Monday, August 13, 2012

No, John Galt...er...Ayn Rand - You're Wrong

If you haven't studied Ayn Rand, do so.  Her name is being dropped all over the right wing political circuit these days.  American Republicans love her.  Libertarians consider her the mother of their movement, even though she considered their kind anarchists.

Ayn Rand considers the idea of free market capitalism to be the purest form of the protection of individual freedoms, allowing humanity to be freed from the tyranny of government.  This isn't a surprising conclusion, being that her native Russian family were wealthy Jewish merchants who were used and abused by the Czars as Jews and then later, by the Bolsheviks, as wealthy merchants.  It is my opinion that this shaped her extremism to the exclusion of all other inputs.

My disagreement with her is simple.  I disagree with her premise, narrated by the fictional character, John Galt, in Atlas Shrugged, that the worth of a human being can be linked directly to his amount of income.  Nothing more, nothing less.

If you carry this idea out to it's end - and she did - those who have much are the intelligent brains who should never be questioned, while those who lack are simply too stupid to understand the genius of the upper echelons of society.  Rand singlehandedly revived the idea that rich were morally pure while the poor and middle class were leeches on the rich and were, in essence, damaged goods - rats of necessity, if you will.  In fact, in her purest philosophy, those rats were not even a necessity, but merely a cancer on a perfect society.

I find this position to be morally reprehensible.  And it all comes down to a question that one of my college mates murmured as simply a "what if" that stuck with me.  This mate said, "If only we humans didn't have to spend our entire lives going to work and coming home, every day, just to exist."

In my opinion, that reality will never, and could never happen.  But it does shed light on what I deem as more important in considering the worth of a man or woman than income.  I find the worth of a human being to be more nuanced and complex - with one of those factors being income, in some circumstances.  But there is so much more.  How they interact with people.  What they do in a pickle.  How they treat family, friends, enemies, and strangers.  How they parent.  What tone of voice they use when they speak to me or those that I love.  What they do with their free time (have fun!). 

So much more goes into the worth of a person and yet it is purely subjective on my part.  What I consider good, others may consider less so.  What I see as valued, others may see as objectionable.  Thus, worth cannot be summed up in a definitive philosophy but must be determined by each person in their own unique way.

I am currently staying with a family while my van engine is replaced.  They have a beautiful home, a beautiful family, a chaotic household, a bright future, wonderful food, no room for error, and yet, here my family is, sitting in their house, enjoying their company and food, bothering them for a week.  What do they expect in return?  Nothing!  And yet they are so grateful when we do simple things like wash the dishes.

They aren't rich.  They are hard workers, yes.  But, as I sit here, I look at them and see the pure beauty of humanity.  Humanity that accepts assistance.  Humanity that rents.  Humanity that has many children.  Humanity that needs their children to help with the finances.  Humanity that started a business that failed miserably.  Humanity that loves chocolate like no other family I have ever seen.  Humanity that moves like a bat out of hell and yet works like a Swiss Watch.  Yes.  I see worthy human beings.  Worthy of my love and adoration. 

These are the people that I look up to when someone asks me, "What do you think constitutes the worth of a human being."

Yes, Ayn Rand.  You were wrong.  Humanity is so much more than how much I am worth to your cult society.  I am not here to uplift your economic utopia.  I am here to be like this family - loving others to the best of my ability, in all my glorious brokeness.

5 comments:

  1. Petticoat PhilosopherAugust 14, 2012 at 12:15 AM

    Beautifully expressed, Joe. :-)

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  2. I've sometimes wondered if I should bother reading Atlas Shrugged, since so many people seem to like the book. (It's apparently one of Paul Ryan's favorites.) Then I read something like this and decide, perhaps, it's best to just get the basic idea from Cliff Notes. Ayn Rand just sounds absolutely....toxic.

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  3. I want to cry right now at the beauty of your words. I am overwhelmed.

    While you were here, I wept in the car to my older child, "I just don't want you to be poor like I have been all these years." She said, "But mommy, we have all been so happy." And in my mind I agreed, but my heart is weary of scrambling every month for rent. I really wish our intangibles could translate into some greenbacks, but we can't seem to make it happen right now. Just hoping for promotions and a good job for me in the future...hating Ayn Rand and those who have comtempt for the poor; they have no clue.

    Thanks again for your kind words.

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  4. Great post, I just want to say that not every libertarian approves of Ayn Rand, (raises hand). I haven't read Altas Shrugged, I have read Anthem, and that will be the last book I read of hers. Her arrogance and selfishness can be very revolting.

    A person's wealth is not the measure of who they are as a person, it's how they treat others, especially people that they have power over.

    About government aid, however, I am more moderate than most liberterians, but from this and your past posts, I think I'm probably more to the right than you are.

    Social Security and Medicare: I completely aprrove of, I have no issues with the government helping those who can not help themselves (such as the elderly and disabled). I do think, however, that they need to be transitioned into a more sustianable system, the way they are organized now is a recipe for future disaster and collapse, which would leave the vunerable people on these programs in even worse than they were before.

    General welfare benefits, though should end, and the tax money used for them should be used to do away with the witholding tax. That would help poor and middle class workers keep more of what they earn, and put more money into the economy (and create more jobs), which would be better for the poor and our economy in the long run.

    The reason I am so opposed to general welfare is partly from personal experience. My father became disabled when I was 14, and before Social Security kicked in, we tried to apply for help from the state. Do you know what we got? Nothing! Yet I watched as a constant stream of people pulling up in Cadilliac SUV's and expensive designer clothes came in and marched out with benefits.

    I still see much the same happening in the St. Louis area today, the suburb I live in, I see all the time, people with disabilities and honest hard working people who just happen to be down on their luck getting nothing from the government while countless numbers of heroin addicts (the St. Louis are has a horrible problem with heroin and coedine), and people who simply refuse to work getting all the aid they want. I'm sure there are exceptions to what I am seeing, but I'm hard pressed to find anyone on welfare in this area who actually needs it.

    It makes me furious that people who really need help can't get it.
    The system is horribly corrupt, and the people who believe that it's urban legend that our tax dollars support millions of people who don't deserve it need to live in my town for a month. They'll see it for themselves....

    That's my rant for today.

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  5. Libertarians are fairly likely to be influenced by Rand*, some might even describe her as the mother of their movement, but most would not (and those that do I would venture are factually mistaken; as you say, she hated us before it was cool).

    *I was a full-blown anarchist before I ever read anything by Rand, so I wasn't impressed and never found her particularly radical or mindblowing. And I do think her philosophy is pretty toxic, and she ran a fairly authoritarian little cult in her actual life. Even so, every time I see some self-important absusive asshole using the tired old silencing tactic of shaming their victims over how "selfish" they are for threatening the marriage/family/church/society/country/whatever, my heart warms a little for the old Russian gal. Her philosophy was rotten from branch to root, but there were valuable insights and intuitions that sparked it.

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