The Year is Complete!

Please feel free to look back through the 365 days of 2010 sunrises, but "a year of getting up to meet the day" is officially completed. There will be no more new posts.


Thank you so much for visiting.
A one year blog project in which I share a process of transitions: emptying of the nest, reacquainting with my rusty intellect, plowing onward with my first full length book, entering the second half of my first century, and generally reflecting on life.

(see Dec. 29th, 2009 entry for further explanation)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ayn Rand on sunrise and motherhood

sunrise:  6:14

Drippy day, nice sky for inspiration, nice guy for company.

One last post dedicated to Ms. Rand.  After reading 1000+ pages of her work and researching her on line, she continues to pique my mind.

Exercising Rand's virtue of selfishness, I am picking out two passages from "Atlas Shrugged" that appealed to me on a personal level.

The first is an encounter between the book's female protagonist, Dagny Taggart (whom Rand hoped would be played on screen by Farrah Fawcett!  Weird.), and a mother with her two sons.  The mother is one of very few women living in Rand's utopian society of free-thinking, reason-driven, individual-liberty-believing geniuses.  There were times that I felt, as I read the book, that it was ridiculously elitist, that Rand left no room for any good, hard-working regular people.  She seemed to consider them dispensable, or at best, irrelevant.   I also felt that she would scoff at anyone who resigned herself to full time motherhood.

Well, I was only half right.  To "resign oneself" to motherhood would be a waste and a crime, according to Objectivist principles (as I understand them).  To choose motherhood and pursue it as a challenging career, with determination to excel and reap the best possible results - THAT is okay by Rand.  Somehow, childishly, I felt validated. 

Dagny Taggart meets this mother in John Galt's Utopia, where the mother also runs a local bakery.  When Dagny speaks admiringly of her boys, the mother answers, "They are my particular career, Miss Taggart...They're the profession I've chosen to practice."

The educational system was one place that went under attack by Rand, and where the Ayn Rand Institute focuses most of its efforts.  Here is Rand's view of how children should be (and how they shouldn't be):

"...She often saw them wandering down the trails of the valley -- two fearless beings, aged seven and four.  They seemed to face life as she had faced it.  They did not have the look she had seen in the children of the outer world - a look of fear, half-secretive half-sneering, the look of a child's defense against an adult, the look of a being in the process of discovering that he is hearing lies and of learning to feel hatred.  The two boys had the open, joyous, friendly confidence of kittens who do not expect to get hurt; they had an innocently natural, non-boastful sense of their own value, and as innocent a trust in any stranger's ability to recognize it; they had the eager curiosity that would venture anywhere with the certainty that life held nothing unworthy of or closed to discovery, and they looked as if, should they encounter malevolence, they would reject it contemptuously, not as dangerous, but as stupid; they would not accept it in bruised resignation as the law of existence."  (Atlas Shrugged, p.784)

Whatever objections I may have to some of Rand's extreme ideas, I can't find fault with this one.

Finally -- Rand's literary skill was sometimes denigrated.  But here, too, she has some beautiful moments.  And surely, if millions of people have gotten through her lengthy books, they can't be entirely dry and pedantic.

Of course this passage about the rising sun caught my eye.  There are so many ways to see it, so many ways to describe it, this daily moment in time that is still elusive to capture in print.  Here is Ayn Rand's version of sunrise from Atlas Shrugged:

"The stars were vanishing, the sky was growing darker, but in the bank of clouds to the east thin cracks were beginning to appear - first as threads, then faint spots of reflection, then straight bands that were not yet pink, but no longer blue, the color of a future light, the first hints of the coming sunrise.  They kept appearing and vanishing, slowly growing clearer leaving the sky darker, then breaking it wider apart, like a promise struggling to be fulfilled."  (Atlas Shrugged p. 692)


  1. I have been an Objectivist for 43 years now and count as one of my larger failures my inability to prove her wrong on any issue of substance. Your three posts on reading Atlas are quite delightful; and in a personal way, your serene and understated images are intoxicating. (I am a landscaper in Florida who strips the land of misguided tropical dreams to replace them with what would have been here if no one had ever come.)

    I just want to warn you about leaping to the conclusion that Rand, though insightful and prescient in some respects, is seriously mistaken in others without first verifying that it is she who is mistaken and not you. Consider this favorite quote of mine from an Objectivist blogger warning one of Rand's recent biographers, Anne Heller, who was doing just that:

    "However, I also don’t hold non-Objectivists to the same philosophical standard as those who have been studying the philosophy by itself for an extended period of time. Even some alleged Objectivists don’t understand her philosophy, and apply it poorly. It is deceptively simple, yet actually profound, and confounds anyone who views it through the lens of common premises and colloquial definitions."

    Rand was nothing if not consistent. If you find an idea of hers profoundly true and another mistaken, I guarantee you I can show you how you have misunderstood or misapplied the latter one. I challenge your mind to test this by naming an idea of hers with which you disagree. (In the event that you do not want such discourse to disrupt your vision of this particular blog, feel free to respond to me by email.)

    Here, if you have not already read them, are three important essays available online that might clear up some doubts right away:

    The Objectivist Ethics

    Man's Rights

    The Nature of Government

    And here are excerpts on over 200 different important topics:

    The Ayn Rand Lexicon

  2. I admire you for taking the time to read so much of her at once. I have never been able to finish her. I found myself wondering about that passage about kids you quoted, tho. Because, of course, there are several assumptions there. 1) That the kids are perfectly healthy to begin with (ie: no physical or mental illness or disability to contend with) and 2) that the kids will go along with being the particular project and career of the parent. My own children have made it abundantly clear that although they appreciated me being at home for them, it is THEIR life, and my job is to get a life for myself, not live vicariously thru them. Obviously, it's a question of stages...when they are infants and small children, they consume most of our days and a lot of our nights.

    Forgive me for raising these questions when I do not have the time to read her ( I have some paid writing assignments at last, and am swamped between them, my full time job, the family, and my blog). But I would be interested in your impressions as to how she treats the raising of disabled children, or the lives of those of us who have had to set aside our own wishes and careers indefinitely because of family disasters like disability/chronic illness or unemployment of some family members (as opposed to the twenty year dedication of full time motherhood)

  3. I am intrigued (yet again) by the passion this person has and, it seems, continues to generate in so many. I just plain can't stomach all. None of it. In fairness to Rand and her philosophy, I never managed to get through more than half of the infamous tome because, I think, of the style. My last attempt was many years ago and, while these posts tempt me, I think I will hold to the promise I made myself last time...that I would never pick it up again.

  4. If I hadn't had the responsibility of presenting to the book group, I'm not sure I would have slogged through the whole thing, but now I'm glad I did.

    @Michael M. I just finished reading "The Objectivist Ethics," which is very illuminating and helpful, albeit just as difficult to digest as a lot of her highly intellectual writing.

    Still, I am left with two problems with her philosophy. One is voiced by "Retriever" above. While I buy the argument that societal demands for altruism are destructive, what about compassion? What happens to those who are unable to take care of themselves not by choice (ie: Rand's "brutes, moochers, and looters"), but by circumstance (the sick, the injured, the physically handicapped)?

    Second thing - Rand was anti-gay. This makes no sense whatsoever in the context of any of her objectivist philosophies or ethics. I can only give her the benefit of the doubt on this one, and assume that she had no knowledge about the biological basis of homosexuality. If she did, than her stance is a blatant contradiction of her ethics.

  5. 1 of 3:

    First, there are entries in The Ayn Rand Lexicon on "Compassion" and "Charity"—neither comprehensive, but its always the place you should start.

    " What happens to those who are unable to take care of themselves not by choice (ie: Rand's "brutes, moochers, and looters"), but by circumstance (the sick, the injured, the physically handicapped)?"

    This is actually 3 questions:

    1) What is one's relationship to those in need through no fault of their own, in the context of individual ethics?
    2) How ought that relationship be applied in a social (political) context?
    3) In a nation of men who live by those principles, what happens to those in need through no fault of their own?

    The answer to these questions can be discovered by understanding and applying the essays I linked to, but it will probably help and speed up the process if I summarize the reasoning in different words:

    1) We human beings are living creatures that face, like all living entities, the fundamental alternative of existence or non-existence—life or death. Unlike other living things that are programmed by nature to pursue life, human beings are volitional and must choose one or the other. If one chooses the alternative of death, all other questions are moot. If one chooses to pursue life, then one's life becomes implicitly the standard of measuring all values subsequently pursued in the quest for it, the quest to survive and flourish in accordance with and fulfillment of one's nature. That fundamental choice need not be deliberate and explicit. One or the other is implicit in all of one's actions.

    The pursuit of a successful life requires identifications and definitions of what that entails and what kinds of actions in principle (virtues) are required to achieve it. That which contributes to one's life (not just physical existence, but to the full potential of one's human nature) is the good, that which detracts is bad. One must formulate then a hierarchical code of values—an ethics—to guide one's spontaneous choices in the service of life, and one must never forsake a higher value for a lower value.

    Summarizing, egoism is the recognition: that it is only one's conditional existence that gives rise to the concept of values—that values are, in principle, what one must act to gain or keep for its sake—that they are measured by their impact on that existence—that in every alternative faced, one must opt for the higher value over the lower value.

  6. 2 of 3:

    Needless to say, concepts like unconditional love or love thine enemy would be violations of this principle. They are a rejection of the very concept of values. The value of others in need, like one's value of any other human being or one's value of everything one encounters in life, must be ordered in that hierarchy of values that will drive all of one's choices of action.

    Now apply this to human interaction—i.e., the exchange of values. Recognition that the source of this principle is the fundamental nature of human beings necessitates the recognition that the moral mandate to never forsake a higher value for a lower value applies equally to all human beings—those who are, were, or ever will be. It would therefore be immoral to expect in any exchange of values that the other party should forsake something they value higher to you in exchange for something they value lower. Hence, Galt's maxim:

    "I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

    From this emerges the trader principle that in all human exchanges of value, both parties shall profit. Each shall give up something valued less to gain something valued more in trades that are driven by differences in the values men place on tangibles and intangibles at any given time and circumstance.

    If you are financially secure and comfortable, it would be moral to donate time and/or money to a family who had lost their source of income or their house in a fire or such. There is a sizable list of values to be derived from that to outweigh whatever value you place on that which you would give. You value the prospect of their eventual return to productiveness, you value the experience of the externalization of human relief and joy on receiving assistance, you value the restoration of the neighborhood or community, you value the example of the act in principle that could one day benefit you in a similar way, etc. The recipients of your aid would then give you in exchange their gratitude and their earnest effort to rebuild their lives, and perhaps one day the return of the value donated in money or services.

    The application of the principle does not differ in any other relationship. Admiration, friendship, and love in this ethics is neither a gift nor a duty, but rather an exchange of values.

    I pay for the value of experiencing and benefitting from the achievements of other men by giving them my admiration and my respect. I reward those closer to me who share some or many of my values with my friendship. I love my spouse whose whole being manifests a broad sense of life that mirrors mine, even if we disagree on certain specific issues. I love my child who is an extension of my very self—the product of my body, my mind, my actions. I love strangers who have not shown me they are anti-reason and anti-life as contributors to the social system off specialization that accelerates productivity, and I value their life, because I understand so deeply the significance of life itself in principle to mankind.

  7. 3 of 3:

    2) The pursuit of a moral life in this manner necessitates a condition in which one can make the necessary identifications and evaluations of reality and act according to them. The only danger to that autonomy would be the use or threat of physical force by other (fallible) men. The fundamental ethical alternative of life v. death is thereby manifested in the social context of politics as freedom v. force. Where the good in ethics is that which contributes to life, the good in politics is that which enables freedom, and conversely, the bad is that which enables coercion.

    Keep in mind that "coercion" refers only to that use of force exercised to gain, withhold, or destroy the values or voluntary actions of others. Force used to prevent, stop, or punish coercion is not only moral, it is the sole purpose and task of a government. Consequently, no government may require any exchange of values among men. Their only task is to use force strictly as necessary and permitted by objectively defined principles and procedures to guarantee that all human interrelationships shall be voluntary. That excludes not only aid and welfare to the needy, but taxation altogether.

    The ubiquitous response to this is that "it won't work." That fails to take into account that this is a moral conclusion. To say that the moral is impractical is a philosophical contradiction. The immoral is never practical. It is immoral!

    3) Now you might understand Rand's answer at one of her Ford Hall lectures when asked what would happen to those in need through no fault of their own. She said, "you may help them if you wish." Rand never opposed or denied the value of compassion and charity properly accorded. What she opposed was the idea of the duty and obligation asserted by the judeo-christian ethic and secular socialism. She rejected the entire idea of unchosen obligations.

    Far more significant to the issue of caring for the needy is the greatest factor in the inherent benevolence of Objectivism—the undeniable capacity of laissez-faire capitalism to create wealth for everyone across all strata of the population. The greater portion of poverty and need in this country is a direct result of the collusion of corporations and unions with government to regulate the economy for their benefit with the consent of the populace. In a laissez-faire capitalist society in which government could only guarantee the voluntary exchange of values, it would have no favors to give and nothing could be gained from attempts to collude with it. There would be no source of wealth available to men other than the enticement to a voluntary exchange by offering a greater value at a lower price than anyone else.

    A stellar example of the benevolence of capitalism is Sam Walton. He died the richest man in America after having raised the standard of living of the country's poor more than all of the government welfare programs and private charity that existed during his lifetime.

  8. I cannot vouch for what Rand did or did not know about homosexuality, nor for exactly what science was saying about the causes back in mid-20th century, but my own memory through the 50's and 60's tells me that it was most commonly attributed to undue influences of abnormal childhood experiences or abnormal familial relationships. Also the various religions vigorously sustained their vested interest in keeping the consensus from agreeing with a biological cause, as that would preclude their insistence that anything other than heterosexuality was immoral.

    Rand's negative comments on the subject early on were reportedly revised later in her life and often wavered with her mood, possibly due to the ever rising evidence of a biological cause. In any case, it never rose to the level of becoming integrated into the philosophy of Objectivism. Furthermore, I have not encountered in the past decade or so any Objectivists who do not accept sexual orientation as a metaphysical given and not a matter of choice nor subject of moral judgment. You can find a number of gay Objectivist blogs and organizations, and what with the official Obama position being against gay marriage, many gays are finding that the Objectivists are some of their strongest allies.

    When acquainting oneself with Rand and Objectivism, it is imperative to judge them separately. The philosophy is a distinct body of ideas that stand or fall on their own merit. As fascinating as the life of Rand may be, the details and quirks of it are not relevant to the validity of the philosophy itself. It is particularly important in cases like this to accommodate the inevitable changes in one position or another while her thinking on a subject was developing. In addition are the factors of available knowledge that you brought up.

    Another example of that would be her position that abortion in the first trimester was the right of the woman to choose, and after that "it could be argued". That was because back then it was considered too risky to abort after the first trimester, so arguments did not go there on either side of the issue. The position of Objectivists today is that until the child is born, only the mother is due individual rights, and a fetus is not an individual human being.

  9. Thank you, Michael, for all the time you put into your responses. You're right - I do find that the more I look into Objectivism the more I find it compelling. I wonder, though, how feasible a societal turnover to Objectivism is. I'm not sure if my compassionate side could reconcile the suffering that would take place in all of those people who haven't been educated in the culture of Objectivism, were Objectivism to become the way of the world. I suppose that the work of the Ayn Rand Institute is working toward that very goal - slowly but surely...?

    @ Retriever -- If my understanding of Rand's philosophy is sound, then the idea of a mother making her children "her particular project and career" is a delicate balance.

    Objectivists are determined never to live for the sake of another person, nor allow any person to live for them. So as a mother, a woman's efforts must be for HER OWN SAKE, to try and educate her children as best she can. As the children grow and become independent people, they must decide to live for themselves - not for their mother - if she has brought them up well (ie: according to Objectivist principles).

    The mother may choose (as we often do) to continue to devote time and love to her children, even if it is not always well received. The key is that even if we may impose rules as a part of their education to live in our household, and in society, we have to recognize the fact that they have free will. Figuring out at what age that free will should be given full rein is one of the trickiest parts of being a parent. It's a gradual process.

    But the main thing is, we shouldn't live FOR our children. We care for them because we want to - because we see value in the efforts we put into these people that we love. We care for them by our choice. We hope that when they grow up, they will choose to devote some value back in our direction, but it can't be imposed upon them. It's not okay for parents to expect automatic devotion from their children simply because they are parents. Children have to love you back because they want to. Hopefully, they will eventually realize that there is value in maintaining a loving relationship with these good people who may still have a lot to offer them, even in their grown up lives.

    At least, that is my understanding of this particular philosophy. And I think it is pretty sound.