Sunday, November 14, 2010

Who's Howard and why is he shrugging back?

As this blog begins, Howard is a 61 year old American white male who lives with his wife, Barb, in a slightly too big house on the Northwest side of Chicago. Every once in a while he is called upon to teach philosophy in a local community college or distance learning program. When he does, a week of the course is devoted to discussions of egoism vs. altruism, with chunks of Ayn Rand's writing pulled into the conversation to advocate the position of the ethical egoist. Rand's most famous work is a thousand-page-plus volume called "Atlas Shrugged." It has been a best seller, in some form or other, since Rand published it in 1957. The Atlas referred to is the character of Greek mythology who was condemned to forever support the world on his shoulders. Rand's original publication featured a cover illustration of a giant supporting the globe. Many who have read the entire work suggest that Atlas represents the brilliant person of business who, by virtue of his or her great strength, is the sole enabler of wealth and prosperity - in effect supporting all of humanity although not interested in or intent on doing so.
As it happened, Howard was RIF'd from his job on 22 October, 2010. The company that RIF'd him was the City Colleges of Chicago, where he had been an exemplary employee for over five years. 78 people lost their livelihoods one way or another by that RIF'ing. And loss of a livelihood is a darned good way to fall into poverty. Poverty was a fact of life too-well known to Ayn Rand. It is well known that she spent her childhood in Russia in times slightly before and slightly after the revolution that led to establishment of the Soviet Union. Before the revolution, Rand's father was an exemplary businessperson - establishing a small pharmacy that was successfully supporting Rand's family. After the revolution, Soviet soldiers marched into the pharmacy, took it over in the name of the people, and set the Rand family out with no resources whatever. Rand's life, in the absence of a livelihood for her father, changed dramatically from one of prosperity to one of poverty. This means that Rand had an experience somewhat similar to that of Howard.
From that experience, Rand developed ideas that were eventually to become a philosophical basis for extreme political conservatism. The basic idea of the conservative movement that would ultimately follow Rand, was that governments do not have a right to do anything in the name of the people and that they must be prevented from doing so by the strength of the leaders of business. Howard shrugs back that it is not the right of business to exert its strength in ways that hurt the little guy. Howard shrugs back that it is NOT the right of business to avoid taxation by claiming to be the only source of prosperity. Howard shrugs back that businesses are not entitled to tap into the common resources of the people in ways that enrich the few at enormous cost to the many. Howard is starting a blog. In it, expect that he will shrug back some more. Because Howard understands that businesses have no more right to steal than did the Soviets who took over the old Rand drug store. Howard will shrug when Atlas doesn't. Sometimes Howard will shrug when Atlas does. But, on way or another, Howard is about to start shrugging back.

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