Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lovely writing on a subject that doesn't deserve so much II

I was watching Fincher's "Fight Club" a few nights ago with my brother. That movie really has a lot of stuff in it. I'm completely on-board with Palanhiuk's criticism of the Western materialistic lifestyle driven by a conspicuously consumptive ethic that instills a twisted value system of worth and self-worth based on possessions. But as for the Fight Club and Project Mayhem, I've always found those aspects less impressive; to be honest I find them infantile, juvenile. It's just acting out. Fight Club is no more a solution to a man's unbearable lightness of being than knitting. Essentially all the men in the movie were just looking for a hobby - a distraction from a life spent on trivial things. Project Mayhem isn't a solution to anything. It's doing something loud because you don't believe you can do something lasting. It's doing something rebellious because you lack the patience to do something revolutionary.

I can't remember who I was talking to who made the most mind-blowing critique about the movie that I ever heard. Tyler Durden's endgame is to blow up the credit records for the entire country in one nationwide coordinated terrorist demolition. As such the credit-debtor history of the financial system would disappear and everyone would be on equal footing: people, businesses, corporations. I think it was my brother who was saying that such an act would change absolutely nothing. Within a year, the credit and debt situation of the country would be right back where it had been before the collapse. Why, do you ask? Well, why did it get that way in the first place? The people who were good and responsible with money and credit will still be good and responsible with money and credit, even though they have no record to show it. The people who were bad and careless with credit will still be bad and careless with it going forward. 12 months after all the records are gone, the record looks exactly the same as before. How exactly would creating a blank slate change a person's habits? How does a second chance change human nature? Only a massive act of will or chance can do that.

This, I feel, is the problem with Ms. Rand's Objectivism or at least its defense as explored in "Atlas Shrugged". I feel kind of embarrassed to write a critique of a philosophical position without reading the associated work, but it seems as though with the collapse of the market everyone's jumping on the Randian bandwagon...and a child could poke a hole through the premise of Atlas Shrugged. Ms Rand holds laissez-faire capitalism as the highest good and as such subdivides everyone into two broad classes: creators and abusers. The creative class make things that increase the general well-being of humanity and the abusers (looters, who take by force; moochers, who take by pity) siphon off of the creative and entrepreneurial minds. Ms. Rand's solution is simple/simplistic: have all the creative people shrug off the burden of providing for people who won't help themselves and isolate themselves in a privileged community, where the benefits of their genius and vision can grow unimpeded by government, religious or labor interference.

But, like in the Fight Club example, give it a year. Did Ms. Rand really think that the looters would just fall off the face of the earth? Collectively starve to death? No, among the looters, new opportunities for prosperity would open that were previously filled by the creators that jumped ship. Every industry that was no longer operated and managed by a 'smart' person would just be filled by a new 'creative' class and the same stratification would ensue (assuming of course, that Ms. Rand's original class system existed in the first place). Ms. Rand would have you believe that these captains of industry are once in a generation figures that the world takes advantage of and takes for granted at its own peril. But come now, really? To have someone believe that if it wasn't for Edison the light bulb would never have been made, or that if it hadn't been for Einstein no one would have come upon Relativity or that if it weren't for Columbus we'd still think the world was could so many people read a book based on such childish nonsense? Edison simply got there first, Einstein got there first. Bell edged out Gray by a matter of hours; the Vikings discovered the world was round centuries before Columbus did. If the creative class all left, they'd be missed for all of a month tops.

What is it that Hegel said? When you look at the world rationally, the world looks rationally back at you. The world looks as it does for a reason. The world of creators and looters is shaped that way because of the creators and the looters. The creative class - the propertied and capital investment class - always diminish the contribution of those that actually build things, that is, the workers/looters, and the looters always diminish the importance of the idea that lets them pay their bills. But to say that "oh, the solution is I'm just going to take my basketball and not play anymore"? What are we, children? If the creative class all left, who'd build all the stuff they dreamed up? Without the designers, how could anyone build anything?...Through endless trial and error?

It's a platitude, yes, but here it is again: We need each other. You don't have to like it. But Ms. Rand and her followers should be grown up enough to accept it.