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(Coffee) Shop Talk

Welcome to the shop where I talk about things that go well with coffee, which is almost everything.

As anyone who has ever broached the topic with me knows, I hate Ayn Rand. I think her ideas are a menace to society in that they encourage people (usually the ones who are already so inclined) to be total a**holes. Furthermore, her narration is too heavy-handed and her descriptions of character’s expressions and gestures are totally impossible to picture. Like this:

“She lifted an eyebrow in a way that made him understood immediately that she had been born under a full moon, ridiculed in the fifth grade for having braces, tripped on her own prom dress at the age of 17, and that she viewed the world around her as being entirely composed of rubber bands. She was also fat, which indicated that she was a corrupt and disgusting person.”

That may or may not be a direct quote. It is completely true, however, that her protagonists are all extremely thin (with the exception of a couple that are rugged and chiseled) and their stupid, corrupt enemies are not.

In Atlas Shrugged, which I am now reading, she also offends me by portraying all humanitarian/nonprofit endeavors as ill-conceived, inefficient, ultimately destructive to society, and operated exclusively by fat, spineless slugs who don’t have the grit to work for a real business. Ok, yes, charitable organizations aren’t always the tightest-run ships on the sea, but they care about budgets and results as much as a for-profit company does. They just have a different purpose, different pitfalls, and different ways of getting money. I could go into funding issues right now but I’m not going to, since I’m not actually speaking to Ms. Rand. But then again, I would never speak to Ms. Rand, even if she were alive and we were locked in a room together. I would just sit on the floor and try to communicate all my evil thoughts to her with the movements of my eyebrows.

But I’ll give her this much credit: it’s good for us hippy-dippy, do-gooder types to occasionally be reminded that just because a business of some kind is big and successful, it’s not necessarily bad. And even if some corporations are soul-less and destructive (and prone to going bankrupt and having to be bailed out by the feds or some British company), that doesn’t mean that capitalism is evil. And it’s a nice perk that the reminder comes in the form of a compelling narrative.

Honestly, I don’t feel like the merits of capitalism–or the merits of acting in one’s own self-interest, for that matter–are really something that should be up for debate. They seem pretty self-evident to me, but I also think it’s pretty self-evident that freedom and a free market aren’t going to solve all the world’s problems. And I think people who hold stiffly to the tenets of any particular economic or political ideology are basically hiding from the difficulties and complications of trying to balance the first truth against the second one. And don’t even get me started on people who want to scrap the current government and start over. Revolutionaries get under my skin even more than Ayn Rand novels do.

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