04 May 2009

"Hey, we're on the same side here."

Today I read these words by Ayn Rand and they struck me with a clarity forceful enough to disperse foggy ideology:

If [former US Republican senator] Barry Goldwater advocates the right principles for the wrong metaphysical reasons, the contradiction is his problem, not ours.

I now understand that it is overzealous and unfair of me to insist that those who share my acceptance of true and good principles should also support the philosophical foundations those principles were built on. While metaphysical and epistemological foundations remain important, the fact that an ally in principle does not embrace such foundations as enthusiastically as I do is poor grounds to accuse them of moral and intellectual evasion. As Rand put it, their contradictions are their own cross to carry and have no averse effect on my own convictions.

That we agree on what constitutes the good and true should be enough to make us teammates striving together towards the same noble goal of making this world a better place. This is irrespective of any particular person’s inability to grasp the right reasons and premises for engaging in this effort. Hopefully in time they will come to understand and appreciate such crucial foundations, but until then I will embrace them and not excommunicate them from my esteem and friendship.

As for those who clearly don’t share the common ideas of what is good and true, my dear friend Lee Cook makes an excellent case for engaging with such people who don’t yet have the ability to think deeply and clearly on how to live well. He argues that if one were to arrogantly retract one’s beneficial influence from others simply because they are presumably ‘lost causes’, how will they learn to correctly harness their intellect to better themselves? Especially if one has the skills and disposition of a teacher or a mentor, and has the opportunity to impart wisdom and knowledge to another human being. Imagine how differently that vulgar, aggressive, bigoted youth – wasting away his life and potential through blind, self-destructive choices – would have turned out if he had an intelligent and virtuous circle of friends and teachers to inform his character with their values.

My friend’s belief offers this challenge to those of us who are intelligent and do aspire to virtue: before bemoaning the savagery and philistinism of the current culture and its followers, we should ask ourselves if we have done what we can to light a spark of the good in someone’s mind and encourage them to fan that spark into a blazing fire that lights dark ignorance and warms cold fear. And this task falls to all of us with the capability to carry it out, whatever our philosophical motivations. We need all hands on deck.


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