Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Secret Teachings of Ayn Rand

People occasionally ask me, "If you're a libertarian, why do you dislike so much of Ayn Rand's writings?" This is a valid question, since she has had such influence on libertarianism (in my opinion, very much an excessive and not altogether a positive one). I answer, "It's because of her secret teachings." This usually piques their interest.

I have to start with the myth of the Garden of Eden to explain why I have such a low opinion of Rand's philosophy. In it, when God catches Adam and Eve breaking the rules, Adam points his finger at Eve and says, "She made me do it!" Eve points her finger at the serpent and says, "Well, he's the one who made me do it."

What Adam and Eve are doing is scapegoating; Adam scapegoats Eve and Eve scapegoats the serpent. It's saying, "I'm blameless; it's all your fault." And in some versions of the story scapegoating is what gets them kicked out of the Garden of Eden and brings evil into the world.

The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, in his book, The People of the Lie, writes that scapegoating is involved in "the genesis of human evil... [s]capegoating works through a mechanism psychiatrists call projection... [people] project evil onto the world," he writes.

The Nazis and the Socialists were 20th century scapegoaters par excellence. They blamed all their problems on Jews, Christians, Eastern Europeans, capitalists, kulaks...the list unrolls. Estimates of the deaths in 20th century wars range up to 200 million.

When you project all your problems onto others -- turn them into bad people -- what is the most extreme solution? Kill them, of course. The psychiatrists Melanie Klein and Joan Riviere wrote this about projection, "The first and the most fundamental of our insurances or safety measures against feelings of pain, of being attacked, or of helplessness --one from which so many others spring -- is that device we call projection. All painful and unpleasant sensations and feelings in the mind are by this device automatically relegated outside oneself...[W]e blame them on someone else. [Insofar] as such destructive forces are recognized in ourselves we claim that they have come there arbitrarily and by some external agency...[P]rojection is the baby�s first reaction to pain and it probably remains the most spontaneous reaction in all of us to any painful feeling throughout our lives."

When you project evil onto others you no longer see them as people; you see them as things. It makes them easier to kill. It's human sacrifice, really. We have to kill all those people to save ourselves! And those sacrificed are always innocent. The worst human sacrifice is war, with its victims being fed to the pagan idol known as the State.

Seeing people as things is the essence of narcissism. Peck wrote this about narcissism, "Since [narcissists] deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world's fault. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad. They project their own evil onto the world. They never think of themselves as evil, on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others."

Peck was writing about those who are clinically narcissists, but we're all narcissistic, in greater or lesser degree. We're all imperfect. Whenever people get angry at others, don't they almost always, however briefly, see the other person as bad -- the one who "made me mad"? (You need look no further than O.J. Simpson.) Our narcissism is what makes us so susceptible to the three main traits of propaganda: appealing to peoples� emotions (but make them think you�re appealing to their reason); demonizing (or scapegoating) the enemy; and leading people to believe once the enemy is destroyed things will be just fine again.

The serpent in Eden is a symbol of envy. He wants to "bring down" Adam and Eve because they are favored by God. What this means is that scapegoating is based on envy (and envy is so closely related to hate they cannot be separated). Envy is so primitive it's not symbolized by an animal, but instead by a cold-blooded serpent. The story clearly points out scapegoating is childish, indeed infantile (as Thomas Hobbes so perceptively noted, "The evil man is the child grown strong"). Scapegoating is what brings human evil into the world.

I never fail to be astonished by this Biblical story. In a few paragraphs it explains the cause of human evil on this planet: narcissism leading to scapegoating, which is caused by envy and hate. It explains human sacrifice. And all of it starts in us when we are very young, even before we are conscious of any of it. It has been backed up by modern psychology, although its explanation is only about 4,000 years overdue.

Rand, unfortunately, was a scapegoater who believed in human sacrfice. It can't be removed from her philosophy without destroying her system.

In Atlas Shrugged she had, on one hand, her "perfect" producers, the epitome of which was John Galt (who in his radio rant blames all his problems on everyone else). There are about three dozen of these "perfect" people in Galt's Gulch. (Gack, it would be such a bore.)

But they're not perfect. No one�s perfect. So where does Rand -- unconsciously -- project all the evil in the world? Right onto her "looters" and "parasites," all of whom she refers to as "subhumans" living in a "hell." Then she commits genocide and gleefully sacrifices almost the entire population of the world. She projects all hate, rage and envy onto them, scapegoats them, and then engages in a sadistic Hitlerian orgy of hate and destruction and kills off nearly everyone outside of Galt�s Gulch.

This is exactly what the Nazis and Socialists tried to do to those they labeled as evil. Rand's beliefs are based on the same human-sacrifice psychology as Nazism and Socialism: consider yourself perfect, blame all evil on others, and kill all of them to save yourselves, leaving only "Utopia." This is why so many people who admire Rand�s writings still feel vaguely uncomfortable with Atlas Shrugged. How could she so gleefully rub out the entire world? How could she so cold-bloodedly kill innocent children in the infamous train-tunnel-collapse scene?

The similarities between Atlas Shrugged and The Turner Diaries are embarrassing. Kill the evil people, who are the cause of our problems. Then goodness will reign. The Turner Diaries is easier to see through because it is a much cruder fantasy and much more poorly written. But substitute "looter" and "parasite" for "black" and "Jew" and the similarities become much more obvious.

Rand obviously had something very wrong with her, which she was trying to fix through her writing. The psychiatrist Richard Restak, in his book, The Self Seekers, knew what the problem was: "Homicidal rage is the ultimate measure resorted to in an effort to repair the damaged sense of self." Yikes, that�s the plot of Atlas! All that hate, rage and envy were Rand's own feelings she projected onto all her "looters." She took to heart the first rule of writing: "write about what you know." She was engaging in self-therapy through writing. Only it didn�t work (the Objectivist psychologist Alan Blumenthal called Objectivism a system of psychotherapy for Rand).

She got loonier as she got older (she called herself "the perfect woman" and "the world�s second-greatest philosopher" who had "solved all philosophical problems"). This is a woman who ended up in permanent hostile mode, and certainly wasn't the ne plus ultra of novelists or philosophers that her fans consider her to be.

Her philosophy, Objectivism, is also scapegoating. On the side of righteousness we have "capitalism, reason, and selfishness," and on the side of evil we have "altruism, mysticism and collectivism." The first are all good; the second are all bad. All badness is projected onto the second trio. So it has to be rubbed out. Her opponents aren't simply mistaken; they're evil.

What confuses a lot of people is the fact her philosophy is mostly an optical illusion caused by her misdefining her terms. This allows her to set her opposing positions up as strawmen to be knocked down with the greatest of ease. She misdefines "altruism" as meaning "being involuntarily forced to help others through the power of the State," and then misdefines "mysticism" as "religion based only on feeling." She also misdefined "selfishness" as meaning "being concerned with one�s welfare" (she lied and said this was the dictionary definition; no one�s ever found that dictionary). Selfishness means "to be excessively preoccupied with one�s own self." .

Russell Kirk once wrote, "If you'll believe in selfishness, you'll believe in anything." He also wrote that evil is caused by the "monstrous ego," i.e., the bloated, self-absorbed, self-centered, narcissistic Self that sees all other people as things, and which leads straight to scapegoating and human sacrifice. This is why, in the Greek myth of Narcissus, Narcissus could see no one but himself. It's also why in the end he died.

What Rand did was to take a not-well-thought-out defense of the free market and place it on a foundation of narcissism and scapegoating. That is what I mean by her "secret teachings." They're hidden underneath her "libertarianism." Her philosophy is a house built not on rock but on sand. No society based on it could ever exist. It couldn't even get off of the ground. And according to the definition I gave above, almost all of her writings are clearly propaganda.

And what her propaganda overwhelmingly condones is the scapegoating of religion, generosity and "collectivism" not as wrong, but actively evil. It doesn't surprise me that so many Randroids support the current war; after all, the victims of our bombs aren't exactly human, according to Objectivism.

Obviously, Rand wasn't the only scapegoater in the world. In the US we've scapegoated alcohol and drinkers, and failed at Prohibition; currently we're scapegoating drug users and sellers and are clapping them into prison by the hundreds of thousands. It won't work, either. The US government is engaging in scapegoating other countries and their leaders (especially Saddam Hussein, who was originally armed and financed by the CIA), so we're apparently stumbling into WWIII, the way we stumbled into WWI and WWII.

The Right is supposedly much more mature than the Left (and the Left is positively infantile), but that refers to the Old Right, which today is represented by many libertarians. Currently "rightism" pretty much means anything you want it to mean. It has been hijacked by the neo-cons, who are essentially leftists but too stupid to know it. And they are scapegoaters when it comes to the expansion of the American Empire.

First they tried to fool the American public by scapegoating China and starting a war with it. After 9/11 it was Osama bin Laden and the Taliban (never mind the fact that bin Laden and the Taliban, like Hussein, used to be our allies and were financed and equipped by the CIA). Now they're trying to scapegoat Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

I know what Saddam Hussein is. He's an evil man and a brutal, murdering thug and dictator. So are the Saudis (who created and financed the Wahabis) but I don�t see the State scapegoating them.

The mass of people always get the government they deserve. Certain individuals, who are aware of what�s going, certainly don't get the government they want, however. We can conquer other countries and install new governments, but until the people change their hearts and minds, things won't change. We haven�t changed a thing in the warlord mentality in Afghanistan. Americans seem to have problems understanding there are people in the world who have truly alien mentalities, that they're not potential Americans who just happen to be handicapped with funny clothes and bad haircuts.

It appears one of the inherent characteristics of the State is that it is scapegoating; it's always seeking enemies � whether foreign or domestic -- to destroy. The only explanation I can currently think of is its obsession with "security" -- with sacrificing the "evil" to save itself. It�s a fake security, to be sure (the bazillions on defense and "intelligence" failed utterly to stop several deluded, gullible fanatics from bringing down two skyscrapers), and certainly a "security" that is always at the expense of liberty and community (which are the only true sources of security and order). The degenerate "traditions" of the State are, unfortunately, always opposed (and therefore damaging) to the traditions of society. Which is why the larger the State grows, the more backward civilization becomes.

Since scapegoating is something that we do unconsciously, it's necessary to become conscious of it. It helps to know how propaganda is based on scapegoating, so we can defend ourselves against it. Timothy McVeigh, who was influenced by the propaganda of The Turner Diaries, never had a clue. Neither did the guys at the controls of the airplanes that flew into the WTC, or the overwhelming majority of soldiers who have throughout history marched off to unnecessary wars in foreign countries.

Any philosophy that I come across, the first thing I ask: is it scapegoating? Nazism, Communism, Socialism, liberalism, Objectivism...and of course the Neo-Consters. All are scapegoaters. All believe in human sacrifice, although they don't know it and certainly wouldn�t believe it. Do those Gaia-worshippers who see humans as a blight on the Earth understand they�re engaging in pagan worship and want to sacrifice people? Nope, of course they don't.

Religion has traditionally considered the attempt to create a"perfect" world to be blasphemy. I now understand why. Trying to be "perfect" always involves scapegoating others and sacrificing them to the worst aspects of human nature. Before Adolph Eichmann got his neck stretched he explained, "I was an idealist." This means every attempt at a perfect world will sooner or later lead to genocide. We ignore the lessons from the story of the Garden at Eden at our very great peril.


  1. Bob- great post. I had a read through it and posted my thoughts on the same subject as a sort of response and follow-up to the same:

    Let me know what you think.

  2. One of the main problems with Rand as she got older was her her belief in her own infallibility. One of the largest reasons for this was the cult of followers she gathered around herself - the main acolyte being Nathaniel Branden, who became her propaganda minister. I think that Branden was the main Narcissist in the group, exploiting the insecure and crackpot Rand for his gain. He didn't expect her to fall in love with him and engineer decades long affair. Finally, when Rand became too emotionally needy and physically unattractive for Branden to continue the affair, he pursued a younger woman. Upon learning of the affair, Rand lost her mind, ejected Branden and his wife and eventually alienated most of her followers until her "Collective" of close followers dissolved.
    Rand was an emotionally selfish, immature and half-baked "philosopher" but the engineering and mass propagation of her ideas were done by Nathaniel Branden - the "self-help" guru.
    I only have sympathy for Rand's husband for Frank O'Connor, who was a decent, kind and quiet man. It's too bad he didn't find a good woman and have a family like he wanted.