I made the mistake of reading the comment section under a National Post editorial. The piece was knocking Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty for his alternative energy program (which I happen to support). But some of the comments had me wondering about the mental capacity of Canadians, such as this:
“Leftist policies cause disaster because they aren't capable of thinking things thru, in any area. Millions died in Cambodia because of an incompetent vision for society. About 8 million Ukrainians starved. Rethink things like garbage and recycling policies. Climate change policies would cause a world of harm for no intelligent reason.”
I admit the comment does have a certain irrational poetic appeal. But its wildly gyrating scope is astonishing. Apparently “leftist policies” (not people) are responsible for the worst human atrocities including harmful climate change policies—and dealing with garbage and recycling. Uh, well OK. One can’t help but admire how the commenter brings new meaning to the phrase, “no intelligent reason.”
Online experiences like these are about as pleasant as wandering into a thicket of burdocks.
Other than the Internet exposing the illiterate, illogical thinking of ordinary Canadians, one wonders how these lines of thinking got started? How did this rapidly reactionary seed get planted? Well…
Ayn Rand was a Russian immigrant who moved to Hollywood to write screenplays and novels. After two unsuccessful novels she hit pay-dirt with “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” in which she laid out her philosophy: that ego, talent and hard work trump ethical altruism, and that the rewards should go to those superior beings who most deserve them. The books are an unbridled defense of laissez-faire capitalism vs. evil collectivism, the individual vs. the state, and promote material ambition as the motive force of humanity.
Rand's ideas found resonance in a generation of leaders that included Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, economists Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman, and of course our own Stephen Harper, and shaped the basic framework for both neo-conservative and libertarian ideologies.
Just in case you’re not up on your ideologies, neo-cons and libertarians favour deregulating business and lowering taxes on the wealthy. They believe everyone has the opportunity to work hard and achieve wealth. Those who don’t work hard enough deserve to remain poor and suffer the consequences. According to Rand and her followers, the wealthy and successful should not bear the burden of supporting the idle masses.
I admit the Randian philosophy of constructive greed has a certain appeal if one already has wealth and privilege. But somehow I don’t think it’s been working out too well for the poor, who are already burdened with significant disadvantages from birth.
But, wonder of wonders, the very group of people—the poor—who should be most incensed by Rand’s philosophy are often its biggest supporters. A lot has been written about this, the general consensus being that the American (Canadian) Dream is predicated on the notion that everyone has the opportunity to become a billionaire in our “free” society.
Sure. So, the six heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune will be dividing up $69 billion, which is equal to the net worth of the entire bottom 30 percent of income earners in the US. It’s hardly surprising to note that the Walton family has been lobbying aggressively to cut estate taxes. And the effort is working. The same sort of pressure from wealthy families is happening here in Canada.
So what are the chances of the poor becoming the wealthy? The odds are against it. Whereas incomes for the top one percent of income earners grew by 275 percent, they only grew 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent between 1979 and 2007. And from 2000 to 2007 the incomes of the middle and lower income groups have actually declined. In the words of Rand, "What are your masses [of humanity] but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?"
Meanwhile, instead being educated, the so-called masses are fed a steady diet of Fox and Sun disinformation by elite-serving Randophiles like Sean Hannity and Ezra Levant.
And where has 40 years of Rand-informed politics taken us? To Thatcherism and Reaganomics and deregulation of business that inevitably led to the financial meltdown in 2008. To Iraq, Afghanistan and other points in the Middle East for other people’s oil. To a senseless War on Terror, the erosion of civil liberties and the steady expansion of police state powers. To the widening gap between the rich and poor. And the dismissal of real collective dangers such as climate change.
In a twisted bit of irony, Rand’s early recoiling from Russian collectivism and subsequent proselytizing for free market capitalism has led to the equal and opposite reality: totalitarian capitalism. Her theories have led to corporate-run collectivism rather than the state-run variety. Yes, Rand has managed to change the world. Now it’s run by a different set of power-hungry bastards.
Why should Ayn Rand matter to you and me? Simply because we’re still being directed by the invisible hand of her philosophy as we speak.