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.”

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest 2009 - Semi Finalist from India

Last year, the Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest drew a record 4000 entries from around the world - double the number in the previous year! As part of the Atlas Shrugged Initiative, Liberty Institute too had promoted the contest in India through posters and web advertising. While the details about the number of entries from India is awaited, we know of at least one entry that made it to the Semi Finals!

Congratulations to Jaidev Deshpande, an Electronics Engineer who is a research associate at VIIT, Pune. 

Writing on the theme 'Comparing Basic Motivations and Approaches to life of Hank Rearden and Francisco d'Anconia', Jaidev wrote the following essay:

The contrast between Rearden and Francisco lies in Rearden’s unwillingness to rebel against the looters and Francisco’s intransigence. Rearden’s philosophy stems from a breach between his mind and his body. He thinks that in the domain of one’s personal life self-abnegation is virtue, but in the material realm he works for solely his own profit and pleasure, where any sacrifice is unacceptable. Francisco, on the other hand, believes that there exists a causal link between mind and body, just as between thought and production, between self-esteem and sex, or between values and life.

The contrast is also the quintessential contradiction Rearden struggles to solve. He seeks Francisco’s vision of life, but does not accept his methods. He understands that in a non-absolute world, only Francisco can give him the true appraisal of himself – yet loathes him for resorting to detrimental means. When Francisco explains how Rearden is the one giving up his vision to the looters, he speaks of Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders in pain and suffering (422). Rearden is the Atlas who refuses to shrug.

Francisco tries to convince Rearden that the looters are counting on him to carry their ‘wretched bunch’ (141) along, and
Rearden’s indifference to this burden is their weapon. He tries to make Rearden confront his contradictions in every possible way, by highlighting the smallest of his compromises. For instance, Rearden’s mere presence at James Taggart’s wedding, Francisco warns him, is a submission, as it sanctions a civilized relationship between Rearden and the looters (386). He also highlights the other extreme of Rearden’s conformity - that the mechanism by which Rearden is brought to submit to the looters is, in part, Rearden’s own creation.

Rearden continues to subscribe to the very philosophy that the looters use against him. Rearden fails to see that the exaltation that he felt for his work and the indifference that he felt for his family have stemmed essentially from the same thought –love, like money, cannot exist without a rational cause. In the matters of his metal, Rearden is willing to subscribe to all the looters’ rules no matter how much they squeeze out of him. Only when they use his relationship with Dagny as leverage to wrest the Metal from him, he realizes that they are counting on his guilt – guilt which was actually a celebration of his sense of life. But his acceptance of it as guilt is the essence of the looters’ trap.

Francisco, on the other hand, is surreptitiously destroying his fortune to keep it from helping the looters. He has disarmed the looters by subscribing to their destructive code. Their belief – that he wants to make money and they can just live off his wealth – makes them follow his every move blindly, thoughtlessly. Though he had to destroy his own fortune in the process, Francisco knows that this is the only way to fight the looters – by giving them a dose of their own thoughtlessness. He wants to show Rearden that by submitting to their code, he is only furthering the damage wrought by the looters. The looters fall to Francisco’s play because they assume his commitment to reason (although they call it material greed).

Rearden has accepted the looters’ creed for so long that he ridicules even the most genuine forms of rebellion. When Ragnar Danneskjold tells him that he intends to pay Rearden’s income tax back, Rearden laughs the idea off as preposterous. He feels a momentary mirth at Ellis Wyatt’s desertion, but the next instant he feels a reproach for it. This shows how hopeless his life has been rendered by his contradictions.

The first steps Rearden takes towards solving his contradictions are during his trial, when he discovers the connection between the morality of his business and the love he seeks in Dagny. His understanding is stimulated by the fact that both are things he hides from the world. Just as he secretly sold his metal to Danagger, he is secretive about his relationship with Dagny. He realizes that the looters cannot hurt him without his consent. When he sees the means by which they intend to seize his metal, he realizes that he is the one who created those means. He felt a reproach for wanting to abandon a parasitic family. He hated himself for not being able to love a wife who does not remotely match his intellectual faculty. He secretly guarded his relationship with Dagny, something the looters merely cashed in on. And he did it all without rebelling against the gross under-appraisal the world gave him, without expecting the smallest of tributes in return. Even in love, Rearden has been in a state of extreme self-denial. He knows that his ‘impure’ feelings for Dagny are a celebration of his self worth. But all he feels is guilt. Francisco, on the other hand, knows that just as any righteous man proudly asserts his ownership over his creations, he is capable of openly, guiltlessly loving the greatest woman he can find.

Rearden thinks that sex is physical and not an expression of one’s convictions. It is this contradiction that leaves him with a sense of self-degradation. He once thought that conquering Lillian would give him a sense of achievement –now it has made him averse to physical desire. His ‘wife’ is someone he thinks is supposed to be loved out of obligation, not as a tribute to his sense of life. But in Dagny he sees the full extent of what is possible for him in the realm of love. The clearest form of his contradiction is that although he seeks the greatest possible act in exaltation and damns himself for it, he also knows that in his sense of life suffering is unnecessary. All the same, he only condemns the faculty of seeing sex as reflection of one’s morality until Francisco explains the meaning of sex.

Francisco makes Rearden face his contradiction very starkly. He explains that only a man with a miserable inferiority complex will spend his life running after women (453). Now Rearden sees that wanting to conquer a woman of greatness was not obscene, it was the greatest spiritual achievement. Francisco says that a person who thinks sex is only physical and has no deeper moral meaning thinks pleasure is a vice. Sex can only disgust such a man. Rearden then admits (though Francisco does not notice it) that he has held the same ideas on bodily pleasure (454). His relationship with Dagny is an act of redemption in his own happiness, but he hated himself for it.

Rearden does not realize how damaging his conformity has been until the looters blackmail him for his Metal. By not accepting his highest morals as virtue, he has made himself and all that he loved very vulnerable to his enemies. He realizes that that which he held sacred in his business is exactly what he condemned in his life. He had thought of the looters as insignificant dirt but they only grew stronger by living off his submission. They were unable to give a material meaning to their lives to ensure their survival, and by not rebelling, he had allowed them to prey on him. His remorse deepens when he sees the extent of the insult he has dealt Francisco. As for Francisco, accepting Rearden’s slap was his greatest achievement (590), and now he knows he has won Rearden over to his side.

The clearest contrast between the two characters is seen when Francisco explains the nature of Rearden’s error – that of evading reality (387). The same idea is reinforced when he tells Dagny how generations of heroes have produced the wealth of the world, but their willingness to pay the ransom for their virtues was the looters’ weapon. Had they refused, the looters would have perished by themselves. Francisco tries to convince Rearden that if he does not rebel, all his work will have gone into aiding the villains. It is thus that he explains how Rearden is guiltier than even the looters.

When the looters use Rearden’s family as hostages, he realizes their tool for his blackmail. He ‘shrugs’ his family off and their whines and pleas are rendered useless – and thus Rearden sees the flaw in the looters’ theory. When he openly, proudly confesses his love for Dagny, he sees that Lillian’s attempts to make him guilty of infidelity have failed. The whole mechanism of the blackmail falls apart when he takes pride in his vision. The only guilt left in him is the guilt of having insulted Francisco.

Rearden has unwaveringly cut his way through the course of the material world, but when it came to his morals he had succumbed to the crooked philosophy of his enemies. A major motif of the novel is Francisco’s struggle to show Rearden that a man’s ways of controlling his mind and controlling matter have a cause-effect relationship. If he succeeds, he shall have saved Rearden from the deadliest of ends. They finally unite in the rapture of the dissolution of Rearden’s contradictions, leaving the course open only for glory. That is why, for Francisco, Rearden has been, all along, his “greatest conquest”. But Rearden’s ultimate redemption comes when he says to Francisco, with a clear, absolute, inevitable vision of their now-common goal, “You kept your oath. You were my friend.”

1 comment:

  1. Early American settlers found what worked was freedom for each individual to think, imagine, create, build and alter the environment, even disturbing the established way things are done without fear of punishment, as seen in Ayn Rand’s writings, a libertarian belief. That was America, and what set her apart from all other nations, as cited in Save Pebble Droppers & Prosperity at Amazon and claysamerica.com. Individual freedom caused local government, close to the governed within a day’s horseback ride. The governed ruled, and they could change government by votes, in Town Halls, or even vigilante movements, much like the Tea Party movement today. It is an American tradition. Claysamerica.com