How Ayn Rand ruined my childhood
Excerpts from an amazing piece in Salon:
My parents split up when I was 4. My father, a lawyer, wrote the divorce papers himself and included one specific rule: My mother was forbidden to raise my brother and me religiously. She agreed, dissolving Sunday church and Bible study with one swift signature. Mom didn’t mind; she was agnostic and knew we didn’t need religion to be good people. But a disdain for faith wasn’t the only reason he wrote God out of my childhood. There was simply no room in our household for both Jesus Christ and my father’s one true love: Ayn Rand.
I don’t know exactly why he sparked to Rand. He claimed the philosophy appealed to him because it’s based solely on logic. It also conveniently quenched his lawyer’s thirst to always be right. It’s not uncommon for people to seek out belief systems, whether political or spiritual, that make them feel good about how they already live their lives. Ultimately, I suspect Dad was drawn to objectivism because, unlike so many altruistic faiths, it made him feel good about being selfish.
Needless to say, Dad’s newfound obsession with the individual didn’t pan out so well with the woman he married. He was always controlling, but he became even more so. In the end, my mother moved out, but objectivism stayed. My brother and I switched off living at each parent’s house once a week.
Our objectivist education, however, was not confined to lectures and books. One time, at dinner, I complained that my brother was hogging all the food.
“He’s being selfish!” I whined to my father.
“Being selfish is a good thing,” he said. “To be selfless is to deny one’s self. To be selfish is to embrace the self, and accept your wants and needs.”
It was my dad’s classic response — a grandiose philosophical answer to a simple real-world problem. But who cared about logic? All I wanted was another serving of mashed potatoes.
Soon, however, I began to question whether my father’s philosophical beliefs were simply a justification of his own needs. As soon as the legal drama erupted, he refused to pay for even the smallest things, declaring, “Your mother is suing me,” in defensive sound bites, as though it explained everything.
Can I buy new shoes? A couple bucks for the movies? Your mother is suing me.
Twenty dollars for a class field trip? Your mother is suing me.
From what I understood of his favorite capitalist champion, any form of altruism was evil. But how could that kind of blanket self-interest extend to his own children, the people he was legally and morally bound to take care of? What was I supposed to do, fend for myself?
The answer to my question came on an autumn weekend during my sophomore year in high school.