Saturday, August 28, 2010

On Glenn Beck's Call to God

In 2006, Leonard Peikoff made his infamous statement that "If you hate the Left so much that you feel more comfortable with the Right, you are unwittingly helping to push the U.S. toward disaster, i.e., theocracy, not in 50 years, but, frighteningly, much sooner."

I'm guessing that the Glenn Beck's honeymoon with Objectivism is over...Fast forward to August 28, 2010: At Lincoln Memorial, a Call for Religious Rebirth

From The New York Times:
“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Mr. Beck said in opening the event as the crowd thronged near the memorial grounds. “America today begins to turn back to God.”

But the program was distinctly different from most Tea Party rallies. While Tea Party groups have said they want to focus on fiscal conservatism and not risk alienating people by talking about religion or social issues, the rally on Saturday was overtly religious, filled with gospel music and speeches that were more like sermons.

Ominous parallels, indeed...Compare the pic above with the ones below (click to enlarge):

Think I was exaggerating? Doomish-face aside, compare with Beck's own words from the rally:

...Recognize your place to the creator. Realize that he is our king. He is the one who guides and directs our life and protects us...I ask, not only if you would pray on your knees, but pray on your knees but with your door open for your children to see.
Now, just how does Beck claim to be for freedom while asking his audience to bow to a king??? That's why, instead of depicting Obama, I kept the "leader" ambiguous, since both parties are just variations on a theme of slavery. Was my illustration from A Show of Hands (pdf), published in September of 2008, proof of psychic powers? No...just the power of thinking in principles.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Rand-Rush Connection: Rock'N'Roll Comics

"Ayn often said, only partly joking, that she would know her ideas were having a crucial impact on the culture when they had worked their way down from ivory towers...through popular writings and finally to mass-market comic books; then she could be certain that her philosophy had become part of the conventional wisdom. She would have been amused to learn that she had won this victory-as witness Steve Ditko, creator of the cartoon 'Spider Man.'"
-Barbara Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand

Move over, Spidey, this one goes "closer to the heart..."

To kick off this series proper, I thought it proper to start with where I first heard of Ayn Rand, back in 1993, via Rush. Surprise! It wasn't 2112; I hadn't seen the dedication to the "genius" of Ayn Rand comment yet, since I only had the cassette, not the vinyl. No, my first exposure was through the Rush issue of Rock'n'Roll Comics (soon to be republished in graphic novel form, I just learned), published by Revolutionary Comics in 1992 (waay before the current Rand Revolution.) These were basically a series of comics that were illustrated biographies of the biggest names in rock. Well, the Rush issue has Neil Peart holding up a copy of Anthem (with the distinctive white cover) while describing his concept for 2112 (which was illustrated pretty nicely)...meanwhile, the narrator goes on to explain the influence:
That's what Neil's "rock novel" 2112 is about, individuality. The power of the one dwarfing the stumbling, archaic machinations of groups...whether they be governments, peers, movements, or what have you. Organizations are oppressive according to the author of Anthem, Ayn Rand, and that philosophy is shared to some extent by Neil Peart and his musical partners. Rand's basic theology, dubbed Objectivism, forms the skeletal structure for Neil's lyrical epic of a totalitarian society where music has become a forgotten, forbidden alchemy.

Pretty cool, eh? (Aside from the description of Objectivism as "theology.") You wouldn't get that from the Led Zeppelin or AC/DC issues, now would ya? But wait, that's not all! In a little sidebar below all this, there's this:
Rent The Fountainhead, starring Gary Cooper, at your local video store for a crash-course in Objectivist philosophy, or check out Patrick McCray's Elvis Shrugged. -Libertarian Todd.

There may be an "earthquake in Valhalla" over the "Libertarian" part, but, more importantly, what's this about Elvis Shrugged? Well, on the back of the comic is an ad for said comic:

It would be another 3 years before I actually got around to reading Rand, which was in the midst of my quest to answer the question of God. And quite by accident; I was in the library looking for other books when I glimpsed Anthem (the Nick Gaetano redux) on the shelf, and flashed back to Rush and this comic. Little did I know at the time what that would do to my quest...(well, I guess there were signs, like the Elvis Shrugged cover appearing next to an ad for Psychoman, hanging from a cross while paraphrasing Jesus: "Man, they don't even know what the !@#$ they're doing!").

To close this one out, here's the illustration for 2112...dedicated, of course, to the genius of Ayn Rand. (click to enlarge).

Next: "Grace Under Pressure in Red Sector A"...

 Next: Pt. 3 of 8: "Grace Under Pressure in Red Sector A"...
(Previous: Pt. 1-"Introduction")

Monday, August 9, 2010

Patricia Neal: 1926-2010

From the L.A. Times: Patricia Neal dies at 84:
Neal, 84, died of lung cancer Sunday at her home in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard. But in the end, she told family members who had gathered around her the night before: "I've had a lovely time."

The former wife of "Willie Wonka" creator Roald Dahl, you might know her as a Tony-winning actress, an Oscar-winner for her role in Hud, or the sci-fi maven of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Oh, and some movie called The Fountainhead, I think?

Of course, I'll remember her as Dominique Francon; rest in peace.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Penn and Teller+Nathaniel Branden+Self-Esteem=BULLSHIT?

"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, gosh darn it, people like me!"

Yeah, I saw it. It really didn't deal with Objectivism, or mention Rand, but I'd be amiss not to mention it, given the Rand/Branden history. But there was no "real" discussion of Nathaniel Branden's ideas, aside from the acute observation that he refers to himself in the third person:

PJ: But forget kids for a sec — how are we [adults] supposed to raise our self-esteem?NB (in his office): I think that one of the very best things a person could do, if they wanted to grow in self-esteem, would be to read the following books by Nathanlel Branden — [titles are repeated mockingly and sotto voce by PJ with a sound effect of scribbling notes] Honoring the Self, How to Raise Your Self-Esteem, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem ... that's enough for now.PJ: Hey, thanks! So who's this Nathaniel Branden, anyway?NB (directly to camera, by back-yard fountain): I am Dr. Nathaniel Branden, I am a practicing psychotherapist ... [intro is plainly, by his rising tone of voice, cut off from continuing]
PJ: You were talkin' about yourself in the third person, recommending your own books? Your shit must work! ... For the past forty years, Dr. Branden's findings have been considered a reference point for the whole self-esteem industry.NB (in office): When I began doing psychotherapy, I was struck by the fact that regardless of the particular complaint the person came into my office with, one common denominator was a poor self-concept, underdeveloped self-esteem.PJ (over shots of NB reading and walking): Back in the '70s, Dr. Branden declared that virtually all psychological problems are traceable to low self-esteem. Anxiety, depression, fear of intimacy, spousal battery, child molestation, parking violations — all low self-esteem.

(Hat tip to Steve Reed for his transcription, posted elsewhere with his own commentary.)

After discussing some pretty cheesy exponents of self-esteem, Penn (and Teller) goes on to debunk Branden by contrasting his ideas with a study from the "California Task Force," emphasis on California, the one place that, following the logic of La-La Land, you'd think would be affirming his ideas.

I'm not the biggest Branden supporter, but I don't think P&T's "takedown" was their best work; it consisted mainly of the "weak man" argument, attacking the worst proponents. And Branden's work is not without merit.That said, Branden has shot himself in the foot, "objectivist-ly"-speaking, by his interests in esp or the work of Ken Wilbur. But putting that aside, considering that Penn/Teller and Nathaniel Branden both frequent some of the same Libertarian circles, It'd be interesting to read the fly-on-the-wall's blog from the next convention...

(Update 2/21/13: I've just recently learned that Penn Jillette has apologized for his treatment of Nathaniel Branden in this segment, according to a blogger named Judd Weiss, who discusses his confrontation with Jillette about it in an email. Jillette is said to have apologized, in a return email

"I’m very sorry. I don’t do all the research myself. We didn’t really know how to play that. We went back and forth with a few different takes on it and angles, and I guess didn’t get it right. I’m sorry."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Rand-Rush Connection: Pt. 1-Introduction

In my post "Rush versus Rand Paul", I mention an article from The Journal of Ayn Studies entitled "Rand, Rush, and Rock" by Chris Matthew Sciabarra. While the influence of Ayn Rand on the group Rush is well-known (the album 2112 does bear the inscription "Dedicated to the genius of Ayn Rand"), Sciabarra's piece was intended to be a more in-depth introduction to not only the Rand-Rush connection, but Rand's influence on academic scholars via "progressive rock":

Though studies of Rand are published with increasing regularity, there has been no attention given to her presence in the scholarly literature on Progressive rock music—that virtuoso "art" style noted for its experimental blending of rock, classical, jazz, and other idioms. References to Rand usually specify her connection to the Canadian Progressive rock band Rush and its lyricist and drummer, Neil Peart, whose Randian pedigree shows up in many of his compositions. This link has been noted by writers such as Barbara Branden (1986, 419) and Jeff Walker (1999, 127), but what has gone unnoticed is the extent to which scholars have grappled with Rand's broader influence.
My planned (um, yeah...planned...meaning "when I get to it"...) series of posts will focus more specifically on the Rand/Rush connection, but the theme of Sciabarra's article serves as an interesting starting point in a trend I've noticed in the discussion of Rush. Earlier bios of the band tended toward the superficial, but since the 2002 publication of "Rand, Rush, and Rock," there has been something of a "Rush Renaissance," with the band receiving some long-overdue recognition from even its harshest critics. There has been something of a sea change, with books like Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class: Dreaming in Middletown, and, most recently, the authorized documentary Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage. What's interesting is how the "intellectual" side of this "thinking man's band" is treated. In books about more traditional British progressive rock bands, much is made of the meaning of the lyrics and the concepts. Rush, however, is not exactly a "traditional" progressive rock band, and the reception to their conceptual side has been handled cautiously.

There are a few reasons for this. First, they're Canadian, not British, and in the U.S. and Canada, there was less concern with the subject matter of the British band's work; second, they came to fame in the 70's, not the 60's, and third, they were more of a hard rock band with progressive influences. As a result, they found their largest audience among hard rock/heavy metal/stadium rock fans of North America in the post-psychedelic revolution, which also suggests that Rush are more appreciated for their musicianship than their ideas. To what extent can be debated, but while books like Rush, Rock Music and the Middle Class may exist, two other examples seem to look at the band through the eyes of those who don't "get" the intellectual side. The Inside Rush:Music in Review dvd features one egregious example; one "talking head," in a move, it seems, to appeal to the "metalhead" stereotype, almost revels in his ignorance of the lyrical content. Even in the Beyond the Lighted Stage documentary, the "thinking man's band" is undercut by comments from their peers about not "getting it." (Even when the "intellectual" side is appreciated, it is more along the lines of "I don't understand it, but I feel smart listening to it..." It's that American pragmatism which simultaneously admires and distrusts intellectuals.)

This is a continuation of a vicious cycle for a lyricist who has written that he "found it frustrating, and often hurtful, to be judged, misunderstood, and insulted by people who, if they were going to help me, ought to know more than I did about the music I wanted to make. Sadly, they did not."

With that said, this is a series that I've been wanting to tackle for a while; though I may be critical at times, I am still a fan at heart, and their scope, style, and ambition have been a major inspiration in my own music and thinking. So I hope to be an honest critic of a band that deserves much more, and to go "against the run-of-the-mill" of the poor analysis that plagues their work.

Next: 2 0f 8: "Rock N Roll Comix"...