it is reduced to an absurdity. It seems to me that the usual opinion of the selfishness of man is based in large measure upon this false theory. I do not think that the facts bear out the usual opinion. The immense self-sacrifices which the most wilful men often make, show that wilfulness is a very different thing from selfishness. The care that men have for what is to happen after they are dead, cannot be selfish. And finally and chiefly, the constant use of the word "we" -- as when we speak of our possessions on the Pacific -- our destiny as a republic -- in cases in which no personal interests at all are involved, show conclusively that men do not make their personal interests their only ones, and therefore may, at least, subordinate them to the interests of the community.
In short, there can be no such thing as rational self-interest that is both genuinely rational and genuinely self-interested. Really pure self-interest is rationally self-undermining. Rationality requires that our interests extend beyond ourselves to embrace the whole of mankind (broadly construed).
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 10:38 PM on November 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series might be a good antidote to Ayn Rand. The main character is smarter than everyone else, and does initially go down an anti-social, sort of Objectivist path, but then goes out into the larger world from the little provincial backwater in which he grew up and learns that there are other smarter-than-everyone-else people with different self-interest and viewpoints, that social ties are a positive thing, etc. In other words, I think it would have a similar initial appeal as Ayn Rand, but then steer the impressionable reader in a positive direction. It gives more of a message of "so you think you're better than everyone else? You may be (*). But that doesn't give you the right to be an asshole; and you wouldn't want to be anyways, because being an asshole kind of sucks and being a decent guy is much more pleasant and fulfilling." Also the books are highly entertaining.

(* Or you may just be a big fish in a small pond - in which case, fear not little tadpole, there's a larger, more exciting, and more fulfulling world out there waiting for you!)
posted by eviemath at 8:29 AM on November 2, 2013


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