Ayn Rand/Objectivism Sightings
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However, sometimes it felt like something was missing; that I was incomplete. As a teenager, I was lonely, angst-ridden and guilty. I certainly didn't fit into the "crowd", and it tore me up inside. I knew that I was exceptionally intelligent and tall for my age (or for any age), but I wished that I could be average. I tried religion to calm the demons within, but all that did was leave me with even more questions and no real answers. That aside, I found "solace" in angry music and finding the few other angry misfits out there, along with a sort of existentialism.
It was well into my not-so-stellar university career that I first read Lindsay's editorials that had been posted to Free-market.net. I went to the Free Radical web site and poured through the archives and realized that I had found a kindred spirit in the battle for liberty. Originally, I was somewhat apprehensive about writing to him (and I didn't even know of his level of fame in New Zealand!), but about the time of the 2000 Super 12 final I somehow summoned up the courage to write and, much to my surprise, he wrote me a lovely e-mail back and invited me to call him when he reached Los Angeles. We spoke on the phone for half an hour, and in that time I met a long-lost friend for the first time, and I have been fortunate to be Lindsay's friend since.
Originally, I didn't e-mail Lindsay because of Objectivism but because he was such a determined defender of freedom. After he sent me a couple of issues of the Free Radical and encouraged me to write my article in TFR #43, I began to read the Objectivist articles and I must say that it interested me greatly and seemed to answer a lot of the questions that I had. So I asked Lindsay to help me study Objectivism; after all, there is really no one else I would wish to learn it from more ..well, maybe except Ayn Rand herself.
The first book that Lindsay suggested I read was The Fountainhead. I have to admit that I was anxious to read Atlas Shrugged, but Lindsay assured me that I would enjoy the more philosophical Atlas more after having read the more literary Fountainhead. I set off on reading and finished most of the novel in a couple weeks, left it for a while at the beginning of the school year and then finished it off about a month later. Seeing as the great majority of the readers out there have already read the novel, there is probably no need to summarize.
I found The Fountainhead to be a much more enjoyable read than I originally thought it would be. The story of Howard Roark's fight against conformity seemed to echo a chord in my own life and I am certainly glad that I did choose to read that first as it prepared me well for future reading. Perhaps not well enough .. or too well, depending on your point of view.
One of the problems with a perfect character such as Howard Roark (whom I would call the Objectivist archetype) is the natural tendency to wish to emulate him. I certainly found myself falling into this trap; I wasn't as individualistic and smooth as Howard Roark, therefore I wasn't a good Objectivist, and of course I wanted to be good. Fortunately, Lindsay was there to slap me upside the head and tell me what a damn fool I was being! Lindsay's previous Free Radical editorials about SOLO ("Singing Solo", TFR 43) and romance in the Objectivist world ("Romance and Rationalism", TFR 44) as well as an article by Dr. Nathaniel Branden that Lindsay referred me to ("The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand", which can be found at http://www.nathanielbranden.net/ayn/ayn03.html), helped me avoid the worst excesses of Objectivism gone wrong!
A relationship that I was currently maintaining wasn't quite so fortunate, though. I had been with this girl for about 4 or 5 months and it was on autopilot. I generally refused to acknowledge any emotions (much like several Objectivists) until Lindsay suggested I should. Once I discovered Rand, my worldview started to change, which included my view of relationships. The ethics of self-interest certainly didn't fit well with her liberal/altruistic beliefs and we amicably ended the relationship for our mutual benefit. It certainly wasn't easy to do at first, but I believe that I was much better off, and the Objectivist ideas certainly helped me through that rough period.
With all of this turmoil of the relationship still going on, I decided to go ahead and finally read the biggie, Atlas Shrugged (a little fact: the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club voted Atlas Shrugged the most influential copyrighted book of the 20th century .. only the Bible ranked ahead of it - of course).
I would say now that Atlas Shrugged was also the most influential book as far as I'm concerned. Hank Reardon, Dagny Taggart, Francisco D'Anconia, and, later on, John Galt; these are all people that I certainly identified with. I don't know if the current situation in the world calls for a strike, but if it ever reaches that point, I hope that I would have the courage to go!
Philosophy: Who Needs It???..
After reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and conversing with Lindsay, I picked up Philosophy: Who Needs It?, a book of various essays from Rand's newsletters and speeches she gave around the country, including the title essay from a presentation Rand gave to the 1974 graduating class of the US Military Academy at West Point, NY. In addition, I also picked up The Virtue of Selfishness, the collection of essays on Objectivist ethics, as well as Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal, a treatise on laissez-faire capitalism, which is the political/economic extension of the metaphysics, epistemology and ethics of Objectivism. I'm sure that many of you have some personal favorites from these three collections, but I'll discuss a few of the essays that I really enjoyed and that likely taught me the most.
First, the aforementioned Philosophy: Who Needs It? I must admit that I originally found philosophy to be a silly, "liberal arts" study, an attitude that unfortunately a lot of hard scientists share. I was wrong, and the reasons why are contained in this essay - the idea that most people, despite their total aversion to formal philosophy, have some sort of philosophy anyway (which usually turns out to be ugly and negative), and hence may as well formalize their learning. This is an essay I'd give to anyone who said that philosophy was a useless study.
In 1974, the American chess champion Bobby Fischer and his Russian counterpart Boris Spassky met in a series of chess matches, which was billed as an epic battle between communism and capitalism. Fischer eventually won the series for truth, justice and the American Way, but not before Rand wrote "An Open Letter to Boris Spassky". In this essay, she basically relays the ideas of communism in chess terms and explains how these professionals have turned the facility of rational thought into an empirical set of moves and more moves and couldn't conceive an abstract concept if their lives depended on it.
Two of my favorite essays are at the end: "What Can One Do?" and "Don't Let it Go". As a libertarian and Objectivist, I must certainly admit to having been disheartened by the slow crawl of statism. Rand speaks to the way to spread philosophy (and inevitably, freedom) in "What Can One Do?" and about the history of freedom in the US (that can return again) in "Don't Let it Go", and I would urge anyone who feels similarly depressed to read these articles and bolster their spirits.
My favorite essay from Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal is "Requiem for Man", Rand's answer to a Papal encyclical by Pope Paul VI. Rand dismantles the mystical-altruistic ideas of the pope one by one. The pope's hatred of capitalism is truly frightening and it's quite beautiful to see Rand's positive sense of life compared to the hatred and ugliness contained within. As for The Virtue of Selfishness, I love "The Cult of Moral Grayness", dealing with the idea of the sanction of evil by placing everything within a shade of gray (as opposed to black and white) and "The Conflict of Men's Interests", which is probably the best illustration of the Objectivist ethics in the context of the question "How can there not be a conflict of interest between rational men?" (Answer: It has to be looked at within context).
I've discussed the particulars of my Objectivist conversion, but I haven't yet spoken about how it's changed my life. I would say that the change in my life since I read The Fountainhead has been dramatic. First of all, my self-confidence has improved dramatically. I am, for once in my life, proud of my achievements and no longer dragged to guilt by the anti-tall poppy bastards. It is also exceptionally empowering to know that my life is my own and nobody else's; I always believed that, but was too timid to assert it. Now I not only believe it deeply and assert it to others, but I can present a convincing and compelling argument that this is the proper state for mankind to exist in! I may still have some periods of self-doubt in my life, but they are much fewer and farther between, and I bounce back from them much more quickly.
I have also gained a new sense of life and passion from Objectivism. A sense of life is the subconscious element of our worldview, and Rand stated that there were two main external displays of a man's sense of life: love and art. My outlook on love has changed; now I am quite confident that love and romance still exist in the 21st century and always will, so long as there are idealists out there. I've also rid myself of any idea of a mind/body dichotomy; sex is not a disgusting, evil act, but rather a most beautiful, emotional and, dare I say, spiritual one. I haven't yet met a woman who feels the same, but I feel confident that someday I will, and live happily ever after.
I've taken 2 semesters of art history, and I have learned to differentiate between great periods of art (classical Greek and Roman, Renaissance, Baroque, neo-classicism) and utter trash (early Christian, Gothic and, worst of all, modernism), so I have a little bit of experience with life-affirming art. Music is another story; I used to listen to nihilistic, life-destroying 90s alternative/metal. As an Objectivist, I'm still a (classic) rock and roller at heart, but I have gained a greater appreciation for classical music, and my life is that much richer for it.
Finally, the idea of passion. I went through periods where I attempted to be rather stoic and unnaturally reject emotion as weak, and yes, irrational. As Lindsay taught me later, I was being rather silly in doing so. I think the most important thing that I have learned from Lindsay is that there is no dichotomy between reason and passion; if I come to an idea via rational means, why the hell not be passionate about that idea? If the components of Objectivism are epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, politics/economics and esthetics, then the whole idea is to use these components to lead a happy life, and I'm fortunate that Lindsay taught me to see the forest of Objectivism for the trees instead of bickering over minute differences in interpretation; otherwise I may have well made the mistakes that so many others have. However, I didn't, and my life is much richer for it.
What does my future in Objectivism hold? Beats me! In the immediate future, my goal is to aid Lindsay's group SOLO, both as assistant webmaster and hopefully a meaningful contributor. I've also tried to turn others onto the fiction of Ayn Rand by suggesting to several people to read The Fountainhead; I don't expect all of them to become Objectivists, but I hope that at least they can take away the idea that their life belongs to them and they should be damn proud of it! Personally I hope to absorb more philosophy; not only more of Rand, but start to read Aristotle, and in the theory that one must know one's enemy, Kant and the remainder of the anti-life philosophers.
In closing, I hope that my philosophical growth can inspire those who haven't yet undertaken the journey, and give those who have a chance to reflect upon what they've learned and grow even further. I'll see you all in the Gulch.. your gold will be waiting!!
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