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.