The Gulch and the Cave
So I read Atlas Shrugged and I liked it. I ended up heading over to UCLA and attending a lecture on Objectivism and Ayn Rand philosophy just to hear more about it. But here is what I don’t like about it–the idea that it is somehow noble to just quit and leave. Yeah sure, society was awful to them and the weak used the virtues of the strong against themselves, so on and so forth. How is this not any different than the Allegory of the Cave?
I thought Plato wrapped it up nicely for us. Suppose all we could see were shadows against the wall of a cave, couldn’t we be forgiven for thinking that that was reality? Let’s say you escape from the cave, and you see the situation for what it was: an illusion. The burden–the Philosopher’s Burden–is the price you pay for a peek outside the darkness. If you’ve been privileged enough to be exposed to the good life, if you start to figure out some truth and see the shadows and dust for all that they are–you have to go back. Of course that’s not the best incentive, but if it was about weighing what was easier or came with the fewest consequences, we’d just lay around all day.
They might beat you, or mock you, or laugh at you for your persistence but it is all we have–to try and move collectively from one plane to the next. As Alinsky said, history is a relay race of runners with the torch of idealism.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just me but I agree with that. You have to get up each morning and try again–even if it never works, even if they never listen. I’m not saying that the world needs more evangelists, in fact, they’re part of the problem (they propagated the illusions in the first place) . What we need more of though, are people willing to head back down to the Cave. There is that Roosevelt quote about the gladiators in the arena, or the Aurelius line about how nothing provokes change like seeing the virtues embodied in the people around you.
Even if you push it just one step forward, so long as you hand it off to the next in line. Maybe it’s just me but it seems like there is more dignity in that than in cavorting around in a hidden valley in Colorado reciting verbose creeds to unlock magical doors. I’m not saying I want to die on a train like Eddie Willers, not knowing what I was working for or why, but if they’d never turned it around and the world had ended, I’d have rather gone out as Dagny Taggart than as John Galt. Because at least she tried.