The Ayn Rand Love/Hate Myth


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The Ayn Rand Love/Hate Myth

by Michael Stuart Kelly

Here’s the myth: Ayn Rand’s ideas inspire fanatical love or hate within the majority of people who read her. Few people are able to resist being adamant – they are either completely for or against Objectivism. This is a normal view whenever Ayn Rand is discussed in public.

But the gulf between this myth and reality widens every single day that passes. Want to take a guess at what is widening that gap?

The sales of Ayn Rand’s own books.

Here’s the reality: The majority of people who have read Ayn Rand are too busy living their own lives to have a passionate opinion, other than liking her work enough to buy it and read it – or being at least curious enough to do so. People do love her works and become influenced by her ideas, but, for most, not all that dramatically. They also buy many other books and read them, so Rand’s works in their lives compete with the ideas of countless other authors.

Let’s do the math. I don’t have exact figures, but I can be generous. How many Ayn Rand adherents are there in the world? Ones who identify themselves as Objectivists and speak out about it? A few thousand? Fifty thousand? That sounds very generous.

Now, how many Ayn Rand haters are there in the world? Ones who specifically hate Objectivism and speak out about it? A few thousand? Fifty thousand? That also sounds generous.

But let’s go to 100,000 each side just to be sure. That comes to 200,000 people who love or hate Rand with no middle ground.

Now here’s the clincher. How many books has Ayn Rand sold? Somewhere around forty million as of 2006. Taking into account that most people will buy more than one book by Rand, let’s chop that figure down to 10,000,000 different people who have read her works. That may not seem too generous going the other way and it could be chopped down further, but her main fiction is in practically all public libraries, so many people read her without buying the books. Thus, I stand by that rough figure. Actually, that is charitable since it is most likely higher.

With these generously speculated estimates, we come to 200,000 Love/Hate people and 9,800,000 people who have read Rand, accepted or rejected parts of her ideas and continued living their own lives without expressing much of an opinion. In other words, 2% (at best) of all people who have read Rand have a one-sided opinion about her ideas.

To be fair, when Rand first published her works, particularly The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, her ideas were met by a good deal of hysterical viciousness and misrepresentation in the press. The original fanatical anti-Rand splash did not endure in the mainstream, though. It mellowed as pro-Rand references started growing. The Fountainhead was even made into a commercial Hollywood movie back in the 1940’s. Hollywood doesn't invest that kind of money in a project that the majority of people hate.

The present players in the Love/Hate Myth are zealots and ones who have something to gain by it. Since Rand made fundamental moral issues extremely clear and used inflammatory rhetoric, these people ape her.

What are the characteristics they have in common? There are two:

1. They are intellectual leaders and their followers. By this, I mean people actively associated with different idealistic organizations and writing outlets.

2. They try to fortify their own opinions by consistently denouncing the other side.

Actually, this analysis implies a stronger unifying effect than there is in reality.

On the Love Rand side, there are several major competing organizations and, because of the Intenet, numerous smaller ones. Low cost (or no cost) has been a strong contributing factor for this proliferation. Some people aspire to the title of Official Objectivism (including attempts to establish themselves as formal intellectual Rand heirs or official spokespersons for Objectivism) and others argue for a modification of the philosophy – or addition to it – while keeping the rest. All these people exist in an environment of constant attacks on each other, and they are unsparing in hurling denunciations. There is certainly no unifying spirit to be seen on this side of the Love/Hate Myth.

On the Hate Rand side, there are religious folks and politicians of all stripes and colors, and a curious breed of intellectual who makes a career out of Objectivism bashing. It is a well-worn truism that to avoid conflict, you don’t discuss religion and politics. This side has no unity at all. It never has had any. These people have never stopped attacking each other. Even the professional Objectivism bashers are at each other’s throats at times.

According to the Love/Hate Myth, all you have to do to split the world into two intellectual camps is introduce people to Rand’s works. The reality is that about 1% of those who read her bicker with another 1% (at best), and the rest go on living. Also, each 1% side is split off in numerous directions by further bickering.

What is the brass ring in all this? Why do people do it? I can think of two reasons: power and influence. Core values are conspicuously lacking on both sides.

The Love Rand people are not so much interested in productive work, for instance. They do not characterize themselves by their achievements. They try to stand out as Objectivist Movement Leaders, with several notable big frogs in little ponds.

The Hate Rand people also show an astonishing lapse of memory when they go on the attack. Love thy neighbor, for example, becomes empty words when they make their salvos against Randians or maneuver to consolidate a controlling position within their respective factions.

Look at them. All their apparent idealism is nothing more than a political game of people control. An individual with integrity does not need to belong to an intellectual movement that exists to bash others. Nathaniel Branden coined an official Objectivist phrase for "people control" idealism: social metaphysics.

Does this mean that Objectivism has not had an influence on the world? That non-fanatics do not love her works in their own fashion? No. Just that the Ayn Rand Love/Hate Myth is merely an illusion used for social climbing and bickering within small cliques.

The real impact of Rand’s ideas is to be seen in the lives of people who have a wider view of living – those who incorporate aspects of Objectivism into their lives without becoming fanatics.

For instance, the Reagan administration was chock full of Rand admirers. His presidency was the strongest one last century in halting the spread of collectivism throughout the world.

Alan Greenspan was an original member of The Collective and still is a Rand admirer, yet he has had a brilliant career as a government official.

The Brandens are attacked by Rand fanatics, not because they were excommunicated. They are criticized because, not only did they help create orthodox Objectivism during 18 years as Rand intimates (and their pre-1968 Objectivist works are formally endorsed by Rand), they continue to be highly successful. They advocate a version of Objectivism that is (a) cleansed of aspects that have resulted in harmful psychological effects they have witnessed over the years and (b) wedded to further insights. The books of both Brandens have outsold all publications, and that means all, by Rand’s other official progeny. (Frankly, there is no substitute for talent, either.)

There are many more examples. Chapter 33 (pp. 407-422) of The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden, for example, lists a series of people in many different walks of life who have been influenced by Ayn Rand, yet do not live their lives as hardcore Objectivists. That long list was valid up to 1986 and consisted of people who were making important differences in the world. Now there is an infinitely longer list and a new work needs to be written to present the highlights.

Yes, Ayn Rand’s ideas are making a difference in the world – a strong one – but not because people are fanatical in loving them or hating them. The Rand Love/Hate position is so marginalized to a small group of zealots that it has no real impact on spreading Objectivism. It is a myth. Objectivist ideas influence people who count because they are good ideas, but over 98% of people who read Rand are selfishly selective about which ones they adopt.

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You know, I had doubts about putting this rant up. I figured it would be used by some Objectivist Movement Leader or other for wily, conniving dirty-rotten designs. But I thought, the hell with it. Truth is truth.

Then I was talking to Kat earlier on the telephone. She told me she was riding to work on the train yesterday and saw a person reading The Fountainhead. Obviously, she wanted to say hi to the guy, so she approached him.

He looked up, furtively, then said, "You know, I'm not into that cult. I'm just reading this as a novel."

She tried to calm his fears, engage him in conversation, talk about OL and the Objectivist people we know and so forth. But he was having none of it. With great deal of relief on his part, she finally desisted and left him alone.

Don't think this guy was relieved because Kat was pushy. She isn't. Kat is one of the nicest and sweetest people on earth to strangers (except for aggressive street bums).

I get amused by coincidences like that. They happen all the time with me. This guy illustrates perfectly what I am trying to say. The worst enemies of Objectivism and Rand's ideas are usually Objectivists. True believers. And the best ambassador for her ideas continues to be her novels - despite all the sound and the fury in teacups that squeak in the distance.

Recently, I saw on another website (one where the people don't like me) a harsh criticism of a new Objectivist site of young people. Being young, they apparently got some of the ideas wrong, but with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Of course, the Official Objectivist Movement Representative (and friends) roundly trounced the site of young people with relish. Then someone popped up and asked whether it would not be a good idea to try to teach these kids. They were young and obviously interested. I could hear the coughing and see the sudden glances off in the distance.

LOLOLOLOLOLOL...

These kids read some Rand and liked her enough to set up an online fan club. The train passenger liked Rand enough to read her on his trip.

There is a lesson here, because these are all good people. They are in the 98% I mentioned in the rant. I'm trying to figure out how to talk to these good people - get to them. I would like to find a way to increase the influence of what Rand they read. (That's why there is an emphasis here on writing new fiction works, for instance - and talent.)

Regardless, I suspect some of Rand's sound ideas are going to sink in from what these people are reading and discussing anyway, so some good will come of it one way or another.

But that won't happen in a month of Sundays if you leave it up to the New Proprietors of Objectivism, that's for sure. From what I see, these dudes are scaring off the "normal people" who become interested in Rand's ideas.

Michael

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I'll admit that it did bother me that the guy I talked to on the train called it a cult. He said, "Oh, I'm just reading this as a novel, I'm not into that cult." He seemed pretty engrossed in the book, so I hope he gets something good out of it. It is very unfortunate that there is this public perception of a cult out there. Cult? Well, maybe I should have tried to turn him on to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. :D I think more good Objectivists need to come out of the closet. We need better PR.

Kat

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I was thoroughly delighted to see the sudden appearance of a guy named "Star the Hater" on RoR.

This is one more coincidence. This guy represents perfectly how to get to normal people - how to talk to them.

He put his own spin on Objectivism, mixing it with elements of his target audience, and has about five million listeners who tune into his radio show every day. He calls his spin "Objective Hate." Apparently, the real things he hates are losers in life.

This dude puts Objectivism in places it never would have gone. Bravo, Star! Nothing replaces talent. Nothing. (The new Proprietors of Objectivism sure as hell don't.)

I will read up on the guy and post more comments on him later.

One thing stands out, though. He ain't part of any idealistic organization, bowing to a leader. He is truly an Objectivist. His success is individual.

Michael

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  • 4 weeks later...
I was thoroughly delighted to see the sudden appearance of a guy named "Star the Hater" on RoR.

This dude puts Objectivism in places it never would have gone. Bravo, Star! Nothing replaces talent. Nothing. (The new Proprietors of Objectivism sure as hell don't.)

I will read up on the guy and post more comments on him later.

One thing stands out, though. He ain't part of any idealistic organization, bowing to a leader. He is truly an Objectivist. His success is individual.

I loved that guy! I thought he was HILARIOUS and what was hilarious was the response-- he won people over! That's what I want to, hope to, do! The guy was cool, he was him, he made me want to be ME. I just love that.

Rand’s works in their lives compete with the ideas of countless other authors.

That depicts me perfectly. I am as much a Randist as a Feynmanist or Einsteinist or Bertrand-Rusellist. I've figured that was the *healthy* way to self-value.

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  • 1 year later...

If ARI did not have the one (and only one) great advantage that they currently have - their postcards and other advertisements inserted in all of Ayn Rand's books, it is unlikely that they would have anymore than a fraction of their current amount of followers (whatever that really is).

People coming upon Rand's books for the first time, and becoming excited by her ideas, are most likely to contact ARI because of those built-in promos. It would be interesting to know what percentage of those "initates" who contact ARI through Rand's books, continue their association with ARI, and for how long.

But since the advent of the WorldWideWeb, people now have a much more efficient way to inquire about Ayn Rand and Objectivism. I doubt that those who persist in that method of inquiry will long remain attached to ARI, if that is how they started.

ARI is, ultimately, their own worst enemy.

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  • 2 years later...

hello

i hav a aquestion if u would be kind enough to answer

in fountainhead rands protaganist doesnt care for the world and lives to bring into being his abstract beliefs and he is fine with letting the world see his naked pure divinity in the form of his buildings and dominique think the world doesnt deserve him....roarks view prevails in the end

whereas in atlas shrugged...galt belives that the world doesnt deserve them...isnt he like dominique(initially)in his view?

but here galt triumphs in the end

isnt this a contradiction?

what is true.....the world deserves or it doesnt?

thanq

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what is true.....the world deserves or it doesnt?

thanq

Welcome, these look like a newbie questions. You should go to the Meet and Greet area and introduce yourself, this is a thread that’s been dormant 2 ½ years, has nothing to do with what you’re asking, and is in the Rants area, so look out. rant.gif

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?showforum=6

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  • 10 months later...

Another look.

--Brant

Thanks Brant.

As to Kat's stranger on the train incident, I understand her desire to disabuse the cult statement. I usually am the one carrying the book, but in that situation, I always make it a point to say that I attended her school in the sixties which gets their attention.

Kinda like I saw Jesus in the flesh before the crucifixion lol!

There are definitely some cult like elements out there so it is not a completely irresponsible statement. Didn't Ellis put out a book Is Objectivism a Religion? I remember having to read it for my masters thesis on Ayn.

Yep, and Neil did the following article on an aspect of it!! All hail the internet! http://www.liberalinstitute.com/IsOrthodoxObjectivismAReligion.html

by NEIL PARILLE

The claim that Objectivism is a religion goes back to Albert Ellis's 1968 book
Is Objectivism a Religion
? Calling Objectivism a religion seems upon first glance quite odd, given its atheism and anti-supernaturalism. At the same time, many critics of Objectivism have noted quite a few "ominous parallels" between Rand's writings and religion, and between the Objectivist movement and established religious bodies. I'll review a few here, more in this spirit of provoking conversation than in coming to any definite conclusions. (My reference to Objectivism is limited to those Objectivists associated with Leonard Peikoff's
Ayn Rand Institute
.)

It has always been refreshing to me when a writer states clearly the window or lens that he or she is proceeding through.

Adam

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This myth is new to me. Can you offer a citation of some statement of it?

Starbuckle,

I don't think you got the meaning of what I said.

It is a point that could be clarified better, I suppose, so I will clarify it. (I think the meaning is clear, but what the hell. Here goes.)

Some people (like me) hold that the individual, for as little as he may know, can be wise in human affairs and that most individuals (in all cultures) are good people.

Other folks--the fanatics--hold that the people who get in contact with their cause and do not radically choose a side are just too stupid or too corrupt in their reasoning or too indoctrinated by their culture, etc., to think for themselves. (I refer, of course, to the "unwashed masses"--which is a perfect description of how fanatics emotionally view the actual majority of mankind, not the floating abstraction in their heads of "true human beings.")

More often than not, the fanatics do not go into the why of this. They just dismiss normal people with putdowns like "unthinking" and "airheads" and "concrete bound mentality" and "unfeeling" (or "too emotional") and so forth. Other than that, the unwashed masses are mostly excluded from their vitriol and considerations in general. But one thing never is: the fanatics always look down their noses at normal people.

I refer you to Solo Passion or Noodlefood or Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature sites or the Rand writings of Bob Wallace for plenty of examples on both sides. And there are oodles more out there. Especially ones attacking or defending some religion (or ARI) as they attack or defend Rand.

What intrinsically makes the myth a myth is that the "majority of people" I mentioned in my article is not, for the fanatics, the true majority of mankind (as I also demonstrated in my article), but instead only human beings they deem fit to bear the title of human being. The rest--to them--are cattle and nothing more.

And the "true human beings"--the majority of these--have to love Rand or hate her because "true human beings" are good heroes or evil bastards. They know what's at stake and they either want to save the world or destroy it. The rest (the masses) are to be pitied at best as children, but from what I have read, I also see the fanatics resent them.

So the Rand heroes go heroically out to save the world. They know that if people (the unwashed masses who are not yet real human beings) truly understood Rand, they would love her writings and adore her as they finally take their place among mankind as fit thinking humans--and they would banish the evil evil evil bastards who hate Rand (or "diminish" her) to the lowest rungs of hell. The evil folks (to the Rand fanatics) are most often religious--in Randland, this usually means Christian or Muslim. Sometimes they were insiders who got excommunicated, and in a few cases they belong to another philosophy.

On the other side, the people who hate Rand go out to save the world from an encroaching evil cult, etc. etc., etc., I'm sure you can fill in the blanks.

As for giving quoted examples, they are so numerous, it's like asking for quotes from people who think Obama is the president. If that's not clear to you, then I'll just have to leave it at that. I'm not going to engage on hairsplitting examples since I believe my overall message is loud and clear.

One last comment. Outside of my distaste for the fanatic's viewpoint, I find it snooty, thus boneheaded.

I, for one, am a people. And I like being a people. People are good.

Michael

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Well, Ayn Rand called people who didn't fight for the future "social ballast," if I remember right.

--Brant

These people were too busy sweeping and cleaning up the place in the present. Without "social ballast" we would be up to our nostrils in trash.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Here's one citation: the intro to the Playboy interview called Atlas Shrugged "the most fiercely damned and admired bestseller of the decade." (I once looked at some encyclopedia's 1957 yearbook. It referred to it as the most critically disdained book of the year and mentioned that By Love Possessed by Cozzens was the biggest seller.)

My own impression is that most people read her for the stories and don't have an opinion one way or another. A lot of readers never finish Atlas Shrugged.

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Here's one citation: the intro to the Playboy interview called Atlas Shrugged "the most fiercely damned and admired bestseller of the decade." (I once looked at some encyclopedia's 1957 yearbook. It referred to it as the most critically disdained book of the year and mentioned that By Love Possessed by Cozzens was the biggest seller.)

My own impression is that most people read her for the stories and don't have an opinion one way or another. A lot of readers never finish Atlas Shrugged.

Or they skip Galt's speech. As an action novel AS is not bad. It is also pretty fair alternative time line fiction. Unfortunately Galt's speech is a big break in the action line and is very hard reading.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Edited by BaalChatzaf
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Here's one citation: the intro to the Playboy interview called Atlas Shrugged "the most fiercely damned and admired bestseller of the decade." (I once looked at some encyclopedia's 1957 yearbook. It referred to it as the most critically disdained book of the year and mentioned that By Love Possessed by Cozzens was the biggest seller.)

My own impression is that most people read her for the stories and don't have an opinion one way or another. A lot of readers never finish Atlas Shrugged.

Tens of millions probably have read it all the way through. "A lot of readers" could be, what, 100,000? That's a lot.

--Brant

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If AS had been 1/3 shorter I believe the readership would be much greater.

Ayn was no marketing expert. If she were she would have condensed the book somewhat to reach so many more readers.

Of course the issue for her was to present her complete philosophy and in doing so she believed the size of AS was exactly where it should be.

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I would be cautious about jumping to some conclusion based on the sales figures for a book. The Bible outsells -Atlas Shrugged- by several times. What do you make of that?

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Reidy wrote: "Here's one citation: the intro to the Playboy interview called Atlas Shrugged 'the most fiercely damned and admired bestseller of the decade.' "

I believe that this claim is true. This is not the same claim as that there is a myth floating around that "Ayn Rand’s ideas inspire fanatical love or hate within the majority of people who read her." I have never heard this contention anywhere.

Of course, according to MSK, I proved that I "misunderstood" his claim by...quoting it exactly.

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This is not the same claim as that there is a myth floating around that "Ayn Rand's ideas inspire fanatical love or hate within the majority of people who read her." I have never heard this contention anywhere.

Of course, according to MSK, I proved that I "misunderstood" his claim by...quoting it exactly.

If that's not clear to you, then I'll just have to leave it at that. I'm not going to engage on hairsplitting examples since I believe my overall message is loud and clear.

Starbuckle,

Obviously, explaining my meaning had no effect on your comprehension.

I could speculate as to why, but nah...

Other people are not exhibiting your difficulty, so I will just leave this where it is.

You think I'm wrong.

But I'm not.

I'm fine with that.

Michael

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I would be cautious about jumping to some conclusion based on the sales figures for a book. The Bible outsells -Atlas Shrugged- by several times. What do you make of that?

Bob,

I think it's reasonable to assume from that observation alone that more people read the Bible than read Atlas Shrugged.

Not all people who buy a book read it, of course, but that goes for all books, including both the Bible and Atlas Shrugged.

Michael

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Woah, I just skimmed your article, Maestro. You are hitting some heavy stuff. I will get back on this--gotta go play.

This is a Really Good Article<tm>.

rde

Because I Said So.

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