Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Who is Ayn Rand?

There's been a lot of talk about Ayn Rand since Paul Ryan was tapped by Romney for the Vice President's slot on the GOP ticket.  

People are asking "Who's Rand"?  What's Ryan talking about her for?  How come I haven't heard about her before?

I'm not one of those people.  I know who she is.

When I was young, I read a lot of Ayn Rand.  

Her books AnthemAltas Shrugged, and Fountainhead were among the books that really inspired me, made me think about who I was.  I especially liked what she said about individualism, the importance of the self against the dominance of the "Other."  

Like most young guys back then in the 60s, I felt pretty much overwhelmed by government, the draft, my parents, school, the future with its responsibilities to a possible wife and possible kids.  

Rand seemed the ticket.  Here's what she told me:  It's you against everybody else and if you can't throw off the shackles and chains of those others you will never be free.  An attractive lesson to give to a 19 year old.  

But while trying to throw off the dominance of everybody else and to maintain the integrity of my self, I realized that I couldn't exist without other people.  There was an essential part of me that was the "Other."  What the other person did and said in part affected who I was.  It didn't control me but it was a part of me, and I felt that denying that fact was certainly a denial of my whole self.  

But what finally convinced me to turn away from Rand was her lack of charity for other people. In her world, the best thing you can do is strive to succeed for yourself.  The other person didn't need to figure into that equation.  You didn't have to care for another or concern yourself with another.  

In fact, someplace she said that if civilization is to survive, people have to reject the morality of altruism.  In other words, to hell with other people.

I couldn't accept that.  

There's a fundamental part of my self that reaches out to other people, wants to help other people.  Maybe it comes to me from people reaching out to me and my family when we first came to America.  Maybe it comes to me because my parents were victims of the kind of rejection of the humanity of others that the Nazis found comfortable.  I don't know, but what I do know is that I go emotional when I see people who need help.

Rand says, you're messing up society if you do.