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Profile: Michael Prescott
Michael Prescott was a participant or observer in the following events:
Ayn Rand in her youth. [Source: Heritage American]“Objectivist” philosopher and burgeoning novelist Ayn Rand writes admiringly of one of her heroes, serial killer William Edward Hickman. She admires Hickman’s stated credo, “What is good for me is right.” In her journals, Rand writes in response, “The best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard.” Rand is planning a novel, The Little Street, to feature a character based on Hickman, who she considers her “ideal man.” In her journals, Rand writes that Hickman “is born with a wonderful, free, light consciousness—[resulting from] the absolute lack of social instinct or herd feeling. He does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people.… Other people do not exist for him and he does not understand why they should.” Later in her journals, she clarifies her idealization of Hickman: “[My hero is] very far from him, of course. The outside of Hickman, but not the inside. Much deeper and much more. A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me.” (Rand will never complete The Little Street.)
Torturer and Killer - According to author and biographer Michael Prescott, in 1928, Hickman is one of the most notorious criminals in America, a forger, armed robber, child kidnapper, and multiple murderer. As a child, he enjoyed torturing and killing small animals. As a young man, he engaged in a crime spree beginning in the Midwest and ending in California, robbing gas stations and drug stores, allegedly murdering a girl in Milwaukee, and murdering the grandfather of his crime partner in Pasadena. That partner later told police that Hickman often talked about his desire to kill and dismember someone someday. In 1927, he kidnapped a 12-year-old girl, Marion Parker, from her school and began taunting her wealthy father with ransom notes. (He called himself “a master mind” and “not a common crook” in those notes, and signed himself “The Fox,” writing, “Fox is my name, very sly you know.” After days of exchanging letters, Hickman accused the father of lying about his intention of paying the ransom and strangled Marion Parker with a towel. After she was dead, he dismembered the body with a pocket knife, wrapped up the separate remains, packed the remains into a car, and drove to meet the father, tossing body parts out of the car along the way. The father, believing his daughter to still be alive, gave $1,500 to Hickman. In return, Hickman threw the girl’s head and upper torso out of the car at the father’s feet and sped off. Hickman fled to Oregon, where he was arrested. He quickly confessed to the murder, at least one more murder, and the robberies. After failing to pin his crimes on another man (presumably his former partner), and unsuccessfully claiming his innocence by reason of insanity, Hickman will be executed at San Quentin Prison. Prescott will write of Hickman, “Hickman reportedly ‘died yellow’—he was dragged, trembling and fainting, to his execution, his courtroom bravado having given way at last.”
Idealizing a Sociopath? - In 2005, Prescott will ask if Rand’s “ideal man” was, in reality, a criminal sociopath, and if so, what that says of Rand’s own values and judgment. In 1928, Prescott notes, Rand is still in her twenties and heavily influenced by the egocentric philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche. Rand writes of Hickman that he represents “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul.… Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” Hickman, she writes, is “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy” filled with “immense, explicit egotism.” (Some newspaper writers at the time compare Hickman to Nietzche’s “Superman,” writing that Hickman twisted Nietzsche’s teachings to suit his own ends.) Her defenders might argue, Prescott will write, that as Rand matures, she will grow out of her fascination with Nietzsche, and, by extension, Hickman, and evolve a more rational outlook. [Michael Prescott, 2005; AlterNet, 2/26/2010]
Anti-Social, Amoral Characters in Later Books - However, Prescott uses quotes from Rand’s later novels to show her ongoing fascination with amoral, self-centered characters and the philosophies that inform their worldviews. She will write in her notes for The Fountainhead: “One puts oneself above all and crushes everything in one’s way to get the best for oneself. Fine!” Her notes on her novel’s hero, Howard Roark, say that Roark “has learned long ago, with his first consciousness, two things which dominate his entire attitude toward life: his own superiority and the utter worthlessness of the world.… He was born without the ability to consider others.” In the original version of her first novel We the Living, the character Kira, whom Prescott characterizes as “Rand’s stand-in,” says, “What are your masses [of humanity] but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?” Prescott notes that the statement will be altered in subsequent publications. In her journals, Rand will write that man “is man only so long as he functions in accordance with the nature of a rational being. When he chooses to function otherwise, he is no longer man. There is no proper name for the thing which he then becomes.… When a man chooses to act in a sub-human manner, it is no longer proper for him to survive nor to be happy.” In her longest novel, 1957’s Atlas Shrugged, she will refer to a crowd of poor and starving people as “savages,” “refuse,” “inanimate objects,” and “imitations of living beings,” all patently beneath the heroes and heroines of her story. In the novel, a wealthy citizen striking against progressive taxation causes a train crash, and Rand will make it clear that the people who die in the crash deserve it because they supported the taxation policies that triggered the attack. Rand will continue to write admiringly of the Nietzschean concept of the “Superman” throughout her career. Columnist Johann Hari will write: “Her heroes are a cocktail of extreme self-love and extreme self-pity: They insist they need no one, yet they spend all their time fuming that the masses don’t bow down before their manifest superiority.” [Michael Prescott, 2005; Slate, 11/2/2009; AlterNet, 2/26/2010]
Rand Admired by Many Modern Republicans - In 2010, liberal columnist Mark Ames will go farther than either Prescott or Hari and label Rand “a textbook sociopath,” adding: “In her notebooks Ayn Rand worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of ‘ideal man’ she promoted in her more famous books. These ideas were later picked up on and put into play by major right-wing figures of the past half decade, including the key architects of America’s most recent economic catastrophe—former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and SEC Commissioner Chris Cox—along with other notable right-wing Republicans such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.” Ames will note that many politicians aligned with the “tea party” movement, such as Representatives Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) are outspoken Rand admirers. [AlterNet, 2/26/2010] Hari will ask: “What I do find incomprehensible is that there are people—large numbers of people—who see her writing not as psychopathy but as philosophy, and urge us to follow her. Why?” [Slate, 11/2/2009]
Entity Tags: Friedrich Nietzsche, Christopher Cox, Alan Greenspan, Ayn Rand, Clarence Thomas, William Edward Hickman, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Ames, Paul Ryan, Marion Parker, Marshall Clement (“Mark”) Sanford, Jr, Michele Bachmann, Michael Prescott, Johann Hari
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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