The Cancer that is Ayn Rand

27 February 2011

I was going to post this last year but got sidetracked.  I post it now because the other day, a local Teabagger was gushing about Ayn Rand and how she was the animating force behind the Teabagging movement.  Here, for your consideration, is I what I think of Ayn Rand.

While we were still dating, Jo handed me a book saying, “Merlin, you just gotta read this!”  It was Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.  As thick a brick and printed in ultra-small type, it was ponderous and turgid.  Dutiful swain that I was, I read it from cover to cover.  When I handed it back to Jo, she eagerly asked, “So, what do you think?”

I said, “I think I just read Hell’s blueprint.”

I told Jo I thought Atlas Shrugged was the rant of a constipated, misanthropic old battle-axe.  Where Jo, and many others before her, considered Atlas Shrugged a paean to economic self-actualization and whatnot, I saw the world promoted in Atlas Shrugged to be a wasteland of narcissism and sociopathy. Worse than any “law of the jungle,” Atlas Shrugged demanded there be no second chances in life — that should something unhorse you and you did an economic pratfall, there on the ground you would stay.  Indeed, it was your duty to do so.

Moreover, not only would Ayn’s disciples deign to grasp your outstretched hand and help you to your feet, they would slap it away.  You, pathetic failure that you are, would serve evermore as footmen and serfs of the super-human uber menchen that would rule the world from their thrones in Gault’s Gulch.  Perhaps the most disturbing passages in Atlas Shrugged were the harangues delivered by a Latin Lothario wherein he decried all the people (i.e., you, me and everyone else) that were trying to get in his knickers.  The rants were perfect studies in paranoid greed.  They epitomized the whole Ayn Rand philosophy, which can be summed up as: What’s your’s is mine, and what’s mine is mine too.”

I promptly forgot about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged until the day I went to my Congressman’s town hall meeting to hear about Obamacare.  Standing near the entrance to the ballpark where the meeting was being held, I espied a Teabagger handing out flyers and buttonholing the passersby.  As he wasn’t wearing a lampshade for a hat, I thought he might be a reasonable sort and went over to talk.

Shrill and loud, in the manner of all true believers, he spewed his spiel.  I listened with growing alarm.  Finally, I raised my hand, hoping he’d pause and let me get in a word or two.  As he was almost out of breath, he accommodated.  “Buddy,” I said wearing my best salesman’s face, “I bet you’ve read Atlas Shrugged.”  He gave a start.  Then, beaming with pride, he thumped his hairy chest and said with pride that he’d read it cover-to-cover not once, but twice.

“I thought so,” I said.

He was still quiet, so I pressed ahead: “May I explain something you may not realize?”

Folding his arms across his chest, he bid me proceed.

“Have you ever seen one of those nature programs about Leopards?” I asked.  He wasn’t sure what I was driving at, so I continued.  “Well, it seems Leopards are solitary creatures.  The only times they tolerate each others’ presence is during mating season.  They come together for a brief sexual congress, then go their own ways.  They then go around pissing on the bushes to mark out territories and heaven help any stray Leopard that violates the sacred borders.  It’s almost as if they hate each other, for should one Leopard come across another, the fur really flies; if one can kill the other, it will.  Leopards”, I concluded, “are by nature, hermits.  In other words, they live by Ayn Rand’s creed.”

He still wasn’t sure what I was driving at: “OK, then let’s try this,”  I said as I turned and swept my arm across the vista of Everett, Washington. “What you see before you is a city.  It is a hive of social creatures that are utterly dependent on one another.  They — we — are dependent on the social comity that lets each of us be of benefit to all others; and all others be of benefit to us.

“We are not isolated, solitary creatures like the Leopards.  No indeed.  We are social animals, like horses, buffalo, termites and bees.  In fact, we are so social  that when a human turns his back on his fellow creatures and goes to hide in the woods (or Gault’s Gulch), he is by definition, abnormal and dysfunctional.  Like the anti-social Leopard, such a person will turn on his fellows so he is hunted down and confined — or killed, if necessary.  No, my friend, Ayn Rand’s heroes in Atlas Shrugged have more in common with the Barefoot Bandit and the Unibomber than they do with you and me.”  The Teabagger simply looked at me with a blank face, then began his rant all over again like a CD on endless loop.

Atlas Shrugged belongs in the trash heap along with Das Kapital and Mine Kampf. Ayn Rand is no more of an economic and social thinker than Joe Stalin or Adolf Hitler.  Left unchallenged, Ayn will do as much damage to America as those two did to Russia and Germany.


Revisiting Old News

13 February 2011

Initially, I was going to comment on the events in Egypt.  However, the other evening, after work, a few of us were sitting around and someone brought up the oriental woman calling herself the Dragon Mom.  Perhaps you recall her?  A few weeks ago she hit the public in the eye with the story on 60 Minutes of her brutality and cruelty in raising her two daughters — “the Chinese way,” she called it.

Well, my colleague was all enthusiastic about this woman’s parenting techniques; after all, the Dragon Mom’s daughters went on to excel in school and in extra-curricular activities such as music.  Dragon Mom accepted nothing less than straight A report cards and would drill her daughters to the point of exhaustion in math, science, and whatnot.  Parties, sleepovers and other such normal activities were proscribed.  As for the kids, they heap gushing praise on dear old mom.  Only once, in all those years, did one of her daughters fight back; the younger one refused to have anything further to do with playing the violin (and who can blame her!).

“Childhood isn’t supposed to be fun,” said the Dragon Mom proudly.  My colleague agrees and was gearing up to inflict a similarly harsh regimen on her three kids.  Well, before going down the Dragon Mom’s hellish road, we should understand a few things.

First, it was all about the Dragon Mom’s own aspirations, not her kids’.  Not once, in her story, did she ever stop to wonder what her kids might want out of life.  Never did she pause to think that her job as a parent is to help her kids realize their own potentials, to pursue their own goals and fulfill their own dreams.  Dragon Mom was all about Dragon Mom and he kids be damned.

Second, the gushing, fawning, adoration by the two daughters is simply a manifestation of the Stockholm Syndrome.

Third, instead of inculcating a love of knowledge and learning, she’s inculcated a fear of punishment.  Instead of their wanting to learn for the pleasure of learning, they now learn out of dread of the consequences.

I have some close friends who never tyrannized their two kids.  While they were heavily involved in their childrens’ lives, they did so with the goal of having their kids become their own persons, not simply become clones of dear old mom and dad.  My friends kids also got straight As, played in the bands and did sports, but they did it while having lots of sleepovers, parties, movies, wide circles of friends and all the other things that make childhood tolerable.  My friends are proof positive that the Dragon Mom has her head up her ass.

And what of the consequences to Dragon Mom?  Right now, her kids are under age and, consequently under Dragon Mom’s thumb.  But what happens in a few years when the kids slip the surly bonds?  They will probably be emotionally stunted and incapable of making decisions and performing any form of critical analysis.  Having been told what to do and what to think every moment of their lives, they’ll be easy marks for charlatans, grifters and sexual predators — that, or they’ll be so gun-shy they’ll be incapable of normal relationships.

Of course there will be the heady reality of freedom.  Out from under the old battle axe’s control, they’ll cast off her fetters.  Free from Dragon Mom’s suffocating control, they’ll move by their own lights.  However, never having the chance to make independent judgments, they won’t know how to do so and will probably make lots of bad ones.  Look for pregnancies, DWI citations, serial marriages and, worst of all, an intellectual and spiritual drift.  Of course, they’ll eventually, and probably sooner than later, reject Dragon Mom and turn their backs to her — and not only Dragon Mom, but their Casper Milquetoast of a father, a man who stood idly by as his horrid wife ruined their daughters.  Out on their own, the daughters will probably move as far away from Dragon Mom as they can.

I know whereof I speak.  I had a Dragon Mom myself.  Oh, to be sure, I always acted the dutiful and loving son, but by the time I was eight, I loathed her with every atom of my being.  It took decades before I finally fired her, but fire her I did.  Knowing I’d never again see her face or hear her voice, I finally had some peace.

When the call came telling me Ma was in extremis with only minutes to live, I felt nothing knowing the world would soon be cleansed of what I came to regard as a malignant presence.  Ma died unmourned.


Let’s Have “Key a Bentley Day”

6 February 2011

To grub out a minor living, I drive a small bus.  My passengers are physical and mental wrecks going to and from their doctors, shrinks, dialysis centers and public hospitals.  Naturally, they come from America’s lower socio-economic strata.  What makes that somewhat incongruous is the area I serve is one of the nations top three concentrations of wealth.  There are probably more well-connected Harvard MBAs per square acre here than there are in Massachusetts.

It’s almost like a banana republic around here — tiny islands of stunning wealth in a sea of mediocrity and poverty.  Drive down most streets and you see rank on rank of cheesy apartment complexes so vast they resemble ant heaps.  Then, suddenly, you come across giant gates and balusters guarding the homes and sanctuaries of the gentry.  Peeking in as I whiz by, I see houses of eye-popping splendor.  “Ah,” one says to one’s self, “this is where they live.”   The tenement-like apartments are where the domestics, day laborers and salarymen live — the hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Perhaps the most in-your-face example of the ever growing disparity in America’s economic life are the cars the landed gentry drive.  When I grew up in Minneapolis back in the 1950s, I never saw a Bentley (though I did see one Rolls-Royce).  All I knew of Bentleys was James Bond owned one.  Out here, in snob city, they are as thick as flies on a road apple.  But not only Bentleys.  No sir, there are also oodles of Maseratis, Aston-Martins and Ferraris, not to mention the more pedestrian offerings from Mercedes-Benz and BMW.  (Strangely, though, I have yet to see a Rolls.)  While the Maserati goes for &135,800, and the Aston-Martin goes for $150,000, a drop-top Bentley comes in at $365,000.

You’d think with prices like that, the Bentley dealer might have one, maybe two, in the showroom but no, out here in Fat City, the Bentley dealer has them lined up out front they way a Chevy dealer has his supply of Impalas.  While passing by last week, I counted seven of them.  So confident of an expanding customer base is he that he’s been floor planned for seven automobiles.  That’s over $1,700,000 of product sitting out in the elements to be shat on by the crows and starlings.  Of course the Bentleys don’t sit there very long.  I’ve been keeping an eye on the lot for several months now and it seems the inventory is churned every sixty days.

By no coincidence, the increase in Bentleys began with the onset of George Bush’s Depression of 2008.  Everything that contributed to the Depression of 2008 — the housing bubble, the exportation of jobs, the importation of slave-made goods and the jiggery-pokery on Wall Street — served to make a few surpassingly rich while the rest of us went broke.  It is these few who buy the Bentleys.

Well I say it’s time for a little payback.  Let’s think about have a “Key a Bentley Day.”  And having one every day.  When you see a spiffy new Bentley in a parking lot, consider dragging a sharp key down its side, gouging-off the paint down to the metal.  In fact, if you have time, you might think about setting off a thermite bomb on the Bentley’s hood — it’ll burn through the hood, down through the engine, and deep into the pavement below in less than thirty seconds.  Such fun!  Of course the Bentley’s owner will be inconvenienced only slightly; with all those new Bentley’s available from the dealer downtown, a replacement should be in the garage by nightfall.

But you would have sent a message.

Seeing this message, perhaps the wisest among the Bentley owners will stop and say, “Oh, oh.  Maybe we’ve pushed it a little too far,” and back off.  If they don’t, you may have inspired something: A revolt against our exploitation.  Just as with a chaste teen, where one innocent kiss kindles a thirst such that in six month’s time the kid is out there screwing like a mink, your key scratch may lead to the American mob rising up and reclaiming its prosperity.

And why not?  After all, there are one hell of a lot more of us than there are of them.  Besides, the American people have more guns than do the police and the Army combined.  If the Aryan Brotherhood and the southern yahoos start focusing on the real sources of their economic plights, watch out.

Look at what’s happened in Egypt.