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Recommended Reading 23

This week’s bumper crop of excellent reading and viewing includes: an essay on the past, present, and future of apocalyptic expectations and their measurable impact on real-world religious and secular circumstances, including our present geopolitical prospects; a fine examination by Charles Hugh Smith of the moral-and-monetary corruption infecting not just the “1 percent” but everybody else in America today; a look at America’s super-rich and their secession-like alienation from life on the ground in the nation at large, even as their ruling grip on it has tightened into a stranglehold; a revealing look at the way much of academia has sold itself out to professional sophistry in the service (and pay) of corporations; two pieces about Burning Man, one focusing on its relevance to evangelical Christians and the other on its history; an article exploring the reasons for science fiction’s enduring gravitation toward dystopian storytelling; and a breathtakingly brilliant short film in the dystopian SF vein by none other than Blade Runner director Ridley Scott’s son, Luke Scott.

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Our global Ayn Rand moment

In the past half-decade, the name and legacy of Ayn Rand have become the subject of much prominent comment, debate, analysis, and punditry in the English-speaking press, where a swelling sea of multiform journalism examines her enduring and pervasive (some would say insidious and awful, while others would say heroic and wonderful) influence on American politics, culture, and economic policy. Nor is her influence limited to just one nation; as reported in 2009 in Foreign Policy magazine, she has become roaringly popular in India. This is precisely what her admirers would hope; one of them recently averred in The Guardian that Europe’s woes have resulted largely from its adoption of ideas and policies contrary to the Randian ethos of economic egoism.

The entry of Paul Ryan into the current American presidential race has naturally occasioned an explosive new surge of Randian journalism, since Ryan is an avowed admirer and semi-disciple of laissez faire libertarianism’s high priestess. (The public recognition and analysis of this fact  is, however, not at all new.)

So in the midst of all this, it’s interesting to see what may be the single most useful — as in compact, accurate, engaging, detailed, and user-friendly — introduction to Rand’s life, work, and legacy appear not in an American publication at all, but in BBC News Magazine. “A Russian-American writer who died 30 years ago is still selling hundreds of thousands of books a year, and this week one of her former devotees, Paul Ryan, became Mitt Romney’s running mate in the US presidential election,” says the teaser/lead-in. “So why is Ayn Rand and her most famous work, Atlas Shrugged, so popular?” The article then proceeds to illustrate and answer that question. If you’re in need of an Ayn Rand primer, then this piece is for you, since it includes not only information about her life, work, philosophy, and influence but a rundown of prominent characters, quotes, and ideas from her books. It’s also even-handed, in that it explains the views of both Rand’s admirers and her detractors.

If you’re not informed about Ms. Rand right now, then you’re not clued in to one of the most significant philosophical conflicts — with real-world practical ramifications — that is presently informing (some would say deforming) American political, economic, and cultural reality. This is an opportunity to remedy that.

It’s 1,200 pages long and was panned by critics when it was published 55 years ago. Yet few novels have had an impact as enduring as Atlas Shrugged, a dystopian allegory in which captains of industry struggle against stifling regulations and an over-reaching government and one by one close down production, bringing the world economy to its knees. Rand’s philosophy, which she called objectivism, tapped directly into the American ideals of freedom, hard work and individualism. In novels like Atlas Shrugged, and her non-fiction like The Virtues of Selfishness, Rand argued for the removal of any religious or political controls that hindered the pursuit of self-interest.

… [M]illions were drawn to her central message of individualism and unfettered capitalism, even if they didn’t buy into her whole philosophy. In the 1990s, a survey by the Library of Congress named Atlas Shrugged as the most influential book in the US, after the Bible. And more than 50 years after publication, sales are booming … Beyond politics, the novel also had an impact in Silicon Valley, where entrepreneurs identified with its emphasis on heroic individuals and their work ethic. Some have named their companies or their newborn children after the author or her characters. Rand’s popularity is not confined to the US, however, with healthy book sales in the UK, India, Australia, Italy and South Africa.

… The emergence of the Tea Party — a wing of the Republican Party which favours a shrinking of the state — appears to be driving her recent resurgence.

— Tom Geoghegan, “Ayn Rand: Why is she so popular?” BBC News Magazine, August 17, 2012

 

Image by Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons

Recommended Reading 21

This week’s recommended readings include: a mainstream news article about the distinct possibility of an Armageddon-like solar superstorm; a look at the origin, present situation, and apparently indefinite future of the “Great Recession” by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard; a consideration of the spiritual crisis of capitalism; reflections on the real relationship between writing and money; an autopsy on the American university, which has apparently expired at the hands of corporatization; a journalist’s firsthand and first-person account of investigating the global subculture devoted to ending the “scourge” of human death by extending life forever and/or using cryonics or other means to preserve people and then resurrect them; a report on current Disney-backed research into taking animatronics to real-life Blade Runner/Prometheus-type levels of realism by cloning human faces; an interview with a UFO researcher about UFOs, human consciousness, and government coverups; and a fascinating analysis of the cultural symbols and synchronicities surrounding the John Carter movie.
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Recommended Reading 17

 

This week’s recommendations encompass the spiritual past and future of money and capitalism; the use of neuroscience by tech companies to profit from Internet addiction; the future of books, libraries, and old movies in an age of digital instant gratification and a perpetually shrinking historical awareness; the deep appeal of fairy tales; thoughts on a new future for the debate over paranormal abilities; a riveting first-person account of what it’s like to live with cosmically horrifying panic attacks, and of the way these impact a person’s worldview; and a nice compilation of speech excerpts from Robert Anton Wilson about the nature of reality.

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Waking up from the nightmare of economics

If you, like me, are consistently struck these days by a kind of unpleasant, inverted sense of numinous awe at the spectacle of economists still occupying major positions of mainstream power and respect in our culture instead of walking around in hairshirts and beating their breasts with heads bowed in unbearable shame, then Columbia University professor Todd Gitlin has an excellent piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Brainstorm blog (a consistent source of insightful posts about trends and ideas in academia and elsewhere) to help cleanse your spiritual palate. In “Have Economists Learned from the Great Recession?” (June 12, 2012), he pulls together various pieces of data indicating that economists truly haven’t learned anything from their epic failure to foresee the great financial collapse of 2008. Notice that I didn’t say the piece is comforting or mollifying, but just cleansing. As I’ve mentioned many times here, there’s much of value in seeing someone do an able job of articulating and substantiating your own running insights and intuitions.

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Recommended Reading 10

This week’s links and reading cover apocalyptic trends and their cultural, psychological, and artistic/literary aspects; economic collapse in America and Europe, with attendant venality on the part of politicians and the wealthy elite; the rise of an über-surveillance state in America; epic protests in Canada; the decline and fall (and continued decline after falling) of America’s colleges; a poignant plea for us all not to forget the real human suffering that attends the current debate over the status of antidepressants; a list of steps to “becoming a writer”; thoughts about fantasy, science fiction, horror, and other genre fiction in literature and film; the American military’s relationship with the entertainment industry; lucid dreaming and near-death experiences; and a timely warning about the dangers of taking in too much information (from posts like this one, perhaps?).

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Our religious transvaluation of money: From cosmic evil to “doing God’s work”

The cover feature for the current issue of Boston Review, titled “How Markets Crowd Out Morals,” takes the form of a hugely stimulating forum on the thesis put forth by Harvard government professor Michael Sandel in his new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (which I’ve referenced here previously). Sandel argues that America’s market-based master meme, which says absolutely every aspect of life can and should be commodified and conducted according to monetary ideas of gain and loss, has gotten out of control and begun to corrupt personal life and civil society by invading realms totally unamenable to them. In the forum, which is available in its entirety online, Sandel leads with an essay derived from his book, and this is followed by nine responses plus his collective reply to them.

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Recommended Reading 7

This week’s collection of recommended articles, essays, blog posts, and (as always) an interesting video or two, covers economic collapse and cultural dystopia; the question of monetary vs. human values; the ubiquity of disinformation in America and the accompanying need for true education of the deeply humanizing sort; the ongoing debate over climate change and its apocalyptic implications (including the apocalyptic implications of one possible means of dealing with it); the possibility of an Armageddon-level solar storm; the ongoing attempt to use the Internet for mass mental and social control, along with advice about protecting your privacy online; the clash between, on the one hand, neurological reductionism and scientism, and, on the other, more expansive ways of understanding science, consciousness, human life, and the universe; the rise of a generation of parentally-dominated college students in America (and its implications for art, psychology, and culture); religious controversies, both current and historical; the practice of eating corpses for medicine; the prospects for artistic achievement in the 21st century; the question of Lovecraft’s paranormal beliefs; Stanley Krippner’s career as a parapsychological researcher respected by both skeptics and believers alike; and a capsule summary of current UFO evidence.

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Recommended Reading 2

Topics in this week’s edition of Recommended Reading include: the ongoing eating of everybody else by the wealthy elite; the crisis in America’s education system; the continued rise of online and real-world surveillance; the clash between scientistic reductionism and more humane views of human consciousness and psychology; and a recent UFO sighting.

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Is America an economic hothouse for growing psychopaths?

The past year has witnessed the rise of a kind of cottage industry of speculative blogging and associated online chatter about the idea that America’s ruling economic and political institutions — which have now, let us note, collapsed together to become one and the same — are ideologically and bureaucratically structured to attract and promote psychopaths. The general idea is that if you examine the lists of personality and psychological traits that are formally used for diagnosing someone as psychopathic, you’ll find that they line up astonishingly well with the very same characteristics that are required for, and amenable to, success and upward mobility in corporate America. Read the rest of this entry