Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we'd pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we're only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we're considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity – that that's a pretty narrow vision. It's not one that, I think, describes what's best in America. Unfortunately, it does seem as if sometimes that vision of a "you're on your own" society has consumed a big chunk of the Republican Party.Point taken, insofar as it goes.Not all of us at that age who felt "misunderstood" (which is a fairly common affliction among adolescents in the US) felt the need to pick up Ayn Rand's books, or even worse take her writings seriously. I do suspect (and since I don't have data, this is merely a hunch) that Rand's books had some currency among those born toward the end of the Baby Boom (which would include Obama) and those who comprise Generation X. Although a lot of these young men and women might have come of age during the era of Raygun, not all of them were conservative in the sense we would have used at the time. Heck, more than a few otherwise liberal-leaning friends seemed to love to sing Rand's praises while I was in college. I sought answers elsewhere. Why? At some point, I made an effort to read through some of her work and that of Leonard Peikoff and quickly realized that a society idolizing selfishness would crumble like a house of cards. Maybe being around at a point when American punk was becoming little more than a meaningless fad, and becoming quickly disillusioned with the countercultural scene in general, I had little use for mere individual rebellion. Maybe there seemed something almost pathological in Rand's writings that I could not quite place my finger on at the time, but which others later have brought into sharp relief. Maybe I had a hunch - one that would prove largely correct - that even those who called themselves "liberal" or "progressive" who bought into Rand's narrow vision would end up tainted by it. In the last three decades, we have what were in the 1990s called the "New Democrats" to show for it. Even our "progressives" bought into the myth of neoliberalism to a large degree - an economic perspective that is largely predicated on a narrow vision of "freedom" that is essentially one of unfettered selfishness.
Obviously I am not planning to fall into the trap that our contemporary US "progressives" are equivalent to our contemporary US movement conservatives. They are not. There are varying flavors of neoliberalism as we have learned - some more toxic than others. What I can state is that our newest generation could do themselves and everyone around them a huge favor and - if they find themselves feeling "misunderstood" - that they seek answers elsewhere. Ideally, they should look for authors who understand the critical need for solidarity, for grasping the sheer amount of connectedness between us all. Most of all, look at the influences that my generation and the one before us revered, and consider them cautionary tales, failed experiments never to be repeated. Sneering your way through life, which is what so many of the more privileged members of my age cohort did and still do, is no way to live. If you really want to rebel, if you really want to "stick it to the man", try banding together and doing something that improves the lot of more than just your selves. In other words, do what we all have to do once we hit 18: grow up.