by James Killough
Reading Ayn Rand is like sitting in Vulcan’s forge watching him hammer a divine weapon, but boy is it hot and sticky down there, damn is he ugly, and fuck if it isn’t noisy.
In an article today in The Daily Beast, Michael Tomansky lauded a liberal religious group for giving the Republicans a taste of their own demagogy with an attack ad on their principles, using their love of Ayn Rand as its demagogic bludgeon of choice.
I am probably completely off-mark with this SAT-ish analogy, but it can be said that Ayn Rand is to capitalism what Karl Marx is to communism. Both are religion-hating reactionaries, except it would seem to me that Marx was somewhat less unhinged, even though that Jewfro of his could have used a trim. I am a mildly unhinged religion-hating reactionary, but I don’t have Marx’s hair, and better teeth than Rand — well, most people do.
I avoided Rand for most of my life, then read Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead almost back to back in 2009. I had a lot of time on my hands while the world collapsed in what seemed like a similar way to Rand’s dystopian version of the future in Atlas, but I was never really alarmed that it was actually going to happen the same way, in spite of the delirious Doomsday rantings of Randians online.
I do admit that being immersed in Rand’s world, with her Palin-esque screeching and, yes, demagogic prose for thousands of pages, affected me profoundly at different times during the day. I wasn’t consistently affected by it, in other words. I would wake up, read forty pages, then my inner Libertarian Nazi would march me to the bathroom, brush my teeth, declare me superman, haul me to the gym, and punish me, baby. Grrrrrr. Then home, protein shake, nap, cocktails, and my sense of humor would return, my love of the world despite the bitch she can be at times.
The effect reading Rand has on people is best summed up by Jon Stewart in a fake blurb on the back of his America; The Book: “This is similar to my works in that anyone who reads it is sure to be an asshole for at least a month afterward,” with an attribution to Ayn Rand. That is very funny, completely true. Except having read both Atlas and Fountainhead back to back, I sort of feel like I might have been an asshole for the whole summer.
Rand’s characters are admirable in what they accomplish, but I would loathe them in real life, and I would hope they would feel the same way about me. They are all text-book psychopaths, devoid of compassion, empathy, humanity, characteristics they hold up to be weaknesses. So, when you’re not working much because there’s no work around, but working out a lot and contemplating steroids because your roommate is injecting them into his thigh every morning, you start kinda buying into this shit, rather like how unemployed Social Democrats in Weimar Germany embraced Nietzsche, twisted him around, and the rest is some very unpleasant history. Which thankfully never repeats, or we might truly have to start worrying about the Rand-loving Tea Party’s intentions.
I remember I even went around for a while after reading Atlas asking myself What would Dagny Taggart do? Dagny is the blond, cold, calculating, romantically fickle, über-competent heroine of Atlas. In actual fact, I had the wrong blonde. It should always have been Chelsea Handler as my inspiration for how I should behave. Indeed, I was an asshole. I am very glad I re-gifted those books… to my roommate on steroids.
The comparison between Freddy Nietzsche and Rand is likewise wrong; he was also mad, but something of a poet, a creator of beauty, albeit cruel beauty. There is scant beauty in Rand’s work, although she does seem to have her opinions about aesthetics as expressed in her views on modern architecture in Fountainhead. However, a cursory glance at her acknowledgements tells me, as a creative, that she is regurgitating the cranky, resentful, extremely spiteful attitudes of the modernists of her day towards the classicists, whom she portrays as wimpy, pudgy, effete sycophants. Regrettably, the buildings she laments and lambasts, which the classicists designed during New York’s Golden Age, are some of the few lasting landmarks of the city, and are what define the Gotham look, not the cheaply built, antiseptic, unemotional, soulless high-rise boxes Rand extols as the paragon of the reflection of the soul of the perfect modern man.
As Tomansky notes, it’s useless trying to pick holes in Rand because we’ll be here all night and I’m once again in pre-production, so I don’t have time for my usual dissertations. What I need to remind myself when I compare Rand to great world authors like Marx and Nietzsche, when I listen to Republicans and Libertarians who rave about Rand’s books as being some of the momentous classics in literature, is that people outside America have no idea who she is. Not a clue. When I was reading Rand and I talked about it with my partner, who teaches literature at the University of London, he’d only vaguely heard of her, and didn’t know anything about her philosophy. This is because, for a Russian, Ayn Rand was absurdly jingoistic when it came to the States, but too comically so to even be insulting to the European and South American countries she ruthlessly pisses all over in Atlas. In this respect, she reminds me of a “shouty crackers” schizo Parsi woman who walks up and down Baker Street in London all day screaming, whom my friend Yvonne and I used to watch with such delight and awe: you just let her rant on by, shake your head, giggle and walk on. When John Galt raises his hand at the end of Atlas and blesses America with the sign of the dollar — ooops, sorry, SPOILER ALERT — if you’ve made it that far, past Galt’s eighty-page diatribe manifesto about capitalism, which I confess I skipped entirely, didn’t even skim, and you don’t throw the book at the wall, then you are, as Jon Stewart would say, an asshole, and not just a temporary one.
I can’t leave you with a rant about a raving madwoman. Or, wait, maybe I can just add to the fray. What made me cackle a bit today was the fact Lady Thatcher is refusing to see Sarah Palin, who was quoted by Christina Lamb in The Sunday Times as saying, “I am going to Sudan in July and hope to stop in England on the way. I am just hoping Mrs. Thatcher is well enough to see me as I so admire her.” First of all, Mrs. Moosehead, she hasn’t been “Mrs.” in years. Show some respect if you expect respect from people you admire as fellow conservatives, but who, it would seem, don’t feel the same way.
An aide of Thatcher’s was reported to say, “Lady Thatcher will not be seeing Sarah Palin. That would be belittling for Margaret. Sarah Palin is nuts.”
Bwahahahahaha. Just a quick note to this story, when I confirmed with our own Department of Protocol, Mr. Tuttle, that Lady Thatcher had ceased to be a Mrs. a while ago, he said, “Well, yes, but you’re expecting a lot from someone like Sarah Palin.”
To which I replied, “But she’s expecting to be President.”