Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Ayn Rand Zeitgeist

Ayn Rand's star-meter is, apparently, up over the last few weeks. I don't know if this is because of cranky Republican lawmakers trying to induce people to oppose the stimulus package or what; supposedly some Republican legislators in Washington have been handing out copies of Atlas Shrugged, which is funny considering Rand's ardent atheism. Funny, and positive!

It occurs to me that American atheists are missing out on a real opportunity by not hopping on the Randwagon. This is a real way to get it into conservative heads that if they're really about individual liberty and self-reliance, then giving up your freedom of thought to bronze age mystics is probably not the way to go. But Ayn Rand is all-too-rarely brought up by atheists. I've mentioned before that sometimes at atheist group functions, I get the feeling that the other atheists assume everyone is left-of-center, politically. I'm not, and I know many of us aren't. In my case, I voted for Obama because I had to, and now I'm back to pointing out areas of the stimulus that are hard for me as a pro-growth, pro-entrepreneur Libertarian to live with.

I'm not going to go into her philosophy or writing here. If you know her, you doubtless have an opinion. If you don't, you can look her up. Personally, I recommend you do, even if you come away disagreeing with her conclusions. I've told people that if I wanted to create a "back-up" of myself, I could do so by reading into an AI computer The Selfish Gene and The Fountainhead, and I'd be about 80% of the way there. What I got from Ayn Rand, and still get, is an exaltation of the individual as both the origin and meaning of reason and morality, and a celebration of the material basis of life (in both the economic and philosophical sense). These are things that I think most atheists can get behind.

The take-home is that conservatives listen to Ayn Rand. The GOP is handing out her books in DC, and I've heard Rush Limbaugh quote her more than a few times, and her writing is stridently atheist. Even if you find her distasteful, she might get some of your conservative friends and family members thinking.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Rand? That's a slippery slope towards living in a world full of complete pricks.

Sure, Objectivism has some nice points, but there's an awful lot of nasty business in there, too. (I'll freely admit that I've done little more than thumb through any Rand, but I think there's an unread paperback on one of my bookshelves and I'll commit to reading it soon so that I can speak to you from an informed perspective about this.)

The best use for this Rand bump might be as a wedge to encourage others to read more philosophy, any philosophy, and encourage critical comparative discussions.

Would you really want a fireman to reject altruism if you were stuck in a burning building? I think I'd rather a Nietzschian who thinks he's a Viking hero fill that role.