Sunday, March 20, 2011

Atlas part II: the personal

Yesterday I finished reading Atlas Shrugged, all 1160+ pages. The book had a curious effect on me. It seemed that whenever I read it, or thought much about it, I felt more invigorated, more determined, more interested in life. I'm not getting my hopes up; new drugs lose their effect with time.

Rand presents a worldview with the notion that the prosperity of a society derives from the selfishness and will-to-live of its members. This is grand-scale political talk, but the worldview also has intimately interpersonal and psychological facets.

So much comes down to the elasticity of language that it will never be absolutely clear if Rand is offering anything fundamentally different than what most people already believe. What his selfishness exactly? For that matter, what is self? If self is a genetic code, than isn't there some kind of overlap between a parent and child, such that a mother sacrificing for her baby is actually another kind of selfishness? And it's not just genetics; to the extent that ego is built on friendships and career, dedicating our lives to these things is again not sacrifice but selfishness.

Additionally, Rand's version of selfishness severely qualified. As the central dogma goes,
I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine. [emphasis added]
At least half of selfishness consists of actively taking from others; Rand absolutely rejects this part.

So, semantics aside but not forgotten, I find the Rand creed to be useful. I am a man of near-constant sorrow. I've seen sorrow all of my days. Of course the sorrow has many sources, including chemistry, but I think one that I've overlooked is the sorrow that consists of needless wishing that other people would live for the sake of me.

This wish has taken many forms:
  • I wish that an employer would pay me more or promote me faster.
  • I wish that more friends would devote more time and energy to inviting me to stuff, feeding me, and learning about me.
  • I wish that a romantic friend would show more interest in who I am and what I want.
All these are natural wishes, but according to the Rand creed, asking (or in the broadest sense, even wanting) for them is generally not productive. There is an undercurrent in society that corrupts us even as we sleep, an undercurrent that whispers that it is good and right and possible for us to be wanted and loved just "for who we are," independent of what we have to offer the world.

An empowering part of the Rand creed frees me to stop wasting my time looking for love where I have not earned it and from those to whom I have nothing to offer.


Blogger Jennifer Jo said...

I agree with this, I think.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous goodbadi said...

I agree with Jennifer Jo.

6:25 PM  
Blogger KTdid said...

Hmm. And I agree with goodbadi.

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Mountaineer said...

Freedom, maybe, is not "having nothing left to lose," but realizing that NO ONE owes me anything.

5:31 PM  

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