Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Objective Ayn Rand

A Movie Review

In my high school speech and debate program we had this kid named Mike Rolig. Mike Rolig was an Ayn Rand nut, obsessed with the lady and her work and we teased him about it endlessly. But truth be told I knew very little about Ms. Rand at the time, mostly just that she was a rabid capitalist and free thinker. In 1997 the documentary film Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life was nominated for an Academy Award and I made a mental note to myself to see it later on. In 2002 I finally saw the film and must confess that it was very well done. Ayn Rand came across as a women of great conviction and strength, what she said seemed to make sense and I remember thinking that hers was perhaps the best philosophy for a theoretical 'godless' world. I saw the film adaptation of he novel The Fountainhead around the same time.

Whereas I used to think that Rands school of thought, (known as Objectivism) was a sharp and coherent secularist philosophy, I now think it is a dangerous cult! Now as a member of a religious organization that is often denigrated with that term I do not use it lightly, but after having watched the Showtime movie The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999), (which is based on the 1986 book of the same name by former Rand disciple Barbara Branden) I no longer think that. Like many systems that look good on paper Rands ideas about how the individual pursuit of selfish desires would ultimately be the best regulator for society,( kind of like Adam Smiths invisible hand of the marketplace) actually sows more sorrow then liberation.

Passion is not the life spanning bio-pic I was hopping to see when I rented the film. Anticipating the epic story of a Russian women who immigrated to America, befriended Cecil B. DeMille, wrote a couple of really long books, and founded a conservative to libertarian leaning movement, I instead got a 'intimate' little story covering the relationship of an already established Ryn (Helen Mirren) with her one-time designated successor Nathaniel Branden (Eric Stoltz). The two conducted a prolonged affair that they forced their spouses, played by Peter Fonda and Julie Delpy, to accept. Trapped by a philosophical system of abstraction and near impossible to obtain behavioral ideals and growing more and more distant from reality all parties to this arrangement suffered greatly and unnecessarily. While I recognize the description in the previous sentence as being largley applicable to most organized religions what Objectism lacks that Christianity and other such systems have is a sense of compassion. A philosophy built on selfishness dismisses the more nobel elements of humanity and destroys the soul. Barabra was lucky to have ultimately escaped from it.

In one of the DVD's special features the films director Christopher Menaul comments that when working on and researching for this film he discovered that most of the converts to Rands philosophy were people who read her books at a young and impressionable point in their lives, say from late teens to early twenties. When I watched the Rand biography that made so much sense I was 22, I can only wonder what might have happened to me had I been truly exposed to the teachings of Objectivism at a young age and without an alternative belief system as an anchor. I don't think Ayn Rand was just trying to con people, I have no reason to doubt that she really believed what she was saying. Never-the-less what a dark life to live for conviction, she was not an evil person but I can't call her good. Its really hard for me to say what I think of this movie as a film, surfice it to say it got its point across, but it left me with one of those hole in the pit of your stomach feelings. The Passion of Ayn Rand is not the heroic story of a savior figure, but of a lost women and her followers. With all due respect to Mike Rolig (who really was no stranger then your avarge debater).


At 11:24 PM, Blogger Nate Dredge said...

Granted one should probably not make most decisions based on TV movies, but this was pretty hard-hitting stuff writen by a presumabley reliabel source (who hereself did not take as 'extreme' a position as I have argued on the matter). I will probably be looking more into this whole Ayn Rand thing in the near future (granting that my review here posted is based largely on first impressions from the film), so I may post again on this subject in the future.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Teresa said...

Hint: Read some Rand.
Hint 2: Who is that horrible immitation of Rand you have posted??
Hint 3: How she lived her life and how she thought life ought to be lived are clearly two separate issues.
Hint 4: Did I say you should read some Rand?

Sorry to hear you returned to the Dark Side...

At 5:19 PM, Blogger Nate Dredge said...

Rand immitation is Helen Mirren.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger Tony Donadio said...

It's ironic that you should raise the question of whether Rand was "trying to con people" with her ideas, because that is precisely the agenda of the very subject of your post: Barbara Branden's thoroughly dishonest memoir, and the awful TV movie that was made from it.

You might want to think twice before swallowing the Brandens' accounts as accurate. They are not. They are so loaded with falsehoods, in fact, that it took an entire book to debunk them: The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics, by James Valliant.

Valliant's book contains over 400 pages of meticulously researched analysis, and reproduces large sections of Ayn Rand's own journals, which were made available by her estate. And it gives the lie to Brandens' absurd psychological depiction of Rand, which you simply repeat uncritically in your article. Valliant's book is required reading for anyone who wants to publicly comment on the alleged lessons to be drawn about Ayn Rand's ideas from the Brandens' self-serving account of her life -- or at least, those who want not to do so in ignorance.

There is an important lesson to be learned from Valliant's book for precisely those who have been misled into accepting these smears about Ayn Rand. This lesson is summed up eloquently by Wendy McElroy, a libertarian writer, at the end of her review of the book:

"Nevertheless, The Passion accomplishes one of the psychological goals Valliant intended. To a significant degree the book restored to me and (I believe) others a better opinion of "Rand the woman." For one thing, it was important to me that NBI, a beacon of light in the cultural darkness, had not been shattered by a pathetic aging woman who had taken a fancy to a younger man. Her actions are now understandable and no longer inexplicably vicious. Also, as a result of Valliant's arguments, I no longer accept certain previously assumed facts that had lowered my opinion of "Rand the woman." For example, I find no reason to believe Frank O'Connor was an alcoholic – a condition to which many people presumed "the affair" had driven him or made more chronic."

To use one of Rand's own favorite phrases: if you've been conned into believing these lies about Ayn Rand, then "check your premises." You will find that a whole host of them are wrong.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger Nate Dredge said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:45 AM, Blogger Nate Dredge said...

I'll be looking into this more.

At 9:52 PM, Blogger GlennBeckFan said...

Wow, talk about a post generating a lot of discussion! I would like to add my two cents to all of this by saying, that only 1 in 2 billion people live to be 116, and that Chuck Norris invented the spoon because killing people with knives is too easy!

At 11:13 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Okay, I just decided to check out my current Google search hits, and this is number 1. A little funny to me. In high school, I was an Ayn Rand nut -- but I'm now a recovering Objectivist. Interesting what our legacies become.


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