Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ayn Rand's weird obsession with a killer

As much as I have come to dislike Ayn Rand, I was initially hesitant to believe this story about her idolization of a murderer. But it seems pretty well sourced.

As revealed in a book of Rand's journals, when she was about 23 she wrote of her admiration for a fellow named William Hickman, who was executed by hanging in 1928. Rand quoted Hickman saying "What is good for me is right," while stating her feeling that this was "The best and strongest expression of a real man's psychology I have heard."

Why was Hickman executed? Well, long story short, it turns out that he kidnapped the twelve year old daughter of a wealthy banker, and sent several taunting ransom notes over the next several days. When the father finally paid the ransom, Hickman returned the girl.

In pieces. He took the money, threw the upper half of her body in the street, and drove away. He then eluded capture for about a week before being taken, tried, convicted, and executed.

Needless to say, Hickman became a deeply unpopular guy... but in recounting the incident, Rand said that the public's hatred was "because of the man who committed the crime and not because of the crime he committed."

She went on to say: "The first thing that impresses me about the case is the ferocious rage of a whole society against one man. No matter what the man did, there is always something loathsome in the 'virtuous' indignation and mass-hatred of the 'majority.'... It is repulsive to see all these beings with worse sins and crimes in their own lives, virtuously condemning a criminal..."

Um, no. Most people don't have worse skeletons in their closet than murdering a little girl, chopping her into pieces, and throwing those pieces at the distraught parent. And it's not loathsome to hate a guy who would do that. I don't know about you, but to suggest that public outrage over a genuinely outrageous act is somehow wrong indicates an extremely backwards ethical system to me.

Also interesting to me is where Rand idolizes his, er, "unconventional" lifestyle choice by denouncing a typical life thus: "What had society to offer him? A wretched, insane family as the ideal home, a Y.M.C.A. club as social honor, and a bank-page job as ambition and career..."

To me this suggests nothing so much as one of those hideous Christian sermons where the preacher proceeds to ridicule and dismiss anything that might serve as contributing value and meaning to a person's life outside the religion. You know... "Human relationships aren't reliable; your friends will abandon you. You'll work for 40 hours a week at a soul crushing job that will leave you feeling empty until you retire, impoverished and alone..." Etc. Nothing gives your life meaning, of course, except Jesus Christ.

It's a profoundly negative message, because many people DO find satisfaction and fulfillment in careers, relationships, hobbies, and other worldly pursuits. But religions do their best to rip that satisfaction away and leave people feeling like they'll be miserable without the current product being sold. I was just reading a few chapters of "The Conquest of Happiness" by Bertrand Russell, in which he praised the possession of a zest for life, finding joy in even the trivial things that you like doing.

Rand's worship of her perceived "superman" always seems to have come at the cost of a certain overall contempt for most of mankind -- who, it seems, are constantly being portrayed as deserving to die in a train wreck, or have their kids murdered by superior men.


  1. Bizarre. So in the Randiverse, if you have a low-paying unfulfilling job and commit brutal crimes in order to extort money from a wealthy banker, you're some sort of macho ubermensch, but if you have a low-paying unfulfilling job and get food stamps paid for by taxation of that banker, you're subhuman scum that deserves to die in a train wreck?
    It's okay to take whatever you want from the rich as long as you do it in a "manly" way and keep it all to yourself instead of sharing?
    I mean, yeesh. I realize she wrote this when she was a kid, but it sure does seem like her lifetime philosophy boiled down pretty much to "me first, whatever the circumstances."

  2. Obligatory Bob the Angry Flower comic about the concept of Zest:

  3. Neat, in the Randiverse, I can probably get away with at least a triple homicide. And some puppy kicking.

  4. Rand looked into situations not at them. So we see a man killing a child and as we should are sickened at our very core. We see someone who isn't sickened at their very core and put them in the same category as the murderer even though the person is innocent of any crime except that of the thought. That approaches the twistedness of the road often visited by Rand herself. If she thought the killing of the girl was anything less than disgusting then I’d say she had more problems than I’d like to know. But to look at a man in light of his crime is a great way to enlighten the senses.
    People will live in a cesspool for 20 years for the promise of a million dollars so imagine what they’d do and for how long they’d do it for the promise of their very own kingdom. It’s like a very serious version of candid camera’s jackass; give a guy $10 to kick his self in the balls. (Those kinds of people would do it for free if it made them feel “loved”)

  5. After reading Prescott's writings I must say:
    Wow, I’ve never see such a big deal made over one’s appeal to a statement. The source of that statement was the worst I’ll give you that. But don’t we get moral teachings that our society clings so tightly too from the very man that has condemned, by design, everyone, who were so made, that doesn’t bow to his every command to an eternity of torture that will make what the victim went through seem like a walk in the park? And we call it love. Now I ask you; where do we get our admiration from and what does it say about us?
    I think we lost what she was saying. To attribute everything she said to Hickman is to not understand what she was saying. To take a statement uttered and a life lived up to the point of no return and analyze it we may find something more than what others take as face value. And I believe that’s what she said many times. When she said the sins of those who judge are greater than the criminals they judge she was right. How many times has a judge sent someone to prison when he is the greater criminal? In the day when the term homosexual drug addict preacher isn’t an oxymoron haven’t we learned anything about the great conglomerate of people we call society?
    What’s really behind the diatribe of nonsense I’ve just read is unerringly what I was suspicious of in the first place and thankfully I was justified half way through with the statement that made the madness make sense “Although my opinion of Rand is very low”. Ah, what is it I see? How the colors change slowly and defiantly, albeit there they are.

  6. To be fair, I can't be sure if that's the MOST incoherent pile of gibberish that was ever posted in my comments, or merely a strong runner up.

  7. Surprise! Another reason to loathe Rand.

  8. The problem with Rand's "philosophy" (and I use quotations because I don't want to insult the word philosophy) is that it's completely anti-social and unscientific. Human nature is inherently collectivist. Rand, however, denies this and goes so far to say that anyone who thinks otherwise is week. I get sick thinking about how I had to read Rand in high school as part of the English curriculum. So disgusting.

  9. Anonymous4:02 PM

    Sounds as if the advice we're to take from Rand's admiration of Hickman's actions is "Eat the Rich"...

    I say we start with the Koch Brothers and then move on to Donald Trump (assuming he hasn't filed bankruptcy again).