I wish you could be here to walk along the sandy beaches with me, and we could spend the late evenings talking about these ideas rather than my imagining us discussing them. It helps me to clarify them, to picture how they fit into our running dialogue.
Speaking of which, recent thoughts have culminated in changes to my ideas about the differences among things, and what Bahá’u’lláh refers to by saying there is no differentiation in creation. I remember on that one evening you insisted on their being an absolute standard of what is good, suggesting that something is good by its own right, and not simply because someone thinks it’s so.
I see now where my disagreement came from: A belief that Quality and God are separate, and that therefore one who sees only God does not see Quality. But recently I am thinking that Quality IS God, or rather, the Light of that unknowable Sun. Thus, something that demonstrates quality is revealing the divine – most abundantly so in people.
We can say then that Quality itself is the Absolute, because it is the Face of God, and that people vary in their perception of it, and in the choices they make to manifest it. The Manifestations are the most perfect revealers of this Quality – as shown by their drastic impact on the darkness of prevailing society. Thus, it is only natural that their Self and then their Revelation should stand as the two major proofs of their Being.
So now I feel as though you were aiming at something instinctively, something we all know naturally: that Quality is our soul’s desire. When I described a world-view in which Quality was eliminated entirely, what was left?
With all this in mind, I would like to quote for you one page from Atlas Shrugged. This page neatly epitomizes the book’s message, while at the same time showing how these ideas carry into other areas we’ve talked about, such as joy. I think you will hear in James Taggart’s voice an echo of that attitude you’ve encountered often, suggesting that we should feel suffering rather than joy if we want to be spiritual.
From Atlas Shrugged, p. 248: James Taggert is the main speaker, whose sister has just accomplished what the young girl is praising him for: building a new railroad line and suspension bridge when no one thought it possible and everyone opposed it. James has grown to hate accomplishment; it feels like a personal attack to them. He thinks that those who do great things and aren’t ashamed of doing them are the worst kind of egotists, and that to expect any payment in exchange for such labor is the worst kind of materialism. Of course, he is happy to profit by his sister’s success; one of the main theme’s of Rand’s book is the undercurrent in society that feels people who do great things should not expect personal benefit from them, that society has a right to what they’ve produced, and that they should feel guilty for producing them while others are choosing not to. This meme was made law in the communist state of her birth, as expressed in the Marxian maxim: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” When need is seen as more virtuous than ability, Atlas should shrug, rather than try to hold up such a world.
“You dislike your sister, Mr. Taggart? Why?”
“Because she thinks she’s so good. What right has she to think it? What right has anybody to think he’s good? Nobody’s any good.”
“You don’t mean it, Mr. Taggart.”
“I mean, we’re only human beings – and what’s a human being? A weak, ugly, sinful creature, born that way, rotten in his bones – so humility is the one virtue he ought to practice. He ought to spend his life on his knees, begging to be forgiven for his dirty existence. When a man thinks he’s good – that’s when he’s rotten. Pride is the worst of all sins, no matter what he’s done.”
“But if a man knows that what he’s done is good?”
“Then he ought to apologize for it.”
“To those who haven’t done it.”
“I … I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t. It takes years and years of study in the higher reaches of the intellect. Have you ever heard of The Metaphysical Contradictions of the Universe, by Dr. Simon Pritchett?” She shook her head, frightened. “How do you know what’s good, anyway? Who knows what’s good? Who can ever know? There are no absolutes – as Dr. Pritchett has proved irrefutably. Nothing is absolute. Everything is a matter of opinion. How do you know that the bridge hasn’t collapsed? You only think it hasn’t. How do you know that there’s any bridge at all? You think that a system of philosophy – such as Dr. Pritchett’s – is just something academic, remote, impractical? But it isn’t. Oh, boy, how it isn’t!”
“But, Mr. Taggert, the Line you built –”
“Oh, what’s the Line, anyway? It’s only a material achievement. Is that of any importance? Is there any greatness in anything material? Only a low animal can gape at that bridge – when there are so many higher things in life. But do the higher things ever get recognition? Oh no! Look at people. All that hue and cry and front pages about some trick arrangement of some scraps of matter. Do they care about any nobler issues? Do they ever give front pages to a phenomenon of the spirit? Do they notice or appreciate a person of finer sensibility? And you wonder whether it’s true that a great man is doomed to unhappiness in this depraved world!” He leaned forward, staring at her intently. “I’ll tell you … I’ll tell you something … unhappiness is the hallmark of virtue. If a man is unhappy, really, truly unhappy, it means that he is a superior sort of person.”
He saw the puzzled, anxious look of her face. “But, Mr. Taggart, you got everything you wanted. Now you have the best railroad in the country, the newspapers call you the greatest business executive of the age, they say the stock of your company made a fortune for you overnight, you got everything you could ask for – aren’t you glad of it?”
In the brief space of his answer, she felt frightened, sensing a sudden fear within him. He answered, “No.”
She didn’t know why her voice dropped to a whisper. “You’d the rather the bridge had collapsed?”
“I haven’t said that!” he snapped sharply. The he shrugged and waved his hand in a gesture of contempt. “You don’t understand.”
“I’m sorry … Oh, I know that I have such an awful lot to learn!”
“I am talking about a hunger for something much beyond that bridge. A hunger that nothing material will ever satisfy.”
“What, Mr. Taggart? What is it you want?”
“Oh, there you go! The moment you ask, ‘What it is?’ you’re back in the crude, material world where everything’s got to be tagged and measured. I’m speaking of things that can’t be named in materialistic words … the higher realms of the spirit, which man can never reach … What’s any human achievement, anyway? The earth is only an atom whirling in the universe – of what importance is that bridge to the solar system?”1
The importance being: That a human being saw it could be done, and did it, and that only by his doing so would such a creation ever have come into being. That is how Quality appears in the world.↩