Monday, April 6, 2009

Dagny Galt and rational self-interest

Book Review: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
reposted from my old blog

Atlas Shrugged was a fantastic book, one of those books that is not only well-written but is also a page turner (except the 100 pages towards the end of the book that is a SINGLE monologue).

One of the interesting things was that the main character, Dagny, reminded me of my old boss (I won't say which one!). It was uncanny. I started reading it at the same time that I was watching a crazy situation go down at work, and it was like reading a biography of my boss in some ways. You know that kind of person that is a self-motivated and a driven perfectionist, so they go go go all the time. They get everything done and when they get a vision of something, they will do anything and everything to make it happen. They can turn around companies, change countries, make their mark in history. They are also incredibly demanding of everyone else around them.

That kind of person is the only person of value in Atlas Shrugged. In most perspectives that character would be a "bad guy." In Atlas Shrugged they are the heroes, the only ones that keep the world running. By the end of the book, I saw her point. It was actually very convicting, all the talk about hard work, drive and dedication, and business and industry. I feel as though I have honestly walked away from this book changed, the way one might speak about a religious book. I don't buy into her worldview, but it certainly influences mine. This is strange because Rand is a hard-core capitalist with no room for charity or religion or anything that she views as "weak".

One thing that really struck me was the central theme of rational self-interest. As I started seeing that thread wind its way into the book I thought of how opposed it is to everything you hear in Sunday school. Rand sees no reason to give to the poor, no reason to help your brother, and no reason to be selfless. Actually the point of the book is selfishness. The further I got into the book I began to question my automatic push back against that theme, partly because of a few comments from a philosophy guy at church. Why do we come to God? Why should someone "become a Christian?" I always felt like it was ... selfish... of me to have come to God, since in the end my best reason was that I did it for myself. Aren't I supposed to do things for God? And yet God doesn't need me... I'm not doing it for Him, I do it for me. Rational self-interest. Isn't God the only truly rational self-interested choice for humans? Sure, a life following Christ doesn't feel as though it is for ourselves, it can actually be quite painful. In Atlas, though, the main characters go through a great amount of pain to achieve an ultimately better life for themselves.

Interesting. It seems to me that applied without God being true, Rand's philosophy is brutal, cold, and perhaps even devastating. Applied assuming that God is true, it is transformational, because all of that energy and determination is given to the pursuit of God.

Then there is the character of John Galt... He is the first to truly turn to rational self-interest. The more I thought about the character, the more I came to the conclusion that it's an interesting picture of God. I think of self-interest as a bad thing... but for God? Isn't it not only rational but good and right and ... the only possible way of things... that God be fully self-interested? That gives a different twist on how I look at salvation-history and why it is the way it is.

Oh, and her ideas about sex and love and women are way before their time, if you ask me. Interesting. The other thing that struck me was that Rand's extreme views of capitalism came out of her life in Communist Russia before coming to the US. Comparing her experiences and conclusions to Solzynitzyn's is really striking- they went opposite directions, really. Rand emphasizes capitalism and the importance of self-interest, while Solz. emphasized moral religion and scorned self-interest.


public 7:30 PM 8 views 4 eprops 2 comments edit

No comments:

Post a Comment