Outrunning Ayn Rand *(this post rated PG for language)

We interrupt the Taipei Chronicles to bring you this rant.

On outrunning Ayn Rand.

Or not.

A more appropriate title for this post would be “AAAGHH! No Matter How Fast I Go, I Can’t Outrun Ayn Rand!!”

I also considered “Ayn Rand Gives Me Hives,” “Ayn Rand and Stunted Human Being Syndrome,” “Who Cares About John Galt?,” “The Dunderhead,” “Atlas was a Chump,” “Ayn Rand was an Emotional Adolescent,” and “Ayn Rand {[!#@$*SCREEEAAAAAMMMM!!@#$%]}” as alternative titles.

But it occurred to me that that might be snarky and not very christian.

Certainly emotionally adolescent.

Let me be clear.

I really, really, really, really hate Ayn Rand. That bitch ruined 10 years of my life.

Probably more, depending on one’s accounting methods. But let’s call 10 years the conservative estimate.

If you don’t know who Ayn Rand is yet, you probably will soon – there’s a movie coming out (CORRECTION: came out in April, panned by critics) of her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. She’s a philosopher-novelist (aren’t all novelists philosophers? most manage to write novels that don’t read so relentlessly like philosophy) who pretty much devoted all her mental energy to making a virtue out of greed, and to making commercial productivity the highest virtue of all.

She was a charismatic writer, highly intellectual, and her arguments can be fascinating and compelling, especially to impressionable young people who feel the need to prove themselves (like me when I first read the book at 15), self-serving narcissists, uber-logical people who are uncomfortable with their emotional life (Rand conveniently excises most real emotion from her world-view, and makes a virtue of that, too), and other vulnerable populations.

Please note: I am friends with several people whom I consider to be intelligent, reasonably well-rounded human beings who are fans of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, so I cannot make that last bit a blanket statement, but more on that in a moment. Please tolerate my rant for another minute or two. It’s been coming on for years; I need to give it some space for my own sanity.

To make the personal story very, very short – Ayn Rand told me that to have meaning in my life, I had to produce something grand and make as much money off of it as I could. I lived with that paradigm as the stick by which I both measured my life and beat it bloody. After 10 years, I was exhausted and miserable, and it occurred to me that if my philosophy wasn’t working, I could and should change something. I reached out, improbably, to Christ, and I haven’t looked back since.

In fact, I pumped my intellectual legs as fast as I could, trying to put as much distance between me and ole Ayn as possible. It seemed self-evident to me that christianity and objectivism were diametrically opposed worldviews. Ayn herself said as much. So did Jesus for that matter – “you cannot serve both G-d and money“. It was welcome, sweet relief, and I looked forward to never thinking about objectivism again.

And yet.

“Who is John Galt?” t-shirts haunt me in public parks (it’s a catchphrase from Atlas Shrugged). I catch people reading Atlas on the subway every other day now. B and I conversed with a college student in Taipei who was reading and enjoying it. And now the damn movie.

Ayn Rand is chasing me down. Or G-d is chasing me down and insisting that I have some internal work to do here.

Ya think?

So here’s the deal. I will be re-reading Atlas Shrugged.

I need to do this for me, to find out how much of the trauma of my life, which I have previously laid at Ayn’s feet, should really be attributed to other, more personal, less philosophical, sources.

I need to do this for me, to find out if the poisonous, soul-shriveling beliefs that shaped my 20’s really came from Ayn, or if I’m just dumping on her unjustly.

I owe this much to both of us.We need some forgiveness between us, me and Ayn.

And since Ayn is so much in the news and in the zeitgeist these days, I will be sharing that journey on this blog, so that those who are adherents, ex-adherents, curious, or angry can come along and see how it goes.

If you identify as an objectivist, or you are sympathetic to Ayn Rand, I commit to you that I will approach this project with as open a mind as I can manage. After this post, I will refrain from name-calling and snarky comments as much as consciously possible. I once took Ayn Rand very seriously, and I intend to root myself in that stance again in this re-examination.

Which is not to say that I expect to swoon all over again. But I am open to discovering things that I overlooked when I was 15, and in the spirit of Christ, my theology demands that I be open to the reconciling of opposites, even these.

This will be mostly, I think, an examination of how core beliefs play out in real life. There will be ample armchair-philosophical posturing, I’m sure, but there will also be plenty of emotion, reflection, illustrative anecdotes, and probably comparisons with scripture/theology. I don’t really have a plan.

And I don’t really have a timeline – I also plan to finish the Taipei Chronicles and keep posting other things, so it will not be an uninterrupted, linear journey.

But I post this introduction here as a commitment to follow through on the project.

Lord help me.

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8 Comments

Filed under Atlas Revisited, personal, religion

8 responses to “Outrunning Ayn Rand *(this post rated PG for language)

  1. Awesome.
    I first devoured all of Ayn Rand’s (“fiction” – I couldn’t wade through her essays) books several decades ago. I recently re-read Atlas Shrugged, as part of an ongoing dialogue with my dad. (My dad and I have different opinions, but we think alike. We try to dialogue through books…)
    One book that offers a walk in her shoes with the most compassion for me is Anthem.
    It was eye-opening to learn that she was used amphetamines. Makes me approach the 40 page speeches a little differently lol!
    Looking forward to your thoughts as you embark on this journey.

    • Thanks for your support Mindy 🙂 I was a little scared to post this, actually. I’m always afraid of who I’m going to piss off or inadvertently ostracize. But yeah – I’ve been needing to do this for a while. And it will probably lead to some interesting conversations with my father as well….. I miss you!!

  2. I can’t help thinking sometimes that if the social media had existed when my kids were growing up, I might have been a better father because I could have read their comments online and would have had a better idea what was going on in that boiling cauldron called adolescence.

    M, I knew that you had moved away from Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, but I had no idea you thought it had ruined ten years of your life. As a matter of fact, I had no awareness that there even was a decade of your life that you considered a “ruin” for any reason. I thought you were a normal, bright, motivated teenager with the usual conflicts and challenges of growing up, with the added sturm und drang of coming from a broken home.

    So let me say that if indeed, you have recovered like the phoenix from the fire’s ruin, you have done quite well. But then again, what do I know? 🙂 I still operate under the illusions that my children have all, without exception, managed to grow up and become mature, responsible adults. I am also of the opinion that perhaps the theatrical part of yourself enjoys the use of hyperbole for dramatic effect. And a very serious side of myself can’t help but wonder if your attempt to outrun Ayn Rand is only a metaphor for a need to outrun the legacy of your Dad and whatever he represented to you back then, and possibly even now. If so, an intellectual re-reading of Atlas will not resolve the emotional issues. But then, maybe I take far more on myself than reality justifies . . .

    Intellectually, I do not understand the conclusions you drew from Atlas: “To make the personal story very, very short – Ayn Rand told me that to have meaning in my life, I had to produce something grand and make as much money off of it as I could. I lived with that paradigm as the stick by which I both measured my life and beat it bloody.”

    I have read Atlas twice, one less time than the number of times I have read the Bible from cover to cover, and I am not an Objectivist, although I confess to being something of a hack, armchair philosopher. In my head at least, I think I live in a much simpler world than you do. From the moment we are born, we consume resources, either directly from nature, or due to the creative intervention of the human mind, from derivatives of nature. To survive, each of us has to perform some kind of work; we have to produce something, anything, that others will trade for to their perceived benefit. I enjoy this process; as a matter of fact I am generally happiest when I am lost in some act of creation. For each of us, WHAT that act of creation is, is far less important than the single fact that it engages us and our passions. Money is not the point at all; money is only a store of value so we can conveniently trade with yet others for things we desire or need to survive.

    As Viktor Frankl said: ” . . . success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue . . . as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.” Could it be that your problems with Atlas and Rand had more to do with the fact that you interpreted the application of her philosophy in a very narrow way to activities that had no appeal to you personally? Perhaps I contributed to that perception because I DID find great satisfaction in the building of a company. Money was a measurement tool for me, because all of us can build valuable castles in our heads, but it means more when others will take out their wallet and give you their hard-earned money for a service or product you brought into existence. Indeed I always saw a purchase in honest trade as a very high form of praise.

    If you haven’t already read it, I would recommend a book published in 1990 entitled “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” authored by a gentleman with the unpronounceable name of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He looked at artists, athletes, musicians, surgeons, and other skilled professionals who were “so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great costs, for the sheer sake of doing it.” The fact that you may have found this kind of fulfillment in your religious conversion is a great irony, but hardly a refutation of atheist Rand’s philosophy. You achieved your values, and a measure of happiness ensued. The effort you expended in achieving your values, whether in your worship, your art, your teaching, your social activities, your networking, were and are all forms of production, and you have been exchanging various facets of it with others and the medium of that exchange has been money, or you would not be alive today. It is immaterial whether Ayn Rand, or your dad, or anyone else for that matter, approved or disapproved of your choice of values and how you achieved them. To seek someone else’s values would be to disown yourself. Maybe in your adolescent ardor for the passion of Ayn Rand, you attempted to do that for a while. Or maybe you never had a passion for Ayn Rand, but for a time substituted my enthusiasms for yours because you wanted me to love you. Well, I’ve done a lot of hypothesizing of my own here, so before I get myself into a lot of serious trouble, let me just say to you that whatever we were back then, there is no such need now or in the future. I love you immensely and love the fact that you live your own life, without apology, on your own terms. I could never have wished anything better for you.

    Well, this foray into the social media has been emotionally exhausting, so I am retiring back into my armchair to further contemplate the mysteries of the cosmos. Love you girl! Dad

    • LOL – I KNEW it! I KNEW that when you decided to start reading my blog, you’d be posting up post-length comments 🙂 Nobody in our family knows how to get straight to the point; we all get lost in nuance. 😉 I love you so much Dad! Wouldn’t have it any other way! 🙂

  3. Kevin

    I’m curious if you are equally passionate about The Jungle by Upton Sinclair? Opposite end of the spectrum but equally as passionate in his view. I personally fall on the Ayn Rand side of the spectrum but I do see the absurdity of her argument.

    I love Ayn Rand for the same reason I love The Jungle. Great stories that challenge your viewpoint and make you think. Agreed you have to be careful about seeing everything she says as applicable to life. She writes in the vacuum world of literature; I mean quitting the world to destroy it and start a new one, really?!?

    But what I got out of it what this: If you work hard and are successful than you are asked to contribute more (progressive tax system, rich pay more ect.) and rightfully so but the better you do the more of someone else you are required to provide for. Then you see the stories about people living off and abusing the “the system” with the reluctance to fix it you can see why its easy to see how tempting it would be to just quit the world and say “fend for yourself, I’m done providing for you.”

    But I took it a step further and seeing how much damage doing that would do to the people in the middle. Some people see it as a success story, Dagny Tagart finds John Galt (her philosophical savior) in the end and rides off into the proverbial sunset, but I see it as a warning about the possible failure of society. If we are not careful the rich and powerful actually might do that and where would that leave you and me?

    We have to be careful and make sure that the people who pay more see successful results from their investment. Which I believe in turn help all of society.

    Even though in the book he was the one that made people realize the failure of society and ultimately took part in causing that failure he did make people aware of the problem with not holding everyone accountable and responsible for the society they live in. So the question I ask myself after reading Atlas Shrugged is: Who is YOUR John Galt?

    -Kevin

    • Kevin,

      I’m going to start responding to your comments in no particular order, and one may require it’s own follow-up blog post. Funny you should mention The Jungle. I had to read it for class in 11th grade (or thereabouts), and I was quite moved (and completely freaked out) by it. I was talked out of my natural reaction by the uber-rational Randian influences in my life, but I’ve never forgotten how viscerally I reacted to it. Have only thought about it a handful of times in the intervening years – I would hardly say it has shaped my worldview, but from what I remember, I probably have a lot more in common with Sinclair than with Rand at this point.

      I don’t think the world of literature exists in a vacuum. Only Ayn’s stuff.

      If the rich and powerful quit society, I have every confidence that the rest of us could take care of ourselves just fine. It would require re-learning some things, but I hardly think it would bring about the failure of society.

      And – hahaha – “he did make people aware of the problem with not holding everyone accountable and responsible for the society they live in.” That’s EXACTLY EXACTLY EXACTLY what Occupy Wall Street is doing.

  4. Pingback: Because Friends Shouldn’t Let Friends Play with Objectivism*. | FairyBearConfessions

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