Monday, November 25, 2013

The quintessential Ayn Rand

After having read three biographies, two memoirs and one sycophants' web site about Ayn Rand, the most quintessential description of Ayn Rand comes from Barbara Branden's biography The Passion of Ayn Rand:
A highly intelligent young woman of twenty, a dancer and a member of the "junior collective," had personal problems in her romantic relationship with a friend of Ayn's. Ayn, Frank (O'Conner, Rand's husband), her lover, and I were present when Nathaniel (Branden) called her in for a discussion of her psychology. Such evenings were becoming a commonplace in Ayn's dealings. The evidence was presented, the diagnosis of social metaphysician was made. 
In a paper she later wrote in an attempt to organize her thoughts, the young woman said - in an echo of others who felt as she did - 
"I have not been this unhappy since I was a kid, when I used to look out the window and calm down by watching the stars. But then I had the promise of a brilliant, beautiful future. Now I have the echo of an empty, futile past... Everything is gone. Everything... I began to see the pattern as Nathan went thorugh example after example of what I had done. It was when he said 'and your self-esteem is tied to what other people think of you,' that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what was being said to me - the worst degradation, the worst muck. I had betrayed everything that has ever meant anything to me... He said I could work to correct it and become a proper human being, or be like the people I hate for the rest of my life... I'm afraid to care about anything, because I'm afraid I'll get all mixed up again. I have to find out if it's safe to care about something again. I don't know any longer what I want in a career, in anythin g- it doesn't seem to matter, and I'm afraid of the day when it is going to matter... Yet I will always remember the day I met Ayn as one of the happiest days of my life..."
That evening, Ayn exhibited a lack of human empathy that was astonishing. As Nathaniel, who conducted the conversation - it had the aura of a trial, except that the accused had no defense attorney - was pointing out the young woman's psychological deficiencies, he occasionally made some especially compelling point, succinct and well phrased. Each time, Ayn chuckled with appreciation - and clapped her hands in applause.
The girl, like others of Ayn's friends caught in similar situations, was to find a means of ridding herself of guilt. The means, as her paper indicates, was emotional repression. "I'm afraid to care about anything, because I'm afraid I'll get all mixed up again." She, like they, began the process of changing from an open, spontaneous, enthusiastic young woman into a rigid thinking machine. It was done as an act of self-preservation: one most not experience emotions that might brand one as immoral. 
The distance between the self-created myth of Ayn Rand and the real woman who lived and acted outside the world of her study, was growing steadily greater. In retrospect, it is evident that none of Ayn's young friends, including Nathaniel and myself, were helping Ayn to deal with the tensions that drove her. No one achieves power who does not seek it; had she not insisted upon being viewed as a goddess, she would not have been so viewed. Nevertheless, the adulation she received was a great disservice to her. She needed to be challenged when she applauded a young woman's agony - or when she spoke of Aristotle as the only thinker in history from whom she had had anything to learn - or when she demanded, in her affair with Nathaniel, that a set of rules be held as applicable to her that were not applicable to others - or when she flew into a rage, as she did with her attorney, Pincus Berner, at his suggestion that everyone, including herself, had at some time done what they knew to be wrong - or when she made it implicitely clear that any criticism of her was an act of treason to reason and morality. But had the attitude of her friends been different, it is likely that she would have renounced them and surrounded herself with people who would give her what she needed. It was not chance that her chosen friends were so many years younger than she - as it was not chance that her lover was so man years younger than she.
Truly Rand was a malevolent little troll of a woman.