Wasted Vote? No, Clean Conscience.

Eagle and American Flag  by Pam Roth, Creative Commons

Photo by Pam Roth, Creative Commons

I voted with a clean conscience today, and it felt GOOD.  I didn’t give my approval to Obama’s drone strikes against civilians in countries we aren’t even at war with.  I didn’t give my approval to Romney’s promise to continue, and possibly expand, those attacks.

Four years ago, I let myself be suckered. I voted for “the lesser of two evils,” and I almost threw up on the way out of the polling place.  I knew it was wrong as soon as I pressed the button.

Today I was grinning.

It doesn’t matter that the third-party candidate I voted for won’t win.  It’s not like Mississippi is a swing state anyway. My vote went to “No, it is NOT right to kill Pakistani (or Yemeni, or any) children in my name.” My vote went to “No, America’s problems will NOT be solved by killing everyone who hates us.”  My vote went to “No, permanent war is NOT okay, even if it’s fought by remote control.”

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re “throwing your vote away” if you don’t vote for one of the corporate-approved, militaristic professional politicians the GOP and Democrats serve up to you.

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re a fool for opting out of the orchestrated drama wherein candidates who are 90% alike go to “war” over the remaining 10% … and then largely forget that 10% once they’re elected.

Don’t let anyone make you compromise because “this election is the most important in history!”  They have said that about every election I am old enough to remember. And the two parties keep sharing power, sharing patronage, sharing money, and shedding blood.  Very little changes.

Vote for the person you believe in, regardless of their “chance” of winning.  Don’t give your approval to things you think of as evil.  If you believe in the Democrat or Republican candidate, then by all means, give him your vote.  But don’t vote for the lesser of two evils.  Don’t do it.  Don’t give your sanction to evil.

I know this is coming too late to affect anyone’s vote in this election.  But I couldn’t have written it before I voted, and between work and election day communion service at our church, this was the quickest I could get it posted.  But I stand by it.  Vote your conscience.  Be heard.

Where Atlas Shrugged Went Off the Rails

Reconstruction of the 1895 Montparnasse Train Derailment by Andre Engels, Creative Commons

Reconstruction of the 1895 Montparnasse Train Derailment. Photo by Andre Engels, Creative Commons

The truth is, it’s been years since I read any Ayn Rand, and, like most Americans, I could safely ignore her … until now.  Because now, the Republican Presidential nominee has selected a Vice Presidential candidate who’s a big fan.  Granted, Paul Ryan is distancing himself from Rand (in part because she’s an atheist, and he doesn’t want to sully his very real Christian conservatism, and in part because of pressure from the Catholic Church). But as late as 2005, he addressed The Atlas Society.  Whether or not he believes in her philosophy, Paul Ryan has brought Ayn Rand back into the public discussion.

Let me summarize what I’ve learned from that public discussion:  The belief that Objectivism is morally repugnant is pretty widespread.  Even more widespread is the belief that it’s just too simplistic, assuming rational action in a world where there is simultaneously information overload AND never enough of the right knowledge for ANYONE to make perfectly rational decision.

I’ve probably heard “I thought that was so cool when I was 13” about as often as I’ve heard “that’s horrible/evil/I can’t believe she actually makes a “virtue” of selfishness!”

So I’m going to discuss Atlas Shrugged.  I’ll start by saying that I liked the book.  It was a good story, despite the long monologues.  Heck, the long monologues were actually interesting.  And there were some pretty amazing moments – I won’t spoil my favorite one, but let me just say that it comes when they try to torture John Galt.  I still like that scene.

The question I ask today is not, “Who is John Galt?” but rather, “Where did Atlas Shrugged go off the rails?”  When did the work become morally monstrous, intolerable, unacceptable?

It’s not Dagny Taggart’s sexual liberation, not even her affair with Hank Rearden.  First, let me say: I certainly can never condone infidelity of any kind.  But there is something powerful about a female character who really owns her own body, and exists neither to be controlled by men, nor for their titillation.  It’s even more amazing in a book published in 1957!

And there’s something noble about the way Dagny short-circuits her enemies’ attempt to blackmail Hank Rearden.  He was willing to go along to protect her reputation, but she announces their affair on a broadcast radio interview.  She laughed in the faces of the people who wanted to use her “secret” to destroy a man she loved.  Again, you’ll never hear me approving of adultery, but I really don’t think this is the “big problem” with Atlas Shrugged.

It’s not Ellis Wyatt and Francisco D’Antonio destroying their business assets rather than have them be forcibly nationalized.  Theft by force is robbery, whether it’s a thug with a switchblade or a government with an army.  As governments become more coercive, more tyrannical, and less respectful of human rights, nonviolent resistance becomes justified, even admirable.

It’s not even Ragnar Danneskjold’s raiding.  The Galt’s Gulch bunch were planning a revolution, and Ragnar’s actions were pretty bloodless as revolutions go.  Danneskjold certainly caused less carnage than our Founding Fathers did.  The fundamental problems with Rand’s philosophy aside, Atlas Shrugged is the story of a new American Revolution. Danneskjold was just the Galties’ admiral.

No, the point where Atlas Shrugged goes off the rails (pun intended), the point where “A is A” becomes inhuman, the point where Rand’s great epic becomes a moral monster is…

Eddie Willers.  He is, without a doubt, as self-sufficient, as morally upright (even using Rand’s strict and somewhat twisted morality), and hard-working as any of the Galt’s Gulch bunch. While he lacks their capitalistic genius, he’s faithful, dedicated, and asks that no one be sacrificed for his needs.  Eddie is one of the few characters that objectivists and non-objectivists alike can find admirable.

He’s served as Dagny Taggart’s right-hand man for her entire career.  He’s the Alfred to her Objectivist Batman.

And. She. Leaves. Him. Out. In. The. Chaos. To. Die.

Eddie’s not a “second hander” or a “looter,” trying to take by force.  He’s not a schemer or an enemy.  He’s not even a stranger.  He’s been her right hand all along, and frankly, without someone to back her play, to handle the details, to fill in the blanks while she’s dreaming up new innovations, Taggart wouldn’t have made it where she did.

And. She. Leaves. Him. Out. In. The. Chaos. To. Die.

And he does.  He dies, abandoned by the person whose success he spent his life facilitating.  He’s not a superstar, so he can just … drop dead.  It’s inexcusable.  It’s insurmountable.  It washes away, in a moment, any good that may be gleaned from the novel’s philosophy.

Sure, he wasn’t invited to Galt’s Gulch, and she probably couldn’t have scored him an invitation (not even as her personal assistant), but she could have warned him, could have sent him somewhere out of the way, to ride out the chaos.  But she doesn’t.

And that utter lack of empathy, of loyalty, of basic respect, it’s not the hallmark of a great innovator.  It’s the hallmark of a sociopath.