Rebirth of Reason


The Hank Rearden Story: The Path to Mind-Body Integration
by Edward W. Younkins

Hank Rearden, a great industrialist who accepts the mind-body dichotomy, is the primary human instantiation of Atlas in Ayn Randís Atlas Shrugged.  He is a master of reality whose erroneous surface ideas do not corrupt his essential character and subconscious in terms of his psycho-epistemology.  Although Reardenís words and ideas sanction an unearned guilt, his actions belie his words.  Down deep he does not believe the notion of the mind-body split.

Rearden is a self-made man who is devoted to productive work and achievement.  In the beginning of the novel his existence is schizophrenic with a most satisfying work life and a bad family life .  Hank works passionately and enthusiastically and then feels guilty about it.  His family members, especially his nihilist wife Lillian, desire to destroy his greatness and do all they can to make him feel guilty for his productivity, work ethic, and rational achievement.  As a result, Rearden feels a guilty sense of obligation toward his family and attempts to atone, in an altruistic sense, to their many accusations.

Hank and the other industrialists are the worst victims of the conventionally accepted altruist-collectivist philosophy.  It is the mistaken sanction of the men of ability that paves the way for the parasites and statist looters who want the creators to produce for the world and then suffer for doing so.  A moral code based on altruism and the idea of a mind-body split holds the creators guilty because of their greatest virtues.  This moral code is used as a weapon against Rearden who does penance by sentencing himself to many years of selfless service to his family and to the looters.

Not only is he a constant victim of the looters, his relatives, and his associates, Hank also views his passion for Dagny Taggart as animalistic and degrading.  When Rearden finds himself desiring Dagny his split-self experiences a meltdown.  Riddled with guilt, Hank is worried about his wife and his lack of virtue.  He considers his forced love for his wife to be virtuous and thinks that his authentic love for Dagny is wrong and a guilty pleasure.  Early in the novel Hank has concluded that sex is purely physical, degrading, lustful, sinful, and of no spiritual meaning.  Although Rearden himself is a very sexual being, he regards sex as a lower bodily urge.  It follows that he is both upset (and overjoyed) when he learns the extent of Dagnyís sexuality.

What is the explicit nature of this mind-body split that underlies Hankís problems?  It is the idea that only the mind, soul, or spirit is high and pure and that the body is low, sinful, and evil.  It follows that if the body and the material world are held to be ignoble, vulgar and crass, then the soul must seek a separate path from the body.  The gratification of a personís self-interested bodily appetites must therefore be supplanted by higher spiritual goals.  Manís life on earth must be condemned and renounced in favor of unselfish duty to God and/or to others.  Because Rearden holds a modern secular version of this view, he condemns himself to guilt for both his productivity and his lovemaking.  His mind-body dichotomy finds expression in the self-sacrificial ethics of altruism.

Dualism dichotomizes mind and body as polar opposites.  The result is the material and spiritual exploitation of creators like Rearden who accept altruist-collectivist ethics and feel guilty for their achievements.  It is the erroneous sanction of this philosophy by the producers that permits the parasites to acquire spiritual approval and more material wealth than they produce.  If there is a mind-body split then production is not a virtue and work is merely a feature of manís worldly lower nature and not pertinent to the higher spiritual world.   As long as Rearden and the other creators sanction this premise, they will be incapable of understanding and proclaiming their own profound moral virtues and values.  Hank and the other great industrialists need to be liberated from the mind-body split.  Until they are, the most able in making life on earth possible will be considered to be vulgar and even evil or sinful and will be condemned to carrying the looters as punishment for their ability.

Because bodily pleasure (including sexual enjoyment) is considered to be low and base, according to those holding the mind-body split, virtue would therefore consist of resisting pleasures of the body and in an ethics of self-denial. Virtue, in this context, thus means denying bodily enjoyment because the soul is a higher manifestation of the self.  As Mayor Bascom of Rome, Wisconsin puts it so well to Dagny in Atlas Shrugged, ď In this world, either you are virtuous or you enjoy yourself.  Not both lady, not both.Ē  Accordingly, one must choose between being happy or being dutiful and moral.

For a great part of the novel, Rearden experiences an internal civil war between the principles of the creators in his work and the principles of the looters and moochers in the rest of his life.  Hank desperately needs to import to his personal life the same principles that he uses in his productive life.  It is under the tutelage of Francisco and Dagny that Rearden slowly awakens to the truth, understands the motives of the looters and of his family, and realizes his own virtues and values.  They assist Hank in integrating his productivity and sexual desire with each other and with his self-worth.

Rearden initially feels guilty for his work and productivity.  Fortunately, his relationship with Francisco teaches him that material production is an intellectual process and that productivity is a virtue.  Rational thinking is a virtuous necessity because the material proceeds from, and is an expression of, the mental.  Material production is the result of manís highest and noblest aspect - - his creative mind and independent rational judgment.  The rational, purposeful, and creative character of the human person is reflected in the act of material production.  Productive activity involves the application of reason to the question of manís survival and flourishing.

The Randian view is that productivity, the adaptation of nature to manís survival requirements, is a major virtue and is an expression of mind-body integration.  It is the mind that enables people to deal with physical reality by creating the abundance and wealth that promote their practical lives on earth.  Intelligence is the source of wealth.  Randís exalted view of human potential is that productive work is a manís highest achievement and a source of pleasure and happiness.  She rejects outright the traditional view of work as oneís duty and as punishment for Original Sin.

Under the mentoring of Francisco, Hank comes to see the falsity and evil of the perspective of the mind-body split.  He realizes that productivity is a virtue, escapes his guilt and need for penance, rejects the code of altruism, throws off the chains of servitude, and eventually joins the strike.  Although subconsciously Rearden always knew that manís life on earth is good and the standard of value and that productivity is a great moral virtue, he ultimately recognizes these facts at a conscious and explicit level. At the close of the story he understands that production reflects the inextricable linkages and correspondence among oneís mind, body and actions.

Rearden also learns a great deal about mind-body unity from his affair with Dagny who, unlike Hank, experiences no shame or confusion regarding the fulfillment of her desires.  Hank ultimately recognizes that his sexual response to Dagny conforms to their sharing the same values and that sexual choice is the result of a personís fundamental convictions.  He eventually realizes that his love for Dagny was his best emotion and that his desire to have the highest and best woman he knows is an expression of his respect for himself.  He learns that sex is oneís greatest celebration of life and that his desire for Dagny is a response to his highest values.

The Randian view is that love is a recognition of values and the greatest tribute that one person can give another.  It follows that sex, for a mature and rational person, is a profound expression of oneís values and that to sexually desire someone is the highest honor that a rational person can confer on another human being.  Sex is a joyous affirmation of oneís life and the ultimate form of admiration and respect of one for another.  Love has a basis in reason and is a rational value involving integrated concepts of love, sex, self, and relationships.

In reality there is no split between the mental and the physical. Man is an inextricable fusion of mind and body.  The values of oneís mind are not disconnected from the actions of oneís body.  It follows that the generally accepted mind/body and love/sex dichotomies are destructive to human flourishing.  Dualism is incompatible with true human existence.  Man is an indivisible entity that can only be divided for purposes of discussion.

Reciprocity between mind and body requires harmony between inner purpose and outer form.  Man is an indivisible union of consciousness and matter.  This may explain why Hank has such a strong emotional (but perhaps subconscious) response when he first see Dagny, the perfect embodiment of unity and integration, on a flatcar early in the novel.  Given the reality of mind-body integration, it is likely that Dagny Taggartís moral virtue was present at a level that could be perceived by Hank Rearden.

For Dagny, an exemplar of authenticity and mind-body integration, it makes sense that her inner state would be outwardly apparent especially to a rational valuer such as Rearden.  Because emotions are products of a personís moral premises, Hank may have responded emotionally because he encountered a woman who embodied his values of productivity, rationality, and so forth.  Dagny is a paragon of integration whose moral code is concretized and made visible in her eyes, facial expressions, bodily movements, speech patterns, posture, and so on.  Initially, Dagny was a sight he really liked.  Imagine his joy and delight when he found out who she was and that his original emotional reaction had been warranted!

Just as productive activity is the conversion of rational values into physical form, sex is the means of translating spiritual admiration for another into physical action.  In an important way the romance between Dagny and Hank ties the entire story together and shows that economics and sex have a mutual essence (i.e., mind-body integration) that joins and underpins them.  The same principles used in oneís creative (i.e., productive) life are applicable to oneís personal life.  It is obvious that there is an indestructible link and integration between Dagnyís love for her work and desires of her body.

To be successful, the looters and moochers need the creators to morally sanction altruism and the mind-body split.  By dividing man into two parts, the standard of value was wrongly placed outside and beyond man.  Throughout Atlas Shrugged, it is apparent that Rearden and the other creators need to strip away and discredit these moral principles that are used to justify the lootersí irrational and evil actions.  Evil and irrational people need the assistance and support of rational people to succeed.  The men of the mind, as well as others in society, must therefore reexamine their moral assumptions, withdraw their sanction of altruism and the mind-body dichotomy, recognize the integration of mind and body, adopt a rational philosophy, and withdraw support from those not on the creative moral standard.

By understanding morality and himself in terms of the metaphysical principle of mind-body integration, Hank is freed from the self-sacrifice ethics that underpin his servitude.  It is Reardenís inner conflict that drives the plot and it is his liberation from his mistaken premises and ultimate conscious acceptance of his subconscious Objectivist premises that resolves the conflict.  In the end he no longer holds his greatest virtues as his guilt.
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