Ayn Rand/Objectivism Sightings
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Homo Hijackers? (1): Response to Chris Sciabarra's "In Praise of Hijacking"
To most of Dr. Sciabarra's criticisms, I plead guilty. He has been very fair and accurate in portraying my arguments. Of course, they were presented from his point of view, which in some cases tends to misrepresent my case, inadvertently, I'm sure, but nevertheless need some correction.
Not An Objectivist
Dr. Sciabarra noted I do not claim to be an Objectivist. Interestingly, neither does he.
But Dr. Sciabarra accuses me of being the "guardian" of that "philosophy's purity," because I insist any true admirer of the author of that philosophy, Ayn Rand, would comply with her request, "If you agree with some tenets of Objectivism, but disagree with others, do not call yourself an Objectivist; give proper authorship credit for the parts you agree with—and then indulge in any flights of fancy you wish, on your own." [Ayn Rand, "To the Readers of The Objectivist Forum,” The Objectivist Forum, Vol. 1, No. 1]
Dr. Sciabarra does honor that request. "Don’t call me an Objectivist," he says, and explains, "I’m taking what I want from Rand’s legacy, and paying for it—by assuming responsibility for my own interpretations and applications." Since he does exactly what Rand requests, I guess he is also a, "guardian of the philosophy’s purity."
But Dr. Sciabarra presses his argument from another angle. "Firehammer takes this Rand-centered ... view of Objectivism to absurd heights. He reiterates: 'Objectivism is not someone else’s philosophy.' But this makes it nothing more and nothing less than Rand’s personal credo, to be applied only to the context of her life and her life alone."
I did say, "Objectivism is not someone else's philosophy," because it is not. This hardly makes Objectivism only, "Rand's personal credo," which applies to no one else. The Pythagorean Theorem is Pythagoras' theorem and nobody else's. That certainly does not mean it is Pythagoras' personal credo and no one else can use it.
Dr. Sciabarra understands why Objectivism must mean the philosophy which Ayn Rand explicated, and no other. "In essentials, every 'philosophy'—be it 'scientific socialism' or 'Objectivism'—is, by necessity, closed," he says. "It must be something definite, or it is not definable; it must have identity and it must have boundaries or there will be no way of distinguishing one doctrine from another."
But Dr. Sciabarra then appeals to David Kelley's Truth and Toleration, and says, "every philosophy is, by necessity, open to interpretation, ..." He notes there are "interpretive aspects throughout the history of philosophy."
Objectivism, however, is not philosophy, it is a philosophy; it is not all of philosophy, but a contribution to the field. It is a major contribution and probably the single most important contribution since Aristotle, but it is a specific contribution made by a single individual who gave her contribution the name Objectivism.
Is Objectivism open to analysis, interpretation, and change? Of course it is, as a contribution to philosophy, because philosophy is open-ended. It is a mistake to call such interpretations or changes Objectivism, however. If just anything related to Ayn Rand's philosophy, with this taken out, and this added in, and this other aspect changed, are all called Objectivism, the word Objectivism ceases to identify anything.
The very title of Dr. Sciabarra's monograph, Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation, he says, "is symbolic. It begins with the name Ayn Rand, a woman whose viewpoint engendered a problematic conflict between Objectivism and Homosexuality."
The conflict is not engendered by Ayn Rand, however. It is engendered by those who appreciate Objectivism's emphasis on individual liberty but want to press Objectivism into also justifying individual choices, however irrational. Dr. Sciabarra claims I "apply 'Objectivist principles ... to such personal choices as one’s sexual behavior.' But ... [exempt] from application all attempts to use Objectivism to sanction practices that Rand herself opposed. ... Objectivism is therefore not of an individualist philosophy, but of an authoritarian one dictated by Rand’s personal tastes."
It is Dr. Sciabarra and other's sympathetic with his views that regard Ayn Rand's views on homosexuality as merely a matter of personal taste. Her statement, "homosexuality" is a manifestation of psychological "flaws, corruptions, errors, [and] unfortunate premises," is hardly the way one expresses one's personal taste; it is the way one expresses an objective evaluation, an evaluation I happen to agree with.
What is Normal?
Dr. Sciabarra does an excellent job, presenting my arguments in a concise form. "Clearly, Firehammer ... believes that they [homosexual practices] are 'abnormal and, in practice, both physiologically and psychologically self-destructive.' He views homosexuality as a chosen behavior, and not part of anyone’s 'nature.' ... The body too has a specific nature, and it just can’t be used in any old way that we desire. Because man is a being of volitional consciousness, nothing in human nature compels anyone to 'behave in any particular way ....' To be 'normal,' then, is to act in consistency with one’s nature.
Exactly. For those who make the mistake of not reading my book, however, a bit of explanation is necessary to make clear the meaning of normal in this context.
An Objectivist Irony
Ayn Rand observed most people understand their bodies and organs have specific natures which determine what is and what is not appropriate for their use and preservation, but most people do not understand their minds have a specific nature at all, and think nothing of abusing them.
"Man's consciousness," she said, "is his least known and most abused vital organ. Most people believe that consciousness as such is some sort of indeterminate faculty which has no nature, no specific identity and therefore no requirements, no needs, no rules for being properly or improperly used.... Men abuse, subvert and starve their consciousness in a manner they would not dream of applying to their hair, toenails or stomachs. They know that these things have a specific identity and specific requirements, and, if one wishes to preserve them, one must comb one's hair, trim one's toenails and refrain from swallowing rat poison." [Ayn Rand, "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation," The Objectivist, April 1966, p 1]
The ironic thing is, many Objectivists, who are among the few who do understand the nature of their minds and take great care to insure they do not abuse or misuse them, seem to have the same kind of ignorance about their body's nature and requirements non-Objectivists have about their minds. They treat the body and it's organs as though they have no "specific identity or specific requirements," implying they therefore have, "no needs, no rules for being properly or improperly used."
Normality and Identity
Normal means that which is appropriate to the body and its organs, determined by the requirements of their nature, that is, their identity. In most cases, our desires or passions conform perfectly with the proper or normal use of our organs. Most people do not have a desire to use their fingers as candles or to put scrap metal into their stomachs. Conflicts arise only when a desire to do something to or with an organ is contrary to its proper use and function.
Those defending homosexuality emphasize the integration of mind and body and, "repudiate any reason/passion dichotomy." But they seem to think whatever passions one has are automatically integrated with their mind, without thought or analysis. How? As Ayn Rand would say, "blank-out."
Integrating Reason and Passion
In her famous Playboy interview [page 6 of the pamphlet] Ayn Rand said, "... There is no necessary clash, no dichotomy between man's reason and his emotions—provided he observes their proper relationship. A rational man knows ... the source of his emotions, the basic premises from which they come; if his premises are wrong, he corrects them."
This is why Ayn Rand said "homosexuality" resulted from "flaws, corruptions, errors, [and] unfortunate premises" (emphasis mine). No clash or dichotomy between reason and emotion, or, as Lindsay Perigo puts it, between reason and passion, are necessary, provided one observes the proper relationship. Reason and passion are not automatically integrated, a rational individual must intentionally seek to understand the source of their passions and determine if they are consistent with the requirements of his nature, all of his nature, physical and mental.
She goes on, "He never acts on emotions [or desires] for which he cannot account, the meaning of which he does not understand. In appraising a situation, he knows why he reacts as he does and whether he is right. He has no inner conflicts, his mind and his emotions are integrated...."
This is a picture of the fully rational, fully objective individual who understands the source of all his feelings and passions and how they are consistent with his nature.
She concludes, "But they [passions, emotions] are not his guide; the guide is his mind. This relationship cannot be reversed, however. If a man takes his emotions [feelings and desires] as the cause and his mind as their passive effect, if he is guided by his emotions and uses his mind only to rationalize or justify them somehow—then he is acting immorally, he is condemning himself to misery, failure, defeat, and he will achieve nothing but destruction—his own and that of others."
This is the picture of the homosexual who rationalizes or justifies his behavior on the basis of those passions for which he cannot identify the source or reason. They are, he claims, just the desires, or passions, or, "orientation," he was, "born with."
But we are not born with any specific desires. The desires we are born with are undifferentiated and general. We desire food and learn to call that desire hunger, but that desire is not for any specific food. We must discover what food is, what will nourish us and what will poison us. Which things are "food" and which things are "poison" are determined by our nature. We must discover that too. Only after we have made those discoveries do we develop desires for particular foods. As I say in my book, "no one is born with a desire for a burger with fries."
It is always when we allow our desires to dictate our behavior and we use our minds only to justify the desires, or simply refuse to use our minds at all, that our desires become our enemies. It is when a desire to consume something, without considering whether that thing is good for our health or our organs, without questioning the source of the desire, that we become our own destroyers as those with morbid obesity and those "suffering" from pica demonstrate.
Pica is a desire to eat abnormal things, like dirt, ashes, chalk, hair, soap, toothbrushes, burned matches, or coins, like the French man who recently died from this practice. X-rays revealed hundreds of coins, necklaces, and needles in his belly .
A Passion for Change
Is the desire to cut off one's own perfectly healthy arm or leg normal? If normality is going to be predicated on the desires or passions one is "born" with, such a desire would have to be considered normal. The recent MSN Slate article , "Costing an Arm and a Leg" by Carl Elliott, author of Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream, describes the growing mental disorder of those obsessed with amputation.
The victims of this disorder are called, "wannabes." The syndrome is also called Body Integrity Identity Disorder, or BIID, and wannabes frequently have the desire to be amputees from ages as young as four or five.
The BIID website dedicated to this "abnormality," says, "BIID has been most commonly compared to Gender Identity Disorder (GID). One common factor is that in both conditions, the individuals relate that their feelings and urges have been present since their pre-adolescent years.”
Dr. Sciabarra criticizes the fact that, "Not a single citation can be found to ... The Psychology of Self-Esteem, by Nathaniel Branden. He makes the criticism because he objects to my characterizing repression as nothing more than self-discipline. He explains, "Branden’s understanding of repression ... developed ... in his post-Randian work, The Disowned Self, ...[says] 'Repression is an automatized avoidance reaction, a subconscious mental process that forbids certain ideas, memories, identifications and evaluations to enter conscious awareness.'"
It is this kind of inane psychobabble, "Repression is ... a subconscious mental process," that is the reason I would never quote Nathaniel Branden. The only mental processes I am concerned with are conscious ones and those under our control. The only repression I talk about is the intentional repression of those desires we objectively determine are contrary to our self interest. If a repression, or anything else, is going on outside or under (sub) our consciousness, it is outside the province of our volitional control.
The whole concept of the subconscious is one more of the whacky ideas foisted on the field of psychology by the Freuds, Sigmund and Anna. There is no mysterious, "subconscious," causing us to have desires and passions we cannot identify. That is exactly the kind of mental disintegration Ayn Rand warned against.
Do not expect psychologists and psychiatrists to advise their patients to "repress," their self-destructive desires. Why shouldn't someone eat coins and needles if that is their orientation? Why shouldn't someone cut their arm and leg off if that is their passion? The BIID page concludes with this incredible statement: "... psychiatrists are ... proposing no therapy other than amputation. That's why I never quote psychiatrists or psychologists.
Dialectics, Sex, and Procreation
Dr. Sciabarra accuses me of, "a relentless attack," on his use of dialectical method," and adds that I am, "not quite sure what is even meant by the term."
I plead guilty to both counts. I did confess to Dr. Sciabarra that my "attack" was "rhetorical," rather than a serious criticism of dialectics. But, I also have to admit, I really do not know what is meant by that term, because, even Dr. Sciabarra finds it necessary to explain he does not mean by that term what Hegel meant, or what Kant meant, or even exactly what Aristotle meant.
Dr. Sciabarra obviously does not like my definition of dialectics. He said, "It certainly does not mean, as Firehammer would have it, that one should include 'anything in one’s reasoning to make the conclusion come out the way one wishes.'
So, what is Dr. Sciabarra's definition? "Dialectics is a methodological orientation that requires the use of various techniques for keeping context: by analyzing things from many vantage points and on many different levels of generality, and by extending the units of one’s analysis across time and space."
That is a prescription for confusion. What is a "methodological orientation?" Dr. Sciabarra says, "By identifying and keeping context, one is able to distinguish between essential and nonessential factors, and, by extension, between relevant and irrelevant details."
Procreation is the Context
While Dr. Sciabarra obviously recognizes the importance of "keeping context," he wishes to drop the context of reproduction from the discussion of, "sexuality," as though reproduction had nothing to do with it.
Dr. Sciabarra describes what he supposes is my position: "Ultimately, his discussion of human sexuality is entirely dictated by the goal of procreation (Heaven Help Us if science should institutionalize laboratory reproduction of the species—we might have to otherwise enjoy ourselves!)."
Sex just happens to be the means of reproduction with which human beings are endowed, just as eating is the means of nourishment with which humans beings are endowed.
If we could derive our nourishment some other way, like Augustine's imaginary creatures (he thought they were real) who derived their nourishment from the air, we, like they, would have no mouths. If we could reproduce some other way, asexually for example, the superfluous genitals would be non-existent. If you enjoy sex at all, you have the fact that sex is the human means of reproduction to thank.
The homosexuals treat the genitals as though they had no particular purpose, no context, no reason for being what they are, as though their existence were just some happy accident. But the context of their existence is procreation, it is their function, their purpose for existing, it is why we have them, and why they have the nature they have.
Just as our mouths and digestive tracks have a specific nature which determines how they are to be used, the genitals have a specific nature which determines how they are to be used. Just as eating is our method of nourishment but can be used, and usually is, for pleasure, the genitals are our means for procreation but can be used, and usually are, for pleasure. Because our mouths and digestive systems have a specific nature, how they may be used for pleasure is limited and determined by that nature. Pica is abnormal because it violates that nature. Because our genitals have a specific nature, how they may be used for pleasure is limited and determined by that nature. Homosexual practices are abnormal because they violate that nature.
Dialogue on Dialectics
There are aspects of Dr. Sciabarra's arguments for dialectics with which I am both sympathetic and enthusiastic. I totally agree that correct reason must always recognize and make explicit the context of the discussion. I agree that the examination of anything must take into account, all possible viewpoints, which does not mean opinions, but different correct ways of viewing the same thing, as matters of perspective.
I also have great sympathy with that aspect of dialectics which Dr. Sciabarra explains, "is cognate with both dialegesthai and dialogos, or 'dialogue.'" After all, what is thinking except carrying on a conversation or "dialogue," with one's self? Reasoning and rational argument are always dialogue. But the means of insuring correct reason must be explicit, like the rules of formal logic, grammar, and syntax, not generalities, like, "extending the units of one’s analysis across time and space," which could mean almost anything.
There are two reasons I do not like the term dialectics. One is the vagueness that seems apparent in every explanation of what it is supposed to be. The other is, quite frankly, guilt by association. I do not like it because it is associated with philosophies like those of Hegel and Kant. Ayn Rand considered using the name Existentialism for her philosophy because her philosophy emphasized the primacy of existence. She rejected it because the term was already used for a philosophy diametrically opposite her own. I would not use the word dialectics for the same reason.
With Music, Yet
Dr. Sciabarra so admires my book, however, he thinks it deserves musical accompaniment. "Indeed, it’s a shame that Firehammer’s e-book [now available in paperback] doesn’t come with an accompanying music CD, for every time he mentions the 'homosexual agenda,' ... one expects to hear John Williams’ shark theme from the movie 'Jaws.'"
I told Dr. Sciabarra how much I liked that idea. I think his book ought to be supplied with appropriate background music as well. Maybe something from the, "Great American Song Book," like, Perry Como's "Dream Along With Me."
The music comment was made in relation to Dr. Sciabarra's alarm that I condemn, "the word, 'homophobia,' as an act of 'intentional duplicity,'" used for, "'smearing,' 'deceit,' and 'intellectual fraud.'"
If homophobia meant a real phobia, "an excessive and irrational fear," it would be ludicrous. Nothing but an excessive, irrational hubris could possibly convince homosexuals anyone is afraid of them. But the, "phobia," homosexuals mean has both a different meaning and different purpose. It does not mean fear, but aversion.
An aversion is not a phobia. I adore liver and onions, but my wife has a strong aversion to them; so much so, she considers my eating them, "disgusting." Only someone with an agenda (like me) would call her aversion to liver, hepatiphobia (and I do). Only someone with an agenda (like homosexuals) would call anyone's aversion to their sexual practices, homophobia.
The sole purpose of the word, and the only way it is used, is to kill debate. It is applied liberally to anyone who opposes the normalization of homosexual practices. The moment one says anything negative about homosexuality they are labeled a, "homophobe." It serves a double purpose. It shuts up the easily intimidated, who are afraid of being labeled politically incorrect, and those it does not shut up, it repudiates; after all, who listens to the testimony of someone whose ideas are the result of irrational fears?
Dr. Sciabarra thinks I am "obsessed with telling us 'What’s Wrong with Homosexuality.'" I am interested enough to give a chapter in my book that name. But Dr. Sciabarra is not pleased with what I say in that chapter. He claims my "arguments ... are a string of unproven assertions." And he names them: He writes, "His indictment of promiscuity and unsafe sex is not an indictment of homosexuality, however; it is an indictment of promiscuity and unsafe sex." From my book: "Michigan's statewide 'gay' newspaper, Between the Lines, reports the risk of anal cancer 'soars' by nearly 4,000% for men who have sex with men" and "admits there's no such thing as 'safe sex' to prevent this 'soaring' cancer risk."
Dr. Sciabarra adds, "Male homosexuality, as such, is not “physically detrimental to those who practice it.”
From my book: "... even when AIDS was not a factor, gay men had a significantly shorter lifespan than married heterosexual men - shorter by about three decades! ... anal sex typically causes damage ... resulting in, "acute rectal trauma, rectal incontinence, and anal cancer.... Infections such as hepatitis B, shigellosis, and Giadia lamblia infections are much more common in homosexual males.
Dr. Sciabarra asserts, "... lesbians are at no greater risk for certain diseases than are heterosexual women who don’t bear children; it is not women’s lesbianism as such that causes any heightened risks."
From my book: "Another study found bacterial vaginosis occurring in 33% of lesbians but only in 13% of heterosexual women, and found that: "Cervical cytology abnormalities were uncommon but only found in the lesbians."
Dr. Sciabarra concludes, "Moreover, homosexuality as such is not the cause of psychological dysfunction; such dysfunction is often the by-product of the fear, pain, guilt, and shame...."
Of course my whole point is that homosexuality, itself, is a psychological dysfunction.
Dr. Sciabarra says, "Firehammer considers none of these facts." But, obviously, I did.
The Larger Issue
"In the end, both my own monograph and Firehammer’s response raise key issues about Rand’s philosophy," Dr. Sciabarra says. I agree Dr. Sciabarra has raised those issues, but I think he has given my book too much credit. Mine is mostly an answer to his.
But there is a larger issue. It is not the debate that Dr. Sciabarra and I have. That debate is about the nature of homosexuality itself in terms of Objectivism. Dr. Sciabarra argues it is perfectly consistent with that philosophy, I argue that it is not.
The larger issue is, "what should be the attitude of Objectivists toward homosexuality and homosexuals?" On that issue, I share Dr. Sciabarra's objectives to encourage homosexuals to embrace the principles of Objectivism and to discourage Objectivists from repudiating homosexuals on a personal level.
What is perfectly consistent with Objectivism is the view that every individual must be free to choose how they will live their own lives, including how they use their own bodies, and whatever they choose is nobody else's business. While I do not claim to be an Objectivist, I embrace those principles of individual liberty which Objectivism correctly defines. In that sense, as an Objectivist, I sanction and champion the right of homosexuals not only to practice homosexuality, but to promote it, and, as an Objectivist, I repudiate the hateful, ignorant, boorish, and careless of all stripes, but especially those who call themselves Objectivists, who resort to harassing, bullying, offensive, and intentionally hateful speech or actions toward homosexuals or anyone else with whose practices they happen to disagree or dislike.
I can think of no better words to express my attitude toward government or anyone else who would use force or intimidation to dictate or even influence how others choose to live their lives then these by Dr. Sciabarra: "Leave All of us Alone!"
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