Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ayn Rand: I loved you once

Yes, that's right. There was a time in my life when I thought that Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were great stories. I loved the hero, Howard Roark, for his refusal to compromise his principles, his dedication to his art/architecture, his "selfishness."

I was young then. I was an evangelical Christian. I was grasping for a story that would help me shore up my apparent lack of ability to assert my individualistic self. I was a newly arrived immigrant and reading the novels helped me to develop the "art of selfishness" so that I could put up with this culture. In turn, it was also suffocating my sense of Kapwa but undecolonized as I was then, I thought I had no choice. I was wrong.

Well, I can be gracious towards Ayn Rand and say that this "art of selfishness" was a roundabout route to my decolonization. Precisely because it didn't work, I was, slowly and surely, led out of the dark tunnel so I could make my way back to the value of Kapwa.

So I was rather surprised when I read that conservative Christians were loving Ayn Rand. Christianity is about compassion, not selfishness. But, of course, it's more complicated than that. Once evangelical Christians wedded their faith to their sense of patriotism, it became easier to find a metanarrative that would rationalize their belief. The USA is God's chosen country. It is founded on white/Eurocentric values; it is English-speaking. It was built on the foundation of individualism, competition, survival of the fittest. That is why they love Ayn Rand. Selfishness here means: My country is being invaded by people who are not like us. These immigrants are not from Europe. They have different values and beliefs. They will destroy our country eventually if we do not protect our own.

This sense of ownership, of entitlement is what people who love Ayn Rand cling to. I have relatives who love Ayn Rand. They can't stand the idea that we are now in a "post-America" world (as Fareed Zakaria argues in his book of the same title) and that the US is no longer no. 1, nor considered as relevant as it once was in the eyes of the rest of the world.

My relatives blame higher education (too liberal!), they blame homosexuals (it's a sin!), they blame people of color (they come from third world countries!), they blame poor people (they are lazy!). Yes, they admit that they believe in American exceptionalism.  They are angry because they perceive something is being taken away from them. This fear of losing their something is what I feel fuels the fear-mongering that has engulfed the airwaves. This fear is not capable of historical analysis nor reflection. The shadow material that fuels this fear remains unconscious that is why it is so emotionally potent. Nothing sells like Fear in the dying days of manic capitalism.

I generally do not watch television anymore but when I was asked my opinion about Paul Ryan, I felt that I should be informed before I open my mouth. I read that Paul Ryan loves Ayn Rand and makes her books required reading for his staff. And I can see how this empowers Paul and gives him that charisma - the single-minded pursuit of his own truth (about the deficit, medicare, etc).  Howard Roark, Ayn Rand's hero, however, never went into politics. There is the difference. And plus, Ayn Rand was an atheist...so there.

Ahh! I did love Ayn Rand once, too.

1 comment:

  1. I too loved Ayn Rand for the reasons you've already mentioned. Used in the context of Paul Ryan's belief of selfishness stems from the belief that there is no afterlife so take what you can now. But I think in the bigger scheme of things, the tension between the Father Sky myth of creation wherein God put us in charge of all dominion versus the Earth Mother myth of all matter is infused with spirit, a more animistic view of nature that indigenous people have as their tacit knowledge, the tension between these two cultures like the tension between the Filipino and the American in me must give birth to something new.

    Yes, I think the fact that Howard was an artist/architect, not a politician, made the "I as god" illusion, more palatable.