Quote of the week...please share your favourite line from Ayn Rand's writings

“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.”

Monday, August 31, 2009

Another celebrity recognises the impact of The Fountainhead

DNA, newspaper, interviewed the fashion designer Krishna Mehta in Mumbai.
Fashion designer Krishna Mehta counts The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand as her all-time favourite novel. "There is immense strength portrayed with equally strong emotions which have been written brilliantly, beautifully and bitterly," says the lady who read it thrice so far. The fashion designer selected the book herself as she does with most of her choices, "seldom going by hearsay", she clarifies.

She first read this book about 30 years ago but says that she can still relate to the characters and the circumstances. "They are amazingly captured in the most fluid language," says Krishna.Excerpts from her favourite passage reads: 'She tried to demonstrate her power over him. And he defeated her by admitting her power, she could not have the gratification of enforcing it...'
Please read the complete item here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Action Points From The Atlas Meet In Delhi, Aug. 2009

This is following on from the previous blog post…

The participants of the Delhi meeting brainstormed a list of possible ideas for the ‘savor and study’ part of future meet ups. Here is the list –

  1. Applying objectivism to issues of current relevance
  2. Viewing other installments of the John Galt Speech video series on youtube
  3. Discussing the objectivist ethics of rational self-interest and how it applies to specific circumstances (‘walking the talk’, as Geetika put it).
  4. Discussing and countering socialist and other ‘anti-objectivist’ perspectives pertaining to life, philosophy and socio-economic factors. Also, perhaps, discussing criticisms of Ayn Rand and objectivism.
  5. Talking about Ayn Rand’s fiction.
  6. Discussing the ideas in objectivism that we found it hard to accept.
  7. Discussions about free-market economics.
  8. Discussing and understanding aspects of objectivist philosophy.
  9. Presenting and talking about excerpts and lines from Ayn Rand’s novels.
  10. Optimism vs Pessimism in India.

This is as far as we could go. Although there are a lot more ideas that could have come up in this list, even this much could provide enough sustenance for several future meetings. After the brainstorming, Vikram made an excellent suggestion –in subsequent meetings, individuals should take the responsibility to present a topic and their thoughts on it briefly. After this, it will be thrown open for comments, opinions, questions and argument. While every meeting need not necessarily follow this pattern, it is a very good suggestion to take forward as a general practice.

Barun, with his irresistible initiative, has already volunteered to present and lead the conversation for the following three topics:

1) Relevance of Objectivism in India, and the reasons for optimism
2) Environmentalism: The assault on man - looking at climate change / conservation / consumption
3) Rationality vs scientific rationalism - universal value vs specific valuation.

Let’s hope there are others who are just as forthcoming!

Report of the 2nd Atlas Meet in Delhi

The 2nd Atlas Meet in Delhi, the previous Saturday, was another stimulating evening of ideas! While the participation was almost completely different from last month, the group was larger in size, just as engaging and had a wide variety of people.

Apart from the usual suspects, Barun, Vikram and Amar, we had the following participants:

  1. Dr. Gurmail Benipal, a professor at IIT Delhi.
  2. & 3. Pavan Bagai, the COO at EXL Service, and his wife Geetika Bagai, both long time admirers of Ayn Rand.
  1. Shivani Kaul, a Chartered Accountant by trade who’s been working closely with this initiative lately.
  2. Kumar Anand, a recent Economics graduate who discovered Rand strictly outside his classroom.
  3. Sunil Khetan, an entrepreneur who heads a company called the Ayn Rand International!
  4. Ravi Shanker Kapoor, a journalist who’s fairly well-versed with Ayn Rand’s ideas.
  5. Mr. VK Kharbanda, who’s completely new to Ayn Rand’s ideas but still found the prospect of this meeting engaging enough for a Saturday evening.
  6. 10. & 11. And, finally, the feature of this evening – Rakhi, Manoj and Anupam, members of a theater group that recently performed Ayn Rand’s play, The Night of January 16th, in Delhi.

There was also Rakhi’s unusually patient daughter who followed in the footsteps of Rohan, the little one from last time. This made 15 in all!

After the customary introductions, we began the evening by watching an interview of Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, where he talks about Capitalism and its moral basis. This led to several interesting conversations – the need for an ethical basis for capitalism, optimism vs pessimism in the Indian context, and why discussions on the political and economic aspects of Ayn Rand’s philosophy literally veer towards the free ‘market’ and business world and always seem to ignore other professions and trades such as art, teaching and non-profit work.

We followed this by brainstorming ideas that could make for intellectually stimulating discussions during future meetings. Several thoughts were shared, and after a bit of debate and discussion that yielded a tangible list, we moved on to the part where we discussed possible avenues of activism, i.e., spreading Ayn Rand’s ideas. This is where the inputs of Rakhi, Manoj and Anupam came in. They told us that they had staged the Night of January 16th thrice in Delhi, and the theater was houseful each time! They showed us some video clips of their play, and we followed this up by discussing the possibility of hosting this play again, perhaps as part of a weekend ‘Ayn Rand festival’ some time in November and December. We also have the We The Living movie that we could screen during such an event.

Other ideas for activism were discussed as well, such as ways to actively promote Ayn Rand’s ideas in school and college campuses and translating excerpts from her books in regional languages. However, much like last time, all these ideas desperately require initiative, further thought and attention to detail from the participants, if they are to see the light of day.

By the time we finished, it was 8.40 pm. We had gone past our scheduled time by over an hour, but the three hours, in all, had left us with several thoughts to chew upon.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ethics and economics: Understanding the relationship

At the second monthly Atlas Meet in Delhi, on 22 Aug 2009, there was a vigorous discussion on whether while discussing Ayn Rand's ideas, we spend too much time on the economic and business aspects of her philosophy, rather than other equally important dimensions such as ethics or aesthetics. That led me to ask what is the relationship between ethics, economics and entrepreneurship?

And today, there is a post from Prof Stephen Hicks, Department of Philosophy, Rockford College, Illinois, USA, on this blog. Prof Hicks is presently the Executive Director of the Centre for Ethics and Entrepreneurship.

Prof Hicks has written the entry on Ayn Rand on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, where he comments on the ethics of rational self-interest.

Rand’s ethic of self interest is integral to her advocacy of classical liberalism. Classical liberalism, more often called “libertarianism” in the 20th century, is the view that individuals should be free to pursue their own interests. This implies, politically, that governments should be limited to protecting each individual’s freedom to do so. In other words, the moral legitimacy of self interest implies that individuals have rights to their lives, their liberties, their property, and the pursuit of their own happiness, and that the purpose of government is to protect those rights. Economically, leaving individuals free to pursue their own interests implies in turn that only a capitalist or free market economic system is moral: free individuals will use their time, money, and other property as they see fit, and will interact and trade voluntarily with others to mutual advantage.

Fundamentally, the means by which we live our lives as humans is reason. Our capacity for reason is what enables us to survive and flourish. We are not born knowing what is good for us; that is learned. Nor are we born knowing how to achieve what is good for us; that too is learned. It is by reason that we learn what is food and what is poison, what animals are useful or dangerous to us, how to make tools, what forms of social organization are fruitful, and so on.

Thus Rand advocates rational self interest: one’s interests are not whatever one happens to feel like; rather it is by reason that one identifies what is to one’s interest and what isn’t. By the use of reason one takes into account all of the factors one can identify, projects the consequences of potential courses of action, and adopts principled policies of action.

The principled policies a person should adopt are called virtues. A virtue is an acquired character trait; it results from identifying a policy as good and committing to acting consistently in terms of that policy.

One such virtue is rationality: having identified the use of reason as fundamentally good, being committed to acting in accordance with reason is the virtue of rationality. Another virtue is productiveness: given that the values one needs to survive must be produced, being committed to producing those values is the virtue of productiveness. Another is honesty: given that facts are facts and that one’s life depends on knowing and acting in accordance with the facts, being committed to awareness of the facts is the virtue of honesty.

Prof Hicks has also written a monograph titled, Ayn Rand and Contemporary Business Ethics. He has also published a paper in the Journal of Private Entreprise, titled "What business ethics can learn from entrepreneurship", where he summarises,

"Entrepreneurship is increasingly studied as a fundamental and foundational economic phenomenon. It has, however, received less attention as an ethical phenomenon. Much contemporary business ethics assumes its core application purposes to be (1) to stop predatory business practices and (2) to encourage philanthropy and charity by business. Certainly predation is immoral and charity has a place in ethics, neither should be the first concerns of ethics. Instead, business ethics should make fundamental from the values and virtues of entrepreneurs—i.e., those self-responsible and productive individuals who create value and trade with others to win-win advantage."
Given the presence of a number of entrepreneurs at the Atlas Meet in Delhi last week, and the interest in discussing the ethical basis and implications of the virtue of selfishness, I am looking forward to a more engaging discussions on this topic. We could also use this as an opportunity to share other relevant materials, which will enrich the discussions on the blog, as well as at the future Atlas meets.

Friday, August 21, 2009

An update on the Monthly Atlas Meet...

As evidence of the growing interest in the Ayn Rand in India initiative, 12 people have already confirmed their participation in the Atlas meet in Delhi tomorrow. This is in spite of the fact that, for one reason or another, there are a few people from last time who won't be able to make it. Just goes to show that new people are streaming in steadily.

Of course, 12 needn't be a final number! We always have room for last minute entrants, so if you are interested, please mail us at info@aynrand.in. As a reminder, the details of the meeting are available here.

The power of fiction

There has been a surge in the sale of Atlas Shrugged in the past one year, more than 50 years after it was first published. But a lot of people have wondered why Ayn Rand chose to convey her ideas through fiction.

“If a novel is well done,” Ayn Rand said, “the reader feels the dramatized events of the story on his own skin, so to speak. He is impelled to rage against some injustice. To root for characters he cannot help identifying with.”

Erika Holzer, an associate of Ayn Rand recounts how Rand herself looked at fiction.
“One evening back in the mid-60s, when my husband and I were Ayn Rand’s lawyers [and] the three of us took a break from business . . . Rand drew a fascinating distinction about the impact that . . . fiction, as opposed to nonfiction, has on readers. ‘Reading non-fiction,’ she told us, ‘is mainly an intellectual exercise whereas fiction involves the reader in a personal experience. It’s the difference between reading a technical manual on flying a jet airplane as opposed to experiencing the actual sensation of hurtling through space in one. The manual may be educational, even stimulating, but the plane ride is happening to you.’” (Emphasis Rand’s.)
Erika tells the story of how she and her husband helped track the film version of We The Living, originally made in Italy, during the second world war in "We the Living: The power of fiction".

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

After Apollo, Now Dionysus Revisited...

In her 1969 lecture Apollo and Dionysus (click here for the lecture), Ayn Rand identified two significant events that happened that year almost simaltaneously, representing two opposing set of ideas with 'fiction-like' perfection. They were the lauch of Apollo 11 (identified as 'Apollo') and the Woodstock rock festival (identified as 'Dionysus'). She identified the former as the end result of an inviolate acceptance of the absolutism of reality, a belief in the efficacy of reason and a heroic dedication to the rational mind. The latter she identified as an irrational, mud splattered, drug induced orgy of dark and savage emotions.

The Woodstock festival represented the zenith of the hipppie culture. As it attained its 40th anniversary last weekend, the Times of India published its tribute on the 14th of August (click here for the TOI article). While the article in the TOI mentions that this music festival was all about 'love', 'peace' and 'idealism', it carefully avoided any further details such as 'love of what?', 'peace for whom?' (certainly not the residents of Bethel who suffered the festival!), and a 'dedication to which ideals?' These are precisely the questions Ayn Rand deals with in her lecture as she exposes the mindless, range-of-the-moment, terror-stricken core of the hippie system of values. The TOI article, as expected, is completely non-judgmental about the matter.

Indians might be interested to know that two famous Indian spiritual leaders spoke at this festival, and Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Allah Rakha, both stalwarts of Indian classical music, even performed. Pandit Ravi Shankar was supposedly apalled by the drug-induced atmosphere, and the irreverant destruction of musical instruments that a couple of the artists indulged in.

Agenda for the Delhi Meet

The agenda for the monthly Atlas meet in Delhi has been finalized. Here it is:

5 to 5.15 pm: Welcome and introductions

5.15 to 6.15 pm - Session 1: Savour and Study
Video screening - Yaron Brook, president of Ayn Rand Institute, USA, interviewed at an university in Guatemala (10 min)
Discussion on relevance and implications in the India context

6.15 to 6.30 pm: Tea break

6.30 to 7.30 pm - Session 2: Spread and Sustain
Video clips of "Night of January 16", a play by Ayn Rand (10 min)
Discussion on the feasibility of the options and strategies brainstormed last time for reaching out to other admirers of Ayn Rand and promoting her ideas.

Please click here for complete details of the meeting.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Celebrities in India who relate to Ayn Rand

Every now and then, we read or hear about prominent personalities who acknowledge the impact Ayn Rand's writings have had on them. It would be interesting to compile a list of such persons, and know their views. Please do add more to this list, when you find a relevant reference.

Here is one published in the DNA newspaper, titled "I got to know about the book due to a contest", on July 1, 2009.

Mumbai: Actor Rajeev Khandelwal's preference in books relate to nature and the human mind. "Ayn Rand's Fountainhead is my favourite book till date," confesses the good looking man. The book deals with complex human relationships very lucidly and also reflects beautifully on the varied nature of the human mind.

"I first read it when I was in college and from then on it's been five times since I have re-read the book. I came to know about the book as there was a contest on Ayn Rand's two most popular books --Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged," says Rajeev... ... ...

Read the complete item here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

2nd 'monthly Atlas meet' in Delhi

The wonderful participation that we had for the first session of the monthly Atlas meet in Delhi, has me really looking forward to the next one coming up on the 22nd of August! This time we should have even better participation, with new faces in our mix...

The venue remains the same as before (inlingua International School of Languages, N-12, South Ex - 1, New Delhi -49), as does the time (5 pm - 8 pm). In fact, according to a decision made in the previous session, the monthly meeting in Delhi will be scheduled for the fourth Saturday of every month - advance notice so that you can make early entries in your appointments diary! Watch this space for information about the agenda.

Please confirm your participation on info@anyrand.in, or contact me at amar@aynrand.in. For further details, please click here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ayn Rand In Indian Universities?

An article published in the Times Higher Education website (click here for our page devoted to this article) gives a very good idea of just how popular Ayn Rand is becoming in American universities. The days when she was shunned by professors are long gone. Today her ideas are not only quoted in the media, applied in corporate boardrooms and debated in informal campus clubs, but they have actually made a dramatic entry into mainstream academia. Professors and students alike are curious about what she had to say about the art, literature, philosophy, politics and culture of our times. Even those teachers who don’t fully agree with her, according to the article, are realizing in ever growing numbers, that she is too important to ignore. Their attitude is something like, ‘I don’t completely agree with this, but I think you should know this.’ Wow!

The question we should ask is – when or how will this ever happen in India? If one was to consider the various humanities departments in The Delhi University as representative of the trends in Indian academia, officially Ayn Rand is still a bad word. The various syllabi (often antiquated in content) and the professors who teach them are most likely to behave as though she never existed. Her mention or the sight of one of her books in a student’s hands is met with a quick sideways glance or a very skeptical stare. Anti-Americanism is hot, Noam Chomsky is ‘the guru’, and the days of socialism and even communism haven’t evaporated yet. The sense that one gets in the celebrated ‘north campus’ in the Delhi University, apart from boredom, is that of resistance to change. DU, it seems, hasn’t changed much since the 80s. In these circumstances, I’m afraid, the prospects of Ayn Rand being taught officially in classrooms look very bleak.

About Selfishness In A Team Sport

An article published in our ‘Ayn Rand in India’ website a couple of days ago examines the role of selfishness, as defined by Ayn Rand, in team sports. According to the author, there is essentially no conflict between an individual surrendering a bid to short-term personal glory for the interests of his team, and the virtue of selfishness.

This is understood in the light of Ayn Rand’s unique perspective that selfishness is the pursuit of ‘rational self-interest,’ not personal glory at any cost. When a rational person, in this case an athlete, chooses a sport such as football to dedicate his life to, he needs to begin by identifying the proper behavior or set of actions that are required to attain the highest level of excellence and success possible to him on the football field, and then develop his skills accordingly. And success and excellence in a team sport can only be achieved, if every individual coordinates his efforts with those of his other teammates towards a common purpose – victory for the team. Any action detrimental to a team victory, even if it suits someone’s momentary individual ambition, contradicts the very principle on which any team sport is based. It neither profits the athlete’s career, nor does it achieve happiness for him. In fact, it achieves quite the opposite, including very fairly earned hatred and anger from other, more ‘rational’ teammates. It is certainly not an example of selfishness, in the objectivist sense... Click here to read the complete article.