A Book that Taught Me to Check My Premises
Contradictions Do Not Exist
The classic novel, Atlas Shrugged, written in 1957 by Ayn Rand, weaves philosophy into a text that provokes questions. The author scatters quotes throughout the story that required me to analyze my principles and when applied to current events, challenged me to confront reality and check the premises of my beliefs.
When the main character, Dagny Taggart, encounters inconsistencies in her lover’s behaviors and the ethics that guide his life decisions, the contradictions are impossible for her to reconcile. Francisco d’anconia, her lifelong love, responds by challenging her assumptions.
“Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”
I discovered through reading this text that when our observations do not align with our knowledge, a false assumption must exist.
This text compels me to check premises in attempts to separate fact from fiction, information from fake news, and truth from propaganda. Thus, forcing an investigation of my paradigms to explain contradictions.
Humans are forever evolving in a changing world, thus, constantly required to assess reality. We can never be so naive as to not evaluate the authenticity of claims against logical, scientific, and proven intellect. Daily, I force myself to perform reality checks to test my assumptions. Others are encouraged to do the same.
Reality Check #1: Verify information
“There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.” *
Actions to Take
Conflicting information is dispensed daily; however, within the reports, facts exist. Either all news is fake, this is our reality, or truth exists between the lines. It becomes the responsibility of citizens to actively discern and evaluate information. If you are uncertain how to identify fake new, check out this article. It provides concrete strategies to help you verify information.
Reality Check #2: Question either-or ultimatums
“I started my life with a single absolute: that the world was mine to shape in the image of my highest values and never to be given up to a lesser standard, no matter how long or hard the struggle.”*
“Do not ever say that the desire to ‘do good’ by force is a good motive. Neither power-lust nor stupidity are good motives.” *
“It only stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters and intends to be the master.”*
Actions to Take
Patrick Henry was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He presented this ultimatum in a speech, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” It’s a memorable line but extreme. When a person’s choices are limited, they are provided a false dilemma; life choices are not that simple.
If pressure is asserted in a situation, when you are faced with an ultimatum, especially if the choices are undesirable, check your reality because there are always other options. Once you concede to force and accept an ultimatum, you sacrifice your personal visions, and become a slave to a master.
Reality Check #3: Be wary of the wisdom and perceptions of the majority or those in power
“The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody had decided not to see.” *
“We are approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.”*
“An individualist is a man who says: I will not run anyone’s life — nor let anyone run mine. I will not rule nor be ruled. I will not be a master nor a slave. I will not sacrifice myself to anyone — nor sacrifice anyone to myself.” *
Actions to Take
In The Wizard of Oz, the great and powerful OZ is a man who gained power through fraud and maintains it through fear. He hides behind the curtain to shield him from questions, protect his authority, and create an ominous appearance to secure his power.
Never stop questioning authority and be ready to pull back the curtain to unmask undeserved power.
Accepting a decision from the majority or those in power without the support of science and logic will produce flawed results. In the novel, society twist words and changes perception, often using science for negative results. The purity of science and knowledge must be maintained and used to govern decisions.
Reality Check #4: Humans’ actions should be tributes to their life
“I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” *
“A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.”*
“Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think.”*
“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.” *
Actions to Take
Life’s goals for most of us is to be wealthy, healthy, and popular but if a person achieves all of these but does not remain true to their values, the rewards are temporary. Identify what provides these tangible outcomes and then align them with your values so that when you achieve success, you haven’t lost yourself in the process.
I once heard that character is what you do when nobody is looking. By applying that definition to my actions, I am forced to be honest about my motives. I monitor my behaviors by asking three questions:
- If the behavior was spotlighted on the news would I be honored?
- Does the behavior model appropriate behavior for others?
- Would I be proud if my children imitated my behaviors?
Reality Check #5: Be the person you were meant to be
“The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.”*
“Do not let your fire go out. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in the lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. "*
Actions to Take
The movie, The Knight’s Tale, ends with Count Adhemar laying on the ground after being beaten by William in a jousting match. Adhemar is a member of the nobility but a villain in the story. William is a common man who is admired and respected by the community. After winning the tournament, William and his friends look down on Adhemar and say, “You have been weighed. You have been measured. And you have absolutely… been found wanting.”
Make a list of you heroes or maybe better yet, a list of heroic characteristics. Then weigh your actions and measure your character against the qualities on the list. Are your the person you are meant to be?
When a quote provides a scale to help me weigh and measure myself, I file it away for future reflection. Rand’s story is fiction but the philosophy forces questions about current events and personal life goals. Through her characters’ words, we are challenged to be wary of life’s contradictions.
* All quotes unless otherwise noted are from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
This book (as well as Rand's other texts) are available in most book stores but can also be ordered from the following website. This site provides summaries, discussions, writing contests, and educational article for enrichment.