This past week I made my yearly journey from Wisconsin to Arizona by automobile with my dog to visit my husband who winThis past week I made my yearly journey from Wisconsin to Arizona by automobile with my dog to visit my husband who winters there. In this yearly process, I have discovered the delight of audiobooks. This year, I explored the holdings of our local library in rural Wisconsin, but the only audiobook of substance that they had (the only non-Evanovich) was Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, an author of whom I had heard, but with whom I was not acquainted. It has been fearfully intriguing to ponder the ways in which her philosophical ideas have crept (or been smuggled) into our culture—not wholesale, but part and parcel.
While her political ideas are not too dissimilar from anti-socialist emails that are making the rounds these days (or so I’ve heard—emails about professors applying socialist paradigms to grades and failing the whole class because those students with ambition and ability ultimately refused to carry the weight of the non-ambitious in the class—“Atlas shrugging”), it is her ethical ideologies that are most disturbing. For Rand, the moral measure of man is his hedonistic happiness. Correspondingly, she also rejects any doctrine of altruism. Her ideal is a society ruled by Men of the Mind, where selfishness, or rational self-interest, is the primary virtue. Ironically, Rand’s appeal is to the ideal of rationalism and not the reality of fallen rationality in a fallen world. While Rand objects to hedonism, in reality she makes no distinction between rational and irrational happiness, and therefore hedonism is a reality in a society of fallen persons of differing rational capabilities.
Men of the Mind are persons who choose to think, and such thinking requires a state of fully focused awareness achieved by the volitional act of focusing one’s consciousness. One can choose to focus their mind to a fully active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or one can become unfocussed and let oneself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, and making random, irrational associations. Such an unfocused semi-conscious drift as Rand describes is alarmingly true of our culture today, as we have become fractionated and distracted by the barrage of stimulants that confront our senses, and, as a result, are losing our ability to “perceive.” There is no time for, or importance given to, the use of the mind for thoughtful reflection–just mindless reacting to external stimuli which we require to ever greater degrees.
In Atlas Shrugged Rand vividly depicts the “end” of a society ruled by the “Mystics” (persons who rule society on the basis of faith, altruism, or other non-rational ideologies which find their source and goal in God or society) as one ensconced in violence which is the means to the promotion of their ways. Yet she, fatefully does not portray what a society ruled by Men of the Mind would look like. She claims that objectivism and capitalism are the systems most beneficial to the poor but she does not portray what would happen to those who are unproductive or somehow rationally challenged in a society where there is no altruism. Does she not believe that they would then turn to violence to support themselves, taking from those who have what they need for their lives and happiness by force and justifying such actions as their only means of procuring their own survival and happiness? Would not the end be the same but with a different ruling class?
It seems that her rational perception has been blinded to the reality of evil inherent in mankind. And that blindness is easily coupled with her attitude toward the fact of original sin. Rand refers to the concept of “original sin” as an evil and a monstrous absurdity which she claims makes a mockery of nature, justice, reason, and morality.
Her perceiving is also blinded by failing to perceive the reality of our human interdependence as objectively evidenced in that fact of our birth and growth. In Atlas Shrugged there are no families, no marriages, no children. One can easily surmise the reason: marriages, families, and children require self-sacrifice, a cardinal vice in Rand’s philosophical world. Even romantic love is a matter of rational self-interest; hence, there is no room for agape love. But with no marriages and families, the society she envisions is an unstable collection of hedonistic individuals, subject to disintegration. And with no children that society has no future, unless, of course, they can continue to cull members from the wider world.
Medicine, too, has fallen prey to her ideologies, where Men of the Mind have taken over from Men of Compassion; where the data of our senses is replaced by data from machines; where there is no room for altruism; where personally defined “happiness” and self-fulfillment have become the goals and ends of “medical care”; where technology and innovation serve the desires of the wealthy, but not the basic needs of the poor; where Money, Productivity, and Efficiency have come to be the image and symbol of success—the gods of a profession that was. Medicine is no longer about caring, because caring belongs to subjectivity, and is unproductive and inefficient, to the Mystics of the Spirit or of Society (which Rand lumps together in one malevolent category). Such a system no longer serves the needs of the vulnerable and needy for whom it was intended. Is this indeed where we are headed?