13 August 2012

Who is John Galt?

Since the announcement of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's running mate late last week, the ever-blazing fire of political hysteria has had a fresh burst of fuel. Luckily, we will not discuss politics on this blog. We shall leave that unpleasant pastime to other blogging heads. But what is pressing my buttons is all the hysteria that is being generated about Paul Ryan's relationship with Randian literature. I know very little about the extent and exact nature of the influence of Ayn's canon on Ryan's politics. I have sampled a few anecdotes. Far and wide, people are crying fowl that Ryan has demonstrated positive interest in Rand's works. And then denying their influence on him-or not?

Really, Atlas is just holding his head in his hands and
 weeping about the modern state of political discourse.
Now really, I could read as much as my puny litter grey matter could handle and I still wouldn't know up from down about the whole truth of the interior life of this country's dear politicians. But suffice it to say, I've already become annoyed at some who have severely recoiled at Ryan's association with Rand, as if reading a book and finding it fascinating and insightful somehow generates incurable Objectivist cooties. Ryan certainly got some measure of excitement from Rand, but his interest does not appear to be fanatical. I don't deny that Rand's Objectivism is downright frightening, but I don't think Ryan's significant engagement with her writing should necessarily alarm folks. I may stand corrected as I do my duty and reluctantly listen to more political banter as this election season progresses, but I think the general public is wrong to use Ryan's Rand connection to impulsively label him an enemy of the people (IMH non-political opinion).

I first read Atlas Shrugged while in college, and found it hugely enjoyable. Not because of its philosophy, which was a bit terrifying, but because Rand is, in my eyes, a formidable writer. Her electrifying prose only adds to the seductive quality of Objectivism. She certainly presents her philosophy in a captivating fashion. Goodness, if Ryan continues his holiday book-giveaway tradition, I wouldn't mind heckling for a fresh copy. Atlas Shrugged, is, of course, the type of book that falls under the category of 'discretionary reading.' That is, if you have reason to believe you will be irreparably seduced by the lure of unbounded motive power, you may want to give it a pass. But this is not a book that will necessarily pre-destine one for a moral demise. As always, caveat emptor.

From what I gather, some of what Ryan no doubt found (and perhaps still finds) seductive about the account given in Atlas Shrugged was its emphasis on the freeing of 'motive power,' an apparent nod towards popular contemporary ideas of de-regulation, etc. Much of what excited me in my read was much of the same rhetoric, which seems to smack of a certain liberating self-empowerment. In my younger, angst-ridden years, I had subconsciously subscribed to a form of the gospel of motive power, in which I could work through any obstacle with a bit of extra will-power. And it only caused me frustration and interior despair. Rand's language resonated with me. Those still clinging to the notion of an American dream still tend to get all sentimental about such language. But far from luring me into wild dreams about Taggart Transcontinental, the rhetoric of Atlas Shrugged  finally articulated my mis-guided motivations in a way that made it clear where I was mistaken. I am more than my motive power, and the world of Atlas Shrugged to me demonstrated why. Not to mention fleeting memories of Atlas Shrugged still leave me with highly romanticized sentiments toward rail travel- I do so love trains.

In library school I often perceived the idea of bibliotherapy with skepticism. It is still a clunky, silly-sounding word. But sometimes even so-called 'dangerous' books can, at the right time, serve as a sort of cathartic instrument. Atlas Shrugged certainly served that purpose for me. Regardless of the political climate, we ought to guard against an attitude of 'literary determinism,' which seeks to advance the already entrenched habit of the public to espouse the fastest-drawn conclusion, rather than critically and holistically examining the matters before them.

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