The following is a letter to the editor from Luke Mitchell, a student of Objectivism and a training journalist in England.
When I was nineteen the chaos of my teenage years came to a head. I regarded life as hard to manage because of the weather, or the season, or just how I felt that day. I was inclined to a kind of helplessness which became all too comfortable. While I managed successes as a result of hard work, I didn’t quite have the right work ethic. I didn’t put as much effort into revising my papers or maintaining a healthy, forward-moving mental state as I should have.
My first attempt to fix this with finality was through apathy; running away from the apparent pangs of existence in order to solve them. The logical fallacy is clear.
The solution I was looking for was not apathy–it was quite the opposite–I was looking for reason. A major contributing factor to the chaos that I subjected myself to was my fetishization of an ethereal life that had no objective parameters, one where feeling ruled. The realisation that there is order to the universe that makes it comprehensible to those who are rational changed me radically and infinitely for the better.
Reading Atlas Shrugged galvanized my healthy disdain for authoritarianism, but also thrilled me with portrayals of people that cared about their work and themselves as two interlocking entities–apparently selfishly but, vitally, rationally. The rational self-interest that Rand’s characters live up to is often misrepresented by those who omit the key aspect of mutual respect inherent in the idea. As one of the characters in Atlas Shrugged puts it: “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
Growing up, I experienced the dogmatic teaching of altruism and conformity that pervades the cultural environment. In school, I was taught to memorise rather than understand and to imitate rather than think. These two components stripped me of a sense of autonomy over life; but Objectivism provided an antidote to this. Luckily, I had great mentors who broke the mould dictated largely by the schooling system and who helped me understand the world with a critical eye–helping to build that understanding and autonomy that I carry with me today.
The core tenet of individual freedom is inextricably linked to this autonomy; freedom necessitates self-reliance and from there provides the best condition for success. As a result of reading Rand and a process of careful reasoning, I developed a sense of autonomy and stopped relying almost exclusively on the advice of others to make choices and I freed myself from subordination to whim. This helped me to choose definitively that I want to train as a journalist, and do so as one that holds a world view in contradiction, at points, with popular opinion.
Here, Rand’s view of epistemology played a vital role in my understanding. Rand’s view is that reality is concrete, A is A, and the mind is the tool by which perceptions are integrated and concepts are formed. Clearly and succinctly, Rand explains that perceptual awareness is the arithmetic and concept-formation is the algebra: man, as a being of volitional consciousness, can only contend with reality if he understands that reality is what it is. For me, this meant understanding that reality is absolute and not simply what I wish it to be. As a result, I saved a lot of time where I would have been caught in the gripes of ‘if only’…
Off the back of this, we return to Objectivism’s antidote to chaos. A key realisation for me was that the chance of failure in life would be greatly reduced if I were to decide to do one thing that I enjoyed with dedicated purpose over time. This is reflected in a quotation from Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology:
The degree of uncertainty and contradictions in a man’s hierarchy of values is the degree to which he […] will fail in his attempts at […]purposeful action.
To strip one’s self of a mystic value system and substitute it for an acknowledgement of objective reality is to sow the seeds for potential achievement.
When I saw that level of achievement reflected narratively in the lives of the likes of Howard Roark (a head-strong architect) and Dagny Taggart (an equally head-strong railroad executive), the outlook-altering effect of Objectivism really solidified. Rand held man to be heroic and built characters that, above all, aspire. In The Fountainhead, when explaining his reasoning for choosing the sculptures of Steven Mallory to adorn his building, Roark says: “I think you’re the best sculptor we’ve got. I think it, because your figures are not what men are, but what men could be – and should be. Because you’ve gone beyond the probable and made us see what is possible, but possible only through you.” What man could be is as exciting as an idea gets; to grant one’s self the absolute, unwavering permission to succeed.
A key realization of mine from reading Rand is that true liberation is only accomplished when self-worth has its stigma removed: it is life’s psychological currency and one that, rationally, we shouldn’t be afraid to utilise.
Now, in the infancy of my prospective career in long-form political journalism, I carry wisdom laid forth in the form of those characters; Dagny Taggart built her railroads against the odds and with a passionate severity, as Howard Roark built his buildings in the face of sharp criticism and adversity. Metal clanks, stone is laid, and pen goes to paper: all with the commonality of the power of man’s mind.
The Undercurrent is happy to offer student writers a platform for their ideas. Their submissions do not necessarily represent the views of the publication at large.