when the status quo frustrates.

The Passion of Ayn Rand

That is the title of her biography, written by one of her ex-adherents who also happened to be the wife of a man Ayn had a long-term affair with–given all that, one would expect the tone of the book to be rather more unsympathetic than otherwise. However, that’s not really the case. I read it over a decade ago for a college class–the one and only women studies course I ever took required us to choose and write an in-depth paper about an influential woman of the first half of the twentieth century. I chose Ayn Rand, for three reasons: first, because she fit the criteria as presented; second, because I have a rebellious streak and knew full well that we were expected to choose a feminist, regardless of what the criteria explicitly stated; and third, because I was genuinely interested in the woman behind Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

On CNN this morning, I caught sight of the following headline:

‘Atlas Shrugged’ author sees resurgence

This struck me as a little odd, since I know Ayn’s been dead for several years now. What, is she seeing it from Heaven? (An even odder idea, given the virulence of her atheism.) But it isn’t the first time I’ve been reminded of Ayn recently–she’s been resurrected quite often lately, both by conservative types who are threatening to “go on strike” a la John Galt and by liberals who regularly mock both her admirers and her concepts, at least as they understand her concepts, which is usually poorly. (I won’t speak much to the whole “go on strike” routine the previously mentioned spoiled-rich poseurs are engaging in, other than to say it likely would have cracked Ayn up no end.)

Now, Ayn was no great fiction writer. She had her moments, especially humorous ones–but for the most part, her novel writing skills just ain’t there. She liked to give speeches–loved to give speeches, really, really long ones–! And, as anyone who writes fiction knows, one of the cardinal rules is to show, not tell, as much as possible, and Ayn never showed it if she could tell it, and tell it in excruciating detail. On those less frequent occasions when she did decide to show, she clearly felt that there was far too much of a chance that simply showing just wasn’t going to get her extremely important point across clearly enough. Suffice it to say that she injected enough symbolism into her showing scenes to fell an ox, and with about as much subtlety. She was also fond of eroticizing rape, which I suspect stemmed from a strong personal yearning to be a femme fatale. She seemed to figure that the pinnacle of sexual tension and excitement was some guy wanting you so badly that he couldn’t stop himself from ripping your clothes off (literally!) and that you would be so thrilled by this unmistakeable tribute to your irresistible attractiveness that all other considerations would pall. And beyond the desire to be incredibly physically attractive, she obviously, badly wanted to meet a man, a male, that she could genuinely consider superior to herself–she just as obviously never did, but if she’d managed to do so, she clearly imagined the experience to be so overwhelming that her only option would be to fling herself at his feet and become his slave. (Had she actually met such a man at some point, I think she’d have figured out fairly quickly that abject servitude to him was no more fun than abject servitude to anyone else is–it’s a shame she didn’t, it might have resulted in some more interesting writing.)

While researching her, I also stumbled across her testimony before HUAC (the House of Un-American Activities Committee, which amusingly sounds much more like a group of subversive Satanists than what it really was, which was a nasty part of the McCarthy era) in the late 1940′s. The University of Maryland has a lot of great goverment stuff in its archives, unsurprisingly given it’s geographic location, so I got to read the original transcripts on microfiche. It was depressing, though not completely without justification. Ayn had a pretty bad time of it in Russia before she managed to defect–given that, her virulence towards Communism and supporters of Communism is more understandable than some other people’s. It also makes her knee-jerk revulsion towards governmental controls on private citizen’s finances more understandable–but I was very sorry to learn that she’d gotten involved at all. Who wouldn’t be?

All those caveats aside, though, it was very good for me to read her stuff when I did, which was first in my early- to mid-twenties. I had been raised in a very liberal fashion, politically-speaking, yet I wasn’t comfortable with some aspects of my core beliefs–but I didn’t really know how to articulate that discomfort. I certainly wasn’t drawn to the Republican mantra of how feminists and welfare queens (a) lived high on the hog and (b) were responsible for the decline of the high morality of our civilization–I already knew that was total bullshit, having lived much more intimately with, er, welfare queens and feminists in their actual melieu than any of those self-same Republicans ever had. But I also wasn’t satisfied entirely with the black-and-white presentation of oppressor/oppressee–see, I’d had little contact for most of my life at that time with those liberal demons, the Rich Old White Men. However, I’d suffered plenty at the hands of my supposed fellow victims–far more than I could relate to any suffering I hadn’t yet had at the hands of the ROWM brigade. Liberals were happy to address the gendered motivated aspect of my suffering, and I could resonate with that–but what about all the rest? They were ominously silent.

What was the rest of my suffering? Well, for one thing, I (like Ayn) was very bright. I had always been very bright, noticeably bright–I came to expect, every time I had a new teacher, the half-suppressed choking as he or she went over my very first reading test for placement in each class, and of course the inevitable IQ testing in the counsellor’s office that followed. Interestingly enough, that never did result in a swelled head–I was the only child, for a very long time, in a family of unusually bright adults, and I spent my childhood not realizing that a child can’t be expected to read, write, or figure at the same skill level as not only adults, but very smart adults. I remember always feeling bad whenever I lost a game of Risk to my mother, uncle and grandfather–I didn’t realize that of course a six-year-old is going to lose to those people! It was actually wildly impressive that I could compete with them on any really equal footing at all–but then, as I said, I didn’t understand that. So I never really knew how smart I was, compared to the mean, til high school.

Oh, but high school. I had it figured out at that point. And I was pretty pissed off about it, too. I remember sitting in German class and listening to lots of the other kids talking about college. It was so hard to decide which one to attend! Mom wanted them to go here but Dad wanted them to go there but they had really heard that here was the total party university–oh, those children of privilege!

Another class I had back then was Expository Writing. I did not want to take it, but I needed four full years of English, and it was convenient to my open time slot for an elective course. I hated that class. Not because I didn’t love writing–I did love to write, and clearly still do (or I wouldn’t be here). However, I simply could not relate to the teacher. He had us spend the first five minutes of every class writing in a journal, just stream-of-consciousness, to various pieces of music he would put on–I have no idea what that type of music is called, but it consisted of vaguely ocean-y sounds–I think it was supposed to be soothing. All it was, was irritating. I didn’t need that sort of exercise to allow me to practice putting my thoughts on paper. I excelled at putting my thoughts on paper. I also had no desire to share a single personal thought with some guy I barely knew. I found it invasive, boring and silly. I suspect I didn’t hide that very well–let’s just say that he and I started off on the wrong foot, very early on in our relationship.

This guy, I think, was of the politically liberal persuasion. He certainly liked to go on and on at times about some home for mentally challenged kids he volunteered at–he often had an anecdote, or wanted to share some kid’s achievement or other, or related it to some story we were reading as part of the coursework. And boy howdy, I got sick of hearing about it. Between having to listen to other kids complain about the multitude of higher learning choices available to them and how they really wanted to go where they’d have the most fun, and listening to Mr. Whateverhisnamewas rhapsodize about the massive, plush facilities dedicated to teaching some other kids with severe mental impairments how to bake a cookie, I seriously began to wonder why I was so worthless and undeserving. Nobody, not the government, not the schools, not private charities or individual doners, and certainly not my family, was forking over the $$$ to see that I got any opportunities. Quite the opposite–any job I had, my family snatched up the paycheck as soon as I got it home and dumped it into the grocery-and-gas budget. There were either no gifted school programs or practically none–but money for the mentally handicapped abounded. And why was I being punished by the government because my dad worked like a dog..? We made too much money for any kind of assistance whatsoever–not medical, not educational, not housing, nothing–but we didn’t make enough money to provide those things for ourselves, either. And instead of being mentally handicapped, I was the opposite. I didn’t feel like that made me more deserving than someone who was handicapped, but I couldn’t for the life of me understand why it made me less so.

This is why I sneer at conservatives and their “bootstraps.” They certainly don’t make their own children rely on their “bootstraps,” and I can assure them, it ain’t because their kids are smarter or harder-working than I was. It’s funny really (once you get over being too mad about it to think straight) because they like to pretend that they do–a previous long-term relationship (we’ll call him “F,”) certainly a child of privilege, was extraordinarily and loudly proud that he’d “made all his money himself, nobody had ever just given him any of it.” He utterly failed to realize that his supportive family environment, healthy food and living habits of his childhood, his parents’ pickup of his college tab and their welcoming of him back home after college so that he could live rent-and-food free to save up for his first home, and his sister’s “in” with the director at the company he got his first job at, were the props that had enabled him to “make all that money himself” at all.

But Ayn helped me learn to also sneer at liberals and, as she put it, the luxury of their pity, that you pay for. They pitied the mentally handicapped, and so agitated for big bucks to be poured into educational resources for them. But they had no interest at all in the unusually bright. Because that is not pitiable, it is not worth a share of the pooled government resources. They pitied the homeless and third-generation welfare families and agitated for big bucks to be poured into them as well–but they had no pity for the working poor. When I was a kid, I was madly jealous of my friends whose families were on welfare because they got to get braces, and go to the doctor when they were sick, and eat lunch every day at school, and live in a nice trailer with wall-to-wall carpet and air conditioning–yes, I was jealous of living in trailers. They were much nicer than anywhere we ever lived, honestly. I didn’t have any of that stuff because my dad worked too hard at his miserable, crappy, blue-collar job. Somehow that made his daughter less deserving of medical and dental care, regular meals and a decent roof over her head?

And Ayn helped me free myself of my own family. My mother, in particular, who took every penny I ever made when I lived at home, thereby making it impossible for me to ever save up a dime for anything. And after I left home, suctioned up as much of my paycheck as I was able to send her. In return, she doled out emotional support…in a niggardly, grudging fashion–and of course I was aware of that. In an effort to show her that she didn’t have to be nice to me to get money, I ended up just giving her money, a lot of it! And asking nothing in return, which I think in the back of my head I believed would free her from feeling obligated to love me and would then result in a more natural expression of the same. (Yes, I know. Please, don’t mock the naivete. Keep in mind how young I was when all this was unfolding.) My mother, who on my eighteenth birthday told me she hoped I didn’t think I could just sit around at home being supported all day–I had better have some kind of plan, or else–! I was just telling my ex-husband the other day (who grew up in even poorer circumstances than I did) how funny it was that she felt the need to say that to me, who had been working and feeding cash into the family coffer since I was thirteen years old. (My ex-husband’s father put him to work on farms around the same age, and he got the same speech from him at age eighteen, so he understands how funny that was. Not.)

In Atlas Shrugged, there’s a scene where one of the main characters is facing arrest, and he goes home to his family before going on the lam. His family (mother and brother) have lived with him all his adult life and he has supported them uncomplainingly; when he gets home, they both start in on him, begging him to cooperate with the authorities and turn himself in and give them whatever money he has on him so they can survive while he’s in prison. He tells them he has no money, all his assets have been frozen–I can’t find my copy of the book, so I’m going to have to quote this from memory, and I’m sure I’m not getting it perfectly right. But this is the gist:

“If you really cared about me,” Hank said, “you’d be urging me to run, and helping me do it all you could.”
His mother stared at him, then screamed, “But what will we do without you? We need you!”
“Well then,” Hank said. “You should have known how to value me before.”

That really resonated with me. Why do I owe my hard work and life’s blood to people who have made it clear that all I am is a way for them to avoid having to work hard themselves at anything, people who clearly don’t value me, the individual, at all? In the political sense, of course, that’s a conservative argument. Their fallacy is that they are utterly unable to distinguish (willfully, I suspect) the difference between can’t work hard and won’t work hard, nor are they able to comprehend the poisonous atmosphere that children in won’t work hard families are brought up. Children believe what their parents teach them, and when your childhood is a monotonous litany of we’re doomed from the start nothing we do makes a difference they’re all out to get us anyway so we may as well sit here til we rot because That’s Just The Unfairness and Injustice of the Universe—you will internalize that to some degree. To escape it, you usually must be willing to sever all ties with your family…and most people aren’t willing to do that, and many people are incapable of doing that. It is very difficult to become an orphan by choice. Very difficult. Or, as more commonly is the case, you can keep ties with your family and endure their resentment and jealousy and self-centeredness day in and day out, in exchange for which you get to feed them a steady supply of your income.

I don’t extend that argument to the population at large. I extend it only to my family, whose circumstances I know very intimately, intimately enough that I can safely and freely say that they won’t work hard (excluding my poor beleagered dad, of course, who passed away two years ago, I should mention), and therefore they don’t deserve what I have gotten by being willing to work hard. Sorry.

All these other people who are chanting and quoting Ayn–if they did read her books, they missed a lot of the message, and that goes double for the dude currently running the Ayn Rand institute–

“So many people see the parallels with actually what’s going on, with the government taking over the banks, with the government kind of taking over the automobile industry, a president who fires the CEO of a major American corporation. These are the kind of things that come out of ‘Atlas Shrugged,’ ” Brook said.

People are idiots. In Atlas Shrugged, the government takes over healthy, productive, afloat companies and gives the money gained to inefficient, corrupt companies. What’s actually going on in our country is that the government is taking over inefficient, corrupt companies and leaving healthy, productive, afloat companies alone. Now, Ayn would have hated the takeovers even of the former–she believed in letting companies that couldn’t make it on their own merits collapse–but the people who are moaning about and drawing tight-lipped parallels to Atlas Shrugged are frequently the same people who are eagerly accepting the government bailouts funded by taxpayer money. As Jon Stewart so pithily said, “Yeah, man, Wall Street is mad as hell! And they’re not gonna take it anymore! Unless by ‘it’ you mean 2 trillion dollars in their own bailout money! That, they will take!”

So, Ayn was personally effed up in multiple areas (sexuality, the complexities of national and global economics, etc.) and often a tedious fiction writer–but she did have some things of value to say. It’s a real shame that nobody ever dwells on those, and the people who do spend time dwelling on her at all, either dwell on her flaws or on whatever misunderstanding of what she said happens to suit their agenda. But I don’t suppose that makes her any different from a lot of other well-known writers—it’s just a shame she’s not around to add her voice to the chorus any longer.

19 Responses to “The Passion of Ayn Rand”

  1. Stacy says:

    To be fair, the Illinois legislature recently passed a bill to literally take profit from a successful industry and give it to an unsuccessful one. That’s an outlier (sofar) but along with the federal government’s willy-nilly controlling actions toward large corporations that have taken bailout money (even TARP funds, which are loans and not direct investments) add up to an overall direction that makes me want to take heart pills on a regular basis. And also makes it fair to draw comparisons to Atlas Shrugged.

    That said, I agree that the “going Galt” meme is overheated and embarrassing, especially when it comes from people who are much better off than the general population and/or work for companies that have taken bailout money.

    Funnily enough, something else that’s jumped out at me for years now as being right out of Rand is the gray market in illegal day labor. There are people willing and able to do quality work for a given wage, but the government bans them for its own reasons, forcing them to do honest work for honest wages–under the table.

  2. Antigone says:

    It’s funny, because I remember reading “Atlas Shrugged” in high school to possibly get a scholarship and thinking very similar things (being in similar, though not as dire, family situation).

    I just picked up the book yesterday, and the ham-fisted symbolism socked me so hard in the face in the first chapter that I couldn’t read it anymore. That, and the total straw-person of a liberal that she had Mr. Taggart be.

    Reading the scene again between Reardon and his family I am suddenly reminded very much of my own father, and not in a pleasant way. Reardon gave his family money, and in return, expected; nay felt entitled to love. But he was never home (being as he was a work-a-holic) and when he was home, he was condescending, rude, and didn’t show affection to anyone. Ayn Rand expected him to be a sympathetic character; why didn’t you like the money he brought in and reward him with love; but that’s not how relationships work AT ALL, nor should they be.

    Love doesn’t, and shouldn’t have anything at all with money. And while Rand thought that money was the most perfect motivation for anything, I heartily, roundly, and emphatically disagree.

  3. violet says:

    Their fallacy is that they are utterly unable to distinguish (willfully, I suspect) the difference between can’t work hard and won’t work hard, nor are they able to comprehend the poisonous atmosphere that children in won’t work hard families are brought up.

    Iris Marion Young has a pretty compelling look at interlocking oppression. For example, she names that poisonous atmosphere powerlessness. A certain class of people (working-class poor, in your case) suffer from exploitation, not benefiting substantially from their own labor. They thus don’t have the resources to access the power to change their situation. It’s easy to internalize that powerlessness, as you point out, which makes the cycle all the more pernicious.

    (Unsurprisingly, Young was quite fond of Marx.)

  4. Antigone says:

    Funnily enough, something else that’s jumped out at me for years now as being right out of Rand is the gray market in illegal day labor. There are people willing and able to do quality work for a given wage, but the government bans them for its own reasons, forcing them to do honest work for honest wages–under the table.

    “Willing and able” is sort of a funny phrase, as is “honest wage”. I bet they’re not “able” to get anything at a higher wage and thus take anything they can get. That’s the reason we have minimum wage laws in the first place is to keep people from being exploited.

    If they’re doing it under the table, they’re doing it a below minimum wage; and minimum wage isn’t exactly the best wage to be working at in the first place. So, yeah, I’m calling bullshit on “honest wage”.

  5. Lisa Kansas says:

    Stacy–there’s a bit more to the story than George Will told, but as a general principle I have to agree–it’s very Rand-dystopia-ish, and I’d agree with her that it’s completely wrong, nuts and heavily in the rights-violation department. However, I disagree that companies taking government bailout money shouldn’t lose some of their autonomy as well. They don’t have to take it, and as a taxpayer who is helping finance these bailouts, I welcome more light shed on their operations. They’re not getting a loan based on the normal principles that businesses get loans from privately held organizations and individuals–they’re getting a handout, and those do come with strings attached, I’m afraid.

    Antigone–I had a totally different read on Hank Rearden’s character in terms of his family, but I really have to disagree that James Taggart was portrayed as a “liberal.” He absolutely was not; one part of his character than Ayn Rand emphasized over and over again was his absolute belief in his birth and class privilege and his sneering contempt for the poor based solely upon their income status, not their work ethic (illustrated most clearly by his relationship with his wife). I’m not saying that Ayn loves the libs, but James Taggart wasn’t her representation of them–if anything, James Taggart would be much closer to a representation of what she would have considered George W. Bush to be like.

    Vi–I need to read me some Marx. :)

  6. Antigone says:

    I don’t know; I remember the scene early in the book with Mr. Taggart ineffectively trying to tell his sister that she just didn’t understand “the human element” when it came to why he didn’t want to use Reardon steel as opposed to his friend (I want to say Orem), and I thought that’s what conservatives thought of us; we just cared too much about the human element. Also, we want to do everything by committee, and refuse to take responsibility for anything. I know that’s not what liberals ARE, but I thought that was the straw-person she was trying to represent.

  7. KMTBERRY says:

    One of the most striking thing bout Rand’s writing (and the philosophy behind it) is that there is NO PLACE in it for children or the work of rearing them. NO PLACE. As in, NONE. WHATSOEVER.

    Dependency is so utterly eschewed that the actual state of natural dependency that exists in an INFANT, for example, is anathema. (I always wondered what would have happened to Dominique if Roarke’s rape of her had begun a pregnancy?)

    This seems to me to be the fatal flaw in Rand’s philosophy. Out here in the world of Reality, the bearing and rearing of children is, in the biological sense, the most important thing going on; in a social sense, it is generally thought to be Very Important, even by the willfully childless, such as myself. But one single infant is the spanner that destroys Rand’s entire machine.

    FOr that reason, her philosophy always seemed to me (once I had realized this problem) the philosophy of adolescence. From your post, too, it is clear that adolescence was the time that it was most useful to you.

  8. Evil Bender says:

    I don’t extend that argument to the population at large. I extend it only to my family, whose circumstances I know very intimately, intimately enough that I can safely and freely say that they won’t work hard (excluding my poor beleagered dad, of course, who passed away two years ago, I should mention), and therefore they don’t deserve what I have gotten by being willing to work hard. Sorry.

    You might not be willing to extend that argument, but extending it was one of Rand’s primary goals. People who were poor because of moral and intellectual failings, and asking better off people to support them was the worst of all possible crimes.

    Notably, Rand clearly had no use for the idea that factors (like privilege, to choose the obvious example) outside our control played a roll in our success: intelligence and hard work alone weren’t enough. No one understands Roark, for example, but his genius sees him through anyway.

    A large part of the liberal/progressive argument is that wealth accumulation is possible in large part because of societal factors like infrastructure, education, etc., and that therefore those who benefit from society’s structures to make their fortune have an obligation to give back to society. Rand hated any such implication, and it’s that rejection of the roles of chance, privilege and society that bother me so much about her work.

    Rand’s fans too often generalize from anecdotes like yours and draw conclusions about how society should be run, and these conclusions are invariably odious.

  9. Lisa Kansas says:

    Sigh…yet another individual who is, what did I say again, oh yeah, “the people who do spend time dwelling on her at all…dwell…on whatever misunderstanding of what she said happens to suit their agenda.”

    Not only that, you’re doing the same thing to what I wrote above! So pardon me if I don’t deeply respect what you have to say.

    On the slim off-chance that you’re actually interested in what I did say, rather than just venting–my anecdote is clearly presented as an example of why that argument doesn’t work to be extended beyond the boundaries of people that you know very well, and I pointed it out as a fallacy of the conservative (and by extension, some Randian followers) thoughts. Why you’d want to paraphrase my insight and then present it as a refutation of what I said beats me.

    Also, if you did more than skim The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, it’s hard to tell that from the following: “Notably, Rand clearly had no use for the idea that factors (like privilege, to choose the obvious example) outside our control played a roll in our success: intelligence and hard work alone weren’t enough. No one understands Roark, for example, but his genius sees him through anyway.”

    Rand presented Roark’s mentor as an absolute example of how intelligence and hard work are utterly insufficient to see someone through. She also presented Jim Taggart as an example of how privilege is more than enough to guarantee success regardless of a lack of intelligence and hard work. Seriously–if you want to critique someone’s writing, you really do need to read it first, or you end up looking like, well, an idiot.

  10. Lisa Kansas says:

    KTMBERRY, I agree, Ayn’s indifference to children was and is notorious. Actually, in her younger days, she wrote a short story (I believe unpublished) that presented a woman who had to choose between saving the life of her husband and saving the life of her child, and she had the woman saving the life of her husband and she clearly presented that as the right choice.

  11. Evil Bender says:

    Lisa Kansas:

    I think you’ve misunderstood me. I wasn’t trying to suggest that you believe anything like the position I’ve outlined–you make it quite clear in your post that you do not. What I’m trying to get at is that Rand’s hard line defenders gloss over everything except the triumph of the individual.

    I’m glad to hear your assessment of Rand, and I’ll cheerfully acknowledge your expertise when it comes to her view, and retract my own statement there.

    When I wrote that “Rand’s fans too often generalize from anecdotes like yours and draw conclusions about how society should be run, and these conclusions are invariably odious,” I’d thought it would be clear that I wasn’t talking about you. Whenever I interact with the hardcore Rand/Libertarian/CATO institute type, they consistently devalue anything but the individual’s heroic struggle against the state and the looters. If they’re not interpreting Rand’s views correctly, that’s good to know. But they’re certainly the position I see them taking over and over.

    Then we end up with wingnuts like Thiel arguing for a kind of “freedom” that works by marginalizing everyone who isn’t a mighty capitalist. Those might not have been Rand’s views, but they’re certainly the views of the hardcore capitalist Libertarian types that worship at her altar.

    My apologies for failing to distinguish properly between Rand’s own views and those of her self-professed followers. And my apologies as well for not making clear that I wasn’t counting you among those followers.

  12. Evil Bender says:

    I’ll add one more thing:

    They pitied the mentally handicapped, and so agitated for big bucks to be poured into educational resources for them. But they had no interest at all in the unusually bright. Because that is not pitiable, it is not worth a share of the pooled government resources. They pitied the homeless and third-generation welfare families and agitated for big bucks to be poured into them as well–but they had no pity for the working poor.

    I think it’s important to distinguish between lack of pity (or even lack of empathy) and failures of government systems to get aid where it is needed. But that the social safety net does a poor job of catching the working poor and lower middle class (something no liberal I know disputes) may be due more to systematic problems rather than ideological ones.

  13. violet says:

    Ayn’s indifference to children was and is notorious. Actually, in her younger days, she wrote a short story (I believe unpublished) that presented a woman who had to choose between saving the life of her husband and saving the life of her child, and she had the woman saving the life of her husband and she clearly presented that as the right choice.

    I haven’t studied Rand at all, but what KMTBERRY said has implications that are quite a bit worse than that. I mean, I don’t especially like children, and I don’t think it’s necessarily it’s wrong to conclude that, if pressed, you ought to save an adult human with wishes, desires, and lived experiences, over an infant with, at best, very little of any of those things (I wouldn’t presume to judge anyone in that situation, though). Utterly ignoring the fact that people—specifically, women—go through pregnancy, bear children, raise them, and feel a strong obligation to care for these creatures seems to be a different category of error. Such an error that, for example, lead you to conclude that women just do less work than men, period, which is why men justly hold power and wealth.

  14. Hari Narayan says:

    “Then we end up with wingnuts like Thiel arguing for a kind of “freedom” that works by marginalizing everyone who isn’t a mighty capitalist. Those might not have been Rand’s views, but they’re certainly the views of the hardcore capitalist Libertarian types that worship at her altar.”

    It’s hard to tell. The first half of Atlas Shrugged mostly glorifies the physically and psychologically flawless industrialists. The second half seems more populist; she acknowledges more that humble people can have her values and be competent at their less impressive occupations.

    It is what worldview you have, in Rand’s world, that determines your worth to a large extent. We are assured that every train passenger that died in the tunnel scene deserved it, because they all ascribed to evil, “unreasoning” philosophies.

  15. Lisa Kansas says:

    “We are assured that every train passenger that died in the tunnel scene deserved it, because they all ascribed to evil, “unreasoning” philosophies.”

    One of Ayn’s more florid and ridiculous passages. :)

  16. Lisa Kansas says:

    Actually, Vi, Ayn did have some stuff to say about motherhood as a job–she wasn’t unsympathetic to it as a job at all, though she had no time and no patience for the deification of motherhood based solely upon the fact that somebody somewhere deigned to reproduce. Seriously, Ayn doesn’t go off on the tangent you’re clearly worried about.

  17. Lisa Kansas says:

    Evil Bender: “But that the social safety net does a poor job of catching the working poor and lower middle class (something no liberal I know disputes) may be due more to systematic problems rather than ideological ones.”

    That’s an interesting thought–could you expound? (if you don’t mind) Because I’m not quite sure what you mean.

  18. Evil Bender says:

    Lisa:

    Sure. I’ll try to illustrate with an example: I grew up in a large family. When the time came to go to college, FAFSA’s expected family contribution was ridiculous, way out of our means, because it didn’t take into consideration number of dependents as a factor in determining my parent’s ability to contribute to my education. Clearly they couldn’t afford to pay the same amount to send each of nine kids to school as other families of the same income could afford to send one or two.

    I was fortunate to have access to inexpensive education, and I’m certainly not complaining that I’ve been treated unfairly. Rather, I’m just pointing out that the system, designed explicitly to help pay for college, was imperfect, in that one’s ability to receive federal aid was based on income without regard for other dependents, which created a class of people (most of whom were in worse financial shape than I) who could not benefit from FAFSA, but didn’t have enough income to attend college without Federal Aid.

    Where my interpretation of this and similar events differs from the one you seem (correct me, please, if I’m misinterpreting) to give in your post is that I don’t attribute this to a failure of pity towards me or anyone else; rather I see it as a systemic problem: state aid is by nature distributed imperfectly, sometimes by misguided welfare-to-work programs, sometimes by outright refusal to help marginalized groups, sometimes by the nature of the bureaucracy, and sometimes by casting too small a safety net. The result tends to be that not everyone receives the aid they should and that some people who unquestionably need that social net do not have access to it.

    While I don’t doubt that there are “pitying” liberals out there, I don’t see compelling evidence that the problems you and I have mentioned are failures of compassion: rather they seem to me to likely be failures of the system to adequately identify and adequately support those in need. They seem to be structural, not ideological, issues.

    My biggest objection to the Rand worshipers I’ve dealt with is their contempt for the social safety net as a concept (which we seem to agree on). I see things almost exactly the opposite way they do: the problem is the safety net needs to do a lot better job of catching all those in need, not just some of them.

  19. I read all Rand’s fiction, some of her non-fiction, and The Passion of Ayn Rand. The Passion of Ayn Rand led me to conclude she was not a egoist but a maligant narcisist.

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