Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reflections: Anthem

I thought my days of reading Ayn Rand were behind me. But a good friend recommended this book as a “gentle” version of Ayn Rand. I couldn’t resist reading a book that received such a rare adjective about Ayn Rand!

Everybody is familiar with Rand’s philosophy. This book espouses the same principles of Objectivism. But since it’s a novella, it’s short and effective in succinctly conveying the crux of her philosophy. The setting of the book is reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984, and Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Humanity has regressed in the name of cooperation, equality, and order. It’s a society that results from an extreme form of Communism that eradicates an individual’s basic rights, freedom, and even identity. Everything is decided by the Council, everyone is forced to be equal to one another, forced to put the collective needs of the society ahead of their own, forced to follow the profession decided by the council, forced to stop thinking independently, etc. What might have been founded to bring about equality to all fellow human-beings is shown to have robbed the very spirit of freedom, identity, progress, and humanity.

The protagonist writes about how he eventually breaks out of the shackles of this society to embrace freedom. He discovers the meaning of the word “I” and connects with the truth that the individual spirit needs to be revered and followed, not ignored and bent to someone else’s will.

In principle, I do agree that the human spirit should be celebrated, appreciated, and respected. Self-interest is a key component of progress - both individually and collectively. It makes no sense for an Utopian world of complete equality between human-beings to exist, for all of us are different, and will remain different. A homogeneous world of equality is unnatural. And it’s absurd for socialistic principles that try to equalize quality of life for all, to turn civilization into the very opposite of their beliefs. It’s like morality and moral principles punishing the innocent. Everything makes sense in principle. But when they are executed literally, and taken to extreme forms, they all fail and end up resulting in a condition that contradicts the very same principles in the first place.

I dread such stifling forms of socialism or communism where basic individuality and freedom is lost. But, I also dread extreme forms of capitalism where basic compassion is lost. I think a similar dystopian story can be written about the disintegration of human civilization due to extreme capitalism, ego, greed, and callousness. In extremes, every principle and theory fails and reverts to its antithesis.

Every aspect of Nature’s design has a delicate balance of cooperation and competition. This balance is supremely vital. From a “selfish” standpoint, we all need to think of our fellow human-beings and care for their welfare as much as we need to honor our own independence and will. Neglecting one over the other will not work. Human society will not progress in either extremes.

This is a good introduction to Ayn Rand for those of you who would like to ease into her philosophy :). I am always impressed by her vociferous, passionate words. She writes with so much conviction and confidence. Her words are great motivation when we need to summon the courage and confidence to follow our heart, stand-up for our principles, and express our freedom.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I realized something about Positivity recently and wanted to record the thought.

I have seen myself as a realist in the recent years. To me, “mindless” positive thinking is also one way of seeping into denial and living in a fantasy world of idealism. I used to be a naive idealist who considered everything about life to be positive and “good”. I believed everybody’s life was a fairy-tale waiting to happen.  And that attitude bit me. So, I took the stance that “negativity” was just our psyche’s way of cushioning us from fear, rejection, failure, heartbreak, and betrayal. In decent measures, thoughts on how things might go wrong bring us to an equilibrium of realism and pragmatism, and equip us to be better prepared - in tune with reality. So, really, negativity is actually of some “use”.

Those who harp on endlessly about the power of positive thinking have irked me a bit. I often find their statements shallow, their words substance-less and unnecessarily bombastic, and their thoughts to be comforting in a way that panders to our helplessness. I never understood the “rationality” of being positive when one knows the inevitability of things. Isn’t it a disillusionment to escape into such a space of fantasy?

Last week, I met someone who had a positive outlook towards life despite the unchanging nature of her life. She seemed to make me understand something vital. Her husband battles cancer, son is stricken by a debilitating disease that slowly regresses his body. Nothing can be changed. There are no magic drugs. Contrary to my assumption that positive outlook meant holding onto the positive faith that things will change, and that faith will eventually restore everything one has lost and will lose, she had no such illusions. Her positive outlook was in the way she dealt with everything as they were. She dealt with reality as if everything was fate’s funny game and she was asked to laugh at it all. And she does. She laughs a lot, has much love to share among people, friends, cats, dogs, squirrels, birds, and plants. To be able to thrive with so much love, to be able to get past the terrible hurt that love brings with it, and to be able to summon more and more love, kindness and happiness despite the bitterness of reality - that is Positivity.

Positive that life is hard; Positive that life is unfair; Positive that life brings sorrow; But, positive that life is meant to be still lived with laughter and love.

There is acceptance, there is realism. But there is not a trace of fear that beckons negativity. Nor is there desperate faith or disillusionment that things will change.

This was new to me. Something clicked inside that empty head of mine, and now I see what Positivity is. It is courage, acceptance, and the ability to love and live life fully with the limited and random cards we are dealt with.

This attitude spills into everything we do, every thought that passes, every behavior and mannerism we acquire, and makes us a better person - a person who can handle life with grace and peace.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Reflections: The Chronicles of Narnia

I love Barnes & Noble's leather-bound classics! I saw this gorgeous looking leather-bound edition for a steal during the holidays, so I had to get it and revisit Narnia! I don't have much to "reflect" on this classic fantasy series. Everything about it makes it a memorable children's classic; excellent writing, fun adventures, memorable characters, wise words, and intriguing fantasy. The tales of Narnia are featured in seven individual books (all of which are part of this bound package, of course):
  1. The Magician's Nephew
  2. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
  3. The Horse and His Boy
  4. Prince Caspian
  5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  6. The Silver Chair
  7. The Last Battle
Aslan, the magnificent, magnanimous, wise Lion is the creator of the land (world) of Narnia. Narnia is as Utopian as it can be despite evil witches and some maliciousness.  It is filled with intelligent, talking animals and other interesting creatures who strive to restore harmony to the land with the help of adventurous human children. Everybody learns a lesson or two in morals (except perhaps the witch) and goodness always prevails. 

A lot of Christian beliefs and parables are woven into this series. Aslan creating the world of Narnia, it representing Paradise, things going wrong because of an Ape, Aslan judging all creatures when the world ends etc., are clearly formed on religious faith. But, being dense, I never really read into the religious undercurrents of the series until I re-read it this time. I guess I was one of the last few to realize it this late. Some aspects of it threw a damper on my reading experience. But only a little bit.

Nonetheless, it is a fun and engaging read for children and adults. I wouldn't read too much into the symbolism of the stories and ruin a magical, charming read.