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April 13, 2010 - April 6, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Hard Sell: Randucito Ad Absurdum (With Special Guest Star The Soft Sell)

"'Randucito...' That's how he leads off his supposed hard sell?" Just you wait.

EVEN LESS IRRELEVANT THAN YOU THINK. Checkmate? This is Three Dimensional Chess, Boss. I've got quantum strategy, while you're still reading old Newton's rulebook. You're playing in Flatland, and my knights can jump.

You read Atlas in high school, and you assume that because she presented her ideal man in that book, then holing up while the rest of the world destroyed itself must have been her plan of action. How do you feel when your admirers read the Punk Testament that way? Seems like they're missing the point, doesn't it?

By your own admission, you don't know her philosophy. The Rand quotes in my earlier essay would have been an invaluable crash course in the length and breadth of her thought, if you hadn't read the piece in a frothing rage. You would not only have learned where your own assessment detoured, but you would have gained some real insight as to why this mere "pop fiction writer" keeps getting underfoot.

If you're up to it, I'm still willing to set you straight. Because she is NOT going away. Even if you kick me off the site, she will continue to get underfoot. To paraphrase another persistent nuisance, this is not something I, Brizoni, made up to be eccentric. You need to know why she's a thorn in your flesh, and why it matters. And why you're wrong. But that's less of a need and more of a bonus for me. Rarer than technetium.

As long as we're editing Galt, let's take another whack. Once more, here's the original.

I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

Here's what I take that to mean.

I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will not subordinate my life to anyone else's, nor subordinate anyone else's life to mine.

Do I really have to explain that "subordinate" is the extreme sense of the word here? This doesn't mean "never do anything for anyone." There were gaps in her system, but "never help your loved ones if it costs you anything" wasn't one of them. Here's proof I'm not just reading "a compassion that isn't there" into it, this time:

Concern for the welfare of those one loves is a rational part of one’s selfish interests. If a man who is passionately in love with his wife spends a fortune to cure her of a dangerous illness, it would be absurd to claim that he does it as a “sacrifice” for her sake, not his own, and that it makes no difference to him, personally and selfishly, whether she lives or dies.

Any action that a man undertakes for the benefit of those he loves is not a sacrifice if, in the hierarchy of his values, in the total context of the choices open to him, it achieves that which is of greatest personal (and rational) importance to him. In the above example, his wife’s survival is of greater value to the husband than anything else that his money could buy, it is of greatest importance to his own happiness and, therefore, his action is not a sacrifice.

Doesn't jibe with the Ayn Rand of your supposition, does it? For the more general love for fellow man, the other side of the compassion coin, let's hear Nathaniel Branden's take:

The respect and good will that men of self-esteem feel toward other human beings is profoundly egoistic; they feel, in effect: "Other men are of value because they are of the same species as myself." In revering living entities, they are revering their own life. This is the psychological base of any emotion of sympathy and any feeling of "species solidarity."

Rand echoed her then-acolyte's sentiments in similar language. You can find this "same species" rationale uncomfortably clinical, as I do. Among other things, it seems to have left out-- while still having room for-- the joy we feel when, say, Norman Dale choses Shooter's self-esteem over his own career. In consequence, it fails utterly to apprehend that our joy is vicarious, that we feel it because Dale himself feels it. It has even less to say about how Dale's joy is itself vicarious, his exultation not even a prideful reflection of the good he's done his friend, but a celebration that his friend has received good. (and is that joy worth the "sacrifice" of taking yet another piss on his professional rep? Rand would say "you bet.") But, callousness aside, the fact that the two major pioneers of Objectivism could conceive of compassion so lucidly, and instead of dismissing it as illogical emoting, defend it on such sober (overly so, yes) grounds, puts real strain on the usefulness of your "a kind of psychopathy" judgement. Their system as they gave it is a little inhumanly detached, I agree. Nothing we can't fix. But I'll get to that.

We ignorant children defend Ayn Rand because she has an impact you underestimate. Mental deliverance from collectivist doctrine is just the root. The trunk is the proposition that each man has the capacity to, under his own power, make sense of life (and isn't that the point of your proposed social contract? What else could you have meant by "the simplicity of thought and analysis we find in our own minds as the basis for all aspiration and decision making"?). The fruit is liberty. Specifically, the liberty to make decisions for himself using his rational faculty. The branch, since you asked, is the right to that liberty, stemming (does that botch the metaphor?) from the need for it.

Maybe you got that idea, or the gist, from Christianity. If so, you were blessed. Anymore, it's a notion of morality young people aren't exposed to anywhere else-- not in art, music, movies, any of the seven thousand TV channels, scarcely anywhere on the internet-- keep in mind the distractant of the constant Chinese water torture of internet pornography every brain born after 1992 has been subjected to since birth, and every brain born after 1979 has endured since some point in its puberty--, the nightclub, the bar, the classroom, and certainly not the pulpit. Nowhere but Rand.

And here, of course. But your vision of the universe is so different from the inherited metaphysics anyone under 50 is cursed with, they couldn't begin to understand you. To say nothing of their near-total ignorance of history, and their... well, you know the drill. One can have an education that barely qualifies one for a fast food job and still get Rand. That doesn't work with InstaPunk.

What do we hear from the pulpit? Piss like this:

Christian faith: Calvinism is back

Dever acknowledges that people might well ask, "Why would God make anybody who is going to go to hell?" His answer captures the essence of New Calvinism. "I don't know," he says. "I didn't do this. I'm just trying to tell you what I think is true, not what I like." [DIE!]

What critics see as a grim and fatalistic doctrine, however, Calvin saw as good news: that God's purposes can be fulfilled despite man's sinful ways.

"To him, predestination was a liberating belief because it says that God can choose anyone, however humble, and use him to overturn the great men of this world," says Professor Bray. "It makes real change possible and puts ordinary people like you and me in charge of seeing it happen. What could be better news than that?" [you mean, other than "Man is worth saving and God isn't a capricious sadist"?]

Many followers agree, adding that Calvinism is not fatalism: You are responsible for you behavior.

Which barely deserves to be called lip-service. In a future foredetermined by an omnipotent God, what room is there for responsibility, accountability, or effort? None. That's only "liberating" in the sense that sleep is liberation from wakefulness, or death liberation from the senseless agony that is life on earth, as Bill Ashbless would have it (and what's stopping you, chap? You think God's gonna splash some holy water on you when you get to Heaven and BOOM, meaning? HOW EXACTLY DO YOU THINK MEANING WORKS? Seriously. I want an answer). If that isn't fatalism, there has never been any such thing as fatalism, ever. And we both know that's a crock of urine.

(The article itself is thorough journalism, fairly presenting Calvinism's appeal, historical contribution, and theological defects. There is one glaring error: Throughout, Calvinism is consistently presented as a literal read of the Bible. Uh, 'fraid not.)

That's one of the two faces of Christianity presented to us. The other is the tacky Megachurch feel-good threadbare theology, which profers not even dregs to slake one's thirst for the profound, the significant, the real.

Imagine you were reared with a modern education (take a moment to shudder) (and now run to the bathroom and prostrate the toilet, spitting into it and moaning, managing only with all your will to keep your breakfast down) (take whatever time you need). Faced with the choice between either of two grotesque zombie Christianities, and a philosophy that convincingly proports to restore RATIONAL MORALITY to the human experience, which would you choose?

People do fill in the gaps of Rand's thought with an inherited (vestigial? I hope not) Christian compassion. I do it myself. Gladly. With Rand, I caulk as needed. She has no concept of redemption whatsover, fine. Her notion that a male's sexuality is the expression of his deepest moral values is naive to the point of catastrophe, big deal. Your amputation metaphor presumes I'm advocating a strict, to-the-letter Randism. I'm not. Because remember how I'm not stupid? Only the most intellectually bankrupt doormats-- or in Rand's terms, "second-handers"-- want to be Randroids, mindless defenders of the orthodoxy. Thus your bewilderment over why those of her admirers who in your eyes are otherwise sensible, including friends you know in the real-live flesh, prize her so highly. That should be a clue, not a maddening paradox. They take her not as an amputation, but as a graft. They, too, didn't get a rational defense of liberty from Christianity.

But Rand spent her whole life defending liberty with her greatest weapon: her mind. She didn't bail on the world and try to establish a utopian meritocratic commune somewhere in Utah or Wyoming, as you suggest she logically must have. Whatever her personal faults or the gaps in her thinking, she fought for the principle of freedom­ until the day she died. Point of fact, the battle against creeping nanny facism sapped what strength she might have had to confront what flaws did exist in her philosophy, and ruined her as a human being for her last two decades on earth. That was her sacrifice. In the Christian sense. George Gilder said it best when he called her a "flawed but heroic woman, who bore the moral defense of capitalism on her back like Atlas for nearly two decades, and never shrugged."

Which is why-- as you failed to mention in your rebuttal-- the Tea Partiers are the ones holding up John Galt signs. Atlas isn't even a fantasy. It's a demonstration. Of who keeps the world turning, and what would happen if they were to stop. The brilliance, the utter brilliance, of the Tea Party is their recognition that they themselves, the Forgotten Men, even more than the innovators and the super-gifted, carry the earth on their shoulders. Is it any wonder that Rand's philosophy of rational self-interest speaks so much more clearly to these men? But sore as their backs are, they don't want to dump us into a never-ending Earth Hour They don't want to quit. Yet. Best believe there's a point when they will. They're fighting for America's soul, but they're also warning everyone that they will only give so much of their souls. And rightly so. Their happiness counts, too.

Boss, if I didn't believe in fighting like hell, I wouldn't have posted a defense of Ayn Rand and the nobility of hopeful atheism on this site, of ALL places. You think I didn't know it'd stir up such a piss-storm?

Believe it or not, this is the fight that matters. Not just the logistics of cleaning the mess, but how the mess got made. Not just "what is," but WHY "what is." The disaster that is modern times is Rationalizations 27.9 come home to roost. Philosophy-- as in an articulated, conscious concept of life-- is the keystone of civilization. You know this. Or did you propose your new social contract as a lark? And since Ayn Rand is where people are turning to find a new keystone, ­she is where we too must start the discussion/fight (I know you hate the blank-slash-blank formulation, but it's 4 in the morning here. Some of us have to work for a living).

Instead of waiting until the eleventh hour to get down to brass tacks, let's duke this out now. At half past the tenth hour.

I know I haven't answered all your objections. Don't think I can't, sir. But do you want me to? Are we having that conversation/battle? Or do you just want me to shut up?

Eduardo's Rand Post

BEATING DEAD HORSES...AND BROADS. This post has been a long time coming. The reason it's taken extra long to finish is because the point kept changing. Then the Brizoni vs. InstaPunk Rumble '10 stole a lot of my thunder, and IP's many updates to his post kept adding more information. But that's okay. Thanks to Simple Sol's wonderful link in the comments (which was the 800th update to IP's post, I think) I managed to put the entire puzzle together, of which I had about 85% before. Anyone who has seen any comments I've made on related posts on this matter knows I have been a big fan of Ayn Rand and have read much more than merely Atlas Shrugged, so believe me when I say this, with full humility:

InstaPunk is right.

Listen up, fellow Rand apologists, because this post is meant mostly for you. I'm urging you to be careful, as I now leave your ranks. This one is a bit on the long side, but I ask you to stick with me to the end. It's about more than just Rand.

When I read the last part of Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal by Rand, I was greatly impressed by this passage (boldface mine):
The most profoundly revolutionary achievement of the United States of America was the subordination of society to moral law.

The principle of man's individual rights represented the extension of morality into the social system - as a limitation on the power of the state, as man's protection against the brute force of the collective, as the subordination of might to right.  The United States was the first moral society in history.


All previous systems [of government] had held that man's life belongs to society, that society can dispose of him in any way it pleases, and that any freedom he enjoys is his only by favor, by the permission of society, which may be revoked at any time.  The United States held that man's life is his by right...and the only moral purpose of a government is the protection of individual rights.


There is only one fundamental right...: a man's right to his own life.  Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action - which means: the freedom to take all the action required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life.
I like that. A lot. But then a question occurred to me: what was Rand's stance on abortion?
An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).

Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?

Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable. . . . Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives. The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility, which no one should undertake unwittingly or unwillingly. Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock-farm animals. For conscientious persons, an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster; to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyone’s benefit, but for the sake of misery qua misery, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfillment to living human beings.

This outraged me. This one issue crystallizes everything that is wrong with Rand, as she throws all of her consistency and logical reasoning out the window to kneecap her entire philosophy. As much as I've enjoyed reading her works, they have always felt incomplete to me. I have had to fill in the blanks along the way due to the absurdity of her final conclusion of the goal of existence being to chase pleasure. One need only look at the string of worthless, rotting, mega-wealthy actors & musicians whose daily existence is spent on nothing but self-indulgence to see what kind of an end that brings. I'm also a Christian, which Rand would certainly not approve of.

Let me point out how egregiously Rand contradicts her own supposed values by using a much smaller quote from her:
We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality.
Sex is fun. No argument here. But sadly, that's not its purpose. The purpose of sex, like it or not, is to make babies. Whatever your religious beliefs, that's one o' them thar facts. The fact that it is highly enjoyable is irrelevant. Rand's whole argument for abortion evades the reality of the purpose of sex. I don't think, as the Pope says, every time you have sex you must do so with the intent of making a baby. What I'm saying is that if you don't want a baby or aren't in a position to take care of one, then you're rolling the dice if you choose to have sex. If somebody gets pregnant, it's not the baby's fault. It's a reality we can't evade. Except that for Rand it's an exception?

Rand says we're not farm animals. Really? Then why does she treat sex like a foregone conclusion? Animals can't help themselves and bang each other all the time. [ED. Most don't. They have a mating season; we get to choose.] Doesn't man, as a rational being, have the choice not to engage in sex as a matter of putting responsibility over pleasure?

But, oh, what about those poor young people for whom a baby would be "disastrous"? Uh, why were they having sex in the first place again? For fun. Right. Hmm. And they'd need to kill the baby because it would screw up their lives and stuff, which are so very important and can't be derailed. Thing is, I've known people like that. They carelessly got pregnant and had to get abortions because of all their big plans. Guess what? They haven't done shit with their lives. Just saying.

So here we have one of the most tired repetitions carried out by each new generation of atheists, that of making yourself God in the absence of God. Rand plays God with abortion. A baby is not alive in its first three months of life because...well, because Ayn Rand said so. It's not really much of a leap from there to partial birth or late term abortions. How do I know this for the doubters out there? Facebook.

Now InstaPunk hates Facebook. I think he's missing something because I find it fascinating, and not just for the "which Sex in the City character are you?" quizzes. When you become a fan of something on Facebook, you get little updates posted to your news feed and people comment on them. I enjoy scanning through those now and then to call Pittsburgh Penguins fans derogatory names, and also because it's a little different than your standard, anonymous comments section of 5,000 people, many of which could simply be trolls. The commenters on Facebook are real, and the ones commenting on fan pages are really fans. One of these strings was from the Ayn Rand page and the topic had wandered into abortion. It started with one of her objectivist minions talking about how Rand only supported abortions three months in and late term ones were clearly a more complex issue. The very next comment was someone saying they didn't have a problem with late term abortions and others agreeing. Rand herself probably really thought it was okay, too, dontcha know, or she certainly would now if she were still alive. And poof, there you have it. What objective moral standard are these people going by now that Rand (God, that is) isn't here anymore to tell them exactly what is right and wrong? What if some Objectivists think the three month rule should still be observed? How will they make their case to the other Objectivists who think they know exactly what Rand meant?

I recently had an argument with an acquaintance about abortion in which I was called a Bible-thumping, religious nut job for my views when my argument had nothing at all to do with God, religion or the Bible and I had invoked none of them in the discussion. What my beliefs are rooted in is the logical observation that life begins at conception and that it is wrong to snuff that life out for the sake of convenience. A is A, as Rand is so fond of telling us, and life is life. Period. What's the difference between saying a so-called piece of protoplasm isn't really alive to saying someone with severe mental retardation isn't really alive and should be put down for their own good? What's the difference between that and saying that Jews should be rounded up and put into concentration camps?

Whoops, did I go too far by bringing up Nazis? Is talking about the "holocaust of the unborn" hyperbole? What's the tally on abortions, is it 30 million? More than that? And Hitler only killed a paltry 6 million people [ED. 6 million Jews; many more than that in total]. Those are a whole lot of lives snuffed out, people. And let's not kid ourselves: we know the vast majority of those were done purely for convenience by women who were too drunk, horny or lazy to care about preventing a pregnancy. Rand likes to repeatedly rail against totalitarianism, but few things, if any, are more totalitarian than a mother ending a life inside of her just because she wants to.

And see, this is why abortion is one of those things I force myself not to think about very often. Because I'm not exaggerating. It really is that bad. It's horrendous. My view is almost universally panned and laughed off by pro-abortionists, though, as nothing more than superstitious brainwashing by the Catholic Church. Even though the Church truly has nothing to do with it and I am far from what you'd call a devout or dogmatic Catholic.

Which brings me to Brizoni's post. It starts off well enough and I found myself nodding along for a few paragraphs. Brizoni has some very nice quotes from Rand that demonstrate, as Guy T. commented, that not everything Rand wrote was bad. I agree with this and have had my own arguments with our gracious host in this respect. There are many brilliant parts in Atlas Shrugged, and whatever else you want to say about Rand, you can't deny that she had the Marxists' number. She knew exactly what goes through their heads and you can see the proof of that play itself out on a daily basis right now.

But you know what? IP's Die Hard analogy really hit home, because that's exactly right. My favorite parts of Atlas Shrugged are like watching my favorite parts of an action movie. They get me pumped up and excited. So much so that I want to give her a pass and say, as the commenter George implied, that you have to divorce her personal life from her writings, otherwise you're committing an ad hominem attack. But that's not entirely accurate in this case. Saying I don't like Rand because she was Russian is an ad hominem attack. Inferring what sort of person she was by strictly interpreting her invented philosophy is not.

After that promising start, though, Brizoni goes off the rails and his post becomes some sort of Bill Maherian HuffPo piece of condescension to Christianity and it ends in the most spectacularly secular way possible, by inexplicably calling St. Augustine a fag, which has nothing whatsoever to do with anything. Just like Brizoni's view of life, the universe and everything.

This secular line of achieving spiritual liberation by being spiritually empty is totally unoriginal and uninspired. You know what quite a lot of atheists and agnostics are? Liberal, progressive Marxists. You know what they love? Making their lives and everyone else's as miserable as possible and rolling back the amazing standard of living we've achieved based on the irrational belief that capitalism is causing the planet's climate to change and will make things really hot (like hell?). They liberate themselves from the fear of God and fall, without skipping a beat, into the fear that the act of exhaling carbon dioxide is going to kill the planet.

And let's not forget the "happy accident" bullshit. The best way to think about that is to compare it with Sisyphus, cursed to roll the boulder up the hill for eternity (and I'm stealing this example, just so you know). The Christian view teaches that there is an overall meaning to existence with suffering along the way (about 99% of which is brought about by our own actions or those of other humans). When you accept the happy accident philosophy, though, the teaching changes to lots of little meanings with no overall meaning or purpose. Roll the stone to the top of the hill. Then what? Well, then maybe you can build a house. Then what? Don't ask "then what?"; the house is its own purpose. Be happy about that. Or maybe you'll never get the stone to the top of the hill anyway, so who cares? The end. Very profound, no?

Well you know what? Fuck that, Brizoni. That and your juvenile Why Won't God Heal Amputees insights. Just like the atheist who wins an amputee over with their recycled Huck Finn praying for worms on the fishing hook logic; where do they go from there? Nowhere. The amputee is still an amputee. In the end, atheists and agnostics have nothing to offer.

But what about Christians? What about that dusty, anachronistic old book that mentions unimaginable things like all of us were created in the image of our own divine creator? That creator who created life, just as we ourselves can create life and all manner of other things.What about our magnificent minds, the only ones on the planet, that can invent things like prosthetic limbs? Even something as crude as a hook or peg leg is something that no other species would ever figure out. Why is that again? Oh yeah, the cosmic accident.

Maybe, just maybe, God didn't hand down all these horrible, oppressive rules and things to us because He wants us all to be unhappy. Maybe He did it to try and help us. If you need a pop culture reference, I can't think of anything better than the third season of Dexter. For those of you who don't follow the show, Dexter is a sociopathic serial killer who was adopted and raised by a cop, ironically named Harry. Harry recognized the darkness in his son and taught him a code to live by. A lot of it Dexter doesn't emotionally connect with, but he still follows the code of Harry and so he only kills bad people. In the third season, though, he starts to rebel big time. His father is dead, but Dexter still has visions of him in which he is given advice. In this particular season, Dexter decides he knows more than pops and disregards the code, which very nearly leads to disaster. Not because his dad's ghost got angry and cursed him somehow, but because his dad actually did know better. There is a point, when things are going to shit for Dexter, that a vision of his dad reminds him the oldman didn't give him to code to mess up his life; he gave it to him for his own good.

Is there no such thing as original sin, Brizoni? Well, answer me one simple question, hoss: have you ever done anything that you thought was wrong? I know the answer is yes, so tell me, why did you do still do it? Afterward, did you feel bad about it or did you rewrite your own moral code to declare that what you just did was actually okay? Where Rand fails with her Original Sin reasoning is that we're not robots; we choose to sin. Our desires, vices or what have you get the better of us and we give into them. Animals are the ones that live by instinct alone. Man is the one with the mind. We choose to do things like have unprotected sex that results in a pregnancy, and then we choose to kill the baby to make our own lives easier. The real reason you're so excited about the possibility of God not existing is because, as Aldous Huxley admitted, you don't want the universe to have any meaning because it frees you to do whatever you want. There's a word for that: anarchy. How well does that work?

Even Nietzsche, in his Madman, was honest about the implications of removing God:

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?"

Whither is Rand's consistency going? Whither is the current objectivist stance on abortion moving? Whither is the point of Brizoni's post moving? They're all moving backward or sideways in all directions. Do you understand what I'm saying?

Some of you might think I'm preaching to you. Really, I'm not. I get uncomfortable talking about a lot of this because I'm not a holy roller myself and I don't think I'm better than anyone else (except for communists and hippies). I don't pronounce judgment on who's going to hell and who's not. However, I still believe what I believe. I believe there is a lot of truth in the Bible and it's there no matter how much you want to ignore it or uh, "evade" it. I've mentioned a time or two in the comments here that I've been reading the Bible straight through for the first time ever, page by page. I've been stuck in Psalms for quite a while now. Not because it's boring, but because it's long and fascinating. How much of it was prophecy? How much of it referred to Jesus? How much of it was simply David talking about his own personal situation? Could some parts also be referring to present day or, as you deconstructionists out there would say, am I just reading what I want into it? What does all of this have to do with abortion? Well, I came across this passage from Psalm 106:
36 And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them.
37 Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils,
38 And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.
39 Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions.
40 Therefore was the wrath of the LORD kindled against his people, insomuch that he abhorred his own inheritance.
41 And he gave them into the hand of the heathen; and they that hated them ruled over them.
42 Their enemies also oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their hand.
Here's the thing: abortion is the new human sacrifice, and these babies are sacrificed not to Moloch or Quetzalcoatl, but to ourselves, who have made ourselves God. We are the new idols that are being served. We may not be scooping people's hearts out like the Aztecs -- "only fetuses out of uteruses" -- but if an objective moral law exists, there's no difference. What's most likely is that this passage isn't prophecy of our country, but rather one of those things that people revert to over and over again when they live without God, no matter how many thousands of years go by, and how God feels about that. But now technology is allowing us to kill at an unprecedented rate. That's a hell of a lot of innocent blood to account for, and that's another reason why I purposefully avoid thinking about abortion, because I think that blood calls out for justice. And no, Brizoni, I'm not afraid that the man in the clouds is going to fly around hurling lightning bolts. In fact, no Christian I've ever met has been worried about that. What I think is that God simply removes His blessings and leaves us to our own devices, and even then it's because the people have abandoned Him and don't ask for His help anymore.

I'm starting to think that a lot of us, or at least our children, will be finding out what it's like when Atlas really does shrug. And I'm not referring to John Galt.


WHO'S FIGHTING BRIZONI? We are the children and grandchildren of our forebears, which is where all the guilt comes from. If they were good and strong, we measure ourselves hopelessly against them because we're woven from the same cloth in different seasons. If they were bad or weak, then so must we be, a fatal flaw waiting to erupt. Through the human genius for guilt, we tend to believe both of the above. They were good and bad, and we are bad and worse or waiting to explode.

Is there a kinder interpretation? Perhaps. Maybe time is more a variable than we suspect. Maybe what they survived in theirs would shrivel them in ours.

We are engaged in a great battle for our country. My own forebears faced similar threats in their times. But they were able to do so privately, sometimes in uniform and sometimes wholly in the dark.

I know that I look at my father and grandfathers and am sure I don't measure up. But they never faced the requirement to tell you about them, as I, the lesser, lower generation must. In order to reach you, I must tell you things they never would have shared. About my faith, my heart, my lowest and highest loves, my most closely guarded passions, my affectations, my failures, my sometimes most bitterly and humiliatingly won lessons, my youthful illusions, my graying fears. I guess it's a brand new kind of resistance. No epaulets, no medals, no stiff regimental photos, no grave unchallenged orders from the rocking chair.

All I can do is show you my mind and experience, unarmed but for my own wit, and hope that they will turn the tide. I've wondered for a long time why this is so hard, this blogging regimen, given that there is no real risk involved. You can't really hurt me, and I have many masks to hide behind. So why does it keep getting harder, this coming up to bat each day? Why, after half a dozen years, is it less comfortable now than it was when I started, with so much more unsaid, it seemed, than seems still so urgently unpsoken today? No matter how much I share, there's more I haven't yet had the courage to let you in on, about life and what's most important in it. I keep falling farther behind the list of what I should tell you, not because I am wiser but because you are younger and I am slowly losing the common language that might speak to you. How all old people die. Silent in their rooms. Not because they have nothing to say but because there are no longer any words to say it with.

But it's just occurred to me, conveniently or truthfully, that they -- my father and grandfathers -- couldn't do what I do: spill out the whole ungainly mess of a life's experience and hope that someone, anyone, gets it. To an audience that holds the power of either vilfying it or ignoring it. With either result being like swallowing broken glass. What I'm saying in more flowery terms than necessary is that they were stuffy. Most of what you've heard from me you would never have heard from them. Intensely private, don't you know? Because they had their standards and every day I speak to you I violate those standards in ways big and small.

I'd trade places with them if I could. But I can't. They were better suited to their time than I am to mine. But I'm also thinking there's no way in hell they could ever have been InstaPunk, regardless of the provocation. Funny how things work. I inherit both their disdain for self-revelation and the honest compulsion to do what I can for those I care about. But I also know I'm a rara avis, on the verge of becoming extinct. I'm the Tasmanian Tiger of the Internet.

Yeah, Penny. The truth will out. My ass is striped.
But my mouth is big. And my teeth are lo-o-o-ng.

I am what I am and accountable to no one because my like does not exist anywhere else. No matter how vicious I am. No matter how unclassifiable and endlessly paradoxical I am. I'm the last of my breed. What they call a genetic dead end. But I'll still be snarling when they put me down in my cage. (Hopefully, they'll retain some footage...)


Friday, April 09, 2010

Time Check

A Tale of Two Ridiculous Deaths. Which is worse and why?

FASHION IS ONLY FASHION, RIGHT? Back in 1927, the world was horrified by the sudden death of Isadora Duncan, an American celebrity who charmed Europe by doing modern dance in the nude. You could think of her as the Madonna of her day. For example, she was known chiefly by her first name and excelled at glamorous promiscuity to riotous adulation. Anyhow. One day she went for a ride in a Bugatti Type 35 (or 37 -- accounts differ), unfortunately not in the nude, because her billowing scarf caught in the Bugatti's wheels and broke her neck instantaneously.

Even today's uneducated press remembered this sad old event when they reported on the sorry end of a young muslim woman in Australia who expired in a go-kart accident caused by her burkha becoming caught in the kart's wheels.

Which is sad, to be sure, but also utterly ridiculous. I'm not going to dwell on this, but as an older person I'm thinking one thing that's sadder is the step-function dropoff in romanticism from then to now. Isadora racing to her demise in one of the world's most beautiful cars versus the poor woman done in while trying to have some amusement park fun because her culture requires her to wear a death shroud while still alive. Until it kills her.

Ridiculous, but not laughable. Ridiculous deaths call attention to their circumstances, beg us to comment. Isadora's death was ridiculous but it carried no particular message. She died the way she lived, wanting more than she could have, and perished poetically of her own insouciant disregard for reality. That's why it's romantic.

Today's death is a message. Ridiculous and nauseating. We tolerate cultures that physically entomb half their population in garb that screens them from normal sensory input, and then how do we react to the consequences of such systematic and wanton cruelty? We laugh. I laughed. Why? Because a woman in a burkha is not a woman but a burkha. Which is the whole point of the custom. Inside there, somewhere, was a young woman who wanted to have some fun for once in her life. And she died as a result. That's not romance, because romance is about life and vitality and excess. It's tragedy instead. A sheer waste made inevitable by human villainy. Made worse by the sheer ridiculousness of the circumstances.

We've advanced in our mentality since 1927, have we? O you politically correct apologists for the great religion of peace, Islam: Have we?

I think not. I think the apologists are despicable, contemptible, corrupt, complicit. Why couldn't this 24-year old woman have had Isadora's kind of death? In beautiful clothes, a beautiful car, and an unapologetic zeal for life and living? Instead of a small-time thrill on a kid ride that turned deadly for someone too cocooned in modesty to be able to live at all? If you ask me, 1927 was a better year for living and dying in than 2010.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Golf. The Bengal Eldrick.

A pissed-off Eldrick can turn incredibly violent. Just so you know.

WHAT'S IN A NAME? Anyone else getting tired of the Woods saga? Well, I am. All that dudgeon. I think it's fine that faithful men have this opportunity to take credit for their faithfulness. But I never really thought that professional athletes were particularly faithful men in the first place. Call me jaded. I also doubted, initially at least, that professional golfers were the way to be. I mean, think about it. They play golf for a living. What are they going to do with the rest of their time? What with all the travelling. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. And, of course, the travelling. If Jack Nicklaus never did, good. Same with all the rest of them. Good. I'm delighted to hear that only one golfer ever cheated on his wife on the road. It reassures me that my counter-intuitive decision to make them role models for my own private life was spot on.

Now, all I have to figure out is how much I can trust the dozens of softball enthusiasts I've met over the years to be equally worthwhile "role models." Cause I never did before. Somehow I always figured that 35 to 40 year old men who have to play softball every f___ing weekend of their lives are just high school jerks who never grew up and would probably screw anything that stayed still long enough in the dugout. But that's just me. Everyone knows I'm not to be trusted.

Good luck with all that public apology stuff, Eldrick. I mean it. Just don't tell me you're taking up softball. That I couldn't take.

P.S. Not that I'm defending the Antichrist of Golf or anything... but I was slightly amazed to hear that the PR czar of Augusta took the opportunity to blast TigerEldrick to the press about his disrespect for the game of golf. Because I actually watched all of this movie, about the patron saint of Augusta National, Bobby Jones.

Who also had a problem with his temper.
Something about being the best. Some are.

Oh well. I'm sure Eldrick will figure out some way to placate the massed millions of dudgeonated Nike consumers. And so it goes.

UPDATE. Right on schedule, another IP prediction comes true. Eldrick is winning back his Nike fans by making himself the butt of more easy instant parodies than have ever been produced in 24 hours before. Another record for the Wood Man.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Rand Thing Again

I promised you NSFW. I keep my promises.
The pagan goddess who played Grendel's mom
and wants to star in Atlas Shrugged. Dagny.
Excite you kids, does it? Please hold your mud.
[FYI. She's not really naked. It's Beowulf CGI.]

IN RE BRIZONI'S BOWEL MOVEMENT. A tiresome subject that so many of you are entranced with. Pardon my invective. These are not hard concepts. You make them hard by over-thinking them. I'm going to make a few basic points here and then determine if more is necessary based on your responses.

Rand is a young man's (or woman's) philosopher. Hers is a statement of how things could work if we lived in an ideal, rational world. The same could be said of Marxism, by the way. Marx never intended for his ideas to become an excuse for ruthless totalitarianism, mass imprisonment, mass murder, and the total annihilation of personal freedom. They became so because we do not live in an ideal, rational world.

Sadly, Rand is every bit the shallow intellectual Marx was. Which shouldn't be too surprising because her ideas were a very direct response to Marxism. That's one reason youngsters respond so favorably to her. Like Freud, Marx has been discredited by history but his ideas and language are still embedded in cultures that reject him for most practical purposes. Kids grow up hearing about the collective good, the bourgeoisie, the proletariat, etc, and if they're smart, they get rebellious. It's liberating that the word "I" matters too. I get that. I experienced it myself.

But there comes a time when a child must grow up and put away childish things. Rand is one of those childish things. I call her a psychopath because she has taken the fundamental component of Christian psychology, the self as a sacred identity, and amputated from it the reciprocal responsibilities it establishes between all human beings. All people carry a divine spark. That is the basis of their rights and their obligations. From my own readings, I do not see that Ayn Rand was ever concerned about anyone other than her idealized 'Hero' conception of her protagonists. I don't think the non-heroes were ever real to her except as the dust beneath her chariot wheels. Isn't it arguably psychopathic to idealize the concept of appetite and make it tantamount to a secular religion?

Rand's objectivism could never be the organizing basis for any enduring society. It would devolve just as rapidly as Marxism did to a tyrannical state in which the bottom rung starves or becomes a slave class. Any sense you have that it would be otherwise is due to the fact that you haven't recognized objectivism's parasitism on traditional Christian morality. We just assume John Galt wouldn't let anyone starve to death in his rational utopia. Why do we assume that? Because people are basically good (whatever that might mean in the objectivist universe)? Or because all of Rand's western audience -- including the most devout of atheists -- are the inheritors of a Christian tradition far more complex and tolerant of philosophical contradictions than anything to be found in Rand's tinker toy model of society.

Tinker toy? Yes. Because it's based on static analysis. Just like Marxism. And just like the leftist accounting we're getting from the Obama congress and the CBO. Societal models that work, like the U.S. Constitution, succeed for as long as they do because they subordinate the machinery of cultural systems to the ineffable and unknowable meanings behind the screen of human reality as we perceive it. They allow for dynamism, the responses of human nature in all its permutations. Our constitution was built squarely on the foundation of Christianity, on which it depends in every critical instance. The authors described a legal system. They never claimed it would result in justice. Because no human contract can secure justice, which belongs to God. That's why they countered every power they gave to men with limits and oppositions that could, hopefully, be brought to bear against the inevitable injustices.

Remove God from this contract and you get what we are getting now; the tyranny of the smarter, the more powerful, the more ruthless. God's contribution can be summed up as human humility. That's the ultimate balance of powers in the constitution. The recognition that we all have rights and resorts and powers, whether we're smart or stupid, energetic or lazy, rich and connected or poor and alone.

Which is why I have no particular time for all the crowing atheists. They are the direct beneficiaries of a God, or Man's inspired belief in Him, that gives them the luxury of declaring themselves heroic isolates in a godless creation they nevertheless cannot explain. It's like a passenger on a cruise ship who believes himself a talented sailor because he can rumba without staggering on the Lido deck.

That's also why I say everything in life is about Christ. Even for the atheists. Nothing about even the disbelievers would be what it is without Him. Not your lives. Not the knowledge you boast of. Not even the consciousness you conceive of as your heroic individuality. You'd be livestock. As would Ayn Rand.

Brizoni thinks he scores a big point by declaring that Rand simply "evaded" God. Brilliant. There is no cruise ship. I am dancing the rumba on a Lido deck resting on the back of a giant turtle squatting on a...

Well, you get the picture.

I'm sorry I get angry. But people who continue to champion Rand past their teenage years are, to me, somewhat arrested in their development. That disappoints me. Her philosophy is called objectivism. Think about that. Forget about knowing any objectivists, of which there are exactly none. You don't know anyone who's truly objective either. Christianity could, I suppose, be called Subjectivism/Objectivism -- Or Rational Irrationalism. Which would be far less beautiful names, but they would also highlight the half of everything Rand knew nothing of. Because she was a psychopath.

UPDATE. The beat goes on. Nobody challenged my arguments except by implication and general grumpiness. I'm still trying to forestall a prolonged derailment of more important issues. So here is my one response to a commenter, which I hope you will agree is both polite and to the point.


Welcome. You said...

"Rand didn't write about "what is." She wrote about "what could be" if we all lived honourably, worked hard, and supported ourselves.

"In Christianity, we ask "What would Jesus do?" In Objectivism, our question is, "What would John Galt stop doing?"

"Perhaps some consider it a philosophy for the young because as we get older we realize the cold, hard truth:most people are not honourable, do not work hard, and live off the rest us while hurling insults and accusations.

"I'd rather aspire to Rand's vision of Utopia than anything else that's been presented to me so far."

I'm aware that I'll never change your mind about Rand. Obviously you have a right to admire people who have inspired you. However, you've said some things I disagree with because they are either wrong or misrepresent the reality. So I'll respond to those.

You say that Rand didn't write about "what is" but "what could be." That's true. She's a utopian philosopher, which you concede (without acknowledging that utopian philosophies killed more people in the 20th century than the total human population before that century). Then you go on to imply that the same is true of Christianity by quoting "What would Jesus do?" as if the "would" in this modern bit of bumper sticker or junk jewelry cant is somehow definitive of Christianity as another speculative philosophy. It isn't.

The most fundamental attribute of Christianity is that it's so intensely focused on "what is." The concept of Original Sin is not the species-wide death wish today's technocrats have turned it into. It's wiser than that. It represents a warts-and-all view of the human condition. What is. The branding of us as sinners is not really some weird religious judgment invented by a deranged scripture writer. It's who we are. We all have appetites, lusts, hurtful and potentially lethal emotions and impulses. Christianity, as defined by the gospels and the elaborations of the apostles, is a way of dealing with what is, from the inside out. No one of us can end poverty, war, disease, heartbreak, betrayal, crime, injustice, or even unfairness. What we can do is change ourselves, govern our worst impulses, promote our better ones, and accept that there may be no reward in this life.

Christianity is all about how to live in whatever world and circumstances we are born into. However you choose to interpret apocalyptic scriptures like Revelation, Christianity is not a utopian religion. It does not specify a government or organizing process that will eliminate all the ills flesh is heir to. When Christ says "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," he is expressly eschewing the disastrous theology we see in Islam which synonymizes a belief system with mechanisms of government. Christ's mission is the education of individual souls, not social engineering of the culture.

That committed Christians have subsequently and repeatedly sought to embed Christian principles in governance is, however failure ridden, not utopian either but conscience-driven. It is flawed by the same flaws which afflict individuals. To date it has reached its apogee in the United States Constitution, which is the basis of American Exceptionalism precisely because it is the system of government that does the most to accommodate human nature as it is. Its multi-century succcess at this is all the proof anyone could need that Christianity is infinitely wiser, more subtle, more complex, and more adaptable than the pure top-down meritocracy espoused by Ayn Rand.

I understand that she is a pleasing read, like Lord of the Rings and other fantasies. But there's also something dark at its core which you reflected in your own brief comments:

"In Christianity, we ask "What would Jesus do?" In Objectivism, our question is, "What would John Galt stop doing?"


"Perhaps some consider it a philosophy for the young because as we get older we realize the cold, hard truth:most people are not honourable, do not work hard, and live off the rest us while hurling insults and accusations."

The second observation is why you see no problem in the first. Most people are not honourable, do not work hard, and live off the rest of us... Really? Not my experience, to tell you the truth. I think most people work very hard to provide for their families and behave pretty honorably on the whole. On the other hand, many of them do not agree with my politics. A lot of them (but not most) belong to grabby unions who think nothing of going out on strike to feather their own nests at my distinct expense as a taxpayer and devoted capitalist. What should I do in response? Excuse me. What should I stop doing? Well, what John Galt would stop doing, apparently, is exactly what Tea Partiers are doing right now: FIGHT. For the soul of his country, the legacy of his ancestors, the sacrifices of those who gave their lives that ours might be better than theirs. No. The HONORABLE position, apparently, is to go on strike. Really?

But it's all a tempest in a teacup. Atlas Shrugged is a fantasy. There's no "Hole in the Wall" hideout in Colorado where the "best" people can run each other out of business in bloodless, casualty-free competition while puffing themselves up in quasi-divine self-righteousness. I mean, have you ever actually given any thought to that particular chimera of utopianism?

I know it all sounds so good in a cartoony sort of way. Brizoni gave me an advance glimpse of the hook he intends to hang his hat on:

I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask [NOR FORCE] another man to live for mine. [ea]

From his bolding I gather he sees tremendous moral authority in the second half of the statement. Big of him. Maybe if we reversed the order...

I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never ask [or force] another man to live his life for mine, nor will I live my life for the sake of another man.

Better? Well, maybe not. The statement might work better without the second half. Mightn't it? That half was always the weak sister, wasn't it, given cover by the implied generosity of the other.

I'm not denouncing you from the pulpit. I'm only highlighting things you know intrinsically but have chosen not to see because "Atlas Shrugged" is kind of the Die Hard of intellectual fiction. An exciting adrenalin rush that just makes you feel good. Except that John McClane didn't quit when the odds got prohibitively long. He defied Brizoni's great moral principle by deciding to live (or die) for a bunch of others, only one of whom he knew.

I apologize for comparing fiction to fiction. I leave you the obvious out that McClane's wife was a hostage. But I couldn't resist. Because I knew you'd think of it and then of all the millions and millions of real human beings who have lived (and died) for the sake of other men's and women's lives without even the prospect of a dollar (or kopek, ruble, franc, or mark) of profit on the table. And how many of them could we agree became greater not lesser in the process? I mean we could start with Christ, but there have been others before and after, from Socrates to Abraham Lincoln and millions of not so famous giants in between. Who never went on strike.

"Our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." Many of the same people who remember and admire this pledge by the founders, and the very real risks and sacrifices it entailed, will also stand up on their hind legs and tell me that Ayn Rand is a philosopher for the ages. I'm just not buying it. And it has nothing whatever to do with her private life, about which I know virtually nothing.

So I accept that she's a beguiling fantasy and I don't begrudge you that. Any of you. But fantasy she is, and that's why I get tired of the subject.

AFTERTHOUGHT. Here's the Rand view of competition. "I will live for the sake of no other man." Behold heroic Randian Man.. Or did I miss the 30-page exegesis on compassion, mercy, and respectable blue-collar bonds that preceded John Galt's elitist radio gush?

And here's the Christian, American view. A disgraced coach, a flawed last-chance father, a bunch of small town losers, and something nowhere mentioned in Rand's writings: redemption. (btw: Godspeed Dennis Hopper, who also knew something about redemption.)

But he's dead now, so who cares? His window of productivity is done. Weakness is its own reward. Can you see her in the first row, cheering the champion? Faugh. Defend your goddam pagan all you want. If you prefer her as your dashboard totem, be my guest. I know you're better than she was. Every single one of you. Why all the truculent crap? Adolescent nostalgia? Glamorous wishful thinking? Get over it. (Here's your replacement fantasy. I love her too. But please note the static Stalinist monumentality as you drool.) We're all getting older. Life is not to the swift and sculpturally ideal. It's to the living.

NEW THOUGHT. All right. Perhaps this isn't a trivial difference or a distraction. In which case you have all misunderstood me all along. I'm not who you thought I was. You're not who I thought you were. And I have to rethink everything. Now I have to consider the possibility that you obdurately believe in some sort of utopia yourselves. If only we could get rid of them.

Well, I used to think I had the smartest commenters. But I have to inform you there is no them we could get rid of that would solve our problems. What we're staring into the face of is the problems of the future. You know. A global economy. Transforming technological leaps. Energy issues. Biological challenges. Hatreds that can be transmitted at light speed across the Internet, no matter how ancient and irrational they are. There is no 'formula,' no atavistic backward thrust that can fix everything. And I keep stubbing my toe on this Ayn Rand nonsense.

Here's the deal. No one has ever been here before. Not to this point in time. There are useful historical parallels but none of them precise or predictive. Whatever his other faults, Obama is at least brave if he's not feckless. He's trying to chart a course he thinks makes sense. I don't think it makes sense. So I oppose him tooth and claw. But I am also looking at the future, not the past. There is no paradise we can return to. Or make up because it seems like it might be preferable to reality.

As I contemplate this whole bizarre discussion of Ayn Rand, I'm reminded of a post I did about healthcare long ago. Which got no substantive responses at the time, only persiflage. Because it suggested there really is a problem we have to solve. Interest? Not much.

THERE IS NO GOING BACK. Which reminds me of a joke I made about Brizoni's putative next response -- that it would involve masturbation. I was right. But stupidly, thick-headedly AFTER the fact. Everything that doesn't deal with the reality we presently face is after the fact, nostalgia, bullshit, more bullshit, and, uh, masturbation in memory of a past paradise that never existed.

That's why I'm so furious about Ayn Rand. She's irrelevant. Utterly. Completely. Impossibly. How could any of you spare any time to defend a pop fiction writer who wrote novels that are too long to read unless you're a nerd? Did you also read all the novels about the Illuminati written by Taylor Caldwell? They were cool too. And even anticipated the Kennedy assassination.

BUT. Our country is facing the greatest threat to its existence ever. Via forces from within and without. What do you want? An easy explanation? That it's somebody's fault? I get especially irate when people I respect take the position that it's somehow "okay" to take the easy way out and say "It's not my problem. People are stupid. I am better."

Talk to me, people. Tell me you're still able to fight, not just scavenge the past for reasons to quit.


But I plan to keep fighting. Dumb as I am. Uninformed as I am. Clueless as I am. I love this country and I intend to be the last man slain in the battle for her soul.

Do you think Ayn Rand would join me at the last barricade. Or do you think she'd slide away in a Gulfstream with her latest above-it-all lover?

Talk to me.

As I said, I no longer believe this discussion is irrelevant. But if what you want is permission to quit, please go elsewhere. You won't get it here.

UPDATE 2. A commenter gives us this link, a review of a Rand biography. It's mostly news to me, but it's also consistent with what I have inferred. Read it, please, before you write me off. He knows the other sides of Rand I haven't researched -- the personal side, yes, but more importantly the Russian side. Here's an excerpt:

Her unequivocal admiration bordering on worship of industrialization and the size of human construction as a mark of progress is profoundly Stalinist. Where Stalinist iconography would plant a giant chimney belching black smoke, Randian iconography would plant a skyscraper. (At the end of The Fountainhead, Roark receives a commission to build the tallest skyscraper in New York, its height being the guarantor of its moral grandeur. According to this scale of values, the Burj Dubai would be man’s crowning achievement so far.) Industrialists are to Rand what Stakhanovites were to Stalin: Both saw nature as an enemy, something to be beaten into submission. One doesn’t have to be an adherent of the Gaia hypothesis to know where this hatred of nature led.

Finally, Rand’s treasured theory of literature, what she called Romantic Realism, is virtually indistinguishable from Socialist Realism:

Since my purpose is the presentation of an ideal man, I had to define and present the conditions which make him possible and which his existence requires. I had to define and present the kinds of premises and values that create the character of an ideal man and motivate his actions.

Zhdanov could have written that, and it is hardly surprising that, as a result, Rand’s heroes are not American but Soviet. The fact that they supposedly embody capitalist values makes no difference. Rand fulfilled Stalin’s criterion for the ideal writer: she tried to be an engineer of souls.

Truthfully, I can't tell you when I've read a better written review of anything. That doesn't mean he's right, but I can assure you that the man is an intimidating scholar and an absolutely superb writer. I can't find anything wrong with any of his sentences, diction, or punctuation. That is without precedent in my last few decades of experience. Not since The New Yorker was the most carefully (well, yeah, beautifully) written and edited periodical in the land. For what it's worth.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Rand Part

"From the Rand Parts we watched"? Nah, too cheesy.

SPEAKING OF SPANKING... I thought about posting this Friday, but I didn't want to take a dump on anyone's Easter weekend. Hope you all had a good one.

But dumps do not simply go away when held in. If anything, they get bigger and smellier and push with greater and greater weight to emerge. Tonight, I take issue with InstaPunk. He's smarter than me, like all the other Punks, and can kill me with a single thought. But I see things how I see them, and I've got to be faithful to my own efforts in rationality above all. So I offer something in the way of correction. Offered with an honest humility, but in only as temperate a fashion as The Boss would respect.

I'm sure all the young people InstaPunk knows pitch and cry whenever he dares suggest that Ayn Rand might not be the greatest philosopher since Christ Himself. I'm sure he thinks he doesn't need to hear yet another defense of a thinker that he, in his learned wisdom, long ago figured out doesn't deserve a tenth of the laurels and consideration lavished upon her. And he's probably doubly offended that this is the topic on which I break one of my posting droughts. But I have to take exception his lumping of The Greatest Philosopher Since Christ (sorry) with the Liberal atheists, and in particular his comparison of her with the abominable Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who's-- not sorry-- miserable (for her) and hateful life could scarcely have met with a more, uh, elegaic end (not that I'm glad she was murdered like she was. I just have an appreciation of poetic fate unhobbled by Christian squeamishness).

The difference? O'Hair hated God. Ayn Rand simply didn't like God. That's not splitting, uh, Hairs. Anyone who, like O'Hair did, spends their every living hour plotting to murder Jesus for never being born doesn't have the time or brainpower left to write measured Scripture-worthy wisdom like this:

Integrity does not consist of loyalty to one’s subjective whims, but of loyalty to rational principles. A “compromise” (in the unprincipled sense of that word) is not a breach of one’s comfort, but a breach of one’s convictions. A “compromise” does not consist of doing something one dislikes, but of doing something one knows to be evil.... Working for an employer who does not share one’s ideas, is not a “compromise”; pretending to share his ideas, is. Accepting a publisher’s suggestions to make changes in one’s manuscript, when one sees the rational validity of his suggestions, is not a “compromise”; making such changes in order to please him or to please “the public,” against one’s own judgment and standards, is.

Gotta admit, I'm not seeing any "kind of psychopathy" here. It's not sounding all that "unrealistically black and white," either. Maybe this is to what The Boss refers:

“Sacrifice" does not mean the rejection of the worthless, but of the precious. "Sacrifice" does not mean the rejection of the evil for the sake of the good, but of the good for the sake of the evil. "Sacrifice" is the surrender of that which you value in favor of that which you don’t.

If you exchange a penny for a dollar, it is not a sacrifice; if you exchange a dollar for a penny, it is. If you achieve the career you wanted, after years of struggle, it is not a sacrifice; if you then renounce it for the sake of a rival, it is. If you own a bottle of milk and give it to your starving child, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to your neighbor’s child and let your own die, it is.

No, that's not it. He likes that definition. Maybe it's this:

Since I came from a country guilty of the worst tyranny on earth, I am particularly able to appreciate the meaning, the greatness and the supreme value of that which you are defending. So, in my own name and in the name of many people who think as I do, I want to say, to all the men of West Point, past, present and future: Thank you.

Couldn't be that. He thought Rand's philosophy precluded "sacrificing" one's life for one's country (5th paragraph).

Maybe he just means the atheism. Atheism BAD RRRRR KICK OVER CHAIRS!

Don't get my black ass wrong-- I'm not disagreeing with the main point of his essay, nor with his perscription at the end. Of course Liberals are Christian Atheists-- Calvinist Atheists, really-- with all the bitterness and psychosis such a theology can't help but impose. Forehead-smackingly obvious, but it takes a talent like The Boss to point out truths so obvious that you realize you were looking at them the whole time without seeing them. Last week's piece is-- and I'm not licking boot here-- one of his best efforts. A necessary piece for every IP Greatest Hits album and Reader to come, and a crucial, heretofore missing piece of the Liberal puzzle.

But he can't conceive of an atheist who wasn't born religious. Rand wasn't. Lots of us weren't. Not all "men who do not believe in God nevertheless feel the need of God...." Believe it or not (and I mean or not, Boss), some of us don't even want a God. Really. Not because our parents lied to us about Santa and we never got over it. Not because we hate His particular outmoded rules about sex and stuff as promulgated by Christianity­. We don't want any rules coming down from a Creator-- benevolent or otherwise. We'd much rather be happy accidents in an otherwise insensate universe, so we can go our merry ways and not be eternally beholden for the gift of existence.

How can we not want salvation so bad we're willing to resort to genocide if we think no salvation is forthcoming from on high? Simple. We don't believe in Original Sin. Which is not to say we're blind humanists. We see sin, wickedness, screwing-up, and depravity, sure. In our fellow man, and in ourselves. But not Total Depravity.

You'll never guess who articulated this best.

A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral.

Bam. But you'll double-really never guess who best articulated the implications of grasping this unassailable truth. None other than Whitaker goddamn Chambers, in his famous poison-pen review of Atlas.

The rub [in "in practice materialist" free markets] is that the pursuit of happiness, as an end in itself, tends automatically, and widely, to be replaced by the pursuit of pleasure, with a consequent general softening of the fibers of will, intelligence, spirit. No doubt, Miss Rand has brooded upon that little rub. Hence in part, I presume, her insistence on man as a heroic being "With productive achievement as his noblest activity." For, if Man's heroism ("some will prefer to say: human dignity") no longer derives from God, or is not a function of that godless integrity which was a root of Nietzsche's anguish, then Man becomes merely the most consuming of animals, with glut as the condition of his happiness and its replenishment his foremost activity. So Randian Man, at least in his ruling caste, has to be held "heroic" in order not to be beastly.

That's a bad thing?

What's more commendable: Integrity for its own sake, or "integrity" upon pain of having ass tossed in lake of fire? In fact, I'll go you one better: Which would a just God find more commendable?

Note his no doubt afterthought use of the word "held." As though ­a view of man (or any man) as heroic is necessarily a delusion. And observe the grammatical gaffe it makes him stumble into. The "Randian" position is not that Man must be "held" to be heroic. Rand holds he must BE heroic. To accuse, intentionally or not, Ayn Rand of valuing apperances over reality is to confess having completely not understood-- or having not allowed one's self to understand-- her book. He may as well have read the inside flap of the dust jacket for a cursory idea of the plot and then just made shit up.

I exaggerate. Barely. Chambers tries to justify his "ruling caste" slight by accusing Rand of secretly pining for a "technocratic elite," such as the Atlantians in Atlas, to rule us common folk. By essay's end, all he's really done is, in light of his time with the USSR, prove the old hammer/nail proverb like no one before or since. How else could anyone have read "'To a gas chamber— go!'" in a book whose Ideal Man concludes his 3 hour manifesto with this exquisite capsule statement of the philosophy of rational self-interest?:

I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask [NOR FORCE] another man to live for mine. [ea]

But aside from occasional idelogically-necessitated blunders, Whitaker ain't stupid. Really, he understands the hell out of Rand. If I may begin to circle in a wide loop back to the point, Chambers puts the atheist's-- Calvinist or not-- dilemna into words better than I've heard anywhere else.

[In a Godless universe], the main possibilities open up to Man. 1) His tragic fate becomes, without God, more tragic and much lonelier. In general, the tragedy deepens according to the degree of pessimism or stoicism with which he conducts his "hopeless encounter between human questioning and the silent universe." Or, 2) Man's fate ceases to be tragic at all. Tragedy is bypassed by the pursuit of happiness. Tragedy is henceforth pointless. Henceforth man's fate, without God, is up to him, and to him alone. His happiness, in strict materialist terms, lies with his own workaday hands and ingenious brain. His happiness becomes, in Miss Rand's words, "the moral purpose of his life."

Or, 2a) Man's fate was never tragic to begin with. HMMMM.

Chambers, for all his powers to suss and articulate hidden philosophical issues and premises, never tries to make explicit, much less defend, the Born-Again Christianity and attending belief in Original Sin from which he stands aghast. He does try to weasel out of it by appealing to the National Review audience's unexamined assumptions. "Of course," he faux-concedes, "Miss Rand nowhere calls for a dictatorship. I take her to be calling for an aristocracy of talents. We cannot labor here why, in the modern world, the pre-conditions for aristocracy, an organic growth, no longer exist, so that the impulse toward aristocracy always emerges now in the form of dictatorship."

Except your whole denunciation, and Conservatism's, pivots on that particular why, Whit. Presumably, words would have failed you.

For the moment, let's put aside our fear of believing in the efficacy of Man the way we believe in the efficacy of God. Just how "heroic" is it to make something out of your own life under your own power? An artist doesn't wail and rent his smock at the sight of a blank canvas. A writer doesn't glare at the blinking cursor and curse God for not writing his book for him (well, a good writer doesn't, he said, shifting his gaze guiltily). InstaPunk might bitch about his bad luck when his souped-up 440 Roadrunner blows a head gasket, but then he pops the hood and FIXES IT. It doesn't take him any Herculean discipline or Apollonian inner exertion to do it, either. Nor does it take Jesus holding him by the hand. As it shouldn't. You need both hands free to fix a car, chap.­

Am I saying I know for sure there's no God? Hell no. God is certainly, damnably, possible. If He turns out to be real, I will bite the bullet and adjust my plans accordingly. But where Madalyn Murray O'Hair's atheism was confrontational (and all consuming), Rand's was primarily evasive. Most of the time, she simply laughed at the idea of God and moved along as quickly as she could. When confronted, she'd refute the most elaborate definition of God acceptable (with full Platonic metaphysics) on the narrowest grounds. Then she'd move on as quickly as she could. She welcomed, not lamented, a godless universe. She welcomed the opportunity for mankind to save itself.

That's the most commendable attitude of all. To take responsibility for your own life and do your own dirty work. To refuse to be a mooch and a burden on your taxpaying neighbor. To do right, because you know that's the only way life itself works. Not because you're so horrible and petty that no less than an infinitely powerful God can fix you, or, failing that, you need to be bullied into behaving by Scary Lightning Man In Clouds.

Augustine was a fag. Just man up and make it happen for yourself, crybaby. Reach down and find the balls to follow your conscience. That's all we've ever needed. If I suck, it's because I haven't made the internal change or external effort I need to not suck. It's not because God hasn't sprinkled enough pixie dust on me.

New World Order

Putting the pieces together

THE DROPPING OF A DOZEN OTHER SHOES. My most hated kind of post. Long on links, short on insight. But the insight is a big one. So hang in there. I'll begin with one that carries a lot specific emotional gravity. Ed Koch on the Obama Israel policy:

President Obama orchestrated the hostile statements of Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, voiced by Biden in Israel and by Clinton in a 43-minute telephone call to Bibi Netanyahu, and then invited the latter to the White House to further berate him. He then left Prime Minister Netanyahu to have dinner at the White House with his family, conveying he would only be available to meet again if Netanyahu had further information - read concessions - to impart.

It is unimaginable that the President would treat any of our NATO allies, large or small, in such a degrading fashion. That there are policy differences between the U.S. and the Netanyahu government is no excuse. Allies often disagree, but remain respectful.

In portraying Israel as the cause of the lack of progress in the peace process, President Obama ignores the numerous offers and concessions that Israel has made over the years for the sake of peace, and the Palestinians' repeated rejections of those offers. Not only have Israel's peace proposals, which include ceding virtually the entire West Bank and parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, been rejected, but each Israeli concession has been met with even greater demands, no reciprocity, and frequently horrific violence directed at Israeli civilians. Thus, Prime Minister Netanyahu's agreement to suspend construction on the West Bank - a move heralded by Secretary of State Clinton as unprecedented by an Israeli government - has now led to a demand that Israel also halt all construction in East Jerusalem, which is part of Israel's capital. Meanwhile, Palestinians are upping the ante, with violent protests in Jerusalem and elsewhere. And the Obama administration's request that our Arab allies make some conciliatory gesture towards Israel has fallen on deaf ears.

I'll proceed from here to the big picture of Obama's treatment of our supposed friends on the world stage, as articulated by Charles Krauthammer. After specifying at some length the accumulation of insults large and small against the U.K., Krauthammer offers up a list of other insults to our friends:

 -- Obama visits China and soon Indonesia, skipping India, our natural and rising ally in the region -- common language, common heritage, common democracy, common jihadist enemy. Indeed, in his enthusiasm for China, Obama suggests a Chinese interest in peace and stability in South Asia, a gratuitous denigration of Indian power and legitimacy in favor of a regional rival with hegemonic ambitions.

-- Poland and the Czech Republic have their legs cut out from under them when Obama unilaterally revokes a missile defense agreement, acquiescing to pressure from Russia with its dreams of regional hegemony over Eastern Europe.

-- The Hondurans still can't figure out why the United States supported a Hugo Chavez ally seeking illegal extension of his presidency against the pillars of civil society -- its Congress, Supreme Court, church and army -- that had deposed him consistent with Article 239 of their own constitution.

But the Brits, our most venerable, most reliable ally, are the most disoriented. "We British not only speak the same language. We tend to think in the same way. We are more likely than anyone else to provide tea, sympathy and troops," writes Bruce Anderson in London's Independent, summarizing with admirable concision the fundamental basis of the U.S.-British special relationship.

Well, said David Manning, a former British ambassador to the U.S., to a House of Commons committee reporting on that very relationship: "He (Obama) is an American who grew up in Hawaii, whose foreign experience was of Indonesia and who had a Kenyan father. The sentimental reflexes, if you like, are not there."

There's also the Russian element of the foreign policy equation, including the bold new moves by the former communist state to cement relations with the neo-communist states in South America:

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed billions of dollars in energy, agriculture and commercial accords with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez today in Caracas during his first visit to the OPEC nation.

Under the agreements, a group of Russian energy companies including OAO Gazprom and OAO Lukoil will work with Petroleos de Venezuela SA in an $18 billion project to develop an oil field that will eventually produce 450,000 barrels per day, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters on March 31.

Chavez, who has visited Russia eight times during his 11 years in power, is strengthening ties with governments critical of U.S. foreign policy as he seeks financing and offers stakes in untapped oil reserves. The Venezuelan leader has spent more than $4 billion on Russian rifles, helicopters and fighter jets in what he says is an attempt to protect the country from a possible U.S. invasion.

“We’re building a new world, and only a balanced world can guarantee peace,” Chavez, 55, said today on state television. “Russia and Venezuela will be closer each day.”

But we're still negotiating with Russia to reduce our nuclear stockpiles to, well, almost nothing:

Obama Limits When U.S. Would Use Nuclear Arms

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Monday that he was revamping American nuclear strategy to substantially narrow the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons.

But the president said in an interview that he was carving out an exception for “outliers like Iran and North Korea” that have violated or renounced the main treaty to halt nuclear proliferation.

Discussing his approach to nuclear security the day before formally releasing his new strategy, Mr. Obama described his policy as part of a broader effort to edge the world toward making nuclear weapons obsolete, and to create incentives for countries to give up any nuclear ambitions. To set an example, the new strategy renounces the development of any new nuclear weapons, overruling the initial position of his own defense secretary.

Mr. Obama’s strategy is a sharp shift from those of his predecessors and seeks to revamp the nation’s nuclear posture for a new age in which rogue states and terrorist organizations are greater threats than traditional powers like Russia and China.

It eliminates much of the ambiguity that has deliberately existed in American nuclear policy since the opening days of the cold war. For the first time, the United States is explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons or launched a crippling cyberattack.

Those threats, Mr. Obama argued, could be deterred with “a series of graded options,” a combination of old and new conventional weapons. “I’m going to preserve all the tools that are necessary in order to make sure that the American people are safe and secure,” he said in the interview in the Oval Office.

White House officials said the new strategy would include the option of reconsidering the use of nuclear retaliation against a biological attack, if the development of such weapons reached a level that made the United States vulnerable to a devastating strike.

Mr. Obama’s new strategy is bound to be controversial, both among conservatives who have warned against diluting the United States’ most potent deterrent and among liberals who were hoping for a blanket statement that the country would never be the first to use nuclear weapons.

Mr. Obama argued for a slower course, saying, “We are going to want to make sure that we can continue to move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons,” and, he added, to “make sure that our conventional weapons capability is an effective deterrent in all but the most extreme circumstances.”

The release of the new strategy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, opens an intensive nine days of nuclear diplomacy geared toward reducing weapons. Mr. Obama plans to fly to Prague to sign a new arms-control agreement with Russia on Thursday and then next week will host 47 world leaders in Washington for a summit meeting on nuclear security. 

At the same time, the Russians are equivocating on their part of the deal:

Russia reserves opt-out of arms treaty with US

MOSCOW – The new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty is a much better deal for Russia than its predecessor, but Moscow reserves the right to withdraw from it if a planned U.S. missile defense system grows into a threat, Russia's foreign minister said Tuesday.

Sergey Lavrov said Russia will issue a statement outlining the terms for such a withdrawal after President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sign the treaty Thursday in Prague. The new accord replaces the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, which expired in December.

But it's always a good time to publicly chastise an ally in a war for American security the administration is supposedly committed to:

White House Slams Karzai for Latest Anti-American Outburst

The Obama administration once again is troubled and frustrated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who reportedly is threatening to align with the Taliban while accusing the United States of meddling in his country's affairs.

The Obama administration once again is troubled and "frustrated" by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who reportedly is threatening to align with the Taliban while accusing the United States of meddling in his country's affairs.

"The remarks are troubling and the substance of the remarks are simply not true," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

President Obama's top spokesman suggested the trouble with Karzai could endanger U.S. military operations in the country. He was reacting to comments Karzai made Saturday during a private meeting with Afghan lawmakers. They came after Karzai and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to patch things up Friday following a similar outburst earlier in the week in which he accused Western governments of sabotaging his election.

Sounds like it's time for us to pull out and reallocate our resources to the redistribution of the declining wealth in the bad old U.S. Doesn't it?

You see? Lots of news stories to wade through. Hard to add them all up, isn't it? But that's why you're here. I finally think I understand. Obama isn't stumbling around. He's pursuing a brand new, carefully thought out foreign policy strategy for the United States. He wants us to stop being the world's policeman. Which sounds kind of nice doesn't it, oh you Randian Paulistas? What he wants instead is a multi-polar world, with regional spheres of influence rather than a Pax Americana. The only trouble involved is how the world will work under his new world order.

Think about it. He's prepared to cede the Pacific nations, including Japan, Taiwan, and maybe even Australia to the Chinese, whose military ambitions are huge. He's prepared to cede the middle east to all the flavors of Islam, notwithstanding Iran's genocidal intentions toward Israel. He's prepared to accept Russia's self-evident ambition to reassert control over eastern Europe. He's prepared for a Castroite communist sphere of influence in South America. And he's cynically prepared to accept that western Europe doesn't have the guts to do anything militarily in its own delf-defense. Which is to say, in aggregate, that he's prepared to make an island of the United States, in which our hopes for future prosperity are endlessly whittled down to Third World status by ruthless, autocratic powers which seek our utter destruction. Without even declaring our intention to defend ourselves.

And what of Africa?  Well, perhaps even Obama recognizes that no one can deal with so many failed states politically. Perhaps they're important only as the new yardstick of social justice. When the western capitalist nations are as poor and sick and weak and violent as sub-saharan Africa, maybe then social justice will have been served.

I challenge everyone to find an Occam's Razor that makes better sense of the stories above than has been presented here. What's more, I'd really like you to be right.

Just trying to do my jigsaw puzzle...


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