Skip to main content

A year ago, when I posted Why I'm Not a Libertarian, I thought I was done talking about my misspent Objectivist youth. Yes, I read Atlas Shrugged six times, and all of Ayn Rand's other published works at least twice. Yes, I now understand that I could have invested that effort more wisely. Let's not dwell on it. What's done is done.

So in April, when Paul Ryan's love/hate relationship with the Catholic bishops led me to write Jesus Shrugged -- Why Christianity and Ayn Rand Don't Mix, I left my personal history out of it. Ryan's policy proposals were the issue then, not his personality or character, so any insight I might gather from our common obsession was beside the point.

It's not beside the point now.

[from The Weekly Sift]

It should go without saying that I can't give you the final word on Ryan. I've never spoken to him. As far as I know, we've never been in the same room. But I can tell you what kind of young man is attracted to Rand's philosophy, how it changes him, where you can see Rand's influence on Ryan's thinking today, and what it says that he carries those beliefs into middle age. Along the way, we may learn something about Rand's influence on the conservative movement in general.

What Rand stood for: selfishness. In a nutshell, Rand's philosophy is the anti-gospel. She's explicit about this, as I have previously noted.

In the gospel worldview, people need to choose between selfishly piling up wealth for themselves and virtuously helping others. So Jesus says, "You cannot serve both God and money" and advises the rich young man to sell everything he owns and give the proceeds to the poor.

Rand flips that value system upside-down. To her, selfishness is virtue. All good things, even social goods, come from individuals acting selfishly: Thomas Edison wants to be rich and famous, so he invents the light bulb that benefits all of us.

It follows that capitalism is the only moral economic system, because it best expresses selfish virtue. (If you're having trouble grasping this, combine the theories of trickle-down economics, the invisible hand of the market, and homo economicus -- then multiply by a thousand.)

The relationships between Rand's heroic characters demonstrate how friendship and even love can be re-interpreted as selfish. Some people make the love-is-selfish point cynically, but not Rand: In her mind she's redeeming friendship and love by attaching them to the selfishness that she believes is the prime virtue.

Tellingly, there are no hero-parents in Rand's novels, and Rand had no children herself. Also, the relationship-value of her heroes never crashes, so we don't know how Dominique Francon would react if Howard Roark developed Alzheimer's.

What Rand stood for: elitism. In Rand's telling of history, all human progress comes from a tiny creative elite (think Edison's light bulb again) and they alone deserve the fruits of that progress. In the speech that epitomizes Atlas Shrugged, John Galt says:

If you worked as a blacksmith in the mystics’ Middle Ages, the whole of your earning capacity would consist of an iron bar produced by your hands in days and days of effort. How many tons of rail do you produce per day if you work for Hank Rearden? Would you dare to claim that the size of your pay check was created solely by your physical labor and that those rails were the product of your muscles? The standard of living of that blacksmith is all that your muscles are worth; the rest is a gift from Hank Rearden.
Rearden the inventor/industrialist not only owns his innovations, he and his fellow capitalists are the sole heirs of humanity's technological legacy. Workers inherit nothing from the geniuses of the past, except through their employers' generosity. (I've written about that aspect of Rand's philosophy here.)

The non-creative masses attach to the Reardens like leeches or barnacles. Christianity, socialism, and other philosophies that make selfishness a vice are tricks by which the "parasites" make the producers feel guilty about claiming what is rightfully theirs. The Fountainhead's hero Howard Roark voices the eternal victimhood of the creative elite:

Thousands of years ago, the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light. ... Centuries later, the first man invented the wheel. He was probably torn on the rack he had taught his brothers to build.
The plot of Atlas Shrugged stands the labor movement upside-down: The job-creators go on strike, vanishing with their wealth (even their inherited wealth) and leaving the parasites to suck each other's blood. "If you desire ever again to live in an industrial society," strike-leader John Galt says, "it will be on our moral terms." Naturally, the economy collapses, and the novel ends with the newly-appreciated strikers preparing to return and reinvigorate the impoverished world with their productive genius.

Why this appeals. Like polio, Randism typically strikes in adolescence -- for good reasons.

One of the most frustrating things about adolescence is the way grown-ups use your lack of experience to discount your opinions. So teens are particularly attracted to theories that turn experience inside-out: Adults aren't experienced, they're indoctrinated. Our corrupt culture looks at everything backwards, so the longer you have lived in it uncritically, the further you are from reality.

The most attractive teen philosophies are bit-flips: The wrongness of the culture can be summed up in one idea, where the culture says true instead of false or yes instead of no. Once you reverse that single bad decision everything becomes clear, so a college student who has flipped that bit is infinitely wiser than any uncorrected greybeard professor.

Second, in the same way that my-real-parents-are-royal is the characteristic fantasy of childhood, my-unique-potential-is-unappreciated is the characteristic fantasy of adolescence. Tell a teen-age boy that there is a hidden aristocracy of talent, and he will start designing his coat-of-arms. The much higher probability that he was born to be a drudge never registers.

Finally, Rand's ideas are particularly seductive to boys. I've never been clear on the exact socio-biological mechanisms, but boys in general have a harder time learning empathy than girls do. It's not that we don't care about others, it's that seeing their point-of-view is work. It doesn't come naturally. The boy who happily gobbles down the last donut may be honestly distressed to look up and realize that other people wanted it.

To become mature, men need to discipline themselves to imagine how other people's legitimate interests might conflict with their own. Until you learn that habit -- OK, until I learned that habit -- I was constantly running afoul of rules that seemed arbitrary and restrictions that I imagined had been contrived purely to frustrate me.

So my elders told me that selfishness was a vice, but Rand flipped that bit and made it the essence of virtue. What a relief to know that my basic wiring was right all along, and that the only point-of-view I ought consider was my own! All those authority figures lecturing about respect for others were just trying to enmesh me in the culture's fundamental corruption.

In addition to being male, I was white and healthy, and (though not as well-to-do as Ryan) I grew up with all the opportunities middle-class kids used to take for granted. Liberals might try to call me to account for my privileges -- how did I justify them? what social responsibilities did they place on me? -- but Rand set all that aside. Instead, I could identify with a victimized upper class of Roark-like geniuses.

Why it fades. Eventually, teens get the life experience their elders faulted them for not having. You meet people of many types, see how they approach life, and how (over time) it works out for them. As I did that, here's what I noticed:

  • Self-interest is a really crappy model for love and friendship. I force-fit it for a while, but eventually I noticed that the people whose relationships I envied didn't live that way.
  • Greed is ugly. When I look back on things I did out of greed, I'm rarely proud of myself.
  • Life is complicated. No One Big Idea explains what's right or wrong with the world.
  • There is no aristocracy of talent. Most people are good at something. And while the correlation between wealth and talent (or hard work) is positive, it's not that high.
Most of all, as I got into life and began to have my own modest successes, the need to think of myself as special or tortured (like Rand's mythical discoverer of fire) lost its power. The world will little note nor long remember what I do, but I've enjoyed it. It's been important to me, so I'm content to let other people's lives be important to them. I don't need to see others as an undeserving mass trying to usurp the glory that is rightfully mine.

Rand and Ryan. Like me and so many others, Ryan found Rand as a teen-ager. He told the Atlas Society in 2005:

I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff.
He tries to play his Randism down when he would rather appear Catholic, but it never really goes away. In 2009 he said:
It doesn't surprise me that sales of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead have surged lately with the Obama administration coming in. Because it's that kind of thinking, that kind of writing, that is sorely needed right now. And I think a lot of people would observe that we are right now living in an Ayn Rand novel.

Ryan buys into Rand's framing of the great fight between individualism and collectivism, and he admires her for laying out "the moral case for capitalism". That moralism is what makes compromise impossible: Good cannot compromise with Evil. Any compromise between Purity and Corruption is a victory for Corruption.

Rand's villains never have a legitimate point of view. Some are evil incarnate, while others refuse to understand the truth because of its inconvenience. But always, the truth is readily apparent to anyone who wants to know it.

I can see that mindset working in Ryan in more than just his pro-1% policies. In his Atlas Society talk, Ryan notes that unreformed government spending is projected to grow eventually to 26% of GDP and concludes "Autopilot will get them where they want to go."

Them? You know, the conspiring collectivists -- Dick Gephardt, Nancy Pelosi, and Ted Kennedy. They're not trying to solve any social problems, they're just trying to make government bigger for its own sake. So if Medicare costs more, they win.

Similarly, in a 2010 anti-abortion article he says "we cannot go on forever feigning agnosticism" about the full human rights of fertilized eggs. Pro-choicers can't really doubt the infinite moral value of zygotes or the government's competence to make that judgment, we're just "feigning". (Rand would have disagreed the content of this argument, but its style is very much like her.)

But most of all, Rand is the source of Ryan's Makers vs. Takers worldview. Like many other Republicans, Ryan has connected two statistics: that of all American households, about half don't owe income tax and half get some kind of government assistance to paint a false picture of two fixed and separate classes: those who work and those who mooch.

In reality, the two groups overlap and flow into each other: People who paid into Social Security while they had jobs are now retired and drawing out. The hard-working minimum-wage WalMart clerk needs food stamps to feed her children. In another household, one spouse works while the other collects unemployment, or both work while their college student gets a Pell grant or S-CHIP helps care for their sick toddler. Only in Randist mythology does society divide into Makers and Takers.

Why didn't it fade for Ryan. This is where I can only speculate. But three explanations make sense to me.

First, even at age 42, Ryan hasn't had much life experience. He went to Washington as a congressional intern at 21, and he has lived in the conservative echo chamber ever since. During that time, he hasn't made a product or had a customer. Since 28, when he entered Congress, he hasn't had a boss.

Second, the company he keeps. One of the most interesting chapters in The Audacity of Hope has senate-candidate Obama riding to a fund-raiser on a private jet. He contemplates how much time he spends raising money from the very wealthy. How much, he wonders, is this constant need to appeal to the rich changing the way he thinks?

I don't believe Ryan has that level of introspective intelligence. As the Koch brothers' favorite congressman, Ryan spends more time with richer people than Obama ever could have. Plutocrats love his high-school convictions, so why change?

And finally, in many ways Ryan is living his adolescent dream. He can put out a budget full of holes, with numbers that don't add up, and read about how brave and brainy he is. He is the ideological leader of the Republican caucus, the true star of the 2012 convention. If he grew up wanting to be Howard Roark, lots of people are telling him he succeeded.

Ryan does remind me of some fictional characters, but not Roark or Galt. To me, Paul Ryan resembles David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel, the middle-aged rockers of Spinal Tap. Probably they were good boys once, but the rock-star life has robbed them of the experiences they needed to grow up. Proclaimed as geniuses at an early age, they enter their 40s believing that the puerile thoughts of their teens are still deep and weighty.

[This article completes my Ryan trilogy: I Read Everything About Paul Ryan So You Don't Have To and Paul Ryan: Veteran of the War on Women are the other parts. I hope I can move on now.]

Originally posted to Pericles on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 06:05 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Good stuff! (11+ / 0-)

    I like the way you think; it clears up quite a bit for me.
    Thanks.

    "Ideology offers human beings the illusion of dignity and morals while making it easier to part with them." -- Vaclav Havel

    by SottoVoce on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 06:24:46 AM PDT

  •  When Romney promised that he (22+ / 0-)
    will care for the poor and the sick, will honor and respect the elderly,
    the audience response was crickets.

    The same line at the Democratic convention would bring down the house.

    Selfishness is such an elephant thing.

    If cats could blog, they wouldn't

    by crystal eyes on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 06:26:23 AM PDT

  •  Ryan is living the fantasy (16+ / 0-)

    He lives in a world in which inconvenient facts are expunged and denied:  the conservative echo chamber has that in common with a Rand novel.  Heroic myths in which one can pose, as if they were cardboard pictures with holes for your face, are presented and celebrated.  He has an adoring fan base to share the folie en masse, others eager to reinforce their prejudices with him.  Pots of gazillionaire money have enabled him to spend his life in the House, posturing as a principled ideas man for an uncritical Beltway press even stupider and more gullible than your average 17-year-old Rand fanatic.

    Pity the harsh spotlight his ambition has brought him is introducing a bit of reality into his life-fantasy.  I don't expect he's used to being called a liar for repeating the same endless line of nonsense he's always comfortably spouted without pushback.  He's going to lose this election, badly, and when he returns to the House he'll be treated by Republicans as a Loser.  They don't like Losers, and neither does Rand.  I'd like to think the experience will teach him some valuable lessons, but given the conservative tendency to find scapegoats elsewhere I don't really expect it will.

    For the love of money is the root of all evil; and while some have coveted after it, they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10)

    by Dallasdoc on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 06:28:12 AM PDT

  •  It's Such a Total Failure on First Glance (6+ / 0-)

    One good person is trivial to defeat by 3-4 mediocre ones plotting against them. Whether it's negative as a conspiracy, or positive as a community, the many easily defeat the one.

    Individual liberty is not on the table. Humanity is going to consist of communities and controlling institutions no matter what anyone does. The only question is how we choose to formalize them.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 06:45:15 AM PDT

    •  "Humanity is going to consist of communities" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      caul

      could rightly be expanded to "does now consist of communities, and always will because it always has"

      There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

      by oldpotsmuggler on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 12:15:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Children/teens are still developing empathy. (7+ / 0-)

    Mileage varies with the individual, of course, but generally speaking, development of empathy ought to diminish affinity for Randian selfishness.  

    Neil Peart, lyricist for the [best] band [ever] Rush, was a Rand fan, but you can follow the growth of his empathy & compassion in his lyrics.  

    ANTHEM

    Know your place in life is where you want to be
    Don't let them tell you that you owe it all to me
    Keep on looking forward, no use in looking 'round
    Hold your head above the ground and they won't bring you down

    Anthem of the heart and anthem of the mind
    A funeral dirge for eyes gone blind
    We marvel after those who sought
    New wonders in the world, wonders in the world,
    Wonders in the world they wrought

    Live for yourself, there's no one else
    More worth living for
    Begging hands and bleeding hearts will
    Only cry out for more

    Well, I know they've always told you
    Selfishness was wrong
    Yet it was for me, not you, I
    Came to write this song

    Just a couple years later:
    CLOSER TO THE HEART

    And the men who hold high places
    Must be the ones to start
    To mould a new reality
    Closer to the Heart

    The blacksmith and the artist
    Reflect it in their art
    Forge their creativity
    Closer to the heart

    Philosophers and ploughmen
    Each must know his part
    To sow a new mentality
    Closer to the heart

    You can be the captain
    I will draw the chart
    Sailing into destiny
    Closer to the heart

    I could post more examples, but that should do it.  Non-Rush fans should check out more of his lyrics, even if they wish to avoid the music.

    From his
    Rolling Stone interview:

    This is somewhat random, but you were interested in the writings of Ayn Rand decades ago. Do her words still speak to you?
    Oh, no. That was 40 years ago. But it was important to me at the time in a transition of finding myself and having faith that what I believed was worthwhile. I had come up with that moral attitude about music, and then in my late teens I moved to England to seek fame and fortune and all that, and I was kind of stunned by the cynicism and the factory-like atmosphere of the music world over there, and it shook me. I'm thinking, "Am I wrong? Am I stupid and naïve? This is the way that everybody does everything and, had I better get with the program?"

    For me, it was an affirmation that it's all right to totally believe in something and live for it and not compromise. It was a simple as that. On that 2112 album, again, I was in my early twenties. I was a kid. Now I call myself a bleeding heart libertarian. Because I do believe in the principles of Libertarianism as an ideal – because I'm an idealist. Paul Theroux's definition of a cynic is a disappointed idealist. So as you go through past your twenties, your idealism is going to be disappointed many many times. And so, I've brought my view and also – I've just realized this – Libertarianism as I understood it was very good and pure and we're all going to be successful and generous to the less fortunate and it was, to me, not dark or cynical. But then I soon saw, of course, the way that it gets twisted by the flaws of humanity. And that's when I evolve now into . . . a bleeding heart Libertarian. That'll do.

    Testify!

    Before elections have their consequences, Activism has consequences for elections.

    by Leftcandid on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 07:10:42 AM PDT

  •  Great breakdown of Ryan (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cassandracarolina, Lujane, caul

    I love how you intertwined Ayn Rand, and Paul Ryan's immaturity into a common thread that truly defines why Ryan is who he is.  His lack of real world experience sure is heralded by the right wing loon's as being something of great honor.

  •  Excellent writing (4+ / 0-)

    as I've come to expect from you.

    Pro-Occupy Democratic Candidate for California State Senate, District 29 & Occupy OC Civic Liaison.

    "I love this goddamn country, and we're going to take it back." -- Saul Alinsky

    by Seneca Doane on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 10:31:42 AM PDT

  •  Paul Ryan doesn't grok Rand (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Russycle, caul, TAH from SLC, Trevin, etbnc

    Seriously, reading Atlas Shrugged led him to choose a life of public service? Is it even possible to fail to understand a book more than that? That's like reading Mein Kampf and feeling inspired to become Jewish.

    "Sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice."
    The All-Powerful Nateboi

    by Orbital Mind Control Lasers on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 11:05:26 AM PDT

  •  The other half of the sickness (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    caul, TAH from SLC, etbnc

    In addition to the arrested adolescence of Randian ideologues, they have a tendency to view themselves are Nietzschean supermen.  Thus they are not bound by the "slave morality" of Christianity, or any other actual humanist philosophy.

    Reporting from Tea Bagger occupied America

    by DrJohnB on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 11:11:26 AM PDT

    •  Libertarianism is simply evil. Not the highest (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      caul, TAH from SLC

      evil, not the worst evil, but also nothing more nor less. To think that doing nothing is a superior way of living over doing your best to try to make things better is so obvioualy fallacious that it is deserving of absolutely no positive consideration.

      There can be no protection locally if we're content to ignore the fact that there are no controls globally.

      by oldpotsmuggler on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 12:22:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Way too blanket a statement. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        caul

        What sort of Libertarianism do you believe to be evil?  The kind that says everyone is equal before the law?  The kind that says "crimes" that only hurt oneself shouldn't be crimes?  The kind that says don't initiate vilolence?

        The part that says free association (even especially in a union) is a right?

        It is a bit simplistic a moral philosophy but I don't think it is evil.

      •  Sin of Omission (0+ / 0-)

        I'm pretty sure the Catholic Church still teaches about it in Sunday school --- Paul Ryan must have been playing hooky that day.

        But anyway, the Sin of Omission is, well, a sin. Here's what Wikipedia had to say:

        The degree of guilt incurred by an omission is measured like that attaching to sins of commission, by the dignity of the virtue and the magnitude of the precept to which the omission is opposed as well as the amount of deliberation.
        Living life with an Objectivist philosophy is essentially like hitting triple word score in scrabble, except with sins.
  •  BEST diary about Ayn Rand ever published on (5+ / 0-)

    DailyKos, and I think I've probably read every one since the place's inception.  All future takedowns of Ayn Rand should just link to this and shut up.  There's more that could be said, but your explanations are not juvenile, they attack the philosophy rather than the person, and they show that you actually understand the material that you're talking about.  Brav-fucking-O.

    I also loved one of your blog entries that you linked to an entry titled, Who Owns the World.  It's long, but it's worth the read.  It addresses one of the core concepts of Rand and laissez-faire libertarianism, the concept of individual property without the obligation to share.  You address the issue of why some people have the sense of a need for social justice and why some don't, and you don't just label people as bad.  You actually try to explain it.

    When Unitarian Universalists talk among ourselves about social justice, we all more-or-less know what that means: Things should be more equal. [...]

    We’re much better making these kinds of lists than we are at explaining why this world we’re envisioning is just. I think that’s because, among ourselves, we don’t need to explain it. Most people with UU values just feel it, without explanation.

    You say, “Isn’t it awful that in such a wealthy country, some people are poor or hungry or have to go without healthcare or education?” And whoever you are talking to says, “Yes, it is awful.” And the conversation goes on from there.

    There’s nothing wrong with that conversation. But if that’s what we’re expecting, we’ll be at a loss if people feel differently.

    I have an unfinished diary which I may never finish now about why Randian style conservatism appeals to the poor, although they may not know it's Rand, the way Joe the Plumber did.  Rather than focusing on why immature minds are attracted to this, it's more important to understand WHY THE POOR might be attracted to it.  

    I give the following analogy: A cashier at Walmart who barely scrapes by.  Kids to feed, bills just barely paid, lies told to get more time, family that don't help, a boss that pisses all over him/her, a job that he/she can't quit because she'd lose what little she's got.

    A politics of social justice might offer a way out of that, but when presented badly, from the perspective of a different social class, it falls flat.  Because people like this know the importance of property and ownership quite well.  They have so damn little, they depend on it so badly, that when somebody comes along and suggests property isn't inviolate, they roll their eyes.

    I didn't need Ayn Rand or a conservative think tank to learn the importance of private property.  I had four older brothers, a younger sister, and a beleaguered mom.  Disputes between us usually got a dismissive, "Why can't you kids just share?"

    Private property was hammered into me from an early age.  Not hammered really, but punched and kicked and noogied and yelled into me.  "You touch my stuff, you're deadmeat."  In a vicious atmosphere like that, you learn to cherish your own property and look forward to any chance to deny your brothers the use of it.

    I remember the day my next older brother's bike was broken and he had to deliver his paper route.  And he needed my little Schwinn Sting-Ray.  And I said no!  Oh that was gratifying.  After the death threats, and I've gotta have it, he got my mom involved, and she pleaded with me to let him use my bike to deliver his route, or else she would have to drive him.  I said, "He never said please!"  "Okay, Steve, say please."  Oh... how gratifying.  He looked at me like, "I'm going to kill you after this, someday, sometime," and then he said please.  And I smugly allowed him to use my bike.

    So private property isn't such an advanced philosophical concept.  Thomas Paine and Adam Smith might have dressed it up and formalized it, but the basic idea is human.  And the gratification of stinginess, well, that can be a learned thing, but you learn it at an early age.

    But let's go back to the Walmart cashier.  The conservatives come along and tell them, "That tax money is YOURS, not the government's!  They're going to take it from YOU and give it to other people who DON'T DESERVE IT as much as you do."

    The harder you scrape by (I scrape by very hardly at this point in my life, I can testify) the more that has a gut appeal.  To punctuate it, that cashier sees people going through her checkout lane who pay with food stamps.  Where's HER food stamps?  Life is so fucking hard for her.  MY tax money is going to this loser who isn't as deserving as me, why I ought to...

    And so the poor are made to hate the poorer.  Yet am I crazy to think that cashier should be up in arms about the inequity in a system that rewards the rich so unfairly and makes her life so hard.

    This seems so bizarre to me.  The right BETTER UNDERSTANDS than us the importance of playing classes against each other.  We see it as racism, and that's absolutely true, but there's so much more, because hating people for being another color isn't sufficient to explain the sense of lower middle-class class outrage that infuses conservatism and that we just overlook in confusion as if it's some insignificant outlier.

    Class outrage should work to the benefit of the left, not the right, and if it isn't, it's because we're not being as aggressive and thoughtful in its use as they are.  The Occupy movement got that.  It's the 99% versus the 1%.

    The point I'm making here is that people who get up in townhalls and say, as you quote,

    "I work hard for what I have, and I will share it with others when I choose, who I choose, should I choose. The government cannot force me to be charitable."
    ... Those people aren't suffering from an incorrect worldview or moral failure.  You can try to interpret it that way, but that fails.  It fails with me.  I'm a hardcore liberal now, but I understand the concept of property and not wanting to have things just taken from me quite, quite, well, and the less I have, the more I worry about losing it.

    No.  I think the problem is that it's not the government that's ripping us off.  Oh well, it's that too.  Halliburton and Blackwater and BP get rich off everybody's back and the Republicans somehow manage to call that capitalism.  The Republicans frame it though so the guys that are taking your stuff are the government and liberals.

    And it's not all that hard a sale for them to make.  For a reason.  But this might be difficult to grasp at first, so I hope nobody reacts to this without thinking it through:

    When liberals talk about social justice, and they talk about it this way:

    “Isn’t it awful that in such a wealthy country, some people are poor or hungry or have to go without healthcare or education?”
    That sounds ALIEN to people who are scraping by.  It sounds privileged.  Generous and compassionate maybe, but alien and privileged. I'm struggling to find the words to explain why.  Mitt Romney (not him, but people in his position) might be able to talk about things in such distant words, as if he was talking about people in a third world country that he pities.  Arguments that start from that position, from being on the outside but concerned from the poor, thus become suspect.  Because if you can talk that way about "some people," you're not one of us.  And here comes Paul Ryan to tell us we deserve what we make and nobody should take it from us, and he does it in words that sound closer to our desperate hearts...  Progressives lose, conservatives win.

    When Zapata talked about social inequity, he said this:  "They have the land.  But you have the guns.  Are you not men?"

    What a very different framing that is.  The class war is laid out in stark terms.  The fact that I quote Zapata on this so often isn't because I want bloodshed; I think there are many ways of fighting for equity without the use of guns.  But it has to start from a sense of being us versus them, where them isn't the poor people on food stamps.  

    Given that goal, statements of compassion and concern for the hard life of the poor working class is a big failure.  Compassion is cheap, but gas and beer and rent are expensive and going up, and wages are going down.

    •  Well done (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dumbo, matching mole

      Have you thought of making this comment into a diary?  It's real good.  Particularly, the way that you explain the poor's emotional attraction to conservative propaganda.  

    •  Dead on right, Dumbo, as usual (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dumbo, matching mole

      That is why the message should be: How do you like being exploited - by the rich and priveledged, not the food stamp recipients.

      I would only add that the poor are usually sold a fantasy that the lottery will come in some day, the discovery will occur and they will be rich - oh, but wait, those dirty socialists will come and take it away.

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 03:47:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I *think* that this applies... (0+ / 0-)
      "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.

      But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

      -- spoken by Lilla Watson, who asks that the words be credited to "Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s."

      The tendency of the privileged (whether somewhat or very...) is to come to help, not to come to work with, and certainly not with a real recognition that their liberation and well-being is also bound up in the needed work.

      Thus the disconnect that you point to; those most obviously affected--the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized--are not the victims, but simply the obvious victims. Even those we find hideous and repugnant; Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh... they're victims too. It's just that they don't even really want to help, they've opted, for now, to sort of collaborate.... But they're still victims, and their liberation is bound up with ours, too.

      "Be just and good." John Adams to Thomas Jefferson

      by ogre on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 11:31:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent diary, well done, T&R'd, hotlisted..... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    etbnc

    etc., etc.

    I once heard a talk by Richard Leakey, son of Louis B. and Mary Leakey, given at our local Chamber of Commerce-sponsored economics club, wherein he noted that our evolution was dependent upon a cooperative and caring social structure, and that when you look at the collections of fossils of our hominid ancestors, you inevitably find examples of individuals whose bones indicate suffering from advanced disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, and from serious injuries such as broken limbs that healed over.  Neither of these could have happened if the troop had simply abandoned them --  the disease could not have advanced so far, nor the bones healed over so completely if the individuals had not been cared for when they were unable to engage in the daily activities needed to sustain their own lives.

    This could not have happened had the troop been slavishly devoted to a Randian approach, composed of a few elites docilely serviced by an inherently inferior mass.  It could only happen on the basis of compassion and cooperation of all within the troop, and an ethic that saw the value of each individual as a necessary component of the survival of all the individuals in the group, no matter their ability to contribute.

    And ethic of from each according to their ability and to each according to their need, or loving one's neighbor as oneself and doing for others as you would have them do for you.

    You can't stand up for Main Street when you're genuflecting to Wall Street

    by caul on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 01:19:06 PM PDT

  •  As someone who (0+ / 0-)

    is currently reading through Rand's books and at least to some extent subscribes to objectivist ideology, my personal feelings on the subject are a bit different.

    I take away more of the broad ideas from it rather than following all of it to the most miniscule detail:

    - Not feeling bad for making good decisions and doing well in life

    - Not forcing others to burden themselves on my behalf and also expecting not to be forced to burden myself for others

    - Realizing that my happiness is not a function of how others feel about me or how they treat me, but rather a function of how I feel about me and how much pride I can take in what I've done with my life

    There are others, but those are the main things that I can get on board with.  

    The way I read Rand's books is not so much as a "hate the poor" diatribe, but rather to feel no sympathy for people who are simply trying to coast through life without trying to better themselves and refuse to make the sometimes hard decisions necessary to get to where they want to be.

    •  I should also add (0+ / 0-)

      that I thoroughly enjoyed your diary!  I meant to put that in my original post, but realized that I pushed post before getting it in there!  Thank you!

    •  Conservatives are happier (0+ / 0-)

      This reminds me of the study that found that conservatives are happier than liberal. Mainly because they don't worry about social inequities. Link
      This can be particularly poignant when liberals are unhappy about such things but don't do anything to change them.

  •  like Tolkein, I think of Rand as one of those (0+ / 0-)

    writers most attractive to undergraduates. Like Ralph Nader.
    Ok if you have a lot of time to burn, some pot, and not much experience in life.

    German Constitution, Article 1 (1) The dignity of man is inviolable. To respect and protect it is the duty of all state authority.

    by Mark B on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 03:31:57 PM PDT

    •  I couldn't disagree more (0+ / 0-)

      See my diaries on Tolkien. And I am just about to write a comment on what I as a progressive got out of Rand-y thought

      An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

      by MichiganChet on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 03:50:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was an undergrad: I had time, some pot, and Rand (0+ / 0-)

    Of course I officially deny (ha ha) any and all experimentation in substances which got me pleasurably stoned into the next week. I liked the diary, but would add a couple of thoughts as someone who also read the Rand canon when I was young, moved on, got out of it what I could, and proudly consider myself a progressive on a libertarian base of ideals.
       First, I don't consider reading the Rand works a waste of time, in that it was a step on the path to where I am now. It is very obvious reading now where the whole edifice fails, and the diarist has clearly elucidated this. There is something to telling the insecure undergrad that it is OK to trust your own judgement, that the crowd is sometimes wrong, and that a rational way of looking at things is possible. You know, the other thing I would add is that young men (and young women) are like others in that they like reading what they want to hear. So as I was pretty much atheist before encountering Rand,  I was all the more so afterward; as I was very pro-choice before encountering Rand, I was - and remain - militantly so afterward; and as I was very much against merely following what was fashionable at the moment solely because it was fashionable I am now quite comfortable with my own somewhat perhaps idiosyncratic tastes. If you are not, well, Honey Boo Boo anyone?
       Also, I do believe in exercising one's critical faculties to see where a body of thought is plain wrong or at the very least incomplete. Sure, life is good if you really are that Neitzschian superman who can build buildings, invent metal and discover new physics that no one else can. You never have to doubt yourself, never have to think that maybe it is you who are wrong. But what about the rest of us who ain't quite that smart? Maybe it is OK to have some self-doubt once in awhile. That might just be the first step to empathizing with others, who have similar self doubts, because also they are not superman.
       I'll conclude with highlighting the best line in the diary (for me):

    Self-interest is a really crappy model for love and friendship. I force-fit it for a while, but eventually I noticed that the people whose relationships I envied didn't live that way
    Allow me to be more frank: displaying an irritating amount of self- interest is not the way one gets love and lasting friendship for oneself, and it gets kinda lonely being in monogamous relationship with you alone. This was brought home to me one day when I was sitting there listening to some fellow (at the time) objectivists and suddenly getting the revelation that I would rather be with my girlfriend who cared little about this whole 'objectivist' shtick, but sure felt good to embrace and lie with
       

    An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

    by MichiganChet on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 04:19:14 PM PDT

  •  Well done (0+ / 0-)
    Like polio, Randism typically strikes in adolescence -- for good reasons.
    That is pure gold right there.

    I'm struck by (and wrote a diary on) the influence of Rand on Ryan's views of women and sex.  Those teen years, when Ryan was reading Ayn's little rape and near-rape scenes ("rape by engraved invitation", as she called one scene in the Fountainhead) and when ideas about sex and gender are formed.

    The idea that there is "rape rape" versus "she's just crying rape" and similar nutty notions can be traced directly to Rand's female characters in both Atlas and Fountainhead. Yes, these were to some extent in the style of the time they were written, nonetheless they were being read decades later by boys who should know better.

    But, apparently, don't.

  •  Theory on Paul (0+ / 0-)

    There was a secret society that developed in the '90's where a bubble formed with legislative aides, it corresponded with RW Talk Radio and Contract W/America, they were in a world where realism didn't exist,

    Paul seamlessly moved from there to getting elected. I knew people who were acquainted much closer than me who was merely in the room and heard him present his stuff in 98, 00 and then 04. Met him once, he ran away once confronted.

    He does not present me with a conscience that he will acknowledge hypocrisy or mendacity or accountability outside driving his revolution in his mind.

    The tell is what he did on the commission, he walked once he didn't get his way and had to compromise with the takers. So what happens when he faces Biden in the debate. What happens when he has to face some press one on one?

    Even if he continues in his stick he will lose the audience.

    They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty~Ben Franklin

    by RWN on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 04:34:50 PM PDT

  •  This is a moral issue and crisis, not merely a (0+ / 0-)

    difference of political philosophies. Books like Rand's do matter, because they foster and nurture the worst in our nature. A society loses its glue. The center cannot hold. It then becomes the unleashing of a collective unbridled id that Yeats warned us about ("the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity") many decades before Freud and Jung, who too, understood the clinical and cultural manifestations of sociopathy. It's easy to blame the perps, but even easier to let the ennablers off for looking the other way!
    Nevertheless, the most egregious organized and institutionalized political moral misfits must be called out first. The following is a list of clinical psychological characteristics for the disorder. See if any of them apply to any national figures you've heard lately {source credit at the end}:


    Profile of the Sociopath

        Glibness and Superficial Charm

        Manipulative and Conning
        They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.

        Grandiose Sense of Self
        Feels entitled to certain things as "their right."

        Pathological Lying
        Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.

        Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
        A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.

        Shallow Emotions
        When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.

        Incapacity for Love

        Need for Stimulation
        Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.

        Callousness/Lack of Empathy
        Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others' feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.

        Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature
        Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.

        Early Behavior Problems/Juvenile Delinquency
        Usually has a history of behavioral and academic difficulties, yet "gets by" by conning others. Problems in making and keeping friends; aberrant behaviors such as cruelty to people or animals, stealing, etc.

        Irresponsibility/Unreliability
        Not concerned about wrecking others' lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.

        Promiscuous Sexual Behavior/Infidelity
        Promiscuity, child sexual abuse, rape and sexual acting out of all sorts.

        Lack of Realistic Life Plan/Parasitic Lifestyle
        Tends to move around a lot or makes all encompassing promises for the future, poor work ethic but exploits others effectively.

        Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility
        Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

    ww.mcafee.cc/Bin/sb.html

    •  Source of wisdom (0+ / 0-)

      It used to be the bible that was thumped to justify their point of view. Isn't it ironic how Rand's book is being thumped considering she took such a dim view of god and religion?

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site