I once caught the end of an NPR interview in which the speaker commented that the news is no longer broadcasted, but is instead narrowcasted. He explained that news’ sites, shows and programs do not offer a breadth of stories and perspectives that is representative of the world in which we live, that their content is narrowed to reflect the ideas, leanings and priorities of a particular set of hosts and listeners.
While this interviewee certainly wasn’t the first person to claim that the media is biased, I hadn’t heard the broadcast/narrowcast turn-of-phrase before, and his word-choice struck a chord with me. I can’t remember the name of the interviewee or the interviewer, let alone the broader topic of their conversation, but this idea grabbed my attention because I see it at play within my life.
It concerns me that, like a particular channel or anchor, I narrowcast the input of stories — and therefore, the output of opinions, ideas and beliefs — within my life. For work and leisure, I read and listen to not only a certain type of news and theology (read: liberal), but literature and even fluff (i.e. lifestyle blogs) as well. I typically don’t expose myself to content with which I fundamentally disagree.
Noticing this inclination, I decided to make a concerted effort to read one book (starting small and not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good!) this summer that is off my usual beaten path. I chose Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, because it’s one of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s favorite books, and Ryan isn’t the first person I’d ordinarily go to for reading recommendations. Additionally, Ayn Rand is one of those names that comes up again and again, and I like the idea of being well-rounded and able to understand references made to her work.
A few observations about Rand and Atlas Shrugged:
It’s a good thing I borrowed Atlas Shrugged on my kindle, because I probably wouldn’t have persisted in cracking it open if I had known that it is 1,168 pages.
It was really hard to get through the first half of the novel, but starting at about 60% on my kindle progress report, I found myself actually enjoying the book. There is something to be said for a riveting plot line and likable-ish characters.
Rand does not convince me that laissez faire capitalism is the golden ideal, mostly because I can’t get behind the premise that “good people” will rise to the top if they work hard enough. In a culture plagued by systemic racism, sexism and xenophobia, I don’t subscribe to the myth of meritocracy. But by offering me a glimpse of the world through the lens of a laissez faire capitalist, Rand does help me to understand why so many politically conservative individuals feel the way they feel (and disdain public assistance programs and government imposed business regulations).
I think it comes down to whom a person is willing to extend the benefit of the doubt.
Rand (and her type) gives the benefit of the doubt to the capitalists, assuming that work ethic and integrity enable them to make profit; therefore, they should be able to enjoy the full fruits of their labor. I give the benefit of the doubt to all the men and women whom I believe are at their core as capable and intelligent as the capitalist, but through the harsh cycles of poverty and oppression, have not been granted the opportunities and privileges to rise and thrive. Ultimately, we’re going to “side with” the people to whom we give the benefit of the doubt, and support policies and laws that support them. For Rand, this is the capitalist; for me, this is the vulnerable.
In short, Atlas Shrugged wasn’t the total chore to read that I thought it might be, and it did broaden my perspective (which is what I hoped it would do; I didn’t expect conversion). I also found some common ground with Rand, which came as a surprise to me. We both distrust the “men is Washington” (her chosen delineation for politicians) who make the decisions and laws that impact both the individuals benefitting from capitalism, and those benefitting from public assistance. I’m not rushing to borrow Fountainhead but I’m glad I challenged myself to step outside my ordinary reading zone and try something new.
Other Books That I Read This Summer
Sisterland: A Novel, Curtis Sittenfeld
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
The Book that Matters Most, Ann Hood
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain
The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy
Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
Up a Road Slowly, Irene Hunt