Showing posts with label Libertarian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Libertarian. Show all posts

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Rand-Rush Connection: Coda

After completing this, I recently came across online a Hold Your Fire "backstage" newsletter from 1998 (Transcribed by Kathy View). Included is a Q&A featuring a few of Rand-related questions:

Q. How do you feel about Ayn Rand and Objectivism?
Ted Tomaszewski,
Clark’s Summit, PA

A. Pretty good. How do you feel about them?

The answer's kind of flip, as if weary of the question, followed a few questions later by this more neutral, yet more characteristic answer:

Q. I would like to know what are some of the more interesting books you’ve read to inspire your song writing, as with "Anthem" by Ayn Rand and "Powers Of Mind" by Adam Smith.
Angelo DiPronio,
Fort Wayne, IN

A. Well, lately I’m never inspired by any one thing, and usually try to pour a bucketful of ideas and images into every song, so the actual inspirations can be pretty oblique and hard to track down. They come from conversations sometimes, or something in the newspaper or on TV, or more often just from watching the way people behave, and thinking about why!
Then there is this, which is more relevant to this blog entry. It's a little surprising to see Peart with some individualistic "bite" here; he comes out so strongly for individualism and so strongly against Live-Aid when contrasted with some of Peart's later, more "left-wing emphasis" Libertarianism quotes, but it does need to be considered in the totality of the Rand-Rush connection, as a bridge, at least:
Q. Do the more compassionate or worldly lyrics of recent material underline a shift away from your strong right wing views expressed in "2112" and "Anthem"? Would the band feel uncomfortable performing "Anthem" in the age of Live-Aid with "Live for yourself, there’s no one else, more worth living for, Begging hands and bleeding hearts will always cry out for more."
Ian Harris,
Kent, England

A. Oh boy! I’ve been saving this one for last, so anyone who’s bored already can go watch the TV news or something.

This one could only have come from England-I doubt if anybody over here knows (or cares) what "right wing" means.

As a matter of fact, the term dates from the French Revolution, when the Royalists sat on the right side of the French parliament, while the Republicans sat on the left. So, in that sense, I have never had any strong French Royalist views expressed in any song. Ha ha.

But really, my world-views have grown onward and outward over the years, but they haven’t changed. I still believe in the sanctity of the individual, in freedom of action without harming anyone else, in a person’s right to be charitable (or miserly) as they choose, and all that good stuff.

As to the second point, do you really believe that whole Live-Aid circus was an act of selfless concern for suffering humanity? If it were simply and truly that, it could have been done quietly, with all those sanctimonious and self-righteous people doing something good for the world without the attendant spotlights on their oh-so-humble and sentimental altruism.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no cynic, and I have no doubt that "Sir Bob’s" motives were honourable, but didn’t you notice that only the "In Crowd" were invited to participate? Or that anyone who resisted the "invitation", like "Tears For Fears", were publicly and viciously maligned for their lack of "charity"?

I can easily illustrate the reality with a story from my own experience. A year or so ago, I had the idea of getting rid of a few spare drumsets by means of an auction, and I wanted the proceeds to go to the "Foster Parents Plan." If you’re not familiar with that agency, it’s a self-help aid program started by an Englishman during the Spanish Civil War to help refugee children, and later spread to the world, helping children as well as their families and communities. You "adopt" a child in a poor country, contribute to their health and education, and write back and forth to them as penpals. It’s a wonderful thing.

I got excited about the idea, thinking that other musicians must have spare instruments sitting around that they might donate to such a cause. And then the little idea grew into a great big dream. I envisioned a satellite network across North America, tied into MTV and Canada’s MuchMusic, with people phoning in to bid on all this great stuff, and for a great cause. Why, it could even become a monthly affair, with the proceeds going to different worthy causes every time. Fantastic!

Getting really excited now, I started to contact people, and asked our office to try to turn the wheels of our great "Entertainment Industry". And what do you think happened?
Absolutely nothing. It just wasn’t hip anymore. So what’s new?
(Previous, Pt. 7: "Dreaming in Middletown")
(Back to beginning: "Introduction")

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")

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rush versus Rand Paul

"Listen to my music/
And hear what it can do/
There`s something here as strong as life/
I know that it will reach you."
-Rush, 2112

My, how things change:

From USA Today: "Rock Band Rush Tells Rand Paul to Stop Using Its Music":

Robert Farmer, general counsel for the band's record label, tells Gannett colleague James Carroll that the Paul campaign does not have the band's permission to use the music, including the 1980 song "The Spirit of Radio," at political rallies.

"This is not a political issue -- this is a copyright issue," Farmer said. "We would do this no matter who it is."

Jesse Benton, Paul's campaign manager, tells the paper that, "The background music Dr. Paul has played at events is a non-issue. The issues that matter in this campaign are cutting out-of-control deficits, repealing Obama Care and opposing cap and trade."

Ok, fair enough for Rush to assert their copyrights ("Listen to my music," not "appropriate"...). But of course, the ideological connection is newsworthy to Objectivists, given the "objectivish" associations of both Rush and Rand ("no, I wasn't named after her") Paul. See the recent article on this at The New Republic, "And Speaking of Ayn Rand..." So it might suprise some that Rush would refuse a "fellow traveler..." except that Rush, via Neil Peart, pretty much moved away from the Randian influence a long time ago, even downplaying her influence on 2112 ("For a start, the extent of my influence by the writings of Ayn Rand should not be overestimated -- I am no one's disciple.") (See The National Midnight Star interview.)

I've been meaning to write something extensive on Rand and Rush for some time (Chris Sciabarra set the stage with his "Rand, Rush, and Rock" article in 2002.) Eventually, I will, but the salient point here is the "left-leaning libertarian" self-identification from Peart, which makes the "objectivish" synchronicity with Rand Paul that much more notable, since both are criticized by some Objectivists for being too Libertarian (meaning not Objectivist enough)...Rand and Ron Paul get flack for their Christianity, and Peart? The Hold Your Fire album put Peart on the Objectivist firing-line with this lyric from "Open Secrets":
"I find no absolution/
In my rational point-of-view/
Maybe some things are instinctive/
but there's one thing you can do/
You can try to understand me/
I can try to understand you."
And the irony is that Rand supposedly considered suing Rush over 2112...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Islamic Slaves to Allah=Objectivist Slaves to Reality?

(Original post edited 4/3/11 for content.)

An exchange at Objectivist Living makes the case that to be a "slave to Allah" equals the Objectivist notion of being a "slave to reality":

Adonis Vlahos:

I am a slave to the Creator, I don't deny it. But God is the only being thing I submit to and I do so as I believe God wishes me to do so. As I said, I'm not here to debate the existence of God.

[Michael Stuart Kelly]:

Adonis, You might be surprised, but this is very close to the Objectivist view. There are a few differences, but the attitude of wanting to do good, the wish to fit in correctly with a bigger picture, and not questioning the metaphysical are the same. What you call Allah, Objectivists call reality. And they are "slaves" to reality just as much as you are a "slave" to Allah.
Jason Quintana makes short work of this:
For example according to MSK the idea that Muslims have to submit to the will of Allah (as channeled by an Arabian prophet) and that Objectivists understand that reality can't be evaded are really parallel ideas. But this is nonsense and it is the reason why there are no parallels. Submission in the sense that Adonis describes is abdication of one's own mind in favor an imagined authority figure and a set of prescribed cultural guidelines and rituals. The Objectivist approach is completely opposite. It sweeps away this kind of nonsense in favor of complete reliance on one's own judgment.

There is no parallel between these approaches and any attempt to create one is an example of intellectual trickery, which is something that MSK is a master at employing.
I want to supplement Jason's analysis with some words from Rand herself. Rand did, in fact, use and invert religious imagery, but in her letters to Isabel Paterson, she emphatically denies what Kelly is trying to attribute to her:
Now, to the question of God–where your presentation of what you assume to be my position simply made me sick. You state my assumption as: "If God exists, man is a slave," and you proceed to say: "Why? Your assumption there is actually that a creative mind necessarily makes a slave of any person less creative who also happens to exist. Does it? My main argument is that the conception of God–or such as I have ever heard or read–denies every conception of the human mind. What is omnipotence? What is infinity? What is a being which is limitless–when the basic conception of existence in man's form of consciousness is the conception of an entity–which means a limit? An entity is that which other entities are not. What is an entity which is everything?
If Rand thought that Paterson's assumptions were sickening, well, would she approve of those of Kelly, when he claims that "My views...are 100% in line with Rand's"? Kelly claims to be making "inroads" of people with opposing viewpoints, but it seems to me that it goes against Rand's own wishes on how to do that.

Let's see how she described Howard Roark:

"Religion-None. Not a speck of it. Born without any 'religious brain center.' Does not understand or even conceive of the instinct for bowing and submission. His whole capacity for reverence is centered on himself."

The ironic thing here is that Kelly is quick to accuse Objectivists of treating the philosophy "religiously," yet he attempts to make "inroads" to reconcile concepts like "turning the other cheek" with Objectivism. Lindsay Perigo offers a rebuttal to Kelly's examples of the "Jesus strategy" in Rand's fiction, while identifying the "Trojan Horse" involved that divided reception of the article: "that clever little tactic/strategy distinction thrown in to confuse the guillible."

Anyway, I showed how Rand used the honest approach in my previous post, where, in her review of Roots, she identifies the best and worst of the subject, gives credit where credit's due, and criticizes accordingly. Hell, she was even open to hearing the best of the religious argument. In another letter, to a fan, she writes:

Perhaps a philosophical statement could be made defining God and man's relation to God in a way which would not be demeaning to man and to his life on earth. But I do not know of such a statement among the popular conceptions of God.

I'd dare say that Rand would not find such a statement among the conceptions of Adonis Vlhahos, either. Vlhahos, a Muslim who claims that Libertarianism is compatible with Islam, has admitted that he has not read Rand, and it shows: his description at his blog states that he is a "A Student/Traveler's Thoughts on The Vital Issue: Prying Islam from the Hands of Liars, Extremists and Fools and the Returning of Islam to its Rightful Position in the World in Providing an Example of Compassion, Generosity, Honor, Chivalry, Dignity and Altruism to Mankind and The Defense of ALL of People's Right to Live in Peace while Enjoying Equal Access to Liberty and Justice Regardless of Color or Race."While some of those examples are certainly worthy, (I'm certainly not against "equal access to liberty and Justice, Regardless of Color or Race"), the use of "altruism" (self-sacrifice) negates that "equal access," on an individual level. The very equation of "true Islam" with "altruism" should give pause to anyone their views to be "100% inline with Rands."

But then, Rand never accepted that her philosophy was compatible with Libertarianism, either...