Saturday, November 13, 2010

Get a Grift


I'm right in the middle of Matt Taibbi's new book, his opus really, Griftopia -- and there's no adequate expression possible for how good it is, both as a read and as a benchmark for our times.

While Taibbi's brutal and often laugh-out-loud funny insights about the condition of our economic and political landscape -- and indictment of those who created this fucking mess -- provide the crux of the book, it's a minor tangent he goes off on about Ayn Rand that really had me nodding my head. I'll explain why in a minute, but here's what he had to say about Rand, whom he calls "a bloviating, arbitrary, self-important pseudo-intellectual who recalls the gibberish-spewing academic twits in Woody Allen spoofs," and whose philosophy of "Objectivism" he mercilessly derides as being "a crackpot antitheology dedicated to legitimizing relentless self-interest... a grotesquerie that hit the Upper East Side cocktail party circuit hard in the fifties and sixties."

"One of the defining characteristics of Rand's clique was its absolutist ideas about good and evil, expressed in a wildly off-putting, uncompromisingly bombastic rhetoric that almost certainly bled downward to the group ranks from its Russian emigre leader, who might've been one of the most humor-deprived people ever to walk the earth.

Rand's book Atlas Shrugged, for instance, remains a towering monument to humanity's capacity for unrestrained self-pity -- it's a bizarre and incredibly long-winded piece of aristocratic paranoia in which a group of Randian supermen decide to break off from the rest of society and form a pure free-market utopia, and naturally the parasitic lower classes immediately drown in their own laziness and ineptitude.

The book fairly gushes with the resentment these poor 'Atlases' (they are shouldering the burdens of the whole world!) feel toward those who try to use 'moral guilt' to make them share their wealth. In the climactic scene the Randian hero John Galt sounds off in defense of self-interest and attacks the notion of self-sacrifice as a worthy human ideal in a speech that lasts seventy five pages.

It goes without saying that only a person possessing a mathematically inexpressible level of humorless self-importance would subject anyone to a seventy-five page speech about anything. Hell, even Jesus Christ barely cracked two pages with the Sermon on the Mount. Rand/Galt manages it, however, and this speech lays the foundation of objectivism, a term that was probably chosen because 'greedism' isn't catchy enough."


I bring this up for personal reasons, actually, because to be honest I never really bothered reading a lot of Rand when I was young (which from what I did read always seemed to be the only period in a human life when something that ridiculous might be absorbed and regarded as anything other than pseudo-philosophical pabulum). Looking back on it, though, I'm sorry I didn't get to know Ayn Rand's beliefs a little better, because as it turned out the person I wound up falling in love with in 2002 was a fan of Rand to the point of her online screen-name being a direct reference to one of Rand's characters and what seemed at the time to be a strange, almost romantic infatuation with John Galt.

I always just figured this made her wonderfully literate. Jesus, what little I knew.

13 comments:

VOTAR said...

Whenever some new acquaintance learns what I do for a living, and asks me if I've read The Fountainhead, I have to fight off the instant rising-bile-in-the-mouth urge to immediately punch them in the dick.

Fred said...

I had absolutely no clue when my insane, alcoholic cunt of a future ex-wife kept referring to her believe in Objectivism. In a case of "if I knew then....." I would have punched her. With a Buick.

Anonymous said...

The closest I got to Rand was playing Bioshock. I read once that even though she constantly talked about individualism, she'd kick your ass out if you disagreed with her in the slightest.

Sunstruck Ignition said...

i really appreciated this read. i remember reading The Fountainhead as a kid and thinking what a scatological assemblage of classist, self-important garbage it was

and yes, i used those exact words.

but it was fully put into proper perspective every time i met a lala inferno-hot actress that asked me if id read it

this was second only to my later-love for people asking me if id SEEN the secret; but i digress

Jaedon

Anonymous said...

I used to think nothing of it when an online dating profile listed Atlas Shrugged in a list of books read. Now, when I see it, I hide/block/delete the profile as fast as I can, as if Going Rogue had been listed. I would love to know what Rand would have to say about Palin...

SmudgeTheCat said...

"Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. A bible dictated by a weak, sullen, and envious god to be read by the vain, mean, selfish, and rapacious. Anyone who tells you that this is their favorite novel and the book that had the most impact on their thinking is consumed by vanity and self-love and is pretty much masturbating in the mirror in front of you...or they are lying in order to get admitted to the country club."
From a blog entry by Lance Mannion a couple of years back.
Add to it a recent entry in his blog...

Always worth quoting.  John Rogers on Ayn Rand:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Kinda says it all.

Anonymous said...

Any talk of Rand allows me to post one of my favorite quotes from blogger Kungfu Monkey -

"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

Agent Scully said...

"...objectivism, a term that was probably chosen because 'greedism' isn't catchy enough."

I read Fountainhead last year, succumbing to the relentless pleas of a co-worker. Needless to say, I can no longer take anything he says seriously.

People who place Ayn Rand (and her philosophy) on a pedestal are fucking morons. Greedy, thoughtless morons.

Anonymous said...

My sister in law thinks Rand is the second coming. She's got four (very well worn) copies of Atlas Shrugged and Galt bumper sticker.

I fully intend to read Tabbi's book at Thanksgiving so I can watch her panties twist painfully.

Roket said...

I read The Fountainhead way back when I was a real life DFH. Even way back then I realized it was a work of fiction and had no basis in reality. If you want to go Galt, then get off your lazy ass and go Galt already. I assure you the rest of the world could give a flying rats ass.

cousinavi said...

To paraphrase Driftglass: If you think Ayn Rand has anything to offer in terms of constructing a just, fair or desirable social order...and you're older than 14...you're an asshole.

Atlas Shrugged - the Book of Revelations for assholes.

kanye said...

driftglass, from about three years ago--


Trying to model your life on "Atlas Shrugged" is as emotionally healthy as trying to model a life on "Riverworld ", "Scanners Live in Vain" or "The Man in the High Castle".

Considerably less healthy, actually, since these latter are actually skillfully crafted meditations on the pain and majesty of being human…

…and not thousand-page sagas about sock-puppets stabbing straw-men with tax cuts.

Ref said...

CousinAvi:

I remember running into some Rand adherents in high school. Trust me, even if you ARE fourteen, you're an asshole.