Atlas Shrugged: My prejudices

Before I begin reading, I want to set out some of my own biases and perspectives. No reader enters a book without already having some sort of expectations, even if they’re indirect. Those expectations color the reader’s experience with and interpretation of the book.

Politically, I call myself a liberal, a classical liberal, or a cynical libertarian, depending on what mood moves my spirit at the time. By “cynical libertarian,” I mean that I think that libertarian is a decent enough idea on paper, but it doesn’t work in the real world because some people just plain suck.

We are, for instance, right now in the midst of one of the worst man-made catastrophes of all time, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Even the Tea Party Diva herself, Sarah Palin, is insisting that BP face large government fines and other punitions, if only because they’re making the other oil companies, and the notion of drilling in the Gulf, look bad.

Or consider healthcare. Miranda gave birth last year, and due to the nature of our insurance I had to pay much more attention to the EOBs than I would have. I discovered that people with insurance tend to be charged about half to two-thirds than people without insurance are. Hospitals and insurance companies are locked in a financial death match, and hospitals get back what they can by overcharging the patients who don’t have deep pocketed lawyers to cockblock the bills.

So. Big corporations suck. According to Miranda, this is not a view with which Rand would take umbrage, actually, based on her reading of The Fountainhead.

In addition, though, some people suck, too. When was the last time you read about somebody winning the Megamillions lottery and then, once they’ve paid off their bills and set up a modest trust fund, started a charity with the rest of their cash? I’m certain it happens, just as Bill and Melinda Gates are active philanthropists. Most people, though, once they get more wealth than they can imagine, just want more.

A belief of libertarianism, as presented to me by apologists, is that in a fully libertarian society, enough rich people would feel compassion on the poor to make sure that nobody starved to death. I don’t think that’s true, and I don’t think that really follows from libertarianism anyway. In a libertarian world, people would starve to death on the streets while other people watched and gluttonned.

I believe social safety nets are important. I believe that all citizens should be guaranteed a minimum standard of living, involving food, shelter, and clothing. This is not because of some great philosophical universal that applies to all cultures and nations, but because we are such an obscenely wealthy nation that there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to afford it.

On the other hand, I believe that it’s important that individuals maintain control and freedom over what they themselves create, and I believe that adult individuals ought to be able to do whatever they want to do to themselves and consensually to other adults, so long as it does not create an undue financial burden on the safety nets.

My expectation is that I will overall enjoy reading Atlas Shrugged, but that I will find its ideas excessively libertarian, to the degree of excusing watching people starve in the world’s richest nation (which we were in 1957, regardless of our current status). I fear that I will tire of it after about 250 pages, but hopefully with a clear goal, I can keep myself from losing interest, at least long enough to finish it.

I am also primed to enjoy it in part because my liberal friends almost universally appear to loathe it, and I’m not the sort to be good at doing what I’m told. I have avoided reading it (or any Rand beyond Anthem) all this time because Miranda told me I should, and now the weight of people suggesting the book should be avoided has become sufficient to outweigh that.

I will do my best to avoid becoming an Evangelical Randian, however, if only because I don’t wish to annoy said friends.

So, here we go.

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