Erik Naggum died last summer. He was a very intelligent, interesting and highly controversial human being. Before his untimely death, he wrote these thoughts about the meaning of life at his web site:
People search for the meaning of life, but this is the easy question: we are born into a world that presents us with many millenia of collected knowledge and information, and all our predecessors ask of us is that we not waste our brief life ignoring the past only to rediscover or reinvent its lessons badly.
Because I am not religious, I have no mystical conception of an afterlife. To me, a person lives on not in Heaven or Hell but instead in the minds and hearts of those they touched while alive—or, even if no one knows it, as an integrated part of the world through the effects of their substantive contributions on the way in which the future comes to unfold. In that spirit, I hereby offer some remarks he once wrote about the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I wanted this writing to persist as part of the public record, rather than quietly fading into the obscurity of my personal mail archives. I think he’d be happy I thought this worth sharing.
Atlas Shrugged is the source of immense controversy generally, but is specifically relevant lately since this book is often cited as formative by many among what I would call the “Modern American Ruling Class,” by which I mean those who control the corporations and the big money that buys politicians’ votes. Erik here gives his views of this book, and discusses how those views have changed with time.
And, to clarify, I don’t offer this piece for the purpose of saying that I either agree or disagree with everything he has to say; as with all things Erik, this piece is complex and bravely resists reduction into the deceptive simplicity of words like Good, Bad, Right or Wrong. I like some of what he says, parts of it makes me uneasy, and all of it makes me think.
These are actual thoughts, reified into text by one who was fearless about self-expression. This is a view into the mind of a person unafraid to think, a stark reminder of the power of our words to transcend our existence, to speak for us even when we are gone.
I hope this text, in being offered posthumously, reminds each of us that we have at our respective fingertips the power to leave such a gift to others, so that when it’s our turn to join our predecessors in history, we will do so having augmented the knowledge, information, and wisdom of the world that came before us.
This was not an essay written for publication. It was just a casual message shared with a friend who had asked a question and earnestly sought an answer. Coming from a man who had a well-documented lack of patience with people who he perceived to be wasting his time, it honored me by suggesting I was worthy of the time required to express a lifetime’s evolution of thought on an important issue, that his time writing it might be well spent.
It is a reminder—a challenge—to each of us to write, to write something meaningful, to write something passionate, to write something worth reading, to write something worth saving.
I have changed this text only to add a title and to add better typography, since our exchange in email was unformatted. For example, he used notation like “/text/” in plain text for emphasis, which I’ve upgraded to “text” for this publication. But the choices of what to italicize are his, not mine. I’ve also updated the quotation marks to be curly instead of straight. The text is otherwise a direct and complete quotation, without editorial correction.
I added hyperlinks in a couple of places, but they aren't visually marked so as not to disturb the text. Some of the references he makes may be unfamiliar, so if you want further reading, there are places you can click through. Adding these is not an endorsement on my part.
To learn more about Erik, see my eulogy of him.
If you would rather read Erik’s piece in black-on-white,
click here to visit the post on my home site.
Photo cropped and resized from a photo by Kevin Layer,
licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 license.
Author's Note: Originally published January 8, 2010 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.
Tags (from Open Salon): naggum, erik naggum, memory, memories, remembrance, memorial, epitaph, legacy, celebration, knowledge, wisdom, information, corpus, mass, collection, controversy, controversial, quotation, essay, email, e-mail, writing, article, literature, politics, rand, ayn rand, objectivism, objectivist, atlas shrugged, the fountainhead, free speech, review, analysis, book review, social system, channeling, afterlife