I was thinking of posting this directly to Larry Sanger’s blog on Citizendium.org, but it’s too long, and Dr. Sanger would probably object. Also, it’s a bit personal, and I don’t like to be seen as a grudge-bearer, but sometimes you just have to speak out… So, just to follow up on my post from yesterday, I’d like to ask our highly appreciated and valued readers to indulge me, just this once.
In 2001, I was working for a small Midwestern (USA) IT company, a VAR actually, and one day we were told that the owner was moving to the West Coast and had sold the company to another guy, who we’ll just call “New Owner.” Well, it turned out that New Owner was an Ayn Rand fanatic who would wax ebullient over her “objectivist philosophy” whenever he got the chance, and even kept extra copies of Ayn’s literary masterworks in his desk drawer to hand out to people. (This is how I got my copy of The Fountainhead, which I ultimately threw away after being utterly appalled by the first 80 pages or so).
New Owner proceeded to drive the company into the dirt: He lied to customers, misprioritized their projects, promised things to the staff that he clearly had no intention whatsoever of delivering, stole credit for their ideas, bought into questionable business opportunities because he thought they would be “easy,” and even double-sold software licenses - for which he was nearly sued, and in so doing also lost the company’s certifications on its most lucrative channel product. Every single employee of the company had quit within 10 months of his taking over, except for one who was fired, and of their (even fewer in number) replacements, all of them were gone within a year. Some didn’t last more than a few weeks.
I would have tossed this off as just another “Dilbert-land” example of a company being destroyed by a lousy businessman, except that two years ago I was working on-site as a contractor at another company, and I saw the exact same thing happen. This was actually a division of a larger company, so this guy wasn’t a new owner, but otherwise the similarities were eerie: Same Ayn Rand fanaticism, extra copies of the books in the desk drawer (not out where people could see them, mind you), lies/distortions/broken promises to customers and employees, credit-grabbing, misprioritization, “improvement initiatives” that existed only in the form of enthusiastic announcement memos that were immediately forgotten and never mentioned again… and above all, that same sense of entitlement, as if being in charge was the only thing that could possibly matter to anyone. And like New Owner, every employee in that division was gone within a year. Every single one.
Long story short, I know this is only two anecdotal cases, but I really believe now that there’s something to the idea that a businessman’s devotion to Ayn Rand is a sure signal that he can’t be respected, relied on, or trusted - with anything. Reading Ayn Rand will rot your brain and then turn the rotten remnants to butterscotch pudding just for good measure, but if you try it anyway, you’ll encounter plenty of fundamental support for - and defense of - all the attitudes and mental processes required by today’s selfish, narcissistic, incompetent businessmonster. Enough, in my opinion, to transform a seemingly regular guy into someone you’d never want to work for in a million years, just by reading a few books of fiction-based cornball “philosophy.”
Too often, people focus on Rand’s ideas regarding the supposed worthlessness of altruism and charity, since that’s probably her most inflammatory belief. In so doing, they miss what may be an even more insidious set of ideas about how business leaders relate to the rest of the world.
As for accountability…? It is to laugh - these guys don’t think the term applies to them in any way whatsoever.
Anyway, Dr. Sanger, if you’re reading this I suspect you already know about all that, but maybe you didn’t want to say it yourself, and this is the sort of thing I do best.