Thursday, June 18, 2009

Glenn Beck's New Low, pt 2: The Discreet Charm of Ayn Rand

I am without apology in my love of bringing in my friends so that we can go all G-Force on those knuckleheads who dare to oppose us! Accordingly, Werner Herzog's Bear is back at it again with his sequel to Glenn Beck's New Low Part 1:

Last time I went over the reasons why Nazism was and is a product of the extreme political Right. Again, it pained to even have to make such an assertion, which is about as obvious as saying that the earth is round and the pope is Catholic.

If you remember the clip of Glenn Beck and his guest claiming Nazism and racism are products of the Left, they used the specious rationale that the Right is all about individual freedom, and the Left is all about collectivism. How those who are against a woman's right to choose, are in favor (mostly) of prosecuting the "war on drugs," against allowing gay people to marry, and who howled "treason" at anyone who protested the war in Iraq are all about individual rights is beyond me.

Beck's guest was Harry Biswanger of the Ayn Rand Institute, and his assertions about "collectivism" reflect the usual Randian fallacies:

"Well, this Von Brunn's culture is a tribe of racist, anti-Jewish, anti-Negro, anti-immigrant, everything, and therefore he's a phenomenon of the left, because racism is a form of collectivism. The right wing is individualist -- believes in individual rights, freedom, the dignity of each individual life. But it's the left wing -- you know, Hitler was National Socialism, right? It's a leftist phenomenon."

Ah yes, no one on the Right spouts "anti-immigrant" rhetoric! And no one in that camp would ever make oblique, dog-whistle references to George Soros' Judaism, surely not! (In my search for this link I saw some scary, scary stuff. Just putting his name into Google will reveal all the evidence you need that anti-Semitism is alive and well on the Right.) And no one on the Right would ever casually send out "anti-Negro" (wtf with that terminology, by the way?) materials and "humor" to their co-workers, or even broadcast such offensive things over the airwaves.


As I've already demonstrated, the Right has plenty of collectivist tendencies. (Like the Left, the Right is "collectivist" in certain areas and "individualist" in others, it's just that Randians don't have any grasp of subtlety.) Oddly enough, voices on the conservative right have been cloaking their appeals to in-group solidarity and hatred of those who don't belong (Beck's "we surround them") with paens to the radical individualism of Ayn Rand. Michelle Malkin and others have talked stridently of "going Galt," referring to the hero of Rand's thickest pile of literary dross, Atlas Shrugged. The love to claim that they are truly "Libertarians" at heart, even when supporting a war intended to bring democracy at the point of a tax-funded bayonet.

It's hard for me to rip the Randian fascination better than Colbert did, but I'll try. I should admit at the top that my reading of her is limited to some of her more analytic essays. They tried to justify a philosophy so self-centered and anti-social that it borders on the sociopathic. We are social animals, after all, and to deny that fact, as Rand does, denies one of the very things that makes us human beings.

Rand's Objectivism meshes well with the immature solipsism of adolescence, a time when just about everyone doesn't want to do what their told, and thinks no one understands them. This pretty well explains the popularity of Objectivism among teenagers and young adults, who are easily swayed by simple answers and any philosophy that makes them feel more important and tells them to make themselves happy, anyone else be damned. Most of the Rand-lovers I know rejected it once they grew up and experienced the complexity of life in the adult world. (In that way there are some interesting connections to be made between Objectivism and radical Marxism.)

Unfortunately, when they still subscribe to Objectivism, the little Randians prostlytize with missionary zeal. A friend in college pressed a copy of The Fountainhead into my hands as if it were holy writ, imploring me to digest it. I could only get ten pages in, considering that it contained prose more wooden than the USS Constitution. I was wary anyway after many intense arguments with a high school friend who adored Rand and called anything to the Left of her "socialism." As someone who admires the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha, I was and am horrified that anyone would try to portray basic human empathy and altruism to be evil. Being aware of history, I knew that in the nineteenth century laissez-faire capitalism had failed as miserably as Soviet communism in the twentieth, so I wasn't exactly enchanted by that facet of Rand's thought either. (If anyone doubts me read Dickens or witness the recent fruits of financial deregulation.)

For some reason that's a hard fact for many 19 year olds to grasp, however, especially those with a middle class or wealthy background. Rand's myopic understanding of human nature allows them to think of the social standing they were born into as something that they have earned, and the grinding poverty endured by others as a product of laziness and therefore undeserving of help. Rand's readers, like Beck's viewers, embrace this conceit and can conveniently think of themselves as Galt-like rugged individualists, even if the American middle class is highly funded by the federal government. (Interstate highways connecting cities to suburbs, the home mortage deduction, subsidized student loans, state universities, Social Security, Medicare, etc.)

And what is Glenn Beck, if not a contrarian 19 year old Rand disciple grown up to be a raving liar on national television? Of course, like my friends who finally sold off Atlas Shrugged at the used bookstore, he outgrew Rand, too. Her "individualist" ideas are a fig leaf cloaking Beck's inherently collective mindset, one that sees shadowy enemies everywhere who are out to destroy America. (In the clip at the top, he even put liberal professors like me in the crosshairs, so I take this personally.) I'm not fooled by the talk of "individualism." His use of the Big Lie (which I mentioned last time), extreme paranoia, messianic nationalism, thinly veiled appeals to violent revolution, and constant villainization of groups supposedly primed to give America a "stab in the back" reminds me of a certain "collectivist" movement he is at such obvious pains to distance himself from.


Laura Swisher said...

Great post.

MissLola said...

God. Glenn Beck makes my eyes, ear, and brain bleed. Have you ever seen Libertarian Bingo?

It would be funny if it wasn't true. I 'bingod' several times when reading about those gawd-awful Tea Parties.

FGFM said...

Ron Paul also has tried that "Racism is collectivism" angle even though he was caught on tape referring to the "Jew World Order" and associates with the racist Lew Rockwell crowd.

Todd Riale said...

If anyone would go and look at a article from the N.Y. Times in 1936 or 1939, when Hitler and the Nazi party came to power, they would see it says something akin to artists and leftists fear for their safety. Christians applaud. I'm paraphrasing, but someone with some pull needs to pull that up and start showing it on mainstream media. that would shut them up in a hurry.

Steve said...

The artwork says it all. "Atlas Shrugged" is just a tiresome collection of straw man arguments. I had to put it down after a third of the book.

Great blog! You Negroes really take apart Beck and the Randys.... :)

Grung_e_Gene said...

Nice summation up and neat dissection of the Randian baloney.

When I hear the Randian mantra swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine,” I wonder if they'd demand the fire department pass their home by and practice their evil "collectivism" by saving other peoples' property.

ThunderMonkey said...

You've a new fan.

Great read.

I've always suspected that Anton LeVay stole from Ayn Rand when he wrote the Satanic Bible.

Some of the connections you've point out is rather uncanny.

(No. I'm not a Satanist. I have too much empathy for my fellow human beings.)

Professor Chaos said...

I think Glenn Beck may actually be crazy enough to believe this b.s.

How anyone can take Ayn Rand seriously is beyond me!

mjs said...

Ayn Rand was a prose killing miscreant. If I remember correctly, the love interest of the architect (Howard Roark) in The Fountainhead could only succumb to the love call in her heart via his rape of her--"the force" was in her. I'm surprised Roark (a surname best spoken as a raptoresque screech) didn't sprout wings and fly her off to some gnarly crag in heaven.


Anonymous said...

The Rayndians actually had someone in charge of the Federal Reserve for twenty years. Now they have the gall to say that the problem with our economy is that Congress needs to read Atlas Shrugged? WTF!