Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Atlas shrugged

Atlas ShruggedAtlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I read this more than 40 years ago, at the urging of someone in our newspaper office, so I’m not really in a position to write a review, but someone asked why I gave it one star, so I’ll try to remember what I did think!

I’d heard Ayn Rand extolled before, by people whose views I didn’t admire, and so I wasn’t too keen to read a book by her. But since my colleague nagged me, and lent me the book so I didn’t have to buy it, I started reading it, and found it rather boring. I told him so, and he said, “It’s not the story, it’s the philosophy.” And I said that I found the philosophy rather repulsive, so if the story was boring, there wasn’t much left.

I did, however, lash out on a book of essays, with the title “Capitalism, the unknown ideal”, which laid the philosophy bare, and made it clear that Ayn Rand was trying to do for capitalism what Karl Marx tried to do for socialism — give it an ideology. And both were atheists. But Karl Marx’s version retained a vestige of Christian values, diluted and degutted, perhaps, but still discernable; Ayn Rand’s had none.

So evil philosophy and crummy story — one star.

View all my reviews

And I’ll add something here, which I did not include in my “review” on Good Reads, but perhaps can be said, since this isn’t really a book review. I found trying to discuss things with Ayn Rand fans was a bit like trying to discuss things with Scientologists. Their minds seemed to be stuck in an ideological groove.

I first encountered the Scientologists in 1961. Someone from our church youth group had seen an advertisement in the newspaper for free IQ and personality tests, and so some of us went along for a lark. We arrived at the two white-painted victorian houses in Joubert Park, Johannesburg, just across the road from the railway line, that proclaimed themselves to be the headquaters (in South Africa), of the Hubbard Association of Scientologists International (HASI).

They gave us the two tests, IQ and personality, which were pretty standard psychological tests. They said we could come back the next week to hear the results.

The next week we went back for the results, which they explained, and then came the sales talk. We could take their Peronal Efficiency Course, which lasted a week and only cost R2.00. They guaranteed that it would improve our IQs and personalities. But that’s when we started to argue. They were quite patient with us, a bunch of stroppy and argumentative teenagers. One of the values they said we were low on was “havingness”. Whether correctly or incorrectly, we interpreted that as acquisitiveness, and said that we were quite happy for it to be low. Having it too high would go against our Christian values.

They assured us that Scientology wasn’t against any religion, and all religions were welcome (that was before they reinvented themselves as “the Church of Scientology” about 8 years later — in 1961 they presented themselves as the lowest cost mental health treatment on earth). But the spirit of “havingness” that they urged on us seemed a bit too much like plain old greed, as espoused by London’s mayor Boris Johnson:

Boris Johnson has launched a bold bid to claim the mantle of Margaret Thatcher by declaring that inequality is essential to fostering “the spirit of envy” and hailed greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity”.

And that, too, seems to be what is espoused by the followers of Ayn Rand that I met a couple of years later. I don’t think the ideologies of Scientology and Objectivism are exactly the same, but there seemed to be something of a similar spirit in the followers of each, and I was rather repelled by it.

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