“A Book Must Be The Axe For The Frozen Sea Within Us” -Kafka
I grew up in the promised land of socialism, Finland, blessed with universal healthcare and quality, free education. And through experiencing the lovely summer breeze of the government taking care of you–with everything practically handed to you–I will proudly say: I’m a socialist. My mom asked me to clarify Finland is a free nation with a free market.
One day I walked through the bookshelves at the library, and after a while I saw it, read the title and author in the binding, and extended my arm to take it home with me. They were the feelings of curiosity, masochism, and an unabashed sense of self-righteousness that made me choose Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
If you are unfamiliar with the work and moral philosophy (Objectivism) of this tremendously influential 20th century author, here is her gist in one-sided, black and white, crude brevity: money is the blood of a working and morally correct nation; greed and industrialism, shameless acquisition of the material is the heart; government, socialism, regulation are venomous curse words, the wooden stake struck through the beating organ. With a “let them eat cake”-attitude she adored wealth, loved those with it, and held those without it deplorable without pity. She is what Karl Marx is to communism: she is the messiah of the rich; she is the fifth horseman of the poor.
So why would I, a person relatively far on the left in terms of economic policies, voluntarily read the work of Ayn Rand? The reason is pretty clear. I wouldn’t tell Gordon Ramsay what the best way is to cook a chicken. I am not a good cook. Would I argue the existence, purpose, or function of black holes with Neil deGrasse Tyson? No, I know nothing about them. So how could I in good conscience have a conversation or debate about politics without knowing the other side as well, where fiscal conservatives and capitalists are coming from? Maturity and intelligence aren’t measured by the quantity of what you know, but by realizing how much you don’t.
Of Rand’s published works, Atlas Shrugged is her pièce de résistance. It focuses on characters of particular dedication to and necessary values and skills for capitalism. They are captains of industry whose purpose is creating wealth freely, they are virtuous in their battle against regulation. In the novel, Rand creates a dystopian world where government interference goes too far. Less moral men of Washington D.C., who believe in equal opportunity and common wellbeing, pass legislation comparable to the ideas of communism–socialism, even. And in Rand’s fictive world, the United States (and the world) plummet into darkness and despair, an inertia of hopelessness. To this day, people agree with her writing with such fervor its effects are shown in legislation–her ideology most matching the Tea Party and Libertarians. I wanted to understand why.
In parts of the book I was shocked at the unapologetic transparency of the allegorical nature of her writing. But all throughout prose was wonderful: compelling, captivating, descriptive, and thought-provoking. In a scene, Francisco d’Anconia–a character of physical, moral, and intellectual perfection according to Rand’s standards–goes on a lengthy monologue in response to a woman saying “money is the root of all evil.” He naturally argues it is not. Through Francisco, Rand also argued against the actual misquoted saying from the Bible, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” And I surprised myself when I didn’t disagree with many things Francisco d’Anconia said.
Transparently, in politics of today there is unproductive and stigmatic pride in people’s views–on both sides of the spectrum. Conversations turn to screams; arguments are turned to insults. The cacophony of unhealthy discourse causes sensory overload where the introduction or exposure to others’ ideas are like a foreign language: they’re incomprehensible. But in these hieroglyphics there is one shared emotion: fear. Not necessarily a fear of the other side, but a fear of one’s own worldview being challenged–and here lies the trench we are in. The acquisition of knowledge, peeking through the perspectives of others, and accessing the part of one’s brain are growth. And these days we talk about social issues, legislation, elections, or budgets like petulant children.
But of course a la-di-da, moral relativist attitude can’t be practiced always. Things happen that deserve and demand justified outrage. But even when outraged, there is someone whose actions caused it, they had a reason for their actions, and getting to the bottom of what these reasons are is integral: if you want change, you must know what it is you must change. So read books that challenge how you think. Knowledge is necessary for understanding, for action, for the future.