Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Atlas Shrugged

My favorite page from Ayn Rand's novel so far, page 127:

"Man? What is man? He's just a collection of chemicals with delusions of grandeur," said Dr. Pritchett to a group of guests across the room.
"Man's metaphysical pretensions," he said, "are preposterous. A miserable bit of protoplasm, full of ugly little concepts and mean little emotions--and it imagines itself important! Really, you know, that is the root of all the troubles in the world."
"But which concepts are not ugly or mean, Professor?" asked an earnest matron whose husband owned an automobile factory.
"None," said Dr. Pritchett, "None within the range of man's capacity."
A young man asked hesitantly, "But if we haven't any good concepts how do we know that the ones we've got are ugly? I mean, by what standard?"
"There aren't any standards."
This silenced his audience.
"The philosophers of the past were superficial," Dr. Pritchett went on. "It remained for our century to redefine the purpose of philosophy. The purpose of philosophy is not to help men find the meaning of life, but to prove to them that there isn't any."
An attractive young woman whose father owned a coal mine, asked indignantly, "Who can tell us that?"
"I am trying to," said Dr. Pritchett. For the last three years, he had been head of the Department of Philosophy at the Patrick Henry University.
Lillian Rearden approached, her jewels glittering under the lights. The expression on her face was held to the soft hint of a smile, set and faintly suggested, like the waves of her hair.
"It is this insistence of man upon meaning that makes him so difficult," said Dr. Pritchett, "Once he realizes that he is of no importance whatever in the vast scheme of the universe, that no possible significance can be attached to his activities, that is does not matter whether he lives or dies, he will become much more . . . tractable."
He shrugged and reached for another canape. A businessman said uneasily, "What i asked you about, Professor, was what you thought about the Equalization of Opportunity Bill."
"Oh, that?" said Dr. Pritchett, "But I believe I made it clear that I am in favor of it, because I am in favor of a free economy. A free economy cannot exist without competition. Therefore, men must be forced to compete. Therefore, we must control men in order to force them to be free."
"But, look . . . isn't that sort of a contradiction?"
"Not in the higher philosophical sense. You must learn to see beyond the static definitions of old-fashioned thinking. Nothing is static in the universe. Everything is fluid."
"But it stands to reason that if--"
"Reason, my dear fellow, is the most naive of all superstitions. That, at least, has been generally conceded in our age."
"But I don't quite understand how we can--"
"You suffer from the popular delusion of believing things can be understood. You do not grasp the fact that the universe is a solid contradiction."
"A contradiction of what?" asked the matron.
"Of itself."
"How ... how's that?"
"My dear madam, the duty of thinkers is not to explain, but to demonstrate that nothing can be explained."
"Yes, of course . . . only . . ."
"The purpose of philosophy is not to seek knowledge, but to prove that knowledge is impossible to man."
"But when we prove it, asked the young woman, what's going to be left?"
"Instinct," said Dr. Pritchett reverently.

Props to Morgan Jamison for forcing me to read this, I'm only about 150 pages in but so far this book is one of the most well written novels I have ever read. It is amazingly applicable to today's current society and economical situations, which is ironic since it was written in 1957. It is quite lengthy, but I would encourage anyone feeling up to the task to try and read this giant.

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