Actually, how important is reason?

atlas-shrugged-1I have just discovered (and I think I am a bit behind the times on this) that some brave soul is turning Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged into a film. And the rumour is that Angelina Jolie (WTF?) is to be cast as Dagny Taggart. I don’t see DT as a pouting sex siren – but maybe I just can’t get past the whole Laura Croft thing and should give Angelina a chance? After all, word on the street is that Ms Rand wanted Farah Fawcett cast as DT for a mini-series that was on the cards back in the day.

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, Atlas Shrugged is a fiction novel that serves as a vehicle for the globalisation of Objectivism (Rand’s theory). Think 1200 pages philosophising about, what boils down to, a global intellectual apocalypse – characterised by the breakdown of the world’s economy at the hands of unthinking socialist/communist dictators and the journey of enlightenment forced upon industrialists, who consequently go on strike thus allowing the world to self destruct as a result of its corrupt value system. Blah blah blah blah…so what’s Objectivism anyway? Well, I’ll clue you in.

So, here’s Objectivism super-simplified: it consists of five core principles: Metaphysics (Objective Reality), Epistemology (Reason), Ethics (Self-Interest), Politics (Capitalism) and Aesthetics (Romantic Realism). Again, blah blah blah blah right? Essentially, what all of the above mean is that reality is an objective absolute, which exists independently of man’s emotions and perceptions.

Reason is an essential tool required to perceive reality. Ethically, man is an independent being who, in accordance with capitalist ideology, should be free to choose his own profession, to create and to achieve (as far as his abilities and reality allow) without interference from Government. Art is the recreation of one’s reality according to one’s values (self interest and reason). Brain Strain. Therefore any individual or any group that threatens man’s independence is evil. There is no room for altruism or any form of sacrifice. Religion is a big no-no as is any other institution that may require man to surrender himself to rules, doctrine or any other man. Atlas Shrugged advocates Objectivism by showing what will happen to the world if communist and socialist doctrines prevail over a capitalist society.

As I was reading the novel, much to my dismay, I found myself agreeing with Rand’s depraved notion of what it means to be human. Look at Africa for example – a continent where (in large) mediocrity has replaced any form of brilliance and individualism. Achievement and excellence are nullified – one can’t make Mr Average feel…well…average. Man’s achievements may only equal those of ‘the lowest common denominator’. The prophetic tone of the novel is intrinsic as Rand warns against the dangers of the glorification of mediocrity. She describes a society that is unable to think and reason and thus exists unconsciously. This is a blatant defiance of one of Objectivism’s core values which is to live according to reason and in doing so embrace reality as it objectively exists. She claims that unless man embraces her doctrine, he will only succeed in killing consciousness (the ability to think and reason) and in so doing man embraces evil. The moment of illumination experienced by the characters in Rand’s novel occurs when, at different points, they realise that the evil nature of unconscious existence manifests in the form of killing (figuratively) those who choose to think. It is truly disturbing.

I absolutely hated Rand’s representation of relationships. The notion that man must exist as traders, giving value for value, infiltrates all aspects of living, including relationships. I can never accept that relationships are merely like-for-like trade-offs. Sacrifice is involved. Nonetheless my idea is to take from her theory the elements that are relevant to me and junk the rest.

It is interesting reading and if you can make it through the first 40 pages you will not be able to stop. Atlas Shrugged has been listed as one of the 100 most influential books of the twentieth century and Objectivism has many followers. Make of it what you will.

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