The word “sociopath” invokes the image of Ted Bundy, who was indeed one. But in psychiatric terms the condition is far more detached from the depravity of mass murder. A “sociopath”, or “psychopath”, is simply a person who does not experience normal feelings like love and guilt. Sociopaths come into life surrounded by normal people and are challenged to imitate us as they make their way. Most are quite good at mimicry.
It is not a condition that can be treated, and a sociopath can never ‘recover’ from that vapid state.
I read the book “Atlas Shrugged” years ago, and was taken in by it for a brief time. But its appeal is like a cheap novel: it impresses the youthful or semi-literate, but has no real literary merit. The characters are one-dimensional, and the art of the novelist – to tell a large story with believable characters representing big ideas … well, it just isn’t there. Ayn Rand was not a very good writer.
So as the months and years passed after the Atlas experience, I grew more disdainful of it and her philosophy. People are not like that, I realized. Her economic philosophy was as one-dimensional as her characters. (The book was panned by critics when it came out in 1957, much to Rand’s dismay.)
So what is the appeal of Atlas? Why are so many youths taken in by it? Why does the book impact the lives of so many?
At least part of it is simplicity – Rand reduces the world to understandable dimensions by eliminating nuance and treachery and the need for conscience as a motoring skill in our travels.
Take, for instance, Rand’s idea of romantic love. It did not exist. Mating was thoroughly rational process, according to her, even a matter of economics.
We know better, 96% of us. We have been rocked by love, we lose our bearings, we behave irrationally. We travel untold miles just to be with that someone. We write poetry and utter private words and write private notes with words that embarrass us in everyday circumstance – those letters have to be locked away. There’s a box of them in every attic or closet of every house. Love produces chemicals that unleash our emotions and take total control of our being. It is powerful and intoxicating.
Love sent Mark Sanford on his Appalachian trip, John Edwards to his political demise. It undid John Lennon. Every guy gets what happened to these guys. They were hit by a thunderbolt.
Ayn Rand never experienced it. Outside of her writing she appears to have been a dominatrix. She had physical relationships that do not hint of love potion #9. She married a man who drank himself to death. While married she carried on an open affair with Nathaniel Branden with total disregard for her own husband’s feelings or those of Branden’s wife. One has to suspect that Branden himself is as devoid of feeling as her, as there doesn’t seem to have been any physical attraction to her.
The same disdain for normal human emotions permeated her economic philosophy. Randian economics ignore, even deny, the emotional human. In her view we are islands of self fulfillment without regard for others. We bargain and offer our services and accumulate wealth, and not much more. In so doing we all benefit, or so we must hope, because there is (or should be) no compassion or charity for others.
As with love, Rand’s economics speak of a person devoid of normal feeling. Most of us know that life is about caring and sharing, loving and being loved. People offer their love in myriads of ways, from caring for their own offspring to taking care of others, giving hours and money to charities and going to church on Sunday. In the outpouring of charity from Americans for Haitians after the recent earthquake, there was not one scintilla of economic rationality. People just wanted to help. In our churches (at least the one I was brought up in), when we go through that door on Sunday we set aside commerce. We talk instead about important stuff.
Are those who are taken in by Rand and Atlas attracted to her emotionless philosophy? Does she relate to them on that level? Is her appeal to that small legion of devotees due to their own lack of conscience? Has Ayn Rand legitimized sociopathy?