Nourishing the Best Within
If everything becomes a stinking fake ... and nothing
is real ... and nobody is anybody ... men can't live that way
... that's an absolute, isn't it?
"Wet Nurse" to Hank Rearden, Atlas Shrugged
As a seventeen-year-old observing the ways of the world it often saddens me to see the jaded view of life held by many older people. Any hot-headed and idealistic teenager will find his passionate convictions about the way the world should be dismissed as youthful naiveté. Apparently ideas are something you are supposed to just "grow out of" when you enter the "real" world.
Most adults who tell teenagers such things have no idea that they are advocating what Objectivists call the "mind-body dichotomy" the view in this case that the mind's ideas and convictions are divorced from reality and are unable to be applied in the material, "practical" world. But the result of this view is devastating.
A young person is at the cross-roads. He has been let loose from his parents and family and faces the world for the first time on his own. Trying to make sense of things, he needs a set of ideas a philosophy to give him direction.
But without the ideas he has been told are naive, without the convictions he has been told are impractical, he is going to begin the long and often difficult journey of life not knowing himself, or the world, or what his place in it should be. Having nothing to strive for, he will lose all sense of direction and purpose. There will be no "fire in his belly," no passion with which he greets the challenge of aiming for his goals. He will be driven unknowingly and passionlessly along the road to a destination that he has no knowledge about nor any desire to arrive at a destination where blindness and boredom are the norm.
This would be an unimaginable state for many people, but for many others it is a reality. And to the cynical "grown-ups" who chided their teenagers for being too idealistic, this miserable existence is what they are commending as "practical."
Of course being idealistic and being practical are not two distinct choices. It's not a case of either-or. It's precisely because one must know how to act that one must hold principles. The two are as vital as each other. Indeed, to remove ideas, principles, convictions from the equation is totally impractical.
The faint glimmerings of a distorted, pessimistic form of idealism might still rear their head in complaints from young people that life is unfair because of some inexplicable "system." Their solution is to then rebel against this "system" and conform to some smaller tribal group which will give them comfort, self-esteem and guidance in the absence of any convictions of their own. What is worse, this is done today in the name of "individuality" since on the surface it appears as if they are non-conformists. The belief that one is expressing one's individuality by conforming to the image and attitudes (or worse still, clothing and number of body piercings!) of a tribal group is a perverse joke. Independent thought disappears from the minds of such people and since they act not on the judgement of their own reasoning mind, but on the half-thoughts of their peers, they have become no more than socialised shells open to the first would-be dictator who comes along.
This worries me immensely. And what adds to my concern is the fervent disinterest my generation exhibits when it comes to the discussion of political issues.
The youth of the nineties are less interested in political life than any generation before them in memory. Many libertarians might think this expresses a healthy cynicism about politicians and the political process. It does of course, but only as part of a wider cynicism directed at political ideas themselves and at the "practicality" of fighting for them. Many might say that youth is not a time to be worried about such a serious issue as politics. But historically, aren't young people the ones always leading the way, always the most vocal and the most radical?
Take for example the youth of the nineteen-sixties and seventies, such as the anti-Vietnam war protest movement. Although it is true that many of those involved were just "social ballast" protesting for the hell of it, their youthful leaders were without a doubt idealistic, even if I would disagree with many of their ideals. It is true too, that these people also held a cynicism about the political process that did not stop them from being interested in a political cause. And, libertarians would do well to note, that the contempt in which they held the state did not make them anti-statist. Today, the same is true. Young people's negative views of government and the political process do not add up to a libertarian world view.
It is healthy for a society and in particular its youth to hold a cynical view of politicians. This attitude acts as a safety valve against the power-hungry. But it is never healthy for a society's youth to be cynical and apathetic about politics as such. Such a view shows that on the political level and wider, they hold that ideas either do not matter or that they never make any difference.
Before attempting to win the minds of youth we need this reality-check. But once we are aware of this we can also be encouraged by the fact that there is much potential out there. For hidden in the crowds are the independent thinkers, the idealists yearning for an intelligible view of the world and their place in it. And here the challenge presents itself. These are the people who are passionate about ideas and can be easily won over by socialist argument because it seems to offer a comprehensive world view. Knowing that something isn't quite right in the world, they may look to Marxist doctrines that appear to challenge the status quo. One can understand how easily they could be fooled by socialist ideology in the absence of a radical alternative.
It is our task to present that alternative. To show that it is we who are the true radicals. It is we who can challenge the status quo at its root, and can identify that root the ethic that the individual's life belongs not to himself but to others. To challenge young people who love their lives to fight consciously for that love. To fight for the liberty of the individual. To fight for the only system where the individual lives in sovereignty, not in slavery capitalism.
No, the cynical and the apathetic of this world will not respond to such a challenge. But the passionate, the idealistic and the truly practical will.
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