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
embarrassment.
(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
contented/
And the Gods watched from afar/

But the winter fell upon
them/
And it caught them unprepared/
Bringing wolves and cold
starvation/
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"...

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