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Article published October 24, 2012
Pols on wrong track
As an American citizen, I find it distressing that candidates for office have resorted to resurrecting the crude Social Darwinism of Ayn Rand and like-minded writers. According to these folks, traditional Judeo-Christian values like charity, sympathy, tolerance and altruism are evil, in that they promote dependence and victimhood, and an inability to take personal responsibility for one’s life. These old values simply cleave society into makers and takers. Instead, creators and makers need to rise as the supermen they are, throw off the moral cowardice of our Judeo-Christian past, and reorder society with the winners in charge. Virtue is redefined as selfishness. Charity is now evil, or, at best, wrongheaded. Respect for our interdependence is an illusion, to be replaced by reverence for power. Traditional morality is weakness. This is reheated thinking of that armchair tough guy Friedrich Nietzsche — thinking that, at its least destructive, leads to Enron managers snickering over Grandma’s inability to pay for heat. At its most destructive, this us-versus-them power philosophy led to the runaway retributive horrors of the Chinese and Russian revolutions and, yes, the Germany of National Socialism. This is, I believe, inevitable, given worldviews that castigate large segments of humanity as irresponsible takers. My friends on the right insist that character counts. I agree. Power philosophers, I think, exhibit characters with an all-too-familiar blend of egomania and cowardice. It is a preemptive form of self-defense to identify others as takers — the unspoken assumption being that you, the finger-pointer, are not a taker. The problem, however, is that there always are bigger fish; there always are those willing to regard you as a taker compared to themselves. This is the mechanism that leads to the horrors mentioned above. So, who was Ayn Rand? An aspect of Rand’s thinking that I find hilarious is the idea of a strike or withdrawal by society’s creators and producers. Would society have suffered if Ayn Rand had gone on strike? Society suffers far more inconvenience when electricians, roofers, plumbers, auto mechanics, truck drivers, farmers, grocers, police officers and firefighters go on strike than it would if creators and producers — and thinkers — temporarily disappeared. Friedrich Nietzsche is the philosopher of adolescent egomania. Ayn Rand is the fast-food version. Paul Ryan is her disciple. People should think before they vote.