Love, Hate, and Indifference

Dagny Taggart where are you?If, as Elie Wiesel says, “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference,” I wonder why some people inspire equal parts adoration and loathing. The current presidential race, for example, highlights the almost 20-year love/hate affair the American public has with the Clintons. Individuals seem to either love Hillary or despise everything she represents.

Ayn Rand

Hillary is hardly the first person to inspire such strong feelings. History is littered with individuals who generate powerful emotions, both positive and negative. Without realizing it, I stumbled onto one of the more divisive figures when I was 11. An aunt, only six years older than I, was a fan of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Wanting to follow in her footsteps, I located a forgotten copy of Rand’s Anthem in my middle school library. At my age, the philosophy portion went right over my head, but it didn’t stop me from moving on to The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

I know there are critics who have no liking for Rand’s writing, and I’ll admit to skipping over some of the individual soliloquies. However, on the whole, I enjoyed the stories for themselves, philosophy aside. I loved The Fountainhead because the main character, Howard Ruark, was an architect, a career I planned to pursue until the realities of calculus and physics intruded. In Atlas Shrugged, I found myself wishing I was the strong female lead, Dagny Taggert. I quietly enjoyed rereading these books throughout high school, even if I didn’t totally understand them. My classmates had no idea what I was reading, and the only comment the books seemed to generate was related to their size. Then, I got to college.

Why Hate?

In my philosophy 101 course, I asked about Rand’s role in modern philosophy. My professor made no effort to conceal his loathing of Rand and also made it clear he thought less of me for asking the question. His reaction made me curious and eventually led to a research paper I did on Rand’s life in a writing course. While I don’t subscribe to or agree with all aspects of Rand’s philosophy, I’m still baffled by the anger often directed at Rand, which takes me back to Mr. Wiesel.

For instance, the loudest critics still generate attention for the individuals or causes they dislike the most. What would our world be like if we showed indifference to the people and the things we didn’t love? How would it change the marketing appeals made to consumers? What about parents and teenagers? How much of the behavior is driven by the idea that the kids know the parents hate it? Indifference carries a power of its own, one that we often overlook in our search for solutions.

Flexible Indifference

Indifference leaves us with the time and energy to put into the things that actually counter the people and the causes we don’t agree with. Subscribing to indifference also leaves you room to change your mind, to refine your opinion. While love can be equally blinding, hate carries its own peculiar baggage. From my experience, it’s incredibly difficult to back away from hating something, less so to fall out of love. If the world only appears black and white, love and hate make sense, but the shades of gray that invade my daily life have made it clear that I need the option of indifference.

(Image by NickStarr. Some rights reserved.)


7 Responses to “Love, Hate, and Indifference”

  1. April 15, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Ha! Don’t know why I had to start with a “ha” but I liked this post cause I have had similar experiences with enjoying Rand. I originally liked both Atlas Shrugged as well as Fountainhead for both the writing and the overall experience (maybe that was the philosophy working on me), and I think I would still like them. Meanwhile, my older brother proceeded to look up anything online he could about Rand and why I should hate her (white fascist,racist whatever) and has yet to read the books. Ah, to be a younger brother.

    Anyhoo, I also found her useful for debunking feminist argument in university. For essays, not for real…

    p.s. – also a fan of indifference…

  2. 2 Britt
    April 15, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    @torbjornrive: I’m always surprised by the critics who’ve never actually read any Rand. I don’t take issue with people criticizing something, but to do so, in some cases, without actually having it based on personal experience seems short sighted.

    As to indifference, I’ve found my life has become enjoyable by opting for it versus hate. Hate takes amazing amounts of energy and rarely accomplishes the original intention.

  3. April 16, 2008 at 9:15 am

    …Come to think of it, I’m not so sure I ‘hate’ anything. It’s such a strong word. And you’re right, people who hate seem to use so much energy in both fuming and considering their hate action.

    re Rand, my brother said he ‘tried’ to read Atlas Shrugged, but didn’t like the writing. I think he just didn’t want to use the energy cause he knew he was doing it for hate, the wrong reason.

  4. 4 Britt
    April 16, 2008 at 9:40 am

    @torbjornrive: Imagine how much could be accomplished if people skipped over hate to action that supports what they believe. I think about this idea often in connection with the pro- and anti-abortion forces. What if the anti peeps spent their time making sure women had access to resources that made an abortion unnecessary instead of picketing clinics? That would be action that delivers immediate results without the negative consequences.

    I think it’s funny when people say that “tried” to read Rand. Usually they stop for the reason you believe you’re brother stopped…I know I won’t like it so why bother.

  5. 5 Joe T.
    April 26, 2008 at 6:25 am

    Interesting… I won`t pretend to have read Rand, her books always looked too ponderous and preachy to me.

    My biggest critique of her so-called philosophy is that it doesn`t take into consideration the value of interpersonal skills and, well… schmoozing in getting things done.

    From what I hear Rand always holds up some hyper-talented “genius” (like Howard Roark) as a paragon of humanity, and proceeds to pontificate about how all the evil, envious, backstabbing people conspire against the heroic achiever.

    All well and good, but I think she wrongly viewed genius as something that exists in a vacuum.

    Even the greatest architects of all time would never have their buildings built were it not for the people skills they had to have had to curry favor with the powers-that-be, who had the money, and the manpower, and the political clout, to get the damn buildings built in the first place.

    The architects who had good people skills and who were able to charm and persuade other people were the ones who got the contracts and got their buildings built. In the real world, people like Roark who have huge talent, but who refuse to work with others, never actually get their plans realized, and fade into obscurity.

    Moral: warm, fuzzy “people skills” (think Bill Clinton) are at least as important as raw, arrogant talent, and are what actually separate successful people from theoretically successful people.

    Rand refused to recognize this, because to my mind, she lived in a self-imposed intellectual bubble.

    I think many of her followers need to take their blinders off and face the real world.

  6. 6 Britt
    April 29, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    @Joe: I think the very things you identify as shortcomings are perhaps some of the reasons I like Rand’s work the best. I agree that there are blind spots in her philosophy. However, I also admire her creation of characters who exceed human potential and stand for something bigger. You’re right. In the real world, Ruark would likely never have his plans realized, but he also would prefer obscurity instead of settling for half measures. Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if we pushed for more instead of settling. While it’s not realistic to think one could do this all the time, I still believe that if we were more invested in the things and ideas we pursue the outcomes might be more powerful and longer lasting. And because of our focus, we might have to settle for doing less because our investment is so much greater. I’m not sure that would necessarily be a bad thing in a world that’s becoming so noisy it’s difficult to tell where one thing ends and another begins.

  7. May 3, 2008 at 7:54 am

    Hi Brit,

    I’m a friend of Dave Seah’s and he told me about your blog. I totally agree with this idea about loud critics. I like it and I agree with it.

    And the interesting thing is sometimes it’s only when a person becomes pretty well known that the major critics come out of the woodwork – in a sense, it’s a hint that you’re probably making a difference.


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