Friday, April 22, 2011

Whiny, Selfish Captains of Industry - Why I won't be seeing Atlas Shrugged

When I first read Atlas Shrugged (in college), I really got into it. I read one of Ayn Rand's other novels, and read a lot about Objectivism. A couple years later I realized why it appealed to me so much, and since then I've completely changed my mind about it.

Don't get me wrong - Atlas shrugged is a good piece of fiction. I even consider it a good counterpoint to a lot of the 60's socialist-hippy science-fiction that some of my favorite authors have cranked out, or (yech) most anything by L. Ron Hubbard. It is well-written story with good characters, but (like Battlefield Earth) the main focus of the story isn't the characters, it's the philosophy. In Ayn's case, a set of social and economic ideas called Objectivism.

Atlas Shrugged appeals to people initially because they sympathize with the powerful, hero-like characters in the book. At the risk of gross generalization, everyone likes to picture themselves as a powerful person. Everyone likes to think their contributions are important. Everyone likes the idea of sticking it to people who don't appreciate them. Everyone somewhere has a selfish core that wants to believe the world revolves around them, and that's exactly what this book appeals to. Normally I wouldn't care, but given the outsized attention this book has received over the years, the number of "Going Galt" cultural references, "Who is John Galt?" bumper stickers, company names, etc. that I've seen, and the powerful people who subscribe to Objectivism, it's a philosophy that worries me.  Some of it's most powerful proponents are former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, and R-WI congressman Paul Ryan, who created the Medicare-slashing U.S budget proposal that Republicans just passed in the House in Representatives.

When you take a step back, Atlas Shrugged is simply about the richest, most powerful people in the world  whining that their contributions aren't appreciated. One after another, they say "I'm going to take my jacks and go home", then take their magical talents off somewhere to wait for the world to come crawling back on it's knees begging them to deign to run civilization for the rest of the poor helpless folk who can't do anything for themselves.

Objectivism is inherently and unabashedly selfish. There's even a term for it: "rational self-interest". The theory seems to be that the world will be great if everyone acts only in their own self-interest. Ayn rejects feelings, emotion, and faith as irrational, which (if you're a Star Trek fan), would make her the ideal Vulcan.

My understanding of Objectivism sets it diametrically opposed to, and completely incompatible with Christianity. Aside from Ayn rejecting that religion has any value, just about anything espoused by Objectivism is the complete opposite of what Jesus "would have done".  This makes it a complete mystery to me why Atlas Shrugged is so popular with the Tea Party, unless they're just pretending to be concerned about "family values", and are really just in it for the money.  For some reason Ayn is the one atheist in the world that isn't a demonic cultist on her way to hell. Rather, she's been turned into some sort of economic patron saint, and copies of Atlas Shrugged are given away like it's the Bible.

Needless to say, I won't be forking out any money to see this movie.  It's completely in my own self-interest to save my twenty bucks and take my kids to see Rio, which will probably do a better job of preparing them to function in a society where you actually care about people.  In fact, I may find a charity to give it to, as "irrational" as that would be, in order to offset a small amount of the societal damage this book has caused.  As far as I'm concerned, anyone who wants to emulate this book is welcome to take off and go live in a valley by themselves somewhere. The rest of us will get along with the business of trying to make the world a better place in our own small, flawed ways, whether we're appreciated for it or not.

1 comment:

Mattbear said...

Love it. Good post. And nice to see you actually post something.