• Tue, Apr 5 2011

The Editors Debate: Ayn Rand – Life Ruiner?

Salon is running a fascinating article about how a woman’s father embraced Ayn Rand’s philosophy and, as Ashley points out, subsequently began to suck at Dadding. He suggested his daughter file for legal emancipation so she could pay to live at home as a teenager, and now communicates with her mostly by forwarding on objectivist e-mails. The author offers a definition for objectivism which runs: What is objectivism? If you’d asked me that question as a child, I could have trotted to the foyer of my father’s home and referenced a framed quote by Rand that hung there like a cross. It read: “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” As a little kid I interpreted this to mean: Love yourself. Nowadays, Rand’s bit is best summed up by the rapper Drake, who sang: “Imma do me.”

Jennifer: Okay, I guess one thing that interests me about this article is whether this girl’s dad is just a monumental douchebag. Because when monumental douchebags embrace any philosophy and adhere to it rigorously, they’re going to to find ways to be dicks about it.

Ashley: I concur.

Jennifer: That said, have you ever met an objectivist who was NOT a monumental douchebag? Like, ever? Because I have not.

Ashley: Hm. Angelina Jolie is a Randian and she seems into kids and charity and stuff.

Jennifer: She seems like a pretty bad Randian, at least according to the tenets and understanding of objectivism in this story. Oh, and in the world. In the world, too.

Ashley: Because she cares about charity and stuff? Are you suggesting that the only likeable Randians are bad Randians?

Jennifer: Well, the objectivist code endorses selfishness so… Yes. From what I recall from everything, it’s mostly about doing you first.

Ashley: What if altruism makes you feel good? Is that still consistent with objectivism?

Jennifer: No.

Ashley: Okay.

Jennifer: I guess the thing that I find most troubling about Ayn Rand and obectivism in general is that it seems to only really work well in the little world Ayn Rand has created. Where the people are beautiful and brilliant and totally self sufficient. AND – I think this is interesting – where no one gets sick or has kids. Because I think even if you are beautiful and brilliant, those are situations where you’re going to have to be selfless or rely on the selflessness of others.

Ashley: Look, I’ve never been able to finish an Ayn Rand novel because I have the attention span of dishwashing detergent. But yeah, success comes to the really hot, aerobisized hardbodies, it seems

Jennifer: Who love being ravished.

Ashley: Okay, getting back to the story, I don’t know if Ayn Rand destroyed this girl’s life so much as her father being a completely unrepentant scumbag

Jennifer: Yes, but I think WOW, this is a life philosophy that really allows you to be an unrepentant scumbag.

Ashley: He probably could have taken any creed and made it destructive.

Jennifer: If you build everything around a principle that you’re going to meet all your own needs first, and that is the best way to live, it stands to reason you’ll disappoint others more than someone who took others’ needs into consideration in their decision making would. I mean, sure, he could become a religious zealot, but I think in most religious creeds you’ll find something about doing unto others. There is, at least as I understand it, very little of that in objectivism. I’m not denying that a philosophy that just says “go out and be awesome, do your awesome thing, be self-sufficient” isn’t initially appealing. Perhaps especially to people who are socially awkward and don’t naturally work terribly well with others. I’m just saying, it really lends itself to people behaving like full-on jerks.

Ashley: Yeah, but he also could have devoted himself to something nebulous like Art or Love and made that the justification for all his sociopathic tendencies, too. Like, making his kids finger paint until their nails chipped and their hands bled. I’m way, way, too much of a bleeding heart to be down with objectivism, but I think a feeble mind can take just about any system of belief or philosophy and stay feeble.

Jennifer: Well, yes, I devote myself to ART and I have a team of blind nuns beading everything in my apartment as we speak. By all rights, I should be up with objectivism. But I’m not, because I don’t really believe it’s something that lends itself to a terribly successful life, insofar as people do crave human companionship and in those instances of sickness, weakness, they actually do need other people. I always – perhaps this is because my family has a history of Alzheimer’s – read a lot of Rand’s magnificently self sufficient characters who pride themselves on never relying on anyone and think “wow, when you are old and demented and need someone who loves you to spoon peas into your mouth and hold your hand while you are scared of everything you are going to be fucked. You are going to be really, really fucked.” I suppose they’d kill themselves, but there are lesser, more fleeting instances of weakness in our lives. And I think there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that individuals who have a support system do better at overcoming problems – AA seems like an obvious example, but also groups to help beat cancer, sexual assault hotlines – and to maintain those networks you probably have to compromise and let your guard down and accept that you can’t go it entirely alone. I guess it all just seems like too cocky a philosophy to me. I mean, does anyone read this article and think “whoa, that dad is John Galt, I want to be him?” I feel like objectivists who want to emulate the characters in Rand’s books are like those dorky guys who wear a fedora because they think it makes them Don Draper. When in fact, they are simply a dorky guy in a fedora, who should have made the nuns bead a better hat.

Ashley: Fedora guys are the worst. But what thing hasn’t been tarnished by the people that like it?

Jennifer: ART

Ashley: So, aspiring performance artists.

Jennifer: Mimes. Fair point. Yeah, if you’re a sociopath, you can detrimentally affect other people’s lives following any creed. But I don’t think the creed usually endorses that kind of behavior, at least, the creed as it is viewed by logical people in the modern age. Like, if a protestant decides to beat the devil out of their children I believe other protestants will say “this is not a good idea, Rosemary.” I believe Randians will be less likely to care, because they’re principally thinking about themselves, not the actions of members of the surrounding community.

Ashley: But little children are often full of devils.

Jennifer: Oh, without question. But we know that because we’ve both adopted the “Indiana Jones Temple Of Doom Demon Priest” ideology. And I think you’ll agree that at other times, that ideology is all about heart.

Ashley: If by ‘heart’ you mean ‘ripping a man’s still-beating heart from his chest with my bare hands,’ yes, that’s my philosophy.

Jennifer: Hahaha.

Ashley: Temple of Doom is awesome.

Jennifer: TEMPLE OF DOOM ROCKS. Jinx.

Ashley: And I think we–you, I, Ayn, this abusively negligent father, his beleaguered daughter–can all agree there. Indiana Jones unites us all, if you think about it.

Jennifer: Oh my God, he does. Wait. But he’s so selfless. But also… Indy doesn’t take any shit. He named himself after a dog.

Ashley: Didn’t George Lucas name the character after his dog? And in that way, Stephen Spielberg is like John Galt.

Jennifer: You haven’t read any of Rand’s books have you?

Ashley: What is a book?

Jennifer: We’re done here.

Share This Post:
  • Futuralon

    Ayn Rand – terrible novelist.

    • Meghan Keane

      Ayn Rand – novel terriblist.

  • ho

    vaaapid

    • Jennifer Wright

      Please clarify, ho, we don’t know if we hate you or not.

  • Carey

    Best thing I have read or will read all week.