just for a little context
I linked to Jon Chait’s epic takedown of Ayn Rand previously. Will Wilkinson responded here. I didn’t think that Wilkinson’s response was up to the challenge of convincingly disputing Chait’s piece, and I particularly felt that Wilkinson was more complaining about Chait examining Rand in a way contrary to how Wilkinson would like her to be considered than anything else. But then, I am certainly not an neutral observer. Wilkinson, it’s worth saying, is himself critical of Rand, although he maintains a defensiveness about her that I think is misplaced and driven by emotionalism.
The thing is that, even were I to accept all of Wilkinson’s defenses of Rand, I couldn’t close myself off to what experience tells me about how popular Wilkinson’s conception of Rand’s ideas is among Objectivists. My personal experiences dealing with Objectivists, and from what I have read and heard, is that they are very much in favor of the kind of crude readings of poverty, wealth and their relationship with virtue that Wilkinson denies. I can’t say this with any kind of statistical certainty, but my brief surveys of various Objectivist websites and videos seems to indicate that very straightforward, black and white equivalences between wealth and virtue, and poverty and lack of virtue, are exactly what are most celebrated about Rand by many Objectivists. The naked and explicit “poor people deserve it” attitude that is promulgated among many Objectivists is, I take it, precisely the appeal.
Take, for example, Objectivist Youtube star “Mr. Cropper,” who, when he isn’t asserting that Objectivist philosophy disproves modern science (and Objectivist takes on physics and cosmology richly deserve more public ridicule than they have been exposed to), explains quite heatedly that poor people want to be poor and that the deserve to be.
My point is that Will Wilkinson is a bright, compassionate person with a discriminating eye for philosophical nuance, and a man deeply dedicated to the task of human liberation. Many Objectivists– most that I have met or read, though I do admit and caution that this is anecdotal and incomplete– many Objectivists are not nuanced, and not self-critical, and not interested in eliminating human need. This isn’t a criticism of Ayn Rand, really, but it is a request for placing beliefs about her teachings in the larger context of how many of her followers understand her. (And this is equally a caution for me, as I have to place whatever small sympathies I have with Karl Marx in a context where many of his followers, historically, were frankly monstrous.)
Oh, as for Mr. Cropper, he is apparently now sleeping on his brother’s floor. Hey, man. Lifestyle choices!