Monday, August 13, 2012

The super-funtime Ayn Rand Post: In which your humble blogger touches on an issue that will never offend anyone ever

Oh Ayn Rand.

People really hate Ayn Rand.

People really love Ayn Rand.

People are fascinated by Ayn Rand. I'd say this is the mark of a great novelist, but in my humble opinion, I don't actually think she was a good writer. Her characters were flat and one note, her books could use a serious trimming and their pace started to get downright glacial at times. What she was good at, though, was inspiring people either to vitriol or virtue, with much gnashing of teeth on both sides.

Depending on who you ask, Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism is either a recipe for babyeating or the one true path for human happiness.

But a friend of mine - a fellow D&D player, actually - came up with an astoundingly astute and clear headed way of expressing the awesome and terrible part of Objectivism, Ayn Rand and her seminal novel, Atlas Shrugged, in a single paragraph.

"[Atlas Shrugged] is, basically, about superheroes. That's how superheroes should act to make the world a better place. That's why it doesn't apply to the real world: We don't have superheroes."

It makes perfect sense. Atlas Shrugged, for those who don't know, is a novel about a world being strangled by communism (literally!), where governmental meddling has caused the collapse of the economy for the most part, and that only certain select people, via their own individual activity and drive, could push the world forward...but they were tired of being cheated by the "looters" (I.E, the government and people who relied on the government) and so they left the world with one John Galt.

Thus, the title: Atlas, shrugged.

But the problem is that it doesn't work, because (almost) no one can actually measure up to these character's shoes. This philosophy requires superhumans and regular humans...but in the real world, we're pretty much all equal. Oh, we have different temperaments and different aptitudes and different desires, but at the end of the day, the difference between a farmer, a neurosurgeon and someone who has memorized every single episode of Project WHAT THEY HAVE SPENT THEIR TIME DOING.

Farming is hard work, with an immense amount of technique and knowledge required to do anything well. Memorization (even of something "useless" like a TV show) is difficult. And the various things you need to learn to actually act as a neurosurgeon is pretty astronomical. Each of these things requires training and practice and study. The only reason why we humans can all find an individual vocation, rather than having to generalize (and thus, lose any chance of becoming a high quality specialist) is because of a huge, complex, interesting society, which lets people support one another through semi-selfish interaction. A society that might have sigma 9 events, people who are above and beyond the normal, average person...


And here is the big but.

We can't call them an Atlas and have it be the end of the day. Because, and this is my personal issue with Objectivism: Everyone ever wants to be an Atlas. People, just by their nature, prefer to put themselves up while also putting other people down. I find myself doing this too, it's really easy to think things like this.

"God, those people. What the hell is wrong with them? How could they be so stupid for X, Y, or Z reasons? Oh, what a world."

That's the flaw. Objectivism works with superheroes, but not everyone is a superhero. And nothing is more toxic and dangerous to a person's brain than believing that they are an entitled, put-upon genius...because thinking that way means that they're really just an asshole. An entitled asshole.

Now, this doesn't mean that I don't agree with a lot of things in Objectivism. But I still figure that you should always take it with a grain of salt...and remember to never ever let an idea (even one you think is awesome and shiny) blind you to the world and ideas around you. Never think the other person, the one who thinks that your ideas are wrong, is just stupid and evil. No one ever wakes up, cackling and twirling their mustache, to look into a mirror and go: "Today, I will destroy happiness and goodness and be...EVIL!"

People wake up and do the things they do because they believe in ideas deeply and truly. Disagree with those things, sure, but don't discount them. Give them the respect of remembering that they are human beings too.

Unless the person is a Republican. They're pure, babyeating evil.


  1. Nicely done. You're correct in that Rand writes of superheros in Atlas Shrugged. That was her intent from the beginning. I recommend her Romantic Manifesto if you want to understand her intent. It's rarely mentioned because if you understand it Rand suddenly becomes a more powerful writer. Here's a short quote:

    Romanticism is the conceptual school of art. It deals, not with the random trivia of the day, but with the timeless, fundamental, universal problems and values of human existence. It does not record or photograph; it creates and projects. It is concerned—in the words of Aristotle—not with things as they are, but with things as they might be and ought to be.

    She wrote Galt and Dagny as superheros on purpose - to make a moral case for virtue as she saw it.

  2. I had to go find this link, for the quote. It's one I was looking for before I wrote the above.

    The goal of her writing, she said, was not to capture a "slice of life," but to project her moral vision of man "as he might and ought to be."

    And so the protagonists of her bestsellers (We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged) are heroic, Promethean individualists—embattled titans in a world of envious Lilliputians.

  3. That's all well and good...but I'm uncomfortable with the idea of people THINKING themselves as heroic, Promethean individualists.

    I prefer humble individualists. Because even an individualist needs other individualists to be friends with and hang out with and play D&D, and no one wants to hang around with someone who thinks their head is in the clouds, when really it's just up their ass.

    1. ...and thus the problems with people who don't understand Rand's writings, and think they are the romantic superheros she was writing about.

      Rand's writings have been intentionally misinterpreted by both the left and the right, always in defense of the state. It gets annoying after a while.

    2. It's almost like they're worried people might find they're irrelevant...