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.”

Friday, February 5, 2010

Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest - A Finalist from India and Cash Prizes by Liberty Institute!

More good news! Not only do we have a semi-finalist from India in last year's Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest (Jaidev Deshpande - see post below), we also have a finalist - Surabhi Mohta!  

On behalf of the "Ayn Rand in India" initiative, Liberty Institute has awarded a special prize of Rs.2000 each to both the participants for having distinguished themselves in this prestigious international competition. Congratulations to Surabhi and Jaidev!  

Surabhi is in her 3rd year for a bachelor's degree in commerce from St. Xavier's College, Kolkata, and is an aspiring entrepreneur. She discovered Ayn Rand's works in her father's library just over two years ago. For the contest, she chose the theme "The Producers versus The Plunderers: Man versus Beast", on which she wrote the following essay:

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand incisively defines and contrasts the heroes and the villains by their adversative views of money. She shows how the very essence of their characters can be unearthed from the way they feel about wealth. 

 The heroes want to make money by their ability and hard work. They use their resourcefulness to produce and trade amongst themselves. Thus Dagny Taggart runs a transcontinental railroad; Henry Rearden manufactures steel; Dwight Sanders builds airplanes. The villains on the other hand want unearned wealth. They know that they cannot produce as much as they would like to consume; hence they resort to the vilest means possible in order to gain affluence. They force the producers to give them their hard earned wealth by spreading communist propaganda, preaching altruism, lobbying for innumerable subsidies and passing legislatives that allow them to muscle in on the profits of their superior competitors. The difference between the heroes’ view and the villains’ view of money runs analogous with the difference between a prolific manufacturer and a destroyer filled with hatred, a businessman and a con artist, an inventor and a lobbyist and John Galt and James Taggart.

The means that the two sides use to obtain wealth also give an insight
into their respective outlooks on the nature of money. While the heroes believe that money is the root of all good, that it forms the very basis of civilization, the villains believe that money is the cause of all sin.  Their opinions on the nature of wealth are primarily, a reflection of their view of themselves and their actions. Francisco d’ Anconia elucidates at James Taggart’s wedding: “… the man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it.” (383)

For Henry Rearden, nothing in the world is causeless, unconditional or unpaid for; James Taggart on the other hand wants everything undeserved. He tries to defraud his way into not only gaining wealth, but also self esteem, respect and love. He evades the knowledge that these elements are the integration of one’s virtue and integrity; that value and meaning can only be traded by free and mutual consent, not looted or seized.  He is comparable to the men in Dagny Taggart’s first ball, who think that it is the lights, colors and flowers that make them radiant and not the other way round. He rests under the delusion that raiding wealth from its rightful owners would make him as great as the men who created it. However, pillaging virtue’s end product does not make one virtuous. Money can be only enjoyed by the individual who makes it and hence matches it. Paper money has no intrinsic value in and of itself except the substance that is provided by the producers. Therefore the wealth that he obtains does nothing for his well being. His stolen wealth does not fill his growing inner void. This causes him to loathe wealth and its producers. His hatred of money is a manifestation of his hatred for his life.

Thus the villains find no real satisfaction in obtaining or spending their ill-gotten money. They find no meaning or celebration in their parties, liquor or sexual encounters. They hate money for not letting them evade or defy the sheer meaninglessness of their existence. Money is too honest and too real an entity for their code. It acts as a constant reproach to their deception and incompetence. This perpetual feeling of inadequacy and self-loathing goads them towards destruction. Thus they persist in making policies that hamper production at the cost of their own lives. Their impotence makes them choose their own annihilation over living in a reality that they hate. Their desire for money is in fact just a veneer for their ultimate goal of destroying mankind, as is their alleged wish to be altruistic; but they live in a constant state of denial in order to preserve a semblance of self-worth in themselves.  Thus when Taggart encounters a beggar who remains deadpan after receiving a hundred dollar bill from him, he suppresses the knowledge from himself that his attitude is exactly that of the tramp: he does not really care whether he is prosperous or starving.

To make money, is to create utility; goods and services that make life easier and more pleasant. These include among others, fuel, cars, a radical alloy that outlasts steel, a motor that increases efficiency by tenfold and a cheaper method of extracting oil; things that  have one common ingredient: human creativity. The heroes appreciate this great truth while the villains spend their lives evading it. When Dr. Stadler wonders why a great scientist spends his time inventing a practical appliance such as a motor, Dagny instinctively replies “Perhaps because he liked living on this earth.” (331)

The heroes know that money is the final summation of their effort, ingenuity and integrity. Hence they love earning and spending their wealth because it helps them celebrate their lives and brings them happiness and contentment. They know themselves to be competent and able. They know they deserve splendor and opulence. This elevated sense of self can only be achieved by men who love their vocation and excel at it. They hold money as sacred because it is the measure of the best that is in them. Their means of earning wealth is not only their highest form of enjoyment, but also who they fundamentally are. Francisco acknowledges the veracity of this when he tells Dagny “…There’s nothing of any importance in life- except how well you do your work… Whatever else you are, will come from that. It’s the only measure of human value…” (98). Making money uplifts and enriches the heroes. It is their ultimate form of expression as thinking, rational beings. It is how they derive meaning, value and self-respect. Hence it is their work that validates every other aspect of them as well.

As with the heroes, the villains’ attitude towards money also parallels other facets of their lives. Taggart marries Cherryl Brooks, a dime store salesgirl, in order to be loved unconditionally, but subconsciously, also to stifle her spirit and destroy her will to rise, as he knows that his true self is everything that she despises and that Henry Rearden is her ultimate idol. Similarly, Dagny’s antithesis, Lillian Rearden’s very purpose in marrying Henry Rearden is to break him. She knows she can never be as great as he and her wish to destroy him stems from her wish to supersede him somehow. Consequently on learning that he has been unfaithful to her she feels a sense of victory and accomplishment. Her elation is short lived when she discovers that Rearden’s mistress is none other than Dagny, the paragon of perfection. “I won’t permit you to have her. Not her. Anyone but her.” (488) She tells Rearden when she finds out about their affair.

 In contrast to James Taggart, who despises every virtue that Cherryl Taggart represents and yet tries to gain self esteem from her sanction, John Galt, Francisco d’ Anconia, Henry Rearden and even Eddie Willers love Dagny  for her integrity, ability and beauty. For Rearden and Dagny, their nights together are a celebration of the things they value and cherish in life. But when Taggart sleeps with Betty Pope, he feels nothing but a mild irritation the morning after. “Why do I do such things?” (78) He asks himself, but thinks it is too much trouble to find out.

Eventually, the looters’ motive cannot be held back at a subliminal level. It finally dawns on them, that what they have really wanted and tried to cause all their lives is the downfall of human civilization. Taggart’s moment of revelation comes when Galt is in his captivity, wired to the Ferris Persuader. “I don’t care! I want to break him! I want to hear him scream! I want...” (1048) He yells, terrified. It is at this moment, his vicious nature fully dawns on him. His true self, thinly veiled by denial and hypocrisy reveals itself lucidly, like never before as he realizes that although he cannot live if Galt dies, he finds death preferable to a world in which they coexist. This terrible realization leaves him shattered and what is left behind is an empty shell of a human body. This is the ultimate fate of the villains in the novel, which Galt portends before commencing the strike. “If you do, you’ll find that there’s nothing left of them to kill.” (1057) Galt tells Francisco in the aftermath, when Francisco vows to find the villains and avenge Galt’s torture.

Atlas Shrugged, in its entirety, examines and compares the temperaments and the lives of two kinds of people from the opposite ends of the spectrum: The heroes or the ones who want to make money and the villains, who obtain money by force, destruction and fraud. The heroes are men who love to exercise their mental faculty whereas the villains are semi-human creatures who detest thinking. The heroes are men who feel that earning money is not just the means to an end; but an end in itself. This makes them men who want to live. The villains are Machiavellian in their philosophy that the end: having money; renders the means irrelevant. When they discover this to be a non-sequitor, they turn into destroyers who do not want to live or let live.  At the end, the heroes go on to live their lives in bliss and serenity. The villains are forever vanquished by their own bestiality.

1 comment:

  1. Very intelligent, incisive and articulate.