I’m going to start my series of critiques of Atlas Shrugged with what I think is Rand’s best point. There are several problems I find with the book and the philosophy, which I’ll be going into later, but I don’t want those to overshadow what is valuable.
A moral life exalts and expands the best within us. Self-esteem is a key to this, based on actual values and achievements. Those values and achievements stand on their own, not in the shadow of our failures.
When you achieve something, your pride should not be discarded because you did not achieve some other or greater thing. You have a right to pride in your achievements. This bears emphasizing, and I believe is a key point from AS: You have a right to pride in your achievements. You have this right because it is an acknowledgment of reality. It is not evil or inappropriate to say “this thing I have done is of value.” To deny the value of what you have done is a lie. A lie for the sake of humility is still a lie. Or it is an indication that you are unable to determine value from worthlessness. If you cannot tell the difference, if you cannot see value when you create it, then you are incapable of life.
Life demands that we know value from worthlessness. We must know what is food and what is poison. We must know what protects us and what harms us. If we know these things, we understand value. We must apply this same truthful eye to our own accomplishments, and assign them the value they deserve. If we look at good food and reject it as insufficient, our body will starve. If we look at our own value and reject it as unworthy, our spirit will starve.
Everyday I hear people taking great pride in their hardships, trying to outdo each other over what suffering they have borne, but seldom what accomplishments they have achieved. This has several impacts. First, it destroys the speaker’s own sense of value. Second, it limits the listener’s pride in his own accomplishments. Have you ever had a discussion with someone and after hearing about all their troubles, seen your own accomplishments as something to be hidden, or of no value in the face of such misery in others? Third, it establishes suffering as a measure of status, driving others to enhance their suffering rather than their strength. Have you found yourself doing this? We’ve replaced one-upping each other with one-downing each other. We “brag” about having less money, less smarts, more pressure and less time than others, with only the claim that we survive it somehow and no plan or even goal to actively change it. How can this enhance life?
Human life is about more than suffering. It is about more than “not failing.” Life is not a thing we do while waiting for death. This is one of Rand’s key points, and one I really do agree with. The point of life is joy, not the survival of suffering. And key to that is an honest sense of the value of self, without cynicism or modesty. You should spend your life improving the value of that self, and recognizing when you do so.