Dear Nieces and Nephews,
Until now you’ve all been led to believe that your Uncle (or Tito) Brian is an exemplary specimen of the human specie: Tall, handsome, charming, witty – the quintessential gentleman and now father. A role model nobody would fault you for aspiring to emulate. That you all believe these things to be true is testament to the value of my efforts to lead the Perfect Life, and to the efforts of your parents who, make no mistake, have been complicit in promoting my accomplishments to you. We told you my story because doing so best promotes the development of your estimable characters.
Everything you’ve heard about me is true. Your parents and I are proud to know that my example has served its purpose – you are all yourselves admirable young men and women due in no small part to your strenuous efforts to live up to the standard I have set.
Everything you’ve heard is true. But now it’s time I told you what you haven’t heard.
Brilliant as I am I cannot conceive of a way to express what I am about to express in any manner that does not come off as a tacky, self-indulgent confession. I apologize for that. But I cannot go on living this lie. Please oblige me this one misstep.
The fact of the matter is, I have made mistakes – partial mistakes. I did not arrive at this perfect state without having experimented with alternatives to the enviable reputation I now enjoy, and to which you now aspire. Contrary to your understanding, I did not go forth from awkward, geeky adolescence to superman without taking the occasional detour, some longer than others.
One of which was nearly disastrous. Had I followed it to its logical conclusion, I might very well be writing you today from jail. It was that bad.
I am compelled to write you now this word of warning against making the one mistake I truly regret, the one experiment I tried that led to nothing except the near ruination of my excellent standing among my peers, a years-long wandering in a desert of another mortal’s conscious making. I am compelled because it is time — you are at last of sufficient maturity to hear without judging of the one episode in my life that truly shames me to this day, and you are at last all young adults now, entering the phase of your life during which you are most at risk to the temptation to experiment, to throw off the good moral training you’ve received from your parents, and of course from me.
You suffer from delusions of invulnerability, both physical and spiritual, just as I did when I was your age, twenty-seven years ago.
Mind you, I’m not suggesting any of you are anything like the lonely, confused young “adult” I was my freshman year at Michigan Tech, far away from home for the first time in my life. Still, robust as your characters are, there is something about that age, your age now, that compels you to try new things, that puts you at risk to accept frightening but seductive new philosophies.
There is nothing wrong with experimentation, so long as you are careful. Your parents and I have colluded to ground you with the same principles that succeeded in building our unblemished characters not in an effort to restrain your emotional and spiritual growth (as you may have concluded), but instead to give you a reliable framework against which to judge the many competing philosophies with which you’ll be bombarded at this stage of your life. Without that framework, you would have no idea how to distinguish the merely wacky from the truly dangerous ideas proferred up to you by earnest acquaintances “selflessly” working to save your soul.
Now back to me …
Yes, I was lonely. An easy mark for a congressman from the U. S. House of Representatives teaching part-time at the University. I’d never met a congressman before, and he knew it. From his lectern in an enormous chamber on an august campus he abused his two positions of authority in my life. He flattered me in the most preposterous ways, telling me my poor grades were actually an indication of my superior intellect, the problem wasn’t me, it was the excessive and arbitrary regulation built into the System, a System, conceived of and built by dolts, that could not accommodate the unique package of gifts I was bringing to it, that suffocated my creative energies, infringed on my liberty. I was an outlier. I was too good. I was alone because I rejected mediocrity on principle, then had the guts to stand by my principles, while everybody else accepted the norms applied to them, going along to get along.
His name was Edmund Vandette. It pains me to write that name even now.
With his flattery he’d set me up with a burning curiosity to know how on earth he could understand me so well when the rest of the world had cast me aside. Where could I learn the habits of rigor, of discipline – of reason – he’d mastered?
That’s when he had me. That’s when I fell.
He said, “You should read, ‘Atlas Shrugged.’”
I respected him, maybe for no reason really other than that he thought I was smart – smarter than anybody in the government, anyway. I figured that he knew I was smarter than anybody in government really meant something – because he was a Congressman, remember. So I read it. I read “Atlas Shrugged.” Because a Congressman told me to.
Well, nobody really reads “Atlas Shrugged.” It’s a godawful book. “I read ‘Atlas Shrugged’” is the utterance of a miscreant you’ve just caught in a lie. “I accidentally read some passages from ‘Atlas Shrugged’ while flipping pages looking for something to justify the tragic removal from God’s Green Earth of the several majestic trees necessary to produce the piece of shit” is the more honest recollection of events that leads to one learning anything at all from the book.
And learn I did. I learned, for example, that everything I thought I understood about what it means to be a decent human being was wrong – no! – Evil. I learned that to question my own motivations, or to consider the consequences of my actions on anybody else was a colossal waste of my Natural Right to Self-Determination. That between the self-centeredness of a two-year-old and the compassion of his working-class mother paying taxes to educate all children the two-year-old has attained the higher standard of the human condition. I learned that the value of a human being is measured solely by the wealth that human being generates, and nothing more.
And then I tried, I really tried, to live according to what I’d learned. For years.
Several very famous people read the same book. From its fundamentalist (ie, simplistic) teachings, they’ve drawn some interesting corollaries. You can spot them when you hear them say things like, “You know, all this country’s problems would go away if we just built enough toll roads, went back to the Gold Standard, and bartered with livestock.”
Rand Paul, for example, is a very famous dentist. It is Rand Paul’s position that he could’ve been a much better (ie, richer) dentist if the Federal Government wasn’t always bossing him around about what materials he should and should not put into his patients’ mouths. It is Rand Paul’s position that the Profit Motive is a better judge of what is safe for humans to ingest than is the collective efforts of compassionate, well-meaning scientists employed by the Federal Government. It is also Rand Paul’s position that every American must now make sacrifices to right the American Ship – every American that is, except doctors and dentists.
Which brings me to the single, one-and-only useful bit of knowledge I learned thanks, I suppose, to having read ‘Atlas Shrugged.’
Everyone is a hypocrite.
Your best friend, your favorite teacher, your mother, your father, Pat Robertson, Mother Teresa, the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, President Obama, Tom DeLay, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Taylor Swift.
Rand Paul and I: Hypocrites.
This isn’t as bad as it seems. In fact, I’d say there’s nothing bad about it at all. In further fact, I’d say that if everybody felt the way I do, we’d all be a lot better off. What anybody could find wrong with conceding this fact baffles me, but evidently lots of people feel there is something wrong with it. So they deny its truth. Then go on to lead confused, unfulfilling lives.
Bear with me while I try to be generous here. Atlas Shrugged doesn’t say everyone is a hypocrite. That everyone is a hypocrite is a lesson you learn from the years of life experience you obtain only after reading it and realizing, through honest human interaction with people who all believe that their interests are better than everybody else’s, that Atlas Shrugged was written by a hypocrite. This gem of knowledge is the only reasonable conclusion one should draw from the self-inflicted suffering of reading the damn book.
If one can say that there is a hierarchy to hypocrisy, then I nominate hypocrites who work to convince you, by means of tortured sophistry and a hostile disregard for empiricism, that you can best serve your own best interests (which they presume to know better than you) only by serving theirs, for the deepest pit. It’s a crowded pit, I assure you. And I hope that way at the bottom of that pit Ayn Rand finds herself pinned to a hot stone by the weight of her un-critical disciples, Edmund VanDette among them.
I will not be among them, and I hope you are not either.
Read Atlas Shrugged, if you want to. It can’t hurt you if you think critically about it, and who knows, you could turn out to be a really great dentist.