Browsed by
Tag: Atlas Society

Ayn Rand’s Heroic Life – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Ayn Rand’s Heroic Life – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
******************************

I first encountered Ayn Rand through her nonfiction. This was when I was a junior in high school, and I’m pretty sure it was my first big encounter with big ideas. It changed me. Like millions of others who read her, I developed a consciousness that what I thought – the ideas I held in my mind – mattered for what kind of life I would live. And it mattered for everyone else too; the kind of world we live in is an extension of what we believe about what life can mean.

People today argue over her legacy and influence – taking apart the finer points of her ethics, metaphysics, epistemology. This is all fine but it can be a distraction from her larger message about the moral integrity and creative capacity of the individual human mind. In so many ways, it was this vision that gave the postwar freedom movement what it needed most: a driving moral passion to win. This, more than any technical achievements in economic theory or didactic rightness over public-policy solutions, is what gave the movement the will to overcome the odds.

Often I hear people offer a caveat about Rand. Her works are good. Her life, not so good. Probably this impression comes from public curiosity about various personal foibles and issues that became the subject of gossip, as well as the extreme factionalism that afflicted the movement she inspired.

This is far too narrow a view. In fact, she lived a remarkably heroic life. Had she acquiesced to the life fate seemed to have chosen for her, she would have died young, poor, and forgotten. Instead, she had the determination to live free. She left Russia, immigrated to the United States, made her way to Hollywood, and worked and worked until she built a real career. This one woman – with no advantages and plenty of disadvantages – on her own became one of the most influential minds of this twentieth century.

So, yes, her life deserves to be known and celebrated. Few of us today face anything like the barriers she faced. She overcame them and achieved greatness. Let her inspire you too.

Kudos to the Atlas Society for this video:

Apollo 11 on Human Achievement Day – Article by Edward Hudgins

Apollo 11 on Human Achievement Day – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
******************************

There are holidays and days of commemoration stretching from New Year’s to Independence Day to Christmas. A new one should be added to the calendar – informally rather than by government decree: Human Achievement Day — July 20th, the date in 1969 when human beings first landed on the Moon.

The most obvious benefit of living in society with others is that we can each specialize in the production of goods and services at which we are best and then trade with others, making us all prosperous. But in society we also have the opportunity to witness the achievements of others, which are constant reminders just how wonderful life can be. And among the greatest achievements in history, individuals using the three pounds of gray matter we each have in our heads figured out how to go to the Moon.

Think of the millions of parts and components and the engineering skills needed to make them function together in the Saturn V rocket, the Columbia Command module and the Eagle lunar lander that carried Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of another world. Think of the applications of old knowledge and the discovery of new knowledge needed to create those incredible systems.

Novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand understood the full moral meaning of these efforts when she wrote, “Think of what was required to achieve that mission: think of the unpitying effort; the merciless discipline; the courage; the responsibility of relying on one’s judgment; the days, nights and years of unswerving dedication to a goal; the tension of the unbroken maintenance of a full, clear mental focus; and the honesty.” It took the highest, sustained acts of virtue to create in reality what had only been dreamt of for millennia.

Ayn Rand‘s take on the landing was particularly instructive because of her novelist’s understanding of art, which, at its best, is a selective recreation of reality in light of the artist’s values. Thus Michelangelo’s David and Beethoven’s 9th portray humans as heroes. We go to art for emotional fuel and for the vision of the world as it can be and should be. In Apollo 11 she saw such a vision made manifest.

Concerning the pure exaltation from watching the launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Ayn Rand said that, “What we had seen in naked essentials – but in reality, not in a work of art – was the concretized abstraction of man’s greatness.” The mission “conveyed the sense that we were watching a magnificent work of art – a play dramatizing a single theme: the efficacy of man’s mind.” And “The most inspiring aspect of Apollo 11’s flight was that it made such abstractions as rationality, knowledge, science perceivable in direct, immediate experience. That it involved a landing on another celestial body was like a dramatist’s emphasis on the dimensions of reason’s power.”

Of course the Moon landings were government-funded; if the private sector had led the way we still probably would have traveled to the Moon, only some years later. Today it is private entrepreneurs — the kind who have given us the personal computers, Internet and information revolution — who are turning their creativity to the final frontier. Burt Rutan, who won the private X-Prize by placing a man into space twice in a two-week period on the private, reusable SpaceShipOne, follows in the spirit of Apollo. The celebration of those flights in late 2004 showed how healthy human beings relish the display of efficacious minds.

So on July 20th let’s each reflect on our achievements — as individuals and as we work in concert with others. Let’s recognize that achievements of all sorts — epitomized by the Moon landings — are the essence and the expected of human life. Let’s rejoice on this day and commemorate the best within us with, as Ayn Rand would say, the total passion for the total heights!

Edward Hudgins is the director of advocacy for The Atlas Society and the editor and author of several books on politics and government policy.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

Would Ayn Rand Wear a School Uniform? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Would Ayn Rand Wear a School Uniform? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
******************************

My 5-year-old daughters were very excited. My wife had taken them to the craft store to buy T-shirts with sketches on them that they could color themselves with special markers. They couldn’t wait to wear them to nursery school to show their friends!

But many schools still look not only to dress codes but even school uniforms to meet a number of serious problems in the education system. Is this an assault on individuality? What would Ayn Rand do? Would she wear a uniform? Or would she say, “My dress is none of your business”?

Dealing with the discipline deficit
Private schools can set their own standards, and some—Catholic ones, most notably—require standard garb. But such requirements are more problematic in government schools. (Let’s grant that government shouldn’t even be running schools.) Still, the question here is, what are the pros and cons of uniforms?

The problem is well known. In spite of increased spending, academic achievement by most semi-objective measures like SAT scores is flat at best. Worse, teachers often aren’t allowed to discipline or expel disruptive students, and administrators aren’t allowed to fire subpar teachers.

Worse still, many schools are plagued by violence. Some, with metal detectors, security guards, and barbed wire, look more like prisons!

Many see dress as part of the problem.

Kids often judge one other by what they wear. Not sporting the latest fashion for 15-year-olds? Loser! Bullying is a serious problem in most schools, and the frumpy or unstylish are most often the target of insults. And kids are assaulted and even killed for their overpriced Air Jordans. Then there are the kids who wear their pants down, exposing their rear ends, or who otherwise resemble circus freaks in part of the gangsta culture.

School uniforms could remove dress as a source of superficial judgment and much of the associated social dysfunction. Students would be encouraged to judge one another by the content of their character. And uniforms can give many kids a sense of order and personal discipline.

Expressing one’s individual identity
So who could object? Well, I could, when I was a baby-boomer high school activist many decades ago. My dress was conservative, but I didn’t like seeing The Man hunting down my peers in the hallways for too-short skirts or too-long hair. Let’s grant that the boomers turned out to be a problematic generation.

Still, my little girls like choosing the outfits they will wear each morning to school. They have a sense of how they want to look. So far they haven’t wanted to dress like pole dancers or hookers. They are more concerned about who wears the owl and who wears the mermaid T-shirt!

And when kids progress to adolescence, they are finding their own identity and experimenting with their appearance and much else. Seriously, is a little bit of purple hair and a few tattoos really such a problem? Does forcing them to conform really help them mature? Or does it simply instill in them a hatred for all authority and standards?

Educating for values and virtues
This brings us back to Rand, specifically the Objectivist ethics she espoused. Education isn’t simply pouring facts into the heads of students; it is about moral education.

It is about teaching and training students to think, to value reason above all, and to cultivate the virtue of rationality. It is teaching them to value productive work as the central purpose of their lives. It is teaching them to value honesty—always facing objective reality. It is about teaching them to value independence—judging with their own minds. It is about teaching them to value integrity—living in accordance with their values. It is about teaching them to value justice—to give others what they have earned, not only in a commercial sense but a spiritual one as well.

Today’s schools and culture have failed to instill these values. This failure, in addition to the normal challenges of growing to adulthood, is why some parents find school uniforms, in some contexts, to provide something of a substitute. Many choose to homeschool to cut through the entire mess of schools as institutions.

But all parents rightly concerned about their children’s education should focus first on instilling in them the values and virtues they’ll need to live flourishing and prosperous lives, and to defend those values in the culture and to every teacher, school administrator, and politician to create a society worthy of virtuous individuals.

Explore

Sara Pentz, “Education for a New Enlightenment.” June 1, 2007.

Schools for Individualists: TNI’s Interview with Marsha Familaro Enright.” February 4, 2011.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

Which Culture Can Make 120 Years Old the Prime of Life? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Which Culture Can Make 120 Years Old the Prime of Life? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
******************************
Emma Morano, age 116, is the last person alive born in the nineteenth century. New cutting-edge technologies could mean that more than a few people born at the end of the twentieth century will be in the prime of life when they reach that age. But this future will require a culture of reason that is currently dying out in our world.
emma_morano
Is the secret to a long life raw eggs or genetics?
Signorina Morano was born in Italy on Nov 29, 1899. On the recent passing of Susannah Mushatt Jones, who was born a few months before her, Morano inherited the title of world’s oldest person. She still has a ways to go to best the longevity record of the confirmed oldest person who ever lived, Jeanne Calment (1875-1997) who made it to 122.Every oldster offers their secret to long life. Morano attributes her feat to remaining single, adding that she likes to eat raw eggs. But the reason living things die, no matter what their diet, is genetic. Cellular senescence, the fancy word for aging, means the cells of almost every organism are programmed to break down at some point. Almost, because at least one organism, the hydra, a tiny fresh-water animal, seems not to age.

Defying death
Researches are trying to discover what makes the hydra tick so that they find ways to reprogram human cells so we will stop aging. As fantastic as this sounds, it is just one part of a techno-revolution that could allow us to live decades or even centuries longer while retaining our health and mental faculties. Indeed, the week the Morano story ran, both the Washington Post and New York Times featured stories about scientists who approach aging not as an unavoidable part of our nature but as a disease that can be cured.

Since 2001, the cost of sequencing a human genome has dropped from $100 million to just over $1,000. This is spurring an explosion in bio-hacking to figure out how to eliminate ailments like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. We also see nanotechnology dealing with failing kidneys. New high-tech devices deal with blindness and other such disabilities.

An achievement culture and longevity
But this bright future could be fading. Here’s why.

The source of all human achievement is the human mind, our power to understand our world and thus to control it for our own benefit; Ayn Rand called machines “the frozen form of a living intelligence.”

But America, the country that put humans on the Moon, is becoming the stupid country. Despite increased government education spending, test results in science and most other subjects have remained flat for decades. On international ratings, American students are behind students in most other developed countries. It’s a good thing America still has a relatively open immigration policy! Many of the tech people here come from overseas, especially India, because America still offers enough opportunity to make up for its failing schools.

Apollo_11_nasa-69-hc-916am

The deeper problem is found in the prevailing values in our culture. In the 1950s and ‘60s many young people, inspired by the quest for the Moon, aspired to be scientists and engineers, to train their minds. Many went into the research labs of private firms that became the production leaders of the world. It was a culture that celebrated achievement.

Today, many young people, perverted by leftist dogma, hunger to be political enforcers, to train themselves in power and manipulation. Many go into campaigns and government to wrest wealth from producers to pay for “entitlements,” and to make the country more “equal” by tearing producers down. A growing portion of the culture demonizes achievement and envious of success.

Were they to live for 120 healthy years, individuals with the older, pro-achievement values would find their souls even more enriched by their extended careers of achievement. But individuals in the newer, anti-achievement culture would find their souls embittered as they focused enviously on degrading their productive fellows.

All who want long lives worth living need to not only promote science but also the values of reason and achievement. That’s the way to create a pro-longevity culture.

Explore

Edward Hudgins, “Google, Entrepreneurs, and Living 500 Years.” March 12, 2015.

Edward Hudgins, “How Anti-Individualist Fallacies Prevent Us from Curing Death.” April 22, 2015.

Bradley Doucet, “Book Review: The Green-Eyed Monster.” March 2008.

David Kelley, “Hatred of the Good.” April 2008.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

Earth Day’s Subtle Pollution – Article by Edward Hudgins

Earth Day’s Subtle Pollution – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
******************************

On the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, my high school class traveled to the Mall in D.C. to mark the occasion. Me? I skipped the trip. Instead, I stayed home to watch the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft return to Earth. My classmates and I had different values. And in the years since, I’ve watched as some of the sub-rosa values of Earth Day have spread to pollute our culture.

save-the-planet-kill-yourselfEarth Day as soft indoctrination

To get the obvious out of the way, it is valid to be concerned about the measurable adverse effects on human health of raw sewage, or toxic waste dumped into rivers, or poisonous factory fumes pumped out to choking lungs. But that concern has metastasized into a cultural hypochondria, a fear that everything created by humans is dangerous and, worse, is dangerous to an abstraction called “the environment” rather than to humans. What happened? For four and a half decades Earth Day has spread a form of soft indoctrination. Every year, school kids cut out little paper trees and leaves, visit recycling plants, watch Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance, and are generally asked by teachers, “What are you doing to help the environment?” Local news reporters visit the Earth Day Greenpeace booths at the town park and interview local politicos or business folks about how they are conserving the planet.
 ***

All value is for humans

What’s missing from this picture? Humans! Certainly the messages are mixed. Certainly there is talk about our kids living healthier lives if they are not exposed to carcinogens and the like. But the subtle shift fostered by this annual April ritual is from the material world being of value to humans to the material world being of value in and of itself.

Forests are of value to humans because we can use their trees for lumber for our houses—good for our material well-being—or walk through them to enjoy their beauty—good for our spiritual well-being. But they are not of value in and of themselves. Yet Earth Day has conditioned two generations to anthropomorphize forests, rivers, oceans, and “the environment” as entities with rights apart from us, the conscious valuers. And these two generations are now susceptible to the appeals of the environmental extremists who argue, in essence, that humans are trespassers on the planet. Thus, we see arguments for public policies that would demonstrably harm humans, especially those in less developed countries.

The value of technology and achievement

Worse, an unthinking regard for the environment blinds many to real future challenges and their only solutions. As poorer countries develop higher living standards, they will not be able to consume resources at the rate Western countries did when they were industrializing. New technologies that allow for more efficient and, as a result, less polluting ways to use resources will be essential. Technology is what created cities, skyscrapers, factories, trains, planes, cars, rockets, and most things that radical environmentalists want to curtail. Technologies are achievements of the human mind that, in turn, empower us to achieve more in our lives and in the world.

31st_centuryThis vision of the future is already grating on those who have been poisoned by the subtle extremist message of Earth Day. But the achievements in recent decades in information technology and the emerging achievements in nanotech, biotech, and artificial intelligence are causing many young people especially to shake off the destructive Earth Day ideology. These individuals understand not only that technology will help us meet true challenges to human well-being. They also appreciate that human well-being is the standard of value.

Let’s hope that in the future Earth Day is superseded by Human Achievement Day!

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

Is Trump a Howard Roark? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Is Trump a Howard Roark? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
******************************
Roark vs. TrumpDonald Trump recently said he’s a fan of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead. Even if you haven’t read it, a reflection on the key characters in that excellent work will help you understand much of what’s wrong with The Donald. Not wishing to write a book-length treatment on the subject, I’ll focus on just one thing that’s relevant to the presidential election: how one treats others.

In an interview with Kristen Powers, Trump said of The Fountainhead, “It relates to business … beauty … life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything.” (Here he’s right!) He identified with Howard Roark, the novel’s architect hero, loosely based on Frank Lloyd Wright. Trump builds buildings too, so no doubt a novel on the subject would interest him. But much of the resemblance between Roark and Trump ends there.

Roark treats people with respect
Howard Roark loves the creative work of designing buildings for the purpose of seeing them built just the way he designs them. His work is his source of pride. He doesn’t work for the approval of others.

Roark must struggle because in his world established architects simply want to imitate the styles of the past, mainly to impress other people who, for the most part, aren’t particularly impressed in any case.

Roark must find individuals and enterprises that want his buildings. But he is quite clear that “I don’t build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build.” He does not bastardize his buildings—sticking columns or balconies on them just to make sales. He has his standards. He is honest with his prospective clients and tries to educate them. He respects them enough to treat them like intelligent individuals. If they can’t accept his style, that is unfortunate, but Roark will not pander. Roark has integrity.

Wynand panders to the lowest
Another major character in the novel is Gail Wynand, who rose from nothing to build a chain of “Banner” newspapers. Wynand is good at what he does but what he does is not good. He builds his empire by appealing to the lowest common denominator among his readers. He is a yellow journalist who feeds them scandal, sensation, and schlock. He sees his readers as basically stupid and irrational, and his idea of success is not to appeal to the best within them but, rather, the worst, assuming they deserve nothing better.

And that is how Trump approaches prospective voters in his political campaign. It’s all a sensationalist, headline-grabbing show. It’s saying the most outrageous things to appeal to emotions on the assumption that his audience can’t or doesn’t want to actually think.

Which works?
But there is a major difference between Wynand and Trump. Wynand wants power over others but his sense of self-worth is not dependent on the adulation of the mob he wants to rule. Trump, on the other hand, seems to drink up the applause of his audience, and if someone challenges him, it’s personal and rates the response of the most insecure playground bully.

By contrast, in The Fountainhead, when the novel’s most malicious villain who has tried to block Roark’s career approaches him and asks “What do you think of me?” Roark responds, “But I don’t think of you.” That’s true self-esteem!

Which approach works better: Roark’s career built on dealing with people based on reason, or Wynand’s career built on treating people like idiots? Read The Fountainhead to discover the intriguing answer you probably already suspect. In terms of Trump’s political career, it will depend on how many voters prefer to be treated like idiots rather than with respect.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

Will Trump Boycott Grocery Stores for Their Unfair Trade? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Will Trump Boycott Grocery Stores for Their Unfair Trade? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
******************************

Donald Trump’s stump thump against Mexico is that it runs a $58 billion annual trade surplus with the United States. Trump somehow thinks this leaves America the poorer.

He claims that it is out of that money, presumably sitting in some giant vault in Tijuana, that Mexico will pay for the border fence he wants to build to keep immigrants from entering the United States illegally. Trump’s pronouncements only demonstrate how he keeps facts and reason from entering his thoughts and, how he would keep Americans from making their own free choices in a free market.

International free trade is win-win
Trump’s very language reveals a glaring error concerning trade. Mexico and America do not trade. Mexicans and Americans do. Mexicans have $58 billion more in cash (pieces of paper with George Washington’s picture on them or the equivalent credits on bank ledgers) and Americans have $58 billion more in goods (electrical equipment, Trump-themed apparel).

And Trump doesn’t bother to ask, what are those Mexicans supposed to do with those pieces of paper? If they don’t spend them in America, they’ve got nothing but useless paper. So the Mexican trade surplus also means that Mexicans are investing an equivalent amount in America, helping the U.S. economy grow.

Further, the fundamental nature of trade between individuals is a win-win situation. Someone who buys an orange Donald hat for $20 to show his support for the former host of “The Apprentice” values the hat more than the twenty. And the manufacturer in Mexico who has a warehouse full of said head gear prefers the $20.

If The Donald slaps a 30% tariff on all goods coming from Mexico, maybe his starry-eyed supporters would shell out $26, the higher cost of the hat. But a poor mother with five kids seeing the price of a pair of shoes jump from $20 to $26 might be hard-pressed to afford the extra $30 she’d need to cover the feet of all her five little ones. But Trump doesn’t care. He wants to get rid of that pesky trade imbalance and what better way than to discourage that mom from buying Mexican-made shoes for her family! On the other hand, maybe he will notice when Mexican investors pull out of his latest golf resort or skyscraper projects, because his policies have destroyed their profits.

Trump’s grocery store trade deficit
If Trump is so against trade deficits, he should have a serious problem in his own household. Trump no doubt runs a huge trade deficit with his grocery store. He gives them piles of money when he buys food—no doubt top-priced cuisine—but the store never buys anything from him. Maybe he should boycott it. Maybe we should all boycott our local grocery stores lest we be victims of a trade deficit. Maybe if elected president, Trump will slap a 30 percent “grocery tariff” on everything that those stores try to sell to us poor, exploited schleps until those stores start purchasing stuff from us.

Trumps versus liberty
Trump poses as a friend of the people, but he wants to use government to prohibit the Americans from purchasing goods from whomever they wish—including Mexicans. The Donald presumes to know better what individual Americans should buy with their own money and at what price than they do. He’s determined to drive up the prices for Americans buying from Mexicans to teach those Mexicans a lesson. So what if American consumers and businesspeople are collateral damage.

Trump’s policies would only add more instability to an already unstable world. Ayn Rand explained that “The essence of capitalism’s foreign policy is free trade—i.e., the abolition of trade barriers… the opening of the world’s trade routes to free international exchange and competition among the private citizens of all countries dealing directly with one another. During the nineteenth century, it was free trade that liberated the world, undercutting and wrecking the remnants of feudalism and the statist tyranny of absolute monarchies.”

When governments take away the liberty of individuals to pursue their self-interest by trading freely with other individuals—a win-win situation—they set the stage for conflicts and even wars between countries. Trump’s proposed trade war is really a war on the American people.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

On Viewing 2001: The First Transhumanist Film – Article by Edward Hudgins

On Viewing 2001: The First Transhumanist Film – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
November 20, 2015
******************************

I recently saw 2001: A Space Odyssey again on the big screen. That’s the best way to see this visually stunning cinematic poem, like I saw it during its premiere run in 1968. The film’s star, Keir Dullea, attended that recent screening and afterward offered thoughts on director Stanley Kubrick’s awe-inspiring opus.

2001-space-odyssey-objectivism-transhumanism

He and many others have discussed the visions offered in the film. Some have come to pass: video phone calls and iPad tablets, for example. Others, sadly, haven’t: regularly scheduled commercial flights to orbiting space stations and Moon bases.

But what should engage our attention is that the film’s enigmatic central theme of transformation is itself transforming from science fiction to science fact.

From apes to man

The film’s story came from a collaboration between Kubrick and sci-fi great Arthur C. Clarke. If you’re familiar with Clarke’s pre-2001 novel Childhood’s End and his short story “The Sentinel” you’ll recognize themes in the film.

In the film we see a pre-human species on the brink of starvation, struggling to survive. An alien monolith appears and implants in the brain of one of the more curious man-apes, Moonwatcher, an idea. He picks up a bone and bashes in the skull of one of a herd of pigs roaming the landscape. Now he and his tribe will have all the food they need.

We know from Clarke’s novel, written in conjunction with the film script, that the aliens actually alter Moonwatcher’s brain, giving it the capacity for imagination and implanting a vision of him and his tribe filled with food. He sees that there is an alternative to starvation and acts accordingly. The aliens had juiced evolution. Kubrick gives us the famous scene where Moonwatcher throws the bone in the air. As it falls the scene cuts ahead to vehicle drifting through space. Natural evolution over four million years has now transformed ape-men into modern technological humans.

From stars to starchild

In the film, astronauts discover a monolith buried on the Moon, which sends a signal toward Jupiter. A spaceship is sent to investigate, and astronaut Dave Bowman, played by Dullea, discovers a giant monolith in orbit. He enters it and passes through an incredible hyperspacial stargate. At the end of his journey, Bowman is transformed by the unseen aliens’ monolith into a new, higher life form, an embryo-appearing starchild with, we presume, knowledge and powers beyond anything dreamt of by humans. He is transhuman!

starchild-2001-space-odyssey

Kubrick and Clarke are making obvious references to Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. In that book Nietzsche offers a vision of a human going through three transformations, ending up as a child. “Innocent is the child . . . a new beginning . . . a first movement . . . a holy ‘Yes’.” The child is the creator and the potential for the creation of new values. And, of course, Kubrick used the introduction/sunrise music from the Richard Strauss tone poem named for Nietzsche’s work in the film’s famous opening; in the scene when an idea dawns in the brain of the ape-man; and at the end, when the human is reborn as the starchild. This is as over-the-top symbolism as there ever was!

From evolution to creation

In 2001 natural evolution and alien intervention transform ape-man, to man, to übermensch. Today, we humans are taking control of our own evolution and are beginning to transform ourselves—but into what?

Futurists like Max and Natasha Vita More and Ray Kurzweil have given us the transhumanist philosophy, the idea that we humans can and should use technology to overcome our biological limits, enhancing our physical and mental capacities. Scientists, researchers, and engineers today are doing just this.

They are creating advanced bionic implants and prosthetics to replace lost limbs or body parts. They are working on brain-machine interfaces that could better merge the two. They are experimenting with actually implanting information into brains. They have genetically engineered certain cells to attack only cancer cells. They are working to program nanobots to do the same. And they are understanding the deep mechanisms that cause cells over time to break down, and are exploring ways to “turn off” this process—that is, to actually stop aging. Could we engineer superbrains for real, eternally young übermenschen in decades to come?

Today, the fundamental theme of 2001, human transcendence, is being made real by we humans rather than by alien monoliths. So when you next see this classic film, you might see still see the starchild as a piece of evocative fiction. But you can appreciate that we humans are putting ourselves on a path to something in the future beyond anything dreamt of by humans.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.