What Traction Looks Like

Monday, September 19, 2011

Taking a look at Instapundit this morning, I found Glenn Reynolds asking whether the U.S. entitlement system is "morally bankrupt". My first reaction was, "That's nice. An ARI article got an Instalanche."

Not to downplay Instalanches, but it turns out that the link leads elsewhere than to Yaron Brook and Don Watkins's recent Forbes piece: It takes the reader from a somewhat sympathetic blogger to a mainstream media site, Yahoo Finance, instead. There, Henry Blodget presents the gist of the argument reasonably well, and notes that he asked Brook about his views:

But if the money for Social Security is being stolen from citizens who don't believe in it, why isn't the money to pay for the military also being stolen from pacifists who don't believe in war?

Because, says Brook, the collection and spending of the latter money is in everyone's interests and is therefore justified.

Hmmm. Social Security certainly has its problems, as does the United States as a whole. But it seems inconsistent to suggest that some money collected and spent by the government is "stolen," while other money isn't.
As someone who is pretty familiar with Rand's ideas, I know that Brook's answer isn't the whole picture here -- but it's impossible to present such a complex argument in an answer to a question, and off the top of one's head in a  conversation. I'm impressed because the answer was still thought-provoking, as evidenced by the last paragraph.

Ayn Rand's ideas have gone, over the course of the last couple of decades, from being actively ignored in major news media to sometimes getting a respectful (if sometimes puzzled) hearing; and from being smeared a la Whittaker Chambers to being asked about thoughtfully. I'm always grateful when her ideas are noticed by sympathetic commentators, but their success will ultimately hinge on being heard by a broader audience than conservatives and libertarians. That's what I like about the Yahoo Finance piece.

Any mention of Rand brings with it the possibility that someone receptive to her ideas will become curious and start reading her. (A snide remark about "selfishness as ... virtue" in a college newspaper did this for me.) But when Rand's ideas are actually given fair treatment, the chances of this happening increase exponentially, both in terms of the number of people who might become curious and in terms of how likely someone might be to decide that that curiosity is worth satisfying.

Contrast this to how the intellectually dead Left "communicates," and it is clear that the battle to change minds is winnable. (As a bonus, you'll also laugh for several reasons.)

-- CAV


Ryan said...

"Any mention of Rand brings with it the possibility that someone receptive to her ideas will become curious and start reading her. (A snide remark about "selfishness as ... virtue" in a college newspaper did this for me.)"

It was the same for me actually. I'd say most of the times that I heard of Rand before I read Atlas Shrugged it was from a source that was insulting her. Every time, however, I found myself thinking, "I kind of agree with her."

For years I sensed that Objectivism would be a natural combination of to of both my interests: atheism/science and libertarianism. It was only until after I read AS and more materials online that I realized that it was much more than that.

Gus Van Horn said...

In my case, that was, for all pracital purposes, the first time I'd heard of her. (Mad Magazine made a crack about her in a piece on Hugh Hefner years before, but I was a kid when I read that and it was just one of many things that went over my head.) I was extremely interested in philosophical questions, at the time, though, so once was enough.

kelleyn said...

Whenever I hear anything being smeared and insulted, cruelly and heatedly, seemingly for no valid reason, I have to find out what it really is and why it struck a nerve. As they say in show business, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Gus Van Horn said...

That's often true for me, and it was especially the case regarding a philosopher who was, apparently, saying something nobody else was.