Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rand and the 'national narrative'

Once we take a comprehensive look at the state of America today compared to its state 60 years ago (while Atlas Shrugged was being composed), how much can we say - as many left-wing analysts contend - Rand has had a major influence over American culture?  Well, first, let's observe that Rand's vision of good human beings is symbolized by Howard Roark and Dagny Taggart.  The charge against her, though, is that her philosophy appeals primarily to Wall Street "banksters," if we're going to name people who are highly unfluential on the country's state of affairs.  Meanwhile, if you were to compare the lifestyles of the Wall Street "banksters" with those of real-life Objectivists (the ones who knew Rand, or listened to the Peikoff lecture courses, or attend the conferences, or have an "insider" level of familiarity with Objectivist teachings), you'd probably not find a whole lot of overlap.  Look at Peikoff himself.  He lives too much like an Aristotelian to behave like a shallow dickhead investment banker.

Say that a bunch of super-rich assholes decide they dig Rand because they like the "survival of the fittest idea" and think Rand is a great source for that idea (clue: Rand doesn't endorse that idea), and so they behave like assholes and screw the masses of Americans over.  I don't see how Rand is to be blamed for their intellectual faults.  Quite true; she estimated the intelligence of her typical reader to be that of a quality-college-educated history major with a considerable degree of interest in large-scale, long-range issues that philosophy is there to study.  She didn't expect her readers to be philosophy-autodidacts like herself, but she did expect a great deal of intellectual attentiveness; otherwise, what's the point of writing for the public?  So, given the sad state of education and much of mass culture in America today, the widespread anti-intellectualism or intellectual laziness, the widespread hypocrisy, the screaming injustices so many just come to accept as part of normal life, etc., Rand may very well have assumed too much of her (future) readers.

More to the point: These left-wing criticisms of Rand's purported intellectual influence are rife with bias.  Blaming Rand for the behavior of super-rich assholes is comparable in silliness to blaming Marx for the behavior of the Stalin regime, something that the very same left-wing critics wouldn't put up with for a minute.  It's that fucking stupid.

The idea is to have a country of people who behave like Aristotelians - intellectual curiosity (i.e., rationality in the Randian sense, which Rand-haters are clueless about) being the chief and fundamental virtue in human living, along with an emotional life characterized by benevolence.  (Hint: Rand was an uber-advocate of benevolence.  You can see it in her characterization of Roark.  "In the name of the best within us..." (Atlas)  So lefties, stop being so stupid and superficial about Rand, huh?  Get a clue or two.)

The bigger question these lefty critics or any other intellectuals ought to be concerned with is: What are the causes of our society not being a society of people who behave like Aristotelians, where a mind like Chomsky's is an exception rather than the rule?  Because that, after all, is the root of our ills today.  How can the publication of Atlas Shrugged come remotely close to playing a causal role in these ills?  It defies all common sense.  So what have these lefties been doing up there in that ivory tower, then, besides snubbing the business ethos? :-)

More to come, of course . . .

Next up: Dialectizin' with Aristotle?