Greetings again from the Florentine hills! Each day, from my hotel room south of the city, with its beautiful bathroom in blue tile overlooking the private garden, I set out north to a small Rosticceria that serves very good food at a reasonable price. The city itself is a gouge palace for tourists, with a 24 oz Coca-Cola costing $8.00. I am not joking.
I have tried about every variation of Tortellini by now: la ragù, la pomodoro, alla panna, ai funghi porcini. I’ve had it small, medium, large. Machine made and home-cooked. With and without parmesian cheese on top. Although my options for how to eat tortellini are coming to an end, fortunately my options of where to eat it have not. This will keep me well-stocked in possibilities for my favorite little bent-tube pasta.
The only museums I’ve visited so far are the Museo dell’Opera, which houses Michelangelo’s unfinished Pietà: a religious carving he meant for his own crypt, but destroyed before he completed it. One of his students collected the pieces and put most of it back together, but half of the sculpture is still rough, showing you what they look like before the sculptor puts on the finishing touches.
Also the Cappelle Medici, which has a beautiful library fronted by an entire room designed and partly built by Michelangelo, a room containing nothing more the stairway and door leading into the library. Now that’s a private library.
There is also very good pizza to eat here, and the Cappuccinos are heavenly. I have become a daily coffee drinker, because it is so good, without any sugar. The little cup of dusky ambrosia is gone before I start, it seems.
A few more poems. I am not expecting everyone to read all of these letters if they don’t want to. Some have written saying they are only skimming, as if they need to tell me. Do whatever you want to. If anyone is tired of receiving these mails, I will be happy to honor your freedom to request that they stop! :)
The swift river flowing past; a motionless fish is swimming fiercely. Only a thousand stars tonight; the lights of the city consumed the rest.
I began this trip reading Zen, a story about seeking Quality in life. Then I finished Atlas Shrugged, about being devoted to bringing Quality into life. This led me down the paths of freedom, justice, responsibility, and the nature of man.
One of the Bahá’í schools in Arizona, Belmont Bahá’í School, happens to have chosen their theme for this year as “Bahá’í Law in the New Era”. It was only natural, then, that my class should be called “Justice and the Individual”. After these books I’ve read, I couldn’t have asked for a better general theme to talk under.
It is eerie to me now, that the only other book I brought happens to be Secrets of Divine Civilization, by `Abdu’l-Bahá. I pulled it out of my suitcase the other day with an odd sensation, as though the hand of fate itself had placed it there, knowing everything else I’d been reading and thinking would lead up to it…
As I started today, the first paragraph alone was like a summation. I include a few sentences here. For Randians, keep in mind that He is talking about Atlantis, not the looter’s world:
Praise and thanksgiving be unto Providence that out of all the realities in existence He has chosen the reality of man and has honored it with intellect and wisdom, the two most luminous lights in either world.
This supreme emblem of God stands first in the order of creation and first in rank, taking precedence over all created things. Witness to it is the Holy Tradition, “Before all else, God created the mind.”
Consider carefully: all these highly varied phenomena, these concepts, this knowledge, these technical procedures and philosophical systems, these sciences, arts, industries and inventions – all are emanations of the human mind.
Whatever people has ventured deeper into this shoreless sea, has come to excel the rest.
The happiness and pride of a nation consist in this, that it should shine out like the sun in the high heaven of knowledge. “Shall they who have knowledge and they who have it not, be treated alike?”
God has given us eyes, that we may look about us at the world, and lay hold of whatsoever will further civilization and the arts of living…. so that we, distinguished above all other forms of life for perceptiveness and reason, should labor at all times and along all lines, whether the occasion be great or small, ordinary or extraordinary, until all mankind are safely gathered into the impregnable stronghold of knowledge.
Supreme happiness is man’s, and he beholds the signs of God in the world and in the human soul, if he urges on the steed of high endeavor in the arena of civilization and justice.
And this is man’s uttermost wretchedness: that he should live inert, apathetic, dull, involved only with his own base appetites.
We must now highly resolve to arise and lay hold of all those instrumentalities that promote the peace and well-being and happiness, the knowledge, culture and industry, the dignity, value and station, of the entire human race.
Thus… the earth of human potentialities will blossom with its own latent excellence and flower into praiseworthy qualities, and bear and flourish until it comes to rival that rosegarden of knowledge which belonged to our forefathers….
A story of man
The following is a review of some of the ideas I learned while reading Atlas Shrugged, and a few others that came up along the way. It is told in the context of a revised history of man, and his essential struggle with himself.
Man has a great enemy, whom he has been fighting since the beginning of consciousness: himself. Any time you’ve heard a person ask, “What can one man do?”, you have heard the words of this enemy echoing through time. Symbolized as Satan, the enemy wants only one thing: the destruction of mankind. That may seem too dramatic; it would be simpler to say: the end of what it means to be human.
The enemy is insidious and successful, relying on people to forget what they can be. It is only in this way that humanity loses: when those among us give up on their potential. The hosts of the enemy – the living dead, those who retain a human from but whose light has gone out – are a host of shadows, with a voice that can repeat the past, but not invent the future.
Against these hosts is pitted the hero, the emblem of a true human being, whose life and actions shine with the light of virtue. It takes only one ray of such a light to scatter all the forces of darkness. And knowing their impotence, the enemy wages war in the only way he can: by convincing the hero to give up.
To understand how this could be, we must start at the beginning, and discover why this battle is taking place.
In the beginning of man’s history, just as in the beginning of each individual’s life, we started in a state of complete unawareness of who we were. Our life depended on the mercy of others; there was no justice at that time: there was no reward or punishment, no right and wrong. It is described as “bliss” and “paradise”, but by the enemy only, because that is the state he would like to return us to.
This infancy ended the first time we became aware of the difference between right and wrong – our first taste of knowledge – when we discovered the primary responsibility of consciousness: To choose one option over the other. We still did not know that whatever consequences follow from such a decision are just, and that we must accept them. This realization came much later, and we call it maturity.
The interruption of infantile unconsciousness by the introduction of conscious knowledge, has been described theologically as the fall of man and his original sin. I think instead that these are the words of the enemy speaking, telling the story in the way he sees it. I say this event began the rise of man, and was his first act of freedom. Nor did his rise begin when he ate the proverbial apple, but at the moment he became aware of its existence. Because he was not yet a moral being, man’s natural curiosity made the choice he was told not to – a thing every infant must do – and thus he learned of the gift of his freedom: the gift to choose contrary to God’s will.
We do not say that an infant falls from grace into the evil of adulthood. We view the growth from helplessness into independence as a noble thing, and maturity as a sign of worthiness to participate in the affairs of men. How, then, would it have served God’s purpose had we remained amoral, helpless creatures sustained only through His mercy? Our expulsion from the Garden was necessary to show us that there is a consequence for every action – the principle of justice – and our exile into a world of pleasure and pain, joy and suffering, was how we learned that only morality can earn for us the unearned bliss we experienced when “ye were all gathered in My presence beneath the shade of the tree of life”. The choosing of such virtue is the greatest proof of the merit of goodness for good’s sake.
In history as in childhood, we were thrust into a world where we must find our own way. Our knowledge grew, and we sought constantly to know – by trial and error, study, reasoning – the road would lead us to the joy of living we caught glimpses of in youth.
At this time we were the most free and the most vulnerable. Our morality was not fully tested, and the most open to change. We looked to the experiences of others to learn where they had gone, what took them there, and how we could apply that knowledge to our own life. We were open slates, seeking a moral code that could unlock the secrets of life and happiness, and reveal the true glory of our nature, which the young naturally feel budding inside them like bulbs on a rosebush.
In response to this yearning for a right guide to choice, a knowledge of perfect justice, God endowed certain people with knowledge, free from error in understanding and practicing it. This was done, not because humanity could never find his way, but because of the enemy who is always trying to stop him from ever trying.
These prophets did not bring a reprieve from choice itself. They brought the terms of a code, and a living example of that code. That is all. Their proof is their words and their life’s example. A person who integrates that code into his life can make better choices toward becoming fully human.
Because of the machinations of the enemy, the words of the prophets were soon misrepresented, and advertised as a substitute for choice rather than a guide. In place of justice, the believer is told he may rely on mercy; in place of knowledge, he may rely on revelation. This misuse of religion is the greatest weapon is the arsenal of the enemy, and so effective at nullifying man’s judgment that words of peace are made a justification for unnecessary war. To see how this is achieved, let us look closer at the enemy.
Although I refer to the enemy as a third party, he is a symbol for what dwells in all of us: The desire to be free from choice: to relax, rest, quit, give up. Not the rest of the body, the rest of the mind. Choosing is painful, and because the world is complex, every action has consequences we cannot be predicted, but must be responsible for. It means that when we fail, we can only say, “I failed; the results are mine.” Failure hurts, and wouldn’t it be nice to escape from the pain? This is the enemy of consciousness.
A mature man learns that pain is the sign of growth, and there is reason to be glad for it. He accepts the consequences of his actions, taking pride in the good that he does, and learning his lessons from the evil. There is nothing that does not benefit such a man, who revels in success and grows in failure. To him rest is death, and giving up means giving up on himself – not on the difficulty of choosing.
Before a man reaches this state – before he discovers the beauty of his consciousness, falls in love with what he can do, and knows that there is nothing which does not service the purpose of becoming a better man, one of whom his creator would be proud – before this his life is only painful, with snatches of exuberant yet unfounded joy. The individual has not yet learned the glorious potential of man.
Like a seed in the dark, he sees only the dirt and manure, and every movement is a struggle without apparent reward. Even with the words of the prophets to guide him – who basically say: grows upwards, away from gravity, and you will find your way to the light – such seeds are liable to see the effort as futile and prefer the blissful state of rest.
Those who have grown can encourage him, and tell him that this stage of blindness and difficulty will end. This is the proper role of education. But if all that surrounds the seed is other seeds who gave up long ago, only the truly exceptional will keep at their task in the face of everyone telling them to give up. “What do you hope to gain?” they ask. “Who are you to think there’s anything more to life? We’ve been living this way for thirty, forty, fifty years, and it serves us just fine. All you’re doing is wearing yourself out and causing unnecessary pain to yourself and your neighbors. Don’t be an unreasoning idealist. Settle down now, and help us gather these minerals from the dirt. My fronds are aching; oh, how they ache!”
This is the voice of the enemy and why he wins: By force of numbers, by the social weight of a large number of people who have given up on going further, and expect religion to comfort them in their distress, and remove their responsibility through instantaneous “salvation”. Their influence spreads, attacking other fledgling seeds while they are young, convincing them that there is nowhere to go – before they even begin.
With enough time, no one would be left as proof that a different life is possible. With no heros alive above the ground, and the old words of the prophets over-interpreted into meaninglessness, humanity starts to die, like the onset of long winter. This is why God sends the Hero, the shining example, to awake the few who will awake the rest; causing the life of spring to return, until the summer, when blossoms reveal the true purpose of the hero. It is only that time and laziness, together, in the service of the enemy, tend to cause people to forget the real meaning of those shining words, and the whole process has to repeat again.
A society who discourages growth, seeing it as an imposition on the tender roots of those who have not grown, is a society that must ignore morality, re-interpreting it until it has slyly chosen another: the morality of its comfort. The enemy is the wish to rest, lean back, take a load off. Not joy, but just the absence of pain. This morality – or immorality – compared to the moral code of the prophets, is based on the principle that the enemy is the good, and true good is evil. It is a morality of death, because only death can offer the uninterrupted, blissful sleep that the enemy desires.
Witness how many modern churches dwell on the themes of heaven and hell: Heaven being an undisturbed state of bliss – where no work is ever done, nor growth or change – and hell is a place of constant labor and pain. The enemy doesn’t think that labor leads anywhere. It regards the struggling seed as a condemned fool. It sees heaven as the realization of all its fondest hopes, and its ideal of deliverance is for all of humanity, en masse, to proceed directly into that state of unliving bliss we started from.
The only piece still missing is the connection of the individual to the whole, where I believe the intent of life is expressed. Every human being is a seed of the same type, each has the same underlying potential, even if the particular forms of that potential differ from person to person. The potential of human beings is to manifest the glory of God: to give highest expression to the highest qualities of our creator, within the limits of this existence.
The seed who fights his way through the soil, and grows to his full height, and blooms into radiant color, is fulfilling the possibilities both of himself and of the entire species. Although the bloom is seen in one plant, you are seeing the same beauty that all plants of this type will express who fulfill their lives. A rose is a rose wherever it blooms. In this sense we can say that there is really only one Rose, and each particular rose manifests degrees of the qualities of that perfect Rose, for which the particular is the sign, symbol, life and champion.
If one rose makes it to the utmost of fullness and beauty, all roses rejoice, knowing they are seeing the same beauty which is hidden in their own selves. It encourages them all to grow since they are seeing the truth of their own selves. This is the unity of species, revealed in and through the individual. The species grows best who unites to foster and encourage the success of its members; not a success resulting in a forced harmony and uniformity, but where some few are always reaching to greater heights, providing the proof and example for others to do the same. This is an ever-advancing civilization, the opposite of the enemy’s dream of a state in which there is only pleasure and nothing ever changes.
As with the species, so with all of existence. It if there were only one, great being, whose body is the whole of creation, and who is revealed in whichever part of that creation achieves excellence. Each part is limited in what it can reveal of that glory, this divine Quality: The plant more than the mineral, the animal more than the plant; and man most of all, to a degree incomparable. Not only because of the beauty of his being, but his participation in this universal dawning of the All-Glorious is voluntary, and he shares in the achievement of its manifestation.
Man did not chose his planet, his form, or his life – a million factors were and are out of his control. He does not understand his own mind, or why there should be freedom of choice, or why beauty is beautiful and goodness is good in the way that it is. But he does know that he lives on a planet, with a mind and a choice, in a world of beauty and ugliness, good and bad. And so, while he cannot take credit for the essence of the beauty he brings into the world, it is by his choices that it appear where it was not before. Mercy is that we’re placed in this position, with the means to make a choice; justice and merit are that we make it, for the sole reason that goodness is good.
The enemy can offer nothing to compare with this, the life of a hero. It cannot fight: it has no power; it cannot offer an alternative: it has no content; it cannot stand in our way: it has no form. It can only win if we agree to surrender without a fight; if we give up on joy, and accept a world of nothing but toil and misery; if we give up on the black and white of justice, and accept a world of motley grey where every standard depends on the whim of the majority.
If we hear people telling us that no one can really change the world, this is the shadow-sword of Satan lunging for the heart. It takes only the words, “I can,” and his sword vanishes in a flash of light. And when you believe you can, you will see the way, until the answer becomes, “Of course I can; how else does the world change?”
At this point the enemy has lost you for good. You are now above ground, seeing the world with your own eyes. Although the dregs of humanity are likely to imprison you, or take away the life of your body, your spirit has become invincible: no darkness may approach it again. This is when you the seed becomes You the emblem of mankind, shining through the example of a single life. Whenever a man champions justice anywhere, that is your spirit; and this spirit is possible to us all: the inexorable spirit of the will of man.
It does not matter which hand ultimately reaches the peak of that highest mountain: it is the hand of man. By his choices the individual “makes ready his heart” for the revelation within himself of the full potentiality of his nature. It is in this condition that the individual would respond: “I am He, and He is I, except that I am that I am, and He is that He is”, and that Hallaj would claim as identity with the Primal Will – the divine Will radiating in the will of the self: the virtues of true justice, revealed in the actions of the individual.
This fulfilling of Man within man could be described as the relationship between his spirit and body, in which the former inhabits the latter as a light does a lantern. The essence and function of the light is universal; its place of manifestation is particular. In this sense I close with a few quotations, that reference this metaphor of unity, of the All within the part:
Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee.
… within thee have I placed the essence of My light.
Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.
I have breathed within thee a breath of My own Spirit…
My love has made in thee its home, it cannot be concealed.
Humble thyself before Me, that I may graciously visit thee.
Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.
… that thou mayest die in Me and I may eternally live in thee.
The temple of being is My throne; cleanse it of all things, that there I may be established and there I may abide.
Thy heart is my home; sanctify it for My descent. Thy spirit is My place of revelation; cleanse it for My manifestation.
Ye are My treasury, for in you I have treasured the pearls of My mysteries and the gems of My knowledge.
Ponder awhile. Hast thou ever heard that friend and foe should abide in one heart? Cast out then the stranger, that the Friend may enter His home.
All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory…
… My will and the will of another than Me, even as fire and water, cannot dwell together in one heart.
The candle of thine heart is lighted by the hand of My power…
Ye have suffered My enemy to enter My house and have cast out My friend, for ye have enshrined the love of another than Me in your hearts.
Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge. Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world.
A pure heart is as a mirror; cleanse it with the burnish of love and severance from all save God, that the true sun may shine within it and the eternal morning dawn. Then wilt thou clearly see the meaning of “Neither doth My earth nor My heaven contain Me, but the heart of My faithful servant containeth Me.”
Whensoever the light of Manifestation of the King of Oneness settleth upon the throne of the heart and soul, His shining becometh visible in every limb and member….
For thus the Master of the house hath appeared within His home, and all the pillars of the dwelling are ashine with His light.
And the splendor of that light [of the Manifestations of the Sun of Reality] is in the hearts, yet it is hidden under the veilings of sense and the conditions of this earth, even as a candle within a lantern of iron, and only when the lantern is removed doth the light of the candle shine out.
In like manner, when thou strippest the wrappings of illusion from off thine heart, the lights of oneness will be made manifest.
A final, short summary of Atlas Shrugged:
Rand’s fundamental idea follows the law of nature: A mother feeds herself before her young, on the principle that weak young can survive, if in part, while a weak mother mean death for them all.
So the life of the producer is the life of the whole, and demanding that he be “selfless” and drain his life for non-producers leads to the death of them all.
The producer is given reward for production that he may produce more. If the non-producers claim a right to this reward, because they have not also received it, they are begging loot in the present at the cost of their future.
Rand’s is a morality of letting life live, and not killing it because the death of one should mean the death of all. That type of “brotherhood” favors the immediate hunger of the body over the ultimate survival of the spirit.