I have started reading Ayn Rand again…seriously. I was into Ayn Rand back in the late 1990s-early 2000s. She was was the only person that made sense to me back when I worked in higher education amidst irrational people who called themselves “progressives” while making excuses about the miseducation of our children. Rand introduced me to philosophy. I had been a historian who dabbled in sociology and economics but philosophy–aside from Marx–was outside my radar. She introduced me to the world of English and German philosophy particularly to the likes of Locke, Nietzsche and Hegel. She made me excited about exploring all the sub-genres of Philosophy.
I saw Ayn Rand as a brilliant but flawed individual. I was hoping to find a “philosopher” who would represent the “next level up,” especially since she was so thoroughly hated by my “educated” peers. To my surprise, no such philosopher existed that represented something “better” than Rand. Instead, I moved on to study Austrian Economics, particularly, as embodied by Friedrich Hayek. Eventually, however, I left higher education and intellectual pursuits in general to pursue a more practical, “rational” activity–computer programming. I figured: why beat my head against the wall arguing with “progressives”, “conservatives”, the Establishment, identity politicians and other assorted collectivists and risk political and economic suicide?
Now that I am a little older and no longer care what people think of me, I have started taking Ayn Rand seriously again. In these times of left-wing and right-wing extremists controlling the American discourse, it is important that rational, freedom-loving voices re-establish themselves as not only the mainstream but the foundation of the United States of America.
(An analysis based on Chapter 1 of The Culture of Narcissism.)
To live for the moment is the prevailing—to live for yourself, not for your predecessors or posterity. We are fast losing the sense of historical continuity… (Lasch)
If you have no past, you have no future. As an American, no matter what race or ethnicity you are, you have a history. The fact that you are here in the first place has something to do with your history, whether good or bad.
When we overthrew our British overlords in 1776, we lost a good chunk of our cultural continuity. We had to start all over and base our “history” on the events, institutions and values accumulated since the Revolution namely, democracy and the Constitution. For many, these are powerful symbols of our “history.” However, since people of African heritage were not allowed to participate in such revolutionary institutions, some people—particularly on the political left–see these revolutionary values as tainted. Some even go so far as to argue that Black Americans have no “history” at all. To me, this is a pathetic and erroneous notion. Through DNA analysis, I can trace both black and white ancestry back to Jamestown, Virginia. I bear the weight of all that my slave ancestors went through. I have free mulatto and Indian ancestors who were run out of Virginia because they were seen as a threat to the status quo. I am a relative of both Thomas Jefferson and Nat Turner.
I would NEVER allow some alienated narcissist to tell me that the United States is not my country. I could never allow myself to believe that I have nothing to live or work for. My people have FOUGHT for the “revolutionary values” that the Constitution does indeed represent despite the fact that we were denied those values for centuries.
I was a Black student leader back in the late 1980s. One of my comrades in the anti-apartheid movement told me that the South African struggle was a much bigger fight there than it could ever be in America because there was no concept of “all men are created equal“ in their constitution. In fact, there was not much of a “constitution” period. So the next time you feel that “American values” are not worth fighting for think of where you would be without them.
I have decided to read (or I should say, re-read) The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch. I can think of no greater piece of work that appropriately explains today’s American culture (or the lack thereof.) I first read this book in graduate school over twenty years ago in an American Studies class. I remember that back then the book made a lot of sense to me, intuitively, even though I did not quite understand much of it.
The Preface of this book speaks of an American populace (circa late 1970s) who have no sense of a past let alone any future. They mistrust authority figures and institutions. They also don’t trust “capitalism” although they act out what they believe is the worst aspect of it—a dog-eat-dog individualism. The universities no longer teach history or sociology. In fact, they no longer appreciate the Humanities at all but instead push a bastardized version of the Liberal Arts. Similarly, “facts” or “truths” mean nothing to the narcissist. As of 2017, the trends that Lasch noted in 1979 have accelerated tenfold. Nowadays, people “debate” based on emotions. There is no attempt at all to arrive at a “truth” or a common understanding.
My aunt told me today that her “greedy” healthcare plan dramatically raised prices a couple of years ago after it consolidated itself into a “group plan” to get rid of “all the extra people being brought in.” So I asked her–“Why were they forced to take in all those people?”
“The Affordable Care Act,” she said.
“So, would you say that Obama is responsible for the health care mess,” I said. She argued that it’s not Obama’s fault that healthcare companies dropped customers, raised prices and increased deductibles–that’s just corporate greed. What my aunt does not understand is that health care companies have simply been reacting to regulatory conditions that have put a burden on the marketplace. Today, we have a health care industry that limits competition. Basically, the monopolistic big companies dictate the terms and if they cannot have their way they walk away.
Look, I like Obama–as a person. Like most African Americans, I am proud that he was our president. He embraced our culture. He represented us with swag while still being dignified. But his economic policies are that of a confused statist.
Similar to the ObamaCare fiasco, Democrats refused to take responsibility for the financial meltdown during the Bush Administration. They blame “corporate greed” for gambling with faulty securities based on equally faulty mortgages. But who forced the financial industry to make loans to people who could not afford them? Who encouraged the securitization? Bill Clinton, that’s who. Barney Frank, that’s who. It was the progressive side of George W Bush’s mentality that encouraged him to keep this game going; not his conservative side.
My aunt, like many Democrats, is a smart person. She simply stopped thinking for herself and allowed the CNN’s of the world to provide simplistic answers for her.
I talked to a client (and friend) of mine a few months ago, a middle class Black American woman–a dying breed in my Rust Belt city. She was trying to convince me that fast food workers need to have a $15 an hour minimum wage because “there are too many working people who cannot make ends meet.” I challenged her on this arguing that while it may help some workers in the short run, a lot of people will be thrown out of work because some companies either cannot or will not pay that wage. Maybe the McDonald’s and the Walmart’s of the world can afford to pay such wages—their rich–but what about the small regional chain that only has about 20 stores or the small ethnic pizzerias?,” I asked. “Can they afford it?” She said that her understanding was that only companies above a certain size would be affected. “Don’t quote me on that,” she said. “Besides, those fat rich CEOS can afford to pay a little more to their workers. They can restructure their operations to accommodate these wage increases.” This point is hard to argue with but what is to stop these “greedy” CEOs from raising prices, cutting manager salaries or simply shutting down stores rather than cutting their own income to “accommodate” this wage increase?
After I made that argument, she suddenly pivoted to: “Well, the real problem is that there are no middle class factory jobs around here anymore because the corporations have moved all of our jobs overseas!” I quickly (but politely) asked her “Why do you think that happened?” “I don’t know” was her response. I said that it was precisely because well-meaning people started yelling that $15 an hour was not enough for a factory job. Then $25 an hour was not enough. Then $35 was not enough. Finally, the factories took their jobs down South (or overseas) and said, “The Hell with you, go work fast-food.” Now here we are. At this point, I could just feel my friend’s despair over the phone as she sighed, “So what do we do?”
The bottom line is that a low wage job is better than no job at all. In Rust Belt towns, many people are proud to have fast-food jobs (believe it or not) and they can make fulfilling careers out of them, especially if they ascend into management. Oftentimes there is nothing else to do but sell drugs. A least these people have a job and the cost of living in the Rust Belt is not that high so these people are most emphatically, not poor. (Unless, of course they are a single mother trying to raise 3 kids but that would raise different questions altogether. ) Meanwhile, those of us who have other opportunities should not be looking to fast food as a permanent career but should be focused on gaining marketable skills so that you have the power to choose a career instead of being stuck in one.