Atlas Shrugged and Conformity

Posted By carlos on May 13, 2011

I first read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand about 40 years ago. At the time, in my youth, after having read the book, I was both ecstatic and depressed.

Atlas ShruggedWhy was I exhilarated and depressed, because I saw both sides of myself. I saw those moments of bliss and exhilaration when I accomplished something regardless of what others thought. I also recognized those moments when I succumbed to social guilt and cultural pressure and felt miserable.

Atlas Shrugged hammers the very virtues of society. It pits the philosophy of free will and its sister, liberty, against the philosophy of compassion and its sister, altruism. It questions our social morality.

How do you reconcile the desire for liberty and self-expression and comply with the moral dictates of society?

Capitalism

Capitalism and all the other socio-political/economic “isms” strive to define a system of rules, a framework that gives order to a society. If liberty is the driving force of a community, then Capitalism or some version of Capitalism appears to be the ‘ism’ of choice.

Pure Capitalism imposes no restrictions on an individual’s pursuit of wealth. Unfortunately, the holders of that wealth become power mongers that impose their will on those with less wealth through sheer force of their accumulated wealth and exploit the masses in subtle and perverse ways.

On the other hand, planned systems like Socialism and Communism impose centralized control and attempt to distribute wealth equitably among the population. Again, unfortunately, the holders of that power, the power of law, will impose their will on those without able representation.

More often than not, common sense judgment is non-existent in an altruistic world and one law fits all forcing all to comply under penalty of law. On the other end of the law are those that take advantage of the law and demand their “God given” equality.

Freedom and Liberty

So how do you reconcile the desire for freedom and liberty in all our pursuits with the desire to leave no man behind?

Ayn Rand champions captains of industry. Except that there are no longer any champions of industry, only multi-headed corporations devouring resources like the multi-headed Hydra of Greek mythology.

The novel celebrates the individual and the arrogance of truth but only focuses that celebration through the lens of free enterprise. The saga equates liberty and freedom with making money. It declares that monetary gain and liberty are inseparable.

It is true that without social, economic, and political liberty and freedom, individuals are not free to choose their labor. Consequently, without freedom they cannot make whatever money they desire or deem necessary.

The liberty and freedom that our forefathers declared is not limited to the pursuit of money. It encompasses all aspects of human life. It is a matter of dreaming a dream and having the freedom to achieve that dream.

Responsibility

We confuse the achievement of wealth, through creativity and production, with truths that have been declared, “to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights … life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That ideal assumes equality in terms of potential, not in terms of capabilities. It assumes responsibility.

With our inalienable rights come responsibilities. Were that not true we would experience anarchy in this human reality.  Because humanity is unequal in its understanding of those responsibilities, nations enact laws to allow for the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

I would venture to guess that most would agree that without some law in place, our American society would resemble the pinnacle example of the survival of the fittest. The American Wild West would be a love story in comparison to the resulting lawless anarchy.

It is fair to say then, that as a society we define through law what our responsibilities should be in our pursuit of life, liberty, happiness. The cornerstone, the foundation, of that definition is our Constitution.

Hypocrisy and Injustice

Atlas Shrugged confirms the hypocrisy of our society. We applaud truth, individualism and creativity and enforce conformity. There is no denying that injustice abounds in this the freest of all countries, but therein lies responsibility.

Injustice is not a result of the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. It is the result of not taking individual responsibility of our potentials and converting them into capabilities through action. It is the result of greed, greed for power. It is the result of lust for the power of control.

Human Spirit

Knowledge and experience forge the human spirit. Culture and religion taint the human spirit. I am not a ‘religionist’ nor am I an atheist, but I recognize the Divine Spirit in humanity. The Declaration of Independence addresses that Divine Spirit. It is the potential of humankind.

It is unfortunate but necessary that for lack of an understanding of responsibility, we must limit the divine potential in humanity through law. It is when that law institutes “a long train of abuses and usurpations” that a nation must question its laws and the powers that allow them.

Are we approaching that limitation? Over fifty years ago, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged warned us of an alarming trend in government.  Today we allow corporations and religion to control our government and force the subtle and perverse slow boil of conformity.

Nonetheless, I must ask. Where would you be were it not for the Civil Rights legislation of 1964?

Environmental Questions

Posted By carlos on December 20, 2009

I do not consider myself an environmentalist at least not in the sense of a torch bearing gun-toting advocate. Nevertheless, not to perceive that we humans are detrimentally affecting the environment is blind stubbornness.

roses

You need only look at the smoke stacks emitting their billows of thick chalk colored smoke.  Drive down a freeway with your windows rolled down and gag from the fumes. Look at the millions of acres stripped naked of their natural growth like a boot camp haircut.

If you cannot give this observation any credibility, then you do not stop to smell the roses.

Is this affecting the melting of our glaciers and the warming of our poles? Scientists cannot agree.

I know that we are the masters of the earth. Masters charged with the command to subdue Mother Earth and to have dominion over it and its kingdom.

I do not think that command implies desecration. It implies responsibility. What ruler that plunders and rapes is respected by his subjects? Fear and force will triumph for only so long before revolution festers and overthrows.

You may argue that there is a difference. You may argue that a soul that rules over another in discord and malevolence is different from dominion over the inanimate.

Mother Earth has a soul. It may not be a soul defined by religion, but it has a soul, an essence. Look at Nature all around you. Can it be denied that Mother Earth lives? I think not.

Have we not become parasites that gnaw at the surface and devour the bowels of this living creature we call home? We need its resources to survive. Must we devour it to satisfy those needs? We take from the bowels of earth. What have we done to replace what we have removed?
A wise man saves a few kernels of corn to plant and grow food for another day.

I am for individual freedom and for our capitalistic way of life. But, with that freedom comes responsibility. How do we hold ourselves responsible without strangling individuality? Unfortunately, only binding treaties and more laws can stymie the plunder of our planet. We can’t do it on our own.

What do you think?

photo by mezuni@flickr

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About the author

carlos

Carlos Perez is a free lance writer. He has published in magazines, newspapers, and the internet. Perez writes about health, politics, science, social issues and metaphysics.