Category Archives: individualism

Kurt Vonnegut: Harrison Bergeron

If you were to compile a list of works of speculative fiction whose predictions of the future were truly prescient, it would have to include Kurt Vonnegut’s short story masterpiece, Harrison BergeronI am hard pressed to think of any work which so perfectly captures the pathological mentality of the modern day social justice warrior so perfectly and traces out the ramifications of this mentality if it were made into public policy. Sadly, it’s a process which seems well underway.  
Vonnegut manages to build his dystopian world in one elegant paragraph: 

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

With this single paragraph, he places us in a nightmare future where the crusade for equality of outcomes has been pursued to its fullest conclusion. In this not-too-distant future, the US Constitution contains over 200 amendments, people have lost the distinction between positive and negative rights, and perverted its original intent beyond all recognition. The ideas of equality before the law, individual rights and equality of opportunity preserved by a Constitutionally limited State have been completely supplanted by an all-consuming obsession with equal results which can only be attained by destroying uniqueness, individualism and humanity itself. Equality is, of course, enforced by a government bureaucrat, United States Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers. Anyone who possesses a quality, attribute or skill that might set him or her apart from everyone else must be handicapped in order to preserve equality of outcomes. The intelligent receive a mental implant which short circuits their ability to think. The attractive are forced to hide their beauty behind masks. The physically able are forced to carry sacks of lead balls padlocked to their bodies. Those with beautiful voices are given speech impediments. And so on. 

The action centers around George and Hazel Bergeron as they watch their son, Harrison, commit the highest act of sedition possible after escaping prison at age fourteen.  Harrison sheds his handicaps and dazzles the world by dancing a ballet on live television before the world. 

One need only to look at any of the social justice jihads being carried out on campuses and in the media to discover that Vonnegut was on to something.  The decades-long feminist outrage against “patriarchal beauty standards” has culminated in the so-called “body positivity” movement which not only destroys the one objective standard present in modeling, but seemingly seeks to reprogram manhood to be attracted to overweight women. The politics of grievance have reached an apex with the never-ending quest to name and shame anyone with “privilege”. Genetic and biological traits now supersede individual rights or merit and are sufficient grounds for legislative redress or special administrative dispensation by today’s social justice jihadists. Perhaps the most pernicious of all the social justice crusades is the pursuit of gender neutrality by those who insist that gender segregation in sports somehow reinforces “harmful” gender stereotypes.  And let’s not forget the deathless claim of a wage gap between men and women which is shamelessly flogged by the political and media establishment despite being debunked several times over. 

Meanwhile, different versions of the United States Handicapper General get created in college campuses and different levels of federal and local government throughout the country. 

What other outcome is possible from this mad pursuit of “equality” if not the anesthetized, institutionalized mediocrity and servitude portrayed in Harrison Bergeron?  As Paul Gottfried and many others have argued, this therapeutic agenda being administered by the democratic priesthood and their lackeys seeks nothing more than to debilitate the population and pave the path to socialist serfdom.  The only equality one can reasonably expect to uphold as an ideal is equality of opportunity. Once you seek equality of results, you destroy the foundation of liberty upon which any possibility for real achievement rests. Speculative fiction of this nature is meant to serve as a warning against the realities of the present. The signs of the nightmare world Vonnegut portrayed are everywhere. Here’s to everyone discovering their own inner Harrison. 

Helen Kendrick Johnson: Woman and the Republic

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The attainment of women’s suffrage which accompanied the passage of the 19th Amendment is generally regarded as synonymous with Human Progress. Like the abolition of slavery or the passage of ’64 Civil Rights Act, I’m doubtful you’ll find many people who’ll see women’s suffrage as anything other than a badly needed step of evolutionary human progress to redress a boorish and retrograde inequity. Nor are you likely to find a history book or media depiction of the suffrage movement as being anything less than heroic and principled.  It’s difficult to even fathom the idea that there was anyone who was opposed to women’s suffrage, let alone a woman. Surely, anyone who would argue such a position is beneath contempt and unworthy of mention in the annals of history. 

As it turns out, Helen Kendrick Johnson was that woman and that’s precisely what makes her anti-suffrage treatise, Woman and the Republic, such a fascinating read. Published in 1897, Woman and the Republic is roughly analogous to Thomas Sowell’s 1984 book, Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality. Johnson examines the arguments of suffragists and scrutinizes their claims against the historical data and the daily reality of life in late 19th century America.  At the time of its publication, the suffrage movement was fifty years old and suffragists had a very specific agenda. Their grievances were spelled out in the Suffrage Declaration of Sentiments and the History of Woman Suffrage. Johnson proceeds to demolish these arguments one by one in a very elegant and systematic fashion. You could say she was both a proto-Christina Hoff Sommers and Phyllis Schlafly. Not all of Johnson’s arguments stand up to scrutiny, but when one measures her arguments against the claims of contemporary feminists and progressives, one can certainly assert that she was correct about more than most would be willing to concede. 

The single most astonishing revelation of Woman and the Republic is that the grievances of the suffragists are exactly identical to the grievances of contemporary feminists.  This book is 119 years old, and Johnson could easily be teleported into the 21st century and would find herself exasperated that feminists are still griping about the same things as their 19th century forebears. 
The clearest example of this is Johnson’s elegant yet brutal takedown of the 19th century wage gap.  Yes, indeed.  Just like feminists of the 21st century, suffragists of the 19th century were in fact whinging about the wage gap back in 1897 and Johnson disposes of these claims like a boss.  While rational people who value empiricism over manipulative, demagogic claims have been trying to stamp out the wage gap myth for decades, Helen Kendrick Johnson was the clearly the mythbusting OG. Though largely arguing from biological determinism but always grounded in sound economics, Johnson supplies a trove of data indicating that women are properly compensated according to skill. She further contends that they suffer no unequal access to the labor market and that wage discrimination is largely influenced by the fact that women often leave the labor force to have children. Johnson rightfully points out the glaring absence of outrage around female representation in physically strenuous and technically challenging fields. The deafening silence she received from suffragists is exactly analogous to the selective outrage exhibited by contemporary feminists. 

The Suffragists did not decry man’s “monopoly” of the honorable and profitable but severe professions of civil engineering, seamanship, mining engineering, lighthouse keeping and inspecting, signal service, military and naval duty, and the like. These, and the drudgery of the world’s business and commerce, man was welcome to keep.

Nowadays, feminists blame “socialization” for disparities in representation and have gamed the political system in order to feed at the taxpayer trough. Johnson was attuned to this phenomenon as well.

The influence of women upon politics, and the influence of politics upon women, have already been degrading. This is true of political intrigue in the old world, and of the “Female Lobby” in Washington. It is astonishing to what an extent it is true in our new country, with our fresh and sweet traditions.

Johnson challenges the mantle of victimhood that was a feature of suffrage, and is the hallmark of contemporary feminism. Modern feminism hinges on a theory of an all-encompassing system of male patriarchal oppression, and Johnson’s criticism feels way ahead of its time.

While the counts contain concrete statements, the closing clause—”the law in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands”—sets forth an abstract idea in justification of which they furnish no proof.

Even worse, the divisive, supremacist beliefs that are commonplace among feminists were also espoused by suffragists. The following quote from Utah State Senator and champion of suffrage, Martha Cannon, as well as numerous other examples gathered by Johnson demonstrate that these sentiments were not isolated phenomena.

Of course I am. It will help women, and it will purify politics. Women are better than men. Slaves are always better than their masters.

In another striking parallel between the 21st century feminist grievance machine and the 19th century suffragists, Johnson illustrates how access to higher education was politicized. Johnson persuasively argues that the market was already providing expanded opportunity for women, and that this was neither hastened by granting suffrage nor a matter that required enfranchisement. While the world rightfully cheers Malala Yousafzai’s heroic efforts to bring female education into the Islamic world, women of the West suffer no lack of access to higher education. If anything, the vote has only enshrined a culture of entitlement and a toxic alliance between government power, illiberal feminist activism and the entire apparatus of higher education.

The central pillar of opposition to which Johnson devotes much of the book is her contention that woman suffrage is too closely aligned with socialism and collectivist anarchism. 

Johnson devotes a significant portion of the first half of the book to failed attempts at woman enfranchisement throughout the Union.  Using a dizzying deluge of voting data and razor sharp logic, Johnson piles layer upon layer of scorn on the various proponents of suffrage who espoused an affinity for socialism, fiat currency, disdain for family, sexual profligacy, and disregard for Constitutional principles.  It’s easy to dismiss Johnson as narrow minded, uptight prig whose views belong in the dustbin of history.  Even if you view prostitution, pornography, sexual liberation and non-traditional family arrangements favorably, it’s impossible to deny the ongoing advancement of everything else she warned against. 

Johnson insists that if women are going to agitate for suffrage, they must also share in the responsibility that accompanies the maintenance of the nation state.  In other words, be prepared to back up the law with force.  She sees no diminution of woman’s sphere of social or civic influence by honoring the traditional biological division of labor that has defined most societies through the centuries.  If anything, she argues that this traditional separation has privileged womanhood and allowed her to exert an even greater sphere of influence in the realm of private relations and family.

To give women a position of apparent power, without its reality, would be to make our Government forever unstable.

The one point where Johnson’s argument feels the most prescient is her concern that suffrage would lead to military conscription for women.  On this point, Johnson was not only Phyllis Schlafly’s philosophical progenitor, but she unwittingly exposes the rank hypocrisy of feminists.  As politicians and military leaders advance legislation that would mandate Selective Service registration for women, the silence from feminist media and blogosphere is deafening. Despite the often desperate and pathetic attempts to brainwash the public to believe otherwise, contemporary intersectional feminism has nothing to do with “equality.”  No matter how often feminists say they want to “smash the patriarchy,” it’s patently obvious that feminists are thoroughly uninterested in smashing this particular expression of “patriarchy.” If anything, the abiding lesson of Johnson’s message is that if you start treating voting as a universal “right” or use the voting booth to agitate for positive rights over the preservation of negative rights, don’t be surprised when the politicians decide to trample your liberty in order to expand their own power.  Most of all, don’t mindlessly regurgitate talking points about “equality” when there is state enforced gender discrimination which places the burden of military conscription squarely on the shoulders of men. 

Women can be seriously destructive; but no one will claim that organized military duty is really practicable for them. And the suffrage proposition does not look to anything of the kind. The Suffragists demand equal vote in sending their fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, and lovers to the military field of action, and propose to be absolutely exempt from equal share in the duty that that vote now lays upon male voters. Before the law there could be no distinction of duty on account of race, sex, or previous condition of servitude. The “emancipated” woman would be emancipated into that which the Declaration of Independence expressly called for, “the right and privilege of the people to bear arms.”

Johnson righteously attacks the dubious equivalence between the suffrage and the abolitionist movements. She devotes an entire chapter to the delta between the rhetoric of suffragists and abolitionists. It’s yet another remarkable example of a phenomenon that lives on in feminist and social justice circles alike, and serves as a potent reminder that the feminist script remains largely unchanged. To this day, feminists use the legacy of slavery to inculcate shame and guilt and claim an unearned mantle of moral authority by drawing a non-existent equivalence between the abolitionists of the 19th century and 21st century intersectionality.  Johnson opens the chapter by lauding the abolition of slavery as a triumph of human freedom, but credits the achievement to “enlightened rulers” in the federal government. She attributes the abolition of slavery to the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, but devotes no real attention to the moral argument against slavery itself.  Johnson’s views could be described in contemporary terms as paleoconservative. She consistently appeals to tradition by arguing that the United States federal government was conceived to be confined to limits prescribed by the Constitution for the express purpose of preserving liberty. From her vantage point, suffrage was granted to those who had property rights for the express purpose of upholding the sanctity of property rights as a general principle. The fact that this limited suffrage was the province of men was not only proper and just, but necessary for the preservation of liberty. Under universal suffrage, there’s an inequality of self-interest with respect to the preservation of property rights and a danger that the law could then be perverted to serve as an apparatus of plunder as it is presently. She castigates the champions of woman suffrage who used the abolition movement as a moral fig leaf, but otherwise, denigrated the institution of marriage, favored communism over property ownership, or otherwise held no principles or stake in the institutions which conferred the liberty they enjoyed even without suffrage rights.

The pauper was excluded from the ballot as not being worthy to share with freemen the honor of its defence. The unfortunate was excluded by an inscrutable decree of Providence. The criminal was excluded as being dangerous to society. The women were exempt from the ballot because it was for their special safety that a free ballot was to be exercised, from which the pauper and the criminal must be excluded. They were the ones who have given to social life its meaning and its moral, the ones who give to civic life its highest value.

Tackling yet another shopworn cliché that was commonplace among suffragists and is just as alive in progressive and feminist circles, Johnson addresses the suffragists’ contention that the Christian Church not only maintains the subjection and subordination of women, but actively cultivates bigotry, intolerance, and arbitrary authoritarianism. Johnson rightfully challenges the claim that Christian Church’s alleged encouragement of a subordinate role for women will be alleviated somehow through suffrage. If anything, it’s feminism that treats women as a class of people under perpetual assault and in need of constant special attention.  If any ideology is promoting the powerlessness of women, it’s feminism.

By far, the most burning question with which Woman and The Republic leaves the reader is what has been the true consequence of woman suffrage?  Has it wrought greater liberty and a reign of justice or a cult of obedience to the Church of Democracy and never-ending list of rights to be bestowed?  Has suffrage conferred a deeper appreciation of the principles of liberty or transferred all moral authority to the State?  Helen Kendrick Johnson argued that none of the perceived or actual inequalities in civic life for which suffragists sought redress would be solved with the ballot. After a more than a century of enfranchisement and little to no change in the feminist script, one certainly wonders if, in fact, she was completely correct.

Cure by ballot has been the one and only remedy suggested by Suffrage conventions for all the ills, real or imaginary, that are endured by women.

If nothing else, this book underscores the challenge of upholding liberty.  Those who agitate for an expansion of state power are always able to secure support from those want to expand the influence of the state. In Johnson’s time, there was arguably greater sympathy for removing the sphere of influence of the state in public affairs, yet suffragists sought to politicize everything.  Based on what you hear from your average intersectional feminist, Johnson’s warnings seem prescient.

As time goes on, this spirit becomes more injurious, because progress is carrying philanthropy into higher fields of moral action, and in so doing is carrying it away from and above the plane where rests the ballot-box. While Suffrage effort is directed toward keeping all issues in the political arena, the trend of legislation is to take them out of politics.

Helen Kendrick Johnson was not a gender egalitarian.  She favored economic liberty, property rights, educational access and equality before the law for men and women alike, but she was unequivocally what feminists would disparagingly call a gender essentialist. She held no objection to women pursuing higher education or employment in the private sector, but absolutely saw an essential role for women in motherhood and building a stable home life. She could be accused of being overly deferential towards men and insufficiently skeptical of state power, but she fundamentally saw virtue in manhood. She argued that the preservation of liberty and peace is best secured by attending to the most essential building block of human civilization: the family.  And in this role, she argued that women had a unique and critical role to play that was, in fact, largely biological.  She believed that the sexes were, in fact, different and each gender is edified by recognizing and celebrating this difference as opposed to repeating dogmatic mantras of Equality

My main objection to the Woman-Suffrage organization is this, that a wrong mode is employed to gain a right object. The right object sought is, to remedy the wrongs and relieve the sufferings of great multitudes of our sex; the wrong mode is that which aims to enforce by law, instead of by love. It is one which assumes that man is the author and abettor of all these wrongs, and that he must be restrained and regulated by constitutions and laws, as the chief and most trustworthy methods. I hold that the fault is as much, or more, with women than with men, inasmuch as we have all the power we need to remedy the wrongs complained of, and yet we do not use it for that end. It is my deep conviction that all reasonable and conscientious men of our age, and especially of our country, are not only willing but anxious to provide for the good of our sex.

When contrasted against the prevailing orthodoxy of intersectional feminism, gender neutrality and biological denialism, Woman and the Republic feels weirdly transgressive and revolutionary.  Even if Johnson was a bit of a hidebound biological determinist, her robust defense of liberty, property rights, market economics, and Constitutional principles has only accumulated strength in the years since its publication. Underneath it all, Helen Kendrick Johnson was putting forth a deeply radical notion: women do not need government in order to be powerful.  It will likely continue to be ignored or reviled purely on the basis of her opposition to full suffrage for women all by itself, but in this age of Progressive orthodoxy, this is precisely the kind of heresy that needs to be propagated far and wide. It’s imminently clear that no quantity of legislation will satisfy the grievance machine that is modern feminism. There isn’t a single argument being made today that wasn’t destroyed by Ms. Johnson back in 1897. The question is how long it’ll take for feminists to recognize that, if ever.  After all.  It’s 2016, SYSTERS

Ursula Le Guin: The Dispossessed

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Ursula Le Guin’s 1974 novel is an admirable work. I really wanted to like it. It mines some rich veins of philosophical thought which include individualism versus collectivism, gender equality, the difference between intellectual property and ideas as well as the moral and ethical dilemmas of a speculative anarchist society.  Unfortunately, the novel is ultimately derailed by some fallacious notions and stale, toxic ideas couched in a pretense of edgy progressivism. Sadly, despite Le Guin’s recognition of the scarcity, insularity, and conformity bred by the allegedly revolutionary values she espouses, she doubles down and limps to the conclusion waving the flag of communist ideals in a cloud of unearned triumphalism.

The Dispossessed tells the story of a physicist named Shevek from the anarchist world of Anarres. Shevek develops a groundbreaking theory which has the potential to unite humanity throughout the universe. Though the Anarrestri profess revolutionary values, they are unreceptive to his work. He sets out to the sister world of Urras, the civilization from which the Anarrestri fled, in hopes of bridging the divide between the two societies.

Le Guin makes a courageous attempt at tackling the questions of morality and ethics in the absence of state or religious institutions, but she ultimately succumbs to some really dumb and deeply clichéd antipathy towards market economics. This includes an equally rote denigration of property rights and, by extension, their inextricable link to human freedom. She is apparently on record crediting the blatherings of post-Marxist anarcho-collectivist wankers, Peter Kropotkin and Murray Bookchin, as the philosophical underpinnings of this book. The anarchist society of Anarres is essentially her conception of anarcho-syndicalism.  In other words, it is a society in which there is no private property and no system of prices, competition or currency. Everything is “shared” and used for the “common good”. All economic activity is centrally coordinated by bureaucratic “syndics” and the division of labor is determined by computers. Subsequently, her philosophical commentary bears some unfortunate remnants of Marx, Rousseau and even the poisonous proto-fascist drivel of Georges Sorel. Le Guin’s Anarres is probably best described as a fantastical vision of a world envisioned by feminists, social justice warriors, utopian eco-socialists and anarcho-communists.

To her credit, she addresses the limitations of the collectivist worldview in this novel. This puts her work in philosophical proximity to another notable female writer who tackled very similar themes but arrived at very different conclusions.  Contrary to her professed disdain for Ayn Rand, the themes of this novel are very similar to those contained in The Fountainhead . The two books share more than a few similarities. Each book presents a brilliant male protagonist who seeks to contribute his unique talent to society and each is called upon to adhere to principle in the face of demands from authority or perceived authority. Le Guin appears to take direct aim at Randian ideas of “egoism” and “altruism” at various points in the book.  Though when she does, she ultimately misrepresents both.

Le Guin is widely lauded for tackling gender and sexual politics in her work, but I personally found this aspect of the novel the most grating. All of the editorial around gender carried the sanctimonious stink of contemporary feminism.  Her perverse obsession with equality of outcomes can be traced to an obvious refusal to accept biological differences and individual choices within the paradigm of market economics. True to standard progressive form, she also heaps piles of scorn on those who hold religious beliefs. She holds people of faith in contempt for promulgating a sexist and patriarchal belief in the inherent superiority of men over women. I absolutely concede that most religious faiths affirm the traditional role of male breadwinner and female caregiver, but this line of argument feels tiresome.  If she were referring specifically to the manner in which Islamic societies rigidly enforce a subordinate role for women, it might have more bite. I’m doubtful that was her intent.  It’s particularly dubious hearing this petty nonsense from an author in the Western world who presently enjoys numerous freedoms that are hallmarks of the market economy and liberal society.  Le Guin can be an atheist without fear of violent reprisal. She can compete in the marketplace with men. She can and does claim property rights and has achieved fame and notoriety for the merit of her creative work within the context of a free market.

She wastes no time carving out the contours of her main character and the central ideas of the book. The opening passages describe the wall which cordons off the spaceport of Anarres from the rest of the planet. Right away, Le Guin is telling us that this is a story of walls; walls that stand between societies, genders, and ideologies.

As a character, Shevek is kind of dull. Just as modern writers pander to feminists by writing female characters which are divorced from any conventional femininity, Shevek is the result of Le Guin doing the same thing in reverse. Shevek is arguably Le Guin’s beta analogue to Rand’s alpha Roark. He’s sensitive, vegan, and lives a monk-like life of the mind. As Anarrestri custom dictates, he holds womyn in reverence.  Since her editorial point of view is so rife with dumb and confused ideas, it’s difficult to view him as a heroic archetype of any set of virtuous attributes.

The first chapter is devoted to Shevek’s arrival on Urras.  Shevek struggles to understand the customs and culture of the Urrastri. He simply cannot fathom a world that holds religious beliefs, has state institutions and operates under a market economy. Having constructed a framework for a dramatic clash of ideas, the reader is guided through Shevek’s quest as events alternate between Anarres and Urras.

After this exposition, Le Guin takes us back to Anarres and Shevek’s childhood where the cornerstones of his development were built and the values he acquired from his culture are fleshed out.  Here and in every other subsequent chapter, Le Guin’s muddy logic and dubious editorial comes into sharper focus.

Groan inducing commentary abounds in The Dispossessed, but Le Guin’s disdain for property rights is highest on the list. True to the authoritarian and quasi-religious nature of all collectivist political thought, Shevek’s indoctrination to Odonian values begins at childhood. As most children are wont to do, young Shevek is naturally inclined to view possessions as his property. He is hastily scolded for entertaining this notion by his caretaker. Like Rousseau, Le Guin regards property rights as infantile and the source of human sin. That’s so very progressive and original, Ursula. Throughout the remainder of the book the words “profiteer” and “propertarian” are used as pejoratives. Her disdain for capitalistic property ownership is expressed very clearly through Shevek during his tenure on Urras.

Le Guin considers the ownership of property all by itself as an expression of power. It’s an idea that’s tired and nonsensical in equal measures. She attributes Shevek’s sense of unease on Urras to his perception that a society which affirms property rights is one of “mutual aggression”. This stands in contrast to the feeling of “mutual cooperation” that is the guiding principle of the self-abnegating hippies on Anarres.  It’s more than a little ironic that Le Guin venerates this alleged utopia devoid of private property and denigrates the statist aggression of Urras. In real life, she’s more than happy to advocate for state aggression to enforce copyright law.

This moral confusion and sophistry extends further with respect to acts of actual aggression. Le Guin gets the fundamentals of the argument for anarchism right, but at the same time, she fails to present a coherent Odonian theory of morality with respect to the initiation of violence. This also happens to be the one area where, even if inadvertently, she veers a little too closely to the Sorellian belief in revolutionary violence. In a conversation with an Urrastri woman named Vea, he explains that Odonians are striving for actual morality by abolishing institutional power. That way, Odonians are free to choose morality instead of having it forced upon them by their alleged betters.  So far, so good. However, when Shevek is beaten up arbitrarily as a teenager, he accepts it as a “gift”.  This suggests a lack of appreciation of the inviolability of negative rights and perhaps illuminates her apparent inability to distinguish the state monopoly on the application of force versus private and voluntary exchange.  At the same time, she engages in some typical moralistic handwringing over the usage of defensive force to protect property.  Since she’s already established the ownership of property as an expression of power and a moral wrong, then anyone who uses force to defend against theft or violent expropriation is possessing “power no one should have”.  Make up your goddamn mind, Ursula.

The Odonian credo of self-sacrifice is equally moronic and cringeworthy. It also tips the scale towards a Sorellian concept of “myth”.  For Odonians, the experience of “shared pain” is the principle that binds Anarrestri to one another and to which they must consistently subordinate themselves. It bears more than a passing resemblance to a religious article of faith or any of the collectivist fantasies promulgated by politicians. 

The one idea which truly torpedoes her book is the centrally planned nature of the Anarrestri economy.  She concedes a bureaucratization of Odonian life, but her failure to recognize the inherently preposterous nature of the idea cannot be overlooked. For a SF novel, The Dispossessed is remarkably short of speculative science or any fantastical leaps of imagination. Aside from Shevek’s theory, the DivLab computer is actually one of the wildest speculations in the whole book. Le Guin spends no time discussing it or how Odonians developed such a thing in the first place. Odonians live a life of self-imposed poverty and austerity, and yet, a really sophisticated computer determines how labor resources will be allocated. There’s no regard for the individual, purposeful human action which drives skill specialization and gives rise to supply and demand. Not only is it wildly preposterous that Odonians could develop such a sophisticated piece of technology, the remainder of society is utterly devoid of any other comparably sophisticated technology.  Nor is there any other labor saving machinery. Her description of Shevek’s feelings of “brotherhood, adventurousness, and hope” while waiting to receive instructions during the Anarres famine sounds like dumb, nationalistic propaganda. For all of the realism she brings to every other aspect of the book, Le Guin apparently spent no time examining why central planning was a failure. I can’t help but fault her for her intellectual blindness on this front.

Her actual grasp of physics and science is equally questionable. For all of Le Guin’s emphasis on the Odonian passion for scientific knowledge, she manages to smuggle in some dubious notions which sound like applications of scientific theory derived from feminist epistemology. Apparently, Shevek arrives at his big breakthrough because he was able to extend beyond pure scientific theory and include the realms of “philosophy and ethics”. Good science is philosophy, and is the product of sound ethics. For a woman so apparently keen on equal gender representation in STEM fields, she starts to sound like Luce Irigaray here. As a cheerleader for women in STEM, Le Guin is doing a great job. As someone who earns a living telling stories built from scientific speculation, this is kind of laughable.

Le Guin also attempts to counter Randian ideas, but her conception of both “egoism” and “altruism” are both straw men.  By her reasoning, “egoism” can either be Shevek’s desire to assert his ideas in the face of ostracism or it can be overtly public displays of sexual affection.  As a young child, Shevek is accused of “egoism” when he attempts to formulate his own ideas separate from the tightly controlled confines of the Anarres public school system.  To use contemporary parlance, Shevek would have been accused of using microaggressions.  Here, she suggests an upside to “egoism” which more or less maps to Rand’s conception. However, she ends up diluting her editorial when describing Shevek’s revulsion at the “egoism” of an Urrastri couple getting hot and heavy in full view of a group of people.  Apparently, immodest displays of sexual attraction are on par with individual displays of independent thought.  Got it, Ursula.

Her notions of altruism are equally daft and run afoul of Rand’s actual position. Shevek and his friends conduct their own Stanford Prison Experiment on one another just to feel what’s it’s like to deny freedom to another and to experience an absence of freedom.  When Shevek expresses concern for their captive friend, he is chided by his compatriot not to get “altruistic”.  Le Guin is clearly trying to highlight the monstrosity of imprisonment, but she completely mischaracterizes Rand’s view of altruism. Rand consistently argued that altruism was a toxic and debilitating worldview because it ultimately fueled a pointless and narcissistic sense of self-abnegation. Most importantly, she abhorred the ceaseless desire to petition an authority to adjudicate the parameters of the alleged altruism.  To be fair, Le Guin’s usage of the term alternates between pejorative and complimentary, and it’s difficult to tell where she ultimately stands.

The major intersection between Rand and Le Guin occurs in Shevek’s development of the Theory of Simultanaiety; the theory which would allow the development of an intergalactic internet. Not only does Le Guin use this to distinguish the importance of asserting individualism, but she uses it to make a worthwhile point about sharing ideas even if she misrepresents the nature of intellectual property in the process.  Just like Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, Shevek risked ostracism and reproach from fellow Odonians in order to develop the idea. According to Le Guin, intellectual property belongs to the State, and subsequently, is just another form of dominion over others. This is partially true, but fundamentally false. Intellectual property is a monopoly right conferred by the State to the holder of the property claim. It confers state power to the holder of the right.  Ursula Le Guin would know. She’s a huge advocate for it.

Though her commentary on gender is rife with progressive clichés around “equality”, it is noteworthy that she appears to be a forerunner of the whole neutral/non-binary view of gender that’s all the rage nowadays. Unfortunately, her views hew very closely to the pretentious postmodern ramblings of Judith Butler.  In the Odonian tongue, “brother” and “sister” share the same noun. Odonians have sex with males and females as adolescents and there is no stigma associated with this activity.  She also anticipated the current trend of subverting gender stereotypes by casting females in roles traditionally perceived as male. The entire book seems like the blueprint for the now omnipresent push for women in STEM. Like most contemporary feminists, Le Guin seems to dismiss equality of opportunity and focuses obsessively on equality of outcomes. She seems to relate to inequity of outcome as evidence of retrograde attitudes all by themselves. She also disregards the gender imbalance in science as a product of natural choices or differences in skill levels. While on Urras, Shevek expresses total surprise at the complete absence of women in science. Naturally, she portrays the scientists of Urras as sexist oafs who are somehow keeping women subservient and subordinate.

She goes so far out of her way to create female heroes and invert every gendered convention, that it feels overly calculated. At times, it suggests a subtle contempt for motherhood. In this respect, Le Guin’s thought seems to anticipate the broader trend in feminism which all too often reduces to a singleminded focus on terminating pregnancy. This Orwellian attempt to erase any semblance of women as caregivers in art is now commonplace. In other words, it comes across like propaganda. Odo, the matriarch of the revolution was female and her teachings formed the foundation of Odonian society. What a coincidence. The foundations of a revolutionary anarchist matriarchy were written by a woman. How totally meta, Ursula. Shevek’s mother leaves his father when he was a baby to devote herself to her engineering career because her Duty to the People® took priority over her own child. The physicist who inspired Shevek’s work was a woman, too. We don’t know anything about her except that she’s got a uterus and she had theories which weren’t taken seriously even in the matriarchal utopia of Anarres. To Ursula Le Guin, women just don’t get taken seriously in this capitalist patriarchy and motherhood and biology are no big deal. 

Le Guin betrays a smug, repressive elitism towards women who flaunt their sexuality by wearing makeup or provocative clothing. It’s an attitude that’s sadly endemic to a significant segment of the contemporary feminist “movement”. Vea is portrayed as an attractive woman, and yet, for Odonians and Le Guin she’s a “body propertarian” whose humanity is absent simply because she’s provocatively dressed and made up.  Who’s the one objectifying and dehumanizing, Ursula? You or that evil patriarchy?

And what feminist novel would be complete without a scene of sexual assault?  Apparently, we just can’t talk about gender politics without some rape editorial. The assault scene between Vea and Shevek stands in sharp contrast to the scene between Howard Roark and Dominique Francon portrayed in The Fountainhead. Here, Le Guin betrays a pretty obviously low opinion of men’s capacity for self-control.  Once Shevek gets a little bit to drink and is in the presence of a woman who’s made up and wearing sexy clothes, he is seemingly unable to stop himself from committing assault. His monk-like existence amongst the joyless, preachy pro-feminism communists of Anarres just couldn’t contain those toxic male urges. 

The Dispossessed is book that’s moderately engaging and asks the right philosophical questions, but mostly arrives at the wrong conclusions. In science fiction, I expect some flights of imagination, and in this respect, Le Guin borders on a sort of pedantic realism that feels slightly inappropriate for the genre. It’s almost as though she’s disconnected from the things that make science fiction fun and engaging. It’s burdened by a certain overly earnest preachiness and stoicism.  As a work of philosophy, it gets a few things right, but misses the mark more often than not. Kropotkin, Bookchin and Le Guin were completely correct about state power. Unfortunately, she and her intellectual forebears were incorrect about property rights, market economics and the proper application of violent force.  I would be inclined to disregard all of the gender politics, but the collection of ideas presented are so prevalent nowadays, it demands a vigorous rebuttal. The stranglehold of Marxist and post-Marxist ideals remains as strong as ever. The eco-communist ideas of Murray Bookchin are even getting a second wind in the alleged “anarchist” feminist utopia of Rojava. Naturally, it was dutifully reported by the progressives at the New York Times. I hope Le Guin is happy that a real life version of Anarres is being attempted right before our eyes.

The argument for anarchism is the definitive argument of our times and Ursula Le Guin is to be commended for making an earnest contribution to this debate through science fiction. It’s too bad she’s on the wrong side of the argument.

Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now

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We find ourselves living in times of increased strife and conflict both domestically and abroad, and rational thought and open discourse often seem in short supply, and in some circles, under siege. As the war on terror, the ongoing debate over the role Islam plays in fueling violence and the battle for free speech weigh heavily on the body politic, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s latest book, Heretic, arrives at a crucial moment and makes a fearless and important case which speaks to all three issues simultaneously.

The courage of this book burns like a bonfire of righteousness warding off an ever encroaching darkness of cynicism and nihilism. Ms. Hirsi Ali’s story and the argument contained in the book are a shining testimony to the durability of Western liberal ideas of universal rights and individual liberty.

The premise of Heretic is very straightforward. Ms. Hirsi Ali argues that Islam is not a religion of peace, the acts of barbarism and terrorism are encoded in the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the Hadith, and that if Islam is to be regarded as a religion of peace, it must undergo a Reformation.

One would certainly hope that a country like the United States founded on principles of Western thought, including and especially universal rights, would openly embrace Ms. Hirsi Ali’s call for reform, but the task is challenging even in a liberal society such as ours.  Presently, the current media and political environment is polluted and overcrowded by preening PC scolds and mendacious politicians who seem intent on both silencing any meaningful debate over Islam or sowing seeds of confusion with feebleminded postmodern appeals to nihilism and moral relativism.

Fortunately, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s clarion call for freedom and reform requires neither politicians nor leadership from above of any kind.  Though the primary audience for this book are the non-violent Muslims throughout the world she refers to as Mecca Muslims, anyone who values universal human rights and freedoms should have a stake in a Muslim Reformation.

Just as Christina Hoff Sommers drew a very useful distinction between gender feminism and equity feminism in Who Stole Feminism, Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes three important distinctions between Muslims. The first group she regards as Medina Muslims and are largely beyond reach. In other words, followers of Muhammad’s doctrines of violence against infidels found throughout the latter half of the Qur’an written in Medina and seek the union of mosque and state known as Sharia Law. Mecca Muslims, on the other hand, form the majority of the Islamic world, follow the peaceful teachings of Muhammad’s time in Mecca, but live in a state of “cognitive dissonance” with the modern world. The third group of Muslims are reformers and dissidents found throughout the Muslim world and the West who are putting their lives on the line to call for changes to a religion that has doggedly resisted change since its inception in the 7th century.

Contrary to what irritating sophists and preachy progressives would have you believe about Islam, virtually every horrific crime against humanity and decency you can name has foundations in Islamic text. From the barbaric corporal punishments of stoning and amputation mandated in Sharia to acts of martyrdom and jihad, each of these actions has foundations in scripture.

Contemporary feminists in the Western world have made both a cottage industry and a very influential political apparatus solely dedicated to whining about the alleged jackbooted oppression of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, but these idiotic grievances are revealed as the petty and childish delusions they are when measured against the horrific treatment to which women are subjected by the actual patriarchal oppression of Islam. Whether it’s arranged marriages for young girls, gang rape, genital mutilation or the subordinate role to which all women in the Muslim world are routinely circumscribed, the absence of feminist outrage as well as the rote charges of Islamophobia are deeply revealing of the true intentions of Western establishment feminism.

Worse still, Islam’s collectivist, authoritarian, and murderous tendencies extend beyond Sharia Law and into the realm of extrajudicial justice known as “honor killings“.  Whenever any woman is perceived to bring dishonor to the family name, she is often subject to the harshest retribution. Sometimes from her own family.

The treatment of homosexuals and transgender folk is equally harsh. Once again, the fact that social justice progressives have opted to frame criticism of Islam as bigotry is both deeply ironic and revealing.

Far and away, Islam’s biggest crime against reason and humanity is the demand for the death penalty for apostasy. It goes without saying that Ayaan Hirsi Ali has put her life on the line to write this book. The Protestant Reformation begat the Scientific and Industrial Revolution and gave rise to the Enlightenment principles which have animated the human spirit and lit the fire of progress throughout America and the West.  Islam has resisted any comparable reform. This resistance to criticism has had only deleterious effects on the Islamic world.  By resisting Reformation, the Islamic world has compromised economic and intellectual progress and produced generations of Muslims who value blind faith and obedience over individualism.

As Ms. Hirsi Ali so brilliantly states it, the Muslim Reformation will need a relentless campaign of blasphemy. The War on Terror will not ever succeed. The battle for human freedom must be fought with ideas, not bombs. Islam in its fullest expression is the union of mosque and state. This union must be severed.

Politicians and the social justice warriors who parrot their talking points are actively invested in browbeating dissidents into silence over Islam.  They need a divided population in order to sustain political and economic interests in the Middle East.  Fortunately, we do not need them.  Ayaan Hirsi Ali has sounded the fanfare of freedom with this book. If this is something that matters to you, you know what you need to do.

Ayn Rand: Anthem

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After going 43 years not having read Ayn Rand, I am increasingly convinced that the degree to which you are able to enjoy her as a writer depends a lot on your overall receptivity to what she is laying down philosophically.

While I can appreciate that folks find the single minded and self-righteous implacability of her worldview repellant and impossibly self-centered, I have concluded that these criticisms are both right and wrong.

Thematically, this book is exactly what I expected.  It portrays a future society in which the will of the individual has been completely subjugated by the will of the collective.  The protagonist eventually escapes from society and reclaims his individuality and as a result, makes some revelatory pronouncements which certainly validate the view that Ayn Rand is a one dimensional harpy dispensing scorn and condemnation toward all collectivist impulses and sentiments.  Love and respect is to be earned and not freely given.  The pursuit of achievement is its own end and whether or not it is of any benefit to mankind is not the point.  “We” can only be invoked voluntarily and if invoked in the context of political power or social activism is corrupt and evil.  And so on.

No surprises.

On this front, the critics and haters are correct.  As Whittaker Chambers so eloquently put it in his 1957 National Review piece, it’s the tone that dominates and the words are shouting us down.  It’s clear that Ayn Rand wanted this book to carry the weight of a Biblical parable (the protagonist claims the name Prometheus and surprise! his invention is a light bulb).  There is simply no questioning the validity and veracity of her revelations!

With a worldview so rigid, the laws of physics take hold and the caustic, inverse reaction is inevitable.

How could anyone really hold such a narrow view of the world and regard that as unassailable Truth?!

There are many possible lenses through which to view people and the world around us which are seemingly unaddressed by the Randian view. There are some people for whom voluntary charity and giving is a genuine expression of themselves.  Some derive great satisfaction from knowing that their contributions are making a material difference to others.  Some are edified and filled with joy by freely expressing love to others regardless of whether it is earned.   Some are willing to place trust and faith in others to find their own self direction instead of relating out of the default assumption they are looters.   The key of course being whether or not these actions are taken voluntarily versus being carried out by a state bureaucrat.

The punch line, however, is that Ayn Rand didn’t care about the haters.  She wrote what she wrote and if you don’t like it, move on.

Where the critics and haters are wrong is simply a failure to fully appreciate the importance of individualism and self-interest.  The key to happiness and self-fulfillment lies within each individual.  You are your own best guide for navigating the challenges which life presents.  Even if there have been worthy achievements made by the State, the placement of too much faith in the power of the State to rectify social ills is misguided and potentially toxic.  I agree wholeheartedly that the freedom of the individual has lit the flame of progress for humanity throughout the ages and there are passages in this book which testify to the spirit of individualism and burn with a righteous fire.

Anthem is both a worthwhile read and a completely worthwhile addition to the dystopian SF canon.

And hey, just remember this.  Any book which inspired Rush’s 2112 can’t be all bad.

Some Thoughts on the Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy

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1. Though Batman is a more efficient crime fighter than the police and is essentially a private citizen vigilante, he’s not really a true blue libertarian because he makes common cause with the police state.  For this reason alone, he cannot be viewed as a positive archetype for individualism because he inculcates the idea that citizens are powerless to defend themselves.  
 
2. Batman’s weapons and vehicles are a product of Wayne Enterprises’ crony capitalist military contracts with the state.

3. Bane is not an anarchist because he has no appreciation for or any recognition of the Non-Aggression Principle. He is little more than a violent would-be socialist dictator seeking retribution for his imprisonment who has a solidly Marxist antipathy towards capitalism.  

4. If Batman has to circumvent “The Law” in order to combat the aggression of violent individuals, what does this reveal about the government’s ability to affect moral behavior? More importantly, if humanity must rely on a state comprised of corrupt or corruptible individuals or some kind of vigilante ubermensch in order to be spared from unspeakable aggression, isn’t the film saying that the population is both utterly helpless and devoid of agency?  

A Most Violent Year (2014)

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Despite the provocative title, this film is not the crime bloodbath you might presume. 

This film tells the story of Abel Morales, an immigrant businessman who is doing everything in his power to retain a sense of morality during one of New York City’s most violent years. 

That’s right.  This is a story of a virtuous, moral immigrant capitalist.  

Abel is besieged on all sides. His oil shipments are being hijacked.  He’s being investigated by an overzealous DA.  His loan funding dried up on a deal that would allow him to expand his business. His family is threatened.  

Just about everything that could break his spirit happens, and yet Abel remains unbowed. 

In my estimation, this film is a rare phenomenon.  Hollywood generally resorts to caricatures of capitalists and the business world in general and portrays them as soul crushing, greedy and corrupt.  

For once, we are given a film with a character who is doing everything in his power to walk the line when everything around him is putting him to the test. 

And he’s an immigrant to boot.  

It’s a great reminder that the free market is not inherently corrupt. Rather, it is the free market that challenges you to look within yourself to determine whether you have what it takes to live up to its promise.  

Jessica Chastain turns in another great performance as Abel’s tough-as-nails wife. 

Good stuff.  

Ayn Rand: The Fountainhead

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Yes.

It is extraordinary.  Fully deserving of its stature.

Before I get to the meat of the book, there’s something I need to get out of way right now.

I know I’m stating the painfully obvious, but I have reached the unequivocal conclusion that the knee-jerk antipathy that gets hurled at Rand by the political Left is either rooted in ignorance or simply an extension of negative opinions held towards Rand’s more visible and vocal fans (e.g. Paul Ryan). Or perhaps both.

The vast chasm of misunderstanding which lays between her apparent adversaries and the reality of what she was actually saying is nothing short of mind boggling.  It just doesn’t compute.

Needless to say, Rand was aware of this disconnect and like the hero of the story, Howard Roark, couldn’t be bothered to give two shits.

But STILL.

The scorn I’ve seen heaped upon her by artists…ARTISTS…on social media and the blogosphere in general leaves me wondering if they have any awareness of what Ayn Rand was laying down in this book.

Seriously.

Admittedly, it took me a while to get past my own preconceptions and prejudices, but nowadays, anytime I hear anyone throwing shade on Ayn Rand, it begs the question…

Are you opposed to what Ayn Rand was actually saying, or is your antipathy rooted in an overall animosity directed towards conservatives and libertarians who champion her work?

Anyway.  The book!

Ayn Rand spoke of wanting to write a fiction of ideas and The Fountainhead overflows with them.

This is the story of two architects. Howard Roark is the implacable, uncompromising visionary. Peter Keating is the obsequious, self-aggrandizing, fame seeking but competent hack.  More specifically, it is the story of being true to one’s ideals.  It is the story of being grounded in the strength of your convictions so thoroughly that it penetrates to the core of the earth and that you are able to remain anchored no matter how much adversity the world presents.

The story traces their evolution from architecture school up through the highest echelons of the architecture world in early 20th century New York. Howard manages to get himself expelled from architecture school because he refused to be a dittohead and Peter graduates with distinction for giving his professors what they wanted. When they go to the big city, Peter gets a plum gig with the most prestigious hacks, and Howard gets a gig with the washed up idealist who is essentially Howard’s older analogue.

At every turn, we see very different set of choices, motivations, allegiances and consequences which culminates in a satisfying conclusion.

Howard Roark is a quintessentially Randian hero.  He is so singularly driven by his internal sense of purpose that it takes on a superhuman quality.  He is so consistent that it seems impossible. He faces so much rejection, so many injustices, so much misguided scorn, and is subject to so many abuses and betrayals yet remains unbowed by all of it. At so many points, I expected Roark to just lose his shit, but he never does. Many have criticized this character portrayal as one dimensional, but his ironclad sense of moral purpose and clarity is the central theme of the book. His actions are nothing short of a clarion call for all of humanity.

He is also the ultimate badass. He is so self-possessed and so clear in his purpose, he is able to tell the whole world to fuck off without ever having to actually say it. You don’t want Roark’s design? Fine. Beat it. He’ll wait for someone who does.  If no one comes knocking, he’ll seek different employment if he has to.

In a pivotal scene in the novel, a client who was manipulated into hiring Roark in order to discredit him files a lawsuit which goes to trial. Roark refuses to hire a lawyer and opts to defend himself. Witness after witness is called to heap condemnation on Roark’s building. After each testimony, Roark refuses every opportunity to cross examine.  Finally, he drops an envelope of photos of the building on the judge’s desk, and says, “The defense rests.”

Suck on it, Eastwood. It just doesn’t get any more badass than that.

By contrast, Peter Keating is Roark’s opposite. He lacks both a sense of selfhood and a moral compass. He seeks fame, but not the pursuit of virtue. He seeks wealth, but not the passion for work. He seeks the trappings of success, but not the conviction of his own ideas. He’s vapid, conniving and obsequious. Anyone who thinks that Rand equated wealth and virtue clearly has no understanding of her work. Peter attains great fame and wealth, but there is never a doubt over the message that Rand intended to convey with this character.

Ellsworth Toohey is the manipulative, self-aggrandizing but charismatic socialist who publishes an architecture column. Naturally, Toohey is the villain of this tale and his vanity and hollow pretensions make him truly detestable. What makes him truly evil is that he is intelligent and calculating. He knows how to manipulate the will of others and he is only interested in subordinating others in order to acquire power. Through Ellsworth, we are able to see the various ways that Ellsworth, and anyone whose existence is predicated on control and domination, whittles away the self-respect of everyone with whom he associates. Socialism inculcates obedience and deference to authority, and Ellsworth epitomizes the collectivist ethos in all of its insidious contemporary incarnations. He’s highly educated, has a pretense of cultural sophistication, and constantly telegraphs his alleged concern for the “common man”. Worst of all, he takes it upon himself to lecture his subjects on what they should do with their lives and demands absolute loyalty.

Toohey manages to achieve success as an architecture critic in the pages of Gail Wynand’s paper. He uses this platform to promote his insipid and self-righteous blatherings about “brotherhood” and “unity” and to openly celebrate the mediocre and the ordinary. He forms councils and organizations with lofty names and grandiose intentions that achieve nothing other than draw attention to his alleged humanitarianism. He is an utterly contemptible prick. Toohey hatches a clever and clandestine plot to discredit Roark which is so diabolical that you absolutely crave comeuppance.

What makes Toohey’s plan and the chain of events it sets in motion even more devastating is how closely it maps to real world phenomena. Whether it’s the vacuous bleating of Occupy Wall Street activists, vainglorious apparatchiks like Naomi Klein and Bob Reich, sanctimonious celebrity sycophants praising dictators like Chavez and Castro, or populist charlatans like Liz Warren and Bernie Sanders, Ellsworth Toohey’s vile spirit is found in every corner of media, academia and politics. Rand’s portrait seems pretty prescient and it gives her writing a heightened urgency and relevance.

There is a lot of interesting and refreshing editorial from Ayn Rand on what constitutes worthwhile art. Specifically, she draws attention to the ways collectivist attitudes have degraded art. She heaps venomous and seething contempt on postmodern abstraction for its own sake. Any art that fails to affirm basic morality or dwells obsessively on ambiguities is a target of her derision. Personally, I found this point of view refreshing. The prevalence of narcissistic negativity and elitist snobbery amongst musicians heaped upon music which affirms positive emotions, simple pleasures, or love itself is overwhelming. I’m not saying art needs to be monochromatic by any means, but in many cases, the obscurity of certain artists is little more than a self-fulfilling prophecy of internal attitudes and emotions.  No one is interested in hearing you whine about the world nor is anyone interested in hearing you sneer at the success of others either in words or expressed as art.

Ellsworth Toohey’s Council of American Artists featured artists with avant-garde sensibilities. Her descriptions of their work are humorous and pulsate with disdain. I do not share Rand’s disdain for the avant-garde, but her critique of avant-garde art which seeks nothing other than to “rebel against the tyranny of reality and the objective” is poignant.

Architecture critic Dominique Francon, daughter of architecture scion Guy Francon, is the love interest at the center of a torrid love triangle between Roark and Keating. Through Dominique, we are able to discover Rand’s ideas on femininity, relationships, sexuality, and professionalism. It is arguably an ideological alternative to Left feminism. Alt-feminism, if you will. 

Though it is essentially synonymous with the political Left, another source of Rand hate emanates from the feminist crowd. I believe I understand why she gets a bad rap from feminists, but just like the hate she gets from leftists in general, it is little more than overblown histrionics.  While it’s true that the women in this story are primarily love interests to the men, it is a novel set in early 20th century America. It is basically a reflection of the culture of in which it’s set. Both Dominique and Catherine are employed and the employment in which they’re engaged seems like an accurate portrayal of the type of things women would do back then and are not unrealistic portrayals of things women would do now. Just because she didn’t portray women as powerful politicians or businesswomen seems hardly reason to brand her as sexist let alone misogynistic.  I realize that Rand is on record saying stuff that would invite these characterizations and make many recoil, but she’s promulgating these ideas within the free market. She’s not forcing them on anyone.  You don’t have to subscribe to her beliefs on gender roles in order to gain value from her work.

Admittedly, the first sex scene between Dominique and Howard raised an eyebrow, but it was consistent with each character and the themes of the story.

On a related note, Rand is very sex positive.  She clearly regards it as fundamentally human, life affirming and essential. Toohey has a detached and clinical view of it and it leaves him less connected to humanity itself.

Dominique is a flawed character, but her journey towards full attainment of selfhood is ultimately heroic. It’s impossible for me to take any of the charges of sexism or misogyny towards her or this novel seriously. Like many of the vacant blatherings, childish whinings, and manufactured outrages which emanate from the feminist sphere, it is either misinformed, intentionally misleading or both.

Rand correctly attributes sexism where it truly belongs: with socialism and the political Left.  Not only does Toohey encourage Peter to marry Dominique for her looks alone, Toohey attempts to persuade Gail Wynand to hire Peter Keating by asking for an opportunity to meet his beautiful wife, Dominique Keating! Because he has no real confidence in Peter’s actual architectural talent, he must resort to peddling the physical beauty of his wife in order to make the case for him.

Through newspaper magnate, Gail Wynand, we discover Rand’s editorials on education and the media. Gail attains a world class education with curiosity and drive. He learns business by observing businessmen. He learns geography from longshoremen. Needless to say, she portrays Wynand’s public education with disdain and his pursuit of knowledge on his own terms is a powerful reminder that education must be grounded in real world activity.

Despite his worldly success, he is fundamentally a man without principles. His success was predicated on giving voice to sensationalist drivel. Gail Wynand built a successful career shamelessly pandering to public opinion, but experiences a dramatic turn in his fortunes when he makes a sincere effort to defend Roark in the climactic trial. The one time he tries to assert an editorial point of view with a sense of personal integrity and conviction, public opinion turns against him.

The voices of outrage Rand portrays could easily be mapped on to today’s media landscape.  The leftist rants are indistinguishable from those found in Salon, the Huffington Post, the Nation, or Slate.  These idiotic anti-capitalist and Marxist ravings contain the same dire warnings of the imminent threat of a capitalist takeover and only require the insertion of a reference to the Koch brothers in order to pass muster.

The book culminates in another trial against Roark in which he is charged with the demolition of a housing project he designed at Peter Keating’s request. Since the building was a government project, Keating was unable to fulfill the one condition Roark insisted upon; that it be built exactly as Roark intended.

Just as he did in the Stoddard trial, Roark defends himself by delivering a rousing speech which encapsulates the central idea of the book; that the ego is the fountainhead of virtue.

An individual acts and creates alone, and by doing so, neither exerts his will against another nor petitions an intermediary to gain access to the fruits of another’s labor.

The common perception that Rand’s vision of egoism and selfishness meant little more than “Fuck you, I got mine” is both unsurprising and disappointing. But she knew that it is in the nature of second-handers to scorn those who claimed independence and sought no validation from the public.

Her message cuts through the emasculating, infantilizing, sanctimonious layer of fat covering the paternalistic, authoritarian heart which beats at the center of modern day liberalism like a righteous sword of justice and slices it into bloody chunks.
The Fountainhead, like its hero and subject matter, stands like a monument to the heroism Rand saw in humanity.

It is a rousing fanfare, a banner of triumph unfurled in the wind, and a symphony written in tribute to the joy of human achievement.

Wild (2014)

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Reese Witherspoon’s adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s journey along the Pacific Crest Trail is a story of self-renewal that is rewarding, empowering and supremely life affirming.

Since this is a story of an individual and her pursuit of personal redemption, it distinguishes itself as a story with a very strong feminist editorial POV that stands in refreshingly sharp contrast to the overwhelming majority of contemporary feminist thought.

At the outset of the film, we see a woman who may not be up to the outrageously difficult task before her.  She struggles with the physical load of her backpack. She fails to purchase the right kind of fuel for her stove and discovers her mistake only when it’s too late to do anything about it. She thinks about giving up almost immediately.

In short, we’re presented with a realistic portrait of a fallible woman. A woman with limitations of physical strength. A woman with palpable fears, insecurities, and frustrations. A woman whose reach exceeds her grasp. A woman who is trying to find an inner strength within herself that will allow her to transcend these limitations.

Through the course of the film, she encounters several men. Each man represents a certain male archetype in the world. Each one sets up certain expectations in the mind of the viewer and Cheryl alike. There’s the rural desert farmer who might be a sexual predator, but ends up offering hospitality and a meal with his wife. There’s the wise outdoorsman who comes across as an average guy, but gives sage advice on how she can do a better job of managing her supplies.  At every point, Cheryl opts to trust and to hold a general assumption of good faith in the men she encounters.  A decision which stands in deep contrast to the stance of antipathy and antagonism that defines contemporary feminism.

Of course, there are men who do not operate on good faith and offer some insight into the fears and frustrations of women who seek to define their individualism.

One of the more interesting scenes involves a journalist from a publication devoted to covering hobo culture.  The writer is immediately fascinated by Cheryl and assumes that she is a hobo despite her protestations to the contrary. She’s just “taking a break”.  He asks if she’s a feminist, to which she replies in the affirmative. In her defense, she explains that most women have responsibilities; they have children, they have lives.  None of this dissuades the writer from fabricating his own story about her, but her defense of motherhood as an expression of the empowered woman is nothing short of revolutionary.

The subject of sexual assault does arise as I expected it would, but it is handled very expertly. Cheryl encounters a couple of guys who fit a certain stereotype of redneck, beer swilling hillbillies. She offers them some of her water, but her fear and distrust is bursting off the screen. It is a powerful scene in two respects. It reveals her feelings of vulnerability, but at the same time reinforces the risk that life presents. All of the social media admonishment to “teach men not to rape” is exposed as empty farce. It simultaneously underscores the harsh reality that each woman is solely responsible for her own safety and that the world is inhabited by irrational people who lack a basic moral compass. It also serves as another reminder to the viewer that this reality does not preclude one’s ability to trust the goodness in others.

On the flipside, the film portrays Cheryl as a woman with a sexual appetite.  In one of the lighter scenes, the man who helps her organize herself questions the necessity of 21 condoms. Even if it represents Cheryl’s over preparedness, it reveals Cheryl’s willingness to follow the sexual path wherever it might lead.

Thankfully, there is a scene of a consensual sex with the dreamy Michiel Huisman. When the overwhelming majority of feminist media is overflowing with hysteria around rape, it is a nice change of pace to simply have an adult portrait of a sovereign individual who has full agency, and freely gives herself to a man without the need for consent at each step. She appears to enjoy it to boot. Women do in fact have sexual appetites and are fully capable of initiating sex. And often do. It would be awesome if feminist media were able to recognize this occasionally instead of constantly portraying women as hapless victims of a predatory male patriarchy.

At the core of Cheryl’s quest is the pain of her mother’s recent death, the implosion of a marriage, and her recovery from substance abuse.

Her memories of her mother are among the most moving scenes in the film. Cheryl castigates her mother for making a meal for her brother, but is cheerfully reminded that she’s doing it as an expression of love. She chides her mother for having unsophisticated taste in literature only to be reminded that it was her intention all along that she surpass her mother in every way.

In an especially devastating scene, Cheryl selfishly whines about their circumstances. Played by the imminently enjoyable Laura Dern, her mother confronts her with a fundamental choice. Either you will learn to love the life you have or you will wallow in a solipsistic cesspool of self-loathing and selfishness.

It is Cheryl’s recognition of her petty, selfish narcissism and how her hubris lead to her own self-destruction. It makes her relatable and ultimately makes you root for her.

Another interesting turnabout in the film is a subtle recognition of female privilege. Feminist media is stuffed to the brim with whining over male privilege, but the spotlight is almost never turned inward.

On one rainy night, she implores a park ranger to allow her to collect a shipment of supplies.  Despite his reluctance, he agrees. Three male hikers arrive shortly thereafter and the ranger is solidly intent on refusing them service but relents after some gentle persuasion from Cheryl.

The next morning, the same park ranger brings coffee and a donut to Cheryl and nothing for the three male hikers. Men will do just about anything to get in the good graces of women.

Cheryl ultimately completes her journey, and in her final voiceover, alludes to her future husband and future children.  She finds the freedom, redemption and sense of self-worth she sought.  Ultimately, that meant becoming a mother herself and trying in her own way to be the example that her own mother was to her.

The film is shot on location throughout the PCT and is some the most beautiful natural landscape on earth.

There are quotes by Emily Dickinson and Joni Mitchell.  This movie is steeped in feminism but it never feels heavy handed.

Feminists place so much emphasis on pay equity, sexism, assault, reproductive freedom, body images, speech and all of these alleged transgressions that it comes across like a petty, childish cult of the perpetually aggrieved. The contemporary movement seems determined to turn women into children who are offended by everything and can only progress if men prostrate themselves in penitence.
Cheryl’s journey is personal. She’s questioning herself.  She is seeking her own salvation.

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”

I believe that Cheryl’s quest for individual redemption and the affirmation of the revolutionary power of love and motherhood makes this among the most powerful feminist statements being made today.

And it’s a message that I daresay is timeless.