Dictatorships: Leading an Insane Clown Posse of One’s Own
Late last year, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il died. Along with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and global supervillain Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-il (1941 – 2011; Supreme Leader, 1994 – 2011) joined an esteemed list of rat bastards no one will miss. At least no rational person. That’s the rub, since the Supreme Leader of the People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea has been perceived as a crazy lunatic nutjob. Everyone from David Letterman’s writing staff to the writers on Cracked.com have made a cottage industry from the simple equation: Kim Jong-il = Crazy!
As illustrated in the clip from 30 Rock, Kim Jong-il acts like a hyper-positive weather man, asserting that North Korea is “always sunny all the time.” In a gonzo performance, comedian Margaret Cho turns the dictator into a goofy clown with absolutely no connection with reality. (Which makes him totally different from our esteemed political leaders. Right, guys?)
Critiquing dictators is nothing new in pop culture. The most prominent historical example is Charlie Chaplin’s the Great Dictator (1940). What is new is the twist given to this critique, that of insanity. Its usefulness shouldn’t be underestimated. With an accusation of insanity, a critic does not need the obligation of taking the target seriously. The critic also comes from the privileged position of “sanity.” Unlike other people who are labeled “insane” or “mentally disturbed” (the homeless, the elderly, etc.), Kim Jong-il possessed a massive concentration of military power and the unswerving obedience of the Party machinery. When not making ridiculous claims, saber-rattling North Korea’s neighbors, and living in obscene opulence, he came across as threatening as an Elvis-coiffed garden gnome.
The charge of insanity made it easier for Internet comedy writers, but was it actually useful or effective? It is hard to quantify in real foreign policy terms.
The Political Aspects of Insanity
Thus far, we have taken insanity as a given. If you’re a North Korean despot who claims to have invented the cheeseburger, the charge of insanity seems firm. However, insanity itself is a slippery concept. Like the words “reality” and “culture”, insanity can become a loaded term. How does one define “insane”? Who defines the term? What power do they have? What are the political aspects of insanity?
Insanity is a different breed of affliction than, say, high blood pressure, asthma, or tuberculosis. One can point at a chart, an X-ray, or read-out and come to an agreed upon conclusion. The term itself (“insane”) has become the cultural shorthand for the different and maladjusted. This should not be confused with those who suffer from brain defects or neurological disorders. Unlike a severe cranial trauma or brain deformation, insanity has as much to do with medical knowledge as with political consensus. Kim Jong-il was such a real-life caricature of state terror, that is was easy to label him insane. Kim’s father, Kim Il-Sung, represented a very dangerous threat to national security and his totalitarian rule was nothing to laugh at.
Today charges of insanity usually arise on Internet discussion boards when one voices doubt in the inherent durability of the American two-party system. Because the economic and global situation has become so bad, it would be utterly insane to vote for someone other than a Republican or Democrat. (Because these same two parties and the same people in power have done such a bang-up job, I should keep them in power. Now who’s being insane?)
Because the first step to being different is thinking different, insanity has been used as a regulatory measure to control one’s family life, sexuality, and personal associations.
“Only an insane person would like _______” (Pick what you detest most.)
A. Gay people marrying.
B. A literal interpretation of the Bible.
C. Kim Jong-il.
D. The Atlas Shrugged, Part I movie.
What becomes dangerous about the definition of insanity is it becomes the psychiatric tool of political consensus. Attacking the opposition by characterizing them as insane lunatics has caused the usual heated American political discourse to become completely abandoned. Since the Occupy member thinks the Tea Party member is crazypants, then it’s no use even talking to them. (The reverse is also true.) Both sides need to abandon the hyperbolic rhetoric and realize they are missing the forest for the trees. (Obviously, both those groups are insane. Hey, isn’t that no-account, corrupt, adulterous sleazbag up for re-election in my district. I need to keep him or her in office for another term to fix things. To the voting booths!)
Insanity: That’s so Gay!
The political uses of insanity have had real consequences, damaging to individuals and their families. The fields of psychology and psychiatry buttressed and refined what was formerly the province of religion. Religious persecution of homosexuality is a given with examples, modern and ancient, too numerous to recount. Adding fuel to the fire was the psychiatric community’s assertion that homosexuality was a form of insanity. Like other forms of insanity, it was seen as something “curable”. In a peculiar twist that shows the circular relationship between religion and psychiatry, certain religious organizations make routine claims that they can cure homosexuality.
Only in 1973 was homosexuality removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Its presence in the DSM made homosexuality easier to criminalize and prosecute, since persecuting homosexuality on religious grounds violates First Amendment protections. (While the First Amendment guarantees free exercise of one’s own religion or non-religion and not getting taxed by an established religious authority, the amendment does have its limits. These include human sacrifice, bigamy, and violent persecution of another group.)
Consensus can become a dangerous weapon, especially wrapped in the garb of the scientific rhetoric used in psychiatry.
Occupy North Korea
One of the predictable criticisms of the Occupy movement is that Communists run it. But this is a critique too boring and too predictable to comment on. What naïve leftists within the Occupy movement need to realize is that free market plutocracies aren’t the only places with an oppressive One Percent. It takes many forms, usually dynastic. One sees this with the Saud Family’s financial mismanagement, monumental corruption, and radioactive hypocrisy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
North Korea also has its One Percenters. And like the United States, it asserts it is a democracy run by the people. (Don’t believe me? It’s in North Korea’s name.) The upper echelons of the North Korean Communist Party and military apparatus sport huge waistlines and live in grandiose mansions. A North Korean Party hack represents the average North Korean the same way an overpaid, multiple-married, pill-popping AM talk show host represents “the Real America.” Faux North Korean Communism is as real as Faux Conservative Populism. Both are hard to take seriously and both are manufactured and targeted at rubes too dumb or too scared (or both) to think for themselves. “If those Democrats are elected, then Obama’s gay Muslim abortionists will take my Bible away!” “If those Republicans are elected, they will ban abortion, bomb Iran, and make us all Protestant!”
And Kim Jong-il invented the cheeseburger.
In the words of self-styled exercise guru Susan Powter, “Stop the insanity!”
Having survived Ayn Rand’s epic literary atrocity Atlas Shrugged, we thought that it is time to explore other pop cultural avenues. The two subjects under consideration are the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and Warhammer 40,000. (Each title is shorthand for sprawling creative properties involving TV shows, role playing games, video games, web series, tie-in novels and comics, and countless other pop cultural artifacts.)
Battlestar Galactica represents a rich vein to tap into the struggles and ethical dilemmas facing the United States after the September 11th terrorist attacks. The spin-off series Caprica dealt with issues like organized religion, terrorism, virtual reality, technological advancement, organized crime, and capitalism. The franchise will expand again with the upcoming series Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, chronicling the First Cylon War.
Warhammer 40,000 (hereafter known as Warhammer 40K) began in the United Kingdom as a fantasy role-playing game. (There is also a companion RPG called Warhammer that has a fantasy setting.) Starting from the premise of The Lord of the Rings … IN SPACE!, the franchise has expanded in tie-in novels, video games, a magazine, and a vastly expanded universe. Issues like colonialism, imperialism, and posthumanism will be explored.
NOTE: For both features, there will be spoilers. These are critical analyses, not episode or book summaries. Also, given the vastness of these franchises, we at Coffee is for Closers would appreciate any feedback, corrections, etc. from fans and members of the academic community studying these pop cultural touchstones in greater detail.
Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter IX: The Generator
Pages: 1126 – 1146
Summary: And now … torture! John Galt, having refused the entreaties of shyster hooligan Mr. Thompson, gets stripped and strapped to Dr. Ferris’s electrical contraption. The torture is horrendous until the machine breaks and the idiot operating it doesn’t know how to fix it.
In other news, Dr. Robert Stadler heads back to Iowa where the Xylophone is under control of effeminate fascist goofball Cuffy Meigs. Words are exchanged, a melee ensues, and KA-BOOM!
Reflections: The torture scene comes across as dramatically puzzling and unintentionally funny. What kind of sociopath tortures for laughs? Oh, right …
The humor in the scene throws a giant monkey-wrench into the narrative’s tone. Granted, the electrical apparatus breaking down proves Rand’s point, but to use the phrase of libertarians, “at what cost”? Galt, the muscular genius hero guy, gets tortured by fat looter morons. What’s so dramatic about that? The characters, such broad caricatures of humanity, sap the scene of momentum and give it all the depth of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Hell, Rocky and Bullwinkle had better plotting, better characterization, and better jokes than this banal horseshit.
The only real explanation for this nutty scene is Rand needed to make John Galt into the book’s Christ Figure. A rather odd thing considering Rand’s rabid atheism, although not that odd since cults of personality adopt the liturgical features of religion to suit the star’s egomania. (Yet another similarity Ms. Rosenbaum shares with Uncle Joe.)
Compare this to the torture scene in 1984, written by British Socialist George Orwell. In the novel, dissident functionary Winston Smith faces torture from O’Brien. Winston thought O’Brien was also rebelling against Big Brother, when in actuality O’Brien belonged to the Inner Party. Unlike the rotund dimwits in Atlas Shrugged, O’Brien uses a rat-cage that he attaches to Winston’s face. No electricity involved. It’s sustainable and has a small carbon footprint. It’s also effective as hell. Perhaps Mr. Thompson had difficulty attaining rat-cage-face-masks from Airstrip One, considering the United States is in transportation crisis in the novel?
In the end, Winston confesses and thus, 1984 becomes tragedy. Dr. Ferris’s shenanigans just seem idiotic, especially since it is in aid of making John Galt their Economic Dictator and solving all their problems. It’s a scene diametrically opposed to that of 1984. 1984 is a critically acclaimed novel that attained its rightful place in the Western Canon, easily making 100 Best lists without breaking a sweat. Atlas Shrugged, on the other hands, required market manipulation by hordes of crackpot cultists buying books in bulk in a facetious attempt at popularity. That’s just sad. But so is having the inability to break the $2 million dollar mark on opening weekend and coming in at a lame-ass #14. In Glengarry Glen Ross, Blake challenges the real estate salesmen to “Always Be Closing.” Second place is a set of steak knives, third prize is your fired! What’s 14th?
Like the Left Behind series, Atlas Shrugged isn’t literature for the ages, it’s only appeal lies with a sliver of the population that buys into its nutjob theories and infantile views of economics. In a word: marginal. Here’s another one: Inconsequential.
Call me anything you want, Objectivists. I’ll make sure to have a couch handy for you to jump on.
One chapter left and we’re done with this overwrought literary abortion. Huzzah!
- “There was nothing beyond the lighted strip but the emptiness of the prairies of Iowa.”
- “He [Cuffy Meigs] wore a tight, semi-military tunic and leather leggings; the flesh of his neck bulged over the edge of his collar; his black curls were matted with sweat.” Jeremy Clarkson?
- “We want ideas – or else!”
- “Had enough?” snarled Ferris, when the current went off. “Yes, end this book NOW! Oh, you were talking to John Galt.”
- “Don’t kill him! Don’t dare kill him! If he dies, we die!” Whew, good thing somebody explained the stakes in the scene or I wouldn’t have understood what was going in. Way to not insult the intelligence of your readers, Ayn.
- “Galt burst out laughing.”
- “Galt was watching them; his glance was too austerely perceptive.” Or if someone with actual talent rewrote the sentence: “Galt watched them; he perceived them with a muscular austerity.” Seriously, Ayn, use the money you made from The Fountainhead and take some creative writing courses at Columbia or the New School or something. Your utter lack of talent is repellent, lazy, and childish. “I’m here on a mission of mercy. If it was up to me, I’d fire your fucking ass.”
Part III: Chapter VIII: The Egotist
I Blow Minds.
After John Galt’s speech melts the airwaves, the looter elite at the Wayne-Falkland lose their collective shit. They bicker and freak out until Mr. Thompson declares that Galt is just the man to right the listing ship of state. It turns out Mr. Thompson is a pragmatist above all, and willing to overlook all of Galt’s windy “theory” in order to exploit his clearly singular mind. So the government starts a campaign to find Galt and give him the power of economic dictator. Meanwhile, Galt’s incendiary rhetoric and the continual collapse of the economy lead to an upsurge of violence across the country, as the people strike back against government goons and their civilian lackeys.
After trying to lure Galt out of hiding with strategic loud-speaker begging, the government finally nabs him by following Dagny to his apartment in New York. Of course, he’d been hiding in plain sight as a common laborer at Taggart Transcontinental, with his own apartment filled with a hidden science lab. As soon as Galt sees Dagny, he knows that the feds are just behind, so he makes her swear that she’ll disavow him when they come. If Thompson and company think that Galt cares for Dagny, they’ll threaten to harm her if he doesn’t help keep their failing system afloat. Heavily armed guards so up, Dagny points an accusing finger at Galt, and he’s spirited away to the Wayne-Falkland, but not before his lab self-destructs.
Across a starving land, government buildings burn as looters and home-grown militias vie for power. In New York, a parade of luminaries try to talk John Galt into taking over economic planning. Mr. Thompson offers riches and power, Dr. Ferris threatens to euthanize everyone over 60 years old, and Dr. Stadler just blubbers all over the place. All the while, Galt holds fast against these entreaties: if they order him to sit at a desk that says “ECONOMIC DICATOR,” he’ll do it, but they can’t force him to think for them.
Dagny plays her part as a new convert to Mr. Thompson’s expedient vision and, in order to make sure that the government doesn’t just kill Galt, advises the Head of State that Galt can be convinced, given enough incentive and time. Thompson attempts to force Galt’s hand by holding a massive dinner at, where else, the Wayne-Falkland to announce Galt’s cooperation and the creation of the John Galt Plan. On the night of the event, Dagny watches the assembled reptiles smarm their way around the dais, giving windy, contradictory speeches before Galt’s final remarks. In front of a national television audience, Galt jukes out of the way long enough for everyone to see that his ‘secretary’ has a gun pointed at him, and says directly into the camera, “Get the hell out of my way!”
Reflections: Wait, are there really less than a hundred pages left? Praise Xenu! There IS light at the end of the tunnel! I’ve honestly forgotten that there was a time in my life when I wasn’t reading this book. Who is president? Have we landed on Mars yet? What’s with these young people and their saggy pants and raps music?
“‘That wasn’t real, was it?’ said Mr. Thompson.” That head of state never misses a trick.
“The attendants of a hospital in Illinois showed no astonishment when a man was brought in, beaten up by his elder brother, who had supported him all his life: the younger man had screamed at the older, accusing him of selfishness and greed–just as the attendants of a hospital in New York City showed no astonishment at the case of a woman who came in with a fractured jaw: she had been slapped in the face by a total stranger, who had heard her ordering her five-year-old son to give his best toy to the children of neighbors.” So apparently the looter method of coercion through guilt-trips is giving way to the Galtian ethic of random violence. Incidentally, that ‘best toys to the neighbor kids’ vignette is a reference to the primal scene of Ayn Rand’s philosophical development. Apparently, her parents made a similar demand of her when they were living in Russia. Needless to say, she never got over it.
“‘I will perform any motion you order me to perform. If you order me to move into the office of an Economic Dictator, I’ll move into it. If you order me to sit at a desk, I will sit at it. If you order me to issue a directive, I will issue the directive you order me to issue.’
‘Oh, but I don’t know what directives to issue!’
There was a long pause.
‘Well?’ said Galt. ‘What are your orders?’
‘I want you to save the economy of the country!’
‘I don’t know how to save it.’
‘I want you to find a way!’
‘I don’t know how to find it.’
‘I want you to think!’
‘How will your gun make me do that, Mr. Thompson?'” Physical assaults and passive aggression, the two mightiest weapons in the Objectivist arsenal, apparently.
“‘The John Galt Plan,’ Wesley Mouch was saying, ‘will reconcile all conflicts. It will protect the property of the rich and give a greater share to the poor. It will cut down the burden of your taxes and provide you with more government benefits. It will lower prices and raise wages. It will give more freedom to the individual and strengthen the bonds of collective obligations. It will combine the efficiency of free enterprise with the of a planned economy.'” Alright, Ayn, that’s a pretty good distillation of the sort of political rhetoric that has led to record deficits, record spending, and all-time low income tax rates.
Well … that was underwhelming. But I’m hardly one to judge a film based on a trailer. It does remind me of Avatar, especially the dourly over-serious tone and the weapons grade self-righteousness. The inevitable release of Atlas Shrugged, Part I, after decades in development hell, reveals an old truism about Hollywood. It is show business. And business is all about capitalizing on trends.
Let’s take a step back from this and examine the phenomenon more closely. With the release of the trailer, there will be the motley crew of jellyfish-like leftists waving their hands in the air, gnashing their teeth, and yammering on about such-and-such apocalypse. The pro-business Right will gloat, drink their martinis, and wallow in the glow of their success. Finally, finally, finally, after decades of oppression from the Communist Velvet Mafia that secretly controls Hollywood, they released a film based on the book by Ayn Rand – Peace Be Upon Her – that shows the virtue of making money and being selfish. (The previous sentences had a light dash of sarcasm. Although given the hyperventilating, anti-intellectual, psychotic-off-his-meds tone of the national political discourse, how can ya tell?)
The focus of this essay will be the phenomenon of the heavy-handed political satire film. And Ayn Rand can be particularly heavy-handed when it comes to getting her point across. I’m surprised copies of Atlas Shrugged don’t come with a trowel.
After reading nearly 1000 pages of Atlas Shrugged, one can only hope that the screenwriter has trimmed a little bit from this bloated text. And perhaps added a joke or two. Just because one is making a political point doesn’t mean one has to be dour and serious. The American film going public has a short attention span.
Upon reading Atlas Shrugged, I came to the realization that it resembled Avatar. The only difference is the politics and that is superficial at best. Rand’s book is about a miracle metal, Cameron’s film is about Unobtainium. The tone is what is most bothersome about Avatar. The CGI and creature design created an amazing array of visuals and a gorgeous alien world, the narrative sucked! The alien became less alien when the Navi became the Blue Indian Stand-ins riding atop Blue Horse Stand-ins. The facetious put-down calling the movie Dances with Wolves IN SPACE was true. The narrative copied Dances with Wolves down to its condescending, retrograde, and racist White Man Set Them Free theme. The additional stereotyping of the two major human sub-groups into flat caricatures made it even worse. Every military-type figure was a dumb jarhead and every scientist-type figure was a pansy-ass bookish nerd.
Avatar remains an example of how not to do heavy-handed political satire.
By all accounts, the film They Live shouldn’t work. Written and directed by cinema master John Carpenter, They Live focuses on an apolitical construction worker who discovers a magical pair of sunglasses. When he put them on, he sees a zombified world controlled by ghoulish aliens. The ghoulish aliens espouse beliefs almost exactly the same as Reagan Republicans. The film’s musical score is simple, the plot equally so. It stars “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Keith David. Carpenter lays on his criticisms of Reagan’s economic and social policies with a trowel. Anyone with half a brain would be able to pick up on the satirical element. Yet the movie is Pure Awesome?
Why is that?
John Carpenter, like Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, and Maya Deren, owns a seat in the Cinema Pantheon. He created the slasher genre with Halloween. He directed the action-comedy-martial arts cult classic Big Trouble in Little China. Throughout his career, he worked with Kurt Russell, a vocal libertarian. Kurt Russell is made of pure Awesome.
The magic of They Live occurs because of its light touch. The political criticisms remain trenchant and serious, but the overarching story has huge dollops of the ridiculous. The sunglasses? Casting a WWF wrestler? The really, really, really long fight scene? The obviousness? The ridiculous aspects become resolved with its bent humor. The film wouldn’t work by casting Robert Redford as the lead. This is hardly Dog Day Afternoon or Godard’s Weekend.
But seriousness isn’t a roadblock to an effective film with heavy-handed political satire.
Mislabeled as a thriller, Land of the Blind (Robert Edwards, 2006) lays the satire on thick. In the film, Emperor Maximilian II runs a banana republic-type country. Tom Hollander portrays Maximilian as a garish cartoon dictator, equal parts savagery and incompetence. (Hollander also played a cold-blooded technocrat in a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.) Maximilian’s world involves wealthy elites who don’t speak the native language, police setting monks on fire, blackface routines, and the Emperor helming atrocious action movies. The Emperor also keeps charismatic political dissident John Thorne in prison.
Thorne used to work as a writer. Then through the incompetence of Emperor Maximilian II and populist anger, Thorne is released. Here is the pivotal point where Land of the Blind stands out among political satires. The de rigueur critique of rightwing regimes has a long tradition in Hollywood. The only thing easier than satirizing a Southern preacher figure is to satirize a rightwing dictator. That’s easy money. In the film, once Thorne gets power, things actually get worse. Thorne, played by a bearded arrogant Donald Sutherland, turns the unnamed country into a theocratic hellhole, akin to post-Revolution Iran. Land of the Blind succeeds in showing the awfulness of rightwing and leftwing regimes. Hardly an endorsement for the mealy-mouthed centrism so beloved to voters in the United States, the film shows that regardless of where one goes on the political spectrum, the extremes will only bring poverty, atrocity, and despair. (Something the mass of American devotees of the “lesser of two evils” method of voting should consider the next time they enter a voting booth and do their obligatory duty to further this republic into a neck-deep swill of corruption and incompetence.)
The heavy-handed political satire can be done well on film. It takes a light touch and a humanistic vision of society. Like Crash Davis said, “Strike-outs are boring … and fascist.” Atlas Shrugged has a lot of strike-outs in it. I don’t agree with its philosophy, but sweet Christ! does it have to be so boring? That’s the cardinal rule in Hollywood. A movie flops not so much from any political consideration, but because it bored the audience.
Atlas Shrugged, Part I, good luck! But if you bore your audience, it’s your own damn fault. A book based on the philosophy of making money should at least have the good sense in actually making some money.
By the way, where’s Angelina Jolie? Can’t Objectivism buy A-Listers or are Coen Brothers character actors (John Polito for the win!) the best that can be done?
Atlas Summer: Part III: Chapter VI: The Concerto of Deliverance
Summary: Strange doings are afoot at the Rearden Steel plant. The workers are demanding a raise, there’s a phantom tax lien placed on Hank’s assets, the parasitic Rearden family are clamoring for money, and a high conclave of Looters, including Wesley Mouch have summoned Hank for a meeting in New York. What’s it all about, Alfie? Turns out, the government ghouls are trying to leverage Hank into signing off on a Steel Unification Plan modeled on the disastrous Rail Unification Plan. All caps on steel production will be lifted, and all steel profits will be pooled between producers. Rearden, being all smart and stuff, instantly realizes that the whole thing is a scam meant to enrich Orren Boyle’s goldbricking ass at the expense of the uber-efficient Rearden mill, and that the end result will the be the bankruptcy of Rearden Steel. Hank tells the assembled slapdicks to get bent and drives back to the mill…where a pack of “workers” (actually government thugs under the direction of Cuffy Meigs) has set fire to the plant. Rearden’s REAL employees, who of course worship their brilliant boss, have rallied to the plant’s defense, shooting it out with the looters. Outside the mill, Hank finds the bullet-riddled body of the young government stooge who had slowly been coming around to the Hank/Dagny/Galt way of thinking. In a hilariously protracted death rattle of exposition, the young man, who Hank called “Non-Absolute” in a rare fit of terrible humor, explains that the government stooges had come to him with their plan to foment violence at the Rearden plant as a pretext for a looter takeover of the factory. Hank tries to carry the kid to safety, but he dies in Hank’s arms, even after Hank told him specifically not to. What a dick.
Not even vampire Pee Wee milked his death this much.
So Hank jumps into the fray, is waylaid by a pair of thugs but saved at the last moment by “Frank Adams,” a new employee at the plant and a crack pistol shot. Sure enough, “Frank Adams” turns out to be Francisco d’Aconia undercover. They share a meaningful look, and set the stage for Francisco to finally tell Hank the truth about Galt’s Gulch.
Reflections: After poor, young Non-Absolute dies in his arms, Hank lets rip with a blistering internal condemnation of the brainwashing of students in America’s public educational institutions. According to Hank, Non-Absolute wasn’t killed by some government thug, he was killed by the mental poison fed to him over years of so-called education, which left him unable to fend for himself in the cutthroat world of adulthood. This segment is typically tedious Rand, but it goes a long way towards explaining this book’s continued popularity among teenage boys. For instance, behold this bravura paragraph:
“From the first catch-phrases flung at a child to the last, it is like a series of shocks to freeze his motor, to undercut the power of his consciousness. ‘Don’t ask so many questions, children should be seen and not heard!’–‘Who are you to think? It’s so, because I say so!’–‘Don’t argue, obey!’ –‘Don’t try to understand, believe!’–‘Don’t rebel, adjust!’–‘Don’t stand out, belong!’ –‘Don’t struggle, compromise!’–‘Your heart is more important than your mind!’–‘Who are you to know? Your parents know best!’–‘Who are you to know? Society knows best!’–‘Who are you to know? The bureaucrats know best!’–‘Who are you to object? All values are relative!’–‘Who are you to want to escape a thug’s bullet? That’s only a personal prejudice!'”
“You’re not the boss of me!” –Ayn Rand/every fifteen year old in America
Doesn’t this sound exactly like the inner monologue of every half-bright, hormone-addled teenager to ever sulk their way through the halls of a junior high school? Hyperbolic, resentful, deeply put-upon, devoid of perspective…I certainly recognize the thought process from my own stifled and falsely-grandiose pubescence.
Rand speaks to the particular worldview of adolescence not only with her hot-house prose, but in the general thrust of her philosophy. Your average white American is most likely never going to feel more repressed and controlled than during the time of their secondary education. The mechanisms of social control are never more visible than when you spend every moment of your day under the thumb of parents and teachers. Also, your lack of personal freedom is coupled with a complete absence of personal responsibility. It’s the perfect environment to generate fantasies of unjust restraint and limitless genius, and Rand channels that sensation masterfully. Hopefully, most of the tragically oppressed mega-geniuses who spend their teen years railing against the hegemony of mediocrity mellow out a bit when the dead hand of educational/parental authorities lifts and they finally come to realize the limits of their thought-to-be limitless intellects.
“He remembered her hammering derision of his work, his mills, his Metal, his success, he remembered her desire to see him drunk, just once, her attempts to push him into infidelity, her pleasure at the thought that he had fallen to the level of some sordid romance, her terror on discovering that that romance had been an attainment, not a degradation. Her line of attack, which he had found so baffling, had been constant and clear–it was his self-esteem she had sought to destroy, knowing that a man who surrenders his value is at the mercy of anyone’s will; it was his moral purity she had struggled to breach, it was his confident rectitude she had wanted to shatter by means of the poison of guilt–as if, were he to collapse, his depravity would give her a right to hers.” Women! Amirite?
“‘Have you anything left to loot? If you didn’t see the nature of your policy before–it’s not possible that you don’t see it now. Look around you. All those damned People’s States all over the earth have been existing only on the handouts which you squeezed for them out of this country. But you–you have no place left to sponge on or mooch from. No country on the face of the globe. This was the greatest and last. You’ve drained it. You’ve milked it dry. Of all the irretrievable splendor, I’m only one remnant, the last. What will you do, you and your People’s Globe, after you’ve finished me? What are you hoping for? What do you see ahead–except plain, stark, animal starvation?'” –Hank Rearden
“I’d like to live, Mr. Rearden. God, how I’d like to!…Not because I’m dying…but because I’ve just discovered it tonight, what it means, really to be alive…And…it’s funny…do you know when I discovered it?…In the office…when I stuck my neck out…when I told the bastards to go to hell…There’s…there’s so many things I wish I’d known sooner…But…well, it’s no use crying over spilled milk…Over spilled anything, Mr. Rearden.'” –Non-Absolute
“On the roof of a structure above the gate, he saw, as he came closer, the slim silhouette of a man who held a gun in each hand and, from behind the protection of a chimney, kept firing at intervals down into the mob, firing swiftly and, it seemed, in two directions at once, like a sentinel protecting the approaches to the gate. The confident skill of his movements, his manner of firing, with no time wasted to take aim, but with the kind of casual abruptness that never misses a target, made him look like a hero of Western legend–and Rearden watched him detached, impersonal pleasure, as if the battle of the mills were not his any longer, but he could still enjoy the sight of the competence and certainty with which men of that distant age had once combatted evil.” NEVER MISSES A TARGET! Of course not!
Yep, that about sums it up.
Reflections: Double standards, anyone? Let’s break it down with some bullet points.
- Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden: When our Objectivist Heroes cheat on their spouses, it is a guilt-free, life-affirming act of awesomeness.
- James Taggart and Lillian Rearden: When looters commit adultery against their respective spouses, it is a hideous act of obscene nihilism.
- Hank Rearden: Threatening to beat down his wife, Lillian Rearden, like a hoodlum for insulting the moral character of his mistress, Dagny Taggart, is not only justified, but morally correct within the Objectivist philosophy.
- James Taggart: Actually smacking his wife Cherryl in the face is a horrible, horrible thing that drives Cherryl to suicide.
- Looters stuck in a tunnel: Asphyxiated due to the inadequacies of their relativist nihilist egalitarian philosophies. The novel tacitly approves of their deaths when one examines the hateful terms given to the men, women, and children in the train stuck in the Winston Tunnel. Because they espoused the wrong philosophies, they deserved to die.
- Cherryl committing suicide: Because Cherryl had the innate yearnings to be like Dagny and achieve the status of an Objectivist Hero, her death was tragic and horrible.
It becomes apparent that the act itself is not what counts, but the intention. Could this be extrapolated to political assassination? According to Objectivism, murder is bad for all sorts of reasons. But … but, if the target was a vocal opponent of a dishwater weak health care reform bill that allegedly takes away their economic freedom, then would a political assassination be justified? The fact that Ayn Rand praised murderers, sociopaths, and the genocide against the Native Americans does not help those who seek to distance themselves from the latest acts of political violence.
Here is a passage from Rand’s journals gushing over murderer William Edward Hickman:
[Hickman] is born with a wonderful, free, light consciousness — [resulting from] the absolute lack of social instinct or herd feeling. He does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people … Other people do not exist for him and he does not understand why they should.
It does seem strange, in light of recent events, that the same group that supports Rand’s deregulatory dogmas is the same group of people that claim to be Christians. Again, does this sound familiar? The political violence, the murderous rhetoric, the conservative religiosity. Add beards and add jumbo jets aimed for major New York City landmarks. Am I making too broad an inference or is this simply a case of pointing out that the Objectivist Emperor does indeed have no clothes?
Update #1: The Arizona assassin’s favorite books included those of Ayn Rand. Now before you get on your “hip hop music causes violence” high horse, let’s make one thing clear: Banning books / music / video games, etc. because of an alleged link between their content and real violence will do nothing. I take the opposite approach. I would encourage everyone to read Ayn Rand, especially to understand how Objectivism cultivates a sociopathic mindset. (Generalizations are a bad thing … usually … most of the time. I’m not implying all Objectivists are cold-blooded snipers … in the same way Objectivists don’t generalize that those for moderate health care reform are dedicated Communist cadres.)