Monday, March 16, 2009

Rand's Villains

Yaron Brook, the president of the Ayn Rand Institute explains in the Wall Street Journal why he believes the late Ms Rand is as relevant today as ever.

Mr. Brook asks:

Why do we accept the budget-busting costs of a welfare state? Because it implements the moral ideal of self-sacrifice to the needy. Why do so few protest the endless regulatory burdens placed on businessmen? Because businessmen are pursuing their self-interest, which we have been taught is dangerous and immoral. Why did the government go on a crusade to promote "affordable housing," which meant forcing banks to make loans to unqualified home buyers? Because we believe people need to be homeowners, whether or not they can afford to pay for houses.

The message is always the same: "Selfishness is evil; sacrifice for the needs of others is good." But Rand said this message is wrong -- selfishness, rather than being evil, is a virtue. By this she did not mean exploiting others � la Bernie Madoff. Selfishness -- that is, concern with one's genuine, long-range interest -- she wrote, required a man to think, to produce, and to prosper by trading with others voluntarily to mutual benefit.

Rand also noted that only an ethic of rational selfishness can justify the pursuit of profit that is the basis of capitalism -- and that so long as self-interest is tainted by moral suspicion, the profit motive will continue to take the rap for every imaginable (or imagined) social ill and economic disaster. Just look how our present crisis has been attributed to the free market instead of government intervention -- and how proposed solutions inevitably involve yet more government intervention to rein in the pursuit of self-interest.

I think I'd want to quibble just a bit. I think Ayn Rand's atheism is simply wrong and thus the egoism and sexual morality she derives from it are wrong. Nevertheless, her analysis, especially in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, of the great harm done by a collectivist government bent on redistributing wealth by seizing it from those who create it and giving it to those who create nothing is as trenchant today as it was when her books first appeared in the late forties and fifties. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid could have been lifted right out of the pages of either of these novels. They're perfect avatars of Rand's villains.



Jason writes to tell me that an essay by Matt Labash in The Weekly Standard reveals much in common between Labash and me. Labash says:

Look at the outer shell--the parachute pants, the piano-key tie, the fake tuxedo T-shirt--and you might mistake me for a slave to fashion. Do not be deceived. Early adoption isn't my thing. I much prefer late adoption, that moment when the trend-worshipping sheeple who have early-adopted drive the unsustainable way of life I so stubbornly cling to ever so close to the edge of obsolescence, that I've no choice but to follow. This explains why I bought cassette tapes until 1999, why I wouldn't purchase a DVD player until Blockbuster cashiered their VHS stock. Toothpaste? I use it now that it's clear it's here to stay.

So I'm not inflexible. But there is one promise I've made to myself. And that is that no matter how long I live, no matter how much pressure is exerted, no matter how socially isolated I become, I will never, ever join Facebook, the omnipresent online social-networking site that like so many things that have menaced our country (the Unabomber, Love Story, David Gergen) came to us from Harvard but has now worked its insidious hooks into every crevice of society.

Labash's essay is pretty funny, but I empathize completely with his complaint. I just can't see the point of being "friends" with hundreds of people you don't know. It'd be different if you had something significant to say to each other, but Facebook dialogue is usually so banal it makes chat room conversation sound like a seminar at the Aspen Institute.

Besides, I don't get enough sleep as it is, I don't need to be up half the night trying to keep up with the goings on among five hundred of my closest friends. I'm perfectly happy to be the last person in America who is "friendless."

Gosh, I just realized this post sounds like something that was written on Facebook.