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If Ayn Rand was drowning, would I throw her a bootstrap?

Boot Strap-ist: N. One who: 1. believes all adversity can be overcome by trying harder; 2. is oblivious to invisible blessing in life such as looks, smarts, education, race, class, and role models; 3. can be heard saying, “If I can do it anyone can.” See also: Randian Twit.

I read The Fountain Head in high school. I was a huge fan, the characters were awesome, and I was impressionable. There was a moment when I realized that if the story was told from a different point of view, a man whose inflated ego causes him to blow up a public housing project would be considered a selfish jerk. But in high school exotic romances where people make grandiose gestures for their principles seemed really exciting. When I went to college and studied philosophy, Ayn Rand came up again, but this time her philosophy wasn’t shrouded in sexy rape scenes. When you took her philosophy to its extreme it became immoral to save someone who was drowning because it denied their agency. I began affectionately referring to Ms. Rand as the Selfish Bitch. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Ayn Rand was more than a flash in the pan extremist philosopher, she was, and still is, shaping our country and its policies.

Ever wonder why the same people who say they are cutting welfare and other social programs to balance the budget also do things like lower taxes? It seems like a group who wanted to balance the budget would do whatever they could to increase incoming revenue as well as reducing expenses, but that’s not what we see at all. Actually, there are many people who believe that the rich are rich because they deserve to be rich; they are actually better than those who are poor. This is described well in this article in Newsweek. This isn’t new at all, it is, in fact, the same philosophy that reigned through the middle ages and much of humanity’s past. Resources go to those who deserve them. The rich keep getting richer because they are better people. Because they work harder. Because they are smarter. Because they are more clever. Not because the system is set up to keep their money and more flowing back to them. Not because being born into a good family with good schooling and good connections props you up for success. No, that obviously means nothing because a few people have risen out of poverty to become successful. You know, people like Ayn Rand.

I am currently in nursing school at City College of San Francisco. Community colleges are supposed to be one of the ways that poorer people can get a cheap education so they can reach down, grab their bootstraps, and yank themselves into the American dream. I love my program, I have good teachers and I feel that I am receiving an excellent education. But this education is contingent on getting clinical experience within hospitals so that we can become prepared and certified nurses. The problem is that CCSF is always having to fight for clinical spots in hospitals because the hospitals want to give first choice to the more prestigious schools, especially the private schools, who are willing to pay for the spaces. Currently they have not found spots for us next semester for our Psych and OBGYN rotations. We assume they will, because they always do, but it is looking likely that we may have to travel farther to get to the sites. This is particularly hard on students at a community college who are more likely to be working or have kids, and therefore have less time and resources to travel around the Bay Area. Once we graduate, applicants from four year schools will be chosen ahead of us. Our bootstraps keep getting farther away.

I was raised lower middle class, but I’ve had a lot going for me that isn’t readily apparent. Most of my friends’ families had more money so I grew up comfortable around people of means; I learned to speak their language. I was lucky enough to be born white, attractive and smart. I did nothing to earn these things; I didn’t work for them, they were genetic gifts. Yet they made my bootstraps all the more reachable. Still, even with these gifts I have to deal with figuring out how to climb the ladders on my own. I have to deal with discrimination around what school I went to, health problems that I have to tackle without insurance, and paying bills while trying to get enough extracurricular activities to make myself stand out. Everything is stacked against the person who is not born into a privileged class. Yet somehow this isn’t enough. They want more. They are upset that there are programs available to keep people from starving. To help them pay for school. To make sure they don’t die from preventable diseases.

The thing that makes me laugh is that people don’t seem to realize what happens when more and more people get desperate. Do you think they are just going to sit (oops, I mean stand) on the street and starve to death? Some will, but many wont. Crime will increase, people will become radicalized. Things will happen. Things that will make the people on the top very nervous. Social programs are good for everyone. I promise.

If I could just... Pull a little harder...



  1. Summer wrote:

    Loved it. I was recently filling out a form about things that I feel thankful for. I wanted to write being born into relative privilege. Lack of poverty and desperation. Having education and housing opportunity. The only reason I got all of those things is because I wasn’t born in an impoverished third world country. But that didn’t seem to jive with the other people’s answers like “my puppy”.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink
  2. Jessica wrote:

    I feel like you can totally be thankful for your privilege *and* your puppy ;)

    Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Permalink
  3. wrote:

    Nice topic – respect !

    Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 2:06 am | Permalink
  4. Bridgette wrote:

    Interesting. My Dad has always been a fan of “Objectivism” (in fact their offices are down the street from me. I read Atlas Shrugged (sounds like the less steamy of her novels based on your description) in college and saw the selfishness as blatant. I think it comes from my fairly Christian world view where Jesus actually tells us to help people less fortunate and to show grace and compassion, while telling the recipient of such things to not just be a slacker, but try go be worthy of what has been done to you.
    Cuts and taxes…suck.

    Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Permalink
  5. Jessica wrote:

    Bridgette, I really hear what you are saying about the Christian world view. The thing that baffles me is that many of the folks who espouse this also label themselves Christian. The phrase, “God helps those who helps themselves,” is thrown around, but that phrase isn’t even in the Bible.

    Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
  6. Frank wrote:

    If Ayn Rand was drowning I would save her, but then my clothes might get wet, and I wouldn’t want that. So, by virtue of Rational Egoism, I shall act in my own best interest and stay dry. If Ayn Rand happens to succumb to the her own death then that’s her problem.

    It’s unfair, I know, but hey, those are your rules bitch.

    Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

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