How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Atlas Mugged - The Impoverished Legacy of Ayn Rand

April 15th, 2011 marks the day Ayn Rand’s cult fiction novel “Atlas Shrugged” will be launched in film version to a mass audience. Perhaps the only redeeming quality of Rand’s magnum opus is its near-Biblical length, which thus far has prevented much of the Limbaugh and Beck-watching, gun-toting, couch potato crowd from perusing its contents. With the upcoming movie event, making Rand’s mantra of sociopathic self-interest mainstream, I am sending a Unitarian prayer to the universe to save what remains of our economic and natural infrastructures from the scourge of Rand’s objectivist philosophy, which can be said to have almost single-handedly led us to the global mess we find ourselves in today.
In “Atlas Shrugged” Ayn Rand’s highly over-simplified and idealized version of the world contains only two types of characters. All of her “good” characters are simultaneously self-serving, intellectually-brilliant, rich and sexually-attractive. Rand’s antagonists are similarly tarred with a communal brush of lethargy, corpulence, lack of intelligence and/or creativity, corruption and (seemingly oxymoronically) altruism.

For Rand, the assignments of “good” and “bad” attributes are mutually and universally exclusive. For example, an altruist cannot be intelligent, honest or good looking, and all self-interested people are (ironically) serving a greater good through their selfishness.

In Rand’s world, the epitome of human perfection is a rabid industrialist who produces without hesitation or restraint for personal aggrandizement and enrichment. Her “good” characters are beyond moral reproach and never engage in any unethical behavior, while “bad” characters, those who would seek to distribute wealth equitably, Rand renders as universally corrupt and inept.

Rand’s work of obvious fiction would be innocuous and simply just another bad novel except it has been embraced as gospel by proponents of free market capitalism, and these same proponents have been in charge of the global economy for the past 40 years. Rand herself described her pseudo-libertarian philosophy as a desire for a “separation between economy and state.” Alan Greenspan, who served as Federal Reserve Chairman for 18 years under four Presidents, was a personal friend and staunch advocate of Rand’s objectivist economic ideology. In his tireless efforts to separate the banking industry from any regulatory control, Greenspan can in hindsight be charged with bringing the global economy to its knees. In a 2008 Congressional hearing on the downfall of the global economy, Greenspan explained simply and unapologetically that there may have been a fundamental flaw with his (and Rand’s) ideology. It’s too bad more people aren’t getting the message.

In “Atlas Shrugged” the selfish “good” guys ruin the world economy deliberately to teach the “bad,” charitable people a lesson. In the real world, Rand’s faithful followers have also ruined the global economy, this time for their own personal enrichment. The disconnect between fiction and reality comes from the assignment of labels of good and evil, and who they rightfully belong to. In Rand’s world, industrialist capitalists are beyond moral reproach. In the real world, human and non-human corporate entities have a legal imperative to generate profits at all costs regardless of the harm caused to other individuals and the environment. The real world legacy of corporate and industrial greed is ravaged ecosystems, ruined communities (as in coal mining and timber industry towns) and gross social and economic inequality.

In Rand’s fictitious world, all state social infrastructures and proponents of charitable values are referred to as “looters,” and Rand saddles them with blame for draining the economy of wealth and resources. In the real world, the manipulators of economic derivative structures, wielded per Greenspan’s ideal without regulation and according to Rand’s objective philosophy, have sucked the value out of hard-working people’s homes and 401k plans only to line their own pockets. Industrialists have unsustainably pillaged the globe’s natural resources without remorse or mitigation. How can the real world activities of bankers, corporations and predatory capitalists be described as anything other than “looting?”

Ironically, Rand labels her philosophy “objectivism” and claims as its moral basis a firm grasp in reason, but when one merely tugs at the fabric of her ideas they are found to be as logically-inept and transparent as the emperor’s clothes. Furthermore, Rand’s followers, who claim reason and enlightenment as their exclusive domain, follow this obviously deeply-flawed philosophy with the blind faith of religious zealots.

The objectivism in “Atlas Shrugged” is riddled with non sequitur logical fallacies. Intelligence and altruism are not mutually exclusive attributes just as greed and moral goodness are rarely compatible, but Rand presents her fallacies as absolute truth.

Literary elements have no parallel in reality. The antagonists create idiotic laws like the “Preservation of Livelihood Law,” the “Fair Share Law,” the “Anti Dog Eat Dog Law,” and ultimately the ludicrous “Directive 10-289,” which doesn’t allow anybody to increase production, decrease production, leave a job, hire people, fire people or even publish new works of literature in an effort to keep the world at a stand-still. No socialist, capitalist, communist, fascist, hunter-gatherer or other economic entity has ever or would ever demand such silliness. The only purpose these ridiculous bits of data serve is their incidental necessity to the development of Rand’s poorly-conceived plot.

Rand spews individualism, but even the ultimate plot of protagonist John Galt to bring down the global infrastructure rests on the fact that the oil man needs the railroad to transport his product. The railroad executive needs the steel manufacturer to make rails, and the steel manufacturer needs coal to smelt his ore, etc., etc. Individualism is a delusion not expressed anywhere in nature or even in man-made economies.

In “Atlas Shrugged,” Rand suggests that it is the proponents of social justice who insist on a suspension of reason in order to realize their evil objectives, but in reality, just the opposite is true. To accept as truth a philosophy that insists that selfishness will serve a universal good and that left to their own devices, self-interested people will miraculously serve the public without harm defies all evidence in human nature to the contrary.

Now Rand’s disastrous and illogical message will become available to a wider audience. Those who were too inept or lazy to read the book can now embrace Rand’s sociopathic ideology as gospel and like all her other blind followers, defy objective reality in the process.

p.s. Amazon link is provided for informational purposes only. Please do not buy a new copy of this book. Doing so will enrich Rand's legacy foundation and serve to spread her destructive nonsense further. If you must, buy used from an independent bookseller. Having suffered through the book myself, I can inform any lovers of good literature to avoid this monolithic piece of literary garbage.


  1. Good post. People would not think of playing a game with no rules (Rugby excepted). But an economy and society, no rules are just fine as long as the no rule rule only applies to the elites. Workers get their ass handed to them if they break the rules and dare to form unions.

  2. This was so well worded and quite accurate. I have known a Rand zealot in my life and have read this and The Fountainhead. Its amazing to me how her mind works and how the minds of her followers work. I'm also frightened, I honestly see the U.S. headed in these directions.

  3. What is truly scary is the spread of this self interest philosophy through misinformation and military conquest. The free market and capitalist economic theory which was attempted from approximately the 1870s until its collapse with the great depression led to the current mixed market economic structure where the fed uses fiscal and monetary policy to artificially inflate and deflate the economy to maintain relative stability. The U.S. is not headed in these was there until the depression....and then began bouncing back hard under the deregulation of the Reagan and Bush years. It has been placed in other countries like Japan and now they are trying to accomplish it in Iraq with the use of the military industrial complex and calling it democracy with free market capitalism. They point to this country as a success story when it is neither a democracy or a free market capitalist economy. Interesting how Greenspan is an economist and the science of economics was developed to best manage scarce resources. How the heck could insatiable greed and self interest ever be the best means of distributing scarce resources?

  4. Robert F. Good point. Most free market advocates like to overlook the fact that we needed to be rescued from the consequences of the free market after the Great Depression with a system of regulatory measures (and taxation) that created the most prosperous era in American history. We have been on a steady downhill slide ever since Reagan and Greenspan began their assault on the middle class.