Monday, November 2, 2009

The HERO CYCLE IN OBJECTIVISM (Part 2 of 3)

(* DISCLAIMER: I have come to distance myself from some of the conclusions of this article, which was written as a sequel to "The Trickster Archetype and Objectivism" (Originally published as "The Trickster Icon and Objectivism" in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies,Volume 3, No. 2 - Spring 2002.) This, and that article, were written to expand on pre-existing essays from Objectivist sources on the nature of heroism as it relates to Jungian ideas, which I found to only scratch the surface. I particularly reject the analysis of Ayn Rand as a dogmatic figurehead and Objectivism as fascist, comparisons based on the depictions of Rand in the biographies written by the Brandens). However, where I diverge from my original conclusions about the implications of Ayn Rand and the attempt to reconcile her philosophy with that of classical mythology, I believe the research to be solid and useful for future researchers on the topic. There is merit in this piece, particularly the research on Rand's childhood hero, Cyrus, the comparisons of the concept of self and ego between Rand and others such as Jung and Nietzsche, and the comparison of classical versus American hero myths, and Rand's preference towards the latter. I would like to rewrite this one day, but it is offered here for archival purposes as well for comparative purposes; I would like to compare it specifically to Andrew Bernstein's "The Philosophical Basis of Heroism," which does not consider the Jungian/Campbell, yet offers a stronger approach to heroism without the pitfalls of the classical theory. For now, however, I offer it as it originally appeared, and not indicative of my reconsidered position towards Rand and her concepts of heroism, which can be gleamed from my piece "The Incredible Revolution" [based on the movie The Incredibles, and written as a rebuttal of this piece], and my writings on heroism blog, Superhero Babylon.)



THE EVOLUTION OF THE RANDIAN HERO CYCLE:

THE AMERICAN MONOMYTH


Ironically, America had developed its own version of the hero cycle, what philosophy professors John Shelton Lawrence and Robert Jewett (2002) have termed "the American Monomyth." The authors describe it as thus: " A community in a harmonious paradise is threatened by evil; normal institutions fail to contend with this threat; a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task; aided by fate, his decisive victory restores the community to its) paradisiacal condition; the superhero then recedes into obscurity. (6) The populace of such stories is usually too weak to deal with the problem, and the established authorities are possibly inept, but usually corrupt. Thus, the need for an outsider as hero is born, who usually uses violent means to restore the community. Though some commentators such as Stephen Cox argue that the outsider in Rand's fiction has the better understanding of the institution than the insider, it is also necessary to consider the negative possibility that the outsider is merely changing the rules of the game, either because the outsider simply doesn't understand the rules as they are, for their own personal agenda.


Initially skeptical themselves that the "American Monomyth" was unique, Jewett and Lawrence compare their ideas with those of Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. By comparing the American monomyth with those described by Campbell, they find the difference to lie within the re-initiation of the hero into society after the completion of the quest, a quality lacking in the American monomyth.

Whereas the classical monomyth seemed to reflect rites of initiation, the American monomyth derives from tales of redemption. It secularizes the Judeo-Christian dramas of community redemption that have arisen on American soil, combining elements of the selfless servant who impassively gives his life for others and the zealous crusader who destroys evil. The supersaviors in pop culture function as replacements for the Christ figure, whose credibility was eroded by scientific rationalism. But their superhuman abilities reflect a hope for divine, redemptive powers that science has never eradicated from the popular mind. (6-7)

( Jewett and Lawrence claim that the American Monomyth is fascist because it is anti-democratic. But although Rand was not an egalitarian, and not a believer in democracy, politically she believed that the United States were meant to be a republic, a point that Jewett and Lawrence fail to address.)


Rand's fiction adapts many of these themes. Rand did not believe in democracy, but rather supported a republic. She justifies violence, including murder, on the part of the heroes as acts of self-defense. Although Rand supported a Republic in place of a democracy, it is telling that she portrays the community in her stories as weak or unable to deal with the problem, and never do her heroes work alongside the community, or discuss their problems and work toward mutual solutions. Ryan notes this, saying,

"Rand occasionally writes as though having 'high ideals' about human beings requires one to contemn, even to condemn, most actual people. It seldom seems to occur to her that it is possible to have 'high ideals' and to want and even encourage all human beings to live up to them as far as possible, compassionately recognizing all the same that none of us do so completely. Indeed, her 'ideals' themselves look, at times, curiously like rationalizations for her own pre-existing contempt for much of humanity. "(342)


He traces this attitude back to Rand's sympathy with, and ultimate rejection of Nietzsche. " Rand's new version of Nietzsche's Uebermensch is a step down from his: Nietzsche, for all his ranting and raving, at least did not deny that the non-Supermen were human at all. Yet…this is just what Rand does." He continues:

Nor is this a simple glitch that can be removed from her 'system' without damaging it. Man, she consistently maintains from roughly the 1940's onward, 'is man only so long as he functions in accordance with the nature of a rational being. When he chooses to function otherwise, he is no longer man. There is proper name for the thing which he then becomes…. Man must remain man through his own choice' [ibid., pp.253-254]…This, then, is her vaunted replacement for the 'Nietzschean' view that some people are innately heroic and others are innately suitable to be ground underfoot. If such character traits were 'innate,' no one could be praised or blamed for them. And so Rand makes them volitional traits, and proceeds to condemn most of humanity for choosing to be depraved. (345)


(It is telling that Rand, the dialectic thinker, creates a dichotomy between the hero and the community.) Although Rand's heroes don't necessarily "ride off into the sunset," neither do they reintegrate themselves into the community. Kira is left lying dead in the snow in a failed attempt to escape, Roark rises above the city in a heavenly ascent, and although Galt retreats to his Gulch, he plans to return to a world created in his image. There is enough similarity to make a connection, as many already have, (most notoriously the attack by Whittaker Chambers in the National Review's take on Atlas Shrugged) that Objectivism does display a hint of fascism. It may be, if the "medium is the message," and Jewett and Lawrence are right, then, by choosing this subtle form of fascism, Rand may have inadvertently undercut her message of freedom and individuality.


When asked about her literary goals, Rand claimed that she was writing about her ideal man, to whom she ascribed hero status. She insisted that her purpose is


not the philosophical enlightenment of my readers, it is not the beneficial influence which my novels might have in people, it is not the fact that my novels may help a reader' s intellectual development…. My purpose, first cause and prime mover, is the portrayal of Howard Roark or John Galt or Hank Reardon or Francisco d'Anconia as an end in himself-not as a means to any further end. Which, incidentally, is the greatest value I could ever offer a reader. (162)


Though Objectivists deny the many accusations that their philosophy is a form of Fascism since she did not believe in initiating force, and opposed the politics behind Fascist political regimes, there still may be a connection. The authors do not explicitly define fascism in their book, assuming that the reader is familiar with the term. But the definition of fascism goes deeper than its political connotations. Fascism is defined as bundling, or centralized power. Rand did not believe in a central government with absolute control over the state. And yet she is said to have exhibited authoritarian behavior in the Objectivist movement, where she had absolute control over her ideas, leaving her followers as mere "students of Objectivism." Rand insisted that Objectivism was not a cult, and encouraged people to think for themselves. Still, she is painted as a fascist. How can this be? Usually Rand is defended from such criticism because of her assertions that her philosophy is based on reason. How could Objectivism be a cult? It is a philosophy of individualism. How can Objectivism be a religion? It is a philosophy featuring atheism. How can Ayn Rand be unrational? She based her philosophy on reason. How can a thinker who rebelled against coercion and tyranny project such a shadow? Jung believed that

…[t]he Human being has a great capacity for self-deception and denial of shadow aspects. Even persons who are otherwise giants from a moral point of view can have gaping lacunae of character in certain areas. Religious and political leaders who become famous for their far-reaching moral vision and ethical sensitivity are often known to fall in the hole of acting out. Instinctual (for example, sexual) strivings and desires without much apparent awareness of the moral issues involved. Their acting-out may be conveniently compartmentalized and hidden away from their otherwise scrupulous moral awareness. (18)

Perhaps in order to comprehend the accusations of fascism, it is necessary to look past the political dimension of her ideas and concentrate on what she considered absolute. Although other aspects of her philosophy have been analyzed, it is usually assumed and unquestioned that she was a defender of rationality. But did she truly understand rationality?


RAND AND REASON

"I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.

"This-the supremacy of reason-was, is, and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism." (Brief summary, TO, Sept. 1971, 1.)


Thomas Szasz writes that "In the end, Rand fell into the classic trap of the materialist-rationalist atheist: she believed in the god of reason and rationality, as well as its flip side, the devil of unreason, mental illness." (131) Rand called reason an "absolute", and this is what I believe is the root of the fascist accusations against her. She attributes all of mankind's successes to reason, and believes that reason provides the motive for all we do. But that would deny the role of emotions in determining mankind's actions, as the words motive and emotion are related. Scott Ryan comments that Rand "reaches this conclusion by a bit of legerdemain: she declares that "[a ] motivation is not a reason" [Journals of Ayn Rand , p.69.] And why not? 'One's act,' she avers, 'may be motivated by an outside reason, but the choice of that reason is our free will' [ibid., p.68; emphases Rand's ]. (196)


Neurologist Donald B. Calne disagrees: "Reason is a biological product- a tool whose power is inherently and substantially restricted. It has improved how we do things; it has not changed why we do things."(6) Calne elaborates: "Reason was misrepresented as an all-powerful, divine force, with its own supreme mission. In fact, it has no aim, no authority, and no inherent goodness. Reason is simply and solely a tool, without any legitimate claim to executive power or moral content." (11-12 ) He adds:


"To deny that reason has a role in setting our goals seems, at first, rather odd. …But reason is only contributing to the 'how' portion of these decisions; the more fundamental 'why' element …is driven by instinctive self-preservation, emotional needs, and cultural attitudes. We are usually reluctant to admit the extent to which these forces govern our behavior, and accordingly we often recruit reason to explain and justify our actions. The transparency of our efforts is revealed by the term we have coined for covering up this irrational behavior: rationalism." (6)

(It is not my intention to deny the benefits and need for rationality, rather, to place it in proper context. As Calne states:

These are serious contentions-that reason is, by its nature, was always constrained to provide a service rather than set a policy. But this book has no intention to slight or defame reason. Indeed, its strongest argument is that we must make every effort to exercise and preserve the faculty of reason. This task has become a challenge because reason has been discredited by exaggerated claims and false hopes. Those who oppose reason have no difficulty in pointing to its failures, but those failures have all stemmed from misguided optimism without any critical thought about the nature of reason and without recognizing the need to clarify what reason can and cannot due. (12))


Rand defined logic as "the art of non-contradictory information." She celebrated reason as an "absolute." She did not deny the existence of emotions, but did not believe that they were tools of cognition. Sciabarra writes that as a dialectical thinker, she did not believe that there was a dichotomy between reason and emotion. Though she stated this in her work, she still exhibited hostility towards emotions, subjectivity, and what she called "whim-worshipping." This attitude goes against her dialectical impulses and creates a division between heart and mind. Sciabarra even argues that many Objectivists have attempted to balance some of her more extreme views on the topic.


Rand made a heroic philosophy out of reason and rationality, and an enemy out of mysticism and religion. But why? What is the motive for doing so? Sciabarra believes that "Rand's insistence on the centrality of reason is in many ways an outgrowth of her antipathy towards [Russian] mysticism" and adds that "Rand's stress on the role of reason cannot be fully appreciated apart from this Russian context...In her view, reason was the only spiritual endowment." (182) But again, why would Rand so strongly react towards Russian mysticism? It is also possible that by overly identifying with masculine principles, she saw the "feminine" elements as a threat to the heroic ego. Judith Wilt writes that Rand

… still fought for the 'man worship' she believed was the origin and end of ethics. (13) She passionately rejected what she saw as the 'murky' traditions of Russian mysticism and altruism, and sought a transvaluation of values apart from twentieth-century tribalisms of nation and race…Yet her language and plot structures hew closely to the Fraserian synthesis of Western myth: at the center of them is the body of the god, the suffering body of the god, and the new earth he emphatically fructifies. (188)

Moreover, in the process, she denied herself her own feminine traits in the name of hero worship. Her subjugation of emotion to reason is a parallel with her subjugation of women to men. This has reminded some critics, such as Slavov Zizek, of the famous line by Sylvia Plath, "Every woman adores a fascist." Rand's fascist-like emphasis of reason as an absolute is a result of her over-identification with the masculine at the expense of the so-called feminine qualities, and those qualities are often the ones associated with the mystical eastern religions that Rand abhorred and feared. Judith Wilt comments that in Rand's work, "the narratives… appear to ignore race, yet in them a classic Orientalist judgement…makes everything Northern and Western attractive, everything Eastern and Southern repel…Western industrial production is ' a value not to be questioned' (948), while Eastern contemplation is the source of horror." (194)


Ryan writes that

Rand is adamant that Objectivism entails atheism, and for some Objectivists atheism is one of the central attraction of her philosophical outlook. Moreover, we has already seen reason to believe…that something similar is true of Rand herself--that atheism, far from being a minor side effect of Objectivism (as she and Nathaniel Branden occasionally claim), is in fact its main driving force. Indeed, at every point at which Rand faces a philosophical choice between a more reasonable position that seems to entail or suggest theism and a less reasonable position that seems to avoid it, she almost invariably chooses the latter.(256)


It is tempting to claim that Rand, by demonizing religion and mysticism, and painting herself as the champion of reason, was simply doing it for her own gain. However, that would not be the whole story. It is not just Rand, but the heroic ego of men in general that rebel against the feminine. Sciabarra believes that Rand had an affinity for triads. Jung writes that the triad was a sign of incompleteness, that the missing fourth is what is repressed, and often signified by the devil or Mary. "Four signifies the Feminine, motherly, physical; three the masculine, fatherly, spiritual, Thus the uncertainty as to three of four amounts to a wavering between the spiritual and the physical-a striking example of how every human truth is a last truth but one." (?) (32)


Robert Segal writes that the "classic Jungian hero…is male, but his conventional nemesis is the mother rather than the father. The subject matter of hero myths…is realms of the mind…ego consciousness is the son and the unconsciousness the Great Mother, herself most often depicted as a dragon."(29) Consider Paglia's survey of Western art in Sexual Personae. Rand's heroic archetypes, in their pursuit of rationality and culture, are really fighting the unconscious. And Rand's views on men/women relations have been well explored in Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. Paglia's ideas as they pertain to Rand can be seen in the work of Judith Wilt, who writes that:

Toohey is fundamentally inert, but he can rock the world nevertheless, for his collaboration with the world's inertial desire, its death wish, puts him at a point where he can transform what for Rand is the source of power-Reason-into what for her is its opposite-magic, or "mysticism." Unseeable, unanalyzable, uncriticizable mysteries, whether "God," "the Aryan Race," or "the people" are now in the ascendant, feminized as "instinct" and "emotion." Feminized too is the person who enters into and owns these things, once nicknamed "Elsie" Toohey, until he chose his own, still darker nickname, "Monk" Toohey and became their priest. For Rand, this pantheon of mysticisms has replaced the true identity at the heart of the individual. She would not, of course, accept the postmodern contention that "the individual" is also a mystic construction. For she is its priestess. (187) Wilt 193

Thomas Gramstead has noted this tendency also, and says that "[t]here seems to be a pattern in which heroes are masculine, heroines are feminine, female villains are unfeminine or masculine, and male villains are unmasculine or feminine. Rand seems to engage in the gendering of evil…" (336) Rand's own words verify this when she wrote:

Hero worship is a demanding virtue: a woman has to be worthy of it and of the hero she worships. Intellectually and morally. i.e., as a human being., she has to be his equal; then the object of her worship is specifically his masculinity, not any human virtue she might lack….Her worship is an abstract emotion for the metaphysical concept of masculinity as such….It means that a properly feminine woman does not treat men as is she were their pal, sister, mother, or leader…To act as the superior, the leader, virtually the ruler of all the men she deals with, would be an excruciatingly psychological torture. It would require a total depersonalization, an utter selflessness, and an incommunicable loneliness; she would have to suppress (or repress) every personal aspect of her own character and attitude; she could not be herself, i.e. a woman…she would become the most inappropriate, and rationally revolting figure of all: a matriarch.


Rand's views of reason and unreason correspond with the traditional views of their relation to masculinity and femininity. Rand, who was often proud when she was associated with her masculine features, obviously took the side of reason at the expense of mysticism, and her own femininity. This has significance in the Jungian analysis of the second half of the hero cycle. "The classic Jungian hero…is male, but his conventional nemesis is the mother rather than the father…. ego consciousness is the son and the unconscious the Great Mother, herself most often depicted as a dragon."(29)


Rand's antipathy finds its expression in her celebration of Apollonian over the Dionysian. Rand is not just celebrating reason here, she is rebelling against the Dionysian elements that correspond with being female: wetness, earthiness, mysteriousness, emotions. Paglia writes that "[t]he Apollonian is a male line drawn against the dehumanizing magnitude of female nature." ( 28) Another trait that Rand shared with Apollo was a certain love of aristocracy. E.R. Dodds, in his book The Greeks and the Irrational, writes that "Apollo moved only in the best society, from the days when he was Hector's patron to the days when he canonized aristocratic athletes; but Dionysus was at all periods demotikos, a god of the people." (76) Rand's over-emphasis on the Apollonian has led Paglia to comment on her quasi-fascist contempt towards "the common man." Ryan expands on this contempt. He acknowledges Rand's comments that extol the common man, but points to the contradictions as well. He claims that "Rand occasionally writes as though having 'high ideals' about human beings requires one to …condemn, most actual people. It seldom seems to occur to her that it is possible to have 'high ideals' and to want and even encourage all human beings to live up to them as far as possible, compassionately recognizing all the same that none of us do so completely. Indeed, her 'ideals' themselves look, at times, curiously like rationalizations for her own pre-existing contempt for much of humanity. He offers a theory of why she might do such: "And perhaps this is the source of her antipathy toward unachievable ideals; if others held an ideal to which she could not live up, she thinks, they would have contempt for her--because that is how she responds to people who do not live up to hers."(342)


Although Rand celebrated and worshipped masculinity, and believed nature to be tamable and the mind tabula rasa, she still found herself at the mercy of her feminine urges. She presented herself as a strong, independent figure, but, like the mythic heroines Brunhilde and Atalanta, yearned to submit to a dominant man. The irony is that she created a myth around herself that portrayed her as more rational and masculine than the men around her, which led her to portray her husband Frank O'Conner as one of her heroes when in reality, he was said to be a quiet, passive figure who she dominated. Rand then believed that her protégé Nathaniel Branden was her ideal man, and like Atalanta, voluntarily submitted by playing the weaker sex. Branden confirms this in the following anecdote. He asks Rand: "Don’t men worship women? She replied, 'Oh, I suppose so, but that's not how I would think of it. By "worship," I mean our highest capacity for admiration, reverence, looking up. I see man as superior to women.' She was serious, and said, 'Don't you understand that a truly strong woman wants to see a man as stronger? Certainly her man.'" When Branden asked why, she responded, "For the pleasure of surrendering." (228) Love Brown believes that Rand celebrated hero worship as an outlet for her repressed femininity because " (1) it all allowed Rand to claim her femininity in the face of an intellect that clearly fell into the 'masculine' side of the dichotomy; (2) it provided her with a way to have in fantasy the love denied her in reality by her father and Leo, the object of her first love and heartbreak; (3) it allowed Rand…to admire those 'masculine' qualities that she also possessed but did not find in the men around her."


So if it is true that Rand had an irrational view of religion, it is possible that she was blind to her own irrationality because she failed to introspect and examine her own faults. She, like the hero in the classical hero cycle, fell victim to her shadow. And like the classical hero myth, the shadow projection is related to her own failure to integrate her animus with her anima. Susan Love-Brown writes that "Nathaniel Branden once said that any conflict between reason and emotion was a conflict between two ideas (1969, 68). In Rand's case, the ideas in conflict were (1) women as men's intellectual equals and (20 reason as the province of masculinity. Rand never resolved the conflict, because she never allowed it to become conscious. Her repression of feeling made this contradiction forever inaccessible to her conscious mind. Consequently, the conflict influenced her ability to reason effectively wherever gender issues were concerned." (293)


Rand claimed that she was a champion of light, and a foe of the unconscious, but because Rand fought mysticism and femininity, she does not shine a light on the unconscious so much as strangle it. By doing so, she omits a crucial part of the hero's journey, the sacrifice.


Because Rand emphasized the rational, she looked past the metaphorical meanings of myth, and accused religion of being anti-life, and equated sacrifice with death. However, as James Hillman explains, "The villain in the underworld is the heroic ego, not Hades. It is the ego who does the damage…."(112)


The Hero's Sacrifice

Usually when a hero descended to the underworld, it was to gain a boon that furthers the hero's ego-maturation. "Hades was of course the God of depths... At times he was referred to as 'the unseen one,' more often as Pluto ('wealth,' 'riches')…These disguises of Hades have been taken by some interpreters to be coverings for the fear of death, but then why this particular euphemism and not some other? …Pluto refers to the hidden wealth or the riches of the invisible. Hence, we can understand one reason why there was no cult and no sacrifice to him. Hades was the wealthy one, the giver of nourishment to the soul… Hades is not an absence, but a hidden fullness." (28)


One of the boons of the underworld is artistic inspiration. Rand even acknowledges this when she refers to the role of the unconscious in the creative process. But though she advised in The Art of Fiction to trust the unconscious, that message was lost on her followers, who, bullied by her call to rationality, dared not indulge in anything that could be construed as irrational; the tales of Objectivist artists whose art grew stale are well documented.


It could be argued that Rand does have her heroes descend into the underworld; for example, Roark's time in the rock quarry, and Galt's working in the railroad tunnels. But these examples are less like the traditional heroic descent into the underworld brought about by sacrifice, and more akin to Hercules' rampage of ego as he attempts to bring the underworld to life and consciousness.


Just as Hercules attempts to force ego on the underworld, Rand's heroes do not allow themselves to be sacrificed. She makes this explicitly clear with the climax of Atlas Shrugged, where Galt rejects and is rescued from his crucifixion. But Galt as a hero remains static, and does not grow throughout the story. Because Rand took the sacrifice literally, she may have missed a key meaning of the myth that hurts her psychological and philosophical prescriptions.


Because Rand emphasized the rational, she looked past the metaphorical meanings of myth, and accused religion of being anti-life, and equated mythic sacrifice with death. Hillman warns against this, however and draws a parallel between this attitude and the tale of Hercules' rampage:

Rather than die to metaphor, we kill literally; refusing the need to die, we attack death itself. Our civilization, with its heroic monuments, tributes to victory over death, ennobles the Herculean ego, who does not know how to behave in the underworld.

Hercules differs from the other heroes, who, as Kerenyi says, "were tragically connected with death." The heroic ego…should be more appropriately differentiated as the "Herculean ego," for only he of them all is an enemy of death. Yet there is justification for my term because the hero then, in a living world of Gods, and the heroic today are two very different cases, although the second arises from the first. Then he was half-man and half-God, but when the Gods are dead the hero becomes all too human. The divine portion is assumed wholly by the human, and we are left with the founding figures of humanism and worship of man. (110)


This is precisely what Nietzsche believed. And this is what Rand believed. Nietzsche, despite his own anti-semetic convictions, became a favorite of the Nazi's. What is the legacy of Rand's Herculean celebration of ego?


NEXT: Part 3 of 3

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