I mentioned in my podcast’s production notes that I was raised with a moral code meant for gods, which breaks mere men. I see my younger brother now struggling with the same problem and I want to help him. I was at a loss when trying to figure out how to do this though. I had to spend a lot of time searching through my past before I came to what I think was the major turning point that finally put me on the road to recovery – reading Atlas Shrugged.
Let me assure you that I’m no longer a Randian (that lasted less than a year) and I will not be extolling the virtues of Objectivism! I’m not even Libertarian. But there was a time when I was suicidal, and when I would have likely pressed a “Destroy The World” button if it was given to me – and believed it was the best thing to do. With the right (ie: wrong) mental wiring and moral teachings, not being able to be God can lead you to such places. It can make you sympathize with people who want to watch the world burn.
Being a Randian Objectivist is also bad, but it’s very much less bad. Objectivists may be complete assholes who view human worth as a function of an individual’s economic output, but at least they consider the human species worthy of continuing. They can generally function in society. They may espouse a cartoonishly villainous Virtue of Selfishness, but they’ll hold down a job and live by the laws of the land. They can still harm many people by passing bad laws and ignoring suffering wholesale, and should be held in check by saner and more compassionate forces. But it’s better than slowly going insane.
As I mentioned yesterday, I am easily taken in by certain types of claims. And Atlas Shrugged is famous for its ability to sucker in a certain type of young male reader. It’s almost a joke that every college freshman becomes an Objectivist for several months after first being introduced to Rand. So a charismatic, passionate, and seemingly iron-clad reason-based argument for how You Can Save The World By Being Selfish, and everyone who ever said that you are responsible for righting every wrong you encounter was (either through ignorance or evil) trying to Loot Society And Destroy Civilization… is a startling revelation. But not just that – it is a HUGE RELIEF. An indescribably welcome one. Suddenly, I am finally not responsible for all the evil in the world. I can finally stop trying to be God, and just be a man. It’s nearly impossible to describe the sense of relief and the thankfulness that comes with that, with finally being unburdened from this crushing, soul-tearing responsibility. It’s like being able to breathe again after years of suffocation.
This is why I compare Rand to Malaria. Before antibiotics were discovered, it was found that the high fever caused by Malaria would kill the Syphilis virus. It turned a 100% lethal disease that drove you insane, into a 5% chance of dying which could afterward be treated with quinine. Rand is like Malaria – really bad, and awful for any healthy person. But useful for those with a certain condition. With a little luck they’ll pull through and can be treated of Objectivism over time.
However I have only a single data point. Will this work for my brother as well? He seems to have a worse case than I do, it’s been exasperated by his recent environment. Even if it could work, how does one get someone else to read a freakin’ doorstop like Atlas Shrugged? He’s not into fiction. And I can’t just point him to this post, that may inoculate him against its curative properties.