Since the posting of my recent John Galt piece and all of it's ensuing commentary, I thought I would clarify a few things that may not have come across in the original article.
Firstly, I am not anti-Capitalism; I am anti-greed and evil. This country has been built on Capitalism and there are a great many people who work hard, pay taxes and amass great fortunes, which is terrific for them and for the country. America has made it possible for people to rise from nothing and reach the highest of heights and it is part of what makes this a great country: opportunity. Capitalism offers opportunity to those who seek it and many of those people have great intentions, good hearts and solid ethics and morals. However, there have been far too many examples of evil and greedy people who will stop at nothing to rook, cheat and swindle as much as they can, giving a bad name to honest Capitalists and the system as a whole. This is why we have and need regulation and financial oversight. A couple of "Capitalist Pigs" and all of Wall Street can look like a trough, when in fact there are many honest and hard-working people who contribute positively to Wall Street and the economy. A few bad apples can tarnish undeserving reputations in any industry, but in an industry where you deal with peoples homes and life savings, you are hitting them where it hurts the most. The term "Wall Street" itself has been used recently as a scapegoat for a cadre of evil and greedy people who tanked whole banks and institutions (and almost the entire economy) in their greedy quest for more money, more money, more money. It is that drive- the "Panzer tank mentality" I spoke of -- which I am wholly against. I am totally behind the drive for success and I feel sorry for the good folks out there that can and do make "Wall Street" a positive economic force and have been maligned along with the bad apples. Partly it is the media to blame; they love a juicy scandal but have little interest or incentive in promoting positive stories. This is why you hear every detail of Bernie Madoff's ills and barely a peep about the financial planners and wealth managers who have done a sterling job steering their clients through the wreckage.
Rand's Atlas/Fountainhead world was imaginary and it worked in black and white to elucidate her philosophical points. It was as much pro-Capitalism as it was anti-Communism/Socialism, a product of her Russian upbringing and direct experiences. But Rand's philosophies are only as good or bad in action as the moral and ethical underpinnings of the person practicing it. Objectivist ethics may be based on rational egoism but still are driven by good or evil impetuses. Though I used Bill Gates as an example of altruistic capitalism, one commenter pointed out that Gates has done wrong by Microsoft's labor force, which may be true. I'm not suggesting Bill Gates is perfect but let's be blunt: without his initial inspiration and act of creation, there wouldn't be a Microsoft labor force at all! Not to say that Gates or anyone should treat their employees less than fairly but it does bring up a valid point: There is a huge benefit to capitalism that most people don't mention, which is that a capitalist employs great numbers of people who in turn make a decent wage and pay taxes themselves. By creating tax-paying jobs and paying their own taxes, the capitalist helps make a stronger and more vibrant country. Bill Gates may not have started out as a capitalist but as of this writing, Microsoft employs roughly 60,000 people in the US and tens of thousands more abroad. Once those new Microsoft-branded stores open around the country, expect those numbers to rise even further. Capitalism creates jobs and employed people pay taxes, as do the corporations that hire them. This cannot be understated in its impact on our economy and the our country's workforce.
There were those who posted about having to "share" their earnings with those who had "no hand in it at all" and they are truly living in a fictitious reality. To think you are unconnected to your fellow tax-paying citizens is a falsehood that should be dispelled when you drive along the tax-funded streets or need a tax-funded police car or fire crew to help you out of a jam. Maybe you got your start in a tax-funded public school, or got a tax-funded Pell Grant to go to college. Maybe you are now rich enough to not need tax-funded Medicare or your monthly tax-funded Social Security check, though you surely collect it anyway. Or maybe you invested everything with Madoff and have now been saved by that publicly-funded safety net. You know, the one that was meant for the "other people" until you needed it to survive. You cannot take for granted how much of the foundation of our society is funded by taxes even as you take umbrage with how your representatives collect and spend those taxes. If you want to live in a world with no taxes yet somehow keep the infrastructure and institutions that make America great, you are living in the wrong country.
To the person who opined that creating art for one's own purpose is "artistic masturbation," you must not have a large record collection, if any at all. Almost every album you own is a product of "artistic masturbation" on some level. Yet you hope for one "gift" from an epic landscape, as if any of that art was made as a present to you. Most great art is self-indulgent work that is only great because it's truth, honesty and merit was up to the artist who created it, not a bunch of armchair critics expecting "gifts." You don't deserve the music and books on your shelves, including Douglas Adams. And to the person who doesn't know how I could "twist and pull any artistic moral goodness out of Ayn Rand," you are obviously not an artist. Of course you don't know, though hopefully my piece might enlighten you on the subject from an artists viewpoint. No twisting or pulling necessary. Ayn Rand herself could not have imagined or even intended the freedom her philosophy gives to artists and yet, it has an undeniable effect which I share with many in the artistic community, from poets to painters to photographers to musicians. This was the intended point of my original piece: Rand's influence on Artists. Her architect Howard Roarke is as positive a role model as any artist could find in real life and I'm thankful that Rand thought to create him. And as Roarke himself might posit: You, like everyone, are entitled to your own feelings, opinions and judgements. And we are entitled to completely ignore them.
Someone else posted a comment that said while I grasped the quote "Do not sacrifice yourself to others," I missed the boat on the second half: "Do not sacrifice others to yourself." Does that mean do not trample on others in your own quest? Because that is what I inferred from it and I didn't miss it at all. Dick Cheney, however, missed an entire fleet of boats on this one.
Lastly, I heard back from some of the Ayn Rand/Objectivist organizations, including goingjohngalt.org, and was glad to receive their feedback. One gentleman remarked that that word "capitalist" has been "ruined by people who think that money is more important than human rights and human dignity" and I think he is on the money, to coin a phrase. Again, I am not anti-capitalist, though a certain professor took me to task for the tone of my piece. Perhaps if I replaced every instance of the word "capitalism" with the word "greed" he might not have taken such offense. Capitalism without empathy can wreak horrible results, though no one is saying one has to be altruistic to be a "good" capitalist. There is a gray area between empathy and greed and certainly many examples all along that spectrum of capitalism. We hope for the best of humanity among capitalists while suffering from the worst of greed among them. For every group of people helped by Bill Gates charity, there are others in ruins from Bernie Madoff's greed. It must be hard for Objectivists to defend capitalism without simultaneously defending the Madoff's of the world but both Objectivism and capitalism are worth defending in the long run. Bernie Madoff is surely not.
The professor who excoriated me for my tone pointed out that the same freedom/creativity accorded to the artist Roark in The Fountainhead is similarly granted to industrialists/businessmen in Atlas Shrugged, which is a valid point. He went on to say that I unfairly lauded that freedom when applied to the artist while not affording the same respect when applied to the capitalist. I see his point, but I still feel that the worst bad art can do is ruin your mood while the worst bad capitalism can do is ruin the world. So while I can appreciate the freedom/creativity for both artists and industrialists, the intrinsic fundamentals of good and evil applied to the worlds of art and capitalism produce vastly different results on the devastation scale. This same professor told me that "it doesn't seem to me that you've really *read* Ayn Rand, just taken away some vague, positive images. Go back, and see what the characters you like are really like." I have read and re-read both Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and am secure in what I took away from them, both positive and negative. And I realize that her works do need to be re-read along the way because as our perspectives grow, so does our capacity to take even more from those books. Certainly the next time I read them, I will be much more aware of the capitalists and their philosophies; perhaps the next time you read them, you'll be more aware of artists and theirs. And if I may add: regarding the extreme nature of Howard Roarke's reactions -- blowing up buildings and whatnot- I understand the principles behind them but I think any rational human being sees Roarke's acts as being severe illustrations of his principles, not examples to follow in "real life."
To finish, I will say that if my original piece felt like an anti-capitalist rant, it was not my intention and I apologize to the well-meaning and successful capitalists out there reaping their just rewards. But to those whose hearts are black with greed, whose souls lack conscience and whose bank accounts grow from the pain and suffering of others, may you rot in hell. The Madoffs and Stanfords of the world give a bad name to both humanity and capitalism and it is my hope that they endure whatever karmic blowback is headed their way. The issue is really the age-old good vs evil battle that has played out in every corner of the human race throughout history. Your intent and character drives your ambitions and actions and depending on whether it is based on good or evil purpose, the outcome will tell the tale.
I hope I've cleared some things up, answered some questions and perhaps provoked some more. It is obvious that Ayn Rand incites a lot of dialog amongst people who have read her works and others who evidently have not. Whether you are an artist or a capitalist (or both) I hope you consider some of the viewpoints represented here and continue the dialog. Thanks for reading and responding.
Follow Robbie Gennet on Twitter: www.twitter.com/robbiegennet