Saturday, October 31, 2009

Who Is Ayn Rand?

So we've established that math is no longer taught in our public education system and now, apparently, neither is reading. I read a book review yesterday in the New York Times, written by Adam Kirsch (a senior editor for The New Republic) and supposedly reviewing Anne Heller's book, Ayn Rand and the World She Made. I say supposedly because, aside from quoting a few passages from the book, there is nothing in this review that reads at all like a book review. There is no opinion given. There are no comparisons of "this is good" and "that is not so good". This review says nothing about the book. Instead, it only tries to make a statement about Rand, conveniently enough, the same statement the book apparently makes. Beating your political drum is not how you write a book review, last time I checked.
Worse, the statement made about Rand is blatantly false and gives the distinct impression that neither writer actually bothered to learn a thing about Rand before deciding to speak against her. I'm going to give you an excerpt from the review in a moment, but I need to preface it with some background in order for it to make sense.
If you have read Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, you are already wholly familiar with the climactic John Galt speech toward the end. If you haven't read Atlas Shrugged, that one speech is nearly as long as many novels and is the encapsulation of everything Rand was trying to say through the course of the book. She spent two years writing that section alone. Needless to say, when editors wanted her to cut the speech, she wasn't interested. Instead, they reached a compromise where Rand would give up seven cents per copy sold from her royalties in exchange for the pages needed to print the entire speech. Considering the fact that she built a financial empire on the strength of that novel, it's a safe bet that she made the right decision.
Now for the excerpt:

"Yet while Rand took to wearing a dollar-sign pin to advertise her love of capitalism, Heller makes clear that the author had no real affection for dollars themselves. Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision is something that no genuine capitalist, and few popular novelists, would have done. It is the act of an intellectual, of someone who believes that ideas matter more than lucre."

First of all, claiming that Rand gave up her royalties is a horrible misrepresentation of what actually happened. She negotiated a deal where she received slightly smaller royalties in exchange for something else she wanted. That is pure capitalism and the fact that these writers claim otherwise indicates that they know nothing about capitalism. The fact that they claim a novelist wouldn't make this decision - the decision to cut a small amount of renumeration in exchange for keeping the work whole - indicates that they know nothing about writing. The only novelists who wouldn't make this trade are the hacks who shouldn't be writing in the first place.
As for the rest of the claim, all I can really say is, duh! Anyone who has read more than ten sentences of Rand's writing already knows this. She didn't love the dollar and she made that clear on numerous occasions. Ayn Rand abhorred dollar chasers, people who thought that acquiring money was the goal. Money, according to Rand, is a symbol. The American dollar is a symbol of trading value for value and meeting as equals instead of master and slave. Rand did not, as Kirsch implies in the review, revere businessmen in her writing while disdaining them in real life. Most of the villains in her books are businessmen! Those businessmen she revered were the ones - and only the ones - who lived up to her ideals. All others received even more scorn than the average "looter" or "moocher". It was not that Rand believed that businessmen were better. It was that she believed they should be better.
Ayn Rand was far from perfect. She had brilliant philosophical axioms but, when she tried to expand on those axioms with corollaries, she tended to get deranged and extreme. She was, in my opinion, an idiot savant. Miraculous genius in some areas, brain dead imbecile in others. In Rand's defense, most of her dumb ideas can be understood in context. She was a child in Russia in the early years of the Communist take over. See if you can live through something like that without going a little extreme on some issues.
Adam Kirsch really wants to speak ill of Ayn Rand. That glows through most of the words in this so-called review. Unfortunately for Kirsch, the most he can come up with is lying about what she stood for, pointing out that her personal life was not as ideal as she would have preferred, and dismissing her characters as being nothing more than "abstract principles set to moving and talking." I think that last part might explain the rest. Apparently Kirsch is one of those pathetic creatures who must believe that everyone else is as venal as he is, in order to justify his own existence. Rand didn't believe in people having to justify their existence and here's a news flash for Mr. Kirsch: Those of us who don't believe we have to justify our existence to the likes of you, those of us who really do believe in high ideals and do our utmost to live by them, those of us who believe that those who cannot produce have no right to dictate to those who can, those of us who believe that the American dollar is a symbol and that it is your perversion of that symbol that has devalued it ... We really do exist. We are not abstract principles and we really are disgusted with the fact that we have to share the world with people like you, who would rather tear us down than get out of our way and let us build up.
If you're going to criticize a writer, you should probably know something about what she wrote first. Of course, why I would expect such standards from a rag like The New Republic is a mystery. I guess I just have high standards. I'm a walking abstract. Well, at least I can read.

1 comment:

  1. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they stopped teaching reading and reading comprehension in public schools about 30 years ago. Hence, homeschooling and private schools are so popular these days. ;)
    I refuse to comment on the rest of this... I'd end up being censored.