Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rush and Rand

Like many, I was introduced to the work of Ayn Rand by the Canadian rock band Rush. An early album was dedicated to "the genius of Ayn Rand." While I was a Rush fan in high school, it was several years before I read anything by Rand. Even then, while I found her work compelling, neither Anthem nor The Fountainhead motivated me to read further. That motivation came when I was about 23 and served on a jury for an attempted murder trial.

The defendant in the case pleaded guilty by reason of insanity (or whatever the plea is). He definitely seemed to have mental problems, but we convicted him in about an hour. That part of the trial was easy. The sentencing phase was much more difficult.

We were presented with a range of options, from probation to 20 years. We finally settled on 7 years, a decision which I remain comfortable with given the context of my knowledge at the time. But after the trial I was bothered by the difficulty of the decision. I began to wonder how we are to make decisions regarding moral issues.

To solve my dilemma I decided to study religion, since religion was the only source of morality known to me at the time. I went to the book store to stock up on writings on the great religions. Fortunately, the philosophy section was next to the religion section. Spotting several of Rand's works, I thought that she was likely to have better answers than religion. (I considered myself an agnostic at the time.)

I tried to read The Virtue of Selfishness, but was overwhelmed within a few pages. She addressed issues and ideas that were completely foreign to me. But I persevered, and with a dictionary as a constant companion, I dove into "The Objectivist Ethics." Before I was finished I concluded that I had found the source for the answers I was seeking. I then began to devour everything I could find that Ayn Rand had written, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I tell this story because Rush is playing in Houston this weekend. I will miss their concert because I am presenting a paper to the Houston Objectivism Society, but I will be there in spirit. While they are playing songs that have moved and inspired me for years, I will be talking about the ideas that have changed my life. I will have fun, even if I can't play the air guitar.

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