How Ayn Rand destroyed a home

| August 16, 2012 | 13 Replies

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

Image by Wikipedia Commons

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.

Share

Tags:

Category: Altruism, Friendships/relationships, Good and Evil, Propaganda, Quality of Life

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (13)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Erich Vieth says:

    From The Nation:

    [Paul] Ryan . . . subscribes to Rand’s heartless belief in refusing to aid the less fortunate. But Ryan does not share any of Rand’s commitments to freedom, other than the freedom to be selfish.

    . . . Writing in the Huffington Post, ACLU president Anthony Romero observed, “There’s no constitutional daylight between Ryan’s civil liberties positions and Romney’s and that means a pall of darkness over our Constitution and the rights it guarantees.”

    Here are some examples:

    -§ Immigration: Libertarians believe in open borders, but Paul Ryan doesn’t. Ryan opposes the DREAM Act and he voted in favor of building a fence along the US border with Mexico.

    -§ Gay rights: Ryan has voted in favor of amending the US Constitution to ban gay marriage. . . .

    -§ Reproductive rights: Ryan has all the usual right-wing positions on abortion. He has voted to ban federal funding of abortions and even for training healthcare providers in abortion care. He also opposes requiring insurers to provide coverage for contraception . . .

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    A friend just emailed me with this comment: “Objectivism sounds like the perfect teenage philosophy to me: total selfishness, and feeling good about it too. You gotta wonder about how emotionally/ethically stunted an adult who subscribes to it has to be.”

  3. Jason says:

    I understand why people drink the Ayn Rand kool-aid. Atlas shrugged is a huge book in which making it through feels like quit an accomplishment. That coupled with the feeling of “I know something the rest of the rubes don’t because they are too stupid to read such an intellectual and enlightening book” can really make a fella act like a complete supercilious shithead for about 6 months. That’s what happened with me back in 2000 when I read that book as well as Fountainhead. I was around 22 years old. Thank the FSM it wore off. Why does it not for others? I agree that it probably has to do with getting stuck in an immature state of mind but why would that be? I really wonder.

  4. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    A pair of observations on Rand:

    Receiving charity can be rationalized under Rand’s philosophy. An objectivist could simply claim that accepting charity from anyone stupid enough to offer it is a selfish act and therefore accepting money is a heroic act, while giving the money is not.

    This blindness to the effects of ones own selfishness on others seems to be the definitive characteristic of Rand worshipers.

    I managed to slog through about a third of “Atlas Shrugged”, but I noted what appeared to be a disdain for all middlemen, including bankers.

    If anyone could be described as parasites on the economy the financiers would be vampires among mosquitoes. It is, however, these Mack-daddy parasites who prefer to cast themselves (in their own imaginations) in the roles or Rand’s “captains of industry”.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    ‎”Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society. . . . To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil.” — Gore Vidal, 1961

  6. Edgar Montrose says:

    I think that Atlas Shrugged is compelling for reasons that many, including (and perhaps especially) the honorable contributors here on DI, fail to recognize. As I have written here previously, when I read Atlas Shrugged, I completely missed its amoral, selfish social aspects, and embraced its intellectual vs. non-intellectual aspects. I am an engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur, and I was at a place in my career where my work was going unrecognized by people who, frankly, did not and could not understand it, yet who could directly affect my life. I resented the fact that the good work that I was doing was not only unappreciated, but even ridiculed by people who lacked the credentials to do so, and Atlas Shrugged addressed my resentment directly.

    Today I am ashamed that I missed the moral and ethical message of Atlas Shrugged, but I can’t say that I have changed my mind about the intellectual message. My only consolation is that some of that good work from earlier in my career is finally starting to prove itself, i.e., “I told you so.”

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Edgar: Good point. I know from your comments that you are well educated and self-critical. The danger of the Ayn Rand message that took root for you is that many people are not like you. Dunning-Kruger prevails http://dangerousintersection.org/2010/11/06/more-on-the-dunning-kruger-cognitive-bias/ . Many people THINK that they are way ahead of the pack when they don’t realize that people who are rejecting their work are rightfully rejecting it. Ayn Rand was never shy, rarely humble. Too bad she didn’t couple the message that you appreciated with the need to be hyper self-critical, at least at times.

    • Edgar Montrose says:

      Well stated, Erich. I can be as prone to self-aggrandizement as anyone, but at the same time I am constantly aware of my own shortcomings. The cognitive dissonance is deafening.

    • Edgar,

      That’s frankly the thing that appealed to me initially, although I am not an engineer. But I have always been a science fiction fan and there has always been a strain of siege-awareness in SF over the disconnect between intellect (i.e. science) and “common sense” as expressed by the anti-intellectual elements. I fully embrace the idea at the time I read her canon of “I made this, it’s mine, and if you don’t understand it, screw you. You do not have a right to my creativity.”

      In this, Rand was tactically very clever. Don’t feel bad about missing the moral aspects, she layered it under some rather well-observed processes we can all identify and in some instances sympathize with.

      As I’ve pointed out before, some of her “philosophy” is understandable given her origins. She came from a country and a system that was bent on eradicating the individual as any kind of worthwhile factor. She came here to a country that, at least rhetorically, praised individual effort. Sadly, she drew the wrong lessons and missed completely the social networks that made all that individual value matter.

    • Edgar Montrose says:

      Mark,

      I guess the dividing line is between, “I made this, it’s mine …” and, “… if you don’t understand it, screw you.” I certainly identify with the first part of the statement, but I have never sought to “screw” anybody, whether they understood my work or not. I really just want the opportunity to personally benefit from whatever talents I might have. But I would never dream of intentionally harming someone else in the process. Ayn Rand’s philosophy does not stop at building one’s self up; it is not complete until one also tears others down.

  7. John D'anconia says:

    I just stumbled on this website and read some of the out-of-context quotes/facts/assumptions/ill considered opinions and conclusions that are obviously designed to smear Ayn Rand and Objectivism by a those who don’t understand (or are purposely unwilling or simply unable to understand) the FULL CONTEXT of Rand’s highly moral philosophy.

    Example: “Rand accepted social security.” Why not? Her property rights were violated for her entire working life. Hello! She paid into the SS system and forcibly had her income taxed by the IRS, like all Americans. Nothing immoral or hypocrital about taking back some of what has been stolen from you.

    Example 2: Rand extolled the virtues of selfishness. But showed that helping others (if one were in a position to do so) was a good, rational, selfish thing to do if that person/organization or what have you, is a value to you. To save the life of your spouse at the risk of your own life IS a selfish to do if you love your spouse and don’t wish to go on living without him/her. For more, actually read Rand’s “The Virtue Of Selfishness”.

    Example 3: “Rand intensely admired a serial killer” (William Hickman). Ok, if someone who was familiar with the William Hickman case but had never heard of Ayn Rand before somehow stumbled across that particular journal entry written by Rand in 1928, I can fully understand why he might properly conclude that Ayn Rand must have been some sort of strange, sociopathic kook.

    BUT putting things in context, one must (or at least should) remember that Rand’s journal entries on Hickman are nothing more than creative fantasizing, a sort of mental “what if” exercise. It is pretty obvious to anyone who has an honest, working mind, why such an exercise would be of great potential value to an aspiring young novelist, as Ayn Rand was in 1928, at the age 23.

    While I’m at it, let me put some more facts of Rand’s journals on Hickman in the proper context:

    1. The fact that her journal entries were PRIVATE, not intended for publication and, therefore, the contents were not written for the purpose of being objective to any audience other than Ayn Rand’s own eyes. Her journal entries make crystal clear that she thought the crime committed was terrible. But what she noticed, she says, is that a big part of the PUBLIC REACTION to the criminal was NOT his crime (others had done as bad) but his apparently forthright, standup manner. The mob, she observed, hated him more for his apparent independence than for his bestial behavior. Ayn Rand picked an element – one man’s standup behavior – and noticed a connection to another element – a mindless mob reaction – and began to think about that connection abstracted from its original, ghastly historical circumstances.

    2. The entirety of Ayn Rand’s explicit philosophy which was consistent across volumes of works written over the span of many decades – including her philosophy’s contempt for those who initiate force.

    3. The fact that Ayn Rand herself dismissed it all as probable “idealizing.”

    4. The fact that Ayn Rand did not regard an out-of-context admiration for certain attributes of a brutal murderer’s statements and demeanor as having possible future negative implications for a morality of self-interest worthy of giving serious consideration to the mental exercise in her journal entries.

    Stop the dishonest, context dropping attacks on Ayn Rand.

    But I know this will not change your warped minds. You won’t let it. Why let in-context facts get in the way of a smear campaign?!

    I know your real purpose is to lie, to distort, to drop context, to destroy the truth, to pervert, and to vilify Ayn Rand and Objectivism because at some level, no matter your level of honest understanding in the privacy of your own soul, you know it to be a life affirming, uplifting, inspiring philosophy that is in harmony with reality, liberty and human nature.

    To answer your question: it is those people who recognise that sunlit universe of reality that “vigorously embrace the advice of Ayn Rand.” Something that is lost on the worshippers of death.

    • Don Jia says:

      I love how randroids are always tooting their trumpets as the sole voice of ‘pure objective reason’ or some other equally overblown and meaningless epithet, but in the face of perfectly rational criticism of their chosen ‘philosophy’ (which usage speaks volumes of their ignorance of what the term even means), can’t help but resort to ad hominem attacks pertaining to their critic’s ‘warped mind’, ‘degenerates’, ‘idiots’, etc. Real intelligent. Maybe you’re just imitating the vapid pomp of your revered heroine’s writing style, but going on your closing paragraphs alone, I think it’s safe to say your issues are more psychological than ‘philosophical’.

Leave a Reply


Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.