Ayn Rand Being a Jerk to a High School Kid

Part of a great write-up at The Paris Review. Some context (from the article):

In 1963, a sixteen-year-old San Diego high school student named Bruce McAllister sent a four-question mimeographed survey to 150 well-known authors of literary, commercial, and science fiction. Did they consciously plant symbols in their work? he asked. Who noticed symbols appearing from their subconscious, and who saw them arrive in their text, unbidden, created in the minds of their readers? When this happened, did the authors mind?

21 thoughts on “Ayn Rand Being a Jerk to a High School Kid”

  1. She’s not being a jerk. She’s like a dash of cold, clear water. (And she was right about the “definition.”) One doesn’t have to agree with her to see that it’s a wake-up call, like a Zen master’s shout.


  2. Uh…what is it I am being awakened to? I think her characters are manifestations of her id. Her symbolisms involve involve themes of dominance/submission. All that self serving individualism still has context and requires co-operation of society, which to Ayn is rabble that gets in the way. It is interesting to note that the Terminal Generation, which has managed to nearly bring down the world’s economy and our government, has her on their top 10 reading lists. All the while giving lip service to Jesus, whose life was an example of caring for your neighbor. Thinking about it, having read her many, many years ago, her characters seem pretty schizoid.


    1. Her manner awakens one out of drifty sleep – in which too many of her critics (and no doubt some followers) pass their days. It’s just like the Zen masters yell or slap. Awaken!

      The D/s element in her characters is freely chosen. John Galt is the least dominating of men, indeed almost an everyman in his personal emotional conduct. Trying to understand her in usual categories is useless – one ends up misinterpreting intent, as here. Her characters aren’t naturalistic, so judging them thus is futile. She’s a 19th c. writer in most ways.

      Government distortions were the fundamental cause (and are causing) of our economic problems – note that the paper substitute was forced on us. On a real money basis, the bubbles (and the deficit spending and currency manipulations and so on) would be physically impossible. Observe the incredible advances of the late 19th c. on a real money, private banking basis while prices *deflated*.

      Jesus was not a pure altruist by any means – love your neighbor *as yourself*, said he, and also there is the parable of the Ten Virgins – and of the spendthrift servant. Jesus said: save *your* soul. (I’m not a Christian, by the way.)


      1. Dude, she’s a really shitty writer. And a fantasist. Which is fine, but, really, it’s the whole idea that people would base an entire “philosophy” (I use the quotation marks to indicate that Objectivism is not really a philosophy at all but a delusional rationalization of predatory darwinism) that make us want to make fun of Ayn Rand. Don’t pretend that those who dismiss her simply can’t see (or can’t see that they can’t see) something that you (think you) see in her work.

        I get her background. I get what she’s doing in her (dreadfully boring) books. I see the influence her sad biography no doubt had on her mentality and writing.

        But she’s not awakening people (this idea of “waking” or “enlightening” or [choose your synonym] is the rhetoric of all cults; cults offer people a license to believe that they are truly awake and aware to what others cannot see: this is the same position as the suicide bomber, who is blinded by his own certainty that others are blind).

        I feel that Rand’s dismissal above is cruel and ultimately narcissistic; why did she reply at all? Her reasoning is utterly illogical. The young man confuses definition with a messy, vague, illustrative example, but so what? He’s sixteen. He’s doing primary research. Is it too much for Rand to “give” the young man her thought, her opinion? Does her Randianism or Objectivism (what a silly, disingenuous name that is!) or whatever foreclose all possibility of actually engaging with another person? Clearly it doesn’t, because she *does* engage the kid—only at the most minimal, base level: she engages him by dismissing him, by belittling him, which perhaps feeds into her fantasy that she’s so much better than everyone and belongs in a Galt’s Gulch or Mordor or Atlantis or whatever other bullshit fantasist location she insists upon.

        She belongs on the island of shitty, selfish writers (I’m sure it’s overpopulated)—she’s no Jesus, no Nietzsche, not even a Tom Clancy. She’s silly.


  3. Honesty and expecting the child to dig deeper in understanding the subject at hand is being a jerk?

    That would explain a great deal about why our education system is collapsing under its own weight.

    Call me happy to have been taught by jerks.

    Of course, it easy to post derogatory comments from behind the safety wall of anonymity, eh, Biblioklept?


    1. Nice way to jump from point A to point Z. Yes, Rand being an uber dick to a kid is a prime example of why our education system is collapsing. It’s a little sensationalistic to say that, is it not?


      1. This is a whole lot of subjects for one tiny little comment made by a Famous/Notorious author. Try knocking on Jack Nicholson or Ken Kesey’s door with a question and find out what happens. It would take a very long time for the body hairs to lie back down. So, she’s not perfect. She’s not a demon, neither. There is no longer a sociable dialog, only a diatribe.

        The only thing wrong with the public education system in the US is the whole damned system. What is taught, why it is taught and how it is taught. They want you to think, but not too much, and DO NOT color outside the lines. Everybody is not and cannot be special. Special people are special because they make themselves special. But forget not pacing with the group. Life is not played out on a level playing field with no out-of-bounds nor goalposts nor score keeper. It’s like an ossified miscarriage of the Victorian dandy and 20’s socialist theory. Know a little about everything but not enough about any of it, and stand out as long as you don’t detract from the group.

        I’ll just get off the soapbox now.

        At least the respondents aren’t rooting around in some discussion about the authenticity of some one’s style, ad boredom. Just do not say the words, ‘Ayn Rand’ at a gathering where there is alcohol.


        1. Funny you mention Jack Nicholson as I have approached him, randomly, and asked him a question. He was courteous, shot the shit with me for a few minutes and then headed off to do whatever it is he does these days. You seem to make some blanket statements about the education system which I agree needs massive revamping, but yet you don’t give any specifics for any of your claims.

          I don’t think anyone is claiming that Rand is a “demon” as you say…what people argue is that she was simply an asshole whose philosophy border lined on hilarity. But I guess ragging on Rand is kind of like calling in the National Guard to break up a playground fight. There’s just no challenge.


          1. Generalization is the well-trod pathway to Babel. It is hard to resist when trying to cram a lot into a short reply. Without being personal, your reply is full of generalizations, also. I am not sure what it is about the fantasies of a little Russian Jewish girl who likes strong individualistic men that makes her an asshole. Nor what is wrong with people who like her fantasies. She most certainly seems to be demonized by some of the writings and video interviews I have seen. The most entertaining thing I have to relate about her, is that she and her husband had a salon where people with money would give up the bucks to learn how to be an individual.

            I am glad that you were well received by Mr. Nicholson. From what I have seen of him on camera he seems affable enough. I am sure that he is professional enough to put his best foot forward when in public also. Ken Kesey was a good old boy, also, but his personality was not two dimensional and one-sided, neither. I am not sure what your point it is. This particular page is about Ayn Rand and there simply is not enough space to convey apocrypha about the mess that public grade school education makes of very expensively over-produced children. I was replying to Lee Fox who seems to have been inspired to think for himself. From what I have observed, home schooling is the way to go for parents who want to raise their children to be family oriented rather than institutional fodder. The individually schooled kids I have met are sociable with adults, well liked by their peers (the ones who are likable, anyway), and usually garner grants, rewards, and great grades from good colleges. Without all the drug and behavior problems. Nor do they seem repressed. Of course, this wouldn’t hold if they were raised by parents from Fahrenheit 451 or Brave New World.

            If there is an island of shitty, narcissistic writers, then it must be crowded shoulder to shoulder by now.

            I find it funny that I am writing this about someone I read that long ago, and moved on to other works, both literary and ‘philosophical’. But you came into this room for an argument. ‘I didn’t.’ ‘Did.’ ‘Did not’. ….did.


  4. So telling how she signs her name for posterity. Another gem that will be uncovered and put in a museum dedicated to me, she thinks, and writes the date to make it easier for her future audience.


  5. Well, I added fuel to the fire hoping to cause a conflagration. I went to bed thinking I had put too much on and had smothered the fire. Today’s mail reveals that there is a healthy debate going on. Now there are too many different subject threads going on for me to try to write coherently about the replies following the text.

    Sticking to the original article and its reply, the first thing I notice is that the line with the arrow goes to the first paragraph. My guess is that the first paragraph was written by the teacher who assigned the project. For some reason Ms. Rand demurs comprehension of the question being asked, which is puzzling to me, because she knew damned well what the questioner’s subject was about. No reading between the lines necessary. What a great opportunity to ‘enlighten’ another youth. The characters in her novels are symbolic, archetypal icons from a bygone (maybe) era. But the principals she is espousing are still current. Lamentably, much of her literary ability is laughable. Her ideas suit immature young men who have more ideals than experience. ‘…between the concept and the creation falls the shadow…’

    To get to what is so really wrong with her reply, paragraph 2 states what his intentions and questions are. No interpretation necessary. Instead of replying by filling in the dots, she attacks his inexperience with form. And answers his questions with a non-reply. An answer as cold as her bedroom mirror.

    ‘…praises be to Nero’s Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn…while Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliott are fighting in the captain’s tower, calypso dancers laugh at them, and fishermen hold flowers…’

    Hopefully, Mr. Bruce received enlightening answers from the other authors he sent his letters to.


  6. In response to Michael R. Brown,

    I completely agree with your first sentence. That is why I added the line from Mr. Dylan ‘…praises be…’
    However, Zen master, Ayn is not. Her one reply out of what must have been lots of mail is no reason to throw her out as a legitimate part of what formed this society. I write that because she is in the top 10 people given as the most influential in peoples’ lives. For example, I can’t stand mongrel architecture to this day, 50+ years after having read her.

    As far as the D/S element goes, it is from memory of having that impression from years ago, when I read three of her books, one right after the other. Barry Goldwater was running for President. We were of the generation whose mothers made sure we wore clean underwear in case we were in an accident and the medical workers think we were trash and not give us their best. A good time to be a Beatnik with Bohemian pretensions, and read the Existentialists and get depressed. It was a very appropriate time to express ‘who gives a f… what the neighbors think’. Today, there needs to be an even stronger ‘anti-social’ expression. To rephrase Winston Churchill’s statement, ‘if you aren’t a conservative when you are young, you have no mind; if you aren’t a liberal when you are old, you have no heart’. Actually he said just the opposite.

    I also agree with you that her characters are fictional symbols of the social process. Much the same as Freud used id, ego, etc., as symbols of the workings of the human mind, not as definite ‘places’, as the more icon oriented try to establish as words from God. I think that the US needs to decide whether we want our culture to be one of group identity, such as in China or Japan, or whether we will be a collection of co-operative individuals. I am hoping for the latter.

    However, I think that the Government distortion occurs when it fails to effectively and efficiently regulate the market place. Shortly after the first crossroads market sprang up in the jungle, thugs arrived to take their cut. Police became necessary, along with a government to regulate them. When fists weren’t enough, the voodoo artist was paid to hex the non-compliant. And on into today’s world. ‘Power corrupts…’ is as true today as when the phenomenon was first observed. In a good, scholarly translation of the I Ching, there is an observation of the progressive decay of authority, such as Ayn Rand’s observations about Atilla and Godzilla.

    As far as the governments’ manipulations of money, I am in awe that money as a means of trade works at all.

    I am no adherent of any religion. Some people get all upset when one talks about Jesus, the same as some Christians get upset when one talks about Buddha, and on into infinite boredom. Jesus’ main topic in most of his talks was about the poor and disadvantaged. Not so with the rest of the Bible, which is littered with cruelty, perversion, and all sorts of crime against one’s better nature.

    What I was observing about Jesus is that today’s current crop of politicians is liberally populated with Church-going family woman/men, who also in practice and speech worship Mammon. I hope there is a special place in hell for them. If everybody gets to go to heaven, then I’d rather go to Hades. At least there will be room in the hot tub and who knows, some one else might join me.

    I am writing this to you because I realized that I responded in a gang type way. I have never been able to understand what it is about Ayn Rand’s writings that cause such vehement hostility. Especially from people who wouldn’t be in their elite situation if they hadn’t separated themselves from the herd. If truly seeking intellectual awakening, then one should gather information from many sources and decide what rings true and what is false. The key is in understanding the tendency to hear what one wants to hear.

    My method is to apply the scientific method using Buddhist mind science. (Figure that one out).

    I hope that you continue with your intellectual explorations. As an old farmer neighbor says, ‘when I stop learning, it’s time to start digging’ (me a grave).


  7. I love it. Even on a relatively quiet little blog devoted to discussing books, a derogatory comment about Ayn Rand can still summon a few defenders. I wonder if there is any place on the internet where a comment challenging her brilliance is allowed to pass unnoticed.


    1. The last time I read anything by her was in the early ’60’s, so I do not have any opinions about her brilliance. She couldn’t be any more arcane than John Dewey or a socialist apologist. What I find remarkable is the venom directed at her by otherwise ‘objective’ personages. I felt that at best she pointed out the obvious, that you come into this world alone, that no body is going to do your life for you, you have to do it for yourself, and that you will exit this life alone. With the exception of Gertrude Stein, who remarked to Alice B. Toklas, who was clinging to her in her death moment wanting to know, ‘what is the answer.’ To which Gertrude replied, ‘what is the question’. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

      I was surprised to learn that most Americans (who read) list Ayn as one of their most influential authors. It seems to me that we are living through the great failure of liberalism, and that American conservatism is necrotic. A sure cure for Marxist tendencies is to leave the middle class ghetto and work and live armpit to armpit with the great unwashed proletariat. Consider the Soviet Union under Stalin or China under Mao.

      Her characters (in memory) are no more two dimensional than the ones in Brave New World, 1984, or Fahrenheit 451, which in the light of today, seem eerily prescient.

      I am very happy to have found this site recently and I read most of its RSS’s. I have yet to encounter any of the degrading diatribes that people direct at each other, such as in YouTube music videos. Music hath lost its charm to soothe the savage beast. All those ugly words written because some one liked or did not like a song.


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