… the jerking of knees.
Friends of mine have two very bright teenagers — the kind of kids every parent would love — honor roll students, top athletes, well-spoken, and pretty straight shooters, as well. Their mom told me this story this morning.
One boy, a freshman in high school, mentioned in his English class that he was reading Atlas Shrugged. The teacher promptly flew into a frenzy. The book is trash, she insisted. Boring, poorly writtten, an utter waste of anyone’s time.
Now you know that a lot can be said both for and against Atlas Shrugged — sometimes by the same reader. In one breath, people will tell you that the book opened their eyes, hit their minds like a lightning stike, altered the course of their lives — and is filled with cardboard characters, thudding prose, weird sex, and speechifying figures who don’t know the meaning of the word “brevity.” Heck, I’m one of the people who would say all that.
But as Peter Bagge points out with a laugh (Tip o’ hat to Kevin Wilmeth) some people insist that the works of Rand are a) either 100 percent great and glorious, without earthly flaw or b) 100 percent evil and anyone who reads them must be unspeakable.
Back to my friends’ boy. That English teacher has every right to her opinions — though a real teacher would encourage kids to read, think critically, and make their own judgments rather than trying to impose hers. Fortunately, this boy has been taught by his parents how to think, rather than what to think. And while he’s been taught to be respectful of adults, he’s also learned to stand up for himself.
Bless his heart, he challenged the teacher’s opinions in front of the class — and after a bit of back-and-forthing she had to admit that she had never even read the book! OMG.
Recently, this blog drew a few contemptful comments merely because I posted the trailer for the upcoming Atlas Shrugged movie and a follow-up about where it might play. One person made the mind-boggling assumption that companies like Dow Chemical and Monsanto are examples of the Randian free market in action (rather than the state-partnered enterprises they actually are) — AND assumed that anyone eager to see the movie ipso facto wants companies like those to have even greater power. The other insisted that Rand’s readers are a pack of “Republicans and tea-baggers” who only like Rand because they’re mostly unaware she was an “evil” woman and an atheist. As he came back with additional comments, it became clear he thought this blog was also by and for those very same benighted “Republicans and tea-baggers,” despite evidence to the contrary.
Yeah, all that just because I opined that the trailer was boffo and I wanted to see the film. Whew. That’s a lot of conclusion-jumping. That’s like assuming that everybody who enjoys Hitchcock’s Psycho wants to keep his dead mother in the basement.
Bagge notes that there’s some poetic justice to knee-jerk Rand hatred; the ghost of Rand is reaping what she sowed in life — sneering contempt for any opinions that weren’t in lockstep with hers. (This is, after all, the woman who told Murray Rothbard he should divorce his wife and get a more “rational” spouse, simply because Mrs. Rothbard wasn’t an atheist.) Was Rand capable of being one very unpleasant, destructive person? From everything written about her by her one-time friends, I’d say you betcha. Does that make her novels evil? Heck, if all art were evaluated on the basis of creators’ character, there’d be precious little to like. From Caravaggio to Lord Byron to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jackson Pollock, artists and writers have tended to be … well, let’s just say not the nicest or most well-balanced folks.
But I find it hard to laugh at the jerking of the knees, whether from right or left or someplace else in the universe. I’ve lamented before: Whatever happened to an appreciation for nuance? Whatever happened to thoughtful analysis? Whatever happened to critical thinking and for that matter, gaining some knowledge of a subject before speaking out? I don’t care what “side” somebody takes; black-and-white thinking, and the jerking of the knees that goes with it, are not conducive to freedom.
Freedom is best served by considering the other guy’s point of view — or at least recognizing that he has a point of view that may not be “evil” even if it differs from yours — and may not be so stereotyical that you can judge it — and him — in 10 seconds flat based on the thinnest scrap of evidence.