I think I have finally figured out what horrifies me most about the conduct of Ayn Rand’s “heroes” in her various novels (and — to some extent, about Ayn Rand, herself):
Her notion of an “ideal man” is basically your typical ‘school shooter” writ large:
- Either ignored or bullied
Think about it: Rand’s heroes are extremely intelligent, perceptive, infinitely more “sensitive” than they let on (like most “nerds”/geeks) — but they are utterly disinterested in the sort of “social” (soap-opera) bullshit that obsessed (nearly) everyone around them.
They don’t give a shit about being “popular”. They’re not really interested in the “status symbols” related to conspicuous consumption. (Oddly enough, even the wealthy industrialists in her novels barely even seem to want to leave their own workplaces.) One of the bones of contention in Atlas Shrugged involves Lillian Rearden being pissed off, because Hank rearden staying too long at the plant working on Rearden Metal, and forgetting that it happens to be their Anniversary.)
So, yeah: Randian heroes are basically the vacuoum-tube era version of “geeks”.
(Remember: Rand’s last novel was published in 1957 — just barely past where solid-state electronics was starting to make any kind of substantive impact.)
Quite frankly, THIS is why Rand’s stuff has so much appeal: at her best, she was speaking directly to her era’s version of “geeks”: intelligent, sensitive (SO sensitive that they have to hide it under a veneer of aloofness), non-“social”, etc.
Unfortunately, her ‘advice” to them amounts to a “manifesto” for school shooters/the people who “go postal” and kill everyone at their workplace, etc.
I’ve never been able to buy into the notion that school shootings etc. are motivated by a lack of “empathy” or “compassion”. Quite frankly, the fact that most such people have spent years (if not decades) being bullied and shit on before they finally “snap” neccesarily calls that into question:
Quite frankly, Ayn Rand herself admits this:
I regard compassion as proper only toward those who are innocent victims, but not toward those who are morally guilty. If one feels compassion for the victims of a concentration camp, one cannot feel it for the torturers. If one does feel compassion for the torturers, it is an act of moral treason toward the victims.
In other words: Rand is definitely not “into” the notion of trying to “understand” the dickhead jock who beat you up and stuffed you into a locker.
That’s it: Rand’s solution to (society-wide) bullying is: get back at the bullies by burning down the school, while they’re inside.
THAT’S why Howard Roark makes his “point” by blowing up a construction-site. That’s ALSo why Galt & Pals monkey-wrench the hell out of everything within reach, taking special care to ensure as much carnage as possible.
Atlas Shrugged amounts to a civilization-wide Revenge of the Nerds.
Rand’s last (and, tellingly, never written) novel – To Lorne Dieterling – was supposed to center on the question of what happens to an Atlas who “doesn’t shrug” (IE: no petulant “screw you guys, I’m going home!” tantrum, after which you burn down the bullies house.)
Interestingly enough, someone else actually managed to think that question through, and apply it to advising people how not to destroy civilizaton:
So, how do we retain our sanity in a dumb, dumb world? I wouldn’t be a good teacher if I didn’t come prepared with a few ideas.
No. 1: read a fucking book. Something special happens when you set aside the inane distractions of modern culture and immerse yourself in a novel. You open yourself up to new ideas, new experiences, new perspectives. It’s an experiment in patience and mindfulness. The New School for Social Research in New York proved that reading literature improves empathy. It’s true. Reading makes you less of a jerk. So, read often. Read difficult books. Read controversial books. Read a book that makes you cry. Read something fun. But read.
No. 2: learn something. Your brain is capable of so much. Feed it. Learn something new. The greatest threat to progress is the belief that something is too complex to fix. Poverty is permanent. Racism will always exist. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too difficult to understand. The public education system is broken. Educate yourself, so you can be part of the conversation. Learn something scientific, something mathematic. Explore philosophy. Study paleontology. Try to learn a new language. You don’t even have to make fluency your goal, just get a few more words in your head. Listen to an educational podcast. Professors from colleges — such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford — are offering their lectures online for free. Think of what you could learn. One of my greatest challenges as a teacher was convincing students they were smart after someone had told them they were dumb.
No. 3: stop buying so much shit. This may seem like a non sequitur, but I’m convinced consumer culture and idiot culture are closely linked. Simplify your life. Idiocy dominates our cultural landscape because it sells more Nike tennis shoes and Big Macs. When we thoughtfully consider what we bring into our home, we are less likely to be manipulated by empty impulses.
And finally: protect the nerds. A computer programmer from Seattle is doing more to alleviate world poverty, hunger, and disease through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation than any other person in America right now. Nerds create vaccines. Nerds engineer bridges and roadways. Nerds become teachers and librarians. We need those obnoxiously smart people, because they make the world a better place. We can’t have them cowering before a society that rolls their eyes at every word they say. Ross needs better friends.