"This book [Atlas Shrugged] should not be thrown away lightly. It should be thrown with great force!" --Dorothy ParkerThe first time I'd heard the word "deprogramming" was probably in connection with Korean war veterans who had to be treated for the brainwashing they'd received at the hands of their communist prison guards. The movie The Manchurian Candidate later made use of this background to produce a political thriller.
Since Korea, of course, there have been other variations of brainwashing, from college fraternities to religious cults to even cults of philosophers. And it is here that I come to the title of this article. From the time I was 25 or so, I have been "under the influence," perhaps literally, of Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Here are some things I should say up front, lest Rand fans start bombarding me with hate mail. I am not saying that people who follow the works of Rand are cultists (though some writers have). I am speaking here of my own personal reactions to Rand's philosophy and my gradual backing away from the bulk of it.
Rand is a believer in radical individualism, every man an Atlas, capable of carrying the world on his shoulders. As such, she held with the notion that the individual and his (or her) free intellect should form the basis of a philosophy of rational self interest. She believed very strongly in capitalism, freedom, and the right of the individual to think for himself. I'm not arguing with any of those in theory. The problem was Rand's practice, as depicted in her fiction and nonfiction.
Let's start with the first thing that rubbed me the wrong way about Rand: she had no sense of humor. She had no appreciation of folly or error as the eventual sources of inspiration, salvation, or creativity. For her, the only way to achievement was through strict hard work and direct logic. Heaven help the man (in Rand's view) who admitted to being wrong in his convictions or laughed at himself for any sort of error. Achievement was a serious business, and there's no room for the weak in that mix. If you're a questioning, doubting sort of guy like I am, that can be a little hard to take. And if you read any of Rand's books, it becomes quite clear that she didn't laugh much herself. Certainly her characters don't. Some might call that a lack of warmth. I did.
A second issue I had with Rand was her radical atheism, which I absorbed for a period and quickly found myself becoming as personally unpleasant as some of the people who tried to force their particular religion down my throat. And yes, I've had a few experiences since then that have brought me back to God and religion.
But the most pernicious aspect of Rand is her misunderstanding and mistrust of any form of altruism...doing for others. Even in personal relationships, Rand believed that a husband sacrificing for his wife or a mother doing for her children was not a sacrifice if those individuals' welfare were in the selfish interest of the actor. The notion of doing unto others or for one's partner to make them happy or for their good seems to have eluded her, not just as an essential good, but as an essential part of being human. With that willingness to do good comes empathy, something that makes other people's concerns of interest to you, even if you have no vested interest in their personal success. In the end, though, if you only stay in a relationship for what good YOU get out of it, you're missing half the joy and purpose of that relationship. I am learning, as I get older and more engaged with others that my relationships with people ultimately matter more than what I "get" out of those relationships, at least in the selfish terms Rand would use to define gain.
In the end, Rand's philosophy is just another dead-end attempt to put man and man's selfish interests at the center of all things, when history has proven time and again that unless individuals are answering to each other, a Higher Power, or both, they are likely to fall into a pit where might makes right, the strong survive, the needs of the weak are cast aside, and the core of what makes us human--the family--suffers.