Sunday, June 29, 2014

Comment on *Atlas Shrugged*

This isn't a thorough review. Rather, it's a reply to a post about the book on the Kinky Intellectuals' Book Club group at Fetlife.com.

I had mixed feelings when I read the book. On one hand, its valorization of individuality has understandable appeal for anyone who's been conditioned to accept a coercive and inauthentic "altruism" that says thinking and caring for yourself are "selfish." (I call this inauthentic because it results in behavior motivated by guilt or fear of criticism, rather than an actual desire to help others.) The problem is that it falsely implies that that's the only kind of altruism there is, and uses this false dichotomy to justify an equally unbalanced sort of egoism. It thereby misses the point that humans, by our social nature, can only realize our individuality through sociality, just as surely as we can only really contribute socially by being individuals. It then conflates general values like rationality and independent thinking with the historically contingent social system of capitalism.

There is irony in the fact that, on account of insistence on such faulty logic, and notwithstanding all the lip service Rand gave to independent thinking, she actually brooked none in her own personal circle, which has often been likened to a cult. And this problem didn't end with Rand's death. In fact, some groups that pay homage to her seem to engage in worse forms of psychological manipulation than any she practiced herself -- in particular, the practice of "de-FOOing," or cutting off one's family of origin, as promoted at the website you linked to. Because this is encouraged in followers who are mostly college or even high school-age, and don't yet have extensive social networks, it's a very effective way of bringing them under Stefan Molyneux's control.

As a survivor of a different cultic group, I have met (through the International Cultic Studies Association, www.icsahome.com) people who were cut off by their children for years at Molyneux's instigation. Fortunately, some have broken free of his influence and reunited with their parents.

If you want to explore anarchocapitalist ideas, check out www.fdrliberated.com, where many ex-FDR and other libertarian people congregate online. These ideas aren't exactly my cup of tea -- I'm more of a libertarian socialist myself, a la Rosa Luxemburg or Noam Chomsky. But debating ideology with you is less urgent to me than ensuring you can explore the ideas that interest you in a way that won't endanger you psychologically through processes of undue influence. Not to mention that the more democratic atmosphere at the non-FDR site will let you explore all of these ideas, and not just those that are amenable to Molyneux.

As a side note, I thought parts of *Atlas Shrugged* were, in literary terms, atrociously repetitive. I felt that if I had a nickel for every time I read "the face without pain or fear or guilt," I'd be wealthy.

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