Archives for posts with tag: Atlas Shrugged

Guilty?

Guiltier than I had known, far guiltier than I had thought–guilty of the evil of damning as guilt that which was my best.

I damned the fact that my mind and body were a unit, and that my body responded to the values of my mind.

I damned the fact that joy is the core of existence, the motive power of every loving being, that it is the need of one’s body as it is the goal of one’s spirit, that my body was not a weight of inanimate muscles, but an instrument able to give me an experience of superlative joy to unite my flesh and my spirit.

That capacity, which I damned as shameful, had left me indifferent to sluts, but gave me my one desire in answer to a woman’s greatness.

That desire, which I damned as obscene, did not come from the sight of her body, but from the knowledge that the lovely form I saw, did express the spirit I was seeing–it was not her body that I wanted, but her person.

To you, my sweet.

All right–he thought, turning away from the window–he would concede that attacks of loneliness had begun to strike him at times; but it was a loneliness to which he was entitled, it was a hunger for the response of some living, thinking mind. He was so tired of all those people, he thought in contemptuous bitterness; he dealt with cosmic rays, while they were unable to deal with an electric storm.

. . .

You see, Dr. Stadler, people don’t want to think. And the deeper they get into trouble, the less they want to think. But by some sort of instinct, they feel that they ought to and it makes them feel guilty. So they’ll bless and follow anyone who gives them a justification for not thinking. Anyone who makes a virtue–a highly intellectual virtue–out of what they know to be their sin, their weakness and their guilt.

. . .

Miss Taggart, do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It is the resentment of another man’s achievement. These touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone’s work prove greater than their own–they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal–for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them–while you’d give a yea of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them. They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don’t know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear. They have no way of knowing what he feels when surrounded by inferiors–hatred? no, not hatred, but boredom–the terrible, hopeless, draining, paralyzing boredom. Of what account are praise and adulation from men whom you don’t respect? Have you ever felt the longing for someone you could admire? For something, not to look down at, but up to?”

. . .

“Do you still need proof that I’m always waiting for you?” she asked, leaning obediently back in her chair; her voice was neither tender nor pleading, but bright and mocking.

“Dagny, why is it that most women would never admit that, but you do?”

“Because they’re never sure that they ought to be wanted. I am.”

“I do admire self-confidence.”

“Self-confidence was only one part of what I said, Hank.”

“What’s the whole?”

“Confidence of my  value–and yours.”

“Are you saying,” he asked slowly, “that I rose in your estimation when you found that I wanted you?”

“Of course.”

“That’s not the reaction of most people of being wanted.”

“It isn’t.”

“Most people feel that they rise in their own eyes, if others want them.”

“I feel that others live up to me, if they want me. And that is the way you feel too, Hank, about yourself–whether you admit it or not.”

Rearden chuckled. “If you understand that much, we have at least a sensible basis for conversation. Proceed on that. If you don’t have some fancy investment in mind, what did you want to meet me for?”

“In order to become acquainted with you.”

“That’s not an answer. It’s just another way of saying the same thing.”

“Not quite, Mr. Rearden.”

“Unless you mean–in order to gain my confidence?”

“No. I don’t like people who speak or think in terms of gaining anybody’s confidence. If one’s actions are honest, one does not need the predated confidence of others, only their rational perception. The person who craves a moral blank check of that kind, has dishonest intentions, whether he admits it to himself or not.

. . .

“Let us say–by way of gratitude, Mr. Rearden.”

“Gratitude to me?”

“If you will accept it.”

Rearden’s voice hardened. “I haven’t asked for gratitude. I don’t need it.”

“I have not said you needed it. But of all those whom you are saving from the storm tonight, I am the only one who will offer it.”

After a moment’s silence, Rearden asked, his voice low with a sound which was almost a threat, “What are you trying to do?”

“I am calling your attention to the nature of those for whom you are working.”

“It would take a man who’s never done an honest day’s work in his life, to think or say that.” The contempt in Rearden’s voice had a note of relief; he had been disarmed by a doubt of his judgment on the character of his adversary; now he felt certain once more. “You wouldn’t understand it if I told you that the man who works, works for himself, even if he does carry the whole wretched bunch of you along. Now I’ll guess what you’re thinking: go ahead, say that it’s evil, that I’m selfish, conceited, heartless, cruel. I am. I don’t want any part of that tripe about working for others. I’m not.

For the first time, he saw the look of a personal reaction in Francisco’s eyes, the look of something eager and young. “The only thing that’s wrong in what you said,” Francisco answered, “is that you permit anyone to call it evil.” In  Rearden’s pause of incredulous silence, he pointed at the crowd in the drawing room. “Why are you willing to carry them?”

“Because they’re a bunch of miserable children who struggle to remain alive, desperately and very badly, while I–I don’t even notice the burden.”

“Why don’t you tell them that?”

“What?”

“That you’re working for your own sake, not theirs.”

“They know it.”

“Oh yes, they know it. Every single one of them here knows it. But they don’t think you do. And the aim of all their efforts is to keep you from knowing it.”

“Why should I care what they think?”

“Because it’s–a battle in which one must make one’s stand clear.”

“A battle? What battle? I hold the whip hand. I don’t fight the disarmed.”

“Are they? They have a weapon against you. It’s their only weapon, but it’s a terrible one. Ask yourself what it is, some time.”

“Where do you see any evidence of it?”

“In the unforgivable act that you’re as unhappy as you are.”

Nobody ever wondered whether Francisco d’Anconia was good-looking or not; it seemed irrelevant; when he entered a room, it was impossible to look at anyone else. People explained him by saying that he had the vitality of a healthy animal, but they knew dimly that was not correct. He had the vitality of a healthy human being, a thing so rare that no one could identify it. He had the power of certainty.

“If you came here dressed like this in order not to let me notice how lovely you are,” he said, “you miscalculated. You’re lovely: I wish I could tell you what a relief it is to see a face that’s intelligent though a woman’s. But you don’t want to hear that. That’s not what you came here for.

. . .

“No? But haven’t I the right to be what is now accepted as human? Should I pay for everybody’s mistake and never be permitted one of my own?”

“That’s not like you.”

“No?” He stretched himself full-length on the carpet, lazily, relaxing. “Did you intend for me to notice that if you think I did it on purpose, then you still give me credit for having a purpose? You’re still unable to accept me as a bum?”

She closed her eyes. She heard him laughing; it was the gayest sound in the world. She opened her eyes hastily; but there was no hint of cruelty in his face, only pure laughter.

“My motive, Dagny? You don’t think that it’s the simplest one of all–the spur of the moment?”

No, she thought, no, that’s not true; not if he laughed like that, not if he looked as he did. The capacity for unclouded enjoyment, she thought, does not belong to irresponsible fools; an inviolate peace of spirit is not the achievement of a drifter; to be able to laugh like that is the end result of the most profound, most solemn thinking.

“You’re unbearably conceited,” was one of the two sentences she heard throughout her childhood, even though she never spoke of her own ability. The other sentence was: “You’re selfish.” She asked what was meant, but never received an answer. She looked at the adults, wondering how they could imagine that she would feel guilt from an undefined accusation.

. . .

Motive power–you can’t imagine how important that is. That’s the heart of everything.

 

What did they seek from him?–thought Rearden–what were they after? He had never asked anything of them; it was they who wished to hold him, they who pressed a claim on him–and the claim seemed to have the form of affection, but it was a form which he found harder to endure than any sort of hatred. He despised causeless affection, just as he despised unearned wealth. They professed to love him for some unknown reason and they ignored all the things for which he could wish to be loved. He wondered what response they could hope to obtain from him in such manner–if his response was what they wanted. And it was, he thought; else why those constant complaints, those unceasing accusations about his indifference? Why that chronic air of suspicion, as if they were waiting to be hurt? He had never had a desire to hurt them, but he had always felt their defensive, reproachful expectation; they seemed wounded by anything he said, it was not a matter of his words or actions, it was almost  . . . almost as if they were wounded by the mere fact of his being. Don’t start imagining the insane–he told himself severely, struggling to face the riddle with the strictest of his ruthless sense of justice. He could not condemn them without understanding; and he could not understand.

Did he like them? No, he thought; he had wanted to like them, which was not the same. He had wanted it in the name of some unstated potentiality which he had once expected to see in any human being. He felt nothing for them now, nothing but the merciless zero of indifference, not even the regret of a loss. Did he need any person as part of his life? Did he miss the feeling he had wanted to feel? No, he thought. Had he ever missed it? Yes, he thought, in his youth; not any longer.

He observed, with satisfaction, that she was silenced by anger. He liked to observe emotions; they were like red lanterns strung along the dark unknown of another’s personality, marking vulnerable points. But how one could feel a personal emotion about a metal alloy, and what such an emotion indicated, was incomprehensible to him; so he could make no use of his discovery.

“The consensus of the best metallurgical authorities,” he said, “seems to be highly skeptical about Rearden Metal, contending–”

“Drop it, Jim.”

“Well, whose opinion did you take?”

“I don’t ask for opinions.”

“What do you go by?”

“Judgment.”

“Well, whose judgment did you take?”

“Mine.”

“But whom did you consult about it?”

“Nobody.”

I was here, hidden by nothing but an error of your sight, as Atlantis is hidden from men by nothing but an optical illusion.

She had set out to break him, as if, unable to equal his value,she could surpass it by destroying it, as if the measure of his greatness would thus become the measure of hers, as if the vandal who smashed a statue were greater than the artist who had made it.

A man who surrenders his value is at the mercy of anyone’s will.

From the first extortion he had accepted, from the first directive he had obeyed, he had given them cause to believe that reality was a thing to be cheated, that one could demand the irrational and someone, somehow, would provide it.

A wish for the irrational is not to be achieved, whether the sacrificial victims are willing or not.

That is the payment I demand. Not many can afford it. I don’t mean your enjoyment, I don’t mean your emotion–emotions be damned!–I mean your understanding and the fact that your enjoyment was of the same nature as mine, that it came from the same source: from your intelligence, from the conscious judgment of a mind able to judge my work by the standard of the same values that went to write it–I mean, not the fact that you felt, but that you felt what I wished you to feel, not the fact that you admire my work, but that you admire it for the things I wished to be admired.

… that catastrophe had made them aware of Hank Rearden with an intensity that his achievements had not aroused, as if the paths of their consciousness were open to disaster, but not to value.

If you understand that I acted for my own sake, you know that no gratitude is required.

What for? some voice seemed to ask her. Because I’m still alive, she answered.

As a man goes step by step, trying not to think of the length of a hopeless road, so he went moment by moment, keeping no imprint of anything in his mind.

The austerity of the marble face was the form of a disciplined capacity to feel too deeply.

Fire, a dangerous force, tamed at his fingertips… When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind–and it’s proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his expression.

Our first rule here is that one must always see for oneself.

When one deals with words, one deals with the mind.

He thought of all the living species that train their young in the art of survival, the cats who teach their kittens to hunt, the birds who spend such strident effort on teaching their fledglings to fly–yet man, whose tool of survival is the mind, does not merely fail to teach a child to think, but devotes the child’s education to the purpose of destroying his brain, of convincing him that thought is futile and evil, before he has started to think.

From the first catch-phrases flung at a child to the last, it is like a series of shocks to freeze his motor, to undercut the power of his consciousness. “Don’t ask so many questions, children should be seen and not heard!”–“Who are you to think? It’s so, because I say so!”–“Don’t argue, obey!”–“Don’t try to understand, believe!”–“Don’t rebel, adjust!”–“Don’t stand out, belong!”–“Don’t struggle, compromise!”–“Your heart is more important than your mind!”–“Who are you to know? Your parents know best!”

But to think is an act of choice. The key to what you so recklessly call ‘human nature,’ the open secret you live with, yet dread to name, is the fact that man is a being of volitional consciousness. Reason does not work automatically; thinking is not a mechanical process; the connections of logic are not made by instinct. The function of your stomach, lungs or heart is automatic; the function of your mind is not. In any hour and issue of your life, you are free to think or to evade that effort. But you are not free to escape from your nature, from the fact that reason is your means of survivalso that for you, who are a human being, the question ‘to be or not to be’ is the question ‘to think or not to think.’

A being of volitional consciousness has no automatic course of behavior. He needs a code of values to guide his actions. ‘Value’ is that which one acts to gain and keep, ‘virtue’ is the action by which one gains and keeps it. ‘Value’ presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? ‘Value’ presupposes a standard, a purpose and the necessity of action in the face of an alternative. Where there are no alternatives, no values are possible.

Man has no automatic code of survival. His particular distinction from all other living species is the necessity to act in the face of alternatives by means of volitional choice. He has no automatic knowledge of what is good for him or evil, what values his life depends on, what course of action it requires. Are you prattling about an instinct of self-preservation? An instinct of self-preservation is precisely what man does not possess. An ‘instinct’ is an unerring and automatic form of knowledge. A desire is not an instinct. A desire to live does not give you the knowledge required for living. And even man’s desire to live is not automatic: your secret evil today is that that is the desire you do not hold. Your fear of death is not a live for life and will not give you the knowledge needed to keep it. Man must obtain his knowledge and choose his actions by a process of thinking, which nature will not force him to perform. Man has the power to act as his own destroyer–and this is the way he has acted through most of his history.

Reality is that which exists; the unreal does not exist; the unreal is merely that negation of existence which is the content of a human consciousness when it attempts to abandon reason. Truth is the recognition of reality; reason, man’s only means of knowledge, is his only standard of truth.

The most depraved sentence you can now utter is to ask: Whose reason? The answer is: Yours. No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it. It is only with your own knowledge that you can claim to possess or ask others to consider. Your mind is your only judge of truth–and if others dissent from your verdict, reality is the court of final appeal.

A rational process is a moral process. You may make an error at any step of it, with nothing to protect you but your own severity, or you may try to cheat, to fake the evidence and evade the effort of the quest–but if devotion to truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.

Thinking is the man’s only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think–not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment–on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that A will not be A as long as you do not pronounce the verdict ‘It is.‘ Non-thinking is an act of annihilation, a wish to negate existence, an attempt to wipe out reality. But existence exists; reality is not to be wiped out, it will merely wipe out the wiper. By refusing to say ‘It is,’ you are refusing to say ‘I am.’ By suspending your judgment, you are negating your person. When a man declares: ‘Who am I to know?’–he is declaring: ‘Who am I to live?’

Whenever you rebel against causality, your motive is the fraudulent desire, not to escape it, but worse: to reverse it. You want unearned love, as if love, the effect, could give yo personal value, the cause–you want unearned admiration, as if admiration, the effect, could give you virtue, the cause–you want unearned wealth, as if wealth, the effect, could give you ability, the cause–you plead for mercy, mercy, not justice, as if an unearned forgiveness could wipe out the cause of your plea. And to indulge your ugly little shams, you support the doctrines of your teachers, while they run hog-wild proclaiming that spending, the effect, creates riches, the cause, that machinery, the effect, creates intelligence, the cause, that your sexual desires, the effect, create your philosophical values, the cause.

Who pays for the orgy? Who causes the causeless? Who are the victims, condemned to remain unacknowledged and to perish in silence, lest their agony disturb your pretense that they do not exist? We are, we, the men of the mind.

‘We know that we know nothing,’ they chatter, blanking out the fact that they are claiming knowledge–‘There are no absolutes,’ they chatter, blanking out the fact that they are uttering an absolute–‘You cannot prove that you exist or that you’re conscious,’ they chatter, blanking out the fact that proof presupposes existence, consciousness and a complex chain of knowledge: the existence of something to know, of a consciousness able to know it, and of a knowledge that has learned to distinguish between such concepts as the proved and the unproved.

When a savage who has not learned to speak declares that existence must be proved, he is asking you to prove it by means of non-existence–when he declares that your consciousness must be proved, he is asking you to prove it by means of unconsciousness–he is asking you to step into a void outside of existence and consciousness to give him proof of both–he is asking you to become a zero gaining knowledge about a zero.

Make no mistake about the character of mystics. To undercut your consciousness has always been their only purpose throughout the ages–and power, the power to rule you by force, has always been their only lust.

But it cannot be done to you without your consent. If you permit it to be done, you deserve it.

When you listen to a mystic’s harangue on the impotence of the human mind and begin to doubt your consciousness, not his, when you permit your precariously semi-rational state to be shaken by any assertion and decide it is safer to trust his superior certainty and knowledge, the joke is on both of you: your sanction is the only source of certainty he has. The supernatural power that a mystic dreads, the unknowable spirit he worships, the consciousness he considers omnipotent is–yours.

Do you cry that you find no answers? By what means did you hope to find them? You reject your tool of perception–your mind–then complain that the universe is a mystery. You discard your key, then wail that all doors are locked against you. You start out in pursuit of the irrational, then damn existence for making no sense.

The man who refuses to judge, who neither agrees nor disagrees, who declares that there are no absolutes and believes that he escapes responsibility, is the man responsible for all the blood that is now spilled in the world. Reality is an absolute, experience is an absolute, a speck of dust is an absolute and so is human life. Whether you live or die is an absolute. Whether you have a piece of bread or not, is an absolute. Whether you eat your bread or see it vanish into a looter’s stomach, is anabsolute.

There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice. But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist. In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.

Every form of causeless self-doubt, every feeling of inferiority and secret unworthiness is, in fact, man’s hidden dread of his inability to deal with existence. But the greater his terror, the more fiercely he clings to the murderous doctrines that choke him. No man can survive the moment of pronouncing himself irredeemably evil; should he do it, his next moment is insanity or suicide. To escape it–if he’s chosen an irrational standard–he will fake, evade, blank out; he will cheat himself of self-esteem by struggling to preserve its illusion rather than to risk discovering its lack. To fear to face an issue is to believe that the worst is true.

Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings byu the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience. But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knolwedge, a suspension of sight and of thought. That which you do not know, is not a moral charge against you; but that which you refuse to know, isan account of infamy growing in your soul. Make every allowance for errors of knowledge; do not forgive or accept any breach of morality. Give the benefit of the doubt to those who seek to know; but treat as potential killers those specimens of insolent depravity who make demands upon you, announcing that they have and seek no reasons, proclaiming, as a license, that they ‘just feel it’–or, those who reject an irrefutable argument by saying:’It’s only logic,’ which means: ‘It’s only reality. The only realm opposed to reality is the realm and premise of death.

Accept the fact that the achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness–not pain or mindless self-indulgence–is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values. Happiness was the responsibility you dreaded, it required the kind of rational discipline you did not value yourself enough to assume–and the anxious staleness of your days is the monument to your evasion of the knowledge that there is no moral substitute for happiness, that there is no more despicable coward than the man who deserted the battle for his joy, fearing to assert his right to existence, lacking the courage and the loyalty to life of a bird or a flower reaching for the sun. Discard the protective rags of that vice which you called a virtue: humility–learn to value yourself, which means: to fight for your happiness–and when you learn that pride is the sum of all virtues you will learn to live like a man.

The man who produces an idea in any field of rational endeavor–the man who discovers new knowledge–is the permanent benefactor of humanity. Material products can’t be shared, they belong to some ultimate consumer; it is only the value of an idea that can be shared with unlimited numbers of men, making all sharers richer at no one’s sacrifice or loss, raising the productive capacity of whatever labor they perform. It is the value of his own time that the strong of the intellect transfers to the weak, letting them work on the jobs he discovered, while devoting his time to further discoveries. This is mutual trade to mutual advantage; the interests of the mind are one, no matter what the degree of intelligence, among men who desire to work and don’t seek or expect the unearned.