I read “Atlas Shrugged” as a teenager. I enjoyed the story but knew there was something wrong with it, something I just couldn’t put my finger on. Later, I read an essay in which the author pointed his or her finger directly at what I would say is the central problem of the book: there are no children, frail elderly, severely handicapped or developmentally disabled folks of any age in the book. Ayn Rand’s world would work pretty well if the world were populated entirely of intelligent, physically healthy adults.
I read the book “Atlas Shrugged” as a teenager. I enjoyed the story but knew there was something wrong with it, something I just couldn’t put my finger on.
Later, I read an essay in which the author pointed his or her finger directly at what I would say is the central problem of the book: there are no children, frail elderly, severely handicapped or developmentally disabled folks of any age in the book.
Ayn Rand’s world would work pretty well if the world were populated entirely of intelligent, physically healthy adults. Her message that one need only pursue one’s own selfish ends and be responsible only for oneself does not resonate with anyone who wonders what might be done about all the people who are not capable of taking care of themselves without help.
And that’s the problem we face as a society, a problem that nobody has never solved: How do we help those who truly need and deserve help without also giving a free ride to the lazy? So far, this problem has never been solved, but most of us would rather err in giving too much help to the slothful rather than denying help to the truly needy.
Most of us — not all of us and not the late Ayn Rand, upon whose novel the current movie is based — do not mind paying some taxes to help support 90-year-old dementia patients living in nursing homes. Or orphaned children. Or folks whose mental capabilities are so low that they cannot live without supervision. You get the idea.
Then we have the gray areas, filled with people who could be doing more to help themselves, but whose lives are fraught with difficulties. People like teenagers who have a baby but not enough education to get a job that would begin to pay the whole cost of raising a child without subsidized housing, medical care and daycare. Many of us would like to see our tax dollars go toward helping such folks get a better education so they can be independent in the future, even though we know that sometimes what we end up doing is fostering dependency. It’s a problem we need to continue to work on, and some of the possible answers could fill a book.
Some people think churches and volunteers can replace the government. I say, take a look at times and places when no government safety net has existed and see how well that worked. I believe it truly takes a little of both — a public-private partnership, if you will.
Rand, however, came up with a philosophy she called Objectivism, which I think can be boiled down to the 1980s “greed is good” philosophy without very much left over to pour down the garbage disposal.
I’m always amazed that this country, which many describe as Christian, could so easily embrace concepts such as Objectivism, or indeed unbridled capitalism. Good people are motivated by many things, and money is by no means the most important one. Yet our system is set up to reward certain folks — those who dabble in derivatives, or CEOs — with fortunes, while we short-shrift folks like social workers, members of the clergy, home health care workers, etc. We offer nothing to stay-at-home moms and dads who are doing the finest and most important work there is. (I think if Rand had had a child, she would have been forced to give up the idea that it’s wrong to sacrifice oneself for another. Your child would die if you didn’t do so. Most childless people manage to understand this without any problems, but somehow it escaped Rand.)
Buying a ticket to see this movie, even if done for the sheer joy of laughing at it, would have the effect of contributing to the kookiness, so I won’t.
Greed is not good. Objectivism is not good. Caring about money more than people is not good. Any philosophy that doesn’t uphold helping others is not good.
So if someone asks you if you plan to see this stinker of a movie, just shrug.
Michelle Teheux may be reached at email@example.com.