I remember hearing about Atlas Shrugged back in college, but for some reason I never decided to read it. Blank out (that’s for you objectivists). After going completely broke in 2001 I remember seeing my wife reading it and her encouraging me to read it. I even remember reading somewhere that President Ronald Reagan had reportedly said something like, “Next to the Holy Bible, I prefer to read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.” I’m not sure about the accuracy of the quote, but as for me, I wish I wouldn’t have waited to so long to meet Dagny, Reardon, Francisco, Midas Mulligan, Ellis Wyatt and John Galt. Nevertheless, in a very sincere way, it was Les McGuire, and my real life friendship with him (a man who truly loved his life) that brought Atlas Shrugged to life, for me.
“Man’s mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not. To remain alive, he must act, and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his action…To remain alive, he must think.” – John Galt
Les and I were friends of the most rational kind. We were not friends because of mutual emotional affinity, childhood association, family or church connections, etc. Les and I became friends because of our common ideas and interests and this defined our relationship. For those of you who don’t know, Les and another friend of ours (Ray Hooper) were tragically killed along with their pilot in a small airplane crash in Provo, UT in June of 2006. With Les gone, I have found myself often returning to the characters of Atlas Shrugged for the familiar feeling that so closely resembles how it seemed when Les and I would met on Fridays, as was our custom, and visit until all hours of the night.
Les and I also did a morning talk radio program every day of the week for almost a year. We talked about subjects across the board, from silly to very serious. And, for the record, I still can’t forgive him, all these years later, for his unabashed endorsement of Napoleon Dynamite. On the radio and in our seminars together, we regularly shared our ideas in a way that was engaging and satisfying for us both and that we hoped was creating value for others. But, I also have to admit that I’m not so sure we would have changed our pattern even if someone would have told us that our conversations weren’t actually going out over the airwaves.
One day, as Les and I sat discussing something – off the air – he turned to me and out of the blue asked, “Rick, if you had the opportunity to exchange your mind for one day with anyone who has ever lived, who would it be?”
The question was unexpected. I blurted out the first thought that came to my mind was, “I’d rather keep mine, thank you.” Les laughed and teased me from that day on for being so arrogant. My explanation to him was simply that in my estimation I had spent my life developing my own mind and it would be useless to exchange my brain with someone else only to return a day later with my own mind, remembering nothing from the experience.
I told Les at the time, “I’d rather have a good visit with anyone in history who had a brilliant mind than to pretend having theirs would do me or anyone else any good.”
“This,” I explained, “is why I read.” This is the point. Les and I agreed, that for both of us, reading had become a way to probe the minds of great men and women, to get to know them and their ideas, and to measure the value of their contribution to the intellectual marketplace of ideas.
I suppose each of us could answer the question Les asked me that early morning, and give different answers based on our unique life perspectives. But, to me, it boils down to one fundamental point. Do you love your life? Are you working on your own mind? Are you living the life you would freely choose if nothing stood in your way? Improvement and progression are easy to talk about, but to live a life dedicated to such a goal takes more than simple wishing.
Just a few months before the plane crash Les started hosting his own radio program called “the Producer Revolution.” Every weekday morning at precisely 9:05am anyone in the world could tune in and hear Les make his bold yet quizzical pronouncement, “I am the man who loves his live.” He started his show almost every day with this declaration. Of course, to the readers of Atlas Shrugged, he was obviously copying the statement of John Galt, early in his radio address – answering the then common question, “Who is John Galt?” But, why did Les do that?
I’ve heard a lot of his friends and a few of his family members talk about this. They point out that he even had custom plates for his Mercedes, once again taking on the persona of John Galt. But, honestly, I don’t think very many of our friends have ever taken the time to really think his motivation through. And, before you argue with me, let me just say, it would certainly be an insult to the man to think that you could understand his motives by merely casual or half-hearted thinking.
Les was a great example of someone who strived for perfection and progression in his life. I never saw him yield to the momentum of the tide of mediocrity. He loved his life and he loved those around him – starting with his wife, his children, his close family and friends. But, that is not enough to answer the question. John Galt, in his radio address, goes on to answer, “I am the man who does not sacrifice his love or his values.” This, to me, is not simple fiction. It’s an invitation to live a different sort of life. This is the kind of life I witnessed Les living.
Certainly, not everyone is ready for Ms. Rand’s invitation (delivered through Galt), but in time – I’m convinced that almost all of us begin looking for it. Every man born into the world without serious mental defect has an innate sense that his life is important, that he is important, and that it is within his grasp to accomplish great things. It is not in the nature of man to be depressed or to harbor deep despair about the future. Apathy is not our natural state of mind. Small children are the best example of how naturally hopeful and heroic the opportunity of life is to mankind. As Ayn Rand clearly explains in her introduction to The Fountainhead:
“It is not in the nature of man—nor of any living entity—to start out by giving up, by spitting in one’s own face and damning existence; that requires a process of corruption whose rapidity differs from man to man. Some give up at the first touch of pressure; some sell out; some run down by imperceptible degrees and lose their fire, never knowing when or how they lost it. Then all of these vanish in the vast swamp of their elders who tell them persistently that maturity consists of abandoning one’s mind; security, of abandoning one’s values; practicality, of losing self-esteem. Yet a few hold on and move on, knowing that that fire is not to be betrayed, learning how to give it shape, purpose and reality. But whatever their future, at the dawn of their lives, men seek a noble vision of man’s nature and of life’s potential. It does not matter that only a few in each generation will grasp and achieve the full reality of man’s proper stature—and that the rest will betray it. It is those few that move the world and give life its meaning…“
The key to living the heroic life is rediscovering that fire within. Les McGuire was motivated to help others see his own fire, in part, to help them discover their own. One thing Les and I talked about repeatedly, and it was at the center of why we did so much work together, is that we both believed that in order to understand how to reform or improve a nation or a community or a family, it is first necessary to clearly understand how to change ourselves, individually. This begins with that spark, that fire – spoken of by Ms. Rand and referenced by Galt – and by Les.
This is the tragic error of so many who set out to save the world with no real clue of how to save themselves. They miss the central premise. The core truth of life – pertaining to individuals and the fire of liberty. Sadly, there exists no shortage, in the world, of those whose own happiness seems eternally illusive to themselves and yet who at the same time naively and irrationally embark on a mission to save the world (apparently from their own despair.) What out for such so-called leaders. This is a dangerous condition for all those affected. No leader can be trusted who cannot first lead himself. No teacher should be trusted if he has not found in his own life the principled path to happiness. No politician, no businessman, no coach, no adviser, and no parent can effectively perform the sacred responsibility of guiding and directing others if they do not themselves know the ultimate destination of their prescribed path.
Beware of those who have no vision of the future but thrive off of being a leader anyway. Look instead for those who have a vision of the future and who have some principle-based reason for leading. Such leaders have a definite view of their objective. Beware of the mental poison in your own mind, if you have ambitions or feelings to lead. Work diligently, first, to ensure you know where you are going. If you are going in the “right” direction, if you have a vision that is based upon principle, then like-minded men will see that and will follow.
Les McGuire was a leader. I could see this from the first time we met. But, sadly, many people around him didn’t understand the kind of leader he was. He often did things and said things that contradicted the way those closest to him had expected him to act. Even after his death there are those who now criticize his business or his seminars. I’ve yet to meet one of these people who do much thinking on their own, and the thinking men I do know – saw the same Les McGuire that I’m describing here. The greatest of all teachers has said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” I know this advice to be sound and powerfully effective. There are innumerable voices in the world speaking to those looking for answers to life’s various questions. It is important to discern between the voices of consumers, who simply seek to control and manipulate, from the voices of producers, who actually have a substantive desire and ability to lead.
As soon as Les and I started meeting each Friday, we started planning how to organize our friends for the purpose of starting a revolution—a moral revolution that could sweep across the nation. Looking back, I have to admit, neither one of us paused even a second to ponder what the world would see as an obvious, atrocious absurdity in our confidence. We talked about the revolution’s ultimate objectives, what drove us in wanting to initiate such a revolution, the positives and negatives of doing so, and the most appropriate way we could accomplish it. We decided together that it was not worth doing unless it was worth dedicating our lives to the cause. In fact, Les later explained, while posting a response to a question in an online forum,
This is why I have the passion I do, because of the materialism and consumerism so prevalent in the world. I believe it will take a revolution to get us to that point where people live the lives they were sent here to live. When I first started to realize this, I asked myself, “What are we doing to save the Constitution of the United States?” Most everyone I knew then was basically broke, living paycheck to paycheck, selling their time for money. They were slaves; their time and energy were not their own. I met Rick; we talked about it, and we decided what we could do to prepare and help people get free. We agreed that if we could help them regain their labor and time back (financial independence) and then teach them the core principles of how to be a producer, we could effect massive change in the world.
Everything you see here, and everything we do, is aimed toward that end. If you understand this about us, much of what you see us do and say will make more sense to you.
If you didn’t know anything about my friend Les before June of 2006, I invite you to turn your brain-on, make a commitment to start reading, make a list of 10 books you will read immediately, in succession. If you need some help creating the list, look around FreeCapitalist.com, you should be able to find plenty of suggestions. Once you’ve embarked upon this course, ask yourself, what is it that you want most in life. Ask yourself, what are you willing to do – really – to accomplish what you want most. If you don’t know the answer, keep reading. It will take some time, but the investment is well worth it.
The opening line of Atlas Shrugged reads, “Who is John Galt?” When you’re finished with the assignment I’ve just given you, you’ll have a better understanding of why I titled this essay the way I did. You might also understand why I can’t really can’t tell you who Les McGuire was, any more than Ayn Rand could tell you who John Galt was. But, I can show you.
When you are ready to be a man or woman who loves your life – no excuse will do.