I’ve decided that people don’t really read for information–instead, we (and I include myself in that “we”) read for validation. We look for evidence that supports what we already believe. It is one of those all-too-human tendencies we need to fight.
We see this selective approach most clearly in the way people read the bible. It amazes me how often we hear about men ‘lying with’ other men, and how seldom we hear about caring for the poor or ‘least of us,” although the ratio of the latter to the former in the actual bible is something like 30 to 1. We also see it in the ways people approach the Constitution–it never ceases to amaze me how many people are ‘purists’ when it comes to the Second Amendment but are perfectly willing to ignore, say, the Establishment Clause.
Currently, the left and right are again doing battle over Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged. The left fails to recognize the context of Rand’s philosophy; she was reacting against the excesses of Stalinism and Marxism that she had experienced first-hand. Her anger with the injustice of a system where everyone was supposed to live for the proletariat led her to exalt a somewhat exaggerated individualism. Viewed from our own time–where individualism, greed and selfishness have run amok–her prescriptions can seem excessive and inhuman.
But it is the selective reading of Rand by the right that is most instructive–and amusing. As Martin Marty recently pointed out in his newsletter, Sightings, the right has embraced Rand’s unrestrained capitalism and conveniently overlooked the fact that she was an equally ardent pro-choice atheist.
Rand created a world with two types of human: productive supermen, and venal looters. She didn’t deal with the foibles of real humans, who tend to be neither. What I find ironic is the number of people who think they are John Galt (productive superman) when Rand–with her pitiless, black-and-white worldview– would rather clearly have categorized them as James Taggert (‘sniveling looters’).