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.