Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Ayn Rand, dismantled

In 2011 the BBC transmitted a compelling three-part documentary by the film-maker Adam Curtis called All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, now available to view online.

Do watch them, and watch them again. They're about why things are the way they are, and how we got here.

His starting point is the American writer Ayn Rand's eccentric 'Objectivist' line of clumping unreason. To claim that her shambolic books are works of'philosophy (as she always does) is misleading - she was an intellectual nincompoop and raging egoist with no interest in any thinkers other than herself and (if cornered) Aristotle. She has the complacent and totalising world view of other delusional charlatans - think of L. Ron Hubbard or Erich Von Daniken.

In her long-winded novel Atlas Shrugged (of interest mainly to psychoanalysts) she attacked altruism and advocated selfishness and greed as the supreme human values. Her impact on American political and economic thinking for the past four decades (especially via her acolyte Alan Greenspan) is plain to see. Although she is little known outside the States (and, when known, largely derided) her malign influence is manifest in the behaviour and values of our banking autocracy. That she is taken seriously by otherwise sane and intelligent people makes one question the meaning and value of sanity and intelligence.

Rand was Russian-born (her real name was Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum) and never really got over her first view of the Manhattan skyline. All those thrusting skyscrapers! Could she have suffered mildly from what the Germans call 'Objektophilie'? This is defined as 'a pronounced emotional and often romantic desire towards developing significant relationships with particular inanimate objects.' You can find out more about this rare and deeply unsettling condition at www.objectum-sexuality.org

A good introduction to Rand is the 1949 film version of her novel The Fountainhead, directed by King Vidor. If the image of Gary Cooper nestling a huge pneumatic jackhammer in his crotch doesn't get you giggling uncontrollably the chances are you're already a Rand convert. Here's a link to that sequence, complete with a very suggestive hat. It's a Freudian smorgasbord: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Br3AipG2bbU

The film, like the novel, is an unilluminating exercise in penis-envy. Needless to say Rand has millions of devoted followers who doubtless feel themselves 'empowered' by her ardent Nietzschean belief in the will and suchlike ramshackle bollocks. Her unreflecting and unrelenting endorsement of laissez-faire capitalism reminds me of those lines from Hobbes' Leviathan about a society without political governance - often quoted, but seldom in full

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

'Nasty, brutish and short'. That's Ayn Rand. Her belief in selfishness and lofty commitment to her own loopy ethical system didn't prevent her from signing up for Social Security and Medicare in her declining years. She died, on my birthday, in 1982.

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