Ayn Rand’s books have been popular for decades. When I was young, I read three of them: “Atlas Shrugged,” “Fountainhead” and “Anthem,” which I liked because of the innocence and independent spirit of the protagonists.
But as I matured, I realized that Rand’s work promotes the idea that the individual is the center of the universe, appealing to the self-centered adolescent mentality. I knew I was not the center of the universe. I am part of a family, a community, a nation.
Later, I learned that Rand hated all religions, including Christianity, and she was vehemently opposed to any notions of selfless charity. Her beliefs can be summed up as “...militant atheism, hyper-individualism, worship of capitalism, and repudiation of Judeo-Christian concepts of morality.”
She was not only pro-adultery and pro-abortion, she believed nothing should be given unearned, including a parent’s love. In a March 1964 Playboy magazine interview, when asked about this, Rand said, “But do they have to love the child? No, not necessarily. That will depend on their evaluation of his character, as he grows up. He has to earn their love—as they have to earn his.”
This would all be academic if Rand’s philosophy, that of the self-centered adolescent, was not currently the guiding philosophy of the Tea Party and many Republicans. During the last presidential campaign, many Republicans and conservatives described Rand’s influence on their political formation. Rep. Paul Ryan made his staff read her books. Sen. Rand Paul frequently quotes her. Rush Limbaugh calls her brilliant. John Stossel, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck have all described her influence on their lives. At Tea Party rallies, signs are displayed saying “Ayn Rand was right.” It is clear that Rand’s anti-government, self-centered ideas are making inroads into our political dialogue.
A few weeks ago, we saw a perfect example of this me-first philosophy. In a small town in Texas, a fertilizer plant blew up, killing 15 people, 12 of whom were first responders trying to put out the original fire and save lives. More than 200 people were injured. Not only did the plant blow up, but the explosion destroyed a nearby school, an apartment complex, a nursing home, and several private homes. When the plant opened in 1962, it was surrounded by open farmland, but as time passed, the town expanded closer to the plant. For whatever reason, the local government apparently felt it was fine to have such a dangerous plant near children, families, and old people. Maybe they thought reasonable zoning codes were an infringement on personal liberty.
Local residents said the plant was always a part of their life. Jeanette Karlik, a columnist for the local newspaper, said, “It’s been there so long that you just take it for granted.” The tragedy is that very few if any residents actually understood how dangerous this plant was.
In 1947, an ammonium nitrate explosion in Texas City, Texas, killed over 500 people. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh used two tons of ammonium nitrate to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. At the West plant, 270 tons of ammonium nitrate were being stored. One would think that a plant storing such a huge amount of explosive material would be well-regulated. Not so.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has primary responsibility to monitor these types of facilities. There are 7.5 million workplaces in the U.S., with 2,218 OSHA inspectors. This means OSHA can inspect a workplace once every 129 years. The last time OSHA visited the West plant was in 1985. The plant’s next inspection would have been in 2114.
Texas did no better. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) last inspected the plant in 2006, after a town resident complained of a “strong ammonia smell.” The plant was fined for “failure to apply for or obtain a permit.” The EPA also fined the plant $2,300 in 2006 for “failing to have a risk management plan that met federal standards.” The plant owners assured everyone that there was no risk of a fire or explosion.
There were many more violations that were never addressed, due to lack of regulations and lack of budgets. The point is that in an Ayn Rand world, this would be the everyday scenario. We would be depending on company owners to do the right thing, without any government regulations or enforcement to make sure they did. Tea Party members say there is too much government regulation; personally, I think West could have used a little more.
Jeanette Strong’s column, By the Way, appears every other Wednesday.