Welcome to the The Undercurrent. Before we begin, let us tell you what we are not. We are not a political journal (though politics will be discussed); we are not a humor magazine (though we have every intention of being, at times, knee-slappingly funny); we are not a literary publication (though rest assured, arts and culture will get plenty of coverage). Our aim is deeper and more basic than all these. We aim to introduce you to a practical philosophy–one that could radically alter politics, culture, and every avenue of your life.
You might ask, how can a philosophy be practical? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Aren’t philosophers those bearded-professor fellows who sit around and engage in idle banter about “possible worlds,” while the rest of us go about dealing with real issues of this world?
There was one philosopher who disagreed. According to Ayn Rand–the woman whose novels and ideas inspired the founding of this publication–philosophy is an indispensable tool for achieving a successful, happy life.
Ayn Rand has inspired thousands of readers to live purposeful, fulfilling lives in pursuit of their most ambitious dreams. Her novels, most famously The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, present the dramatic stories of men and women who erected their own earthly paradise by holding fast to their moral principles.
But her heroes do not resemble the usual “moral types” in literature: they are not chaste “Christ figures” who die for a noble cause or hopelessly deluded Don Quixote types who live in their own moral dream world. They are steel industrialists, business executives, architects, scientists, students. They do not martyr themselves to save mankind or sacrifice their fortunes to save the rainforest; they let no one lay claim to their bank accounts, their independent judgment, or their lives. And they each adhere uncompromisingly to a code of moral principles.
In the media coverage surrounding Ayn Rand’s 100th birthday, many articles chided the “naive idealism” of her novels. The New York Times called her “the last Romantic,” as though depicting heroes who achieve their ambitions was a thing of the past; the New York Sun sarcastically accused her novels of “epic implausibility.”
But as Onkar Ghate eloquently addresses in “The Appeal of Ayn Rand” (printed below), Ayn Rand’s idealism is not naive; she offers a vision that is achievable and real, and she presents the principles one must follow in order to achieve it. The modern world finds this moral idealism impossible to live up to because it is jaded by two warring philosophies, both of which pit moral values against the practical requirements of life.
Today when you hear talk about “moral principles,” you probably think right away of stuffy religious zealots–the ones who go around denouncing all sexual pleasure as “corrupt,” insisting on censorship of “indecent” movies and coarse radio shows, guilt-tripping you into giving your money away to religious charities, and generally trying to squeeze all the fun out of life. Anyone who tries to live up to these ideals is widely considered silly and naive–which is no wonder, since most eventually “crack” under the pressure of their sex drives or the tightness of their wallets.
The Christian ethic has given values a bad name. The religionists’ philosophy, which has monopolized the field of moral values for ages, is as alive and kicking as ever: in the opponents of life-saving stem cell research; in those who would ban homosexuality on the grounds that “the Bible says so;” and in those who raise up as heroes the soldiers who “die for freedom”–so long as it’s not their own freedom, but the Iraqis’ (see our cover article). In short, they preach a philosophy of self-sacrifice–which cannot be lived up to in life, since its ultimate ideal is death.
Is it any wonder that idealism is dismissed as silly, naive, and impractical, when such is the only ideal we are offered? With this as the mainstream view of what constitutes values and principles, it is no surprise that being totally principled is considered impossible. To say something is painted in “black-and-white”–meaning, in clear-cut terms of good and evil–is as good as calling it shallow; stories of virtuous characters who achieve their ideals are grouped together with fairy tales.
Yet it is deeply ironic that our culture regards philosophy and talk of principles as a bunch of hot air, because that view itself stems from a certain widespread philosophy. Understandably frustrated with the Christian ethics, which condemns the pursuit of wealth and pleasure and generally stifles personal fulfillment, the relativist camp in philosophy has turned away from values and principles as such. Skeptical of the Christian moralists’ claim that values are dictated by some entity external to man (by God, by society, etc.), they gave up the quest for values–and replaced it with ambitionless, moment-to-moment impulsiveness. This view, that moral principles are baseless and arbitrary and are ultimately irrelevant to life, is called relativism.
The result is manifest in today’s society. In fact, this anti-value philosophy courses like poison through our culture’s veins. Consider: the champions of political correctness, who believe that any act of passing judgment is an act of prejudice; the champions of modern art, who equate a can of feces with the Mona Lisa; the friend who is taught by his professors that “morality is a social convention,” and then destroys his college GPA by getting wasted every night.
This is the alternative with which you are presented. The choice is to obey the principles set out by an otherworldly authority, sacrificing yourself and your judgment to a “higher ideal,” or to sacrifice ideals and judgment altogether, and be blown along by any social wind. Both choices, fundamentally, demand of you the same sacrifice: your self. Your own thinking mind, which experiences, judges, feels, and appreciates values, must be abdicated; either it must subordinate itself to God’s will or it must shut down and be driven by chance whim.
Thankfully, Ayn Rand discovered an alternative to this bleak choice. Values, according to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, are neither dutiful commandments prescribing proper behavior, nor are they trivial social conventions that can be flouted capriciously. Values are the things which you value, the goals that you seek, by a conscious, carefully charted course, in order to improve your own life. A fulfilling career; a hobby you enjoy; a satisfying romantic relationship–these are values. It is in the attainment of your values–your happiness–that philosophy should aid you. Now you see why Ayn Rand called her philosophy, Objectivism, “a philosophy for living on earth.”
Given, then, that philosophy should guide you in achieving your own values, who should be the judge of what they are and what you must do to achieve them? Well, logically enough–you are. Not God, not society, nor any other alleged “high inquisitor” who seeks to run your life, but you, who chooses your values and must take the actions to achieve them. It is your reasoning mind–which can survey the world around you, find out what it has to offer, and project the consequences of your actions–who should be the highest arbiter. Only you can get inside your own mind and decide what career (or partner or movie) will make you happiest. When your friends and your emotions are pushing you to go out and have a few extra beers on a Tuesday night, it is your mind that projects long-term, and sees that studying for tomorrow’s test will bring much greater eventual rewards (and heck, think how many more six-packs of beer you can buy with a 100 grand salary!).
Just as you cannot construct a car without a set of principles (or instructions) to tell you how, so you cannot build a happy life without a principled method. Ayn Rand, by meticulous, scientific observation of human beings, the world around us, and what we require to survive successfully in that world, discovered the method. Our challenge is to understand it with our own minds and apply it for ourselves. This publication is here to help, by showing you how philosophy is applied to daily life, and with what consequence.
Philosophy, unbeknownst to most, runs through every nook and cranny of our culture. It is like an undercurrent that flows beneath our feet and determines our direction. Today, religion and its alleged opposite, relativism, are steering our culture toward disaster. But a new undercurrent–which has inspired thousands of people to live purposeful, productive lives and vigorously pursue their values–is slowly but surely spreading. It is Ayn Rand’s life-giving philosophy of Objectivism. With your help, it can win.
Gena Gorlin is a freshman enrolled at Tufts University and the New England Conservatory.