March 14, 2009
When Fools Rush In
The nation – indeed, the world – is waking up to the idea that ideas have consequences. One idea is that sacrificing is not a life-enhancing option and will lead to misery or death. Another is that the heedless policy of a spendthrift is not a rational course of action. Another is that adopting the policy of a spendthrift benefits no one but a politician who advocates it as a sound fiscal policy. Envy is not a paying proposition. “Class warfare” in the form of “soaking the rich” to help the poor assures mutual impoverishment. There are so many more altruist and collectivist ideas that are being grasped by millions as a collective prescription for penury and extinction.
The world seems to be emerging from a moral and intellectual coma, perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently. It is discovering that other ideas have other consequences, as well, ideas that promote life, promote prosperity, promote ambition and personal success, and that they are possible only in political freedom, and that this freedom has been violated, abridged, and nullified by the first set of ideas. True, politics is the last thing to be affected by a philosophical revolution. But one cannot help but be pleased with how startled the collectivists and altruists are now by the knowledge that they have not successfully pulled a fast one on Americans. These Americans have come knocking on the doors of elitists or leaning over the café railings or invading their legislated smoke-free bars and restaurants to ask: What in hell do you think you are doing?
The Americans who recently protested the spendthrift policies of the Obama administration and Congress with “tea parties,” and who plan to protest them on an even larger scale in the near future, one can wager are not regular readers of the New York Times. They cannot have much in common with its columnists and editors, nor with the news media. So the collectivist and altruist elite become very touchy when the people for whom they are “doing good” for their own sake, even to the point of enacting coercive and felonious legislation, exhibit signs of intelligence, resistance and anger. How dare these yokels!
And nothing raises their hackles higher than any mention of Ayn Rand. This is because they thought she and her philosophy had been buried by that arch-conservative, Whittaker Chambers, wielding a shovel on one side of the grave, while that fellow-traveler and critic Granville Hicks wielded another on the other side, in a true demonstration of bipartisanship half a century ago. And hadn’t all the academics and pundits and book writers since then refuted her and her philosophy over time and ensured that she would not return to haunt them?
The cultural and political elite are upset that she has not been forgotten. That philosophy has returned to haunt them and aggravate their guilt. And they are in high dudgeon because they are being cast in the role, not as saviors, but as her black-hearted villains. They are discovering that ideas cannot be interred as permanently as their authors. Atlas Shrugged is on their minds.
The Times blog, “Opinionator” (a round-up of positions expressed in other blogs) of March 6th, said “’Going Galt’: Everyone’s Doing It!” is a testimonial to how the elite have been blind-sided in their arrogant complacency and sent spinning out of control on the Internet highway, and evidence of how thoroughly they have been indoctrinated in the belief that reality has nothing to do with their chosen “reality.” They are deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming train, but sneer that the train does not exist. They are stuffed animals crammed with the excelsior of worn-out bromides, mulched second-hand sociology, and the sawdust of a failed ideology.
Reading the denials of the cultural elite is almost as amusing as watching Sir Fretful Plagiary, the hack playwright in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy, The Critic, protest that his play does not fall off, is not tediously spun out, and does not want incident. Incredibly, these are the literary vices they ascribe to Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, and they claim they can’t understand why it is getting so much attention. Nor can they understand why President Obama is having problems putting over his disastrous policies. Why don’t these “Galtists” just shut up and do as he says? (Editor’s note: sales of Atlas Shrugged have nearly tripled over the first seven weeks of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008.)
That they protest too much is an indication that they do understand. These are the crusaders who crusaded to destroy literary, economic and political values, and made living in this culture as pointless as watching a snow-covered TV screen. They would not have campaigned to destroy them if they did not feel threatened by them.
Their truncated minds and shriveled souls will not permit them to concede defeat. They see the “relevance,” these programmed altruists and dispensers of others’ wealth, and join in a chorus of denials of the relevance. Many are loathe to admit their malice. Others, while not projecting their self-deception and hatred on Rand or on her admirers, confess their utter ignorance of the importance of Atlas Shrugged. Randomly, and to wit:
“I look to Atlas Shrugged more for conveniently totable beach reading than an economic blueprint…. If only the people in her novels had acted remotely like actual people, rather than [like] comic book characters, I, too, would be rereading the thing now.”
This is the kind of “missing link” mentality that never progressed beyond the concretes under her nose. The novel is a novel, not a blueprint for anything. It is an idealization of reality, and the events in it are necessarily telescoped. Those events in the novel are so grounded in reality – and the heroes and villains are so concretely real – that it would be futile to explain to such a person that “actual people” are moved by the same values or anti-values as are the novel’s characters. The task of induction would be impossible to her. One must ask, also: Whose fictional characters, in her mind, aren’t of “comic book” caliber? John Updike’s? Joyce Carol Oates’?
Then there is another kind of arrested mentality, writing about those who may choose to go on strike:
“And of course none of these folks designed an engine that would have created basically free energy (and made global warming a non-issue). In the individual case, ‘going Galt’ smacks of a kind of self-aggrandizement in the same way that climate smuggery does. Because, really, your marginal contribution doesn’t matter that much….The point is that you are not John Galt. You don’t even know who he is! And this eventually leaves you weeping on abandoned train tracks.”
This is someone struggling to convince “you” that you aren’t important enough to make a difference, and himself that your quitting in protest wouldn’t affect him much. The desperation is in the sneer. This individual apparently has read the novel, and got nothing from it. He is a minuscule, belittling Ellsworth Toohey. Well, Hillary Clinton once said she’d read Ayn Rand’s novels in college, and that it was just a “passing phase.” Look at the kind of contemptible person she grew to be.
Other bloggers make equally irrelevant comments about Rand and her novel. Trying to make sense of them is like trying to make sense of a Picasso canvas. Just as interesting, however, are the kinds of responses their comments elicited from their readers, ranging from the malicious to the short-range to the certifiably dumb. To wit:
“Atlas Shrugged is a joke. A piece of ridiculosity.”
“I wish they would take a John Galt….Please feel free to go on strike. We would be better off without you.”
“Rand falsely assumes these innovative genius[es] work in a vacuum and don’t benefit from having a safe, civil society to work in.”
“Please show me anything that I can touch, or eat, or live in, or drive that the ‘productive rich’ have made?”
Then there are the obvious Obama supporters, individuals ready and willing to sacrifice and work for “the good of society.”
“It is not at all clear that we need to bribe people with promises of riches in order to get them to do useful work. If it turns out to be necessary with today’s crop of masters of the universe, then we’ll need to find a way to start over, once we have turned the spoiled brats out of their unearned positions of power.”
“Please, go Galt. Be my guest….Take that genius talent of yours right over to the bus station at Applebee’s. I can’t wait to watch you scraping uneaten peas into the garbage disposal. You and your genius Galt buddies Bernie Madoff and Sir [Allen] Stanford.”
“The top tax rate will go up approximately 5%, and this makes you decide to take your ball and go home? That seems silly to me.”
“One of the characters [Hugh Akston, the philosopher of reason] in Atlas Shrugged was working in a diner frying hamburgers when he encountered Dagny Taggart. He was one of the ones who ‘shrugged.’ It was honest work and he made a very good hamburger. If Malkin and [Rick] Santelli and some others ‘go Galt,’ hopefully we can count on an increase in hamburger quality across the nation.”
These are people who probably believe that the concept of “unearned income” is a valid one and should be taxed and otherwise penalized, because no observable physical labor is involved in the rewards of risking investments in stocks and innovators and loans to productive enterprises. Intellectual labor is as much an unreal concept to them as it is to the IRS. Such labor is responsible for everything that the one individual “can touch, or eat, or live in, or drive.”
And, a number of these individuals view Bernard Madoff and Stanford as the symbols of capitalism and freedom. One newscaster on ABC this morning erroneously referred to Madoff as a “financier,” but then the news media suffer from a similar truncated mentality. They don’t “get it” that Obama, his appointees, and Congress are all guilty of the mother of all Ponzi schemes.
Two or three respondents answered with defenses of Rand and the novel. One promised to go on strike.
“I will cut back so that my hard-earned income is not taken by the government and redistributed to people who have not worked as hard. I will not subsidize others.”
One point of this commentary is to reveal the scope of hostility that exists in our culture to individualism, capitalism, freedom, and “the rich” – and to the mind. Another is to prepare those who would argue in defense of those things for the levels of ignorance and species of malice they will encounter, not only in people they might personally engage in argument, but in politicians, academics, and the news media.
The thing to remember is that reason and reality is on our side. Most of our opponents and enemies know it. They are not the ones who need convincing or any kind of rational guidance. Beware especially of the ones who claim it is your duty to convince them. These creatures' minds are the truly truncated. Let reality be their ultimate persuader.
Focus on those who show genuine interest in answers, and never mind the fools.