by Hart Williams © 1998
Look around you, right now,
and see how many artificial objects you see were created solely by a single
Years ago, when I was at Texas Christian University, majoring in Philosophy, I was required to write a Junior Honors Philosophy Seminar paper, which, of course, required an approved topic.
We didnt call it "Political Correctness" then, but that was the effect: I wanted to write a paper on Ayn Randwhom Id been reading, and had a vague uneasy niggling about in the back of my head. This was, of course, utterly beyond the pale, as was explained to me by my ever-PC Departmental Counselor, with "NO ONE takes Ayn Rand seriously," and there it stood until I dropped out of university that spring. No explanations, but a sneer of contempt.
Now, I find myself redrawn to the question, with the following observation: While no "real" philosophers might take Ayn Rand seriously, I note that her chief disciple, Alan Greenspan, heads the Federal Reserve Board, and I see an awful lot of people reading Ayn Rands books at airports. So, perhaps that paper was germane after all.
You see, we Americans (and Western Civilization in general) are obsessed with "individualism," whose patron saint Ayn Rand was. The Freemen declared themselves to be "sovereign": above governmental control, a law unto themselves. And the tree-sitters of last June 1 were willing to stand as a law unto themselves, but unwilling to cast their lot with the US Attorney on behalf of their fellow citizens. In both cases, the subtext of "individual sovereignty" comes powerfully into play. And, like most deeply divisive assumptions, the underlying premises are never enunciated.
So, its time to finish that old homeworkPC or not. Bear with me....
This concept of untrammeled "individualism" is wrecking our ability to handle political and social questions effectively. The Freemen are an example: the problem is always the "gum-mint" stepping in and screwing with our sovereignty. Ollie North (that great disciple of rugged individualism and personal conscience: "If my commander-In-Chief tells me to take that hill, I take that hill, no questions asked.") came to Oregon a couple of weeks ago to preach personal and national sovereignty (and to compare we Oregonians with Nazis for passing the "Death with Dignity" law).
The (unstated) premise runs something like this: "I am a sovereign Individual, and only submit to the force of law/government by force."
No one ever challenges this this implicit assumption even though its cockamamie when you start to take it apart.
Ayn Rands premise was that "collectivism" was dangerous since it took from all according to their abilities, and gave to all according to their needs. In The Fountainhead, our hero, architect Howard Roark (modeled after Frank Lloyd Wright) continually sees his "genius" bastardized by committee. Finally, Peter Keating, his old college room-mate, who has made a great career of analytical incompetence and socializing skills (which Rand seems to contemptuously consider the Mark of Cain) asks Roarks help with a public housing project. Roark agrees to ghost the plans, if Keating will not allow changes.
Well, Roark has mistaken invertibrate Keating for someone with backbone, and the plans are altered after about five minutes of pressure. Roark then blows up the hideous monstrosity and goes on trial, where he makes long and interminable speeches on his right to the fruits of his own genius.
To make a long story short, Roark gets off scot free, as the jury buys this cock and bull story, and never once asks: "What about the genius of the carpenters, or the plumbers, or the hod carriers? Doesnt their genius count for anything beside Roarks?"
According to Rand, not at all. And the Freemen would agree with her, as tends the Libertarian Party. But I still have a problem with the premise that Howard Roark exists in vacuo: he didnt make the paper he drew on, or the pencil. He didnt construct the building, fabricate the materials, or even the dynamite and the detonator he used. These were all created by many men. We accept that were monkeys, but we refuse to admit that were also ants.
Look around you, right now, and see how many artificial objects you see were created solely by a single human being.
None or virtually none, right?
Where does our hive-like ability to cooperatively create this civilization come in? Good question.
(continued next week)