Who is John Galt?

So, I’ve been in absentia from this blog for quite some time, but I had to share some thoughts, so here goes:

Over the past year, I’ve undergone a serious and very difficult transformation of sorts. The anti-capitalist theory and theology that I professed made physical, practical demands of my being, and I went to listen to the call. I went to serve and discover where the Christ of the gospels, Hauerwas, Yoder, Barth and others might find me. I found myself thinking of Abraham Heschel, and of my place as just some guy in the midst of this too-wide world.

I’ve also become increasingly frustrated with the state of things and must often remind myself that my task is not to make the world more just, but to make the world the world. As a Catholic, albeit a Catholic with problems, issues doubts, etc. I stand at a very strange crossroads of mentors, sources and paradigms. However, for this post I wanted to talk about Ayn Rand. given that Rand was a big deal the past few weeks due to Paul Ryan’s vice presidential nomination, it’s fitting that she comes up now.

“Virtue is to be apologized for. Depravity commands respect. Success is cast as evil and punished while failure is blamed on others and rewarded.” -John Galt

I agree with this quote, but not its contextual subtext.

Readers of Rand approaching the text from her radical capitalist standpoint in Atlas Shrugged walk away from this quote saying, ‘Yeah, bad government!’ Whereas, I’d walk away with a broader context in mind. I’d say that we live in an age where the virtues we must apologize for are not only courage and personal strength, but free thought, the will to assert oneself, conscious altruism, and compassion. When reading the above verse, even Christians might be tempted to read this as a statement on their personal virtues, or the church’s virtues, which isn’t what Rand means at all.

Rand means greed, she means narcissism, the kind that is a lobotomized Oscar Wilde, all selfishness, no aesthetics to reduce the blow.

By depravity, Rand means altruism, she means charity, she means sloth, she means some of the things that the Church calls virtues. She does not mean that the godless men who command respect are lurking monsters, megaliths of power, but rather, weaklings at the top of empires. Ayn Rand is putting anemic emperors on trial. They’re depraved in their giving, weak in their chortling about like wounded animals. Rand disdains the government as well as the corporate powers that be on her books, though she balances her disdain with a strong ubermensch capitalist we know as John Galt.

Rand’s idea of success is individualist, selfishness. By success she does not mean emotional or moral development, she does not mean a community of love and care, by success she means the virtue of greed and self assertion manifesting itself in terms of brutality against the weak.

I agree with the words of this quote, there’s a good deal of global blame game, and a lot of virtues that have become rude, and a great deal of depravity commanding respect. From the drone wars to the increasing police state, national security has asked us to compromise our tolerance in the name of national borders. Obama’s peace prize commands attention, even as his administration cracks down on civil liberties including journalism and privacy.

Failure can mean a great many things, but practically, from an economic standpoint, failure means bailouts, something that Romney, Ryan, and Obama criticize, though let’s not forget they were started by George W. Bush. I respect the words of this quote, I think we should see banks fail if they’re gambling and taking risks they can’t afford. However, I cannot but critique Rand’s contextualization of such pointed words.

We do live in a society where failure is outsourced, and rewarded. We put the companies with the most capital gains and ROI for shareholders on the covers of magazines, while never showing the same attention or value to companies that ensure their workers have adequate healthcare, enough vacation time, and so on. To me, this is rewarding failure. Instead of adding a human element to our values of business, Rand simply removes what humanity there is, and prizes sadistic self-indulgence.
So, while I like the quote, John Galt is no friend of mine.

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