Ayn Rand for a Teenager?

Well, I just discovered that Bioshock is (sorta) based on the work of Ayn Rand, thanks to the popular culture/parody thread. Color me bemused. My 15 year old son has been attempting to tell me all about Bioshock, as it’s one of his favorite games. I admit most of his explanations have gone in one ear and out the other. Still, it’s something he’s into. Ought I steer him towards Rand’s writing, or is it better to leave that for when he’s older?

He’s tackled some interesting written-for-adults works, including things like *Blink *and Guns, Germs and Steel. His philosophy reading, however, has plateaued around the *Illusions *level. Will Rand blow his little mind or bore him to tears?

Once you teach about how Rand is a lunatic, let him at her. I’d start him off with Anthem, then if he can stand it, The Fountainhead. But you need to talk with him as he is reading the books, otherwise he will think she has good ideas. :smiley:

Yeah, I would recommend Anthem as well - it’s the shortest and the most readable.

Starting with Anthem is fine, the only talk I think you should give him is to explain the context of Rand’s writing - how she’d escaped from Russia in the early Soviet days and some details of life under Stalin, to clarify that what she was railing against was real and serious, though it had collapsed before he was born.

Yikes. I feel old, now…

Bioshock is actually based specifically around Atlas Shrugged, however he’ll probably glaze over and have his head explode somewhere around the 56 page speech on Objectivism. It may be good to introduce him through Anthem or Fountainhead.

However, it should be warned Bioshock is less about Objectivism so much as blind belief in philosophy. It definitely doesn’t praise objectivism in a major way (in fact the entire premise is the founded “perfect” objectivist society does way better than the normal world at first but then proceeds to absolutely crumble, enter player). It certainly does seem to entertain and enjoy some aspects, but overall criticises Ayn’s over-the-top “either you accept my whole philosophy or none of it” ideals and encourages people to look at philosophies and only take practical cues, rather than eat any single philosophy hook, line, and sinker (because it leads to blind idealism and can cause societies to crumble). In fact, some of it seems almost patently ridiculous, because it feature’s Rand’s completely unblocked Laissez-Faire market there are WEAPONS AND AMMO VENDING MACHINES on the walls, probably trying to make money off the civil war in Rapture, so it certainly paints blind belief in the philosophy as ridiculous. So he may end up reading Rand with Bioshock in mind and think “some of this is good but… wow this could cause some issues” which is good, and reading literature that challenges your beliefs can be good, but you may want to warn him in advance that he certainly won’t be reading Bioshock’s philosophy, but will be exposed to ideals that were presented.

Before I posted I searched for a second, this article from Kotaku has a pretty good description of Bioshock’s relationship to the philosophy and echoes a lot of what I said.

I would say that high school through college is in fact the optimum time to read Rand, because that’s the only time you’ll enjoy it. Give him Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenace while you’re at it - let him enjoy it when he’s able to.

Oh, and play Bioshock, it’s awesome.

Adolescents tend naturally to think they know everything and isn’t everything obvious?! Objectivism is a perfect fit.

But beware of synergistic effects.

Better warn this teenager that Ayn Rand did not own a dictionary, and thus, did not know what “altriusm” and “selfishness” meant.

I have only read Atlas Shrugged, and I read it when I was 15 (30 years ago >>>sob<<<). It’s not an impossible book for a teen to get through.

Cool. I think I’ll point him towards the bookshelf where we have, I believe, *Anthem *and The Fountainhead, and leave it there. Nothing less cool than having your mom push literature at you, but I’ll make sure he knows it’s acceptable reading material for him. If he likes it, great. If not, Zen… it is! :smiley:
(Not that I wouldn’t let him read whatever he wants, but we do have “our” bookshelves and “his” bookshelves, just by dint of habit. Rand is on “our” bookshelf, although to be honest, I’ve never made it out of the first chapter.)

Oh, she knew, all right, she just felt entitled to redefine the terms. Like with Paul Johnson and the term “Intellectuals.” (It means “someone who is passionately interested in knowledge and ideas for their own sake,” Mr. Johnson; it does not mean “someone to whom ideas are more important than people”; and if it did, Ayn Rand and Nietzsche and Russell Kirk would be better exemplars than Marx, Tolstoy or Brecht.)

Anthem was part of my assigned high school reading back in '96 when I was a sophmore. I think I got all the concepts back then.

My 13-year-old son loved The Fountainhead and only stopped reading Atlas Shrugged because school ended. I read The Fountainhead years and years ago and don’t really remember it; I’ll send him to this thread to get others’ takes on Rand’s works.

I’d also love to hear his take on them, if he’s a Doper. Or you can give him my email: flaminghippie@gmail.com

I was a moody, elitist teenager so Rand was the perfect author for me. I was a little ashamed by college, though.

Give him the book, but mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be Randroids.


Yeah, he’s not your normal teenager. Heck, if you were raised by neopagan hippiesque freaks, you wouldn’t be either! He’s not exactly elitist - that is, he thinks his way of doing things is the best for him, but he’s very amused by the way things work for others. OTOH, he’s not entirely morally relativist, either - he holds that some things are just WRONG, whether or not the people around him agree.

He definitely gets a kick out of the Objectivism in Bioshock, but because he thinks it’s more than a bit ridiculous, not because he shares the philosophy. I’m curious what greater exposure and more explanation will do to him.

I spent the summer of my 15th year reading all Rand’s books that I could get my hands on.

I was a sorta fangirl for about 6 months, but it wore off. It didn’t do me any lasting harm, as far as I know. I tried re-reading these books in my 30’s but gave up. It wasn’t the “philosophy” as much as the terrible writing.

Also, I found out that Rand didn’t exactly “escape” from the USSR, at least not with her feet leaving bloody tracks in the snow. And, learning about her affair with her disciple Nathaniel Branden took the remaining bloom off the rose.

clap clap clap

Rand was a poor philosopher, as one might expect from the author of a book entitled Philosophy: Who Needs It. Her didactic, dichotomous approach to Objectivist epistemology and ethics is anti-intellectual at its core, and her use in narrative of exaggerated characture to justify her points (The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged especially) is childish and a shallow reflection of the Socialist Realism she so despised.

If the lad is really interested in philosophy as a means to ask well-structured questions (which is the only practical use for philosophy), start him with something accessible like Bertrand Russell or John Seale, and then work him back to Plato to get a foundation of Western philosophy (which is useful not only in the context of philosophy itself but in contrasting historical and social development between Europe and the Americas and Asia). Rand is junk food philosophy for people who want the same mores pounded onto their heads until the top is flattened.


I was about to post the same thing. Fifteen is the perfect age to read Rand. Now’s also the time for him to read Kerouac, too.

I have to say, now I am kind of intrigued by the possibilities of using video games to teach philosophy. Perhaps something a little more sophisticated than Planescape: Torment, though.

Although I substantially disagree with Stranger’s analysis of Rand (despite substantially agreeing with his conclusion), I would also suggest he turn to more interesting and rigorous authors if he really does have an interest in philosophy.