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Objectivism lived

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, April 5, 2011 14:06 EDT
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There’s an excellent essay up at Salon from a woman who had the misfortune to be raised by an Ayn Rand-worshiper. While she fell for the Randian blather initially, like kids do, it wasn’t hard for her to see the ugly truth, which is that Objectivism is simply selfish narcissism given a pseudo-intellectual justification. Unsurprisingly, her father was a control freak who ran off one wife, and surprise surprise, pulled the MRA move of trying to get out of child support while playing the victim the whole time. (For Galtian masters of the universe, Rand fans really do love playing the helpless victim of having to live up to your responsibilities.) After all, child-rearing makes no real sense in the selfishness-is-good mentality, at least not for men, who were always exalted over women in the Objectivist worldview. (Someone has to do the shit work, and since it’s going to be done for free under duress in a libertarian paradise, it’s going to be predominantly foisted on women.) I always joke that MRAs mainly object to child support because they don’t believe you should write checks to women who aren’t providing orgasms in return, but there’s definitely truth to it. Fundamentally, there’s a belief underneath all this that men are only obliged to live up to their responsibilities to their children if they’re getting something in return; MRAS, rooting themselves so often in libertarian arguments, see child-rearing as transactional. And while there’s an obsession with sperm-stealing to justify this, most MRAs are like the father in this story—they wanted to be married and have kids, and only reject taking responsibility for child-rearing after things don’t work out the way they hoped, usually for reasons that are their own damn fault.

This is what happens when you apply Objectivism to an already toxic stew of MRA-style entitlement and selfishness.

The answer to my question came on an autumn weekend during my sophomore year in high school. I was hosting a Harry Potter-themed float party in our driveway, a normal ritual to prepare decorations for my high school quad the week of homecoming. As I was painting a cardboard owl, my father asked me to come inside the house. He and his new wife sat me down at the dinner table with grave faces.

“We were wondering if you would petition to be emancipated,” he said in his lawyer voice.

“What does that mean?” I asked, picking at the mauve paint on my hands. I later discovered that for most kids, declaring emancipation is an extreme measure — something you do if your parents are crack addicts or deadbeats.

“You would need to become financially independent,” he said. “You could work for me at my law firm and pay rent to live here.”

This was my moment of truth as an objectivist. If I believed in the glory of the individual, I would’ve signed the petition papers then and there. But as much as Rand’s novels had taught me to believe in meritocracy, they had not prepared me to go it alone financially and emotionally. I began to cry and refused.

Hardcore objectivists often criticize liberals for basing decisions on emotion, rather than reason. My father saw our family politics no differently. In his mind, it was reasonable to ask that I emancipate myself and work for a living. To me, it felt like he was asking me to sacrifice my childhood so he didn’t have to pay child support. To me, it felt like abandonment.

Actually, it was abandonment. At the end of the day, a purely transactional view of human relationships just doesn’t work. Objectivists, as she said, fancy themselves as purely logical, but they’re not. It’s a philosophy rooted completely in emotion with no empiricism or rationality to it. It’s strictly due to a childish desire to kick and scream and have your needs met without having to contribute anything to anyone else. It’s about closing your eyes to the demonstrable fact that humans are pack animals and interconnected with each other, because you’re so narcissistic that you want to believe that you fly alone. And it’s often about situations like this, where the libertarian wants an excuse to avoid basic grown-up responsibilities like taking care of your minor children or paying your taxes.

What’s alarming is that this kind of narcissism is spreading like wildfire amongst conservatives. Now we’re in a situation like Atrios describes:

Compassionate conservatism was always bullshit, but it reflected a time when people felt the need to be somewhat convinced that they gave a shit, that supporting cuts in vital social programs wouldn’t really cause mass suffering because THOUSAND POINTS OF LIGHT. People were still assholes, but they weren’t entirely comfortable embracing that.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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