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Holding Court - July 5, 2005
July 5, 2005
Metaphysics and You
Reading Laure Chipman’s article about the differences between the French and American exhibits at the Japanese World Expo:
The French theme, she wrote, was, "Look what you've done to the world. It's your lust for
material comforts that's destroyed all these third world nations,” — while the American
theme celebrated all the achievements of our time, as if it were saying: "Look what you've
achieved in the 300 years since I was born!"
I thought of a theory I have held for many years, the truth of which I have constantly observed in my own life and the lives of others. I am convinced that, metaphorically, we create our own metaphysics. That is, we spend our lives bringing into reality our view of what the world and man are like. We do it by means of our art, our science, our philosophy, and especially by our actions. One way or another, we make our world — the specific reality in which we spend our days — conform to our beliefs.
The French, and other Europeans, are creating in their countries and their lives the very pessimism and malevolence they believe in — just as Americans have made real in their country and their lives the essential sunnyness and benevolence in which we believe.
If we believe that man is essentially depraved and that we are helpless to change this fact, we will find ourselves, time after time, taking actions that dishonor us and leave us torn with guilt — from lies to petty revenges to infidelities and worse — and we will find that the friends we have chosen lie to us and take revenge on us for small and great sins and that they are unfaithful and disloyal to us. We will take actions that are self-destructive and destructive of others — after all, there’s no other sane way to behave in this world, is there? And in the end, looking at the ruins of our life, we will say: Aha! — I was right! — the world and my life are what I always knew they inevitably had to be.
If we cherish our lives and hold them and ourselves as shining, irreplaceable values, if we believe that we have free will and can shape our lives by our choices, we will find ourselves, time after time, taking actions that we would be proud to announce to the whole world and achieving heights in our characters and our work that represent the top of our abilities, and we will find that the friends we have chosen are decent and loyal and are motivated, in their lives and in their work, by essentially the same values that we hold. We will hold tight to the values we find and to those we create. And in the end, we will say: Aha! — I was right! — the world and my life are what I always knew they could be.
Now to your questions:
1. “I was originally drawn to Objectivism by the work of Steve Ditko. I think the man probably doesn't get as much credit as he deserves for bringing people to Objectivism, but that is just a personal quibble. My question is: was Rand aware of the man and did she have an opinion on him or his work?”
To the best of my recollection, Rand was not aware of his work. However, had she been aware of it, I think she would have liked it and considered it an excellent example of its genre. I have been contacted by other people whom Ditko first introduced to Objectivism and who are enthusiastic about his work. As Rand once said — I paraphrase: “When Objectivism descends from the philosophers’ ivory tower to intellectuals to the popular culture, and finally reaches the comic books, we shall know that we are winning the battle.”
2. “I have scoured the internet searching for quotes from Ayn Rand regarding Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek, and have come up blank. I know that Gene Roddenberry had read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged; he has been quoted saying so. I am wondering, however, if Ayn Rand had ever watched Star Trek and had ever been quoted saying something about it.”
When Star Trek first aired in the ‘60s, Rand was very enthusiastic about it. Nathaniel and I would go to her apartment every week to watch it with her. What we all strongly responded to was that, in each episode, Captain Kirk was faced with a distinctively moral problem — that is, he had to make life-and-death decisions guided only by his view of right and wrong — and that his decisions were reached in a wholly rational manner. It was remarkable and exciting to see such events and such men on television. However, after a few months, the emphasis on the conflict between good and evil began to diminish, and finally almost to disappear. Although the show never quite became standard television pap, our interest finally waned and we watched it only irregularly.
3. “When/how did the word ‘Objectivism’ originate in connection with Rand's ideas? In particular, did it come from Hayek's use of the word in The Counter-Revolution of Science in 1955?”
No, it did not come from Hayek. Rand, Nathaniel, and I had been discussing possibilities for a name for her philosophy for at least a couple of years, and had not been able to devise one that seemed appropriate. It was in 1956 that Rand hit upon “Objectivism,” and suggested it to us and to the Collective. (She was writing Galt’s speech at the time, and was not able to do any reading; the speech occupied all her time and attention. And she had intensely disliked Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and so read no further in his work.) She explained to us that the name was applicable to her theory of existence, of knowledge, and of values. In metaphysics, she held that reality is objective, existing independently of human consciousness; in epistemology, that man’s mind is competent to achieve objectively valid knowledge; in ethics, that values appropriate to human beings are objectively demonstrable — that a rational morality is possible. We were all delighted with the appropriateness of the name, and instantly adopted it.
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