Thursday, March 3, 2011

Was Ayn Rand a Drug Addict?

In addition to her indisputable addiction to nicotine (she was a chain smoker) there’s no question that Ayn Rand was a habitual consumer of amphetamines starting in 1942, when she was prescribed Benzedrine for weight loss (a common medical practice in that era) and discovered that it gave her the energy to put in the long hours needed to finish the first of her two major novels, The Fountainhead. Rand liked the boost that “speed” gave her, and from that time until at least 1972 – a period of 30 years – she continued to use amphetamines, moving on to Dexedrine and Dexamyl.

Rand’s admirers have always insisted that their hero and intellectual mentor was not a drug addict. In the first place, they say, the drugs she took were prescribed. True enough – but prescription drugs can be as addictive as anything sold in back alleys.

Second, they claim her use of amphetamines was very limited. A biographical FAQ published by the Objectivism Reference Center states: “She took two pills per day until the early 1970s, when another doctor told her to stop taking them. If you refer to any and all amphetamines as ‘speed,’ then she did take ‘speed,’ although it is probably not accurate to say she was addicted to it. She certainly did not take the street drugs to which the term ‘speed’ is more commonly applied.”

Evidence from more impartial sources, however, indicates that at times Rand used amphetamines heavily – at least heavily enough to cause her friends to be deeply concerned. One of them, the journalist Isabel Patterson, wrote to her: “Stop taking that Benzedrine, you idiot. I don't care what excuse you have – stop it.”

Certainly symptoms of amphetamine addiction – irritability, mood swings, paranoia – showed up in Rand’s personal relationships, especially later in her life. The members of the cult-like inner circle she assembled around her in New York were terrified of the fierce, bitingly cruel attacks she would unleash against any of them who disagreed with her. Even her devoted husband Frank O’Connor would sometimes be the target of her scorn.

Rand claimed to value rationality above all else, and to live by the principles laid down in her novels. “I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books — and it has worked for me, as it works for my characters,” she wrote in the afterword to Atlas Shrugged. And she violently denounced drug use by others, writing in one essay that “it is so obscene an evil that any doubt about the moral character of its practitioners is itself an obscenity.”

It’s profoundly ironic that someone with Rand’s (claimed) principles would herself become a drug addict. But self-delusion was one of Rand’s defining traits. As Charles Murray wrote in 2010 in the Claremont Review of Books: “Rand … faked reality throughout her life, beginning in small ways and ending with the construction of a delusional alternative reality that took over her life.”

Was Ayn Rand a drug addict? I believe the evidence shows conclusively that the answer is yes. Does that, in itself, invalidate her philosophy? Of course not. But it does make it legitimate to ask whether her philosophy – or Rand herself – was as purely rational as her followers believe.

19 comments:

  1. Drug or alcohol addiction is practically nothing but an intensive craving and after longer duration it turns into compulsive disorder and individuals even face devastating outcomes. Florida addiction interventions

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    1. The kind of drugs that Rand is reported to have taken are not addictive. They do not create a dependency, the way opiates do.

      To the best of my knowledge Rand was not someone who thought that these kinds of drugs should be federally regulated. Still if she was taking and abusing these drugs it is a testament to her genius that she managed to turn out literature that even not a great read, still makes people think about things in ways they never did before.

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  3. Makes you wonder about republicans and other followers like HITLER for one, but never mind it's all starting to make sense. Speed kills and makes us heartless ex speed addict.Mindless Republicans must serve somebody or some philosophy but not all of them though.

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  4. Not surprising, then, that many of her followers are 'fakers' as well.
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  7. Um, yeah. That stuff sorta looks like a mixture of spam, blended with real-ish comments, possibly written by robots programmed to write spam on blogs. Oh well. I read Rand in my late teens/early twenties after my brother gave me her books.

    I'm researching the 16 personality types as described in Socionics (I use socionics Model B with the plus and minus signs, and also other personality typing systems, like the MBTI), and I'm wondering about 'forgiving errors of knowledge but not errors of morality,' as Ayn Rand said. Don't worry, you won't be able to answer this for me as you aren't an expert on this topic, but I'm wondering which information element that represents.

    Millions of people have tried to figure out Rand's personality type, and the most recent one that I saw, in a socionics forum, was ENTJ (LIE in socionics). I'm not sure if I agree with that or not. I kind of considered that type for her too. I also think Nathaniel Branden was an ISFJ (ESI in socionics), but other people in that forum typed him as ENFJ (EIE). I've read all his books, and they're all about sensing, having an awareness of your body, going after your own wants and needs, something an ENFJ wouldn't say. My own type is ISTP/SLI, and I wouldn't have been able to read books written by an ENFJ/EIE because that is my socionic conflictor - it would have caused constant strain on all my weaknesses - so I'm sure Branden wasn't an ENFJ/EIE. I eagerly bought all of his books and I pulled out the bits of information that I could use for myself.

    I've also been aware for a long time that Ayn Rand used drugs, and it's nice to find an article saying exactly which drugs she used, how much, and how other people felt about the drugs. I believe they made her extremely verbose, and I know from my own experience that caffeine pills, combined with an herbal antidepressant (St. John's Wort), cause me to become more verbose and more organized in my writing, but also more obsessive and irritable. Ayn Rand's' books were very long and very verbose. Without drugs, the books would have been short, terse, and less organized.

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    1. She was just another addict. That does not take away from her body of work. And yes, that's why she was verbose - speed (that's what it was, regardless) makes you that way, grandiose and over the top, before you slither into paranoia and inability to sleep. And you lie, lie, lie... causes heart disorders, such as irregular heartbeat, and can kill you. You live in an ocean called Denial...of being an addict...

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  8. (second half of my comment, which was too long)
    Without drugs, people are at peace and relaxed. They must accept their own handicaps and they must accept their own failures, including a failure to achieve greatness or create anything amazing that will go down in history. If you can accept mediocrity, if social greatness and going down in history isn't the source of your self-esteem, then you can live without drugs and the extra abilities that they give to your brain.

    I myself am using these over the counter drugs because I have chronic fatigue syndrome. It would be very hard for me to get up and go to work every day, and I would have to work so few hours, and only in the evening, and would therefore not be able to pay any of my bills. I'm still working on a solution to this problem - find an alternative lifestyle, live in an RV (recreational vehicle, trailer) so I don't have to pay rent, live in an intentional community, something, some alternative where I can live without drugging myself up with caffeine and changing my personality.

    The few times that I have quit caffeine, I've noticed a *profound* change in my personality. Time slows down. I begin to think more deeply. I can use my intuition more. I tolerate music that normally I can't stand. (Note, I live in a world where I absolutely hate almost all music. I want to write my own because no one else is writing what I want.) I become friendlier and gentler to people, and I become able to listen to what other people are saying, and can actually take it in, and understand it, whereas with caffeine, I cannot listen to anybody else without interrupting them and cutting them off. I believe in 'being myself,' in principle, which means accepting my own handicaps and weaknesses and not using drugs to enhance or increase my powers. I used to describe drugs as a form of 'cheating.' Nowadays, I'm not sure how to define it, but I still believe in being drug-free, because even caffeine has side effects - it depletes minerals from your body, which weakens the bones and the teeth, for instance. Oh, there are so many reasons to quit, and I wish that I could. I'm still looking for a way.

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    Nicole

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    2. You might try Christian Science. It has helped people to be drug free. The website has good articles. JSH-online. This is NOT scientology, but an actual, Christian religion.

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