An Evening with We The Living
Posted by Jerry on July 16, 2007
Over the weekend, my friend and I managed to spare an hour before it would be time to watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix. As I am accustomed to spending time with friends over glasses of Vodka Cranberry (not quite Cosmo), we went to one of my favorite hangs called Alfredo’s–a small and charming little Italian restobar–to indulge in the usual.
Only last year, I introduced him to Atlas Shrugged, which he read and immensely enjoyed. He had the kind of reaction that I’m coming to regard as rather typical of first-time readers of the book: deeply challenging, life-changing, dense, and an intensely thrilling experience.
Well, now he told me that he just finished reading We The Living, the more ignored of Ayn Rand’s works, and my personal all-time favorite novel. I asked him what he thought of the book. He remained silent for a really long while, not as if searching for something to say but as if saying anything would necessarily be describing it in some incorrect or inaccurate manner. He was reluctant to say anything. I goaded him on to throw some words that simply came to mind–to introspect his emotional reaction and identify them with words that at least come close to describing his reaction.
Indeed, my own experience after having read We The Living was fairly similar. In my blogpost after reading the novel, I was simply unable to coherently formulate sentences and describe my emotional reaction; therefore, I merely picked certain words and phrases that came to mind. Raw words completely stripped off of fillers:
Poignant, tragic, grand, vivid, sad, inspiring, passionate, moving, shocking, benevolent, desire, romantic, love captured and described like how love should be, strength, worship, weakness, anger, hate, purposeful, beautiful…
Finally, he said he found the book troubling: He was troubled by the reality painted in the novel–a dark reality under Communism. He said he loved the character of Andrei Taganov and was troubled by his tragic failure; he deeply connected with Kira and admired her to the end; he viewed Leo’s character as the greatest tragedy because he felt he wanted so badly to love the man for all he could be but was not.
He also found the vivid descriptive clarity of We The Living very powerful because it helped him actually visualize the life, environment, and the fate of the major characters.
I think that these new ideas he has just discovered might be sowing the seeds of an ideological conflict in his mind, given his strong upbringing as a Christian. Nonetheless, he claims to maintain his belief in the Christian version of a deity. Further, despite his Master’s level training in Economics, I suspect that he has hardly been exposed to the kind of consistent and pure moral defense of Capitalism and free market like that presented in Atlas Shrugged. Nor, I believe, has he ever encountered a study into the concrete and horrific consequences of Communism in his economic textbooks as that presented in We The Living. The clue to this was his admission that he had never heard of Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, or Isabel Patterson, although he might have studied their theories at some point over the years.
In academia, skepticism is the religion and the “unknown” is God. In their faithful commitment to intellectual modesty, uncertainty, and skepticism in knowledge, most intellectuals outrightly shun claims to objective rights or wrongs and clarity in moral issues. It is no surprise then that some of the principles of Objectivism and capitalism appear to these intellectuals as alarmingly absolutist, dogmatic, presumptuous, and shrill. The thought revolution that is needed goes right to the core of everything that is currently held as axiomatic–a complete upheavel of what is currently cherished as dear beliefs, everything from what is knowledge to how can we gain true knowledge.
In any case, my friend and I had a nice thought-provoking discussion over some good food and Vodka. Oh, and incidentally, in previous times that I have gone out with him, he has steadfastly refused to drink any alcohol–for no particular reason. But this evening was different (in more ways than just this, I believe); he opted to drink without any prodding or fuss. It was nice. And to wrap up the evening, the Harry Potter movie was enjoyable as well and sparked some more spirited discussion on the book–another work of fiction that he is very passionate about.