Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

My Interview with The Telegraph

Posted by Jerry on October 24, 2007

The following are the questions posed by the reporter from The Telegraph (TT) and my e-mailed responses to them. I have slightly edited only my responses at some places for stylistic reasons; in the question about the response of young readers to Ayn Rand’s books, I have added a few additional points to expand upon my original thoughts.

TT: What drew you to Ayn Rand?

JJ: I was first introduced to Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead by a friend of mine. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading the novel as a work of art, the philosophical ideas in it disturbed me greatly. They were radical and completely alien to everything I had been taught as moral. My response to this cognitive dissonance was to shut out Rand’s ideas from my mind and continue to live the way I was used to. A couple of years later, I happened to pick up a copy of Atlas Shrugged. My life was never the same after that. I could no longer just ignore the radical ideas in the book. This pushed me to investigate further, ask “why?” to every single premise and belief I currently held, dig deep to the roots and trace out the ideological contradictions in my belief; in essence, from that point on, I embarked on a critical evaluation and a massive upheaval of my belief systems. It was a challenging and confusing period of time, but I was open to the experience.

TT: There are successive generations of readers who discover Rand in their youth and then move away. What are the elements in Rand that you continue to revisit or discover over the years?

JJ: There are several reasons why young readers become zealots of Rand’s ideas and then move away as they grow into adulthood: Rand’s philosophy is tremendously complex and radical. Every principle in the system is internally related with every other, non-contradictorily. Therefore, there are two approaches to dealing with this philosophy: first, one honestly wrestles with the ideas of the philosophy and attempts to follow all its logically connected chain of thoughts to integrate them in one’s own mind, or second, one can take the shortcut approach and memorize the key fundamental principles, learn a few choice quotes from Ayn Rand and the novel’s heroes, and then claim to be an Objectivist.

Unfortunately, the young readers who have not yet achieved the intellectual capacity (due to their age or intellectual training) required for such massive integrations across philosophical levels tend to adopt the second–easier and shorthand–approach to express and feed their emotional excitement from having read the novels. The reason is that one can simply not read these emotionally stirring and philosophically challenging novels and remain passive or wait over years for intellectually maturity to set in: one is compelled to feed this immediate emotional experience by retaining key slogans or quotes from the books that express an emotional truth, then they seek out answers from wherever they can–even if it may be from Google searches or the Wikipedia.

Consequently, an intellectually pre-mature and overwhelmingly emotional introduction to the radical Objectivist premises of individualism, egoism, and self-interest often leads young people to hold an undigested, unintegrated, contortion of dogmatic beliefs–identical to religious beliefs held on faith, emotional need, repeated memorizations, and acceptance from authority. Eventually, such a person may literally “grow out” of their memorized philosophy and regard it as his foolish and juvenile indulgence in youth.

For me, Rand’s works continue to reveal whole new integrations, different perspectives, unique approaches, and various applications of a principle to reality. For example, my recent discovery was the integration of the Objectivist position on charity with the issue of cultural activism for change in society. While I won’t go into the details of this integration here, I will only say that the elegant nature of Objectivism’s non-contradictory system of principles can give amazing insights into any and all aspects of reality: since there is only one reality, it necessarily means that all of reality is a totality of interrelated facts and relationships. Therefore, it is simply an incredible experience to discover new relationships among seemingly unrelated existents in this one reality.

TT: Would you say Rand’s time has come in India?

JJ: I would say that Rand’s ideas have long been pervasive among Indians–both abroad and here in India. After the United States, India is cited as the nation with the most Ayn Rand fans. Further, Rand’s ideas have a particular relevance to the history of Indian politics and economics. One can actually argue that many from our parent’s and grandparent’s generation “Shrugged” in the intellectual sense in response to the repressive Socialist policies of Nehru and the License Raj. Free minds cannot function under oppressive regimes. That generation chose to withdraw their minds and the products of their minds from this society in search of free societies in the West; the government of India called it the “brain-drain”–Ayn Rand would have called it “Atlas Shrugged.”

Notice how with the opening of the Indian borders, the gradual acceptance of free markets, and the loosening of government regulations, not only is tremendous wealth flowing into this country but also the minds who create such wealth are choosing to return to make their fortunes here.

TT: In what way is Rand’s work, particularly Atlas Shrugged, relevant in India today?

JJ: [I think the answer to this question is the same as above.]

TT: What are the common misconceptions, if any, that you find people bear about Rand’s philosophy?

JJ: Rand’s philosophy is only about 25 to 30 years old. It is only now being studied seriously in the philosophy departments of 30 universities in the United States. As an intellectual movement, Objectivism–the philosophy of Ayn Rand–is only beginning; most movements take centuries to merge into the mainstream mindset. Until that happens, Objectivism is prime target for misrepresentations and outright distortions. Some examples of such are as follows: some people claim that Ayn Rand advocated that man is an island, that individualism means isolationism, that to be independent is to never ask the help of anyone else on principle.

Any substantial study into the actual ideas of Ayn Rand will reveal that such a notion of individualism and independence is contrary to Objectivism. Among other things, Objectivism champions laissez-faire capitalism. The crucial and practical tenet of capitalism is the division of labor society: that individual men engage in the mutual trade of products that they have gained an expertise in producing. A division of labor society–that is, a capitalist society–necessitates a society of individual men who need each other in the rational–non-sacrifical–sense of traders–traders who voluntarily exchange a value for another. In simplistic terms, this ensures a steady supply of products out in the market for exchange and a market of consumers eager to exchange their own products or values for that which they have not produced.

Therefore, it is contradictory to claim that Objectivism preaches isolationism or that independence means man is an island. Quite the opposite, it is only the rational man who can foster a benevolent society of individuals who engage in voluntary transactions that mutually benefit each other’s lives immensely! 

TT: What is your personal favourite AR writing?

JJ: We The Living–for its incredibly moving portrayal of a rational life struggling to exist in an oppressive and irrational society. It is also the closest to an autobiography of Ayn Rand–in terms of its ideas, themes, and values, not in terms of the concretes.

Advertisements

7 Responses to “My Interview with The Telegraph”

  1. rambodoc said

    Ergo,
    Did they carry this interview? I would normally have read it, but have been outside India (still am) for some days…
    Most hacks distort statements because of incompetence or because they want the story to stand the way they plan it. If they need stats, they will put the stats in your mouth, or even quote you having said that. Once out, the story stands, and no corrections are generally carried.
    This is a general comment on Indian journalists, and not of the TT scribe, who I am not talking of.

  2. Priyank said

    I don’t have access to physical copy of this newspaper either. Its nice to see your interview getting published 🙂

  3. Ergo said

    Priyank and Rambodoc, the interview was not entirely carried in the Telegraph as far as I know. The reporter said it was due to severe space issues. Btw, I was very pleased with the person I was corresponding with.

  4. Sinus said

    yayyy!!! very nice Ergo!

  5. What happened to you a few years before is actually happening to me.But not quite.I have just read the fountainhead and not the other books.Yes,i of course am intrigued by objectivism but am not an atheist. I shall never become one if this philosophy demands me to.I of course accept all the other ideals.but not this.And i cant practice it overnight.I am not irrational as to come to a conclusion that what i read must be strictly adhered to.But in my own way,i am an objectivist but i can never place myself as an acute one.I shall take all the good things from all philosophies i have come across.I have a few questions here for you to answer.

    *Is objectivism possible in India?Is it right to clung to a philosophy when all your life you have been taught to be altruistic?
    *What’s wrong in being altruistic?
    *Are indians not dependant on a larger society?
    *You read a book in one day and overnight people talk of themselves as objectivists,as you had correctkly mentioned.Isnt this insanity?Isn’t this everything against objectivism?
    *why do people feel superior when they say they are atheists when actually they are not?They wear a facade and say “i am an objectivist” and in reality all they want is to boast about being one?
    *why do indians not read about our own sacred works FIRST and THEN go to works about other philosophies or whatsoever?

    I want you to answer these questions.ANd as for the last question,i myself am making the same mistake.

  6. Isha Maini said

    Rampantheart,

    I will do my best to answer your questions. I hope this helps you attain some clarity.

    I’ll answer the first two questions in a reversed order, since I feel it is necessary that you understand the philosophical implications of altruism before you seek to understand it within a framework such as Indian society.

    1) What’s wrong in being altruistic?

    You mustn’t confuse charity with altruism. Rand was never against charity- she was only against the notion of selflessness- the notion that everyone but yourself deserves your service and the product of your work, that you are a sacrificial animal with no worth of his own, no purpose of his own but to serve the society you live in, indiscriminately. Altruism demands the renunciation of yourself in order to provide exclusively for the welfare of others; such a demand may only be fulfilled if you immolate your morality, your thoughts, your opinions, and all in all, your individuality, in order to become but a facade of fleeting adjectives: becoming anything anyone desires you to be. Accepting altruism as your core philosophy would mean that you own nothing– that in fact, you are nothing but a device for the benefit of others. Look through this treacherous morality, wherein the crook, the thief, the murderer are all placed above yourself– wherein you condemn yourself to the least of beings, the most expendable of men… and for whom? If the only path to being virtuous is altruistic, then it necessarily implies you will serve immoral beings– by your own standards– because by the principles of altruism, anyone who accepts service in heed of rational self-interest is not altruistic, and hence not moral.

    Where does this leave altruism as a societal norm, then? Inevitably, there will be a handful who exploit the rest; whenever there is a sacrifice, there is someone to collect the sacrificial offerings. Who decides then, who is to be the scapegoat and who the beneficiary? Do we condemn men to the fate of a sacrificial animal merely because they are more virtuous than their brethren? Do we punish those who rise above this sea of mediocrity, merely because they possess something that most don’t?

    2) Is objectivism possible in India?Is it right to clung to a philosophy when all your life you have been taught to be altruistic?

    The manifolds of Indian society have undergone such metamorphosis that is not only possible, but essential that an Objectivist approach be taken. Think about it, and attempt to translate the aforementioned concepts from a metaphysical stage to the sociopolitical framework of our country. Socialist “virtues” plague our mindscape, infecting everything from the corporations to the educational system. Reservation quotas in Universities, tax benefits to people of a certain caste, even the campaign banners of our political leaders slant towards creating a social segregation, wherein few are victimized and the rest of the society is expected to pay for it. In a country like India, altruism or charity are not the solutions; education is. Awareness is. As is said, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

    3) Are indians not dependant on a larger society?

    As Jerry mentioned in his interview, Objectivism does not advocate isolationism; it advocates willing co-operation between rational beings, on the premise of their own self interest. As an economic concept, Adam Smith popularized it as the “Invisible hand”; the conjunction of the forces of self-interest, competition and supply-and-demand create an atmosphere, where in the words of Milton Friedman, lies “the possibility of co-operation without coercion”. There is nothing wrong or condemnable in the existence interdependent relationships in a society; of course, it is a free country, and these relationships may be altered or terminated by choice. What is wrong is, when these relationships are forced upon the individual as a necessity, or even ultimatum, which is what Marxist ideologies, and similar altruistic dogmas seek to accomplish.

    4) You read a book in one day and overnight people talk of themselves as objectivists,as you had correctkly mentioned.Isnt this insanity?Isn’t this everything against objectivism?

    It is. Whimsical adherence is the last thing Rand wished to inspire in her readers.

    5) why do people feel superior when they say they are atheists when actually they are not?They wear a facade and say “i am an objectivist” and in reality all they want is to boast about being one?

    Religion should be a private affair; unlike the fanatical farce we’re used to in our country, religion shouldn’t be relevant or discussed outside of your home. Atheism is the rational choice to not believe in God; I call it rational, since I find no reason to believe otherwise. Your opinions clearly differ from mine, but that is not the point. The point is, that we are inherently free to believe as we please. The freedom to practice any religion of your choice is as fundamental as the freedom to think– for the former is but a product of the latter. Militant atheists are both juvenile and immature- I suggest you pay no heed to them. Only fools are completely certain of themselves. There is an inherent flaw in boasting about a philosophical doctrine you hold true- it is the same flaw that exists with ornate temples, or idol worship. A doctrine is to be upheld, not showcased. It often happens that people forget, forge, tamper of even disregard the true philosophical implications of the concerned system, in order to complement and engage in it’s often superficial and ritualistic fronts. Tell me, what one man can define Hinduism today? It is open to as many interpretations, as there are men. Every man today has God at his feet, and magic in his eyes; reality has become but a vaudeville which changes suite through a different looking glass. Once religion becomes the premise upon which men deal with one another, it is certain that violence and irrationality will follow, as is evident on the communal and even national scale in our country. As to why people boast, about being a Brahmin or a an Objectivist, is simply because they do not realize that the title itself has no interface with reality. It is only through our actions that we may interact either as an Objectivist or a terrorist, and suffer the effects thereof. I suggest you ignore such folk, for there is nothing but fluff in their soul.

    6) why do indians not read about our own sacred works FIRST and THEN go to works about other philosophies or whatsoever?

    Tell me, why do you feel that thought is constricted by the same borders as land? What makes the Geeta more “mine” than Atlas Shrugged? Why should I adhere to a heritage I did not chose, to follow doctrines I do not believe in, merely because I was born in a certain realm? Think about it, and tell me if you continue to feel that man belongs where he is born; it shall be intriguing if you truly believe in the inheritance of thought.

  7. evanescent said

    .Yes,i of course am intrigued by objectivism but am not an atheist. I shall never become one if this philosophy demands me to.

    Then there is nothing more to say. No amount of logic or reason will get you from this world to a make-believe one where “god” exists. If you are determined to never give up your belief in a supernatural fantasy creature then Objectivism is NOT for you, and neither is reason. You cannot call yourself an Objectivist in ANY way. You either fully accept reason or you don’t. There is no point giving your questions any time under the conditions you’ve stated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: