Monday, December 31, 2012

Ayn Rand, John Galt, and Original Sin

I just finished reading the John Galt "radio speech" from "Atlas Shrugged".
Parts of the early section are tiresome; the last half is some of the greatest stuff I've ever read.

The short section on "Original Sin" jumped out at me. For those of you who weren't raised in the Bible Belt, Original Sin is a St. Paul/St. Augustine invention which states that ever since Eve ate the forbidden fruit, we've been cursed (pre-birth) as sinners.
In the eyes of God, we're guilty as soon as the doctor cuts the cord. Here's some context from Genesis:

The Fall

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring[a] and hers;
he will crush[b] your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”
20 Adam[c] named his wife Eve,[d] because she would become the mother of all the living.
21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

For most of my life, I've tried to reconcile my somewhat fundamentalist religious upbringing with the reality that I saw around me. 
I've seen that Knowledge is a good thing, as opposed to being something that is the consequence of a curse. 
I believe that Knowledge keeps us warm, fed, healthy, and happy.  
I believe that people are fundamentally good, and will help each other without being forced to do so at gunpoint. 
I've noticed that a lot of kids who weren't raised in any particular religious rigmarole seem to have fewer problems than some of those who were. 
And, of course, I've noticed that people who don't believe that most foreigners are going to go to hell....well, they get along better with foreigners. 
Here's the section on Original Sin, from John Galt's infamous "radio speech" near the end of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged". 

"Damnation is the start of your morality, destruction is its purpose, means and end. Your code begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good which it defines as impossible for him to practice. It demands, as his first proof of virtue, that he accepts his own depravity without proof. It demands that he start, not with a standard of value, but with a standard of evil, which is himself, by means of which he is then to define the good: the good is that which he is not.

It does not matter who then becomes the profiteer on his renounced glory and tormented soul, a mystic God with some incomprehensible design or any passer-by whose rotting sores are held as some explicable claim upon him - it does not matter, the good is not for him to understand, his duty is to crawl through years of penance, atoning for the guilt of his existence to any stray collector of unintelligible debts, his only concept of a value is a zero: the good is that which is non-man.

The name of this monstrous absurdity is Original Sin. A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man's sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man's nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, justice and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched. Yet that is the root of your code.

Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a 'tendency' to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free.

What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge - he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil - he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor - he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire - he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy - all the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man's fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but the essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was - that robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labor, without love - he was not man.

Man's fall, according to your teachers, was that he gained the virtues required to live. These virtues, by their standard, are his Sin. His evil, they charge, is that he's man. His guilt, they charge, is that he lives. They call it a morality of mercy and a doctrine of love for man."

This book, which was the Gateway Drug into Libertarianism for a lot of people, is slowly making my head explode. 
I've read plenty of excerpts, and skimmed it a few times in the past, but reading all 1200 pages cover-to-cover has been one amazing experience. 
I think I'm going to read Paul Krugman's "The Conscience Of A Liberal", just to cleanse the palate, and then read "Atlas Shrugged" again.  This time with a highlighter. 
We have a lot of problems in the U.S.   According to some, honest accounting would prove that we have more unemployed workers in 2012 than during the Great Depression.  Team Red and Team Blue are putting on Performance Art about an idiotic "Fiscal Cliff" deal.  We're 17 trillion in debt.  Obama is sending drones to kill children, and, incidentally, create more terrorists. 

This could be improved if every industrialist, business owner, and creator were to send John Galt's message to Washington:

"Get The Hell Out Of My Way." 


Tim said...

Join me in not working, buying or blogging on the 13th of each month, because "you didn't build that."

The Whited Sepulchre said...

I wish I could. Unfortunately, Texas A&M demands otherwise.