How is Ayn Rand elitist?

In a recent Christian Science Monitor opinion piece, sociologist and author Vladimir Shlapentokh asks, “How is elitist Ayn Rand a tea party hero?”  The real question should be instead, “How is Ayn Rand elitist?”  I am no Rand scholar, but a cursory look at Atlas Shrugged clearly vindicates her as a logical champion for “anti-elitist” Tea Party circles.

Although Rand’s protagonists are rich corporate tycoons, they are not elites in the sense that Democrats and liberals love to invoke today.  Rand crafts her heroes as being personally competent.  They are geniuses, honest, strong, and dedicated laborers to boot.  But they lack the social capital that brings power in their society.  The villains Rand casts opposite them are the real elites, leveraging their positions in or connections to government better than anyone else.  The bleeding hearts invoke guilt, the flunkies shamelessly beg, the ruthless politicos live by extortion, and the megalomaniacs wrangle for military power.  All of these villainous types must get what they want by spinning reality, kissing up, or trading favors.  And by contrast, the book’s heroes trade their labor with a cold dignity that stems from honest appraisals of material scarcity and the productive value of their fellow men.

The heroes of Atlas are left-brained people living in a world run by the right-brained.  They are engineering and hard science majors that want to be free of the unsavory affairs of the communications majors that rule over them.  Essentially, Atlas is a nerd-liberation manifesto overthrowing the urbane and the charismatic in favor of the earnest and the awkward.  And those are the folks that are the rank-and-file of the Tea Party.

Truth, Justice and the American Weigh

A spike in news reporting on the Tea Party movement came with the passing of tax day earlier this month.  Orbiting around this media meme of course were various references to talk radio and certain polarizing cable news channels.  Time and again my attention returned to the contentious issue of media bias.  There is so little that can be widely agreed upon as a basis of conversation.  Does media bias even exist?  Is it desirable or to be avoided?

NPR’s All Things Considered ran a story last Friday featuring perspectives on three news organizations in Atlanta.  It was refreshing to hear mainstream media report with some candor on the nature of news gathering itself.  I found myself in basic agreement with the proprietor of the Atlanta Progressive News as he identified the corporate bias of big media, characterized reporters’ single-handed attempts to be the “arbiter” of truth as “arrogant,” and asserted that trust can only be built if news gatherers admit their biases.  This all stands in contrast with traditional notions of down-the-line objectivity that such a mainstream media staple as CNN, which Politico recently reported on, attempt to maintain.  But if the news business resembles anything like a marketplace of ideas, the old “dinosaur” media as Hugh Hewitt calls them are finally succumbing to leaner, meaner, and wholly worthy competition.

Why should we welcome the likes of FOX News, talk radio, devolved blogs, and the host of other aggressively biased reporters and commentators?  Contrary to late, platitudinous naysaying that the climate of our national dialog has taken a marked turn toward the uncivil, America has thrived under a long and continuous tradition of rancorously competitive news reporting.  Ad hominem slanders that would put current reporting flaps to shame were the staple of the nation’s earliest newspapers.  For decades, papers openly supporting one party or the other competed for readership in the cities they shared.  The conscious cultivation of the objective, altruistic “Voice of God” was something of an artifact of the twentieth century.  In the popular imagination, this was best exemplified by the earnest, selfless comic book superhero-reporters Clark Kent and Peter Parker.  As commendable as these paragons of integrity have been, they betray an all-too-simplistic popular culture conception of the relationship between news gathering, facts, and the truth.  If only real-life villains were always rich men and military brass with a penchant for violently vibrant spandex outfits!  This leaves no mention of scientists, the other revered revealers of truth, which will have to follow up in another entry.

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