Friday, July 15, 2011

Who is in BioShock’s sights? Part I of III: Ayn Rand

The scene opens up with a plane crash. Everyone is dead except you. You swim to shore and quickly discover a conveniently placed elevator shaft which brings you to the ruined underwater labyrinth that once had been the capitalist paradise of Rapture, where there was no God, no king, only men. The dream of entrepreneur and anti-government advocate brought to ruin… By the natural forces of capitalism… Whatever.

This game has some amazing graphics, and some sweet gameplay. I don’t want to say it’s a bad game, I own it, I’ll be buying the third, but the over all message of this game is that American capitalism is racist, and the experimentation on children and with the super power creating plasmoids implies a link to eugenics, and what’s worse an over all lack of regard for human life. The game is designed to be a criticism of Ayn Rand’s mega hit Atlas Shrugged. The problem is this game reveals it’s over all lack of familiarity with Rand’s masterpiece beyond the surface googled progressive criticism.

The developers pride themselves on taking on extremes. The fact is this game’s philosophy is really an attack on stereotypes, and seems like a response from a typical spastic leftist who wasn’t paying attention to what Ayn Rand was really saying. Among the first questions the game asks is “is a man entitled to the fruits of his labor?” Let me push back on the developer, why wouldn’t he be?

Andrew Ryan’s Rapture is a twisted parody of John Galt’s Atlantis, where all the productive citizens who were trying to escape big government forgot that someone has to scrub the toilets… and so the whole thing falls apart, of and did I mention the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Not sure how that could happen if everyone is supposed to be rich but whatever… The greed of entrepreneurs leads them to destroy themselves… Clearly, the developers missed the point.

It’s not about the money, it never was. It was about freedom to create and enjoy the fruits of that creation. It wasn’t a disregard for the human life, it was the celebration of human achievement! The entrepreneur isn’t motivated by greed as the typical leftist accuses but by the pursuit of their dream! The entrepreneurs of Atlas Shrugged leave not because their money was being taken (although that didn’t help) but because their right to create and invent and work was being interfered with. The lesson they sought to teach an envious world was simply… We don’t need you. In other words, they didn’t forget someone needs to clean the toilets, they deliberately chose not to hire someone to do it and did it themselves because they don’t need us bottom feeders, we need them. Period. Most entrepreneurs are happy to lift you out of poverty if you’re a hard worker whose vision parallels theirs, but if they were to strike like in Atlas Shrugged it wouldn’t be their world that collapses. They have the ideas and the work ethic to get it done. Government has no clue what it’s doing and the only jobs they can create are “shovel ready projects,” so if Obama gets his way I hope you enjoy digging ditches cause that’s about all Government can do for the bottom feeders. Entrepreneurs have dreams they are perusing, that is what it is about, not greed.

In the movie version of Atlas Shrugged the most compelling moment to illustrate this point is when a government agent is offering film/novel protagonist Hank Reardon a fortune for his controversial new metal. Hank refuses to sell and the government lackey cannot figure out why, Hank responds, “because it’s mine.” This is the point Progressives will never get. It was Hank’s dream, and the government cannot take it away from him.

There is nothing more insulting to the working and productive class than to have our work undermined by the pickpockets in Washington. But we need our money to pursue our dreams and besides that it’s ours. We made it, we earned it, who is the government to take it from us? The Constitution didn’t permit for that until the 16th amendment and even that has been determined to not apply to income by the Supreme Courts twice! If indeed their redistributive schemes worked maybe we wouldn’t resent it as much but in reality since we declared war on poverty the poor are still poor. Most studies I have read show that when the government declared that war the poverty rate in America was 13%. Today it’s 13%... so yes, the working man, the entrepreneur the productive class is entitled to the fruits of our labors and government and the parasites they feed are not. The Public Unions are not. Those who refuse to get a job and live off wealth confiscated from the tax payer are not. We as individuals can do more to lift people who are willing to work hard up than the government. Our founding fathers felt this way which is why there was no income tax until the progressives took over in 1913. Ayn Rand, like Thomas Jefferson before her sought to reward innovation and hard work, our government punishes it.

That said let me address another myth implied by this series. Ayn Rand and Libertarians, Conservatives, and Republicans are NOT racist. We are anti-welfare (well at least the Libertarians) so if your argument on racism is tied into the welfare system I don’t know what to tell you. It wasn’t the Free Market which enslaved millions of blacks early on, it was the southern state governments which insisted on slavery, imposed it, and enforced it. It wasn’t the free market which imposed Jim Crow Laws, again, government did that. That the Civil Rights movement somehow mutated into a pro-government-anti-free-market movement is confusing. The civil rights activists are now advocating a new form of slavery, forcing someone to work only to confiscate the fruits of their labors. The only difference is that we now call it “social justice.” Forcing someone to work for someone else’s benefit isn’t just. So when Ayn Rand asks the question, “Is a man entitled to the fruits of his labor,” the answer aught to be “hell yes!” Instead people just shout “racist” without any idea of what the word means. I should remind you that slavery and Jim Crow laws were all products of the American Left, the Democratic Party. It’s been the American Right-the abolitionist movement, who has been trying to end slavery in all it’s forms. So the developers got this way wrong.

The myth of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer needs several blogs to debunk, but in an era where we all have cars, cell phones, computers and ipods I don’t want to hear it. We are all better off as a society, we are all richer and we would not be were it not for the efforts of the super rich Progressives like to demonize.

It is even more frustrating that the developers of this game try to tie Ayn Rand’s philosophy into eugenics. For the last time Hitler was inspired by the American Progressives. Nazi is an acronym that in German stands for “National Socialist German Workers Party,” Hitler was not a capitalist and repeatedly declared the Nazi movement “the enemies of today’s capitalist economic system.”-1 There was nothing Conservative or Libertarian about him. There is nothing Conservative or Libertarian about Eugenics, and Ayn Rand was starkly opposed to it. In her short story Anthem the main character bemoans the Eugenicist policies of the government, “And each of the men have one of the women assigned to them by the Council of Eugenics. Children are born each winter, but women never see their children…” she writes. This passage comes from a chapter where the main character is developing feelings for a girl he likes, which is forbidden by the Council which controls the collective. He then goes on to describe the collective approved breeding ritual and he describes it in disdain and disgust. Rand was absolutely not celebrating this idea, she was an advocate of laissez faire in EVERYTHING, including reproduction. That meant Government HANDS OFF! Though Progressives want desperately to tie her to Eugenics I have read almost everything she has written and I don’t see her as anything but a critic of Eugenics. Anthem is always cited as proof of her Eugenicist views but the book is a criticism of collectivism, and she ties Eugenics into collectivism, so the developers of this game got this way wrong as well, but you know who actually did support Eugenics?

Eugenics’ biggest advocates were not people like Ayn Rand, but rather people like Margaret Sanger or even playwright George Bernard Shaw , even Charles Darwin and Woodrow Wilson all progressive icons. It was George Bernard Shaw, not Ayn Rand who coined the phrase, “"The moment we face it frankly we are driven to the conclusion that the community has a right to put a price on the right to live in it … If people are fit to live, let them live under decent human conditions. If they are not fit to live, kill them in a decent human way. Is it any wonder that some of us are driven to prescribe the lethal chamber (gas chamber) as the solution for the hard cases which are at present made the excuse for dragging all the other cases down to their level, and the only solution that will create a sense of full social responsibility in modern populations?"-2 So no, plasmoids, experimentations that result in Big Daddys and Little Sisters would not have come from Libertarianism, but like experiments including the Tuskegee experiments were all the result of PROGRESSIVES. The developers try to pin the evil of their philosophy on mine and quite frankly it’s not only insulting it’s obnoxious. Ayn Rand was an advocate of individual rights and Constitutionally limited government. Eugenics is counter to that philosophy.

The biggest problem I have with this game is that the story and philosophy of this game are very thin and hard to hear over the gun fire. What’s worse is the simple reality that you cannot have a meaningful philosophical discussion over gun fire. I mean, Mao might have thought that power came from the barrel of a gun, but we conservatives and libertarians prefer to have these kinds of debates over a nice cup of tea… and the media calls us violent. It’s ironic that we are portrayed as violent yet the message this game sends directionless youth is “if someone advocates hard work and free markets shoot ‘em!” It seems like the Democrats adopted this philosophy years ago, but their guns are the left wing smear machine that is the Press. Nevertheless they have been shouting down dissenting views for years stiffening any opportunity for debate.

Moreover there is no historical reference for us to look at and say “we tried Ayn Rand’s ideas and they didn’t work.” The closest we had to that was the era from Washington to John Quincy Adams and then to a lesser degree generally every era right until the Progressives took over in 1913 and ran us into the ground, then Calvin Coolidge saved us only for Progressive Herbert Hoover to flush it down the toilet again… Well you don’t need another history lesson, fact is that in the economic history we prosper best the closer we move to Rand’s ideas and less when we move away from them, but a world where there is almost no government except for a few courts where there are no taxes at all and everyone is free to profit off their own efforts for themselves? It’s never been done. Unlike the opposite philosophy (altruism) which does have a history of implementation and critical failure, Rand’s Minarchism cannot be truly criticized as it has only ever happened in fiction.

What’s sadder is that Hollywood is rushing a Bioshock film to production. Odds are it will be rife with the same blind stereotypes and philosophy at the barrel of a gun that the game is stuffed with yet they did everything in their power to stop, stifle, and interrupt the potential success of the Atlas Shrugged film. They sadly succeeded as the film was a bomb but only because no one has heard of it. That is typical of the left, not only does Bioshock as a game make too much noise for Andrew Ryan to make his case to the player, but Hollywood will shout down Libertarianism and Conservatism at every opportunity so that only cold and inaccurate stereotypes get through the shouting match… well their shouting and us explaining. Sadly, as one of my best friends always says, “if you have to explain your argument, you’re loosing.” I guess that I have to explain what Ayn Rand is actually about to gamers means we’ve lost this argument. But for those of us who can’t fit our philosophy on a bumper sticker I have crafted this fine bumper sticker which can be yours for the low, low price of $3.95 here! And keep your eye out for other smart-aleky responses to progressive stereotypes to come! Check it out here:

1-"We are socialists, we are enemies of today's capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions." --Adolf Hitler (Speech of May 1, 1927. Quoted by Toland, 1976, p. 306)
2- Source: George Bernard Shaw, Prefaces (London: Constable and Co., 1934), p. 296.


  1. Well I'd like to respond to this

  2. You make a point that the Atlas shrugged was about those not motivated by greed, but by those motivated by having their rights to create and achieve taken from them and that in contrast, everyone in Rapture is motivated by greed. But your forgetting one central character who was not motivated at all by greed, and he is by far the most important character. Andrew Ryan, he built and created Rapture because he truly believed in the free man, the chance to pursue and achieve as you desire. Your choice is your choice, and he even died to demonstrate the intensity of his belief. However, his belief of the free man is what lead to rapture's collapse. I feel the point bioshock makes is that its simply not in our human nature to have an absolute free society. Sure, Atlas shrug's characters may have been people not motivated by greed but most people are just not like that. Ryan was not like that either, he tried to build society on his beliefs, opening it to those who share his philosophy. But instead, he attracted those motivated by greed. Cause that's the nature of humanity, most of us simply are not that pure. I do not feel the point of the story was not necessarily that believing in hard work, free market is bad. The point is just that we tragically can't. Also, I'm confused as to why you always point that the developers were doing this, or doing that, or trying to make this or that point. I've read a lot of developer's comments on this game, and they were never really intending for this game to even truly be a torpedo on Objectivism. And how you managed to tie in that Capitalism is bad, and how you managed come up with them throwing out accusations of racism when you yourself said that the story has been laid out so thinly is beyond me. Oh and just a personal pet peeve of mine, "its message to the youth is that if anyone is advocating hard work and free market shoot em!" Why in the world would anyone take this as the message its trying to present? Just cause an absolute free society sitting on the edge of the spectrum has collapsed and your shooting things now doesn't mean the message is that capitalists need to be shot. This is just silly.

  3. I do believe that Bioshock has a lot of inspiration from literary and film works, but I highly doubt its an attack on each of their philosophies. The game may have been an inspired setting, but it exists in its own context, and the context is simply an extremist free society. I really do feel its that simple, not a statement of racist philosophies, or how every entrepreneur is motivated by greed (which doesn't even make sense because Andrew Ryan certainly wasn't motivated by greed). I think its only point it tries to make is that the extreme and absolute end in failure. This does not mean capitalism is bad, or socialism is good or anything of that nature. Now if I missed any point of your article, do tell me, but that all is basically the impression I got from what you wrote.

    1. You could be right, as with anything else in literature and art much is left to interpretation. I personally just felt that the ideas of Ayn Rand were not well articulated or well understood and so to refer to them as extreme, to me, seems a bit unfair considering as a society we haven't had a totally free market since 1913 and the more we move away from it the harder it is for the average person to get by. You may be right about Andrew Ryan and perhaps another way to look at this is a good man having his good dream crushed by the greed of Mr Fountaine. It's an excellent counter point. Sorry I took so long to reply.

    2. Also part of my critique is levied at the upcoming third installment in the series where they clearly are targeting the relatively harmless Tea Party. I have a lot of dealings with the Tea Party, they are not racists, and are not fanatics who "worship" the founding fathers. I feel some of the art in the background suggests a white supremacy world view of the inhabitants of the cloud city or whatever it will be called. I will get more into that after the game comes out and I've had a chance to analyse it, but that is my impression of the game so far. I hope I am wrong as to go after the Tea Party while ignoring Occupy Wall Street and Radical Islam is hypocritical, especially since the media failed to accurately report on what the tea party really is and who they are. All they are are a group of people who want government spending to be brought under control and taxes kept reasonable. That's it. Yet they have been unfairly portrayed as radical nut cases and racists as opposed to the OWS who have been portrayed as heroes as they burn down Oakland CA... Like I said, I hope I'm wrong but that is my impression of the game so far.

    3. One more point, much of the game's story is told through tapes you find laying around. A lot of the critisism I have for this first installment stems from dialogue found on those tapes, a lot of which is racist, sadistic, and also going back to the plasmoids, the idea that Ayn rand promoted Eugenics... That is a huge misunderstanding of what she actually advocated...w hich is reproduction period. All she did was observe that the rich and intellectual classes usually didn't have many kids. She didn't understand why and that was it. The idea that she (like her Progressive counterparts) promoted genetic experimentation, modification or eugenics as it is traditionally understood as implied by this game would have sickened her.