Friday, December 10, 2010

The Big Picture

I am approaching the point where my blog goes temporarily "silent" and I bang out the book for soon-as-possible publication. Much of the blogging has been for concretizing what's been developing in my mind over the past several months (ultimately, over my entire lifetime). The main, driving goal of all this is to get as strong a product as possible out there, in as short a time as possible. If ideas are the over-arching, driving force in human history - and they are - then getting Toward Utopia out there ASAP is an imperative.

I have a selfish/eudaemonic interest in seeing the culture and the world become healthy and functional, at or near the level of a Rand or a Kubrick himself. I have a benevolent, "unselfish," eudaemonic interest in people being happy and successful as a matter of course rather than as the exception. (There is also the economic benefit to everyone of everyone else being happy and successful - more inventions, better ideas, etc.) I would have said "as a matter of normal course," but the term "normal" doesn't mean statistical normalcy, in which half a populace still disbelieves in evolution and a full 80% at least is disgustingly ignorant of the big ideas. I mean normal as in proper functioning. A culture in which the mainstream "norm" is what we have now, is not a properly functioning culture.

Ayn Rand set out to remake the world in her own sense-of-life image. The time in which she did so was such a gutter-point in human history that it only amplifies her heroism. At the very moment she was singing the praises of the creative individual in The Fountainhead, millions of people were being shoved into ovens and gas chambers, as the ultimate culmination of the intellectuals' message: the denigration of the individual mind and spirit. This intellectual class still, to this day - if Comprachico Leiter is any indication - fills its subjects with anti-America, anti-individual, anti-capitalist, anti-clear-thought poison. The result is the low state of the culture and learning we see today. Where dingbats appear on presidential tickets. Where economic ignorance, protectionism, stagnationism and defeatism run opposite the reality of globalization, competition, and growth. Where "Ayn Rand" is a euphemism for anti-social greed and intellectual-outsider status.

My aim is to complete the work Rand started. Reading through her masterful "The Comprachicos" once again, one is struck by the profound sense of isolation from "the mainstream" Rand felt growing up. Her whole being screamed out against having to "adjust" to a dysfunctional society, which could only be a recipe for soul-killing cynicism. It certainly did not help in her case that her formative years included a staggeringly anti-man, anti-life Revolution in her home country. (The Bolshies still retained some level of respect for man; they didn't deliberately round up people by the millions and put them in gas chambers as a matter of goal and intention. They did that, in effect, on a smaller scale, against dissidents, but their aim was the "good of humanity" and the killing and imprisoning merely unpalatable means of doing so. The Nazis took the anti-man ethos fully and consistently: the aim was to kill the individual. Thanks a lot for endorsing that ethos, Heidegger.) I can say that anyone with their head screwed on straight today, looking out at the culture, has a profound sense of revulsion. Their whole sense-of-life screams out at the idiocy passing for respectability, for banality passing as attention-grabbing, for minutiae passing as profoundly interesting.

When Rand looked at the Left, she saw only hatred of achievement and success. (See "The Age of Envy.") It doesn't matter that some or many of those on the Left aren't even consciously aware of their hatred, of where their ideas lead. It doesn't matter that the Left "sees things" in different terms, under a different paradigm where it's the rich plutocratic oligarchy against the powerless working people who - get this - actually support the rich. The issue is deeper than that: what leads them to embrace that paradigm - all while ignoring, denouncing, denigrating and sneering at people like Ayn Rand and gleefully advertising their ignorance and anti-intellectualism in the process? That's where Rand cut to the fundamental: these folks have been conditioned from early on to resent all the values Rand fought for. Rand looked at the drugged-out hippie culture, for instance, with its axiomatic anti-capitalism and whim-worship, and could respond only with disgust and contempt.

(Contempt, I learned from Mary Ann Sures's reminiscences, was something Rand hated feeling - but is was the only appropriate response to an anti-values culture. The usual ignorant and hateful anti-Rand polemic is that she reveled in contempt at "the lower classes" or "the masses", as if the not-yet-redeemed Dominique (and not Roark) was Rand's own voice - all the while ignorant that the salvation of the masses would come from their liberation from those very same hateful polemicists - the so-called intellectuals. The thrust of Ayn Rand's writing was her hope for a world in which people didn't have to feel isolation from and contempt for the culture and the world in which they lived, ever again.)

In the hippies, Rand didn't even see hatred of the good; she saw, rather, nihilism - a departure from the whole process of celebrating the intellect or rational values. They might proclaim love for man but then turn around and declare that this means dropping out of capitalist society and living primitively, collectively. One could understand how, if the hippie generation looked to its intellectuals and educators for guidance and answers, they would find none, and give up. The real contempt Rand had here was for the intellectuals and educators who made the hippies, the nihilists and the haters possible.

I would like at this point to point out the default of the liberal intelligentsia in the realm of ideas. Hundreds of thousands of liberal educators, and millions upon millions of liberally-educated Democrats, pose as defenders of reason. Comparably speaking, this might well be true if the alternative is the "conservatives" and their religionism. But that is not the only alternative, of course - which begs the question: Why have all these millions of liberals failed to take the Randian alternative seriously? Since we are talking about a massive number of people, the reasons and explanations can vary widely, but what might some of them be? Here's one explanation: cowardice - cowardice as a product of a social-metaphysical fear of being marginalized by those whose minds they respect. They look at the intelligentsia - people who have studied ideas over a lifetime - and see that the intelligentsia must be right for ignoring Rand, whatever their own rational judgment might have told them. This cowardice, by the way, is a ruling feature of any politicized environment - as the academy surely is, not only in terms of inter-academy politics, but in terms of a general alignment with the political Left: in many instances (i.e., the public schools), academic sustenance depends on Democrat politicians being elected. And here we are back at the theme of "The Comprachicos" - the public schools' indoctrination of students along democratic-socialist lines.

In any case, whatever the reasons or causes in any given instance, the "intellectual class" in this country has failed in its responsibilities. Justice demands that we not reward and subsidize failure. We need an entire overhaul of our educational establishment. We need to undermine it as best we can, in every way we can, from the outside. We need to make it known just what happens when politicized, anti-individualist, anti-capitalist institutions take hold. The intellectual salvation the well-meaning liberals sought - a defense of reason all the way up to a solution to the problem of universals - was there in Rand the whole time, but politics got in the way. Well-meaning liberals who are not philosophers or particularly intellectual themselves might well not even know the issue; they figure that the professionals had it well in hand on who and what to study; they might not even know that the battle ultimately lies not in politics but in the realm of the mind.

The professional intellectuals, on the other hand, should know better. They devote their lives to study; they ostensibly devote their lives to intellectual curiosity. They claim to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff on any issue. (If that were true, they would know to separate the things in Rand's style they find objectionable and look at the substance. Rand's style is not a reason not to take her ideas seriously. [I would say just the opposite, by focusing on a fundamental of her style: her ability to condense vast bodies of observation, and to do so clearly. If the intellectuals don't like how she gores a sacred ox like Rawls, then they should be able easily to point out what the substantive problem is. Why should we take seriously a theory that subjects the activities of a Roark or a Galt to the evil Difference Principle? What the fuck is the attraction of a theory like that in the first place?!]) They claim to be open-minded. They claim this and that - and yet their not-getting-it problem with a thinker like Rand is pathological.

This is starting to run a bit long. Here's the gist: In today's culture, there is little more than the same ol' back-and-forth between two non-defined "sides" (Left and Right) over the most petty minutiae. The latest has to do with extending the Bush tax cuts for two years. In the long run, in the full scale, in the eye of history, this little squabble will mean next to nothing. It will be long forgotten so many years down the line. (Hell, in politics, little is remembered after a few months. Come '12, the Dems will forget or downplay Obama's sellout - "at least he's not the Republicans.") Of course it would be forgotten: people have only so much capacity in their minds to retain what is important. In the Big Picture, what is the most important thing - that which would transform the culture most fundamentally and long-term? It sure as shit isn't whether the Bush tax cuts are extended another two years. So what is it? It's a question too many folks would find too daunting to even ask, much less tackle. Many of them are so consumed by cynicism that they've given up asking. For some, even asking it never so much as occurred to them. (Thanks again, ya fucking Comprachicos.)

You have a big-picture-oriented right-wing that sees the course of America in fundamentally religious terms. They view the Founding through the lens of establishing a Christian Nation with belief in a Creator who endows us with our inalienable rights. They read into Jefferson this religious component while essentially evading everything else Jefferson said. This selective focus on religion is a compartmentalization - a phenomenon discussed by Rand and Peikoff as a form of disintegration. Jefferson is the most representative of the Founders and is the intellectual, spiritual, and sense-of-life father of what makes America great: reason. An otherwise big-picture-oriented right-wing that compartmentalizes and fails to grasp the basis of America's greatness, can't be the source of the right answers; being big-picture, the errors can only be that much more devastating if wrong. Methodologically this is corrupt and full of dangerously insidious evasions.

The Left, meanwhile, seems to offer little more intellectually than John Rawls's Theory of Justice - absent all deep structure in normative ethics, epistemology and metaphysics, of course. The Rawlsian Synthesis - a synthesis of good (liberty) and evil (socialism) - takes as axiomatic a publicized, politicized version of human existence in which political (read: government) processes are a routine part of life. The American sense of life rebels against that very notion: the people are fed up with politics and government. They cry out for a change they don't know how to get, or what such a change would look like, or how we would ever get there. The central players in politics - the politicians - are the exact antithesis of long-range thinking, of justice as a reward for virtue, of principles, of doing the right thing, of individualism, of the requirements of reason as a ruling guide in life. Now, given the long-run triumph of capitalism over socialism - we're still in the process of that triumph working itself out - the Left is now reduced to a blind, uncomprehending opposition to "the status quo," conceived as an oligarchic plutocracy the politicians - if only the right politicians can be elected - might protect the people from. Then they get disappointed when a politician's politician, Barack Obama, sells out on them in order to keep the gears of the System running as smoothly as possible. In short, the Left is helpless and their only known revolt is against a package deal of capitalism and plutocracy, or against right-wing idiocy, or both, or both wrapped in yet another package-deal.

It's clear that neither of these paradigmatic "sides" have the right values to offer long-run.

So, here's the question: Isn't it about time they - and everyone else caught in the middle of their mudslinging and cultural degeneracy in general - got with the program? Isn't it time they jumped on the team and came on in for the big win?

Yes, it is. But they need the right ideas for fuel. Toward Utopia will help provide that fuel. It will consolidate vast bodies of observations into accessible terms, and it will aim at anyone with a decent amount of intellectual curiosity. The title alone condenses and summarizes the whole shebang. There are things that will appeal immediately to the left, right and center; if there is anything that could be called an "Unstated American Consensus," Toward Utopia will finally state it, at last. (In the meantime, I recommend Rand's writings about America, especially "Don't Let it Go.")

After writing Atlas Shrugged, Rand wanted to write a nonfiction treatise on her philosophy, which she tentatively titled, Objectivism: A Philosophy for Living On Earth. The closest she got to writing such a treatise was her monograph, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. By the time her system became actualized as a full philosophy, it was left to Leonard Peikoff to present it in lecture form, in 1976. By that time, for various reasons, Rand just did not have the time to put it all in book form. Peikoff put it in book form in OPAR. (Everything came that much closer together with James Valliant's Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics; the amount of sense-of-life fuel provided by PARC's finally setting the record straight about Rand the person, is incalculable.) I see Toward Utopia merely as a natural implication of OPAR: if a society adopts the ideas therein, what else would we have? What else could we have?

Well?

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