The film opening for Ayn Rand's “Atlas
Shrugged,” opened recently. My son, Arthur, said he wanted to see
it, so we went. Dozens of people I know had waited for decades for
this movie to make it to the theater. As reported, the characters
were flat. Attempts to draw parallels between the predictions made by
Rand in her book of 1958 to what we face today fail both badly and
sadly. I was strongly reminded of a conversation I had, years ago,
with my former husband about fantasies that don't work. I would bet
Craig was there in the theater on opening night, despite what I am
about to tell you.
Craig and I were married and living in
Santa Barbara when, one night, Craig asked me in a puzzled voice, “I
can't make my fantasy come out the way I want.” I looked up
from the book I was reading. “What?”
Fantasies are part of our inner lives
and generally it is a good thing when fantasies remain private. From
the look on Craig's face it was clear he was sincerely puzzled,
unable to understand his failure to marshal his not inconsiderable
intellect in this task of pure unreality. But, according to what he
told me that evening, this was not for lack of trying. His face was
crumpled and red. He looked like a man in the throes of an arduous
task or badly constipated.
You could see he was hesitating to tell
me the details. I waited, attentive, dispassionate.
As expected, Craig's need for advice
overcame any hesitancy to share the details. Others who know Craig
have noted his disconnect from what is generally normal. I sensed
this would be one such occasion.
“It starts out fine. I'm in the
torch of the Statue of Liberty, looking out on New York. Ayn Rand is
standing there with me as we gaze out on the city, waiting for the
lights to go out.”
If you are not familiar with Rand's
work you need to know the final denouement of the book, “Atlas
Shrugged” includes the moment when the lights of New York wink out
because her Nietzscheian super-heroes have turned their backs on the
world, thus canceling all electric power. Craig fancies himself one
of the supermen who gather in Galt's Gulch, awaiting the awareness of
how essential they are to the world to dawn in those Left Behind.
Craig went on, “I am holding Ayn
in my arms. She is saying, “No, no, I cannot be unfaithful to Frank
Frank is Frank O'Connor, Rand's
long-suffering husband. Nathaniel is Nathaniel Branden, Rand's lover,
25 years her junior. Rand inflicted her fantasy life liberally on
others, many of them very close to her. Rand lived out her fantasies
and coerced those nearest and dearest to her to put up with these
fantasies, justifying them as the rational, necessary, logic of her
ideas and values. Frank had to leave the couple's apartment as
Branden was arriving to help Rand with her fantasy life.
By his own report, Craig, the only
person who ever stalked Ayn Rand, was obsessed with Rand and jealous
of Branden. Craig sent Rand copies of his papers on math, which Rand
could not understand and so appreciate. Craig sat for hours in the
lobby of her apartment building, dressed in a newly purchased Brooks
Brothers suit, his finger nails manicured, hair cut, shoes shined,
holding orchids for Ayn for quite some time. He also made himself
known to her in ways which resulted in a nasty stay-away letter from
Craig's fantasy continued. “I
pulled out two documents to show Ayn. That day I had paid Frank and
Nathaniel to end their relationships with her. I handed Ayn
quit-claim deeds from Frank and Nathaniel, who, I told her, were even
then leaving the city.”
What perplexed Craig, because he could
not change it to conform with his fantasy, was Ayn decking him with a
fast right and left punch, just as he tries to embrace her.
Craig looked to me for understanding.
I pointed out his fantasy was
diametrically opposed to the reality he had experienced. Rand loathed
him and adamantly refused to have anything to do with him, by his own
report. Perhaps this failure was the rational reaction of his mind
when asked to distort reality. Craig paused, considering. Clearly, he
did not like the answer provided.
I don't know if he ever managed to get
a different outcome with this particular fantasy, the subject then
Emotionally normal people move beyond
the ideas of Ayn Rand by examining them in detail and understanding
the source of the attraction. But many retain a fondness, in the same
category as enjoyed earlier with fairy tales.
When Rand was first writing Nietzsche
ideas had more traction, as less was known about psychopathy and the
neurobiology of the human mind. People in their late teens and early
twenties often go through a period of playing with the idea they are
'special' in this way. Most recover.
The assertion some group is superior,
possessing a right to live by different standards, expressed itself
in two other venues in America during the 20th
Century. The first was through the work
of Edward Bernays
, the father of propaganda,
whose work in what he called 'public relations,' also known as
propaganda. This became the tool which remade American culture at
exactly the time Rand what it meant to be an American. The second
came out of the thinking of Leo
where those 'destined to rule' were
empowered to take whatever action needed to take control. This is the
explicit tool used by the Neoconservatives.
Ideas, theology and philosophy, are
early human tools used to create a common set of values and
expectations, allowing humanity to function in a world of human
design, beyond the hard-wiring of the human brain. But going beyond
that small town took humanity onto dangerous ground.
Humanity originates from a human
culture of small groups where it was possible for all individuals to
know each other well and so reliably predict the behavior of others.
Think of this as visual credit-rating, an assessment of reliability,
honesty, and other values, which aid survival and provide community
safety-nets. The drama of superpersonhood had not yet reared its
head. The problem of psychopathy, those whose neurological make up is
distorted and who have no conscience, was not yet understood.
Many now believe the recurring presence of this haunting icon, the
devil, refers to those we now know as psychopaths who do, routinely,
refer to themselves as outside the ordinary rules, as supermen.
herself, by reports from those who knew her, was inclined to ignore
reciprocal social obligations, citing various justifications of
ignoring the subject. She asserted different rules for her supermen
than for ordinary humanity, therefore rejected the Lockean ideas
which underlie the foundations of American culture.
hero of her first work of fiction, The
was drawn from the example of the most infamous cold-blooded murderer
of 1928. "The
best and strongest expression of a real man's psychology I have
exulted. (Quoted in Ryan, citing Journals
of Ayn Rand
Hickman, Ayn's chosen model, kidnapped a 12 year old girl, held her
for ransom and then murdered her. After chopping her body into parts
he extorted money from her frantic father and shoved her body out of
the car to be found, the girl's dead eyes sewn open.
was explicitly aware of the circumstances when she chose Hickman.
The network of social obligations is
the basis of all human culture, the original and proven-to-work,
strategy which allowed humanity to survive and prosper. Robust social
networks arise organically, as discussed in Hayek's, The
The corporate business-model, profiting in any way possible, had
nothing to do with human survival. Instead, it has brought us to the
brink of annihilation.
America was founded on the ideas of
equality for all people, an affirmation of the natural rights
philosophy of John Locke, expressed so eloquently in our Declaration
of Independence. This idea worked with the Christian beliefs which
brought the Puritans and Quakers to a new world where all people
would be equal in law, as they are in the eyes of Christ and in
Three times in the 20th
Century ideas have been used to convert us to a view which deifies
corporations. This line of reasoning has proven potently valuable to
the entire Military Industrial Complex, in recent years, especially
the Brothers Koch. The first people who should have noticed what they
proposed was not free market were the same people who lined up to
support them, framed as they were in the Rand Fairy Tale. This is the
reason Alan Greenspan was named Chairman of the Federal Reserve. The
corporates knew we would not attack 'one of our own.'
Ideas which consistently create
disaster, personal, national and global, should be deleted. End
the Fed. Enforce accountability by demanding restitution for
profits made through fraud. Accept the truth, no matter how many
fantasies have to die.
This article is dedicated to Nathaniel
Branden, who recognized Craig Franklin as bizarre while we were in
therapy with him, and to Craig himself, who, still trying to achieve
his fantasy, illustrated in one story line, how psychopaths impact
our world, from the personal to the hidden reaches of corporate