I wasn’t sourced for this New York Times report (to the best of my knowledge), but I might as well have been:
The enduring popularity of Ayn Rand bewilders her many detractors, who complain that her writing is melodramatic, heavy-handed and intellectually bereft.
All adjectives I might employ to describe Rand, whose economic and social “philosophies” are unsound by any epistemological, psychological, anthropological and plain ol’ logical estimation. Worse are her followers, who evince behaviors common to all cults, from sun-worship to Scientology. I could start with the self-centered core of the Objectivist belief system, which is ultimately not dissimilar to the Social Darwinist view of humanity’s place in the world. (To be fair, Rand placed Social Darwinism in the “junkyard of philosophy.”) Yet any “Might Makes Right”-style organizational outlook is destined to be but a footnote in the evolution of our species — that is, if we are to survive.
Rand fails to account for numerous factors in the human motivational-behavioral spectrum, from phases of early development to purely biological inheritances like the effect of testosterone on societal development and resource management. Far from being a distillation of naturally occurring phenomena, Randianism conveniently cherry picks those traits which strengthen her case for short-term, reward-based thinking — handily slapping the word “reason” in front of her toxic admonishments to make them seem less aberrant.
Objectivism has already been subject to a vast array of academic and economic criticism, so I’m not gonna get into that, but I can point you in the right direction. Instead, I’ll focus on what bothers me personally about this pseudo-scientific religion. As an elitist who is intimately familiar with thinkers ranging from Nietzsche to “Ragnar Redbeard,” one would think I’d be naturally inclined to sop up the “individualist” nonsense proffered by Rand and her followers. Even casting aside for a moment Objectivism’s intellectual failings, I am troubled by the mixed messages telegraphed by those in the cult. Their desire for a “pure” form of liberty — expressed in a relentless pursuit of “undistorted” capital markets and moral absolutism — is really a kind of laissez-faire fascism. The Nazis surely wouldn’t have stopped at killing Jews; that group having been exterminated, Hitler would’ve purged any other ethnicity he deemed insufficiently “Aryan.” The Objectivists’ nihilistic willingness to let entire global systems collapse, causing undue suffering in a quest for ever-purer markets, is hardly “noble” or “morally sound” — it’s evidence of the willful capital exploitation of human misery.
But it gets even more absurd. As I mentioned above, I consider myself a natural born elitist, and have no inherent problem with defiant nonconformism. Yet the psychological orientation of most Objectivists I’ve encountered is alarmingly similar to closeted Right Wing homosexuals. Objectivists refuse to put on the yoke for any external agency, yet the cult of personality surrounding Rand (and Rand’s own fawning fetish for cold-hearted “Men of Industry”) means that they never allow themselves what they so desperately desire — that is, to submit to a group, character or set of ideals more potent than their own. Like the Christianity Rand so abhors, Objectivism has become a slave religion, yet, like the Nine Inch Nails song, the slaves imagine themselves to be free!
Now, I know a thing or two about psychological dominance and submission (I’m obviously a dom), so I’m bothered by Objectivism’s lack of clarity in the assignment of roles. That’s why I’m always trying to convince Objectivists that what they really want is a master! Of course, this gets me nowhere, because the entire framework of the cult is based on the rejection of any authority other than one’s Ego. Round-and-round we go.
But let’s take it back to the world of finance and industry, shall we? One of Rand’s earliest converts was the economic Crypt Keeper himself, Alan Greenspan, who, in the aftermath of a near-global financial collapse, DISAVOWED A LIFETIME OF CAPITAL PHILOSOPHIES based almost entirely on Rand’s concept of the free market. “The system was absurd,” Greenspan said in April 2008. “It’s my fault. The system was stupid, a failure.” So why do Rand’s adherents (and their even more wishy-washy descendants, the Libertarians) keep insisting that what we need is more laissez-faire?
The reason I’m continuing to shout to the rafters about the near-criminal wrongness of Objectivism and the utter lack of political utility that is Libertarianism is because I anticipate a strong negative reaction to the current administration. This backlash will be driven not by culture war-propagating rednecks, but rather young, collegiate neo-neo-free marketeers. I’m hardly a fan of many of Obama‘s policies, but we mustn’t go backwards. I’m currently putting some energy into crafting a manifesto for a viable “Middle Way,” which will hopefully take the best of the current trend towards behavioral economics and greater cross-system cohesion. If I can manage to solicit enough opinions, design a credible framework and explore funding models, I’ve set myself a not-quite-a-joke goal of founding my own think tank by 2015. (Calling all progressive researchers and economists!) Until then, I feel it necessary to do everything in my admittedly limited power to depose the remnants of thoroughly discredited mindsets that stand in the way of progress.