XKCD is usually pretty cute, but this morning the author chose to poke fun at Objectivists. The title of the strip today is “Sheeple” and it features five people in a subway car all thinking, “Look at these people. Glassy-eyed automatons going about their daily lives, never stopping to look around and think! I’m the only conscious human in a world of sheep.” But when you mouse over the image, the alt text says, “Hey, what are the odds — five Ayn Rand fans on the same train! Must be going to a convention.”
Other Objectivists have expressed some reserved bemusement over the jab. One of my Facebook friends remarked, “Uh…did the xkcd author see us at OCON in Boston? Not a very favorable statement about Objectivists, though. ”
Humor is all about the metaphysically insignificant. It’s about things that really just don’t matter. If something is actually holy or sacred, you don’t make jokes about it.
I made a joke recently about Ayn Rand. I was with a bunch of Objectivists at dinner and someone, I think Diana, made a sarcastic comment about Ayn Rand hating children and I said, “I believe she actually ate babies.” This garnered laughs around the table.
I think Ayn Rand was a genius. She her accomplishments are nothing short of pure genius. To say that I regard her as a hero or a saint (a saint insofar as an atheist can regard anyone as a saint) seems like an understatement to me.
But I made a joke about her.
Now, Ayn Rand never held any hostile feelings toward children. She opted not to have children, but didn’t have any particular regard for parents. Having children is a purely optional value to her. And yet a great number of people accuse Ayn Rand of being everything from being a dour, children-hating moralist to being an outright fascist. In spite of the fact that there isn’t a single statement by Ayn Rand which supporting these accusations, people just keep saying it.
That’s what makes my joke funny. It’s completely and utterly untrue. In reality, my joke was about the people who say these false things about Ayn Rand — but would you know that if you didn’t know that I’m an Objectivist speaking to other Objectivists?
This XKCD comic could be seen in the same way, though, the lack of clear indicators direction one’s thoughts toward Objectivists (The people on the train might simply be fans of The Matrix.) and the fact that the author of XKCD has given absolutely no indication that he’s an Objectivist nor that his strip is directed toward Objectivists… well, there simply isn’t any indication that this comment is a cast-off joke made by someone in the know. No, this comment has all the markings of someone who is truly snarking at Objectivists.
But it’s so damn stupid. I mean, Objectivists don’t think that way. There isn’t a single character in an Ayn Rand novel who is shown thinking, speaking, or behaving in a way that implies that they are the “only conscious human in a world of sheep.” In fact, an examination of characters in Rand novels shows that the source of a great number of their problems seems to be an unwarranted extension of the benefit of the doubt toward people who really are unthinking sheep. So, if this is a caricature of Objectivists shouldn’t they be giggling, wild-eyed optimists?
Sadly, I think this joke is mean-spirited. This is disappointing because XKCD comics are usually pretty cute, thought-provoking, and even insightful.