Tomorrow marks the big-screen debut of the long-awaited movie version of Atlas Shrugged. Early reviews says that it’s embarrassingly bad. Then again, the reviews of the book said the same thing, and that hasn’t stopped it from selling several million copies. That, however, does not guarantee that the movie will follow the book to massive success. The book didn’t have to compete against A Game of Thrones for fanboy attention on the weekend of its release. The movie has that problem.
For me, this movie offers a moment of nostalgia. Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged played a memorable role in an important part of my life. To understand why, let me take you back in time to 2001.
It is the summer before my sophomore year of college. Having nothing to do and being very bored, I am spending my summer days on internet chat boards, while also reading various books and magazines. By coincidence, I come across various posts and articles in various places detailing an author named Ayn Rand. I’ve heard the name before but I’m not familiar with her works. I read a few articles about her and she sounds pretty nutty and right-wing.
Fast forward to fall of the same year. I am taking a class in political philosophy. Unbenknowst to me, the professor is a Rand devotee, one Jim Wright by name. He assigns us to read part of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and Atlas Shrugged. I try to, but don’t get very far before noticing many gaping holes in Rand’s arguments. For example, she claims that the United States was the epitome to freedom prior to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Apparently she has not heard of slavery. I bring this up in class and Professor Wright has no meaningful response.
Curious, I search for “Ayn Rand” on google and begin reading articles from the first websites that come up. I am quickly introduced into a new world of craziness, conspiracy theories, and other bizarre nonsense. I have encountered online craziness before, but never in this degree. It is a new experience for me. What really sticks out is the ridiculous way in which Randoids view themselves. They brag about being supremely rational and rejecting all emotions. In reality, they are supremely irrational and ruled by their emotions.
Of course there’s nothing unusual about people lying or going crazy on the internet. What jars me is the fact that these particular people are on ‘my side’. That is to say, most Randoids are young, they’re college-educated, they’re intellectuals, they work white collar jobs, and so forth. I know that people on the other side, the ignorant hicks and high school dropouts, can be expected to fall for all kinds of stupid things. The fact that so many qualified and educated people were falling for Ayn Rand was a wakeup call. It suggested that perhaps the world wasn’t divided into an elite of superior, educated, rational people and a boiling mass of hopeless dunderheads.
And that is how Ayn Rand changed my life.