Monday, November 27, 2006

The RH Factor: Regarding John Galt and the Myth of the Sacrificial Savior

Mythology throughout the ages, across every kind of culture, contains themes of divine self-sacrifice on behalf of Man. In other words- the thinking goes- in an ideal world the strong will always sacrifice themselves for the weak. It is easy, then, to see the cunning of Karl Marx in tapping into this innate human sensibility.

The legend of Robin Hood (hereafter, RH) is best viewed as a processing unit, much the same as a computer’s binary bit. RH is one of many avenues by which an average person down throughout history has been able to comprehend the goings on of the world, as well as personal performance (or lack thereof) on an achievement based scale. RH could also be considered a benchmark- an average of other people’s ideas regarding what it takes to be morally good. Does such processing do anything to spark originality? Of course not, but some would argue that originality is one thing, morality another. If everyone chose to exist on a set scale of preconceived notions, the world would be the center of the universe, and flat, besides.

And in the same way that the concept of justice encompasses a notion of illegality, so does the rise of the RH myth insinuate the following ideas: Man placates self over lack of achievement- he has given up on achieving, given in to both resentment and jealousy; Man fears success of others in that it emasculates him; Man fears own success- someone is always hiding just around the corner, waiting to take riches away; Man rationalizes all his wrongdoings in accordance with the collectivist culture. In short, RH is one of many bits, or unit labels, that allow people the luxury of not doing their own thinking. Mythologists claim that, in the long past, symbols like RH would have had important evolutionary significance- but hasn’t the age of folklore and legend passed? Some might say yes- that it has given way to the Equity Ideology, to Christianity, even to Science. Rand, however, accurately proposes that the currency of the 20th and 21st centuries is, fittingly, a rather old idea: Cogito Ergo Sum. She realizes the necessity of what many proponents of a science-only philosophy defraud themselves with regard to- and that is ‘a sense of life.’ Science in its strictest sense is no doubt a value, but it is not an immediate value to a majority of people; perhaps Rand’s philosophy (in wider acceptance) would be a blessed first step in that direction, holding objective reality and Man’s individual rationality as its highest tenet, but also allowing for a necessary bliss component.

If nothing else, people who spend their lives scouring the sky and dark alleys for a holy grail of meaning are either those who A: fall victim to the first charismatic fraud they see and become his most willing foot soldiers; or B: fill out their days wondering why they’ve been left to rot while others live in plenty. Logic, actual perceptual faculties, can be Man’s only guide.

Further, it seems as though a discussion that mentions RH must also mention Jean Valjean, who famously stole to feed his family in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Yes, society dictates that stealing is wrong because there is usually another avenue through which to accomplish one’s goals. On some level, though, Rand appeared to tacitly condone Ragnar’s actions with the following qualification made to Dagny, upon the two characters’ first meeting in Galt’s Gulch: ‘Neither Francisco nor John really approves of what I do, but we’re all fighting the battle in our own way.’ The difference –what seems to make either a Jean or a Ragnar more tolerable than RH is that Jean’s crime regarded immediate familial survival and Ragnar stole in order to correct a long standing income tax imbalance that had very nearly strangled the industrialists supporting the nation’s economy! RH, however, had no specific purpose to guide his actions (was he righting widespread societal wrongs? by what measure? who gets to decide?) And certainly, the RH story consists of a vigilante type with NO directed action and NO long term goal- such an individual is toxic: has he any loyalties at all? To repeat, RH condones lack of ambition and dulls people into a fog, whereby they await some crack dispensing whore of a savior who will magically alter their circumstances.

…the source of all [Man’s] evils is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance but the refusal to know. It is the act of un-focusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment. [1017].

It seems reasonable to think that RH could have been an actual man whose legend grew far beyond the scope of his reality in order to suit the needs of various local factions engaged in power struggles- a propagandistic tool. A life is thus lifted to the status of legend so as to dispel localized unrest, to ease the fears of the population (and control their actions) and to remove both the responsibility and the consequence for their actions from the unthinking hand of the populace. Those in power may believe they are saving people the trouble of thinking, but they are acting deceptively, with full malice and forethought, to convince both the local and wider population to substantiate a lie. Any such swindle would result in a false reality and a deluded populace with nothing to do but wait. Perhaps on some level it can be rationalized into a well-intentioned ideology, but no one says ‘well-intentioned’ if they can say ‘efficient’ or ‘capable.’ Well-intentioned does not get things done. Well-intentioned leads to best laid plans gone awry. Well-intentioned leads to excuses, to RH—a man (an idea) not of justice, but of justification. Stealing is stealing is wrong. A is A.

The above is only dangerous if a population refuses to think, or even just carefully consider itself. Folklore, myths and such may control thinking, they may be used to control people, but they also allow for a more directed life purpose. RH was a forerunner to the Equity Ideal; and prior to a time of widespread education, myths and story-telling songs were essential to how people from different families interrelated. The Equity Ideal was a founding tenet of this country which Rand loved so well at its best and, at its worst, still loved better than anywhere else! ‘It is the right (of all) to the pursuit of happiness, not the right to happiness.’

In this way, Mankind emerged from singular family units of hunter/gatherer to a more cohesive, larger society. However one gauges it, Man has always left his mark on society- be it once as a father or a farmer- to now, as a builder of sky scrapers, an innovator, an industrialist.

Within limits, then, such controlling of one’s thoughts may not be a bad thing, provided the receptor always realizes full well the underlying roots of his/her actions. It’s learning to separate the fact from propaganda. Even more, it’s learning to see things in an entirely new way. For example, consider the difference between ancient practices that honored local deities for protection, and the later Christian idea absorbed into judicial systems in many countries, as well as subsequent packagings and re-packagings of nationalism: Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

RH glamorizes unearned rewards and undeserved praise. People are told its OK to exist in a state of Without. Galt’s radio speech called The Law of Identity an agent of retribution. One who negates this law in thought or in deed negates his very existence, his consciousness. There can be no degrees of wrong doing because what society would be left with are criminal acts rationalized away by the slickest debater/lawyer out there. That is why there can be no ‘RH steals because-’ there is only ‘RH steals.’

Further, the legend that’s grown up around RH allows the poor and impoverished to accept the notion of a metaphysical superman who is on their side. Thus, it becomes justifiable that RH steals from the rich and gives to the poor because the poor need it more than the rich. And it gets forgotten that something justifiable is not immediately right.

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe once told journalist Bill Moyers the story of an African doctor who lived in a country plagued by a “justifiable” civil war. The man was tired of seeing friends and relatives slaughtered while a community, an entire nation waited for help to come. The doctor closed his clinic, took up weapons, and went into the wilderness to gather fighters. “I will wait no more,” he said. “I am the awaited.” And because no one knows or remembers that man’s name it’s hard to doubt the veracity of the story. But the point is this: he attempted to answer a need with a planned course of action- he ceased waiting around for someone else to act. It is truly a lethal drug that allows people to sit, and wait, and pray while a world falls apart around them.
Stay tuned for part two... why God believes in Ayn Rand