Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Look Sir, Randroids!

Johann Hari on the catastrophic influence of Ayn Rand on American life:

the Ayn Rand Institute sent out a stark press release. It was headed: “US Should Not Help Tsunami Victims.” Do not give cash. Do not send help. Leave them.

This was not a random piece of spite. It expressed – with admirable clarity – a philosophy that has influenced some of the most powerful people in the world. Ayn Rand is the Philosopher-Queen of America’s billionaire CEOs, a woman who wrote a book called ‘the Virtue of Selfishness’ and meant every word. Although she is virtually unknown here in Britain, Rand is the only novelist whose work has been read by every single US Congressman.

Poor startled Britons, no doubt involuntarily exhaling a mist of tea through their noses as they read of this horrible, horrible woman whose work is such a blight on our culture. Hari's right: Rand-worship isn't an Anglosphere thing, it's a strictly American thing; and here it is pervasive.

Oliver Stone didn't invent Gordon Gekko out of whole cloth. Gekko is a type. The Randroid type. And people like Gekko are legion in America.

Where the Bolsheviks collectivised everything and left the individual with nothing, Ayn demanded a mirror-image world where everything was privatised and nothing – no scrap of humanity – was left for the public sphere.

Also a mirror-image to Bolshevism (or, at least its calcified version) is the totalism of her "philosophy." Or probably a better word would be totalitarianism. For Randroids, it seems there's a "moral" way and an "immoral" way to do literally everything: to hold a toothbrush, to part one's hair, to read a book.

I won't quote more chunks of his piece, but read it. It's great.

A few points, though. Hari says that Randroid extremism is often indistinguishable from parody, then he references that Simpson's episode. The tell-tale sign of a Randroid is utter lack of humor -- so much so that, parodoxically, they sometimes come across quite hilariously. But they don't ever mean to. Obviously to anticipate the responses ("you must be joking," "that's just awful!") of normal humans hearing or reading her batty rants for the first time, Rand's trademark closing statement was "And I mean it." So, no, it wasn't a joke. For Randroids, there's never a joke; the world's a too serious place for all that.

It's been years since I've read the execrable Atlas Shrugged, but one thing I remember that not many people touch on is Rand's obvious contempt for what normal human beings call unspoiled nature. She considered undeveloped areas a waste (sort of like how we normal human beings view a toxic industrial dump). If she were alive today, Ayn Rand would write a Tech Central Station column.

Christopher Hitchens has been in the throes of a creepy flirtation with Randianism for a few years now.

The first time I'd ever read Rand's philosophy termed "crypto-fascist" was in -- brace yourself -- one of Ward Churchill's books. He's exactly right. Though Churchill's name is mud, I recommend his essay on the objectivist "Native American" fiction of Rand's friend Ruth Beebe Hill.

The blogosphere is polluted with Randroids, from the much-dread Megan McArdle (a.k.a. Jane Galt), who famously hoped that anti-war protestors would be beaten with 2x4s, to the atrocious proprietor of Atlas Shrugs, the Pamela Des Barres of LGF groupies; from several of the nutballs at Reason, to the annoying but not altogether useless, obsessive-compulsive self-quotation machine Arthur Silber.