Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Moral Stature At The Mercy of Others

"This, he (Hank Rearden) thought, was the final abortion of the creed of collective interdependence, the creed of non-identity, non-property, non-fact:  the belief that the moral stature of one is at the mercy of the action of another." Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

I have thinking a great deal over the last week and a half about the question of shared morality

This thought process started even earlier than that, after the Lockdown of 2020 was initiated.  At that time, the message trumpeted far and wide was that we were all responsible for each other, that my actions by staying home, covering up, potentially staying away from all public and private activities, were the correct and right ones.  My appetite for risk and my actions were putting others in the line of fire and I - if I did not change my behavior - would become the subject of societal wrath and shunning due to my moral failings to care for others.  My desire to go out was "selfish"; my staying in was "moral".

This has continued to extend into the world, now with people making assumptions - moral assumptions - about my wearing of a mask when I am out and about and my social distancing or lack thereof.  This is required at many business still - and being a respecter of the idea that you get to set the conditions for your business and I get to decide if I want to do business with you, I either adhere to the conditions or choose not to shop there.  But the underlying sense that my wearing of a mask or not wearing of a mask is a moral issue and allows moral decisions to be made about me -without knowing anything else about me - is alarming.

This has been building for years, of course.  If one did not comment about the critical issues of the day, one was uncaring.  We are rapidly moving beyond this phase to where if one does not comment on the critical issues of the day, one is evil.

Enter the quote above from Atlas Shrugged.

As you may recall, Hank Rearden (he of Rearden Steel) has been confronted by his family because it has been revealed to them that, after years of mocking him openly and being derisive of his philosophy and industry yet being completely dependent on him financially, he has terminated the allowances with which he had supported them for years.  His ex-wife, Lillian, in an attempt to disgrace him, shouts out that she had an affair.  At that moment, Hank thinks the line at the beginning of this post.

"The belief that moral stature is at the mercy of the action of another."

Here we find the core of the issue:  that others have not only have the right and duty to judge our actions, but they have the right and duty to judge our morality if we do not meet their expectations of our actions.

To be clear,  this ends very poorly.  At some point individuals like myself are going to be pushed away from people espousing these beliefs because given the choice to put my moral standing at the command of another - another who, for various and sundry reasons, will never see me as anything other than an immoral person unless I 100% agree with everything they say and therefore that I act "correctly" - I will come quickly and irrevocably to the decision that I do not need that person in my life and I am no longer willing to tolerate that behavior:

"They did not know it - and their panic was the last of their struggle to escape the knowledge - that his (Hank's) merciless sense of justice, which had been their only hold on him, which had made him take any punishment and give them the benefit of every doubt, was now turned against them - that same force that had made him tolerant, was now the force that made him ruthless - that the justice that would forgive miles of innocent errors of knowledge, would not forgive a single step taken in conscious evil." - Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

For me, of course, it will be nothing remarkable:  a pulling away, a disconnection, an establishing of relationships with like minded individuals who (to use the negative of the statement) do not put my moral stature at the mercy of their action.  As this happens, of course, I (and those like me) will probably find that we have been greater enabler of things than we had anticipated. Or as Rand has Rearden think:  "But he was through with granting respect to any terms other than his own."

Atlas is starting to shrug.  I wonder what happens when he drops the weight entirely.

4 comments:

  1. Glenfilthie4:41 AM

    I see people foam at the mouth with rage at the mere mention of Rand’s name... and I don’t see one thing wrong with it.

    It’s nuts now and getting worse. If you don’t embrace homosexuals, you’re a phobe and beneath contempt, if you have white skin you are a racist without lifting a finger or saying a word against them. If you are a man, you are responsible for the oppression of disturbed, green haired freaks with face jewelry you never even met. If you spank a misbehaving child, you’re an abuser. If you own a gun you’re a nut case.

    You shift and struggle under that load... but it can be darned hard to throw away. I think it’s because men like us don’t mind the weight if carrying it makes sense, and there’s something in it for us. Perhaps we even need it on some level?

    Our countries exist in a moral and ethical vacuum and something is going to rise and fill it.

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    1. Glen (and I think I have said this before), I have a confused relationship with Rand. She and I certainly differ on things like a belief in God (she did not) and sexual morality (she was very much not traditional Christian in that area either). Yet I cannot argue with her economics and her understanding of how political systems become corrupt through poor economic practices.

      Your comments remind me of a second thought: Societies which allow free speech and free thought allow for passive participation or acceptance of ideas or passive disagreement with those ideas. It is only totalitarian states - Communism, Fascism, Theocratic states - that demand active disavowal of opinions in order to prove that one is a good cadre member.

      The only other reality - one conveniently missed - is that, as we are often reminded, we are not in the 19th or early 20th century before. The economic system is much more fragile and the food supply chain not what it used to be. Yes, that is a weapon against some but it is also a weapon against the state. States that make promises they cannot keep eventually disappear.

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  2. I read Atlas Shrugged a couple of years ago, and have pointed to it quite a few times in reference to current events since then. I realize that one can find parallels to real life in any work of fiction, but I've never seen fiction so closely paralleling real life, as I have with Atlas Shrugged. Beneath everything happening in the book, there's the undertow of Socialism. The sheep of the Left doesn't get it; you give "the public" free healthcare, free college ed, "universal basic income," and the like, and SOMEONE'S got to pay for it. Those "someones" say "Hey; those guys are sitting on their asses and living off income taken from me," and they decide to stop working as well. At that point, there's nothing for the society to do but collapse... QUICKLY... All one need do is look at Venezuela...

    I too, have retreated from conversation with the likes of these. I'm told that by stating my opinion, I'm robbing them of theirs. Meanwhile, they demonize my opinion, and legislate away my rights. No... I've had enough... Psychologically, I find myself going Galt...

    Sadly, being able to say "I tired to tell you..." will be little consolation after Titanic has foundered...

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    1. Pete, I have noticed that it seems to eerily predictive as well. Alarmingly so. Given the right set of circumstances, I can see more and more people living off others - after all, this already seems to be a problem post Lock Down (Worth more in unemployment and extra money than working.

      "Psychologically going Galt". Yes, that is where I find myself going as well, retreating into a place where I am working on preservation and enduring, not engaging in pointless battles.

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