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MAY 17, 2012 12:00PM

How the Ayn Rand-loving right is like a bunch of teenage boys gone crazy

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If, as George Lakoff says, we view politics through the metaphor of family, then Mother’s Day would have been a good time to ask the question: Where’s Mom in this picture? What are all those dirty socks and pizza boxes doing in the living room? Seriously: It looks like a frat house in here. Who’s been drinking the beer I hid in the basement fridge?

And, sweet mother of God: How did we end up letting the 16-year-old boys take over the entire household?

Make no mistake: All this Ayn Rand libertarian me-first-and-the-rest-of-you-go-to-hell stuff — the there’s-no-government-like-no-government theology that’s now being piously intoned as Holy Received Truth by everybody, male and female, in the GOP — is, very precisely, the kind of politics you’d come up with if you were a 16-year-old boy trying to explain away his dependence on Mom.

Parents? I don’t have any parents. I raised myself, on roots and berries and small vermin I dug up in vacant lots. That lady hanging around, feeding me and nagging me and picking up my socks and driving me to practice? She’s just the nanny state. That bitch. I hate her.

Society? There’s no such thing as society. There’s only what I want right now, which is the ultimate good in my universe. And what I want right now is more time on the XBox, pizza money and the keys to the family car.

The future? If I pursue everything I want now, then the future will magically take care of its self. Dinner will appear. So will clean socks and the next-gen XBox.

Obligations? I am God’s gift to the world. I don’t owe it anything. In fact: it owes me — just for being so magnificent, cute and special. Even my mom thinks so.

On behalf of America’s mothers, let me say: I have had enough of this. I don’t care how cute they are: It’s high time these so-called “libertarian” freeloaders get off the couch, stand up and show some respect to the rest of us who’ve done the hard work that makes their cushy lives possible.

You know what I wanted for Mother’s Day? I wanted these so-called “self-made men” to grow up and get a life.

No More “Nanny State” — Ever

Also: I’m putting them on notice: I don’t ever want to hear one more word about the “nanny state.” Not one. Not ever again.

First of all : It’s ugly. It just reeks of that 16-year-old boy being told to clean up his mess. The big sigh. The dramatic eye-roll. The drawn-out, agonized, “yyezzzz, mommmm .. .” that lets you know you’re about to spend the rest of the evening in a passive-aggressive battle during which your teenager will generate enough inertia to bring the rotation of this and several neighboring galaxies to a dead stop.

The “nanny state” is making you do the dishes, and then it wants you to clean out the garage. You poor persecuted darling. Go dial 1-976-WAAAAAH.

Second of all: It’s sexist as hell. Anti-feminist at its very core. It says that the concerns that we most identify with mothers — cleaning up your crap, minding your manners, not annoying other people, taking responsibility for your actions — are intrusive and unwarranted infringements on your essential freedom instead of the basic adult responsibilities that are required of everybody if society is going to remain free and functional.

It says that the power and authority by which mothers — “nannies,” in this construction — set the rules within the family is illegitimate. It belittles women who are bossy enough to insist on adult behavior from men.

It suggests that the things women are stereotypically most bossy about — politically, this would be issues like child welfare and education (looking after your little brother), the environment (housework) and peace and social justice (playing fair and being nice) are beneath the attention and dignity of men. You can almost hear John Wayne: “Don’t you worry about what your mom says, boys. Dad’s here, and he’ll set her straight. Big fat wink. Deep chuckle. You go right on ahead with what you were doing.”

Of course, when the Duke said stuff like this, the result was usually a shrieking, hair-pulling fight with Maureen O’Hara, which always ended with her turned triumphantly over his knee. And then, after a good, sound spanking that put the little lady firmly back in her place, he’d wrestle her tiny hands away so she couldn’t slap him and kiss her until she stopped struggling. And she’d love every minute of it, because in this deranged view of gender relationships, that kind of manhandling is just what all pissy women are really secretly asking for.

It implies that Real Americans are honor-bound to resist any and all exercise of female bossiness in the sacred name of preserving their almighty “freedom.”

And then, as the final insult, it identifies all government action with that exaggerated feminine weakness. Corporations: the domains of independent, active men who are busy creating a better world for themselves — and therefore, automatically, for everybody else as well. Government: the domain of dependent, passive women who are fussing about everybody’s business, insisting that they clean up their stuff, eat right, play nice and get to bed at a decent hour.

Government, like Mom, is a real buzz-killer. And also powerless. You can safely ignore her. After all, all she can do is yell at you, ground you and dock your allowance. And Dad (or, in the case of government, his lawyers and lobbyists) is the truly sane and powerful one around here and can be counted on to set her straight when he gets home.

How to Tell the Men From the Boys

Conservatives completely fetishize masculinity. They idolize sports heroes, warriors and the Manly Jesus of modern evangelicalism. They eagerly seek the trappings that will buttress their sense of maleness in their own minds — guns, big trucks, enough money and power to push other people around. The further right you go, the more exaggerated this focus on hypermasculinity becomes.

Psychiatrist Stephen Ducat explained this phenomenon at long length in his book, The Wimp Factor. Ducat’s research shows that right-wing men are so obsessed with the external trappings of maleness precisely because they’ve failed to develop the inner qualities and accept the obligations that are required of actual adult men. It’s all show, with nothing solid on the inside to back it up. And the more fragile their masculinity feels to them, the more exaggerated the outer display they put on is.

Given the insecurity that lies at the heart of this sad compensation, it’s especially ironic that they’ve got the whole country buffaloed into thinking this is appropriate adult behavior. We’ve ended up with a culture of maleness that emphasizes the objectification and degredation of women, a lack of male accountability for anything that happens in the culture and a definition of masculinity that’s all about empty shows of dubious might — like peacocks preening on parade.

For the record: This is a comic-book stereotype of manhood as it’s imagined by little boys. But it’s not the real deal — not even close.

The essential difference that separates the men and the boys is that men understand and accept that they have an obligation to the greater good and are willing to unflinchingly step up to that responsibility. They commit to their families. They work to improve their homes and communities so they’re safe and nurturing places for everyone to be. They take the long view as they plan for their kids’ future. They look out for people around them who are weaker than they are. And they respect and cherish the co-parents of their children as their equal partners in that effort.

Adult men do not resent being asked to contribute to the collective whole. They know that their actions have consequences and that they are responsible for the impact of those consequences on the greater good of the community.

As a veteran mom, I understand that it’s totally developmentally appropriate for a teenage boy to desperately struggle to separate from his female parent as he begins to find his way toward his adult male identity. But at some point, that oppositional process is supposed to come to an end — usually in the early- to mid-20s, with a reconciliation and renewed acceptance of Mom as a useful guide in his life. And, if he’s straight, there will be a mature acceptance of his obligations to a female partner and their children as well.

A 50-year-old CEO who’s still whining because Big Bad Government is asking him to clean up his shit, look after his little brother and not act like a psychopath in public is flat-out suffering from arrested emotional and social development. He’s not a grown man, despite his thousands of employees and millions in salary. He’s still that teenager, hating on Mom because she dared to remind him that he’s still deeply dependent on the resources of provided by his larger family. And as a mother, I’d invite other moms to join me in calling out this immaturity for what it is, wherever we see it.

What I really wanted for Mother’s Day is for America’s Lost Boys — the libertarian Peter Pans, the free-market feral children, the neo-liberal ramblin’ men — to stop pretending that they’re something special and uniquely free because they’ve managed to disassociate themselves from women’s care and women’s concerns.

I want respect for the role mothers play — both in our personal families, and in our national one. I want some recognition of the fact that the issues that are typically dismissed by the masculine fetishists as “women’s issues” or “nanny-state meddling” are, in fact, the issues that the future of our country most depends on. And I want the common wealth and the common good — the health and wealth of our national family — to get the same kind of loving respect that all mothers are entitled to.

Flowers and chocolate and a nice brunch are appreciated, too. But they’re a meaningless insult — a sop to authority we don’t have and aren’t seen as entitled to — long as we let the 16-year-olds run the household the other 364 days out of the year.

Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on Twitter.

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"All this Ayn Rand libertarian me-first-and-the-rest-of-you-go-to-hell stuff — the there’s-no-government-like-no-government theology that’s now being piously intoned as Holy Received Truth by everybody, male and female, in the GOP — is, very precisely, the kind of politics you’d come up with if you were a 16-year-old boy trying to explain away his dependence on Mom."

In this way, this piece begins with a blatantly dishonest characterization of the Right's new-found appreciation of some of Ayn Rand's ideas. There is nothing in Ayn Rand's philosophy that can be construed as "me-first-and-the-rest-of-you-go-to-hell." At least, not by an honest reading.

Ayn Rand's meta-ethics posits that the purpose of ethics is to discover long-range principles to guide human beings in living happy, productive lives. This is in contradistinction to the prevailing view that the purpose of ethics is to teach us to sacrifice our lives and happiness for the sake of others. So in Objectivism, one is ethical in order to live a happy, fulfilling life. There is nothing about everyone-else-be-damned. The opposite of "it is our duty to serve others" is not "everyone else be damned."

And we are not 16 year old boys and the government is not our mom. As much as the Left would desire otherwise, we are not Julia. We are human beings with individual rights.
Great article and I'm with quite you on your points. I like your extended analogy as well.

BTW, the commenter who criticizes the post for overgeneralization does the same thing himself: having regard for the common good is a far cry from sacrificing one's life and happiness for the sake of others.
Great post!

JWB - Any reading of Rand produces a picture of extreme individualism, which cannot hold. We are only individuals in part and parts of community in part (unless you go out in the woods and live off berries and roots), the proportions varying in different societies and times. Happy productive lives entail cooperation with other people - sometimes dependence, sometimes the dreaded altruism. "Regard for the common good," - yes White Girl.
Look, I don't know what you're talking about. I'm like Norman Bates of the Hitchcock Bates Motel, and I like to stuff birds, and I can tell you, honestly, that a boy's best friend is his mother. Oh, I hear my Mom calling..."Yes Mother, I'm talking to a pretty social futurist woman. No, mother, she's not a whore. Yes Mother, I'll be right there, at your wheel chair, to do your bidding.' Sorry, I have to go now and attend to Mother, and I think I have some business in the shower...wink
This piece really tells it like it is. As a high school teacher, I was the faculty adviser for the Young Democrats. I also coached tennis. They were a good bunch for the most part, but when the subject of politics came up, they tended to come off as a "bunch of teenage boys gone crazy," rabid dogs. We used to have "club" day in the cafeteria, when students were introduced to the various on-campus clubs & organizations that were available to them. Each club was given a booth. I remember the year when a new asst. principal placed the Young Democrats next to the Young Republicans (as far as I could tell, the YRs was made up exclusively of boys). The YRs used each lunch period (there were 4) to harass, bully and intimidate the "tree-hugging, lesbian loving, American hating, blah, blah, blah" liberals in the Young Democrats Club. It was disheartening to see such arrogance and nasty behavior--if the Young Republicans had been dropped down on a desert island, they would quickly proven that life does imitate art as all would have reverted to Lord of the Flies behavior. Several of the Young Republicans were also tennis players. One of them had absolute contempt for liberals. He would make statements in the school newspaper about how stupid liberals were, etc. The ironic thing is both of his parents were life-long civil servants. When he graduated from high school, he went onto college as a pre-med student, but I think he switched majors and works in the financial industry now. Given his hatred and contempt for liberals in general (both of his parents were fairly liberal in their politics), I would have been tempted to tell him to buy his own car, pay his own athletic fees, shop for his own tennis gear, pay his own way though college as it would surely have been beneath him to accept money from the liberal scum who were his parents. On a related note, I've read a couple of Rand's books. What bad literature, simply foul. There are so many good books to read, Iliad, Odyssey, Ulysses, The Trial, Huck Finn, The Great Gatsby, etc. Why would you waste your time on such didactic trash by some deeply troubled and embittered immigrant like Rand?
Nanny State, Nanny State, Nanny State, Nanny State, Nanny State!

Libertarians are not right wing. (They are more liberal than you.)

They're just not left wing. (which is what really pisses you off)

Libertarianism is not Ayn Rand, no laws, selfish individualism, etc. etc...

...and none of the other crap in your stupid rant.

If I had a mother like you, I'd never send her a Mother's Day card - at least not a nice one.
Objectivism is a meth-induced stream of consciousness lunatic rant, which has much more in common with Kerouac than any actual political reality. To ignore this, a very, very common fact, is quite a statement inandofitself. It is truly fair to compare it to a frat party proclamation, oops that sounds too religious :)

Auwe (Alas)
There is a new virus that threatens mankind. It is viral and pernicious. It has no thought and yet envelope the mind. It create's a sense of empowerment, yet disables the senses.
It has reared its ugly head in the past through lynchings and Wars. But it's conductivity has become greater with Corporate control of the Media. It is Libertarian thought of a Insect nature. It should be stomped out for it serves no purpose to Man. Only the ignorant Beast.
yeah, Ayn Rand wrote fiction. If it worked that well in real life, it could have been documentary, but it doesn't, so it isn't. It's like marxism - works well in theory, but in practice, works well only for some people, and that's usually the people advocating it. Nobody has ever made a country with an economy that's total socialism, nor total free-market. Never works, and it's similarly unrealistic at both extremes.

Next time you talk to some libertarian entrepreneur about their success and how they did it all themselves, ask them why they didn't found the company in Haiti. You say, "Those people work for $3 a day! It would be a lot cheaper to have all your offices there. I mean what's your biggest expense? Salaries for people." (That's the biggest for a software company; others may be different, but it's usually one of the biggest expenses for recently-started companies.)

(Or choose any other country with a low GNI per capita, and divide by 365: Liberia, Niger, Malawi, whatever you can remember.)

Of course it's ridiculous for them to start a business there. "Why?" insist on an answer. "It's Obvious" isn't an answer - reply sarcastically. Eventually you'll get to the quality/skills/intelligence of the people in the US versus Haiti. "And why is that?" you ask. Eventually you'll get around to the fact that most of the quality employees were taught in American public schools. "And who paid for that?" Eventualy you'll get around to the fact that the big bad Gubmint paid for that, and subsidized their success.

Or, they might come up with a different reason. Most of these lead back to some government spending:
- everybody gets sick, the people die like flies => government-paid health care, hospitals, government health ministries like the CDC or NIAID
- it smells => public sanitation, paid by the gov
- you can't get a truck from X to Y because the roads suck => government roads and construction
- you can't conduct business cuz it's too corrupt => government regulations, law enforcement
- I don't want to go to a place without good hospitals => healthcare again
- They all have AIDS => healthcare again

If they keep avoiding the issue or ridiculing, you keep on insisting, "$3 a day! You can hire 100 people and it'll be cheap!"