Rand Is Like the Chicken Pox

Ayn Rand, the first libertarian hipster.

Ayn Rand, the first libertarian hipster.

Via an Ezra Klein tweet I stumbled accross this blog, which after briefly reading its two first posts, seems pretty good. Anyway, I really liked this:

A second topic of conversation last night allowed me to shoehorn in my pet theory about Ayn Rand: her works are like the chicken pox; it’s important to succumb and recover early enough in life that you can go on to lead a healthy and productive adulthood. If you’re exposed too late, however, there’s a nasty tendency for the disease to stick, ravage the mental faculties, and return in chronic waves. Sometimes, The Talented Videographer chides me for this quasi-elitist dismissiveness of a writer who remains so well-liked by so many. To which I respond: READ THE ABOVE.

So true.

Please Go Galt

Now, in fairness, I did read and enjoy The Fountainhead. Sure, I thought the prose was at times pedantic and the characters a bit absurd, but it definitely reaffirmed to me that I was right to have hated my job at the time I read it. And besides, Rand kept The Fountainhead pretty light on the public policy front. Rather, it seemed to  be much more a statement about art and culture than political systems. All that said, I tried to read Atlas Shrugged and gave up after reading a few hundred pages. I know it’s a cliche, but reading Atlas Shrugged was remarkably like watching paint dry in the sense that it’s a long, boring process, and an inability to accurately prognosticate the outcome would be a good indicator of severe brain damage. However, the two are not without differences. Namely, paint does not require maddening stupidity on the part of its laughably unrealistic antagonists to dry. Anyway, this is just a roundabout way of introducing this Matt Yglesias takedown of one of the more fatuous Atlas Shrugged comparisons ever made. Here’s the quote he attacks.

The government needs Liddy and Citigroup’s Vikram Pandit and Bank of America’s Ken Lewis to continue working to restore their firms to prosperity in the same way the looters in Rand’s novel need Hank Reardon and Francisco d’Anconia and Dagny Taggart, respectively, to run their steel mills, copper mines and railroad.

And here’s the quick dispatch.

Atlas Shrugged is a stupid book, Ayn Rand is a stupid woman, and John Galt’s ideas are stupid. That said, none of them are nearly this stupid. Rand’s novel isn’t about a world in which executives who build companies based on a lot of incorrect decisions, then pay themselves millions of dollars while bankrupting their firms, then come to the government hat-in-hand asking for bailouts, then find that the bailers-out want to attach some strings to their hundreds of billions of dollars in public funds and then go to hide out in Galt’s Gulch. That doesn’t make any sense at all.

If the folks running Citigroup and Bank of America and AIG were good at their jobs, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. That’s the point. But they weren’t good. They lost staggering sums of money. Their companies went broke. They had to beg for taxpayer dollars. You don’t get to do that and then turn around and “go Galt.”


Atlas Shrugged Updated

Anyone who’s had the century it would take to even read 1/5th of Atlas Shrugged will appreciate this. Atlas Shrugged updated for the current financial crisis…

“There’s a whole world out there of byzantine financial products just waiting to be invented, Dagny. Let the leeches run my factories into the ground! I hope they do! I’ve taken out more insurance on a single Rearden Steel bond than the entire company is even worth! When my old company finally tanks, I’ll make a cool $877 million.”

Their eyes locked with an intensity she was only beginning to understand. Yes, Hank … claim me … If we’re to win the battle against the leeches, we must get it on … right now … Don’t let them torture us for our happiness … or our billions.

He tore his eyes away. “I can’t. Sex is base and vile!”

“No, it’s an expression of our highest values and our admiration for each other’s minds.”

“Your mind gives me the biggest boner, Dagny Taggart.”

He fell upon her like a savage, wielding his mouth like a machete, and in the pleasure she took from him her body became an extension of her quarterly earnings report—proof of her worthiness as a lover. His hard-on was sanction enough.

People You Don’t Want to Meet

So a while back I was hoping to make a running segment of mocking craig’s list ads. I had sort of forgotten about it, but in a stroke of boredom I think I came accross the worst one imaginable:

Hank Reardon: I wait, I smile, I keep believing……I love you! – w4m – 24 (dc)

Reply to: pers-802849896@craigslist.org
Date: 2008-08-18, 10:57PM EDT

Hank Rearden. I love you. I am here. – w4m

I see you sometimes, across the platform, just passing me by. I smelled you yesterday walking down K street. Your strong, discplined smell…..and I dreamed of the hours I would drown in just being in your arms, I miss you on my brown skin, in my black hair, in my ear…….. I woke up to your voice last night, only to realize you were so far away…..and it strengthens me…..it makes me even more determined to wait.

I know you are there my dearest. That you are with me. I can stand it most of the time, except for those moments inbetween, purple and gray. Today was harder than the rest. I am keeping my head up, looking forward, trying so hard to not cry…but it’s so difficult. These passed months have been so difficult, so raw, so demanding…but I keep my faith, i continue to believe.

So I will say goodnight… I love you. I love you. I love you.

For those of you who don’t know, Hank “Reardon” is one of the main characters of Ayn Rand’s epic tome Atlas Shrugged, which contains roughly enough paper in one edition to wipe all the asses in Zimbabwe for a year. In this way, it’s quite a fitting testament to Rand’s contempt for all things natural. Anyway, Readren (whose name the poster couldn’t bother to spell correctly) is essentially the uber-capatlist consumed and driven only by his desire to mold the world as he sees fit. Whether or not you think this is a good thing is up for debate, but it really misses the point.

Ayn Rand is a really bad person on whom to base your idea of a good relationship. I’m not sure exactly of the specifics and I’m sure some Randist will comment — as they have wont to do — but I know it involved an affair with a married man who was simultaneously having an affair with another, younger woman. Her relationships seem to have influenced her characters, who can often be found discussing love in lofty, distant, and weirdly absolute terms despite the infrequency of their actual existence. Characters will stare at eachother, “knowing” their love exists, undeterred and unbothered by the fact they sleep with other people because only their love is “real”. Loco.

Rejoice Washington, DC: Another person you don’t want to meet.

Daily Philosophizing

I’m pretty sure that if so inclined, Ayn Rand could demolish me in a battle of intellect. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have the right – though she may disagree – to think she’s completely full of shit. You see, when Ayn Rand looked at a building or a factory or a highway, she saw a manifest testament to the “greatness” of mankind; tangible proof of our dominance of the Earth. When I look at a building, I see a functional piece of infrastructure suited to meet the demands of mankind’s survival. Sure, it’s impressive to think that someone designed it (inherited knowledge notwithstanding), but ultimately I wonder how a piece of infrastructure evinces an acquired dominance that’s somehow superior to any other species’ survival mechanisms.

Now I’ll grant Rand that when she was writing, mankind was in a blissfully ignorant state as to the potentially disastrous effects of unrestrained industrial enterprise (see, Warming, Global). But it seems to me the fact remains that buildings, highways, computers, etc., are only the result of our own species’ imperative motivation to sustain our presence on Earth. To wit, if not for our unchallenged claim to superior intellect, we’d be pretty fucked. Likewise fucked would be spiders or beavers had they not evolved to spin webs or build dams. Like other forms of life, we simply evolved to use our greatest asset to foster the best conditions for our continued livelihood. The only difference, of course, is that our greatest asset probably has a higher ceiling for achievement than other species. (I say “probably” because at the rate were going, we won’t need to worry about other species killing us. The danger we pose to ourselves however, is another matter entirely.) Anyway, there was no conscious force driving mankind to greatness – we never really had a choice. Think about it.