Thursday 3 May 2012

Book Review: "Ayn Rand Nation" by Gary Weiss

I have to confess that I stumbled on Atlas Shrugged when I was a cab driver in the mid 70's and after reading it went out and got all the other books. She did speak to me, but mainly because of the fairly rigorous process of logical steps leading to her philosophy. For a while I became a bit rabid, but then after thinking through the inevitable outcomes of adopting the approach became less than enthusiastic.

I saw this book and since I hadn't read any of the Ayn Rand books for 30 years (I still have them all) decided to see how on earth she was relevant in todays world. I was horrified to see how deeply embedded her works are in the American psyche.

The author interviews some of the original 'cult' members, including the Brandens, and a raft of people who claim to have had Ayn Rand affect their lives. Many are active members in the Tea Party. Horrors abound.

As the interviews progress, it seems he is left more and more stunned by how little people know about Objectivism and how blind they are to the negative effects of following through on their beliefs.

I vaguely remembered that Alan Greenspan was one of the original 'cult', but had no idea how deeply intertwined his life was with Objectivism. In hindsight his handling of the Fed's response to various financial events makes it obvious.

Just so people understand what Objectivism means here is the quote from wikipedia:

Objectivism is a philosophy created by Russian-American philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand (1905–1982). Objectivism's central tenets are that reality exists independent of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (or rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez faire capitalism, and that the role of art in human life is to transform humans' metaphysical ideas by selective reproduction of reality into a physical form—a work of art—that one can comprehend and to which one can respond emotionally.

Seems harmless eh? The individual rules! It also means government and all regulations (not laws) be damned. Which is why so many people get hooked on it. So the horror unfolds when, for example, a nurse joins the Tea Party, waves a John Galt banner demanding the government get out of the health business without the slightest understanding that she will:

- either lose her job or have to work longer hours for less pay
- walk home because there is no public transport
- on sidewalks that gradually deteriorate because there are no one to fix them
- through piles of garbage because there's no one to take it away
- buy food that could make her sick because there are no regulatory bodies
- knowing that since there are no public schools, her kids will likely grow up un-educated
- and get their first job at 10c an hour because there are no minimum wage laws
- die in poverty because she could never save enough to take care of herself in old age
- and you can see my point

Reality bites. And it bit Rand too. Her hatred for Medicare didn't stop her rationalising away her decision to sign up when she was broke, in her 80's and she couldn't care for her dying husband.

While I detest special interest groups getting special treatment from the government and the waste of the bureaucracy of it all, I would rather have governments and the regulations than not. I appreciate the taking away of garbage, clean streets, clean water, being able to buy food that I know can be trusted 99.9% of the time (given the recent KFC issue), traffic lights, cross-walks, road rules and all the other myriad ways that having governments and regulations creates a safe environment for me and you and your kids.

It could be done better, but to not have it at all? No thanks.

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