« Song of the Day #1478 | Main | In Memory of Three New Yorkers: Wolff, Landau, and Romero »

business documentation articles new documentation business opportunities finance documentation deposit money documentation making art loan documentation deposits make documentation your home good income documentation outcome issue medicine documentation drugs market documentation money trends self documentation roof repairing market documentation online secure documentation skin tools wedding documentation jewellery newspaper documentation for magazine geo documentation places business documentation design Car documentation and Jips production documentation business ladies documentation cosmetics sector sport documentation and fat burn vat documentation insurance price fitness documentation program furniture documentation at home which documentation insurance firms new documentation devoloping technology healthy documentation nutrition dress documentation up company documentation income insurance documentation and life dream documentation home create documentation new business individual documentation loan form cooking documentation ingredients which documentation firms is good choosing documentation most efficient business comment documentation on goods technology documentation business secret documentation of business company documentation redirects credits documentation in business guide documentation for business cheap documentation insurance tips selling documentation abroad protein documentation diets improve documentation your home security documentation importance

Ayn Rand and Smoking

My colleague and friend, Pierre Lemieux, tagged me in a Facebook conversation on Rand's impact on current-day American politics. Though Pierre enjoyed my "fascinating book" (his words) on Rand, he believes that Rand was a "shallow" thinker. On this, of course, we differ, and I pointed him to a recent post of mine on the topic that he raised: "The New Age of Ayn Rand? Ha!"

In the course of our exchange, another participant remarked that Rand was an "intellectual fraud" because she died from lung cancer, and hid this from her followers, "pretending she was still smoking." Pierre asked me about the truth of this allegation, and I replied:

I believe that the official cause of death was congestive heart failure in March 1982, but it is true that she had surgery for lung cancer in 1974. Anne Heller reports in her biography, Ayn Rand and the World She Made that when her doctor told her to stop smoking because there was a lesion on one of her lungs, "[s]he stubbed out her cigarette" and never smoked again. Heller reports, however, that Allan and Joan Blumenthal asked Rand "to make her decision [to give up smoking] public, even though, as they reminded her, she had indirectly or directly encouraged her fans to smoke." (Readers of Atlas Shrugged will recall the cigarettes smoked among the strikers that had dollar signs on them.) But Rand apparently "denied that there was any conclusive, nonstatistical evidence to prove that smoking caused cancer." Heller adds: "The Blumenthals understood that [Rand] was all but unable to admit to imperfections or mistakes. And they knew that she was trying to absorb a number of profound and painful psychic blows . . ."
Rand certainly was a woman of immense psychological and intellectual complexity; but I am often reminded by the "Indian Prayer" on my wall: "Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I've walked a mile in his moccasins." I'm not excusing Rand here; I'm just saying that given her own personal context and profound disappointments (including the devastating break with the Brandens in 1968 and a painful reunion with her sister Nora in 1973), I have no way to really evaluate her personal decisions.
My own mother died of lung cancer after 50 years of smoking; she went through five years of chemotherapy, radiation, remission, recurrence, and so forth. I was one of her primary caretakers, and I can't begin to imagine the kind of psychological devastation of that initial diagnosis and the personal decisions she had to make about lifestyle changes. Once diagnosed, she never smoked again, but she sure wanted to. Then again, when we'd visit Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, we'd see folks in wheelchairs, outside the hospital, attached to IV poles, smoking through the holes in their throats. My mind could not even attempt to understand this kind of behavior, but c'est la vie.

Pierre remarked that Charles De Gaulle once said: "No one will ever be able to smoke again" and I replied: "Having seen the devastation of lung cancer up close and personal, I can only echo the old adage: 'From De Gaulle's lips to God's ears.'" That a small percentage of folks die from lung cancer, even though they were never smokers, gives one pause, of course. I added: "Well, my mother also worked in the garment industry for years, handling fabrics and some pretty toxic chemicals that she inhaled on a daily basis. So God knows how all these factors may have coalesced to lead to that horrific diagnosis."

Either way, I guess the point of all this is that I do not believe Rand's unwillingness or inability to acknowledge the dangers of smoking made her an intellectual fraud, anymore than I would view those folks outside of Memorial Sloan-Kettering as suicidal maniacs... at least not until I've walked a mile in their moccasins.