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.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Change in Schedule for the next Atlas Meet in Delhi

Please note, the monthly Atlas Meet in Delhi will not take place this Saturday owing to the Christmas and New Year holidays. Instead, the next meet will now take place in the new year on the third Friday of the month, that is on 15 January 2010. Please note the change in day and week and mark your diaries accordingly.

15th January 2010

5 pm - 7.45 pm

The Agenda

Session I
5 pm - 6 pm: Savor Ayn Rand's philosophy and study her ideas. Discussions shall take place on topics of interest to those present.

6.15 pm - 6.45 pm: Tea and snacks break. Those interested in coming in only for one session, could arrive or depart during this time.

Session II
6.45 pm - 7.45 pm: Discussions on ways to spread Ayn Rand's ideas amongst students -
i) continuation of discussions on ideas mooted in previous meetings (Organizing talks in schools through personal contacts).
ii) other ideas for promoting the same.

The Venue
inlingua International School of Languages,
N-12, first floor,
South Extension - Part I

It is an open meeting - anyone interested in Ayn Rand's ideas is welcome.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A report on the 5th Atlas Meet - Delhi

The 5th Atlas Meet in Delhi took place on Saturday, 28th November. It was much like the previous one - a small, cosy gathering of familiar faces. In attendance were Poonam, Vikram and Arun.

The discussion touched upon topics from the last meeting, but the hot new issue was the Mumbai attacks of last year. The first anniversary of the attacks had just gone by two days before we met. All agreed that even after one year, the government had done nothing much to secure our borders or our cities, and another carnage was just as likely.
One point of view was that we should have become like a fortress by now, with a fenced border and heavily patrolled coastline. But the other view was that a country like ours is too vast a space to fortify. Therefore, the only effective response to such attacks is to go after the states that sponsor terror, and strike at the root of the problem.
That being said, it was agreed that India was presently in no economic or military state to do so - specially given the encirclement of it that China has accomplished through several client states. That leaves only Uncle Sam with the wherewithal to do something. But, given the developments of the past eight years, it lacks the will to do much.
Sadly, the conclusion reached was that there was no option for us in India but to sit tight, lick our wounds, try and grow strong, and wait for the equation to change over the next fifteen to twenty years.
As the group moved to the cafeteria, and to the ever-present tea and Samosas, the talk veered towards ways of sustaining the Atlas Meet initiative. A suggestion, put forward by Arun, was that we could look at shifting the Meets to the 3rd Friday of the month, as Saturdays (specially 4th Saturdays) were invariably a holiday and many do not want to make the journey into town when they have other family commitments.
On that note, the meeting was concluded.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mankind's First Heroes

While reading the story of man’s evolution recently, I got a fresh perspective on how accurate Ayn Rand’s understanding of human nature was. I learnt that the earliest steps in mankind’s ascent from ‘ape-man’ to human consisted of the development of those very skills that Rand considered distinctly human.

According to this article, the first one in a book titled ‘Time’ (The Life Science Library – 2nd edition), the reason why even the most intelligent animals are a complete evolutionary plane below man is because they cannot project a future and act for it. They only act when an action is necessitated by an immediate impulse, need or threat. The earliest ancestors of man graduated from this level in gentle steps, but the most obvious indication that their mental skills had gone beyond what any animal possessed was when they developed the ability to make crude tools to prepare for a later hunt.

Think about it – this is probably the most significant step in the history of man’s development. Simply the act of sharpening crude stone pieces to make the earliest tools reveals that man’s ancestor had some knowledge of identity (the properties of a sharp stone make it more effective for a hunt) and causality (what happens when a sharp tool hits an animal). However, when he learnt to make his tools in the evening for the next day’s hunt, with the animal not in front of his eyes, he could now separate an action from its consequences, which meant that he could act without an immediate impulse or need, for a benefit still in his future. This act of working for the future shows that early man had developed his ability to conceptualize his understanding about tools and animals. Conceptualizing allowed him to retain his knowledge, recall it whenever he wanted and think about it. This was man’s giant leap of evolution – the ability to form concepts opened the door to infinite knowledge and achievement. Several hundred thousand years later, man began to develop language to identify his concepts, and therefore talk about things he had seen, experiences he had had and things he wanted to do. At about the same time he also applied his conceptual ability to learn how to tame fire. These two skills dramatically improved his ability to survive and flourish. Ayn Rand did not provide or use any reference to this historical context, yet she considered this very ability to conceptualize as man’s distinct characteristic and means of survival, on which both his knowledge and his life continue to depend.

The ability to conceptualize also involved another crucial skill for early man that has been indicated above, and that is also central to Ayn Rand’s vision of a human being: the ability to project a goal in the future. With an effort of his will and a conscious decision, man’s ancestor was no longer a slave to the present. He had learnt to control and manage time. In fact, the first man who decided that he was going to use his evening to make tools for his tomorrow can perhaps be considered John Galt’s grandfather. He brought all his knowledge and ability to bear upon an action that was dictated by a productive goal as far into the future as he could possibly envision. He integrated his past knowledge with his present, and his present with his future, and he could not have done it any better. The lesson he taught his brothers was one that would eventually allow man to fire rockets to the moon. Though not yet man himself, he was mankind’s first hero.

All the heroes Ayn Rand created were rational human beings who set a productive goal for their respective futures as the central value of their lives, and then weighed their actions according to whether they helped them achieve their goal or whether they thwarted it. It was such human beings who consolidated early man’s position on this earth as the dominant species. After making tools for a hunt, someone invented tools to make other tools. Then someone organized his brothers to gather fuel for the night’s fire. Then someone decided that summer was when they should make some form of garments for the winter. Had it not been for such people, mankind would have either stagnated or gone extinct.

There are people who make the mistake of thinking that it was some kind of automatic instinct which led man to necessarily use the conceptual ability that he had acquired with his growing brain. In other words, they think that it was inevitable in an automatic sort of a way. However, there are enough people in today’s world to prove such a thought process wrong. Even now there are those who cannot project a future and work for it, who live range of the moment and don’t have a time sense further evolved than early man. Consider, as an example, any thug, hedonist or loafer. Strip these people naked, transport them back 500,000 years, and they would have lived like stagnant savages, and died at the first sign of trouble. This brings back yet another lesson learnt from Rand: ‘man has to be man by choice.’ Change the tense, and you have: ‘man had to be man by choice’. The fact that he exercised it is why the ancestor finally became man, as we know him now.

Thanksgiving season is still in the air; perhaps we should all offer our thanks to mankind’s earliest heroes!

‘Emerging India’ – The Same Old Story…

If you live in a country long enough, you observe qualities about its people, administration, culture, economics and the kind of life it offers. It is hard for any Indian to miss a certain predominant characteristic about their homeland: glaring contradiction. Technically, ‘contradiction’ is not a characteristic, but an identification of a particular kind of relation between different qualities. Nevertheless, as a concept it serves well to identify the haphazard mix of opposing and contrasting forces that are at play in this nation. At one level its leaders miss no opportunity to present it as an emerging superpower, at another level it has a poverty count comparable to sub-Saharan Africa; at one level there is talk of brilliant minds, at another level it presents a hollow education structure topped by a largely defunct university system; a concern in limited pockets about justice and the rule of law is mocked openly by vast tracts of utter lawlessness; an emerging business district flaunting promising towers of glass and concrete (read Gurgaon) stands at the end of unkempt, rickety roads strewn with potholes – one could go on, but it is not a very agreeable prospect.

Perhaps this is why it doesn’t come as a very remarkable surprise to anybody when they read a news item that says that Rs 204 crore of taxpayers’ money per annum has been feeding over 22,000 bogus employees in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD). An American would probably be shocked at the apathy with which such a news item is received. Of course, a system of unearned benefits is a long running tradition in India, courtesy its socialist background, and every time someone makes an attempt to overhaul such a structure, vehement protests follow (try removing any class from the ‘scheduled caste’ category).

The only way principled consistency can combine with sustained progress in India is if it accepts the principles of individual rights, rule of law and limited government, and its administration works sincerely to put these principles into practice. If this happened, one would not confront such a piece of news ever again.