Ayn Rand’s ideas, capitalism trigger heated Firestorm debate
The Daily Planet | 16 April 2009
In response to a $1 million donation by BB&T to Western Carolina University, tied to demands that included the addition of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” to WCU’s required reading list, several people at Firestorm Café in downtown Asheville recently held a two-night showing of a documentary on Ayn Rand titled “A Sense of Life.”
Each screening was followed by a discussion — sometimes heated — of Rand, her ideas and the possible flaws of capitalism.
Liberty Asheville member Tim Peck said he learned in advance of the program and convinced several backers of Rand’s ideas in particular, and free enterprise in general, to attend and offer a defense.
The screening, split over Jan. 12-13, was followed each night by group discussions.
More than 30 people attended on the first night, during which the Daily Planet was the only newspaper represented. The paper did not cover the second night, which reportedly involved a more subdued discussion and drew a smaller turnout.
Discussion participants did not identify themselves, but one man said of Rand, “I think she was kind of naive. She had a sort of idealism. She saw things in black and white.”
A young woman added that she had “a big issue with a sophomoric idealist. I’m pretty outraged” that Rand’s ideas are being made required reading at WCU through the corporate clout of BB&T. She added that, in her view, “Capitalism revolves around exploitation.”
In response, Peck said that “none of your characterizations of capitalism are correct.” He said he sees laissez-faire capitalism as the political-economic social system of freedom.
On the second night, a Firestorm worker explained that BB&T worked out a compromise with WCU, wherein it agreed to drop requirements that a professor of capitalism be hired, that capitalism only be mentioned in a positive light and that “Atlas Shrugged” be required reading.
Halfway through the Jan. 12 discussion, the Planet representative was threatened with bodily harm by one unidentified attendee if he continued to shoot photos.
Later, some Firestorm “Collective” members demanded that the Planet’s photos be surrendered, but the Planet reporter refused and the meeting continued. A few weeks later, Firestorm sent the Planet a letter of apology for not responding to the threat, but that permission be sought to cover its future meetings.