JR'S Free Thought Pages
Ayn Rand Christianity and Killer Kapitlaism
Demolition of the global economy by strange bedfellows
by Johnny Reb
The totality of our beliefs and so-called knowledge, from the most casual matters of immediate interaction with our environment, the foundational laws of logic and mathematics to the most profound laws of physics and biology is really a complex fabric. Justification of belief comes through empirical correspondence with the real world and logical coherence and consistency with other beliefs in the fabric. But for many people these epistemological constraints, even at a pragmatic level, are generally ignored. The pre-conditional power of indoctrination, cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias will often intervene to protect long-held emotionally charged beliefs, especially those inculcated over a long period during one's formative years. These psychological barriers are regularly pressed into service to defend at all costs religious doctrines and secular ideologies challenged by empirical evidence and counter-argument. And the intensity of emotional attachment to a belief is directly proportional to the strength of the psychological barriers that are invoked.
In light of this, for many people, experience and advancements in knowledge teach them very little. For example, religions persist in the face of science and economic theories endure in the face of a total breakdown of the global economy and failure to provide real democracy and social justice.
The futility of faith and hope
We are clueless, and the State sees to it that we stay that way – Joe Bageant
Metaphysical and epistemological nonsense and magical thinking permeate the corporate culture of greed and kleptomania. Not unsurprisingly they have also been marketed by what now passes for mainstream Christianity by “prosperity evangelists” such as Joel Osteen. Like a corporate CEO Osteen travels in luxury via private jet to his next five star hotel penthouse to sermonize about how to get rich through prayer, faith and the sheer power of the will.
Are we to ignore the fact that wages have been stagnating for the past 30-40 years while huge disparities in wealth have been widening as the wealthy take larger and larger slices of the economic pie? The top 1% of the population now controls over 90% of the wealth. Between 1979 and 2007, the top 1 percent of American households saw their share of all pretax income nearly double, while the bottom 80 percent had their share fall by 7 percent. On a global basis, it's deplorable and scandalous to realize that the richest 378 people in the world have more wealth than the bottom 45%, amounting to about 3 billion people.
As Barbara Ehrenreich recently said about her own country, "It's as if every household in the bottom 80 percent is writing a check for $7,000 every year and sending it to the top 1 percent." “The real conservatism of positive psychology”, Ehrenreich informs us, “lies in its attachment to the status quo, with all its inequalities and abuses of power. Positive psychologists' tests of happiness and well-being, for example, rest heavily on measures of personal contentment with things as they are.”
Religious and Psychological Snake Oil
Americans are hope fiends. We always see hope somewhere down every road, chiefly because honestly looking at the present situation would destroy just about everything we hold as reality – Joe Bageant
No matter how cynical I get, I can’t keep up - Lily Tomlin
Pastor Joel Osteen tells us that you just need to "Start thinking as God thinks. Think big.... Think more than enough." I wonder if that’s how Osteen became so wealthy? Osteen’s message is basically the same conveyed by corporate America that regularly employs the services of New Age positive thinking charlatans like Martin Seligman*, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and the latest mountebank incarnation, Eckhart Tolle. Snake oil salesmen such as these now appear regularly on PBS, a television station that once used to be one of the few remaining bastions of science, reason and enlightenment values. With the erosion and withdrawal of public funding and intrusions of the corporate world and creeping privatization, this is clearly no longer the case. Our public schools and institutions of higher learning are suffering from the same underfunding, anti-intellectualism and corporatism. With the neo-con ideologue, control freak and fundamentalist Christian Prime Minister Stephen Harper now in control, the CBC in Canada is probably going to be another fatality of this privatization frenzy.
* Like pop positive thinking, positive psychology attends almost solely to the changes a person can make internally by adjusting his or her own outlook. Martin Seligman himself explicitly rejects social change, writing of the role of "circumstances" in determining human happiness: "The good news about circumstances is that some do change happiness for the better. The bad news is that changing these circumstances is usually impractical and expensive." This argument—"impractical and expensive"—has of course been used against almost every progressive reform from the abolition of slavery to pay equity for women. (Barbara Ehrenreich, Bright Sided)
We've all been taught by religion, in particular Christianity and Islam, that we must have faith in some better future condition - like faith in an afterlife where there will finally be universal justice and release from oppressive power, inequality and injustice. This opaque concept of an afterlife will be the final refuge and release from our current abysmal condition. Most of you are probably familiar with the story of Pandora. She was given a tightly sealed box and ordered by the gods never to open it. But she succumbed to curiosity and out flew plagues, sorrow, mischief and mayhem, not necessarily in that order. She shut the lid, but it was too late. Only one thing remained in the box: hope. Hope, the story goes, was "the only good the casket held among the many evils, and it remains to this day mankind's sole comfort in misfortune." No mention here of action being a comfort in misfortune or of actually proactively doing something to alleviate or eliminate one's adversity. Fortune: from Latin fortuna, akin to Latin fort-, fors, chance, luck: this implies that the misfortune hope is supposed to alleviate is just fate or bad luck, and not contingent on circumstances we can change. Considering the current dire state of the world it's difficult to understand how fate, bad luck or the will of god factor into the alleged wretched choices we all make in allowing kamikaze capitalism to continue to destroy the planet socially, economically and ecologically.
The more ponder on the idea of hope, the more I realize that instead of being a comfort like the palliatives of religion, it serves the purposes of those in positions of political and economic power. As surely as faith in an indefinable deity, nebulous afterlife and heaven, hope is really nothing more than a secular version of the same old delusional snake oil con game.
Hope is, in fact, an inoculation against reason, skepticism and critical thought.
The present discussion might prompt one to think of the captivating Buddhist witticism, "Hope and fear chase each other's tails". Hope may allay one's fears because it leads us away from reflecting on our present predicament, away from the abysmal situation in which we find ourselves. But where does it lead other than toward some pie in the sky fantasy future condition? Every move toward totalitarianism, both religious and secular, has relied upon a docile unthinking uninformed credulous populace ready to embrace some facile salvation plan. This time is no different.
Hope is a delusional longing for both a present and future condition over which you have no agency, no control. Leave the thinking and decision making to your masters - business leaders, their compliant political servants in government or some other authority, real or imagined.
In Derrick Jensen’s book, Endgame there is an excerpt that’s germane to the above discussion:
“I do not hope Coho salmon survive. I will do what it takes to make sure the dominant culture doesn't drive them to extinction. If Coho want to leave because they don't like how they're being treated - and who could blame them? - I will say goodbye and I will miss them, but if they do not want to leave, I will not allow civilization to kill them off. I will do whatever it takes. I do not hope civilization comes down sooner rather than later. I will do what it takes to bring that about. When we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to "hope" at all. We simply do the work. We make sure salmon survive. We make sure prairie dogs survive. We make sure tigers survive. We do whatever it takes.”
When faith and hope die, action and possible change can begin. Faith and hope may be palliatives for prisoners and slaves, but for men and women who value freedom, who consider themselves free, they are intellectual shackles.
Progress, enlightenment and release from fear can happen when you give up on hope and begin to think skeptically and critically. You will cease to rely on externalities - something or someone else to solve your problems, to release you from coercion, whether it is God, Jesus, the Buddha, your new Age guru, Karl Marx, unfettered capitalism or your conservative corporate controlled government. The veneer created by the feel-good self-help industry is reminiscent of other facades created through the auspices of our revered capitalist system. George Carlin was right when he proclaimed that "self-help" books and gurus are about "help", pointing out that the "self" has been reduced to an irrelevancy. If you were helping yourself, you would be thinking through problems on your own, not resorting to the latest guru or mindless book on the New Age shelf.
Perhaps the promotion of "hope" and "faith", not only by religion and New Age charlatans, but by our dumbed-down education system, political and business leaders, play a large part in why there is so much docility and so little public outrage and civil disobedience. Today we witness an entirely corrupt political and corporate edifice with its bought-and-paid-for facilitators in government who have hijacked democracy and the economy with a few financial oligarchs, enriching themselves beyond their wildest dreams. They are continuing to do as I write, at the direct expense of every North American and European citizen and taxpayer, so many of whom are struggling 60 to 70 hours a week, often at minimum wage, just to keep themselves and their families afloat. That's assuming you have a job and home that hasn't been foreclosed. The working classes are now being forced to pay for these failed economic policies and the bailouts and golden parachutes offered financial criminals. These are the conditions created by neo-conservative ideologues who promote "family values".
It is precisely due to the internalizing of ridiculous American mantras that "you create your own reality, that "one simply has to think success to be a success," "to have faith", "trust your leaders", etc., that so many of those who have been most victimized by a depraved capitalist system. They were pushing this quasi-religious business bullshit about formulating "mission statements" and "vision" in our high schools a few years before I escaped from it by retiring. What a colossal mind-numbing waste of time.
The entire system of inequalities inherent in the Conservative Corporate Welfare State is so stacked against ordinary working people that their only real chance of "getting ahead" is the one in a hundred million shot they have of hitting the lottery or the roulette wheel at the locally morally bankrupt government sanctioned capitalist casino. They are so humiliated by their lack of economic progress over the past few decades that they have come to blame the victim, themselves, rather than turn their quite justified rage toward their conservative plutocratic masters and the vile system that is exploiting and oppressing them, in addition to pillaging and bankrupting their governments at all levels. It's a system crafted by corporate created heroes like the union busters and despisers of the working class such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and their current incarnations in Gordon Campbell and Stephen Harper.
There is no such thing as the “American Dream” and there never has been - so join the reality based community, take the jack boot from your neck, get pissed off and do something about it. As George Carlin points out in one of his amusing skits, "It's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.
I've read recently that Paul Ryan, who is on the short list for Mitt Romney’s VP candidate, is apparently eager to erase his quite recent past obsession with Ayn Rand. Rand is the author of a book with the oxymoronic title The Virtue of Selfishness and two popular novels extolling the virtues of a toxic form of extreme individualism. There are many other Republicans infatuated with Rand such as Ron Paul and his son Rand, in addition to long time Treasury Secretary Alan Greenspan who was part of Rand's sycophantic inner circle several decades ago and whose policy of free for all capitalism was a major contributing factor to the financial crash of 2007-2008.
Is Paul Ryan's change of heart because he has come to the realization that Rand's libertarian right wing philosophy is blatantly offensive to anyone with a modicum of moral sensibilities? She preached not only the righteousness of selfishness, but that any compassion and generosity was a ethically barren because it helped those who were weakening society. She despised not only the poor but even people with disabilities, characterizing them as leeches draining economic vigour from capitalism. What is so ironic is that she was an outspoken atheist, particularly despising the brand of Christianity to which Ryan and every other Republican is obligated by their electoral base to claim they believe in. For Rand, Christianity is odious because Christ taught a world view that we now call socialism: that the less fortunate, underprivileged and worst off in society ought to be cared for and loved, making her views dangerous for Republican politicians to accept.
Ayn Rand v Jesus Christ
Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society....To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil. - Gore Vidal
The ultimate irony and contradiction in American political life these days are the conservatives who swear on a stack of Bibles that they worship Jesus Christ while at the same time kneeling at the altar of Ayn Rand's vile mutation of free market capitalism. They preach an American exclusivity blessed by a Christian God and the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, calling for America to be a shining city on a hill which can be an example to the entire world. Yet their exceptionalism isn't based on their country being ethical and honest the way Jesus would have understood it, but amoral in the manner that Rand and the Social Darwinists of the late 19th Century understood it: whoever is rich deserves to be and whoever is poor deserves his fate and is a parasite on society. It's all part of God's plan, God's will.
John Winthrop, the Puritan leader whose "city on a hill" quote inspired generations of Americans ever since to see the United States as a model for other nations, did not understand America as a place built on greed and uncaring individualism, but a place built on community, caring, sharing and looking out for our brother and sister. Ronal Reagan an admirer of Rand and a man with a comparable hyper-competitive world view of self-interest and greed antithetical to that of Winthrop, deceitfully co-opted Winthrop's vision of cooperation and brotherhood in his "city on a hill speech". Here is Winthrop:
For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities for the supply of others' necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other, make others' conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labour, and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as His own people and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness, and truth then formerly we have been acquainted with.
Winthrop's vision for America does not in any way reflect that of Ronald Reagan or Ayn Rand. In fact, it is pretty much the exact opposite to it.
Perhaps America should be a shining city on a hill. I personally do not believe in any form of mysticism such as manifest destiny nor any despotic system that would decree such a an idea of dominance. Even in the miniscule probability that there might be a loving omnipotent God, surely the United States would have lost any special blessing privileges because of, among other things, the genocide of Native Americans, allowing slavery and the murderous US wars of imperialism during the past 200 years.