Saturday, July 18, 2015

Bernie Sanders: "The Return of the Son of Comrade Sonia", or, "Socialism: The Unknown Ideal"

I think I see a theme, here:

-World Socialist Web Site: "Is Bernie Sanders a Socialist?"



-The New Republic: "Stop Calling Bernie Sanders a Socialist"..."The Vermont senator is a 'democratic socialist'-and yes, there's a difference..."

Somehow, this all sounds too familiar...

That evening, Comrade Sonia moved into Syerov’s room, which was larger than her own. “Oh, darling,” she said, “we must think of a good revolutionary name for our child.”*
........
At dinner—which had been sent from a communal kitchen two blocks away, and was cold, with grease floating over the cabbage soup—Comrade Sonia said: “Really, Pavel, I’ve got to have a fur coat. I can’t allow myself to catch a cold—you know—for the child’s sake. And no rabbit fur, either. I know you can afford it. Oh, I’m not saying anything about anyone’s little activities, but I’m just keeping my eyes open.”
........
“Our child,” said Comrade Sonia, “will be a new citizen of a new state. It will be brought up in the free, healthy ideology of the proletariat, without any bourgeois prejudices to hamper its natural development.”
.........
“Oh, hell!” said Comrade Sonia. “Those damn slippers of mine!” She wriggled uncomfortably on her chair, stretching out one leg, her foot groping under the table. She found the slipper and bent painfully over her abdomen, pulling the slipper on by a flat, wornout heel. “Look at the old junk I have to wear! And I need so many things, and with the child coming . . . You would choose a good time to write certain literary compositions and ruin everything, you drunken fool!”


(Excerpts from Ayn Rand's We the Living)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Art as "Spiritual Fuel" and "Waste Management"

"...we came in?"



There's a long-going thread about art, happening at the site Objectivist Living, under the title "Mess or Masterpiece?".  The topic was about a particular style of abstract art, but a question from Michael Stuart Kelly arose that took the thread's title into a different, but related (and perhaps, ironically, more relevant), direction:

"And if art is spiritual fuel, I would still like to know what the spiritual residue is from using it. I harp on this because I believe the metaphor is only valid for a tiny portion of artistic experiences. Furthermore, I believe those experiences are not fundamental to man's need for art."

and

"Since you agree the need for art is innate (albeit with your byproduct hedge), how do you get from there to showing how and why a need for art-like "fuel" is innate to human consciousness?
"

"What action is produced by burning this fuel?


"And what waste byproduct results from the fuel-burning process?"


Ok, I'll bite...This is an interesting question, one I don't think I've ever heard before regarding the Objectivist esthetics. (And having followed the art threads, there, I've come to appreciate the premise-checking of Rand's art theories that focus on the scope of those theories, that is, do her theories apply to all art, or just a small portion within the variety of art and art-forms?)



I have a theory on as to why this has never come up in the Objectivist discourse, a theory that involves the "clean energy" of Galt's motor, which, scientific feasibility aside, becomes a metaphor for Rand's ethics, in general, that evil is impotent, of moral cleanliness and perfection ("perfection" in the sense of "complete in itself". I also connect it to the idea of glamour (which I'll discuss further, in a bit). But regarding that feasibility of a clean motor giving off no exhaust, and an artistic fuel that burns with no waste: well, physics informs us that "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." And with that in mind, a wasteless art idea is at odds with something else in the Rand corpus, fictional and real...


The closest thing that comes to my mind, regarding his question, is at the end of The Fountainhead:

"Mankind will never destroy itself, Mr. Wynand. Nor should it think of itself as destroyed. Not so long as it does things such as this."

"As what?"

"As the Wynand Building."

"That is up to you. Dead things — such as the Banner — are only the financial fertilizer that will make it possible. It is their proper function."


Here, the connection is made regarding fertilizer and creativity, sure, but this association is regarding the metaphor of the creative act growing from waste, whereas the question above is regarding the waste left behind after the creative act.


Back to the question at hand...it's been rattling around in the back of my mind, but it was brought to the forefront of my attention by something that came up while watching a BBC documentary series, The Secret of Drawing. In the episode entitled "Storylines", which focused heavily on satire in visual storytelling, the narrator, reflecting on the common theme in the art discussed in the show, concluded with this observation:

"I do think that there is a common thread running through it all, a certain dark attitude, a mood of satirical disaffection with  the way things are…"

And that triggered in me the kernel of an answer, of three elements to be connected: satire, judgement, and depression.



This isn't an full answer, by any means, but I think any objectivish reader can guess why that line would grab my attention in relation to the question, given Rand's celebration of her Aristotelian idea of art being of greater importance than history for its ability to project "what might and ought to be". And though it's just a tangential point, to start, it's an easy jump to the idea of "what ought not to be".

 From the art that is digested, what is seen is "nutritious" is kept for fuel, and what is bulk, or non-edible, is passed on as waste. The "what might and ought to be" becomes fuel for achievement, and "what is and should never be" becomes passed through as...satire. From there, an answer begins to suggest itself. Satire can be gentile, or it can be vicious and cruel...and more often than not, I find it tends towards the latter...





To support this, think about Rand's attitude towards humor. While she disapproved of self-mockery, or jokes at the expense of one's values, she was ok with humor that mocked or looked down upon the villainous or the ridiculous, and she employed her own brand of satire, from the portrayal of the avant-garde in The Fountainhead to the lumpy-sounding names she gave the villains of Atlas Shrugged, caricatures of what she considered evil and unimportant. Using her favorite art and literature, and her enemies, as the fuel for her art and philosophy, she created Dagny, Roark, and Galt, and, waste, spit out and shit out, Keating, Toohey, and Taggert.



Beyond the artistic input/output, though, the question of art's "byproduct" extends into the psychological non-fiction.  Sprinkle in Rand's post-partum depression after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, said to be brought on from her return to reality after having "lived" in her Galt's Gulch, and another part of an answer begins to suggest itself, with implications for better and/or for worse for the Objectivist theory of art as fuel. The idea of weltschmerz, translated as "world-weariness", is described at Wikipedia as "a kind of feeling experienced by someone who understands that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind." For the objectivish, that's a disconnect between "things as they are" and "things as they might or ought to be". Or, as Dr. Sheldon Cooper explains,



Now, is that to say that kind of conflict must arise? The objectivish might say, no,  not if one's goals are consistent with reality; "nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." But then, it's not so much the rules of nature, but the irrational elements and people of that society, that the idealist artist contends with. (See Rand, in The Art of Fiction, concerning stories of man against nature vs. man against man.) And, as the narrator of the documentary suggests, the satirist is at war with the object of his mockery precisely because they see a better or different way; else, there'd be no need for that type of art. Here, the objection might arise that only novels need present conflict; other forms of art can present a joyful, pain-free view of the world and be complete in itself. (See Rand's "tiddlywink" music). This would be what Virginia Postrel, in The Power of Glamour, defines as works of "glamour" (vs. works of "spectacle", which though similar, do present a suggestion of struggle, if not against man, against, and overcoming of, nature, in a celebratory manner). But the word "glamour" suggests illusion, and works of glamour are refined, having already separated the "wheat from the chaff", having already wiped away the inessential, the exhaust, the waste. It's a statue of a Greek god or goddess whose ass has already been wiped clean. In a poem or painting, it's a society that's been scrubbed and sterilized. No struggle, no hard-to-digest peasant pumpernickel bread, but Wonder Bread, bleached and fortified with the vitamins and nutrients added back in, and easy to pass, too.



Now, that carries with it both the good and the bad. The good is that the germs and disease are washed away. The bad, in that one might be washing away the good bacteria from the bad, the way an antibiotic wipes out the good gut flora in addition to the bad. (Here, I am reminded of the glamour of The Fountainhead's "Enright House", and the lamentation of one character that one couldn't feel at home, or cozy, or "sloppy" living in it.)



This, rightly or wrongly, but inevitably, leads to the idea, and the accusation towards the Objectivist theory of art, of "Aesthetic Fascism."

Dirt, it has been described by Lewis Hyde, in Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art, is "matter out of place". There is a strong idea of "sanitization" that runs throughout the Objectivist philosophy, that, rightly or wrongly, gets associated with Fascism. That argument is beyond the scope of this post, but a common theme that gets brought up between the two is judgement and repression. Judgment leads to the celebration of heroes, but also of satire and condemnation. Jane Jacobs, in her book Systems of Survival, discusses this in terms of the "Guardian" and "Trader" syndromes, and how they clash when they misintegrate or disintegrate. (See also a similar argument in Human Action by Ludwig von Mises.) Sometimes, this is right, and sometimes, if not handled correctly, gets out of hand; in the search for purity and beauty, no imperfections can be permitted, and the striving and creativity get sidetracked by policing and enforcing against any suggestion of imperfection (and, on many threads on various objectivish forums, lots of heated, vitriolic debates about art and music and "the filthy, headbanging caterwaulers who are filthing up the filthin' place with their filth-flarn-flith...")

. But then, in the presence of an over-active auto-immune system, if things get too sterile, or too controlled, or too constrictive, it can fossilize.

And living, breathing things require, well...dirt.

Soil.

Fertilizer.

And sometimes we need to "get our hands dirty" to create something new and innovative. A common theme throughout trickster mythology of different cultures, as tricksters are the ones to get things moving when a morality causes societal...uh...constipation. (I've previously discussed the connection between the Trickster and dirt, in relation to Objectivism, here...)



As I write this, now that I'm thinking about it, regarding the original question of fuel and waste in the metaphor of art, there is one other source I can think of that addresses the question, and it contains a strong amount of satire. This connection of artistic 'fascism", repression, and judgement, and "cleansing" is very strongly (and graphically, both figuratively and literally) in the song "The Trial" from the movie Pink Floyd: The Wall. After the fictional rock star "Pink" has had his turn as a artistic fascist, and unleashes his "marching hammers" to "weed out the weaklings", he finds that, in order to "tear down the wall" of his emotional repression, he needs to first put himself on trial. The arse-shaped "Judge" delivers his "verdict" in an act of elimination:

"In all my years of judging/

I have never heard before/
Of someone more deserving/

Of the full penalty of law/

The way you made them suffer,/

Your exquisite wife and mother,/

Fills me with the urge to defecate!



("Hey Judge! Shit on him!"

)

"Since, my friend,

You have revealed your deepest fears/

I sentence you to be exposed before your peers/

Tear down the wall!"



The Judge then expells onto Pink all the anger, rage, and depression of the weltschmerz brought on from the depression between the rock star's disillusionment with things as they are versus the promise of fame, fortune and happiness he was told would make him happy. And then, the Fascist rock star, who once took in his art as fuel, only to develop artistic "diarrhea", finds himself, for lack of a less crude expression, "in the crapper" (as that's what his "wall" suddenly becomes...)


And as the wall comes down, the cycle is broken, only to start again, with a new vision of what might and ought to be "outside the wall." The movie ends with the vision of children cleaning up the rubble, disgusted by the debris of what went in to creating the wall, to begin with. The album version, it should be noted, starts with the words "Isn't this where?" and ends with "We came in".  Flip the record over, and, just like the process of digestion, fueling the body and expelling waste, the cycle starts again, toward a new ideal. Can it work, this time?  To quote Gail Wynand, "Dead things...are the fertilizer that will make it possible. It is their proper function."



"Isn't this where..."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Self-Made (Wo)Man...

"Why did you decide to be an architect?”

“I didn’t know it then. But it’s because I’ve never believed in God.”

“Come on, talk sense.”

“Because I love this earth. That’s all I love. I don’t like the shape of things on this earth. I want to change them.”

 “For whom?”

 “For myself.”

Ayn Rand. The Fountainhead (Kindle Locations 988-991). Plume. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thoughts on Michael J. Hurd's "Duck Dynasty: A Controversy For A Nation of Children"

An Objectivist psychologist, Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D, has weighed in on the DUCK DYNASTY/A&E flap, with this article, "Duck Dynasty: A Controversy for a Nation of Children" (a title that fits in with his recurring refrain of his books to "Grow Up, America!".)

Dr. Hurd invokes Voltaire in his argument, captured in these excerpts:

I wish A&E were as blunt and direct as their star. I wish they’d simply say the truth, “A lot of us here find his remarks offensive and even disgusting. But the show is highly rated, and we’re first and foremost a business committed to pleasing our customers. We’ll leave it to viewers to decide if they wish to keep watching the show, or not. Remember that the actor speaks for himself, not for his character.”

The proper response by gay and lesbian groups would be to use the actor’s ignorant remarks to educate the public about the errors they see in his statements.  Beyond that, any lover of equal individual rights should say [and mean], “I detest his remarks, but I will fight to the death for his right to say them.”
That’s no longer the world in which we live. The world in which we now live is, “I have a right not to be offended.” It’s truly a world of children, mentally and psychologically, on both the cultural “left” and “right.” Sarah Palin or GLAAD…they’re all children, in this respect.

 Reading this piece, from an Objectivist point of view, reminds me of the controversy surrounding Rand's comments about homosexuality being "immoral" and "disgusting". On that, she also said it's of no one's business except for the people involved, and called for no boycotts or interventions by government. The matter of Rand's views on homosexuality for modern-day admirers of her philosophy is something of a parallel between the recent DUCK DYNASTY flap, with many people still taking her side, while others repudiate it (the difference being that while Christians see homosexuality as an affront to their god, Rand's disapproval was secular, based on her understanding of male/female psychology.)

(The negative treatment of homosexuality in Objectivism has already been documented in Chris Sciabarra's Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation. But here, I will point out that I do not associate Dr. Hurd with Rand's statement, as he has gone on the record with as disagreeing with Rand on the issue. His thoughts on the matter can be read here, and, as a homosexual myself I share and appreciate the same.)

 
Anyway, back to Rand...Yes, when it came to homosexuality, it was "live and let live." However, when it came to the issue of communism in Hollywood, she was rather vocally opposed, and participated not only in the HUAC hearings, but put together the "Screen Guide For Americans." While Rand didn't push for government censorship, and also said (at least I believe so, but can't find the exact quote, at the moment) that she might detest a view but "fight to the death for the right to say it", she still supported boycotts and offered opposition to those ideas she detested. Though some people may take things too far, there's certainly a place and time to speak up.

But the specifics of this drama, the reality being more real than the "reality show" it rode in on, raises a more universal problem, leaving Objectivists and the "objectivish" with an interesting question: at what point does one "live and let live", and at what point does one speak out? What's the line between being concerned about the cultural direction versus a "childish" tantrum? The obvious starting point (for Objectivists, anyway), is to differentiate between freedom of speech and freedom of property, as stated in the argument that "the right to free speech does not mean that others are required to provide a platform for speech they don't agree with." And that is a larger battle that still needs to be fought in the mainstream, one that, just like this post, has only scratched the surface...
 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Give Me That Old Time Religion," or, Dagny Goes To Church in ATLAS SHRUGGED, PT. 3

Art by Joe Maurone
So, even as Andrew Bernstein debates Dinesh D'Souza over the good and evil in religion, John Aglialoro surprises the objectivish community with his announcement that Dagny will visit a priest in the third installment of his Atlas Shrugged movie. From Forbes magazine: "Atlas Shrugged Producer Shares Insights and a Surprise That Awaits in Atlas III."
"And here is where Aglialoro plans his surprise, a scene that does not exist in the book that he nonetheless hopes to include in the third part of the film trilogy. He believes that our troubled times require an alliance between champions of reason and free market capitalism and conservative religious practitioners, for without such an alliance both causes will be lost."

Aglialoro explains: 

“Most people have a respect for spirituality, maybe even a yearning. There must be room in Objectivism for charity and benevolence. Remember, Rand struggled with the character of the priest, who appeared in early drafts of Atlas Shrugged but didn’t make the final cut. I am going to put him back.”
The article continues:
It will be a mere nod, maybe 30 seconds. Most of the audience will miss it, along with the olive branch it represents. But Aglialoro hopes to get shooting permission from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral for a scene that will open with a wide shot from above and behind the iconic statue of Atlas in Rockefeller Center. The camera will follow Dagny into a quiet courtyard, consumed in silent mental struggle. The sound of a choir will break the night, a beautiful inspiring sound that will stop Dagny in her tracks. She turns and sees a man of the cloth who has been watching her struggle. “Good evening, my child, can I help you?” “Oh no, father, I was just listening to the lovely music.” “Are you sure there is nothing I can help you with?” A long pause. “No, father. I have to do this on my own.”

It’s not much. But it will be a gentle repudiation of the militant atheism that characterizes many Objectivists. Will purists raise a ruckus? Will religious conservatives respond to the invitation, realizing that if liberty is allowed to perish leaving socialism triumphant, religious freedom will be next? Perhaps Aglialoro shared this preview to float a trial balloon. In either case, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Some people have reacted positively towards this announcement, with others saying "dafuq?" And not without good reason. While there is a contingent of objectivish, today, who would try to break bread with the conservative/religious right over the common ground of the need for morality and a "spiritual" approach towards life, based on Rand's own comments, others would side with the Progressive Left when it comes to religion, and opt for science over faith, based on...well, Rand's own comments. (Indeed, there are attempts being made, today, to "break bread" with the left, such as both Yaron Brook and Leonard Peikoff being published in The Huffington Post...to the dismay of leftists and Objectivists alike...) The takeway is the same: Objectivists trying to make common cause with opponents, when Rand called for them to break away from the culture as it is...

My opinion?

My first impulse was to also quote Toohey: "Don't bother to examine a folly; ask what it accomplishes." But I'd be lying to myself if I believed it were that simple... This requires more than a knee-jerk reaction; intellectual honesty demands that both sides of the story be examined. So, what are these comments? The following, while not exhaustive, is a comprehensive collection of statements of Rand on the matter of religion, as a resource for  even-handedness in further discussions of this development, even as I offer my own conclusions...


First, and foremost, is Rand's claim that Atlas was a challenge to "2000 years of Christianity", and that Objectivism was meant to be a "philosophy for living on Earth." Not only was it anti-supernatural, it was anti-altruistic, against self-sacrifice, and rejected original sin, and that's just for starters...

The first controversy revolves around Atlas itself; the priest character planned for the movie is based on Father Amadeus, a character cut from Rand's working script, as revealed in The Journals of Ayn Rand. The priest was meant to originally join the strike, but Rand cut him for the following reason:

I wanted to illustrate the evil of the morality of forgiveness. Also, I wanted to illustrate that the power of religion consists of the power of morality, the power of setting values and ideals, and that is what holds people to religion—and that this is what belongs to philosophy, not to religion. As a type, I wanted [the priest] to be my most glamorized projection of a Thomist philosopher, of a man who thought he could combine reason with religion. Through his relationship with James Taggart I wanted to show the way in which he realized that he was sanctioning evil. And the drama of him refusing to sanction Taggart at the end appealed to me very much.
But it did not take me very long to realize that it would be an impossible confusion. Since all the other strikers in the story can be taken literally, [since] they are all representatives of rational, valuable professions, to include a priest among them would be to sanction religion.]

This, enough, is alone to cast doubt on Aglialoro's decision. But then there's the story Peikoff relates to us, in his essay "My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand: An Intellectual Memoir" from The Voice of Reason, of the wealthy Texas oilman who offered Rand a million dollars if she would just add an "element of religion" to the story. She refused on principle:

"She knew too clearly how she had reached her ideas, why they were true, and what their opposites were doing to mankind. Nor, like Howard Roark, could she ever be tempted to betray her convictions. Since she had integrated her principles into a consistent system, she knew that to violate a single one would be to discard the totality. A Texas oil man once offered her up to a million dollars to use in spreading her philosophy, if she would only add a religious element to it to make it more popular. She threw his proposal into the wastebasket. 'What would I do with his money,' she asked me indignantly, 'if I have to give up my mind in order to get it?'"
And let's not forget the split between Rand and William F. Buckley, when she said to him that he was much too intelligent to believe in God. There was also the split with her former mentor, Isabel Paterson, over the latter's religious convictions. In The Letters of Ayn Rand, we find Rand railing at the idea of "breaking bread" with the religious: 


Now, to the question of God-where your presentation of what you assume to be my position simply made me sick. You state my assumption as: "If God exists, man is a slave," and you proceed to say: "Why? Your assumption there is actually that a creative mind necessarily makes a slave of any person less creative who also happens to exist. Does it? My main argument is that the conception of God-or such as I have ever heard or read-denies every conception of the human mind. What is omnipotence? What is infinity? What is a being which is limitless-when the basic conception of existence in man's form of consciousness is the conception of an entity-which means a limit? An entity is that which other entities are not. What is an entity which is everything?

So, not only is Rand emotionally opposed to the matter, she is metaphysically opposed to it.


(Incidentally, I related the Paterson/Rand split over this on a previous thread about a post at Objectivist Living, over an similar attempt to relate Libertarianism to Islam by related the Muslim idea of "submission to Allah" to Rand's idea of "submission to reality.")

Rand would go on to write against religion in essays as "Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World", and her denouncement of the Pope's decrees against abortion (see her essay, "Of Living Death" in The Voice of Reason.) And yet, despite her vitriol in her discussion with Paterson, all of this has to be considered against Rand's defense of certain elements and thinkers of religious thought. For starters, there is her appearance on the Tom Snyder show, where she reciprocates his farewell to her, "God Bless You". As told by Barbara Branden in The Passion of Ayn Rand:



At one point, he asked her, "Would you say 'Thank God' for this country?" Ayn replied, smiling broadly, "Yes. I like what that expression means: it means the highest possible." As the interview came to an end, Snyder said, "God bless you"-and Ayn responded, "Thank you. The same to you."

Rand was also known to defend religion as a "primitive form of philosophy," and singled-out Christianity for its proto-individualism. And the parallels between Roark and Jesus Christ were not lost on Rand. See Rand's letter to Sylvia Austin, also in Letters, in 1946, where she notes the different moral ideals they represent, even as she admits "that both...are held as embodiments of the perfect man." Also, in her early draft of Roark's courtroom speech in The Fountainhead, as revealed in research by Shoshana Milgram of Ayn Rand's manuscripts, Jesus Christ is name-dropped, along with other historical figures, as examples of martyrs who brought value to humanity and suffered for it. (Ayn Rand Manuscripts, box 20, folder 5, 570, quoted in Milgram 2001a, 17.) Rand also writes that Christ "come[s] close to the truth," even as his ideal is inverted. She claims that "Christ proclaims the untouchable integrity of Man's spirit [stating] the first rights of the Ego. He placed the salvation of one's own soul above all other concerns. But men distorted it into altruism."

On this note, it should also be noted that Rand appropriates religious symbols and metaphors throughout The Fountainhead. Despite being an atheist, Toohey notices: "He will tell you that he doesn't believe in God...Don't believe him. He's a profoundly religious man-in his own way. You can see that in his buildings. She remarks in the twenty-fifth anniversary introduction of the book that "Religion's monopoly in the field of ethics had made it extremely difficult to communicate the emotional meaning and connotations of a rational view of life." Even the title of Anthem alludes to a religious hymn. As Peikoff states in the introduction: "Anthem is a religiously toned word...[meaning] 'a piece of sacred vocal music, usually with words taken from the Scriptures.'"

Since Rand mentioned that Father Amadeus was a Thomist priest, let's consider her letter to an anonymous Catholic priest, as documented in The Letters of Ayn Rand. In it, she shows respect to the priest and certain ideas, answering his letter that she had no desire to tear his letter up "in disgust", nor to "have a good laugh at an enemy." Rather, she found it "profoundly interesting," and sincerely appreciated it. While Rand disagree with many of the priest's positions, and flat-out said so, she added that she was "an intransigent atheist, but not a militant one":
This means that I am an uncompromising advocate of reason and that I am fighting for reason, not against religion. I must also mention that I do respect religion in its philosophical aspects, in the sense that it represents an early form of philosophy."

That said, she concluded with a finality that illustrates the ultimate divide between the two philosophies:

I have the impression that you are a follower of Thomas Aquinas, whose position, in essence, is that since reason is a gift of God, man must use it. I regard this as the best of all attempts to reconcile reason and religion-but it is only an attempt, which cannot succeed. It may work in a limited way in a given individual's life, but it cannot cannot be validated philosophically. However, I regard Aquinas as the greatest philosopher next to Aristotle, in the purely philosophical, not theological, aspects of his work. If you are a Thomist, we may have a great deal in common, but we would still have an irreconcilable basic conflict which is, primarily, an epistemological conflict.

And, in a very personal moment for Rand, there's her appearance on Donahue, after her husband's death. In a test of her own spirit, something of an "atheist in a foxhole moment", Rand talks about her momentary wish for an afterlife, if only to be reunited with Frank O'Conner. When asked, by Phil Donuhue, if she hoped "for a reunion with the person you loved?", she responded:

"I've asked myself just that-and then I thought that if I really believed it, I'd commit suicide immediately, to go to him...I've asked myself how I'd feel if I thought he were on trial before God or St. Peter-and I'm not with him. My first desire would be to run to help him, to say how good he was."

Ultimately, though, when it comes to the restoration of the priest character in the Atlas movie, it should be judged against the reason for cutting him in the first place.



So, there we have Rand's own words. Despite her description of Roark as "religious" in The Fountainhead, she consciously chose not to include the priest in Atlas. To the critic who might say the fact that she did describe Roark as religious just goes to support Aglialoro's choice, it must be remembered that The Fountainhead was pre-Objectivism (or proto-Objectivist), with Rand's mature philosophical statement only having been started proper with Atlas. And because of that, adding the priest into the movie is more akin to a regression.

With that, let's re-consider Aglialoro's intentions:
“Most people have a respect for spirituality, maybe even a yearning. There must be room in Objectivism for charity and benevolence. Remember, Rand struggled with the character of the priest, who appeared in early drafts of Atlas Shrugged but didn’t make the final cut. I am going to put him back.”

But as the scene is described in the article, is he really "putting him back," in the way Rand originally intended? After all, as described, 

It will be a mere nod, maybe 30 seconds...She turns and sees a man of the cloth who has been watching her struggle. “Good evening, my child, can I help you?” “Oh no, father, I was just listening to the lovely music.” “Are you sure there is nothing I can help you with?” A long pause. “No, father. I have to do this on my own.”

There is none of the development of the priest from the outlines in Rand's journals. The scene is rather abstract; relying on an informed viewer to fill in the blanks. But what about the non-informed? The economy of words, as presented in the article, when combined with Rand's various statements on religion, suggests that Dagny is appreciating the same overlap, while rejecting the overall arching theme of religion. She is reaffirming the Christian idea, as described by Rand, of Christ as a messenger of individual salvation. But will the moviegoer, ignorant of all this back story, understand the implications? Assuming the scene is aimed at the Christians who would otherwise agree with Rand, will they get Rand's ultimate rejection of religion? Despite Rand's own defense, at times, of Christianity and religion in general, Aglialoro is subverting Rand's story, and philosophy, by restoring the priest, and the religious element, into the movie in his attempt at outreach between Objectivists and Christians. (This also ignores Rand's insistence that literature is first and foremost art, not propaganda.) But, because Rand is on record, pre-and-post Atlas, making a limited defense of religion that could justify the scene, Aglialoro is not saying anything, as the scene is currently described, that Rand already hasn't. The problem that's left is that by relying on implication, in such a brief scene. Where the novelist took great pains to explain her view, he is relying on the viewer to fill in the backstory.


Aglialoro is a taking a major risk here, and he is sure to be judged mightily. Some will say it's a gimmick, a misguided ploy, a misunderstanding of the philosophy itself, or just plain outright hijacking. And then there's the issue of reciprocity; will such an outreach be appreciated? A cynic (or an opportunist) might say that the outreach is an attempt to "lure away" the Christians,  while it may be the worst-case scenario of Objectivist taking to groveling for sanction from a larger, more powerful competitor. But even if this is meant in the spirit of outreach, it would be naive to ignore the larger history of antagonism of Christians and the religious right towards Rand and her secular philosophy, an antagonism that persists to this day, from the backlash of William F. Buckley and the hit piece by Whittaker Chambers in The National Review againt Atlas Shrugged ("All that needed to be said about it had already been said in The Sermon on the Mount"), to the accusations by libertarians of the usurption of the Tea Party by the religious right, to the appreciation of Rand by the likes of Glenn Beck and Paul Ryan followed by the denunciation when Beck's religious audience and Ryan's constituents called them on it. Even among Christian libertarians, there is hostility; for what it's worth, witness the New Zealand, Eternal Vigilance, and the sidebar biographies of its writers:


Tim: Christianity, libertarianism, and keeping it real. Slaggin' socialists and bangin' atheist heads!

Richard: An intoxicating mix of heretical Christianity, libertarianism and death metal. Slaggin' socialists and headbangin'!

Wow. "Can't we all just get along?" For some, on both sides, the answer may be a resounding "No!" Granted, there is animosity on both sides, but I'd say that the Objectivist is the one on the defensive, as Christianity has much more power and influence.
 

And that is not to diminish those individual Christians, or others of religious faith, who have taken a friendlier tone towards Objectivists; even the extreme Christian, atheist-hostile Ann Barnhardt has expressed admiration for Ayn Rand, with her article "Reconciling Rand With the Gospel." Then there is blogger, Jon Venlet, and his recent post about the idea that  "Christianity is NOT Religion, it is a most powerful self improvement tool, and using the teachings of Jesus Christ for any other purpose than self improvement leads to problems.") That is not too unlike Galt's oath from Atlas Shrugged: “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

I personally sympathize with Venlet's post, and Galt's oath. But as we are social creatures, social interactions will always be influenced by competing individual beliefs, and to the extent that "we" are interdependent, there is the concern about the conduct of others and the impact it has on ourselves.
And there are simply, as of now, too many competing ideologies for a great number of people to be truly united, let alone ready to call a truce (Objectivists believe in "objective" rule of law, and as for the religious, a great many more WANT to use religion to improve others, whether they like it, or not...). Individuals aside, regarding the ideas, the danger remains that the outreach from both sides, instead of being a chance to understand and appreciate the best both have to offer, instead turns into a contest to see who can usurp or influence the power of the other. The fact remains that Christianity, as a whole, simply has more power in the culture and that the atheist qua atheist has long been vilified as amoral or immoral, sometimes with justification in certain cases, and not helped from associations with communism, either...not all atheists have the moral leanings of Objectivism...

So, the question, from the Objectivist point-of-view, remains: Is Aglialoro's gambit worth the risk, or, like Toohey, should we ask what this potential folly might accomplish?

The best I could hope for Aglialoro to accomplish is an honest discussion of the divide that exists between Objectivism and Christianity. Unlike Christianity vs. paganism, or Jesus vs. Satan, or freedom vs. communism, this is not a battle of moral vs. immoral, but of two competing moralities. Maybe individuals on each side can listen to the best both have to offer, and like Rand expressed to the Catholic priest, find something profound to appreciate.
 But despite the overlap in places, and even ignoring the more hostile exchanges between the two, Objectivism and Christianity are, and will remain, in moral competition with each other against what they see as immoral, offering two similar at times, but widely divergent answers. Of course, both might not see the other as "moral"; Christians will denounce the Objectivist's stance on matters like selfishness and abortion, while Objectivist will point to organized religion's history of transgressions. The two sides cannot interact honestly by repressing or evading that fact. That means that some Objectivists will have to examine their own religious leanings in their motives to "break bread" with Christians, or conversely, their own motives towards militant atheism, and that Christians have to examine how the Objectivist ideas of private property and political freedom contradict their own metaphysical and moral beliefs. It all comes down to how one approaches the "open" and "closed" system approach to Objectivism, and the "fundamentalist/orthodox" teachings of religion vs. the "heretical", and how integrated ones beliefs are with their actions.

If an were to advise Aglialoro on his attempt at outreach, I would simply quote to him Rand's take, from the essay "What Can One Do?" in Philosophy: Who Needs It:

Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to “do something.” By “ideological” (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals...The only groups one may properly join today are ad hoc committees, i.e., groups organized to achieve a single, specific, clearly defined goal, on which men of differing views can agree. In such cases, no one may attempt to ascribe his views to the entire membership, or to use the group to serve some hidden ideological purpose (and this has to be watched very, very vigilantly).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Raggedy Ayn Rand", or, "I wear a fez, now..."


From the Simpsons short, "The Longest Daycare", that was shown in movie theaters, and just aired on prime-time Sunday, Feb. 17. (Set, of course, in the now-infamous Ayn Rand School for Tots, from the "A Streetcar Named Marge" episode from, well, back in the days when the show was still riotously funny...)


(And yes, for those not in the know, those dolls are based on a real picture of Rand.)


(And before someone gets all snarky, Rand was rockin' the fez before Doctor Who...because she wore a fez, then....fezzes were cool...and she didn't have Amy Pond to smash it, or River Song to shoot it off her head...or, as Steely Dan sang, "never gonna do it without the fez on...")

Monday, December 24, 2012

"Good Will in a Non-Sacrificial Way", or, Merry Christmas

"The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way." -Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Calendar, Dec. 1976 

Objectivism, according to Rand, was to be "a philosophy for living on Earth." And that includes, of course, "peace, good will toward men." In that spirit, I'd like to share some of that good will in music form, with an improv/"work in progress" I started today, "Snow on the River." So, with good will for the best within you, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.