Friday, September 14, 2012

Ayn Rand Was a Terrible Person: A Short Essay

Shared cultural experiences are one of the strongest ties people can have. A Star Wars fan is going to be fundamentally the same regardless of location or age, because you and he saw the same movies. Kuurion and I, living at either ends of a large-ish continent, have a few such shared cultural experiences. For instance, we both thought Atlas Shrugged was a terrible book. The key difference is that I called bullshit after 82 pages and he read the whole thing.

Atlas Shrugged was written by a very angry woman named Ayn Rand. Rand hated the idea that anyone in this world should have any more or any less than exactly what they worked for. Atlas Shrugged was her dense, heavy-handed, wrathful sermon on how most people in society are parasites sucking off of the creative power of a very few.

But that's not the worst of it. Rand's idea of the cultural hangers-on wasn't simply that they mooched off those who were better than they. She viewed them as anti-progress, and depicted them as such in a way that was the single most offensive thing in the part of the book I made myself read.

One of the major characters is an industrialist named Henry Rearden, a man who has created a metal alloy that does the work of steel, but better. Protagonist Dagney Taggart, sister to a buffoon who controls a railroad, wants to use it to make rails. Nobody else in the industry will touch the stuff, and her brother fights her on it. The gist of the argument against "Rearden metal" is that the railroad people dare not touch anything new.

That's really it. I know that's really it because that single point is harped upon in a way that goes beyond beneath subtlety. Industry leaders fear change.

That would be a really potent message if it were even remotely true. In practice, industry people cannot wait to get new ideas out the door. Look at thalidomide, for God's sake. The people who made that stuff pressured for its availability in the United States in the and didn't apologize for the things it did to people until three weeks ago. Thalidomide came out the same year as Atlas Shrugged, just for comparison.

Rand's book is populated by straw men who are shown to be retardant to progress. Her arrogant opinions, when transposed onto the real world (where they are indeed embraced by certain people), are the most unapologetic kinds of dangerous. Her ideal of growth and independence is the tumor.

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