Why let an ideology or worldview compete on its own merits when you can spread it as propaganda to tender young minds? Better yet, how ’bout paying to download it into young brains? That’s what’s happening with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, which – as best I understand it – is a mishmash of “reason,” capitalism, untrammeled competition, and unenlightened self-interest.
I’d like to start by saying that I don’t get into belligerent shouting matches at the playground very often. The Tot Lot, by its very nature, can be an extremely volatile place—a veritable powder keg of different and sometimes contradictory parenting styles—and this fact alone is usually enough to keep everyone, parents and tots alike, acting as courteous and deferential as possible. The argument we had earlier today didn’t need to happen, and I want you to know, above all else, that I’m deeply sorry that things got so wildly, publicly out of hand.
Now let me explain why your son was wrong.
When little Aiden toddled up our daughter Johanna and asked to play with her Elmo ball, he was, admittedly, very sweet and polite. I think his exact words were, “Have a ball, peas [sic]?” And I’m sure you were very proud of him for using his manners.
To be sure, I was equally proud when Johanna yelled, “No! Looter!” right in his looter face, and then only marginally less proud when she sort of shoved him.
The thing is, in this family we take the philosophies of Ayn Rand seriously. We conspicuously reward ourselves for our own hard work, we never give to charity, and we only pay our taxes very, very begrudgingly.
Since the day Johanna was born, we’ve worked to indoctrinate her into the truth of Objectivism. Every night we read to her from the illustrated, unabridged edition of Atlas Shrugged—glossing over all the hardcore sex parts, mind you, but dwelling pretty thoroughly on the stuff about being proud of what you’ve earned and not letting James Taggart-types bring you down. For a long time we were convinced that our efforts to free her mind were for naught, but recently, as we’ve started socializing her a little bit, we’ve been delighted to find that she is completely antipathetic to the concept of sharing. As parents, we couldn’t have asked for a better daughter.
That’s why, when Johanna then began berating your son, accusing him of trying to coerce from her a moral sanction of his theft of the fruit of her labor, in as many words, I kind of egged her on. Even when Aiden started crying.
You see, that Elmo ball was Johanna’s reward for consistently using the potty this past week. She wasn’t given the ball simply because she’d demonstrated an exceptional need for it—she earned it. And from the way Aiden’s pants sagged as he tried in vain to run away from our daughter, it was clear that he wasn’t anywhere close to deserving that kind of remuneration. By so much as allowing Johanna to share her toy with him, we’d be undermining her appreciation of one of life’s most important lessons: You should never feel guilty about your abilities. Including your ability to repeatedly peg a fellow toddler with your Elmo ball as he sobs for mercy.
Look, imagine what would happen if we were to enact some sort of potty training Equalization of Opportunity Act in which we regularized the distribution all of Johanna’s and Aiden’s potty chart stickers. Suddenly it would seem as if Aiden had earned the right to wear big-boy underpants, and within minutes you’d have a Taggart Tunnel-esque catastrophe on your hands, if you follow me.
Johanna shouldn’t be burdened with supplying playthings for every bed-wetting moocher she happens to meet. If you saw Johanna, her knees buckling, her arms trembling but still trying to hold aloft the collective weight of an entire Tot Lot’s worth of Elmo balls with the last of her strength, what would you tell her to do?
To shrug. Just like we’ve instructed her to do if Child Protective Services or some other agent of the People’s State of America ever asks her about what we’re teaching her.
Unlike Jill, I quoted nearly the whole thing so that you’d have a fighting chance to realize that this is, indeed, satire. Myself, I first thought it was “by real,” as my Tiger says – maybe because the default framing of anything on a major feminist blog is “outrage” rather than “funny”? But this piece is, in fact, very, very funny. Anything that evokes Elmo in the same breath as Ayn Rand and throws in a poop joke or two has great comedic potential.
But now that we’ve had our LOLs, here’s true and rather sinister side of this story. The Ayn Rand Institute is indeed out to capture the minds of young ‘uns, starting with college students. And this is no spoof.
The latest issue of Academe (the journal published by the American Association of University Professors) includes two articles detailing how the Ayn Rand Institute is channeling funds through the charitable offshoot of a major bank, BB&T (which I confess I’d never heard of until now):
Stipulations range from the seemingly benign—funding for faculty and student research and support for a speaker series on capitalism, leadership retreats, and the establishment of Ayn Rand reading rooms—to the sharply contentious. At Western Carolina University, for example—as at UNC–Charlotte—in addition to the creation of new courses involving required reading of Rand, the original 2008 agreement included a condition that faculty members who teach the new course on capitalism “shall work closely with the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) and have a reasonable understanding and positive attitude towards Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.” In this and other agreements, the BB&T Foundation’s close ties to the Ayn Rand Institute, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Irvine, California, are evident. The institute’s stated mission is to work “to introduce young people to Ayn Rand’s novels, to support scholarship and research based on her ideas, and to promote the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights, and laissez-faire capitalism to the widest possible audience.”
I find this absolutely chilling. Imagine if a donor said I had to teach David Irving, the infamous Holocaust denier, in my Nazi Germany course. Or if I were required to teach Phyllis Schlafly in my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies! I do mention them both – but certainly not with “a positive attitude.”
The corporatization of the university has advanced so far that this new incursion on academic freedom isn’t entirely surprising. It is, however, breaking new ground. And why am I not surprised that it’s spearheaded by precisely a movement whose “philosophy” (if it deserves to be dignified as such) meshes neatly with that of a corporatized university, where units are pitted against each other according to shady metrics, and where pillars of a liberal education such as Classics face possible extinction because they don’t generate enough revenue?
The irony, of course, is that if Ayn Rand’s acolytes really believed in the free market, and if her ideas were truly so stinkin’ brilliant, there’d be no need for such shenanigans. Rand’s ideas would succeed on the open market. Full stop. No donations required.
So, no, Rand’s not being taught in nursery school – yet. I have to wonder, though, if the ARI is only waiting on the release of a pop-up book version of Atlas Shrugged .