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Self Interest vs Cooperation

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
English: Published by Random House. Jacket design by George Salter. Photo portrait of Rand by Phyllis Cerf., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

I’m Jarrett Kaufman for HPPR.

This is the fourth and final review of Nicholas Lamar Soutter’s science fiction novel, The Water Thief.

The novel presents readers with a dystopian future where corporations rule the world. There are no governments, no citizens, nor are there any social programs aimed to provide for the greater good. Soutter wrote the novel as a rebuttal of Ayn Rand’s objectivism, a philosophy that champions individualism and laissez-faire capitalism, which is an economic system where the economy is unregulated by the government.

In a 2012 interview conducted by Chris Bergeron for the Metrowest Daily News, Soutter said, "I came to feel Rand got it all wrong because she saw the world entirely in black and white. I wanted to refute her idea that capitalism creates a system in which people never lie, cheat or steal.’’

Rand was a philosopher and novelist who wrote primarily during the mid-twentieth-century. She was born into a well-off family in Russia but when she was twelve, the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin overthrew the Monarchy and her family fled to Crimea, never again to recover their wealth.

Her fiction celebrates how unchecked, self-interested individualism will better the world. She believed that the pursuit of one’s interests over all else is a logical way to live. Her novels The Fountainhead published 1943 and Atlas Shrugged published in 1957 frame the protagonists as heroes who are ardent capitalists, tough businessmen, and courageous individualists fighting against the evils of government oversight. Rand’s heroes are guardians of capitalism—to her--

the only economic and social system that is capable of being beneficial to humankind.

Rand even rejected the idea of altruism, which is the regard and devotion to another’s well-being over one’s own. She believed that self-interest is the true expression of human nature. However, many historians and critics believe this is the where her philosophy breaks down. They argue that human history has shown we have held the impulse to cooperate, going back as far as the Paleolithic period, about 100,000 years ago. Cooperation and altruism are the fundamental building blocks of modern society.

In The Water Thief, Soutter brings Rand’s objectivism to life rather effectively. All the characters in the novel lack compassion and empty. Charlie Thatcher, the protagonist, works for the Ackerman Corporation as a Perception Specialist, where he employs deceit, blackmail, and any other means necessary to control its employees.

Later in the novel, after meeting a group of revolutionaries who want to destroy Ackerman, Charlie beings to see that his colleagues don’t really have much in emotions. How could they? To survive and be successful in a world of hyper-capitalism where common interests between people don’t exit, one must not fear, one must not despair. One must not hesitate or regret or reflect. One must just act.

As the novel end, Charlie is incarcerated for his affiliations with the revolutionaries. During his confinement, he has an epiphany. Even though he was married and maintained professional relationships with his colleagues, he recognizes that he didn’t really know any of them. Charlie, his wife, and his colleagues live in a world where everyone is a threat to another’s self-interest. They are pitted against each other for the sake of profit. Intimacy and trust are liabilities. Love is a weakness. Hope is an illusion.

Where is the humanity in that?

I’m Jarrett Kaufman for HPPR.

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Jarrett Kaufman is the Assistant Professor of English and a new member of the Oklahoma Panhandle State University’s English department.