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Why the Philosophies of Nietzsche and Rand Are Poison To Geeks

Date/Time Permalink: 02/27/09 11:04:26 am
Category: Geek Culture

With a title like that, I hope you're not expecting this post to be light reading. I'm also blindly assuming that you have at least a passing familiarity with the concepts of Objectivism and the Übermensch. If you aren't familiar with these concepts, you can skip this. I envy your bliss.

Now, then. You don't have to be a genius to see the effects that having a high IQ would have on the personality during a young person's development. The very gifted have a hard time fitting into society, which is why they get names like 'nerd' and 'geek' in the first place. They can't find anything in the media that doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator, they're bored in class doing work that everyone else is struggling to keep up with, and in social settings they listen to the chatter around them and think, "How can they go on like that? Doesn't it bore them silly?"

So in the geek we have the potentially dangerous combination of high intellect and maladjustment. And quite a few of them want to change that situation, by making society a better place for them. Unfortunately, the first thing that occurs to someone possessing this motive is to blow society to smithereens and start over from scratch. And when you have that idea and you're a young geek talking to other geeks, sooner or later someone's going to plop a copy of Atlas Shrugged or Thus Spoke Zarathustra into your hands and announce triumphantly that it is the answer.

The dangerous message of both of these schools of philosophy is "your vanity is justified". Yes, these works tell you, you really are right and the society is wrong! You are John Galt the Superman, the next stage of evolution. You're the Guns of the Navarone and Superfly TNT! You don't owe the world of lesser mortals a damn thing. Now, go forth and conquer this evil world and make them see it your way!

Such reasoning led Theodore John Kaczynski to a cabin in the woods. In fact, that's what the whole problem with Objectivism and Nietzschism is that you always end up smoking pot and mixing Molotov cocktails in your kitchen sink. And why it is a problem is because half of the truth is missing.

Here's the other half of the truth: Nobody alive right now is provably smarter than all of the billions who have lived before for these (6000 to 10000) years of recorded history. We're ants. Aristotle and Einstein and Tesla and Pascal were ants, too. So is Stephen W. Hawking. One ant may be bigger, blacker, and faster than the other ants, but that does not make it a god.

If the answer were as simple as "blow up the world and start over", don't you think we would have done that by now? You don't have to try the experiment in your own country. Move somewhere where a country's government has been overthrown in a revolution lately and try to build your Utopia there. Oh, that's a bit harder, isn't it? The fun part of watching everything go boom has already happened; now you have to do the boring manual labor of building. Indeed, in the United States we're already had our Revolution once from the British, and built something with many of the same problems in its place. Now tell me with a straight face that another revolution would get it right this time.

The conclusion: the human race isn't done developing yet. The Utopia is several thousands of years away still, if it is achievable at all. If mankind, in our present state, were capable of governing ourselves perfectly, then we would have no need of government! There is no shortcut here. It isn't a matter of looking to a few exceptional individuals lead the unwashed masses. The strongest ant cannot lift a brick.

What to do instead? Work towards the future. Advance the sciences and the studies. Build and invent and write. In doing so, we preserve what little progress we've made so that, if and when a time comes when the human race is capable of curing its problems, it will find the tools to do so already in its hands.

And why should you do this? Why not selfishly "look out for number one", put on your cape, and run right over those lesser mortals while ruthlessly pursuing your own goals? Because it's a dead end. Following this path is why we have so many people who don't live up to their potential. Power trips are seductive, and those with a little more power than most are the most seduced.

You should do this because it makes you a part of the solution anyway. What, did you not notice that making life a little better for others also makes it a little better for yourself? Beyond that, we have built our society on the foundation laid out selflessly by the strong and brilliant minds who went before us. All those dead people we still read about centuries later - they did not benefit from their own work, either. They did it for us, and for future generations beyond us. But you'll never see a statue or a memorial dedicated to an Objectivist.

There, now, that's over with quicker than we thought it would be, isn't it? Go easy on me in the comments. I'm just another random idiot with a blog.

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Update Bonus Buck - Bob the Angry Flower explores what happens after Atlas Shrugged.

Update 3/9/09: Just in the interest of presenting all viewpoints, here's Reddit kicking around a debate about Rand. Both pro and con arguments are presented and accepted equally - unusual for them...

Update 11/3/09: An excellent Slate write-up on Ayn Rand. The last paragraph compares Rand to L. Ron Hubbard. I'm so glad somebody else said it for me!

Update 2/26/10 Nearly a year later after this initial post, more mainstream media is finally seeing where the Ayn Rand thing is going. Alternet calls a cult a cult and a sociopath a sociopath.

Update yet again, same day The Statesman, go read them too. There's two new bios of Rand, which explains all this new noise about her.

My God, it is almost gruesome to see every creepy feeling I've ever had about Ayn Rand and her Randroid cult not only be justified, but amplified. I never would have known that she had a yen for serial killers. I also didn't know that Rush Limbaugh also subscribes to her beliefs. So much is coming out now, and once again every gut feeling and hunch I've had is being proven right.

Update 1/28/11: Apparently Rand-bashing is in vogue now - two years later than this post, here's Boing Boing lacing into Ayn Rand as she has never been laced into before.

Update 7/9/11: Just now found out about They've got a take on Ayn Rand, pointing out "megalomania, self-centered indulgences and a humorless, dogmatic driven nature" are part of the package when you're a Randy. So yeah, there's some of the issues.

Update 10/25/12: It's like I have a twin brother...

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