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Going Galt, Going CrazyBy Daniel Johnson Salem-News.com
She called her “philosophy” Objectivism although, said philosopher Gary Merrill “if there is such a thing as a pseudo-philosophy this is it.”
(CALGARY, Alberta) - “Going Galt” is the resurgence of a movement that began in the 1950s as an effort to reject all the positive aspects of our social society.
It is based on the pseudo-philosophy of Ayn Rand, a Russian émigré who died in 1982, but whose books are still selling well. Who is buying them? Prospects mail in cards from her books. There is a steady flow of new recruits, primarily adolescents—impressionable and often confused. As Andrew Corsello wrote in the October 27, 2009 GQ:
“A weirdly specific thing happens with the books of Ayn Rand. It's not just the what of the books, but when a reader discovers them—almost always during the first or second year of college. Rand grabs a reader at a time of maximum vulnerability and malleability, when he's getting his first accurate sense of how he measures up in the world in terms of intellect and talent. The longing to regard oneself as misunderstood and underrated can be powerful; the temptation to project oneself as such, irresistible.”
“Going Galt” requires some background, so I will leave it for the final section.
A Canadian Connection
Ayn Rand was born Alice Rosenbaum in 1905 in St. Petersburg, Russian Empire and emigrated to the United States in 1926. She died in New York City in 1982. She first came to significant fame with her novel The Fountainhead in 1943 which gave her fame and financial security. Her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957.
Rand worked as a screen writer in Hollywood through the 1930s and 1940s, while writing her first novels, moving to New York City in 1951. Not to disappoint Salem-News.com readers, there’s even a Canadian influence here. In the early 1950s, a group of acolytes formed around her which they jokingly called “The Collective”. Writes Rand biographer Jeff Walker:
"The core of the Collective was largely made up of Canadian Jews, most of them closely related. Nearly all the Collective, Rand included, came upon the ideas of America's founding father's as outsiders. Leonard Peikoff, a lowly member of the Collective, though he was one day to become Rand's heir, hailed from Manitoba, as did Joan Mitchell Blumenthal, Rand's close friend for a quarter-century, and Barbara Weidman (Barbara Branden). With Toronto natives Nathan Blumenthal (Nathaniel Branden), a Blumenthal sister and her husband, and cousin Allan Blumenthal, Rand's inner circle was nearly complete."
One of the early devotees from the 1950s was Alan Greenspan, later globally influential as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1978 to 2005. Jeff Walker says that "Ayn Rand's inflation paranoia, impressed indelibly upon the mind of disciple Alan Greenspan in the 1950s, wound up administering a stunning shock to investors three decades later. The crash [of 1987] even resulted in further regulation of the financial markets, something Greenspan had come to Washington to reduce."
She called her “philosophy” Objectivism although, said philosopher Gary Merrill “if there is such a thing as a pseudo-philosophy this is it.”
Ostensibly, Rand worshipped logic and reason but in practice shunned their actual use, brooking no discussion or debate of ideas that differed from her own. She believed, and her followers concurred, that she had a corner on knowledge and understanding. From the Randroids (a term coined by Roy Childs) point of view, there was not even a need to look at other arguments or points of view. They were, ipso facto, evil—a term they used frequently about opponents.
"When Rand complained that contemporary philosophers were ignoring her, [philosopher John] Hospers suggested that she write up an idea, briefly or at length, publish it in a philosophy journal, and then respond in writing to philosopher's criticisms. But she never did this, so averse was she to submitting her ideas to the give and take of rational discussion. She could not bear to see any of her own views criticized. Hospers speculates that she wouldn't have lasted ten minutes anyway. She would have gone into the stratosphere with anger, 'and that would have been the end of that.'"
I first encountered Ayn Rand in high school when I found Atlas Shrugged on a display rack at the public library. I don’t recall, now, what attracted me to reading it, but read it I did, and several times again over the next few years. I became hooked on its anti-social attitudes (a reflection of my own insecurities) and became, for many years after, as insufferable in my relationships with others as Rand was herself. As former Objectivist Allan Blumenthal put it, “because they had learned the philosophy predominantly from fiction, the students of Objectivism thought they had to be like Ayn Rand heroes: they were not to be confused, not to be unhappy, and not to lack confidence. And because they could not meet these self-expectations, they bore the added burden of moral failure.”
Barbara Branden said that, "often, Nathaniel would arrive home from a meeting with Ayn looking grim and tormented. He would say that Ayn had been furious with him—that they had spent their hours together analyzing his psychological problems and the reasons for his failure of spontaneous emotional communication. Many times, still angry, she telephoned him when he reached home, scolding, accusing, denouncing." Although not as extreme, I was the same way with many of my friends, trying to convince them that their lives would be so much more meaningful if they believed this or did that. I remember sitting and talking with a friend one night trying to show him how, because he had no “purpose in life”, he couldn’t really be happy. What a maroon I was.
Murray Rothbard, a member of Rand's circle for several months in 1958, described the Randroids as “posturing, pretentious, humorless, robotic, nasty, simple-minded....dazzlingly ignorant people.”
Former acolyte Edith Efron summarized: “There is no way to communicate how crazy she was....Ultimately everyone who knew her would ask themselves, ‘Is she insane or am I?’...She was a profoundly manipulative woman...so repressed that it resulted in a ‘very complicated paranoia.’” According to Allan Blumenthal, Rand “created an entire system, including her philosophical system, to deal with her own psychological problems.” Biographer Jeff Walker was astounded. “Allof Objectivism was to deal with her own psychological problems?” he asked. Blumenthal emphasized, “That's my view,” which corresponds to her frequent statement that “Objectivism is me....”
Sex and Ayn Rand
In a book review, Jenny Turner sums up Objectivist sexuality.
“Power, greed, grandeur, beautiful, insatiable people: all this can lead to only one thing. And the sex in Rand’s novels is extraordinarily violent and fetishistic. In The Fountainhead, the first coupling of the heroes, heralded by whips and rock drills and horseback riding and cracks in marble, is ‘an act of scorn ... not as love, but as defilement’—in other words, a rape. (‘The act of a master taking shameful, contemptuous possession of her was the kind of rapture she had wanted.’ In Atlas Shrugged, erotic tension is cleverly increased by having one heroine bound into a plot with lots of spectacularly cruel and handsome men.)”
Through the 1950s and into the mid-1960s, Nathaniel Branden was sexually servicing Rand in her bedroom while her husband Frank O’Connor sat in the living room smoking and drinking. Often his wife, Barbara, sat there with him, as well. (What kind of a conversation could they possibly have had?) At the same time, Branden was also carrying on a full time affair with Patrecia, whom he would later marry, during all of which time he remained married to Barbara.
Dagny Taggert, in Atlas Shrugged has sexual encounters with the three heroes of the book:
Francisco D’Anconia: “She knew that fear was useless, that he would do what he wished, that the decision was his, that he left nothing possible except the thing she wanted most—to submit.”
Hank Rearden: “He seized her arm, threw her down on her knees, twisting her body against his legs, and bent down to kiss her mouth…he saw the shape of her mouth, distorted by pain, was the shape of a mocking smile. He felt it change to a shape of surrender…”
John Galt (on sandbags in the underground railroad tunnels): “She felt her teeth sinking into the flesh of his arm, she felt the sweep of his elbow knocking her head aside and his mouth seizing her lips with a pressure more viciously painful than hers …”
Here’s the rape scene from The Fountainhead. Howard Roarke appears in Dominique’s bedroom:
“He came in. He wore his work clothes, the dirty shirt with rolled sleeves, the trousers smeared with stone dust. He stood looking at her. There was no laughing understanding in his face. His face was drawn, austere in cruelty, ascetic in passion, the cheeks sunken, the lips pulled down, set tight.
“She tried to tear herself away from him. The effort broke against his arms that had not felt it. Her fists beat against his shoulders, against his face. He moved one hand, took her two wrists and pinned them behind her, under his arm, wrenching her shoulder blades. She twisted her head back.
“She fell back against the dressing table, she stood crouching, her hands clasping the edge behind her, her eyes wide, colorless, shapeless in terror. He was laughing. There was the movement of laughter on his face, but no sound.
“Then he approached. He lifted her without effort. She let her teeth sink into his hand and felt blood on the tip of her tongue. He pulled her head back and he forced her mouth open against his.
“She fought like an animal. But she made no sound. She did not call for help. She heard the echoes of her blows in a gasp of his breath, and she knew it was a gasp of pleasure. She reached for the lamp on the dressing table. He knocked the lamp out of her hand. The crystal burst to pieces in the darkness.
“It was an act that could be performed in tenderness, as a seal of love, or in contempt, as a symbol of humiliation and conquest. It could be the act of a lover or the act of a soldier violating an enemy woman. He did it as an act of scorn. Not as love, but as defilement. And this made her lie still and submit. One gesture of tenderness from him—and she would have remained cold, untouched by the thing done to her body. But the act of a master taking shameful, contemptuous possession of her was the kind of rapture she had wanted. Then she felt him shaking with the agony of a pleasure unbearable even to him, she knew that she had given that to him, that it came from her, from her body, and she bit his lips and she knew what he had wanted her to know.
“They had been united in an understanding beyond the violence, beyond the deliberate obscenity of his action; had she meant less to him, he would not have taken her as he did; had he meant less to her, she would not have fought so desperately. The unrepeatable exultation was in knowing that they both understood this.”
For many years Rand was the only other writer who lauded best selling pulp fiction writer Mickey Spillane. In a 1962 fan letter she wrote: “Will you tell me whether you intend to write a sequel to The Girl Hunters ? … You build up such an interest in the relationship of Mike Hammer to Velda that one waits impatiently to see their meeting.” She said, "Spillane gives me the feeling of hearing a military band in a public park.” But Spillane, said writer Hugh Merrill, had dragged pulp fiction into a “sewer of sadism”. No wonder Rand felt simpatico.
Rand’s male heroes are sadists. Psychoanalyst Karen Horney describes the sadist:
“While he violates the most elementary requirements of human decency, [the sadist] at the same time harbors within himself an idealized image of particularly high and rigid moral standards. …The emotional life of the sadistic person is empty. Almost all feelings except those of anger and triumph have been choked off. He is so dead that he needs these sharp stimuli to feel alive.”
Rand expresses “high and rigid moral standards” in her heroes’ contempt (one of her most frequently used words) for humanity:
Dagny Taggert: “In the city, she had lived in chronic tension to withstand the shock of anger, indignation, disgust, contempt.” and “I can run a good railroad. I can’t run it across a continent of sharecroppers who’re not good enough to grow turnips successfully.”
Hank Rearden: “There’s nothing as wasted as an object in a public window,” and “he had never liked anyone or expected to be liked.” But, as the real world, non-Objectivist poet, Philip Larking opined, "As a child I thought I hated everybody, but when I grew up I realized it was just children I didn't like."
Ellis Wyatt: “ I have guest rooms for the kind of people who come to see me on business. I want as many miles as possible between myself and all the other kinds.”
As an aside, this raises a dark question: What sort of sexual relationship did Branden have with Barbara, Ayn and Patrecia? No one has said anything and I won’t speculate, but behind closed doors did they try to be sexual Objectivists, as described in The Fountainheadand Atlas Shrugged? Just the thought gives me the willies.
Once asked if she could explain Objectivism while standing on one foot, Rand lifted one leg, and said:
Leonard Peikoff, Rand’s heir gives a more detailed summary of Objectivism in ten points:
Using Aristotle’s Law of Identity (in logic—an object is the same as itself), Rand always said that there are no contradictions. If a contradiction seems to exist, she always said, “check your premises”. On the tenth point, the contradiction in Rand's philosophy is that she did not actually believe in this division of labour—cooperation—which makes human society possible. Her heroes wanted a society of fair exchange, but she did not acknowledge that, up to that starting point, everything they had and were, was given to them by others and by society at large: the cultural growth of the millennia, the invention of cooking, weapons, writing, printing, methods of building, games and amusements, means of transportation, and the discoveries of all the arts and sciences come to us asfree gifts from the dead. These gifts, which none of us has done anything to earn (a major buzzword to Objectivists), offer us not only the opportunity for a richer life than any of our forebears enjoyed but also the opportunity to add to the sum total of human achievement by our own contributions, however small.
This plaque—a quote from The Fountainhead—is on the wall directly across from the entrance to The American Adventure rotunda at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center.
Smoking good, government bad
Another contradiction is Objectivism’s premise that, according to Peikoff,
“the mind at birth (as Aristotle first stated) is tabula rasa [a blank slate]; there are no innate ideas. The senses are man's primary means of contact with reality; they give him the precondition of all subsequent knowledge, the evidence that something is.”
But, as Jeff Walker points out, “since [Peikoff] suggests elsewhere that were any principle of Objectivism found to be untrue, the whole system would collapse, his demonstrated reluctance to investigate any seemingly cogent critique of any part of the philosophy is understandable." Any casual reader of Objectivism cannot help but come away with the conclusion that Randroids believe themselves to be self-created. The conclusion here is that the whole teetering, Objectivist assembly collapses. The more they have emotionally invested in “being right”, then the more they must withdraw with every disconfirmation; the more they feel threatened, the more they become rigid, inflexible and closed to other ideas.
What of cigarettes? Rand was a two-pack-a-day smoker and Objectivists, at least the inner clique of the 1960s, tended to be chain smokers. Rand not only approved of smoking, but presented it is a virtuous, philosophically affirming manner. Murray Rothbard, asked by one Randroid why he didn't smoke, pleaded an allergy, prompting the response, “Oh, that's OK, then.”
The man who runs the newsstand in the concourse of the Taggart Terminal says:
“I like cigarettes, Miss Taggart. I like to think of fire held in a man's hand. Fire, a dangerous force, tamed at his fingertips. I often wonder about the hours when a man sits alone, watching the smoke of a cigarette, thinking. I wonder what great things have come from such hours. When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind—and it is proper that he should have a burning point of a cigarette as his one expression.”
This sentence could be amplified by pointing out that there may be a "spot of fire alive in his mind" but "a spot of death in his lungs". The contradiction here is that it causes lung cancer, at least it apparently did in Rand’s case, so that it was never “tamed”.
Later, when she is leaving Galt's Gulch, she is seen off by Owen Kellogg.
“She wanted to extend her hand in parting, but it seemed inadequate, and then she remembered what he had said about times of loneliness. She took out the package and silently offered him one of his own cigarettes. His smile was a full statement of understanding, and the small flame of his match lighting their two cigarettes was their most enduring handshake.”
Are cigarettes instruments of life or of death? Within the principles of Objectivism, is smoking a good thing? From what Rand said and wrote, it clearly is. But the evidence is incontrovertible that, in reality, it is a bad thing. Even in the context of the 1940s and 1950s, while smoking was widely acceptable socially, no one would have ever tried to argue that it was something good for you or tried to encourage others to start. Growing up in the 1950s both my parents were heavy smokers, and both were adamant that none of us children should smoke.
Within the context of Objectivism, cigarettes can no longer be rationally condoned. This means that something Rand said must be changed. If that one element must be changed, what other elements are subject to revision? With that, the whole Objectivist house of cards collapses.
The failure of reason
Rand presented herself as the supreme advocate of reason. Philosopher Jack Wheeler described her “as a very unpleasant person...hooked on Dexedrine, which makes you really unpleasant and angry.” Roy A. Childs added:
“I know she took Dexedrine every day for 40 years. Her secretary told me she'd take a couple of five milligram pills, and if nothing happened in an hour, she'd take another two, or three or four. She was taking this on top of pots of coffee, with added caffeine from chocolate after chocolate, and the nicotine from two packs of Tareytons a day." These amphetamine-like drugs have psychoactive effects similar to cocaine but in some ways more potent and longer-lasting. It’s a simple step to conclude that Objectivism is drug-induced philosophy and there is nothing reasonable about that.
Objectivism is a rabid, anti-social philosophy. The justification to not give a damn about the weak is an attractive concept for many Objectivists—reflecting their own insecurities. She took literally the dog-eat-dog philosophy of social Darwinism basing most of her philosophy on business ideas of the 1920s. On the last page of Atlas Shrugged, she wrote: “I had a difficult struggle, earning my living at odd jobs, until I could make a financial success of my writing. No helped me, nor did I think at any time that it was anyone’s duty to help me.”
But, says Jeff Walker in The Ayn Rand Cult
“This is inaccurate. Among numerous acts of kindness which the struggling Ayn Rand accepted: it was her relatives who arranged to have her expired visitor's visa renewed several times. A cousin translated her first 'screen original' into readable English. Hard-pressed relatives gave her a train ticket to L.A. and $100, worth thousands in 1999 dollars. An aunt procured from a movie distributor she knew a letter of introduction for Ayn to a woman employed in the P. R. department of the Cecil B. DeMille studio, and it was her trip to that studio which led directly to both an amazingly lucky meeting with DeMille himself and a husband….
When Rand got to L.A. she went straight to the Studio Club, a philanthropic venture offering Hollywood's female aspirants subsidized accommodation. During three years there, while often falling behind in her rent, Rand was never asked to leave. One time its director picked Ayn out to receive a patron's special $50 gift (worth more than $1000 in 1999 dollars). During the lean years prior to publication of The Fountainhead, her friend Albert Mannheimer would lend her $500, worth several thousand today, an enormous help as she once admitted to Nathaniel Branden. In these and so many other respects Rand was the beneficiary of the charitable impulses of others. Once she had exhausted their use to her, she wrote novels and philosophical essays which downgraded such impulses and deprived them of justification.”
Objectivism as a cult
A cult is a group of people united by beliefs and practices that exist somewhat, or completely, outside the mainstream beliefs of the surrounding society. By this definition, for example, the Old Order Amish could be considered a cult because their beliefs on daily life are significantly outside the mainstream of our culture. They eschew modern technology like automobiles and in particular electricity. They are in the world but not really of it, trying, in simple and placid ways, to maintain the greatest possible separation from the rest of society.
Although “cult” has become a largely pejorative term, there is a difference between positive cults like the Old Order Amish and negative cults, like Objectivism. A negative cult is one that actively tries to recruit outsiders and convert them. A negative cult also uses psychologically coercive techniques so that leaving a negative cult is usually extremely difficult.
There are eight primary aspects of Objectivism that close members off from the rest of the world. (The following is drawn from Jeff Walker’s The Ayn Rand Cult)
1. Control of communication with the outside world
"Rand originated an Objectivist tradition of proudly refusing to read books and articles which she knew to be evil, thereby sparing herself and her successors any exposure to such malignant falsehoods or the exercise of refuting them. The downside of such a tradition, however, is exemplified by the following: in a letter, Rand refers to Whittaker Chambers's review of Atlas Shrugged in the National Review. Rand, having refused to read the review, instead had it perused by some confidante who told her it claimed that Atlas Shrugged advocates dictatorship. Not so, though it is one sizzler of a review, imputing to Rand a maliciousness that would gladly urge all her worthless opponents to march themselves off to a gas chamber."
“When asked to comment on the seemingly intellectual dishonesty of excluding from the Ayn Rand Lexicon (1986) the at-one-time approved writings of those later excommunicated, Phil and Kay Nolte Smith jointly asserted, 'But that's the essence of it. These are Papal Bulls that are coming out. It's like the Holy Roman Church in that sense. That's why it's a cult. Excommunication is not just a funny word here: it's literal. When you are excommunicated you are not recognized again, you do not exist, so why would they mention your name in any of their publications?'”
2. Claims of special knowledge by the leader
"Who is the greatest mind since the year A.D. 1000? According to Objectivists, it's not Einstein or Newton or Beethoven or Shakespeare or Leonardo Da Vinci—but Ayn Rand. Most orthodox Objectivists go further: they regard Rand as greater even than her beloved Aristotle, and thus as the greatest thinker who ever lived."
"When I had met Nathaniel, the first book he gave me to read was Rolland's Jean Christophe,” says Barbara Branden.
“But Rolland was a socialist, Ayn pointed out, and the philosophical underpinnings of socialism had made him a realist, rather than a romantic, in literature. While I was dealing with my private aesthetic agony, Nathaniel was abandoning Jean Christophe. Over the years we were to hear Ayn excoriate the 'grim, unfocused malevolence' of Rembrandt—to a painter; Shakespeare's 'abysmal failure' to present human beings with free will—to a writer; Beethoven's 'tragic sense of doom'—to a musician. And we were to see the painters, the writers, the musicians, fail hopelessly to refute her arguments and unhappily grant the logic of her position. Some ran from her, unwilling to renounce their deepest aesthetic values. Most remained, and from then on their work reflected the air-tight underground into which they had placed their aesthetic emotions: in the name of reason, their work became thin, and tight, and without originality."
3. Demands for perfection and purity
"The way marriages are handled shows similarities across cults and cultishly fanatical political movements. Rothbard recalls that the top Randian leadership presumed to bring about appropriate marriages, one explicitly asserting that she knew all the rational young men and women in New York and could match them up. At one Randian wedding ceremony, 'the couple pledged their joint devotion and fealty to Ayn Rand' and 'read aloud a passage from the sacred text,' Atlas Shrugged. If a match that should be working wasn't, Objectivist psychotherapy would bring the couple to see Reason. Writes Margaret Thaler Singer, 'When one partner of a married pair is recruited into a cult, pressure is put on that person to get the partner to join. If the partner doesn't, most of the time the cult, in effect, breaks up the marriage.' Rothbard reports of Objectivist circles in New York in the late 1950s that when hectoring failed to persuade, many marriages were actively broken up by the cult leadership, one partner being sternly informed that his or her spouse was insufficiently Randworthy. Rothbard's wife, Joey, a Christian, was a problem for Branden who grilled Murray as to whether she had listened to his anti-God tape and been converted by it."
4. Continual disclosure to group superiors of wrongful thoughts or actions
As Nathaniel Branden reports it, the students of Objectivism tried to out-Rand, Rand, copying her style and mannerisms. "They further proved it by watching one another, suspiciously and critically, for deviations; if they could not match Ayn in intellect, they could at least match her in harshness. They scourged one another mercilessly..."
5. Elitism and separation from family and friends who don't understand
Equivalent to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
6. The world is black and white
Leonard Peikoff, Rand’s intellectual heir describes Objectivism:
Milton Rokeach in The Open and Closed Mind gives us insights into Objectivism’s black/white, two-valued orientation. For example, we can divide a communication into two parts, the speaker and the statement. In its simplest presentation, you can agree with the statement and like the speaker, or reject the speaker and reject the statement. These are the only two options available to a person with a “closed” mind. A person with an open mind would have the other two options available. “ The person with the closed mind is apparently one who finds life threatening. If either the speaker or the statement is unacceptable to him, he rejects both.”
In 1983 Peikoff said there are:
" times and situations where despite my knowledge of philosophy I feel overwhelmed by the evil in the world, isolated, alienated, lonely, bitter, malevolent".
By 1985 he said that Rand's legacy "will overturn the reign of evil and save the world....Objectivism will triumph ultimately and shape the world's course...and today's culture will be remembered in the end only for what it is—which I refrain from saying."
Walker says that "Peikoff believes that 'what it is' is a Kantian sewer, with all the contemporary output of the cultural industries carried along with it like so many turds." By 1989 he was declaring that he had made demands of the publishers that there be at least 50,000 copies in print of all of Rand's work on acid free paper. ‘I'm going to promptly see [they] are disseminated to the most far-out spots in the world—New Zealand, and India, and Africa, and in caves and in you-name-it, 'cause I don't know what will be left if there's an ultimate holocaust, with the hope that one of these 50,000 will be dug up somewhere.’"
Searching for a single key to resolve all perplexities can yield only ideological madness, said philosopher Karl Jaspers. Another philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, said that reducing the world to one unitary theory—a simplistic ideology, is a terrific error, pluralism being fundamental to social life. Rand attempted this reduction and, ironically in this context, her big idea is the absolutizing of negative individual rights, by way of protecting the smart and civilized few from the stupid and barbaric many.
Walker summarizes: "[George] Smith sees the tragedy of the official movement, both NBI [Nathaniel Branden Institute] and ARI [Ayn Rand Institute], as flowing from its insistence that everything Rand ever wrote is true. 'You can't do it. They won't allow it. That's what led to the cult aspect and to a lot of personal unhappiness, and guilt feelings about being kicked out. It's just had so many devastating consequences. It's the monolithic nature of her philosophy and her views, upon which she insisted, that's really been the source of all the trouble. It was all or nothing with her. That's the way she was, ideologically and personally. The basic issues were unchangeable and unchallengeable. She thought Objectivism was complete with the publication of Atlas Shrugged."
7. Unquestioning obedience and total commitment
Philosopher John Hospers summed up Rand's inner circle: "They became shivering-scared disciples who dared not say the wrong thing lest they incur her wrath....Rand said she wanted people imbued with reason around her...she actually got on the whole...a bunch of adoring sycophants." Edith Efron suggested that you'd be "better off with Rand if you were...a malleable nothing...the kind of special adoration the youngsters gave her...she could not get from an adult ."
Rand was profoundly rigid and inflexible. Shortly before Atlas Shrugged was published, her friends decided to throw her a surprise party in celebration. Everyone involved in the publishing was invited and the invitation specified that she was not to be told about it. Her husband Frank took her out that evening to what he said was a special dinner. An elaborate banquet, featuring her favorite dishes, was ordered.
"When Ayn and Frank arrived at the banquet room, the guests shouted 'Surprise!' and hurried to greet and congratulate her. Her first words were an angry: 'I do not approve of surprises.' The friends crowding around her had been talking and laughing; but the laughter stopped; it was evident that her words were not a startled reaction of the moment, that she was truly indignant. She sat grimly all through dinner, through the strained efforts at conversation and the toasts to her, and through [publisher] Bennett Cerf's redoubled efforts—with the warmth and charm that was so delightful a part of his personality—to melt her chilly disapproval."
Barbara Branden goes on to say that "her reaction that evening seemed relevant to her lack of humor; she could not, would not, move abruptly from one context to another....It was as if she felt a painful pressure to force her mind to abandon its straight-line, single-track functioning and to make a mental leap not only to another context, but worse, to a context imposed upon her by other people."
I think it is valid to compare her to Adolph Hitler in this regard. “Hitler had no humor,” said Albert Speer, his armaments minister. A friend of Hitler’s youth said “he was totally lacking in a spirit of self-irony….He could not…pass over something with a smile.” He had a horror of being laughed at. On Rand John McCrone wrote: “ Many people have taken a sense of humour to be the defining characteristic of humans. Whenever aliens, robots, computers and grim Nazis appear in movies or books, their inhumanity is spelt out by their inability to laugh.”
Years later, she was still complaining about this incident. Nathaniel Branden said, "Only Barbara and I could know how many times in the months and years ahead Ayn would refer to this evening chastisingly, with an appalling lack of benevolence and grace, for our daring to take any action involving her without her say-so....I have no happy memories of the occasion."
Rand could dish it out but she could not take it. Ruth and Buzzy Hill were renting the Rand's California house after they had moved to NY. Nathaniel wrote Ruth and asked if she would find interested people and sponsor his presenting lectures in the California house. Ruth agreed, but said she would like to hear a sample lecture so she could judge Branden's speaking style and gain familiarity with the material she would be promoting. Branden responded that Rand had been offended in her asking for a sample when she believed her recommendation should have been sufficient. Branden said he did not audition and the matter was closed.
"A few months later, Ruth was startled to see Ayn, Frank and Nathaniel coming up the driveway; she had not known they were in Los Angeles on NBI business. As Ruth ran down the driveway to greet Ayn and Frank, she stopped short when she saw Ayn's furious look. She listened, numbed, to an angry tirade: How dare she question Ayn's judgment? How dare she presume to demand an audition of someone Ayn had recommended? Despite her love and admiration for Ayn, Ruth stood her ground firmly. 'It was from you,' she said quietly, 'that I learned the importance of thinking for myself and going only by my own judgment.' To be quoted in this context served only to increase Ayn's anger."
8. Special, loaded terminology deployed to control communication and separate members from the outside world
“According to Nathaniel Branden, anyone whose notions of what life is all about have been absorbed secondhand from people rather than firsthand from Objective Reality, is a practitioner of ‘social metaphysics’. ‘Social metaphysician’ became a label the student of Objectivism wanted to avoid at all costs. The irony is that Nathaniel Branden, in his dependence on and uncritical hero worship of Ayn Rand—in his 30s, not in his teens—was as much a social metaphysician as any errant student. Non-Objectivists are typically eclectic in their secondhandedness. Branden worshiped Rand as a sorceress of reason and envisioned a steel cable connecting their souls: ‘I had come to Ayn out of the void—and I imagined that without her a void was all that awaited me.’”
Any one of the qualities of intuition, common sense, imagination, memory, ethics, and reason, isolated from the others and set up as an absolute value in itself, becomes a tool of ideology says philosopher John Ralston Saul. He adds: “Sensibly integrated along with our other qualities, reason is invaluable. Put on its own as a flagship for society and for all of our actions, it quickly becomes irrational.”
Specifically, says Gabor Maté: "Emotion divorced from thought is hazardous, but human life is equally impossible without emotion. The emotionless Vulcan space traveler in Star Trek, Mr. Spock, may be the television ideal of rationality, but as a human being he couldn't think his way out of a paper bag."
Interestingly enough, says Barbara Branden, Spock’s character was based on Objectivism. To yet another wisecrack by Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, the puzzled Vulcan can only raise an eyebrow and mutter: ‘Humor—it is a difficult concept. It is not logical.’”
Karen Horney writes on “the neurotic’s belief in the supremacy of the mind”:
“While feelings—because unruly—are suspects to be controlled, the mind—imagination and reason—expands like a genie from a bottle. Thus, factually, another dualism is created. It is no longer mind and feelings but mind versus body; no longer mind and self but mind versus self. But, like the other fragmentations, this one too serves to release tensions, to cover up conflicts and to establish a semblance of unity. It can do so in three ways.”
Words have power
Linguist S. I. Hayakawa says that
“If we can get deeply into our consciousness the principle that no word ever has the same meaning twice, we will develop the habit of automatically examining contexts, and this enables us to understand better what others are saying. As it is, however, we are all too likely to have automatic, or signal, reactions to certain words and read into people’s remarks meanings that were never intended. Then we waste energy in angrily accusing people of intellectual dishonesty or abuse of words, when their only sin is that they use words in ways unlike our own, as they can hardly help doing, especially if their background has been widely different from ours. There are cases of intellectual dishonesty and of the abuse of words, of course, but they do not always occur in the places where people think they do.”
One thing Rand did, consistently, was use words in idiosyncratic ways. She told an audience of architects: “I use words the way you use a slide-rule.” But said philosopher John Hospers: “I found her linguistic habits quite sloppy.”
Hayakawa went on:
“the belief that logic will substantially reduce misunderstanding is widely and uncritically held, although, as a matter of common experience, we all know that people who pride themselves on their logic are usually, of all the people we know, the hardest to get along with. Logic can lead to agreement only when, as in mathematics or the sciences, there are pre-existing, hard-and-fast agreements as to what words stand for.”
Rand always said that her use of the term “selfishness” conformed to the dictionary. Orthodox Objectivist Harry Binswanger later said that one of Rand's achievements was to have shown that terms like “selfishness” had, until she came along, been improperly used and defined. She took traditional words and gave them new, “rational” definitions, which her uncritical followers accepted or, if they had doubts, kept them to themselves.
A dictionary is not a rule book, but rather a book showing how words have been and are currently used. Take the word “gay”. When applied to the period of the 1890s in New York City and Boston, the “Gay Nineties”, it referred to a period of significant wealth gains and the emergence of a new “society set”. (It did not refer to the working class.)
In his 1961 novel In High Places, one of Arthur Hailey’s characters was invited to a party: “Milly’s heart leapt. She asked impulsively, ‘Will it be gay?’”
Consider Rand’s use of “mystic”.
“A mystic is a man who surrendered his mind at its first encounter with the minds of others. Somewhere in the distant reaches of his childhood, when his own understanding of reality clashed with the assertions of others, with their arbitrary orders and contradictory demands, he gave in to so craven a fear of independence that he renounced his rational faculty....A mystic is driven by the urge to impress, to cheat, to flatter, to deceive, to force that omnipotent consciousness on others,”
By her definition, “mysticism will always lead to the rule of brutality”.
Mathematician Rudy Rucker counters with:
“The word “mystic” is almost pejorative these days. But mysticism does not really have anything to do with incense or encounter groups or demoniac possession. There is a difference between mysticism and occultism. A pure strand of classical mysticism runs from Plato to Plotinus and Eckhart to such great modern thinkers as Aldous Huxley and D. T. Suzuki. The central teaching of mysticism is this: Reality is One. The practice of mysticism consists in finding ways to experience this higher unity directly.”
If she would have been asked, I’m sure she would have, as with the word “selfishness”, just declared that “mysticism” is not being used correctly. As the old joke goes, everyone is out of step but her.
Patrecia, Nathaniel Branden's second wife, told him that on first meeting Rand “I felt I was seeing madness there. Enormous anger. Something out of my childhood.”
Branden says he understood that this was a first impression, but he didn't want to hear anything more like that about her. “The terror at the root of my response was the not-to-be-admitted knowledge that I had seen in Ayn's eyes precisely what Patrecia had seen. To think of Ayn as mad in any respect whatsoever was to plunge my universe into chaos. If there was a steak of irrationality running through Ayn, what did this mean about my entire life? What did this mean about me?”
Branden went on: "and yet at some level, I, too, was aware of something wrong in Ayn, an explosive rage that did not fit my more exalted view of her. I wanted to get Ayn out of my question-and-answer periods, for example, because I was appalled by how she sometimes abused our students.”
Argument from intimidation
“There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent agreement with one's undiscussed notions. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure. All this is accompanied by raised eyebrows, wide-eyed stares, shrugs, grunts, snickers and the entire arsenal of nonverbal signals communicating ominous innuendos and emotional vibrations of a single kind: disapproval….If those vibrations fail, if such debaters are challenged, one finds that they have no arguments, no evidence, no proof, no reasons, no ground to stand on—that their noisy aggressiveness serves to hide a vacuum—that the Argument from Intimidation is a confession of intellectual impotence.
“Let me emphasize that the Argument from Intimidation does not consist of introducing moral judgment into intellectual issues, but of substituting moral judgment for intellectual argument.”
But Objectivism itself is a continuous Argument from Intimidation. A couple of examples.
Barbara Branden says she and some others were talking about the aesthetics of literature.
“I was telling Ayn that I deeply loved the novels of Thomas Wolfe, that I had discovered Look Homeward, Angel when I was twelve years old, then devoured all of his work. As I spoke, I dimly observed that Ayn Rand's face was an expressionless mask, and that her eyes, usually so warm when she looked at me, were icy with disapproval. She interrupted only to ask me an occasional question. When I was silent, she reminded me of our former discussions of literature.
“Plot, theme, characterization, style—those are the essential ingredients of fiction, are they not?
“I nodded. Her voice had become driving and sharp as the ice of her eyes, her words followed each other with machine-gun-like rapidity. With devastating logic, the logic that had drawn and held me to her from the beginning, she demonstrated Wolfe's shortcomings with regard to precisely the elements of fiction I had agreed were essential. She spoke of his indifference to plot; she spoke of his thematic confusions; she spoke of the overwriting that was an omnipresent part of his style.
“I had no answer; it seemed irrelevant to explain what he meant to me emotionally—that the majestic songs he sang had reached into my deepest being, that I often felt they were me....In the weeks that followed—indeed, the years—I never learned to tear out of myself my passionate response to Thomas Wolfe's novels.
“Instead, I learned repression, as so many of her young friends were to learn in later years. I learned not to recognize my authentic feelings—not to recognize them nor to experience them nor to know that they remained, never to acknowledge them to myself or others... Ayn had convinced me—as she was to convince me that the paintings of Vincent van Gogh were too undisciplined, too chaotic and wild to be considered great art—as she was to convince me that Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage propounded a deeply malevolent view of life—as she was to convince me that Wagner's Tristan and Isolde was profoundly tragic. She convinced me, as, over the years, I would see her convince so many others, of the invalidity of their artistic tastes—the tastes and loves that so often, in fact, represented the best within them.”
“ Suspicion, if not hostility, toward emotion was the message that we in the Collective absorbed from Ayn's novels and from Ayn herself ,” said Nathaniel Branden.
“The subtle encouragement of emotional repression, and therefore the encouragement of self-alienation, was a powerful component of our world—side by side with exhortations toward greater emotional honesty and authenticity. Absorbing this dangerous message made it easier to absorb others that were equally dangerous... There were implicit premises in our world to which everyone in our circle subscribed. We transmitted these to our students at NBI.... ‘Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived.’ ‘Atlas Shrugged is the greatest human achievement in the history of the world’, [basically setting up] Rand as the arbiter for what every objectivist should see, feel, think, believe.”
Objectivism as a body of knowledge and understanding is structurally identical to fundamentalist religion vis-à-vis The Bible. It is authoritarian and unchangeable. Differing interpretations are not allowed and if you call yourself an Objectivist, it must be within the strict, rigid confines of what Rand pronounced and believed. Anything else is not only disallowed but aggressively condemned. Objectivism is not subject to evolution or self-criticism. It does not have, as a fundamental part of its credo, the ability to change and grow.
Atlas Shrugged begins with a “bum” saying: “Who is John Galt?”
Indeed. “This is the story of a man who said that he would stop the motor of the world—and did,” says the cover. Galt is a fair-haired superman-genius who decides that he cannot live in a world he does not approve of, so he persuades a coterie of businessmen-genius-heroes like himself to go on strike and withdraw from the world, leaving it to rot. The economy of the United States collapses and government is shown to be the corrupt cesspool everyone knows it to be. When this low point is reached, Galt and his cronies return to save the world on their own Social Darwinist terms.
“Going Galt” is the latest buzzword of the rabid right. In March 2009 Michelle Malkin wrote in her column: “While they take to the streets politically, untold numbers of America’s wealth producers are going on strike financially.”
The tactic obviously never took hold or, if it did, it has had no noticeable effect. Or has it? My object in this essay has been to show that the alleged foundation for Galt and Objectivism is fundamentally destructive. Run away from anyone who claims Rand as an influence in their life. Ron Paul is one such. Knowledge is power.
Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which is why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class — a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue. From 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman, Canada’s top business writer (notably on a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting. He gave up journalism in the early 1980s because he had no interest in being a hack writer for the mainstream media and became a software developer and programmer. He retired from computers last year and is now back to doing what he loves — writing and trying to make the world a better place
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