The Light of Reason

All material copyrighted © 2002 by the respective authors - All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 07, 2002

Here at The Light of Reason, we are honored that Chris Matthew Sciabarra has agreed to grace our site with his unique insights and knowledge on an irregular and occasional basis. Chris is a man of already amazing accomplishments (we say "already," only because he is still so young): he is, among other things, the author of three books (Total Freedom, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Marx, Hayek and Utopia), a co-founder and co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and has written countless other articles (including a piece about Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead recently published in the NY Daily News). Go to his website, and enjoy the wealth of material he has there. And, if that were not
enough, he is one of the most charming, generous and honorable men you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. As a lifelong Brooklynite, Chris offers us these thoughts in connection with the anniversary of September 11:

New York, New York
By Chris Matthew Sciabarra

I'm writing this on Friday afternoon, September 6, 2002. I've just finished an afternoon of watching TV; the United States Congress convened at Federal Hall in New York City---the first time since 1790---in a show of solidarity for the victims and heroes of 9/11. Having lived in Brooklyn my whole life, having lived through this nightmare for this past year, I have to admit that a part of me dreads the coming week. How many tributes, retrospectives, and memorials will I have to see before the wound-that-has-not-quite-healed feels like a gaping hole all over again?

It was a tough year, to say the least. Tough because I still remember walking outside on the morning of the catastrophe and being hit with snowing human ash. Tough because I knew many of the people who were vaporized at the WTC---friends, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors. Tough because I endured some pretty difficult health problems too, problems that long predated 9/11, but that were magnified by the life-and-death struggle of that day. Somehow, I'm still standing.

A friend of mine just asked me: How did I do it?

My answer might sound a tad bit sentimental, but it is true: I did it because, throughout this horrific episode, I benefitted from a network of loving and caring family and friends. I did it because these people reminded me that I am a man of values, who has so much to offer. By focusing on those values, by focusing specifically on my productive work and the passion I bring to it---values that are central to Ayn Rand's Objectivism---I made it through. And that's why so many other New Yorkers have made it through.

Of course, it also helps to have a dog; my Blondie has been with me for a dozen years---and she is the embodiment of loyalty... especially when she is being fed doggie treats.

As for life in New York... as they say in that song, "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere." Will we survive this? Fuhgedaboudit!

Still, anyone who lives here knows that there remains a certain jittery quality among New Yorkers, whatever our resilience. During this past summer, when a Con Edison transformer exploded in Manhattan causing a blackout---and, simultaneously, coincidentally, a group of F-16 fighters was passing overhead on its way to a Yankee Stadium tribute---people's faces communicated a weariness and fear that is rarely articulated, but still extant. We worry about suicide bombers in subways or on crowded streets. Some of us are just waiting for the next experience in terror.

But we do not sit still. We go to work. We dig ourselves out of the ruins. We are still angry that this happened. And we are damn proud of our city---which is still the center of the universe.

So we're now arguing over the future of Ground Zero. What else is new? We're New York, New Yorkers, after all!

Posted by ARTHUR SILBER at 10:14 PM   Link    
More about September 11: I originally wrote this tribute to Abe Zelmanowitz, who died at the World Trade Center, for SOLO, a site for Objectivists -- that is, people who agree with the essentials of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. I offer it here again, in remembrance of all the innocent people who died that terrible day, their families, friends and loved ones, the wonderful firefighters, emergency workers, and police who acted with such bravery and dedication -- and for all those who are willing to fight for the best of American values: freedom, the dignity and infinite worth of the individual, and -- when necessary -- the right to defend ourselves against those who would destroy all those values that make a truly human way of life worth living.


Certain stories, almost mythic in nature, connect to our deepest values. For this reason, our response to them reveals our sense of life in a manner that most other events do not. I know that many people who identify themselves as Objectivists, to one degree or another, may not understand why I view the following story -- a true one -- as inspiring, and profoundly moving.

Abe Zelmanowitz was an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn, New York, who worked in the World Trade Center. Although he died in the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, his remains were only recently identified. He was just buried in Jerusalem. Mr. Zelmanowitz worked on the 27th floor of 1 World Trade Center, the second tower to collapse -- which means that he probably could have lived, had he chosen to leave the burning building. But he didn’t. Instead, he stayed behind to remain with a paraplegic colleague, who was also his friend. He even urged his friend’s full-time nurse to save herself, while he himself chose to comfort, and protect, his friend with his continued presence.

At Mr. Zelmanowitz’s funeral, the story was told that, a few days before the attack, he attended a Sabbath lesson. The rabbi talked about sacrificing oneself for the love of God. Mr. Zelmanowitz asked the rabbi how a simple man, like him, could show his love of God. Apparently, he was not satisfied with the answer, for he asked the same question a few more times. He remained dissatisfied with the answers he received. As the person telling this story commented: “A few days later, he got the reply.” In a tribute, one of Mr. Zelmanowitz’s relatives said: “Our Uncle Avremel was…thrown into a fiery furnace, but his supreme act proclaimed to the world, that his God was a God of kindness, and he would not forsake Him. He gave his life in a totally selfless way to help another person, and sanctified the Name of God before all mankind."

Yes, I did indeed say that I view this story as inspiring and moving. I wish I had known Mr. Zelmanowitz. If I believed in God, and could pray to Him, I would pray to Him for this extraordinarily good, and strong, man. I wish only the best for his family and friends, and I wish most of all that these words somehow could comfort them, insufficient as they are for the task.

I say the following with all due respect to Mr. Zelmanowitz and his family: I don’t care that Mr. Zelmanowitz himself might have viewed his act as a “selfless” one, one that he undertook to show his love of God. I don’t care that he may have thought he stayed with his friend in an act of “selfless” caring for another person. People often say things that do not accurately reflect what their actions communicate. And what do Mr. Zelmanowitz’s actions communicate? One thing, above all: his loyalty to his values and, more particularly, his loyalty to his friend and colleague, who could not fend for himself, and who would have been alone if Mr. Zelmanowitz had left him in that building. Alone -- in what undoubtedly were the most terrifying moments of his life.

We do not know, and we will never know, if those two men knew they were about to die. But surely they knew they were in great, perilous danger. Think of the story in the alternative: your friend’s nurse has left, to save herself. And then you leave, and live. And for the rest of your days, you are tortured by the memory of what those last minutes must have been like for your friend, unable to try to save himself, and doomed to a horrifying death as 1 World Trade Center collapsed -- and alone. And you ask yourself: in the moments when it mattered most, what was my friendship worth? What, in the end, were my friend, and whatever comfort I could give him, worth to me? I chose my physical survival over the solace my presence might have provided my friend -- the knowledge that another human being cared enough about him to remain behind, in the fading hope that rescue might still arrive, the knowledge that he mattered so much that I, his friend, would risk my own life to stay with him.

Would I judge someone negatively for having left the building, and saving his own life? Of course not; it was an extraordinary emergency, and the normal rules don’t apply. In such a situation, I would be hesitant to judge any response a person might have. But I do think this: Mr. Zelmanowitz’s act was not a selfless one. It was the most properly selfish act imaginable. By his actions, Mr. Zelmanowitz declared: these are my values, this is my friend, and I will not desert him in his, and my, hour of greatest need. When it truly matters, even if no one -- or only God -- knows what I do, I will try to live up to my own highest ideals, and I will offer my friendship, my companionship, my caring, and my protection to my friend. And that is how much I love myself, that I will do this, even when I know how high the price might be, and that it might be the highest price of all.

Of course, I do not know any of the details of the rest of Mr. Zelmanowitz’s life. I do not know how he treated his family, or his other friends, or whether he did his job well or poorly. Am I reading too much into the details of this news story? Perhaps. But on the basis of those details that are available about what Mr. Zelmanowitz did in the final minutes of his life -- and why he took the actions he did -- I feel confident in saying that, in those minutes, he was a truly noble man, a man who acted out of the most profound loyalty to the values he had chosen.

I would have liked to have been friends with Abe Zelmanowitz. It would have been an honor.

Posted by ARTHUR SILBER at 10:04 PM   Link    
In thinking about the events of a year ago, and the deep and long-lasting effects they have had on me, I have been trying, with great difficulty, to identify one aspect of what I feel. Not surprisingly, and as is often the case in such situations, Ayn Rand long ago identified what I sometimes feel when I contemplate the monsters who caused such destruction and pain. In The Fountainhead, Steven Mallory is a young, brilliantly gifted sculptor, whose works “have a magnificent respect for the human being,“ and “are more devoid of contempt for humanity than any work I’ve ever seen.” When he first meets the novel’s hero, Howard Roark, Mallory explains to Roark what most horrifies him:

“I know that the terror exists. I know the kind of terror it is. You can’t conceive of that kind. Listen, what’s the most horrible experience you can imagine? To me--it’s being left, unarmed, in a sealed cell with a drooling beast of prey or a maniac who’s had some disease that’s eaten his brain out. You’d have nothing then but your voice--your voice and your thought. You’d scream to that creature why it should not touch you, you’d have the most eloquent words, the unanswerable words, you’d become the vessel of the absolute truth. And you’d see living eyes watching you and you’d know that the thing can’t hear you, that it can’t be reached, not reached, not in any way, yet it’s breathing and moving there before you with a purpose of its own. That’s horror. Well, that’s what’s hanging over the world, prowling somewhere through mankind, that same thing, something closed, mindless, utterly wanton, but something with an aim and a cunning of its own. I don’t think I’m a coward, but I’m afraid of it. And that’s all I know--only that it exists. I don’t know its purpose, I don’t know its nature.”

Of course, in the rest of her writing, and in The Fountainhead itself, Rand explained the nature of that monster, and its purpose. And in the novel, Roark, and Mallory, triumph, and the monster is defeated. And so I believe that -- with the greatest courage of which we are capable and knowing that when we fight for our best values, including freedom and the irreplaceable value of a single human life, we are on the side of truth, right and justice -- the monster of our time will be defeated, and we, too, shall triumph.

Posted by ARTHUR SILBER at 9:45 PM   Link    

Friday, September 06, 2002

You should know who we are, what we think, and the perspective from which we view the world. Therefore, in abbreviated form, we offer:


Reason: as our means to knowledge; as the power which gloriously illuminates everything in the universe, from the smallest subatomic particle to the farthest galaxy; as the force which makes possible deep, profound and passionate commitment to our highest potential.

Individualism: the recognition that every human being is an end in himself, and that his own happiness should be the highest, and most moral, purpose of his own life; the acknowledgment that reason can only be exercised individually, and independently; the knowledge that other people -- whether they are spouses, partners, friends or colleagues -- are an incomparable and irreplaceable blessing in our lives, but only when they are freely chosen, and when their values and goals match our own.

Capitalism: the only moral political system, since it rests on the recognition of man’s inalienable rights -- to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness; the system which ideally recognizes that, just as religion and the state must be separate, so, too, economics and the state should be separate.

Romanticism: our preferred art portrays man the hero, in passionate pursuit of significant, life-affirming values, which is not to say that art of other kinds cannot be great in its own right, and sometimes even inspiring. In fact, some of our favorite works of art cannot be classified as Romantic. This is an extraordinarily complicated subject, and will no doubt be the subject of many future postings.

And, yes, we believe that reason and passion are welcome, and necessary, complements to one another. When we fully understand those qualities and conditions necessary for unlocking our greatest potential, how can we help but feel the deepest, most passionate commitment to them? So we may become very emotional about many issues, but we will also demonstrate why the facts, when examined through the lens of reason, support us in our views.

Oh, one more thing: we plan to have a lot of fun. Happiness is our goal -- and one of the ways happiness reveals itself is through the ability to have a hell of a good time.

We plan on enjoying ourselves a lot here -- and we hope you do, too.

Posted by ARTHUR SILBER at 7:44 PM   Link    

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