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The Purpose of the Rainbow
Across the street and in my field of view was an arc of another type, one more commonly seen: the Golden Arches of a McDonald's restaurant.
The rainbow hung there, pretty and pleasing in the early evening sky. The Golden Arches thrust themselves rudely into that same sky, announcing purpose, demanding attention. And that was all the difference in the world.
We like and appreciate rainbows, I think, because of their unpredictability and their transient nature: their sudden appearance comes almost as a gift of nature. But it's important to realize that nature imparts no gifts, that gifts of any sort come only from the hand of man.
Unlike the rainbow, a McDonald's restaurant doesn't appear at random or because of an event of nature: it's there every day, it's there for a reason, for a purpose. McDonald's offers food--sustenance and pleasure--for a price. It's not a gift. But the offer is to any and all comers, whenever they're hungry, whenever they wish to exchange what they have--their money--for what McDonald's is offering. And, like the rainbow, McDonald's is found all over the world.
Which fact does not bring smiles to all faces. French farmers complain that McDonald's is affecting their livelihoods, and they urge European boycotts against McDonald's. Many of them approve of violence being visited upon the restaurants themselves. Activists throughout the Arab world advocate boycotts against McDonald's (and other western companies) as a means of displaying their anger over American support for Israel.
But French customers continue to buy Big Macs, and I lived in Alexandria, Egypt, during those boycotts. The shops I patronized never stopped carrying the western products I wished to buy--products which, apparently, many Egyptians wished to buy as well. And every McDonald's I saw in Alexandria was busy all the time. I don't mean to say that the Egyptians as a people are hypocrites. I do mean to say that people like the convenience of such restaurants as McDonald's, people like the opportunities afforded by being able to work there (not only a regular paycheck but a regular opportunity to practice one's English and French), and investors like being able to offer products and services for which people are willing to pay. This is far from evidence of hyprocrisy. Purposeful, productive behavior generates benefits which touch all concerned.
Nor do I mean to disparage rainbows: I relish seeing them, and I well recall my delight one morning in the Arizona desert to witness a completely intact double rainbow (I've never seen one since). But unlike the rainbow, the arches at McDonald's are there--wherever a particular McDonald's happens to be--because someone put it there, because someone chose to put it there. Someone with vision, with energy, with ambition altered the world by opening and operating a new business. Someone who did the best thinking of which he was capable (Rationality), who then acted on his thinking (Integrity), who put his plans into action and pursued his desires (Productiveness), and who announced to the world that he was open for business (Pride). Indeed, McDonald's in operation is not simply symbolic of virtue: it represents virtue itself.
As does every operating business, and all purposeful human activity. Indeed, even the side effects of such activity, such as litter and refuse, can be seen in this light: yes, there is trash as a result of human activity. But think on that: it is a result of human activity, of purposeful action. And only purposeful human action can clean it up, and more often than not it does. Humans do clean up after their activities: rabbits and coyotes do not.
On a December night in Pennsylvania, Francisco d'Anconia stood at his hosts window and looked out upon a storm:
Francisco looked silently out at the darkness. The fire of the mills was dying down. There was only a faint tinge of red left on the edge of the earth, just enough to outline the scraps of clouds ripped by the tortured battle of the storm in the sky. Dim shapes kept sweeping through space and vanishing, shapes which were branches, but looked as if they were the fury of the wind made visible.
"It's a terrible night for an animal caught unprotected on that plain," said Francisco d'Anconia. "This is when one should appreciate the meaning of being a man."
Those few words from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged say it all. The meaning of being a man, indeed! I fully expect to smile at every rainbow I see for the rest of my life--they are, after all, beautiful, and we have them only briefly. But I have received more from purposeful human activity, especially commerce, than from any "miracle" of nature, ever. I love the sight of open water--I love it even more when I see colorful sails crossing it. I love the rugged mountains where I live--even more, I love seeing the radio and television transmission towers on their peaks, and seeing the cuts made by roadways, enabling me to cross those same mountains in my car, in minutes and in comfort.
Wherever and whenever they appear, rainbows add to those pleasures. But a Big Mac whenever I want one? That's a miracle. Just ask Francisco d'Anconia.
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