What is wrong with the world? [1 of 2]

To understand any world view, one of the key questions that needs to be asked is “What does this world view say is wrong with the world?” The answer to that question tells a lot about what a person believes and how s/he looks at life.

A primary concern in The Soul of Atlas is to juxtapose two world views: 1) Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and 2) Christianity. I have seen each of these through the eyes of the two men who have shaped my life. In this two-part post, the question is answered from each of these two perspectives. 

Four questions helped me understand and compare each world view: What is the nature of the universe? What is an individual’s highest pursuit? What is wrong with the world? How do you fix it? Even as I recount them, my experiences with Dad and John afforded many opportunities to think, compare, and search. (The Soul of Atlas, p 20)

This excerpt from The Soul of Atlas is taken from a section entitled “The Soul of the Problem.” It introduces the question “What’s wrong with the world?” and seeks an answer from the perspective of each of these two men. My stepfather, John Aglialoro, is a businessman, entrepreneur, and a devout follower of Ayn Rand. I discuss his answer in the passages below.

I honestly wouldn’t characterize either of my fathers as a whiner, but it seemed that I was always hearing about the world’s problems. Watching politicians defend their actions on Sunday morning talk shows offered John one of his favorite platforms for expounding on the essence of what is wrong with the world today. There was plenty of armchair quarterbacking, even though our home was a football-free zone. Instead of the big game, our NFL showdowns were the economy, the culture, and especially the government. The party affiliation mattered a lot less than the approach to the issues. John’s rants were by no means random. There was always a pattern, a theme, to describe what was wrong with the world, and it lined up with Ayn Rand’s contention, namely that the ills of the world could be traced back to bad philosophy. And bad philosophy leads to bad morality and bad behavior.
John said, “The world is full of bad philosophy, bad ideas about the way the world works. Ideas have consequences, you know.” Because of the bad philosophy we enter into, we settle for something less than what sustains and embraces us, something less than what is truly satisfying. Atlas Shrugged describes a world where train wrecks, market collapses, industrial destruction, and failing business empires are tied inextricably to such philosophy. Far from an irrelevant discipline relegated to the ivory tower of academia, philosophy is at the heart of the world’s predicament. Bad philosophy leads to the violation of an individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Bad morality follows. The morality embodied by the producers in Atlas Shrugged sets itself against the prevailing morality of the world. The producers are motivated by positive values—life, happiness, achievement. They exalt an individual’s ability to create value, which increases their enjoyment of life. Their exploiters are motivated by negatives—death, misery, destruction. Instead of creating value to sustain themselves, they focus on taking value produced by others and distributing it.
Moreover, Rand places any faith-based world view in this category, and Christianity is at the top of her list for several reasons. There is not enough tolerance—let alone adulation and celebration—for the men and women of the mind, the only ones creating value, wealth, and well-being.
According to Rand, it is not only the religious who are problematic, there are actually two groups that attempt to live in opposition to the Objectivist philosophy: Attila and the Witch Doctor. Rand introduces Attila and the Witch Doctor in For the New Intellectual, but similar examples pervade her fiction. In Rand’s view, they cast off objective Reality and, with it, Man’s true nature. They live in a manner that is not consistent with Man’s nature. They are what’s wrong with the world. Ayn Rand calls the purveyors of force looters, thieves, criminals, and “Attila” (as in “the Hun”) because they take what is valuable by force. They violate the rights of another, specifically his right to property.For Rand, the problems that exist today are always traced to such arbitrary revelation, such bad philosophy: the degree that the world departs from the Morality of Life. According to Rand, death is the only state that satisfies the mystics’ desire to escape. They want to avoid the reality of living in a manner that is consistent with Man’s nature, because evading the true nature of Reality leads to the inevitable consequences of living for someone else. Their own lives are not the standard of value. Poverty, suffering, destruction, and death are the consequences of their moral code—and the real motive of the code. Mystics have defaulted on the responsibility to think, act, and produce; they feel envious hatred toward, and wish to destroy, those who have not defaulted. When their mysticism of Faith fails, they resort to force.Rand articulates only three choices of how to validate our knowledge. She argues that the only valid choice—the choice consistent with Man’s existence and nature—is Reason. Anything else is arbitrary; it has no basis in Reality. Faith, superstition, ideas that issue from Man’s consciousness—anything opposed to Reason—will ultimately be useless in sustaining and enhancing the life of the individual. When James Taggart has exhausted every avenue known to him, he resorts to physical force.That, in Ayn Rand‘s view, is the crux of the problem. Bad philosophy is at the root, and the problems we face today–war, violence, corruption, and failure–can be traced back to that faulty foundation.

The second of this two-part series will answer the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” from the perspective of the other man who shaped my life. My biological father. In sharp contrast to John, the man I call “Dad” is a doctor, farmer, and a thoughtful Christian. He answers quite differently.

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2 thoughts on “What is wrong with the world? [1 of 2]

  1. Theists like Chesterton have to assume that god created a perfect universe to begin with, then come up with rationalizations to “explain” why it doesn’t look that way now.

    Of course, if you reject the initial premise and just assume that the universe has always operated in a sloppy, haphazard fashion, with humans as late-arriving hitchhikers produced through an evolutionary process, then the problem goes away.

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