Selfish Assholes Shrug: My initial encounter with fake philosophy

Sorry Mark, I can't resist!

I am a Maker, You are a Taker!

I remember it well. I was an undergraduate at the University of Tulsa in the mid 1980s, majoring in Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology. I took 18-21 hours a semester, and worked two jobs; one at the fabled Fifteenth Street Grill—one of the top restaurants in the nation, and the other at the University of Tulsa library. I read everything I could get my hands on. All of the historical political economy series, the Binghampton series on world systems theory, the old anarchists and Marxists, even the old racists who argued for slavery. Tulsa was a place that emphasized real learning, and none of the professors used textbooks—you were expected to read the classics and the periphery in the original.   But never did the adolescent pulp fiction writer Ayn Rand cross my reading list. That changed when I met Michael Bartlett, who was the thirty-something child of the recently deceased Governor and Senator from Oklahoma, Dewey Bartlett. Michael was a true prick, a 30 year old frat boy who had the audacity to run for student office and win the student body presidency. The idea of a non-traditional student even joining a frat was a bit over the top, and if it was not for his “pedigree” he surely would have been shunned. At the same time, I was helping to forge a movement to divest the University of Tulsa’s considerable resources from the apartheid regime in South Africa–and that was no small issue. Tulsa had an endowment of over $180 million at that time (gee, my humble university has about a third of that now, in absolute dollars….but that is another story….), and much of it was wrapped up in unscrupulous extractive investments.

Those of us working the in the South African divestment movement received considerable support from many alumni, faculty, and administrators. It was clear that the University was putting endowment dollars into investments that were not very sound, and that any rational University would diversify the portfolio—it would have been easy and profitable to ditch the investments in the racist regime. But, our student movement met resistance from the Student Association headed by Michael Bartlett. Uneasily, at the same time, he and I shared a major in Philosophy, and we had two courses together that year—Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Law. It was a bit funny, because Michael was a dumbshit, and the Philosophy major at Tulsa was rather rigorous. It isn’t at all a stretch to say that Bartlett was simply a raving buffoon, who didn’t understand ANYTHING in the course on the Philosophy of Mind (taught by the great Austen Clark), and his performance on philosophy of Law was almost equally embarrassing. But, he did at least sometimes argue that there was this profound philosopher, Ayn Rand, who summed up everything about why poor people should be left to starve and the disadvantaged deserved their plights (in contra to the arguments of Rawls, and even the logic of conservatives like Coase). So, one night, while working the 10-2am shift after working at the restaurant, I pulled out one of the books and began to read. It didn’t take very long to realize that Atlas Shrugged wasn’t a philosophy book, but an adolescent novel. There are no arguments, no deductive or inductive reasoning, just a bunch of foolish stories and whining by some trustfunder justifying her privilege. A perfect pacifier for fuckhead loser trustfunders like Bartlett, but of less intellectual value than even the most vile 19th century racist political economic screeds justifying slavery. At least those made some attempt to make sense.

I assume that Michael is living uncomfortably with his trust fund. I just read that his mother finally passed away, and his brother, Dewey Jr.,  was a corrupt mayor of Tulsa for a while. It’s disturbing that a bunch of cokehead morons somehow think that they are entitled to the wealth their parents lucked into because the farms they stole from the indigenous in the Oklahoma land run had oil on them. They are the makers. Yeah. Never worked a day in their lives. Got their money because they stole land from someone, and some immigrant guy determined that it had oil on it. I guess the “takers” are the people who had scholarships based on their intellectual ability and demonstrated achievement? Or the people who did the dangerous work of drilling and capping the oil rigs, but then are of no use to the makers, right? What a convenient fiction.

9 Responses to “Selfish Assholes Shrug: My initial encounter with fake philosophy”

  1. Hagan Says:

    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.“

  2. schmielt Says:

    ^^Love that!^^ Maybe that’s how I escaped after reading Atlas Shrugged thinking, “That was a decent novel,” rather than, “I am going to base my entire life on the ideology implicit in this masterpiece!” I didn’t read it until I my 20s. It never occurred to me to take it as anything other than one more fictional book. Why would you, unless you’re looking for reasons to be an asshole to people and not have to feel twinges of guilt?

  3. schmielt Says:

    http://reason.org/authors/show/dewey-bartlett

    More than one son got hooked by the Randian “philosophy”, apparently.

  4. sherkat Says:

    Yeah, what a bunch of dicks. I couldn’t even get through the book. I don’t think I’ve read a work of fiction (unless you count Wilcox or Regnerus) since I finished my last English course in 1985.

  5. schmielt Says:

    Yeah, yeah, we know, Mr. Reality-Based World. :)

    Seriously, though, this shit is pervasive right now, even in college kids. I’ve never heard so many people talking this kind of trash. It’s so obviously self-serving and they’re obviously either delusional or deliberately self-deceiving. How could you think any part of Objectivism or Libertarianism or whatever version of Assholism they prefer is even remotely workable in the real world, even if you’re not concerned about whether or not it’s ‘moral’?

    Actually, Ayn Rand might have been the earliest Right-Winger (that I’m aware of) to start the practice of just taking ownership of a convenient word and blatantly redefining it to suit her own agenda. She did that with ‘morality’ and ‘selfishness’ – just provided her own definitions which were not found in any dictionary, and insisted everyone else had it wrong. And people fucking go for it. How adrift do you have to be to latch onto something like that??

  6. sherkat Says:

    I can kind of understand it for kids like the Bartletts, whose grandfather owned an oil company, went to private schools, never had to work, had their tuition paid for college even though they made C’s….But it is gut wrenching to see poor kids in Southern Illinois buying into the libertarian nonsense. I had a Paultard student in a couple of my classes. Nice kid. Drove a beat up American made car, student loans up to his ears, working at Pag’s throwing pizza….

  7. schmielt Says:

    Right. It must be hard to keep neutral as the professor in situations like that, and not just tell him he’s wrong and an idiot. It’s like finding out someone you thought was cool is actually religious. It destroys all their credibility in my eyes when they tell me they’re a Paul supporter or a Libertarian. I think it’s similar to religion, honestly. I think they are desperate for something to explain it all and make the contradictions and unfairness in the world make sense, instead of acknowledging that reality is messy, and the system is stacked against them, and politics is a shitty business that forces unsavory compromises from even the most honest and well-intentioned politicians. The reality that there will never be a politician or an ideology to ‘fix’ everything and they’re probably going to die poor no matter how hard they work is too unpleasant. They’d rather look for a scapegoat.

    I really think a lot of Paultards are disillusioned Obama supporters, who fell for the whole Messiah complex first with him, and were inevitably disappointed b/c their expectations were unreachable in the system he’s working in, so now they turn their backs on him as a traitor to their ideals, and latch onto a new Messiah in Paul. And no matter how untenable their own position is, they keep throwing bad things Obama has done back at liberals and saying, “What about THAT? Huh? Defend him now!” As if that proves anything at all about their guy. Another manifestation of their refusal to accept reality. Reality is we had two choices, and both times, one of them was fairly good, and one of them was monumentally awful. Reality is Paul never had a fucking chance anyway, and you threw your fucking vote away on him and gave McCain/Palin/Romney/Ryan a better chance at winning. Way to go, you delusional children. It’s just like religious people – just insist on living in the world you WANT to live in, regardless of reality.

  8. sherkat Says:

    Wow, shit. I don’t doubt you, but Obama to Paul? This guy was a Paultard in 08…..so he’s of a different bent. But, I agree, it gives and out and a scapegoat. The government is the problem…..just eliminate taxes and go back to the gold standard! Yeah……

  9. schmielt Says:

    I’ve had a lot of these people argue with me (my peers, people in my age group that I thought had similar values to me, and actually DO when I talk issues with them) that they supported Obama in 2008, but he failed us and turned out to be ‘owned by the same bankers and criminals that Bush was’ and that he continued the same wars Bush got us into. Paul happened to be talking enough of the right points at the time that they were pissed at Obama, feeling betrayed, and unwilling to consider the reality of the circumstances he was in. But Paul was vehemently anti-war, severely critical of the bailouts, and also happened to be in favor of ending the war on drugs. They were able to ignore or explain away the parts of his platform that should be seriously offensive to a liberal (his anti-abortion stance, for example). Yes, they absolutely behaved and sounded like jilted lovers or something. Like they were so pissed at Obama, they’d take up with anybody who came along that provided them something to latch onto, and would willingly turn a blind eye to the realities Obama faced in office, the fact that we’re in a two-party system, and the fact that Paul is a seriously flawed candidate for any sane person to support. None of that mattered. It struck me as a very emotional reaction. It very much seems like a new Messiah for them…like that’s what happened to the less rational of the Obama supporters from ’08.

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