Tuesday, November 27, 2012

'Going Galt' on Someone Else's Dime

One of rallying cries of the right-wing in recent years is that they are the producers of society, and liberals like me are the moochers and the parasites. Conservatives, they believe, are the ones who actually "make things," while the rest of us merely "take things." It's pretty damned stupid, as well as insulting.

This idea is central to the work of Ayn Rand, an atheist and self-styled philosopher, as well as a writer of truly dreadful novels, who seems to have people like the now-irrelevant Paul Ryan all aswoon. One of the principles of Rand's philosophy (some might call it a psychosis) is that altruism, sharing, and a collective approach to solving problems are actually immoral. If you help someone down on his or her luck, you are actually being victimized by this person. A panhandler who asks you for spare change is in fact taking advantage of your good nature, because he or she knows that you cannot resist feeling badly. So, you reach into your pocket to give this person a few coins.

Not so fast, Rand says. What would actually be moral is for you to ignore this person. He or she must learn self-sufficiency, after all. Thus, you are actually doing this person a kindness by allowing him or her to starve. By instead giving away your hard-earned pay, you have succumbed to a form of tyranny. It's a mind-blowingly evil philosophy, and it doesn't take into account the fact that there will always be a percentage of any society who must rely on others.

One of Rand's characters, from her execrable novel Atlas Shrugged, is named John Galt, a sort of right-wing renaissance man who convinces the "producers" of society (why do I keep seeing an image of Zero Mostel?) to go on strike, essentially, and to withhold from society their indispensable acumen and prowess. This idea has been picked up by right-wingers with the rallying cry that they are "Going Galt," i.e., they are dropping out of society and going it alone. It's Timothy Leary for the stupid.

The reason I bring this up is that natural disasters hit gated communities just as they do the rest of us. One such community is Sea Gate in south Queens:
Sea Gate looks the same as many storm-scattered waterfront communities do. Home after home torn apart by the ocean. Streets filled with sand. Shattered sidewalks and clogged sewers. A sea wall, which had already been inadequate to the task of safeguarding residents, reduced to rubble.

Ordinarily, New York City or other governmental entities might take over the tasks of restoring a middle-class neighborhood like this. But Sea Gate, with its 850 homes on Coney Island’s western tip, is not an ordinary neighborhood. It is a 113-year-old private, gated community, where the razor-wire-topped fences and armed security checkpoints that keep outsiders from its streets, beaches and parks serve as a constant reminder that the residents of this community have chosen to live somewhat apart.

Once the gilded retreat of the Vanderbilt family, Sea Gate, like other gated communities in New York, preserved its exclusivity with the promise that the residents would assume the costs of community upkeep, maintaining their own streets, parks and sewer systems and even fielding the distinct Sea Gate Police Department.

The special status endured, through occasional controversy and political efforts to open the streets to the public, because of the community’s self-sufficiency.

But the damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy to Sea Gate, in Brooklyn, and another gated community, Breezy Point, in Queens, was so monumental that residents who are already struggling to figure out how they will pay to rebuild their homes say they cannot afford to pay the additional cost of repairing communal infrastructure. So neighborhoods that have long held the rest of the city at arm’s length now seek the financial embrace of the city, state and federal governments.
So, here's my question. If a group tells you to get lost and that they don't want to be a part of society, so much so that they live behind a razor-wire fence and have their own police, etc, how much help should government extend to them? And, you know these John Galts will have their hands in our pockets before too long, just as Rand herself gratefully accepted Medicare from our tyrannical government when she became ill and infirm in her golden years.

Granted, Sea Gate isn't the best example. It's not the hoity-toity enclave it once was, with lots of working folks living there (I used to know someone who lived there years ago). But it raises a serious question. Should we respond in an altruistic manner to those who would never help us in a time of crisis?

Yes, probably. We're not monsters, after all. And if we do so, maybe a few of them will realize just how morally bankrupt Randian philosophy truly is.


  1. Shameful treatise Marc Rider

  2. I quite agree. Atlas Shrugged is a disgusting book.