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Deconstructing Myths of America: Matt Taibbi & RFK Jr. on the mind-warping power of Ayn Rand’s mythology

Matt Taibbi and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. recently summarized the mythos of Wall Street types. Taibbi’s analysis is nearly perfect, except that he falls prey to the fashion of dressing up our psyches in outdated APA-style vestments. The word for the function he describes is "mythos."Ayn Rand is credited with being the queen of the myth of self-interest as the highest social good. Her tome, Atlas Shrugged, is the bible of Gordon Gecko-type greedheads. Ellis Weiner calls it a "deeply adolescent piece of science fiction." It’s the myth that shapes the cosmos of Wall Street in the minds of bankers even before they act in it.

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Excerpted from AlterNet:
Matt Taibbi and RFK Jr. on Obama’s Sellout to Wall Street
part 2, c.3:40-end.

Matt Taibbi and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Go Left TV. January 11, 2010.

RFK Jr.: What’s your opinion of recent developments around Goldman Sachs: the apology they issued, the $500 million that they contributed to charity; I think was largely a result of your article.

Matt Taibbi: Well, I think it was interesting, because, before I wrote my piece, and before you know Jeff Hogan from New York Magazine wrote a piece about them, suddenly there was all this media attention on them this summer.

[…]

So Goldman is clearly feeling some heat in the public relations arena, but what’s interesting about it is how tone deaf they’ve been. You know, these comments from Lloyd Blankfein that they’re doing god’s work, and that other guy in England who said that Jesus would’ve approved of their, you know, the bonuses and all that stuff. I think it just shows that these guys are really tone deaf, because, at some level, they really believe in that sort of Ayn Rand philosophy, that self-interest is ultimately sort of beneficial for all of society. I think they have to believe that in order to do the stuff they do, and it’s interesting, when they try to explain themselves, it’s just hitting the ear so terribly wrong>/b>. And it’s even kind of entertaining, I think, to watch.

RFK Jr.: It’s Gordon Gecko stuff.

[Laughs.] Matt Taibbi: Exactly!

RFK Jr.: But there are—yeah, “greed is good.” But Goldman has been more in the Democratic camp than in the Republican camp, I would say—

Matt Taibbi: Oh yeah, absolutely.

[…]

In my experience, most of these guys genuinely believe that what they’re doing is justified. And they’ve been raised in an environment that’s extremely narrow, and they’re around the same kinds of—of y’know the same socioeconomic class all the time and they’re not exposed to the real world out there, and so they kind of pursue what they do as just sort of, making money , harvesting fish like a fisherman would from the ocean. They don’t really see that the money they’re making is coming from somebody else, and so they genuinely don’t understand why everybody is so upset that they’re making money in the way that they are, they seem to think that, you know, why are people so, you know, angry that we’re so good at what we do. And I think it’s because they’ve never really seen that there are consequences to their actions, and you know it’s probably a psychological protective mechanism that they all have. I don’t think that they’re cynics, I don’t think that they’re doing this because they get off on robbing people, I just think that they’re kind of blind.

That’s it right there, the cosmogenetic power of our beliefs to create our cosmos prior to our acting in it.

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Ellis Weiner’s review of Atlas Shrugged is the best I’ve found.

Excerpted from
On Atlas Shrugged as a guide to our times
Ellis Weiner, The Huffington Post January 12, 2009

In short, Atlas Shrugged is one of the worst books ever written–and, in the words of Gore Vidal, "nearly perfect in its immorality." Still, Moore proudly notes that "…as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated ‘Atlas’ as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible."

[…]

In the novel, stick-figure industrialists and businessmen find their noble, courageous, avowedly "selfish" efforts stymied and undone by stick-figure cowards, weaklings, and corrupt bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Piece by piece, in Rand’s depiction of governmental overreach, capitalism is dismantled.

[…]

What, here, is being "parodied"? Not American society, either today or in 1957; not the ways in which government and legislation interacts with capitalism; and not even any reasonable depiction of the left. In fact, what’s being parodied (if that’s the word) is the Soviet Union, from which Rand (nee Alice Rosenbaum) emigrated when she was 21. Yes, in her magnum opus, her "moral defense of capitalism," Ayn Rand dresses the U.S. in Soviet drag, and then watches in triumph as her soap opera heroes beat it up.

That’s some blatant myth-making.

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Jim Hightower busted our lords of FIRE as cultists back in 2008.

Excerpted from
The five most wanted men from Wall Street to Washington
Jim Hightower, The Hightower Lowdown
November, 2008

Why was Greenspan so insistent on no regulation? Because he is the hardest of hardcore laissez-faire ideologues, holding a blazing disdain for government. An avowed worshiper of libertarian novelist Ayn Rand, he views public oversight of business as an evil force that deters the creativity of smart elites. He is so psyched by his religious-like faith in the "free market" that he fervently believes in what he considers to be the innate good will and moral superiority of investors and bankers. He asserts that these self-interested individuals can simply be trusted to do the right thing, and that government should not second-guess their decisions.

Even the faith of snake handlers is not as devout as Greenspan’s. Unfortunately, however, he was able to hitch our nation’s economic well-being to his own absurdist ideological fancy. The guy who was lionized as the smartest, most- stable economic thinker in the land essentially turns out to have been a quasi-religious nut.

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Here’s Greenspan’s famous admission of a flaw in his model of reality, that’s all, that brought about the economic collapse.

Excerpted from
Greenspan Admits ‘Flaw’ to Congress, Predicts More Economic Problems
PBS Newshour
October 23, 2008

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: The question I have for you is, you had an ideology, you had a belief that free, competitive — and this is your statement — "I do have an ideology. My judgment is that free, competitive markets are by far the unrivaled way to organize economies. We’ve tried regulation. None meaningfully worked." That was your quote.

You had the authority to prevent irresponsible lending practices that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. You were advised to do so by many others. And now our whole economy is paying its price.

Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?

ALAN GREENSPAN: Well, remember that what an ideology is, is a conceptual framework with the way people deal with reality. Everyone has one. You have to — to exist, you need an ideology. The question is whether it is accurate or not.

And what I’m saying to you is, yes, I found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is, but I’ve been very distressed by that fact.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: You found a flaw in the reality…

ALAN GREENSPAN: Flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works, so to speak.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working?

ALAN GREENSPAN: That is — precisely. No, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I had been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.

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That right there is the power of myth. It shapes the cosmos we believe ourselves to be acting in, even before we act in it.

If you ask me, most often, we use "ideology" when we mean "mythology." Greenspan’s flaw isn’t of trivial consequence, it isn’t a simple matter of cold, rational, academic opinion, it’s in the visceral feeling of the way we are being in the world.

Greenspan’s flaw of mythic proportions is what ails us today, not the position or stature of our modern moai. Exposing his mythology, exposing the fundamental flaws in his beliefs about the cosmos and our proper role in it, is necessary, of course.

As Taibbi and Kennedy do in their interview, exposing the myths of our present lords of FIRE (Robert Rubin and his crew) is even more pressing.

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