The Philosophy Behind Bioshock - Apozem Blog - www.GameInformer.com
Switch Lights

The lights are on

What's Happening

The Philosophy Behind Bioshock

One common phrase that basically everybody from Ken Levine to GI used in their coverage of Bioshock was “Ayn Rand.” Rapture was designed and directly inspired by an Ayn Rand, whatever the hell that was. That piqued my curiosity. Who was Ayn Rand, and what person or thing or whatever could have inspired the insanity that was Rapture? Andrew Ryan was actually based off of something in real life?

The only logical thing to do was to visit the font of all knowledge, Wikipedia. The results of my “research” were interesting, to say the least. Let's just say that after learning the nature of Ayn Rand, I'm not surprised that Rapture collapsed so brutally. The sharp ideology and arrogance that ran through Rapture's veins was not just the invention of Andrew Ryan- that dubious honor belongs to the one and only Ayn Rand.

This is Ayn Rand, originally Alisa Rosenbaum. She was born in Russia and grew up right in time for the 1917 Communist takeover that created the Soviet Union. Although she hated communism, Alisa did absorb the twin Soviet beliefs of atheism and disdain for all forms of religion or faith. After college she started writing under the name Ayn Rand and moved to America. She worked as a screenwriter for a while, but it was her book that really made her famous.

In 1957, she published Atlas Shrugged, the one novel that would encompass all of her beliefs, her masterpiece. The book centered on a fictional scenario where the the best philosophers, scientists, artists, and businessmen from around the world vanish. They abandon society and go into the mountains to form their own independent economy, composed entirely of “great” people. Sound familiar?

Atlas Shrugged is the center of Ayn Rand's philosophy, objectivism. The name comes from her belief that reality is objective, or something ordinary that can be explained by logic. The world simply exists- there is no god or supernatural. She saw objective thinking and not religious belief as the only valid way to live. She also was a great supporter of laissez-faire economics, or the idea that the free market should be completely unrestricted by government interference or rules. Every man should be entitled to the results of his labor without having to give it away to the government or to god. Ayn Rand firmly believed that only the “producers” should survive and that the rest of humanity should either become similarly great or die. She specifically wrote against altruism, the idea of helping others. It's survival of the fittest, only applied to humans.

Objectivism is a weird philosophy because it molds ludicrously extreme conservative and liberal philosophy. It's roughly one part Glenn Beck and one part Anderson Cooper if both of them were strung out on amphetamines. On one hand, Rand takes the idea of a free market to its very extreme. On the other hand, she despises all forms of religion, especially Christianity. It's like she mixed together the worst of conservative and liberal ideology. However, comparisons to our current right-left political system are ultimately useless though because she hated the traditional Republican and Democratic parties. I guess that explains why she was so willing to mix their ideas.

This paragraph is strictly my opinion, but objectivism has one massive problem. Ayn Rand values “great” people, but what defines great? Is there an set standard that decides whether you're special or one of the common scum? That's the issue. There isn't. Great people are only great by comparison to those who are ordinary. There is a Futurama episode where it's revealed that Leonardo Da Vinci is actually an alien and considered an idiot on his home planet. Even though we look to him as a genius, he's stupid when compared to the rest of his brilliant home world. Objectivism doesn't really work because it hates “common” people, and that's just it- you can't be special unless there are people who aren't special. You need ordinary people. Greatness is relative and defined in relation to common people. In a society of all great people where everyone can play the piano like Mozart, musical ability means nothing.

Or in the land of witless morons, Fry is... well, still a witless moron.

But back to factual stuff. Objectivism as a philosophy has been pretty much ignored for the last 50 years, mostly because of its radical and harsh nature. It's hard to support a philosophy that condemns you and the idea of helping others. Some libertarian and extremist groups still believe in Ayn Rand... but even the Tea Party won't go near objectivism, and they're not exactly shining examples of moderation. One notable believer in Rand's ideas is Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve. You know, the bank that's in charge on the entire US economy. He was an avid supporter of de-regulation, a very objectivist idea. He removed as many governmental controls as possible in an effort to let the “free market reign.” That's not necessarily a bad idea, but he may have given Wall Street too much leeway. De-regulation was one of the main causes of the recent financial collapse.

"We're going to give them this much leeway. What's the worst that could happen?"

In case you couldn't tell, I don't like objectivism. In my humble opinion, the Buddhists have it right: moderation in all things is the best course. Objectivism and Ayn Rand's ideas strike me as far too extreme to work in real life. Reality does all sorts of awful things to your ideas. Communism sounds like the best government ever, but it doesn't work because of a simple problem. Rapture is another good example of that same problem, the flaw Rand never addressed: People are sh*theads. They will gladly screw up your underwater city or communist paradise when given the chance because that's just human nature. Philosophies like objectivism and communism just aren't compatible with real people.

If nothing else, Ayn Rand's ideas and objectivism make for interesting reading. What do you think of objectivism, or did I lose you a couple paragraphs back?

comments
    1 2 Next