From DAVE WINER
When I was 17, I read Atlas Shrugged and it “changed my life.” For about a year. In that book I heard that I was great and there were a few others like me, and most of the rest of the people were bullshitters. Grifters, looters, politicos, people who asked for us, the great ones, to work for them, because we could and they couldn’t. And all the time they put down the great people, said they were ungrateful, bad people etc etc. The great ones got tired of working for everyone and not being appreciated, so they all went and hid in their rooms until the world fell apart without them, and the people begged them to come back, saying they were sorry and they didn’t realize how cool they were. The great ones came back, straightened everything out, lived forever, never got sick, never got hit by a car, or had their house invaded by burglars, or burned down by fire. Etc etc.
It’s a beautiful story for a person caught between childhood and adulthood. You’re not yet aware of how the world actually works, in any real sense, and you remember all the issues of being a child (you still are a child at 17, despite how your body looks). Over the horizon is adulthood, which is beginning to come into view. You’re trying to imagine yourself as an adult. It’s understandable that the child, looking out to the future, wants to create something that looks a lot like the past. But it doesn’t work that way.
In New York we had a massive snow storm. It’s hard to know for sure if it could have been handled smoothly like so much in NY is. In normal times, NY is an amazing place. A busy street can be transformed into a street fair in a few hours, then switch back to being a busy street just in time for Monday morning. But throw a huge curveball at the city, like last week’s storm, and all bets are off.
So in the Ayn Rand view, who’s supposed to plow the streets when a Snowpocalypse happens? That’s a detail she never seemed to have gotten to.
Here’s why she doesn’t have an answer — snow storms are socialist. They hit everyone the same. We have a collective interest in getting the streets cleared asap, so we can get to work, so the ambulances can get in to take people who have strokes and heart attacks to the hospital, etc etc. We got a tiny peek, in NYC, what an Ayn Rand paradise would be like. Because we’d still be under a couple of feet of snow, a week later. Snow doesn’t care how much Reardon Metal you have or if Dagny Taggart thinks you’re hot.
Another thing that’s socialist is sickness. Like snow, it’s universal. Everyone gets sick, sooner or later. But it could happen sooner. That isn’t a function of how good you are, or how hard you work, and sometimes even being rich doesn’t help. It could just be random. You might require hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to keep alive, and you might not (probably don’t) have it. Now you might say you deserve to die, but that’s not what I’m talking about. The disease itself is socialist. It cuts across the population in a way similar to the snowstorm. It hits everyone of us. But how or when, or how much, that’s an unknown. So somehow you have to deal with it. One way is to accept fate and die young if you don’t have the money to get the treatment. Or you could buy health insurance. It’s not clear whether Ayn Rand liked health insurance or not. It’s both capitalist and socialist at the same time. Or you could get so rich that you could self-insure against any disease that could hit you or your family or anyone you would miss. Nice plan, but sad to say, most people don’t get there.
Here’s the truth, and no matter how hard you argue, I’m not likely to sway in my belief of this. Ayn Rand’s philosophy might have worked in an agrarian society when people lived far apart, and couldn’t pool their resources. When there wasn’t much technology, so there wasn’t much point in trying to fight disease or keep the trains running, because there was no medicine or trains. But with almost seven billion people on the planet, and a complex financial system that no one understands and therefore can be manipulated by looters who look like captains of industry, how do you find the Great Ones, and if you do, what exactly can they do to differentiate themselves from the rest of us poor slobs?
And I don’t really think there are any of those great people, btw. I’ve traveled in some pretty high circles, I’ve met Bill Gates and a couple of Nobel laureates. I’ve been to Davos, and been part of an IPO. I’m on John Brockman’s Edge list. Big fucking deal. All these people who are so great aren’t really that much greater than the average schmuck on the subway. There really isn’t that much range in the smartness or fitness of human beings. We all have about the same lifespan, have the same experiences, birth, childhood, puberty, etc. To think there are some people that are so much better than the rest of us, well, I wouldn’t trust that so much.
The truth is we’re way out on a limb. If you want to go back to the point where we decided to be socialist and try to undo it, you’re going to have to kill most of the people on the planet who depend on the current system for sustenance. And like it or not, that probably includes you. It certainly includes most of the idiots running around preaching Ayn Rand these days.