Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Evan McMurry on the Influence of Ayn Rand's Psychopathic Theories on Today's GOP and (via Nathaniel Branden) American Pop Psychology

**This entry was posted on October 7, 2014.**

I would like post a recap of a wonderful piece on the AlterNet site by writer Evan McMurry on the weird and widespread influence of Ayn Rand's psychopathic "Objectivist" theories on the American political hard right, which is now more or less coterminous with the Republican Party, and on those who call themselves libertarians (link embedded):

Using a recent Last Week Tonight with John Oliver episode in which Oliver ponders the question of why so many people are into the "dreck" of Ayn Rand's Objectivist claptrap philosophy as a launching point, McMurry recounts Rand's own personal history and how it shaped her Objectivist philosophy.

McMurry notes how that philosophy was roundly rejected in her own time by the cognoscenti from literary critics to philosophers to, yes, (according to Jennifer Burns in her book Goddess of the Marketplace) even Frank Lloyd Wright, only to have it develop a literal cult-like following in large measure due to the efforts of Nathaniel Branden, her "longtime lover, business partner, and protégé." (Branden, by the way, is still alive at age 84.)

McMurry points out that it was Branden's best-selling 1969 book The Psychology of Self-Esteem that actually popularized the concept of "self esteem" in the American popular psyche, where it remains stuck today.

McMurry states that Rand's notions of capitalist economics were merged as a "metaphysical theory ... in which industry became the incorporated expression of the individual will. Objectivism was less about the rational distribution of resources or allocation of profits than it was a vision of how the economy and the human will realized each other."

Today, this obscene concept has been realized in the Supreme Court decision Citizens United that corporations are basically human beings (maybe even more human than human beings).

The concept has also been fully absorbed by the Republican Party, most notably Rep. Paul Ryan with his outright immoral budget proposals calling for massive upward transfers of wealth and destruction of the basic framework of FDR's New Deal (to say nothing of LBJ's Great Society).

McMurry writes:

"[Ryan's] massive upward redistribution of wealth is portrayed as a rational rescue of the producer class, the engines that selflessly generate the economy for the rest of us. It's the encapsulation of Rand’s central ideal of economic activity as morality, one that anoints the moneyed elite as not only deserving but Good."

McMurry continues:

"The belief that entrepreneurs are a fusion of personal and economic invention is not an idea exclusive to Rand, though she certainly invoked Edison and the Wright brothers as examples of her self-made, and self-making, supermen; it was Rand’s elaboration of the corporation as a cathectic object, through which the energy of the individual is projected and embodied, that made it hers."

Not surprisingly, these ideas are lapped up by business leaders, in particular by all those shitty, megalomaniacal libertarian dot-com, technology, and venture capitalist types in Silicon Valley who believe that technology and the degenerate internet will usher in some John Galt paradise.

Again, McMurry: "Rand and the ascendant brand of tech entrepreneurs don't see corporations as people but a select echelon of people as creative energy literally incorporated. Corporations aren’t people; people are corporations."

But where things get weird -- and this gets to McMurry's final point -- is how Branden altered the direction and purpose of Rand's Objectivist psychopathologies:

"Branden retained pillars of Objectivism, such as self-awareness via rationality and an immediacy between conviction and actions, but changed the goal from metaphysical triumph to personal happiness."

It is here that his book The Psychology of Self-Esteem comes into play with its popularization of those aspects of Rand's Objectivist philosophy in a way that he (McMurry) theorizes the ultra-elitist Rand herself would have hated, in this case, through the prism of American mass consumerism and the entertainment culture.

Here is the ending, quoted in full:

Oliver featured a clip from a snotty reality show as a vulgar example of Rand's "virtue of selfishness," but it was more an example of her views filtered through Branden's psychological conception and several decades of American consumerism. Rand viewed economic activity as morality, which (theoretically at least) entailed the creative energies of the producer.

But Branden raided Rand's theory and distributed the cause of individual fulfillment to the second-handers. Where Rand praised Howard Roark as the rare hero, Branden allowed everyone be their own Howard Roark.

Rand, ever the elitist, would have loathed such a popular end. If she were alive today, she might, like Oliver, wonder about why everyone was so into her.

My own view is that Rand was enough of an egomaniac that she actually would have liked the adulation and cult-like following.

Either way, good stuff to think about.


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