Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Time Travel Tuesday: Mythbusting: Ayn Rand, Mommies, and Children

As an Objectivist who chose to become a parent, I have fielded many questions (addressed directly to me, and in indirect ways, too) about the seeming contradiction between a philosophy that holds rational self-interest as moral and the (supposed) sacrifice involved in being a parent.

Parenting is one of the most selfish endeavors I've ever undertaken and I am a better person in part because of my mommyhood.

One of the main questions I get asked is something along the lines of "Didn't Ayn Rand hate children? She never put any in her novels!"

Here is where I usually point out that I don't recall too many children in Moby-Dick either. There was one in The Great Gatsby, who was trotted out for show now and then. A Room with a View, one of my other favorite novels ever, doesn't feature children though there is a pre-teen child in it for about three seconds.

But nobody ever goes around saying Herman Melville or F. Scott Fitzgerald or E.M. Forster hated children, even though, as far as I can recall on this Tuesday morning after only one cup of coffee and many decades removed from my degree in English literature, none of them ever wrote too many novels that featured children in a significant way. Well, I guess Billy Budd might count, but I think he was in his teens.

I digress. My point, to sum up, is "failure of an author to feature or include lots of children in novels does not translate into author hates children." Just sayin'.

The other related point is that she never had children herself. To which I'll say, LOTS of people never have children and yet don't hate children. Katharine Hepburn never had children and seemed to like them just fine. Dolly Parton doesn't have kids of her own, but is a caring aunt. I'd keep going but it's not necessary.

Usually though, to dispel this myth, I prefer to let Rand speak for herself, using evidence from her novels or answers she gave in interviews. And that's what my post, "Mythbusting: Ayn Rand, Mommies and Children" is all about. After exploring some (then recent) myths in the press about how Ayn Rand hated families and viewed family life as a "soul-killing prison," I quoted Rand herself. My two favorite quotations are below, but you should read the whole thing!

I will ask you to project the look on a child’s face when he grasps the answer to some problem he has been striving to understand. It is a radiant look of joy, of liberation, almost of triumph, which is unself-conscious, yet self-assertive, and its radiance seems to spread in two directions: outward, as an illumination of the world—inward, as the first spark of what is to become the fire of an earned pride. If you have seen this look, or experienced it, you know that if there is such a concept as “sacred”—meaning: the best, the highest possible to man—this look is the sacred, the not-to-be-betrayed, the not-to-be-sacrificed for anything or anyone. 
Via the online Ayn Rand Lexicon 

Clearly, the words of someone who saw no value or joy in children. Not.

The recaptured sense of her [Dagny's] own childhood kept coming back to her whenever she met the two sons of the young woman who owned the bakery shop. . . . They did not have the look she had seen in the children of the outer world--a look of fear, half- secretive, half-sneering, the look of a child's defense against an adult, the look of a being in the process of discovering that he is hearing lies and of learning to feel hatred. The two boys had the open, joyous, friendly confidence of kittens who do not expect to get hurt, they had an innocently natural, non-boastful sense of their own value and as innocent a trust in any stranger's ability to recognize it, they had the eager curiosity that would venture anywhere with the certainty that life held nothing unworthy of or closed to discovery, and they looked as if, should they encounter malevolence, they would reject it contemptuously, not as dangerous, but as stupid, they would not accept it in bruised resignation as the law of existence. 
p. 730 (Paperback 35th Anniversary edition of Atlas Shrugged, my emphasis)

So anyway, next time you hear something about how Ayn Rand must have despised children or family life or those who choose to have families, please point them to my blog! Thanks.

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