Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A hearty shrug for Atlas

I was born a sell-all-that-you-own-and-give-to-the-poor Jesus-freak communist. I believed that humanity deep down was bound together by a spiritual ether which would allow us all to achieve our highest potential collectively as soon as enough people woke up and brought their honey to Jesus, the queen bee of the spiritual hive. The way to get from here to this utopia was to lead by example, practicing generosity and service and putting the needs of others ahead of my own. This was no idle ideology. I gave a substantial portion of my earnings to charity and watched in admiration as family members dedicated years of their lives to service that represented real sacrifice. With tremendous enthusiasm I was headed down this same set of tracks.

Maybe it was money or income potential that derailed/liberated me. (It is a curious coincidence that many people seem to move away from socialist thought in lockstep with their savings accounts. This correlation (if it is even real -- a statistician can't think without data), raises some questions, and I am not trying to avoid them.) The wrecking balls that smashed my worldview were many.

The Practical:
The Experiential:
  • I volunteered. One semester I interned at the Mennonite Central Committee Washington Office, a group that lobbies for liberal Mennonite concerns in Washington. I very briefly experimented with after-school tutoring volunteer-ship and soup kitchen work. In every case I was struck by a lack of organization, lack of focus, and general inefficiency in these efforts. It made me sick. (Or was I too sick to see the good in it?)
  • Entering my first graduate program (an emotionally battering and lonely two years) I made sacrifices cut my spending enough so that I was saving a substantial portion of my meager graduate stipend. I took the cheapest apartment I could find, which resulted in going for a few weeks without hot water due to a malfunctioning landlord. I would have taken a cheaper place if I could have found one. This wrecking ball was older than the Bible: What fun is it trying to bail out people who are not even willing to ride along in a boat as lowly as mine in order to get ahead?
The Philosophical:
  • Without replacing the Spiritual Hive as an answer to why we are here, evolution gets as close as anything to the heart of it by answering why we are the way we are. The natural selection mechanism continually directs and defines humanity as agents of genetic propagation as unitized by individuals and families. Generosity (with corresponding notions of love) is supported within the natural selection framework, but only as tools for reproduction rather than ends in themselves. So are we slaves to our genetic inheritance? Can't humans "transcend" biology through mind and spirit? Let's hope so, but to the extent that we transcend at the expense of reproduction, these proclivities become more rare over generations of human reproduction, if I may be so mathematical about it.
  • Men (here, an abbreviation for humans) are not created equal. What is the measure of a man? There are many measures. From biology, the measure of a man is how many kids he has. From Wall Street, it's the size of his portfolio. From psychology, it's his love of life. From Facebook, it's how many friends he has. From academia, it's how many publications he produces. Combining all measures in any interesting way, some men are just smaller than others. Distributing wealth to men who are small on the scale of materialism might (at least temporarily) increase their materialistic size, but how does this affect all his other measures? It's just a gut feeling: I think redistribution for it's own sake is poison to the human psyche, both to the giver and the recipient. But do not confuse redistribution with investment. Self-interest fully supports generosity matched by accountability in the context of networks of human friendship untainted by pity.
This discussion is motivated by my reading of Atlas Shrugged, which I find valuable despite some shortcomings. Reading this book completes my transformation from communist to capitalist. Prior to reading this book I saw my movement away from communism as a [not necessarily bad] loss of morality, a loss of values. But Ayn Rand gives a language of morality to support individualism. It is evil to cripple one's own zeal for life for the sake of others. It is good to live in full affirmation of one's own progress. The Rand creed is simple. To understand its value, I can only recommend the book:
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.
This outlook has interesting applications in personal relationships and love, which I hope to discuss in a future post.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the Rand creed acknowledge the mysterious--um, earth-shattering--phenomenon of childbirth? Such an event's attendent repercussions?

sk

11:32 AM  
Blogger My Freakwentness said...

Care to expound?

1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He might mean that, unless a woman has had a baby, she can't be a philosopher.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous dr perfection said...

I am certain "sk" (a she) means that childbirth requires a woman to live for another human being -for her child.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Mountaineer said...

How about: "...'by my life and my love of it' I will live my life with yours"?

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just, natural law requires a relinquishment of the self. This becomes most evident in the bearing/raising of children. One MUST live for another's sake.

sk

6:36 PM  
Blogger My Freakwentness said...

sk, I may be just as ignorant about childbirth as Rand. Do parents love their children because they MUST? Or because they just actually love their children?

4:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say the love of one's child is programmed right into the heart, womb, breasts and every fiber of the woman (mother). Can't speak to the male programming.

ks

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Freakwenter,

My guess is that it's all one and the same.

Love, sk

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say that a mother loves her child because her heart, soul, mind, hands,womb, breasts--her entirety is programmed to do so!

ks

6:37 PM  
Blogger Esther G said...

parents feel love for their children because they just feel love their children. However parents act out love for their children because they must. It's made easier by the feeling of love, but honestly, no one relishes the lack of sleep and constant havoc that comes along with those lovely children
-Esther

4:59 PM  

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