Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Ayn Rand and a fight over a sandwich

I used to be a fan of Ayn Rand. I read Atlas Shrugged. I think I read something else from Rand, too. I was a big fan of the Orange Country Register (eschewing the LA Times), and sent letters to the editor there that eventually got published. I joined the libertarian party. I hung out with libertarian friends. But I never really understood what I was doing to myself or my friends and family as I ventured deeper into isolation and obscurity.

I can remember how my dad used to talk up his fantasy about two men in a pit fighting over a sandwich. He wasn't explicit about it, but I could see the implication that in his scenario, the men would fight to the death over a sandwich. He believed that life is about competition, nothing more. The strongest shall survive. The weak will die early and young, or they will get what is left over. He never once suggested that the men might share the sandwich and climb out together.

I grew into a man believing that there was nothing more. I was born blind in one eye and deaf in one ear. I believed that everyone had it better than me because of that. So I did not believe in a God, for how could any god let that happen to someone? I looked at all the violence in the world and thought the same thing.

As I grew older, I got a taste of spirituality, not from a religion, but from a way of life. I read the Age of Reason by Tom Paine. I enjoyed reading how he found God everywhere, but in a book called the Bible. He asked the question, why would God put his word in a book written by men who are prone to error when he could put his word all around us, in the universe?

I read The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts, where I learned that faith is distinct from belief. Belief holds something to be true despite any new information. Faith reserves judgment in anticipation that new information is always around the corner. Belief clings where faith lets go.

So I feel a certain sense of enlightenment when I read this story about Ayn Rand in The Raw Story. The gist? Ayn Rand, the mother of libertarianism, idolized William Hickman, a brutal serial killer who rose to fame in 1927 for his murder of Marion Parker. Rand idolized him not for his murder, but for his complete inability to "feel another person". Rand's "Superman" was a man completely incapable of empathy. If that is the foundation of libertarianism, I can safely say that I'm not a libertarian.

For someone who claims to be an objectivist such as Rand, I find it rather interesting that throughout her life she completely missed the growing mountain of scientific evidence to show that humans are social creatures by design. She seems unable to comprehend that our ability to cooperate is the foundation for our ability to survive. It is why we're here, families must cooperate to live, just as nations do. Note also, that Rand collected social security in her old age.

Rand admired Hickman for being a "man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” Yet, every day, Rand experienced life among human beings. She received services from others. She received attention and favors from others. People gave her things freely, and she accepted whatever she received, even though she detested altruism. She is right, though, there is no such thing as pure altruism, because people always benefit from doing the right thing. But that is no reason to toss altruism.

I think it's important to note that more than a few politicians follow Ayn Rand. Paul Ryan is a great example. I find it ironic then, that Ryan claimed once that Rand was the reason he got into public service. In fact, I just don't think it's possible to reconcile the objectivist philosophy and a life in politics, for to do so, you must reject compassion. I guess Ryan realized that, too, for he admitted in 2012 that he rejected Rand's philosophy just in time for the midterms, but that didn't help him anyway.

This is where those Tea Party conservatives are coming from in Congress. They seem to honestly believe that competition comes before cooperation. Hey, it's great to already be in Congress having been blessed by so much cooperation to get elected and then claim that everyone else is out of luck, that from now on, it's dog eat dog.

If  you're a progressive, this is what you need to know to fight the opponent, or to even find some common ground. Shining a light on the twisted reasoning of an extreme philosophy will help to bring some members of Congress back to the center, perhaps even a little left of center. For who wants to be seen as a libertarian without empathy or compassion for others?
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