Friday, March 13, 2009

By all means, Objectivists, go Galt!

Oh, please... oh,!
Who is John Galt?

Anyone familiar with Ayn Rand's most famous novel, Atlas Shrugged, which outlined in all its appalling detail, the pseudo-philosophy known as "Objectivism," will know the meaning of that query.

Here's how Wikipedia summarizes the book:
The theme of Atlas Shrugged is the role of the mind in man's life and, consequently, presentation of a new morality: the morality of rational self-interest.

The main crux of the book surrounds the decision of the "men of the mind" to go on strike, refusing to contribute their inventions, art, business leadership, scientific research, or new ideas of any kind to the rest of the world. Each man of ability eventually reasons (or is convinced) that society hampers him with unnecessary, burdensome regulations and undervalues his contributions to the world, confiscating the profits and sullying the reputations he has rightfully earned. The peaceful cohesiveness of the world begins to disintegrate as each of these men of ability slowly disappears and society loses those individuals whose mental effort allows it to continue functioning.

Got that? Civilization's "men of the mind," the "Atlases" who are holding up the world with their heroic genius, decide to no longer contribute to society because of the burden imposed on them by "regulation." They disappear to form their own secret nation-state, hidden in the Rocky Mountains, where they create an Objectivist paradise, free of society's "moochers" and "looters." Their leader is John Galt, an inventor who begins the movement as an act of protest when his employer, the Twentieth Century Motor Works, decides to run its factory as a collectivist endeavor.

I read this book back in the early '90s, thirty-some years after its publication. I remember being horrified at the twisted contempt that Ayn Rand seemed to express for what many people deem to be virtues: altruism, charity, even familial love.

But Rand spawned a movement, of sorts. The Objectivists, those who adhere to her philosophy, include some rather famous names: former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Wall Street Journal reporter John Fund.

Well, some Objectivists out there are coming to the conclusion that, in order to battle the "socialist" tilt of President Obama and his policies, they must "go Galt." By which, I assume they mean that they should cease contributing to society, withdraw, retire. From there, they would presumably sit back and watch civilization, bereft of its movers and shakers, crumble. Radical right-wing harpy Michelle Malkin even wrote a column about the phenomenon.

Ayn Rand
US Representative John Campbell (R-CA) repeated this ominous warning to the Washington Independent: “Just this weekend, I had a guy come up to me in my district and tell me that he was losing his interest in the business he’d run for years because the president wanted to punish him for his success. I think people are reading ‘Atlas Shrugged’ again because they’re trying to understand what happens to people of accomplishment, and people of talent and energy, when a government turns against them. That’s what appears to be happening right now.” Gee, Congressman, was his name John Galt?

The idea that the rest of us, those of us who believe in the communal spirit of humanity, the very essence of what allowed our species to survive through its desperate hunter-gatherer stage of development, would somehow suffer as a result of all these rugged individualists suddenly removing themselves from our midst... frankly, I find it laughable.

Firstly, the thought that the most reactionary and whiny of conservative luminaries might voluntarily remove themselves from the public debate sounds like a dream come true. By all means, Objectivists, get out of the way!

But more than that, the Objectivist philosophy seems fatally flawed, does it not?

In the days before there even was a civilization, when human beings were organized in tribes and small bands, exile from the tribe was a death sentence. Back in the day, all those would-be Libertarians that set off on their own because they didn't want to share the strawberries they found by the riverbank were the ones that got eaten by the grizzly bears and the saber-toothed tigers. Human beings survived through mutual cooperation, and by protecting the weak and vulnerable in their midst.

Well, we've come a long way from our roots as scavengers on the Serengeti, to be sure. And I certainly won't argue that there aren't some stark indications that we might be approaching the End of the LineTM. But, I'll tell you this: if we are going to continue on as a species, we'll do it the way we always have... through community and mutual cooperation.

So, who, indeed, is John Galt?

Answer: Nobody we need to worry about.

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