By Clare Brennan.
It has spread. According to R.T,E. (that’s the Irish state broadcaster) the craziness that engulfs American department stores on the Friday before the Thanksgiving weekend has reached Belfast. ( “Chaotic scenes also erupted at a number of other ASDA outlets across the region”) Why is that so many apparently decent people are converted into monsters by the thought that they might be able to get some consumer bauble a bit cheaper? Is it really because their budgets are that tight? I don’t believe it for a second. Those fighting in the shops are not the poor. They are the greedy. They are those who been driven wild, yes, as wild the animals in the zoo, by the belief that their own immediate interests are paramount and that nothing, and no one, may stand in their way for second.
Evil is deep in human nature. Never before though have so many revelled so shamelessly in the slime of their own greed. The scenes of fighting in the aisles of department stores which are reported from all parts of The United States are beyond belief. But how, and above all from whom have so many contracted this mania which converts them into the monsters we read about? I blame the ugly figure of Ayn Rand and her deluded supporters who have trumpeted “the virtue of selfishness.”- to quote the title of one of her books.
This deplorable character who has done so damage to the cause of economic freedom, believed that the institutions of freedom could only be justified on the grounds of selfishness. In fact, of course, we need the market because it, and only it, can make rational economic choices possible. But by talking in the way that she did, and in implicitly justifying the disgraceful behaviour that we have recently seen, Rand surrendered this practical case for the market and subverted its moral credibility.
Just as the deluded left has allowed its jealousy to undermine any semblance of prudence in its thought; so the libertarian right has allowed the mania for selfishness to erode its attachment to reality. By shouting about the virtue of selfishness, the “evil” of altruism, and despising charity, the objectivists and their libertarian friends have simply reinforced the doubts that many good people have about untrammelled economic freedom, and the sort of society it is likely to bring about. These doubts are misplaced. But the defenders of selfishness and greed will never be able to do anything substantial to answer them.
Black Friday is then the day that the ideals of Ayn Rand came to Belfast It is not a pretty spectacle. But if it reminds us that selfishness is not a virtue, but a virus which can send us mad, it will not have been a wasted day.