BioShock is one of those games like Silent Hill 2 and Shadow of the Colossus that has been analyzed to death. Whether it’s the gameplay or the philosophy behind it, people have poked and prodded BioShock to the bone. The Objectivist ideas espoused by antagonist Andrew Ryan are one of the key points of analysis. Unfortunately, most analyses are dumb because never once do they stop and ask the most obvious question: is Andrew Ryan even an Objectivist to begin with?
It’s a perfectly reasonable question. I already know what your retort will be: “Andrew Ryan is not meant to be 100 percent Objectivist, it’s just symbolic.” Oh, really? If that’s the case, then why do people argue that BioShock is evidence that Objectivism doesn’t work if it’s not supposed to be as accurate a representation of Ayn Rand’s ideas as possible? If you are going to claim this game proves Objectivism wrong, then it stands to reason Andrew Ryan must be an Objectivist to sustain your argument.
You can argue Ryan is an incomplete Objectivist because the philosophy itself is impossible to practice, and that an Objectivist paradise will collapse on itself for the same reasons a communist one would. That’s a conversation to be had.
Moving back onto Andrew Ryan, let’s look at his history before we jump to conclusions.
No Gods Or Kings, Only Man
Ryan was born in Russia (modern day Belarus) in 1911, witnessing the carnage of the Russian Revolution first-hand. This lead to his personal belief that the parasites, unable to produce on their own, would always kill, steal, and mooch to acquire what they couldn’t create. In 1919, Ryan immigrated to the United States.
As a young man he prospered, but grew increasingly aggravated with the socialist work programs of the 1930’s under FDR. Ryan even had a plot of land in a forest that the government forcefully nationalized into a public park. He burned the forest down as a result, just like Ellis Wyatt in Atlas Shrugged did to his oil fields.
So far, this is pretty spot on for Ayn Rand’s writings and even her actual life. Here is the first deviation, and it’s a pretty big one.
To Andrew Ryan, the atomic bomb was the last straw. He saw it as the ultimate violation of his ideals, using science and determination to destroy what the parasites couldn’t seize. This is not Objectivist philosophy.
Ayn Rand fully supported and endorsed the use of the atomic bomb. If it ended the war faster, Ayn Rand was morally okay with it; even killing civilians was perfectly fine. Rand stated the government’s job was to end the war for the sake of its own citizenry, no matter than cost to the enemy.
The final straw that drove Andrew Ryan to create Rapture in the first place does not align with Objectivism.
Pushing forward past Rapture’s founding and flourishing beginnings, Ryan’s city truly had only one rule: no contact with the outside world. This aligns with Galt’s Gulch from Atlas Shrugged, with some major differences. Galt’s Gulch residents could leave so long as they didn’t take anything out or bring anyone back. The idea that no one in Galt’s Gulch longed for anything on the outside always seemed a crock to me, so the idea of Ryan restricting these goods and creating a massive smuggling operation in Rapture makes more sense.
From this smuggling operation came Frank Fontaine, who became enormously wealthy from the black market. After Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum discovered Adam, Fontaine financed research into plasmids, allowing him to challenge Ryan’s wealth and power. Ryan at first lauded Fontaine for his entrepreneurial spirit, only growing concerned when Fontaine’s thuggish tactics and desire to take over Rapture became obvious.
The most commonly smuggled item was the Bible. I will say that as an Atheist, this is one thing I don’t like about Atheism. Ryan censored God on the streets, but justified it by saying you could pray at home. If you have to caveat free speech, you don’t believe in it. An Objectivist would laugh at you for preaching in the street, but he wouldn’t steal your microphone.
Ryan’s first goal became to crush the smuggling operation into Rapture. Then Fontaine was “killed” and as a result, Ryan did the least Objectivist thing imaginable; he nationalized Fontaine Futuristics. Atlas used this to rally the populace against Ryan’s tyranny, and thus begins the Rapture civil war on New Years’ Day, 1959.
Bombing The Village In Order To Save It
Ryan had civilians killed for affiliation with the rebels and used pheromones to control splicers. His initial concern was free will, leaving him in a strange place where he’s following Objectivism either way when the view on war is winning by any means necessary. This decision has no right answer, but he chose the greater of two evils.
Let’s skip to the end of his life. Jack, his biological son, was engineered to kill him through embedded triggers such as the phrase “would you kindly,” which causes Jack to obey the next suggested action. By the end, Ryan has figured it all out.
To me, this scene is Ryan dying on his own terms. Ryan, now in full understanding of who Jack is, hands him a nine-iron, and says “Would you kindly, kill.” Jack obeys, and in between hits Ryan shouts at his son, “A man choices, a slave obeys!” Almost as if he’s pleading with his son to find his freedom, before a final swing kills the Father of Rapture.
So, do you think Andrew Ryan is an Objectivist? I do not, because while he does follow much of the rhetoric, the biggest and most definable moments of his life were the times he acted the least like one. When things proved difficult and the answers were not as black and white, he abandoned his principles. This is the ultimate betrayal of any philosophy.