Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Fountainhead

I think cautions are cheesy, for the most part, but, be forewarned that one of my points turns on a novel scene that depicts rape.

Add Glenn Beck to the list of conservatives in awe of the writings of Ayn Rand.
Reading Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, I was made to think of Rand.
Lewis' protagonist, Ransom, has been abducted by a Professor Weston and taken to a distant planet, where he is to be given as a sacrifice to the inhabitants. Ransom escapes and finds the natives friendly and helpful. Weston, viewing the inhabitants through his own parameters of greed and gain, has misunderstood the alien intelligence to be hostile and so brought Ransom as a gift.
After escaping, Ransom becomes well-acquainted with the aliens and their comes a culmination where he and Weston are brought together before the Oyarsa (similar to an arch-angel.) In explaining his actions to the Oyarsa, Weston proudly proclaims that he is seeking the betterment of humankind, to the detriment of all other life forms, be they intelligent or no. He views Ransom as a traitor to the human race for not submitting to the fate that he had deemed necessary and being the intended sacrifice to the aliens. It was Ransom's duty, he contends, to further mankind by his own sacrifice, and furthermore, Weston sees no immorality in slaughtering all the natives of any given planet because he is making great gains for man in the process and, in all his frank pride, he tells the Oyarsa so.
The Oyarsa is puzzled by Weston's paradox and asks the professor how it is that he claims to seek the good of mankind by destroying a member of mankind. Weston curtly responds that he is a scientist and doesn't wish to be distracted by philosophical conundrums.
There are two things here that serve as a perfect foil for Ayn Rand, the patron saint of conservatives.
The first is a simple reminder that Rand held traditional philosophy in utter contempt and blamed it for most of the world's problems. It is the common scorched earth retreat of humanists to snarl at the superfluity of philosophical and moral debate.
The second contrast is more disturbing.
Weston's assertion that Ransom was obligated to submit to his fate and fulfill his role as a lesser member of the human race, and by his sacrifice further the race relates specifically to a bizarre, erotic scene in Ayn Rand's first novel, The Fountainhead. The hero of the book, Howard Roark, takes advantage of the heroine. Rape is strongly implied, and yet, the heroine, Dominique, despite thinking of it as a rape, privately recognizes that she wished it. Rand, when criticized as depicting a rape in less than its horrific domination, replied that she supposed if it were truly a rape, it was a rape by "engraved invitation." And, indeed, Dominique loves Howard Roark as a man who has simply taken possession of what was his. It has shades of the ultra-chauvinistic contention that from a woman, no means yes, and non-consensual sex occurs because the woman subconsciously agrees to it.
Besides the sickening implications for rape victims, her explanation of the incident tells more.
Rand described herself as a hero-worshipper, so it can be assumed her heroine was prey to the same adulation and despite struggling against Roark, could not but submit to the man who had a right to her because he was a superior man.
The parallel I see is obvious. Weston asserted the right of the powerful, as did Roark.
Ransom, thank God, defended his right to life. Dominique capitulated.
Now, as an integral part of her ode to humanism, this submission of one human to another may seem contradictory. But humanism ultimately seeks as its end the good of "mankind", not men.
It's code for self-advancement. Since we can be assured that secular humanism would not seek the furthering of human goals if all humans came to be subservient to a higher power, such as God Almighty, their altruistic dodge can be debunked. They seek the advancement of humanism, and are not to be convinced that the true ideals of humanity be anything other than complete authority; masters of their own destiny and captains of their own fate.
Rand believes that ultimate power lies within human control, stating that "-man's ego is the fountainhead of human progress." But, even as the individualist she was, in subjecting Dominique to the degradation of Roark, she recognized that though individual will was supreme, there must still be a hierarchy to maintain forward progress. Each individual will competing with all others, asserting their own dominance, seeking their own goals, will inevitably collide.
Now I know, or assume, that if asked to trace their propagation of Randian ideology to it's fountainhead, most of today's conservatives would deny her premise. Most of their identification with her may be strictly on the basis of her contempt for socialism and the diminution of the individual for the good of the state. But there is a sweet seduction in her premise that appeals to the individual in us. It is dangerous to laud a person and a philosophy so indiscriminately when her reason, her basis for her proposals and her philosophy was the authority of man and his ultimate power.
There's a hook in all that bait.

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