Once upon a time, back when I was a sheltered and naive undergrad, I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The books were interesting; they made me think and though I did not agree with everything in them, the cultural and political commentary was engaging. There was always something about Rand’s books that never sat right with me especially Atlas Shrugged. But I read them for fun and didn’t dwell on them or their unsettling aspects until Atlas Shrugged was discussed in a class on the Whig Interpretation of History. It was for Dystopia Day and the other options we were given to read were classics like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, and less obvious narratives of dystopia like The Monkey Wrench Gang – we also watched clips from movies I can’t remember the name of and the video for “Do the Evolution.” It was the first time in years I’d really thought about what was going on in Atlas Shrugged and by the end of the discussion I was really questioning if I agreed with any of the themes Rand presented. But again I left the book alone when class was over I moved on to thinking about other thing like ecotage, tree spiking and tagging Hummers.
Then I started reading old issues of the University of Alberta student newspaper The Gateway and there were references in a surprising number of articles about environmental issues to the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI). From the vague way the ARI was brought up it was clear it was anti-environment, so I googled it. The results were eye opening. Turns out there is an institute devoted to promoting Rand’s philosophy of objectivism. It was founded back in 1985 – making it 25 years old in 2010 – and focuses on introducing high school and university students to Rand (they are especially interested in catching the impressionable, open-minded undergrad population). There is a whole section of the website devoted to applying objectivism to current events and it seems environmentalism is pretty high up on the list of things that do not mesh with objectivism at all. There are op-eds with titles like “Rachel Carson’s Genocide” and “The Danger of Environmentalism,” press releases like “CO2 Restrictions Threaten Human Life” and ” ‘Earth Hour’ Symbolizes the Renunciation of Industrial Civilization,” and articles called “Against Environmentalism,” “Animal ‘Rights’ and the New Man Haters,” and “In Moral Defence of Forestry.” A quick scan of the website and the presence of a branch of the institute at a university in Alberta was not surprising. It oozes classic conservative environment denial and the disregard for anything except the progress of industrialization and making more money. It was frightening reading the extremes to which Rand’s philosophies are being taken.
Ayn Rand will continue to sit on my bookshelf. I will not relegate her work to a box containing the books I hate and will be donating to a used bookstore on of these days because even though I disagree with much of her philosophy and interpretation of history, Rand’s books are thought provoking and I am glad I’ve read them. I don’t plan on re-reading them anytime soon, unless of course the ARI appears frequently enough in critiques of environmentalism that refreshing my memory of her perspective on the environment is necessary.
If you have not read any Rand, you should – The Fountainhead is less dense than Atlas Shrugged and a couple hundred pages shorter, but Atlas Shrugged paints the best picture of her philosophy (unless you want to get into The Romantic Manifesto which is all philosophy not story). The writing is engaging and at the end of the 600+ pages of Atlas Shrugged it is a little odd to realize the author died in 1982.