23.11.06

Reflections on Atlas Shrgged: 1

Ayn Rynd wrote, “A sacrifice is the surrender of a value. Full sacrifice is full surrender of all values..” Rightly so, if one’s sacrifice is the Objectivism of her ordination. Consider, for Rynd—having witnessed the dehumanizing horrors of Communism and the vanity of the Social Gospel both of the early 20th Century—production and preservation became central values. Sacrifice then would require giving up either production or preservation.

And yet, now we stand—as it is some 100 years later—and find a culture that has embraced her godlessness (atheism), rejected the “mystics of the spirit” and rejected the proposition of a God beyond full comprehension. Production has become our beginning terminus, and so Rynd should be delighted? But consider the final terminus of a road begun of production. When one’s purpose is to produce, satisfaction is not derived until that same also engages in consumption. And where production tests the fortitude of man—his willingness to engage in unending hours of mindless labor for a paycheck or privilege—consumption frees him, if only for a moment. And so, like the alcoholic who at first sustains his job in order to “live for the weekend,” eventually not even the weekend satiates, when a stronger anesthetization is required. In time, he will forgo the frequency of the drink in order to relinquish the unpromising production, the unfulfilling labor, the work without purpose—without explanation to the why’s of life, to the in-and-out intricacies of human dignity.

Rynd missed it: Production is no more the beginning terminus of man’s purpose and meaning than consumption is the ending terminus. Rather, when man’s terminus are singular—resulting from a closed loop system rather than one which is linear—he finds meaning, purpose—yes, even joy!—throughout the various phases, including production and consumption, but never limited to.

Consider: I rise early to make a meal for a hungry family. Since production and preservation are but elements within the closed system, no core values are sacrificed in order to provide care. I derive joy from the act of service—a willful sacrifice of material possessions in an act which dignifies the life of another. We visit shut-ins on their birthday. These, of all humans, are the worst in a system of pure Objectivism. These humans produce nothing, and consume all. These corpses of life contribute nothing to the “produce-consume” model. Shall we kill them? Shall we forsake the lifelessness of the aged because they take what they can not repay?

It is our science that has sustained them beyond the function of their bodies? It is our science that has promised them this decade of disingenuous life. We have sustained them and then shuttled them off to the peripheries of life.
Where their experience could serve a map for our progress, we reject them. Where their errors could serve a warning in our own trials, we ignore them. Where they built upon the foundations of those before in order to offer us a chance to build, we ignore their efforts or, worse still, despise them.

But consider: when value is inherent—in people as in gold—purpose derives not from ability or appearance. Sacrifice reinforces core values rather than undermines them. Just as a piece of gold is of value whether in rough form or finished, so a human—whether strong in the wind of youth, or tempered as in the maturity of mid-life, or even gnarled and twisted as in the final days—is worthy of value, of consideration, of respect, of tender compassion—yes, even of sacrifice, that in what we give up we make room to hold all the more firmly that which is of greatest value; not merely as in the life to come, but here and now, in the very present. Through sacrifice, then, we raise up the banner of value that supersedes ability while never, negating it.

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