Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ayn Rand's India holds up a mirror for the American right to see itself

  "Evil requires the sanction of the victim." Ayn Rand"
 David Seaton's News Links
The other day in my perusings I stumbled upon this troubling jewel
Not only do Indians perform more Google searches for (Ayn) Rand than citizens of any country in the world except the United States, but Penguin Books India has sold an impressive number of copies -- as many as 50,000 of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead each since 2005, a number comparable to sales there by global best-seller John Grisham. And that's not counting the ubiquitous pirated copies of her works that are hawked at rickety street stalls, sidewalk piles, and bus stations -- an honor that Rand, a fierce defender of intellectual property rights, probably would not have appreciated. Foreign Policy
To put this information into some perspective I would ask you to read a paragraph from Wikipedia:
The World Bank estimates that 456 million Indians (42% of the total Indian population) now live under the global poverty line of $1.25 per day (PPP). This means that a third of the global poor now reside in India.(...) India has a higher rate of malnutrition among children under the age of three (46% in year 2007) than any other country in the world.
Now into that context, to see what Indians are so eagerly googling, let's mix in the following sayings of Ayn Rand, which though few, hopefully give the full flavor of her "Objectivist" philosophy:
"Evil requires the sanction of the victim."

"If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject."

"I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

"Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men."

"It only stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master."

"Money is the barometer of a society's virtue. "
Now you may ask yourself, what possible attraction could this sort of  paean to sociopathic selfishness have for the countrymen of that paragon of selflessness, Mahatma Gandhi? How can you revere one and also revere the other?

You can't. Rand is in, Gandhi is out.

How is this put together?

Again from Wikipedia:
A disproportionally large share of poor are lower caste Hindus. According to S. M. Michael, Dalits constitute the bulk of poor and unemployed. Many see Hinduism and its subsidiary called caste system as a system of exploitation of poor low-ranking groups by more prosperous high-ranking groups. In many parts of India, land is largely held by high-ranking property owners of the dominant castes that economically exploit low-ranking landless labourers and poor artisans, all the while degrading them with ritual emphases on their so-called god-given inferior status.
"Dalit" is a politically correct term for "untouchable"; to put this into clearer focus, let's hear from Mahatma Gandhi on the subject:
Removal of untouchability means love for, and service of, the whole world and thus merges into Ahimsa. Removal of untouchability spells the breaking down of barriers between man and man and between the various orders of Being."
Now it is obvious that the Dalits (untouchables) and the rest of India's 456 million poor, living on less than $1.25 a day, are not the ones who are googling Ayn Rand, are they? It would be safe to assume, I imagine, that the googlers belong to what the paragraph above calls the "more prosperous high-ranking groups".

The mechanism at work here is also obvious. The  extreme poverty of India  has always been a great embarrassment to Indian yuppies when speaking to foreigners and the cruelty of its ancient caste systems is universally condemned throughout the world by all the other belief systems. Till now untouchability and  the extreme poverty of India have been intellectually indefensible. How to rephrase them for the globalized world, a place where India's elites are hot to trot?

At this point, along comes a prestigious  American, a major cult-figure,  Ayn Rand, the guru of Sri Alan Greenspan no less, someone who with her  indifference to suffering, with the clockwork logic of her exposition and the elaborate intellectual edifice constructed around what boils down to, "bugger you, I'm alright Jack", justifies their system in all its time-hardened egotistical racism.

Not only do they have the absolution of their ancient religious traditions, they now have the apostolic blessing of one of the guiding lights of ultra-modern, western, anarcho-capitalism.

Gotta be a hit.

Something that is fun and often productive is to run things backwards and see what turns up. Let's try that on Ayn Rand in India.

Here is the scenario: Ayn Rand is a big hit with high-caste Indians, who would like to ignore India's racism and justify their indifference to its poverty, but long before she made it in India, she was a big hit in the USA: could it be for the same reasons?

Could Ayn Rand's popularity in India hold the key to her popularity in the United States?

Could India be holding up a mirror for us to contemplate ourselves?

Are we looking to Ayn Rand for the same absolution she gives the Indians?

If you stop to think about, since South Africa abandoned apartheid, what other large, densely populated country besides India has such a history of race problems or where the poor are so abandoned to their fate as the USA?

It is curious to observe the relation Rand's "thinking" and her followers to our present predicaments.
"If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject."   Ayn Rand
"You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost." Milton Friedman
"Left to their own devices, it is alleged, businessmen would attempt to sell unsafe food and drugs, fraudulent securities, and shoddy buildings. Thus, it is argued, the Pure Food and Drug Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the numerous building regulatory agencies are indispensable if the consumer is to be protected from the `greed' of the businessman. But it is precisely the `greed' of the businessman or, more appropriately, his profit-seeking, which is the unexcelled protector of the consumer." Alan Greenspan in a 1963 article, ``The Assault on Integrity'' for  "The Objectivist" magazine - quoted by Ayn Rand in her 1967 book, "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal''
One of the upsides of our present predicament has been the defenistration of luminaries like Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan and fellow travelers. This from the Financial Times:
The Washington Consensus, the organizing idea behind the global advance of laisser faire economics, has been unceremoniously buried.(...) The crisis has restored the legitimacy of the state: bankers have been dethroned, Alan Greenspan defrocked and economists exposed. Regulation is no longer a term of abuse. Adam Smith has made way for John Maynard Keynes as fiscal policy has been rehabilitated as a tool of economic management. Phillip Stephens - Financial Times
Or this from BusinessWeek:
The cost included a Hobbesian view of business -- nasty, brutish and every man for himself -- and a rejection of the idea that ultimately we're all in this together. Which is precisely what we do not need at this time of increasing global interdependence. (...) In this worldview, "business ethics" is an oxymoron, not because of bad behavior but because ethics can't even exist apart from some notion of a "relationship" to something or someone else. Subordinating everything to shareholder value is, literally, anti-ethical. Charles H. Green - BusinessWeek
Here, Charles Green, an MBA from Harvard, has gone straight to the heart of the whole matter when he says, "ethics can't even exist apart from some notion of a "relationship" to something or someone else".
That is really what human life is all about. Nothing is more defenseless and miserable than an isolated human being.
Our terror of being the only human on earth is the romance of Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe's joy at encountering Friday, saving his life and becoming his friend is one of the most powerful metaphors in literature.
The human being is a social anthropoid, whose phenomenal success as a species is due to its unique capacity for empathy, altruism and sacrifice for the common good. If selfishness were such a survival plus, then the common house cat would be the "master of the universe" and not human beings.
Since we wandered over the African savanna in small groups of hunter-gatherers, naked, without even fire, in fear of lions and hyenas, a sprained ankle or a broken bone, during those hundreds of thousands of years, the "common good" existed. If humans hadn't recognized it and sacrificed for it we wouldn't be here today.
Over most of our history that was our life, only of late have we taken a sinister detour. wandering togetherness is what our brains, inhabiting spirits and digestive tract are built for and look where we are now.
Over a relatively few millennia we have woven ourselves into hell.
Selfishness is precisely the least human of our traits and that it has become a driving force in our world is perhaps the central problem we face... our paradox: humans that dehumanize themselves.
Certainly, unless we can recreate the essence of our cooperative origins on a mass scale within our present technological development, there seems to be no solution in sight to this hell we have created.
Ayn Rand is probably (with Milton Friedman) the most profoundly immoral and destructive thinker that America has ever produced.  Milton Friedman believed that greed was humanity's sole motivator and Rand believed that selfishness was. Both considered what western civilization has traditionally marked as deadly sins as virtues not defects. Their followers are legion and we live among the wreckage they and their "virtues" have created. DS


Michael R. Brown said...

You really don't know Rand at all. She was referring, for instance, to money - real money, not fake government paper whose value evaporates every year - earned by free and honest exchange. Her notion of self-interest intrinsically includes respect for rights of others. Rand is popular among India's growing middle class. Please try to learn something about the subject you hold forth upon.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the interesting article--Rand's ravings are pretty dangerous as a world view, but I have to agree with Mr. Brown. You need to research her a little more. I believe Ayn Rand was born and raised in Russia. I guess you could still call her an American--but not really.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

American is as American does. Ayn Rand is American in every meaningful sense. In fact that she could come from Russia and have such an influence on the USA is what America is about.

someofparts said...

India? More like us than you even realize.

Check out this - - a book called Mother India. I have an original second-hand copy. It's like nothing I have ever read. It includes descriptions from British medical personnel of the condition of underage girls married off to older men, and sexually active, before they are even old enough to bear children. Worst stuff I have ever read, bar none.

Comments at the site are wildly defensive. Meanwhile though, the problems they minimize and pillory the author for noticing seem to still exist if current India cinema is to be believed. Monsoon Wedding deals with the problem of widespread molesting of underage girls. Seems the underage have a special appeal in the culture. And Slumdog Millionaire is about anti-Muslim prejudice, isn't it.

You bet we like Ayn Rand in the U.S. for the same reason they like it in India.