7 4 mins 13 yrs

“But I still wonder how it was possible, in those graceless years of transition, long ago, that men did not see whither they were going, and went on, in blindness and cowardice, to their fate. I wonder, for it is hard for me to conceive how men who knew the word “I,” could give it up and not know what they lost. But such has been the story, for I have lived in the City of the damned, and I know what horror men permitted to be brought upon them.

Perhaps, in those days, there were a few among men, a few of clear sight and clean soul, who refused to surrender that word. What agony must have been theirs before that which they saw coming and could not stop! Perhaps they cried out in protest and in warning. But men paid no heed to their warning. And they, these few, fought a hopeless battle, and they perished with their banners smeared by their own blood. And they chose to perish, for they knew. To them, I send my salute across the centuries, and my pity.”

I have just finished reading Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’, ‘Fountainhead’, and most recently, ‘Anthem’. The quote above is from ‘Anthem’. I have been ruminating over Objectivism ever since, and will write some of my thoughts about that philosophy in another post.

‘Anthem’ is very short and easy to read. I enjoyed it (I enjoyed all of the Ayn Rand books that I’ve read!) and will recommend it to you and to both of my daughters as well.

The two paragraphs quoted above struck me. How do we continue to find ourselves facing this same battle, over and over again through history?

It seems to me that most lives lived involve a struggle for learning, trial by error. Making mistakes – learning from them – going back at it until it’s right. Hopefully we receive some guidance in our struggles, and then we probably get a few things right before we die. How is it, then, that of all the generations of struggle, making mistakes, learning from them – over and over, lives lived and knowledge passed on, how is it that we find ourselves on that slippery slope once again? Too close to the horrifying possibilities that await – barely able to (hopefully) pull ourselves out?

I agree with the paragraph following the two quoted above:

“Theirs is the banner in my hand. And I wish I had the power to tell them that the despair of their hearts was not to be final, and their night was not without hope. For the battle they lost can never be lost. For that which they died to save can never perish. Through all the darkness, through all the shame of which men are capable, the spirit of man will remain alive on this earth. It may sleep, but it will awaken. It may wear chains, but it will break through. And man will go on. Man, not men.”

I agree with it, but despair at the suffering, the horror, the misery of so many if we allow ‘I’ to be taken from us in some collectivist’s wet dream once again. Sure, if the worst happens it won’t last forever. But it will last long enough to destroy an untold number of lives. The people who suffered are not nameless, faceless people – they are real and innocent people like you and me and our children. The lesson learned to be forgotten in a couple of generations. The mistake repeated.

 

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G.M.

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7 thoughts on “‘I’

  1. >>How do we continue to find ourselves facing this same battle, over and over again through history? <<

    Monica, it’s all part of recurring historical dialectics, neatly explained by Hegel.

  2. Monica –

    As you say, It seems to me that most lives lived involve a struggle for learning, trial by error.

    I’d like to read what you think. I cannoy deny the Objectivist logic, yet also it seems a touch hardcore even for me.

  3. Noel – fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. My Gawd – these philosophers are constantly arguing amongst themselves over the centuries, aren’t they? Overall I’m still depressed about it.

    Pete, I am still thinking it over. There are parts of it that I don’t agree with – as you say a bit hardcore. Overall I like it. I would call myself an Objectivist except for my belief in God. Sort of like I could be a Humanist except for my belief in God. That belief (apparently) disqualifies me from thinking logically according to some. Acknowledgment of a spiritual being as an important part of humanity is essential to me personally.

    M

  4. Monica,

    "I would call myself an Objectivist except for my belief in God. Sort of like I could be a Humanist except for my belief in God. That belief (apparently) disqualifies me from thinking logically according to some"

    Well specifically, it disqualifies you according to Ayn Rand and the Objectivists. Really Monica that’s not far from saying you’d qualify as an atheist except for your belief in God. Rand herself even despised agnostics.

    Objectivists are not known for agreeing to disagree. It’s part of the whole concept – they consider that they are right, objectively, and everyone else is wrong. About everything. But they are mistaken 🙂

  5. In the mid 60’s and my late 20’s I was a strict and most devout Catholic. I believed in God and recalled how the nuns and Jesuit priests had taught me to prove His existence, though I had long since forgotten how the arguments went. In my early schooling I had taken that and algebra, geometry, physics and history etc. every bit as seriously as they gave it to me. I became compulsive about understanding. I wanted truth. In the college years and on my own intellectually, ambiguities and contradictions in my religious training joined that problem of the lost proof. My questions about life and how to live it got bigger, but the answers of my Church and other religions stayed the same. Then one day, a best friend who saw me waging my skeptical battles in arguments suggested I read Ayn Rand.

    I started with The Virtue Of Selfishness because it was the only one on the newsstand near my apartment. I still have that old yellow paperback with my slashing penciled marginalia screaming NO! CANT’ BE SO! and such along with an equal number of expressions of profound agreement. But my protestations could not overwhelm the fact that it was the first time anyone had actually answered one of those big questions. So, naturally, I read more — The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, Anthem, and eventually all of the non-fiction works — to see if she could answer any more of them.

    She did, but not specifically one by one. Rather she wove a web of principles into a comprehensive system. She did not feed me pat answers. She taught me how to think. She taught me how to spot principles at work that were common to ostensibly disparate subject matter. She taught me how to answer my own questions. She demanded that I never accept what she or others said without conducting my own validation. Soon I had no reason to ask my Church or anyone else’s anything. Next to Objectivism, religion seemed contrived and irrelevant. I wondered what kind of God must it be who would create human beings and endow them with a faculty that could comprehend and make use of the rest of the existence to fulfill the nature with which He endowed them, then demand as homage that they renounce it and believe in random, preposterous, and contradictory explanations of the universe solely on faith.

    I never felt the necessity to renounce the idea of God. It just ceased to be of use all on its own and faded away. The idea of an unknowable dictator of my life that had been conjured up by others for me along with their assertions of unchosen obligations to them in His name was the same spiritual being you presently feel is an important part of humanity. But that ambiguous, undefinable spirit pales in comparison to the real spirit that is your actual soul — your mind and all of its contents — and the exhilaration of experiencing your own efficacy and worth.

    Agreeing with Rand but for the issue of that spirit is not necessarily irrational. You have no reason to abandon any principle without a superior replacement. Having only read the three novels, you have no way of comparing her systematic philosophy to one cobbled together out of religious traditions. Of course I highly recommend that you pursue it, but that comes with a cautionary caveat: the value within Objectivism is not obtainable without intellectual courage and independence, an honest mind, and the willingness to challenge any and every preconception. It requires as well an expense of much time and mental effort to understand it and learn how to apply it and to actually integrate it into your life. On the other hand, that journey is as exciting as any you will ever undertake.

    For your readers who might want a quick survey of her ideas in the form of quotations from works by her and some of her associates (on over 200 topics), go to The Ayn Rand Lexicon.

  6. Frank – as I said, I’m still thinking it over. 😉 Much of the philosophy strikes me as NOT being at odds with my Christian values and understanding of God, but it is presented as thus by Ms. Rand. (Although my understanding of God doesn’t fit in well with any organized religion that I have come across yet.) Why would, for example, my gratification and satisfaction with my own abilities be considered as something alien to those with a belief in God? Perhaps, in the bad old days, the Church (capital ‘C’) taught that what they term ‘pride’ was a sin. I don’t believe for a minute that God believes that gratification and satisfaction with ones God given abilities (that a person admittedly has made the choice to develop) is a bad thing. On the other hand, many of the qualities valued by an Objectivist – standing up for ones principles no matter what the rest of the herd thinks would be one example – is also a quality that my Christian belief values and even demands.

    Michael – I appreciate you sharing your experience. It is of great value to me. I don’t believe that God demands as homage that we denounce the very nature that God gave us. I DO believe that the Catholic Church demanded that – and it is wrong in my opinion. That among many other reasons explains my own problematic relationship with the Church. (capital C) Well, as you can see I have just barely been introduced to the subject but I am very interested in it and I enjoy thinking about it. Perhaps the importance of God will fade for me, but I don’t think so. I see it differently than you, but it’s hard to explain. I see our spirit – the one you talk about – as a part of God in a way. It is the way it’s supposed to be. I have to think some more about it and maybe someday I will find the words for what I mean. Of course there are other issues besides that – the unchosen obligations that you mention and which I initially believe to mean charity (although there are other obligations that are not quite so tangible that I would be unhappy to meet but that some may feel that they can demand of me..) and that one I have just begun to think through. I teach my own children as I have been taught that we can do little things to help others less fortunate, and because of that teaching I believe it’s a good thing.

    Anyhoo – I could go on and on. It isn’t codified. But thanks again for your response and thoughts on the issue.

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