Ayn Rand School For Tots: Notes on Psychosis In American Capitalism

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I could have trashed this up by letting my emotional dislike for Ayn Rand takeover. Instead I put together a small sprinkling of notes to describe Ayn Rand. There’s much more that can and has been said about this woman, just as there’s books on Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and other psychotics.  A little research goes a long way. Ayn Rand fans have a terrible grasp on the real Ayn Rand, or they themselves suffer from the same sickness as Rand. That’s cool, even Charles Manson has fans. Why is Rand’s philosophy bad for mankind?

Conservatives keep claiming liberals want a “cradle-to-grave nanny state.” That rhetoric has distracted us from the real social re-engineering taking place all around us. The right, along with its “centrist” collaborators, is transforming our nation into a bloodless and soulless Randian State.

The Simpsons made a running joke out of Springfield’s ” Ayn Rand School for Tots,” where toddlers fend for themselves in playrooms whose signs say things like “Helping is Futile.” That’s very funny. What is happening to our country isn’t.

The Randian State is built in the morally depraved mold of right-wing über-heroine Rand, who reviled the less fortunate – and even those who tried to help them – as ” parasites,” while at the same time idolizing sociopathic killers.

That last statement isn’t rhetoric. It’s reporting. “He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman,” Rand wrote admiringly of child murderer and dismemberer William Edward Hickman. “He can never realize and feel ‘other people.’”

The Randian State’s first manifesto may have been the startling document produced by Ronald Reagan’s “blue ribbon” education commission in 1983, which proposed to use schools as factories for more effectively turning Millennials – and every generation that follows – into usable raw material for corporate production.

Remember Margaret Thatcher’s remark, “There is no such thing as society, only individuals”? That’s the sociopathic mindset in a nutshell. Of course, Thatcher added, “and their families,” an obligatory conservative feel-good trope. But as Hanauer told Chris Hayes, “These are the people who did not go to their kid’s soccer games.” In short, Thatcher was lying when she tacked on “families.” Sociopaths are like that — they lie a lot.

A psychosis is a major mental disorder. A psychopathic personality shows not a disorder of personality but rather a defect of personality, together with a set of defenses evolved around that defect. The defect relates to the most central element of the human personality: its social nature. The psychopath is simply a basically asocial or antisocial individual who has never achieved the developed nature of homo domesticus.

For those who haven’t had the great misfortune of reading “Atlas Shrugged,” the book is premised on the idea that if the world’s “creative leaders,” businessmen, innovators, artists (i.e., the “makers”) went on strike, our entire society would collapse. These strikers hide out in a utopian compound in the mountains of Colorado while the rest of us despondently wail and gnash our teeth and beg for them to once again bestow their creativity upon us.

The appeal of the Randian vision to today’s wealthy is obvious: it puts them back at the center of economic life. They long ago realized that rather than being the beneficent “makers” they had always imagined themselves to be, they were the parasitical “takers” they so despised. Their wealth, which was once a symbol that God praised their work, became an instrument for social change (Carnegie, Rockefeller) and eventually good in itself (Gates, Jobs). Social Darwinism, the idea that the economy is a “survival of the fittest” competition where the superior end up on top, exults the businessman as superior and deserving. But as Henry George noted of Herbert Spencer (the founder of Social Darwinism): “Mr. Spencer is like one who might insist that each should swim for himself in crossing a river, ignoring the fact that some had been artificially provided with corks and other artificially loaded with lead.” F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thorstein Veblen ridiculed the idea that the wealthy were in any way superior. Social Darwinism has resurged in conservative thought, supplementing the Randian vision to fortify a social order in which a minuscule proportion of society reaps its rewards.

Because the wealthy are no longer willing to use their wealth for good, they have decided to glorify the wealth itself as good.

Excerpt from alternet.org Conservatives Used to Mock Ayn Rand — How Did She Become a Hero to Right-Wing Nerds Everywhere? http://www.alternet.org/conservatives-used-mock-ayn-rand-how-did-she-become-hero-right-wing-nerds-everywhere

The growing influence on the American right of Ayn Rand, the libertarian right’s answer to Scientology’s novelist-philosopher L. Ron Hubbard, is a wonder to behold. When she died in 1982, Alissa Rosenbaum — the original name of the Russian-born novelist — was the leader of a marginal cult, the Objectivists, who had long been cast out of the mainstream American right. But the rise of Tea Party conservatism, fueled by white racial panic and zero-sum distributional conflicts in the Great Recession, has turned this minor, once-forgotten figure into an icon for a new generation of nerds who imagine themselves Nietzschean Ubermenschen oppressed by the totalitarian tyranny of the post office and the Social Security administration.

Rand-worshipers can be found in, among other places, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. At a 2005 gathering to honor her memory, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan declared, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

The late Gore Vidal would not have been surprised by the former Republican vice-presidential candidate’s choice of a patron saint. After all, it was Vidal who observed, in a 1961 article for Esquire:

She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the ‘welfare’ state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you’re dumb or incompetent that’s your lookout.

Vidal might be dismissed as a biased leftist. But the late William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of post-1945 conservatism who engaged in a famous televised spat with Vidal during the 1968 Democratic convention, shared Vidal’s contempt for Ayn Rand. After her death in 1982, Buckley wrote in the New York Daily News: “She was an eloquent and persuasive anti-statist, and if only she had left it at that, but no. She had to declare that God did not exist, that altruism was despicable, that only self-interest was good and noble.” In 2003 , Buckley described his encounter with Rand’s interminable propaganda novel “Atlas Shrugged”: “I had to flog myself to read it.”

Ayn Rand and her “Objectivist” cult members never forgave Buckley for reading them out of the mainstream American right, along with the equally crackpot John Birch Society. In 1957 Buckley, then the young editor of the flagship magazine of the conservative movement, National Review, published a review of “Atlas Shrugged” by Whittaker Chambers, the ex-communist intellectual who had played a key role in exposing Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy.

Chambers titled his review ” Big Sister Is Watching You.” He wrote:

Its story is preposterous. It reports the final stages of a final conflict (locale: chiefly the United States, some indefinite years hence) between the harried ranks of free enterprise and the “looters.” These are proponents of proscriptive taxes, government ownership, Labor, etc. etc. The mischief here is that the author, dodging into fiction, nevertheless counts on your reading it as political reality. “This,” she is saying in effect, “is how things really are. These are the real issues, the real sides. Only your blindness keeps you from seeing it, which, happily, I have come to rescue you from.”

The juvenile plot of “Atlas Shrugged” is a melodramatic war between “Children of Light” and “Children of Darkness”:

The Children of Light are largely operatic caricatures. In so far as any of them suggests anything known to the business community, they resemble the occasional curmudgeon millionaire, tales about whose outrageously crude and shrewd eccentricities sometimes provide the lighter moments in Board rooms. Otherwise, the Children of Light are geniuses. One of them is named (the only smile you see will be your own): Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastian d’Anconia.

Today’s libertarian rightist radicals distinguish between “makers” and “takers.” In the flagship conservative magazine of the 1950s, Whittaker Chambers did not tolerate such crude sloganeering:

In Atlas Shrugged, all this debased inhuman riffraff is lumped as “looters.” This is a fairly inspired epithet. It enables the author to skewer on one invective word everything and everybody that she fears and hates. This spares her the plaguey business of performing one service that her fiction might have performed, namely: that of examining in human depth how so feeble a lot came to exist at all, let alone be powerful enough to be worth hating and fearing. Instead, she bundles them into one undifferentiated damnation.

Long before the historian Corey Robin made the case for the Nietzschean roots of much modern libertarianism, Chambers detected Nietzsche’s influence on the author of “Atlas Shrugged”:

Miss Rand acknowledges a grudging debt to one, and only one, earlier philosopher: Aristotle. I submit that she is indebted, and much more heavily, to Nietzsche. Just as her operatic businessmen are, in fact, Nietzschean supermen, so her ulcerous leftists are Nietzsche’s “last men,” both deformed in a way to sicken the fastidious recluse of Sils Maria. And much else comes, consciously or not, from the same source.

Chambers concluded that despite all her talk about individualism and liberty, Rand was driven by a romantic and illiberal vision in which a heroic minority of superhuman geniuses would remake a corrupt society from top to bottom:

One Big Brother is, of course, a socializing elite (as we know, several cut-rate brands are on the shelves). Miss Rand, as the enemy of any socializing force, calls in a Big Brother of her own contriving to do battle with the other. In the name of free enterprise, therefore, she plumps for a technocratic elite (I find no more inclusive word than technocratic to bracket the industrial-financial-engineering caste she seems to have in mind).

Chambers did not live to see one of Ayn Rand’s early disciples, Alan Greenspan, become chairman of the Federal Reserve, the ultimate technocrat of the financial caste, if not of industrialists and engineers.

Rand’s conceited Nietzschean elitism was shared by another libertarian hero, Friedrich von Hayek, who wrote to Rand: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you.” ( Hayek later confessed that he was defeated by “Atlas Shrugged”: “Although I tried seriously to read the book, I failed, because there was no romance in it. I tried even more diligently to read that fellow John Galt’s hundred-page declaration of independence, and I knew I’d be questioned on all that, but I just couldn’t get through it.”)

The mentality of Ayn Rand, as described by Chambers back in 1957 in the pages of the leading conservative magazine, is remarkably similar to the mentality of the Tea Party right that seeks to sabotage government (as Rand’s heroes sabotage the economy), no matter the consequences for the nation:

In addition, the mind which finds this tone natural to it shares other characteristics of its type. 1) It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it. 2) It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked.

What should we conclude from the fact that Ayn Rand’s works are admired by 21st century American rightists like Paul Ryan who have forgotten, if they ever knew about, sophisticated conservative intellectuals like Chambers and Buckley? Gore Vidal’s comments in 1961 seem chillingly prescient in 2014immorality:

Ayn Rand’s ‘philosophy’ is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society. Moral values are in flux. The muddy depths are being stirred by new monsters and witches from the deep. Trolls walk the American night. Caesars are stirring in the Forum. There are storm warnings ahead.

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3 thoughts on “Ayn Rand School For Tots: Notes on Psychosis In American Capitalism

  1. A thought-provoking essay, Hipmonkey. It has been decades since I read Atlas Shrugged, but your cogent and well-supported critique makes me curious to know why I saw the book so differently.

    At the time I read it I was in college — my organic chemistry teacher recommended it to me, telling me I reminded him of one of the tragic heroic characters. I identified with those who challenged power, and saw the elite as puppeteers who consciously promoted mediocrity as the rule. Those who challenged the mediocrity of the ruling elite paid the price.

    These profoundly different perspectives fascinate me! It makes me think of something I read in literary criticism that I struggled to understand initially — the reader is part of the text and ultimately gives the book meaning. Meaning depends on the lens of the reader. It leads me to ask if those on the margins see different messages in Rand and other works. I have certainly found this to be the case with other books I have read — my interpretations of the text proved to be something the authors didn’t understand and couldn’t have written.

    So I am honestly puzzled how I missed this! Could it be that through an Ojibwe or bi-cultural lens, the message I saw was quite opposite to what Rand meant to convey? That only those who resist mediocrity and hegemony are capable of humanity and community?

    Like

  2. How cool that you identified with the underdogs in the story! That’s actually very sane and rational. It must be shocking to realize that Ayn Rand and her supporters actually identified with, and rooted for the elites. I don’t suppose you’re up for a re-reading? It’s in movie form on Netflix right now.

    Liked by 1 person

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