Silver-level articleAyn Rand

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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.
—John Rogers[1]
'Ayn' rhymes with 'mine'.
—The shortest synopsis of Rand's work.[2]

Ayn Rand was a Soviet-American atheist,[3] the author of vast doorstop-sized tomes like Atlas Shrugged and the ripped-off biography The Fountainhead, and other thick, boring books espousing, essentially, psychotic libertarian themes and ideology.

Rand claimed to be a philosopher, though preferring the title "Objectivist." In fact, her simplistic versions of philosophy were misunderstandings of Aristotelian metaphysical notions formulated thousands of years ago. Whether that makes it a philosophy ("Look, it's got an '-ism' at the end!") or just an excuse for being greedy, ignorant and selfish is, ironically, subjective.

The Objectivist movement is a movement based on Ayn Rand's philosophy of objectivism personality cult. If it hadn't appealed to so many 50s & 60s sci-fi nerds, maybe her pernicious views wouldn't have ended up getting filtered to "ethically-challenged" Silicon Valley Sociopaths who want to delete all our jobs (and, to be fair, into the American movie business as well).[4][5][6]


[edit] Biography

The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me.
—Rand, verbalizing the motivation behind every crank, criminal and despot in history

Ayn Rand was born as Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum in Russia in 1905. During the Russian Revolution her family's business and home were confiscated by the new government and she moved to the USA in 1926, leaving her family behind, where she became, initially, a successful screenwriter. Her novels championed "Objectivism," promoting capitalism and the pre-eminence of the individual. A smoker for most of her life, she derided the anti-smoking lobby. Predictably enough, she underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1974 and died of heart failure in 1982.

Ayn Rand fiercely opposed all types of Social Security, including Medicare, but when she and her husband needed Medicare somehow there is a suggestion that all this did not apply to them.[7] Apparently she signed power of attorney and let someone else do the rest. RationalWiki is looking for confirmation, though at least two sources have the story.[8]

In the late 1920s, Ayn became a passing groupie of sorts for murderer and fraud William Edward Hickman, who was known for kidnapping and brutally dismembering a 12-year-old girl. Rand wrote working notes[9] for a fictional book called The Little Street in which she describes Danny Renahan (into whom she imbued the particular traits which Hickman 'suggested to [her]'), saying "Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should,” and “[He had] no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.’” In other words, he was a psychopath. Howard Roark, the "hero" of her later novel, The Fountainhead, was described in a shockingly similar manner.[10]

Rand had an acknowledged open relationship with husband Frank O'Connor, and with her closest "pupil," Nathaniel Branden, from 1955 into the 1960s. This Canadian psychotherapist is best known today as the father of the self-esteem movement. What isn't so well known about his seminal book about his theories, The Psychology of Self-Esteem (1969), is that many of the chapters in the book are merely fleshed-out versions of columns that Branden had written for Rand's newsletter over the previous 18 years. During the affair, Rand found out that Branden was cheating on Rand with a model. Upon finding this out, she berated and physically attacked him. She allegedly declared, "If you have an ounce of moral decency, you'll be impotent for the rest of your life!"[11] She then excommunicated him from the Objectivist cult.[12]

Branden later apologized for his part in "contributing to that dreadful atmosphere of intellectual repressiveness that pervades the Objectivist movement."

Talk show host Dick Cavett once commented on why he turned down an interview with Ayn Rand on his show:

You can piss away valuable hours of your life reading Ayn Rand—her wretched appeal to the young, her wretched writing, her wretched person.

She was supposed to be on my show; I was kind of sorry she wasn’t, because I was kind of laying for her. I did not succumb, as a kid, to being enthused by Ayn Rand, and that sense of power, as every kid was at one time until they outgrew it. The old bag sent over a list of fifteen conditions for appearing with me, or for appearing with anyone, I guess. One of them was, “There will be no disagreeing with Ms. Rand’s philosophy."

... I wrote at the bottom of the list, to be sent back to her, “There will be no Ms. Rand, either.” [13]

[edit] Philosophy

See the main article on this topic: Objectivism
I believe Ayn Rand's first love poem went: Roses are red/violets are blue/finish this poem yourself/you dependent parasite
Stephen Colbert[14]
Although Objectivism has never incorporated itself as a religion under American law (Rand was an eloquent atheist), its theological reclusiveness as regards opposing argument, and the Star Chamber arbitrariness of its internal workings during its pomp some decades ago, mark this belief as unmistakably analogous to Scientology in general.
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction[15]
The minute you start questioning Monet, we will start questioning your sanity.

While Rand considered her philosophies to be so well-reasoned as to be completely objective (and even called her philosophy Objectivism), it is generally agreed[16] that what she really created was a highly moralistic personality cult, which was later complete with shunning of dissenters and highly screwed-up sexual politics.[17] Rand summed up her philosophy with the following principles:

...and with the one-liner "To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason, Purpose, Self-esteem."

Detractors feel that Rand considered all those properties to be perfectly expressed in herself. Whatever the case may be, Objectivism is essentially libertarianism with hangups, usually disguised as pseudologic. Not every Objectivist is a Rand fanatic, but those that are not are shunned by the mainstream Objectivist movement led by Leonard Peikoff's Ayn Rand Institute (ARI).

Most philosophers today would dispute Randroid claims that Rand is a philosopher of any importance. The reason is simple: neither Rand's metaphysics nor her epistemology answer many of the probing questions that philosophers might demand of it. Rand's metaphysics boil down to platitudinous pieties: "Existence exists," "Existence is identity," that consciousness is relational, nothing exists without having some properties and the law of identity applies ("A is A"). These are all perfectly fine positions to which there are no fundamental objections, but they don't seem to go far enough to satisfy the inquiries of even the most minimally trained student: for instance, Rand's view seems to be incompatible with the traditional Aristotelian substance-attribute view of the relationship between particulars and properties. Similarly, 'identity' as it is used by Rand seems to shift meanings often - between the sort of meaning one might use when describing Leibniz's law of the identity of indiscernibles and the day-to-day meaning ('my identity' etc.).

Similarly, for Rand's epistemology — she claims that "reason" is the foundation. Despite the label, Rand's epistemology is empiricist. The sort of questions which exercise contemporary epistemologists (to pick a few: resolving Gettier problems, weighing up foundationalism and coherentism as a response to the Agrippan trilemma, the closure principle) are given scant attention in Rand.

Rand claims that all of the elements of her philosophy run together — being an Objectivist means accepting all of the five components of the philosophy. Quite what in the perfectly acceptable, if a little unoriginal, metaphysics and epistemology (reality is all there is, don't bother with belief) necessitates acceptance of the ethics and political philosophy, or indeed the aesthetic worship of railway tycoons and large, phallic buildings, is never explained. The existence of many millions of non-Objectivists who hold without too much of a mental struggle either to a broadly naturalistic metaphysics and epistemology without the Randian ethic, or to a Randian or libertarian ethic and a non-naturalistic metaphysics (perhaps some kind of religion, orthodox or New Agey), seems to suggest that the two halves of Rand's philosophy aren't bound by necessity. This seems rather obvious to anyone with a brain, but does bear repeating for the Randroids, who seem to think that anyone objecting to their politics is automatically rejecting all components of their worldview.

As many of Rand's followers have demonstrated, taking the Objectivist philosophy to its logical conclusions often leads to conflicts with mainstream science.

[edit] Literature

[edit] Atlas Shrugged

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
—Dorothy Parker
At first, I was happy to be learning how to read. It seemed exciting and magical. But then I read this: Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. I read every last word of this garbage, and because of this piece of shit, I'm never reading again!
—Officer Barbrady, South Park
I had to flog myself to get through Atlas Shrugged.
—William F. Buckley
Atlas Shrugged: "The guy holding up the globe on the cover? That’s Fabio. Get the edition with the train on the cover? That’s Fabio’s cock."

Actually reading this novel has been compared to pushing one's head through a light-year of refrigerated saltwater taffy (sort of like a libertarian Das Kapital, but for the fact Ayn Rand hated libertarians[19]).

To save you reading over a thousand pages of turgid prose, here is Atlas Shrugged. No "spoiler" alert is necessary:

  • In a fictional universe where markets apparently don't have "boom and bust" cycles, a dark and lonely handsome 'hero' invents a perpetual motion machine.
  • When someone mentions the slogan "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" he and his bazilllionaire 'friends' wail like babies, and flee in a huff to live in the mountains.[20]
  • All the decent folk who helped them make those bazillions of dollars running trains, forging steel, actually working, etc., are left behind to rot.
  • The world is like North Korea, but quite a bit less fun. Lucky for our heroes, their mountain hideout is a land of colorful plenty, and is hidden away from the world using a form of holographic projection that is never fully explained.
  • Everyone in the world is miserable except them, as they are busy driving their trains up and down in their incredible mountain hideaway away from the Gubmint.
  • They have romance-novel sex with other capitalist boors, but can't commit due to being too busy.
  • Everyone else is wrong and they are completely correct.
  • They pop up suddenly in public and punish the miserable hordes by lecturing them in interminably boring speeches that go on and on and on for about one hundred pages and have only one point: "You need me, I don't need you, and I refuse to make bazillions of dollars anymore, so you're all fucked. Ha Ha!"
  • The world goes to hell in a hand basket, except for them, 'cos they're in their seekrit mountain hideout, which can't be seen from the air, so it's, like, seekrit. And they have trains, after all.[21]
  • The reader contemplates suicide after over 100 references to the word 'torture.'[22]
  • The reader falls into a deep coma. The survival rate is estimated at 3%-5%.

The moral of the tale is that capitalism will always triumph over socialism if capitalism gets a perpetual motion machine and every few weeks capitalists run around and break some of socialism's infrastructure.

A number of conservatives apparently hold Atlas Shrugged in high regard, which is strange, since they've already got a foundational text that is even longer and more boring (and almost as preachy). Rush Limbaugh frequently refers to it.[23] Glenn Beck started reading it in early 2008,[24] but in 2010, it became painfully clear that he had finished only the first few pages and didn't even get those right.[25] It taught these guys "conservative love,"[26] but unfortunately, not how to rap.

The book probably would have been much shorter if ol' Ayn had laid off the speed.[27]

[edit] The Box Office Shrugged (zing!)

The film adaptation languished in Hollywood development hell for decades, at one point attracting Angelina Jolie (and it's not the first time she's done this), before being made at an obviously low budget in 2011. The audacity of the project is the filmmakers, not appreciating just how awful the book is, decided to make a trilogy. Part 1 was released in 2011, playing to small audiences in a small number of theaters; Part 2 followed in 2012, to coincide with the US election, and fared even less well, and Part 3 in September 2014. The movies have been predictably popular with hardcore Randroids[28][29] panned by film critics,[30][31] and ignored or unnoticed by the wider public. The fact that they're so god-awful boring and over-long negates any real need to seriously dissect the blatant anti-Semitism and sexism on screen.

Don't believe us? Rotten Tomatoes gave Part 1 an 11% approval rating,[32] Part 2 a 5% rating,[33] and Part 3, released as Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt? (apparently Atlas Shrugged III didn't work), scored a solid zero.[34]

The irony of the third part of the film trilogy[35] being funded by a Kickstarter campaign is, of course, too delicious to resist mentioning; Rand wrote in The Meaning of Money, "Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force."[36] And yet they still had the Galt gall to film John Galt's speech.[37]

[edit] Fountainhead

The Fountainhead is a poorly disguised biography of Frank Lloyd Wright.[citation NOT needed] Its message is to stick to your guns if you are a genius, and even though the roofs on your houses leak terribly or the decks bend,[38] the fools who dissed you will eventually realize your genius. Books that actually admit to being about Wright are better, since they usually include photos and drawings of his work.[39] Rand's book was made into a movie, and this 5 second version tells you all you need to know.

[edit] Rape scene?

In The Fountainhead, Rand seems to have a disturbing view on the subject of consent. Eyes wide in terror, struggling to get away, and biting him hard enough to draw blood are apparently signs that she secretly wants it.[40] In which case it wouldn't actually be rape.

[edit] Anthem

Written before Objectivism was set in stone, and only 80% as preachy as her later works, Anthem tells the tale of an individual suffering under the yoke of his oppressors in a collectivist society. It's slightly hard to read because the main character refers to himself with a plural pronoun for nearly the entire book.

Of course, many versed in Russian literature will tell you that it is a direct ripoff of the first great dystopia, Yevgeny Zamyatin's We[41] (but then, so is Nineteen Eighty-Four to a much lesser extent). It also inspired the Rush album 2112, which drummer and lyricist Neil Peart credited in the original liner notes to "the genius of Ayn Rand," although it is worth noting that later in his life Peart said that although Rand's ideas were of some use at the time, "the extent of my influence by the writings of Ayn Rand should not be overstated. I am no one's disciple."

[edit] We the Living

Rand's first published work is a semi-autobiographical (though heavily fictionalized) novel taking place in early Soviet Russia, about the love between the daughter of an ex-capitalist and a Communist functionary with the Communist dictatorship as backdrop. It spawned a movie duology produced in Fascist Italy which was then banned because the Fascist bigwigs realized that if a movie attacked a Communist dictatorship, it could be used to attack all dictatorships. A single-movie version of this is available and was being co-edited by Rand around the time she died.

[edit] The drooling fans

The Dread Dormammu takes the fight to Eternity, while Dr. Strange narrates the dire consequences of the battle. Art by Steve Ditko. We're sure there's something quite like this in Atlas Shrugged. (To be fair, it would be in one's rational self-interest to prevent a giant demon from destroying the planet... but isn't it a bit altruistic as well?)

Generally, the work of Ms. Rand is hugely enjoyed by people with the literary sensitivities of 11-year-olds who imagine they have fierce political sophistication. These people, due to their often-slavish devotion to Objectivist principles, are often called Randroids.

Alan Greenspan is known to be one. Ahem. So is U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R - WI), who unfortunately is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and fortunately lost when he ran for Vice President. Outsiders perceive them as greedy, callous wankers with economic fetishes. Insiders know they are greedy, callous wankers with economic fetishes.

Wikipedia honcho Jimbo Wales once described himself as "Objectivist to the core," and named his daughter Kira after Kira Argounova in We the Living.[42] These facts may clarify a few things for experienced Wikipedians. In its first weeks, Wikipedia had a disproportionately detailed coverage of the works of Ayn Rand compared to the works of all other authors combined.[43]

LaVeyan Satanism is self-described as "having far more in common with Objectivism than with any other religion or philosophy." However, it is supposedly a full religion, complete with magical, cultural, and emotional rituals which "enables the Satanist to codify his life beyond the ethical and metaphysical straightjacket which Objectivism unfortunately offers."[44]

Her fan club is founded on the premise that "A is A." Arguing about Aesthetics in an Armchair while Assuming that "Anarchism is Anathema" is Actually the same As Activism.

Comic book artist and writer Steve Ditko (artistic creator of Marvel Comics' Spider-Man) is a self-professed Objectivist,[45] and even created the character "Mr. A"[46] (named after "A is A") for small press run comics to promote the ideology, such as the indecipherably dogmatic and didactic book Avenging World.[47] He also created a similar character called The Question: a detective in the DC Universe who also espouses objectivist philosophy. Thankfully he doesn't do that as much as his small press counterpart Mr. A.

A 2014 attempt to establish a "Galt's Gulch Chile," a libertopia in South America, appears to have collapsed with some of the investors accusing the developers of fraud.[48]

A Counterpunch article on Ayn Rand[49] shows that corporations are pouring millions of dollars into popularizing her by funding the Ayn Rand Institute — on its own, the movement would have died a quiet death. This is not a surprise; the only social problem, according to Ayn, is that the government regulates business and is unfair to the wealthy. As Greenspan, a devotee of Rand, infamously stated before the 2007 global financial crisis: “It is precisely the ‘greed’ of the businessman or, more appropriately, his profit-seeking, which is the unexcelled protector of the consumer.” ARI claims to have put this money to good use: "more than 1.4 million copies of these Ayn Rand novels have been donated to 30,000 teachers in 40,000 classrooms across the United States and Canada. — we estimate that more than 3 million young people have been introduced to Ayn Rand’s books and ideas as a result of our programs to date."

[edit] Her drones

Currently, her ideology is being promoted by ARI, which describes itself on its website as to be working "to introduce young people to Ayn Rand’s novels, to support scholarship and research based on her ideas, and to promote the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism to the widest possible audience." Because there is no shortage of irony in this article, the institute is registered as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.[50]

[edit] Her enemies

Basically, everyone. If you like to lie in bed a bit late on a Saturday morning, you're a hater. If you like to tip your waiter (in the US anyway), you're a hater. If you've ever paid any kind of tax without wringing your insides at the injustice of the thing, you're a hater. If you haven't created a global multinational corporation and extracted every last cent of resources, labor and profit from multiple countries, you're a hater. If you don't think children under the age of twelve can do a decent 12 hour day's work and earn their keep, you're a hater. Even if you're a raving lunatic American evangelical Christian conservative, you're a hater.[51]

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] References

[edit] Footnotes

  1. "Ephemera 2009 (7)", Kung Fu Monkey
  2. The Ayn Rand Institute FAQ
  3. Ayn Rand, the philandering, Russian, atheist.
  4. Doug Hill, "Beware the Silicon Valley Elites", Salon.
  5. Paul Carr, "Travis Shrugged: The creepy, dangerous ideology behind Silicon Valley's Cult of Disruption", Pando.
  6. Corey Robin, "Garbage ands Gravtias", The Nation.
  7. Ayn Rand Received Social Security
  8. Ayn Rand Received Social Security, Medicare
  9. Ayn Rand (ed. Peikoff and Harriman). The Journals of Ayn Rand, 1999.
  10. "Ayn Rand's Admiration of Murderer-Dismemberer William Edward Hickman" by Mark Ames
  11. "And the Weak Shall Inherit the Wind" at Objectionism
  12. The One Argument Ayn Rand Couldn't Win, New York Magazine
  14. [2]
  15. Rand, Ayn, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
  16. At least outside Objectivist circles, obviously.
  17. Skeptical author Michael Shermer, in his book Why People Believe Weird Things (2nd ed., 2002, Owl Books, ISBN 978-0805070897), devotes a whole chapter to a highly personal and scathing rebuke of Objectivism, which he had once been a believer in.
  18. Objectivism Essentials!
  19. Ayn Rand on libertarianism
  20. Incidentally, the 2007 video game BioShock has been described by some reviewers as a repudiation of Rand's conception of a meritocracy of the elite, and a similar arrangement is played for laughs by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where Golgafrinchan society is wiped out by an unsanitized telephone after all the "unnecessary" people are loaded into an ark and sent off planet.
  21. ...Fuck.
  22. Ayn Rand Loves Torture, C.G.P. Grey
  23. Ayn Rand articles by Rush Limbaugh at the "Randex"
  24. Beck's interview with Stephen Moore, February 20, 2008
  25. Notice that John Galt, a "common great" man is cited as a "Great Industrialist" and the question asked by Beck should be "Who" rather than "Where is John Galt": [3]
  26. Young Con Anthem
  27. Ayn Rand: Speed Addict, The Week
  28. Sidestepping studios to bring 'Atlas Shrugged' to the big screen!
  29. "Movie Review: Why Atlas Shrugged, Part II Is a Must See Film!"
  30. Roger Ebert's Atlas Shrugged review
  31. The shrugging continues in "Atlas Shrugged Part II", Boston Globe
  32. Atlas Shrugged; Part I, Rotten Tomatoes
  33. Atlas Shrugged; Part II, Rotten Tomatoes
  34. Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?, Rotten Tomatoes
  35. Terrible reviews will not stop Atlas Shrugged 3, Salon
  36. Atlas Shrugged producers turn to Kickstarter for help warning others against moochers, AV Club
  37. Film Review: 'Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?', Chicago Tribune
  38. Here and here
  39. And will be written better.
  40. Sex and Ayn Rand, Jezebel
  41. See the Wikipedia article on We (novel).
  42. Why is this man smiling?, Fast Company
  44. "Satanism and Objectivism", Church of Satan
  45. The Amazing Steve Ditko, Salon
  46. The Secret Origins of Steve Ditko's Mr. A
  47. Take a look at Avenging World for yourself! well as "Mr. A."
  48. Ayn Rand's Capitalist Paradise Is Now a Greedy Land-Grabbing Shitstorm, Gawker
  49. Ayn Rand and the Tea Party's Miscast Matriarch, Counterpunch
  50. "Mission and Purpose", ARI
  51. Note Andrew Schlafly's comment that "Her followers today tend to be libertarians and predominantly unmarried men." [1]img
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