Chris Kluwe is a punter for the Oakland Raiders. When I was a kid, I was fascinated by punters because their kicking legs went up so high. You’ve got to be flexible to do that kind of thing. And in a game as unrelentingly boring as football, the punters and kickers are kind of cool. But I had never heard of Kluwe until yesterday when I read an article he had written for Salon, Here’s What’s Wrong With Ayn Rand, Libertarians.
He read Atlas Shrugged and determined what was wrong with John Galt: he lacks what Kluwe calls “rational empathy.” What he means by this is basically the Golden Rule. And that is not a form of empathy. One doesn’t have to agree with another or think that one might find himself in the same situation to empathize with that person. Kluwe accepts Ayn Rand’s philosophical framing: I’ll help you because it helps me and for no other reason. He just wants to soften the rough edges of her philosophy. The problem is that he’s attacking a caricature of that philosophy. Objectivism is really no more cruel than the philosophy that Kluwe has on offer.
There is so much to criticize about Ayn Rand. Corey Robin has long been very insightful about her melodramatic approach to life, as in Garbage and Gravitas. Or if you prefer something less intellectual, there’s Kevin Drum’s question about the timing of Atlas Shrugged. Or there is my own discussion of Ayn Rand as the racist she was, Ayn Rand and Indians. But Kluwe just bites around the edges of Rand as if he pretty much agrees with her. He even repeats a tired conservative canard about the “welfare collectors who churn out babies because it means another weekly check to buy shoes or purses.” Why doesn’t he come right out and say what he means: the welfare queen in a Cadillac.
None of this really mattered as I read the article. Kluwe is not a public intellectual and he was at least grappling with ideas that very few people do. Then I got to the end of article where it said, “Excerpted from the book Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies by Chris Kluwe.” This is a big complaint of mine. Kluwe made $1.6 million just from playing football last year. Does he really need to publish a book in an already crowded industry? This is what I wrote about Stephen Colbert:
But in Colbert’s case, he can actually write. Kluwe’s writing, despite all the editorial help he undoubtedly received, is weak. It’s awkward. He repeats himself in an almost random way that reeks of a first draft. Yet the book is a best seller—not because it is a good book but because Kluwe is a star in the NFL. This is yet another reason we have The Winner-Take-All Society: because success in one field guarantees it in all others. We can only hope that Kluwe doesn’t get it into his head to start a band and direct movies. But if he does, I assure you they will be hugely popular.
Am I jealous of Kluwe? Of course! It is entirely unfair that such a literary and intellectual mediocrity gets to write for Salon. There is no way this SubGenius would be published there or anywhere else except that he apparently can punt a football with great skill. It is an offense to all serious writers—good and poor.