“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” — Mark Twain
Ayn Rand postulated the following three axioms, albeit not in these exact words:
Life needs life to survive.
Life’s sole purpose is to preserve itself.
Born, raised, and educated in Russia as Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum, she chose her pen name of Any Rand in 1924 at the age of 19 and subsequently, emigrated to America at the age of 21 as Alice O’Connor seeking commercial success as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Her dreams of recreating her Russian-Jewish bourgeois family life, that she had enjoyed as a child, were soon a thing of the past after a few unsuccessful endeavours on Broadway. She found her success by returning to her academic roots and applying her skills to the prevalent post-war ideology in America through the publication of her first book, The Fountainhead, in 1943. However, she soon found herself on the wrong side of history for staunchly promoting laissez-faire capitalism as opposed to libertarianism, which she viewed as anarchism. Her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, is probably one of the most controversial and possibly polarising works of literature of all times; simultaneously heralded as an alternative to religious texts and condemned as immoral as well as being rejected by prominent academics of her time. Consequently, while Miss Rand enjoyed tremendous commercial success and went on to leave behind a legacy, that may perhaps endure as much as Shakespeare’s, she was depressed by the lack of academic recognition which ended her career as a novelist. By all accounts, her subsequent reincarnation as a popular philosopher, which resulted in the establishment of a new philosophical system called Objectivism, was not a fulfilling endeavour until her death at the age of 77.
This abbreviated biography of Ayn Rand highlights the crux of this article which attempts to expound upon the oxymoron: Worst deeds by human hands have their origins in the best of intentions!
Our core belief is that the most educated or enlightened amongst us have the moral obligation to determine what is good and bad for the less fortunate members of our species. All social structures, religions, and forms of governments today can trace their origins to someone who was driven by this core belief. Consequently, all the worst atrocities committed on the basis of caste structures, religious crusades, and political persecution are the outcomes that future generations will look back upon in horror whilst struggling in futility to not repeat the mistakes of their ancestors.
Rand started from a core concept of “Existence” that she defined as “there is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence — and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms.” (sic) In doing so she chose to believe that the existence of life itself was special. She failed to infer from the scientific definition of life — a chemical process that propagates itself — that life itself is nothing truly special. There is no need to consider life as an antithesis to the apparent chaos that is our observable universe. In a previous article, “Dr SelfLove or: How I stopped caring and became an enlightened narcissist!”, we had explored the possibility that even a star can be considered a living thing and that life, as humans have chosen to value, would not have been possible but for the death of stars and their reincarnation as black holes.
Thus, while Rand maintained that the first question is not what should the code of values be, the first question is “Does man need values at all — and why?”, she was still incapable of, or possibly disincline to, challenging Plato’s Ghost (immortalised by William Butler Yeats) that drives us insane with the simplest of questions: “What then?” One can easily refute Rand’s basic premise: “While the existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action”. While sentient forms of life are indeed challenged by the existential dilemma succinctly captured by Shakespeare as “To be or Not to be…”, it is our vanity that drives us to try and put our perceived intelligence and position as the apex living organism within the known biosphere to the “good” use of preservation of intelligent life above all.
Time and again, we have been shown our insignificant place in the scheme of things on this Pale Blue Dot by the forces of nature (especially gravity) and advances in science are chipping away at the religious dogmas at an accelerating pace. Yet, we choose to carry on blithely with our “eyes wide shut”. We have to acknowledge that even the age old wisdom that tells us: “Make hay while the sun is shining…” will fail us should we harvest so much grass that none is left for the next time the sun is shining again.
We are driven by our unwavering belief that our way of life can be preserved possibly even in harmony with nature in spite of the unstoppable effects of entropy. The quintessential human capability to push on purely on the basis of unabashed hope, embodied in the theory of evolution, is the slippery slope that we are blissfully sliding down towards certain doom. Survival of the fittest is a myth as even the indestructible black hole itself decays over time and the existence of our entire universe itself might be a cyclic phenomenon. Existence or non-existence of life is as irrelevant as our perception of “reality”.
Thus to summarise, the question that we should ponder with our limited and flawed intellect can be formulated as: Are the consequences of inaction better than mistakes arising out of good intentions? As always… Only time will tell!