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"Ayn Rand is for Children" from Salon.com

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http://www.salon.com/2013/01/19/ayn_rand_is_for_children/

"With this week’s news that Glenn Beck and others are preparing to build libertarian communes and “Going Galt,” I figure now is the time to finally refine my theory about those who claim to be Ayn Rand acolytes or who brag that their favorite book is “Fountainhead Shrugged” (they are the same book written twice in order to double Rand’s profit, so for brevity, let’s just use one name).

Since I first met Objectivists (read: libertarians) in college, my Unified Theory of Rand Groupies posited that they all probably fit into at least one of three groups: those who 1) never grew out of the usual “the world is persecuting me and doesn’t see my true genius” phase that momentarily afflicts the typical high schooler 2) think saying “Ayn Rand” in any context makes them sound intelligent, even though they’ve never actually read her work or 3) have read Rand’s work, don’t genuinely believe in her ideology as evidenced by their lifestyle/politics, but still say they love her because it serves to make them feel good about their own avarice.

Out of these three groups, the third is probably the most prominent in this, the era defined by the politics of “makers versus takers.” After all, these folks purport to adore the free-market triumphalism of “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged,” haughtily imagine themselves as rugged up-from-the-bootstraps individualists like Howard Roark and John Galt, tell themselves that their greed is patriotic, and thus demonize government and taxation. Yet, most of these same people tend to live their lives in ways that belie their personal mythology.

Typically, they are more than happy to (among other things) drive on taxpayer funded roads; to have their assets defended by government agents (aka police and firefighters); to have their property rights protected by a law enforcement collective known as the judiciary; and to pocket their share of handouts. Some alleged Randian individualists are even willing to decry the social safety net for others but not for themselves, and still others are happy to to vote in Congress for the epitome of what Randianism stands against.

That said, after reading the following nugget from this terrific New York Times writeup of literary giant George Saunders, I discovered a critical hole in my theory (emphasis added):

After he graduated from the School of Mines, Saunders went to work for an oil-exploration company in the jungles of Sumatra…They worked four weeks on and two weeks off and in the down time would be shuttled in helicopters to the nearest city, 40 minutes away, and then from there fly to Singapore.

“I’d been kind of an Ayn Rand guy before that,” he said. “And then you go to Asia and
you see people who are genuinely poor and genuinely suffering and hadn’t gotten there by whining
.” While on a break in Singapore, walking back to his hotel in the middle of the night, he stopped by an excavation site and “saw these shadows scuttling around in the hole. And then
I realized the shadows were old women, working the night shift. Oh, I thought, Ayn Rand doesn’t quite account for this
.”

As Saunders’ personal story suggests, my theory about Randists fails in not accounting for the fourth and arguably biggest subgroup of all: those who have never visited the developing world. And when I say “developing world” I’m not talking Tom Friedman-ese by referring to walled off resorts in banana republics or big, wealthy cosmopolitan cities isolated from their otherwise dirt poor nations. I’m referring to the actual dirt poor places outside those resorts and cities where the Tom Friedmans and Rand groupies probably never visit.

Now its true: I’ve never been much of a Rand fan myself (beyond, of course, the normal momentary dalliance with “Fountainhead Shrugged” during my obligatory 11th grade descent into immature self-pity). Nonetheless, after my three-week voyage to the poorest province in China in 2009 (which you can read about here), I can say with confidence that if you have been to the non-Tom-Friedman developing world – aka the actual developing world – you don’t need Saunders’ MacArthur Genius-worthy intellect to arrive at his very same conclusion.

My particular trip felt like a journey to a place much like what I imagine 19th century America had been – a place that at once confirmed the worst consequences of a real-world Galt’s Gulch (no obvious environmental, public health or workplace safety laws) and proved the idiocy of Rand’s overarching ideology (the preternaturally industrious poor in China hardly seemed like blameworthy “takers”).

I’m guessing it was the same for Saunders in Singapore, just as I’m guessing it is for Americans who deign to visit the developing world. Simply put, once you actually see laissez faire capitalism and greed-is-good extremism at work, it doesn’t look as nice as it sounds in Rand’s works. On the contrary, as Saunders implies, it makes “Fountainhead Shrugged” look less like serious treatise than bad young adult fiction, with all the corresponding misguided parables and oversimplified conclusions.

The problem is, for various reasons – some having to do with economics, some having to do with cultural arrogance – relatively few Americans make the kind of trip Saunders made. According to government data, only 30 percent of Americans even possess a passport (which is a very low rate compared to citizens in other industrialized English-speaking countries). Additionally, of those who do, only a fraction use their travel papers to visit parts of the developing world that perfectly spotlight the failures of the Rand vision.

To be sure, a strict Objectivist would probably argue that many developing-world nations don’t represent Rand’s vision because they are ruled by corrupt governments. But that’s not really relevant because many of those places are now defined by Authoritarian Capitalism whereby political freedoms are limited, but Randian free-market extremism most certainly is not. Indeed, as some American CEOs will http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C48fqHdMaVc, if you want to see a more purely Randian version of a socially darwinist free market than exists in America, head straight across the Pacific Ocean to China.

Put all this together, and I’m officially amending my theory. To be a Rand groupie is to flaunt your immaturity, your ignorance, your desperation to justify greed or your lack of international travel. It is, in other words, to admit your blindness to how so much of the world already lives, and to ignore what America would look like if “Fountainhead Shrugged” was seen as a public policy manual rather than what it really is: a dangerous farce."

I rank this as the second worst Rand hit piece I've ever read.

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I just love that you are either a pretentious immature weirdo or you are not really an Objectivist.If I said anything siimilar about any other group of people with a belief system, I would be called prejudiced. For sure I was this kid in highschool, but I grew out of that and I am muhch more an Objectivist now than I ever was then.

What upsets me the most is that they blame us for their systems fault. Liberals and centrists support international finance, bank bailouts, corporate welfare, and subsidies. The neo-liberal system is the system of the liberals, not free marketers. If they want to know where poverty is coming from they should look at their own damn president.

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Learning and practicing Objectivism would help with the writer's inability to discriminate two vastly different books.

Edited by bert

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Ooo, straw men! What a surprise!

I've been to a dozen or more countries, some of them decidedly Third World. It was blatantly obvious, to the point of banality, that the poorest countries were the least free, while the richest had been relatively free for some time. Yet this somehow eluded that writer, who claims to see laissez-faire capitalism everywhere it isn't.

I have no desire to sign up with Salon but did leave a comment on their FB page. Let's see if I get any intelligent replies.

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This is one of the better critiques that I've seen.. although the author never makes the big connection for us. He claims that most Objectivists 1) haven't seen the slums of the world, and 2) that seeing the slums of the world would somehow change their views. But he doesn't state what he's really getting at: that seeing the truly poor & needy is enough to justify a governmental robin hood.

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“I’d been kind of an Ayn Rand guy before that,” he said. “And then you go to Asia and you see people who are genuinely poor and genuinely suffering and hadn’t gotten there by whining.” While on a break in Singapore, walking back to his hotel in the middle of the night, he stopped by an excavation site and “saw these shadows scuttling around in the hole. And then I realized the shadows were old women, working the night shift. Oh, I thought, Ayn Rand doesn’t quite account for this.”

Brilliant. Singapore is one of the most prosperous countries in the world (more prosperous than the United States or almost any country in Europe, more prosperous than Japan).

The reason why they even have a lower class is because they allow people from surrounding countries to live and work on their island. Or rather, the reason why more "enlightened" countries in Europe don't officially have this lower class is because they declared their very existence an illegal act, and regularly deport them back to their deaths in the hellholes they desperately tried to escape from.

If enlightened socialist paradises did not have the policy of casting out "illegal immigrants" wholesale, to a fate much worse than having to work the night shift in Singapore, their welfare systems would crumble much faster than it is crumbling now, and expose the underbelly of their beliefs. The only thing protecting the illusion of a "happy for all society" in Europe is the incredible cruelty with which they deal with poor immigrants.

And yet, this moron has the gall to assign blame for foreign transient workers' poverty to the one country in Asia that has allowed more prosperity to be earned than any other one.

Edited by Nicky

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His argument boils down to personal attacks and name calling, without any kind of actual argument. He essentially says that an objectivist is someone who is immature, who hasn't grown past high-school mentality, who isn't widely read, and who is naive about the world and hasn't traveled enough to see extreme poverty first-hand. Notice that all of those are personal insults and assumptions about people based on bias. Not a single actual argument that can be examined based on rational logic of empirical data.

And I can prove his bias wrong to my own satisfaction, though his bias would not allow him to accept it. I am mature in my thoughts, which in part I take to mean an ability to question the status quo and think for yourself. I am more mature than when I was in high school. In fact, most of the people (and myself to a degree) thought along Sirota's lines in high school. Most of the high schoolers I knew then, and know today, would whole-heartedly agree with Sirota. But I grew past those views. I am well-read. I've read lots of philosophy, and theology, and science, and history. I have a master's degree in theology from a seminary when I was once religious. (I'm now an atheist.) You don't get that degree (or any upper level degree really) without having to be well read, whether you retain it or not. And I have seen extreme poverty. When I was in Thailand once I was walking with a half-Thai, half-white girl. A woman who had a baby must have thought we were a married couple. She tried to hand us her baby, and wanted us to keep it. She was that destitute. This was in Pattaya where prostitution is rampant.

And having seen the things I've seen, read the things I've read, and grown to be more mature than Sirota, I am more convinced than ever that Rand was right, and objectivism sound. To make assumptions that objectivists are immature people who must have never done any traveling and seen real poverty, is truly immature.

Edited by secondhander

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Secondly, I find that objectivists are well aware of the extreme poverty that exists in parts around the world. We are very aware of the reality of the world. It's often other types, particularly liberals, who are often oblivious to the realities of the world, including the extreme poverty.

They know it exists in theory, but they haven't dealt with it very consciously from a worldview perspective. So when they see it, they are shocked. Instead of trying to understand the true causes and ethics behind poverty and government intervention, the shocking sight of poverty causes them to think that even MORE government intervention is needed, along with more resources and money and property given to the poor (they rarely think about the fact that it must be taken away from others first).

And those same people, when they are shocked by the sight of reality, then think that they are the only ones who have ever considered that reality or are aware of it. It's ironic and naively egotistical. Sirota was (self-admittedly) oblivious until his trip to China, and then he climbs on a high horse and assumes that he's the only person who has been awakened to the truth of extreme poverty.

He should get a clue. Objectivists have been aware of the realities of the world for ages. Maybe he should read about the Great China Famine, and examine the causes behind it. Millions of deaths by starvation is reality, too. The difference between Sirota and objectivists, is that we know the true causes behind poverty and starvation.

Edited by secondhander

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Okay, I'll bite: what's the worst? Whittaker Chambers' "review"?

I didn't consider Whitaker since his article is at least a review, and not an article written long after Rand's death for the sole purpose of attacking her. My number one pick is George Monibot's article, "How Ayn Rand became the New Right's version of Marx" in the Guardian. Link - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/05/new-right-ayn-rand-marx

There was a thread on it a while back when it came out - http://forum.objecti...showtopic=23191

Edited by Dormin111

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What too many critics of Rand completely miss is that these two stories pointed out are intended to be cautionary tales rather than scripts or manuals for living. They are just stories. Howard Roark and John Galt are characters who produced solutions to architectural and energy producing problems. One character struggles to maintain his integrity in an industry which displays a weather vane type behavior. The other character is fighting against an out of control state. Neither of them imposes the product of their efforts in a "for your own good" manner we see practiced today by the statists running our government. These two characters offer their inventions and work at a price commensurate to their estimation of the worth of their work. In the case of Galt, his ideals ran contrary to the socialists who tried to engineer the culture of the company he worked for. So he took his creation elsewhere. The Howard Roark character endured a period of destitute living based on his not finding a buyer for his architectural creations. Two men who stood by their principles for better or worse. At the risk of isolation from society. But their choice nonetheless.

Sirot's rambling discourse in name calling and labels ignores that there is not a strict disagreement with government and taxation but rather the demonization of excess government and over taxation. Sirot (and maybe Saunders) miss the point that our republic is founded on the principle of limited government. Rand's outlook was based on her experience with the oppressive Soviet state which imposed itself in all aspects of the individual's life. Cradle to grave. We have instead since the 30's slid into a repetitive cycle of our government trying to solve problems it cannot fix only to exacerbate the original problem and thereby feel compelled, justified, to throw more tax payer (confiscated income) money at the same problem. This seemingly never ending cycle results in huge bureaucracies which demand to be maintained and funded to address problems which by now defy explanation. We saw this with Chrylser in the 70's and in 2008 and as well with GM. Neither organization was afflicted with a problem the state could fix. Only the free market can fix that which it created. Similarly, only society can solve the problems which itself creates. It is up to the state to stay out of the way and keep out those external influences which would impede us, society and the free-market, from solving problems as we deem appropriate. The poor nations alluded to by Saunders and Sirot are as much victims of their own social and moral dysfunctions as they are of external influences, if at all.

As for Salon, I abondoned reading that site some years back.

It is like a dog pound: a lot of barking and yipping from interesting looking mutts, but none I would want to take home.

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I just love that you are either a pretentious immature weirdo or you are not really an Objectivist.

Wait - who was this directed at?

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Blaming Americans(which I assume is audience) for not being aware of abject poverty begs the question as to why one would need to travel to see it. Why is it not as prevalent 'here'.?

Edited by tadmjones

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mdegges

The data didn't come across in my view of your post. But I would wager the subSaharn area has a rather low standard of living, has that region ever experienced a different level of standard of living, and if the answer is no, the next question would be why, yes?

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Wait - who was this directed at?

It's not directed at anyone in particular, it is what Hairnet is saying the author imposes as the only two alternatives anyone can choose from. "You" is in reference to all human being. Hairnet is being sarcastic in saying he "loves that". Edited by oso

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It's not directed at anyone in particular, it is what Hairnet is saying the author imposes as the only two alternatives anyone can choose from. "You" is in reference to all human being. Hairnet is being sarcastic in saying he "loves that".

Ohh, I see - thanks

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re Sub Sarahan region , comedian Sam Kinison had a great line in his act, along the lines that charity was ok and all, but they, the people in famine regions of Africa don't need food, they need moving vans, its a desert. For some reason I always remember that line when this region is brought up.

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I would wager the subSaharn area has a rather low standard of living, has that region ever experienced a different level of standard of living, and if the answer is no, the next question would be why, yes?

Yeah, of course. I just wanted to post that data to back up the author's point that on average, Americans truly aren't abject to (or even around) extreme poverty.

Edited by mdegges

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Yeah, of course. I just wanted to post that data to back up the author's point that on average, Americans truly aren't abject to (or even around) extreme poverty.

Exactly the author fails to realize that the "natural" state of mankind would be poverty, these types of critisisms seem to ignore why the other parts of the world aren't in the same state of poverty. Freedom and the societies that try and protect it are the most prosperous, they never seem to start from that standpoint, it's usually more of a why aren't you helping more kinda thing.

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