"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Posts tagged ‘Ayn Rand’

Some helpful trigger warnings

Perhaps you have heard of trigger warnings, the new fads that’s swept parts of the internet over the past couple years and is no emerging into real life.  The idea is that there are certain topics which may provoke, or “trigger”, a particularly strong reaction among certain readers.  In some locales it’s become customary to place a trigger warning at the top of an article if it deals with something such as sexual violence, eating disorders, racism, or so forth.  Not surprisingly, colleges and universities are among the places where this type of thinking spread next.  Schools such as UC Stanta Barbara and Oberlin have announced policies requiring professors to offer warnings when a text may be “triggering”.

As one who is always will to assist in the promotion of great literature and education, I’ve decided to write the trigger warnings for some well-known reads:

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Chesterton Comments on Ayn Rand

Yesterday I reflected on Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged.  I plumb forgot that it was Thursday, the day on which I post a Chesterton quote.  As it happens, even though Chesterton died long before Atlas Shrugged was published, he still had something to say about it.

 The last thing that can be said of a lunatic is that his actions are causeless. If any human acts may loosely be called causeless, they are the minor acts of a healthy man; whistling as he walks; slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heels or rubbing his hands. It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle. It is exactly such careless and causeless actions that the madman could never understand; for the madman (like the determinist) generally sees too much cause in everything. The madman would read a conspiratorial significance into those empty activities. He would think that the lopping of the grass was an attack on private property. He would think that the kicking of the heels was a signal to an accomplice. If the madman could for an instant become careless, he would become sane. Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s.

– G. K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy

That seems to me like a succinct diagnosis of Ayn Rand’s problem.  She had a very logical mind that could logically connect any two things.  For example, oddly enough, she actually arranged to have a big-budget verson of Atlas Shrugged produced for theatres in her lifetime.  It had barely started filming, though, before she decided that Paramount studios was run my Soviet spies who intended to use the movie as part of a communist takeover of the United States.  She canceled the project.  A very logical action–after all, what better way for the Soviets to take over America than by planting subliminal messages in the movie version of Atlas Shrugged–but also a very wrong conclusion.

How Ayn Rand changed my life.

The lovely Ms. Rand

Tomorrow marks the big-screen debut of the long-awaited movie version of Atlas ShruggedEarly 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.

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