Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Embracing of Ayn Rand

About 15-20 years ago I began to make what people perceived as startling statements about Ayn Rand. Most of the my statements were met with “Who the heck is Ayn Rand?” My observation at the time was that many of the people who were calling themselves conservative were not really conservative but Randian in their approach. American conservatives most often viewed the philosophy of Edmund Burke as their guide, whereas 15-20 years ago Rand’s philosophy began to prevail. And there are consequences to this.

Rand’s philosophy comes as a result of a series of massive novels. It is no doubt that she was a gifted writer who made some valid and interesting points in her books. Some of her points, made in novels like Atlas Shrugged, which are not inconsistent with Burke’s philosophy are quite valid. But, in the spirit of intellectual honesty, some of the points Upton Sinclair made in his books like The Jungle, which would come from a drastically opposing perspective of Rand’s are valid as well. I am focusing on Rand right now, however, because virtually no one is reading Sinclair.

Rand’s philosophy premise is based on something she calls objectivism. There is an objective nature to life. Much as paper burns and water makes you wet, there are objective realities in life.

Reason, for her, was everything. And the reasoning has to be clear, objective, and totally rational with no sense of feeling. One’s feelings would lead a person astray.

Religion, to her was a fraud. God was a delusion and not an objective truth.

For her, selfishness is a virtue and altruism is seen as a crime against human excellence. For her, self-sacrifice is a contemptible weakness that people have. She said,

“The Objectivist ethics, in essence,hold that man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.” Her thought was this. “Man is a heroic being with his own happiness as the moral purpose of life with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

She was very anti-Christian. She felt that Christianity demonstrated the opposite of every human value. Her view of Christianity, which so often lies at the foot of the cross, is this: “The cross, the symbol of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. . . . It is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. That is torture.”

People are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors....

When one uses the expression, ‘Class warfare,’ one needs to begin with Rand. For her, class warfare was not only tolerable and acceptable, it was a moral absolute. For her, the people at the top deserved to be at the top and had no responsibility for those at the bottom as, from her world view, those at the bottom deserved to be there.

Rand’s impact is alarming.

Congressman Paul Ryan with his “Roadmap for America’s Future,” addresses issues like Medicare and Medicaid by majorly cutting them back while reducing the tax level on the highest earners in the country. For him, this is more than a budgetary proposal, it is a way of viewing life in the United States. Ryan, who is an admirer of Rand and requires all of his staffers read Atlas Shrugged, is greatly impacted by her philosophical world view.

To Ryan’s credit, he is being honest about his Randian world view. He admires her and he’s not afraid state it. His “Roadmap” is a clear example of a Randian world view.

If people listen to Rush Limbaugh, Limbaugh espouses a Randian philosophy. I’m not sure that he ever mentions her by name as he seems to like to express her world view as HIS world view and he seems to have too much hubris to give another person credit for ideas. Interestingly enough, I suspect Rand would approve of this as he has been amazingly successful.

Something else very evident is that the poor have been demonized by society.

With the release of the recent “Roadmap” many people have given it a great deal of scrutiny. The cuts on Medicare are incredibly unpopular. The vast majority of Americans are opposed to this. People like Medicare and it ultimately benefits everyone age 65 and over. The cuts on Medicaid, however, aren’t nearly as unpopular. The fact that Medicaid is mostly used for the poorest Americans often indicates that caring for the less fortunate is not the highest priority for most people.

The greatest impact of Ayn Rand, however, is not only politically, but also religiously. The philosophy of Ayn Rand, in the most ironic of twists, is that Ayn Rand’s philosophy has impacted religious life in America.

Michael Gerson, a speech writer for President George W. Bush did a recent ‘take down’ of Rand from a conservative Christian perspective and called her objectivist philosophy merely a move toward societal adolescence.

Roman Catholic author, Vincent Miller recently wrote in the Roman Catholic publication America, these words which I quote extensively:

It’s an appropriate topic during Holy Week. Gerson outlines the conflict between Christianity and Rand’s “Objectivism” which could not be more fundamental. In Rand’s words, her ethics held “that man exists for his own sake, that his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself for others, nor sacrifice others to himself.” She disdained the Cross: “It is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors.”

Rand's novels sell more than 800,000 copies a year. Her influence goes far beyond “Who is John Galt?” posters and t-shirts at Tea Party rally’s.

Congressman Paul Ryan is a Rand devotee. He calls her “the reason I got involved in public service” and requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged. Indeed Ryan’s celebrated budget proposal reads like it was written by John Galt himself. It is one grand shrug of the wealthy--combining further upper income tax cuts with slashes to Medicaid and the conversion of Medicare to a shrinking voucher.

It is worth noting that Ryan is Catholic. I wonder if he knows that both his principles and policies are fundamentally opposed to the social teaching of the Church? Perhaps if his Rand-inspired libertarianism leads him to a pro-choice position, his bishop might take note. But otherwise, he will likely not only be free to pedal his society-shredding fiscal policies, he will never be challenged by his Church to consider the profound error of Rands views. This is a profound failure in teaching the faith.

One wonders if he even knows of the existence Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. It’s wisdom sounds so foreign in the contemporary climate.

354. Tax revenues and public spending take on crucial economic importance for every civil and political community. The goal to be sought is public financing that is itself capable of becoming an instrument of development and solidarity. Just, efficient and effective public financing will have very positive effects on the economy, because it will encourage employment growth and sustain business and non-profit activities to help to increase the credibility of the State as the guarantor of systems of social insurance and protection that are designed above all to protect the weakest members of society.

Public spending is directed to the common good when certain fundamental principles are observed: the payment of taxes as part of the duty of solidarity; a reasonable and fair application of taxes; precision and integrity in administering and distributing public resources. In the redistribution of resources, public spending must observe the principles of solidarity, equality and making use of talents. It must also pay greater attention to families, designating an adequate amount of resources for this purpose.

With libertarianism now fully embraced by a major political party and the social safety net being shredded in states following decades of Rand-ian tax cuts, this seems a worthy topic for the exercise of the Bishops teaching authority. Recall Glen Beck’s urging his listener’s to flee any church that preaches “Social Justice”?

One wishes it weren’t such a fantasy to imagine the Bishops Committee on Doctrine responding to such a widely influential ideology.

Ryan remains unchallenged by his own church. The only Christian bodies that have expressed a concern over his budgetary plan are the churches of the small and mostly ignored Christian Left, and what are perceived as ‘out of step’ Evangelicals.

It should be noted that Vice President Joe Biden and Senator John Kerry, while running for the Presidency, were refused Holy Communion for being personally opposed to abortion but publically voting to keep it legalized. (I can argue about refusing anyone Holy Communion, but that’s a different issue) While Biden and Kerry were denied Holy Communion, nary a word has been spoken about Ryan’s proposal which is as clearly opposed to Roman Catholic church teaching as abortion.

Another interesting aspect of Rand and Christianity is this.

Recently Lawrence O’Donnell ran clips of Rush Limbaugh denouncing the Left for citing Jesus in reference to Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap” and Limbaugh made the statement that the only time the Left was interested in Jesus Christ was when they felt they could use Jesus to bash a Republican proposal. Limbaugh, who does not attend church and does not publically espouse any religious convictions other than when it’s convenient to him, went on to say that Jesus would have nothing to say about Ryan’s proposal. He then went on to say that the appropriate thing to address would not be WWJD, What would Jesus Do, but instead be WWJT, What would Jesus take?

O’Donnell addressed Limbaugh’s question by reading something Limbaugh was obviously not familiar with: The Gospels. Limbaugh, who went on and on saying that Jesus didn’t bash the rich went on and articulated a position that was completely inconsistent with Christianity. And Jesus did bash the rich. A lot. In fact, Jesus’ two primary moral teachings were about caring for the poor and his opposition to self-righteousness.

And most of Christianity in America did nothing in response to Limbaugh’s statements. Albert Mohler who consistently has things to say about American society and how we are all going to hell, said nary a word when the most popular talk show host in America completely mis-represented Christianity.

Interestingly enough the majority, not all, but the majority of mega-churches say very little to caring for the poor and outcast, cast out gay members, and are quick to condemn homosexuality and abortion as well as societal ills like pornography, but are painfully slow at condemning programs that bash the poor. In fact, so many of them promote personal prosperity and the benefits of personal relationships with Jesus and personal salvation, that they appear to be less based upon Jesus Christ and more based on a Christianization of Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy was a morally bankrupt philosophy that was, and is, totally contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The more we embrace it, the less we embrace Christ.

And we are embracing more and more...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Politifact Grades

Politfact has become one of the most important websites on the Internet as it unflinchingly rates people’s honesty in their speeches and comments. I decided to search out Politifact and give politicians grades. Politfact has certain categories and I decided to assign a number to each score.

If a statement is True, I gave the person 4 points, an A.

If the statement is Mostly True, 3 points, a B.

If the statement is Half True, 2 points, a C.

If the statement is mostly Barely True, 1 point a D.

If a statement is False, 0 points, an F.

If the statement is Pants on Fire, I gave them -1 points for pure deceit.

Like a normal grade, I counted up the total number of points and divided by the number of actual statements the person has on Politfact. The President scored the highest with a 2.2 but this can be attributed to a lot of things. For one, he has, by far and away, the most number of statements because he is the President of the United States and, because he is also the most scrutinized person, he has to be incredibly careful with what he says because he will be called out on it. Or, perhaps he is more honest than most. People can come to whatever conclusions they want. Having said all that, a score of 2.2, in my opinion, is nothing to be proud of.

On the bottom end of the scale is Michele Bachmann who had a score of 0 in True or Mostly True. Her total score was 0.2 which can only mean she’s one of the most overwhelmingly dishonest politicians in the United States. Interestingly enough, she professes herself to be a Christian. If she really is, I’d presume she’s a Christian for whom only 9 Commandments count.

The results are disturbing. Two well known people failed miserably, one beyond miserably. The highest scores were C’s, not even C+. Really awful stuff if you ask me.

President Barack Obama Score 2.22 C

Speaker John Boehner Score 1.97 C

Senator Mitch McConnell Score 1.9 C

Senator Harry Reid Score 1.8 C

Cong. Nancy Pelosi Score 1.86 C

VP Joe Biden Score 2.0 C

Sarah Palin Score 1.6 D+

Mike Pence 1.4 D

Rachel Maddow Score 1.27 D

Glenn Beck Score .86 F

Michele Bachmann Score .2 F

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Calming Down

I'm finding that calming down after the recent budget fight, potential shut-down has been difficult for me.

Truth be told, while I obviously lean left, I'm really not an ideologue. I actually don't really trust ideologues. I tend to think hard and fast ideologies are simplistic attempts to solve complex problems. I tend to believe that the truth is found in a variety of ideas and that pragmatism is more important than holding fas to some ideology. But, obviously, I find myself in the minority.

Several things made me angry.

The Democrats failed to pass a budget when they had control of Congress, both houses, and they also passed the health care legislation that had some good things in it. It is mislabled as 'Obamacare' to make it appear like it was the brain child of the President. Sadly, it was the brainchild of committees in Congress with a bunch of modifications made to make it more palatable. The Democrats passed it and ran away from it like scared children. If you pass something good, stand up for it and promote it. They failed and lost the House. Deservedly so.

Some of the Republicans used the current budget time to attempt to make cheap political points. Michele Bachmann and Mike Pence gave speeches practically demanding a shut down and the more radical people in the party made life difficult for John Boehner. I think, of everyone, Boehner has the most difficult job. He's the 'cat herder' in Congress. While I disagree with Boehner on most things, I've come to greatly respect him. I do think he has a lot of integrity.

I'm not sure about the President on this one. He pretty much stayed on the sidelines and tried to be 'Presidential.' From what I've heard, however, he was very much a player and was on the phone constantly.

But the biggest issue is this. It shouldn't have come to this. We elect people to behave like grown ups. Some did----or tried to, but everyone was let down by incompetence and untruths.

I hope I do eventually calm down.