You ask me about the meaning of the dialogue on page 702 of Atlas Shrugged:
"'We never had to take any of it seriously, did we?" she whispered. "'No, we never had to.'"
Let me begin by saying that this is perhaps the most important point in the whole book, because it is the condensed emotional summation, the keynote or leitmotif, of the view of life presented in Atlas Shrugged.
What Dagny expresses here is the conviction that joy, exaltation, beauty, greatness, heroism, all the supreme, uplifting values of man's existence on earth, are the meaning of life—not the pain or ugliness he may encounter—that one must live for the sake of such exalted moments as one may be able to achieve or experience, not for the sake of suffering—that happiness matters, but suffering does not—that no matter how much pain one may have to endure, it is never to be taken seriously, that is: never to be taken as the essence and meaning of life—that the essence of life is the achievement of joy, not the escape from pain. The issue she refers to is the basic philosophical issue which John Galt later names explicitly in his speech: that the most fundamental division among men is between those who are pro-man, pro-mind, pro-life—and those who are anti-man, anti-mind, anti-life.
It is the difference between those who think that man's life is important and that happiness is possible—and those who think that man's life, by its very nature, is a hopeless, senseless tragedy and that man is a depraved creature doomed to despair and defeat. It is the difference between those whose basic motive is the desire to achieve values, to experience joy—and those whose basic motive is the desire to escape from pain, to experience a momentary relief from their chronic anxiety and guilt.
It is a matter of one's fundamental, overall attitude toward life—not of any one specific event. So you see that your interpretation was too specific and too narrow; besides, the Looters' World had never meant anything to Dagny and she had realized its "sham and hypocrisy" long before. What she felt, in that particular moment, was the confirmation of her conviction that an ideal man and an ideal form of existence are possible.
The Letters of Ayn Rand, Michael Berliner (editor), p. 583-4
The purpose of this blog is to examine "exalted moments" and to answer questions such as:
How does one define an exalted moment?
How does one achieve an exalted moment?
What kind of thinking is required for an exalted moment?
What kind of action is required for an exalted moment?
What is the relationship between goal-directed actions (goal setting) and exalted moments?
What values and virtues are necessary to achieve an exalted moment? Do certain values and virtues have primacy over others?
What does one feel emotionally when one is experiencing an exalted moment? Is the feeling of an exalted moment the same or different than happiness? Is an exalted moment momentary? Is happiness a longer duration emotion?
Why are exalted moments psychologically important (necessary) for human life?
What is the proper social environment for exalted moments? How does one share exalted moments with others?
What is the relationship between esthetics and exalted moments? How is an exalted moment portrayed in art? Who are artists who correctly portray exalted moments?
At what age can one start experiencing exalted moments? How does one explain them to children?
How do exalted moments related to romantic partners and friends?
What are the great exalted moments of history?
More to come. Be sure to subscribe via RSS -- see the column at the right. We are also on Twitter.