Last year about this time I found myself steeped in a post-graduate rhetorical analysis of the front pages of the website Stormfront.org and two Patriot Movement sites. The details of contemporary rhetorical analysis go beyond the mere study of words, so I won’t bore you. But the “a-ha” moment I received at the end of my qualitative analysis is worth mentioning, at some point, in light of all the ballyhoo surrounding the latest remake of Ayn Rand’s last novel, Atlas Shrugged, and Rand’s many “contributions” to the neo-conservative movement of the post-industrial, post-modern United States of America.
First, I think that it is important, perhaps an epoché, to mention that I read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead during my first attempt at an undergraduate Computer Science degree in 1982. I found her writing rather dull but her less-than subtle attempt at providing an air of plausibility for the malignant narcissism of her character, Howard Roark, thought-provoking. It allowed me to make some kind of sense out of the madhatter Libertarian prognosticators who began finding their way onto my high school campus several years prior. I believe my love affair with the ideas of Libertarian Objectivism lasted about six months due in no small part to the massive quantities of alcohol, marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms I was consuming in a quest to understand the life that I later discovered I did not have.
Rand’s basic problem with altruism, and the phony characters who often people movements known for their well-publicized altruistic intent, was that it represents an unqualified evil to the human species. When people, especially theologians and philosophers, start pulling out loaded words like “good” and “evil” to describe their pet theoretical constructs, it becomes very easy to get lost in the weeds of side-discussions long before a viable premise of their pet theory can be identified, described and critiqued.
But let’s indulge this tendency for a moment. It is highly illustrative.
The heroes of Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead and all of Rand’s novels, find their genesis in Rand’s notes and interviews with none other than child murderer William Edward Hickman. Hickman, by most every psychological analysis of his behavior, was a sociopath of the psychopathic type. To highlight the conscience-free, malignant narcissism of humanoids like Hickman, we have a description of the crime in the nineteen year old killer’s own words, a crime that resulted in his death, by hanging, in October of 1928.
“It was while I was fixing the blindfold that the urge to murder came upon me,” he continued, “and I just couldn’t help myself. I got a towel and stepped up behind Marion. Then before she could move, I put it around her neck and twisted it tightly. I held on and she made no outcry except to gurgle. I held on for about two minutes, I guess, and then I let go. When I cut loose the fastenings, she fell to the floor. I knew she was dead. Well, after she was dead I carried her body into the bathroom and undressed her, all but the underwear, and cut a hole in her throat with a pocket knife to let the blood out.”
And a description from a different newspaper account of what Hickman did next.
“Hickman packed her body, limbs and entrails into a car, and drove to the drop-off point to pick up his ransom; along his way he tossed out wrapped-up limbs and innards scattering them around Los Angeles. When he arrived at the meeting point, Hickman pulled Miriam’s [sic] head and torso out of a suitcase and propped her up, her torso wrapped tightly, to look like she was alive—he sewed wires into her eyelids to keep them open, so that she’d appear to be awake and alive. When Miriam’s father arrived, Hickman pointed a sawed-off shotgun at him, showed Miriam’s head with the eyes sewn open (it would have been hard to see for certain that she was dead), and then took the ransom money and sped away. As he sped away, he threw Miriam’s head and torso out of the car, and that’s when the father ran up and saw his daughter—and screamed.”
I bring this information to your attention, gentle reader, because most everything put forward by the neo-conservative movement since 1980 has been in service of the ideas espoused by Ayn Rand, pseudonym of Alisa Rosenbaum, a Soviet émigré and, yes, a Jew. The debauched calumny against the great, unwashed masses who made Rand’s popularity even possible is evident in all the neo-conservative epithets directed at the poor and disadvantaged, all the anti-altruistic legislative agendas and all the malevolence of the nation’s bankers and investors against the “collectivists” who, “don’t get it” – it is all there in stark relief.
A world made safe for sociopaths and psychopaths like Rand’s hero, Hickman, and, arguably, Rand herself – this was the purpose and point of Rand’s “philosophy.”
I know it is a little late to be suggesting this, but, “Houston, we have a problem.”
Freakishly detached from human concerns though they may be, the psychopathic personality is a throw-back, a genetic anomaly and evidence of the continued presence of our ancestors, the dinosaurs, still demanding their day in the “evolutionary court of appeals.” Their legal representative in this regard is none other than Ayn Rand herself, and the fact that these lizard-brained anomalies also have control of all the levers of governance and justice, species-wide, bears some mention.
Mercifully, Ayn Rand is dead and her legacy has been frozen solid in the minds of those closest to her. These people knew Rand for what she was, good and bad, and their testimony is available for all to read and see. Personally, I am neither surprised nor impressed by Rand’s legacy. She died of lung cancer with only a hired nurse at her bedside, a fitting epitaph for an individual who both sucked the breathable oxygen out of nearly every room she ever walked into while also demanding the slavish devotion of admirers she neither admired nor appreciated. Every other human being was just an object to Rand and objects have no purpose other than the one the “assigner” assigns to them.
Were it not for the fact that Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve from the Reagan Administration to nearly the present day, spent most of his lifetime locked in sadomasochistic “devotion” to his mentor, the life of this sociopath of the psychopathic type, Ayn Rand, would be pitiful and pathetic, rather than the force to be reckoned with that it has become. Strange, is it not, how the alienation and isolation of profound mental illness drives these creatures together to re-experience the defining moment of mammalian evolution — the moment of “cooperation.” The moment where two apparently separate and unequal entities came together to harmonize, legitimize and validate their devotion, however warped, to one another, causing a stir in the ethos of an entire civilization. And, as we have already surmised, this has been a toxic stir, indeed.
Objectivist philosophy requires the presence of slaves and widespread exploitation in order for it to provide the fetid fruit that it has been able to provide thus far. This is the same problem that all atheists come across as they dig deeply into their rival theistic paradigm. Objectivism is parasitic and incapable of standing on its own. If every living, breathing human were capable of adopting objectivism as a lifestyle, the world would become a battleground of bad neighborhoods as each warlord attempted to actualize his or her own will to power. Sort of like it has become now, only worse. Think Afghanistan in every subdivision and hamlet around the world.
This prejudice begs the question, however: can cooperative, mammalian-friendly civilization stand on its own without the benefit of the lethal pursuit of sociopaths of the psychopathic type? Granted that we could certainly use less malignant narcissism at this time in our history, but could we sustain ourselves in a world completely devoid of fear and its exploitation? Do we truly have more choices available to us than the current objectivist economic repression and the collectivist intellectual repression?
This might be a good time to mention that “a-ha” moment I came upon as I completed my qualitative analysis of the angry fascists, racists and xenophobes who provide the websites for Stormfront.org and the “minuteman” patriot movement. All of these humanoids, and in fact all of us who regard ourselves in a relatively mundane, milktoast fashion with regard to ethnocentricity, are after just one communal peak experience. Just one.
That’s it, folks. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die to this world we have manufactured together. Everyone wants to be able to say to themselves of the people they meet on the street every day, “they’re just like me,” but no one wants to fully concede to their innermost selves that they could ever be as dysfunctionally warped as, say, a William Edward Hickman, or an Ayn Rand. Everyone wants to see themselves in some sort of perfect light, but no one wants to completely release their belief in “sin,” whether they are atheists or theists. And so we are trapped, imprisoned in the jailhouse of the human mind, completely incapable of loving one another and, by extension, ourselves.
We should strive to refuse to have our regard for each other, and our very selves, to be limited by the machinations of mental illness, neurological impairment or treatable psychological disorders. No matter how widespread or how often these dysfunctions are taken as standard-operating procedure, we cannot continue to allow psychopaths, or the mentally ill, to dictate the quality of our very lives in any way at any time. We do this every time we turn our backs on people like Ayn Rand or Alan Greenspan. These pitiable creatures need to be identified and kept far away from the levers of power, lest the present circumstances be repeated.
On this Easter Sunday, pull a rabbit out of your proverbial hat and let your fellows be free to be as dysfunctional or functional as they are without the benefit of your secret need to pass judgment on who you think they are or what you believe it is that they do. This is the Final Judgment any man or woman can ever make for themselves.
But do not mistake this foolhardy tendency to make dramatic every trivial or dopey aberration in human behavior for a trangression against the beating of your own heart. Those we have regarded as “evil” or “outside humanness” should be seen only as infirmed. This “turning of the cheek,” this “shift in perspective” to regard the despicable as only temporarily impaired is the one that opens the gateway to the Utopia we all seem to crave, but have never actually chosen to live in for long at all.