This fall I started taking classes with the aim of obtaining my bachelor of science in nursing. I don’t have a lot of money (actually, I don’t have any), so I applied for about 20 scholarships at the beginning of the school year. You get this idea in your head from the financial aid people that there are rooms somewhere in the country with stacks of cash sitting around waiting for someone to apply for the scholarship to obtain those stacks. I have not found this to be so. I didn’t get one scholarship.
One of the scholarships for which I applied was the Ayn Rand “Atlas Shrugged” essay scholarship contest. I had to read “Atlas Shrugged,” then write an essay about a specific question regarding the book, and then wait to see if I won. I didn’t.
The book is over a thousand pages long. I read it in two weeks in September and wrote my essay. The gist of the book is that people should not be forced to support other people. It is as anti-Marxist as it could be. To quote from the Wikipedia article, “”Moochers” demand others’ earnings on behalf of the needy and those unable to earn themselves; however, they curse the producers who make that help possible and are jealous and resentful of the talented on whom they depend. They are ultimately as destructive as the looters – destroying the productive through guilt, and appealing to “moral right” while enabling the “lawful” looting performed by governments.”
The central idea is that every person should enjoy the fruit of their own labor, but that we should not accept free gifts from people without earning them somehow. In chapter one of part 3 of the book, one character says, “So I’ll warn you now that there is one word which is forbidden in this valley: the word ‘give.'”
So it was with humor that I read the email from the people at the Atlas Shrugged contest. This is what it said:
Thank you for entering the 2011 Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest. I’m sorry to inform you that your essay was not selected for a prize in this year’s contest. This is a competitive contest with students from around the world entering. As our way of thanking you for participating, we would like to offer you a free book as a gift.
Please don’t think me ungrateful, but doesn’t a free book as a gift constitute something unearned, and therefore diametrically opposed to the central tenet of Atlas Shrugged? That, my friend, is irony. Thank you for the opportunity to compete for the scholarship.
After I sent it, I wondered what possible reactions they could have to my email. One reaction would be to acknowledge the irony, and then forget it. We’ll call this the “whatever, kid” reaction. Another possibility would be for them to get angry that I have pointed out their logical fallacy, and withhold the promised book, or even make sure that I am blacklisted from future contests. This is the “Who do you think you are?” reaction. The third possibility (and this is the one I’m hoping for) is that they will read my reply to their offer of a free book like Willy Wonka (as played by Gene Wilder) at the end of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (just the first three minutes of the video here):
Maybe this rejection email was just a test to see if I truly understood the meaning of the book. Maybe they will call me on the phone and say, “Steve, my dear boy, you’ve won!” and give me the $10,000 grand prize. We’ll call this the “Indefatigable Optimist” reaction.
So, loyal reader, which of these three do you think will be the reaction of the people at the Ayn Rand Institute?