Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Back With A Randy Post

As my mother frequently points out, I'm not blogging much these days. That's true. And lame of me. But alas, that's how it is right now. Blame it on a lack of time, but more accurately on a lack of motivation. Here's something worth linking, however. A review of two recent biographies of Ayn Rand - or more precisely, a piece using the recent publication of two bios as a chance to ask why we, as a country, have embraced something so asinine as Rand's rantings.

And does any debate better illustrate our asinine collective character than that revolving slowly around health care? Okay, not really our collective character - I hope - but a side of our character that gets a hell of a lot of press. I have friends who tell me with a straight face that caring about the health of anyone outside of the immediate family and maybe some close friends simply isn't his job.

Pause to consider our religious founding and frequently waived Christian flags. What would Jesus say to Ayn Rand?

Content to note:
I don't find it hard to understand why this happened to Rand: I feel sympathy for her, even as I know she would have spat it back into my face. What I do find incomprehensible is that there are people—large numbers of people—who see her writing not as psychopathy but as philosophy, and urge us to follow her. Why? What in American culture did she drill into? Unfortunately, neither of these equally thorough, readable books can offer much of an answer to this, the only great question about her.

Rand expresses, with a certain pithy crudeness, an instinct that courses through us all sometimes: I'm the only one who matters! I'm not going to care about any of you any more! She then absolutizes it in an amphetamine Benzedrine-charged reductio ad absurdum by insisting it is the only feeling worth entertaining, ever.

This urge exists everywhere, but why is it supercharged on the American right, where Rand is regarded as something more than a bad, bizarre joke? In a country where almost everyone believes—wrongly, on the whole—that they are self-made, perhaps it is easier to have contempt for people who didn't make much of themselves. And Rand taps into something deeper still. The founding myth of America is that the nation was built out of nothing, using only reason and willpower. Rand applies this myth to the individual American: You made yourself. You need nobody and nothing except your reason to rise and dominate. You can be America, in one body, in one mind.

She said the United States should be a "democracy of superiors only," with superiority defined by being rich. Well, we got it. As the health care crisis has shown, today, the rich have the real power: The vote that matters is expressed with a checkbook and a lobbyist. We get to vote only for the candidates they have pre-funded and receive the legislation they have preapproved. It's useful—if daunting—to know that there is a substantial slice of the American public who believe this is not a problem to be put right, but morally admirable.

We all live every day with the victory of this fifth-rate Nietzsche of the mini-malls. Alan Greenspan was one of her strongest cult followers and even invited her to the Oval Office to witness his swearing-in when he joined the Ford administration. You can see how he carried this philosophy into the 1990s: Why should the Supermen of Wall Street be regulated to protected the lice of Main Street?

The figure Ayn Rand most resembles in American life is L. Ron Hubbard, another crazed, pitiable charlatan who used trashy potboilers to whip up a cult. Unfortunately, Rand's cult isn't confined to Tom Cruise and a rash of Hollywood dimwits. No, its ideas and its impulses have, by drilling into the basest human instincts, captured one of America's major political parties.
It's not hard to feel the L. Ron Hubbard analogy coming - I thought of that too: how does a NOVEL inspire a movement? And not a marketing movement - sure, the latest Vampire teen sex/non-sex-a-thon can sell a lot of t-shirts and notebooks - but a movement by which we set public policy, for the love of all things holy.

Subscribing to Rand's writing and views is the slacker's way of dealing with life's problems. It's the easiest of easy ways out.

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