Monday, April 11, 2011

Atlas Shrugged - Not Rushing Out to See the Movie!

Ayn Rand’s philosophy?  Her philosophy reduces itself to: "I’m on board; pull up the lifeline."

I recently read a review of the movie Atlas Shrugged. It went something like this:
"Its theme is the role of individual achievement in society and its goal is to demonstrate what can happen when individual achievement is undervalued, suppressed and demonized. Complex characters embody heroism and evil, in a plot that combines drama, mystery, romance, and science fiction - the result is ultimately inspirational, not apocalyptic."
Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? If you are unfamiliar with Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged,  here is some important stuff to know before reading the book or seeing the movie.

Ayn Rand advocated a particular philosophical system that she dubbed "Objectivism," because of its supposedly objective viewpoint.
Just as the term "pro-choice" sounds inviting, open and fair . . . so does this philosophy (at first glance).

Objectivism tends to support a form of individualism that leaves open to the individual certain forms of freedom that Catholic theology would hold are immoral (e.g., it sometimes exalts selfishness as a virtue). It also tends to be strongly anti-religious. She is not taken seriously as a philosopher by real, academic philosophers but she did sway popular culture (think Oprah Winfrey - LOL)

This clip from 1959 is definitely worth a "look-see."  I found it over at Why I Am Catholic (great blog!) 

AS I am sure you heard in the clip, one of Rand's beliefs is, "You love only those who deserve it."

Can you hear my gasp and "gulp!" How polar opposite is that to Catholicism and what Our Heavenly Father teaches us?

A movie adaptation of Atlas Shrugged is due to hit theaters on April 15th, 2011. I doubt that I will go see it. The book was more than enough, thank you.

You see, I prefer the thoughts that the Word made flesh delivered at the Sermon on the Mount to the "objectivist" philosophy of Ayn Rand any day of the week. That's because these words appeal to the rational, realistic, and fully human side of me. Especially those expressed around Matthew 7:3

In a later post  Frank (over @ Why I am Catholic) suggests insights that weave G.K. Chesterton into the mix. He writes:

I just as easily could have used an interview she did later on. Same story, same selfish pseudo-philosophy.
You see, being selfish is easy and being a Christian is hard. And being really, and truly Christian is almost never even attempted.
Remember what G.K. Chesterton said,
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.
Sadly, I have Christian friends who, oddly enough, look up to Ayn Rand because they like the 10% of what she has to say about Libertarian freedoms (Laissez-faire economics, for example) vs. the 90% of the rest of her horror show ideals.  Shoot, I like some of what she says but I like some of what many people say. If you get to know people and "philosophies" through random quotes and opinions of pseudo-intellectual ramblers . . . you are asking for trouble.  I think of it as something to grow out of - as quickly as possible!
Case in point: In Jr. High I admired Nietzsche. Please don't judge me!  I was 12 and I had only heard these quotes:
"Admiration for a quality or an art can be so strong that it deters us from striving to possess it."
"And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once."
As an antidote (for both Rand and Nietzche), how about spending some time with the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Caritas in Veritate? Not to mention the lives of the Saints. Or maybe introduce them to Blaise Pascal.

But first, just start with a close reading of Our Lord and Savior's Sermon on the Mount.

Here is a real life example of  Rand's "objectivist" philosophy at work . . . .
It is from the current issue of Salon Magazine about a family's real life experience with Ayn Rand's Objectivist ideal, taken to it's literal extreme. An Objectivist Fundamentalist? Lord, have mercy!
How Ayn Rand Ruined My Childhood: My Dad Saw Objectivism As a Logical Philosophy to Live By, But It Tore My Family Apart
by Alyssa Bereznak

My parents split up when I was 4. My father, a lawyer, wrote the divorce papers himself and included one specific rule: My mother was forbidden to raise my brother and me religiously. She agreed, dissolving Sunday church and Bible study with one swift signature. Mom didn't mind; she was agnostic and knew we didn't need religion to be good people. But a disdain for faith wasn't the only reason he wrote God out of my childhood. There was simply no room in our household for both Jesus Christ and my father's one true love: Ayn Rand.

You might be familiar with Rand from a high school reading assignment. Perhaps a Tea Partyer acquaintance name-dropped her in a debate on individual rights. Or maybe you've heard the film adaptation of her magnum opus "Atlas Shrugged" is due out April 15, 2011. In short, she is a Russian-born American novelist who championed her self-taught philosophy of objectivism through her many works of fiction. Conservatives are known to praise her for her support of laissez-faire economics and meritocracy. Liberals tend to criticize her for being too simplistic. I know her more intimately as the woman whose philosophy dictates my father's every decision.

What is objectivism? If you'd asked me that question as a child, I could have trotted to the foyer of my father's home and referenced a framed quote by Rand that hung there like a cross. It read: "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." As a little kid I interpreted this to mean: Love yourself. Nowadays, Rand's bit is best summed up by the rapper Drake, who sang: "Imma do me."

Dad wasn't always a Rand zealot. He was raised in a Catholic family and went to church every week. After he and my mother got married in 1982, they shopped around for a church. He was looking for something to live by, but he couldn't find it in traditional organized religion.

Then he discovered objectivism. I don't know exactly why he sparked to Rand. He claimed the philosophy appealed to him because it's based solely on logic. It also conveniently quenched his lawyer's thirst to always be right. It's not uncommon for people to seek out belief systems, whether political or spiritual, that make them feel good about how they already live their lives. Ultimately, I suspect Dad was drawn to objectivism because, unlike so many altruistic faiths, it made him feel good about being selfish.

Needless to say, Dad's newfound obsession with the individual didn't pan out so well with the woman he married. He was always controlling, but he became even more so. In the end, my mother moved out, but objectivism stayed. My brother and I switched off living at each parent’s house once a week.

It was odd growing up, at least part-time, in an objectivist house. My father reserved long weekends to attend Ayn Rand Institute conferences held in Orange County, California. He would return with a tan and a pile of new reading material for my brother and me. While other kids my age were going to Bible study, I took evening classes from the institute via phone. (I half-listened while clicking through lolcat photos.)

Our objectivist education, however, was not confined to lectures and books. One time, at dinner, I complained that my brother was hogging all the food.

"He's being selfish!" I whined to my father.

"Being selfish is a good thing," he said. "To be selfless is to deny one's self. To be selfish is to embrace the self, and accept your wants and needs."

It was my dad's classic response -- a grandiose philosophical answer to a simple real-world problem. But who cared about logic? All I wanted was another serving of mashed potatoes.

You can read the rest of Alyssa Bereznak's story here or at the source link above.


1 comment:

Abbey said...

You know, I can sum my thoughts in one word: RIDICULOUS!!

She was definitely WAY ahead of her time ... I can only imagine the ridicule back in those days. Today, she would be praised by the LEFT and their followers.

Good article, Soutenous. You always do your homework!

Abbey ♥

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