Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Sniveling, Whining Pettiness of Ayn Rand

In the wake of the 50th anniversary of Atlas Shrugged, I ran into quite a bit of chatter about Ayn Rand. Then, over the last few days--for some reason or another--I've been commenting a bunch over at "The Van Der Galien Gazette"--poking the libertarians through the bars of their digital cage, as it were.

The combination has brought to a modicum of clarity my gut-level pity and horror in the face of Randians (and other subspecies of libertarians who fetishize "business"). Take this example of Rand-speak from the NYT article linked above:
Rand said she “set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them” and to portray “what happens to a world without them.”
You have this festering sore of self-pity and resentment at how terribly unfair the world is--to the rich. And this self-pity masks itself behind a triumphant--and patently ridiculous--claim that business owners are the "prime movers" of the world.

The ne plus ultra of this silliness was a comment appended to one of the 50th anniversary commemorations arguing that Ayn Rand's ideas were alive and well in movies like The Incredibles. It turns out this is a common conceit among objectivists, and even showed up in the NYT review of the movie. In the movie, superheroes are compelled to hide their powers from a hostile public. In the Randian fever dream, this is JUST LIKE HOW CAPITALIST HAVE TO HIDE THEIR SUPERPOWERS FROM ALL THE LIBERALS AND SOCIALISTS OMG!!!111!! Seriously, the conflation of capitalism with entrepreneurship, and then of entrepreneurship--I've invented a new and better toaster caddy!--with being able to fly or turn invisible--it's just daft. Talk about finding heroism in the mundane.

Making money under capitalism is not heroic, and it requires the opposite of courageous individualism. I just finished teaching Hegel's Philosophy of Right, and his analysis, in this case, seems spot-on. In civil society, according to Hegel, we have to precisely conform our needs and our labor to the social norm. The invisible hand only works insofar as my activity produces things that you need, and my needs are such as to be satisfied by your activity. Any truly intransigent individuality--singularity that refuses to mesh with the social fabric--is obnoxious and futile. Capitalism is a conformity machine, not a playground for our singular superpowers.

Plus, any superhero who sold her power to the highest bidder, or tried to charge money for using her power, would be, by that very deed, non-heroic--small, petty, and corrupt. The pettiness and corruption of Randian heroism is well expressed by the departed diva herself:
In a 1964 Playboy interview, she famously said that a man who places friends and family above "productive work" is immoral, an "emotional parasite."
Obviously, "productive work" means for her, "money-making activity." What a chump!

Randianism: the perfect ideology for the powerless and stunted petty bourgeois wannabe.

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