In Wealthcare Jonathan Chait takes at look at Ayn Rand’s social and economic legacy in the U.S. Though her influence or the influence of objectivism is influential among the Right in many western countries.
In essence, Rand advocated an inverted Marxism. In the Marxist analysis, workers produce all value, and capitalists merely leech off their labor. Rand posited the opposite. In Atlas Shrugged, her hero, John Galt, leads a capitalist strike, in which the brilliant business leaders who drive all progress decide that they will no longer tolerate the parasitic workers exploiting their talent, and so they withdraw from society to create their own capitalistic paradise free of the ungrateful, incompetent masses. Galt articulates Rand’s philosophy:
The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the “competition” between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of “exploitation” for which you have damned the strong.
Markets produce a natural order. Those at the top are there for a reason. They’re smarter, more moral, harder working and have been endowed with almost transcendental qualities. Qualities that working people at the lower rungs of the pyramid cannot possibly understand. To question the holiness of the pyramid is to be all sought of awful things – uppity, a heretic, a commie. Chait mentions the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche. Not surprising since there is an element of social darwinism in how modern conservatives and libertarians believe society should function. This is also partly why you’re welcome to try, but you’ll never have a rational debate with a libertarian. Just as rand ran her little group of acolytes like a cult, there is a wall of tripe through which one must penetrate. Not unlike Scientology or fundamentalist religions. Chait or rather the authors of the two books he reviews site anecdote after anecdote about Rand’s life. For instance when she came to America some relatives let her live with them and helped her out financially. Rand never paid them back. I went over to the libertarian Reason and they accused Chait and the authors of relying too much on anecdotes. Kind of sad to see one of the three premiere libertarian web sites fail to have such a fundamental lack of insight into what constitutes a life. When one documents the events or anecdotes of a person they present a picture of the kind of life that person actually chose to live, not the one they philosophized about. One anecdote is a story, a long string of them is a narrative.
Chait also hits on an obvious truth and one of the reasons the current crop of astroturfy tea protests – an odd band of corporate apologists, pseudo-hit and miss-fiscal conservatives, libertarians that imagine themselves as poor Galts, some malcontents that live in perpetual delusion and other assorted misfits,
Now, it is certainly true that working hard can increase one’s chances of growing rich. It does not necessarily follow, however, that the rich work harder than the poor. Indeed, there are many ways in which the poor work harder than the rich. As the economist Daniel Hamermesh discovered, low-income workers are more likely to work the night shift and more prone to suffering workplace injuries than high-income workers. White-collar workers put in those longer hours because their jobs are not physically exhausting. Few titans of finance would care to trade their fifteen-hour day sitting in a mesh chair working out complex problems behind a computer for an eight-hour day on their feet behind a sales counter.
For conservatives, the causal connection between virtue and success is not merely ideological, it is also deeply personal.
Anyone that works for a living knows that hard work is not always rewarded. That promotions frequently go to people that are better office politicians or someone’s cousin rather then the most qualified. Those that have bothered to know that America is not the upwardly mobile society advertised. I’ve meet my share of corporate executives. Certainly intelligence is not what got them to the top. Oops, another heresy, luck, family wealth, connections play a much bigger role in getting ahead then those who believe in the fairy tale of meritocracy would have us believe. Merit is still important in the high middle. Good scientists and engineers are generally rewarded, but they usually not the CEO or President. People up on their Apple history know that Steve Wozniak was the tech genius, Jobs was the business guy. Bill Gates stole every technology available at the time, including DOS to start Microsoft.
germane “being at once relevant and appropriate”
Playboy: If life is so purposeless, do you fell that it’s worth living?
Kubrick: Yes, for those of us who manage somehow to cope with our mortality. The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism – and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere around him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But if he’s reasonably strong – and lucky – he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because and in spite of his awareness of the meaningless of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death – however mutable man may be able to make them – our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
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