Richard Bach’s World Without Trust

I recently encountered a quote from Richard Bach, the pop philosopher/author who wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull, that bothered me. The context isn’t important, but it was cited with approval as enduring wisdom by the quoter. The statement:

“Anybody who’s ever mattered, anybody who’s ever been happy, anybody who’s ever given any gift to the world has been a divinely selfish soul, living for his own best interest, no exceptions.”

I can see why this quote might be popular, unlike his career-making best seller, which I threw against the wall after eight pages. It provides the perfect rationalization for selfishness and unethical conduct for people who don’t have the patience to read Nietzsche or the stomach for Ayn Rand. As a whole, it is nothing but a repackaging of “everybody does it,” but with a devilish seductive twist: everybody who’s smart, talented and successful does it. Wow. Translation: if you are divinely selfish, it means you might be one of the people who “matter.” Continue reading

Literary Quotation Ethics

I am gradually catching up on “Criminal Minds,” the CBS crimes drama that operates in an America where there are serial killers under every rock. On an episode from 2008, the show used a quotation (famous quotations generally begin and close each episode) attributed to Ayn Rand, the author/philosopher who championed “objectivism” and her own peculiar brand of non-compassionate individualism.  The quote: “We are all brothers under the skin—and I, for one, would be willing to skin humanity to prove it.”

This seemed a little harsh even for Ayn Rand; I figured she must have been having a bad day. “Nice lady,” I commented to my wife, who rolled her eyes, for she is not a Rand admirer. Later, I mentioned the quote to a quotation-obsessed friend, who informed me that the words were really uttered by an Ayn Rand villain, Ellsworth Toohey, the unprincipled newspaper columnist who makes life miserable for the hero of The Fountainhead, Howard Roark.

Was “Criminal Minds” fair to Ayn Rand? Continue reading