Sunday, August 29, 2010

Atlas Shrugged: What Are Your Questions?

PHILABURBIA, Pennsylvania, USA. "A dark night in a world that thinks it knows how to keep its secrets. But in a small office, just north of Philly, one man is still looking for the answers to many of life's persistent questions: Leigh Irwin, Investigative Reporter." (MUSIC FADE)

It had been about a week earlier. His son had walked into the office and had seen him reading the book.

"What are you reading Dad?"

"Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand."

"What's the book about?"

"That's a good question son. I'll let you know when I can articulate a good answer."

His son had let it go at that for then but Leigh knew that he had to come up with an answer because he knew his son wouldn't let it go for too long. That was just the way his son was and that was a good thing. Leigh needed to start a discussion about the book with his friends pretty soon too. Some of them had either already read the book or were in the process of reading the book like he was.

What is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand all about? How do you present a half-way decent summary of the book that might start a discussion about it? What do you tell your emerging adult son or daughter for instance or older people like the group of friends that you discuss things with on line?

Do you tell them that it is a novel that is over a thousand pages in length? Probably not. Most people won't read a novel that long. Do you tell them it is almost like a bible for the Tea Party movement, that movement that is causing so much of a stir in current politics? Maybe, if they happen to be interested in politics. But many, both younger and older, aren't interested in politics. They are more fed up with it than anything else. That is true even if reading the book is like reading about President Obama, the Democrats, and what some think they are doing to America. A thousand pages is still alot to read.

What if you told them that the book was written by an atheist and part of her intent when she had the book published way back in 1957 (53 years ago) was perhaps to take what she perceived as the Judeo-Christian worldview that Americans had at the time and turn that worldview completely upside down? That might be interesting in a way for some but for some current Christians for example, they might say, "Why should I waste my time reading the book?"

How about the fact that emerging adults in India are buying the book like crazy? The reason for that seems to be that they are rebelling against the traditional culture of India and Atlas Shrugged is providing the heroes they think they should imitate in that rebellion. How about it? Maybe, if American emerging adults were rebelling. But many are not. Some are just plain looking for work and once they have found it are becoming like the parents in America's rebellious 1960's. Their children, who were rebelling against their parent's lifestyle of Personal Peace and Affluence, were the ones that were perhaps finding Atlas Shrugged to be a good read. History repeats itself. It has to. Nobody listens.

Or, like with the Tea Party movement. Many of them were those rebellious youth of the 1960's. Now, fifty years later, they are in their sixties. They are now the retirees of America and they have different reasons for rebelling against what they think is a personal attack on them in current politics. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand has now awakened them to rebellion once more. But we need to be careful when talking about them or any other political group nowadays. The current culture is one of extreme polarization. You can't talk about the possibility that many of the different political groups might have good points as well as bad points. Even when talking with close friends, if the subject of politics comes up, you are either "for" or "against." Moderates for example, those who have the ability to "walk between" different groups and get things done; they are just so much political dead meat nowadays. But I digress.

What is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand about? Is there someone out there that actually wants to get below the things on the surface and really find out why the heroes of Atlas Shrugged are heroes? What power do they possess over the reader who really gets into this thousand page novel? It has been read by many in the last fifty years. But between the years 2000 and 2008 the book averaged 160,000 copies a year. In 2009 over 600,000 copies were sold in that year alone. Now true, that was the year that Obama and the Democrats got majority rule in American politics. But still, there has to be more to this book than just a storyline that seems to mirror the evils of the current politics of the Democrats. Why are the heroes heroes? What sort of person is the book teaching readers to imitate? Are they exemplary heroes? Are the villains and the victims of the villains really good examples of what could happen to the reader in real life if he or she was not careful and didn't become or stay in some way like the heroes?

There is another thing, the bigger picture. Outside of the book, and outside of the philosophy of Objectivism which Ayn Rand teaches in this novel, when these heroes and villains and victims are put up beside those of other existing worldviews, other narratives, is there a worldview that is still better, that perhaps makes Ayn Rand's heroes and victims and villains perhaps look like counterfeits of the real thing? Or has she got some of it right and other parts not so right? I wonder. Or am I asking the wrong questions altogether?

"Too many questions," thought Leigh. But yet many of them were the questions that he had when he had been reading the book and everything that surrounds it in current media. He also knew that the author of the article in the August 30 edition of National Review who had written about Ayn Rand, with her picture on the cover, had just not answered many of the questions that Leigh had.

"Enough writing for now," thought Leigh as he put down his pencil and closed his steno pad. "You're only beginning Chapter VII of Part Two and you have another five hundred pages to go. This is the chapter that the National Review author had gotten through and then didn't read any further. Much of his article had then switched to Rand's previous novel, The Fountainhead. "I need to keep reading past this chapter," Leigh said to himself. "There are family and friends that have read the whole book and had really gotten something out of it. What they found I may be finding too. But I need to finish the book. I care about them and Truth."

Then Leigh looked up and saw a new addition to his Gmail. It was an email from one of his friends that was reading the book and who was ahead of him in that reading. That friend would be part of the discussion on line. He had provided Leigh with good input for the discussion. This email was more than he had expected, in a good way. Now Leigh could get back to the book...

"A dark night in a world that thinks it knows how to keep its secrets. But in a small office, just north of Philly, one man is still looking for the answers to many of life's persistent questions: Leigh Irwin, Investigative Reporter." (MUSIC FADE)