Saturday, October 18, 2014

On Misunderstanding Ayn Rand

Many of those who have read my words may suspect that I am a closet liberal.  That may have elements of truth in it.  Some (fewer) may suspect that I am a closet conservative.  That too has elements of truth in it.  Those who have read me carefully know that I am virulently anti-Republican and not much more in love with Democrats either.

Ayn Rand, author of (among other works) Atlas Shrugged, can be said to be an inspiration to many Libertarians, those on the philosophical far Right (and Left!).  With some justice.  I read Ayn Rand’s books (all her fiction – 4 books – and some of her non-fiction) decades ago.  It would be true to say that I was under her spell while I read her books.  It would also be true to say that I escaped her spell within months of reading her.  Let me say, unequivocally, that I think she is a good novelist (by which I mean she grabbed my attention and kept me interested all the way to the end, and what more can a fiction writer want?  Rand wanted more).  And that I admired, respected and loved her heroes and heroines.  But the reasons that I did not remain a follower of hers are these: 1) the world of her book is NOT the world we live in, and 2) she conflates indispensable heroes with all successful businessmen.

To the first point, all Rand's villains are true “collectivists.”  Like little Lenins and little Stalins.  But for the most part the real villains of yesterday and today are all self-serving bastards who say what they say in order to serve themselves.  Some preach “I am my brother’s keeper” and others preach “look out for number One” to get what they want, not to serve the masses.  These villains are the same as Rand’s villains – successful politicians and CEO’s – but they are NOT collectivists, they are after what serves themselves.  In other words, they are SELFISH (the word that Rand elevates as the highest virtue), not altruistic (the source of evil, in Rand's world).

To the second point: I honor Thomas Edison, I condemn Jack Welch.  I honor Walt Disney, I condemn Michael Eisner and am neutral so far toward Robert Iger.  I honor Steve Jobs (within human bounds, not like those who make him a god) and the Woz, and I condemn John Sculley and am neutral toward Tim Cook.  I honor Bill Gates and Paul Allen and am indifferent toward Steve Ballmer and am on my way to condemning Satya Nadella.  All the folks I named were or are all important businessmen.  Those who I said I honor ALL created their businesses out of thin air; they all had Big Bang moments; they all were indispensable human beings.  The others just took over the job of CEO.  Many of these follow-up CEOs profited from their tenure more than the founders of the company they led ever did.  Many of them have coddled up to government for special favors.  And many of them have profited at the expense of their own employees (by laying them off).  None of them were indispensable and it is likely that a trained chimpanzee could have done their jobs creditably.

Rand’s heroes are all indispensable human beings.  And her villains are all whores.  But her whores feed at the trough of collectivism, feeding the many; whereas today’s real villains feed at their own troughs and do not give two hoots for the many.

The real problem is not that Rand is wrong about the real world and its villains.  The problem is that her followers – mostly Libertarians – despise the many, the collective (as Rand did; she hated most of humanity and she can be caught on tape admitting it); but they honor Rand’s whores – business leaders who were hardly indispensable and whose company’s share prices were made to inflate on the backs of employees who were no longer needed).

Those who follow Rand – Libertarians and Objectivists – call their enemy crony capitalism.  “My enemy” is corporatocracy or oligarchy or fascism, all of which share the definition of “crony capitalism”: business in bed with government.

It’s about time the Right, the idealistic Right, stops fighting with the Left, the idealistic Left.  The Right claims that Government is manipulating Business, and the Left maintains that Business is manipulating Government.  Their charges are equally true.  And the fact is that their marriage needs to be nullified, to the benefit of the people – the collective – and to the benefit of our indispensable men (who I am pretty sure don’t need the help of the government, the help of the people; they just need to be left alone).

If you have NOT read Ayn Rand – in particular Atlas Shrugged – well, you must!  Anyone who considers himself a full-fledged citizen should be familiar with our nation’s texts: and any LONG list of important American political works must include Atlas Shrugged.