“What a waste it is to lose one’s mind”

The title of this post is from a verbal gaffe that Dan Quayle committed when he gave a speech at the United Negro College Fund (now called “UNCF,” their slogan being, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”) when he was Vice-President. I use it as a symbolic way of introducing this subject.

I came upon the following videos on YouTube. It is a dramatization of Ayn Rand’s thoughtful rant (nay, “indictment” is more like it) of our society’s promotion and acceptance of irrationality, through her character named John Galt, in her novel, “Atlas Shrugged.” It’s called “This is John Galt speaking…,” performed by Christopher Hurt, with video added by Richard Gleaves.

I am not wholeheartedly endorsing Rand’s Objectivist philosophy, but I agree strongly with her criticism of our society in the broadest sense. At times I have felt like screaming some of these criticisms, because I have seen the ignorance described, which seems impermeable, and I understand some things about the destructiveness it can produce. Screaming about it does little good, though. I am reminded of what Adlai Stevenson said of Eleanor Roosevelt, that she’d rather light a candle than curse the darkness.

John Galt’s speech is provocative, but it is provocation with a purpose, to get people to think about what has produced our modern world, and its problems, to think about the causes, not just the effects, and to perish the thought that it all comes about by magic, or should be taken for granted. That’s always valuable, to get a reality check. The reason I feature this rant is not to sway people towards a particular point of view, but to say that even though in our private lives we may find it valuable to hold beliefs in the supernatural, whether they be based in religious or secular views, they have real consequences in the health of our society when they are brought into the realm of politics, because they influence policy in unhealthy directions.

I am not putting all parts of Galt’s monologue here (the original dramatization has 18 parts), but certain key parts that I found thought-provoking, and valuable to share. I have long been interested in what creates and sustains modern civilization, and I think the Objectivist philosophy, as portrayed here, is an important piece of that, but I found it too limiting to be all-encompassing. In my encounters with philosophy, I’ve always found that materialism of any sort is too limiting as a singular governing principle for society. I would classify Objectivism as a “libertarian materialism.” I see it as just something to think about and consider.

Rand goes after all purveyors of irrationality in her time, but she seems to reserve particular scorn for mystics of all stripes, and catholicism. I find her criticism valuable from an anthropological perspective. If you take out the labels of different political systems and religions, and just look at their characteristics, it’s easier to see why those characteristics are probably destructive, as opposed to thinking that a particular instance of those characteristics, with a label, is destructive. That’s missing the forest for the trees.

Richard Gleaves used his own imagery and audio to illustrate what Galt was talking about. I do not agree with all of the imagery used, particularly regarding religion. It gives one the sense that all religion is like what is portrayed. I can say from experience that it’s not. Not all sects demand thoughtless obedience and sacrifice, though some popular forms of religion do promote this, and I agree with the specific criticism against that.

Rand seems to attack most forms of authority, a view I don’t agree with. I would just promote the idea of skepticism of authority.

The premise of this monologue is the society in Rand’s fictional tale has collapsed, and a character named John Galt, whom people in the story have wondered about, reveals himself to the world, telling everyone why society has collapsed, and how to bring it back to life.

What’s amazing to note is that Rand wrote all this in 1957, and that the concepts she talked about apply much more today than they did then. Though it was fictional, she wrote the story as an allegory, a warning to America. She said she saw troubling trends when she wrote it that she predicted would grow in impact on this country as time passed. I think she was right to see it that way.

Edit 11-28-2013: Gleaves deleted the videos I had been using here, and created a new series on the same monologue. So I’ve updated the videos I’ve used here with his new set of videos.

Part 1: This is John Galt Speaking

Part 4: The Standard of Morality

Part 5: Free Will

Part 5 is my favorite out of the whole series. Gleaves uses clips from the movie, “The Miracle Worker.” The way this was put together is poetic. As I watched it, I reflected on myself. At times I feel like Helen Keller’s teacher, trying to reach others. At other times I feel like Helen herself, going for long stretches feeling lost, mystified, and babbling about nothing of much value. Then I have experiences that feel like her at the water pump. The connection is made, and POW! Realization! The joy I feel afterward is like her running around, seeing a little better, taking it all in with a voracious hunger. Wonderful.

Part 7: Emotions

Part 13: Death Worship

Part 14: Utopia and Objectivity

Part 15: The Mystics of Muscle

Part 16: Nihilism

Part 17: Who is John Galt

Part 18: Necessary Evil & Paradise Lost

In a way, this post is a follow-up to an interview with Judy Shelton I featured on here about a year ago. She expressed concern that with the bent the U.S. government has now, that business owners, the people who create wealth, will eventually go on strike, or “go Galt,” because society no longer appreciates the personal risks they take to create products, services, and jobs.

What I really like about this is it doesn’t just complain about society, but illustrates the difference between a non-thinking society and a thinking society, and that this difference matters a great deal. The hope is that people will “wake up” and realize that this “dream” of certainty they’ve been in is not all its cracked up to be. While there will always be things we don’t know, there’s a lot less that’s “unknowable” than people think, and it would behoove us to find out as much about what’s really going on as possible, because it DOES affect us.

Like I said, this philosophy is not all-inclusive in terms of the important things that make up a functioning modern society. One thing it neglects is the fact that “intellectual life” is not just in the private sector. It’s also in our universities, at least in some holdouts. There is a healthy element of competition in this system, but in a well functioning system of this sort, the goal should not just be profit. An unfortunate fact I’ve been reading about is that universities are increasingly seeing profit as a primary goal. This narrows the focus of academic study significantly, and not always to good ends. It’s not just happening here. It’s happening in the UK as well.

So while I think Objectivism provides a valuable message to consider, I think it’s good to keep in mind that it is a vantage point from which one can be jarred, and see reality a little better, but that there are other valuable intellectual perspectives to explore and keep in mind as well.