I did not start out writing the last blog, “Ayn Rand Shrugged,” as the first of a two-part rant, but that’s the way it has worked out. Maybe the cold weather is to blame. Whatever the reason, getting to know Ayn Rand has been an interesting experience, much like peeling an onion, layer after layer, making the eyes tear.
We know that as an adult Rand became addicted to cigarettes and amphetamines, eventually dying of lung cancer. But beyond those personal vices, how did she develop a philosophy that extols living without any thought, feeling, or act of altruism? To Rand, altruism was anathema. A narcissistic, rational life was the ideal. This excerpt from Anne C. Heller’s biography, Ayn Rand And The World She Made, gives us a glimpse into her childhood where most narcissism is born. [Here]
When Rand was five or so, she recalled, her mother came into the children’s playroom and found the floor littered with toys. She announced to Rand and Rand’s two-and-a-half-year-old sister, Natasha, that they would have to choose some of their toys to put away and some to keep and play with now; in a year, she told them, they could trade the toys they had kept for those they had put away. Natasha held on to the toys she liked best, but Rand, imagining the pleasure she would get from having her favorite toys returned to her later, handed over her best-loved playthings, including a painted mechanical wind-up chicken she could describe vividly fifty years later. When the time came to make the swap and Rand asked for her toys back, her mother looked amused, Rand recalled. Anna explained that she had given everything to an orphanage, on the premise that if her daughters had really wanted their toys they wouldn’t have relinquished them in the first place. This may have been Rand’s first encounter with injustice masquerading as what she would later acidly call “altruism.” Her understanding of how power can be acquired by a pretense of loving kindness would grow only more acute with time.
Perhaps it’s little wonder, then, that from the age of four or five onward, Rand developed a keen sense that anything she liked had to be hers, not her mothers, the family’s, or society’s, an attitude that readers of her 1943 novel The Fountainhead will recognize in the perverse and complicated character of Dominique Francon. As a corollary, she claimed not to care about being approved of or accepted by her family and peers. Since she generally wasn’t accepted, the proud, intelligent child appears to have learned early to make a virtue of necessity. In her twenties and thirties, she would construct a universe of moral principles built largely on the scaffolding of some of these defensive childhood virtues.
Can you believe a whole economic philosophy built on the loss of a wind-up, mechanical chicken?
In 2008 Paul Krugman wrote in his NYT blog, The Conscience of a Liberal, that businesses and foundations have been paying colleges and universities to introduce Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged to their students. Bloomberg has reported that BB&T, a large Southern banking company based in Winston Salem, North Carolina, pledged at least $1 million dollars to the University of North Carolina Charlotte to have Atlas Shrugged become required reading for students. Other southern colleges also admit they have accepted money from BB&T to require the reading of Ayn Rand. BB&T has also pledged $2 million to the Un. of Texas at Austin to establish a Rand chair.
I doubt if this trend will move north to the Ivy League any time soon. Bloomberg quotes Harold Bloom, Yale Humanities professor and author of The Western Canon, as commenting, “Rand could not write her way out of a paper bag.” Nevertheless, the Rand Institute claims that Atlas Shrugged has sold 6 million copies since its publication in 1957 and, although sales sagged during the 1970’s, the book sold 185,000 copies in 2007. [Here] (Sigh.)
A final thought about Rand and the current anti-entitlements poster boy, Congressman Paul Ryan: For all of Rand’s rantings against our government’s social programs--Social Security and Medicare--Rand herself, under her married name, Ann Connor, accepted medicare payments when she contracted lung cancer. [Here] I wonder how the Tea Party set would like to hear that?
Furthermore, Congressman Paul Ryan, the man who is leading the charge to privatize Social Security, received (and accepted) Social Security survivor payments when his father died suddenly when young Ryan was 16. He carefully saved the money and used it to pay for college. [Here]
I guess Medicare was o.k. for Rand and Social Security was o.k. for Ryan, but not o.k. for us.
Is that how Randian Objectivism works?...