Fact, Opinion and Annoyance

A Review of Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism
February 12, 2009, 3:36 pm
Filed under: Books | Tags: ,

Before I begin, please note that I am not a literary critic or a philosopher. Just a Mom trying to stretch her brain before it atrophies.

First the story. I thought it was a pretty good yarn (if long) but I found the characters to be very flat. But then again, she was novelising her philosophical ideas so the characters are supposed to represent ideas, not fully formed complicated people. I’m glad she chose that route because frankly I find straight philosophy a little dry (like Galt’s speech, I admit to skimming a little through that part). Also I thought it was a little silly that all the heroes were gorgeous and all the villains were ugly. I mean honestly, if production is the highest virtue than why make such a big deal out of physical attributes? But I digress . . .

Based on my understanding of Objectivism from the book, info on the Web, and reading some articles from The Objective Standard, it sounds pretty good to me in theory. Being a science/math person myself, I naturally tend toward logic and reason in my decision making process. I am also a self-reliant, productive person so I see those ideas as virtues. I believe that the free-market system is the most moral economic system developed by man – in terms of both the inherent justice in the system and it being the best means of improving the standard of living of individuals across the board, so I agree with her economic ideas. And since I’m practically Libertarian in my political views I have a hard time finding a disagreement with her concept of government.

What I find lacking in Ms. Rand’s philosophy is that there is no acknowledgement of the third dimension of man: his soul. Her philosophy may well provide for man’s body and his mind, but it starves the soul by denying that which it longs for – a connection with its Creator.

It has always seemed to me that if naturalistic evolution were true, that Nature is a cruel creator. Of all the species, to give one the ability to rise above mere subsistence into the realm of consciousness but with no instincts on how to use it. Our evolution must be horribly incomplete. (On a side note, I’ve been reading some things by Michael Cremo, who has an idea that we did not evolve from a lesser being, but we have actually devolved from higher beings – interesting) It seems to me that in that case we are all left to our own devices. We cannot look to our animal cousins who do not possess this sense; as we would not look at the blind to determine how best to see. I guess we all end up trying our different concepts of society and we see who comes out on top (or who manages to survive, whichever the case may be). Of course, as a scientist, it would be faster and easier to segregate the population by world view (like Orson Scott Card did in the Ender books and each group had their own planet). As it is, it would be mind-boggling to try and control for all the variables in the system. Again, I’m getting off topic a little . .

It’s never really been that big of a issue for me. God exists. “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:20. In addition, I have a personal relationship with Him. God is a real entity to me, not just a spirit somewhere up there in the sky. He has a character and a plan. These are best understood through reading the Bible. Prayer also repairs the spiritual connection to God that is broken down by sin so that we may have another means of communication with Him.

The previous paragraph is an attempt to articulate my starting position for dealing with information. Everybody has one. Nobody is really “open-minded” – well maybe some people are, but I don’t see how you maintain any intellectual integrity by not accepting anything as absolute. And while some may argue that Christianity is just a system of rules, every other system also has it’s rules (or laws, or tenets). This brings me to the four specific fundamentals of Objectivist philosophy (and my evaluation of them):

1) The concept of man as a heroic being – I agree. We are made in the image of Almighty God. When we are “unheroic” it can be traced back to our decision to walk away from God’s plan.

2) His own happiness as the moral purpose of his life – She defines happiness as “that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.” She specifically states that happiness is not the result of self-gratification (something it seems she should have kept in mind in her own life). My values are to honor God and follow His commandments. Everything else I do in my life is in pursuit of these values. So yes, my purpose in life is to be happy by reaching my goals.

3) Productive achievement as his noblest activity – I think this one is my favorite. It’s difficult to help others if you have nothing of your own. I don’t see productive achievement as the evil means to the glorious ends of helping those less fortunate. I see it as the gracious means provided by God for us to care for ourselves and then to turn around do His will. What is better in the long run – to give a man half of your loaf of bread and then leave him where you found him or to work hard and find yourself so productive that you hire the man as an assistant, which teaches that man a skill and provides him with a steady income to buy his own bread? Too often, we (individuals and the government) act in the first manner and give ourselves a nice pat on the back about how altruistic we are. At which point altruism ceases to be altruism and becomes a means to elevate our self-worth. I’m not even sure true altruism is possible. We always have an ulterior motive. Mine is being obedient to God. Interestingly, while Ayn Rand didn’t think much of charity, she acknowledged that one can do whatever they like with their own money. She really had a problem with the idea of government redistribution of wealth. As do I. My friend put it this way, “Doing things for others because you choose to is beautiful. Doing it because you have to is tyranny.”

4) Reason his only absolute – Fair enough. But if one holds the absolute conviction that God is real and the Bible is true, then I would argue it is unreasonable to ignore the wealth of wisdom and knowledge contained therein.

How can I believe? Faith. Again the issue of definition of terms arises. Some would argue that faith and reason are set against one another. I say it depends on your definition of each. A quick internet search shows that there are several definitions of each word, some that would be contradictory and some that are not. I define faith as “a well-grounded assurance of that for which we hope, and a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1-Weymouth New Testament (emphasis mine).

Faith of this sort is used all the time. It’s how reasonable people make decisions on our future. We logically think through all the possibilities and choose the one that seems best. We then act with a well-grounded assurance that our logic will serve us well. It’s how science is conducted. Henry Reardon knew that Reardon metal was out there, even if it took him ten years to find it. That fictional example can be applied to any number of technological or medical advances. I think reason is only useful if you step out in faith and go where your reason leads you. Ayn Rand argues that a man must think. I would argue that he must also act.

In the end, I find several things about her theory attractive. Some things don’t seem to fit – she only touches briefly on children. I got the impression that she figures they must be important, but she’s not really sure why. I’m sure she’d think I ruined it by relating it to God or faith in anyway – but maybe not. Maybe she’s be glad that I’m using my own mind and not blindly accepting her view of things. Either way, I’m glad I read it. Now on to The Plague by Camus. I can tell from the first chapter it’s going to be a very different sort of a book.

3 Comments so far
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The largest problem with being religious and trying to be objectivist at the same time is that god is not logically deducable. A problem that I am afraid cannot be solved.

For many people, I think that in the end, they may found out that their belief in god is actually nothing but the belief in themselves and their fellow man. I see no need for the concept God, when I have myself and my belief in man. This may be called blasphemy and resentable pride on my behalf – but I take no blame for believing in my own ability, as well as the ability of others. In the end, if I am to believe in something it is in the heroic efforts of the generations before me, that has successfully brought us from the miserable state of poverty to where we are now. We may call it god if we wish, but unfortunately most people tend to use the concept god for their own purposes.

Comment by hpx83

Your emotions are driving you. You want to beleive in God and the Bible, so you are distorting the philosophy of Rand (which you know logically to be true) into something it is not: a philosophy that sanctions mysticism and faith. It is absurd to describe belief in the Bible as true as a rational conviction: men do not live in whales, rise from the dead, perform miracles in violation of nature, etc. Jesus’ moral teachings are diametrically opposed to Objectivism. The Bible preaches that we are sinful and in need of forgiveness. That is a basic tenant of your faith. Objectivism says we are beautiful, magnificent beings that deserve to achieve and find happiness and that we do not need permission to live. You seem like an intelligent and well meaning person. I’m sorry, but it is either/or: either your emotional attachment to religion or the verdict of your mind that facts are facts. You can’t have your Objectivism and eat it too.

Comment by Richard

I appreciate the comments, and would just say what I told a friend – if I had to accept Objectivism exactly as it is, I would reject it. But I thought it was an interesting exercise the see how the concepts fit into my own worldview. I have had more time to consider the ideas and some new thoughts – one of the problems with my brain is that it never stops working. It makes sleeping difficult. 🙂

Comment by shevrae

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