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.