Pale Wire (Popscene)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I am John Galt
And, ladies, I'm on the prowl.

I've yet to read the main article, but a sidebar to Lori Gottlieb's cover story in the new Atlantic on the online dating phenomenon (link) offers an amusing list of niche matchmaking sites that have sprung up to service the specialized desires of the Web's many, and varied, subcultures. After the requisite political firewalling by both sides (Left, Right), things get interesting. There are exclusive dating clubs for finding Ivy Leaguers, millionaires, golfers, horse people, firefighters, partners in adultery, asexuals, and, of all things, devotees of Ayn Rand.

If you're unfamiliar with her work, check out Wikipedia's entry. It's far from authoritative, but, if nothing else, the page's contested status should communicate how embattled her legacy remains. A proponent—no, apostle—of individualism and free markets, Rand used her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged to enshrine the image of the ideal capitalist, a tireless and supremely capable existentialist who must overcome the constraints imposed by a society organized to force compromises that can only pollute his or her vision.

It's stark stuff. Rand was indeed an absolutist. Her work treats government regulation as akin to shackles. She was so committed to capitalism that a six-foot tall dollar sign was displayed at her funeral.

And, like other passionate absolutists, her work tends to attract the affection of the young—although it can also claim a number of powerful adherents, including the recently retired chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan. I initially read her two major novels (she was also the author of a number of philosophical tracts) as a college freshman. My Composition I professor offered extra credit to anyone who could conquer them. No small feat. At 1200 pages, Atlas Shrugged remains the longest book I've ever read, a distinction it's likely to hold the remainder of my life.

I won't go off too far with my opinions. Suffice it to say that my standby quip when the subject arises is to suggest that after waiting 1000 pages for Atlas Shrugged's mysterious hero, whose sudden disappearance created its own rhetorical expression, Who is John Galt?, the 90-page speech he unfurls by way of introduction is enough to make even a sympathetic reader wish the hero had stayed home.

I'd like to introduce you to some of the people who're so dedicated to Rand's brand of individualism that they are actively seeking a mate with the same subscriptions, but the site banned me after I tried to create a profile under the name Ellsworth Toohey, the villain of The Fountainhead. A prominent newspaper columnist who manipulates the vulgar emotions of the masses and encourages mediocrity by championing a selflessness and modesty that Rand obviously found both disgusting and destructive, Toohey serves as the counterpoint to Rand's hero, the bold, original and uncompromising architect Howard Roark.

I'm unsure how this particular group can justify preventing my free expression. I guess I'll have to go for a goth.