Monday, March 1, 2010

The Psychopathology of Ayn Rand

You've probably heard of Ayn Rand. Most people have these days. She was the author of such inexplicably widely-read "novels" (really, barely-disguised political diatribes) as "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged". Her books are currently enjoying something of a boom among those who misguidedly believe they would be in the self-righteous community of "Atlases" at Galt's Gulch. The novels themselves are of only passing interest, being long, melodramatic and mediocrely written. Rather, it is the "philosophy" at the core of the novels which bears attention.

Hear ye, hear ye, I come to bury Rand, not to praise her. While numerous conservative thinkers (and, oddly, Neil Peart) have lauded Rand as a philosopher, few academic institutions include Rand or Objectivism as a philosophical discipline. Conservatives, such as Chris Sciabarra, tend to believe that the academic left decries Rand due to her anti-communist, pro-capitalist slant. Like much of the witterings of conservatives who presume to know what the left things, that presumes firstly, more power than the academic left has had in decades; secondly, assumes that the left was universally pro-communist and anti-capitalist, something which has never been true and thirdly, that Rand was saying anything worth studying. She wasn't. Rand's "philosophy" was the same defence of endless greed which mankind has been engaged in for eternity, the same attempt to place a moral cover on pure selfishness that has long been pursued by any number of exploiters down the centuries. Nietzche was, and is, pilloried for saying "God is dead", Rand is lauded for effectively saying "the self is God". There is nothing new here, save perhaps for the self-delusion that allows so many professed "Christians" to adhere to a philosophy that glorifies greed and athieism. There is also a cult-like deification of Rand by her followers and "swarming" of those who dare criticise her which reminds one very strongly of Scientology (and Glenn Beck followers but that's another matter).

There is another name for those who hold that the only proper moral consideration is the happiness of the self; for those who view empathy and compassion as weakness; who view selfishness as the only virtue: Psychopaths.

Contrary to popular belief, the psychopath is not automatically violent. Rather, the psychopath is defined by a near-complete lack of empathy. Robert Hare (who created the widely used "Hare Psychopathy Checklist") describes psychopaths as "instraspecies predators" who use a combination of charisma, manipulation, intimidation, sexuality and violence to satisfy their own desires. The more human qualities of conscience, empathy, remorse or guilt are either completely absent or extremely limited. It must be repeated that the psychopath is not necessarily violent. Indeed, many are not because their lives have never placed them in a position where violence was the only means to satisfy their desires. Many businessmen (and therefore, many politicians) profile as psychopaths because they exhibit the core characteristics or some section thereof. Ayn Rand should also be considered a psychopath.

Hare's checklist lists certain personality factors as indicative of psychopathy. The average person will perhaps exhibit one or, at most, two. The psychopath will exhibit all but on or two. In no particular order, these items are Glibness/superficial charm. After her writings became popular, Rand collected around herself a group of cultists who virtually worshipped her. However, shallow affect, the psychopath's charm is only ever superficial. As one comes to know and understand the psychopath more fully, the charm which initially attracted one to them is revealed as only skin-deep. In this, Rand was entirely textbook. She was described by most who knew her best as a bitter, friendless child who grew into an equally bitter and acidic woman. Grandiose sense of self-worth would certainly fit Rand. A woman who names her beliefs "Objectivism" out of a belief that any reasoning person who observes the objective truths of the world would necessarily come to full agreement with her would probably qualify. The fact that her little cult were required to memorise her works and discounted as "imbecilic" and "anti-life" if they asked questions simply seals the deal. Her sincere belief was that thinking freely would automatically lead to total agreement with her views. The ruthless policing of her cult would also qualify her under the Cunning/manipulative qualifier. Patholigical lying is one that Rand is probably innocent of. So far as we know, there is no reason to believe she was a pathological liar. Lack of remorse or guilt and Callous/lack of empathy could be described as "Ayn Rand syndrome". These two qualifiers are really the core of her books, philosophhy and worldview. In one of her books ([i]The Fountainhead[/i]), her "hero", Howard Roarke, blows up a housing project he designed when a minor alteration is made and then orders the jury to acquit him (the fact that, as an architect, Roarke was presumably contracted for his work and therefore, it wasn't "his" anymore piddles all over the supposed respect for property too). In Atlas Shrugged, her ode to the super-rich which imagines them going on strike against progressive taxation, Rand describes the rest of the world (without whom, let us not forget, the super-rich would be unable to make anything) is such niceties as "savages", "refuse" and "immitations of living beings". When one of the strikers engineers a train crash (because they don't just strike but commit acts of terrorism too), Rand makes it clear that she believes the murdered victims deserved their fate because they supported progressive taxation. A stewing hymn of Nietzchean will-to-power, misanthropy, failure to understand economics, feudalism and sexual politics verging on the obscene, Atlas Shrugged is full of this stuff. Her heroes spend their time both insisting that they are the heroic producers (and without labour, what are they producing exactly?) and bemoaning that others do not worship them as such. In her spare time, Rand was an admirer of serail killer William Hickman (I'll spare you the details of his crimes save to say that they were brutal even by serial killer standards), describing him as "a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy"; "other people do not exist for him and he does not see why they should" was her evaluation of his crimes and Rand considered this worthy of praise. Finally, on the personality factor, there is Failure to accept responsibility for one's actions. Since our record of Rand's life isn't fully detailed, it's difficult to say how much she satisfied this one. Certainly, when her lover Nathaniel Branden found another partner, she blamed him rather than herself or her increasingly poisonous views. We shouldn't sympathise with Rand as injured party too much here, she was herslelf married to someone entirely different and cruel enough to carry on the affair without regard to discretion. Indeed, if the only duty of the superman is to please himself, Brendan was acting according to Rand's ideals and she should have applauded him. She once said the the USA should be a "democracy of superiors only" with "superior" being defined as "rich". One scarcely needs to point out that such a system wouldn't be democracy at all but oligarchy and interestingly elitist for all her followers claim to despise elitism.

One doesn't need to work very hard to diagnose Rand. Her life and writings paint a vivid picture of psychopathy so clear and obvious that it is only surprising so many miss it. She was a phonomenally damaged woman for whom one can feel an element of pity (an emotion that disgusted her) even while aware of how terrifically dangerous she and her philosophy was and are. Rand herself died alone except for a hired nurse. Her deranged views had driven away anyone who might have been close to her. Like L. Ron Hubbard, however, her lunatic ideas have spawned a cult that would turn all of us into happy little psychopaths; a cult that includes many of the world's foremost economists, politicians and rabble-rousers (Beck again, although "intellectual terrorist" might be more appropriate). Like George Orwell, Rand imagined a dystopian world characterised by the powerful's exploitation of the powerless. Unlike Orwell, Rand wanted to live there.

1 comment:

  1. Rand was entirely nuts, and a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder sounds pretty accurate.

    As to her recent acolytes who fancy themselves the motors of the world, and who keep threatening to "Go Galt", I wish they'd just do it. The Rapture they keep crowing about is never going to happen, so this would be the next best thing to rid the world of their odious presence.


I reserve the right to remove your comment if you're a prat. I also reserve the right to mercilessly mock you for the same crime.