The “Rand” in our title [G]Rand comes from Ayn Rand (1905-1882) the Russian-American novelist and philosopher. She became a cult figure in the United States with her philosophy called “Objectivism,” which classified Americans as being either “takers” or “fakers” (more about that later). Her influence on American political and economic thought has been significant but used by her followers to advocate policies that are more than a little delusional.
It is significant that a “delusional disorder, previously called a paranoid disorder, is a type of serious mental illness called a ‘psychosis’ in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is an illusion.” (1) Since the so-called “paranoid style” pervades American politics today it might be fruitful to revisit why Rand’s thinking still influences some of our leaders in both Washington and on Wall Street.
“As Ray Dahlio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, put it in a recent essay, ‘her books pretty well capture the mind-set’ of the Trump administration. ‘This new administration hates weak, unproductive, socialist people and policies,’ he wrote, ‘and it admires strong, can-do profit makers.’” (2)
What we are talking about at this point is the structure of human consciousness which is that a person’s worldview determines their identity and their identity drives their behavior. Virtually everyone has a delusional worldview, a decidedly unhealthy identity and exhibits self-destructive behavior but, of course, some are far more paranoid than others. What characterizes those who admire Ayn Rand’s philosophy is that their worldview leans toward social Darwinism, that is to say, in a highly competitive society only the “fittest” deserve to survive.
“In business, Rand’s influence has been especially pronounced in Silicon Valley, where her overarching philosophy that ‘man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself,’ as she described it in a 1964 Playboy interview, has an obvious appeal for self-made entrepreneurs.” (2)
The obvious question at this point is should more Americans join the cult and take our nation in the direction our new president would have us go? Many of our political leaders and leading entrepreneurs seem to have already done so. “Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson; Travis Kalanick, former executive of Uber; Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates; and Andrew F. Puzder, chief of CKE Restaurants, have all cited Ayn Rand’s influence.” (2)
Back to the theme of this essay. Is Objectivism in harmony with the principles underlying reality or is it based in a delusional worldview? In short, will Rand’s theories work in the real world? “The hedge fund manager Edward S. Lampert, who some say has applied Rand’s objectivist principles to the management of Sears and Kmart, has driven these venerable retailer’s close to bankruptcy.” (2) One more example. “The Whole Foods founder and chief executive John Mackey, an ardent libertarian and admirer of Rand, last month [June 2017] had to cede control of the troubled upscale grocery company to Amazon and Jeff Bezos.” (2)
We have to ask at this point: what are the principles of reality that Objectivism seems to be out of touch with? Starting with step one: worldview. It is up to humankind to choose whether we want to live in a competitive, survival of the fittest global village (paradigm B) or a cooperative and compassionate community which includes and nurtures everyone (paradigm A). Is it necessary for human survival that large numbers of our fellow human beings be “thrown under the bus?”
Are admirers of Rand successful or merely selfish and delusional in their pursuit of material wealth? “Mr. Kalanick was urged to step down as chief executive by the Uber board and Uber’s major investors over less heroic issues: that Uber fostered a workplace culture [worldview] that tolerated sexual harassment and discrimination, that it ignored legal constraints, poaching intellectual property from Google’s self-driving car endeavor and using technology to evade law enforcement; and that it failed to hire a chief operating officer or build an effective management team.” (2)
This brings us to the second principle of the structure of human consciousness, namely, identity. We can choose not only our worldview but also our identity, either a True self or a false self. Our True self determined by our choice of a P-A worldview will often exhibit compassion and service to others as our highest and most life-enhancing expression. Choosing P-B (the dog-eat-dog world of Objectivism) will determine an identity that is fear-driven, hyper-competitive and ultimately self-destructive. Does the libertarian, ego-driven narcissist even exist anywhere but the White House and can he deliver on his promises to his constituents?
“‘Rand’s entrepreneur is the Promethean hero of capitalism,’ said Lawrence E. Cahoone, professor of philosophy at the college of the Holy Cross, whose lecture on Rand is part of his Great Courses series, ‘The Modern Political Tradition.’ But she never really explores how a dynamic entrepreneur actually runs a business.’ She was surrounded by people who saw her as a cult figure. She didn’t have employees, she had worshippers.’” (2)
We can see that the Rand hero can be out of touch with reality, often has a delusional identity, is highly materialistic and can treat others with self-centered cruelty. No wonder those attracted to Objectivism see most people as fakers and takers. They “fake” poverty and illness and “take” what their hard-working fellow citizens offer them when they could be “earning their keep” like everyone else. Empathy for others in the human community is not common among members of the Rand cult.
If the Rand hero is a [G]Rand illusion does that mean that there are no true heroes in America today? Not at all. Read the next essay (#7 An Authentic Hero) and you will meet one.
Insight # 6: A healthy worldview will determine a healthy identity which will in turn drive healthy behavior. Beware of accepting beliefs, attitudes and values that classify any fellow human beings as unworthy of compassion because those “stories” are illusions and are among the fundamental causes of all human suffering.
- Stewart, James B. “Tough Times for Disciples of Ayn Rand.” The New York Times. July 14, 2017, pages 1 & 2.