Salon presents a young adult’s description of how Ayn Rand destroyed her family. This vivid and intensely personal article by Alyssa Bereznak exposes the ugly underbelly of objectivism, summed up by the following words by Ayn Rand:
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.
I disagree with those who believe that Rand offers a path to a meaningful life. I see life as a yin-yang dynamic, a struggle we all have trying to balance our own needs and wants with the needs of the group. Those who deny this are hypocrites (as was Ayn Rand, who accepted social security benefits). Those who claim that our primary duty is to serve others also ignore reality–that is not how we are wired. It is impossible to follow these word of Jesus, the antipode of Ayn Rand: “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:33. We are all, to some extent, selfish. Those of us who completely stop tending to our own needs will die. On the other hand, those who follow Rand claim that we merely need to attend to our own local needs as
individuals ignore that we are not wired that way either. We are intensely social beings. It is quite a spectacle, then, to see so many modern day conservatives ostensibly embracing both Jesus and Rand.
Many, perhaps most, of the greatest accomplishments of humans occurs when they reach other to each other. As I see it, the trick is to find the appropriate balance between self and others. Those who fixate on either extreme become bizarre cartoons who engage in destructive or self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. Rand, herself, intensely admired a serial killer, something her admirers like to ignore. Mark Ames explains:
One reason most countries don’t find the time to embrace Ayn Rand’s thinking is that she is a textbook sociopath. In her notebooks Ayn Rand worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of “ideal man” she promoted in her more famous books . . .
Rand’s philosophy can be summed up by the title of one of her best-known books: The Virtue of Selfishness . She argues that all selfishness is a moral good, and all altruism is a moral evil, even “moral cannibalism,” to use her words. To her, those who aren’t like-minded sociopaths are “parasites,” “lice” and “looters.”
As Alyssa Bereznak’s article explores, we are also faced with a chicken-and-egg problem. Does Ayn Rand cause people to be selfish, or are people who are already extraordinarily self-centered attracted to Rand and use her as justification? Another way to ask the question: What kinds of people are willing to vigorously embrace the advice of Ayn Rand? I leave open the possibility that some of these adherents are merely pushing back against those who claim that they have a constant duty to ignore their own needs and, instead, spend most or all of their energy for the benefit of others. Other adherents, however, are revealing world views and moral attitudes that are massively out of kilter. They should not be allowed to serve as political leaders, because they are in denial of half of what it is to be a human being.