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Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 8

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, …

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, …

Chapter 3: Art and Sense of Life
Installment 7, …
… contd.

The psycho-epistemological process of communication between an artist and a viewer or a reader goes as follows: the artist starts with a broad abstraction which he has to concretize, to bring into reality by means of the appropriate particulars; the viewer perceives the particulars, integrates them and grasps the abstraction from which they came, thus completing the circle. Speaking metaphorically, the creative process resembles a process of deduction; the viewing process resembles a process of induction.

This does not mean that communication is the primary purpose of an artist: his primary purpose is to bring his view of man and of existence into reality; but to be brought into reality, it has to be translated into objective (therefore, communicable) terms.

In Chapter 1, I discussed why man needs art – why, as a being guided by conceptual knowledge, he needs the power to summon the long chain and complex total of his metaphysical concepts into his immediate conscious awareness. “He needs a comprehensive view of existence to integrate his values, to choose his goals, to plan his future, to maintain the unity and coherence of his life.” Man’s sense of life provides him with the integrated sum of his metaphysical abstractions; art concretizes them and allows him to perceive – to experience – their immediate reality.

The function of psychological integration is to make certain connections automatic, so that they work as a unit and do not require a conscious process of thought every time they are evoked. (All learning consists of automatizing one’s knowledge in order to pursue further knowledge.) There are many special or “cross-filed” chains of abstractions (of interconnected concepts) in man’s mind. Cognitive abstractions are a fundamental chain, on which all the others depend. Such chains are mental integrations, serving a special purpose and formed accordingly by a special criterion.

Cognitive abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is essential? (epistemologically essential to distinguish one class of existents from all others.) Normative abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is good? Esthetic abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is important?

To be continued …

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 7

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, …

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, …

Chapter 3: Art and Sense of Life

If one saw, in real life, a beautiful woman wearing an exquisite evening gown, with a cold sore on her lips, the blemish would mean nothing but a minor affliction, and one would ignore it.

But a painting of such a woman would be a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on beauty, on all values – and one would experience a feeling of immense disgust and indignation at the artist. (There are also those who would feel something like approval and who would belong to the same moral category as the artist.)

The emotional response to that painting would be instantaneous, much faster than the viewer’s mind could identify all the reasons involved. The psychological mechanism which produces that response (and which produced the painting) is a man’s sense of life.

(A sense of life is a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence.)

It is the artist’s sense of life that controls and integrates his work, directing the innumerable choices he has to make, from the choice of subject to the subtlest details of style. It is the viewer’s or reader’s sense of life that responds to a work of art by a complex, yet automatic reaction of acceptance and approval, or rejection and condemnation.

This does not mean that a sense of life is a valid criterion of esthetic merit, either for the artist or the viewer. A sense of life is not infallible.** But a sense of life is the source of art, the psychological mechanism which enables man to create a realm such as art.

The emotion involved in art is not an emotion in the ordinary meaning of the term. It is experienced more as a “sense” or a “feel,” but it has two characteristics pertaining to emotions: it is automatically immediate*** and it has an intense, profoundly personal (yet undefined) value-meaning to the individual experiencing it. The value involved is life, and the words naming the emotion are: “This is what life means to me.

Regardless of the nature or content of an artist’s metaphysical views, what an art work expresses, fundamentally, under all of its lesser aspects is: “This is life as I see it.” The essential meaning of a viewer’s or reader’s response, under all of its lesser elements, is: “This is (or is not) life as I see it.”

To be continued …

**On the infallibility of a sense of life:

A pencil sketch of a Hindi film actress, drawn in 1972.

A pencil sketch of a Hindi film actress, drawn in 1972.

I drew this sketch when I was eight. I was able to look photographs clearly enough to put them down on paper with reasonable accuracy. Yet I recall an assignment for the course on Moral Science (mandatory for non-Catholic students) where we had to paste pictures displaying the vice of greed. I chose a color photograph showing some white folks eating at a restaurant. My reasoning for the choice was the unaffordability of eating at restaurants for people I grew up with. So I ignored the expressions on the faces that merely showed friends eating out together. I ignored this fact for the greater truth I grew up with – the fact of having been a colony of the British Empire – that the country’s problems were caused by and continued to be caused by our colonial history.

I was put back in touch with the truth of my own eyes when the Moral Science teacher commented on my choice with a smiling face and a disappointed look in her eyes. The teacher was as Indian as I, with the same dark complexion. The school was run by Roman Catholic nuns and the teacher was a Roman Catholic, but not a nun. I never looked at that assignment again with anything but an awareness of a grave error – was I saying that eating out was evil? No. I loved being taken out for the rare ice cream treat by my father. But I was saying that anyone who looked like the British were. This thought didn’t console me like it should have. My eyes told me that the individuals in the photograph had nothing to do with the topic at hand, “greed.” The national history I grew up learning and absorbing told me otherwise. But it couldn’t stand in the face of what I was teaching myself through my obsessive practice of drawing portraits. The skill and awareness I had gained and was still gaining had become too precious a possession to be relinquished so lightly.

It makes me doubt the mysticism of artists such Leonardo da Vinci. His artist’s eye, trained to rely on his own judgment, was precisely what was so valuable about him to his patrons. He may not have spoken or talked or written like a revolutionary, but his work, a source of pride and joy, amply displayed his rational soul to the world around him. As Miss Rand says, “… The road of human history was a string of blank-outs over sterile stretches eroded by faith and force, with only a few brief bursts of sunlight, when the released energy of the men of the mind performed the wonders you gaped at, admired and promptly extinguished again. …”

Where does she say this? In her novel, Atlas Shrugged, she has John Galt the hero say these very words in what I have posted on this website under the title John Galt’s Speech in 29 installments.

***On the automatic immediacy of a sense of life:
The teacher’s comments took hold as quickly as it did because it responded to my sense of life developed so far. Her comments were immediately taken to heart, to ponder in privacy. But the automatic nature of my culture led me to choosing the photograph in question. It speaks to the power of a sense of life that this choice was made after some struggle on my part. This sense developed by looking at Hindi film magazines and listening to Hindi film music that were more Westernized than the explicit teachings of the culture at large. Need I add that the Hindi film world in general is more popular than films of the other 24 official languages in India? I think not.

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 6

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Psycho-Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, Installment 5, …
… contd.

In order to live, man must act; in order to act, he must make choices; in order to make choices, he must define a code of values; in order to define a code of values, he must know what he is and where he is – i.e., he must know his own nature (including his means of knowledge) and the nature of the universe in which he acts – i.e., he needs metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, which means: philosophy. He cannot escape from this need; his only alternative is whether the philosophy guiding him is to be chosen by his mind or by chance.

If his mind does not provide him with a comprehensive view of existence, his sense of life will. If he succumbs to centuries of concerted assaults on the mind – to traditions offering vicious irrationality or unconscionable nonsense in the guise of philosophy – if he gives up, in lethargy or in bewilderment, evades fundamental issues and concerns himself only with the concretes of his day-by-day existence, his sense of life takes over: for good or evil (and, usually, for evil), he is left at the mercy of a subconscious philosophy which he does not know, has never checked, has never been aware of accepting.

Then, as his fear, anxiety and uncertainty mount year by year, he finds himself living with a sense of unknown, undefinable doom, as if in expectation of some approaching judgment day. What he does not know is that every day of his life is judgment day – the day of paying for the defaults, the lies, the contradictions, the blank-outs recorded by his subconscious on the scrolls of his sense of life. And on that kind of psychological record, the blank entries are the blackest sins.

A sense of life, once acquired, is not a closed issue. It can be changed and corrected – easily, in youth, while it is still fluid, or by a longer, harder effort in later years. Since it is an emotional sum, it cannot be changed by a direct act of will. It changes automatically, but only after a long process of psychological retraining, when and if a man changes his conscious philosophical premises.

Whether he corrects it or not, whether it is objectively consonant with reality or not, at any stage or state of its specific content, a sense of life always retains a profoundly personal quality; it reflects a man’s deepest values; it is experienced by him as a sense of his own identity.

A given person’s sense of life is hard to identify conceptually, because it is hard to isolate: it is involved in everything about that person, in his every thought, emotion, action, in his every response, in his every choice and value, in his every spontaneous gesture, in his manner of moving, talking, smiling, in the total of his personality. It is that which makes him a “personality.”

Introspectively, one’s own sense of life is experienced as an absolute and an irreducible primary – as that which one never questions, because the thought of questioning it never arises. Extrospectively, the sense of life of another person strikes one as an immediate, yet undefinable, impression – on very short acquaintance – an impression which often feels like certainty, yet is exasperatingly elusive, if one attempts to verify it.

This leads many people to regard a sense of life as the province of some sort of special intuition, as a matter perceivable only by some special, non-rational insight. The exact opposite is true: a sense of life is not an irreducible primary, but a very complex sum; it can be felt, but it cannot be understood, by an automatic reaction; to be understood, it has to be analyzed, identified and verified conceptually. That automatic impression – of oneself or of others – is only a lead; left untranslated, it can be a very deceptive lead. But if and when that intangible impression is supported by and unites with the conscious judgment of one’s mind, the result is the most exultant form of certainty one can ever experience: it is the integration of mind and values.

There are two aspects of man’s existence which are the special province and expression of his sense of life: love and art.

I am referring here to romantic love, in the serious meaning of that term – as distinguished from the superficial infatuations of those whose sense of life is devoid of any consistent values, i.e., of any lasting emotions other than fear. Love is a response to values. It is with a person’s sense of life that one falls in love – with that essential sum, that fundamental stand or way of facing existence, which is the essence of a personality. One falls in love with the embodiment of the values that formed a person’s character, which are reflected in his widest goals or smallest gestures, which create the style of his soul – the individual style of a unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable consciousness. It is one’s own sense of life that acts as the selector, and responds to what it recognizes as one’s own basic values in the person of another. It is not a matter of professed convictions (though these are not irrelevant); it is a matter of much more profound, conscious and subconscious harmony.

Many errors and tragic disillusionments are possible in this process of emotional recognition, since a sense of life, by itself, is not a reliable cognitive guide. And if there are degrees of evil, then one of the most evil consequences of mysticism – in terms of human suffering – is the belief that love is a matter of “the heart,” not the mind, that love is an emotion independent of reason, that love is blind and impervious to the power of philosophy. Love is the expression of philosophy – of a subconscious philosophical sum – and, perhaps, no other aspect of human existence needs the conscious power of philosophy quite so desperately. When that power is called upon to verify and support an emotional appraisal, when love is a conscious integration of reason and emotion, of mind and values, then – and only then – it is the greatest reward of man’s life.

Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. It is the integrator and concretizer of man’s metaphysical abstractions. It is the voice of his sense of life. As such, art is subject to the same aura of mystery, the same dangers, the same tragedies – and, occasionally, the same glory – as romantic love.

Of all human products, art is, perhaps, the most personally important to man and the least understood – as I shall discuss in the next chapter.

(February 1966)

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 5

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Psycho-Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life
Installment 4, …
… contd.

The key concept, in the formation of a sense of life, is the term “important.” It is a concept that belongs to the realm of values, since it implies an answer to the question: Important – to whom? Yet its meaning is different from that of moral values. “Important” does not necessarily mean “good.” It means “a quality, character or standing such as to entitle to attention or consideration” (The American College Dictionary). What, in a fundamental sense, is entitled to one’s attention or consideration? Reality.

Imran Khan, Pakistani captain at the time I was growing up.

Imran Khan***, Pakistani captain at the time I was growing up.

“Important” – in its essential meaning, as distinguished from its more limited and superficial uses – is a metaphysical term. It pertains to that aspect of metaphysics which serves as a bridge between metaphysics and ethics: to a fundamental view of man’s nature. That view involves the answers to such questions as whether the universe is knowable or not, whether man has the power of choice or not, whether he can achieve his goals in life or not. The answers to such questions are “metaphysical value-judgments,” since they form the base of ethics.

It is only those values that he regards or grows** to regard as “important,” those which represent his implicit view of reality, that remain in a man’s subconscious and form his sense of life.

“It is important to understand things” – “It is important to obey my parents” – “It is important to act on my own” – “It is important to please other people” – “It is important to fight for what I want” – “It is important not to make enemies” – “My life is important” – “Who am I to stick my neck out?” Man is a being of self-made soul – and it is of such conclusions that the stuff of his soul is made. (By “soul” I mean “consciousness.”)

The integrated sum of a man’s basic values is his sense of life.

A sense of life represents a man’s early value-integrations, which remain in a fluid, plastic, easily amendable state, while he gathers knowledge to reach full conceptual control and thus to drive his inner mechanism. A full conceptual control means a consciously directed process of cognitive integration, which means: a conscious philosophy of life.

By the time he reaches adolescence, a man’s knowledge is sufficient to deal with broad fundamentals; this is the period when he becomes aware of the need to translate his incoherent sense of life into conscious terms. This is the period when he gropes for such things as the meaning of life, for principles, ideals, values and, desperately, for self-assertion. And – since nothing is done, in our anti-rational culture, to assist a young mind in this crucial transition, and everything possible is done to hamper, cripple, stultify it – the result is the frantic, hysterical irrationality of most adolescents, particularly today. Theirs is the agony of the unborn – of minds going through a process of atrophy at the time set by nature for their growth.

The transition from guidance by a sense of life to guidance by a conscious philosophy takes many forms. For the rare exception, the fully rational child, it is a natural, absorbing, if difficult, process – the process of validating and, if necessary, correcting in conceptual terms what he had merely sensed about the nature of man’s existence, thus transforming a wordless feeling into clearly verbalized knowledge, and laying a foundation, an intellectual roadbed, for the course of his life. The result is a fully integrated personality, a man whose mind and emotions are in harmony, whose sense of life matches his conscious convictions.

Philosophy does not replace a man’s sense of life, which continues to function as the automatically integrated sum of his values. But philosophy sets the criteria of his emotional integrations according to a fully defined and consistent view of reality (if and to the extent that a philosophy is rational). Instead of deriving, subconsciously, an implicit metaphysics from his value-judgments, he now derives, conceptually, his value-judgments from an explicit metaphysics. His emotions proceed from his fully convinced judgments. The mind leads, the emotions follow.

For many men, the process of transition never takes place: they make no attempt to integrate their knowledge, to acquire any conscious convictions, and are left at the mercy of their inarticulate sense of life as their only guide.

For most men, the transition is a tortured and not fully successful process, leading to a fundamental inner conflict – a clash between a man’s conscious convictions and his repressed, unidentified (or only partially identified) sense of life. Very often, the transition is incomplete, as in the case of a man whose convictions are not part of a fully integrated philosophy, but are merely a collection of random, disconnected, often contradictory ideas, and, therefore, are unconvincing to his own mind against the power of his subconscious metaphysics. In some cases, a man’s sense of life is better (closer to the truth) than the kind of ideas he accepts. In other cases, his sense of life is much worse than the ideas he professes to accept but is unable fully to practice. Ironically enough, it is man’s emotions****, in such cases, that act as the avengers of his neglected or betrayed intellect.

To be continued …

**To me the key word in this sentence is “grow.” It allows for a person to learn and change when he acquires a deeper understanding of what until then, was his implicit view of reality. Most of us do not have the chance to question everything around them as they grow up.

***At the time of his captaincy, Imran Khan was featured in all of the magazines that I had access to. He was featured as a glamorous captain, in gossip and sport magazines, as someone who was a threat to India’s chances at winning cricket matches. When I attempted to draw his face, I was uncertain if I would capture his features accurately. Surprisingly it didn’t take more than a few tries, the only difficulty being the area below the nostril and above the chin. A man’s lips being undefined by artifice, it made it harder to delineate the outlines. Decisions had to be made as to where to draw the line, what to represent – the actual lip line or the lighting that caused it to appear differently – and what to leave out. The fact that the top line is darker indicates that I decided to stick with the actual line and ignore the effect of light. It made the portrait less truthful to the photograph, but it felt more spiritually satisfying – I honored what my mind knew to be accurate from innumerable portraits drawn of Hindi film actresses who do sometimes alter their lip line to make it appear thicker or thinner as fashion dictated.

****Here it is important to understand that if man’s emotions are set in opposition to reality then they will inexorably lead him in opposition to reality. All the intellectual knowledge possessed by the world will not make an iota of difference. The only way out is to face the roots of these formative emotions. To my mind, there is no better way to do this than in a hot, humid room practicing Bikram yoga. A mind’s deepest memories arise to its consciousness when you are holding yourself steady in any of the forward bending poses – something about smelling the skin of the abdominal area revives the subconscious into releasing forgotten, neglected and continuously ignored memories. Memories that are willfully hidden indicate that the person is lying to himself about what he is. If he can lie to himself about what he is, it makes it difficult for him to decide the correct thing to do to improve his life to its fullest extent. It is as if he is deliberately leaving money on the table. Not a good business move!

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 4

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Psycho-Epistemology of Art
Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3

Chapter 2: Philosophy and Sense of Life

Since religion is a primitive form of philosophy – an attempt to offer a comprehensive view of reality – many of its myths are distorted, dramatized allegories based on some element of truth, some actual, if profoundly elusive, aspect of man’s existence. One of such allegories, which men find particularly terrifying, is the myth of a supernatural recorder from whom nothing can be hidden, who lists all of a man’s deeds – the good and the evil, the noble and the vile – and who confronts a man with that record on judgment day.

That myth is true, not existentially, but psychologically. The merciless recorder is the integrating mechanism of a man’s subconscious; the record is his sense of life.

A sense of life is a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence. It sets the nature of a man’s emotional responses and the essence of his character.

Long before he is old enough to grasp such a concept as metaphysics, man makes choices, forms value-judgments, experiences emotions and acquires a certain implicit view of life. Every choice and value-judgment implies some estimate of himself and of the world around him – most particularly, of his capacity to deal with the world. He may draw conscious conclusions, which may be true or false; or he may remain mentally passive and merely react to events (i.e., merely feel). Whatever the case may be, his subconscious mechanism sums up his psychological activities, integrating his conclusions, reactions or evasions into an emotional sum that establishes a habitual pattern and becomes his automatic response to the world around him. What began as a series of single, discrete conclusions (or evasions) about his own particular problems, becomes a generalized feeling about existence, an implicit metaphysics with the compelling motivational power of a constant, basic emotion – an emotion which is part of all his other emotions and underlies all his experiences. This is a sense of life.

To the extent to which a man is mentally active, i.e., motivated by the desire to know, to understand, his mind works as the programmer of his emotional computer – and his sense of life develops into a bright counterpart of a rational philosophy. To the extent to which a man evades, the programming of his emotional computer is done by chance influences; by random impressions, associations, imitations, by undigested snatches of environmental bromides, by cultural osmosis. If evasion or lethargy is a man’s predominant method of mental functioning, the result is a sense of life dominated by fear – a soul like a shapeless piece of clay stamped by footprints going in all directions. (In later years, such a man cries that he has lost his sense of identity; the fact is that he never acquired it.)

Man, by his nature, cannot refrain from generalizing; he cannot live moment by moment, without context, without past or future; he cannot eliminate his integrating capacity, i.e., his conceptual capacity, and confine his consciousness to an animal’s perceptual range. Just as an animal’s consciousness cannot be stretched to deal with abstractions, so man’s consciousness cannot be shrunk to deal with nothing but immediate concretes. The enormously powerful integrating mechanism of man’s consciousness is there at birth; his only choice is to drive it or to be driven by it. Since an act of volition – a process of thought – is required to use that mechanism for a cognitive purpose, man can evade that effort. But if he evades, chance takes over: the mechanism functions on its own, like a machine without a driver; it goes on integrating, but integrating blindly, incongruously, at random – not as an instrument of cognition, but as an instrument of distortion, delusion and nightmare terror, bent on wrecking its defaulting processor’s consciousness.

A sense of life is formed by a process of emotional generalization which may be described as a subconscious counterpart of a process of abstraction, since it is a method of classifying and integrating. But it is a process of emotional abstraction: it consists of classifying things according to the emotions they invoke – i.e., by tying together, by association or connotation, all those things which have the power to make the individual experience the same (or a similar) emotion. For instance: a new neighborhood, a discovery, adventure, struggle, triumph – or: the folks next door, a memorized recitation, a family picnic, a known routine, comfort. On a more adult level: a heroic man, the skyline of New York, a sunlit landscape, pure colors, ecstatic music – or: a humble man, an old village, a foggy landscape, muddy colors, folk music.

Which particular emotions will be invoked by the things in these examples, as their respective common denominators, depends on which set of things fits an individual’s view of himself. For a man of self-esteem, the emotion uniting the things in the first part of these examples is admiration, exaltation, a sense of challenge; the emotion uniting the things in the second part is disgust or boredom. For a man who lacks self-esteem, the emotion uniting the things in the first part of these examples is fear, guilt, resentment; the emotion uniting the things in the second part is relief from fear, reassurance, the undemanding safety of passivity.

Even though such emotional abstractions grow into a metaphysical view of man, their origin lies in an individual’s view of himself and of his own existence. The subverbal, subconscious criterion of selection that forms his emotional abstractions is: “That which is important to me” or: “The kind of universe which is right for me, in which I would feel at home.” It is obvious what immense psychological consequences will follow, depending on whether a man’s subconscious metaphysics is consonant with the facts of reality or contradicts them.

To be continued …

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 3

Click here for Installment 1 and Installment 2.

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Psycho-Epistemology of Art
… contd.
Art is the selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments.

By the selective re-creation, art isolates and integrates those aspects of reality which represent man’s fundamental view of himself and of existence. Out of the countless number of concretes – of single, disorganized and (seemingly) contradictory attributes, actions and entities – an artist isolates the things which he regards as metaphysically essential and integrates them into a single new concrete that represents an embodied abstraction.

For instance, consider two statues of man: one as a Greek god, the other as a deformed medieval monstrosity. Both are metaphysical estimates of man: both are projections of the artist’s view of man’s nature; both are concretized representations of the philosophy of their respective cultures.

Art is a concretization of metaphysics. Art brings man’s concepts to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allows him to grasp them directly, as if they were percepts.

This is the psycho-epistemological function of art and the reason of its importance in man’s life (and the crux of the Objectivist esthetics).

Just as language converts abstractions into the psycho-epistemological equivalent of concretes, into a manageable number of specific units – so art converts man’s metaphysical abstractions into the equivalent of concretes, into specific entities open to man’s direct perception. The claim that “art is a universal language” is not an empty metaphor, it is literally true – in the sense of the psycho-epistemological function performed by art.

Observe that in mankind’s history, art began as an adjunct (and, often, a monopoly) of religion. Religion was the primitive form of philosophy: it provided man with a comprehensive view of existence. Observe that the art of those primitive cultures was a concretization of their religion’s metaphysical and ethical abstractions.

The best illustration of the psycho-epistemological process involved in art can be given by one aspect of one particular art: by characterization in literature. Human character – with all of its innumerable potentialities, virtues, vices, inconsistencies, contradictions – is so complex that man is his own bewildering enigma. It is very difficult to isolate and integrate human traits even into purely cognitive abstractions and to bear them all in mind when seeking to understand the men one meets.

Now consider the figure of Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt**. He is the concretization of an abstraction that covers an incalculable sum of observations and evaluations of an incalculable number of characteristics possessed by an incalculable number of men of a certain type. Lewis has isolated their essential traits and has integrated them into the concrete form of a single character – and when you say of someone, “He’s a Babbitt,” your appraisal includes, in a single judgment, the enormous total conveyed by that figure.

When we come to normative abstractions – to the task of defining moral principles and projecting what man ought to be – the psycho-epistemological process required is still harder. The task demands years of study – and the results are almost impossible to communicate without the assistance of art. An exhaustive philosophical treatise defining moral values, with a long list of virtues to be practiced, will not do it; it will not convey what an ideal man would be like and how he would act: no mind can deal with so immense a sum of abstractions. When I say “deal with” I mean retranslate all the abstractions into the perceptual concretes for which they stand – i.e., reconnect them to reality – and hold it all in the focus of one’s conscious awareness. There is no way to integrate such a sum without projecting an actual human figure – an integrated concretization that illuminates the theory and makes it intelligible.

Hence the sterile, uninspiring futility of a great many theoretical discussion of ethics, and the resentment which many people feel toward such discussions: moral principles remain in their minds as floating abstractions, offering them a goal they cannot grasp and demanding that they reshape their souls in its image, thus leaving them with a burden of undefinable moral guilt. Art is the indispensable medium for the communication of a moral ideal.

Observe that every religion has a mythology – a dramatized concretization of its moral code embodied in the figures of men who are its ultimate product. (The fact that some of these figures are more convincing than others depends on the comparative rationality or irrationality of the moral theory they exemplify.)

This does not mean that art is a substitute for philosophical thought: without a conceptual theory of ethics, an artist would not be able successfully to concretize an image of the ideal. But without the assistance of art, ethics remains in the position of theoretical engineering: art is the model-builder.

Many readers of The Fountainhead have told me that the character of Howard Roark*** helped them to make a decision when they faced a moral dilemma. They asked themselves: “What would Roark do in the situation?” – and, faster than their mind could identify the proper application of all the complex principles involved, the image of Roark gave them the answer. They sensed, almost instantly, what he would or would not do – and this helped them to isolate and to identify the reasons, the moral principles that would have guided him. Such is the psycho-epistemological function of a personified (concretized) human ideal.

It is important to stress, however, that even though moral values are inextricably involved in art, they are involved only as a consequence, not as a causal determinant: the primary focus of art is metaphysical, not ethical. Art is not the “handmaiden” of morality, its basic purpose is not to educate, to reform or to advocate anything. The concretization of a moral ideal is not a textbook on how to become one. The basic purpose of art is not to teach, but to show – to hold up to man a concretized image of his nature and his place in the universe.

Any metaphysical issue will necessarily have an enormous influence on man’s conduct and, therefore, on his ethics; and, since every art work has a theme, it will necessarily convey some conclusion, some “message,” to its audience. But that influence and that “message,” are only secondary consequences. Art is not the means to any didactic end. This is the difference between a work of art and a morality play or a propaganda poster. The greater a work of art, the more profoundly universal its theme. Art is not the means of literal transcription. This is the difference between a work of art and a news story or a photograph.

The place of ethics in any given work of art depends on the metaphysical views of the artist. If, consciously or subconsciously, an artist holds the premise that man possesses the power of volition, it will lead his work to a value orientation (to Romanticism). If he holds the premise that man’s fate is determined by forces beyond his control, it will lead his work to an anti-value orientation (to Naturalism). The philosophical and esthetic contradictions of determinism are irrelevant in this context, just as the truth or falsehood of an artist’s metaphysical views is irrelevant to the nature of art as such. An art work may project the values man is to seek and hold up to him the concretized vision of the life he is to achieve. Or it may assert that man’s efforts are futile and hold up to him the concretized vision of defeat and despair as his ultimate fate. In either case, the esthetic means – the psycho-epistemological processes involved – remain the same.

The existential consequences, of course, will differ. Amidst the incalculable number and complexity of choices that confront a man in his day-by-day existence, with the frequently bewildering torrent of events, with the alternation of successes and failures, of joys that seem too rare and suffering that lasts too long – he is often in danger of losing his perspective and the reality of his own convictions. Remember that abstractions as such do not exist: they are merely man’s epistemological method of perceiving that which exists – and that which exists is concrete. To acquire the full, persuasive, irresistible power of reality, man’s metaphysical abstractions have to confront him in the form of concretes – i.e., in the form of art.

They don't. I do.

They don’t. I do.

Consider the difference it would make if – in his need of philosophical guidance or confirmation or inspiration – man turns to the art of Ancient Greece or to the art of the Middle Ages. Reaching his mind and emotions simultaneously, with the combined impact of abstract thought and of immediate reality, one type of art tells him that disasters are transient, that grandeur, beauty, strength, self-confidence are his proper, natural state. The other tells him that happiness is transient and evil, that he is a distorted, impotent, miserable little sinner, pursued by leering gargoyles, crawling in terror on the brink of an eternal hell.

The consequences of both experiences are obvious – and history is their practical demonstration. It is not art alone that was responsible for the greatness or the horror of those two eras, but art as the voice of philosophy – of the particular philosophy that dominated those cultures.

As to the role of emotions in art and the subconscious mechanism that serves as the integrating factor both in artistic creation and in man’s response to art, they involve a psychological phenomenon which we call a sense of life. A sense of life is a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and of existence. But this is a different, though corollary, subject (which I discuss in Chapters 2 and 3). The present subject is only the psycho-epistemological role of art.

A question raised at the start of this discussion should now be clear. The reason why art has such a profoundly personal significance for men is that art confirms or denies the efficacy of a man’s consciousness, according to whether an art work supports or negates his own fundamental view of reality.

Such is the meaning and the power of a medium which, today, is predominantly in the hands of practitioners who boastfully offer, as their credentials, the fact that they do not know what they are doing.

Let us take them at their word: they don’t. We do.

(April 1965)

**Instead of Babbitt, I prefer to think of, say, King Theoden before he is exorcised of Saruman’s spirit by Gandalf. I have not read Sinclair Lewis, nor hear anyone talk of Babbitt.

***I remember my father complaining about the meanness of the souls around him, about the ease with which they give up their values, and then he would laugh and tell me not to be like them, but to be like Roark. He would balance the time he spent complaining about others with the time saying, ‘Be like Roark. Be like Roark.’ all the while smiling happily.

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 2

Click here for Installment 1.

AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Psycho-Epistemology of Art
… contd.
A concept is a mental integration of two or more perceptual units which are isolated by a process of abstractions and united by a specific definition. By organizing his perceptual material into concepts, and his concepts into wider and still wider concepts, man is able to grasp and retain, to identify and integrate an unlimited amount of knowledge, a knowledge extending beyond the immediate concretes of any given, immediate moment.

In any given moment, concepts enable man to hold in the focus of conscious awareness much more than his purely perceptual capacity would permit. The range of man’s perceptual awareness – the number of percepts he can deal with at any one time is limited. He may be able to visualize four or five units** – as for instance, five trees. He cannot visualize a hundred trees or a distance of ten light-years. It is only his conceptual faculty that makes it possible for him to deal with knowledge of that kind.

Man retains his concepts by means of language. With the exception of proper names, every word we use is a concept that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind. A concept is like a mathematical series of specifically defined units, going off in both directions, open at both ends and including all units of that particular kind. For instance, the concept “man” includes all men who live at present, who have ever lived or will ever live – a number of men so great that one would not be able to perceive them all visually, let alone to study them or discover anything about them.

Language is a code of visual-auditory symbols that serves the psycho-epistemological function of converting abstractions into concretes or, more precisely, into the psycho-epistemological equivalent of concretes, into a manageable number of specific units.

(Psycho-epistemology is the study of man’s cognitive processes from the aspect of the interaction between the conscious mind and the automatic functions of the subconscious.)

Consider the enormous conceptual integration involved in any statement, from the conversation of a child to the discourse of a scientist. Consider the long conceptual chain that starts from simple, ostensive definitions and rises to higher and still higher concepts, forming a hierarchical structure of knowledge so complex that no electronic computer could approach it. It is by means of such chains that man has to acquire and retain his knowledge of reality.

Yet this is the simpler part of his psycho-epistemological task. There is another part which is still more complex.

The other part consists of applying his knowledge – i.e., evaluating the facts of reality, choosing his goals and guiding his actions accordingly. To do that, man needs another chain of concepts, derived from and dependent on the first, yet separate and, in a sense, more complex: a chain of normative abstractions.

While cognitive abstractions identify the facts of reality, normative abstractions evaluate the facts, thus prescribing a choice of values and a course of action. Cognitive abstractions deal with that which is; normative abstractions deal with that which ought to be (in the realms open to man’s choice).

Ethics, the normative science, is based on two cognitive branches of philosophy: metaphysics and epistemology. To prescribe what man ought to do, one must first know what he is and where he is – i.e., what is his nature (including his means of cognition) and the nature of the universe in which he acts. (It is irrelevant, in this context, whether the metaphysical base of a given system of ethics is true or false; if it is false, the error will make the ethics impracticable. What concerns us here is only the dependence of ethics on metaphysics.)

Is the universe intelligible to man, or unintelligible and unknowable? Can man find happiness on earth, or is he doomed to frustration and despair? Does man have the power of choice, the power to choose his goals and to achieve them, the power to direct the course of his life – or is he the helpless plaything of forces beyond his control, which determine his fate? Is man, by nature, to be valued as good, or to be despised as evil? These are metaphysical questions, but the answers to them determine the kind of ethics men will accept and practice; the answers are the link between metaphysics and ethics. And although metaphysics as such is not a normative science, the answers to this category of questions assume, in man’s mind, the function of metaphysical value-judgments, since they form the foundation of all of his moral values.

Consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly, man knows that he needs a comprehensive view of existence to integrate his values, to choose his goals, to plan his future, to maintain the unity and coherence of his life – and that his metaphysical value-judgments are involved in every moment of his life, in his every choice, decision and action.

Metaphysics – the science that deals with the fundamental nature of reality – involves man’s widest abstractions. It includes every concrete he has ever perceived, it involves such a vast sum of knowledge and such a long chain of concepts that no man could hold it all in the focus of his immediate conscious awareness. Yet he needs that sum and that awareness to guide him – he needs the power to summon them into full, conscious focus.
That power is given to him by art.

To be continued …

**”He may be able to visualize four or five units..” I have heard it said that man can hold up to seven things in his mind, seven plus or minus two, as the saying goes. This is counter-intuitive. A normal human being is born with five fingers. From his earliest attempts to understand the world around him, he is holding his hand with five fingers in front of him. How on earth does he develop the capacity to visualize seven units with his eyes closed. He cannot. He can certainly do a mental copy-paste and add one at each end and so make up seven units. That is not visualization but conceptualization. Conceptualization without words. Q.E.D.

I might add that with the daily practice of Bikram yoga I took the courage to try it myself – I closed my eyes and pictured five humanoid figures in front of me – thinking that with my art and architecture background I might be able to increase or decrease the units I was able to visualize from seven units. With practice I might be able to add plus two units to make nine units. Fortunately for me, after perceiving five units, I couldn’t help but use the ones on the edges to multiply it on both ends. How did I keep track? In a series of seven units, the adjacent two at both ends looked suspiciously like each other, while with the three in between I could visualize a few details such as their shape, if they were male or female. That told me that as a pure visualization exercise, I could only hold five units in my mind’s eye. I didn’t fully understand why this was so. But Miss Rand’s words about four or five units triggered the intuitive leap to five fingers that every human is born with. AHA! That’s why, its five plus or minus two, not seven plus or minus two. I suspect there is a common confusion about what is meant by the words ‘percept’ and ‘concept’. But then I haven’t seen or heard anyone besides Rand herself use the word ‘percept’ in a sentence and explain its meaning.

Ayn Rand’s Romantic Manifesto: Installment 1

A pencil sketch of Actress Neetu Singh, done in 1972.

A pencil sketch of Actress Neetu Singh, drawn by The Vain Yogi in 1972, @ age 8.**


AYN RAND

THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Revised Edition

Chapter 1: The Psycho-Epistemology of Art

The position of art in the scale of human knowledge is, perhaps, the most eloquent symptom of the gulf between man’s progress in the physical sciences and his stagnation (or, today, his retrogression) in the humanities.

The physical sciences are still ruled by some remnants of a rational epistemology (which is rapidly being destroyed), but the humanities have been virtually abandoned to the primitive epistemology of mysticism. While physics has reached the level where men are able to study subatomic particles and interplanetary space, a phenomenon such as art has remained a dark mystery, with little or nothing known about its nature, its function in human life or the cause of its tremendous psychological power. Yet art is of passionately intense importance and profoundly personal concern to most men – and it has existed in every known civilization, accompanying man’s steps from the early hours of prehistorical dawn, earlier than the birth of written language.

While, in other fields of knowledge, men have outgrown the practice of seeking the guidance of mystic oracles whose qualification for the job was unintelligibility, in the field of esthetics this practice has remained in full force and is becoming more crudely obvious today. Just as savages took the phenomena of nature for granted, as an irreducible primary not to be questioned or analyzed, as the exclusive domain of unknowable demons – so today’s epistemological savages take art for granted, as the irreducible primary not to be questioned or analyzed, as the exclusive domain of a special kind of unknowable demons: their emotions. The only difference is that the prehistorical savages’ error was innocent.

One of the grimmest monuments to altruism is man’s culturally induced selflessness: his willingness to live with himself as with the unknown, to ignore, evade, repress the personal (the non-social) needs of his soul, to know least about the things that matter most, and thus to consign his deepest values to the impotent underground of subjectivity and his life to the dreary wasteland of chronic guilt.

The cognitive neglect of art has persisted precisely because the function of art is non-social. (This is one more instance of altruism’s inhumanity, of its brutal indifference to the deepest needs of man – of an actual individual man. It is an instance of the inhumanity of any moral theory that regards moral values as purely a social matter.) Art belongs to a non-socializable aspect of reality, which is universal (i.e. applicable to all men) but non-collective: to the nature of man’s consciousness.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a work of art (including literature) is that it serves no practical, material end, but is an end in itself; it serves no purpose other than contemplation – and the pleasure of that contemplation is so intense, so deeply personal that a man experiences it as a self-sufficient, self-justifying primary and, often, resists or resents any suggestion to analyze it: the suggestion, to him, has the quality of an attack on his identity, on his deepest, essential self.

No human emotion can be causeless, nor can so intense an emotion be causeless, irreducible and unrelated to the source of emotions (and of values): to the needs of a living entity’s survival. Art does have a purpose and does serve a human need; only it is not a material need, but a need of a man’s consciousness. Art is inextricably tied to man’s survival – not to his physical survival, but to that on which his physical survival depends: to the preservation and survival of his consciousness.

The source of art lies in the fact that man’s cognitive faculty is conceptual – i.e., man acquires knowledge and guides his actions, not by means of single, isolated percepts, but by means of abstractions.

To understand the nature and function of art, one must understand the nature and function of concepts.

To be continued …

** I found learning to draw reality (a photograph of a popular Hindi film actress, in this instance) very spiritually satisfying amidst the normal confusion of a child learning to perceive the adults around her. There are very few instances of wanting to draw men – most of them were straightforward most of the time, if you didn’t like them you avoid them and they avoid you. The women on the other hand were confusing, mostly because they are bundles of confusion, susceptible to and changing with the slightest breeze.

When I found this book as an adult it was not surprising that I liked it so much. It put words to what I had felt for a long time before. Later when I met my future husband at an Objectivist gathering that was just an instance of like minds seeking each other.

John Galt’s Speech: Final Installment

Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, Installment 7, Installment 8, Installment 9, Installment 10, Installment 11, Installment 12, Installment 13, Installment 14, Installment 15, Installment 16, Installment 17, Installment 18, Installment 19, Installment 20, Installment 21, Installment 22, Installment 23, Installment 24, Installment 25, Installment 26, Installment 27, Installment 28.

“But it is not to him that I wish to speak. I am speaking to those among you who have retained some sovereign shred of their soul, unsold and unstamped: ‘- to the order of others.’ If, in the chaos of the motives that have made you listen to the radio tonight, there was an honest, rational desire to learn what is wrong with the world, you are the man whom I wished to address. By the rules and terms of my code, one owes a rational statement to those whom it does concern and who’re making an effort to know. Those who’re making an effort to fail to understand me, are not a concern of mine.

“I am speaking to those who desire to live and to recapture the honor of their soul. Now that you know the truth about your world, stop supporting your own destroyers. The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it. Withdraw your sanction. Withdraw your support. Do not try to live on your enemies’ terms or to win at a game where they’re setting the rules. Do not seek the favor of those who enslaved you, do not beg for alms from those who have robbed you, be it subsidies, loans or jobs, do not join their team to recoup what they’ve taken by helping them rob your neighbors. One cannot hope to maintain one’s life by accepting bribes to condone one’s destruction. Do not struggle for profit, success or security at the price of a lien on your right to exist. Such a lien is not to be paid off; the more you pay them, the more they will demand; the greater the values you seek or achieve, the more vulnerably helpless you become. Theirs is a system of white blackmail devised to bleed you, not by means of your sins, but by means of your love for existence.

“Do not attempt to rise on the looters’ terms or to climb a ladder while they’re holding the ropes. Do not allow their hands to touch the only power that keeps them in power: your living ambition. Go on strike – in the manner I did. Use your mind and skill in private, extend your knowledge, develop your ability, but do not share your achievements with others. Do not try to produce a fortune, with a looter riding on your back. Stay on the lowest rung of their ladder, earn no more than your barest survival, do not make an extra penny to support the looters’ state. Since you’re captive, act as a captive, do not help them pretend that you’re free. Be the silent, incorruptible enemy they dread. When they force you, obey – but do not volunteer. Never volunteer a step in their direction, or a wish, or a plea, or a purpose. Do not help a holdup man to claim that he acts as your friend and benefactor. Do not help your jailers to pretend that their jail is your natural state of existence. Do not help them to fake reality. That fake is the only dam holding off their secret terror, the terror of knowing they’re unfit to exist; remove it and let them drown; your sanction is their only life belt.

“If you find a chance to vanish into some wilderness out of their reach, do so, but not to exist as a bandit or to create a gang competing with their racket; build a productive life of your own with those who accept your moral code and are willing to struggle for a human existence. You have no chance to win on the Morality of Death or by the code of faith and force; raise a standard to which the honest will repair: the standard of Life and Reason.

“Act as a rational being and aim at becoming a rallying point for all those who are starved for a voice of integrity – act on your rational values, whether alone in the midst of your enemies, or with a few of your chosen friends, or as the founder of a modest community on the frontier of mankind’s rebirth.

“When the looters’ state collapses, deprived of the best of its slaves, when it falls to a level of impotent chaos, like the mystic-ridden nations of the Orient, and dissolves into starving robber gangs fighting to rob one another – when the advocates of the morality of sacrifice perish with their final ideal – then and on that day we will return.

“We will open the gates of our city to those who deserve to enter, a city of smokestacks, pipe lines, orchards, markets and inviolate home. We will act as the rallying center for such hidden outposts as you’ll build. With the sign of the dollar as our symbol – the sign of free trade and free minds – we will move to reclaim this country once more from the impotent savages who never discovered its nature, its meaning, its splendor. Those who choose to join us, will join us; those who don’t, will not have the power to stop us; hordes of savages have never been an obstacle to men who carried the banner of the mind.

“Then this country will once more become a sanctuary for a vanishing species: the rational being. The political system we will build is contained in a single moral premise: no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force. Every man will stand or fall, live or die by his rational judgment. If he fails to use it and falls, he will be his only victim. If he fears that his judgment is inadequate, he will not be given a gun to improve it. If he chooses to correct his errors in time, he will have the unobstructed example of his betters, for guidance in learning to think; but an end will be put to the infamy of paying with one life for the errors of another.

“In that world, you’ll be able to rise in the morning with the spirit you had known in your childhood: that spirit of eagerness, adventure and certainty which comes from dealing with a rational universe. No child is afraid of nature; it is your fear of men that will vanish, the fear that has stunted your soul, the fear you acquired in your early encounters with the incomprehensible, the unpredictable, the contradictory, the arbitrary, the hidden, the faked, the irrational in men. You will live in a world of responsible beings, who will be as consistent and reliable as facts; the guarantee of their character will be a system of existence where objective reality is the standard and the judge. Your virtues will be given protection, your vices and weaknesses will not. Every chance will be open to your good, none will be provided for your evil. What you’ll receive from men will not be alms, or pity, or mercy, or forgiveness of sins, but a single value: justice. And when you’ll look at men or at yourself, you will feel, not disgust, suspicion and guilt, but a single constant: respect.

“Such is the future you are capable of winning. It requires a struggle; so does any human value. All life is a purposeful struggle, and your only choice is the choice of a goal. Do you wish to continue the battle of your present or do you wish to fight for my world? Do you wish to continue a struggle that consists of clinging to precarious ledges in a sliding descent to the abyss, a struggle where the hardships you endure are irreversible and the victories you win bring you closer to destruction? Or do you wish to undertake a struggle that consists of rising from ledge to ledge in a steady ascent to the top, a struggle where the hardships are investments in your future, and the victories bring you irreversibly closer to the world of your moral ideal, and should you die without reaching full sunlight, you will die on a level touched by its rays? Such is the choice before you. Let your mind and your love of existence decide.

“The last of my words will be addressed to those heroes who might still be hidden in the world, those who are held prisoner, not by their evasions, but by their virtues and their desperate courage. My brothers in spirit, check on your virtues and on the nature of the enemies you’re serving. Your destroyers hold you by means of your endurance, your generosity, your innocence, your love – the endurance that carries their burdens – the generosity that responds to their cries of despair – the innocence that is unable to conceive of their evil and gives them the benefit of every doubt, refusing to condemn them without understanding and incapable of understanding such motives as theirs – the love, your love of life, which makes you believe that they are men and that they love it, too. But the world of today is the world they wanted; life is the object of their hatred. Leave them to the death they worship. In the name of your magnificent devotion to this earth, leave them, don’t exhaust the greatness of your soul on achieving the triumph of the evil of theirs. Do you hear me … my love?

“In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.

“But to win it requires your total dedication and a total break with the world of your past, with the doctrine that man is a sacrificial animal who exists for the pleasure of others. Fight for the value of your person. Fight for the virtue of your pride. Fight for the essence of that which is man: for his sovereign rational mind. Fight with the radiant certainty and the absolute rectitude of knowing that yours is the Morality of Life and that yours is the battle for any achievement, any value, any grandeur, any goodness, any joy that has ever existed on this earth.

“You will win when you are ready to pronounce the oath I have taken at the start of my battle – and for those who wish to know the day of my return, I shall now repeat it to the hearing of the world:

“I swear – by my life and my love of it – that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Transcribed from Atlas Shrugged authored by Ayn Rand, copyright 1957 Ayn Rand, copyright renewed in 1985 by Eugene Winick, Paul Gitlin and Leonard Peikoff.

This post is merely the transcription of John Galt’s speech without the parts pertaining to plot, characters, and flow of events. I have changed the italicized words in the original into a bold font to accommodate the requirement of my chosen WordPress theme, namely Modularity Lite.

John Galt’s Speech: Installment 28

Installment 1, Installment 2, Installment 3, Installment 4, Installment 5, Installment 6, Installment 7, Installment 8, Installment 9, Installment 10, Installment 11, Installment 12, Installment 13, Installment 14, Installment 15, Installment 16, Installment 17, Installment 18, Installment 19, Installment 20, Installment 21, Installment 22, Installment 23, Installment 24, Installment 25, Installment 26, Installment 27, …

“So long as men, in the era of savagery, had no concept of objective reality and believed that physical nature was ruled by the whim of unknowable demons – no thought, no science, no production were possible. Only when men discovered that nature was a firm, predictable absolute were they able to rely on their knowledge, to choose their course, to plan their future and, slowly, to rise from the cave. Now you have placed modern industry, with its immense complexity of scientific precision, back into the power of unknowable demons – the unpredictable power of the arbitrary whims of hidden, ugly little bureaucrats. A farmer will not invest the effort of one summer if he’s unable to calculate his chances of a harvest. But you expect industrial giants – who plan in terms of decades, invest in terms of generations and undertake ninety-nine-year contracts -to continue to function and produce, not knowing what random caprice in the skull of what random official will descend upon them at what moment to demolish the whole of their effort. Drifters and physical laborers live and plan by the range of a day. The better the mind, the longer the range. A man whose vision extends to a shanty, might continue to build on your quicksands, to grab a fast profit and run. A man who envisions skyscrapers, will not. Nor will he give ten years of unswerving devotion to the task of inventing a new product, when he knows that gangs of entrenched mediocrity are juggling the laws against him, to tie him, restrict him and force him to fail, but should he fight them and struggle and succeed, they will seize his rewards and his invention.

“Look past the range of the moment, you who cry that you fear to compete with men of superior intelligence, that their mind is a threat to your livelihood, that the strong leave no chance to the weak in a market of voluntary trade. What determines the material value of your work? Nothing but the productive effort of your mind – if you lived on a desert island. The less efficient the thinking of your brain, the less your physical labor would bring you – and you could spend your life on a single routine, collecting a precarious harvest or hunting with bow and arrows, unable to think any further. But when you live in a rational society, where men are free to trade, you receive an incalculable bonus: the material value of your work is determined not only by your effort, but by the effort of the best productive minds who exist in the world around you.

“When you work in modern factory, you are paid, not only for your labor, but for all the productive genius which has made that factory possible: for the work of the industrialist who built if, for the work of the investor who saved the money to risk on the untried and the new, for the work of the engineer who designed the machines of which you are pushing the levers, for the work of the inventor who created the product which you spend your time on making, for the work of the scientist who discovered the laws that went into the making of that product, for the work of the philosopher who taught men how to think and whom you spend your time denouncing.

“The machine, the frozen form of a living intelligence, is the power that expands the potential of your life by raising the productivity of your time. If you worked as a blacksmith in the mystics’ Middle Ages, the whole of your earning capacity would consist of an iron bar produced by your hands in days and days of effort. How many tons of rail do you produce per day if you work for Hank Rearden? Would you dare to claim that the size of your pay check was created solely by your physical labor and that those rails were the product of your muscles? The standard of living of that blacksmith is all that your muscles are worth; the rest is a gift from Hank Rearden.

“Every man is free to rise as far as he’s able to or willing, but it’s only the degree to which he thinks that determines the degree to which he’ll rise. Physical labor as such can extend no further than the range of the moment. The man who does no more than physical labor, consumes the material value-equivalent of his own contribution to the process of production, and leaves no further value, neither for himself nor others. But the man who produces an idea in any field of rational endeavor – the man who discovers new knowledge – is the permanent benefactor of humanity. Material products can’t be shared, they belong to some ultimate consumer; it is only the value of an idea that can be shared with unlimited numbers of men, making all sharers richer at no one’s sacrifice or loss, raising the productive capacity of whatever labor they perform. It is the value of his own time that the strong of the intellect transfers to the weak, letting them work on the jobs he discovered, while devoting his time to further discoveries. This is mutual trade to mutual advantage; the interests of the mind are one, no matter what the degree of intelligence, among men who desire to work and don’t seek or expect the unearned.

“In proportion to the mental energy he spent, the man who creates a new invention receives but a small percentage of his value in terms of material payment, no matter what fortune he makes, no matter what millions he earns. But the man who works as a janitor in the factory producing that invention, receives an enormous payment in proportion to the mental effort that his job requires of him. And the same is true of all men between, on all levels of ambition and ability. The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the ‘competition’ between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of ‘exploitation’ for which you have damned the strong.

“Such was the service we had given you and were glad and willing to give. What did we ask in return? Nothing but freedom. We required that you leave us free to function – free to think and to work as we choose – free to take our own risks and to bear our own losses – free to earn our own profits and to make our own fortunes – free to gamble on your rationality, to submit our products to your judgment for the purpose of a voluntary trade, to rely on the objective value of our work and on your mind’s ability to see it – free to count on your intelligence and honesty, and to deal with nothing but your mind. Such was the price we asked, which you chose to reject as too high. You decided to call it unfair that we, who had dragged you out of your hovels and provided you with modern apartments, with radios, movies and cars, should own our palaces and yachts – you decided that you had a right to your wages, but we had no right to our profits, that you did not want us to deal with your mind, but to deal, instead, with your gun. Our answer to that, was: ‘May you be damned!’ Our answer came true. You are.

“You did not care to compete in terms of intelligence – you are now competing in terms of brutality. You did not care to allow rewards to be won by successful production – you are now running a race in which rewards are won by successful plunder. You called it selfish and cruel that men should trade value for value – you have now established an unselfish society where they trade extortion for extortion. Your system is a legal war, where men gang up on one another and struggle for possession of the law, which they use as a club over rivals, till another gang wrests it from their clutch and clubs them with it in their turn, all of them clamoring protestations of service to an unnamed public’s unspecified good. You had said that you saw no difference between economic and political power, between the power of money and the power of guns – no difference between reward and punishment, no difference between purchase and plunder, no difference between pleasure and fear, no difference between life and death. You are learning the difference now.

“Some of you might plead the excuse of your ignorance, of a limited mind and a limited range. But the damned and the guiltiest among you are the men who had the capacity to know, yet chose to blank out reality, the men who were willing to sell their intelligence into cynical servitude to force: the contemptible breed of those mystics of science who profess a devotion to some sort of ‘pure knowledge’ – the purity consisting of their claim that such knowledge has no practical purpose on this earth – who reserve their logic for inanimate matter, but believe that the subject of dealing with men requires and deserves no rationality, who scorn money and sell their souls in exchange for a laboratory supplied by loot. And since there is no such thing as ‘non-practical knowledge’ or any sort of ‘disinterested’ action, since they scorn the use of their science for the purpose and profit of life, they deliver their science to the service of death, to the only practical purpose it can ever have for looters: to inventing weapons of coercion and destruction. They, the intellects who seek escape from moral values, they are the damned on this earth, theirs is the guilt beyond forgiveness. Do you hear me, Dr. Robert Stadler?

To be continued …

Transcribed from Atlas Shrugged authored by Ayn Rand, copyright 1957 Ayn Rand, copyright renewed in 1985 by Eugene Winick, Paul Gitlin and Leonard Peikoff.

This post is merely the transcription of John Galt’s speech without the parts pertaining to plot, characters, and flow of events. I have changed the italicized words in the original into a bold font to accommodate the requirement of my chosen WordPress theme, namely Modularity Lite.