Thursday, July 23, 2009

Happiness and Success Are Natural

This is the essential message of "Atlas Shrugged". Dagny is in Galt's Gulch. She is speaking with Ragnar Danneskjold.

"How can"—she tried to stop, but the words burst involuntarily, in helpless indignant protest, whether against him, fate or the outer world, she could not tell—"how can she live through eleven months of thinking that you, at any moment, might be...?" She did not finish.

He was smiling, but she saw the enormous solemnity of that which he and his wife had needed to earn their right to this kind of smile. "She can live through it, Miss Taggart, because we do not hold the belief that this earth is a realm of misery where man is doomed to destruction. We do not think that tragedy is our natural fate and we do not live in chronic dread of disaster. We do not expect disaster until we have specific reason to expect it—and when we encounter it, we are free to fight it. It is not happiness, but suffering that we consider unnatural. It is not success, but calamity that we regard as the abnormal exception in human life."

This ties in with the dialogue at the beginning of the third section of the book:

"'We never had to take any of it seriously, did we?" she whispered. "'No, we never had to.'"

The essence of "Atlas Shrugged" is not the political aspects. It is not "Going Galt". It is not about Ayn Rand being "prophetic". The essence is about living your life happily and how to do it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hatred Of The Fountainhead Of All Goods -- Spiritual Or Material

This quote from Ayn Rand is highly relevant today -- the egalitarian hatred of "the fountainhead of all goods, spiritual or material -- the men of ability." Paging Professor Barack Obama. Professor? Professor?

The classic example of vicious irresponsibility is the story of Emperor Nero who fiddled, or sang poetry, while Rome burned. An example of similar behavior may be seen today in a less dramatic form. There is nothing imperial about the actors, they are not one single bloated monster, but a swarm of undernourished professors, there is nothing resembling poetry, even bad poetry, in the sounds they make, except for pretentiousness—but they are prancing around the fire and, while chanting that they want to help, are pouring paper refuse on the flames. They are those amorphous intellectuals who are preaching egalitarianism to a leaderless country on the brink of an unprecedented disaster.

Egalitarianism is so evil—and so silly—a doctrine that it deserves no serious study or discussion. But that doctrine has a certain diagnostic value: it is the open confession of the hidden disease that has been eating away the insides of civilization for two centuries (or longer) under many disguises and cover-ups. Like the half-witted member of a family struggling to preserve a reputable front, egalitarianism has escaped from a dark closet and is screaming to the world that the motive of its compassionate, "humanitarian," altruistic, collectivist brothers is not the desire to help the poor, but to destroy the competent. The motive is hatred of the good for being the good—a hatred focused specifically on the fountainhead of all goods, spiritual or material: the men of ability.

The mental process underlying the egalitarians' hope to achieve their goal, consists of three steps: 1. they believe that that which they refuse to identify, does not exist; 2. therefore, human ability does not exist; and 3. therefore, they are free to devise social schemes which would obliterate this non-existent. Of special significance to the present discussion is the egalitarians' defiance of the law of causality: their demand for equal results from unequal causes—or equal rewards for unequal performance.

"Egalitarianism Versus Inflation", The Ayn Rand Letter, Ayn Rand, p. 333.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Spiritual Or Not?

Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart discussion in Atlas Shrugged:

He made a step back and said in a strange tone of dispassionate wonder, "We're a couple of blackguards, aren't we?"


"We haven't any spiritual goals or qualities. All we're after is material things. That's all we care for."

She looked at him, unable to understand. But he was looking past her, straight ahead, at the crane in the distance. She wished he had not said it. The accusation did not trouble her, she never thought of herself in such terms and she was completely incapable of experiencing a feeling of fundamental guilt. But she felt a vague apprehension which she could not define, the suggestion that there was something of grave consequence in whatever had made him say it, something dangerous to him. He had not said it casually. But there had been no feeling in his voice, neither plea nor shame. He had said it indifferently, as a statement of fact.

Then, as she watched him, the apprehension vanished. He was looking at his mills beyond the window; there was no guilt in his face, no doubt, nothing but the calm of an inviolate self-confidence.

"Dagny" he said, "whatever we are, it's we who move the world and it's we who'll pull it through."

[Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, p. 87-88]

Dagny senses Hank's error, but does not see it clearly until later in the novel. They were not simply materialists. They were spiritual. Not in the religious sense, but spiritual with respect to one's own life.

The same kind of measurement guides man’s actions in the wider realm of moral or spiritual values. (By “spiritual” I mean “pertaining to consciousness.” I say “wider” because it is man’s hierarchy of values in this realm that determines his hierarchy of values in the material or economic realm.) But the currency or medium of exchange is different. In the spiritual realm, the currency—which exists in limited quantity and must be teleologically measured in the pursuit of any value—is time, i.e., one’s life.

[Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology, Ayn Rand, p. 33]

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The New York Skyline

Conversation between Dominique Francon and Gail Wynand:

He stood, slouched carelessly, one arm raised, grasping a stanchion. She saw the sparks flowing, forming the edges of waves, framed by the curve of his body.

That, too, was becoming to him. She said:

"May I name another vicious bromide you've never felt?"

"Which one?"

"You've never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean."

He laughed. "Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man's magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space. When I look at mountain peaks, I think of tunnels and dynamite. When I look at the planets, I think of airplanes."

"Yes. And that particular sense of sacred rapture men say they experience in contemplating nature—I've never received it from nature, only from..." She stopped.

"From what?"

"Buildings," she whispered. "Skyscrapers."

"Why didn't you want to say that?"

"I... don't know."

"I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes, the shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window—no, I don't feel how small I am—but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body."

The Fountainhead
, Ayn Rand, p. 446

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Marilyn Monroe

Ayn Rand's view of Marilyn Monroe:

A woman, the only one, who was able to project the glowingly innocent sexuality of a being from some planet uncorrupted by guilt—who found herself regarded and ballyhooed as a vulgar symbol of obscenity—and who still had the courage to declare: "We are all born sexual creatures, thank God, but it's a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift."

A happy child who was offering her achievement to the world, with the pride of an authentic greatness and of a kitten depositing a hunting trophy at your feet—who found herself answered by concerted efforts to negate, to degrade, to ridicule, to insult, to destroy her achievement—who was unable to conceive that it was her best she was punished for, not her worst—who could only sense, in helpless terror, that she was facing some unspeakable kind of evil.

How long do you think a human being could stand it?

That hatred of values has always existed in some people, in any age or culture. But a hundred years ago, they would have been expected to hide it. Today, it is all around us; it is the style and fashion of our century.

Where would a sinking spirit find relief from it?

The evil of a cultural atmosphere is made by all those who share it. Anyone who has ever felt resentment against the good for being the good and has given voice to it, is the murderer of Marilyn Monroe.

"Through Your Most Grievous Fault", The Ayn Rand Column, p. 32