Tuesday, April 14, 2009

We, the Living

Near the end of Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged, the wife of steel tycoon Hank Rearden confronts the heroine Dagny Taggart in her office of the Taggart Transcontinental railroad, to blackmail Dagny with the threat of her affair with Rearden. Lillian, the arch-Leftist, brags that it was she who told the government of the affair so that the government could force Rearden into giving up the magnum opus of his career --"Rearden Metal", a remarkable substitute for steel with vastly superior properties and enormous value.
The goal of Lillian's blackmail was to force Dagny to appear on a broadcast show so that the government could use her as a propaganda tool to convey support for the government's policies -- a scenario not unlike recent meetings between bankers from around the country and Obama and Geithner.
At this point in the novel, the government has enacted the dreaded "Directive 10-289", an order paralyzing the country with wage and price controls, criminalization (up to death) for anyone quitting their jobs, and requiring all private property to be "donated" to the government by means of "Gift Certificates", in the name of the greater public good. The purpose of this cheap propaganda tool is to dupe the public into believing that all private enterprises have signed over their property voluntarily. Lillian relates the events leading to Rearden's signature:

"Consider what that signature meant to him. Rearden Metal was his greatest achievement, the summation of the best in his life, the final symbol of his pride.... Rearden Metal was more than an achievement to him, it was the symbol of his ability to achieve, of his independence, of his struggle, of his rise. It was his property, his by right--and you know what rights mean to a man as strict as he, and what property means to a man as possessive. He would have gladly died to defend it, rather than surrender it to the men he despised. This is what it meant to him--and this is what he gave up. You will be glad to know that he gave it up for your sake, Miss Taggart. For the sake of your reputation and your honor. He signed the Gift Certificate surrendering Rearden Metal--under the threat that the adultery he was carrying on with you would be exposed to the eyes of the world...." (page 789 of the Signet paperback edition)

The cashing-in for Lillian is her revelation of betrayal of her husband:

"It was I," said Lillian softly, "who informed the bureaucrats about my husband's adultery."

Dagny noticed the first flicker of feeling in Lillian's lifeless eyes: it resembled pleasure, but so distantly that it looked like sunlight reflected from the dead surface of the moon to the stagnant water of a swamp; it flickered for an instant and went.

"It was I," said Lillian, "who took Rearden Metal away from him... You can't buy your way out of it, with those dollars which you're able to make and I'm not. There's no profit you can offer me--I'm devoid of greed."

I was re-reading this and an epiphany struck me: "Those dollars which you're able to make and I'm not..."
Only a person who suffers self-doubt about their own worthiness to exist would say this -- their capacity and ability to take actions to support and promote their own life and happiness.
This metaphysical self-doubt would drive them to hate and despise those who are efficacious and capable of existing. The dollar-makers would be a terrible affront to the self-doubters, and the hatred and resentment would eat at them and drive them to embrace moral ideals that rationalize their hatred -- because a moral sanction would be necessary for them to face a mirror each morning and survive each day.
With a twisted sanction that they are the only ones worthy of existence, not the dollar-makers, they would achieve a grotesque moral inversion: by virtue of their incompetence, the persons who feel least qualified to exist would come to believe they are the ones most qualified to exist. The mere existence of the dollar-making and dollar-earning producers would create a lust in the hearts of these metaphysical incompetents to destroy those who are most qualified to exist -- the ones who want to live, who take actions to live, who use their minds to succeed at living.
There you have, I think, a key genesis for the motives of many among the Left. The ideals that protect them (they think) are the rationalization provided by an ethic of self-sacrifice and belief in the god-like omniscience of an omnipotent government. With that, they can justify their need to hate anyone who has ever loved living, anyone who works for their own self-interest, anyone who was ever willing to earn their right to happiness rather than just having it given to them from the Big Rock Candy Mountain of government booty.
I've run through my mind the many people I've known over my life, directly or indirectly who illustrate this observation -- from people I have known who despised me for my dedication to rationality and objectivity and conviction in the value of my life and my desire to never sacrifice it -- to people like protesters I've seen who shout down any opposing points of view and use force or violence to get their way -- to teachers (like some I've known) who attempt to brainwash their students with irrational ideas and punish them with bad grades for dissenting opinion -- to politicians who embrace the ideas of those teachers and use them to justify passing laws enslaving others with endless taxes, regulations, "guidelines", "standards" and commandments to obey -- to judges (like too many on the Federal bench or on the Supreme Court) who abandon founding Constitutional guidance, individual rights, and the principles of reason and objective jurisprudence to support those laws in either direct decisions, or indirectly via hair-splitting nuance or outright cowardice to confront an evil.
I think of that, and then think some more: my observation is not only true, it offers practical insight. Its a window into the souls of those haters of the dollar-earners, into how they came to hate me and those like me. I can see how, as a child (in body or spirit), when confronted with their own self-doubts, rather than confronting them with an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a shred of courage, they put their heads down and decided to reject existence in favor of their whims, and chose power-lust as their means of controlling existence, rather than thinking.
They chose to slink off and become jackals, rather than walk as men.
This is the kind of people who are now running our country.
As the government hurtles towards total control of the economy and the destruction of all wealth and individual liberty, we, the living who produce, should never grant them that sanction.


  1. > "There you have, I think, a key genesis for the motives of many among the Left."

    In many places around the web, I see the terms Left and Right. The meaning of those terms/concepts is unclear, at least to me.

    For some, Right/Left seems to distinguish supporters of a free society (capitalism) from supporters of an unfree society (statism, in any of its many forms). Ayn Rand is an example. (See "Rightists vs. Leftists" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.) By this definition, Hitler and supporters of conservatism (valuing God, Tradition, Nation, and Family) would be leftists, in varying degrees.

    What is your use of the terms Leftist and Rightist? Who would be examples of Rightists today?

  2. Burgess,

    Speaking for myself, I think the question you raise is an interesting and a complicated one. Here is my take:

    There are different versions of the Right/Left divide out there. The standard version is: far left = communism and socialism, far right = fascism, the center = the welfare state or - as liberals would describe it - social democracy with a regulatory infrastructure. This a flawed scale in my opinion as it puts statism at all positions: left, right and center.

    The proper view would be: right = individualism/freedom/captialism, far left = all totalitarian collectivism whether it be socialism, fascism or theocracy. The center would be welfare state advocates with today's Leftists being very close the far left and today's moderates and most conservatives being close to the center.

    But this is sadly not the way the left/right spectrum is viewed today. Generally speaking, today the Left is viewed as standing for reason and science and thus collectivism. The right is viewing as standing for god, faith and traditions and thus for "restrained freedom" and free enterprise. This is disasterously wrong but this type of thinking dominates our culture.

    Lastly Burges, I offer this link to you of a very relgious Conservative's view of the left/right scale and why he disagrees with the freedom/collectivist scale I just described. It may be difficult to stomach but it captures a true conservative's view on the subject:



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