Sunday, December 26, 2010

Musical Anecdotes from 100 VOICES: AN ORAL HISTORY OF AYN RAND

While others are looking to the recently-released 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand as a "vindication" of The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics (or not); I'm looking at it for something waaay more important...(why, the music, of course...)

A few re-occurring themes of importance to past musical topics at this blog (and at the strictly Objectivism/music-themed Orpheus Remembered) are discussed: the origin of the songs "Will-O-The-Wisp" and "The Song of Broken Glass" as they related to the unlikely friendship between "rebel rouser" Duane Eddy and Ayn Rand, and Rand's attitude towards pop, rock, and classical music. While there's nothing earth-shaking here, there is a discussion of the inspiration of Halley's Concerto of Deliverance [which I always thought was inspired by Rachmaninoff's third movement of his second piano concerto], it's interesting to see some themes elaborated, contradicted, or to hear some anecdotes that run counter to things we may have heard about Rand's attitudes in previous "hearsays" (not to mention her surprising appreciation of a certain Fab Four...)

First up: Duane Eddy. I discussed before the letter in Letters of Ayn Rand where she thanks Eddy for a recording of "Will-O-The-Wisp," a letter which had generated speculation on the song itself: Who wrote it? Was Ayn Rand a fan of a rock 'n roll song? It was actually one of Rand's "tiddlywink songs," the composer being Herbert Kuster, and the original title was "Irrlichter," and the song was the basis for "The Song of Broken Glass" from We The Living. The interview with Eddy from 100 Voices elaborates on the details of that letter, including his obtaining for her a cleaner copy from the BBC of the record that she mentions, and Rand's excitement of his identifying the piece as the inspiration for "Song of Broken Glass:
She played it and I listened carefully, then turned to her as it finished and asked, 'could that possibly be the "Song of Broken Glass" in We The Living?' She was startled for a moment and then she called out, 'Frank, Nathan! Come here! Come here! You won't believe this-Duane just guessed after hearing it once, what this music is.' She turned back to me, smiled warmly and said 'Of all the millions of people who read my books, I've always believed that I've got,; she paused, thought quickly, and then continued, 'approximately a hundred thousand readers out there who really understand what I'm saying.'...She was very exited and happy that I had been correct...
Harry Binswanger also asks Eddy if Rand had heard his own music and, if so, what her opinion was, to which he answered
Not that I knew of. After dinner, Nathan played her a couple of cuts from what I call my 'string albums'–recorded with a big orchestra. One album was Twangy Guitar, Silky Strings; the other was called Lonely Guitar. I don't remember which tracks he selected. She commented that she thought they were beautiful. Nathan wouldn't play her "Rebel Rouser" or any of the rock and roll songs. He said he didn't think she'd like those. She didn't like rock and roll particularly.

I've always regretted that I didn't just insist that Nathan play her a couple of my hits, even if she would have thrown me out. Well, I wouldn't have liked that, but she was too gracious to have done that anyway. I think she might have enjoyed the happy and carefree sounds of those recordings or simply said it wasn't her taste in music.

Eddy continues to discuss Rand and rock music in general:
We had a short conversation about that, and she said something to the effect that she supposed they were nice people and everything, but she didn't care for most of rock and roll music. She didn't say all of it. I know she's written things about Elvis [in "What is Capitalism?" from Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal], and though she didn't care for his music, I don't recall her saying anything against him personally.
Binswanger commented that Rand "obviously didn't despise Elvis, but she meant what she said, that she doesn't get rock and roll herself", to which Eddy replied
She thought it was a bit on the mindless side, which in a way it was. Even though I was into doing rock and roll music, I've heard some of it that is mindless. At the same time there was attitude about most of it–though I never discussed this with her. I hadn't thought it through enough in those days to have successfully presented my side of it to her. But in rock and roll there was an attitude of happiness and fun. It wasn't necessarily mindless any more than dancing to the big bands would have been mindless.
An interview with Susan Ludel would seem to confirm the image of Rand as anti-rock and roller:
What did she think of rock and roll music?

She hated it. She thought it was loud and unmelodic.

Hmmm, maybe Eddy was too optimistic about Rand's potential interest in his rock songs. But Frederick Feingersh, an NBI student, had this to say:

[Rand] was asked about popular music and specifically The Beatles. She said that she did not particularly like popular music, but at least The Beatles were well-dressed.

Wow. First we hear that Rand hated rock music, then we hear she didn't like pop music, but was mild towards The Beatles. What's next, we'll hear that Rand preferred pop music to classical, and actually listened to The Beatles?

Hmmm...let's ask Harry Binswanger.
And “tiddlywink” music?

She shocked me by saying that she thought popular music that you loved gave you a bigger emotional response than the best classical music. I take it that tiddlywink music was a bigger emotional experience for her than she got even from Rachmaninoff or Chopin.

Rock and Roll?

She said to me in 1979 or 1980 that the last kind of rock that she could hear as music, as opposed to just noise, was The Beatles. I was surprised that she was that positive about The Beatles.

Well. Just when you thought you knew someone...

Binswanger has the most to say about Rand and music out of all the interviewees, including a bit about her theory on an objective standard of music, as proposed in The Romantic Manifesto:

"We had some discussions about music. One was about 'America the Beautiful,' which she liked. I noted that it has a phrase 'from sea to shining sea,' which sounds like the line in Atlas from about Taggart Transcontinental: "From ocean to ocean forever.' And she said that line was in fact based on "from sea to shining sea.' She also said 'America the Beautiful' has a good structural feature: it has stopping points but only one final stopping point. She said she thought that when the ultimate aesthetics of music was someday worked out, each song would be represented by an equation or a series of equations. The difficulty of the equation would be what made the complexity of the music.

Of course, there is still a lot of space given over to Rand and classical music. Binswanger describes their discussion of her favorite composers:
I had two conversations about who was her favorite composer, and she gave me different answers. In the late 1960's I asked her if Rachmaninoff was her favorite composer, and she said, 'No that's not exactly my sense of life. It's more Chopin.' Maybe she said Chopin's 'Butterfly Etude.' But the idea I came away with was that Rachmaninoff did not rank as high as Chopin for Ayn. I asked, 'Too much struggle in the Rachmaninoff?' And she said, 'Exactly.' But thirteen years later, Chopin came up in a discussion and she said, 'Oh, that's music for old ladies.'

Did she explain why?

No, but I think in the later comment, she was thinking of Chopin's dreamy nocturnes, but I just can't recall if she said that or I assumed it. I can’t believe her love of the “Butterfly Etude” ever changed. That was one of what she called her “top favorites.”

What about Mozart?

She was not a Mozart fan. I’m not either, but I happened once to play her the opening movement of his Piano Sonata no. 11 in A Major (Andante grazioso], and she remarked that that was one of his few good melodies.

Other interviews touch on Rand and classical music as well. Howard Odzer had this to say:

Anything else that you shared with Miss Rand?

She had a record collection. I was into classical music, and I was thumbing through her records one night and came across ones like Countess Maritza and The Gypsy Prince by Kalman, which was my first introduction to that kind of music.

Do you know which piece of music was her inspiration for the Halley Concerto? It was an orchestral recording of love music from Boris Gudanov, performed by Hands Kindler and the National Symphony Orchestra. That’s the record she said she played over and over and over again when she finished writing Atlas Shrugged. I found the record at Barry Meltzer’s Music Store. They had a slew of old 78 recordings from the 1910s, ‘20s, ‘30s, and I told Ayn about it, and she became a regular at Meltzer’s. Her favorite song was “Get Out and Get Under.” [The song was written by Maurice Abrams, Grant Clark, and Edgar Leslie.] They were these very, very, “up” kinds of things, like the “Circus March” and the introduction in the “Circus.”

What else did you discuss with her about music?

Favorite composers. Tchaikovsky was number one, and it was a toss-up between Rachmaninoff and Chopin for number two. One of her favorite pieces was the Rachmaninoff third piano concerto, with Witold Malcuzynski performing. She played that again and again. She loved that particular piece of music.

Of course, no discussion of Rand and musical taste would be complete without a discussion of Beethoven. I've discussed this theme already (see here and here.) While the interviews here don't deny that Rand found his music malevolent, what they do deny is the perception of Rand as esthetic fascist. Iris Bell has this story that counters the image of Rand as psychological-bully:

When Nathan’s two nephews stayed with him for a few months and I went to a party at the Blumenthals’, we were standing in line at a buffet, and the older boy--Johnny, I think--was standing beside Miss Rand. She was talking to him about his interests and things he cared about. He said he had psychological problems and would have to go into therapy. She asked him why, and he said he loved the music of Beethoven, and he had heard her say that if you like Beethoven there was something wrong. She said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. We know so little--just enjoy it.” He was quite relieved.
Jan Schulman has a similar experience:

I remember that my favorite composer was Beethoven, and he was clearly not hers, and we talked about that. I certainly did not feel I was in a position to defend my appreciation of Beethoven to her.

You told her that?

Yes. That’s how I felt at the time, that I had to justify it.

What did she say?

I remember her talking about his malevolent sense of life.

How did she react to you personally when you told her about your appreciation for Beethoven? Did she get angry?

No, no, no, no—she was very kind.

John Ridpath's story follows the same pattern:

Tell me about Beethoven.

We talked about him because I’d been very moved by Beethoven, and she hadn’t; she observed that he had a malevolent-universe premise. I told her that I’d gone to a symphony to listen to Beethoven, and I found it very deeply involving, and we talked a bit, because she was interested in that.

Did she ask questions to find out specifically what it was that you liked?

In every case, the common thread—as I recall—was what images, moods, responses I had, in connection with works of art.

Of course, we don't have Rand to verify any of this herself, but an interesting snapshot, nonetheless...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Timely Meditations for the Very Vigilant

On the argument of the necessity for showing a "united front" at the ARI, the Hsiehs also say that
The range of views that ARI should support under its "one consistent position" policy is a separate question. We regard this policy as wholly proper for Objectivist principles and their public policy applications. Diana has serious concerns about applying it to new philosophic or other scholarly work, however good, including The Logical Leap.

Well, as far as principles go, there is the "metaphysical" and the "man-made," or,
objective principles versus Objectivist principles. I certainly wouldn't want to hear the ARI supporting voodoo and communism, but then...well, here are some salient quotes from the "reason for the season" herself...

If you want to influence a country's intellectual trend, the first step is to bring order to your own ideas and integrate them into a consistent case, to the best of your knowledge and ability. This does not mean memorizing and recitingslogans and principles, Objectivist or otherwise; knowledge necessarily includes the ability to apply abstract principles to
concrete problems, to recognize theprinciples in specific issues, to demonstrate
them, and to advocate a consistent course of action.
But what about the need for an ARI in the first place?

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).

Why does this even need to be reiterated among Objectivists? But I guess they can't have anarcho-vigilantes running around, second-guessing intellectual heirs...

And so, I

Open Thoughts on "Closing Thoughts"

After being chastened by Yaron Brook, the Hsieh's at Noodlefood have concluded their "fact-finding" mission regarding "Anthemgate":

Now that ARI has explained recent events and its future policies, we do not regard further debate on those matters as fruitful.

Exactly! "It doesn't fit the plan." After all, they are the priests of the Temples of Syrinx. We need solidarity here. What is not done collectively cannot be good. After all, many men in the Homes of the Scholars have had strange new ideas in the past, but when the majority of their borther Scholars voted against them, they abandoned their ideas, as all men must. I mean, should it be what McCaskey claims of it, then it would bring ruin to the Department of Induction. Induction is a great boon to mankind, as approved by all ARI. Therefore, it cannot be destroyed by the whim of one. I mean, that would wreck the plans of the council, and without the Plans of the Council the sun cannot rise. It took years to secure the approval of all the councils...this touched upon thousands and thousands of men working in scores...we cannot alter the Plans again so soon...You thrice-damned fools...

Whatever; I think the Ph.D with a Podcast should have told Peikoff, Brook, and co. to piss off, personally. If I wasn't going to submit to
Operation: Mindcrime from diabolical dialecticians, I certainly don't need no re-education in the form of "loyalty oaths" and conference calls from fearless leader. (While two wrongs don't make a right, it, admittedly, does lend credence to the claims made by Chris Sciabarra, Neil Peart, and countless others about Orthodox Objectivism.) If we're talking about scientific inquiry, we're talking about free scientific inquiry...which was supposed to be redundant...

Anyway...Say what you want, but, to be fair to the Hsiehs, they do stand by their initial criticisms (in a guarded manner, anyway), and, whatever their motives for their apologies, they do make the point that "Donors, students, and intellectuals can and should decide for themselves the nature and scope of their future support for and involvement with ARI based on their individual context of knowledge and values."

Yes, they should. So as the Hsieh's close their thoughts (and blog) on the matter, let that not be taken as
the final word. In the ever-ringin' true words of Isabel Paterson, "Leadership is obliged to justify itself daily."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Rand-Rush Connection: No, Neil, Hold YOUR Fire…

So, after seeing how Neil Peart asked for a “cease fire” from Objectivism (while lobbing a few grenades of his own against it) via Rush’s 12th studio album, Hold Your Fire, it’s only fair for the Objectivish to fire back by questioning Peart’s own understanding Rand's ideas. And since everything he’s said about Objectivism has been not arguments, but assertions, all I'm obligated to do is nothing more than to point that out.

And if Peart had simply moved on, that’s all that I would do. As Chris McDonald points out in his book, Rush, Rock and the Middle Class, Peart and Geddy Lee have since distinguished the Randian influnce as being more about her "inspirational themes of self-esteem," rather than anything political. But the whole point of integrity demands that one's political beliefs be integrated to one's views on individualism. When Peart, via his eclecticism, rents his mind to god or government (as he does on Hold Your Fire), his "argumentum ad Randroidism" cannot go unchallenged...

Given that he not only used Rand’s name on 2112, only to “retreat” after the
NME "fascist" fiasco (and feeling the need to correct her publicly), he gives the impression that his “mature” views are superior to his younger, “naive” years, and those of Rand:
[I was] like many people getting labeled with an influence like that...Most of
us are independent enough to take a selection of different people’s ideas and
meld them together into something of our own. It was just the simplistic
labeling at the time, and thankfully it’s died out.
But a deeper look at his assertions begs the question of his fairness towards Rand, so, "judge...and prepare to be judged." How well do the Professor's accusations stand up scrutiny?

As I discussed in the previous post, Peart revealed himself to be a “child of the 60’s,” which put him at odds with Rand.
I always loved machines, and I always loved the workings of mankind in making
things. I stayed up all night to watch the Apollo moon landing, and at the same
time I was just as excited by Woodstock. There is in fact no division there. In
both cases you're talking about the things that people make and do. So I didn't
see any division, but of course Rand did, in seeing us all as the unwashed
Bohemian hordes.

Although Peart is now inclined to write off Rand's
hostility toward the Woodstock kids as a "generational thing," it was her essay
on Woodstock and rock music that forced him to realize that he did not agree
with Rand on every issue. “That was when I started to not become a Randroid, and
started to part from being a true believer. I realized that there were certain
elements of her thinking and work that were affirming for me, and others that
weren't. That's an important thing for any young idealist to discover -that you
are still your own person.”
First, let’s get to Peart’s method of argument here, the “ad hominem” argument of Rand’s hostility as “generational.” Let's get to the surface impression: Rand's an old lady who doesn't like that "sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll." Keeping in mind Rand's celebration of sex as good, for instance, and not ignoring her chain smoking or the alleged alcoholism of her husband, Peart's jibe ignores Rand's full contextual arguments against hedonism, and the idea that happiness is not the standard of value ("whatever feels good"):

But the relationship of cause to effect cannot be reversed.
It is only by accepting “man’s life” as one’s primary and by pursuing the
rational values it requires that one can achieve happiness—not by taking
“happiness” as some undefined, irreducible primary and then attempting to live
by its guidance. If you achieve that which is the good by a rational standard of
value, it will necessarily make you happy; but that which makes you happy, by
some undefined emotional standard, is not necessarily the good. To take
“whatever makes one happy” as a guide to action means: to be guided by nothing
but one’s emotional whims.
Peart's suggestion here is familiar to anyone who's aware of the Branden biographies or online forums with people discussing their personal experiences with Rand firsthand: the suggestion is that Rand created an atmosphere antithetical to "being one's self." Whatever one believes about this claim, it's still important to separate the idea that Rand created "true believers" from the idea that Objectivism creates true believers. Peart does not make that distinction; rather, he implicates both with the lyric "I find no absolution/in my rational point of view." Nor did he mention that Rand held that one could agree with the fundamentals but differ in applications. Well, then, what did Rand say?
If you want to influence a country's intellectual trend, the first step is to
bring order to your own ideas and integrate them into a consistent case, to the
best of your knowledge and ability. This does not mean memorizing and reciting
slogans and principles, Objectivist or otherwise; knowledge necessarily includes
the ability to apply abstract principles to concrete problems, to recognize the
principles in specific issues, to demonstrate them, and to advocate a consistent
course of action. -"What Can One Do?" in Philosophy: Who Needs It.
Peart, with his "Randroid" comments, forgets the fact that Objectivism rejects the "appeal to authority," that the final arbiter in ethics is not a guru, but objective reality itself. So, With that distinction made...

Rand’s arguments in “
Apollo and Dionysus” were not “generational,” but based on her ideas regarding reason and logic, which are stated very clearly. Using Rand’s age only acts as a smokescreen to avoid discussing the behavior she depicted as mindless at the event he claims to be inspired by. Quoting a Newsweek article from that time, Rand points out the reality of the Dionysian lovefest:
"Festival food supplies were almost immediately exhausted...and water coming
from wells dug into the area stopped flowing or came up impure....Throngs of
wet, sick and wounded hippies trekked to impromptu hospital tents suffering from
colds, sore throats, broken bones, barbed-wire cuts and nail-puncture wounds.
Festival doctors called it a 'health emergency...'.
Is this what they call "doing your own thing?" If this were a "victimless crime," it'd be one thing. But Rand highlights behavior that calls into question the other half of Peart and the hippie's credo about "as long as you don't hurt anyone else":
Who paid for this love-feast?...The citizens of Bethel, the nearest community,
were the victims, abandoned by their law-enforcing agencies. These victims were
neither bums nor millionares; they were farmers and small businessmen...Their
stories...sound like those of the survivors of a foreign invasion.
Peart claims that Rand was wrong, that there was "no division there." What would Peart say to those affected, as quoted in Rand's essay?
Richard C. Joyner, the operator of the local post office and general store on
Route 17B, 'said that the youngsters at the festival had virtually taken over
his property––camping on his lawn, making fires on his patio and using the
backyard as a latrine..."

Clarence W. Townsend, who runs a 150-acre
dairy farm...was shaken by the ordeal. "We had thousands of cars all over our
fields," he said. There were kids all over the place. They made a human cesspool
of our property and drove through the cornfields. There's not a fence left on
the place. They just tore them up and used them for firewood."

"My pond
is a swamp [said Royden Gabriele, another farmer]. I've got no fences and they
used my field as a latrine. They picked corn and camped all over the place. They
just landed wherever they could....If they come back next year I don't know what
I'll do," Mr. Gabriele said. "If I can't sell, I'll just burn the place down."
But back to Peart's "generational" argument: Rand shows that this has nothing to do with age; she traced the roots of Woodstock from Kant through Charles Lindbergh, leveling the same accusations against them. Quoting Lindbergh, she wrote that Lindbergh was a hero who betrayed his rationality in favor of intuition: "I found the mechanics of life less interesting than the mystical qualities they manifest." He's also quoted as saying "a perspective that drove into my bones, as well as into my mind, the fact that in instinct rather than in intellect is manifest the cosmic plan of life." (Sounds suspiciously like the lyrics on Hold Your Fire; no wonder Peart would be hostile to Rand at that point...)

As for the common cross-generational denominator , Rand writes that "Kant was the first hippie in history":
Such are the Dionysian followers. But who are the leaders? These are not always
obvious or immediately identifiable. For instance, the greatest Dionysian in
history was a shriveled little "square," well past thirty, who never drank or
smoked pot, who took a daily walk with such precise, monotonous regularity that
the townspeople set their clocks by him..."
Peart claims to contradict Rand's view of the Apollo flight and the Woodstock concert: "There is, in fact, no division there." This does not just apply to the two events, but the idea of reason and emotion. Again, what did Rand actually say? After describing Nietzsche's preference for emotion over reason, she writes
It is not true that reason and emotion are irreconcilable antagonists or that
emotions are a wild, unknowable, ineffable element in men. But this is what
emotions become for those who do not care to know what they feel, and who
attempt to subordinate reason to their emotions. For every variant of such
attempts–as well as for their consequences–the image of Dionysus is an
appropriate symbol.
She then goes on to describe the emotional experiences of those present at the Apollo launch, compared to the those of the Woodstock audience, I get the impression that Peart didn't truly understand Rand's complaint against the "Dionysian" elements of Woodstock. (As a rock musician, I will confess some sympathy with Peart here. But as a rock musician, I will confess sympathy with Rand's view as well, because I've seen, firsthand, what she was talking about, including losing a band member and friend to a drug overdose.) In the case of Rush, however, I will qualify my claim by pointing out Peart and Rush's own reputation as being "untypical" for rock musicians; they may have smoked some hash ("A Passage to Bangkok," anyone?), and, yes, they like that crazy rock 'n' roll...but they aren't known for the wild excesses of, say, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. And Peart has discussed that while he had an affinity for Keith Moon, but found that he did not enjoy imitating Moon's wild playing style, preferring a more logical approach...clearly, they are not the sort to for decadence...

The 60’s provide insight into other aspects of Peart’s differences with Objectivism, like his proclaimed interests in other thinkers besides Rand, such as Carl Jung, who was influenced by Plato and Kant, and Camille Paglia who, while herself a fan of Rand, was
also influenced by Freud as well as rock and roll, and what she labels “the Chthonic,” or the Dionysian. There is also Peart’s concerns with some of the “darker” sides of capitalism (see songs like “The Spirit of Radio” and “The Big Money”) and its effects on the environment (expressed in “Natural Science” and “Red Tide.”) Peart distances himself from Rand by celebrating his individuality via his eclecticism, an idea itself hostile to Objectivism. At first, one might wonder how Peart became influenced by Rand in the first place. Could it be that Peart, after the NME debacle, is trying to ingratiate himself with those same leftists of the Woodstock generation? The answer is more nuanced than that. Though Peart never explains why eclecticism is to be celebrated, merely asserting it as a given, an explanation can be found via Riggenbach’s In Praise of Decadence.

I know, I just said that Rush wasn't the kind of band to embrace decadence... but just hold your fire, there's an explanation...

The central thesis of Riggenbach’s book is that the conception of the fall of great empires being caused by decadence is not only common knowledge, but wrong. He argues that decadence refers to the decay of authoritarianism, and that the periods thought of as decadent, such as ancient Rome, the “Roaring 20’s”, or the Berlin years of the Weimar Republic, were, in actuality, booming periods of creativity that upheld individuality while creating vibrant new works of art and changing scientific paradigms. Riggenbach traces these precedents as they led to the Woodstock generation and spawned, again against common knowledge, not the dominance of the “New Left” that Rand warned against (Riggenbach argues that the actual leftists were not as dominant as thought in the 60's movements, just the loudest), but the Libertarian movement, which took Rand as one of its influences, while simultaneously rejecting the “authoritarian” accusations claimed of her philosophy that clashed with the more “freewheeling,” bohemian aspects.

The attraction of Rand to the Woodstock generation, and her rejection of it, is explained by Riggenbach in-depth in chapter 7. I will also note, for the record, that Riggenbach, like Peart, has made clear
his view of Rand's assessment of the New Left:
To the extent that I attempt to turn people on to Ayn
Rand, I tend to try to avoid mentioning [For The New Intellectual] myself,
though I'd guess my reasons are rather different from the ones that motivate ARI
(whatever they may be). I think FTNI is absolutely the worst of Rand's books
(though The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution certainly comes close). Her
caricature of Kant's significance in the history of philosophy is absurd. Her
summary of the history of Western civilization (basically half-understood,
warmed over
Burckhardt) is only
slightly less absurd. To anyone who knows how astute Rand could be, how
insightful and ingenious she could be, the title essay is an awful
(Riggenbach, echoing other critics of Objectivism like George Walsh, takes issue with Rand's aforementioned depiction of Kant as well. I am not an expert on Kant, so I can't help you there...but anyway...)

Riggenbach discusses how the decadence of the 60’s was embraced via “eclectism,” its celebration of different ideas and religions manifested in the maxim “do your own thing.” And since we’re dealing with rock music, Riggenbach notes that the hippies adopted rock ‘n’ roll as “their favorite kind of music-rock, a hybrid genre which had been created by freely mixing elements borrowed from black blues with still other elements borrowed from country music…."

This spirit is reflected in Peart’s comments on the
Classic Albums 2112 DVD: “I grew up a child of the 60’s, and I was a strong individualist, and believed in the sanctity of… you should be able to do what you want to do, you know, without hurting anyone…”

Pit this attitude against his statements from 1997 against Objectivism:
That was when I started to not become a Randroid, and started to part from being
a true believer. I realized that there were certain elements of her thinking and
work that were affirming for me, and others that weren't. That's an important
thing for any young idealist to discover -that you are still your own person.
With Riggenbach’s argument that decadence works against dogmatism and authoritarianism, it’s easy to see why Peart would say such a thing, and go on to make claims about the organized movement.

Now, in Peart’s defense, the
recent events surrounding Leonard Peikoff qualify Peart’s 1997 statement. And it would be fair to question whether or not it was the ideas or the betrayal of those ideas that caused this. But strictly speaking about the ideas, is it true to say that to agree with Rand equates with dogmatism?

The question should be, then, does adherence to Objectivism equal to dogmatism? The distinction is lost with Peart’s use of the word “Randroid,” but this also works to cover the fact that Peart’s eclecticism is at odds with the Objectivist idea of integration, and its dismissal of the “open/closed-minded” dichotomy in favor of “active-mindedness”, as well as dismissing “hedonism” in favor of the Aristotelian “
eudaimonia.” This is essential because Rand’s idea of integrity, a word Peart writes so much about, is dependent on the idea of integration, and Peart’s eclecticism works to undermine that very integrity. Peart would have to be aware of this, given his reading of The Fountainhead. In that novel, Roark’s work has integrity, while “eclectic” architects like Jon Eric Snyte produce mongrel works of art, borrowing bits of ideas from different architects for the sake of eclecticism. Rand’s description of Snyte almost reads as if to preemptively “fire back” at Peart “cure-all” against dogmatism:
“John Eric Snyte was fifty years old…He considered Guy Francon an impractical
idealist; he was not restrained by an Classic dogma; he was much more skillful
and liberal; he built anything. He had no distaste for modern architecture and
built cheerfully, when a rare client asked for it, bare boxes with flat roofs,
which he called progressive; he built Roman mansions which he called fastidious;
he built Gothic churches which he called spiritual. He saw no difference among
any of them. He never became angry, except when somebody called him eclectic.”
Does this sound like an “integrated” man who stands independent, or bends to the whims of others? Such “eclecticism,” Rand would argue, is really “pseudo-individualism,” which can be seen in the decadent “artists” Rand pokes fun at, like Lancelot Clokely and Lois Cook, whose “pseudo-independence” is summarily built up and destroyed by Ellsworth Toohey:
“A few friends pointed out to Ellsworth Toohey that he seemed guilty of
inconsistency; he was so deeply opposed to individualism, they said, and here
were all these writers and artists of his, and every one of them was a rabid
individualist. ‘Do you really think so?’ said Toohey, smiling blandly.”
While eclecticism in art may be “harmless,” in a “do your own thing” sort of way, like clashing color schemes, it ignores the personal effects, how contradictory ideas can lead not to integration but to dis-integration. Riggenbach makes the argument that decadence can lead to the fall of authority, but while that approach tears down a negative ("The State"), it does not always translate into a positive. Even as Riggenbach documents the spirit of eclecticism, he also points out the pitfalls:
It is also true that one reason the conventional wisdom is the conventional
wisdom is that is has proved itself workable over time. The general loosening of
the rules…leads to widespread experimentation with all sorts of theories which,
in normal, authoritarian times, would be regarded as foolish, silly, ‘off the
wall, already discredited, or for some other reason(s) unworthy of
investigation. And, in fact, most such theories are unworthy, just as the
conventional wisdom would have us believe.
Riggenbach sees the common denominator of side-by-side developments of scientific advancements with pseudo-science “not accuracy or truth, but decadence, the overall decay of traditional authority.” Fair enough, from an Objectivist viewpoint. As far as it goes, freedom doesn’t guarantee success, only the right to pursue happiness, and it doesn’t proclaim to grant omniscience; errors are to be expected. But when Peart, via the lyrics on Hold Your Fire undercuts the means to determine accuracy or truth by upholding instinct, the eclecticism threatens to become dangerous to the ideas of individual liberty, as evidenced…

Peart himself points out the pitfalls of abandoning reason in favor of wild abandon in these lyrics from Hemispheres:
The cities were abandoned/
And the forests echoed song/
They danced and
lived as brothers/
They knew love could not be wrong/

Food and wine
they had aplenty/
And they slept beneath the stars/
The people were
And the Gods watched from afar/

But the winter fell upon
And it caught them unprepared/
Bringing wolves and cold
And the hearts of men despaired .../
In the lyrical conclusion, Peart claims the solution to the mind-body dichotomy to be “balance,” a conclusion similar to Rand’s in her essay “Apollo and Dionysus”, the same essay Peart takes Rand to task for her division between the Woodstock generation and the achievement of Apollo 13. But I submit that Peart has set up a straw man. In his attempt to paint Rand as a “square,” by ignoring the similarities between Hemispheres and her arguments, he ignores the hedonistic, “Dionysian” elements of Woodstock and the resulting personal sickness and injury of the crowd, not to mention the destruction of property of the neighboring area. (Or were those people’s complaints merely “generational,” as well?) And Peart doesn’t mention how the “Summer of Love” ended, not with Woodstock, but with the murder at Altamont. What happened to “Do your own thing as long as it’s not hurting anyone?" But for Peart to acknowledge the dark side of that Dionysian element would cast a shadow on his lyrics regarding instinct on the Hold Your Fire album.

(Incidentally, on this point, I wonder if Peart’s defense of Woodstock isn’t just a case of romanticizing from a distance, given his comments the influence of Keith Moon...)

Leonard Peikoff, anticipates Peart’s “left-wing libertarian” objection to Rand’s opposition to welfare; contra Riggenbach and Peart, he links how eclecticism can lead to more dire consequences than bad artistic taste:
Some unphilosophical, eclectic altruists, invoking such concepts as “inalienable
rights,” “personal freedom,” “private choice,” have claimed that service to
others, though morally obligatory, should not be compulsory. The committed,
philosophical altruists, however, are consistent: recognizing that such concepts
represent an individualist approach to ethics and that this is incompatible with
the altruist morality, they declare that there is nothing wrong with compulsion
in a good cause—that the use of force to counteract selfishness is ethically
justified—and more: that it is ethically mandatory.)

Compare this to Peart’s disagreement with Rand regarding government welfare, as stated in Liberty: “Contrary to Rand's rejection of any form of government welfare, Peart supports a safety net for those in need. Although he would prefer that welfare be funded voluntarily, he is not convinced that private charity alone could support the truly needy.”

We've see the “Professor” become “unphilosophic” on Hold Your Fire, when he writes “I find no absolution/in my rational point of view/maybe some things are instinctive.” This is the Platonic/Kantian view that leads to “revelation” over reason, and to philosopher kings and dictatorships.

(Wow, no matter which direction Peart turns, he just can't escape the "
Reductio ad Hitlerum," can he? I hate to think this of Peart, and prefer to think that he simply hasn't thought it through. But it doesn't matter how benevolent his intentions; the fact is, once one starts pulling in the state to redistribute wealth, even in the name of charity, the political implications have to be followed to their logical conclusions. Just how does he hold to his libertarian sentiment of "not hurting anyone" when the government method of redistribution necessarily, by definition, involves the use of force?)

Statements like Peart's lend justification to Peikoff’s observation, and the observation that eclecticism of Peart’s kind undermines the very integrity he writes about. My personal view is that some Objectivists, like Peter Schwartz, go too far in their condemnation of libertarianism, even as they support the Republicans, despite Rand's own assertion that Objectivists are not conservatives (
see his "Perversion of Liberty" essay and the various responses to it), well...even if Peart was right to suspect the "dogmatism" surrounding Objectivism, this doesn't excuse libertarians from the opposite flaw, and just lends credence to Rand’s complaint about libertarians being too eclectic, starting from politics rather than an integrated philosophic base. With that, I will submit that it is Peart, not Rand, who is wrong: the answer to the "battle for heart and mind" is not to see it as an eclectic battle for balance for "cold reason" versus "wild emotion." The answer is to first correctly define reason and emotion and achieve an integration of their proper functions.

Here, I'd like to say that I admire and respect Neil Peart as a drummer and lyricist, he was a primary influence on me. At the same time, I, like Peart, am "no one's disciple." For such a meticulous musician, I wish his arguments were not so sloppy.The next time he decides to take a shot at Objectivism, he might want to hold his fire and make sure his aim is true.

Next- Pt. 7 of 8: "Dreaming in Middletown"...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

To All You Objectivist Apologists for Conservatives Politicians

...who claim that that New Jersey governer Chris Christie should run for President because of the way he stood up to the teacher's unions: "Christie Pushes Plan for State Takeover of Gambling and Tourism." Or, for those who claim that the conservatives are the answer this election season because it is not about religion, but fundamental American principles, that Glenn Beck is your hero, and that the Tea Parties are proof of a "Second Renaissance": "O'Donnell Questions Separation of Church, State." (Whatever else I might think about him and his fatwa, Peikoff was right to be concerned about that.)

"Meet the new boss...same as the old boss." Who's next?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

David Harriman and the Dean

In "The Resignation of John McCaskey: The Facts" by Paul and Diana Hsieh at Noodlefood, David Harriman weighs in on "Anthemgate" with this: "In short, I ask you which is more believable--that Isaac Newton was fundementally confused about the difference between 'impetus' and 'momentum,' or that John McCaskey is confused about this issue?"

Hmmm...why does this sound familiar?

"But, I don't understand. Why do you want me to think that this is great architecture?" He pointed to a picture of the Parthenon.

"That," said the Dean, "is the Parthenon."

"So it is."

"I haven't the time to waste on silly questions."

"All right, then." Roark got up, he took a long ruler from the desk, he walked to the picture. "Shall I tell you what's wrong about it?"

"It's the Parthenon!" said the Dean.

"Yes, God damn it, the Parthenon!"

The ruler struck the glass over the picture.

I hope the irony isn't lost on Dean Harriman...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Rand-Rush Connection: Hold Your Fire

"Having enjoyed writing around the central theme of 'Power' last time, I decided to try something like that again, this time working with the theme of 'Time'…. But as I set that one aside after a while, and went on to work on other ideas, it was strange to see that what I had thought was my theme suddenly turned itself into something else -- without even asking me!...the theme suddenly changed to 'Instinct', or perhaps 'Temperament' -- the idea of primeval or subconscious drives. Well okay, I thought, if that's what my brain wants to work on -- go ahead!

"'Hey Brain -- I don't care what you get fired up about -- as long as you (you guessed it!) Hold Your Fire.'


I first read the work of Ayn Rand in 1996, and soon devoured everything I could find in print, either by her or about her. Of particular interest to me, as a artist and musician, was The Romantic Manifesto, especially her sections on music. This book spurred me on to look at my own aesthetic choices in a whole new way, and so I re-evaluated my cd collection, which consisted mostly of rock music. (The horror, right?) I must have had some bad premises, I thought back then...

But surely Rush was ok, right? I looked to their back catalog with high expectations, and all was going well...until I got to Hold Your Fire.

Hold Your Fire, released almost 10 years earlier, in 1987, while I was still in high school, and not yet familiar with Ayn Rand. It wasn't my favorite Rush album, but I did like it better than Power Windows, which took me a long time to warm up to. I found them both to be a bit too "poppy" for me (The opening to the song "Mission" is just plain schmaltzy), but Hold Your Fire at least had a bit more "bite" in places. However, both were "optimistic" in the "benevolent sense-of-life" way celebrated in The Romantic Manifesto. And gone was the "metal" sound of 2112, in favor of pop beats, major keys, and even classical music samples (Vladimir Horowitz, to be exact.) You know, everything a good Objectivist is supposed to like...(yes, that attitude is out there; and I, myself, almost threw out my Pink Floyd collection.) So, to be a good Objectivist, I gave this album a listen with new "ears," and read the lyrics with an "active mind." Surely, they would be reasonable...

At first, there was no problem; the lyrics to "Mission" are still quoted favorably among Objectivists (and even caught the attention of Barbara Branden on one web forum).
Hold your fire/
keep it burning bright/
hold the flame til the dream ignites/
a spirit with a vision is a dream with a mission/
"Hold Your Fire..." Inspiring enough...But there's a double entendre, isn't there? "Hold your fire, men..."

To the surprise of that newly-minted "student of Objectivism," the shock was upon reading the lyrics to "Second Nature" or "Open Secrets." The drummer known as "the Professor" who penned the Rand-inspired "Anthem" and "2112" was now writing this:
I find no absolution /
In my rational point of view /
Maybe some things are instinctive/
But there's one thing you could do/
You could try to understand me/
I could try to understand you/
And with that, the double-meaning comes to the forefront; hold your fire, good Objectivist, hold back your reason, and your logic...(actually, there's some foreshadowing of this on the preview album, Power Windows, with the closing song, "Mystic Rhythms." That theme is continued on "Tai Shan": "I stood there, like a mystic/Lost in the atmosphere..."

As a newly-minted "student of Objectivism," all I could ask was, "Why?" It was around this time, as well, that I was discovering the Branden biographies and their claims about Ayn Rand promoting dogmatism, emotional repression, while others were calling her fascist. This wasn't just her enemies, mind you, like Barry Miles's accusations of fascism against Rush in the New Musical Express, but her former fans, friends, and lovers. I'd learn about the schism soon enough, but to stay on topic, what was Neil Peart's beef? Well, fast-forward to when Liberty magazine published an article title "A Rebel and a Drummer" for a clue. The author notes that "For long-time observers of Rush, it is clear that Peart has drifted from his more obvious attachments to Objectivism. The more overtly Randian references in Peart's lyrics have dwindled."

“Dwindled?” Not surprising, as Peart tells Bullock why he distances himself from the Objectivist "movement": "I tend to stay away from it [now]. It's in the nature of the individualist ethos that you don't want to be co-opted." (A sentiment echoing his 1994 comment in The Rush Backstage Newsletter: "the extent of my influence by the writings of Ayn Rand should not be overestimated -- I am no one's disciple.") He then goes on to mention the influence of other thinkers like Jon Dos Passos and Carl Jung. Peart (who also used the word "Randroid" in the article) claims his eclecticism as a badge of honor, and understanding that eclecticism is important to understanding the Rand-Rush connection, and the lyrical themes on Hold Your Fire.

The articles addresses the ambivalence found in Peart's lyrics long before Hold Your Fire. One such area of disagreement revolves around art versus commerce ("The Spirit of Radio," "Big Money,"):"The dilemma faced by Rush in the mid-1970s reflects a certain tension in Rand's philosophy -between her insistence on integrity and individualism on the one hand,· and the demands of the marketplace on the other."

Peart is described as having only "two specific areas of disagreement." Ah, but what disagreements they are! Contrasting with the Peart of the NME article, who argued against government intervention, we now have the "left-wing Libertarian": "Contrary to Rand's rejection of any form of government welfare, Peart supports a safety net for those in need. Although he would prefer that welfare be funded voluntarily, he is not convinced that private charity alone could support the truly needy."

Was the lyricist who wrote "No, his mind is not for rent/to any god or government/" now endorsing forced charity? The answer lies in the song "Second Nature":
A memo to a higher office/
Open letter to the powers that be/
To a god, a king, a head of state/
A captain of industry/
To the movers and the shakers.../
Can't everybody see?/
Before long, the bleeding heart is on the sleeve:
It ought to be second nature/
I mean, the places where we live/
Let's talk about this sensibly/
We're not insensitive/
I know progress has no patience/
But something's got to give/
The song supports Peart's turn towards government welfare when he writes:
I'd like some changes/
But you don't have the time/
We can't go on thinking/
It's a victimless crime/
No one is blameless/
But we're all without shame/
Not only that, but the Peart who once claimed to hate compromise has now "grown up":
It ought to be second nature/
At least, that's what I feel/
Now I lay me down in Dreamland/
I know perfect's not for real/
I thought we might get closer/
But I'm ready to make a deal/
That new found maturity seems to have a religious overtone, along with another theme at odds with Objectivism, "original sin":
The balance can sometimes fail/
Strong emotions can tip the scale/
I don't want to face the killer instinct/
Face it in you or me/
So we keep it under lock and key/
Peart goes on to say that
It's not a matter of conscience/
A search for probable cause/
It's just a matter of instinct/
A matter of fatal flaws/
And then, perhaps most "offensive" to Objectivist ears, there's the aforementioned mysticism of "Tai-Shan," speaking of a mystical experience in China:
Somewhere in my instincts/
The primitive took hold/
Even while rebuking reason for instinct, Peart's lyrics have an Objectivist irony:
I thought of time and distance/
The hardships of history/
I heard the hope and the hunger/
When China sang to me...When China sang to me/
Were these "hardships and hunger" due to a lack of reason, while primitive mysticism ruled, perchance?

The album ends with "High Water," taking the return to primitive instinct to its logical conclusion:"
When the waters rose in the darkness/
In the wake of the endless flood/
It flowed into our memory/
It flowed into our blood/

Waves that crash on the shoreline/
Torrents of tropical rain/
streaming down Beyond our memory/
Streaming down inside our veins/
Peart paints a scene of evolution here:
When something broke the surface/
Just to see the starry dome/
When something left the ocean/
To crawl high above the foam/
We still feel that elation/
When the water takes us home/
In a driving rain of redemption/
The water takes me home.../
This religious overtone is at odds with the other explanation in Peart’s left-wing libertarianism, as Bullock notes that Peart “could never be a conservative due to the right’s intolerance and support of censorship.” Adding to the confusion, Bullock adds that “Moreover, the rise of religious fundamentalism in America and throught the globe ‘terrifies’ him. But, as if emphasizing the “libertarian” over the “left wing,” Bullocks also adds that Peart “also sees rising intolerance coming from the left, exemplified by a Toronto law ‘forbidding smoking in any bar, restaurant, coffee shop, doughnut shop, anywhere.’ Thus, though he believes that economic freedom is generally increasing, Peart also observes that ‘socially it seems to be the opposite-there is actually more oppression.’”

(Given that this article came 10 years after “Second Nature,” and that those freedoms have eroded even more since then, I wonder if Peart is still ready to “make that deal?”)

This theme of mysticism seems to be linked to a greater theme of reason versus emotion, or logic versus instinct. This isn't the first time Peart used this theme, indeed, it was the theme of Hemispheres, which used Nietzsche's and Rand's discussion of Apollo and Dionysus as metaphors for "the battle for heart and mind," with the answer being (on Hemispheres) a need for "balance." (With Nietzsche, the answer layed with Dionysus, Rand sided with integration, but with a heavy dose of Apollo.) Peart follows up on this theme strongly on Hold Your Fire, with frequent appeals to "instinct." It's no wonder, either, if you listen closely in interviews; he often describes himself as a "child of the sixties" and a "romantic mystic."

If all this weren’t enough, the “making of” essay from the tour book has Peart joking that
It really is hard to believe that Hold Your Fire is our twelfth studio album -- in thirteen years together. But then it's also hard to believe in the expanding universe, superconductors, indoor baseball, 3-D movies, artificial sweetener, offensive weapons, objective reality [emphasis mine], rock music ...
Really? Objective reality is hard to believe? Talk about your Kantian overtones; Platonic, even…but that’s what happens when you accentuate instinct over “the evidence of the senses…”

Despite Peart’s joke, and the marginalizing of logic for instinct, reason is not totally dismissed; in the aptly named “Prime Mover”, Peart intermingles the “Platonic” with the “Aristotelian”. Peart identifies the “prime mover” in our “animal” nature:
Basic elemental instinct to survive/
Stirs the higher passions/
Thrill to be alive/
In a seemingly “Kantian” moment, Peart addresses the subjective interpretation of sensory input:
Basic temperamental/
Filters on our eyes/
Alter our perceptions/
Lenses polarize/
But from there, we see the evolution from instinct to logic:
Alternating currents force a show of hands/
Rational responses force a change of plans/
And the evolution turns technological:
I set the wheels in motion/
Turn up all the machines/
Activate the programs/
And run behind the scene/
This leads to Peart’s other “specific disagreement” with Ayn Rand; as her attitude towards the Woodstock generation (see her essay "Apollo and Dionysus" in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution) rankled with “child of the 60’s” Peart:
I always loved machines, and I always loved the workings of mankind in making things. I stayed up all night to watch the Apollo moon landing, and at the same time I was just as excited by Woodstock. There is in fact no division there. In both cases you're talking about the things that people make and do. So I didn't see any division, but of course Rand did, in seeing us all as the unwashed Bohemian hordes.
With that statement, Peart contradicts the Objectivist notion of the "dual between Plato and Aristotle." How to explain all this? It could be said that the "evolutionary" aspect counters the "mystical" aspect, except for the allusion to the Christian baptism ("driving rain of redemption). This lyric also evokes memories of another literary influence on early Rush, Tolkien's Lord Of the Rings; (there's a beautifully written moment where Legolas the elf stands on the shoreline, reflecting on the ocean as the common birthplace of all life, and how there's a collective longing to return among the species.) However, in an ironic turn of the cards, a hard-core Objectivist might pull a “Barry Miles,” follow the precedent set by Leonard Peikoff in his book The Ominous Parallels, and connect Peart’s talk of “instinct” that “streams down inside our veins” to his neo-Jungian Platonism to the Nazi idea of racial purity, Aryan blood, and the Nietzschean idea of the Ubermensch

Perhaps, if taken to the ideological root, those ideas would find their common origin, but I hardly believe this to be Peart’s intent. No, The best way to understand Peart's eclecticism and the contradictions between his Objectivist-influenced lyrics and his about-face is to understand how the hippie movement intersected with the Libertarian movement, well-documented in Jeff Riggenbach's In Praise of Decadence. Riggenbach argues that the student movement of the sixties was not predominantly leftist, but libertarian, and his arguments and research do explain the situation well. For example, he explores how members of the Woodstock generation that Rand wrote off as Dionysian savages who explored psychedelics, Eastern philosophies and "alternative lifestyles" could produce technological wonders such as the personal computer, the iPod, and Spaceship One. Not only that, but in tracing the history of the Libertarian movement, he explores the influence of Objectivism on the Baby Boomer generation. Riggenbach’s defines “decadence” as, contary to the consensus, a rebellion against authority and tradition that results not in decay, but in vitality and creativity. He also claims to identify contradictions in Rand and Objectivism that pit her defense of individualism against her own strand of authoritarianism that Peart claims turned him off. Riggenbach’s explanation goes a long way to understand the impulse to juxtapose the “Platonic” with the “Aristotelian” in Peart’s lyrics, while explaining the love-hate relationship between Objectivists and Libertarians.

But all that was beyond the knowledge of that newly-minted "student of Objectivism" of the class of '96, and while I learned of the charges against Rand, it would be some time before I learned of the various motives. But the friendly-fire towards Rand would lead me to questions and heretical questioning of my own. Would the answers prove critics like the Brandens, Riggenbach, and Peart right? Does Peart's rejection of "Randroids" in favor of eclecticism support or undermine the idea of individualism? Was it time to “hold my fire?” Or would I have to fire back?

Next- Pt. 6 of 8: "No, Neil, Hold YOUR Fire"...
(Previous- Pt. 4: Interlude: The Making of 2112 and Moving Pictures")