Not Feeling Randy

Resurgent Objectivism prompts a renewed rejection

Some props of my adolescence I am happy to leave behind. Xanadu, we had a time and place. Atari 2600, you gave me so many wonderful hours, but you’re no Xbox. Drakkar Noir, I think there is still a faint whiff of you coming off the pages of my senior yearbook.

For the most part, all these long-ago loves remain exactly where they’re supposed to: in the past. One of them, however, has risen like a resurgent zombie. Her name is Ayn Rand.

For a lot of gay kids, Rand definitely had allure, painting a picture of the world in which some chosen few were talented and clever and those who would oppress them were bullying dullards. The appeal is obvious.

I was all the more smitten, having been turned on to Rand by a devotee of hers who I thought was dreamy. Frank worshipped Rand. I thought Frank was adorable. Ipso facto, I dove right in. First with The Fountainhead, then the novella Anthem. About halfway through Atlas Shrugged, something was beginning to stink.

Rand espoused the ”virtue of selfishness.” And, in that even bad relationships have their lessons, I came to realize by reading Rand – quite a slap in the face to my Catholic upbringing – that, yes, indeed everything we do is self-serving. I still believe in the supremacy of the individual and hold that each has a responsibility to himself first, just as the safety experts insist we put on our own oxygen masks before helping others. Where I began to part ways with Rand, a chain-smoking Russian émigré who died in 1982 at age 77, was that she didn’t acknowledge, as far as I could tell, that humans are social creatures, that we take pleasure in helping others for its own sake. My lonely suspicion was confirmed, at least to a degree that satisfied me, sometime around my first year of college. Watching a movie on late-night TV, the title and plot of which completely escape me, a girl tries to impress a boy by showing him that she’s reading some Rand. He replies, to the best of my memory, ”Nobody reads that fascist shit after high school.” Oh, what a relief.

That character, of course, was wrong. Perhaps you noticed the occasional Tea Party sign reading ”I am John Galt.” Galt led the elites of Atlas Shrugged, turning the tables on the herds of proletariat by striking themselves and removing their talented toys from society. So, instead of, say, auto workers shutting down the assembly line, imagine the likes of Steve Jobs, Oprah and Mark Zuckerberg refusing to make any further contributions to society. In Rand’s imagining, things fall apart.

That’s ridiculous, of course. And while I’m not alone in my belief that achievement, success, what have you, has a lot more to do with circumstance – to include one’s DNA as well as one’s trust fund, or lack thereof – than with having a ”work ethic” and a decent IQ, I’m certainly not part of a consensus. Aside from Galt-identified Tea Partiers, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) – with his HRC rating of 10 (out of 100) and chairmanship of the House Budget Committee awaiting him – praises Rand. That shouldn’t be surprising. I am surprised, however, whenever I learn of an LGBT person’s adoration of Rand. I was equally surprised to learn just this week that ”Objectivism (Rand’s philosophy) and homosexuality” has its own Wikipedia entry.

So here I am, perceiving a cyclical Rand rise, and feeling compelled to ”pay it forward.” So as pop-cult media advised me some 20 years ago, I now advise you, queer kid – by any definition – finding solace in the virtue of selfishness: To set yourself apart will give you invaluable insight on the human condition; to set yourself above will just make you a dick.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.