Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Atlas Shrugged, Then He Dropped the Ball Entirely

People are funny, and sometimes stupid.

This past summer, two things became pretty clear: first, Obama would probably win the election and second, the economy was in trouble. I don't know if it was one or both of these factors that caused it, but sales of Ayn Rand's 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged went through the roof and it's spiked several times since then, usually in response to bailout or bad economic news.

Rand's Laissez-faire philosophy was closely associated with Ronald Reagan's trickle-down economic plan and has been closely associated with conservative politics ever since, and I suppose the current sales of Rand's book have to do with efforts to reinvent the republican party after two disastrous election cycles.

Several conservatives have come out saying the spike in sales of Atlas Shrugged shows how they were right all along and people believe Rand's philosophy is coming to life. The people who say that are idiots.

Considering the business news the last six months, I'm amazed more people aren't beginning to see how much bullshit Rand wrote into the philosophy of Atlas Shrugged. If John Galt were a real person, I have no doubt you'd see him before Congress begging for a billion dollar bailout made necessary by his own greedy philosophy.

For thirty years, Rand's objectivist philosophy held sway in conservative U.S. and World politics in an effort to save us from a producers' strike depicted in Atlas Shrugged, and for the second time now, it's lead to a huge stock-market bubble and corresponding crash. For years, we've followed a policy of removing the financial regulations that protected us and you see where it's gotten us. Galt's Gulch was on Wall Street, not some desert hide-away.

My most vivid memory of reading Atlas Shrugged the first time, over twenty years ago now, was how much I laughed when it struck me how John Galt's invention reminded me of all the bullshit perpetual motion machines huckster's had been pushing since the oil embargo in the 1970's. There was even a guy from Mississippi in the news at the time who claimed to have a motor that could run just on water, but could never get it to work when the press was around. For me Galt's Motor became a metaphor for the whole book: an interesting idea, but ultimately unworkable due to basic physics and how the people who tried to sell it anyway were liars and assholes.

I'm not sure what it's going to take to ultimately discredit Atlas Shrugged. It's an enormously difficult read, so I'm guessing many of the people who bought the book recently, either haven't finished it, haven't started or gave up on it already so they may never know whether they really agree with her or not. The language and length and redundancy of Galt's speech can mesmerize people and keep them from realizing how stupid it would be to try and apply it to the way people really behave. Her philosophy is an interesting mental exercise, but ultimately, it's not all that different from the philosophy found on pirate ships, only without the parrots and eye patches. To borrow from Gordon Gecko: Greed is not good.

Conservatives are going to have to come to grips with the fact that their philosophy failed us and quit trying to say we never really did what they wanted and the liberals are still really responsible for all the world's problems. If anything, they're the ones who can't reconcile their social and economic agendas. If they really wanted objectivism in America, then why did they fight so hard for a war on drugs or a ban on stem-cell research?

1 comment:

Sandi said...

I read that years ago, followed by The Fountainhead and I think one other. Her arrogance was staggering, even to my teenage mind. If you're poor, it's either because you don't work hard enough or you're stupid. If you're poor, you expect a handout. I don't know what world she grew up in, but the woman was delusional.

"Philosophy" may be a stretch. Maybe "pseudo-philosophy" of objectivism. It's sick that she has such a huge following.