Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Lotus (Part I)

This is a slightly revised first part of a short story draft that was posted in an earlier form in 2005. The other two parts will follow.

I had known of Fyodor Rozanov for most of my adult life, but before the event in this story I had met him only once. It was at an Embassy dinner in London. He was standing in the midst of a small crowd of attentive listeners, the edges of the crowd curling like mist around him, as he animatedly told some story; but on seeing me, he stopped in the middle of a sentence and bowed slightly.

"You are not as tall as pictures make you seem," he said. "I have wanted to meet you for a very long time."

"And I you," I replied.

He returned to his story and I was soon called away to meet someone else. We might never have talked again, had I not later slipped away from the party to catch a bit of night air in the garden.

I saw him standing near a fountain. In a party attending mostly by small, scrawny diplomats his tall, athletic frame was unmistakable. As I approached, he threw away a cigarette and said without looking at me, "I thought I might be fortunate enough to meet you out here." Then, after a moment: "You and I are not like them at all."

"By which you mean...."

He turned toward me with an impatient gesture. "You and I are men of the moment. They are paralyzed by their own self-consciousness. But you and I form the world with our hands."

"I doubt the difference is so very great," I replied. "People are, I imagine, much the same everywhere. And self-consciousness has more than a few uses."

He made a noise that I think was a word of contempt in a dialect I do not know. "No," he said. "You are wrong. The difference is that those who build the world deserve immortality."

"And that would mean that the rest deserve death?"

He did not answer, but instead lit another cigarette and regarded me a moment. "You know, I almost met you once in Brussels. I was told you were my competition. I am glad we did not actually meet. I might have had to kill you, and you have done so many great things since."

I shrugged. "You are presuming a bit in thinking that you could kill me."

A puff of smoke and an appraising look. "True. For men like us, presumption is the only sin. It is death itself."

We talked for a long time afterwards, comparing lives. We knew more about each other than either of us had realized, since our lives often paralleled without our knowledge. For instance, we had once been in the same village near the Congo River within a week of each other, looking for the same thing; Rozanov had found it first. Rozanov usually found things first; he was usually hired first, and so always had a narrow lead. In our trade, when people want something found that they are willing to make public, they call it an "inestimable service." Both Rozanov and I had performed many inestimable services. When people want something found that they are not willing to make public, they do not call it anything at all. Rozanov had performed many more of these than I, having cultivated more of a reputation for discreet ruthlessness. All in all, I think we each were surprised at what we learned from the other. Rozanov found I was much more bookish and phlegmatic than he expected; I learned that he was surprisingly moody and morbid. It was inevitable that we would each gain something of a feeling of superiority from the encounter; but Rozanov was right about the danger of presumption, and I thrust the feeling aside, as I am sure he also did.

Up to that night our lives had been entangled largely without our knowledge. After that night it was clear they continued to be entangled. Sometimes I was a step ahead, more often he was a step ahead, but every major event in my life was interlinked in some way with every major event in his. However, we had never met again. Sometimes we deliberately made sure of it.

And now I was tangled with him again as I sat in a long, gray room (the rooms are always long and gray) facing a row of gray men in tailored suits (the men are always gray and the suits are always tailored) with Rozanov, unseen and absent, around me like the air I breathed.

"What do you want me to find?" I had asked.

"Fyodor Rozanov," they had said.

I had to get them to repeat the answer.

After a moment in thought, I asked, "What did you hire Rozanov to find?"

There was a flickering of fingers. "Mr. Tremontaine," one of the gray men said, "we do not at present feel that this information is such that you would require it for the task for which you would be hired. The task is not to find what Mr. Rozanov was seeking, but to find Mr. Rozanov."

"What do you want me to do when you find him?"

More flickering fingers, this time with a few exchanged glances. Another gray man, or perhaps it was the same one, said, clearing his throat, "We require the information Mr. Rozanov was sent to gather, if it can be obtained by any means. By any means." He paused and went on (or was it another?). "Mr. Rozanov has failed to meet his contractual obligations. We are sure" - he, or perhaps it was someone else, cleared his throat - "we are sure that something terrible has happened to him, and thus need you to find him. The information is of very great importance."

"What did you send Rozanov to find?"

Fingers flickered. "Mr. Tremontaine," one of the men said, "as we have already said, it does not appear to us necessary--"

"The question is simple," I replied impatiently. "You sent Rozanov for something, and you are certain he has taken whatever it is for his own purposes. What is it?"

No one said anything for a moment. Then one of the men replied, "Suffice it to say, Mr. Tremontaine, that we sent Mr. Rozanov out to verify a rumor. We do not, however, require you to verify the rumor, but to find Mr. Rozanov and, if possible, to bring him to us in order to clear up this unfortunate misunderstanding; or, if that is not possible" - he paused a moment, or else stopped while someone else went on - "if that is not possible, to bring us any information he may have gathered before his demise. We hope that will not be necessary, but the information, if it is at all possible to retrieve, must be retrieved by any means. By any means whatsoever. We think you understand. The payment we offered you is twice what we agreed to pay Mr. Rozanov."

"How do you expect me to find him if I don't know what he was looking for?"

"We know the place he was last seen, and know the general area of the world where he would have been looking to verify the rumor."

One of the men held out a map, on which were several red marks. I took it and examined it a moment, then sat back. I knew the area, and it would give me a chance to see Quin again. I handed the map back.
"It may be difficult to fetch Rozanov," I said. "He would be difficult to find if he does not wish to be found."

"We are sure that the means can be provided to make this a feasible venture for you. We consider this a reasonable investment."

"Double the offer on the table."

Fingers flickered, glances were exchanged, and there was a nod.

I left the building, which overlooked a gleaming white city, and considered my course of action. They say you can tell what a man truly loves about civilization by how he says goodbye to it. If this is true, then the common consensus of mankind seems to be that the best parts of civilization are beer and loose women. I have never been one for either, and never one for goodbyes. I went down to the harbor to catch the first ship out. As I boarded the ship, there was one thought on my mind. Whatever it was that they had sent Rozanov to find, it was disturbing how much they wanted it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Two Poem Drafts and a Re-draft

There are a number of posts in the pipeline, but I keep not having time to finish them. In the meantime, here are some more poem drafts. The first is based (somewhat loosely) on a poem by Seneca himself.

Seneca Ponders Death

The dead within the tomb is laid,
the final rites are brought to close,
the eyes no more behold the day,
shut in endless night's repose.
Is there hint of more to life,
or is it but a passing tale?
What worth is it to leave the light
when on the threshold life will fail,
if yet unfailing strife we keep
and no surcease from life receive,
no warming poultice born of sleep,
and nothing left when flesh we leave?
When body to a corpse has turned
and spirit flees its living role,
is soul by life then also spurned
and, like a breath, dissolves the soul?
What morning sunlight, morrow's morn,
will shatter sky in reddening dawn,
what sunset scatter drops forlorn
on all that Ocean holds in bond?
It all will, like the sons of Time,
be snatched and eaten straight away.
Swiftly course the stars sublime,
swiftly moon will flee the day,
swiftly spring to winter tends,
as all things hurry to their place;
but swifter far than to these ends
do human hearts to nothing race.
When we are laid in fatal tomb,
perhaps no shade will be our doom.

Like smoke that curls from smoldering coal,
like cloud before the forceful wind,
our animal life will upward roll
and pass, and fade, and come to end.
With nothing left, no more than death,
the final goal, so swiftly found,
let craving flee with fleeing breath,
resign to fate with reason sound,
and, if you fear the heart's last beat,
then bury fear within the grave.
Time and night do not retreat.
Death will not in mercy save.
In our minds we cities build
of torment, shade, and ceaseless hells;
but these are rumors fear has filled,
pictures from a nightmare fell.
Who of our spirit's fate is sure?
Ask those who never lived nor were.

A New Animal

Look into the heavens,
see the stars --
there is truth, there justice, there beauty,
there a constellation of sublimities,
each more splendid in its kind
than a city of burning lamps,
each a sun in a sky so vast
it has no end.

Look to the heavens!
On this dusty, muddy earth,
a new animal bursts forth.
Others look to the ground,
heads bent down, shoulders bent,
others look to the horizon,
catching sight of predator or prey,
each eye catching what is fit for mind.
But one, one alone, stands up,
looks up,
sees a flawless expanse,
hunts not prey but stars.

Why are you bent over,
children of men?
Why are you bowed down?
Do you not know, not feel, your calling?
You are the animal who stands
to see the stars.

A Texas Hymn

The birds woke me at the sunrise hour
when the grass was dewy and all was pale
beneath the light of a high white star
that sang the message that all was well.
And I in the breeze (it trickled down
the blades of grass then quickly wound
around my legs to tickle my feet) --
I knew the light, and it was sweet.

The thirsty drink from a flowing spring
and come to life, made quick by source;
as I, when I hear the morning sing
in bird, in wind in winding course,
know, as sure as rolling sun does rise,
that a Spirit lives, God's very breath,
who lightens the sky and human eyes
and raises souls like mine from death.

Central Texas Muslims on Fort Hood Shootings

The recent shooting at Fort Hood has stirred up some anti-Muslim feeling, so I think it's worth remembering that there are quite a few Muslims in this area who are combat veterans or active duty soldiers, and that even those who weren't were praying, when the first word of the shooting got out, that the shooter wasn't Muslim, for fear of potential backlash. The following press release was sent out yesterday:


The Muslim community of Central Texas – among them many US Armed Forces veterans – condemns in the strongest terms the shootings today at neighboring Fort Hood, where 12 soldiers awaiting deployment were murdered by a lone gunman, reported to be Maj. Malik Nadal Hasan.

Under no circumstances – religious, political, or social – can such an act be justified or tolerated.

Central Texas Muslims stand with their neighbors and join scores of other local and national Muslim organizations in offering prayers for the victims, condolences to their families, and assistance where needed.

The Central Texas Muslim community includes many veterans and active-duty personnel in the US Armed Forces, and countless other Muslims have served in the US military with distinction and honor.

We call on all Central Texans to come together at this time and emphasize our common values, respect for the law, and duty to our country.

For additional information, please contact any of the following Central Texas Muslim community members:

* Shahed Amanullah, Austin, TX –
* Ian Benouis, (West Point graduate, combat veteran), Austin, TX –
* Siham Naseef, Austin, TX –

It will be necessary over the next few days to keep an eye out for any of the reactionary bigotry that typically follows in the wake of the terrible actions of a single disturbed individual.

Linkable Thinkables

* Mrs. Darwin has a picture of a statue in Hungary memorializing the most successful author in the world: Anonymous. She also has a picture of a stone in a Cologne plaza which some corner-cutting memorialist carved with the words "This Could Be a Place of Historical Importance." Part history, part mystery!

* Hans Kung attacks the recent (much needed) papal reform of how the Catholic Church handles Anglican converts as an example of the Pope's opposition to reform. And yet again he manages to connect the issue to his favorite theological topic, the Spiritual Labors of Hans Kung. Say what you will about Benedict XVI, but Ratzinger and Kung have always had this difference: Ratzinger at least turns every theological discussion into a discussion of Christ, while Kung somehow manages to turn every theological discussion into a discussion of how Hans Kung is an insufficiently appreciated voice crying out in the wilderness. It happens regularly enough that you could turn it into a drinking game.

* The 300th Christian Carnival is up at "Brain Cramps for God".

* Earliest Uses of Various Mathematical Symbols (ht)

* John Heard has a post on why he is still Catholic.

* A U.S. plan from the 1930s for invading Canada (and a Canadian plan from 1921 for defending against the U.S.). The Canadian plan is a good one: hamper American invasion by forcing them to go back and protect cities on American territory until someone steps in to help.

* The new edition of The Reasoner is up; the article by Danny Frederick on following the argument where it leads was interesting.

* "The Lion and the Cardinal" has an interesting post on the Danse Macabre.

* An interesting criticism of Rothbard on the subject of natural and positive law, by Carlo Lottieri.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Considering All the Possibilities

There's a cute logic puzzle up at "Cosmic Variance" making a point about dysrationalia:

Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?

A) Yes.

B) No.

C) Cannot be determined.

Apparently over 80% of respondents pick C, when the answer is supposed to be A; and this is supposed to be an example of dysrationalia -- intelligent people picking the wrong answer through a failure to think through the possibilities.

Unfortunately, as some of the commenters note, there are problems here, because (C) is not demonstrably irrational. The basic problem is this. We have a nontransitive relation, R, and three individuals, j, a, and g. The following relations obtain:


in addition, j is classified as married and g is classified as unmarried. The question is, given these facts, is there a person who is married who stands in relation R to a person who is unmarried?

And the answer, in a strict logical sense, is (C) -- it can't be determined. In order to restrict the answer to (A) you have to make the following assumptions:

(1) j, a, and g are all persons (if any of them is a horse, for instance, (A) is incorrect, because the question asks about married and unmarried persons)

(2) j, a, and g all must be either married or unmarried (if it's a category mistake to apply these labels to one of them, (A) is incorrect -- for instance, there are circumstances in which we would say that someone, like a baby, is not the sort of thing that can be either married or unmarried)

In many cases these would be entirely reasonable assumptions to make. But whether they are, in fact, reasonable assumptions depends entirely on which universe of discourse we are considering. Sometimes (A) will be the most rational answer. Sometimes it will not. The problem is not precise enough to rule out possibilities in which it is not, because it failed to specify any universe of discourse.

Consider the following analogy:

A borders on B, and B borders on C. A has a democratic government. C has an undemocratic government. Therefore there is country with a democratic government that borders on a country with an undemocratic one. For B must have either a democratic government or an undemocratic government. If it has a democratic government, then it borders on C, which has an undemocratic government. If it has an undemocratic government, then A, which has a democratic government, borders on it.

Beautifully reasoned. But B has no government at all; it is an ocean or an unclaimed wasteland, not a country. (If you want a philosophical example of the same underlying idea, you can look to Kant, because his resolution of the antinomies, e.g., about whether the world had a beginning, makes use of this very same feature.)

Thus the only way you could think (C) definitely wrong is if you are not considering all possibilities -- that is, if you are making assumptions that restrict the possibilities in play. But this really has nothing to do with rationality one way or another: there will be times when it will be rational to consider the possibility that Anne is not a person and times when it will be rational not to do so. There will be times when it will be rational to get hung up on the question of whether there is a tertium quid between 'married' and 'unmarried', and times when you should obviously be dichotomizing. It will depend entirely on the domain of discourse (and is an example of why domain of discourse is important for logical analysis).

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

When an Expansion Is Still a Shortage

There was a rather odd rant against the Catholic Church by Richard Dawkins recently; not much to be said about it in general except that it is based on sheer speculation, without evidence, as to motives, and the more obvious explanation for the recent change in how the Catholic Church handles Anglican converts is that the previous way of handling them was a bit thrown together, and this ad-hocness was potentially awkward for those Anglicans who have already converted. But I did want to say something about this, because I think it's a common misconception:

The Roman Catholic Church is fast running out of priests. In Ireland in 2007, 160 Catholic priests died, while only nine new recruits were ordained. To say the least, those figures don't point towards sustainability.

There are two things of importance to note in response to this:

(1) The Catholic Church does indeed have a serious shortage of priests at present and for the foreseeable future.

(2) The shortage is not due to "running out of priests".

There were some declines in the two decades of the eighties and the nineties; but at present the number of priests is actually growing, and has grown for several consecutive years, albeit slowly. The Irish numbers are irrelevant to the matter, at least by themselves, because anyone who knows anything about the demographics of the priesthood knows that not all priests even in Ireland are Irish. The Catholic Church is a global organization; if numbers decline in one part of the world, this can be made up for by priests from another part of the world. And this is exactly what one finds: Europe and North America have (in many, but not in all, places) had sharp declines, Asia and Africa have (again, in many places) had considerable surges, and the Third World surges are currently balancing, and slightly overtopping, First World declines to create a net growth in the number of priests worldwide. This does mean that the age of the ubiquitous Irish priest, which has given so much of an Irish flavor to Catholicism all over the world, is past, even in Ireland; the new Irish, so to speak, are priests from places like Uganda. And seventy-five years from now when people think of a likely name for a Catholic priest, it won't be 'Patrick O'Malley' or anything like it; it will be something more like 'Ambrose Sentamu', and he'll have a clipped Ugandan accent rather than an Irish brogue.

The real problem with the shortage is that, due to serious unsustainability in the First World (looked at on its own), the African and Asian growth is just barely keeping things at growth level, while the Catholic population is, in comparison, exploding. The Catholic population is keeping steady with global population growth (and has been for several decades now) -- that is, despite significant global population growth, Catholics have continued to be around about 17% of the world population. But the population of priests has recently undergone a period of decline in a number of areas of the world, and its overall current growth is much, much smaller than the growth of the Catholic population at large. Africa and Asia cannot produce priests fast enough to fulfill an increasing global demand. The result is that priests are increasingly scarce, and parishes without a priest are increasingly common. Catholic church services that are not Masses are already beginning to be widespread, and are likely to become more and more common as priests are spread more thinly. And deacons, who can, except for some of the sacraments, do everything a priest can, are becoming increasingly important, and the number of those is steadily increasing.

There are changes in store, but they are not really more startling than any other changes; there is no danger at present of the Catholic Church "running out of priests". It's slowly gaining priests, in fact. It just isn't gaining them fast enough to keep pace with the massive expansion of the Catholic population. (Somehow, I suspect, Dawkins would be less pleased with this than he is with the "running out of priests" idea.) In any case, it's a good example of why you should be cautious about focusing on a region or country when dealing with something that extends beyond it: data about Ireland may be merely anecdote about the world.

CARA is an interesting resource for those interested in numbers dealing with Catholic demographics.

Malebranche and Miracles

An initial puzzle people often have in reading Malebranche has to do with miracles. Malebranche, of course, is an occasionalist: he holds that God alone is the true cause. All other things are occasional causes, and what that means is that on the occasions when they occur, God guarantees that an associated effect comes about. For instance, I may swing a bat at a ball, but I am not the real cause of the ball’s flying away, merely the occasion on which the true cause works.

If you thought about occasionalism in the abstract you might think that this position would be quite cozy with the idea of miracles. After all, God is the only true cause anyway, so there’s not really any problem with him working a miracle here and there. In Malebranche’s case, however, it is not so. This is because what God wills in Malebranche are general laws governing the world. In the case of the ball, God wills the laws of nature that govern motion; because God wills these laws, and because what God wills necessarily must come about (because He is the one true cause), the ball’s motion follows those laws. There are scholarly controversies about the exact way to understand the role of general laws in Malebranche’s system, but the importance of them is quite clear. They can’t help but have importance, in fact, because Malebranche is intensely focused on divine Order, which he thinks governs all things, to such a point that he is even willing to say that it constrains God himself. Order is the "living law of the Father"; it has the force of law even for God. And Malebranche is quite clear that Order requires that God act in the simplest ways, which means willing that things happen according to general laws.

But miracles, one might say, don’t fit into this very well. What, after all, is a miracle other than a deviation from general law. So one might think that Malebranche’s conception of Order requires that there be no miracles. And Malebranche, in fact, seems to be uncomfortable with miracles in this sense of being a unique event; it’s clear that he would explain many miracles, for instance, in terms of the general laws governing the acts of angels and the like. But there are miracles, like the Incarnation, that don’t seem to be explicable in this way (they have to be the result of what Malebranche calls "particular volitions" as opposed to "general volitions"). So is there room for such miracles in Malebranche’s conception of Order?

There is, although I’m not sure there is any room allowed for it at the purely philosophical level. The reason, remember, that Malebranche thinks God must act according to general laws is that Order has the force of law. Why does Order have the force of law? Because God loves Order. Malebranche thinks of Order in a Trinitarian way: Order is also universal Reason, and universal Reason is the second Person of the Trinity. So the reason Order has the force of law for God is that the Father loves the Son and does everything through the Son; the Son is the divine Order, so the Father does everything through Order. In general this means acting according to the general laws found in divine Order. But in the case of certain things, like the Incarnation, God is still acting through Order: the Incarnate Word is, in fact, Order Himself, and so even though the miracle is unique, it is still done for and with divine Order, although not according to a general law. (There are, however, general laws that God wills given that the Word is Incarnate, namely, the general laws of grace, even though the Incarnation is not itself something that results from the willing of a general law.) The reason underlying miracles involving the divine Word is the same as the one underlying the general laws of nature: God loves the Logos, the Word, the divine Order. So he wills general laws, and exceptions only when the exceptions are better ways of honoring the divine attributes as they are found in divine Order.

There are many more threads in the topic of Malebranche and miracles than this; it's a complex subject. But it's an interesting case of how Malebranche's Trinitarianism has an influence on his philosophical views.

Finding the Horse

"My own process of reasoning was not really original," said Miss Marple. "It's all in Mark Twain. The boy who found the horse. I just imagined where I would go if I were a horse and I went there and there was the horse."

"You imagined what you would do if you were a cruel and cold-blooded murderer?" said Craddock, looking thoughtfully at Miss Marple's pink and white elderly fragility. "Really, your mind--"

"Like a sink, my nephew Raymond used to say," Miss Marple agreed, nodding her head briskly. "But as I always told him, sinks are necessary domestic equipment and actually very hygienic."

Agatha Christie, What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! Pocket Books (New York: 1958) p. 73. This is often how I work -- I mean, not with a mind like a sink, but by imagining what I would think if, say, I were Berkeley, and then going to see if that's what Berkeley actually thinks. Right or wrong it is always illuminating.

But the allusion to Mark Twain is not ringing any bells.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Aquinas on Amor (Repost)

The following is a repost from 2008.

You are struck by a vision, some exquisite example of beauty. Being struck, you are changed, this beautiful object introducing itself into your very disposition, so that you become, so to speak, adapted to it, so as to find satisfaction in it. You are pleased by it, and, being pleased by it, you desire it, and this desire seeks the joy and rest of its presence. Thus you have become caught up in a sort of circle: it has joined itself to you, by changing you; you are thereby driven to join yourself to it, that you may rejoice in it. You are set in motion by it, and this motion comes to rest only in that which started the motion in the first place.

Such is Thomas Aquinas's view of the passion of love. In this account, the experience of love consists in a series of changes induced in us, immutationes, the first of which, complacentia, the taking pleasure in, or being pleased by, a thing, is what we most often refer to as 'love'. The beloved becomes, in a sense, a part of the lover. But this complacentia isn't the term of the change; it continues on to desiderium, desire, the drive to union (of some sort) with what is loved, and the change involved in this desire continues until one finds a way to be united to what is loved, and rest in it. This rest is gaudium, joy.

This is all on the supposition that everything else is equal, of course; any discussion of the changes involved in the passions has a mercurial and unstable subject. There are endless numbers of things that might intervene. But there is enough pattern to the chaos that each of these, the amor or complacentia, the desiderium, the gaudium, is a recognizable feature, as is the sense of coaptatio, adaptation to the beloved, the experience of being disposed in some way by the loved one to love the loved one.

There is much more to St. Thomas's account of the passion than this; his discussion of the effects of love is particularly interesting. Love, says Thomas, has four proximate effects: liquefactio, fruitio, languor, fervor. In liquefactio our defenses are melted, our heart is softened; to the extent the beloved is present to us, we have fruitio, enjoyment; to the extent the beloved is absent, we have languor, sorrow or pining, and fervor, the passion to possess. These effects are induced in us proportional to the severity of the immutatio. Beyond this there are other effects that may ensue: union, indwelling (dwelling upon the beloved in thought and in sympathy), zeal or jealousy (understood as the repulsing of what stands in love's way), ecstasy (in the sense of being somehow carried away, either elevated beyond or debased below our usual state of sanity), and the myriad acts of lovers.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Ancient Promise

by Christina Rossetti

I watched a rosebud very long
Brought on by dew and sun and shower,
Waiting to see the perfect flower:
Then, when I thought it should be strong,
It opened at the matin hour
And fell at evensong.

I watched a nest from day to day,
A green nest full of pleasant shade,
Wherein three speckled eggs were laid:
But when they should have hatched in May,
The two old birds had grown afraid
Or tired, and flew away.

Then in my wrath I broke the bough
That I had tended so with care,
Hoping its scent should fill the air;
I crushed the eggs, not heeding how
Their ancient promise had been fair:
I would have vengeance now.

But the dead branch spoke from the sod,
And the eggs answered me again:
Because we failed dost thou complain?
Is thy wrath just? And what if God,
Who waiteth for thy fruits in vain,
Should also take the rod?

On Kirsch on Rand

A thoroughly mystifying paragraph by Adam Kirsch:

Yet while Rand took to wearing a dollar-sign pin to advertise her love of capitalism, Heller makes clear that the author had no real affection for dollars themselves. Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision is something that no genuine capitalist, and few popular novelists, would have done. It is the act of an intellectual, of someone who believes that ideas matter more than lucre. In fact, as Heller shows, Rand had no more reverence for the actual businessmen she met than most intellectuals do. The problem was that, according to her own theories, the executives were supposed to be as creative and admirable as any artist or thinker. They were part of the fraternity of the gifted, whose strike, in “Atlas Shrugged,” brings the world to its knees.

One does not normally think of Rand's philosophical position as extraordinarily difficult to figure out; but if it were so easy it's difficult to see how someone can be so completely off. Rand is very clear that capitalism, as she understands has to do not with money as such but with the exemplification of objective values in a market of free individuals. Rand holds that everything has a "philosophically objective value," which is its value as determined by "the most rational mind possessing the greatest knowledge, in a given category, in a given period, and in a defined context (nothing can be estimated in an undefined context". Her example is that an airplane is objectively more valuable than a bicycle for the creative abilities of a rational person. She thinks of this as the true value of it. A free market does not express this form of objective value directly; rather it expresses what she calls a "socially objective value," which depends on and is derivative of the philosophically objective value, but is determined by taking into account that society does not consist entirely of people with "the most rational mind possessing the greatest knowledge," but of people with a wide spread of ability. An airplane may be philosophically more valuable than a bicycle, but I may have no use whatsoever for an airplane and considerable use for a bicycle; it may well be that I can do a better job exercising my rational ability to create if I have a bicycle than if I have an airplane. Since the exercise of one's rational ability to create is the only ultimate goal recognized as healthy in Rand's philosophy, I am entirely rational if I am willing to trade the equivalent of several weeks of labor for a bicycle but would refuse to accept an airplane even if it were given for free. What I am interested in when I engage in such trades, at least if I am rational, is not the best and most informed minds in the most relevant fields, but my mind in my own field. I do not decide whether to buy a telescope on the basis of what Hubble could have done with it, but on the basis of what I can do with it. This is what the market involves: not the best judgments of value but the sum of all judgments of value. A market allows producers and creators, i.e., rational people, to exchange with each other the products of their skills and abilities so that they can gain things of objective value. That market is free which allows "the most rational mind possessing the greatest knowledge" to do its thing; and people are rational in their participation in this market to the extent that they approximate the value judgments of "the most rational mind possessing the greatest knowledge" within the limits of their abilities and resources.

Thus on Rand's view of capitalism, "Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision" is exactly what a good capitalist will do: make contractual agreements, monetary or otherwise, for things of value. On Rand's own principles, she had no right to those royalties: royalties don't attack automatically to works, but are the results of contract. And the publisher had no right to Rand's novel. Rand did not want to give up John Galt's speech, which in her judgment was the most important part of the novel; the publisher did not want to publish a novel that has a character ranting for pages and pages. But they both regarded the novel as being of value, albeit for different reasons, and therefore they had a mutual goal, an acceptable trade that would allow publication of the novel. On her own view, Rand did not literally give up anything: she just recognized that the value of Galt's speech to her publisher, who was primarily interested in publishing books that would sell in the book market, was not the same as it was to her, who was primarily interested in the ideas it represented, and this was taken into account as it always is in a market system, by contractual exchange.

Likewise, anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged knows that it's false that the novel gives automatic membership into 'the fraternity of the gifted' to executives: most of the executives in the book are portrayed as corrupt, incompetent parasites. Only a small handful, like Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden, are treated as part of 'the fraternity of the gifted'; and outside that tiny circle only Eddie Willers, the ungifted but decent and honest man whom the parasites will inevitably destroy as an incidental byproduct of their parasitism, is treated in a favorable light. (For that matter, being an artist or writer doesn't automatically guarantee you any favor in Rand's system, either.)

I don't think these things are difficult to pick up in Rand; they are the sorts of things she tended to shout as loud as she could.

(Rand quotations are from her essay, "What Is Capitalism?" in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.)