Ayn Rand devotees hug over 'Atlas Shrugged'
On the 50th anniversary of the publishing of Rand's seminal book, followers date using a website where romance is pursued selfishly and productively.
Ayn Rand might seem an unlikely matchmaker. In a 1964 Playboy interview, she famously said that a man who places friends and family above "productive work" is immoral, an "emotional parasite."Skip to next paragraph
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Yet as "Atlas Shrugged" turns 50 this week, Rand's iconic intellect presides over The Atlasphere (www.theatlasphere.com) – a dating, networking, and news website that has connected her admirers since 2003.
In many ways, of course, it's no different from the mix of pragmatism and love that tugs members of any group – Christians, Jews, ardent vegans, or home-schoolers – toward one another in their choice of mates. But to some – at least those who don't adhere to Objectivism, Rand's philosophy of rational self-interest as man's highest pursuit – her name evokes more cold capitalistic greed than candlelight dinners. On a 1999 commemorative stamp, Rand's features are sharp, her face a cold shade of moonlight, as she peers out from behind a skyscraper.
For Joshua Zader, The Atlasphere's founder, the notion of Rand-inspired love makes perfect sense. "At a certain point in my 20s," he says, "I realized I had met all my closest friends through Rand club meetings, conferences, or book signings." He later met his wife that way, too.
Critics call Rand's work shrill, arrogant, dogmatic, and godless. And while her fans – from former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey – talk about being inspired by her work, they don't necessarily use it as a dating manual.
That wasn't Francisco Villalobos's intention either. Rereading "Atlas Shrugged" in college, he loved the respect that Rand's industrialists and entrepreneurs show one another. "That was something very foreign to me in the neighborhood where I grew up," says Mr. Villalobos, referring to the Cypress Hills area of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Now, after two years on The Atlasphere, he's contacted well over 35 women. A trained philosopher, he's hoped for someone "who would want to talk about ideas and wouldn't get defensive in the process." With an Atlasphere mate, he figures, "I wouldn't have to go through the awkward phase of why I'm so passionate about Rand." But, so far, nothing. For now, Villalobos is pinning his hopes more on The Atlasphere's columnists than its calling cards.
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There's a popular game among Objectivists – Concepts in a Hat. Participants write philosophical terms on scraps of paper and drop them into a bowl, draw two or more at random, and explain the connections. The mood can be typical of Objectivist clubs and meetings, says Mr. Zader – impersonal and esoteric in a way "that isn't exactly a chick magnet."
The Atlasphere hasn't overcome the gender gap: Among its nearly 7,000 dating profiles, the ratio of male to female members is about 3.5 to 1. But Zader welcomes women who are tired of hairsplitting battles. For Charlotte Jarrett, an English major at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., the virtual tête-à-têtes have brought a kindred spirit to light. One lazy evening last summer, browsing Atlasphere profiles, she discovered an Atlanta man who soon became a close friend. "So often," she says, "we'll come to each other with something we realized while cooking dinner and want to share it, or a heavy question about life or love or work."
Like Ms. Jarrett, many of Rand's most fervent devotees discover her work in late adolescence or early adulthood. Michael Dickey first heard a recording of "Atlas Shrugged" in his early 20s. Nearly a decade later, he still listens to those 50-some double-sided cassettes every year.