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Thursday, April 28, 2011
Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, and the Miami University Theodicy
It didn’t surprise me when I recently found out that Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), whose draconian budget proposals are the latest rage in GOP circles, is a devotee of free market cult leader Ayn Rand. I don't know much about Ryan, but I can see how Ryan’s academic environment encouraged his worldview; Ryan and I attended the same undergraduate institution: Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Miami University (AKA Miami of Ohio) was a blast (I wrote about my Miami U. experiences here) but it was extremely sheltered and homogeneous. I could see how it could encourage a sterile, self-serving, venal, and supercilious ideology like Rand’s Objectivism. Charles Taylor, writing in Salon about Ann Coulter and other “Conservative Fembots,” describes his own undergraduate experience that is reminiscent of Miami University’s prevailing ideology and theodicy:
I don't know the social background of Coulter, [Laura] Ingraham, [Kellyanne] Conway or [Lisa] Pinto, but I've encountered their type before. They are the essence of the white, privileged kids at the small New England college I attended during the conservative heyday of the early Reagan years. What characterized those kids and what characterizes the [Conservative Fembots] is that they seem unaware that not everyone shares their privileged existence, or seem to believe that anyone who doesn't has only themselves to blame. It's a small world, after all, and the CFs are absolutely secure about their place in it and the rightness of their views.When Rand wrote, "No one helped me nor did I think at any time that it was anyone's duty to help me," it reminded me of some snotty upper-class Miami University students I knew who laughably attributed their lot in life to their supposed efforts. A professor of mine at Miami noted that such people were born with so many advantages that they would have to work overtime to fail. (Rand was also full of herself; in reality, she was a sponge who lived off her Chicago relatives and, once she hit the big time, reneged on her promise to repay them—she’s the last person to call anyone a moocher.)
In essence, Rand’s ideology is a feel-good elixir for self-aggrandizing people who have a huge sense of privilege. Assimilating its message is a way for people who were born on third base to convince themselves they hit a triple. Miami University has been fertile ground for this kind of non-thinking.
Addendum: I’ve never liked anyone who liked Rand’s sterile and ham-handed novels; they all seemed to be joyless and miserable people. I saw the cinematic adaptation of Rand’s The Fountainhead and it was plodding and hilariously pretentious. For more on how cults create bad cinema, read K. Gordon Neufeld's article about the films Battlefield Earth and Inchon. . . Despite an impressive limited-release opening weekend, the box office for Atlas Shrugged: Part I has since tanked. . .I previously pointed out in the case of Newt Gingrich that it was bad enough that he was using his GOP bigwig status to carry on with young women, but it was much worse that Gingrich let himself go. Well, ditto for Rand who apparently was a notorious skeezer. Here’s what Jonathan Chait wrote about Rand:
Sex and romance loomed unusually large in Rand's worldview. Objectivism taught that intellectual parity is the sole legitimate basis for romantic or sexual attraction. Coincidentally enough, this doctrine cleared the way for Rand--a woman possessed of looks that could be charitably described as unusual, along with abysmal personal hygiene and grooming habits--to seduce young men in her orbit. Rand not only persuaded Branden, who was twenty-five years her junior, to undertake a long-term sexual relationship with her, she also persuaded both her husband and Branden's wife to consent to this arrangement. (They had no rational basis on which to object, she argued.) But she prudently instructed them to keep the affair secret from the other members of the Objectivist inner circle.
UPDATE: Miami U. named one of the top preppy colleges in the U.S.
UPDATE II: Check my post on Paul Ryan's "Rand-esque" birthday cake.
UPDATE III: Check out this video that deals with Ayn Rand:
How Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard Came Up With Their Big Ideas -- powered by Cracked.com
UPDATE IV: Ryan is the third Miami University graduate on a major party ticket. Benjamin Harrison is the first. In his unsuccessful reelection bid in 1892, Harrison chose another Miami U. grad, Whitelaw Reid as his running mate.
UPDATE V: A succinct overview of Miami of Ohio from the comments section of Joan Walsh's article, "Paul Ryan, Randian Poseur":
Miami University is on the short list of colleges acceptable to well-off families whose kids can't get into an Ivy (preferably Dartmouth). DePauw, SMU, USC are in the same category. Good, solid schools with strong programs, but places where one doesn't need to be an academic star to be comfortable and one can mix with lots of other acceptably well-off young people. One is less likely to be bothered by messy, radical thinking, especially of the left wing sort.UPDATE VI: Tom Tomorrow lampoons Ryan's relationship with Rand and his attempt to dump Rand for St. Thomas Aquinas.
UPDATE VII: Great Drew Friedman illustration of Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand for a great New York Observer article: