The World of Spiritually Dead Zombies

William: do you see Ayn Rand as someone pathological, a narcissist, or do you think she just had an unusual measure of confidence and determination. I mean in a sense she was very successful in achieving certain goals.

B: I don’t really know enough about her to make a diagnosis. For example, I haven’t yet read Jennifer Burns’ (I hear excellent) biography, nor the more popular treatments. I have known people who knew her and she definitely cultivated a “following,” but so do many intellectuals of wide reputation. And besides, today’s news indicates that Narcissism is no longer a special-class personality disorder. I’ve read the books and liked them a great deal as a teenager, but she does not seem quite sane to me. Nor do her followers, but that could be just a very bad historical sense.

William:
I value your opinions. I shall read up on Jennifer Burns’. I am thinking about “sane” and I perfectly understand what you mean. I know we use “sane” and “insane” in a very casual fashion to denote that which is normative, acceptable vs. that which is extreme and does not fit easily into the mainstream. Of course we all realize that technically “sanity” means the ability to distinguish right from wrong and be mentally fit to stand trial. On the other hand…. well, let me tell an anecdote from last week. There are certain people in our building who frequent our laundry room whom I sense to have some “intellectual side” so from time to time I try to engage them in some discussion. One woman 30ish who loves T.S. Eliot and who bears a striking resemblance to Virginia Woolf mentioned to me that she also likes Wallace Stevens. So, I recited from memory my favorite, “Peter Quince at the Clavier.” Now another tenant, 60ish, Israeli, and a professor of some sort (but the sort who disdains engagement in any sort of discussion) said to me afterwards. “You know, perhaps there is something wrong with you because you approach people and just blurt out things, but those people are busy and have things to do. I cordially explained to her that 90% of all people are spiritually, emotionally, intellectually dead, a walking dead, and that she in particular is intellectually dead which is why I seem to her to be “not quite all there” but in reality what I try to do is to WAKE UP those who have a bit of life left in them an even if I awaken just ONE it is worth having pissed off the other 99. Then I asked her if she were familiar with Plato’s Republic and the cave analogy. She said “of course” because of course she holds coveted degrees and she is so highly educated that she has no need for conversation in the laundry room. So I said, “What does that one lucky fellow who frees himself from the bondage of delusion and escapes to the pure light of day… what does that one fellow do…” and she stared at me blankly…. so I explained “He or she GOES BACK DOWN INTO the darkness and gloom in the hopes of freeing the others.” Now many people would find me odd, but it is an oddness that I personally value. Not that I am in a class with Thoreau but I imagine that Thoreau was odd in the same way, and many others, or at least perceived as odd by the average citizen.

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