Thank you Ayn Rand

There is one thing I regret, more than anything else in the world. It’s that Ayn Rand died years before I was born. This post should have been a mail to her. These words are for her.

For those of you who’ve never heard of/never read Ayn Rand’s books, let me give you the short version. She created the philosophy of Objectivism, which says that life is real, we are what we make of ourselves, and that guilt is evil.

Hers is the philosophy of selfishness. Selfishness, admiration and respect and love of the self, is good. The only possible goals a man can work towards are his own. The only possible ideas a man can live by are his own. The only possible life a man can live is his own.

Most people never understand this, because common wisdom encourages selflessness and charity. But if you don’t assume blindly that selfishness is evil, you realise it’s the only way you can work hard at your own goals, gain your own successes, and be happy without feeling guilty that there are others in the world not as happy as you.

I wouldn’t have got it myself. I just wouldn’t have thought of it at all. I’d have felt the guilt. Because yeah, there are things I could do to improve the world and others’ lives. There are things anyone can do. Any person willing to live for others can do good for them in the short term.

But forget about the long-term negatives; the reason I don’t do those things is because I don’t want to. I want to live for myself. That is my priority, always has been. So in the era before Ayn Rand, as it were, there was a lot of guilt.

This is appreciation, and it will be a long post, since I have a lot to appreciate here.

The short version is, very simply: Ayn Rand, THANK YOU.

My parents are rational thinkers. They introduced my brother and myself to Ayn Rand through The Fountainhead when I was barely into my teens. Her novels saved me from a life of perpetual confusion.

I’ve always known that certain beliefs are wrong, and some are right. Yet I’m told that all beliefs hold equal value. I’ve always known that what I make, what I create, what I write, what I own, is MINE. Yet I’m told that all property is theft, that my primary duty is to help the less fortunate, that even art is a blessing from the unknown. I have no particular objection to charity, but surely my primary duty is to creating value for myself, not for others.

It is hard when the world tells a child things that directly contradict what she believes (reinforced by my parents’ beliefs – they were never a part of “the world”, which is part of why I love them so much). It was even harder when I decided I was blindly accepting what my parents said and decided to consider every thought that came my way. That was when I heard of “If the majority believes it, it’s true.”

I was a kid. I didn’t know what to do. If the majority thought that socialism was the right way for India (not that I put it in so sweeping a scope then) then maybe they were right.
It took me quite a while to get over that phase. But when I was around thirteen, I think (not that I made a note) that I first read The Fountainhead.

The world changed.

It changed again when I read Atlas Shrugged, when I read John Galt’s speech right at the end, when I read Ayn Rand’s essays, when I had the words to express exactly why I was so worried at the way the world was meandering, and what I should do, for my part.

Without her, I wouldn’t be who I am today. And I like who I am today.

Which is why I say, Ayn Rand, I wish you were alive today. Because it’s just dumb to say that “wherever you may be, I know you’re listening” (since the very concept of life beyond death, or any other supernatural phenomenon associated with HER, is – well, it’s sacrilege, really), but I do wish you could hear me say: THANK YOU.

Posted in Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, Fountainhead, Objectivism, Philosophy | 14 Comments

14 Responses to Thank you Ayn Rand

  1. Vishal says:

    While browsing mentions in Ayn Rand essay competition I searched India – you were the only one. Congratulations! Keep up the good work.

  2. Marvin Trobaugh says:

    I just wanted to tell you that I am new to blogging and site-building and absolutely enjoyed your blog. Iā€™m almost certainly going to bookmark your blog post. You come up with absolutely superb article content. Thank you!

  3. Rohith Jyothish says:

    Hey,
    I happened to see your name in the Atlas Shrugged Essay Competition Winners List. I have always known about Rand but just started reading ‘Atlas Shrugged’. I like her writing but I am not very convinced about her ideas from a policy perspective. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions regarding her philosophy.

  4. Mariano Spanbauer says:

    Hello. This article was remarkable, especially because I was looking for thoughts on this matter just last week.

  5. Habibe says:

    The one stereotype I get about Objectivism is that it is not compatible with a religious philosophy. Is that also a myth/misconception or is that true?

    • Priya K says:

      No, it’s completely true. It’s impossible to believe that you’re the master of your own destiny AND that there is an omnipotent Being at the same time. Also, it’s impossible to fit in the concept of an afterlife where you’re rewarded/punished with a philosophy that says that this is the only real world and that by making your choices you create your own rewards and punishments. Through one of her characters, Ayn Rand once said (paraphrase): I ask people if they believe in God. If they say yes, I know that they don’t believe in life. The idea is that if you expect an afterlife, you don’t believe that this life is real at all. And if you believe in a higher power, you don’t believe in yourself. Neither is compatible with Objectivism.

  6. Anu Vishwa says:

    Totally loved this piece… Getting to know Ayn Rand better, but its only a drop of that ocean which I would like to xperience..if I get time.For such a young person, your thoughts are very objective, if I may use the word. Even after such a long innings in the game of life, people like me are only half aware of such philosophy. Gr8 going Priya….Keep it up…Waiting for THAT part II.

  7. Rakesh says:

    @Priya-K: Ayn Rand has been a constant influence in my life both in terms of her fiction and non-fiction literature.I am guessing you already read:Selfishness: the Ultimate Virtue. It is the epitome of her philosophy in a small booklet(Compared to her two monumental tomes). It guided me through most of my teenage angst at the world.
    While I am strongly pro-Rand, just for the sake of argument I want to point out that Selfishness has one fatal flaw. It assumes that everyone starts at the same start line. That everyone’s life is their own doing. What about those who never had the opportunity. Some compassion towards fellow beings ill-fate(only when it is not their doing) is not misplaced. The world is cruel as it is. We don’t want to make it a dog-eat-dog world.

    • Priya K says:

      Hi Rakesh, yes, I absolutely agree with you. But the point of selfishness is not to be cruel – quite the opposite! It simply means that you should not sacrifice yourself to help someone else. If you get something out of helping a fellow human being, whether happiness or a warm feeling or any other non-material advantage, and that non-material advantage outweighs whatever you would have had to spend (again, material or otherwise), then why not? Compassion for the less fortunate is fine even by Ayn Rand’s philosophy, as long as it does not become an apology for doing well yourself and as long as you get something out of it.

  8. Rakesh says:

    Priya,
    Unfortunately, I am pretty sure she would disagree. Her philosophy of “objectivism” is absolutely take-no-prisoners purist. I remember reading both her novels looking for some leeway for sympathy. Nothing. None of her characters accept that while human beings are broadly responsible for their own fate, you cannot compare Siddharth Mallya with a rickshaw puller’s son.
    It is all well for us armchair philosophers who have relatively secure lives to comment on the poor being responsible for their own fate but it is analogous to saying someone is responsible for acquiring cancer(Especially, when he is a non-smoker, non-drinker. While smoking is a known cause there are genetic factors at play,too).
    I have faced my share of hardships in life and do use Ms Rand’s philosophy as a coping mechanism for not feeling empathy towards others as the empathy is too painful. Having said that, Ayn Rand is rightly described as a right-wing extremist. She is a bit too far on the right(capitalistic) side for my tastes.

    • Priya K says:

      Yes, I agree – I think she would disagree too. But just because we agree with her in some things – even many things – doesn’t mean that we have to give her blanket approval on all points. After all, one of the primary tenets of Objectivism is to think for oneself.

      But in any case, you cannot expect to apply Objectivism to the current socio-politico-economic situation and expect it to work. Her call is for the system itself to change, upon which a rickshaw puller’s son who is hard-working and intelligent would also have a fighting chance to succeed. Of course it would be harder, but it would be possible. In “Atlas Shrugged”, Hank Rearden and John Galt build themselves up from nothing, while James Taggart and Orren Boyle, heirs of huge corporations, are able to grow unfairly richer because of the system.

      In fact, if you read “Atlas Shrugged” carefully, you realise that as much as she loves capitalists, she equally detests crony capitalists like Taggart and Boyle. She wants a system free of government controls, which would eliminate cronyism, lobbying, and thus corruption to a large extent. People would trade freely with each other, not asking to be given handouts and not giving handouts. It sounds like, and honestly is, Utopia.

      The only problem is that people are lazy, and do ask for handouts; people are weak, and do agree to give the handouts even when they know that the receivers do not deserve them; people are cruel, and believe that money equals power, and do oppress those without it. The only way to solve this problem would be to handpick those to be allowed into Utopia – as John Galt does in Atlas Shrugged. This, obviously, won’t work.

      So, to sum up my very long comment: Yes, there are places where Ayn Rand’s philosophy just doesn’t work, especially in the case of the very young, the very sick and the very poor. But that doesn’t mean that she’s entirely wrong, either. If every person in the world decided that he had had enough of living for others and having others living for him – in other words, if every person started pulling his own weight – can you imagine how far we could go? how high we could reach?

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