Paying My Respects to “Atlas Shrugged” and Ayn Rand

 You are driving along a city road, and a funeral convoy approaches. Most of the cars in the convoy have their lights on, and you see the hearse. Some of the cars on your side of the road slow down, a few of them pull over, to pay their respects to the deceased and those who knew him or her. Sometimes there are a dozen cars in the convoy, sometimes a hundred. Then they are all past, and you pull back onto the road and resume your journey, wondering who it was that passed on.

 I am still pulled over to the edge of the road here. Ayn Rand died a long time ago (1982), and I read some of her other works a long time ago, but it all came back to me with the passing of the movie “Atlas Shrugged” In April and May, 2011. The movie died a quick death, at the hands of clueless producers and directors, and at the hands of the pre-occupied, unappreciative public. America “shrugged it off.” Media critics yawned, and Christian critics blasted it, and we shrugged that off as well. But the works of Ayn Rand deserve better, so I am still here, on the side of the road, to pay my respects:

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Ayn Rand famously asked: Philosophy– who needs it? Everyone needs it! It is like asking “who needs food?” But do you eat junk food, fast food, or too much sugar, too much cholesterol, too much fat, or try to eat a nutritious balance of foods? Bad food can kill you. Bad philosophy can kill you also, AND kill your culture. This is what Ayn Rand tried to make known.

 In 1991, the Library of Congress determined that Atlas Shrugged was the second most influential book in American history, after the Bible. That is impressive….. especially when you consider that the Bible had a head-start of 200 years in America. But the movie about her best-selling novel just now came and went, and few people even gave it a glance or a first thought, much less a second thought. So, before the tiny fleeting ripple of interest in Ayn Rand fades away completely, here are a few snippets about her. She had many faults and flaws, but her strengths and insights were genius.

   Ayn Rand warned in her book Philosophy: Who Needs It,  “As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought, or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, wishes and slogans; which are random, unidentified, contradictory, and therefore lethal.” Few people could describe their philosophy with clarity, because few have any idea of the actual structure of their personal philosophy or where it came from. Rand helps us discover the sources:

 As Ayn Rand asks in her book Philosophy- Who Needs It, have you ever thought or said any of the following ideas? Of course you have…..

 “This may be good in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice.” We got that from Plato (circa 400 BC).

 “People do bad things sometimes, but we’re only human, nobody is perfect.” We got that from Augustine (circa 400 AD).

 “You cannot be absolutely certain of anything.” We got that from David Hume (circa 1750 AD).

  “I can‘t prove it, but I feel that it‘s true.” We got that from Immanuel Kant (circa 1780). “That may be logical, but logic has nothing to do with reality.” Another bad one from Kant. “That is evil because it is selfish.” Another really bad one from Kant.

 “I couldn‘t help it! Nobody can help anything he does.” We got that from Georg Hegel (circa 1800). “That may have been true yesterday, but it’s not true today.” Another one from Hegel.

 “That may be true for you, but it is not true for me.” We got that from William James (circa 1900).

 “Act first, think about it afterward.” We got that from John Dewey (circa 1930).

 Rand is pointing out here that much of supposedly modern liberal ideology came from philosophers as ancient as 2400 years ago. The hippie mantras of the 60’s and 70’s, “If it feels good, do it” and “Everything is relative” and “It depends on the situation” all have their roots solidly in bad philosophy from past centuries. Good and evil became irrelevant; pleasure was paramount; morality was mocked. The disgusting behavior of President Clinton in the 90’s with his serial infidelity, absurdly challenging the definition of “is” and “sex,” giving our children the idea that oral sex is not really sex, follows the lead of “modern” liberal philosophy, which is not really modern at all. The destruction of moral certainty is one of the major goals of “modern” philosophy, and it has been successful in many parts of our society, even producing a president who destroyed the respect and dignity of the office, who was best known as a liar and a sexual abuser of several women, yet who appealed to enough voters to get elected twice. Bad philosophy was the reason why. What does that say about our country? Sadly, Bill Clinton (hailed as the first “black” president) struck a chord with enough people who shared the same faulty liberal philosophy. Our country, and every other country, will rise or fall according to their prevailing philosophy, and our current “second black president” (if Clinton was the first) is purposely hastening our fall, for he thinks America is too powerful and too wasteful. Obama’s philosophy includes that of Karl Marx and Saul Alinsky by direct study, and that of Immanuel Kant, John Rawls and other liberal philosophers by association.

 Back to Ayn Rand now. Rand was a champion of certainty who said philosophy’s greatest task was “to help people to know,” and she detested uncertainty. She was adamant that certainty can be achieved in every field of human endeavor, including morality. She wrote a lot about good and evil.

 “The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it”.

                        — Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

 Rand defined evil as the violation of human rights, which is a liberal sacred cow, but still she was criticized by liberal writers for writing too much about “evil.” It should be noted that Ayn Rand did not speak lightly of evil. Born in 1905 in Russia, she saw the bloody Bolshevik (communist) Revolution, and the horrific evils that followed it. Her father’s pharmacy business was confiscated for the State. Reduced to poverty, her family almost starved. In college, Rand was “purged” from the university shortly before graduation. She saw the end of any freedom and the rise of brutal tyranny in Russia, so she was well-qualified to speak and write about evil.

 As for her proclaimed atheism, I think she was just reluctant to open the can of worms, the bundle of thorny intellectual problems, that is religion. She wrote of the human spirit and soul, which a true atheist would not do. She did not attack religion incessantly, as most atheists do. She mostly just left it alone, except for a few token shots. She was interested in what humanity can do for itself, by itself, and she excelled in describing that. If anything, she elevated the ideal human individual to the philosophical status of “God”.

 Ayn Rand made friends and enemies on all sides, crossing normal dividing lines to achieve her broad popularity. Rand wrote of the human spirit and soul, but she claimed to be an atheist, thus angering most religious folk and most conservatives. But she fell on the conservative side of culture and politics, thus angering most atheists and liberals. She argued that enlightened self-interest can lead to high morality, thus angering most liberal philosophers. She argued that moral conduct can be established with certainty, again angering most liberal, New Age and Eastern philosophers. But on the other hand, everyone can find inspiration in some of her ideas.

She emphasized the “virtues of selfishness” far too much I think. I suspect she was over-reacting to the horrors of her youth, when she saw the Communist State trying to crush the individual human spirit and make everyone slaves to the State.  But that does not negate her other great ideas. She rightly attacked the liberal over-emphasis on altruism, or sacrificing oneself needlessly for another.

 As Ayn Rand so eloquently proclaims in her books, the poisonous venom of altruism crept into the veins of liberalism long ago. Rand traces altruism back to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant’s primary moral principle was that we all have a sacred duty from God to work for the welfare of others in all that we do, whether we agree with that duty or not. Kant became the judge of all morality, and decreed that a human’s only worth is measured by how well he carries out his duties toward others. The only actions which possess moral value are those which are devoted to the welfare of others. Although the term “altruism” was coined later by liberal French philosopher Auguste Comte (founder of positivism) in 1851, it fits Kant’s principle of mandatory, even slave-like moral duty to others and has come to be associated with Kant. Rand condemns Kantian altruism and blames it for misdirecting and corrupting modern philosophy. More recent conservative philosophers such as John Kekes (Against Liberalism) generally concur with this condemnation, though Kekes prefers to replace the term ‘altruism’ with ‘benevolence.’ He praises voluntary benevolence, but  says that benevolence is inappropriate in many moral contexts where liberals misapply it, and that this practice requires the falsification of reality. John Kekes is not a follower of Rand, but he brings some of her concepts to maturity and proper understanding.

 Here are some Ayn Rand quotes that I enjoyed:

 “Learn to value yourself, which means: fight for your happiness.”

 “The truth is not for all men but only for those who seek it.”

 “A government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims.”

“In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.”

 “If one doesn’t respect oneself, one can have neither love nor respect for others.”

“Men who reject the responsibility of thought and reason can only exist as parasites on the thinking of others.”

“The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.”…..and, unselfishly, that is what she tried to teach us (to enjoy ourselves and live, in a highly moral way).

 “The men who are not interested in philosophy need it the most urgently; they are most helplessly in its power.”

 “At the root of every civilized achievement, such as science, technology, progress, freedom– at the root of every value we enjoy today, including the birth of this country– you will find the achievements of one man, who lived over two thousand years ago: Aristotle.”

 The last two quotes were from Ayn Rand’s address to the graduating class of 1974, at the West Point Military Academy, the crucible of the Army’s finest officers. It was an incredible honor and privilege for her to be invited to speak there, and she rose to the task. The full speech can be read here: http://fare.tunes.org/liberty/library/pwni.html

 “Atlas Shrugged” was not the first movie of a best-selling Rand novel. The first was “The Fountainhead”, screened in 1957, and it starred Gary Cooper. It was received little better than “Atlas Shrugged” today. Strange that her books are widely popular best-sellers, but the movies from her books are flops. Maybe the filmmakers should try to do a biography movie of Rand, from her family’s oppression and starving in Russia, rising to be the best-known modern philosopher in America. If they do it right, it could rival the award-winning Dr. Zhivago.

 Rand’s work is carried on in some fashion by The Ayn Rand Institute and the Cato Institute. You should check out their websites, as I do from time to time.

OK, I am pulling back onto the road now, after the funeral convoy passes……….

And this is the first thing I see in front of me……..

 LONDON (AFP) – A Nepalese soldier in the British army has been given a top bravery award by Queen Elizabeth II for his heroics in Afghanistan, where he single-handedly saw off more than 30 Taliban fighters.

Corporal Dipprasad Pun, 31, said he thought he was going to die and so had nothing to lose in taking on the attackers who overran his checkpoint. He was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC), which is given in recognition of acts of conspicuous gallantry during active operations against the enemy.

Pun fired more than 400 rounds, launched 17 grenades and detonated a mine to repel the Taliban assault on his checkpoint near Babaji in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, last September. Surrounded, the enemy opened fired from all sides and for 15 minutes Pun remained under continuous attack, including from rocket-propelled grenades and AK47 guns. At one point, unable to shoot, he used his machine gun tripod to knock down a militant who was climbing the walls of the compound. Two insurgents were still attacking by the time he ran out of ammunition, but he set off a Claymore mine to repel them.

Pun was given his medal in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London on Wednesday.

The CGC is second only to the Victoria Cross — the highest honour for bravery in the face of the enemy. “There wasn’t any choice but to fight. The Taliban were all around the checkpoint. I was alone,” he said. “I had so many of them around me that I thought I was definitely going to die so I thought I’d kill as many of them as I could before they killed me.

“After that I thought nobody can kill us now — when we met the enemy I wasn’t scared.”

Britain’s Major General Nicholas Carter, who was commander of allied forces in southern Afghanistan during Pun’s deployment, praised his efforts. “The CGC does not get handed out lightly. It was a most remarkable achievement,” he said.          – – -end of news report- – –

NOW, THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN ABOUT!!!!!  WAY TO GO, PUN!!!!!  And I think Ayn Rand would definitely approve of your heroic action.

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About goldenmeantx
Truth seeker, fact finder, amateur philosopher, amateur historian, ex-soldier, ex-motorcycle racer, world traveler, rancher, hunter, gun owner, dirt bike rider, mountain bicycle rider, husband, father, grandfather, hard worker, good friend to all who put up with me, and even some who don't.

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