Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tuesday Morality Play

I've been re-reading the great Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, a 1167-page epic on the morality of unfettered capitalism, and the immorality of those who feed off of it while contributing nothing to the process. That's simplifying, of course, and the Randites would likely have my head for it (as would Rand herself). But be that as it may; that's not my point...

Rand has a brilliant definition of morality snuggled in on page 177 of my edition; I'd like to share it. She was a fierce atheist, and it is always interesting to see how a "nonbeliever" defines such things, as so many assume that religion can be the only basis for a moral grounding. Religion certainly can be a good place to start (especially Judeo-Christianity!), but it is not the exclusive provider of such, as Rand will prove...

So! here we are, In Atlas Shrugged - Primary protaginist Dagny Taggert sits in a skid row diner, dressed for a business conference she had fled when she discovered its true purpose, and the nature of its participants. Sipping at a cup of coffee, she bandies with the lifeless drifters around her:

"Spirit?" said the old bum. "There's no spirit involved in manufacturing....it doesn't take any morality to turn out a ten-ton truck on an assembly line."

"What is morality?" she
{Taggert} asked.

"Judgement to distinguish right and wrong, vision to see the truth, courage to act upon it, dedication to that which is good, integrity to stand by the good at any price. But where does one find it?"

On an assembly line!!, Rand would say, where only a ruthless desire to create the best ten-ton truck possible will allow the company, and its employees, to survive.

Nevertheless - I just love Rand's definition.

How many who proudly wear their self-embossed label of "morality" see a truth but have not the courage to act upon it?
How often have we seen someone who obviously recognizes a good, sound idea, but are afraid to support it, knowing and fearing the backlash they would face?
How many persons have abandoned a position, one that they claimed to hold dearly, because they could not fight off the pressure to flip; or, as Rand would say, bacause they lacked the integrity to stand by the good at any price?
How many leaders today cannot distinguish right from wrong, have no vision even to see the truth, but only act upon what is personally expediant for them at the moment?

Rand's definition of morality transcends all religious ones for me - it is easy to say, "Hey, I never killed a man, so I must be a good person". It is harder, so much harder, to live by Ayn Rand's simple one-sentence definition of a "code of life". It is a challenge to face the world and not back down to fear, fate, or the fickle finger of popular opinion.

Perhaps now, in these perilous times, we need a leader that can take Rand's sacred oath, and stand by an idea - the good- and see it through, no matter what the personal consequences. It takes more than religious grounding to make a man moral; it takes an understanding of, and an attempt to live life by, Rand's exacting code...a man that lives by Rand's morality, and is not broken by it, is one that can carry the world...


Anonymous said...

I thought about your post when I read this at Slate:

"Why, exactly, is Sen. Chuck Hagel showing "courage" in conspicuously denouncing the Iraq War now that virtually the entire American establishment has reached that same conclusion--now that Hagel is virtually assured of getting hero treatment from Brian Williams and Tim Russert and long favorable profiles in the newsweeklies?

OK, maybe Hagel's not so courageous. Maybe he's just right. Except that he chose, as the moment to make his flamboyant speech, not the vote on the imprudent war itself--he voted for it--but a vote to withdraw support for a last-ditch surge strategy that even the NYT's estimable, on-the-scene pessimist Sabrina Tavernese thinks "may have a chance to work."

Was this the right time--it certainly wasn't the courageous time--for a speech like Hagel's? Was he serving the nation or himself?"

Sounds like what you said...morality in Rand's eyes requires much courage, which Hagel appears to lack. Yet the media will label him couragous, thus defiling the meaning of the word, and by association, defiling the meaning of morality.

Or is that what they intend?


Anonymous said...

... and that person sure as shit AIN'T Hillary, but I state the obvious.