Should we not expect more from our political representatives than a willingness to embrace the lunatic fringe of political philosophy without so much as an acknowledgment of the studies that show such work to be the delusional ranting of a very unstable individual, who based her complete philosophy of life on what she thought the ideal man should be like and who, because of the fact that there were and are no such men, still plunged ahead undeterred? Watch the movie Inside Job and then ask yourself, where were the John Galts? Where are they now? Indeed, where were they ever?
One of the most insidious things about Objectivism is that deep at its core is a seething but thinly disguised (sometimes blatantly open) contempt for anyone and everyone not on board with the self-interest is the only thing that matters fantasy. This undermines those things that we need a public sector for, like a government strong enough and fair-minded enough to show an equal concern for all of its citizens, regardless of whether they maintain their own lobbyists on Capitol Hill.
The human species comprises a vast array of attributes, talents, and emotions. We are not responsible for who our parents were and hence our genetic legacy. Thus, we aren’t responsible for our innate talents, although we are accountable for developing those talents we do possess. But first and foremost, we should be responsible for educating ourselves beyond the practicality of falling victim to a cult and being swallowed whole by flawed ideas that appeal to our adolescent desires. It doesn’t take a serious academic effort to determine that Objectivism is nonsense, but one does have to think beyond hearsay and Fox News.
The distance between ourselves and those whom we perceive as the other exists as a psychosomatic crevice. We fill this fissure with a range of emotions from love and admiration to contempt and hatred. The goodwill of the former requires that we know enough about others or have enough experience with them to appreciate their humanity. Objectivists see little value in a liberal education because they believe they are the only important people on the planet and all of the other poor fools are by nature inferior.
Objectivism is especially appealing to people whose worldview is limited to the familiarity of their sole ethnocentric group, social class, or nation state. In other words, if it’s not about them, it’s unimportant. But worse, far worse, is the exalted esteem that Rand disciples believe exists only within their own ranks. This smugness leads to a malignant strain of contempt for others, especially when they get together and ramp up their self-aggrandizing rhetoric about their own self-delusional rugged individualism.
At the center of American politics lies a fundamental difference in how one defines the notion of human dignity. The idea that one’s feelings and aspirations are all that counts in life nullifies Immanuel Kant’s view that all the lives of all human beings matter and that we should treat our fellow human beings not as a means to an end, but as ends in themselves. In Randian ideology, Martin Buber’s I-Thou becomes I-it, and contempt and hatred are not far behind.
Listen to Rand disciples when they speak of people who wait tables and flip burgers in restaurants. They can barely contain their derision. Yet these people’s services add quality to all of our lives, and those who provide these services do so for the most part without receiving an adequate income. Moreover, their lack of sufficient income has much more to do with their political disadvantage than with the actual worth of their labor.
An unfortunate psychological result of group affiliation is that it’s possible to cede oneself to one’s group in a way that seems to absolve one of personal responsibility. In his insightful book Human Dignity, George Kateb puts it like this: “To be affiliated with one’s whole self is to welcome docility, to endorse the thought that one’s possibilities are exhausted, perhaps from birth, and that one cannot change or be changed; all that one can do is play a part and at most make the part one’s own by small differences of attitude or conduct.”
But here is the kicker: hitch a castle-in-the-sky ride by association with the crème de la crème of humanity, as Rand followers view themselves, and you can revel vicariously in the limelight of your more successful associates and even in the scorching, radiant light of Rand herself. And if you can’t achieve success on your own, no worries, because you are already home, so to speak, with a group who will allow your aspirations to serve as a stand-in for actual accomplishment for as long as you pretend. Moreover, it’s easier to find out what Rand had to say on all matters of importance than it is to think for oneself, and it provides a good cover for one’s docility of thought. Objectivists are always ready with an Ayn Rand quote, fully expecting it to settle any argument.
At the core of Rand’s philosophy is a psychopathic contempt for the kind of people who constitute the majority of Americans. The fact that a budget prepared by one of her disciples sanctions a war against poor people should not be a surprise. That more people can’t see Ryan’s budget for what it is, should be. That this man is viewed by many people as a great candidate for president of the United States runs directly counter to the thoughtfulness necessary to sustain a viable democracy. We desperately need a political philosophy that takes into account the way we are, not an adolescent fantasy that thrives on contempt.