Ayn Rand

In answer to your question, No, I have not gone completely crazy.  I am not reading Ayn Rand.  I’m reading her recently published (2009) biography, called Ayn Rand and the World She Made.  That link refers to the NY Times review of the biography, which I personally haven’t read yet, and won’t until I finish the book.  I’m presently on page 332 of 413 pages…so, soon. 

This morning Fakesister and I, during our weekly conversation following our conquest of the NY Times Saturday crossword puzzle, wondered how we had escaped reading anything Ayn Rand ever wrote.  Our conclusion was that we weren’t inclined on our own, and no one ever made us do it.  This may prove that there is a merciful God after all ( a concept Rand would have rejected).

So why am I reading this?  I first heard of it in an interview with the author on NPR, and it sounded intriguing.  Since I know people who claim to be admirers and adherents of Rand, I thought it might be a good way to Know Thy Enemy…not that I really knew she was my enemy, I just suspected.  So I felt a duty to investigate the “other side”, kind of like how once in a while you have to watch Glenn Beck. 

And…I find Rand mesmerizing, and abhorrent.  I could probably stop right there, but in Randian fashion, let me go on. 

If there was ever a person with less self-awareness, I can’t think of one.  There is the most incredible disconnect between her opinion of herself and the reality of her life.  Her primary theme was that rationality is supreme, and I can’t argue with that.  But rationality, real rationality, allows for the fact that you might be, on occasion, wrong, or be disproved. 

The author of the book notes that eventually Ayn tired of “shoehorning” her ideas into the characters of her books, but it’s abundantly clear that shoehorning was Ayn’s specialty.  When she had a lengthy, sadomasochistic  affair with a man young enough to be her son, she made it fit.  It was the highest expression of her ideals.  Right.  You know, Go for it Ayn.  Have some fun.  But please don’t insult our intelligence by trying to make it a lofty concept. 

Ayn’s experiences growing up shaped her in ways that she completely ignored except when it was useful.  She speaks of “the mind” and of “rationality” as if it’s completely divorced from history and biology.  It’s like a floating thing.  Protoplasm. 

When you read of her childhood, what’s known of it, you get a picture.  She was a relatively unattractive child physically, with zero social skills.  There are two ways to adapt to that.  You try to decide what it is that you’re doing wrong.  Or you conclude, as Ayn did, that they are simply envious of your superior intellect and  there’s nothing you can do about it. 

Later in life, Ayn is described as being warm, charming, and generous on occasion.  I view this as the sociopathic response, in the way that sociopaths, who don’t feel it personally, are able to mimic the emotions of other people.  Huge things were happening around her in her early life, such as the Bolshevik Revolution, but she dismisses the impact of that and other events, because truthfully, it didn’t really matter to her.  The only thing that mattered to her was what was happening to her in her head.  Other people mattered to her only as far as they could praise her or give her pleasure, but she was astonishingly clever at disguising that. 

Ayn Rand was the ultimate narcicist and sociopath.  The only things that keep her out of the dustbin of history are:  Alan Greenspan, and the fact that she did have some actually worthwhile things to say.  She was opposed to mob rule.  I can’t disagree with that.

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23 responses to “Ayn Rand

  1. I am reminded of a quote I found on another blog a while back:

    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

  2. “zero social skills” makes Fakesister wonder about Asperger’s syndrome. Plenty of less “physically attractive” folks grow up well within the bell curve of behavior and thought.

    Folks on the fringes do sometimes produce lasting legacies in art, science, literature, and other pursuits. This could be despite or because of their alienation and means of coping.

  3. Prof: You are my newest favorite reader and I’m going to visit your blog forthwith. P.S. I am surrounded by orcs.
    Fakesister: that was not a possibility I even thought of, but it would fit perfectly. She was very, very bright but completely unable to grasp social meaning. When Atlas Shrugged was published–her magnum opus—she wnt into a complete tailspin when it was not well recieved by critics. She simply could not understand it.

  4. For a really quirky take on Rand, check out Matt Ruff’s Sewer, Gas, and Electric in which she is depicted as a reincarnated head residing inside a hurricane lamp. Yes, as I said, quirky…. –

  5. > rationality is supreme,

    Is it? Most folks are not rational. They “rationalize” 😉 what are basically emotional, non-rational values which are not fact-based.

  6. Technically speaking, spencercourt, pure rationality is simply impossible, since as I pointed out earlier, it has to be divorced from history and biology. By the way, many thanks to our friend ptfan1, who earlier sent me a link to Rand’s first TV interview, with Mike Wallace in 1959. It’s fascinating. While she is composed, her eyes are darting around in such a way as to make you feel there’s a bird inside her head desperately trying to get out.

  7. FN: I’m pretty confident that a voracious reader such as yourself would be better served by reading one of her novels than by reading a biography of the author — so you can reach your own conclusions.

    I don’t think she’s a particularly good writer, but I’ve read a lot worse books, and I’m glad that I read her tomes so I can focus on the good parts of her philosophy, and ignore the bad parts of his philosophy — even if my doing that results in my being despised by both the pro- and anti- Ayn Rand cults.

  8. Rocky…welcome back to Fakename’s world. I hate losing friends, even the ones who wholly or partly disagree with me. Unlike Rand, I don’t require utter loyalty.
    That said, I of course must disagree that reading the biography is less instructive than reading her novels. It places her thinking in context, something she herself was seemingly incapable of doing.

  9. And, let me add, not actually reading her books spares me the salacious and titillating parts. And don’t get me wrong…I’m not at all opposed to salacious and titillating. I am, after all, a big fan of Walter Mosley. But it’s no surprise that Ayn’s biggest fans are young men who read her in their teens and early adulthood. She created a philosophy out of narcissism combined with raging hormones and created a whole universe of young men (and women) with no mature idea of sexuality.

  10. “In answer to your question, No, I have not gone completely crazy. I am not reading Ayn Rand. “

    Interesting choice of words to open your blog, are you suggesting you have only gone partially “crazy”? lol. Secondly, you are correct; you are not reading Ayn Rand. At the end of the day you will still have not read Ayn Rand, and it’s your loss.

    Yesterday I cooked one of my favorite entrees; Crab Sauce Lorenzo which is a tomato based reduction sauce to be served over pasta. The whole point of a reduction sauce is that the taste intensifies as the crucible occurs. If I were to try and tell you how it actually tastes I would fall short as taste is an experiential sense. So I can tell you that it tastes like crab in a pungent spaghetti sauce but you still don’t know if you would enjoy it or not. So if you were to try and tell others about the sauce you would be doubly at risk.

    Can you covey to me the impact of Starry Night without showing me the painting?
    http://www.vangoghgallery.com/painting/starryindex.html

    “Ayn Rand was the ultimate narcicist (sic) and sociopath”

    Kay Redfield Jamison is and extraordinary woman (IMHO) a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine……. A Psychiatrist afflicted with Bi Polar. She has written some uniquely insightful material about the disease including Touched with Fire focused on Manic Depressive illness and the artistic temperament. She posits (and substantiates) the combination of wildly high states of creativity and low states requiring discipline and control actually are quite compatible with the poet, painter and novelist. She reports a much higher prevalence of the disorder in this population that in the general population. While she did not include AR in her book I suggest that it is quite possible that she suffered the affliction.
    To wit: pg 265 Hypomania
    Mood-elevated, expansive, or irritable
    Psychomotor-more energy than usual, physical restlessness
    Speech-More talkative than usual
    Sleep-decreased need for sleep
    Cognitive-inflated self esteem, sharpened and unusually creative thinking, over optimism or exaggeration of past achievement
    Behavior-Increased productivity, hypersexuality…………

    But so what? Many of our greatest artist’s were “mad”. What difference does it make in what they have given us? Can not their contributions be appreciated and valid despite their illnesses? Would her objectivist philosophy be negated?

    “I thought it might be a good way to Know Thy Enemy…not that I really knew she was my enemy, I just suspected”

    Perhaps you found what you wanted to find? Let me ask you a question. If AR was a liberal and her writings had still sold 25 million copies and she increasingly was embraced by the left, would you have acted the same way, drawn the same conclusions, dismissed the body of her work for the opinion of her biographer?

    Wiki “Rand’s books continue to be widely sold and read, with 25 million copies sold as of 2007, and 800,000 more being sold each year according to the Ayn Rand Institute.[136] In addition, the Ayn Rand Institute provides 400,000 copies of Rand’s novels every year for free to Advanced Placement high school programs in the United States.[137] “

    Hardly “dustbin” stuff.

  11. Pt, I always like it when you weigh in, especially when you point out misspelling on my part 🙂 Your speculation that Rand may have been bipolar is interesting, and many of the characteristics you name fit, although they also could have been influenced by her reliance on Benzedrine. On the other hand, mania is such a pleasurable state to those afflicted with it that something that would enhance it further (i.e., amphetamines) would be attractive–which is counterintuitive. You would think they would want something to “come down”, or reach a more balanced place. Fakesister’s speculation that Asperger’s may have been involved is equally plausible…maybe it was both.
    Your best point however (IMO) is that you can’t disregard the works of mad people. Van Gogh is the perfect example. BUT (you knew that was coming, right?) Van Gogh’s works are paintings; it’s entirely different to produce a work of ideas when you are afflicted in some way intellectually and/or emotionally than it is to paint a picture. And the same thing applies to your Crab Lorenzo. I’ll bet you could cook that even if you were crazy (which let me be quick to point out, you are not!)
    The biography makes me want to read Rand in person even less than I already wanted to, but I certainly know more than I ever did about the characters and the principles she’s trying to illustrate. It’s immaterial what my political leanings are. I view it as a bit like not wanting to be bitten by a snake…I know it would hurt, I don’t need the personal experience of it.
    I will retract the “dustbin” comment. Reality contradicts it.

  12. ptfan….

    I don’t have enough time at the moment to do this justice – so this is admittedly a quick response.

    The problem with Rand’s philosophy (and with related libertarian-esque philosophies) is that they just plain don’t work. They begin by assuming rationalism – yet we have a century more of good data suggesting that humans are simply irrational.

    The “tragedy of the commons” – which is itself based on short term rational individualism – trumps Randian/Libertarian views every time.

    Like I said – I don’t have enough time to do this in detail – but at least I opened the can of worms.

  13. “……it’s entirely different to produce a work of ideas when you are afflicted in some way intellectually and/or emotionally than it is to paint a picture. ”

    Jamison’s professional assessment is that they are the same, require the same creative ability. She offers data to support the premise through considerable research and scholarly compilation. Artists she uses as case studies include Byron, Tennyson, Melville, William and Henry James, Shumann, Coleridge, van Gogh Hemingway and Woolf pg7

    http://books.google.com/books?id=T5jYtG0zDBgC&dq=touched+with+fire&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=2R8yTPfzCoOBlAeuqv2_Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false

    She co-wrote the definitive text on Manic-Depressive illness.

    I hafta go along with her.

  14. hippieprof

    “The problem with Rand’s philosophy (and with related libertarian-esque philosophies) is that they just plain don’t work. They begin by assuming rationalism – yet we have a century more of good data suggesting that humans are simply irrational.”

    Rand’s response to this argument is constant. “It is always the fault of the collective’s influence when rationalism fails……….always.” She believed that if we left man to fend for himself that Darwin’s theory would kick in, only the strong and deserving would survive. Those that have value would flourish and those that don’t would genetically disappear.

    Notice I do not claim to be a Randian cultist, I live in the world of compromise and understand “the art of the possible.”…..But I don’t particularly like it, and wish at some point John Galt would actually come along transformed as Natty Bumppo and clear the way to Eden.

  15. Pt, I will disregard your suggestion that because you found an expert who agrees with you, that my viewpoint is inferior. As to HP’s point…here is a comment I posted today on the author’s blog:
    “Ms. Heller, I haven’t finished your book but I’m 3/4 of the way through, and in contrast to this blog (or its responses, I should say), my view is that the book does not try to discredit Rand, but presents some inconvenient and inconsistent facts about her life which discredit her ideas all by themselves without your help.
    In many eloquent ways, responses on this blog illustrate one of the problems I have with Ojectivists (or, “students of Objectivism”), which is that there is no argument against it sufficient to satisfy its adherents. In the end, it always boils down to, “If you disagree, you don’t understand it”. But more so than that, the real argument against is that it disregards history and biology. The concept that rationality can be divorced from history and biology is ludicrous, in my opinion, and if you believe you’re one of the people who can do it, you’re delusional. That said, the ATTEMPT to be rational is ever a good goal.”
    Better yet, here is a link to the blog itself, it you can stand it, because it’s the complete definition of “bloviating”.
    http://annecheller.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/objectivism-a-reader-comments-and-heller-responds/
    Ultimately I too could go on and on. The fact that the Inuit put their elderly into canoes to die in the ocean “worked”, it just isn’t a world I want to inhabit and see no reason to.

  16. Rand’s response to this argument is constant. “It is always the fault of the collective’s influence when rationalism fails……….always.” She believed that if we left man to fend for himself that Darwin’s theory would kick in, only the strong and deserving would survive. Those that have value would flourish and those that don’t would genetically disappear.

    Indeed that is what she said. But, she would be wrong.

    Once again, I don’t have time at the moment to develop this sufficiently – so I will continue throwing in some little scraps.

    I am a fervent Darwinian. Rand had at best a mediocre understanding of Darwinism. For example, for natural selection to occur the advantageous trait must operate within the reproductive window of the individual. If traits do not produce an immediate advantage they are at risk of being weeded out by other more immediately benificial traits. The result is that natural selection will tend to support traits that operate in the short term rather than the long term (Yes – there are some complicated exceptions to this – but they do not apply to Rand’s philosophy).

    Now, lets consider issues with the environment. Rand’s rugged individualists might indeed be favored over the short term as they move to quickly exploit their environment for the riches it holds. Of course, if you do this long enough you will destroy the environment – but natural selection, being short-sighted, cannot anticipate the long-term effects of an evolutionary trend.

    Individuals taking the short-term view will generally be more successful (over that short term) than individuals taking the long view. True, they will eventually destroy themselves – but by that time those with the long view will have already been weeded out.

    That was way to quick of a take on a complex issue – I hope it made sense.

    — hp

  17. It does make sense, and may I repeat myself for a moment (answer: yes I can, because it’s my hot dog stand). Rand’s “philosophy” ignores history and biology, and supposes an impossible version of Darwinisn. As for the short term work of Darwinism, see http://www.survivalofthesickestthebook.com/thebook.php
    Diabetes, for example, conferred a short-term gain, at least long enough to reproduce.

  18. “If you disagree, you don’t understand it” – a pure religious viewpoint. Only faith will lead you on the One True Path.

    Religion and science, or rationality if you will, operate in different realms.

    Fakename and I will never reside in the realm of Religion.

  19. Never mind that diabetes kills you in the end.
    As do many other conditions which confer a short term benefit.
    I will have to acknowledge a bias here. I get testy when people imply or actively state that I don’t understand something because I choose to express myself in a plain and simple way. I’ve actively worked at that.
    FYI, I was a philosophy major until my last year of college, when I switched to anthropolology—not that I’ve made a living in either. But I have had quite enough of the number of angels who can dance on a pin.

  20. Dare I say it…? Amen, Fakesister. Rand was an atheist, and considered God and “the State” to be the same coin. It somehow escaped her “rational” viewpoint that she tried to replace God and The State with the One True Path, namely hers.

  21. “I will have to acknowledge a bias here. I get testy when people imply or actively state that I don’t understand something because I choose to express myself in a plain and simple way. I’ve actively worked at that.”

    mmmmmmmm if you’re speaking to me I guess I am just too dimwitted to understand

  22. And in the category of not leaving well enough alone, some of the people, if not all of them that I know who are attracted to Rand are all also religious, which is inconsistent. Unless you want to argue that they came to that conclusion independently in true Randian, logical fashion. Which is inconsistent.

  23. I am not, in fact, speaking to you pt 🙂 Try not to take offense 🙂
    I’m merely trying to say that expressing yourself in a plain way is a skill I aspire to. I think that the better we communicate with each other, in terms we can all understand, the more we can live together well.
    On this very blog, I’ve been accused of many things…one of the nicest of which is “elitist”. In fact, I’m an anti-elitist.

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