Do you know that my personal crusade in life (in the philosophical sense) is not merely to fight collectivism, nor to fight altruism? These are only consequences, effects, not causes. I am out after the real cause, the real root of evil on earth — the irrational.Ayn Rand
So this image showed up on my Facebook feed today. What followed the image in the comments was the predictable feeding frenzy that you witness when your throw bloody meat to sharks. Today’s cleaner, nicer internet breed of human doesn’t seem to understand the dirty nature of real life as it was before the internet made it possible to live and never leave your house.
For the record, she said these words, at least according to Wikiquote (couldn’t find it in the Lexicon, but I remember reading them) although I prefer the quote that follows it, the one I started this post with. There you have it, Rand gives us all permission to steal from native peoples. That is, if you just blindly do what someone who lived before you and wrote influential works tells you to do.
Blaming Ayn Rand for the plight of native peoples around the world is no different than ending every observation of fascistic tendencies with the phrase “like Hitler”. In reading her works it’s easy to see how her ideas can be turned to evil, how they could be seen as evil when they are brought up out of context in an image like this. It’s no mystery why people like Paul Ryan and others cite her writings when they want to punish the poor and reward the rich. I myself, as someone who still (provisionally) self-identifies as objectivist, cringe at the words above, and wondered at Rand’s blindness to the fascistic applications her ideas could give credence to.
But then we’ve moved a very long way along the knowledge curve since Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum immigrated to the US in 1926. Rand herself didn’t even understand what it meant to be “objective”, or rather, the barriers to objectivity that stand in the way of even the most clear-headed observer, something we’ve discovered and proven in the last score of years or so. Motivated numeracy alone can lead one to deny proven science if it conflicts with your political views, so consequently most of the people who adhere to Ayn Rand’s labels and words have even less of a clue about the pitfalls of thinking oneself perfectly objective on a subject.
What she was trying to express about primitives and their rights to continue the nomadic lives they had lead, can’t be illustrated simplistically with concepts like property and profit; it makes her look mean and cheap, which may or may not be an accurate description of Rand the person. You certainly can’t explain the process of national expansion to people who accept the natural fallacy without question, even if you really, really try.
It pays to reflect that the followers of the dominant philosophical ideal of the time, state socialists, had no problem taking life and land from anybody for any reason that they deemed suited the cause of the people (which in state socialist terms meant the body politic) the defense that Rand is offering is at least logical, if bereft of emotion.
Better to ask the people encroaching on tribal lands without negotiating in good faith with the natives what their goals were beyond profiting themselves. Too bad none of them are around to ask anymore.
You might well ask well how should I interpret those words, then? As I’ve done previously when people ask about Ayn Rand (unlike other Objectivists) I point them towards The Passion of Ayn Rand; Book or The Passion of Ayn Rand; Movie (Helen Mirren is great in the latter) because that is what someone who knew her but was kicked out of the inner circle really thought about her and her life. If you want to see what the most negative parts of her life look like from outside, there is no starker image than these.
On The Other Hand, if you really want to understand what she was trying for with her work, I recommend the documentary Sense of Life rather than her fictional works themselves. You can’t get an overview from them. You certainly can’t get a feel for her at all, from either the detractors who have always hated her, or the mindless randroids who take her name in vain these days.
It is worth observing (hindsight being 20/20) that without people like Rand, people willing to state that it was OK to not sacrifice yourself for the good of the many, that you could lead a worthy life without being poverty stricken and suffering, that we wouldn’t be living in a world that is rapidly seeing the decline of dictatorships as vehicles of social change; that dictatorship is now almost a quaint historical artifact, like feudalism. Social change is once again in the hands of the people. Right or wrong, where it belongs; with individuals willing to work for change.
Portions of this were cribbed from an earlier work of mine