Taking the Middle Ground

I literally just closed the back cover of The Grapes of Wrath five minutes ago. I’ll get to that in a minute.

I have been a fan of Ayn Rand’s for awhile now. While I don’t agree with all of her beliefs, her writing makes it hard to disagree with the ideas it portrays. First, I read The Fountainhead. That book appealed to me because I’m a lover of architecture and art in general, and I feel an artist, architect or musician ultimately has sole rights to his/her creations unless he/she decides otherwise. I loved that book, and I moved it back to the to-read pile a few weeks ago, where it awaits it’s turn to be re-read.

A couple months ago, I read Atlas Shrugged. Rand does a good job getting the reader to hate the antagonists in this one. I mean I had visions of choking James Taggart to death with my bare hands, I hated his ignorance and cowardice so much. She draws such a terrible picture of Taggart’s friends and other characters, you find yourself cheering for Dagny and Rearden because of all the things they’ve built and had taken from them. Rand made her philosophy perfectly clear in Atlas Shrugged. However, I saw great flaws in this philosophy upon reading her magnum opus. Should a man who builds his business from the ground-up be entitled to his own profits and the benefits of his work? Yes. Rearden in particular seems to try to pay his employees fairly as long as they work hard. He hires the best in the business and pays them as such.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. In fact, it’s usually not the case. [I just deleted an entire paragraph about how this applies to today’s business culture, but this post is about two books and I don’t want this to turn into a tangent.] On the other hand, are all people entitled to hand-outs by people who work for years to get to the top of the business food chain, or by the taxes of those who do what they can, breaking their back to feed the family? I don’t think so. Some people who get to that level start from the very bottom. Some are born into successful families, but many are born with nothing. You can’t spend your whole life wallowing in self-pity and complaining about how much some people have when you’ve never made much of an effort to get to a better level than you are. At the same time, those who do get to the top of the food chain should not take advantage of cheap labor and financially struggling laborers.

This is the beginning of the story in The Grapes of Wrath, a book I would consider the complete opposite of anything Ayn Rand wrote, but affected me equally as much as her work that I’ve read. This book displays how those successful businessmen can get greedy, eventually to the point of cutting wages to the point where people simply are not able to feed their families. Just about every character in The Grapes of Wrath is a laborer, farmer, or sharecropper who blatantly has their land and jobs stolen from them by men in high places who decided that machines are a lot cheaper and more efficient than thousands of laborers. In order simply to survive, they are drawn and essentially forced west into the hands of more greedy corporate men who take advantage of the migration in order to drive down wages, sometimes over 75%. They bring in more folks than there are jobs for, most of whom can’t afford to turn around and head back home to their dusty farms, forcing them to accept these horrible conditions and wages, IF they can get work. Anyone who gathers in a group and disagrees with the wage drops is called a “red”, essentially a communist, and is often beaten or thrown in jail and separated from their family. Feeding your family mush and living under a tarp because some asshole in Chicago wants to make more money off of what is basically legal slave labor is considered Communism? These people were forced west to find work, not to live off the taxpayers, but were unable to find aid when there was no work. I know the ’30s were a tough time for everyone in the country, but I don’t think any suits in Chicago and New York were dying in a barn, sucking on a miscarried mother’s tit just to survive a few more hours.

This rant is mainly just a product of my frustration at how much two completely opposite authors can tug at my heart and mind so effectively, in completely opposite directions. I wish Ayn Rand could explain to me what to do with capitalist corporation heads who get so out of control with greed that they live off the blood of thousands of laborers who die in the fields. I agree that if you don’t attempt to do anything with your life, don’t attempt to get an education, don’t attempt to get higher than your father’s level of success, don’t have any work ethic, you don’t deserve to live off of the government. I agree that a man or woman who sees his/her business grow from a one-room shop in a strip mall to a nationwide chain, should reap the benefits of their hard work. But for Christ’s sake, don’t forget about the people who help get you there. Take care of them. Don’t forget that without the 5 people working in the kitchen make the food that pays your bills, or the 100 people walking around your retail store every day, making sure your products aren’t stolen and making sure your customer’s are happy so you can buy that Mercedes, you would still be in that strip mall.

 

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3 thoughts on “Taking the Middle Ground

  1. Thank you for seeing the flaws in Rand. I sometimes wonder if those who trumpet her work have ever considered reading something from Steinbeck or in general talking to a poor person. It’s interesting to note that Rand spent most of the later part of her life living off the government not doing much and not trying either. The problem with Rand is she forgets that humans are greedy and Steinbeck plays that out beautifully. What to do about capitalism? Let’s try to work on a moral foundation that’s built into to an ethic of hardwork and success. Not just success for success, but success for something more, a lot like Gates has done since he became wealthy. This seems to benefit the larger population and provide opportuinites for more success for more people. Loved the article and like seeing someone struggle with the reality of the situation instead of just being one-sided.

    • I couldn’t have said it better myself. What scares me about politics nowadays is how the parties keep drifting further apart on the spectrum. It seems like it’s no longer about ‘what do the people want/need?’ and more about how conservative you can pretend to be. I like to hear thoughts on both sides of an issue before I can honestly evaluate things. Unfortunately my dad has bought into the ultra-conservative movement and is becoming more and more of a bigot every year, where I’m leaning the opposite way. Sometimes I really worry about the future.

      • My dad once told me the older I got the more conservative I’d become. I’m convinced as people age they either become more liberal or more conservative. It probably depends on where you live, what you read, and what you watch. Sadly it seems most people never developed an ability to really evaluate what they’re told and it only gets worse with time.

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