Sunday, August 2, 2015

Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" and John Galt: the allegory of The Fall Of Man

I wrote last month about Ayn Rand's magnum opus, "Atlas Shrugged" and the role of its enigmatic hero, John Galt. As said before, the thread of biblical symbolism runs deep in the story, which is made explicit in Chapter Seven of Book Three, when John Galt makes his "address to the world": an extraordinary monologue consisting of many thousands of words.

Galt's monologue is his "manifesto". In earlier threads on this topic, the author compared the role of Galt to that of Satan/ Lucifer in biblical symbolism - Galt and his followers as "fallen angels" who have rebelled against the rule of God/"government" and been forced to flee, so that they can live according to their free-will. In the same way that Satan would rather be "a lord in hell that a slave in heaven", Galt and his followers would rather be free and in "exile" than be a slave to government.

Galt's monologue explains that he equates God and faith with slavery and irrationality. As Lucifer from the Old Testament was the angel that challenged God's unquestioned power, Galt is the doing the same here. As Lucifer is the "agent of free-will" and the seeker of knowledge, Galt is the same here. John Galt sees the morality of God and the "social" morality of government as the essence of the same "evil": the idea that people should submit their will to another and should live for the sake of another. To Galt, this is anathema, and is innately against the interests of man, ultimately bringing about the death of humanity.

"Original Sin" and The Tree Of Knowledge

Galt talks in some detail about the concept of "Original Sin", and how this permeates the morality of "government" as much as that of God. As God labels man as innately irrational and evil, so, by implication, does government: that men are irrational, evil beings that can only be controlled by government. But as Galt says:
"A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice and outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can neither be good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man's sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man's nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, justice and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched"
So creating the idea of "Original Sin" is an act that Galt/ Satan opposes for its immorality; it demonstrates the innate evil of God and "government".

Galt continues, by explicitly talking about the Tree Of Knowledge:
"What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declared that he ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge - he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil - he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor - he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire - he acquired the capacity for sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy - all the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man's fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but the essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was - that robot in the Garden Of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labor, without love - he was not man. Man's fall...was that he gained the virtues required to live. These virtues, by their standard, are his Sin. His guilt, they charge, is that he lives"

Galt, then, is "the serpent", who wishes for Adam and Eve to become "like God", a rational being. God's "evil" is that he punished Adam and Eve for becoming free-thinking, "moral" beings. God wanted them to remain in the Garden Of Eden as his unthinking, helpless slaves: God would look after them, giving them all they needed, provided they did not question his authority. Galt sees "government" in the same light: an entity that exists to prevent man from bettering himself, an entity that preaches - in Galt''s words - a "Morality Of Death".

"The Morality Of Death"

This "Morality Of Death", according to Galt, has two types of teacher:
"The mystics of spirit and the mystics of muscle, whom you call the spiritualists and the materialists; those who believe in consciousness without existence and those who believe in existence without consciousness. Both demand the surrender of your mind; one to their revelations, the other to their reflexes. Their moral codes are alike, and so are their aims: in matter - the enslavement of man's body, in spirit -  the destruction of his mind.
"The good, say the mystics of the spirit, is God, a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man's power to conceive - a definition that invalidates man's consciousness and nullifies his concepts of existence. The good, say the mystics of muscle, is Society - a thing which they define as an organism that possesses no physical form, a super-being embodied in no-one in particular and everyone in general except yourself. Man's mind, say the mystics of the spirit, should be subordinated to the will of God. Man's mind, say the mystics of muscle, must be subordinated to the will of Society. The purpose of man's life, say both, is to become an abject zombie, who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question. His reward, say the mystics of the spirit, will be given to him beyond the grave. His reward, say the mystics of muscle, will be his great-grandchildren"

Man's life is therefore sacrificial, either to God or society. This is what Galt finds "evil": man is not destined to live, but to die; not to think, but to serve. As the old adage goes, the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Galt finds these values as the opposite to man's nature; by following these values, man's only outcome will be his own death.

Man can therefore only prosper without God and government: this is the conclusion to be reached. Man can only be moral without these two entities clouding his values, forcing him to work against his own self-interest.
According to Galt, "Selfishness" is not the "evil" that brings down man to his basest vices, but conversely, the thing which helps him see what is clearly rational for his own benefit. Galt sees the idea of "sacrifice" having been subverted by the "Morality of Death". Sacrifice  - as Galts defines it, "the surrender of a value" - has become the justification for creating a more "moral" society, where people work for each other. But as Galt sees it, sacrifice is "a morality for the immoral", telling people to renounce the material world and to divorce your values from matter. This is ultimately contradictory and hypocritical, according to Galt.

Galt's morality is for selfishness and independence, loving only those things worthy of respect. In the Garden Of Eden, Lucifer, as the serpent, was showing Adam and Eve the way to become "like God". In "Atlas Shrugged", John Galt is showing the way to become "a man", instead of a slave.
Galt subverts the common telling of The Fall Of Man, into the opposite, man's evolution to a rational being, which God then "punishes".

It is telling that "God-fearing" people always fear the future and long for the simple certainties of the past: a time before modern technology and industrialisation, the "Satanic mills" and "dog-eat-dog capitalism". "God-fearing" people see modern life as immoral and unforgiving, whereas people like John Galt see modern developments as a sign of man's progress. Ayn Rand saw Capitalism as the only "moral" system of development. The "Satanic mills" and the metal foundries of the industrialised world look a great deal like the biblical descriptions of Hell; fitting then that someone like John Galt would belong there.

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