Do you sometimes wonder if America will wake up one day, as did Italy after Mussolini and Germany did after Hitler, and ask – was this all just a bad dream? If no, how did we let it all happen? Did we just check in our brains, and our better selves, behind the door?
In his recent and wordy book Seven Types of Atheism, John Gray has a chapter ‘Secular Humanism, a Sacred relic’. (The book is loaded with –isms.) There is a section ‘From Nietzsche to Ayn Rand.’ The former is a spoiler alert for bullshit; so is the latter.
This Russian Jewish migrant to the U S would become the darling of the type of people who would stigmatise migrants and seek to lock the door against them. She was an amateur philosopher and she has been treated as such by professionals. But whereas this kind of intellectual lunacy had been the preserve of one side of politics, she may have been the harbinger of its shift to the other side. She was into –isms and her brand of moonshine was called ‘objectivism’ Her anointed apostle said that objectivism was about ‘the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.’ When you get heroic, noble and absolute in the one sentence, you are assured of vintage bullshit.
This world view is set out in the novel Atlas Shrugged. That very long novel has biblical force for the disciples of Ayn Rand. Her view of self-interest was a form of ‘ethical egoism.’ Donald Trump, I suspect, has never finished a book in his life, not even a Famous Five, but if he had, it should have been Atlas Shrugged – the ego enshrined in pure bullshit. You would not be surprised if you found some autographed copies lying around the IPA.
Naturally, Ayn Rand developed a following of the type called ‘cult.’ She is beloved by the Tea Party crowd and those who call themselves ‘libertarian’. (A good sane mate of mine says that that word is code for fascist; all I can say in response is that I am against most labels.) Mr Gray gives evidence of the cult as follows.
Rand’s cult aimed to govern every aspect of life. She was a dedicated smoker, and her followers were instructed that they had to smoke as well. Not only did Rand smoke – she used a cigarette holder – so that when she addressed large audiences of the faithful, a thousand cigarette-holders would move in unison with hers.
It is like a soft comic version of a Nuremberg rally, Charlie Chaplin style. But – hilariously – the faithful were branded with the Bolshevik label the ‘Collective.’
The selection of marriage partners was also controlled. In her view of things, rational human beings should not associate with those that are irrational. There could be no worse example of this than two people joined together in marriage by mere emotion, so officers of the cult were empowered to pair Rand’s disciples only with others who also subscribed to the faith. The marriage ceremony included pledging devotion to Rand, then opening Atlas Shrugged at random to read aloud a passage from the sacred text.
So, in the space of a few lines, we have gone from Marx Brothers at the Opera to Mein Kampf, and no one in the Collective knew or cared. ‘What is good for me is right.’ Someone else said this, but Rand approved it as the ‘best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard.’ She later cut the following passage from her first novel We the Living:
I loathe your ideas. I admire your methods……What are your masses but mud to be ground under foot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it? What is the people but millions of puny, shrivelled, helpless souls that have no thoughts of their own, no dreams of their own, no will of their own, who eat and sleep and chew helplessly the word put into their mildewed brains.
You can find almost everything that made Lenin loathsome in Ayn Rand. There is in truth one born every minute. Just ask the publishers of Janet Albrechtsen. Or just look at the mob at a Trump rally – the ones Flynn worked over with ‘Lock her up.’ (And then ask yourself why a three star general should not get six with a four for that alone.)
The more complex questions are about the Coalition, which as Hennessy said on the ABC, ‘is at a crossroads of existentialism.’
The Guardian, 25 November, 2018
As a general rule, we should avoid words that we don’t understand – but which signify pure bullshit.