Monday, March 09, 2009

Atlas Freaked

I've got a bit obsessed with Ayn Rand lately. Ayn was a Russian-born writer who moved to America in her 20s to become a Hollywood screenwriter. She wrote a few really long books, all of which put forward her rather mean political and economic ideologies. Along with Milton Friedman, Ayn was something of a visionary - although she died in 1982, she probably would have loved the last 30 years of political history (although she was such a contrary woman, she probably wouldn't).

Ayn advocated selfishness. In a speech in 1974 she complained that "today's mawkish concern with and compassion for the feeble, the flawed, the suffering, the guilty, is a cover for the profoundly Kantian hatred of the innocent, the strong, the able, the successful, the virtuous, the confident, the happy. A philosophy out to destroy man's mind is necessarily a philosophy of hatred for man, for man's life, and for every human value. Hatred of the good for being the good, is the hallmark of the twentieth century." In her short novel Anthem, collectivism has become so popular that the word "I" has vanished from the English language. While in her 1,100 page novel Atlas Shrugged, she describes how industrialists and all the clever, creative people decide to go off on their own to build an independent free economy.

Rand turns up in all sorts of odd places. The Canadian rock band Rush were influenced by her work, referencing her in their 1975 song Fly By Night ("It's time I was king and not just one more pawn... Leaving my homeland... My life begins today"). More recently, a computer game, BioShock is set in the 1950s, in an underwater utopian city called Rapture, built by business magnate Andrew Ryan (almost an anagram of Ayn Rand), for the world's elite, so they could avoid the political, religious and economic authorities on land. However, all of these clever people living together turns out to be not such a good idea, and once they start experimenting with their DNA, they all drive themselves violently insane....and that's where the player arrives there.

Ayn is suddenly back in fashion, thanks to all this credit crunch business and banks having to be nationalised again, and worst of all... an American President who Ayn would have hated. She didn't like Ronald Reagan so you could imagine how she'd feel about Obama. Republican John Campbell was recently reported as saying that Obama's policies make him feel like he's living inside Atlas Shrugged. There's even some talk of some of these republicans going on strike, or leaving America in order to bring Obama down.

In Britain we had something similar - you would always get right-wing "celebrities" warning that they would emigrate if Labour got into power. In 1997 naff tv magician Paul Daniels announced that he would move to Barbados if Labour got in. Other "stars" - Phil Collins, Frank Bruno and Andrew Lloyd-Webber made similar promises (sadly not kept), although I suspect that these widely publicised claims probably helped Labour's win in 97.

Hilariously, a Facebook group (Go Galt Go!) has been set up in order to wish these right-wing "thought leaders" goodbye and good luck as they decide to down tools and go off to their secret bunker. I do hope they have a nice time in there, although I suspect that they would find it rather difficult to cope if they didn't bring along all of their people to clean for them, cook for them, admire them, organise them, enable them to have orgasms, cheer them along while they do press-ups, work out their horoscopes and all of the other stuff that they're too important to do for themselves. And that's just one reason why Ayn Rand's utopian vision wouldn't work. The reason why we're in this mess in the first place is due to selfishness and the "Stuff you, I'm alright Jack" philosophy that Rand advocated. Whichever way you cut it, the woman was an idiot, and a spiteful one at that.

1 comment:

The Mule said...

Interesting post. As a teenaged Rush fan, I went through an Ayn Rand phase. I made it through Anthem and The Fountainhead, but bogged down halfway through Atlas Shrugged. That book was a chore and a bore.

I took her philosophy halfway seriously for a while, but (just as Rush did) I grew up and realized that society just can't work that way...nor would I want it to.