BlogTalkRadio interview on December 14, 2017, with Andrew “Zen Daddy T” Turman
Topics: Ayn Rand and Sisyphus Shrugged
(one mistake corrected)
Andrew Turman: Okay. We’re back with Robert Peate. He is a defender of Jay Sizemore—not a friend, a defender of Jay Sizemore, but more than that, he’s got his own book out now. It’s called Sisyphus Shrugged. It’s kind of a response, sort of a rebuttal to Ayn Rand. Robert, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your book?
Robert Peate: Okay, well, in 2012, I was really scared by Mitt Romney. I thought if he got elected, we’d see this total right-wing, capitalist wet dream of no taxes, no regulations, no social programs—essentially what we’re seeing now with Trump. And so, I had heard of Ayn Rand for decades and always with this very intimidating reputation, and I decided it was time to turn my attention toward her. And I did, and I read her work Atlas Shrugged, and while I was reading it, at the same time, I wrote a sequel/rebuttal entitled Sisyphus Shrugged, because I felt that Sisyphus symbolized the pointless toil of the worker [AT: Exactly.] rolling the boulder up the hill endlessly [AT: Sure.] and that that was the perfect image to contrast. And so, in my book, I ask, “What if workers went on strike? What if three quarters of American labor didn’t show up tomorrow? Who’s truly indispensable here, and would the genius Men of the Mind be able to get it all done without labor?” And, obviously, my answer is no.
AT: No. Right.
RP: So I picked up her story where she left off at the end of her book, and I continued it. So it starts with the right-wing fantasy of no government, essentially, and then, in my story, labor goes on strike, demands liberal reforms, and gets them. So, the end—happy ending. That’s the book in a nutshell.
AT: Let’s talk about Rand and some of her philosophy and how that led you to your own exploration of an extension of her book.
AT: Why don’t you give me your take on her and her philosophy?
RP: Sure. The nutshell about Rand, which even a lot of her supporters deny, is that her work, her lifelong project, was against the Soviet Union. She was born in Tsarist Russia. She observed the Russian Revolution first hand. Her father was a pharmacist. The Russian government took his pharmacy away, took their apartment away, gave it to other people. She was kicked out of university because her family had been bourgeois. Some visiting scientists from another country objected to them kicking out these students, and so they were reinstated, but Rand, as soon as she could, escaped the Soviet Union. So I respect the fact that she knew first hand the abuse of overbearing government. The problem is when she got to America, she saw communist, totalitarian dictatorship everywhere she looked.
RP: And she thought that liberals here were secretly communists trying to oppress everybody. She thought that FDR was going to be another Stalin. And yes, she spends her life talking about how the communists were liars—they only pretended to care about the workers, and they just did what they wanted for themselves—, but she didn’t realize that the liberals here actually mean what they say, and tell the truth, and want to use government to help people. She didn’t believe that. She was fundamentally paranoid and cynical because of the trauma and abuse she had suffered when she was young. I understand that. I forgive her. The problem is that she wrote these stories depicting American liberals as evil communists and now, far too many people take far too much of her work far too seriously and equate the liberals here with communist dictatorship. It’s horrible, and I felt that her book had caused enough harm that it was in desperate need of a rebuttal. A lot of liberals dismiss her, they hate her, they don’t take her seriously. They don’t realize how many people are influenced by her. So I felt that I would “take one for the team”, essentially, read her entire work, respond to all of her serious points seriously and fairly—to give our side the ammunition to say, “She’s wrong, here’s why,” in the context of an entertaining story.
AT: Right. Right. And she developed a philosophical system that she called Objectivism and advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge; rejected faith and religion; she supported rational, ethical egotism and rejected altruism. And she was really critical of most philosophers and most philosophical visions known to her.
RP: That’s true.
AT: What’s scary is that she’s been a significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives.
RP: Well, that’s one of the funny things about her, is that she is actually a more eloquent spokesperson for the Republican Party than the Republican Party has ever been in my lifetime. I think that if they’re looking for eloquence, they should start quoting her more. The problem is that what she’s saying is wrong. She refers to reason and altruism, but she only refers to them as she defines them, and she does not support her definitions for anything beyond, “I say so.” “Because I said so.”
RP: So you have to read it and agree with her, because if you disagree with her, you’re automatically wrong and evil to boot. It’s like any other cult: you either agree with the cult leader or you are an enemy.
AT: So what’s your central argument for her?
RP: For her? Well, she says that we should stand up for ourselves, and I agree: we should stand up for ourselves. The difference is that I think that we can care about ourselves and other people at the same time.
AT: Right, right.
RP: So I think she was half right. She emphasizes individualism because she’s reacting to communist, totalitarian dictatorship. She’s rebelling, and she swung so far in the opposite direction that she’s really a tragic figure, because she couldn’t trust anyone. She was very lonely. She couldn’t really love, because she couldn’t open up, and she was a total control freak. So I feel sorry for her, to be honest. I just think that we need a philosophy that says, “You can’t help other people until you help yourself, but as long as you’re helping other people, then it’s okay to help yourself.” [Added 12/17/17: Or, another way to look at it is: “You should help yourself. You should also help other people. Why? Because you can’t be a fully actualized human being without needing and being needed, without loving.”]
RP: I don’t want anybody to be poor or miserable. I want people to be self-actualized and take care of themselves but also realize that we need other people. One of the big ideas in Sisyphus Shrugged is that we actually need other people and we need to need them. It’s a part of human psychology when we’re born to need other people. She has a really hard time admitting that children need their parents, lovers need each other—human beings need each other. There’s a phrase in medicine called “failure to thrive”. If we don’t get the love and affection that we need, we fail to thrive, and I just see her as a stunted individual, because she was incapable of love due to the trauma she suffered.
AT: Well, she was definitely a conflicted individual, and a lot of her ideas have kind of come to pass in the recent political climate. A lot of what she said and what she advocated for, it seems that some of our leaders—Rand Paul, Paul Ryan—seem to take it hook, line, and sinker. And what can we do about that? That’s my question to you: what can we do about that?
RP: Two things: one, education. I mean, your program, my writing—everything we do that promotes thought and reason and logic and morality is fighting that. Right now you and I are fighting that. But the other thing I wanted to say about Rand Paul and Paul Ryan is they pay lip service to her, but she would have despised them, because, on the one hand, they only take half of her. They cut the taxes and regulations and social programs, but she was completely opposed to government favoring business. She was not a hypocrite. She favored a completely free, sink-or-swim market. So: businesses rise or fall completely on their own merit, without any government tax breaks, subsidies, or other support. She opposed Ronald Reagan, because she said he was not a real conservative—he wanted to coddle big business using the power of government. She was completely opposed to that. Now that I’ve said that, what do you think she would think about Paul Ryan and Rand Paul?
AT: (Laughs.) Yeah.
RP: They’re hypocrites, they’re liars. They pay lip service to anything that serves their agenda. The one thing that Ayn Rand fans never talk about is the fact that, in Atlas Shrugged, she crucifies business leaders who are cozy with the government and the government that is cozy with Big Business. They don’t want to talk about that. They are Randian villains! Paul Ryan and Rand Paul are equivalent to villains in her work.
AT: I’ll tell you what: this is a topic that I’d like to revisit at a future date. Let me just say, your book Sisyphus Shrugged, is available on Amazon.
RP: Yes, it is.
AT: So, can I get a commitment from you to come back and talk to me about this a little bit more?
RP: Oh, I’d be happy to.
AT: Okay, great. Great. We’ve kind of run over time, but that’s okay. I think we had two really important topics that we covered tonight, and I really appreciate you coming on, Robert. And I really want to have you back on for another show.
RP: I’d be delighted.
AT: Okay, great, fantastic. This has been Short-Attention-Span Theater with Robert Peate, discussing Jay Sizemore and Ayn Rand, and we’ll pick this up at another time. I’m going to take this out with Dopes to Infinity, so here we go.