Sunday, January 9, 2011
Examining Atlas: Personal Relationships
One of the more interesting ideas, for me, in Ayn Rynd's Atlas Shrugged is how she carries her ideas of objectivism to everyday emotional relationships. Like all aspects of life, Rynd suggests that we should be motivated by our own self-interest and only give value for value.
The protagonist, Dagny Taggart, at one point asks the "Strikers" who live in an objectivist society, what role husbands and wives play and they explain to her that Love is still free to exist in objectivism but instead of being demanded by those in the outside world, it is given as an exchange of values.
At first, gift-giving seems contrary to objectivism in that someone is receiving a gift with nothing in return. This is not true. For example, a man loves his wife and buys her a beautiful dress. The man is actually acting in his own self interest. By giving the dress to his wife HE receives the value of seeing her in that dress. HE receives the value of being the person who, as the result of his productivity, has the means to use his money in the way that he sees fit, purchasing a beautiful dress and gifting it to the woman he loves.
As I was reading the book, there were a few times when the attitude of the characters toward charity (being very contrary) created a conflict with my Christian/Mormon upbringing where charitable acts are thought of as being of utmost import in Christ-like living. It was only near the end of the book when Rynd reconciled this as the lead Striker explains that giving a toy to a poor child is fine. It is only when that toy is given at the expense of your own child's happiness that it becomes wrong. Wronger still, is when those in power DEMAND that you take the toy out of your child's hands (a toy that you purchased with the result of your productivity) and place it in the hands of a poor child.
My favorite character, Hank Rearden, is the most tortured of this principal, as his immediate family seek over and over again to essentially eat his carcass while simultaneously riding on his shoulders. His wife DEMANDS his Love while berating and degrading his achievements. His brother DEMANDS his pity while contributing nothing and seeking through political influence to destroy Rearden. His mother DEMANDS his support while insulting him for his ideals and drive to succeed.
Another character, James Taggart, demonstrates the wrong form of Love perfectly. He is a man of means, means he received through no ability of his own and in fact litterally stole from the ability of others. He meets a girl in a state of poverty and marries her, under the assumption that due to her lower-class status she will be forced to Love him because she is dependent on him. He has no value to offer, except his social status, and seeks to receive his love by obligation rather than earning it. His wife, strives to educate herself in the ways of sophisticated society, for which she receives resentment from her husband James because he can no longer demand her affection if she ceases to be a street rat.
Now, in real life. I see James Taggarts every day. Little did I know I've been living personal objectivism all along, unconsciously.
I remember a while back some friends of mine were having a movie night. I invited a girl, and she said that she needed to pack. I suggested that it had been some time since she had spent time with this particular group and since college-age adults are known to stay up to reckless hours of the morning, she could easily do her packing after the movie.
"Don't try to guilt-trip me," she said.
I didn't understand when she first said it. To me, I was merely presenting that if the value of attending the event were great enough to make up for the loss of sleep then it would be advantageous for her to do so, if not, stay home and pack.
It didn't occur to me until later that her reaction was not due to my individual statement, but a result of a hole society's tendency to demand un-earned attention. Simply put, she didn't realize that I was an objectivist, she thought I was a looter.
Every day I see pathetic (faux-hawked) young men GUILTING women into spending time with them. "Come oooooon," they say "we haven't hung out in sooooooo looooooooong."
Ask yourself why? If she wanted to hang out with you, she probably would. If you have not earned someone's time, affection, love then you have no right to demand it.
If you haven't earned my time, I will not give it to you. If there's no value for me to gain from interacting with you, then I will choose not to.