September 1, 1950
How can I cure you of screaming at collectivists in political arguments when I am still suffering from the same ailment myself? However, since all your symptoms seem to be exactly the ones I have gone through at your age, I will try to give you a little long distance therapy and I hope it will help until you come back.
You have all my sympathy. I know just exactly how you feel and in one respect you are justified. The temptation to scream is irresistible because that is what those people deserve. But the important consideration is not your opponents, but yourself. It is bad to scream at them, not because it hurts them, they ought to be hurt, but because it hurts you. Anger is a form of recognition. It amounts to admitting that those people are important to you and that they have the power to hurt you. Actually, they haven’t.
You get angry when your opponents begin to be dishonest. Your anger comes from two reasons: anger at yourself for having been fooled, for having accepted them as honest, and your fear of the evil represented by any human being acting irrationally—which is the one essential evil. As, I think, we have discussed before, intellectual dishonesty is Steven Mallory’s “drooling beast.” You’re right in hating the irrational, but you are wrong in assuming that the irrational can hurt you. By definition, it can’t. It is powerless. You are wrong in assuming—as I do myself in those explosions of anger—that the irrationality or dishonesty of any one particular person is of any danger or importance to you or to the ideas you represent. I know that my anger always comes from the realization that I thought I was speaking to a rational person and suddenly find myself cheated, so that I am angry both at my mistaken judgment and their betrayal of their standing as human beings. But if you repeat this to yourself very firmly before you enter an argument, you will find that the anger will disappear. As a practical
September 1, 1950 2.
rule, I find that the thing which works best in such cases is contempt. When you feel your anger rising, ask yourself as fast as you can: Do those people and their ideas really matter to me? This one works miracles for me when I have time to practice it. Try it next time and see whether it helps you.
Frank and I laughed over your letters in sympathy and affection for you. I am proud of your violence, but don’t let it go too far and don’t let it hurt you. And don’t construe this as encouragement. The first step is to feel a conviction strongly enough to want to scream about it, but a still better step is to feel it so strongly that no screams are necessary. If you feel like Steven Mallory now, it’s good, but a still better step is to feel like Roark. You understand very well why he would not scream at anybody.
I was amused to hear that it is the words “selfish exploitation” that blow you up. Can you tell me why? I suspect that this is the influence of my new novel. Is it because you see Hank Rearden when you hear those words? I know that’s the reason of my own anger at this sort of attitude.
I am watching with interest your reports on your sister, Florence. It will certainly be a philosophical achievement if you are able to convert her. You say that you feel she knows you are right, yet she chooses to be illogical and irrational about it. I can give you a clue to the nature of such an attitude. I have found that whenever a person chooses consciously to be irrational, it is only because he or she expects the rational person involved to fill the lack and to assume an unfair burden. She expects the rational person to grant her something, to which rationally she is not entitled. This is an issue of what I call the moral sanction. The simplest example of it is the kind of irresponsible parasite who never seems able to find a job or stand on his own feet, but is always supported by friends or relatives; yet if and when he is left alone, he is suddenly able to take care of himself. In other words, he indulges in irrational irresponsibility, only so long as he has the rational conviction that his friends and relatives will take care of him. Now, the same applies in any spiritual or intellectual issue, only it is then much subtler and much more complex. As a rough example: If Florence is not interested in political issues but wants to keep your respect and affection, without the effort of adjusting her ideas so
September 1, 1950 3.
that she would deserve respect and affection—she can do it only so long as you give her any evidence that she might be able to accomplish it. So long as you continue to argue, to be hurt by her ideas, or to be concerned about them, you are giving her proof that she holds the place she wants in your mind. This is where you must refuse her your moral sanction. You must make it clear that you will not discuss nor be concerned with anything irrational, that you will not grant any irrationalist the right to the intellectual respect implied in any discussion. If my diagnosis is correct, I think this will bring her to reason.
I am afraid to give you advice about your struggles with your novel, because that might confuse you. Literary advice is bad, sight unseen. But in a general way I can tell you that your struggle is natural, but that you seem to be in danger of overdoing it. I think I mentioned to you that a writer has to grow with his own work and that by the time you finish your first novel you will have learned so much that you will need to rewrite most of its first chapters. It is natural that each time you do a rewrite you learn more and you find more things to correct, but if you don’t stop yourself in this process, you might spend the whole time needed to write your novel in just rewriting its first chapter. There is a balance needed here which nobody can tell you but yourself. You have to get your first chapter into some form that satisfies you, that says what you want to say, and then force yourself very quickly to go on. Don’t expect to make the first chapter perfect. You won’t be able to do that until the whole novel is done.
Now, as to the personal element, it might please you to know that you have discouraged me about the joys of motherhood. When we kept receiving your very amusing post cards from the road, I thought that I should really adopt you—but I changed my mind when the post cards stopped abruptly and I realized that motherhood involves worry and looking through the newspapers for reports of accidents to students from California. In other words, yes, we were both worried about you and that is something I have not done about anybody for a long time, so you may gloat, if you wish. We were very relieved when we got your first letter from Canada. I see that the worry was justified to some extent since you did have car trouble, but I am glad that it all came out alright.
Yes, we miss you very much and if you want to call
September 1, 1950 4.
me at 3:05 a.m. when you return, I will be quite agreeable to launching into Hume or any other subject you might choose.
I hope that your parents will drive back with you. I am still very interested to meet them—but I hope that you have not given them the impression that my influence has turned their son into what you call a homicidal maniac.
You never told us how your parents reacted to Reva’s new profile. I see that Capitalism is a much more important subject on your mind, but still, that was an event of unusual human interest, so let me know what happened.
I am working hard on the novel, but I am still on Chapter 19. The work on ANTHEM took some of my time, but the ANTHEM script came out very well and I am very happy with it. It will be broadcast here this Sunday, day after tomorrow, but it is broadcast from recordings so that it is not released on the same day on all the various stations of the chain. I was unable to find out when it will be played on the stations nearest to you. However, I have a complete recording of it, so that if you don’t hear it on the radio, I will play it when you come back. As near as I could find out, it will probably be broadcast from Detroit on Sunday, September 10 at 9:45 a.m., station WJR.
This letter has taken an hour away from a big scene between Dagny and Francisco, so is this enough of a sacrifice on my part?
Regards from both of us to Reva and Elayne, and our love to you.[*]
*These are the names of Blumenthal’s sisters, whose married names were Reva Fox and Elayne Kalberman. Both would be employed in advancing Objectivism during the 1960s.