I sit here in John Galt Coffee, a charming little spot in Greeley, Colorado. My table is in the back corner, my laptop, notebooks, iPhone, and iced latte in front of me. The choice of this coffee shop strikes me as ironic, so I grin to myself as couples and groups of people converse all around the space.
“Who is John Galt?” This question comes from Ayn Rand’s classic novel, Atlas Shrugged. And the topic of that novel is strangely fitting to a real-life question I find myself wrestling with on and off over the past few years.
My last published piece for On The Rocks prior to visiting this coffee shop dealt with whether I still want to write. And that question, for me, echoes the premise of Atlas Shrugged.
In Greek mythology, Atlas held up the Earth. But Ayn Rand analogized the titan to the modern world’s wealthy class. What if those with means – the businessmen, inventors, industrialists, et cetera – simply checked out? What if they, like Atlas, shrugged? If the job creators, organizers of societies, and those with the capacity and ability to create and order things just stopped, would not the world come tumbling down?
To be clear, I do not suppose I belong to this class. I am not a very wealthy man as far as the world counts wealth. No businesses of note belong to me. Governing boards do not rise to attention when I walk into the room. The newspapers do not carry gossip on every detail of my professional or private life.
Yet there are many ways to be wealthy. And there are different kinds of influence. And the greatest contribution by the tycoon class in Rand’s novel isn’t their wealth. It’s their leadership and pioneering spirit.
Everybody Wants To Rule The World
To be clear, it would be overstating things to suggest my writing is any kind of equivalent to the wealth commanded by captains of industry. My writing is not widely read. My influence is not very great.
Yet I recall something my dad taught me about shooting a basketball. The ball goes where I point my foot. If I point off to the side when trying to shoot a free throw, I’m not going to consistently score. But when I point at the basket, and bend my knees just so, and flip my wrist like this, swoosh goes the basket more often than not.
In other words, we will never hit targets we refuse to aim at. And we’ll not often hit targets we only occasionally shoot for.
Now my goal is not to become super rich as the world counts riches. And I wouldn’t even say my aim is to become a household name for my writing or persuade everyone by the force of my arguments.
It pays to know your range. The strength of an arm, or lack thereof, is also decisive in scoring baskets. And when your reach is not very great, you get closer to the basket before you shoot.
But then also, shooting more often and consistently teaches you your effective range. And only exercise can increase this. Whoever refuses to exercise refuses also to improve and strengthen themselves or extend their range.
That is to say, I want to write. And I want people to read what I have to say because I believe the things I have to say are important, and that I have the desire and ability to write them for a reason.
A kind of naïve enthusiasm marked my early writing efforts some years ago when I first started publishing content online for more than just my friends and family on Facebook to see.
Matt Walsh, Ben Shapiro, Dennis Prager – I knew of conservative commentators who were successful, who I admired, who I saw no reason why I shouldn’t be equally successful to in my own niche.
I had partners in the endeavor. And there were some cheerleaders urging us on, praising our ambitions, plans, and efforts.
But then we found that the world is full of critics too. And in publishing, we found that there is more to the effort than deciding what you want or need to say and then saying it.
When you speak to the public, sometimes the public speaks back. This isn’t always fun. Au contraire, it is often enough jarring when the social and political climate is such as it has been in the years since I began my public writing.
During the 2016 presidential election campaign cycle, I criticized Donald Trump as a primary candidate. And not a few people who were taken with him reacted viscerally and unthinkingly to my criticisms.
But when I wrote articles defending him against what I felt were unfair and disingenuous, partisan criticisms, still others who hated him on principle implied I had no morals.
But there was more to it than Trump. When I wrote about homeschooling – or, more specifically, when I was critical of American public education – some teachers and public schooling parents I went to church with became downright frosty.
This is to say nothing about some of the reactions to pieces I wrote on climate change, feminism, the LGBT movement, race relations, or animal rights.
Fatalism as Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Much attention I could have spent writing more has been spent over the past four years trying to analyze how much of the way I interpreted those negative reactions was wise, healthy, reasonable, and realistic.
Had I been naïve to expect a warmer reception? Was I being oversensitive to feel as hurt as I did by how family, friends, and professing brothers and sisters in Christ had treated me? Perhaps my retreat had been due to my being thin-skinned.
The on-again, off-again desire I’ve had to write since this all started could be called a struggle with fatalism. Sitting down to write something I wanted to, I’ve spent too much time sifting my topics and how I really wanted to treat them through the filter of bad experiences.
How would this person feel about my saying that?
What will those people think of me?
Will this end up backfiring on my family?
And every step of the way, I’ve felt extremely frustrated that the primary question of what is true and good is lost in the shuffle.
For every complaint I’ve heard from conservatives that journalism is dead, or that important stories about the wealthy and powerful are killed by the powers-that-be, or that the Left is irrational and hysterical when you transgress it’s definition of politically correct orthodoxy, there is a remarkable blindness to our own contribution to these conditions.
We create the culture. We shape society, each one of us, by our individual choices and attitudes.
And when we respond to those in our midst trying to promote what’s true and good with relational distance, apathy, indifference, petty criticisms, or even outright hostility because what they’re saying challenges us to think differently or deeply, we are not part of the solution. We’re part of the problem.
Playing It Safe
Beside me is my notebook. This Saturday morning trip to this coffee shop to write is a new and special treat for me, suggested by my wife after I expressed frustration that I wasn’t writing, and was distracted when I tried.
When I first got to this coffee shop, I stared at my laptop screen for some time. What did I want to write about now that I had the chance?
There was a piece I mostly wrote the other night when I was home. It was about the annual review and goal-setting process my wife and I go through every year. It was a personal piece. Perhaps it was too personal and wouldn’t interest my audience. And besides that, a lot of the pieces I’ve written over the past year have been like that. They’re safe. Sentimental friends and family may read and like them. Hardly anyone should get offended by them. But they’re too safe. And I’m writing them because I’m afraid. And I absolutely hate that.
I saved that article and closed the window.
Next, I thought about writing an article comparing President Trump with U.S. Grant, and Never Trump Republicans with George B. McLellan. That would not be a safe article. And did I have enough time to write that in the 2-hour time limit I’d set for myself?
Airstrikes just killed Iran’s top general. But that felt too current. Some of what I had to say about that I vented in a Facebook post on my personal page last night. And I wouldn’t be able to go into that subject too much deeper without leaving safe territory.
Perhaps I’d work on my book about homeschooling. Or maybe I could write an article about education and parenting. Would that be too safe, or not safe enough?
Liberty And Safety
Benjamin Franklin once said “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Yet this is what we do when we avoid discussing important events and topics for fear of how we’ll be treated in response.
Freedom of speech is worthless if we don’t employ it courageously, discussing openly, honestly, and humbly the direction our country’s headed.
But when fear for our security prevents us because dishonest and abusive people might slander and abuse us, we’re enabling and empowering precisely the wrong people. And when we enable and empower those wrong people, we are making our churches, towns, cities, states, countries, and world a worse place for everyone, ourselves and those wrong people included.
The flip-side is that we should not abuse our liberty. Love is not rude or self-seeking. It rejoices with the truth and hopes all things.
But neglecting liberty is itself an abuse of liberty. To do nothing in the face of evil is itself evil, as Bonhoeffer correctly stated. We cannot do nothing. Rather, we must overcome evil with goodness, overpower lies with the truth. We must combat hostility towards honesty and care with a renewed commitment to what is pure, wholesome, honorable, and virtuous.
This is what the Apostle Paul was talking about in the epistle when he told us to meditate on whatever is good. He wasn’t telling us to only focus on happy, positive topics. He was saying we live in a dark world, and therefore must let our lights so shine all the brighter.
And if our good works shine a light, and if out of the abundance of our hearts our mouths speak, then we must continually meditate on what’s true and good to say and do what’s true and good.
Who Is Garrett Mullet?
What this all means is that we cannot complain about the direction society is headed if we’re unwilling to do a damn thing about it.
We cannot wax eloquent about the sins of the Left, or of do-nothing politicians and pastors while we ourselves affirm the same kind of indifference by our own silence and complicity.
And if we bemoan hypocrisy, and insist that our disengagement is due to disgust at the lack of sincerity from others, yet are unwilling to bare our souls and engage with genuine, heartfelt goodness and sincerity, we have joined the ranks of the hypocrites. We have become part of the problem.
I had a vision many years ago of a man made of lava, on fire and burning brightly. But the rains came, and he hardened. He turned to stone. The lava solidified as the flames died. And at the end, he was just a statue looking up at the sky, frozen in place.
Let it not be said of us. Let it not be true of me.
Perhaps being made of lava is impractical. Still less practical, however, is being made of stone. Thus I conclude with God’s promise spoken by the prophet Ezekiel.
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
Who then is Garrett Mullet? And who are you? We may not always know for sure. But I know for sure we shouldn’t shrug.