Monday, June 11, 2012

Inside Spanner: Memetic Drift and the Ayn Rand Problem

There's a lot of Objectivists among the Corporates in Spanner, or at least they like to think they are. Problem: the Corporates are essentially the same as the villains of Atlas Shrugged. Spanner's "church of Ayn Rand" is no more similar to Ayn Rand's or Nathaniel Branden's Objectivism than the Catholic Church is to Jesus' religion or early Jewish Christianity. However, there is one crucial similarity, which I consider the fatal weakness of Objectivism and especially its ethics:

Social denialism.

That's the denial that humans have a social nature. In the infamous words of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher: "Society does not exist." In other words, humans are by nature solitary predators — or should be. That "should be" is the core of Rand's egoist ethics — and of Max Stirner's philosophy of extreme egoism. This works to the benefit of those at the top of the Corporate hierarchy, the High Corporates who bear the titles "MBA" and especially "Incorporated". It doesn't work too well for ordinary civilians, who possess the social nature Corporates do not.

Here's the mutation: what if Rand's corporatist villains were her most fanatical believers? This, in fact, is what's happened in real life: only the James Taggarts and Orren Boyles are left when the religious Objectivists have left for real cults and the irreligious ones have grown tired of the philosophy's many contradictions and increasingly archaic errors (it is, after all, a distilled version of the worldview of the Gilded Age that lasted from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Great Depression, roughly 1870-1930). Once the religionists and the realists have left, then, you have the corporatists. I've observed that these people, including the Koch and Romney clans, are predominantly billionaire heirs, some separated from their Enterpriser clan founders by five generations or more. They believe in the virtue of aristocracy for its own sake, because they see their inherited wealth as a gift from God or whatever. They believe that democracy is a vice because to lack money is by definition to lack virtue.

Egoism has become the religion of the Orren Boyle crowd. In Spanner as in Atlas Shrugged, these people have no genuine sense of self, so they must build their false self (the colloquial definition of "ego") to compensate. As it turns out, Rand herself has become their guide, their master in ego-building! And so they build their egos into giant monsters. They deify their egos and build temples to themselves. They demand that all "lesser" people bow down and worship their egos as gods Or Else. And of course they build theocratic dictatorships dedicated to the glory of their egos. Now you understand the Corporate caste in Spanner.

Now witness their leader, one Prince William Richard Astor Cromwell-Becket of Dictel, Incorporated, Chairman of the United Corporations. Richard Becket used to be a superhero codenamed Neron back in the Cold War. He's the answer to the question, what if an older version of Ozymandias from Watchmen took over the world? He prides himself on doing deals during sex. His grandmastership of the Illuminati, however, is the subject of another post, on the elitist premises of fundamentalist "Nicolaitan" Gnosticism. But how can this guy reconcile Objectivist materialism with unworldly Gnosticism? In the way he deifies his ego, of course! This contradiction first comes to a head in Chapter 15, in which the Becket brothers and their sister Drusilla get their egos smacked by it.

Any meme can mutate into something radically different from what it claims to be. But some weaknesses in its philosophy encourage some very undesirable mutations. Ayn Rand's social denialism is a particularly pertinent case in point. That's not just because it's central to the Corporate worldview in Spanner, but also because it's become the elite consensus in America today, and the non-elite are suffering the consequences...

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