Friday, August 31, 2012

That's Not Your Pancake

Hey look!  You made a pancake.  That is an impressive flapjack, friend.  Did you grow the wheat?  Thresh it?  Mill it into flour?  Did you then mix it in a bowl you made with clay from the earth in your backyard and fired in a kiln crafted from stones you gathered and stacked?  With eggs from your own hens and milk from your cow, fried in butter you churned and melted in a cast iron skillet you forged in your woodshop, cooked over a wood fire from the tree you felled last autumn with a handmade axe?  Yep, that is an impressive flapjack.  Shit.  You’re out of syrup?  Guess you’ll have to run to the store.  Now it’s not really your pancake anymore, is it?  You had a little help.  How about we just ignore that part.  You built it.  You should be proud of your pancake and your desire to consume it all by yourself.  No one helped you make that pancake.  Why should you offer anyone a bite?  

We Built It.  The mantra of this week’s Republican National Convention.  An expression with roots in a philosophy known as Objectivism, coined by an author in the 1930’s named Ayn Rand.  Let’s talk Objectivism, the platform of those financing today’s Republican Party.  Let’s have a short exercise in contrast between Ayn Rand and the Bible, the platform of many of the candidates and voters of today’s Republican Party.  Most obviously, an Objectivist would say that you made that pancake all by yourself and it's yours to do with as you wish, while Jesus would probably point out the resources that were provided to you which were not of your own making. He would encourage you to enjoy the pancake, but to give thanks for it, too. I’m not the first to wonder how the Tea Party manages to reconcile these two opposing philosophies into one agenda.  Though I might be the first to imagine Jesus and Ayn Rand watching tv and having a beer together.  We’ll get around to that.

The primary tenet of Rand’s Objectivism is self-love.  Love yourself above all others.  Satisfy your own needs, your own desires.  Get yours.  You own it, even deserve it, purely through the desire to have it and the shrewd cunning to achieve it.  She denounced social services, denounced charity as a measure of morality, denounced loving anyone who wasn’t worthy.  

“This miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use, and mine to kneel before...The fortune of my spirit is not to be blown into coins of brass and flung to the winds as alms for the poor of spirit.”   -Ayn Rand  

She sounds fun, right?  Sure, she was a cold-hearted bitch with little regard for irrationality or love or any of the things I consider to be my reason for living, but I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. I'm just suggesting that if you're looking for a candidate who promotes your idea of "traditional family values," maybe an Objectivist is not your man.

How does the Bible answer Rand? And how many times?  He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. -Proverbs 14:31

Jesus and Rand would both be appalled to see the essentials of their teachings being twisted in the manner they are today.  I believe she would be the first to slap Paul Ryan in the face for his manipulation of her philosophy to fit his own agenda.  He is certainly not an Objectivist purist.  Having admitted in 2005 and again in 2009 that her writing shaped his basic political and economic mentality, he backpedaled in a recent interview saying that he just really likes her writing, but rejects her philosophy.  

Really?  I’ll be honest, Congressman Ryan, I had my own fling with Ayn Rand when I was in my post-adolescent I-listen-to-Velvet-Underground-and-I-borrow-art-from-the-university-library-and-I-read-philosophical-smart-shit-and-I-know-how-the-world-really-works phase.  To my credit, I never wrote a manifesto and I never-ever-ever said I liked a metal band for their music but not their words, nor an author for her writing but not her ideas, you douche.  I read a bunch of Ayn Rand, and while I appreciated the introduction to her thinking, I thought she was a totally hack writer, not much better than Jackie Collins in terms of her shitty use of allegory.  But I guess if you require your whole staff to read The Fountainhead for the benefit of lines like:

“She tried to tear herself away from him. The effort broke against his arms that had not felt it. Her fists beat against his shoulders, against his face. He moved one hand, took her two wrists, pinned them behind her, under his arm, wrenching her shoulder blades. She twisted her head back. She felt his lips on her breast. She tore herself free…She fought like an animal. But she made no sound.”

then super.  Your retraction ought to make Ayn Rand and Jesus alike happy, anyway, since your attempt to merge Objectivism (to appease the Koch brothers $100 million investment in your candidacy) and Fundamentalist Christianity (to appease the Tea Party voters) is like trying to put a saddle on an eel.  Slippery.  Impossible.

I should confess that at the same time I was reading Ayn Rand in my leisure time, I was studying comparative religion for several thousand dollars a semester.  It was a little like teleporting from a lush rainforest to Siberia, then back again, every time I shifted from the tenets of Catholicism to Rand to Hinduism to Rand to Judaism to Rand.  Here were the people of faith, people of charity, people who used art and music and fables and rich storytelling to communicate that faith, and here was lonely old Ayn Rand, looking for a way to justify self-love and the preservation of one’s wealth as the highest form of enlightenment a human being can achieve.  It simply fell flat.  Even for me, who is merely a witness to religions rather than a participant in any of them.  

This week when Jesus and Ayn Rand were watching Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican National Convention on the big screen at Buffalo Wild Wings, they sat together in stunned silence as he postured himself as a disciple to both and neither of them, picking and choosing the bits and pieces of their lives’ work that would make him a more favorable candidate in the eyes of the American people while still making good with the guys who bought his candidacy.  

So a politician stood behind a podium and lied and contradicted himself while a crowd of people wearing stupid hats cheered. Looks like business as usual.  But there is something important to know about this year's election that is different than 2008.  In January, 2010 the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that corporations can spend as much on political advertising as they want.  There are no limits on how much they can invest in any candidate for any office in America.  Corporations have the same first amendment rights as people.  For a bone-chillingly accurate prediction of how this decision would play out (and is), see Keith Olbermann’s commentary that evening.  As my friend Jeremy said, then he looked a little hysterical and paranoid.  Two and a half short years later, he looks like a soothsayer.  Imagine a world where corporations, not people, elect lawmakers.  Think elections can't be bought?  Look closely at the 2010 elections that followed this ruling and the correlation between who had the most money for campaigning and who won the ticket.  Now look at who funded the campaigns.

“Corporations are people, my friend... of course they are.”  -Mitt Romney

I wouldn’t feel so skeezed out by this concept except that the corporations who are taking full advantage of this decision have acted so swiftly and effectively (wonder why Mitt Romney's energy plan doesn't include any mention of developing clean technologies, cuts funding to those already in place, and pushes for more drilling, more fracking, more blowing the tops off mountains?  who owns the dirty technologies in this country?  the dudes who are contributing millions of dollars to his campaign, that's who.)  What they need is a working class who is incapable of the sort of critical thought that would foster new innovations and revolutionize their industries.  What they need is to slash spending in public schools, cut off women's rights, make us stupid enough that we will wander into the witch's kitchen and accept whatever candy she offers, unaware that we are being made fat and stupid and ready for her ovens.

Among these corporations and the men who run them, there is a true adherence to the philosophy of self-love above all other, and the promotion of the delusion of a rather large group of people that they themselves are solely to credit for their status and achievements, that is their pancake.  I know people who think like this.  I even love some of them.  They think they got where they are purely by their own virtue.  

This is a position entirely void of grace.  

It overlooks the loan that your parents gave you for the down payment on your first house, which you then flipped for a hefty profit.  The car that someone let you use to get to work when yours was broken, or the public transportation you took to get to school.  The fact that when you turned the faucet on, there was clean water to drink.  (And if in fact you walked to work and saved the money to put down on that house and engineered the pipes and plumbing that drew the clean water into your glass, will you at least admit that someone, somewhere along the way, taught you to read and how to perform basic math functions which later lent themselves to the skills you now employ for profit at work every day?)  Everyone who experiences even a small measure of success had a leg up getting it.

Yes, you’ve worked hard.  And yes, you deserve to benefit from that work.  But let’s give credit where it’s due.  Someone else worked before you and shared their talent and innovation and profit with you.  That means you, Koch Brothers.  You inherited Koch Industries from your father.  You didn’t build it, you spoiled, rotten, bratty turds.  And now you want to take the ball and run with it?  That’s not your ball.  

And that’s not your pancake, either.



  2. Fantastic! Reminds me of That didn't work out so well.

  3. There's so much to say about this. I'd love to try to be thoughtful and say something deep. Instead, I'll copy off hannahrosebaker and say PREACH IT. Then I'll go find some pancakes for breakfast.