Sunday, April 01, 2012

Ayn Rand and the worship of selfishness

The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me.

Learn to value yourself, which means: fight for your happiness.

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.

 The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.

 To reduce you to a body, to teach you an animal's pleasure, to see you need it, to see you asking me for it, to see your wonderful spirit dependent on the upon the obscenity of your need. To watch you as you are, as you face the world with your clean, proud strength - then to see you, in my bed, submitting to any infamous whim I may devise, to any act which I'll preform for the sole purpose of watching your dishonor and to which you'll submit for the sake of an unspeakable sensation ...I want you - and may I be damned for it!

If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing.

Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand

The word "Freedom" has now taken on a narrow meaning within the mainstream of American opinion: "What I personally want I must have" It's the concept that has always been used by small children, thieves, dictators and ancient kings. It's the chant of infants " Gimme; it's mine and you can't have any."

Ayn Rand in "Atlas Shrugged" popularized Rand's philosophy of Objectivism: advocating rational selfishness and free markets(unregulated). I like Paul Krugman's view of this philosophy: "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." 

Reagan, Greenspan and Milton Friedman became great fans of Rand and her thoughts  have popularized the Libertarian movement and heavily influenced Paul Ryan and the Tea Party, The Supreme Court and right wing extremists. Rand's early years were spent in Stalinist Russia  and this clearly influenced her hatred of Governments and her obsessive faith in the good will of rich and powerful men acting in a free and unregulated economic system. She claimed that in such a privatized system there never would be a need for regulations and social legislation because the economic system would work so well. She died in 1982 before events proved how utterly wrong she was about human nature. I wonder whether this rigid ideologue might have changed her views if she had lived to observe the rape of Russia under Yeltsin, the greed driven destructive behaviour of Wall Street and British bankers that came close to destroying the economies of the West, the alarming rise in unemployment in a deregulated laissez-fare market and the obsessive greed of an oligarchy intent on keeping it all.

 Mike Wallace interviewed her in 1959 and taking the time to listen to some of these You Tube tapes will give you an idea of what an ideologically narrow and naive woman she was.  A rigid ideologist, just like the communists she detested, she was determined to fit all human affairs into a simplistic model. Her model simply rejected government and replaced it with a blind faith in the leaders of laisez-faire capitalism.

Her influence still dominates the thinking within Wall Street, the Republican Party and the Supreme Court.
No doubt her philosophy has provided a justification for the selfish values of wealthy men like the Koch Brothers and many others like him; gave birth to the Tea Party and popularized and strengthened the Libertarian movement. She was a pro-choice atheist, and viewed all religions and beliefs in the supernatural as barriers to reason so I am sure she would have been puzzled by the Tea Baggers (and most mainstream Republicans) who have blended her "Objectivism" in with a curious reinvention of evangelical Christianity, a contempt for intellectuals, blacks, the poor and foreigners, and a love for the military.

Rand's beliefs continue to dominate Republican political thinking in America despite the alarming wealth gap widening between the 1% and the rest of America. Freedom is now all about me. Rand vigorously rejected any form of social conscience and the Social Contract as influenced by John Locke in the Declaration of Independence and refined by the eminent American philosopher John Rawls as purely signs of human weakness. 

It is hard to conceive of a functioning democracy based on a philosophy of selfishness and laissez faire capitalism run by an oligarchy of wealth, free from any restraints. As described in Ayn Rand's writings it advocates a rejection of the social reforms of the 20th century and reduces the role of the nations state to that of a modern Sparta. Not a promising outlook.