Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ayn Rand? Seriously???

CNN is running an op ed piece this morning advocating a new moral code based on Ayn Rand's tired old "serve only thyself" ethic .  Two questions for the ages:  How has Ayn Rand, who's lack of writing talent ranks right up there with L. Ron Hubbard as an easy target for ridicule, ever amassed a following that gets her ideas a forum on CNN? and more to the point:  If "the pursuit of personal profit" is your moral ideal -- what care you for other's opinions of your conduct?  It seems odd to spend any amount of time trying to institute a "moral code"  for others that sanctions your behavior.

A friend from high school (popular, though admittedly not the sharpest tool in the shed) first recommended I read The Fountainhead,  I'd been in an existential philosophy phase and with my Dad's urging had been reading lots of Sartre/Camus and this friend thought of Ayn Rand as a philosopher (definitely a stretch -- Oddly, said friend later became a rather "in your face," born again Christian... never noticing that Ayn Rand was the antithesis of a Christian worldview -- although perhaps not so odd;  the individual was clearly flailing about for something/anything radical to be immersed in).  At 16, I was underwhelmed by the tediousness of Rand's writing style and disgusted by the world view she promoted.  If memory serves, this was also the year I'd read Elie Wiesel's Night and the contrast was dramatic.

Imagine my surprise when a few years later, I saw posters advertising Ayn Rand Society meetings at UCLA!!!  My first thought was that the posters were gags, but soon discovered there actually were people who met to discuss Rand as a serious philosopher.   The same morbid curiosity about "how people get hooked by idiots" that sometimes leads me to listen in (lurkingly) to Rush Limbaugh programs, almost got me to attend one of those meetings.  If I could've been a fly on the wall, as I am on the internet or listening to "I can yell the loudest" radio, I might have gone.

Because I teach argumentation and how to use logic in writing, it's useful to know how students think they can get away with fallacy-filled essays.  Listening to Limbaugh and his ilk provides painful clarification of how students are learning to argue.  It takes a great deal of patient logic training to undo the damage caused by talk radio.

Anyway, I'm wandering off topic here.  I would've loved to listen in on the A.R. Society meetings back at UCLA just to be able to grasp how they rationalize her ideas.  Reading the CNN piece today gave me some sense of that... and as I expected -- it's a type of circular, self-justifying logic that makes sense only if you come in convinced already that self-aggrandizement should be the primary goal of every human being.  And I'm sorry, my opinion of Ayn Rand is the same now as it was when I was 16 -- she just wants to justify being a selfish bastard.  Yet I'm still surprised that she and her proponents expect those whose interests are more expansive, those inclined to find value in promoting community welfare, to alter their underlying moral structure.  Basically, "change your values and you'll agree with me." Huh?

The only rationale they hold up for such a change (at least in today's CNN piece) is that progress has been made by those who place themselves first.  But their evidence won't hold up to even the barest of scrutiny.  They claim that science has been behind most medical and technological advances (and few will dispute that), but they hold that up as though the scientific inquiry were made out a spirit of purely self-promotion, rather than for communal benefit.  Were Galileo, Newton, Pasteur and Darwin only out for themselves?  That's a pretty big leap.

The Ayn Rand types don't even like a world with compromises.  They complain that the Bill Gates entrepreneurs of the world should expand the discoveries of science and then hoard all profits -- they see no value in his philanthropy and seek to discourage it.  Odd, since it's precisely the medical, technical and educational philanthropy of entrepreneurs like Gates that will create possibilities for further advancement in future generations.

I just can't follow their logic and so, I'm back to my original question:  how have Ayn Rand books sold millions of copies?  Why is her stuff still even in print?  Considering what's out of print, that's just a shame.

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