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.
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Mr. Dickey has hobbies – a lot of them. In addition to a full-time job, he does 3-D rendering and animation, is building a motorcycle, and studies existential risks and the construction of space colonies. A lot of women, he says, "would want me to not do the things I'm doing – they'd want me to go pick apples or something like that." He's searching for someone so passionate about her own goals that she'll tolerate his, too.Skip to next paragraph
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Record producer John Brandt, like Dickey, is angling for a productive woman. His studio in Belleville, Mich., is a long way from Rand's Manhattan: On the corner, Ted's Deer Processing looks to be an at-home enterprise; a plastic sign nearby promises turkey shoots on Sundays. Across the street, neighbors have strung yellow caution tape around their Halloween crèche: a skeleton emerges from a wood coffin, a hand claws its way out of the ground, and a torso dangles from a low-hanging tree.
Inside the studio, in a preternatural quiet, Mr. Brandt says, "There's nothing more attractive ... than someone creative or productive." Although the bluejeaned Brandt has lived in Athens, Paris, Dallas, Kansas, Montana, and Nashville, he's still looking for his first truly productive girlfriend. So far, she's not on The Atlasphere, but he'll keep subscribing – if only for the articles.
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Objectively, the question arises: How did all this searching for a soul mate spring from a woman obsessed with the "I"? "Rand was famous for believing in the virtue of selfishness," says David Kelley, founder of The Atlas Society in Washington, D.C. "She meant living for your own highest potentiality and pursuit of long-term happiness." While few authors have become posthumous Cupids, Mr. Kelley says Rand is simply not like anyone else. " 'Atlas Shrugged,' however arresting a piece of literary work, also presents a philosophy, a view of ... what love means and why we need love as individuals."
For women, that need can be especially complicated. Rand saw the essence of femininity as a longing to look up to men – and went so far as to say that to be president would be "psychological torture" for a woman, and any woman who would covet the job must be too irrational to deserve it.
Yet in perusing The Atlasphere profiles, the confidence these women show – and seek – stands out. "We probably have more women than normal who say things like, 'I need a man who won't be intimidated,' " says Zader.
That gender equality certainly appeals to Annie Gilman, a graduate student at the California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. She sees relationships, in their simplest form, as "business transactions." "You have to have something to offer to somebody in a free market," she says.
Maybe Internet dating is courtship's free market. Villalobos suspects that Rand would delight in its entrepreneurialism: "In effect, she has spawned a virtual Galt's Gulch."
Galt's Gulch, the valley retreat of the chosen few in "Atlas Shrugged," is an Objectivist's utopia – full of industrious, virtuous people, working happily (and tax free). "She is very good at evoking the feeling that 'This is an exciting world and if you agree with my vision, you're a wonderful person and let's do work together,' " says Zader.
Let's do work together. It might be an epigraph for The Atlasphere, where productivity is integral to love. Rand and her characters "take love, romance, and sex seriously," says Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow at The Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. "Love is selfish and it is to be pursued selfishly."
Randophiles may soon have more to bond over. A long-delayed film of "Atlas Shrugged" is now in production, with Angelina Jolie as Dagny Taggart. Speculation has it that Brad Pitt will play John Galt or Hank Reardon. Rationality may be man's highest virtue, but in Hollywood, as in Rand's work, beauty doesn't hurt.