David Brin points out the parallels between Atlas Shrugged and Occupy Wall Street

  • Published on November 28th, 2011

In Ayn Rand’s philosophical masterwork, the bad guys are a conspiracy of  old-money plutocrats who gather in conniving secrecy, exert undue political influence on the political process  and misuse government power to line their own pockets. Gee, who does that sound like?

By David Brin 

(Originally posted at Contrary Brin)

Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. – Mark Twain

There was nothing else even remotely interesting at Blockbuster — so we rented Atlas Shrugged.

I often talk about Ayn Rand and her passionate followers, who have effectively taken over the U.S. Libertarian movement, influencing much of the rhetoric we hear from the American Right… (even though no Libertarian policies have ever been actually enacted during Republican rule). I’ve published both scholarly papers and popular articles about Rand’s fiction and philosophy.

So, I thought, why not give her acolytes one more shot at selling me on her biggest, most-central tale? An honest person does that.

For the record

First a couple of honest disclaimers:  (1) It may seem that I am aiming most of my critical attention, lately, at “right-wing authors.” (Recently, I dissected Frank Miller’s travesty “300,” showing how it tells outright historical lies in service of a deeply anti-American theme – see Why the Occupy Wall Street kids are better than the #$%! Spartans. ) But I do notice foibles of the left!  For example, I promise soon to offer up that long-awaited piece about James Cameron’s beautiful but misguided film, AVATAR.

(2) As one of the few sci fi authors who delivered a keynote at a political party convention – indeed it was the Libertarian Party – I may seem somewhat of a “heretic” to the Rand-followers who now dominate the LP. But no one can deny my ongoing campaign to get folks to read Adam Smith, the founding sage of both libertarianism and liberalism.

Like Smith, I believe in fair and open and vigorously creative competition – the greatest innovative force in the universe and the process that made us.  Encouraging vibrant, positive-sum rivalry – in markets, democracy, science, etc – is one reason to promote universal transparency (see The Transparent Society ), so that all participants may base their individual decisions on full knowledge.

That positive aim – also preached by Friedrich Hayek – should be the goal of any sane libertarian movement… instead of fetishistically hating all government, all the time, which is like a poor workman blaming the tools. Anyway, a movement based on hopeful joy beats one anchored in rancorous scapegoating, any day.

(Adam Smith favored feeding and educating all children, for the pragmatic reason that this maximizes the number of skilled, adult competitors, a root motive of liberalism and a role for government that is wholly justifiable in libertarian terms.)

For my full, cantankerously different take on the plusses and minuses of contemporary libertarianism — and other oversimplifying dogmas — have a look at this essay: Models, Maps and Visions of Tomorrow.

Only now, with due diligence done, let’s get back to ATLAS SHRUGGED: THE MOTION PICTURE.

Next page >> The story and characters suck

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  • I read many of Rand’s works in the past, and I find Brin’s analysis to be largely correct. I would add, in response to his comments regarding points he’d not otherwise heard or read about, that similar observations have, in fact, been made, and rather frequently – it’s merely that such observations are routinely swept under the proverbial carpet by those who insist that Rand is a “writer of monumental status”.

    Personally, I always found her division of society to be at best elitist; her ignorance of psychology, anthropology, and other sciences to be abysmal and most definitely *not* objective, nor rational; her characters to be as simplistic as paper-cutouts; her portrayals of human behavior and motivations to be at best juvenile. I also found her portrayal of sexuality to be quite disturbed, and disturbing, in that her “heroines” seem to submit to rape, having no capability for, or interest in, establishing an intimate relationship.

    Politically, David Brin’s assessment that Rand parallels Marxism up to the point of monopolism is also a point which seems so obvious, yet is either missed, or simply ignored, by her acolytes – as is the fact that she *does not* deal with the inevitable issue of inherited oligarchy. In the case of her acolytes, however, this isn’t relevant, because they evidently seem to see themselves as deserving to be among the ruling elite, and hold to the same views as have all aristocrats, plutocrats, and dictators, namely: they they have “better blood”, “better genes” than those who reject a life of -emotionally-numb manipulation or outright piracy.

    As for her “philosophy”, I found it to be psychopathic long before I learned the word “psychopathy” – not because I personally have any great love, or high opinion, of the bulk of humanity, but rather, because of her utter incapability to give *anyone* the “benefit of the doubt”, or to have any comprehension of the fact that human advancement has arisen because of cooperation between people, not merely out of competition. But her view of cooperation is incredibly immature – she seems to assume that others will automatically cooperate with her (and those similar to her) because they recognize their supposed “superiority”.

    Of course, the thing which I find most telling is the fact that, after all her years of making a living by descrying government and social welfare, she herself, when she got old and became relatively obscure, did not seek a “heroic ending” to her life, but instead, lived off of Social Security and relied on others. In the end, her own old age writes the final chapter, and illustrates that the true core of her so-called “philosophy” was nothing more than a life-long attempt to justify her complete lack of regard for, or interest in, anyone other than herself.

  • I am not sure I understand your um perspective. But from the title of this article, and my love of Rand as an author and individual, I think that the Occupy kids should all watch Atlas Shrugged (as they won’t read it-takes too long) I only wish they could have all 3 parts at once. We are John Galt.

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