Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘We The Living’

Hindi News Channel on Ayn Rand

Posted by Jerry on February 1, 2008

Of all the places to find an article about Ayn Rand, there is this recent one on Zee News. The online version of the 24-hour Hindi News cable channel carried a decent article on Ayn Rand (in English, of course). Reading the title of the article, I was prepared for yet another misinformed, second-handed diatribe on Rand’s life and a grotesque caricature of her philosophy.

The article is fine, however; the author Ipsita Baishya treats the essential ideas of Objectivism fairly enough. Like in these excerpts, for example (note how Baishya points out Rand’s rejection of the libertarian party):

According to Rand, one’s highest value should be one’s ability to reason. This also manifested in the way she viewed her own life, not through feelings but through her interest in ideas and her thinking.

Politically, Rand wanted to provide liberal capitalism with a moral anchor, to take on the commonplace notion that communism was a noble if unworkable idea while the free market was a necessary evil best suited to flawed human nature. Her impassioned arguments against “compassionate” redistribution–and persecution–of wealth have not lost their urgency and relevance even today.

Although Rand denounced the feminist movement, one cannot help but see a strong feminist subtext in her repertoire. All of her heroines are strong-willed, independent women; feminism being all about women asserting their individuality. So it would not be incorrect to assume that Rand by default had a feminist streak to her as many feminists have interpreted. She rejected the Libertarian movement due to her emphasis on epistemology and her rational premise did not allow her to believe in the existence of any Superpower. [bold mine] 

But the sprinkle of words like “cult”, “religious doctrine”, and “loopholes” leaves me wondering about the intent of the author. I suspect this article was published in time to mark Ayn Rand’s birthday on February 2.

I myself had made plans to commemorate the occasion over two days by airing an Oscar nominated documentary on Rand’s life—Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life and the Italian movie based on her book We The Living. However, as I was making my plans, I learned that Mumbai would be celebrating a 10-day long art festival slated to begin on the same day. Due to the festival, the venue I was considering for airing the documentary would not be available—Prithvi Theater, MaxMueller Bhavan, etc. Besides, I would be competing with more established festival events for an audience to the movies.

Perhaps, after the Kala Ghoda Art Festival concludes, I might set up the dates for screening these movies. The American Center Library in South Mumbai is open to hosting the event, when I spoke to them earlier this week. Let’s see how it all turns out.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Movies, Mumbai, Objectivism, Personal, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Indians and Ayn Rand

Posted by Jerry on August 28, 2007

Myrhaf writes a post on India that projects a rather generous view of the state of affairs and trends in this country. It is interesting to get a foreign perspective on India because, to some extent, it reflects on the kind of media coverage India receives abroad, and thereby, the perception foreigners have of it.

However, a more interesting point in Myrhaf’s post is his perception of Rand’s popularity in India, which reinforces my own view on the matter. He writes:

Along with the mysticism in India you can find many who subscribe to the philosophy of Ayn Rand, a philosophy of reason and reality that is the opposite of mysticism. I was fascinated in the 1980’s to read announcements in The Intellectual Activist of all the cities where Leonard Peikoff’s taped lectures could be heard. After the USA, the country with the most lectures by far was India.

Some time ago, I wrote up a post detailing my reasons for why I believed that Ayn Rand is more respected in India than in the US. The only thing I might be inclined to change in that post is its title. It would be more accurate to say that Ayn Rand *was* more respected in India than in the US. 

Prior to the proliferation of the Internet in India and the opening of its borders, Ayn Rand was known in India primarily through her books–her novels and non-fiction writings–and through the works of Dr. Leonard Peikoff. For this reason, her reputation in India remainded largely untarnished by the pseudo-intellectual rantings of both self-proclaimed Objectivists and non-Objectivists that now proliferate Rand-related forums, blogs, and online communities.

However, presently, with intellectual laziness and sloppiness being made even more feasible for mediocre minds by quick search engines and Wikipedias, rigorous and critical analysis of any idea is easily substituted with the regurgitation of someone else’s thoughts–however invalid, distorted, baseless, caricatured, or sloppy–that can be summoned before one’s passive mind with only a few easy clicks. 

It is no surprise then that the more Internet-savvy of the Indian crowds who may have actually read something of or by Rand–or may have only heard of her–find intellectual shelter in a kind of collectivist “online group-think” phenomena when they engage in pseudo-intellectual smears against her. The depth of depravity of such mediocre minds is that while it is granted that they can produce no original or insightful content of their own, even their smears, criticisms, and snide remarks of someone’s profoundly original ideas are second-handedly sourced and regurgitated.

Therefore, to return to my original point, I believe that while a few of the older generation who read Ayn Rand first-hand and were forced to critically respond to her ideas with their own mental efforts ended up developing an appreciation for her ideas, the more recent crop of Indian intellectuals for the most part neither share that appreciation nor have ever expended the mental effort. Further, all of this is in addition to the fact that the Indian socio-economic scene has changed drastically over the past 17 years, and it no longer resembles the kind of Socialist dystopia as presented in We The Living or the precipitated degradation of the society in Atlas Shrugged, which means that young Indians are becoming more and more removed from the ideas that Rand railed against and therefore fail to fully appreciate the gravity of her ideological positions.

[P.S. Check out the interesting comment thread under Myrhaf’s post.]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Why is Ayn Rand Respected More in India?

Posted by Jerry on September 16, 2006

Ayn Rand is rather well-known in India, though of course not as widely known as she is in the US; however, it can be argued that Rand is certainly viewed more respectfully and with admiration here in India than in the US.

The reasons for that are probably not quite straightforward: it’s not just because Rand’s reputation in India has escaped the lies, mischaracterizations, and attacks of the intellectual and academic elite in the US.

I think most people in India who like reading books, who are intellectuals (whether “elite” or not), who value ideas, etc. have read Ayn Rand. Rand’s works can be described as part of the canon for any serious Indian intellectual; I think I read an article in an Indian newspaper website someday that said something like reading Ayn Rand is the mark of an intellectual thinking person.

However, just because so many have read Rand does not imply that they all have come to admire her. In fact, I mentioned in my earlier post regarding the Ayn Rand at 100 book launch that though many of my colleagues had read The Fountainhead, some of them hated the book–and Ayn Rand–with a passion. Some others found her ideas very unrealistic, impossible, idealistic, and therefore, worthless.

Now, having said that, I would still claim that Rand enjoys much greater respect and admiration here in India today. In my opinion, the main reason for this is that the Indian people who read her actually understand the truth of her arguments, for the most part. Because Indians live in the collectivist, pseudo-statist, tradition-bound, mystic society that India is, the readers grasp the validity of Rand’s ferocious criticisms of these states and agree with her description of life under these conditions.

For example, Indians see the reality around them–of a massive bureaucratic government, socialist and collectivist policies, the influence of mysticism and religion in politics and in every aspect of life, the burden of tradition and familial obligations, the parasitic oppression of “needy” and the lazy on the hard-working average man–and they see how well Rand describes these very scenarios and reveals the root causes of them.

I think the Indians who read Rand identify with her because they feel she is exactly right; because they see what she denounces occurring in their own lives and in their societies. Moreover, Rand’s uniquely powerful, persuasive, bold, and lucid style of writing is perfect for the tastes of the Indian audience who are not into obfuscations, meandering musings, and equivocality. As a culture in general, Indians are rather direct in their communication (verbal and nonverbal), almost to the point of being tactless and crude. Thus, Rand’s admirable style of revealing things as they are, never faking reality, and calling a spade a spade, seems superbly customized for the Indian readership.

The American culture, on the other hand, does not have any of these contexts from which to understand the power of Ayn Rand. Americans have never encountered quite the conditions described in We The Living or that which is the reality in India. Americans have never really had to stand in long lines of ration to obtain food and groceries, face the corruption and stagnation of huge government bureaucracies, deal with corruption as a daily part of living, or have to deal with the politics of a collectivist mob. Americans do not face oppressive familial obligations arising from a collectivist and tradition-bound mentality; neither have they had the kind of mysticism rampant in this part of the world.

In short, Americans haven’t really experienced the full intensity of the consequences of bad ideas–the bad ideas that Rand exposed and harshly denounced. Therefore, to the Americans, Rand comes off as being “shrill” and “extreme”; to an Indian, perhaps, Rand comes off as being relevant, true, and like a “voice in the desert,” the voice of a brilliant mind.

Moreover, Americans are not “direct” people; as a culture, it seems that Americans like facades, appearances, euphemisms, pleasantries, vacuous conversations, avoiding uncomfortable remarks, and being polite. Thus, Rand’s blunt and bold style understandably comes off as being foreign and confrontational, and therefore, unlikeable.

These, in my opinion, are the reasons why Rand is accepted with considerable respect here than she is in the US. Moreover, in India, there is a dearth of intellectuals–much less intellectuals who write brilliant and successful books. Thus, Rand is respected right from the get-go as an intellectual who has published world famous books.

However, I must add this one final observation I have made: Indians also love ape-ing the West, especially America, in many aspects. And by “ape-ing”, I not only mean imitating, I also use it to refer to the Indian’s level of thinking as being at the functioning level of the Apes. Thus, I have noticed that some of the modern “elite” intellectuals in India who have read Rand–and have probably investigated some more about Rand via the internet or other sources–may have come to percieve the famine of interest in Rand-scholarship and lack of respect for her ideas in America. Some of them may have also read misleading reviews or heard of the straw-man criticisms against Rand (like, she was too “black & white,” or too “utopian,” or “teenagers read Rand, then one grows out of it), and they blankly repeat these criticisms and consider themselves “over” Rand, as in, “oh, I’m over her already.”

So, yes. I have noticed some Indian “elite” readers use the same criticisms against Rand that I have read on the Internet and in the US. I believe the “fashion” of being “over Ayn Rand” might be catching on in India also. But let’s hope that that does not happen.

Posted in Ayn Rand, General Work/Life, India, Objectivism, Personal, The Best of Leitmotif | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments »

 
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