Sunday, August 3, 2008
A is A...We Need John Galt
(This video is the 13th in a series of 14 posted up on YouTube depicting the core soliloquy of the main character in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged", John Galt. It is pretty strong medicine to explain and offer hope for an answer to America's current crisis. I recommend taking the time to review all 14 videos in order if you can...but 13 is paramount to this blog if you are only taking time to view one)
In my early 20s I read "Atlas Shrugged" along with a number of other writings by Ayn Rand. It was probably, next to the Bible, the most influential book on my life and yet in my bookcase there are probably no two books more diametrically opposed. I am glad that I exposed myself to the Randian philosophy of "Objectivism" as a balance to the traditions I was brought up with. The masses would probably deem Rand's writings as "evil"...going against the grain of mankind’s apparent bent for blind altruism and belief in collectivism and socialistic values. From an early age we all experience the pressure to conform and "fit in" with the norms of our day...how to dress, how to talk, how to believe. Rand’s writings and beliefs are in direct contrast to much of the world's recent political and philosophical leanings...primarily based on her premises that individual sovereignty is paramount to government or statist sovereignties and morality is based more on the power of the mind/reason than the power of "faith".
While I admire and identify with many of her views, I would not call myself a true "Objectivist"...as people following her philosophy have been labeled. I need another religion or movement like I need a hole in the head. If you can't 100% agree with a fundamental creed, it is disingenuous to label yourself accordingly.
The 10 main points of Objectivism are:
1. That reality is what it is, that things are what they are, independent of anyone's beliefs, feelings, judgments or opinions -- that existence exists, that A is A;
2. That reason, the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by the various senses, is fully competent, in principle, to understand the facts of reality;
3. That any form of irrationalism, supernaturalism, or mysticism, any claim to a nonsensory, nonrational form of knowledge, is to be rejected;
4. That a rational code of ethics is possible and is derivable from an appropriate assessment of the nature of human beings as well as the nature of reality;
5. That the standard of the good is not God or the alleged needs of society but rather "Man's life," that which is objectively required for man's or woman's life, survival, and well-being;
6. That a human being is an end in him- or herself, that each one of us has the right to exist for our own sake, neither sacrificing others to self nor self to others;
7. That the principles of justice and respect for individuality autonomy, and personal rights must replace the principle of sacrifice in human relationships;
8. That no individual -- and no group -- has the moral right to initiate the use of force against others;
9. That force is permissible only in retaliation and only against those who have initiated its use;
10. That the organizing principle of a moral society is respect for individual rights and that the sole appropriate function of government is to act as guardian and protector of individual rights.
(Online sources for more information on this philosophical movement: The Atlas Society, Ayn Rand Institute )
It’s interesting for me to note that while most people would not agree intellectually with many of these points, in practice many of us live according to most of them. We humans are a pretty selfish lot...with huge egos and an insatiable quest for "success" mixed with a significant dose of bigotry. Yet we complicate things by trying to live up to near impossible codes of conduct and "acceptable behaviors" placed upon us by society and religions. Hence, we live with a huge sledge hammer of guilt manipulation hanging over our heads. We live to please others before ourselves. We work to pay taxes before we pay ourselves. We worry about what others will think about us before we think of our own integrity or individual mores. Most voters vote based on popularity contests or what their circles and traditions are harping versus their own true conscience.
Ayn Rand wrote most of her enduring works during the 40s and 50s. She wrote in reaction to her childhood growing up in Russia under Lenin and Stalinism, and later because of her reaction as Americans embraced Roosevelt's "New Deal" where the concept of Big Government taking care of the little man took its roots in America. This was the beginning of the "welfare state" in her mind with the voters assenting to their government’s role as the "benevolent dictator". In response to this major left turn in America's mass consciousness, we have now seen everything from markets to morality manipulated and controlled by government forces and the breaking down of true community and individual sovereignty. It has now evolved to a point where America has truly lost its competitive edge, bleeding our currency and productivity in favor of those foreign powers that hold our debt and control the prices of our energy. And we continue to look to these inept, egomaniacal politicians to "somehow" pull us out of the eye of the storm. We are placing our faith and hope in the wrong hands folks, and it is quickly becoming a mandate for abandoning ship and every man for himself. We have allowed the concerns and needs of "the masses" to overshadow the needs of ourselves and our families. We have sacrificed true morality for some vacuous lip service and catch phrases of integrity and greatness we wish and hope we still have. We have allowed an inept President to waste our military and financial resources on aggressive, "first strike" methodology in pursuing nefarious "terrorists and evil doers" and have come away primarily with empty hands and coffers when it comes to capturing the leaders of Al Queda. The world is revolving around power hungry leaders and forces, manipulating their various populations through powerful and unified media controls. The continued trend towards "individual sacrifice for the greater good" is more prevalent today in our world than it was during the Communist revolution early in the 20th Century.
Some of the "Objectivist" leaders of note are from various factions and strange "bedfellows" in many cases. Alan Greenspan, Hillary Clinton, and Camille Paglia are examples of the variety of follower's Objectivism has garnered. As I have alluded to earlier, I would not label myself a true "Objectivist". I have learned in life the danger of accepting or pursuing labels and movements as a self definition. It’s almost as if to become a follower of Ayn Rand or "Objectivism" is contradictory to the philosophy itself. If man is free to define himself and search for his own truth; If man is an end unto himself, he does not limit himself or NEED to line up under any particular leader or movement. If man is to be truly self-actualized, he cannot define himself solely within the terms of another leader or group of people. The problem with Objectivism and Ayn Rand's movement was and is much like any other religion or philosophy. It has its limits based on the limits and definition that leader or leaders pronounce on those who would identify with them and call themselves "objectivists" or members of the Rand Association. If we perceive that no man/woman is perfect, then we must carefully weigh all thoughts and beliefs according to "their fruits" and take that which we want or agree with to our selves, and leave that which does not connect with our own minds or reason. I think it is just fine to admire and respect a leader or person's ideas without having to agree with them 100%. I would now label myself as an "objective" person...but not as an "Objectivist", because as Ayn Rand herself stated, if you disagree with any of her statements related in the 10 points of the philosophy, you cannot say you are one with her. Based on my understanding of her own core fundamentals, I found some contradictions in what she believed and then what she expected in people she would accept into her circles. I respect her pursuit of purity of thought and reason, yet I question her right (under her own philosophical foundations) to dismiss any one else’s thoughts or reason as totally false if it did not align up to hers. I sensed in her biographies and videos I have seen of her that she was a very frustrated and somewhat bitter intellectual whose philosophy and actions revealed a level of emptiness and snobbery...to the extent of a closed, albeit great, mind...which was exactly the type of life and reasoning she was speaking out against. I think she was so anti religion and false pretenses of faith that she lost track of her own "soul" when it comes to the secret inner working of each of us humans that cause us to be who we are. I think the uniqueness of being human is the constant challenge of balancing that which we feel emotionally with that which our senses report to our mind that forces us to "reason" about that which we feel. This to me is the never ending cycle of personal growth and self revelation if you will that gives meaning and adventure to life. Once we think we have arrived to a point of "having everything figured out", it is human frivolity that causes us to close our minds to change and new experiences.
Where I primarily fall away from "Objectivism" is where I discover the issues or experiences that have no "reason" or definition. I think life is about searching for that "mystical" connection where the mind and the soul meet. By faith, many of us call it "God"...pursuing a beginning and an end to the meaning of our lives. It is easier for most of us to simply accept the precepts and programming we were born into, passed along generation to generation, which somehow becomes "absolute" truth in our lives. It’s a mad never ending cycle of pursuing "absolutes" in thoughts and beliefs that have no absolute proofs and we grow up being taught that without these "belief systems", we are somehow doomed to evil, madness and emptiness. We are driven to delusion in this life as society demands us to define ourselves by label of religion, philosophy, race, or political party. Most of us at the end of the day DON'T REALLY KNOW, yet somehow we find ourselves claiming certain labels within our society just so people will leave us alone or accept us as fellow humans. We grow up with this need of belonging that plays out in the end of not being true to ourselves or the truth of our never ending questions. It is so tempting to throw in the towel on trying to reason and know things...and just give in to blind acceptance of a creed or political persuasion. Our minds grow up lazy and we don’t want to do our own homework. More than that, we have little threshold for pain and do not want to embrace the emptiness required of challenging all fundamentals we grew up thinking and evaluating them one by one for validity and truth. This applies to ALL labels from being Christian, to being American. What are you really, how do you know, and why? Most people are very uncomfortable with the WHY question. For me, it has been a fundamental aspect of my life pursuit...asking why and trying to prove the answers. And the older I have gotten, the more I have found out I don't know for sure...and life becomes more and more mysterious...meaning more and more adventurous...which is not a bad thing.
So, getting back to A is A. That IS a fundamental principle I can deal with. I believe in "cause and effect". That is scientific, reasonable and has played out as proof in my mind and experience time and time again. Who we are and how we live is determined by how we think...and therefore act. If we want to change the world, we need to change how WE think, and then how the world thinks. If we want to change the world peacefully, we need to get involved in education and exchange of ideas. If that doesn’t work, we will inevitably be trying to FORCE our ideologies on the world through the barrel of a gun...and history...cause and effect...have shown that does not work in the long run.
The most effective forces for long term change of thinking have been wrought by "men of the mind". Even Jesus was arguably a revolutionary through "reason". For this reason I have not felt compelled to throw out Christianity against Objectivism, because at some levels I believe the concepts of belief intersect. Here is how:
I think you can believe in God and still be an "Objectivist" (that’s the main reason I would be left out of their organized movement). If you can believe in the absolute of "existance exists"...A is A...in my mind you can also believe that to be true because of a rational, divine order in the universe. If there is a divine order, then there is a divine "intelligence" behind it that set things in motion. We call that intelligence of design "God". If you accept Judeo Christian traditions of God creating Man "in his own image"...it’s not that big a leap to believe that humans have "god-like" potential. If we are "Sons of God", we are destined to become like him...to learn and to mature into an understanding that imitates the evolution of creation. Yes...you can be a creationist and still believe in evolution. Maybe not a purist in either camp of thought...but you can rationally make a case for the compatibility of creation and evolution side by side (I won’t go into that now...maybe another future blog:)). Does it matter in the long run which side of these arguments I fall on? Probably not. If A is A...life is what it is...whether I embrace it, believe it, or NOT. If God is real, it doesn’t matter whether I believe it or not. If God is dead, I will probably never know it or hear about it (come on now, I said that "tongue in cheek").
Regardless of where you fall on all these issues or beliefs, I fundamentally believe it is important for the human race to wake up to our potential of change. To start change in the world, we only have control of ourselves...and maybe a few close friends and family who we influence. So change has to start there. Someone recently called it the "power of one". If we don’t initiate change from within, we will never affect in a positive manner towards that which we want in this life. If our belief system tells us nothing we do in THIS life matter...and save our efforts for some future life...well, I think we will have missed the point of what life is all about. Whether God made us, or whether we just somehow evolved, it is measurable how effective the human mind can be in discovering answers to our questions and meeting the needs for our existence. Too many of us have just blindly given in to mass consciousness. We have accepted absolutes that aren’t provable and made them "absolutes of faith" that dictate every decision we make in life. We have given our wills over to despots and power mongers who promise us the world and give us a stick to poke our eyes out with. We have submitted our privacy and possessions to the "will of the people" and those whom the "people" have given dominion over us. We have accepted the rules even when the rules go against our nature and will. We have decided it is more important to accept a label of self definition based on what religions, race or countries we came from than to stand up and be counted as "A".
I truly believe we are seeing "Atlas Shrugged" revisited in a much larger dynamic than when the book was written in 1957. She may not have been "correct" in all her views and convictions, but Ayn Rand was truly prophetic in pronouncing the cause and effect of "Collectivist" thinking and allowing governments and religions to squash the spirits of individualism until the whole globe is manipulated and controlled by a very few "powers that be". There is nowhere to run any more for cover. It is time to stand up for "A". If there was ever a cause to die for, dying to preserve YOURSELF is valid. Because without the freedom to live freely and independently, life is arguably not worth living...it doesn’t account for anything worthwhile.
We need more voices like that of John Galt.