Oct 23, 2007

Rand Shrugged

Post some invigorating discussion about ayn rand’s work & my viewing of the brilliant ‘a man for all seasons’, I am compelled to shrug this strange ennui that seems to have taken over my life recently. Am gonna divide this into two posts – one about rand’s work & why I don’t derive much comfort from it (to put it mildly) & the other about how the most noble of men can also be accused of acting out of absolutely selfish needs.
A few days ago a couple of us had gathered together & one thing led to another & we sat there debating the merits & demerits of ayn rand’s work & philosophy; how much should rand be taken at face value, if at all; how her cult following is so immense that political writers & analysts frm ‘the independent’ credit the triumph of unabashed materialism, celebration of utter selfishness & moral ambiguity in America as a fall out of an all-embracive attitude towards rand & her philosophy of objectivism. Unlike most others I have always been uneasy with rand’s glorification of ‘objectivism’. Part of it I attribute to childhood conditioning when one was always taught that the act of serving others while delegating ones own interests at the very back was the ideal to be striven for; a code to be rigorously adhered too. To this day, ma refuses to entertain any discussion about the trouble I may be encountering from demanding in-laws or ever-cribbing relatives. Her mantra is simple - serve them better & overlook their criticism. Anyway, that’s all about what I was told & still am whenever I start to question my selfhood, or wonder if there is anything I may do that I want to v.badly, knowing it will leave many others’ deeply hurt or at least, dissatisfied.
Even after I’d shaken off this belief in complete & abject selflessness & knew that personal freedom came before all else, rand still evoked a disquieting sense of things left unsaid, of truths only half revealed. If men & women indeed started behaving as she dictates, there is an ugliness that would creep into this world that no amount of economic prosperity, individual blossoming or rational thought could rid.
In my lifetime I have met only two people who cud withstand the peculiar appeal of rand’s writing & over the years, I have lost several arguments & friends in the course of discussing her philosophy. For me it’s quite simple, no person who has read & fully comprehended ‘objectivism’ can seriously embrace it, let alone condone it, for it’s nihilistic, it teaches us to ‘take’ when the world around us cannot function if we don’t ‘give’. I’ve read ‘fountainhead’ & ‘atlas shrugged’ twice & was surprised to find myself even greatly dissatisfied the second time. What do u make of a writer who pronounces with self righteousness, “Don't consider our interests or our desires. You have no duty to anyone but yourself/ What are your masses but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it.” Though she claims that she outgrew Nietzsche’s influence, her assertions of superiority & the right of the individual to achieve his way through any means, sounds eerily like the older philosopher. What is sad, however, is that there is so much about rand’s thought that came so close to perfection, that celebrated individual freedom & rational self-interest. But it is as if she must veer towards an extreme & in doing so she forsakes positive liberty. Her dictum which she openly declared in her saloon readings, “What is good for me is right”, sounds like the pathetic cry of a sociopath, one who cares only for the preservation & interests of the self, no matter what it costs others. I am sure george bush feels that way too!
Devotees of her writings would do well to remember that rand herself hailed from a wealthy Russian family, who was driven out by the Bolshevik revolution, a mass rising. Small wonder then that she’d nurture a lifelong abhorrence for the will & might of the masses in determining economic principles or parity. (Would mary antoniette ever empathise with the starving & the homeless?) What is sad is that nowhere in rand’s work do we see the kind of celebration of capitalism mixed with altruism that one witnesses in adam smith’s ‘wealth of nations’. Nowhere is there a positive denunciation of collective will & herd instinct that governs the work of Ionesco. If the self is indeed higher than all else, how do we distinguish the hierarchy of needs of individual souls clamoring for fulfillment? Is it correct to pronounce that the stronger should always prevail & why isn’t a similar road to salvation outlined for the weak, the poor, the ordinary? In short, how pertinent is a philosophy that unabashedly claims that it is to do with the leaders, the few who possess the will & strength to shrug all cares & concerns save their own & follow the path of complete self fulfillment?

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