We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Another quote about the Moon landings

Okay, since we are in Lunar mode today, here’s another quotation:

“No event in contemporary culture was as thrilling, here on earth, as three moments of the mission’s climax: the moment when, superimposed over the image of a garishly colored imitation-model standing motionless on the television screen, there flashed the words: “Lunar module has landed” – the moment when the faint, gray shape of the actual model came shivering from the moon to the screen – and the moment when the shining white blob which was Neil Armstrong took his immortal first step. At this last, I felt one instant of unhappy fear, wondering what he would say, because he had it in his power to destroy the meaning and the glory of that moment, as the astronauts of Apollo 8 had done in their time. He did not. He made no reference to God; he did not undercut the rationality of his achievement by paying tribute to the forces of the opposite; he spoke of man”. (page 186).

Ayn Rand, The Voice of Reason.

For all that I broadly share the sentiment expressed here, I don’t think that any of the astronauts, even if they were religious, would have thought of their faith as somehow undercutting the sheer, grandeur of rational thought that got them up there in the first place. For them, I think, belief in a Supreme Being might even have been strengthened by wondering about how the universe came about in the first place, although cosmology comes in many forms. But still, Rand was right to make the point: in a culture that sometimes denigrates science and reason, the Moon landings were a potent reminder of just how far Man has travelled through the use of both.

35 comments to Another quote about the Moon landings

  • Bruce Hoult

    “lunar model” ??

    I don’t think Rand would have said that. As far as I know “module” is a perfectly good word in Russian too.

    The correct word is used here, at least:

    http://www.thebinarycircumstance.com/2004/01/17/334/apollo-11-ayn-rands-journey-into-space/

  • Well, exactly JP. It was rather a “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”* moment. Almost all astronauts I’ve ever heard interviewed have spoken about their experiences in religious or quasi-religious terms. But they were also things like pilots, engineers, physicists – hard-nosed rationalists. I have known profoundly religious scientists and I can state that basically they don’t do the science bit any different to anyone else.

    *I think a US Marine WWII padre

  • I think you would need a strong belief in the afterlife to climb onto a rocket containing umpteen tonnes of high explosive fuel, knowing that it had been built by the lowest bidder.

  • Paul Marks

    Some religious people deny reason (every event is pre planned by God and human choice is an “illusion” – who is having the “illusions”, if there is no such thing as an agent, is not explained) – and some are firmly supportive of reason.

    It is the same with atheists – some (like Ayn Rand) pay great respect to human beings as reasoning agents. And some atheists deny that humans are “beings” at all, they deny agency (the ability to choose – free will) and hold that there is no moral difference between human action and a clockwork mouse going round and round on the floor.

    J.P. is correct – it is not whether a man believes in God, it is whether or not he also believes in reason and the possibility of moral choice.

    The landing on the Moon was either an achievement to be respected, or no more an “achievement” than a bit of space rock happening to hit the Moon (either because of a chain of cause-and-effect going back to ……., or because of blind chance).

    Those who stand with reason (against both irational forms of religion and perverted forms of “science”) hold that the landing on the Moon (whether it was a “waste of money” or “used the wrong technology” or whatever) was still an impressive human achievement – the work of reasoning agents. Neither chance (the swerve of the atom of the epicureans) or the inevitable result of a chain of cause-and-effect going back to ………

    On this rests the moral dignity of humanity – and, indeed, any other sentient race in the universe.

  • Johnathan,

    Something highly pertinent which I came across today:

    http://www.countingcats.com/?p=3633

  • manuel II paleologos

    You (and Ayn Rand) approach this from the notion that rationality and faith are two opposing forces, and that “even if they were religious” (they pretty much all were to some extent, as you surely know) they somehow suppressed their stupidity for long enough to get by.

    The alternative view of course is that you’re simply wrong and it’s quite possible to be both religious and entirely rational.

    Frankly, Ayn Rand’s view that quoting Genesis on Apollo 8 “destroyed the meaning of the moment” is mean-spirited and spiteful, like something you’d expect to hear in a student union from one of those ugly women at the front knitting.

    And the fact that subsequent astronauts had to disguise their feelings in their public statements to avoid litigation is not, I would suggest, the triumph of reason that Rand suggests.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Frankly, Ayn Rand’s view that quoting Genesis on Apollo 8 “destroyed the meaning of the moment” is mean-spirited and spiteful, like something you’d expect to hear in a student union from one of those ugly women at the front knitting.

    She was entitled to take the view she did and entitled to take a whack at what was, in her view, an irrationalist culture. Religion did not put man on the Moon. Science and human courage did.

    As for whether astronauts have to avoid litigation by avoiding any reference to God or whatever, I have no idea. My problem is that until space flight frees itself of state funding, it will always be potentially controversial for folk who take tax funds to use it as a platform to spread certain views, particularly religious ones.

  • Dale Amon

    I remember the magic of that Christmas flight and the words said to all of us on the good planet Earth by our far flying astronauts. You do not have to be religious to recognize that Christianity donated the foundational moral fabric on which America was built. Many new layers have been added since and that is a positive good; but much effort seems to have been expended in some quarters to erase or hide it. It is so built into the country that it affects everyone of all religions who grow up there. The messages from Apollo 8 spoke to everyone.

  • Jacob

    Over the years I reached the conclusion that Ayn Rand’s hatred of religion was too great. She didn’t have to talk about religion on that moment – it wasn’t mentioned by Armstrong, – but she did anyway. That’s how she felt. Rather emotional.

  • John W

    I have often been very impressed by the very great courtesy and respect that Ayn Rand always showed honest religious people.

    If only they had treated her with the same courtesy and respect rather than sheer, vicious hatred – exemplified nowhere better than by the contemptible Whittaker Chambers’ hysterical smear of Atlas Shrugged “To a gas chamber — go!”

    This, for example, is how she replied to an honest inquiry from a religious correspondent:

    “Dear Father:
    Thank you for your letter. No, I have no desire to “tear it up in disgust” nor to “have a good laugh at an enemy.” I found it profoundly interesting and I sincerely appreciate it.
    Yes. I was “startled at a clergyman talking like that,” but I cannot say that I would have considered it impossible. I have often thought that since religion has been the only field seriously concerned with morality, a religious philosopher should or could be interested in the philosophy of Atlas Shrugged. Rather than regard you as an “enemy,” I would like to think of you as an honorable adversary. After many disappointments in this regard. I am not certain that such an adversary can exist, but I will assume it as a hypothesis and will answer you on that assumption…”

    Letter To a Catholic priest, who requested anonymity. March 20, 1965. Letters of Ayn Rand. Ed. Dr. M. S. Berlinner.

  • Alisa

    Good point, Jacob. Clearly those guys were wiser than her, at least in that respect.

  • John W

    Good point, Jacob. Clearly those guys were wiser than her, at least in that respect.
    —————————————————–

    Why not try reading a little Ayn Rand before you forge ahead damning her, misrepresenting her, smearing her, and quoting her out of context?

    “Perhaps I should add that I am an intransigent atheist, but not a militant one. This means that I am an uncompromising advocate of reason and that I am fighting for reason, not against religion. I must also mention that I do respect religion in its philosophical aspects, in the sense that it represents an early form of philosophy.
    I have the impression that you are a follower of Thomas Aquinas, whose position, in essence, is that since reason is a gift of God, man must use it. I regard this as the best of all the attempts to reconcile reason and religion—but it is only an attempt, which cannot succeed. It may work in a limited way in a given individual’s life, but it cannot be validated philosophically. However, I regard Aquinas as the greatest philosopher next to Aristotle, in the purely philosophical, not theological, aspects of his work. If you are a Thomist, we may have a great deal in common, but we would still have an irreconcilable basic conflict which is, primarily, an epistemological conflict. ”
    - Letters of Ayn Rand.

  • How strange that Rand would speak so approvingly of a government program.

  • Alisa

    John W: with all due respect, I think that you may have missed the point, which was that by commending the astronauts on not bringing up religion in connection with space exploration, she herself did just that. My comment was not about her actual views on religion, science or anything else for that matter.

  • John W

    Alisa, I am commenting on your approval for Jacob’s allegation that Ayn Rand was “rather emotional” and her “hatred of religion was too great.”

    It seems every time that Johnathan [and it's usually Johnathan] writes something positive about Ayn Rand on Samizdata his comments are taken as a cue for various ill-considered replies which have little or nothing to do with Ayn Rand’s known position on anything.

    Don’t take my word for it – read her journal(Link), her letters(Link), her marginalia(Link).

    Perhaps then you may come to share my appreciation for Ayn Rand’s benevolence, patience, and generosity of spirit.

  • John comments, “How strange that Rand would speak so approvingly of a government program.”

    I’m not Rand’s greatest fan, partly because of the religion thing, but there is nothing particularly strange about that. She knew we have the history we have, not the history we would like to have had.

    She – and I – might have liked it better if the moon landings had been accomplished without state coercion. But that’s an entertaining what-if fantasy, nothing more. Why stop there? One might also like it better if all human history had been free from coercion. Alas, it wasn’t so, but history does have its high points and the moon landing didn’t have to pass a libertarian purity test to be one of them.

  • Alisa

    John: no, my comment was not intended as approval of that part of Jacob’s comment, only of the part which I already pointed out. As to Rand’s views, this is not the first time that it has been suggested to me that I read up on those (perhaps even by yourself) – unfortunately I remain uninterested.

  • John W

    As to Rand’s views…unfortunately I remain uninterested.
    —————————————–

    God forbid that anyone should ever read Ayn Rand before publicly pontificating on her alleged shortcomings.

  • Alisa

    before publicly pontificating on her alleged shortcomings.

    Did I do that?

  • Sunfish

    God forbid that anyone should ever read Ayn Rand before publicly pontificating on her alleged shortcomings.

    Fine. I’ve read AS, the Fountainhead, and Anthem. Is that enough Rand to be allowed to comment?

    She’s an awful fucking writer. She writes from a total ignorance of anything that has ever existed outside of her own skull. She starts with “what a neat idea it would be if nobody ever coerced anybody else for anything” and then built a magical fantasy world based on whatever logically derived from this without even once opening her eyes to look at the world as it actually exists.

    And then she compared her delusions to reality and proclaimed “this is how we know that nobody but me can use reason.” And this led that strokejob Pelkoff and a thousand moronic college students to pester the skeptics with “But you’ve never REALLY red her stuff! You don’t understand!” And follow this up with the same retarded crap that we get from Marxists defending their own religion about how we don’t ‘get it’ and nobody has ever given her ideas a real chance.

    Jesus H. fracking Christ, I swear I would suck-start a M&P9 if I tried to read “For Us the Living.” Alisa, your time would be better-spent trying to do translate “Pop it like it’s hot” by Snoop Dogg, in Russian, before translating into Hebrew, and then doing textual analysis on whatever you get, than suffering through Rand’s material.

  • Ayn is flawed in many ways, but I would take her in spite of those warts, because she unerringly pointed to looters and exposed them for what they are, and did so in uncompromising fashion.

    I think her perspective on this human achievement is self-centered, but I will give the woman space to have that perspective.

    Stepping on to the moon was a HUMAN achievement. Regardless of the beliefs of everyone involved, the historical fact is that a culture who was afraid of commies, optimistic to the extreme, and sufficiently wealthy and technologically advanced made it happen through a government agency. If libertarians can muster the resources to do the same, then great, rule the moon as you like. But until then, recognize it for what it was, one of the great achievements of Man.

  • Alisa

    Darryl: I absolutely agree with your last point. (John W please note: I only agree with the 3rd paragraph of Darryl’s comment. I have no opinion whatsoever on the first two paragraphs of his comment).

    Sunfish, do you hate me that much?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    John W writes:

    It seems every time that Johnathan [and it's usually Johnathan] writes something positive about Ayn Rand on Samizdata his comments are taken as a cue for various ill-considered replies which have little or nothing to do with Ayn Rand’s known position on anything.

    I know, I know. I am a bit taken aback by the venom of some commenters, such as Sunfish, who seems to have banged his head getting out of bed or something.

    Take this, for instance:

    “She writes from a total ignorance of anything that has ever existed outside of her own skull.”

    Well, as someone who fled from Soviet Russia to make a home in the US, struggled and triumphed to become a famous novelist and who put fire in the belly of pro-capitalists, there seemed to be quite a lot going on in that skull of hers, may I dare to suggest. What you are saying is that she had a narrow view of the world; I guess you disagree with her on some things, why not just say that?

    Of course, even sympathisers of Rand’s broad philosophy like me get annoyed at some of the intolerance, or oddness, of some of her positions, and on things like patents, and some other issues, she was either mistaken, or failed to do the reading needed. She also tended to dismiss some thinkers too fast even if they were at fault, such as Kant and Hume; i also suspect that she was so opposed to much mainstream philosophy that she failed to realise that some people who might have been on her side were actually quite well disposed to her. Her falling out with John Hospers, a great philosopher, is a case in point. They agreed about 99% of stuff but she allowed a minor glitch to destroy a good professional relationship.

    But these are not really core failings of Rand, when set against her achievements in revitalising the Aristotelian tradition in modern form, and to repeat, I find the sheer venom that comes from so-called pro-liberty folk to be bizarre.

  • Alisa

    Jonathan, it’s not Rand that is the problem (at least not for someone who has not read her), it’s the Randians. You don’t see any of this extreme touchiness, if not outright aggressiveness, from supporters and admirers of any other philosopher that ever put their pen to paper, save one or two. Also, being supporters and indeed admirers of such a rationalist and atheistic philosopher as Rand, they do come across as a little too, um, religious about it, which I think is a little strange.

    I can tell you something about myself: I used to be curious about Rand’s books for a very long time, and probably would have ended up giving a try to at least one of them, if it weren’t for the discovery of Samizdata a few years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming the SI people themselves or SI as an institution(!), it’s just that it was here that I for the first time came across those to whom I now privately refer to as RRs. And the more I read of them, the less I am inclined to spend any of my precious time on reading any of those books. Yes, I know this is partly irrational, but I am only human.

    Now Sunfish may have indeed gotten up on the wrong foot this morning, but keeping in mind the above, you may be able to see how someone who did read Rand’s books and merely didn’t like them can become more than a little annoyed and caustic when he runs into some of her, um, supporters.

    Just my two cents. I figured this is far enough into the thread, and there are several other space threads “nearby”, so I took the liberty.

  • Jacob

    Alisa,
    You should read AR, regardless of your revulsion from some “RR”s.
    Why punish yourself and deprive yourself of good and important books ?
    You can start with “We the living”.
    Take my word for it.

  • Alisa

    Thanks Jacob. I might, but not in the near future – there are just too many other things I want to read and don’t have the time.

  • Jacob

    My criticizm of AR position vs. religion was very mild, and it surely wasn’t based on any ignorance of my part. It was written in the context of the quote in the main post. It is a specific point, and not a sweeping criticism, like Sunfish’s.
    I haven’t read the letter that John W. quoted in the comment above. Her position there seems more moderate and nuanced that what is in her published novels and essays. Maybe she evolved over time… or maybe it’s just old world courtesy shown towards her correspondent.

  • Jacob

    “there are just too many other things I want to read”…
    I bet it’s better that many of those “other things”. But feel free to decide for yourself which books you keep on the “no time” list.

  • Alisa

    Jacob, I do appreciate the advice – I’ll keep it in mind.

  • “How strange that Rand would speak so approvingly of a government program.”

    Go read the whole essay and you will understand what you don’t now.

  • “She writes from a total ignorance of anything that has ever existed outside of her own skull.”

    {hah!} If you knew anything about the esteem preferred upon her by working professionals in fields as wide as engineering and economics, you wouldn’t have scribbled this way about something so widely extant outside your own skull.

  • John W

    Jonathan,
    I think Ayn Rand must have been very disappointed by Hospers (Link) – the third link referenced is truly awful schoolboy nonsense.

    Compare and contrast with the very great patience and epistemological precision shown by Ayn Rand across 60 pages of The Letters of Ayn Rand(Link) [Letters to a Philosopher p. 502 – 563.}

  • Sunfish

    Alisa,

    Sunfish, do you hate me that much?

    I like you just fine. That’s why I suggested that looking for hidden meaning in a Russian translation of “When the pimp’s in the crib, yo, drop it like it’s hot…when the pigs try to get it, yo, park it like it’s hot…” etc. would be a better use of your time.

    Personally, I’d shelve both ideas in favor of something that promised some hope of enlightenment, wealth, or fun. But that’s just me.

    If Rand had ever interacted with actual human beings or had any insight about human beings, it was not reflected in the three titles that I named. If she really did have any useful insights, she did an awful job of communicating them.

    And Billy, you’re exactly right: I’m not aware of these swarms of highly-credible people who hold her in such esteem. Come to think of it, apart from SI, a few places in SI’s blogroll, and a very few people on usenet back in the old days I run into so few people who think much of her either way. And not everybody with whom I cross paths is tweaker trash. There are a few ‘real’ libertarian-types (probably not sufficiently so to count as far as the randroids care) in that crowd and yet all I’ve done is aggressively state a common position.

    So, yeah, venomous? I’ll stand by what I said. She may not actually be the worst writer I’ve ever met, but her books have all of the literary and philosophical merit of any four Carl Hiaasen novels (without the well-developed plots or interesting characters of the latter.)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Sunfish, my response was a bit sharp, but when you use an argument like that, it is not surprising that I responded in the fashion I did. You are usually one of the most civil and measured of commenters, but I thought you were way over the top on this occasion.