Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ayn-alyzing ~ (2)

(More reflections on Ayn Rand for Christian consideration.)

On the last pages of the 35th anniversary edition (Plume Book, 1992) of Atlas Shrugged, in a section entitled “About the Author,” we read:
“My personal life,” says Ayn Rand, “is a postscript to my novels: it consists of the sentence: ‘And I mean it.’ I have always lived by the philosophy I present in my books—and it has worked for me, as it works for my characters. …” (p. 1170).
She describes her characters, heroes, (and self) thus:
It is proper for a creator to have an unlimited confidence in himself and his ability, to feel certain that he can get anything he wishes out of life, that he can accomplish anything he decides to accomplish, and that it up to him to do it. (He feels it because he is a man of reason …) … [But he must] not place his wish primarily within others and does not attempt or desire anything that is of a collective nature, anything that concerns others primarily or requires primarily the exercise of the will of others. (This would be an immoral desire or attempt, contrary to his nature as a creator.) If he attempts that, he is out of a creator’s province and in that of the collectivist and the second-hander (p. xii).
The trouble with Ayn however, (and her enthusiasts) is at least twofold. Firstly, the “over-optimism” and “over-confidence” in “man as heroic being”—i.e., in the creators, prime-movers, “ideal men” of her philosophy. About such men she wrote:
“I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don’t exist. That this book has been written—and published—is my proof that they do” (p. 1171).
[Wow! What a formula! “To write and publish = proof.”]

But back to “over-confidence” and “over-optimism.”

Ayn critiques her heroine Dagny for:
Over-optimism—in that she thinks men [second-handers, i.e. non-creators] are better than they are, she doesn’t really understand them and is generous about it.
Over-confidence—in that she thinks she can do more than an individual actually can [i.e., work with second-handers on a rational basis or as their motivator] (p. xi).
The parallel between the error-afflicted Dagny and the optimistic, idealistic Ayn might be written thus (= my proof!?)
Over-optimism—in that [Ayn] thinks men [“creators”] are better than they are, she doesn’t really understand them and is generous about it.
Over-confidence—in that she thinks she can do more than an individual actually can [i.e., accomplish many things of great import without some large element of the dreaded collective—like building/running a railroad, a steel mill, an oil refinery, a factory, etc., etc.]
All of which brings us to the second “trouble”: Ayn’s apparent inability to see inverse and parallels. She seems to have no awareness of “on the other hand.” Let’s take a small portion of John Galt’s radio address. He accuses the world he has abandoned:
… You have sacrificed justice to mercy. You have sacrificed independence to unity. You have sacrificed reason to faith. You have sacrificed wealth to need. You have sacrificed self-esteem to self-denial. You have sacrificed happiness to duty (p. 1010).
In our corrupted, fallen world, some of that may be, too frequently, true, but what if we take the inverse? Might Christians not say to Ayn/John:
YOU [in your Objective/Subjective? style) have sacrificed mercy to [your sense of] justice. You have sacrificed unity to independence. You have sacrificed faith to reason. You have sacrificed need to wealth. You have sacrificed self-denial to self-esteem. You have sacrificed duty to happiness.
And might we not add? When is anything so cut and dried—so either/or? Isn’t most of life a synthesis? Justice AND mercy. Independence AND unity. Reason AND faith. Wealth AND need. Self-esteem AND self-denial. Happiness AND duty.

As admitted, Ayn profiles some unfortunate truths because our world is a revolving, recycling mess. And why is that? Is it not, in large measure, because too many of us are committed to having things/ ideas/ expectations/ rewards/ compensations/ relationships, etc. on OUR terms, in OUR way, according to OUR reason and nature, without acknowledging limited vision, comprehension, maturity, etc.—not to mention, our neighbor?

Ayn’s fictional elitists are convinced the world cannot exist without their “minds”—without their way of doing things. In short, Ayn is just one more in a long line of passionate, déjà vu advocates for “having it, doing it MY way.” Except, with her (God-given!) gifts, she has created epic, sympathetic anti-heroes—which leads us to a third “trouble.”

The third “trouble” is that Ayn’s deftness in comparing the worst corruptions of religion, society, and government to the superlative imaginations of “ideal man” has led many a good Christian down the garden path, past the tree of knowledge and into that twilight where John Galt “traced in space the sign of the dollar” (p. 1168).

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For thoughts about another Ayn enthusiast who was also inverse-/parallel-challenged, see: http://www.dejavu-times.blogspot.ca/2010/03/if-how-what.html

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ayn-alyzing ~ (1)

(Reflections on Ayn Rand*)

This year 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Ayn Rand—the controversial author/philosopher. Here is a fascinating quote from Wikipedia about her influence on our contemporary world:
In 1991, a survey conducted for the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club asked club members what the most influential book in the respondent’s life was. Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was the second most popular choice, after the Bible.[1]
The more fascinating thing is how many Bible readers are also Ayn Rand devotees without any apparent awareness of the incongruities. These devotees cannot be accused of halting between two opinions,[2] for they seem able to champion both simultaneously without discomfort. On the assumption that most religious folk have an evolving intellectual and practical understanding of faith, hope, and charity, here are a few more Wikipedia quotes with which to juxtapose Biblical values.
In metaphysics, Rand supported philosophical realism, and opposed anything she regarded as mysticism or supernaturalism, including all forms of religion. In epistemology, she considered all knowledge to be based on sense perception, the validity of which she considered axiomatic, and reason, which she described as “the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” She rejected all claims of non-perceptual or a priori knowledge, including “‘instinct,’ ‘intuition,’ ‘revelation,’ or any form of ‘just knowing.’”

In ethics, Rand argued for rational egoism (rational self-interest), as the guiding moral principle. She said the individual should “exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.” She referred to egoism as “the virtue of selfishness” in her book of that title, in which she presented her solution to the is-ought problem by describing a meta-ethical theory that based morality in the needs of “man’s survival qua man”. [3]
In the brief “Introduction to the 35th Anniversary Edition”[4] of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, we read in Ayn’s own words how she considered herself to be “creating a new, original abstraction and translating it through new, original means. This, as far as I know, is only me—my kind of fiction writing. May God forgive me (Metaphor!) if this is mistaken conceit! As near as I can now see it, it isn’t.”

She saw this as demonstrating “a new moral philosophy: the morality of rational self-interest.” And “in an interview with Mike Wallace, Rand declared herself ‘the most creative thinker alive.’”[5]

The chief problem is: history does not substantiate her claims to originality. Her “new” ideas are really translations of “an old (known) abstraction (theme or thesis) … .” [6] And considering the universality of self-interest (often combined with self-focus), she and her creation, John Galt, are not the first self-anointed prime movers to feel unappreciated and persecuted. Nor the first to withdraw in strike (or sulk[7], as the case may be)—to establish a more perfect union of devotees (in ironic imitation of Ayn’s dreaded collective). She scorned old ideas recycled, especially “through the medium of old fiction means”[8]), yet her recycling of one of the oldest ideas (self-interest—even rational self-interest) and her sense of self-importance as a “prime mover” are as old as the Garden, if not older.

For readers of the Book of Mormon, Ayn is pretty much déjà vu Korihor. And Korihor, but déjà vu the lofty oaks and cedars of Isaiah and Zechariah:
And this Anti–Christ, whose name was Korihor, … began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ. And after this manner did he preach, saying: O ye that are bound down under a foolish and a vain hope, why do ye yoke yourselves with such foolish things? Why do ye look for a Christ? For no man can know of anything which is to come. Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers. … Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ. Ye look forward and say that ye see a remission of your sins. But behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind; and this derangement of your minds comes because of the traditions of your fathers, which lead you away into a belief of things which are not so. And many more such things did he say unto them, telling them that … every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime. …And Korihor said …: Ye say that this people is a free people. Behold, I say they are in bondage. (Book of Mormon Alma 30:12-18, 23-24; underlined emphasis added.)
For Korihor, rules, regulations, and religious beliefs were bondage. Freedom was the liberty to do, see, pursue, and manage things in a personal, rational way—to be a law unto himself. For Ayn and her “Objectivism” (i.e., subjectivism in sheep’s clothing!?), it is “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”[9]

But for Christian believers particularly, shouldn’t the question be: How does this recycled philosophy jive with the tenets of the Gospel? And a second question: Is not the pursuit of rational self-interest (blind and deaf to “the great commandment[s] in the law”[10]), the recurring (déjà vu) offense that God and His prophets so repeatedly castigate?
They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall. (Doctrine and Covenants Section 1:16)
If the BIG test[11] in this phase of existence is between
□ GOD’S will (higher ways and thoughts)[12]
AND
□ MY will (lower ways and thoughts)
which selection does Ayn commend? And how does reason, intelligence, and growth ever expand in those imprisoned in Flatland[13] because they can’t (won’t?) see or fathom “cubic”?

Considering that Ayn’s “biographer Jennifer Burns referred to her as “the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right”[14] perhaps the right needs to do a lot more honest and forthright Ayn-alyzing!

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* For a previous reflection on Ayn Rand, see http://www.dejavu-times.blogspot.ca/2009/11/romance-of-ayn-rand.html

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand under “Popular Interest” subheading.
[2] “And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.” (Old Testament 1 Kings 18:21)
[3] Wikipedia at footnote 1 under “Philosophy” subheading.
[4] Introduction written by Leonard Peikoff (September 1991), quote at p. xv.
[5] Wikipedia at footnote 1 under “Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism” subheading.
[6] See reference in footnote 4.
[7] Possible differentiation: Strike—when those of lesser power and income withhold their work and talents from those of greater power and income (usually their employers) in order to bargain for greater equity and fairness. Sulk—when those of great creativity, egoism, and self-confidence withdraw their resources and talents (God-given gifts?) from society as a whole—and second-handers, in particular—because they feel unappreciated, unacknowledged, and offended.
[8] See reference in footnote 4.
[9] Wikipedia at footnote 1 under “Philosophy” subheading.
[10] “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (New Testament Matthew 22:36-40)
[11] For example, see this blogger’s discourse on WILL in 3 parts found at http://dejavu-timestwo.blogspot.ca/2011/10/will-we-ever-get-it-part-1.html ; http://dejavu-timestwo.blogspot.ca/2011/10/will-we-ever-get-it-part-2.html ; and http://dejavu-timestwo.blogspot.ca/2011/10/will-we-ever-get-it-part-3.html
[12] “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Old Testament Isaiah 55:9)
[13] Read Edwin A. Abbott’s, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (pub. 1884).
[14] Wikipedia at footnote 1 under “Political Influence” subheading.
 
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