Atlas Farted: Ayn Rand is Not the Devil

But those who have twisted her principles undoubtedly are in league with Ol’ Scratch.

FYI: I am not an Objectivist.

I am more likely the opposite. Ayn Rand might have (probably) loathed me and my actions, but she simultaneously might have liked me, even loved me, despite her own principles. It’s hard to hate interesting funny people. Their mental gymnastics and rib-shaking antics make them adorable and charming. Couple that with a predisposition to be helpful and kind, well, such a person is hard to refuse outright. Who knows? Maybe she wouldn’t cross the street to spit on me if I was on fire.

I imagine that if I knew Ayn Rand, we might go round and round about her “Objectivism” or as I call them, her “Selfish Politics,” but she would still enjoy my company. Sometimes I might hate her. My sexist side might come out when her vast and overwhelming intellect would frustrate my puny male macho mentality. Often I bet I would envy her. She was so smart and projected, nay, exuded confidence.

I’ve never had confidence. False braggadocio, yes. Righteous wrath and anger in heaps, which can be confused for confidence, but they are different colors. The former is raging orange and blue-white flame; the latter, cobalt cerulean blue, the kind of deep blue you see on a brisk cool day with only a few wisps of cirrhus clouds (fuck, I spelled cirrus wrong—see? I be dumb…but funny!)

Why muse about Rand today? Well, the Daily Kos sent this link to my inbox and I was a little put off by how many virulent haters posted comments about her as if she were guilty of opening Pandora’s box and then taking “hope” and crushing it under her perfect stiletto heel. So much vitriol.

Because she asked, “How dare you be less than what you could be?”

I suspect is what chafes a lot of people. Possibly everyone except the most deluded. Psychologically everyone has an ideal in their head of what they should and could be. That ideal may have been implanted by mommy and daddy (or whatever parental figure) or they may forged their own ideal of self. But right there we’re set up for failure. How can we ever reach the ever-receding goalposts of an ideal? Man, I am so flawed, I am shocked and stunned into sloppy grins whenever I get something right.

To me, her philosophy calls me on the carpet about what I want to be. That’s partially what I got out of reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. She had that whole Nietzschean individual-versus-herd philosophical underpinning. The Fountainhead, boiling away all of those onerous monologs, was about an architect who cared about realizing his aesthetic vision in the face of crass commercialism. And Atlas Shrugged may have bemoaned man’s fate when herd mentality-type people were left in control of the reigns of the nation after Steve Job-type people took a vacation, but that situation is not as bad as Atlas Farted, the unwritten masterpiece that delineates how the one-percenters drove the country into ground because they wanted to hoard all of their dragon gold in offshore accounts.

Successful people (and I am not just measuring their wallets and financial portfolios—I mean success in a much more comprehensive and diverse and holistic sense) probably read her ideological rants and think, “Meh. So what’s the big deal?” It’s that same phenomenon with certain “feminists”—some feminists don’t make a point about being feminist; they’re too busy being whatever they want to be. (Does Ronda Rousey think she’s a feminist?) I think aesthetic Objectivists are the same: too busy fashioning their selves, making and remaking their life’s work.

I guess when I read her works I elided the political economic side from my mind and took enjoyment from the positions that valorized an individual’s right to create art. As a social or political argument, it seemed obviously and painfully shortsighted, maybe even ignorant of humans as an animal (I’m thinking her views on family were extreme), so I kind of jettisoned those facets of Objectivism. Then too, where was the joie de vivre? Well, she was Russian and she suffered no small amount of tragedy in her life, so you have to allow for that in some way.

I suppose I dislike when anyone, liberal or conservative, takes a wildly unbalanced view of a person’s work. She’s not a Stalin or a Hitler or a Mao. She was a writer. An artist whose work had serious socio-political ramifications, but I position her as a writer first. That alone is enough to make some “pundits” (haters) roll their eyes.

Hey, but in the video clip provided by the DK, it was fun to see Johnny Carson behaving like an intimidated little schoolboy hosting his forbidding venerable teacher! And there was a fly buzzing around, making a nuisance of itself. Was it Satan in disguise? One of Sartre’s Flies? And at the end, Rand may have been nervous herself, or maybe she purposefully slighted Ed McMahon by not shaking his hand. It was probably an oversight.

About the clip: Her detractors seemed to ignore some pretty important points. She states: man should be guided by reason; and man’s morality is rational self-interest. No one should sacrifice themselves for another and nor should they sacrifice others for themselves. That’s pretty innocuous and to my dwarf brain not far from “Do unto others….” She says that no one or any group of people (including the GEE-OH-VEE can initiate force/violence against another. I could be wrong. Basically, don’t hurt anybody and get busy making yourself a worthwhile person.

I take away this point: everybody is responsible for creating themselves and they have in fact a moral imperative to do so, AND (this is an enormous AND) you may not use other people in the process. You are supposed to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. You can’t become a millionaire in other words by exploiting an entire class of people. Already she’s at odds with capitalism and post-capitalism. Her capitalism is one that disallows exploitation. It might be wishful thinking on her part that such a laissez-faire capitalism could ever exist, but she is not arguing for robber baron capitalism.

Liberals and Conservatives seem to not catch that all-important part.

Then, when she stated how clearly she was against the Vietnam War, people clapped or booed, but to me for all the wrong reasons.

The liberals who were against the war applauded her anti-war stance not understanding that she was anti-Nam not because she pitied the poor brown villagers getting bombed into the stone age (although she may have indeed felt sympathy for their plight—I don’t know), but because it was an irrational war and a tremendous waste of resources (useless and senseless, didn’t serve any national interest). Moreover, if the country were busy putting those resources to better use, we would not need any wars. Unfettered capitalism would provide peaceful prosperity as occurred in the 19th century (that rang a little naïve and ignorant of all the massive exploitation that actually occurred, but I won’t tackle that here).

Then, the haters booed her because it’s damn unpatriotic to not support/defend your country against those vile communists. And they booed again when she came out unequivocally against the draft.

But the flag-wavers seemed to not grasp how much she hated communism and how she stated that “naturally” and “rationally” all citizens would rise to the defense of their country, should it ever be attacked. There would be no need of a draft because a country of Objectivists would immediately unite to organize whatever army was required to secure the freedom and liberty of the nation. But—and here’s the salient point—someone has to attack you first. As long as you’re not getting attacked physically then you have no need for a war. And you certainly shouldn’t go around the globe attacking innocent people, which was the case in Vietnam, a war fought to suppress communist growth. Sadly, today, the impression I get from young students, is a shrug of shoulders: Vietnam; so? And the older conservative generation (my father’s generation) lives in blanket denial: Vietnam was a necessary war; America can do no wrong. Talk about a need for reason. Talk about a desperate need for history lessons!

So, Rand says, let capitalism and undeniable prosperity fight your wars for you. In one sense history proved her correct: communism collapsed more due to its onerous bloated untenable bureaucratic and mismanaged weight than because of any military actions on our part.

In a vacuum, I’d think that Objectivism would be great. But in a world where “pseudo-objectivists” have the economic and financial playing field stacked in their favor, it doesn’t seem like a game most people, i.e. poor people like me, would want to get into. Then, when you add up all of the iniquities and inequalities that result due to racism and sexism etc., well, we’d need a clean slate. How to achieve that pure clean slate untainted by irrational prejudice?

Then, of course Johnny didn’t seem to think much of the point that philosophers are supposed to be our moral leaders. In other words the incarnation of reason: wise philosophical rulers, not gold-hoarding dragons, not unscrupulous sycophantic vote-gatherers. Philosophers whose touchstone is reason. They set our ethical standards. I hear an echo of Plato, but I could be wrong.

All of it is problematic, but I just don’t think it makes her evil and I don’t think she’s the devil, as the commenters and the poster make her out to be. Hey, I’ll concede that I am no expert, just a melancholic jester, a jovial misanthrope.

Then, the comment by Johnny C about “communist” Asia i.e. China, and how the future conflict would be between the forces of freedom and capitalism against the collectivist communists of Asia (China)…well, now we know better. I have to laugh.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You scratch a Chinese businessman (or politician) and underneath you find a raging pseudo-Objectivist capitalist, you know, that robber baron kind of businessperson. Not the nice or good kind. The kind that is ready and willing to enslave not just non-Chinese, but anyone, including his/her own grandmother in order to maximize dragon gold, not to mention rape and poison the earth. The Chinese are as much communists as Americans are. Well, I take that part back about the grandmothers: in my experience thus far, Chinese still put a huge premium on family. I love that about Chinese society.

GOD! How I wish Rand were here with us today! She might have pulled back a bit on her more strident points and acknowledged that man, susceptible to un-reason, susceptible to the corruption of power that massive accumulated wealth causes, needs a more compelling moral restraint than that which reason alone offers.

Check out the link and listen to what she says and judge for yourself. Furthermore, I apologize to all those real philosophers who know what the hell they’re talking about and were inadvertently subjected to me bloviating. That’s enough mooing on paper for now. I’m gonna go howl in the woods, pretend I’m a lone wolf, and not one of the gregarious cows.

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2 thoughts on “Atlas Farted: Ayn Rand is Not the Devil

  1. This was definitely a thought-provoking piece. I don’t agree with everything you wrote, but it was insightful.

    One thing is likely… if Ayn Rand was still alive today, it is likely that her stridently atheist, pro-abortion self would be screaming bloody murder over all of the self-proclaimed “Objectivist” politicians who cherry-pick from her philosophy while also embracing religious fundamentalism and who keep arguing that America is a Christian nation.

  2. Thank you Ben for commenting on and following my blog. It’s just an odd assortment of stories and journal entries about life in China and America, but when I came across this Daily Kos post about Ayn Rand I wanted to say something about it. I enjoy Daily Kos a lot, but I was dismayed when I came across what I thought was a bit of unfairness on their part.

    Of course, I can’t stand the hypocrisy from the religious right either, and you’re absolutely right, Rand would shoot down a lot of purported objectivists who’ve hijacked her philosophy. It’s that old trope of people taking things out of context for their own purposes.

    I would not even mind that, cherry-picking as it were, as long as they stood behind it and said something to the effect, “This is our new ideology, culled from such and such sources, and we’re calling it Neo-Ego-non-selfish/selfish war and profit fetishism” or whatever. They shouldn’t, as you say, claim to be a “Christian nation”; the religious right shouldn’t appropriate that good name. If they want to have this weird variant of Christianity that really means “love thy neighbor as long as s/he agrees with your ideology and then bomb the hell out of the rest”, well, okay, fine, but don’t call it Christian.

    I enjoy your blog immensely by the way and I am very honored that you could find some little value in my blog such as it is, so thank you again. I found you through Longbox Graveyard by the way, whom I know you know.

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