Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Activism at Work

Posted by Jerry on May 29, 2008

Practically everyone I know at work has read at least one of the major works of Ayn Rand. They seem to regard her primarily as a literary figure, and I think, they mostly don’t much agree with (or understand) her philosophy. Rand’s novels, to them, are just that–novels; not a dramatization of a true philosophy of life, just an unusual and radical storyline.

My work also has both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in its library. It’s pretty clear that Rand has an established place in the corporate world–and is particularly well-known in India. I have blogged about Rand’s particular significance to Indians in previous posts.

This Friday, I will be conducting an informal discussion session with my colleagues on Objectivism in general and The Fountainhead in particular, since that is the book most of them have read. Also, since they learned that I have studied Objectivism in some detail for so many years now, they were very eager to hear me make the case for the philosophy. I am happy to do it.

Rand continues to be a polarizing figure; and she still manages to get people involved in animated discussions. My colleagues have been excitedly talking about the Friday session all this week–everytime we gather in the cafeteria for a meal or snack or hang beside each other’s cubicles. I’ve already heard some of the usual criticisms carelessly thrown about: “she was too extreme. It’s too rigid.” But I resist the urge to engage them in full-on discussion because I want to make a proper, prepared, and well-organized presentation on the philosophy. However, I’m not going to be lecturing or doing most of the talking; I’d rather prefer to facilitate the discussion–offer some guideposts, introduce some new ideas, elicit opinions and reactions, ask them to probe deeper into their questions and reactions, etc.

Anyway, if this goes well, I expect to hold additional sessions on the philosophy. I am quite certain that people will want to have more things to say and hear about Rand. After these sessions, I would be eager to get them started on We The Living, because it is my favorite novel and which I have read three times now.

So, cheers for personal activism! Hip hip Hurray!🙂

8 Responses to “Activism at Work”

  1. Monica said

    That is so darn cool. You know, most Americans would be envious to be in that position — to have coworkers that have all read Ayn Rand!? Sheesh!

    I have two Indian friends that actually read and enjoyed The Fountainhead. However, I got the same reaction from them: “She’s an extremist!”

    I find this difference very interesting. Most Americans with claims of extremism are leftists and don’t like Ayn Rand, and they would most certainly not be willing to meet to discuss Ayn Rand’s philosophy! So, I think you should consider yourself in an enviable scenario. I can’t wait to hear how things go!

  2. P. Steel said

    “Most Americans with claims of extremism are leftists and don’t like Ayn Rand, and they would most certainly not be willing to meet to discuss Ayn Rand’s philosophy!”

    I agree. In America, the best demographic for finding Ayn Rand fans would be non-religious (or mildly religious) Republicans. I think Harry Binswanger did a survey of his HB List members and they were predominantly from moderate Republican backgrounds. The interesting thing is that almost none of them were from Leftist backgrounds. The conclusion drawn was that it seems that America’s younger generation is becoming far more Leftist. That is not good for spreading Rand’s ideas.

    I don’t know anything about India’s cultural landscape but the fact that most people in a medium size business firm have read Rand is a good thing. Where I work in an American Northeastern city, I would say that half of the people in my firm have heard of Rand and less than 20% have read her. And I’m the only Objectivist surrounded by a sea of left-liberals. Woe is me…

  3. Ergo said

    Hi Monica and P.Steel,

    I think I may have given the wrong impression: it’s not that almost everyone at my work has read Rand–only, most people *I* know has read Rand. Although, there was this one time when a stranger from another department of my company saw me reading “We The Living” during lunch and said “Great book” and smiled. I smiled back.

    But yes, you are right. I am fortunate in that sense–and I have given my reasons for why Rand is more respected here in India.

    The other day, I attended a training course at work. During our introductions, one girl in the group said about herself: “I like reading good books that make me think, like The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.” Again, she is not someone I know, but works at my company. (My organization is a large European MNC).

  4. Andrew76 said

    “The interesting thing is that almost none of them were from Leftist backgrounds.”
    Hey, just thought I’d add – late as it may be – that before I read Ayn Rand, I was what I would consider a far left liberal. I hadn’t yet read any Karl Marx, but I’d read much by his followers, or people espousing similar ideas, eg: Noam Chomsky and the like. And even if I didn’t have a very intense leftist “intellectual” foundation, I did feel the usual sentiments: Walmart is ruining everything, rich people are exploiting the poor, all Americans deserve universal health care and access to food, etc., etc.
    This would’ve likely continued in my mind (a truly terrible thought), had a friend of mine not innocently given me a copy of Atlas Shrugged. Had I known where Ayn Rand stood before I read Atlas Shrugged, I probably wouldn’t have read it! (another awful thing to consider). At any rate, I finished the book and my life has not been the same since. It would be completely wrong for anyone to think that I was some kind of ship without a rudder, waiting to be told how to think. Rather, I was a ship going in the wrong direction, and the proper arguments had never been presented to me. I wanted answers and the only seemingly intellectual ones were being made by those on the left. I still think this is the case.
    I hate to associate Ayn Rand with the “right,” in America since most “conservatives” in America aren’t conservative at all but rather devoutly religious, big government, war-is-the-health-of-the-state neoconservatives. Example: someone please explain to me the fundamental differences between Barack Obama and John McCain. There aren’t any. They both want more government control and more sacrifices from individuals, just for slightly different reasons. Neither of them disagree on wanting to increase power and control of the state, over the people.
    What we need is a more serious, intellectual counter-argument against the left because what passes for it now, ie: “Fox News,” “Sean Hannity,” and Galt help us, “Mike Savage,” will never, EVER cut it.
    Here’s to brighter futures.

  5. Paul said

    From personal experience as a young American, I was raised and for a while held to leftist views, largely without any further thought on the matter. However, I was introduced to Rand in a philosophy course on ethics and have shifted to an Objectivist viewpoint. I think one issue is that philosophy as a course is not introduced to American students until college, and another is that Rand is often only briefly introduced. Most students aren’t as lucky as I was to have a teacher willing to spend the bulk of the course focusing on Objectivism.

  6. abhishek said

    Ergo,

    The moment you say that Ayn Rand still remians a polarising figure, you end up accepting that there is a rationale behind those who do not believe in Objectivism. That would be a gross mistake.

    However, the fact remains that all those who do not subscribe to Objectivism, are doing it simply to abstain themselves from the thought process that would reveal to themselves their own weakness. They don’t want to face it, and thus choose to ignore it, infact they go to the extent of ridiculing it.

    I wouldn’t understand why one should go out of the way to explain it to them, I personally woudn’t. (Not to say i didn’t do it in the past, but have learned my lessons)

    Further, my reply to one Paul who held Leftist views out of neccessity, and was also able to change to Objectivism dramatically; Paul, the reason why you could change to it dramatically are simple. While growing up one ends up being influenced by what other people think; thus you bent towards leftist notions. When you discovered Ayn Rand; it did click something in you. The lesson to be learned is never follow something, beacuse you are supposed to, or because you havce been told to do so, or because it is a matter of faith, or because 4 out 5 people subscribe to it.

  7. Ergo said

    I never gave an update on this, for the lack of time, mostly. Here’s what I’ll say for now: the discussions were a tremendous success. We had some in-depth explorations of Rand’s ideas, and even the Associate Director of by business unit joined in for hours of animated discussions. In all it was very constructive. I was able to instil a sense of intrigue and curiousity about the power of Rand’s ideas. Many asked for additional information and links. I forwarded Onkar Ghate’s articles that appeared in The New Statesman. I also sent links and articles to various sources listed in my “Learn about Objectivism” page on my blog.

    I have continued to have personal, one-on-one discussions with several individuals. They have admitted a newfound respect and openness to considering Rand’s ideas, especially because, they said, they already had common agreement with some of those ideas previously.

    I continue to engage people, whenever appropriate and possible, gently, on political and philosophical issues. Also, a prominent picture of Rand on my desk happens to be a great conversation starter. I mostly get people starting out with “Oh I’m so against everything she said” and then, after days of conversations with me, saying “Okay, I guess I need to read her in more detail to understand her views.”

  8. Max Rogers said

    I found this page by accident …. while I was looking for pictures [drawings] of the buildings in “Fountainhead.” Certainly someone has sketched the buildings as described in the book? I would love to see what readers thought these buildings would look like.
    Skateway1@aol.com

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