Atlas Hugged: I Too Was A Teenage Randroid (Until Last Month)
Editor's Note: After publishing Jason Heller's I Was A Teenage Randroid, we heard from many teenagers, and many Randroids. When we first spoke to former PandoDaily reporter Trevor Gilbert, he was both: 19 years old and a proud Randian libertarian. But then, a few months later, Trevor got back in touch. He'd had a dramatic change of heart...
My Philosophy teacher was a pretty good guy, until he started pushing. Not hard core stuff like crack or meth. Intellectual drugs. Ayn Rand.
When you first pick up The Book -- Atlas Shrugged, the gateway drug of Libertarianism -- you relish the challenge. 1300 pages? Psh. That’s a small price to pay for the new enlightenment.
And when you put the book down, you’ve got Reader’s High. If I go on strike, the world will end! It will literally stop spinning! Then, comes the jerk phase. Why bring out the trash? It’s not my trash. It’s the individuals’ responsibility to take care of their own waste. Man this feels so good.
Pretty soon the whole world looks different. You see bumpy roads and think, “if only this was owned by a corporation rather than the government.” Sure, poor people couldn’t drive on them or even get a job without the roads.
The fact that you couldn't afford to drive on those private roads doesn't occur to you. Your focus in on the filthy masses. They're all you can see: the moochers driving on the roads that “you” (which is to say, other people who pay far more tax than you do) paid for, and that you deserve but that others are taking advantage of. “I bet these people don’t even have jobs,” you think. “They’re probably on their way to the welfare office right now.” On your road.
After a month or so of disgust at humans, your cries for mass privatization die down. But the feeling is still there, under the skin. It’s like an STD: you may not see it at that very moment, but it is still there, waiting to be activated. Waiting for a political debate, or better yet, an election.
Oh, elections! We seem to crawl out of the woodwork at election time. With every mention of fiscal responsibility or entitlements another Libertarian wakes up. Rand appears, in ghastly geriatric glory, calling for privatization. For years I cheered. The brave new world was within our reach!
Sadly, like anyone with a microgram of humanity or self-awareness, my love affair with Libertarianism could never last. And by God, my hypocrisy was breathtaking, even by Randroid standards. I would never have even learned about Rand if it weren’t for taxpayers. The school I went to take Philosophy? A private school in Spain, paid for by the U.S. Department of State. The house I lived in? A perk of being the son of a diplomat. Subsidized gas on military bases? Perk. Living in and traveling to dozens of countries? Courtesy of the taxpayer. Aside from food, we only paid for cable.
It wasn’t only that the government footed the bill. Even a simple lightbulb change was done by the Management Office. If the Federal Government actually had a libertarian in charge -- Paul, Barr or even Johnson -- my cushy life wouldn’t have existed.
And yet, even after entering the workforce, I still held on to my Libertarian ideology. That is, until recently
Two months prior, I visited my hometown. Ghent is poor. It used to be an agricultural area, but city people forced most farmers to sell their land in the late 70s. Now, it’s best described as permanently economically depressed.
Despite this economic stall, the town has a firehouse. It has paved roads. It has a local ambulance house. It has cops. Most importantly for the region, it has snow plows. But! They’re all paid for by taxes, and because there isn’t much money in the area, increasingly subsidized by the State.
When I saw that the town needed these services to exist, yet also needed them to be subsidized, a fuse blew. Either the Cato Institute didn’t know this town existed, or Libertarianism is a paradox.
Shockingly, it’s the latter. It turns out that Libertarianism doesn’t really work in reality. For people like the Kochs who can pay for their own fire department, Libertarianism is great. But as Mitt Romney's defeat showed us, rich white guys aren’t the majority.
It may seem like a small thing to say, but for someone who espoused Libertarian ideals for years -- in words, not actions -- it is an astonishing change. One exception, and the worldview collapses.
The weeks following this realization, you realize Libertarianism is actually a huge sham. Now, I’m no bleeding heart liberal all of the sudden. But walking around, I’d see ordinary things like roads, and think to myself, “why would I want to pay for these myself? I hate EZ-Pass.”
I would talk to someone about the election, and they would bring up something I had said about national parks being shut down. It was like having a hangover and looking at the destruction from the night before, and thinking to myself, “why did I do that? I love national parks.”
And while I was certainly a hypocrite, at least I wasn’t as bad as other rich Libertarians. The number of public services these Kochs use just flying around. They drive cars that pass federal safety standards on public roads to publicly owned airports. They roll down the window and breathe in clean, EPA controlled air. Then they go through TSA security (not great, but it’s better than nothing). On the other side, they pick up a snack a Starbucks that is inspected by State food inspectors.
Then, on board the plane, it miraculously takes off because of oil being pumped in Saudi Arabia. Which is shipped through the Strait of Hormuz. Which, wouldn’t you know it? Is protected by the U.S. Military!
Once in the air, the plane doesn’t collide with another plane because of air traffic controllers paid for by tax dollars. Finally, it has a place to land at another publicly owned airport, under the same security and safety standards as every other airport.
It’s hard to believe that such a system would work if each step along the way was run by a different massive company. Yet, I believed it.
At least I woke up before I got that “End the Fed” face tattoo.