Monday, September 17, 2007

Business Poetry

In one of his humor columns years ago, Dave Berry wrote: "In college, Yuppies major in business administration. If to meet certain requirements they have to take a liberal arts course, they take Business Poetry."

As an English major, I found this line terribly funny. At the college I attended it always seemed like the business majors were divided into two groups: business majors, relatively normal kids who were studying business because they'd already realized that this was their surest path to get an actual job after college, which would give them some chance at paying off their student loans sometime before their first grandchild was born, and Business Majors, people who never attended a single student function unless it was good for their resume, people who ran for student government primarily for the opportunities it afforded them to hobnob and network with the students who were likely to be successful post-college, people who sat through the few English classes they had to take with a definite air that their time was being wasted. Though I never took a writing class with any of these Business Majors, I can imagine that they were bored and fidgety through these classes, too, except for the unit in the textbooks which dealt with business communication, at which point they sprang to attention and showed signs of actual life, and an attitude bordering on a sort of enthusiasm (Business Enthusiasm, of course).

Which is why I found this so terribly amusing (hat tip to the Curt Jester for the link).

Full disclosure: I've never read an Ayn Rand novel, and probably never will. Certainly I'm not tempted to read Atlas Shrugged, which is about 1200 pages long and would thus cost me somewhere between six and ten hours of my life;
Dostoevsky was worth it; Rand--probably not. What little I know of Atlas Shrugged agrees with the opinions I've heard expressed by fellow bibliophiles, which is that it's more ponderous philosophical treatise disguised as novel than it is novel, with wooden and uninteresting characters, lecture-like dialog, and lengthy philosophical dissertations wrapped loosely up in a slightly ridiculous plot.

Obviously, I wouldn't review a book I've never read, but as the New York Times article above points out, so many of the people who sincerely love this novel seem to be former Business Majors, people whose whole philosophy of life is based on the notion that economics are more important than anything, and capitalism more salvific than any religion could ever be. Especially interesting to me is their wholehearted acceptance and approval of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, which among other things includes the notion "
that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or 'rational self-interest...'" In other words, Objectivism is a philosophical excuse for selfishness, greed, and the rejection of every virtue which is ordered away from the Self and toward the Other. Rand's characters express this in their cold-hearted adultery which is as contemptuous toward the object of their infidelity as it is to their spouses; apparently, this notion was not merely an abstract one, as some of the details of Rand's life demonstrate.

In most of literature, the characters strive to become greater than they are; they may succeed spectacularly, like Elizabeth Bennet; they may fail miserably, like Hamlet; but in either case, they must acknowledge some measure of greatness outside of themselves worth striving toward, some standard of excellence that is higher and more noble than that directed by their own self-interest, some pursuit that is worth the endeavor whether it pays in coins, in kisses, or not at all. Objectivism seems to me to be Business Philosophy, where the growth of the bottom line and one's own desire for success are the sole and exclusive instruments by which one is measured; there is no room in such a philosophy for heroism, selflessness, loyalty, or grace.

This view of life is ultimately very circumscribed, and very false.

1 comment:

Jennifer F. said...

Another excellent post. I just love your writing!