“Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a ‘tendency’ to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is not of his hcoice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, then his will is not free” (Rand, 1025).
I’ve got to say after the 1168 pages of Atlas Shrugged, I’m left quite breathless. I have the great ability to read quickly. Steinbeck’s East of Eden was completed in just a few days, about five hundred pages short of Rand’s curious book. This book has taken me about three weeks to finish, and over these three weeks it’s been my companion for slow days at work, afternoons in the park and evenings in Cup a Joe’s. It’s been a pleasure to read, I have no shame admitting. This books clearly glorifies individualization. It’s what the “American dream” is, if people would step back to see it. This book shows what our society truly wrestles with: fear and desire of individual power. The protagonists range from industrialists to musicians, but they all have the same motive that sets them searingly apart from their counterparts: self-love. Rand argues for the morality of self-love vehemently. In that painfully long speech of Galt’s, this is made clear. It’s society’s disgust for people who center their gain all on themselves and arrogantly admit that this is their goal that makes their dependency so pathetic. Where would we be with out egotists who truly are geniuses in their fields? Why is it demanded that they be humble? Why ought they share their wealth this those who meerly ride on their coattails?
This is not my life philosophy. I don’t think it’s the correct way to live, but then again I’m also not a fan of capitalism, so I think this is why I’m able to appreciate the book the way I do. When capital is the main point of a society, I think it just won’t work- but I’ll spare you my own painfully long speech about that. Rand beautifully paints how societies have worshiped and denounced the backbone it stands on- if one is to believe that people like Dagny, Hank, Fransisco and Galt exist. I personally do not. These creatures she fashioned are delicious; they are sensual, beautiful geniuses, able to keep their emotions in check and be indifferent to nationwide slandering and backstabbing wives and idiotic family members. It’s her immaculate writing style that keeps people reading, or at least for me.
The useful things I have gathered from this book (which could possibly be lethal if thrown at the right body part, due to it’s weight) is as follows:
Sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists do have a tendency to sound ridiculous. I love the social sciences. They are indeed intriguing and useful. But when beginning a phrase with “it appears to me” or “it is my opinion that” the force behind it is lost. Maybe that’s the way it should be, though? Of course a humanities student such as myself would say that. I would be considered one of the dolts that Rand detests so much, because I don’t think there are many certainties in life as she does.
I do agree that it is not evil to create your own happiness, and I do think it is evil to enjoy it at the price of the blood of others. I also do agree that you should not be forced to sacrifice your own work, love, self or mind for the sake of society at large. But I argue that compassion should be something that one already has for others… Maybe I’m just too Buddhist for this book, but Rand lacks empathy and compassion, in general. She makes compassion to be a mindless thing- to be giving out alms, quite undeserved. She makes compassion, sympathy and empathy into evil forces- as some do- like they are merely forms of immolation. I disagree wholeheartedly. No, it is not the burden of one to take care of another because they are able to. It is not a moral code or law, it is not religion’s or society’s place to enforce it. In my mind- another Utopia that does not and will not exist- is that there will not be these giant geniuses on which the world depends on. In my mind, these Dagnys do not exist, therefore moochers and looters aughtn’t exist either. Maybe they do. The homeless might be viewed as such, but in my mind they aren’t moochers, looters, homeless or anything other than people with a value that should be placed right along side my own. I suppose I’m not money-minded enough to see people as careers. I’m not Waitress. I’m not Student. You aren’t Business Owner or Electrical Engineer. I exist, you exist. We’re all part of the same web, and whether Rand likes it or not, had everyone in her book worked as hard as Rearden, there would be no Rearden. That’s the sickness that infects and creates capitalsim; there has to be a little man. There has to be someone getting screwed over. It’s essential for the American Dream.
So I guess it’s fair to say I have not entirely sworn “by my life and my love of it- that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
And why would I? Why would anyone? I am not my own life, as much as I’d like- and try- to lay claim to it. My life is as much my sisters, my parents, my nephews and niece, my exs, my friends, my professors as anyones. I’m not irreplaceable, but I am neither without meaning. Perhaps I don’t value human life too highly, or certain lives more highly than others I mean.
Another aspect I found to be true is that sometimes, societies do not want to think. They like to rely on technology they didn’t create, do not hope to understand deeper than a superficial level, or contribute to further advancements. I myself am quite guilty of this: I have not tried to understand what is actually wrong when the internet connection fails, I just grumble and complain. We are shocked that cancer is still a deadly force, that colds are not curable, and new strands of influenza take down thousands of lives each year. Doctors are supposed to know things, although we- the common people- wouldn’t have a chance at understanding basic biology unless we were inclined to learn it (or pay attention in class). Societies of all kinds become lazy when it comes to evolving intellectually, and they do appear to be riding on the backs of scientists and intellectuals in this sense…
I also enjoy reading the word “fantastic” as it meant years ago- not as something good or great, but as the Oxford English Dictionary would define as “Existing only in imagination; proceeding merely from imagination; fabulous, imaginary, unreal” – dating back as early as the 1400′s. Of course, this was written quite a while ago, so the usage is understand. I quite like it.
The human mind is the thing Rand values most. It is not the thing I value most. The human anything is not what I value most. It’s the human condition to have a human mind. It’s simply what we have. I do not find the human mind to be more valuable than any other mind, simply because it is able to reckon economics or engineer buildings. The ant mind also has the mind of an engineer, but it is not more valuable than mine. In fact this talk of values is odd in and of itself.
Katie can be found at this amazing blog: The Thoughts of an Eternal Foreigner.