I first read Atlas Shrugged when I was in my thirties. I really was enthralled by it. It was around the same time I saw Pixar's The Incredibles. The idea that there were, indeed, people of superior qualities being held back by the mediocrity of mass expectation was pretty juicy especially considering, as a white, college-educated, male, I was exactly who these messages were designed for.
I immediately went and grabbed a copy of The Fountainhead and, as an artist with disdain for the conformity of popular commerce, was again, completely enthralled. It was as if I had hit upon that missing Rite of Passage that so many young, white males had gone through when they were in their twenties.
I mean, I like railroads! I hate the System!! Howard Roarke - an individualist architect who won't compromise his art? John Galt - an individualist who sticks it to the Man by subverting things? Holy Shit and Gimme Some Butter Sauce with THAT Lobster!!
I wanted to talk about the ideas that Rand had put out there -
My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute. — Ayn Rand, Appendix to Atlas Shrugged
Sounds good to me! Granted, I wove her philosophy within my own basic construct - that altruism for its own sake was a load of shit, that we self sacrifice for selfish reasons, but that both altruism and self sacrifice are societally good and necessary things. We recycle for the same basic reason we buy an iPhone or donate to WBEZ - so we can brag about it. I mean, what's wrong with productive achievement, right? Reason as the replacement for superstition?
For a period of about six months, I read all that I could about her philosophy of Objectivism. And, true to form, instead of really examining the philosophy, I fit it into my pre-existing belief in equality and freedom and personal responsibility. It drove my second ex-wife crazy because all I wanted to talk about was Ayn Rand.
Rand was a passionate individualist. She wrote in praise of "the men of unborrowed vision," who live by the judgment of their own minds, willing to stand alone against tradition and popular opinion.
Her philosophy of Objectivism rejects the ethics of self-sacrifice and renunciation. She urged men to hold themselves and their lives as their highest values, and to live by the code of the free individual: self-reliance, integrity, rationality, productive effort.
Objectivism celebrates the power of man's mind, defending reason and science against every form of irrationalism. It provides an intellectual foundation for objective standards of truth and value.
Wow. "The power of man's mind." "Self Reliance. Integrity. Rationality. Productive Effort." "Stand alone against tradition and popular opinion."
Christ, this shit was EXACTLY what I wanted to hear!
And then I started to really digest what she was espousing. That making money was, in and of itself, a creative act as if being a banker or an oil magnate was the same as creating art. That the world was essentially one of two classes - the creators and the consumers. That the governments only purpose was to pave the way for only those deemed financial creators rather than lift everyone to that status.
And that was also when I started seeing that Objectivist Randians were no different than Fundamentalist Christians, Fundamentalist Political Activists, or Fundamentalist Movements of any kind. Take a book of fiction (or academia), read into the ideas that appeal most to them, and shape society in an ideology that most fits their existing worldview. If blind belief in an Ism isn't EXACTLY antithetical to the ideas of "...the power of man's mind...standing alone against tradition...rationality..." then what the fuck was it?
Oh, but that Kool-Aid was so thirst-quenching, huh?
As an older person, I now try to approach all new isms with a sense of nuance because, in my experience, any sense of infallibility in political ideology is like a cotton candy ball spun from sugar and batshit.
I also understand that human beings and interactions with them are filled to the edge with contradictions. Fundamentalist belief is predicated on the All or Nothing mentality. Either you accept all of a given dogma or your belief is impure and wrong.
Not being a fundamentalist anything, I can both believe in and support that #BlackLivesMatter AND that #AllLivesMatter and be perfectly fine with that. I can support the Second Amendment right to a regulated militia AND believe strongly in comprehensive gun control. I can hold that abortion is an awful thing AND still support a woman's right to choose it as an option.
I notice when my friends have suddenly "found" a new perspective that is so compelling that, without much real skeptical analysis, start proslytizing this new bombshell to all. When a woman I know suddenly becomes hardcore in her extreme misandry or someone suddenly realizes that gentrification of previously non-white neighborhoods is as evil as Nazism, I can sense the hyperbolic zealotry of a fundamentalist. When I hear a dude whose partner dumped him for another spout off about "all women," I know the blind adherence I'm witnessing. Fundamentalist epiphany paints everything with a giant paintroller, so when I hear someone start barking about categories ("men," "immigrants," "blacks," "cops") I know that I need to patiently listen and wear a poncho to avoid the spew of histrionic nonsense.
I've had good, smart people accuse me of racism because I was a white host of a national broadcast story slam series without a hint of thought behind it because the orthodoxy of racial politics dictates that ANYTHING a white man does is wrong. Which really boils down to being accused of racism because I'm white.
My answer to that was (and continues to be) that as a white person living in a fundamentally racist system designed to give me an advantage, I AM a racist. I can't escape that fact. Whether I like it or not, the institutional racism baked into our society benefits me. However, in spite of any prejudices I may have, I hope I'm not a bigot in any way and I hope any attempts I make to proffer that benefit to those with more melinin aren't met with mistrust.
I've seen isms take over ordinarily reasonable people and create the kind of people who only watch FOX News and stopped thinking long ago. But each ism has something to offer if you can eliminate the need to belong to a tribe and can parse out the usable from the destructive:
I like the part of the Bible that tells us to Love Our Neighbors, Do Unto Others, and Feed the Poor. Not so much in favor of all the rules of morality, though.
I like the part of the Communist Manifesto that tells us to abolish Economic Classes. Not so much a fan of the idea of forced collectization or all instruments of production being controlled by the State.
I like the part of the Capitalist Dogma that tells us Fair Competition Makes Better Production. The planks of the platform that proliferate the hoarding of wealth and the cut throat nature of competition do not float my boat.
And I like the ideas of Self Reliance, Integrity and Rationality in Objectivism. But Ayn Rand was a fucking sociopathic looney until she recanted most of Objectivism at the end of her life.
The thing is one does NOT have to be stupid to fall into this trap. Humans like things in Black and White, Good and Evil. Recognizing the complexities and accepting the contradictions is a part of evolving as a thinking individual. That said, pretty much ANY Ism or Cult of Personality or Belief System that results in the Harm of Others is a bona fide load of rooster shit with a side of pig turds.
The trouble with Isms is that the sticky ones have enough good ideas to suck you in and enough bad ones to let the fundamentalist believers justify being fuckholes with it.
I think a good policy would be to try not to be a fuckhole...