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In Defense of the “Self”

Posted by Ammon on April 28, 2011

I have a love/hate relationship with the writings of Ayn Rand.  I read her writings and can see some things that I feel are missing from what I understand as her ideal. Then I read a criticism of the heroes in her novels and I feel like they are misunderstanding and misrepresenting the reality of what her heroes demonstrate.

For example:

The hero of her novel Anthem, Equality 7-2521, at the end of the novel, now having named himself Prometheus, comes to believe that instead of living for the state, the brotherhood of mankind, or for others, the highest ideal is actually to live for oneself.  That he, as an individual, has no inherent or a priori obligation to any brotherhood of mankind, to any governmental institution, or to any other individual.  The only obligation he has is to himself.  He states:

I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms.  This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest.

I need no warrant for being, and no word of the sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction.  It is my mind which thinks, and the judgment of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth.

It is my will which chooses, and the choice of my will is the only edict I must respect.

I find this idea intriguing, but easily taken in a direction which is deception.

My own first fundamental principle is “I am.”  In other words, before everything else, before any other truth or principle, I must recognize and embrace the fact that I exist and have worth first and foremost, to myself.  Anthem played a large part in helping me develop this fundamental principle.

The second of my fundamental principles is “God is.”  By which I mean that no less important, and inseparably related to recognizing and embracing the fact that I exist and have value to myself, is that I recognize and embrace that God exists and that my happiness is of worth to him – hence “I am.”

However, today I was reading another book which is already having a transformational effect on my understanding of truth, The Student Whisperer.  I’m only about 1/3 the way through the book, but it is really inspiring me.  In it one of the two authors, Tiffany Earl, is sharing some excerpts from her study journal, written as a student at George Wythe College.  These are her criticisms of the same messages in Anthem:

Ayn Rand rejected the imitation and simultaneously refected the “real thing.”  She rejected communism with its “two-headed dragon” of terror and force and all its inherent evils, the indignity it bring upon mankind.  And like a person who rejects imitation vanilla as not quite cutting it and at the same time decides to discard all vanilla, Ayn Rand rejects the imitation brotherhood and also throws out the real brotherhood in her writings.  But in her heart of hearts she held to the real, though her words denied it.  Her whole life was dedicated to mankind, lifting them from the yoke of force, terror, Communism.  It’s ironic really.

Actually, I don’t think it’s that ironic if she had truly understood what Ayn Rand felt in her heart of hearts.  I believe Ayn Rand would argue that she did not dedicate her life to mankind, but to her own desire to have a world free from the Communism she experienced as a youth.  She would say she was not motivated by any sense of obligation to mankind, but by her, as she would likely put it, selfish desire to see “communism with its ‘two-headed dragon’ of terror and force” destroyed.

The student, Tiffany Earl makes the erroneous assumption that when Prometheus declares:

I shall call to me all the men and the women whose spirit has not been killed within them and who suffer under the yoke of their brothers.  They will follow me and I shall lead them to my fortress.

That he “actually does feel an obligation to the brotherhood.” And thus sees an apparent contradiction in the book.

However, I see an important difference between wanting others who are like minded and want the intellectual freedom he can offer to be with him and to associate with such people, and a feeling of obligation toward these same people.  He is not making a statement about what he needs, or has an obligation to perform, but a statement about what he wants and what he believes will help him achieve happiness.

The way I see it, this is no different than God.  God does not need anybody to do his work.  He is perfectly able to accomplish, on his own, anything that he wants accomplished.  Nor does he do his work out of a sense of obligation toward us.  My religious beliefs include a doctrine that God wants us to be with Him and enjoy the same things He enjoys – to be like him.  That is the motivation behind everything He does.  Not out of a sense of obligation, nor out of a need of his to have us be like him.  If it’s not immoral for God to be motivated by nothing other than the furthering of his own purposes and will, why would it be immoral for those, whom he wants to be like him, to do the same?


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