George Monbiot's abject failure to understand Ayn Rand
One of the Guardian's most stereotypical writers gets Ayn Rand completely wrong
Lordy! Another wild swipe at Ayn Rand, this time from George Monbiot in the Guardian. She's dead! Yet, inexplicably, her insane ideas live on! Selfishness. Parasites. “The philosophy of the psychopath … millions blithely volunteer themselves as billionaires' doormats … a demigod at the head of a chiliastic cult.” Chill indeed!
And then we have this truly vile description of poor people: the “dangerous class”, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of the old society…” [Hang on - wasn’t that someone else? Ed]
You might have thought that a distinguished Guardian columnist and thinker might take the time to talk to just one – one! - person who has read Ayn Rand’s books to ask what value is in them. You would be disappointed. Much more fun to write off huge numbers of people (especially Americans) as stupid and greedy.
Mr Monbiot nevertheless gets one thing more or less right. He notes that“Objectivism is absorbed, secondhand, by people who have never read it”,a category of people which appears to include himself.
Thus he asserts that in Atlas Shrugged “the poor die like flies as a result of government programmesand their own sloth and fecklessness.”As a description of what happens in the book this is incorrect. But Ayn Rand's books were conceived and written when poor people really were dying like flies as a result of government programmes. Her whole point was to show that collectivist/socialist policies of the sort typically favoured by generations of Guardian fellow-travellers trend in this inhuman direction.
Mr Monbiot fairly points us to the extraordinary train crash passage in Atlas Shrugged. (A passage so far-reaching in its analysis of socialism that Mr Monbiot’s fellow journalist and creative writer Johann Hari had to rewrite it.)
According to Mr Monbiot, “all the passengers in a train filled with poisoned fumes deserved their fate. One, for instance, was a teacher who taught children to be team players; one was a mother married to a civil servant, who cared for her children; one was a housewife "who believed that she had the right to elect politicians, of whom she knew nothing".
Let's look more closely at the Monbiot claim that according to Rand the passengers on the train did "deserve their fate". What precisely does “deserve” mean?
It's a subtle, slippery word, increasingly co-opted by collectivists as part of a psychological power-play to assert their moral superiority over the rest of us.
It can be used in a direct, specific way to describe a contract fairly fulfilled ("As we agreed, I have painted your door to your specification -- I deserve to be paid the contract price").
Or it can reflect the moral logic of punishment ("You deliberately attacked that woman with no provocation -- you deserve to lose your liberty for five years").
Two more categories. A man jumps into the tiger enclosure at the zoo and taunts the tiger. He gets attacked and eaten. Meanwhile his brother decides to live among grizzly bears in the wild - a high-risk lifestyle. One day a bored bear attacks and eats him. In each case the man has put himself into a situation where a reasonably foreseeable outcome was being eaten. Is that grim result not in some sense “deserved”?
After that it turns into an open-ended, almost abstract assertion. I worked hard at school so I deserve a good job. Leeds United are a big club and deserve to be in the Premier League. The people of Greece don't deserve what's happening to them now.
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