Let me get one thing out of the way: I have never read Ayn Rand. In fact, until recently I was one of those uneducated boors who thought the author's first name was pronounced Ann. A few of her readers have corrected me over the years, but for some reason, I assumed they were joking which is also what I assumed when they told me they'd just read a great book about government intervention in the railroad industry. (That book is now a movie, Atlas Shrugged: Part I, opening Friday, April 15, in the U.S.)
But then my editor asked me to look into the dating website the Atlasphere, on which Randians can search for their soul mate among fellow objectivists. I didn't have time to read all 1,200 pages of Atlas Shrugged or even the 680-page The Fountainhead beforehand, so I did what any self-respecting journalist would do: I called up a friend. "Quick, can you explain Ayn Rand's personal philosophy to me in one sentence?" I asked Fahad Siadat, a professional musician who'd just finished reading Atlas Shrugged. I know this because he'd cornered me at a dinner party and told me all about it. Which is what people tend to do when they've just discovered Ayn Rand.
"O.K., it's like this," Siadat said. "According to Rand, it's your moral obligation to manifest in the world the best that you have in yourself. In other words, do whatever it is that makes you great." That greatness has nothing to do with public opinion of you. "Think of Kanye West," he said. "He's a total douche bag, but he writes good music. According to Rand, that's what counts."
And isn't everyone who follows Rand supposed to be selfish? "They are selfish," Siadat said. "To become the best, you have to do what's right for you, not someone else."
That doesn't sound like the conventional makings of a solid relationship. Maybe these people really do need their own dating site.
There are about 12,700 dating profiles on the Atlasphere, which Joshua Zader, 37, founded in 2003 after attending a few Rand-related conferences. "I realized that all the single people were using the conferences to search for another Ayn Rand fan they could fall in love with," says Zader, who modeled the site after Match.com's pay-to-view profile system. But the Atlasphere also functions as a social network (with some 22,000 nondating profiles) in which members can contribute essays and articles.
I asked Zader how someone who espouses a me-first philosophy can also maintain a loving relationship. "Ayn Rand has a great quote in The Fountainhead," he told me. "She writes that a person cannot say 'I love you' without first being able to say the I."
So what exactly is a nice, selfish Randian looking for in a relationship? I signed on to the website to see for myself. Here is a composite profile using real answers from Atlasphere users.
I am my own standard of value.
I believe in self-esteem, integrity and self-improvement.
I do not have tolerance for the weak and pitiful.
I love America and its capitalist views.
I was born to an upper-class family.
I am perfect just the way I am.
I don't like Russia at all.
I have creepily long toes.
Sense of purpose.
Well, if we are going to be completely honest, I would say my boobs.
*One brave objectivist made this very unobjectivist admission: "I am currently another victim of the economy and looking for work."
Favorite work of art:
Buildings represent what is possible of men.
Standing around looking at paintings doesn't do it for me.
The sound track to Vanilla Sky.
Looking to meet:
A libertarian gal who has a good attitude.
An egoist bastard with a loving heart.
A man who can stand alone against a tide of opposition.
An independent, rational, logical, ambitious, selfish, productive [woman who is] proud of her moral character [and] values maintaining physical attractiveness.
If I could "do lunch" with anyone, I'd choose:
*Rand is the overwhelming favorite among Atlasphere users, except for one person who picked George Carlin.
We'd go watch the new Atlas Shrugged movie.
If these responses set your heart afire, you can join the Atlasphere for $29.85 (which buys you a three-month subscription). Or, for a cheaper, more old-fashioned alternative, you just might find plenty of objectivists looking for love at the movies this weekend.