Ayn Rand is easy to hate on. It is so easy to hate on her that people completely ignorant of her ideas or her real life find it quite easy to do. I would suggest, if you want to be more informed in your hatred, that you should try watching The Passion of Ayn Rand (movie) or reading The Passion of Ayn Rand (book). Either one of those should enlighten you to what someone of her core group thought of her in the moment, and what they thought of her after they fell from grace.
But it might actually be more illuminating to watch Sense of Life, a documentary prepared by someone who doesn’t hate Rand from the outset. Perhaps a reading of We the Living is warranted, with the understanding that the central character in that novel is her. That is how she saw her journey from Russia. If you would prefer to understand were she came from and what she was driving for with her works.
Her ideas are also quite easy to capture and use for truly harmful purposes, as a good number of people are doing right now. That DOES NOT negate the value of what she said when she said it, which was a different time and place than now.
I’ve read most of her work. I don’t have any of the newsletters. Current thought in Objectivist circles has gone so far off track that Harry Binswanger has recently been writing about how the rich should live tax-free, still buying-in to trickle-down economics, and that the rest of us should worship them:
Here’s a modest proposal. Anyone who earns a million dollars or more should be exempt from all income taxes. Yes, it’s too little. And the real issue is not financial, but moral. So to augment the tax-exemption, in an annual public ceremony, the year’s top earner should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Imagine the effect on our culture, particularly on the young, if the kind of fame and adulation bathing Lady Gaga attached to the more notable achievements of say, Warren Buffett. Or if the moral praise showered on Mother Teresa went to someone like Lloyd Blankfein, who, in guiding Goldman Sachs toward billions in profits, has done infinitely more for mankind. (Since profit is the market value of the product minus the market value of factors used, profit represents the value created.)
Instead, we live in a culture where Goldman Sachs is smeared as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.” That’s for the sin of successful investing, channeling savings to their most productive uses, instead of wasting them on government boondoggles like Solyndra and bridges to nowhere.Forbes, Harry Binswanger, Give Back?
He conveniently skips over how the current crop of wealthy Wall Street bankers are only wealthy because we bailed them all out, otherwise they’d be as broke as the rest of us are because no one bailed us out. Neither this observation nor his observation says anything of Lady Gaga being far more worthy of adoration than Warren Buffett is, just on talent alone. This really shouldn’t be a surprise since worship of wealth and the wealthy is pretty much the core of Objectivism.
I offer this in response. This is more heroic and deserving of praise than anything Lady Gaga or Warren Buffett have done:
Elinor Otto, 93, is doing the same work she did in 1942 as part of the famous “Rosie the Riveter” brigade during World War II. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.
PZ Myers tweeted about this webcomic today. He posted it to his blog as well. I found Ayn Rand by Darryl Cunningham vaguely amusing. I deem it “The Passion of Ayn Rand” in comic book form. The movie was better. However, none of her personal flaws or the cult she created of the collective can be used to discredit the thrust of her general philosophical work. Take this quote for example:
…to the inner circle surrounding and protecting Rand (in ironic humor they called themselves the “Collective”), their leader soon became more than just extremely influential. She was venerated as their leader. Her seemingly omniscient ideas were inerrant. The power of her personality made her so persuasive that no one dared to challenge her. And her philosophy of Objectivism, since it was derived through pure reason, revealed final Truth and dictated absolute morality.THE UNLIKELIEST CULT IN HISTORY, Skeptic vol. 2, no. 2, 1993, pp. 74-81. by MICHAEL SHERMER
…and realize that the man who wrote that piece wrote this one too:
So when you see Atlas Shrugged, Part 2, remember that this is far more than a film or a story about a railroad and a mysterious motor. It is a vehicle to get us to think about which moral principles we value the most, because as Ayn Rand believed, it is ideas that move the world.WHY AYN RAND WON’T GO AWAY by MICHAEL SHERMER, Oct 23 2012 Atlas Shrugged, Part 2 and the Motor of Moral Psychology
So go figure. I’m not sure what happened to Michael Shermer over the decades, but that is beside the point. None of her flaws or the observations of others invalidate her ideas about what was good in life, what was worth striving for, and what was heroic.
Hitchens observes here:
I don’t think there’s any need to have essays advocating selfishness among human beings. I don’t know what your impression has been, but some things require no reinforcement.
Which I answer rhetorically, we need them because of the socialists and authoritarians who would demonize self-interest among the people. Without the dictatorship of Stalin, the Russian revolution, the works of Karl Marx derived from the ethics of Kant, the creation of the myth of selflessness. Without this chain of events we would have no objectivism created as a reaction. We would have no need to confirm to the average person that it’s okay to concern yourself with your interests first, in the face of all these people who tell you that you should give more. Because in spite of Hitch’s protestations, there are real philosophical forces at work attempting to grind down individuality and to pound down the exceptional like an offending nail. To convince the average person that they must submit.
Like most authors, the best weapon against Hitchens is to quote Hitchens to himself:
Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.Christopher Hitchens
Hitchens being who he was would never have noticed the grinding drive for conformity present in our daily lives. If he did notice it he would have deemed it powerless because it clearly did not affect him, so how could it affect others? Perhaps the drive to conform is powerless to most people (studies show otherwise. –ed.) Still, there were clearly a lot of people glad to hear that they weren’t evil people simply for thinking of themselves first. That they didn’t need to give more and more to the needy, to those whose hands are always outstretched for more. That her words are now used to defend actions she would not agree with is just a testament to the popularity of her work.
I’m sure Nietzsche would be weirded out by most of his fans as well.