Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Right to Play the Blues

Our old friend Warren is a well-known musician in Seattle. He tells of a Randian orgy (the kind that produces no children of course), the sort of thing that really shines a light on the absurdity of the whole phenomenon, and hints at its dangers:

"I was a trumpet player on a cruise doing the Vancouver-to-Alaska run. Our "job" consisted of playing to "click" tracks, tapes that played our parts through the loudspeakers and we were to play along (yeah, that's why I've devoted my life to playing music). Anyway our piano player got the whole band to read Ayn Rand backstage (we must have been pretty bored and gullible too). Well, this was one of life's moments: the head of the cruise staff came backstage, saw us reading Ayn Rand and remarked that we were supposed to be in the bar getting drunk like all the other bands he worked with.

It was indeed a great moment. The piano player who instigated this turned out to be a soulless materialistic dweeb."

...some great Philadelphians: Lee Morgan and Benny Golson and the Blakeyites
What were they reading?

A bunch of jazz musicians sitting around reading Rand in their spare moments: I'm not sure what this says about the state of jazz today, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt and look at what it tells us about le phénomène Rand. There is a cult-like flavor to all of this, though given Randians' absolute insistence on individualism, this is an aspect of the phenomenon that they would clearly not emphasize.

Still, to call it a cult is no hyperbole. Consider these chilling words:

“Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived. Atlas Shrugged is the greatest human achievement in the history of the world. Ayn Rand, by virtue of her philosophical genius, is the supreme arbiter of any issue pertaining to what is rational, moral, or appropriate to man's life on earth.”

[Correction from our original version: I had passed these words along as Alan Greenspan's, though indeed this attribution had never fully sat right with me: it was hard to believe that a person of Greenspan's intelligence would willfully dribble such cultoid, sycophantic claptrap -- though I was too clumsy to formulate this doubt. Our friends over at aynrandcontrahumannature, more rigorous than I, point out that this little outburst comes from another follower, Nathaniel Branden, a psychoanalyst who espouses a version of objectivism (as his enthusiastically adopted name suggests). More on Branden in another post dealing with the altruism inherent in certain professions, like psychoanalysis (though presumably not Branden's), where the ego of the analyst must be nullified in order to provide the patient a blank palette on which to project. The upshot of our point, though, is unchanged.]

Clearly this is someone susceptible to all kinds of hero-worship and the damage that can wreak in the public sphere. It really raises the question whether certain personality types are more susceptible to Randspeak than others. Our jazz musicians just had a little taste, but how many of them would have continued reading -- and how many would ultimately have taken the Randian worldview to heart?

One psychological interpretation is that people who insist on the cult of the individual to the exclusion of all communal considerations -- a radical view in any case that is destructive to the fabric of society -- are actually just compensating for a lack of direction in their own lives.

Don't those conservative US senators that inveigh against homosexuality all get discovered, sooner or later, foot-tapping in a gray airport bathroom, or stroking the rippling back of their languorous male escort distended on the crimson carpet of some seedy hotel outside Denver?