I think we are getting somewhere. I’m on Part 3 of Atlas Shrugged and am thrilled that I have taken on this book.
Like many people out there, I used to look at thick books and get discouraged. I didn’t think I would ever be able to finish them. Now, I realize that the thick books are the ones worth reading.
Atlas Shrugged is divided into three parts, with ten chapters in each part. I can’t even begin to go over the content of each chapter, but from that I have gathered, Ayn Rand focuses on “what is.” I don’t want to use the word “empiricism” because I just used that word in one of my previous posts, but I can’t find a better word.
Atlas Shrugged – Part 3 – A is A
If you look up what is behind “A is A” you’ll find that it’s Aristotle’s Law of Identity. Everything that exists has a specific nature. Each entity exists as something in particular and it has characteristics that are a part of what it is.
The first two sections of the book are: Non-Contradiction and Either-Or, so you can see the trend.
I’m enjoying this book. There have been so many terms that have led me to the computer to look up their meaning. Of course, one thing leads to another and I end up finding out that the day I just lived wasn’t a complete waste. I actually learned something. This book pulls back so many curtains, it’s terrible.
Strange thing… I was talking about Marxism just this morning. Last night I was reading about the Labor Theory of Value and thought it was interesting. I follow a blog that was put together by some people who are much smarter than I am. Much smarter than I will ever be. Anyway, they were talking about Karl Marx and Carl Menger and their differing views. I happen to agree with one of these men, but I won’t say which one. It seems that if someone has an opinion on economics these days, it’s the wrong opinion. Maybe I’ll write a post about the “Labor theory of value” another time.
The funny thing is, when I was just re-reading the Wikipedia page on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” I came across this line:
In addition to the plot’s more obvious statements about the significance of industrialists to society, and the sharp contrast it provides to the Marxist version of the Labor Theory of Value, this explicit conflict is used by Rand to draw wider philosophical conclusions, both implicit in the plot and via the characters’ own statements.
Isn’t that interesting? See, I had a feeling this all this stuff can be wrapped up in a ball to hold in your hand. I wrote an earlier post on my other blog about how challenging learning about philosophy was going to be. I am beginning to notice that most of us who are interested in philosophy are talking in circles with each other. We get the basics and share them. Now, there are people out there who blow us away with their knowledge. They are great, but what’s even greater are those who don’t just have knowledge, but who create knowledge. I gave up on that a long time ago. Even if I did come up with something great, I am not sure I would even share it with anyone. I just don’t have the ego to argue something like that.
Here’s a funny story that goes hand in hand with the “Where the heck have I been?” statement I wrote about earlier. A few weeks ago, I was looking through YouTube for some video on Atlas Shrugged. I wanted to see if anyone was planning a movie based on the book. I didn’t really come across any clear answers, but I did come across some book reviews. There were a few of the typical “males” who reviewed the book and were taken aback by it power. It seemed as these guys had a newfound reason for living. I have seen them before.
What was interesting and a bit embarrassing was a girl who was in high school who also gave a review. Her YouTube page showed tons of books that she gave reviews on. So what’s embarrassing about that? Well, besides the fact that a high schooler has read more books before tenth grade than I will read in my lifetime, I guess nothing. Again, where the heck was I? Oh yeah, I figured this one out yesterday. I was out in the driveway playing with my car. I know, I know. My fault.
I’m not sure what to write about when I finish the book. I don’t want to give a review on it since that’s been done many times before. Perhaps I will simply inform you that I’m done and whether I liked it or not. Then, you can make the decision whether to read it or to go about your day. So far, I can suggest that you read it.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
I am currently reading “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. Before I begin, you should really watch this interview so you can get a picture of what Ayn Rand’s personality is like:
Ayn Rand Mike Wallace Interview 1959 part 1
Ayn Rand Mike Wallace Interview 1959 part 2
Did you watch it? Good.
The Fountainhead was published in 1943, fourteen years before Atlas Shrugged. So far, it is proving to have a slow momentum, as opposed to Atlas Shrugged, which I found interesting almost from the very beginning. But this isn’t a comparison between the two books. I will say though that the words, “I wish I was still reading Atlas Shrugged” came out of my mouth a few days ago. I miss the book.
Even though The Fountainhead is off to a slower start, I think I am getting into the meat and potatoes of the whole thing. There was a conversation I read a few nights ago that prompted me to read and then re-read. Here goes…
“You know, Alvah, it would be terrible if I had a job I really wanted.”
“Well, of all things! Well, of all fool things to say! What do you mean?”
“Just that. That it would be terrible to have a job I enjoyed and did not want to lose.”
“Because I would have to depend on you–you’re a wonderful person, Alvah, but not exactly inspiring and I don’t think it would be beautiful to cringe before a whip in your hand–oh, don’t protest, it would be such a polite little whip, and that’s what would make it uglier. I would have to depend on our boss Gail–he’s a great man, I’m sure, only I’d just as soon never set eyes on him.”
“Whatever gives you such a crazy attitude? When you know that Gail and I would do anything for you, and I personally…”
“It’s not only that, Alvah. It’s not you alone. If I found a job, a project, an idea or a person I wanted–I’d have to depend on the whole world. Everything has strings leading to everything else. We’re all so tied together. We’re all in a net, the net is waiting, and we’re pushed into it by one single desire. You want a thing and it’s precious to you. Do you know who is standing ready to tear it out of your hands? You can’t know, it may be so involved and so far away, but someone is ready, and you’re afraid of them all. And you cringe and you crawl and you beg and you accept them–just so they’ll let you keep it. And look at whom you come to accept.”
“If I’m correct in gathering that you’re criticizing mankind in general…”
“You know, it’s such a peculiar thing–our idea of mankind in general. We all have a sort of vague, glowing picture when we say that, something solemn, big and important. But actually all we know of it is the people we meet in our lifetime. Look at them. Do you know any you’d feel big and solemn about? There’s nothing but housewives haggling at pushcarts, drooling brats who write dirty words on the sidewalks, and drunken debutantes. Or their spiritual equivalent. As a matter of fact, one can feel some respect for people when they suffer. They have a certain dignity. But have you ever looked at them when they’re enjoying themselves? That’s when you see the truth. Look at those who spend the money they’ve slaved for–at amusement parks and side shows. Look at those who’re rich and have the whole world open to them. Observe what they pick out for enjoyment. Watch them in the smarter speak-easies. That’s your mankind in general. I don’t want to touch it.”
“But hell! That’s not the way to look at it. That’s not the whole picture. There’s some good in the worst of us. There’s always a redeeming feature.”
“So much the worse. Is it an inspiring sight to see a man commit a heroic gesture, and then learn that he goes to vaudeville shows for relaxation? Or see a man who’s painted a magnificent canvas–and learn that he spends his time sleeping with every slut he meets?”
“What do you want? Perfection?”
“–or nothing. So, you see, I take the nothing.”
Basically, the beginning of this particular conversation reminds me of the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson:
I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
We all want things and the joy associated with them, but the question remains: How much are we going to give up for what we want?
I was talking about his particular conversation a few days ago. Without writing a really long post here, I will sum up what I said. I concluded that we all make sacrifices for things we think we want and we weigh those sacrifices against what our own tolerance for pain is.
Some people may want a powerful job with awesome responsibility, money and the feeling of importance. The pain associated with that job is that it may be thankless at times. You may not see your family. It may be high risk. You may be fired or experience more stress than the human body is built to handle for long periods of time.
Some people may want children and the experience and joy that comes along with them. The pain associated with that is the worry and fear of something happening.
Some people want to date the most beautiful person in town. The pain that comes along with beauty is that everyone wants it; the fact that you are dating it doesn’t seem to matter.
I usually have a pretty firm position on things. But the more I talk about something, the more I try to realize things from a different perspective. In this particular case, towards the end of our conversation, I realized that no matter what people do, they do things that they are comfortable with. If they are not comfortable with the feeling of loss, they will probably not choose to have a family or many pets. If they are aware that they can’t handle stress, they most likely won’t go for that high responsibility job. You get the idea. It’s a mental thing and it has to be considered on a case by case basis. This is why generalizing usually isn’t the best tactic when trying to gauge people.
So, in the conversation from the book above, I concluded that the first speaker (named Dominique) doesn’t have much tolerance for bowing to the power of someone else. She would choose to not mentally participate in whatever she is doing. She will do it, but no one will mentally own her. She obviously doesn’t have a tolerance for deceit or things that aren’t transparent. This is where Ayn Rand’s personality really comes through. That’s why I wanted you to watch the interview above.
I don’t know, I just found this conversation interesting. I liked it because it’s so familiar in so many people’s lives. Personally, I struggle with people who aren’t as curious as I am. I haven’t a clue as to why someone wouldn’t want to know something. But then again, I choose not to watch horror films because I get all stressed out. Some people love them. My point is that we avoid what’s generally uncomfortable and gravitate towards what makes us feel good.
I am going to post a video below of Howard Roark. He’s a main character and this is from the end of The Fountainhead.
The Fountainhead – Howard Roark Speech (Ayn Rand)
This gives you another insight into Ayn Rand’s mind.
A Brave New World and The Fountainhead
I read a paragraph in The Fountainhead a few nights ago that made me recall the last chapter of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” It had to do with self punishment. Well, after thinking about it for two or so days, that’s what I came up with.
From The Fountainhead:
Sometimes, not often, he sat up and did not move for a long time; then he smiled, the slow smile of an executioner watching a victim. He thought of the days going by, of the buildings he could have been doing, should have been doing and, perhaps, never would be doing again. He watched the pain’s unsummoned appearance with a cold, detached curiosity; he said to himself: Well, here it is again. He waited to see how long it would last. It gave him a strange, hard pleasure to watch his fight against it, and he could forget that it was his own suffering; he could smile in contempt, not realizing that he smiled at his own agony. Such moments were rare. But when they came, he felt as he did in the quarry: that he had to drill through granite, that he had to drive a wedge and blast the thing within him which persisted in calling to his pity.
And from Brave New World:
Half an hour later, three Delta-Minus landworkers from one of the Puttenham Bokanovsky Groups happened to be driving to Elstead and, at the top of the hill, were astonished to see a young man standing outside the abandoned lighthouse stripped to the waist and hitting himself with a whip of knotted cords. His back was horizontally streaked with crimson, and from weal to weal ran thin trickles of blood. The driver of the lorry pulled up at the side of the road and, with his two companions, stared open-mouthed at the extraordinary spectacle. One, two three–they counted the strokes. After the eighth, the young man interrupted his self-punishment to run to the wood’s edge and there be violently sick. When he had finished, he picked up the whip and began hitting himself again. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve…
Of course, you would have to read the surrounding paragraphs to get the full gist of what’s going on, but these types of scenarios are quite common in these types of books. It’s something I really enjoy reading.
Back in the beginning, I wondered why certain authors continually brought up various types of self punishment. They made a real effort to convey the agony of certain characters…agony these characters inflicted upon themselves (so it seemed). I would think to myself various ways to avoid this type of pain. After a while, I came to enjoy reading about challenges, defeat and how people through the ages just let it happen.
There are so many examples of huge historic figures giving in to the forces of those around them. To many people, it might seem that these figures have simply surrendered, but to those in the know, it’s quite the opposite. I don’t want to get off track here, but just think of Socrates…
Socrates’s followers encouraged him to flee, and citizens expected him to do so and were probably not averse to it; but he refused on principle. Apparently in accordance with his philosophy of obedience to law, he carried out his own execution, by drinking the hemlock poison provided to him. Socrates died at the age of 70. (Source)
I admire Socrates’ values.
Anyway, back to the self punishment thing. Here’s what I have come up with – For those of us who are brave enough and strong enough, we are willing to look at pain and explore it. We don’t push it aside in an effort to think of something more friendly. Pain is a reaction to something that needs to be changed (if one of your goals is to “live the good life” as they say). In today’s societies, so much negativity is plastered over. It’s hidden by what we have created to mask what we refuse to think about. Consider what we are forced to endure during our lives and what we do to ease what we try to avoid. And remember, it’s completely natural to try to avoid these types of feelings, it’s almost out of our hands. I’ll just name a few:
…actually, I’m not going to talk about that. I changed my mind. I would like to talk about the feeling of guilt for a while. Guilt is the source of so many other things and guilt isn’t discussed much. Well, I haven’t heard about it very often. Here’s my opinion: Guilt is something that someone else gives you. It’s a feeling that can last a lifetime and it’s not valid. If you were living alone on earth, there would be no action you could ever perform to feel guilty about, therefore, guilt is one of those gifts you shouldn’t accept. Guilt is a powerful de-motivator and control of genuine action.
I am getting so off track here, it’s not even funny.
Anyway, how does guilt, shame, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, etc…relate to what many philosophical authors have written about through the ages? Well, I think these are all emotions that we attempt to eliminate. We find various ways to sooth our feelings instead of facing them. It’s interesting to think about how many of us may never have a genuine feeling in our lives. When someone says they have “died inside,” I don’t think they are experiencing extreme sadness, I think they have lost their ability to feel. What these authors are trying to convey are those very real experiences of feeling. As in “Brave New World,” the character (the Savage) who was whipping himself was experiencing something he had lost for a long time. He chose to do this because he had trouble handling the new society those around him so gaily enjoyed. Take a look at this:
The Savage had chosen as his hermitage the old light-house which stood on the crest of the hill between Puttenham and Elstead. The building was of ferro-concrete and in excellent condition–almost too comfortable the Savage had thought when he first explored the place, almost too civilizedly luxurious. He pacified his conscience by promising himself a compensatingly harder self-discipline, purifications the more complete and thorough. His first night in the hermitage was, deliberately, a sleepless one. He spent the hours on his knees praying, now to that Heaven from which the guilty Claudius had begged forgiveness…
The Savage chose not to live in a society that didn’t encourage genuine feeling and self-awareness. When there’s an answer for everything, a drug we can take or a group that can help us feel better about what’s going on in our minds, we lose the ability to really focus on the issue’s source. I believe this creates a habit of avoidance. How can people solve issues when they don’t discuss them or feel the necessary pain associated with them?
Ayn Rand is particularly clever when it comes to this type of thing. Many of her characters have completely ignored any emotion that society has offered to replace self-awareness. What goes on in Atlas Shrugged is a topic unto itself, so I’ll just discuss a bit about a character in The Fountainhead.
Dominique Francon is one of the main characters of the book. For 205 pages, she has been steadily emotionless. After she meets Howard Roark (the character from the excerpt above), things change. For the first time in her life, she has met someone who is in touch with his personal identity.
It is only through Roark that her love of adversity and autonomy meets a worthy equal. These strengths are also what she initially lets stifle her growth and make her life miserable. She begins thinking that the world did not deserve her sincerity and intellect, because the people around her did not measure up to her standards. She starts out punishing the world and herself for all the things about man which she despises, through self-defeating behavior. She initially believes that greatness, such as Roark’s, is doomed to fail and will be destroyed by the ‘collectivist’ masses around them. She eventually joins Roark romantically, but before she can do this, she must learn to join him in his perspective and purpose. (Source)
The wonderful thing about these books and the way philosophy explains topics like this is that people can finally get an understanding of why they are the way they are.
How this relates to me…
I will admit to you that I am not the most amiable person at times. I tend to seek the truth in everything. Complacency makes my blood boil and I have difficulty getting along with certain types of people. I don’t know why, but it’s getting worse. As I grow older and become more aware, I get more and more frustrated with those who aren’t. Growing more aware that is.
So many times…so many times I have tried to just grin and bear it, but I can’t. It’s impossible.
I think that’s why I identify with so much of what’s written above. Very few have spent the time and effort analyzing and feeling enough to achieve any type of mental result, but when I find someone who has, I truly appreciate it.
Anyway, I just thought those were interesting excerpts and I enjoyed talking about them.