Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

If music was emotion and emotion came from thought, then this was the scream of chaos, of the irrational, of the helpless, of man’s self abdication.

There is no necessity for pain – why, then, is the worst pain reserved for those who will not accept its necessity?

‘I think that now you have reached college age, you ought to learn something about ideals. It’s time to forget your selfish greed and give some thought to your social responsibilities, because I think that all those millions you’re going to inherit are not for your personal pleasure, they are a trust for the benefit of the underprivileged and the poor, because I think  that the person who doesn’t realise this is the most depraved type of human being.’

Francisco answered courteously, ‘It is not advisable, James, to venture unsolicited opinions. You should spare yourself the embarrassing discovery of their exact value to your listener.’

They kept their secret from the knowledge of others, not as a shameful guilt, but as a thing that was immaculately theirs, beyond anyone’s right of debate or appraisal. She knew the general doctrine on sex, held by people in one form or another, the doctrine that sex was an ugly weakness of man’s lower nature, to be condoned regretfully. She experienced an emotion of chastity that made her shrink, not from the desires of her body, but from any contact with the minds who held this doctrine.

You go through life looking for beauty, for greatness, for some sublime achievement, he said. And what do you find? A lot of trick machinery for making upholstered cars and inner-spring mattresses.

Man’s only talent is an ignoble cunning for satisfying the needs of his body, said the old bum. No intelligence is required for that. Don’t believe the stories about man’s mind, his spirit, his ideals, his sense of unlimited ambition. […] Spirit? Said the old bum. There’s no spirit involved in manufacturing or sex. Yet these are man’s only concerns. Matter – that’s all men know or care about. As witness our great industries – the only accomplishment of our alleged civilisation – built by vulgar materialists with the aims, the interests and the moral sense of hogs. It doesn’t take any morality to turn out a ten-ton truck on an assembly line.

Do you think a man should give jewelry to his mistress for any purpose but his own pleasure? He asked. This is the way I want you to wear it. Only for me. I like to look at it. It is beautiful.

I like giving things to you, he said, because you don’t need them.

No?

And it’s not that I want you to have them. I want you to have them from me.

That’s the way I do need them, Henry. From you.

Do you understand that it is nothing but vicious self-indulgence on my part? I’m not doing it for your pleasure, but for mine.

Henry! The cry was involuntary; it held amusement, despair, indignation and pity. If you’d given me those things just for my pleasure, not yours, I would have thrown them in your face.

Yes…Yes, then you would – you should.

Did you call it your vicious self-indulgence?

That’s what they call it.

Oh, yes! That’s what they call it. What do you call it, Henry?

I don’t know, he said indifferently, and went on intently. I know only that if it’s vicious, then let me be damned for it, but that’s what I want to do more than anything else on this earth.

I do not seek the good of others as a sanction for my right to exist, nor do I recognise the good of others as a justification for their seizure of my property or their destruction of my life. I will not say that the good of others was the purpose of my work – my own good was my purpose, and I despise the man who surrenders his. I could say to you that you do not serve the public good – that nobody’s good can be achieved at the price of human sacrifices – that when you violate the rights of one man, you have violated the rights of all, and a public of rightless creatures is doomed to destruction. I could say to you that you will and can achieve nothing but universal devastation – as any looter must, when he runs out of victims. I could say it, but I won’t. It is not your particular policy that I challenge, but your moral premise. If it were true that all men could achieve their good by means of turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above and against my own – I would refuse, I would reject it as the most contemptible evil, I would fight it with every power I possess, I would fight the whole of mankind, if one minute were all I could last before I were murdered, I would fight in full confidence of the justice of my battle and of a living being’s right to exist. Let there be no misunderstanding about me. If it is now the belief of my fellow men, who call themselves the public, that their good requires victims, then I say: The public good be damned, I will have no part of it!

Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself. No matter what corruption he’s taught about the virtue of selflessness, sex is the most profoundly selfish of all acts, an act which he cannot perform for any motive but his own enjoyement – just try to think of performing it in a spirit of selfless charity! – an act which is not possible in self-abasement, only in self-exaltation, only in the confidence of being desired and being worthy of desire. It is an act that forces him to stand naked in spirit, as well as in body, and to accept his real ego as the standard of value. He will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience – or to fake – a sense of self-esteem. The man who is proudly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer – because only the possession of a heroine will give him a sense of an achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut. He does not seek to gain value, he seeks to express it. There is no conflict between the standards of his mind and the desires of his body. But the man who is convinced of his own worthlessness will be drawn to a woman he despises – because she will reflect his own secret self, she will release him from that objective reality in which he is a fraud, she will give him momentary illusion of his own value and a momentary escape from the moral code that damns him. Observe the ugly mess which most men make of their sex lives – and observe the mess of contradictions which they hold as their moral philosophy. One proceeds from the other. Love is our response to our highest values – and can be nothing else. Let a man corrupt his values and his view of existence, let him profess that love is not self-enjoyment but self-denial, that virtue consists, not of pride, but of pity or pain or weakness or sacrifice, that the noblest is born, not of admiration, but of charity, not in response to values, but in response to flaws – and he will have cut himself into two. His body will not obey him, it will not respond, it will make him impotent toward the woman he professes his love and draw him towards the lowest type of whore he can find. His body will always follow the ultimate logic of his deepest convictions; if he believes that flaws are values, he has damned existence as evil and only the evil will attract him. He has damned himself and he will feel that depravity is all he is worthy of enjoying. He has equated virtue with pain and he will feel that vice is the only realm of pleasure. Then he will scream that his body has vicious desires of its own which his mind cannot conquer, that sex is sin, that true love is a pure emotion of the spirit. And then he will wonder why love brings him nothing but boredom, and sex – nothing but shame.

Only the man who extols the purity of a love devoid of desire, is capable of the depravity of a desire devoid of love. But observe that most people are creatures cut in half who keep swinging desperately to one side or the other. One kind of half is the man who despises money, factories, skyscrapers and his own body. He holds undefined emotions about non-conceivable objects as the meaning of life and as his claim to virtue. And he cries with despair, because he can feel nothing for the women he respects, but finds himself in bondage to an irresistible passion for a slut from the gutter. He is the man whom people call an idealist. The other kind of half is tha man whom people call practical, the man who despises principles, abstractions, art, philosophy and his own mind. He regards the acquisition of material objects as the only goal of existence – and he laughs at the need to consider their purpose or their source. He expects them to give him pleasure – and he wonders why the more he gets, the less he feels. He is the man who spends his time chasing women. Observe the triple fraud that he perpetrates upon himself. He will not acknowledge his need to self-esteem, since he scoffs at such a concept as moral values; yet he feels a profound self-contempt which comes from believing he is a piece of meat. He will not acknowledge, but he knows that sex is the physical expression of a tribute to personal values. So he tries, by going through the motions of the effect, to acquire that which should have been the cause. He tries to gain a sense of his own value from the women who surrender to him – and he forgets that the women he picks have neither character nor judgment nor standard of value. He tells himself that all he’s after is just physical pleasure – but observe that he tires of his women in a week or in a night, that he despises professional whores and that he loves to imagine he is seducing virtuous girls who make a great exception for his sake. What glory can there be in the conquest of a mindless body? Now that is your woman-chaser. Does that description fit me?

A wish for the irrational is not to be achieved, whether the sacrificial victims are willing or not. But men will not cease to desire the impossible and will not lose their longing to destroy – so long as self-destruction and self-sacrifice are preached to them as the practical means of achieving the happiness of the recipients.

Man has no automatic code of survival. His particular distinction from all other living species is the necessity to act in the face of alternatives by means of volitional choice. He has no automatic knowledge of what is good for him or evil, what values his life depends on, what course of action it requires. Are you prattling about an instinct of self-preservation? An instinct of self-preservation is precisely what man does not possess. An ‘instinct’ is an unerring and automatic form of knowledge. A desire is not an instinct. A desire to live does not give you the knowledge required for living. And even man’s desire to live is not automatic: your secret evil today is that that is the desire you do not hold. Your fear of death is not a love for life and will not give you the knowledge needed to keep it. Man must obtain his knowledge and choose his actions by a process of thinking, which nature will not force him to perform. Man has the power to act as his own destroyer – and that is the way he has acted through most of his history.

Existence exists. And the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists. […] Whether you know the shape of the pebble or the structure of a solar system, the axioms remain the same: that it exists and that you know it.

What is the nature of guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge – he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil – he became a moral being. He was sentenced to experience desire – he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy – all the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man’s fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but the essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was – that robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labour, without love – he was not man.

‘Sacrifice’ does not mean the rejection of the worthless, but of the precious. ‘Sacrifice’ does not mean the rejection of evil for the sake of the good, but of the good for the the sake of evil. ‘Sacrifice’ is the surrender of that which you value in favour of that which you don’t.

If you exchange a penny for a dollar, it is not a sacrifice; if you exchange a dollar for a penny, it is. If you achieve  the career you wanted after years of struggle, it is not a sacrifice; if you then renounce it for the sake of a rival, it is. If you own a bottle of milk and give it to your starving child, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to your neighbour’s child and let your own die, it is.

If you give money to help a friend, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to a worthless stranger, it is. If you give your friend a sum you can afford, it is not a sacrifice; if you give him money at the cost of your own discomfort, it is only a partial virtue, according to this sort of moral standard; if you give him money at the cost of disaster to yourself – that is the virtue of sacrifice in full.

If you renounce all personal desires and dedicate your life to those you love, you do not achieve full virtue: you still retain a value of your own, which is your love. If you devote your life to random strangers, it is an act of greater virtue. If you devote your life to serving men you hate – that is the greatest of virtues you can practice.

A sacrifice is the surrender of a value. Full sacrifice is full surrender of all values. If you wish to achieve full virtue, you must seek no gratitude in return for your sacrifice, no praise, no love, no admiration, no self-esteem, not even the pride of being virtuous; the faintest trace of any gain dilutes your virtue. If you pursue a course of action that does not taint your life by any joy, that brings you no value in matter, no value in spirit, no gain, no profit, no reward – if you achieve this state of total zero, you have achieved the ideal of moral perfection.

You are told that moral perfection is impossible to man – and, by this standard, it is. You cannot achieve it so as long as you live, but the value of your life and of your person is gauged by how closely you succeed in approaching that ideal zero which is death.

– I swear by my life and my love for it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

“Run for your life from any man who tells you that money is evil. That sentence is the leper’s bell of an approaching looter.”

—Francisco d’Anconia, Atlas Shrugged

Advertisements
  1. August 31st, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: