The UWIRE Forum

A conversation about Ayn Rand
June 8, 2009, 6:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized
Matt Cavedon

Matt Cavedon

Matt Cavedon: “I think I’m the type of person Ayn Rand would hate, passionately, and that makes me feel like a person.”

No, that’s not it. What did she want? If she wanted consistency and the drive to organize one’s life around an anthem, and a strong-headed refusal to accept any hypocrisies and inconsistencies, especially in the name of pleasing others, then she would love me, at least as far as I strive. If she wanted a refusal to tolerate mediocrity in substitution of excellence, and a willingness to reserve praise and admiration for what is truly great and not popular, then I’m working on it and moving more in that direction. If she wanted an individualism and a personhood that pour forth from the unique ego instead of out of tired platitudes, conventions, and trends, then may my ambition reach for the sky and never reach it because it cannot be appreciated.

If, though, she wanted coldness and rough unfeelingness, an inability to choose to love tenderly, and a blindness to the very real potential and anthems that can sing in the hearts of others and that we can celebrate, then I am no acolyte of hers. If she wanted humans to brazenly reject whatever they did not make and take joy only in their own passions, then she is giving far greater aid to the mediocre than she realizes. Without love and joy, what purpose and point is there to this individualism and ego that she preaches? And if not for the superego and the ability to respect the dignity of another’s ego and strivings for personhood, then this life boils down to cold and disconnected selfishness.

I don’t care one way or another – if she could have respected me for my sense of self, different though it may be from her own, then fine. She wrote and thought passionately of the individual in a world that hates it, and I love that.

If not, if she would have hated me for having such a different path than her, then am I not living even more fully her idea of individuality by being entirely me and not molding myself after her? What would she want? What would she think of me?

Alex Knepper

Alex Knepper

Alex Knepper: I usually maintain that most people who bash Rand tend to misunderstand her message. In a way, this was Rand’s own fault; she was a poor communicator except when dealing with those already predisposed to agree with her.

She in no way wanted coldness and unfeelingness. She maintained, like Aristotle, her favorite philosopher, that man’s purpose in life was to find happiness. What she meant by “selfishness” was a rejection of self-sacrifice; the thought that actions directed toward the end of one’s own happiness were immoral. The thought that the highest purpose in life was to serve others, rather than to realize one’s potential. The rejection of egalitarianism, the acceptance of elitism.

She also rejected faith, so, yes, you are very unlike her in that regard.

MC: I hate what Ellsworth Toohey, Peter Keating, Guy Francon, the old dead guy and Gail Wynan stand for. I hate how Howard Roark and Dominique Francon live and love. Where does that leave me?

AK: Taking what you love about her message and rejecting the idea of being a carbon copy of Howard Roark, hopefully. Ayn Rand’s message has enriched my life not because I live it to a T, but because the fundamentals are so strong — reason, objective reality, productive achievement.

MC: She has made me far readier to honor greatness and far more skeptical of universal egalitarianism. It’s unbelievable how disgusting the common-isms and everyday populism in the world becomes in The Fountainhead. She leaves no platitude unscathed, and I am grateful for that.

Roark is a truly scummy friend or lover, but I can see his sheer genius and creative power and how beautifully significant it is.

I’m fully in favor of skewering hypocrisy, but I’d rather wind up with a perfect love, compassion, and simplicity than throw in the towel on moral progress and just accept judgmentalism, pride, and indulgence.

AK: What is wrong with judgmentalism? Is it wrong to exercise judgment? What is wrong with earned pride? If you have accomplished something, why should we take an “aw, shucks” approach? Why should we shun indulgence? Why should we not delight in the pleasures of the flesh (As long as it doesn’t come at the expense of self-development)?

MC: “[A]dvocate compassion to those who deserve it, rather than wasteful ingrates” – That’s what’s wrong with judgmentalism. I believe in the inherent worth of every person and the potential of every person, and I believe in love for its own sake (or that of God, but I’m trying to get this to make sense for you, too). Who am I to say who’s a wasteful ingrate? I know that an action can be wasteful and idiotic, and to exercise judgment there is not a problem, but judging a person is too much for any other person to do. My own betterment is not and cannot be the source of compassion – compassion is what it is precisely because it is not conditional.

“What is wrong with earned pride?” – Defining me by my actions is senseless and empty, and I’d think Rand might even agree. My corollary is that, because our actions do not define our essence but rather reflect it under ideal conditions that are unlikely in this world, judging ourselves or others by them is foolish, cruel, and unrepresentative of ourselves and others. This may make no sense to someone who does not believe in a soul/personal essence, or maybe it does, I don’t know. It isn’t about “aw, shucks” so much as indifference. There, even Roark seems to get it right – do something for its own sake and move on. Don’t deify yourself based on what you have done.

“Why should we shun indulgence? Why should we not delight in the pleasures of the flesh?” – Again, if everything reduces to your definition of material/egoistic self-development, then I don’t know. If not, then it is because an excessive focus on materialism and a disordered desire for pleasure is an addiction that denies us joy, contentment and vitality. Sex, money, comfort, company, food, stimulation and all the things of the world are much like alcohol – in moderation and in accordance with need, fine. But an even greater freedom may be found in the one who does not need these things at all, through refinement and purification. Is it better to have the money to satisfy every whim, or not to have whims that need money to be satisfied? I’d say the second is far more radical and liberating.

AK: Love for its own sake is an evil devaluing of the entire concept of love. Love is meaningful only if it is based upon values that one cherishes. Why should I grant love to those who have demonstrated that they adhere to evil values or subscribe to deranged philosophies? My love is a worthy thing. I am worthy. My love is granted to those whom I feel deserve it. It devalues both me and those whom I claim to love if my love is indifferent or unconditional.

Who are you to judge? A man who thinks — hopefully. To quote Rand, “Judge not, lest ye be judged should be replaced by — Judge, and prepare to be judged.”

I define a person by his philosophy and by his actions. What else would I define him by?

You do it for its own sake not to get the right to brag about it, but yes, because it is worthwhile in its own respect. But you don’t lie and say that it wasn’t an accomplishment. To say that becoming president and becoming a janitor aren’t actually rankable in accomplishment and ambition … well, that’s the end result of your logic.

Indulgence, not compulsion. To quote Rand again, “Nature, to be controlled, must be obeyed.” You cannot let your indulgences control you. Sex is beautiful, fun, and exhilarating — if you can control it, of course. Same with food, etc.

I personally never drink, smoke, or use drugs — period. They enslave, not empower, the human mind.

I am personally very non-materialistic. Don’t really spend my money on anything except books and food. Sometimes some new clothes. That’s about it. -shrug-

It’s not about whims, in other words: it’s about freedom.

MC: “Why should I grant love to those who have demonstrated that they adhere to evil values or subscribe to deranged philosophies?” – Love is neither approval nor loyalty to a person’s beliefs and actions. It is the sincere desire that a person be and have the best things possible. It must be critical and challenging at times, but always done with the intent of building up the person, even if by breaking down something about them. It is always ultimately benevolent, though perhaps this is predicated on a belief that, again, a person is more than merely their actions and beliefs.

“Who are you to judge?” – Judge actions, hate sins, love virtues, but again, differentiate between a person and their actions and beliefs. This is the limitation of Rand and Anton LaVey, the author of “The Satanic Bible” and who was influenced by Rand’s work.

“But you don’t lie and say that it wasn’t an accomplishment.” – Again, a dichotomy between a person and their status, actions, beliefs, et. al. Don’t be proud of or confuse your essence with what you do. Don’t lie or force a false humility, either. The Tao te Ching says to be like a valley through which passes the wind uninterrupted when it comes to praise and insult. I agree.

“Indulgence, not compulsion” – Yes. LaVey and the Christians he thinks he opposes so bitterly here agree, just draw the line elsewhere. Real, orthodox Christians, rather than Puritan straw men, believe in having sex, eating, drinking, sleeping, and doing whatever else or freely giving those up for the sake of One we believe greater than ourselves. For most, though, it is all about obeying our human natures. We happen to believe that this nature is created in the image of God, and that sex is natural within marriage and is naturally used to procreate. Does that seem so shockingly unnatural to you?

AK: Ah, now, we define love differently, then. I do view love as approval of a person and loyalty to them.

I do differentiate between a person’s actions and their beliefs. I realize that people make mistakes. But eventually you just need to put 2 and 2 together and realize that a certain type of person is just unwilling to live up to his values — meaning that he finds them meaningless.

I hate the Tao te Ching, but I agree with that quote: because you shouldn’t give a shit about the approval of other people — only about your own morality and personal standards, which should be absolute.

Obviously, real Christians believe in sex, eating and drinking, etc., — but they feel guilty when they partake in sex. They condemn homosexuality, fetishes, “unnatural” fantasies — rather than welcome them as normal. Sex isn’t just about procreation. What a narrow, myopic view. It’s about pleasure, fun, indulgence! And when one does settle down and get married, it needs to be spicy and interesting with your partner! Christianity has turned sex into a mysterious act of guilt, rather than what it truly is.

MC: Christianity (at least Catholicism – I can’t answer for the progressives and fundamentalists) thinks about sex naturally. Naturally as in God (or nature, if that floats your atheist boat) has given it a purpose and then incentivized it. That purpose is procreation. Marriage is the proper place for procreation. Christians don’t feel guilty about sex in that context.

Sex that prizes pleasure over or even in place of purpose, though, is not seen as acceptable, any more than wolfing down a carton of ice cream for the sake of your taste buds even in the absence of hunger.


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