Monday, February 23, 2015

Celebrating the Life of Nathaniel Branden

This may have been the first time I ever enjoyed myself at a memorial service, but I had a blast at Nathaniel Branden's memorial service. Hosted at the Los Angeles Ebell Theater by the Atlas Society, it was great to hear a lot of big names in the liberty movement discussing the importance and personal impact of Branden’s work (which also had an impact on me, personally).

I remember one of the defining moments of my last few years: I was sitting on top of a Humvee in the Mojave Desert, wearing full (bloody) combat armor, reading “The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged” under the desert sun.  At the time I’d been wrestling with some major personal issues and I was at a crossroads in life.  As a matter of fact, the Humvee I sat on was literally parked at a crossroads where two dirt paths crossed and continued into the sandy wilderness.

The number one theme I took away from Branden’s essay is this: with great liberty comes great responsibility—not a responsibility to strangers, but to self.  Branden wrote about asserting one’s rugged individualism and never being ashamed of success, especially when “social” pressures dictate otherwise.  But there’s another, more important side to that: one must always own up to one’s own failings.  But rather than self-castigate, one should alter their actions for the better and move forward in life.

In that one essay, Mr. Branden had a hell of a punch for my brain that helped put the Atlas Shrugged novel and my own confused life into proper context for me. That was a big deal.

It also spoke highly of Branden’s character that both his wife Leigh and amicably divorced ex-wife Estelle Devers were present, got along, and treated each other with dignity and respect. Hell, I already know which exes are totally banned from my funeral!

The service lasted almost three hours, with a variety of accomplished objectivists and libertarians speaking both of Nat Branden’s work as an intellectual and personal memories of a dear friend departed.  People shared funny, silly stories about Branden and played audio clips from his academic lectures.

It was fascinating to hear in Branden’s own words a new context for the infamous rape scene in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.  While I didn’t agree with him 100%--rape is rape in my book—I will admit that there’s something to Branden’s reasoning in sexually repressed people who are intensely attracted to each other having rape fantasies.  After all, it’s the reason why 50 Shades of Grey is so wildly popular.

Judd Weiss shares memories of Nathaniel Branden
Many of the speakers who were mentored by Branden were aged, in their 50s and 60s. In this context, it was especially refreshing to hear from the cream of the crop of the second generation of Nathaniel Branden’s pupils: Judd Weiss.  Apparently other speakers ran over their allotted time, so Judd had to slash most of his remarks and deliver his speech in five minutes.  Judd's words were touching and he spoke from the heart, not so much about Nat’s work, but about the growing role Nat played in Judd’s life over the last 5 years.

Nat Branden spoke and wrote often these simple instructions: Feel deeply so you can think clearly.  I learned a lot and left the service feeling better about myself. I suppose the greatest feeling of all was being surrounded by people of strong character who aren't ashamed of their success, but also own up to their failures.  Men and women of this quality are few and far between, and no small part of their character and integrity was inspired by the words and deeds of Nathaniel Branden.

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Color photo by Judd Weiss.  Black and White photo by Avens O'Brien.

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