This is an odd one. I haven’t seen it linked in any of the other blogs – it’s possible I just haven’t been paying attention to the right places though – but I found it when researching something.
(That is, entering random Bioshock related phrases into google.)
Basically, Andrew Russel, an objectivist gentleman drops Mr Levine an e-mail. And Mr Levine replies, and talks candidly about his beliefs regarding objectivism and world politics and hints at his intentions with Bioshock. And then Andrew posts the replies to the objectivist forums he frequents. To briefly set the stage – and it’s worth doing so, as in the UK, Objectivism and Ayn Rand are a lot less known than they are in the States – Bioshock’s setting of the isolated city of genius founded by one Andrew Ryan is clearly a riff off Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and not necessarily a complimentary one. You may have seen Objectvists turn up in some Bioshock comments threads, voicing concerns (at best) and voicing anger (at worst).
As Andrew puts it…
What I am hoping is that BioShock treats the theory of individualism with proper respect. It would be very disheartening if BioShock were to equate individualism with an endless desire to prove oneself superior to others (this being a form of conformist parasitism Rand referred to as Second-Handing), free-market capitalism with making profit as an end-in-itself, or advocate the fallacious notion that laissez-faire is a zero-sum game. As you are obviously aware, Objectivism is often assumed to be wrong, evil, or an engine of societal collapse and disintegration, regardless of the historical evidence in favor of many Objectivist-approved principles.
Ken replies at length, but a couple of bits stick out. Firstly answering Andrew’s questions regarding Shock 2…
If I had to choose between SHODAN and the Many, I’d take SHODAN any day. I think the most appealing part of Rand to me is the celebration of the self and her daring challenge to altruism. Talk about swimming upstream in a Judeo-Christian society. But SHODAN (and perhaps Ryan, but I’m not gonna talk too much about BioShock story just yet) doesn’t honor or respect greatness in others. And she needs others to recognize her glory. These seem to be two pretty large sins in Rand land. SHODAN also believes in violence in cases where she is not threatened with violence. Rand would hand this a thumbs down too.
Also, equally relevantly to Bioshock…
It’s when she abandons logic for slavish and unquestioning adherence to ideology is when I remember why Galt was a fictional character and Ayn Rand was flesh and blood. But as I witness the rise of the state and in the last five years in my country, and the burgeoning of fundamentalism both here and abroad, I become more and more of an objectivist: invidual liberties, govt. staying out of business and religion, and non-interventionist. Which, quite perversely, has become much more of the position of the left. These changes have given me the impression that it’s not any philosophy that’s the danger. It’s the extremes. The Stalins, the Bin Ladens, the neocons, the theocons, the Leninites, the Maoists. What have they ever really offered anyone of value? Is there a Galt among there number? Is there even an Andrew Ryan?
When I first heard about Bioshock, I presumed it was going to be a particularly hard satire on Rand (Which would be fine with me, though would clearly annoy Objectivists). Without going too far into spoilers yet, it’s really not – and, in fact, the people who it targets are very much ones Rand would equally have contempt for.
It’s also worth stressing that Bioshock does have awesome shooting too.