Sunday, December 25, 2016

Against Gulching

"Gulching" refers to setting up a retreatist community of political conservatives. It is named after Galt's Gulch in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

Saturday Night Live ran this in the wake of the GOP victory in the Presidential election of 2016:
In The Bubble, the election never happened.
View on YouTube here.
On the Objectivist discussion board, Rebirth of Reason, frequent contributor Luke Setzer posted a link to the video under the headline "Turning Galt's Gulch on Its Ear." In the discussion there, I said that no successful society is monolithic.

The defining attribute of fans of the Atlas Shrugged movies is that they are people who want to set themselves apart in a separate, isolated and hidden community of like-minded people. Many dream of a physical locale. Most enjoy online communities. In those discussions, the occasional reports of attempts at a “Galt’s Gulch” receive close attention.

Although the plot element of “Galt’s Gulch” served a poetic purpose, it was not a call to action. Ayn Rand was specific in stating that art is not didactic: a romance novel does not teach. When Ayn Rand had something to teach, she wrote essays and delivered lectures. Rand’s intention as a philosopher was to create and explain the ideas that can liberate individuals, human society in general, and the United States of America in particular.
New York City from
Admirers of the works of Ayn Rand generally have two goals: to improve their own lives by living better; and to change the world. They intend to achieve the latter by spreading the ideas of Objectivism until they are accepted by (arbitrarily) “enough” other people. Their goal is a cultural shift more dramatic than the rise of classical Greece or the Renaissance.  Specifically:
(1) reason, science, and philosophy replace religion
(2) the ethics of egoism become as widely accepted as the tenets of altruism are today
(3) capitalism displaces socialism
(4) government is limited to basic functions of law and order by protecting the rights to  property.
(5) the observably dominant works of art (painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, theater) project rational people living in a knowable universe.
Cleveland's West Side Market indoor space.
The inherent contradiction in “Objectivist culture” – the common interactions in-person and online among those who admire the works of Ayn Rand, perhaps just best called “Rand Fans” – is the dichotomy between reaching out to teach other people and walling yourself in with a group of individuals who claim to believe the same things that you do.
In the language of Objectivism, “in Atlas Shrugged, the heroes withdraw their moral sanction from their destroyers.” In other words, not only do they stop obeying the economic regulations of the government, they divorce themselves from anyone who would claim a right to any moment of their lives. They want nothing to do with looters and moochers. That is the active ideal of a Rand Fan in dealing with other people.

The problem that they cannot solve is that the capitalist who owns a gas station is a Muslim. The capitalist who owns a convenience store is a Hindu. It is a fact that Costco founder James Sinegal is an ardent Democrat.  The greatest capitalists of our age – George Soros, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and the entire list of global billionaires—are all condemned as “crony capitalists” traitors to laissez faire, who cause and amplify the oppressive laws, taxes, and regulations under which we suffer, but they, by the power of their privilege do not. Objectivism does have its own real-life capitalists. Three that stand out are T. J. Rodgers of Cypress Semiconductor, Ed Snider (1933-2016) of Comcast Spectacore, and John Allison of BB&T. Many others orbit in the pull of Ayn Rand. Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks) and Frederick W. Smith (FedEx) are among them. But Cuban supported Hillary Clinton for President. 

Cleveland's West Side Market outdoor space
from Delta Sky Magazine
As explained by Ayn Rand and her one-time colleague psychologist Nathaniel Branden, most people harbor unresolved personal contradictions. If the Muslim who owns a gas station were consistent in his philosophy, he would recognize that the principles that bring success in business – identifying facts, testing theories, treating customers fairly  - speak against the tenets of his religion. If the crony capitalists were consistent, they would deny their government subsidies and advance laissez faire.
I and M Bank Market, Nairobi 
What do you do when other people do not live up to your expectations for philosophical consistency?

For many Objectivists, as distinct from mere “fans of Ayn Rand,” the unworkable solution is to withdraw from those who disagree with you. So, it is ironic that the philosophers of the Ayn Rand Institute who do not speak to the philosophers of the Atlas Society probably buy their gasoline from Muslims and get their cars fixed by Christians and find great bargains at big box stores owned by Democrats all the while running Windows software on their computers.

The minor premise of "Gulching" and a theme that is easy to find among fans of Atlas Shrugged, is that in order for there to be a second Renaissance, civilization must collapse. They do not just predict it, they look forward to it with a millenarian fervor. 

The fact is that civilization is, literally, city life. Historically, people from disparate tribes left (and still leave) their homes to come to the places where strangers benefit themselves by exchanging value for value, whether or not they agree on any other fact, claim, or belief.  That cultural matrix is powerful. Examples of farming communities destroyed by crop failures are easy to find. Harder to uncover are cities that starved. Total war does bring that. Fortunately, such wars are exceptional. Examples from the Dutch wars of liberation from Spain show that when the city rulers attempted to control the price of food, the city went without and fell. Cities that let the price of food rise incentivized smugglers to run the Spanish lines. A farm feeds itself (theoretically), but a city is fed by the whole world.  It does not matter that the Chilean farmer whose grapes are on your table has a religious icon in his home. If you cut yourself off from him - and the global commercial network - you only have the grapes you grow yourself... if you grow grapes, rather than apricots, kiwi fruit, watermelon, coconuts, ...

City Air Makes You Free  
Vectures: Monetizing Urban Transportation  

No comments:

Post a Comment