I’ve never read Ayn Rand.
I hear so much flagrant shit about her books. The gist I got was she hates poor people and blames poor people for being poor or something?
But there’s gotta be more to it than that. I remember Borders having Atlas Shrugged on fucking display for a while.
So SOMEONE is buying into her bullshit.
The thing is, her books aren’t explicitly about how awful poor people is. Her books are about how awesome her self-reliant True Individual heroes are, which is part of what makes them appealing to so many people who are young and impressionable.
It’s the implications of the philosophy that is being advanced in her books (and which she articulates in her non-fiction books) that leads to the “screw poor people” stuff.
And the thing is, the books aren’t even good at showing the thing they supposedly show. They all are supposed to be teaching us great truths about human nature, but they ignore what human nature is and show what Rand thinks it should be. It’s like reading some alien’s fan fiction, written based on garbled descriptions and wild imaginings about what human life is like.
For instance, the Fountainhead’s protagonist is Howard Roark, the only architect in the world who is a True Individual who Doesn’t Follow The Crowd and Thinks For Himself.
But his individualism and supposed great creative genius consists of… making the most boring buildings imaginable and then insisting that this is the only correct way to do it and anybody who disagrees or deviates from his vision is objectively wrong.
His approach allows for no creativity, no individual expression, no decorative flourishes, nothing cultural or artistic. He looks at a site, and then comes up with the most utilitarian building possible to suit the practical needs of the project given the site. His design is presented as being the objectively (or Objectively) correct design, and anyone else’s design is judged by how much it deviates from the single correct answer.
So if 100 architects all submit different plans, they’e all sheep for not having the courage to see the one logically right answer.The more their answers vary, the more they are sheep.
And she writes the story in such a way that all the art and expression in architecture for thousands of years is a corruption that leaves people feeling hollow and empty. Think about the most soaring and inspiring religious art in architecture. The most beautiful buildings. In her story, the idea that these places inspire anything but conformity in the viewer is a lie we’ve been forced to believe, but looking at Howard Roark’s cracker box buildings makes our spirits soar.
This might just be written off as bad storytelling, but it reflects how she lived her life. Rand led a circle of “free-thinking intellectuals” where one’s free-thinkingness was measured in terms of one’s agreement with the group; i.e., with her.
Did you see that ridiculous letter to Cat Fancy going around where Rand talks about how she doesn’t feel anything about cats, she reasons that they have objective value? That’s not her being silly (on purpose) or suggesting “My dear person, you don’t understand how much I like cats.” As part of her deep-seated belief that she is an objectively rational human being, she convinced herself that all of her tastes and feelings are deeply rational conclusions.
So in her fable about individualism and the human spirit, the architectural flourishes that she finds silly and gaudy aren’t just not to her taste, they are objectively wrong and a sign of how oppressed the human spirit has become.
She even conducted her romantic affairs in this manner. When she essentially left her husband for a younger man (though I believe they stayed marry), she explained it to him that it was the rationally correct decision to make and if he didn’t agree then his whole life as an intellectual had been a lie. When her younger beau eventually dumped her, she made a similar declaration about him.
So this is the background of Ayn Rand: a woman who is as ruled by prejudice, superstition, and emotion as anyone else on the planet, but is so invested in the idea of being rational and objective that she convinced that whatever passion moves her must be the utter expression of pure reason.
And this woman has—as so many do—a deep suspicion of the idea that other people are getting something for nothing, and this suspicion leads to resentment. More understandably, she has a suspicion of anything that smacks of communism or government-backed redistribution from being a firsthand witness to the excesses of the USSR.
But rather than thinking about her feelings and where they come from, or examining her conclusions, she simply concludes that everything she feels is itself pure reason, and then articulates a philosophy around it.
And this gives us Atlas Shrugged, which is again about the triumph of the individual, but again in a very twisted way.
She takes the idea that all human beings are entitled to the fruits of their labor and posits that the only human beings who really labor are the people at the top of the capitalism food chain.
Reading the story, it’s apparent that she sees the world as a kind of steampunk AU where people who singlehandedly create unique and unreproducible technological breakthroughs are the drivers of the economy, not people who work and buy things, not venture capitalists and people who have inherited gobs of money and power.
True Individuals in Atlas Shrugged are people who are clever and brave and selfish (which is considered a virtue in her writing) enough that they should be rich and ruling the world, and the fact that they don’t is another sign of how corrupt the world is. This is why it resonates with so many people (and the particular people it does) so deeply: it tells them that they should be in charge, they should be rich, they should have everything, and the fact that they don’t is because of Moochers, Looters, and Takers (everyone else.)
Selfishness is a virtue, altruism is a sin, and anything done for the benefit of society rather than oneself is “looting” and the reason that the well-deserving supermen of the world are left with nothing to show for their awesomeness.
The title “Atlas Shrugged” refers to the idea that the titan Atlas who holds up the sky (or in many popular depictions, the world) suffers and toils silently for the benefit of the whole world with no reward might one day have enough of it and put his burden down, see how the world gets along without him.
Which sounds like a rallying cry for labor, right? But this, again, in Rand’s mind and in her bizarre AU fantasy that she calls a philosophical thesis statement, this description does not apply to the mass of human laborers whose work forms the backbone of our life. Those people are takers. Whatever they get is by definition more than they deserve.
John Galt, the “hero” of Atlas Shrugged, is a randpunk inventor who organizes a “strike” of all the other True Individuals, and the wheels of society grind to a halt without their benevolent greed. This is why Tea Partiers and the like talk about “going Galt” or wave signs around that say “Who is John Galt?” (which is Tea Partier for wearing a Guy Fawkes mask). The irony of ironies is that most of these people are working class, which means that they would not be seen as Atlas in her work but as Atlas’s burden.
But as long as they prefer to see themselves as the Bold Individuals Who Would Dare (if not for that darned government and immigrants and homosexuals and communists and witches), they’ll never realize that.