Posted 6 years ago on Dec. 18, 2011, 1:42 p.m. EST by anonwolf
from West Peoria, IL
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By Bruce E. Levine, AlterNet
17 December 11
Thanks in part to Rand, the United States is one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world.
Ayn Rand's "philosophy" is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society.... To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil. - Gore Vidal, 1961
Only rarely in U.S. history do writers transform us to become a more caring or less caring nation. In the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was a strong force in making the United States a more humane nation, one that would abolish slavery of African Americans. A century later, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) helped make the United States into one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world, a neo-Dickensian society where healthcare is only for those who can afford it, and where young people are coerced into huge student-loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
Rand's impact has been widespread and deep. At the iceberg's visible tip is the influence she's had over major political figures who have shaped American society. In the 1950s, Ayn Rand read aloud drafts of what was later to become Atlas Shrugged to her "Collective," Rand's ironic nickname for her inner circle of young individualists, which included Alan Greenspan, who would serve as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006.
In 1966, Ronald Reagan wrote in a personal letter, "Am an admirer of Ayn Rand." Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) credits Rand for inspiring him to go into politics, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) calls Atlas Shrugged his "foundation book." Rep. Ron Lawl (R-TX) says Ayn Rand had a major influence on him, and his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is an even bigger fan. A short list of other Rand fans includes Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Christopher Cox, chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission in George W. Bush's second administration; and former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.
But Rand's impact on U.S. society and culture goes even deeper.
Ayn Rand's books such as The Virtue of Selfishness and her philosophy that celebrates self-interest and disdains altruism may well be, as Vidal assessed, "nearly perfect in its immorality." But is Vidal right about evil? Charles Manson, who himself did not kill anyone, is the personification of evil for many of us because of his psychological success at exploiting the vulnerabilities of young people and seducing them to murder. What should we call Ayn Rand's psychological ability to exploit the vulnerabilities of millions of young people so as to influence them not to care about anyone besides themselves?
While Greenspan (tagged "A.G." by Rand) was the most famous name that would emerge from Rand's Collective, the second most well-known name to emerge from the Collective was Nathaniel Branden, psychotherapist, author and "self-esteem" advocate. Before he was Nathaniel Branden, he was Nathan Blumenthal, a 14-year-old who read Rand's The Fountainhead again and again. He later would say, "I felt hypnotized." He describes how Rand gave him a sense that he could be powerful, that he could be a hero.
When I was a kid, my reading included comic books and Rand's The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. There wasn't much difference between the comic books and Rand's novels in terms of the simplicity of the heroes. What was different was that unlike Superman or Batman, Rand made selfishness heroic, and she made caring about others weakness.
Rand said, "Capitalism and altruism are incompatible....The choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequences of freedom, justice, progress and man's happiness on earth-or the primordial morality of altruism, with its consequences of slavery, brute force, stagnant terror and sacrificial furnaces." For many young people, hearing that it is "moral" to care only about oneself can be intoxicating, and some get addicted to this idea for life.
I have known several people, professionally and socially, whose lives have been changed by those close to them who became infatuated with Ayn Rand. A common theme is something like this: "My ex-husband wasn't a bad guy until he started reading Ayn Rand. Then he became a completely selfish jerk who destroyed our family, and our children no longer even talk to him."
Ayn Rand removed Americans' guilt for being selfish and uncaring about anyone except themselves. Not only did Rand make it "moral" for the wealthy not to pay their fair share of taxes, she "liberated" millions of other Americans from caring about the suffering of others, even the suffering of their own children.
The good news is that I've seen ex-Rand fans grasp the damage that Rand's philosophy has done to their lives and to then exorcize it from their psyche. Can the United States as a nation do the same thing?