DISSECTING RAND: PART II: William Edward Hickman & Ayn Rand

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Why on earth would anyone give credence to anything written by a woman like Ayn Rand?

“...Her view of economics starkly divided the world into a contest between “moochers” and “producers,” with the small group making up the latter generally composed of the spectacularly wealthy, the successful, and the titans of industry. The “moochers” were more or less everyone else, leading TNR’s Jonathan Chait to describe Rand’s thinking as a kind of inverted Marxism. Marx considered wealth creation to result solely from the labor of the masses, and viewed the owners of capital and the economic elite to be parasites feeding off that labor.

Rand simply reversed that value judgment, applying the role of “parasite” to everyday working people instead. On the level of personal behavior, the heroes in Rand’s novels commit borderline rape, blow up buildings, and dynamite oil fields — actions which Rand portrays as admirable and virtuous fulfillments of the characters’ personal will and desires.

Her early diaries gush with admiration for William Hickman, a serial killer who raped and murdered a young girl. Hickman showed no understanding of “the necessity, meaning or importance of other people,” a trait Rand apparently found quite admirable. For good measure, Rand dismissed the feminist movement as “false” and “phony,” denigrated both Arabs and Native Americans as “savages” (going so far as to say the latter had no rights and that Europeans were right to take North American lands by force) and expressed horror that taxpayer money was being spent on government programs aimed at educating “subnormal children” and helping the handicapped.

Needless to say, when Rand told Mike Wallace in 1953 that altruism was evil, that selfishness is a virtue, and that anyone who succumbs to weakness or frailty is unworthy of love, she meant it….”

The Awl

The Awl

Was Rand a psychopath?

“…Although Rand was not a psychopath, she nonetheless unwittingly aspired to an emotional life that comes closer to that attained by psychopaths than by normal people. In the first place, Rand seems to have disliked many of the emotions psychopaths are incapable of experiencing, such as guilt, shame, and embarrassment; and if Rand herself had ever experienced either guilt or shame, she kept this fact very much to herself. At the same time, Rand normally portrays guilt as a negative emotion, as something which should only be experienced by those who have committed moral infractions. Guilt was an emotion used by altruists to manipulate individuals for evil ends. “Guilt is altruism’s stock in trade,” she wrote, “and the inducing of guilt is its only means of self-perpetuation.” It is an emotion experienced by villains and failures, not by heroes and Objectivists.

Guilt and shame were emotions Rand wished to banish from herself and from her ideal man; which is a rather odd desideratum, considering that being free of guilt is a characteristic of psychopaths. Rand’s ideal man constitutes a strange mixture: half psychopath, half moral visionary.

A guilt-free conscience was not the only ideal Rand aspired to that had the whiff of psychopathy about it. Rand also scorned excessive concern for what other people thought. Such concerns were sometimes regarded as a symptom of “social metaphysics” (defined by one Objectivist polemicist as “the privileging of others’ opinions over reality as the ultimate arbiter of truth and value”). Psychological evidence demonstrates that most human beings are (in the words of Jonathan Haidt) “obsessively concerned about what others think” of them. [ibid, 91] We are hardwired that way; and it would be a very miserable world if it weren’t so. Who are the exceptions?

Who are these great heroes who do not care about what other people think and are thereby free of the horrid taint of social metaphysics? Not Ayn Rand. The author of The Fountainhead did in fact care what others thought (at least part of the time). After all, if she didn’t care what others thought, why did she demand strict unanimity of both thought and feeling among her acolytes? If she didn’t care what others thought, why was she so upset at Whittaker Chamber’s review of Atlas Shrugged, or Sidney Hook’s review of For the New Intellectual? Those of Rand’s admirers who insist that Rand didn’t care about what others thought are doing her a disservice.

For as it turns out, the only people who don’t care about what other people think are psychopaths. And why would any of Rand’s admirers insist that she exhibited a personality trait that is an exclusive property of psychopaths?…”

Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature
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