Ayn Rand knew the answer to that question back in 1957. Some would say tha Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged was prophetic because of the parallels between events in the book and what is happening in the world around us today.
Fox News has an article today that discusses the “prophesies” in Ayn Rand’s book by drawing parallels between various protagonist with real life persons. I found it very interesting because it has been 50 years since I read Atlas Shrugged and I had forgotten many of the details and many of the characters in the book. Here are some of the parallels that the article’s author sees:
There’s Eugene Lawson, “the banker with a heart,” who like former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is ever ready with a bailout.
There’s Mr. Thompson, who like President Obama seeks to rally the country behind pious platitudes.
There’s Orren Boyle, who like President Bush says that we must abandon free-market principles to save the free market.
Later in the article there are quotes of the main protagonist of Atlas Shrugged, John Galt where he is chastising the people for their mis-guided sense of virtue. Along with each quote the author provides a real life example. I think you will find them very interesting. But, I want to share the last John Galt quote and discuss it:
“Why . . . do you shrink in horror from the sight of the world around you? That world is not the product of your sins, it is the product and the image of your virtues. It is your moral ideal brought into reality . . .
That is a powerful statement. The world we have created is not a product of our sins; it is a product of our warped sense of virtue. Do you agree? I think Ayn Rand was/is on to something.
Let’s try an analogy. When we see an obviously spoiled child misbehaving at the mall or in a restaurant, what are our thoughts? We don’t blame the child for being spoiled, do we? No, we blame the parents. But, are the parents bad people (sin) or is it that the parents have a mis-guided concept of how to show their love for their child (virtue). And when the parents themselves reach the point where even they can not abide their spoiled child’s behavior, where do they put the blame? Certainly not on themselves. No, it’s the child’s fault. They can not understand how the child does not shower them with the same love that they showered on their child. Stupid, right?. Well, stupid is a commodity in great supply throughout the world I am afraid.
Let’s take our spoiled child analogy and see, for example, how it applies to what it playing out before our eyes in Greece and Europe. Greece we know is a basket case. The Greek government (parent) has been handing out candy to their citizens (children) for decades and the children being children accepted this candy joyously and assumed there would always be more candy. Unfortunately, the Greek government ran out of candy and the citizens haven’t been very happy about that and they began behaving like the spoilt children that they are. But, the problem is even worse. The Greek government, you see, was handing out candy for all those years that they couldn’t afford and so they borrowed money to pay for the candy and now they can’t pay back that money or even pay the interest on the accumulated debt. So, the Greek government (now in the role of the child) goes to the nanny governments of the European Union (parent) looking for a handout. After much hand wringing by the collective European parents, they decided the other day to give their spoilt child, Greece, what they thought the spoilt child wanted. What happened? The Greek government (again in the role of a parent) decides to let their misbehaving children vote on Europe’s plan because this plan calls for much more austerity (no candy) for the children, The collective European parents are aghast that their spoiled Greek child would repay their love in this manner. Clearly there will be no happy ending to this Greek tragedy.
Unfortunately, it’s not just a Greek tragedy. It’s a European tragedy and it could soon be an American tragedy.
In the midst of the financial crisis of the 1970’s, Ayn Rand was asked what the solution was. Here is her reply:
“So long as we have not yet reached the state of censorship of ideas,” she once said, “one does not have to leave a society in the way the characters did in Atlas Shrugged. . . . But you know what one does have to do? One has to break relationships with the culture. . . . [D]iscard all the ideas—the entire cultural philosophy which is dominant today.”
Wow! If Ms. Rand was right, and I believe she was, we have a much bigger task in front of us than we thought. We can elect a conservative government and make sweeping changes in fiscal and monetary policies to turn our ship of state around, but unless we also change the entire cultural philosophy which is dominant today, there will be no lasting effects from any policy changes we can make in the next administration. That is a pretty tall order. How do we change an entire cultural philosophy?
It was one thing to change a puritanical – strong work ethic culture into a culture of nannyism by handing out candy. But, as we see in Greece, weaning the children from that constant supply of candy and getting them to see it as a good thing, is an entirely different matter. There are some that believe it can’t be done unless the entire system crashes and burns first so that we can rebuild with a revised set of virtues. Sadly, I think they may be right.
Well, that’s what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?