The Internet is seeing a glorious and likely brief convergence of Ayn Rand obsessions — from the skeptical left, the sympathetic right, and the delightfully curious — giving us the gift of a few days when totally unrelated corners of the web can talk about Ayn Rand's views on environmentalism and weirdly formalized obsession with cats.
Rand, whose selfishness-based Objectivist philosophy has been controversially adored by leaders on the right, is no stranger to media and cultural scrutiny. The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have achieved cult status in American literature, as has the author herself, a colorful character in her own right. So it's not totally surprising that Paul Krugman suggested in a recent column that Rand's influence on political thinking could have turned lawmakers off to environmentalism decades ago. Krugman writes:
Think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.
Rand's view on environmentalism, for the record, is pretty straightforward. She thinks it's the worst:
Krugman's words raised the ire of at least one climate-change-denying, Rand-supporting reader, James Delingpole, who writes on Breitbart.com:
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has come up with an exciting new theory as to why the world's economies are still proving reluctant to bomb themselves back to the dark ages in order to "combat climate change." Apparently, it's all the fault of a certain uncompromising White Russian emigree.
Delingpole is defending the position of climate change deniers rather than Rand specifically, but his argument aligns well with her position, and is shared by others.
The back-and-forth is unremarkable, aside from pointing out Rand's status in today's culture fights — she is important enough to be cited by a critique on the left and admired enough on the right to be agreed with implicitly — and from the fact that we learned today about Rand's delightful relationship with cats.
actual letter from Ayn Rand to the editor of Cat Fancy magazine in 1966, this is real pic.twitter.com/wwCKih4ujg— Mallory Ortberg (@mallelis) June 10, 2014
The letter, as Ortberg points out, is a completely rational explanation for the feeling of enjoyment she gets around cats:
the poor thing couldn't just LIKE CATS, she had to JUSTIFY IT INTELLECTUALLY "bring me my Cat Reasons whiteboard, James"— Mallory Ortberg (@mallelis) June 10, 2014
Or, maybe, she has the most patient sense of humor of us all:
I can't imagine Ayn Rand's objective affection for cats--nature's most perfect parasite--was not on some level a deep ironic joke.— John Hodgman (@hodgman) June 10, 2014
We're enjoying it either way.