|I understand Phil Coates' points in post #4 and thought I would try to clarify a few things. First, I want to be clear that in my previous post #2, if you read it carefully, I was neither saying nor implying that the actions of BB&T, in and of themselves, were in any way morally wrong. But Phil's use of the word unsavory gets more to the heart of the matter for me.|
Over dinner I was discussing this issue with my wife who thought the BB&T program was a fine idea. As I was attempting to explain my reservations to her, it suddenly became clear what was bothering me; I could not see this being the action of a hero - at least as I experience one. I realized that where you ultimately come down on this issue probably has more to do with your "sense-of-life" than any rigorous application of philosophical principles. When I think of the heroes in Atlas Shrugged, I couldn't imagine any of them engaging in an action of this type as being a worthy expression of their character. As an impressionable onlooker, does the example of BB&T "purchasing" classroom time for Objectivism have anywhere near the impact and make such a clear point as Francisco destroying his mines or Dagny and Rearden constructing the John Galt Line in the face of their opposition? Does this act lift and inspire you, giving you the feeling of being one step closer to living in the type of world you envision as your ideal? It depends upon your sense-of-life, but for me the answer is no.
My point is not to suggest that these literary exercises from Atlas Shrugged are direct models for real-world behavior. I am simply trying to point out that there is something a little sad in the actions of BB&T in their attempt to buy some exposure (and respect?) for Rand from institutions that despise her. I find that somewhat akin to attempting to purchase purchase "love" from a hooker. In neither case are you going to find love or respect. This is not the same thing as Ellis Wyatt standing on a hill, telling the world to go to hell, and setting his wells aflame. Now, there's an action that makes a powerful point without begging for the participation of your enemy or oppressor! And again, the point is not that acts of defiance are what is heroic, it is the powerful expression of integrity and independence that are inspirational and challenge one to emulate them in one's own life.
Yes, running The Fountainhead essay contest and placing Atlas Shrugged in classrooms will touch some people in the future, have an impact upon them and ultimately result in a better world, so these efforts are not without merit and I can acknowledge that and applaud the actions for those reasons. However, I cannot get very excited about the program because I do not think it will have lasting impact. These types of programs are what I would classify as tinkering with the machinery under the hood and I do not believe that, in the long run, they are truly effective. As a real-world example, take Alan Greenspan. As head of the Federal Reserve for 19 years, I am sure that he expended great effort to keep the US economy on as sound a footing as possible while working within the prevailing system; a monumental and probably effective example of adjusting the machinery. But after his long tenure, can anyone make an argument that there are lasting results from those efforts that will continue to benefit us? If there are, I do not see them. We appear to continue to operate under a strongly mixed economy and the regulatory fingers of the government appear to be increasing and more omnipresent then ever. Despite the position of great power, the failure to speak out and inform the public about the true nature of capital markets and government interference in those markets has allowed the decline in the general public's understanding of these issues to continue unabated.
Rand certainly had it right when she pointed out that the power lies in ideas. But as she also clearly demonstrated in her novels, it is the expression of the ideas through action that grants them their power. The problem I see in our culture and with the ability to spread Objectivism, is the separation of these two components. On one hand, there are many successful people who have no use for abstract ideas while, on the other hand, there are plenty of Objectivist thinkers who live almost exclusively in the realm of ideas. The inspiration of the heroes of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged comes from their ability to perform and to know and articulate the ideas that make that performance possible. Real world examples would be all the more powerful and inspirational. If the best one can do is donate a portion of one's fortune to a program as BB&T has done, then great. But I would much rather see a Mark Cuban or John Allison speak out widely regarding how they have put their philosophical learnings into practice in service of achieving their goals and happiness and I would love for them to take a vocal stand on political/economic issues which affect their business and personal freedoms. If the resources being funneled to non-appreciative academic institutions were instead placed in service of campaigns to demonstrate the connection between the achievements of these and other men and their philosophic ideas, I believe the impact would be far greater, more meaningful and longer lasting.
So to sum up, I have no real ax to grind with the BB&T program, but I am discouraged to see so much in the way of resources being invested in the theoretical realm of ideas rather than in the more heroic expression of the ideas demonstrated in practice. I contend that only when Objectivists, as individual or as organizations, make this the major thrust of their outreach efforts, will we begin to see a substantial acceptance and then adoption of our values and ultimately, practical movement towards the achievements of our ideals.