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Make America Grateful Again: An Antidote to Envy and Entitlement

Make America Grateful Again: An Antidote to Envy and Entitlement

8 Mins
January 17, 2020

Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of Jennifer Grossman's remarks at the Libertarian Party California Convention on February 16, 2020 in Culver City, California.

Thank you so very much for inviting me.  I know the relationship between Objectivists and Libertarians hasn’t always been smooth. Ayn Rand famously called libertarians “the hippies of the right.”  When I first heard that I thought, that doesn’t sound so bad? After all, I grew up in the generation that watched Hair, which kind of glamorized hippies, so to me it sounded like a compliment.

But if my view of hippies is more out of Hair, Ayn Rand’s view of hippies was more out of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, where the hippies looked like Greta Thunberg. To be precise, Ayn Rand said: “The hippies are the living demonstration of what it means to give up reason, and to rely on one's primeval instincts, urges, intuitions, and whims…” That’s a hippie?  Sounds a lot more like President Trump.  

And I say that as a Malibu resident who does not actually hate the president. Or maybe I should say, THE Malibu resident who doesn’t hate the President.  I just got myself checked for various viruses because I was traveling abroad, and I tested negative for TDS.  Which is kind of amazing, because honestly before I left the country I felt like I was a touch coming down with it.  Just a teeny tiny touch. Two weeks out of Malibu and traveling in India will cure you.

Of course, two weeks traveling in India usually has other, less pleasant side effects.

When you travel to India it usually takes about 10 days for the dysentery to run its course. That might be a little TMI, and it was a little rough but honestly, don’t I look amazing?    

I had a great trip, Jaipur, Rambagh Palace, Taj Mahal – and the only question people ask is: "Did you get sick?" Seriously, it’s annoying, so I’ve taken to replying:  "Depends." And the person will say: "Depends on what?" And I respond: "Depends.  Not Just for Urinary Incontinence." That usually shuts the conversation down right there. I wouldn’t recommend saying that on a date, by the way.  Unless, of course, shutting down the conversation is your goal.

Actually I didn’t even get sick at all during this trip to India – it helps to have been born there.  You lose the accent after a few years, and then you’ve got robo-immunity for the rest of your life.  My immune system is robust.  I’m pretty sure the guy I sat next to on the plane had the coronavirus, and I’ve never felt better.  

Unlike Elizabeth Warren.  She’s had a rough week. Also unlike Elizabeth Warren, I did not use my Indian roots to help me get into Harvard. Nope.  I got into Harvard the old fashioned way.  And my parents are still paying off the bribe to the admissions officer. Just kidding. They already paid it off.

Right. What was I talking about?  Right-wing hippies. Which makes me wonder, what exactly is a right-wing hippie?  Somebody who has a bong that looks like a handgun?  That would be cool.  I do not have a gun-shaped bong.  The most right-wing hippie thing I own is a yoga mat emblazoned with the Gadsden Flag.  It’s the classic version, not the “No Step on Snek,” but the traditional grammar and spelling: “Don’t Tread On Me.”

Which is funny, because when you’re doing yoga you’re treading all over your mat, all the time.  The thing is, when you’ve been doing yoga as long as I have you get so blissed out you don’t even care about things like irony anymore.

So I’m pretty mellow after all those years of yoga, and the old Objectivist-Libertarian thing doesn’t bother me.  In fact, I might say I’m grateful for it. Because if it wasn’t for that long ago dogmatic Objectivist objection to even talking to libertarians, I wouldn’t be here with you today. Some of you may remember that it was David Kelley’s talking to libertarians at Laissez-Faire Books that let to his formal excommunication from the ranks of the Objectivist establishment, which led to his founding a little upstart organization called The Atlas Society, which I’m privileged to run today.

So while my Open Objectivist colleagues are all libertarian-friendly, my conservative Republican friends can be quite harsh on libertarians, not just based on sincere policy differences – and that’s okay – but also based on some stereotypes.  Perhaps the most common one is that libertarians are conspiracy theorists. Let’s see if that’s true.  

By applause, how many people here believe that Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide?  OK, and how many people here believe that he was murdered? OK, and how many people here think he was murdered by the Clintons?

I dated Jeffery Epstein, by the way.  One of the three weirdest dudes I ever dated.  I was living in New York, I was 27 – I guess I was a little old for him. On our first date Jeffrey Epstein told me he really, really wanted kids.  I’m so naive, I assumed he was talking about marriage and fatherhood. Who knew? Anyway, we never really clicked, and I stopped returning his call after a couple of dates.  How many times can a guy take you to Chuck E. Cheese’s before it gets weird?  It’s weird to think that a guy I ghosted is now actually –  well, you know.

Speaking of romance, did you have a nice Valentine’s Day?  It can be such a nightmare if you’re single. But remember, no matter how bad your Valentine’s Day was this year, it wasn’t as bad as Harvey Weinstein’s.  Poor fella. Just never met the right girl, I guess.  

Why don’t they make Valentine’s Day cards for real people?  Like one that says on the front, “I Will Always Love You.” And then you open it up and the inscription inside says, “But things have changed.”  Even if you have a significant other, Valentine's Day is always a disappointment.  Did you know that the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929 started because a guy forgot to buy his wife flowers? Valentine’s Day was really horrible for me this year.  I’ve never felt so alone – Well, granted, I was at a Joe Biden rally.  But still…

I’ve had a strange dating history.  My weirdest relationship was when I was dating a cop.  It was exciting at first because I’ve always had a “stop and frisk” fantasy.  And no, I’ve never dated Michael Bloomberg... but he’s always been on my short list.

Bernie’s off to a good start in his quest for the White House, but he still has yet to go toe-to-toe with his richest, most influential, most vicious opponent:  The Democratic National Committee.  Bernie Sanders is among a field of contenders for the Democratic nomination who are competing with each other to see who can offer the most “free” stuff, with increasingly hostile and explicit denunciations of capitalism and those who’ve achieved economic success.  

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders have both said that billionaires should not exist.  Haven’t these people ever heard of the Endangered Species Act? We’re running out of billionaires, folks. And once they’re gone, they’re gone.  

These candidates are keeping a keen eye on demographic trends.  A recent poll found that 70% of those between the ages of 23 and 38 would support a socialist candidate for president, 22% believe “society would be better if all private property was abolished,” and 45% believe that “all higher education should be free.” Of that same group, a whopping 78% said that living in their parents’ basement was “pretty sweet.”

Those on the left are gleeful about such results, fantastically citing them as evidence of the consequences of unfettered capitalism run amuck.  Those on the right, alarmed by such results blame them primarily on historical amnesia. But addressing historical illiteracy is at best part of the answer.  The surging appeal of socialism is less a case of misremembered facts and misrepresented history – than a case of bad values.  A diseased culture.  And as such, we may view some of the candidates cited above less as pandering opportunists than as infected pustules on the face of American politics. That infection, my friends, is an STD – a socially transmitted disease.  It is a disease of ENVY, of VICTIMHOOD, of RESENTMENT, and of GREED, properly understood, as Ayn Rand described it, as the the desire for the unearned.

And the cure – at least in part – is gratitude. So why is gratitude important?  One: It’s kryoptonite to envy. Two: It’s an antidote to victimhood.  And Three: It neutralizes cynicism.

Let’s talk about the first, envy.

Conventionally, the appeal of socialism has been explained in terms of altruism – a self-sacrificing concern for one’s fellows, and the duty to place others before oneself.  Yet new research – by Pew and Cato – digs deeper, confirming what Ayn Rand always knew: envy and misanthropy are just as, if not more, likely to be driving demands for greater government control than a compassionate desire to help others.

Groundbreaking new research by Emily Ekins at the Cato Institute reveals resentment of the successful has about twice the effect of compassion in predicting support for increasing top marginal tax rates, wealth redistribution, hostility to capitalism, and believing billionaires should not exist.

But gratitude is about being thankful for what one has – not coveting what others have.  Professor Robert Emmons, who is perhaps the world’s leading expert on gratitude calls it “first and foremost a way of seeing that alters our gaze.”  And a shift in focus away from the obsession with inequality, and towards an acknowledgment of the incredible gains made in the standard of living for even the poorest Amerians thanks not to socialism but to capitalism, would put the political debate on a far healthier and realistic ground.

As Senator Rand Paul puts it in his excellent book, The Case Against Socialism: “We're all getting richer, but the left is unhappy because some are getting richer faster?  That critique is less a scientific enterprise than an exposé of envy.”

“From bigger houses to more bathrooms to central air-conditioning to high-speed Internet...You name it.  It's almost impossible to find a standard of living measurement that hasn't improved dramatically in the past fifty years.”

“Capitalism...allows workers to buy more stuff for the same amount of hours worked.  No apologies for capitalism necessary – only accolades and amazement.”

And I’d add, gratitude.

Okay, let’s turn to victimhood. Under social justice, victimhood has become a fast track to attention and power. Victims know that when you group people into classes and pit them against each other, a mindset of exploiters and exploited develops. Resentment follows.

Jussie Smollett is one example of someone ruthlessly exploiting social justice to enact a hate-crime hoax, playing the victim apparently for no other reason than self-aggrandizement. His victimhood followed the social justice script: “Turn grief into grievance. Find someone to resent, to blame, and to pay.”

That didn’t work out so well for Jussie. As Olympic skier Alex Ferreira said in a recent interview: “Don’t ever play the victim card. The universe will not play that out for you in that light.”

The best protection against a sense of victimhood is a sense of gratitude.  Even if you truly are a victim – even if your house burns down, or you lose your job, or you suffer one of life’s many setbacks.  The way to claw your way back to a sense of agency, a sense of empowerment, and a sense of optimism, is to focus on what you have, and not what you’ve lost.

Finally, let’s turn to cynicism.  As for the nostrum that support of socialism is simply a result of idealism – of having an overly rosy view of our fellow man – Pew research reveals the opposite to be true:  73% of U.S. adults under 30 believe people “just look out for themselves” most of the time. A similar share (71%) say most people “would try to take advantage of you if they got a chance,” and six-in-ten say most people “can’t be trusted.” And yet this is the same proportion that would trust government bureaucrats in the name of socialism to make wise, fair, and benevolent decisions, backed up by the power to investigate, regulate, confiscate, and imprison.

As Milton Friedman once observed, such thinking takes “a lot of things for granted.  Just tell me where in the world you are going to find the angels who are going to organize society for us?”

Milton Friedman was skeptical, but today’s young socialists are cynical.  And a dose of gratitude would do them good. With gratitude, as Professor Emmons notes, “First, we affirm that there are good things in this world. And second, we realize a source of the goodness is outside ourselves, which allows us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”

Jennifer Grossman, Kathryn & Britany Lindl .jpg

So in that spirit, I want to express my profound gratitude, to the organizers of this convention, to all of you who’ve showed up, and who are working to improve our communities, our cities, our state, and our nation, the United States of America, which despite it struggles remains in the immortal words of Ayn Rand: the greatest, the noblest and, in its original founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world.

Thank you very much.

Jennifer A. Grossman
About the author:
Jennifer A. Grossman

Jennifer Anju Grossman -- JAG-- became the CEO of the Atlas Society in March of 2016. Since then she’s shifted the organization's focus to engage young people with the ideas of Ayn Rand in creative ways. Prior to joining The Atlas Society, she served as Senior Vice President of Dole Food Company, launching the Dole Nutrition Institute — a research and education organization— at the behest of Dole Chairman David H. Murdock. She also served as Director of Education at the Cato Institute, and worked closely with the late philanthropist Theodore J. Forstmann to launch the Children's Scholarship Fund. A speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush, Grossman has written for both national and local publications.  She graduated with honors from Harvard.

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