Friday, December 18, 2020

Assertively and Unapologetically Resisting Rand's Objectivism

It may be a lingering thought, feeling, perception that I inherited from George Woodcock, Canadian Literary Critic, who once observed, in detecting a long-held Canadian search for ‘the Canadian Identity’ that Canadians do not assert what and who we are so much as we assert who and what we are not. 

Seemingly analogous to the Irish method of delivering “directions” to a lost wayfarer, “You don’t go down the road to the right, nor the one to the left, but rather straight ahead at the forks!” There is an ironic profundity in searching for, and in identifying and then selecting which path(s), especially if and when there are several available, you should NOT take. As Canadians ensconced on the North American continent, ‘in bed’ with the behemoth, The United States of America, it is inevitable and inescapable for us to think and imagine ourselves ‘in relation’ to our southern neighbours. And while we boast proudly on the world stage that we are the northern partner in the longest undefended, peaceful national border with another country in the world, inside our borders we are intensely un-American. We abolished capital punishment in 1978, removed suicide from the criminal code around the same time (without media fanfare), and under Pierre Trudeau as Prime Minister, learned equivocally ‘the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation’ while other states debated mostly the demerits of same-sex relationships. We are proud of our national universal health care system, which although overwhelmed with too much need in search of too few resources, nevertheless, has become a bedrock of our county’s perception and value of the ‘brothers’ keeper’ notion of the Good Samaritan. Our police and law enforcement, while armed, rarely use those weapons, and we have never dipped into the ‘three-strikes-you’re-out’ policy on illicit drug use, as the U.S. did in the mid-nineties. We have no private-for-profit prisons, and feel very comfortable with both a for-profit rail (CPR) and national broadcast system(s) (CTV and Global) and a government owned and operated CBC and a government owned and operated rail system (CNR). According to the Canadian Legal Resource Centre, “it would appear that the USA incarcerates 6 times more citizens that Canada. The risk of re-offending also appears to eb twice the rate in the USA than in Canada.”

Our record on race relations, between English and French, as well as between both English and French and indigenous, is certainly not spectacular, or even one of which we can be proud. Separatism, spawned by the FLQ in the seventies, revealed and opened further crevices of superiority/inferiority as many “English-operated” corporations moved their headquarters from Montreal to Toronto and other English-speaking jurisdictions. And with respect to the country’s colonial past, there are still multiple First Nations’ communities without adequate clean water, necessary health care, and access to quality education and opportunities for decent work and incomes. It is only our feigned superiority (unjustified) that continues to permit and to tolerate too many Canadians who consider our nation more ‘compassionate and empathic’ and thus also more ethical on this file, than are the Americans, in their history and legacy of accepting, welcoming and ennobling Americans of brown and black and Asian and indigenous backgrounds.

Another significant difference between our two nations is this: We Canadians clearly do not cringe or resort to the primal scream when we hear the word ‘socialism’ as is the current cultural meme in the U.S. Not only was ‘rugged individualism” championed by president Teddy Roosevelt; it was also made nearly sacred by former Russian emigrant, Any Rand, whose works continue to find readers on both sides of the 49th parallel. In Canada, however, her objectivist ‘philosophy’ has not garnered nearly as significant a foothold as it has in the U.S. And now with the first, and as far as we know, only devotee to Ayn Rand to be president of the U.S., about to exit the Oval Office, having cherry-picked apparently only the most insidious ‘cherries’ from the Ayn Rand tree of selfishness, we are and have been ‘treated’ to one of the more ironic and paradoxical confluences of mutual enmeshment in history: so-called Christian evangelism (and presumed altruism) and trumpist narcissism.

In a 2017 piece in theguardian.com, Jonathan Freedland writes, linking both sides of the Atlantic in devotion to Rand: So the devotion of Toryboys in both their UK and US incarnations, is not new. But Rand’s philosophy of rugged uncompromising individualism—on contempt for both the state and the lazy, conformist world of the corporate boardroom—now has a follower in the White House. What is more, there is a new legion of devotees, one whose influence over our daily lives dwarfs that of most politicians. They are the titans of tech….Objectivism, she called it, distilled by her as the belief that ‘man exists fort his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice other to himself’….an avowed atheist, she was dismissive of any knowledge that was not rooted in what you could see in front of your eyes. She had no patienbce for ‘instinct’ or ‘intuition’..or any form of ‘just knowing’….Perhaps her most significant early follower was Alan Greenspan, later to serve as chairman of the US Federal Reserve for 19 years. …Greenspan in the link between the original Rand cult and what we might think of as the second age of Rand: the Thatcher-Reagan years, when the laissez-faire, free-market philosophy went from the crankish obsession of rightwing economists to the governing credo of Anglo-American capitalism….the third age of Rans came with the financial crash and the presidency of Barack Obama that followed. Spooked by the fear that Obama was bent on expanding the state, the Tea Party and others returned to the old-time religion of rolling back government. As Rand biographer Jennifer Burns told Quartz: ‘In moments of liberal dominance, people turn to her because they see Atlas Shrugged as a prophecy as to what’s going to happen if the government is given too much power.’…(O)ne of the success stories of the 2012 presidential campaign was a bid for the Republican nomination by theo ultra-libertartian and Rand-admiring Texas congressman Ron Paul, father of Senator Rand Paul…Paul offered a radical downsizing of the federal government. Like Ayn Rand, he believed the state’s role should be limited to providing an army, a police force, a court system—and not much else. But Rand presented a problem for US Republicans otherwise keen to embrace her legacy. She was a devout atheist, withering in her disdain for the nonobjectivist mysticism of religion.. Yet inside the Republican party,. Whose with libertarian leanings have only been able to make headway by riding pillion with social conservatives and specifically, white evangelical Christians….Paul Ryan, named as Mitt Romney’s running mate, (another Ayn Rand devotee) played down the Rand influence, preferring to say his philosophy was inspired by St. Thomas Aquinas…(former) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson named Atlas Shrugged as his favourite book…CIA director Mike Pompeo…says Atlas Shrugged ‘really had an impact on me….So why does Trump claim to be inspired by Any Rand? The answer, surely, is that Rand lionises the alpha male capitalist entrepreneur, the man of action who towers over the little people and the pettifogging bureaucrats—and gets things done. As Jennifer Burns puts it: ‘For a long time, she (Any Rand) has been beloved by disruptors, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, people who see themselves as shaping the future, taking risky bets, moving out in front of everyone else, relying on their own instincts, intuition and knowledge and going against the grain….(the new wave of Randians) are the princes of Silicon Valley, the masters of the start-up…driven by their own genius to remake the world and damn the consequences….Steve Jobs is said by his Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, to have regarded Atlas Shrugged as one of his ‘guides in life’….No wonder the tech companies don’t mind destroying, say, the taxi business or the traditional news media. Such concerns are beneath the young, powerful men at the top: even to listen to such concerns would be to betray the singularity of their own pure vision. It would be to break Rand’s golden rule, by which the visionary must never sacrifice himself to others….(Rand’s) is an ideology that denounces altruism, elevates individualism into a faith and gives a spurious moral licence to raw selfishness. That it is having a moment no is no shock. Such an ideology will find a ready audience for as long as there are human beings who feel the rush of greed and the lure of unchecked power, longing to succumb to both without guilt. Which is to say: for ever.

Now, what if, just supposing, those 74 million voters for trump were even exposed to such a dominating, eviscerating and life-destroying thought process, predicated on the jungle-version of the survival of the fittest, and based on an inordinate and tragic seizure of her father’s business in Soviet Russia as her worst nightmare, and then transplanted into the Hollywood movie business, the Valhalla of her dreams? What if, just perchance, those 74 million have already been seduced by the wildest tentacles of Rand’s selfishness, including the pursuit of greed and power without guilt, and also without responsibility, and that is the prospect facing the Biden administration in January? Amid all of the crises designed and imposed by the trump cabal and left hanging like a thunder-cloud over the immediate and medium-term future, Biden’s honourable and worthy vision, and even attempts to enact an American vision that include and embraces even the most minimal expression of altruism, (like universal health care, access to quality education, a clean environment, and the desperately needed millions of jobs) can easily and feasibly be seen through a lens (and gavel) held sacred by McConnell, Graham, Rand Paul, and others and potentially doomed to atrophy in the political wasteland seeded by people like Ayn Rand.

And it is not only the specific “idolatries” to which Rand submits, and then promulgates onto her unsuspecting ‘sycophants,’ it is also the attitudes, and the careening arrogance, hubris and elimination of all responsibility for the ‘road-kill’ that is left in the wake of the Rand tidal wave that so obviates a civilization. Business plans, necessarily, have to paint pictures of short-and-medium-term goals and strategies to achieve stability, profitability and sustainability. However, those plans, and the people designing and executing those plans, will last longer, in personal terms, as well as in business survival terms, through an approach that blends the pursuit of profit with an authentic care and responsibility for both those in their employ, and in their communities. Profit and social conscience, including altruism are not antithetical. And the social conscious/altruism factor in the equation can no longer be merely tokenism, a one-off, a grand theatrical gesture. It must be a sustained, committed, honourable and humble acknowledgment of real need. It must never patronize, and never objectify those in need. It must also listen to the authentic depiction of need that carries dignity and respect, if and when it is met. It must recognize that a social conscience/altruism is not merely a passing fad to glue a halo around the corporate brand, or logo or advertisement. And it must never ‘use’ and then ‘toss’ off a single person.

The crisis posed, not only by trump, but also by the millions of objectivist devotees and insurgents, cannot and will not be mediated only by the power and levers of government. In Canada, talk and policies and budgets that include support in the short and medium term for individuals, families and businesses, depend on the continuing critical scrutiny of each of us. Golf courses that pocket millions of COVID relief for their investors do not grow confidence in the best intentions of any government. Neither do corporations that grab public relief, while ignoring basic safety and security and health standards for long-term care facilities. We are living through a period when the “who” of our person, our neighbourhood, town and village, and our corporation or business enterprise will be determined by our commitment to a balanced, equitable, sustainable and yes, profitable, vision. Our people are not our pawns in our personal chess game, subservient to our personal/business goals. Our communities are not merely the ‘bank accounts’ from which we seek to vacuum dollars for our goods or our services. And, the patients in our hospitals, long-term care facilities, and the students in our classrooms are not merely digits on our spread-sheets, detailing our projected revenues, profits, graduations and tuition fees.

Indeed, the perspectives of our institutions must never be squeezed into an equation that would fit into the Rand formula for success. Universities, colleges and school systems, for example, have to think, vision and operate on parameters that stretch beyond “career-skills” (STEM) and extend into the imponderables, for every student, for each generation. It is indeed the mysticism and the pondering of all of those wonderful mysteries that provides each of us, and through us, our culture and civilization with its most valuable and indispensable asset: its capacity and commitment to dream. And that dream is not exclusive to those making the highest profits. It is directly dependent on the reservoir of prophets on whose imagination we all depend.

As Canadians might say, "This (objectivism from Any Rand) is not who we are or who we want to be!"

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