Saturday, November 14, 2009

So People are Talking About Rand again, Eh?

The surge in popular media mentions of Ayn Rand has got me reflecting on my history with her ideas. Now that I'm asking to be taken seriously by the academic establishment, does making my positions on a topic unpopular in that field serve my interests? The positions exist, and it would be a breach of integrity to pretend that they don't just because they're likely to be poorly received.

"Be responsible for your self; don't tolerate or participate in the abuse of others, and don't tolerate or participate in the abuse of yourself." In paraphrased form, that is the kernel of Rand's inspiration. It's a clear and timeless message that didn't originate with her, but found powerful expression in her writing. It's the idea that defines what it means to be "Liberal" in the original sense, and it would be difficult to state a contrary position that doesn't rely on racism, sexism, imperialism, or some other form of exploitation-ism.

That nugget has been the important part for me, and it has been the part that I've focused on. I would venture to guess that the negative impression that many budding intellectuals have of Rand stems from her not "playing nice," from some Hansonian status-motivation that causes people to be resistant to affiliating with someone who has caused herself to be disliked by a broad class of others, regardless of what she actually has to say.

With that said, some of what Rand has to say (especially about other thinkers and writers) is misguided and ignorant. She derides Hayek and Friedman, who are two of the most powerful voices in support of the same ideas she cherished. But who cares? You don't have to take it all as a "packaged deal." Agreeing with a person on one thing does not commit you to the loyal support of everything else they ever say. Rand was a flawed human being? Ha. Show me an unflawed one. I might even suggest that she deserves some credit for being authentic, for not hiding the aspects of herself that others are bound to dislike just as a matter of social convenience.

Also, I think people are hung-up on her gender. It seems "off" when a woman is as brash and bold as she was, but pretty standard when men exhibit the same characteristics. The fact that Rand isn't celebrated by the feminist movement is, I suspect, solely the product of her distaste for the ideas that get associated with modern feminism.

Other people's views aside: Rand inspired me with in her love of human accomplishment, her conviction, her pursuit of rationality, and her passionate belief that she could positively affect the course of human history. Those things I will take with me; the rest was ephemeral.