Sunday, February 2, 2014

Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand

I was libertarian leaning before reading Ayn Rand, though I had seen many clips of her on YouTube and really liked her. I can honestly say that reading Atlas Shrugged really pushed me over the edge. It is not the easiest read. In terms of pleasure reading, there are other novels that I have liked far better. But it is the most important novel I've ever read, and I know it's the same for a lot of other people.

Reading Atlas Shrugged seemed like a sort of rite of passage for people with my thinking, and when I finally got around to doing it, I understood why. It was nothing short of astonishing. The parallels between the novel and current day reality are crystal clear and unmistakable, unless you've been asleep the last ten years. I could not believe this thing was written back in 1957, and not the year I read it (2009). I am not religious or supernaturally inclined in any way, so I'll have to attribute it to her astute observational skills when I say that Atlas Shrugged is a bona fide work of prophecy. It's not a stretch to say that Star Trek predicted a fair amount of the tech we use today. Atlas Shrugged does that for society: it predicts our society's dualistic mentality--the struggle between makers and takers, between entrepreneurs and the class envy hustlers who would tear them down.

So many times, I found myself nodding furiously, saying, "YES! That is exactly what's going on right now!" I can very easily see a day, not far off, where some corollary to the "Anti Dog-Eat-Dog" legislation of the novel becomes a sickening reality.

Rand didn't want Atlas Shrugged to be a work of literary prophecy. She wrote it so that it wouldn't
come true. It was intended to be a parable, a warning about turning our lives and our freedoms over to a technocratic, paternalistic bureaucracy through class envy, and through svengali politicians who manipulate our emotions, stoke our irrationality, and ply us with offerings from the fruits of our own labors, stolen and handed back to us like some kind of gift. Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand standing on the road with a lit flare, trying to tell us that the bridge ahead has collapsed. Just as she feared, we are driving right by her, dismissing her as a crank and reassuring ourselves that all will be well as we speed toward the chasm.

This is not to say that Rand was perfect by any means. As has been extensively documented elsewhere (so I won't retread it here), she failed to live up to her philosophy in some ways. Though she was vehemently anti-religion, she herself became the center of a creepy, quasi-religious, L. Ron Hubbard-esque cult of personality. Like any artist, she was tortured, hypocritical, and downright bizarre in some respects.

Nevertheless, her art and her philosophy are too important to be ignored, particularly in the world of today, where our lives increasingly imitate her art, and the world we inhabit slowly blends with the world she feared. There is a reason that Atlas Shrugged continues to inhabit the bestseller list more than fifty years later, and when you read it, you'll see why.
"Man, if he chooses his ideals rationally, can and must achieve them. Here on earth, in reality, there are no unreachable heights for man; there are no unrightable wrongs."

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