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woohooligan Sep 13, 2015
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Imagine for a moment that you're a twelve year old girl. Your father went to medical school and became a pharmacy pharmacist. (If only I could blame that on autocorrect. Damn you, brain!) He even owns his own store. One day you've gone to work with your dad and in walk several government agents who inform your father that the pharmacy he worked so hard to obtain no longer belongs to him: now it belongs to the public. Your father protests, but it's no use and they force you out of his pharmacy. He becomes angry, then later depressed, until one day, the same government agents walk into your home and tell him that the home no longer belongs to him: it now belongs to the public. You and your family must all leave immediately. You spend the following years desperately trying to recover from the immense financial blow. Practically overnight, you went from upper-class to struggling, near destitute, and through no fault of your own.

(And, not to be too dramatic about it, but these sorts of things happen here in the US still in recent years. Here we call it "eminent domain" and while it's supposed to be reserved for government purposes, Phiser was allowed to bulldoze a lot of generational homesteads to build a -- nothing, since they said later that the plant was never a good idea in the first place. Sorry homeless people whom we made homeless by destroying your houses. Oops! Our bad! Remember, private enterprise always does what's best for the public!)

This kind of experience is really hard for a kid. It's the kind of experience that's likely to color your worldview for many years to come, if not the rest of your life. My grandmother never seemed to understand just how much money she actually had, telling everyone around her that she was destitute, after paying to have buildings moved and print hundreds of volumes of a book about her grandparents. My grandmother was a child of the Great Depression and I think it colored her experience of the world until she died.

The word Bolshevik translates from Russian literally as "majority party", as distinct from the Menshivik (minority party) of Russia in 1917 when this happened to Alisa Rosenbaum. This was the heyday of "communism"... what's important to understand is that "communism works in theory" is a great sound-byte, but it doesn't really mean much. The ideas that Karl Marx proposed really haven't been tried in the real world, despite the variety of countries that claimed they had. What they got instead were fascist dictators like Joseph Stalin who were populists publicly, but only paying lip-service to the ideas of communism. All "communist" governments to date are not actually communist governments, they're fascist dictatorships using the word "communism", the same way that someone in the US might create the "PATRIOT Act" with the intention of locking up a whole lot of people they're not particularly fond of (many of whom never did anything at all wrong, like the Uighars, and many of whom are still locked up in Guantanamo). But that kind of meta analysis is generally a bit over the head of a twelve-year old.

Alisa still managed to go on to college before emigrating to the US. Upon landing in New York in 1926, she changed her name to Ayn Rand (a notably non-Jewish sounding name). This is the second turning-point in her life, when she set about the task of trying to ensure that what happened to her father would never happen to another human being EVER. To that end she began writing novels with the goal of eventually adapting them to film, and fleshing out her "objectivist" philosophy... The real problem though is that she never seems to have learned that her view of the problem at age twelve was inaccurate. Technically she didn't start officially promoting Objectivism under that name until the publication of Atlas Shrugged, but she later said herself that while she had slightly adjusted her beliefs they remained essentially the same since that age. She could never seem to accept that although what happened to her father was horrible and unfortunate, it was because of a fascist Bolshevik dictator, not because of people trying to be altruistic or wanting to improve the lives of their neighbors.

I'm grateful that I live in a country where, although the law hasn't always been particularly nice to me (divorce, child support, custody), I don't live in general fear of the police the way Russians still do today. If you live in Russia, you just don't call the police unless you have NO other option, because they're as likely to steal from you as help you. That's just the way cops are in Russia. (And, I'm not just talking shit about someone else's country - I've had friends from there, this is what they've told me.) I suppose it's possible that kind of culture may have contributed to Rand's mental distress and her subsequent obsession, although other Russians seem to have been able to separate the acts of tyrants from the general desire of people to help one another. For Rand, they were always one and the same.

It's known that she struggled with depression, and probably she should have received some kind of help with that... although I have to be honest in saying that I think it wasn't until relatively late in her life that the psychiatric industry started actually helping people... It wasn't until the 60s that people began applying science to psychology and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy came into existence. Before that, all you could get was Freudian psychoanalysis, which has never shown any real results in scientific studies. That's really unfortunate. I think that's probably the real tragedy of Rand's life, that on the days when she was crying in her New York apartment, saying "John Galt wouldn't feel this, he'd know how to handle this, but I don't", she never received the help that should have been there for her.

All that struggling with depression meant she had to work extra hard to create the myth that sprung up around her. Certainly she did have help, but how do you create the reputation that you've "never lost an argument" when your ego is so fragile? (Read some of the blogs and news articles about Ayn Rand - that particular idea is repeated quite a lot.) Well one way you can do that is by making sure there's never any permanent record of you losing an argument. So if anyone ever claims that you lost an argument, you can simply say "prove it!" knowing that there is no proof to be supplied. This is why, when Dick Cavett attempted to get her on his show for an interview, it fell through, because among her list of demands for any interview (certainly any that would be filmed), was that "there will be no disagreeing with Ms. Rand's philosophy." But while Cavett wasn't willing to accept those terms, Donahue had her on in her later life. That fragile ego is also evident in the fact that her fans have created a Personality Cult around her -- note that anything that might have been named "objectivist" is instead named "Ayn Rand", so it's not the "objectivist lexicon" or the "objectivist institute", it's the "Ayn Rand Lexicon" and the "Ayn Rand Institute".

I kind of wish I could say the phrase "welfare zombie" was something new... unfortunately, it's used an awful lot in blogs at least if not in newspapers. It's some of the most hateful screed I've read in a long time to be honest, demonizing the poor for really no reason other than that they're poor. And the people who use the phrase are also often the same people who idolize Rand... who actually did say literally "capitalists are committing suicide by being altruistic and this will be the end of humanity!" in the last speech she gave before her death. But at least we can get a laugh out of it. :D Also I hear Saddam Hussein actually had gold-plated machine guns. :P

But Rand's Legacy might be especially important today, a little over a year away from our next election here in the US. I know polls are meaningless this early, but looking at the polls so far, it seems like this election is shaping up really to be a battle between the ideology of Rand, and ... well everyone who's not Rand or one of her acolytes. On the one hand, there's Trump, leading the polls on the Republican side and continuing to do better in the polls no matter how absurd and even hateful his comments are. Every time he says some hateful thing like "Mexicans are rapists", it only seems to fuel the people saying they'll vote for him because he sticks by those guns! He's a lot like Rand in that way, a woman who never changed her mind from the time she was twelve (though ironically, Trump inherited most of his wealth, making him entirely the opposite of the "self-made Neiztchean superman" that Rand describes in her novels). On the other hand, you've got Bernie Sanders running in the Democrats' primary, a long-time independent senator, who couldn't possibly be more Trump's polar opposite. Trump wants to slash all the taxes for the wealthy, build a giant wall to keep Mexicans out of the country and call it a day. Bernie wants to make the workplace a more even playing field, so working families can make ends meet, make it easier for young people to get a college education, address racial injustice and gender equality, etc. As Rand would say, "what a monster!" :P

But that's why I think it's so important that we understand Rand now, because right now her legacy seems to be playing out on the national stage, with one group desperately trying to swing toward her ideals and everyone else trying to move away from them... Well... I think it's important to remember that Rand's philosophy was all decided when she was twelve. Did you have it all together when you were twelve? I know I didn't! I think there's a lot of personal growth that should occur between twelve and eighteen years of age, if not throughout the course of our lives. I know Grover Norquist said he invented his anti-tax pledge also when he was twelve and I'm not sure why Republicans have flocked to sign their names to that pre-pubescent notion either...

But on the subject of Ayn Rand, I really do think she had some serious emotional problems. After Rand's death, a number of her notes were collected and published as a separate book. In it, we discover from her own writings that she idolized a serial killer named William Edward Hickman. Everyone in the country knew Hickman at the time just like everyone knew Manson, because of the newspaper headlines describing the incredibly gruesome way in which he dismembered Marion Parker, a twelve year old girl. Rand believed that people's interest in the story was not because of the gruesomeness of the murder (which is a reasonable enough explanation, if you're at all familiar with the works of Edgar Alan Poe), but that people were somehow responding to his "chutzpah", the way people today might be responding to Trump's authenticity when he's being particularly dickish on the national stage.

Of Hickman she wrote, “other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should. . . . [Hickman has] no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a [Neitzchean] Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.” What she described here, his "inability to feel" is precisely the thing that makes sociopaths what they are. Rand seemed to believe (mistakenly) that this was what was good in him, and that it was somehow society that had robbed him of "purpose" -- that if society had given him purpose (presumably by making him a capitalist), he would have been a hero instead of a monster. In fact, she planned to write a novel with a hero loosely based on Hickman (although she later abandoned it).

I know a lot of people will condemn me here, saying that this description of Rand idolizing a serial killer is an "ad hominem" attack and I'm okay with that. What I'm pointing out is that she idolized specifically his lack of empathy (his sociopathy), not him in a general sense. I think we can draw a reasonable parallel between her admiring sociopathy and other things she's said like, "evil requires the consent of the victim." With that in mind, I don't think it's so much ad hominem as devil's advocate. Perhaps if we're going to follow a woman who held on to her beliefs since she was twelve, we might want to take a little extra care to examine what that particular twelve-year-old girl was thinking.

On that unusually heavy note, I'm gonna go spend some quality time with my wife. I'd like to encourage you guys to all go be with your families! I don't just mean sit in the room with them. I mean really be with them! Play games, play music, make love, whatever it is you do, let them know you love them! :)

Stay awesome, Hooligans!

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