Your best take: How Ayn Rand ruined my childhood

One reader explains why "The Fountainhead" author writes philosophy on training wheels

By Salon Staff

Published April 5, 2011 9:06PM (EDT)

Alyssa Bereznak's story "How Ayn Rand ruined my childhood" details the way objectivism infected her father -- and her family. The story drew a flood of responses from Salon readers. Our favorite comes from Rattigan Glumphoboo:

Training-wheels philosophy

Ayn Rand books are philosophy with training wheels. You're just getting started figuring out ideas about individualism, collectivism, laissez-faire economics, and so on.

Then, when you go to college, you can take classes on economic theory, philosophy of ethics, the rise of capitalism in the industrial age, Jungian psychology, and a whole bunch of other subjects and actually grapple with these ideas at a higher level. You can read Nietszche, Sartre, Hegel, and all sorts of other fun stuff from which Rand was stealing.

Or.....not. You can never go to college, never reach for higher understanding, never sort through the ideas and figure out which parts make sense and which parts are underdeveloped.

If you do the latter -- never advancing past a simplistic structure of thought, which is really just a belief system -- then you are an Objectivist. A Randian. Somebody who keeps on referencing John Galt.

In other words, you're an adult who still rides a bike with training wheels.

It's ugly, sad, and pathetic. Worse yet, for many people, Objectivism seems to just be a facile, pseudo-philosophical mask for people who want to feel like they're not following directly in the footsteps their Republican parents, but who ultimately yearn to please those parents.

There is nothing about Objectivism that is aligned with "thinking for yourself." Indeed, questioning the Randian orthodoxy is one of the biggest sins within those Objectivist groups.

It is no coincidence that Ayn Rand books appeal to the same people at an age to delve into fantasy and science-fiction reading. The worlds in Rand books are simultaneously idealized and dystopian. A world run by collectivists is dystopic; a world where a true individual shines above all is a place of romantic beatitude.

It does make for whimsically pretentious Rush (the band) lyrics. Get out the album "2112" and listen to the words -- a combination of Randian individual/collectivist conflict as well as a dash of Kurt Vonnegut and Aldous Huxley. Those guys had good books too, but nobody ever turned their writings into a life philosophy: Vonnegutism, Huxleanism?

"The Fountainhead" is based on the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. But you won't hear Randians acknowledging that many of Wright's buildings were structurally unsound and poorly planned. Nor will you hear Republican fans of Ayn Rand admitting that their hero's actions later in the book are equivalent to terrorism.

Nor will you see a real scrutiny of the philosophy itself. As moral philosophy it fails the test of reason. Put to the test, it's illogical, because it simply cannot account for any instance in which there is a conflict of interest.

Objectivism is also in many ways like Libertarianism. They're two sides of the same training-wheels level delusion, in which grown adults attempt to reduce the complexity of civilized society to a few simplistic bullet-point ideas. Going through life is so much easier if you abstract it into whatever neat, easy concepts suit you.

The concepts themselves can be useful and make thoughtful templates for building a personal set of principles. But if you're codifying somebody's romantic literature into a form of dogma, you're as misguided as a bunch of 1970s teenagers playing Dungeons & Dragons and then believing it's real.

To read the rest of the letters, click here.

Salon Staff

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