Rebirth of Reason

The Free Radical

Nathaniel Branden Interview, Pt. 4
by Alec Mouhibian

AM: Now let’s go to sexual attraction. In your pre-break days, you wrote that sexual attraction is purely a matter of sharing values. But men can be attracted to women before even knowing their face, let alone values. And empirical evidence shows that sexual attraction is a mysterious, convoluted, nonrational, confusing, insane, stupid, absurd, freakin’ crazy, irrational field, irreducible to objective definitions. What are your reflections on the subjective and objective nature of sexual attraction, 40 years after Psychology of Pleasure?

NB: The full answer is in my book “The Psychology of Romantic Love.”  Short-term sexual relationships  sometimes operate by different rules than long term ones. Sometimes you can be very sexually attracted to somebody, because you quickly pick up that there is something highly compatible in your respective sexual wiring.

I can think of instances where a man knew almost immediately whether the person he might be finding attractive would get along sexually with him or not. And we would talk about it, as a kind of intellectual exercise, because how can one know? It’s very hard to articulate. But he said enough that I knew that he knew. And I’m sure that many people have had that experience, where they can’t explain it but they know very quickly that “that person and I would have a very good sexual relationship.” They don’t know if they’d be partners for life, but they do know that it wouldn’t be boring, it would be interesting, stimulating, rewarding. So values are involved, all right, but the values involved have a lot to do with what one wants out of the sexual experience…

Here’s an example. There was a very interesting book written a few decades ago about the sex life of powerful political figures. And they found out that a surprising number of these people who in their own realm were tough, dominating, domineering—wanted to be completely dominated by the female in bed. They wanted a complete rest from their powerful, balls-to-the-wall political life—and they became babies. I believe that the woman who would be wired to provide that, and the man who is wired to want that, would find each other across a crowded room. They would pick it up.

When you’re talking about long-term romantic love, as I did when lecturing for NBI, much more of who we are comes into play.

These issues are complex and I’m not certain I’m being entirely clear.  That’s why I hope interested parties will check out “The Psychology of Romantic Love.”

One final point.  I remember a friend of mine, who was 42, met a girl who was 17 or 18 years old. And they had a great romance that lasted about a year. And they remained very good friends afterward—it just wasn’t the end of the game for either of them. My point is: a relationship can be wonderful without being “forever.”

AM: It just seems absurd to believe that all of the mysteries of attraction are objectively explicable.

NB: Well Rand wasn’t entirely consistent on what she thought about these subjects. I remember once being in her apartment when Leonard was there. He had acquired a new girlfriend and Ayn asked him: is it a romance, or is it an affair, or is it an enjoyable sexual encounter? I don’t remember the words verbatim, but she gave him a choice of three. She also said it in a way that implied that any answer was acceptable. And Leonard almost fell off the sofa in shock. He said, “You mean you would approve?” Ayn said, “Why not?” Anybody who had read her books would also have fainted. You’re shocked, aren’t you?

AM: I am.

NB: So if ever I were to publish that story, the forces of evil would say it’s one more example of what a liar Nathaniel Branden is. But it happened. So there’s a lot of confusion about sexuality among Objectivists.

Here’s another example. A man met a woman and they really fell for each other. He was a Ph. D., but she wasn’t a professional intellectual. Not that she wasn’t intelligent, but her business wasn’t ideas. And he had this idea that he has to be married to Dagny Taggart. I said, “Oh, really? Are you John Galt?” The point is: he tortured himself with this issue for months, because he really loved the woman. But about 9 months later, he broke off the relationship. I really tried to persuade him that he was making a mistake that he was going to regret for a very long time, because I knew he really loved her. But he was sacrificing that to a theory, to a fantasy inside his mind. I said for Christ’s sake, look who Ayn Rand married!       

If you love somebody, honor that. Don’t make yourself insane if you can’t explain all the reasons for it. They will surface in time.

AM: Another type of love that is inexplicable is the love one has for a baby, who is either one’s own or closely related to one. It’s unique to any kind of feeling. Some Objectivists have explained baby-love by the trader principle, that we love a baby because we will trade with it later. But that sounds like the punch line to the lewdest of Jewish jokes.

NB:  It is absurd. I’m very aware of that over-application of the trader principle, as if that’s all you need to know to understand human relationships. Good God.

AM: How would you explain such love and care?

NB: There’s something about what we see in a baby. There’s something about seeing a new expression of life … yesterday, or last week, or last month there was no baby. Now this thing that people call a “miracle” has happened. This new being is born. And that is a very inspiring idea, that we have the power to create life. A baby is also pure potentiality.

Now it’s also true that not everybody has those reactions to babies. They’re so caught up that they have no idea how to relate to a baby. Or they feel very shy around babies—insecurities of their own get in the way. But I ask: who among you, tell the truth, last time you played with a little kid—or a dog, did you think you’re going to have a trade relationship with the dog later in life, for crying out loud? Because there’s a good analogy there.

I wrote about the Muttnik Principle, in The Psychology of Romantic Love, to explain my theory of why we love dogs. As a dog-lover, when I’m looking at a dog nose to nose, the trade is happening right now. The interaction is the reward.

AM: It’s so cute.

NB: Exactly. Anybody who doesn’t understand that, well, my official response is: they can go fuck themselves.

AM: Now you’re talking in words I can understand. I want to quote you something you said in your article, The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand. You wrote: “One factor that many thinkers beside Ayn Rand tend to ignore in their studies of history is the psychologies or personalities of the political and military leaders. Different people, with different psychologies or personalities, at the same moment in history might act differently — with profoundly different historical consequences.” What did you mean, specifically?

NB: If Kerry had been president, I don’t think we would have gone into Iraq.

AM: Due to his personality, not his principles?

NB: Definitely due to his personality—meaning, in this context, his character, his psychology. He’s never done anything decisive in his life. No, I don’t think it’s his principles. His principles are a reaction of who he is as a person. Look at Jimmy Carter. He didn’t represent our interests at all, when dealing with Iran, etc. If Carter were the president in the 1980s, I don’t think the Soviet Union would have fallen as soon as it did..

AM: But how did Rand ignore that? She always judged personality.

NB: Rand tended to interpret history entirely in terms of ideas, not in terms of the personality of the leaders. Only in terms of their professed convictions. And I said that it’s an under-appreciation of the importance of psychology in human action. If only their pronounced beliefs could explain their behavior, you would be able to consistently predict much more in advance.

Most of the failings of Objectivism all pertain directly or indirectly to issues of psychology.

Let’s say you were an Objectivist and you had a child. He’s one-and-a-half. What’s the first thing of a moral nature you would teach him? Impulse control. That’s the first thing he has to learn. Now, let’s say he’s five. Do we need to tell him, “Your life belongs to you and the good is to live it, kid, because we’re worried you might fall into the clutches of altruism”? Of course not. What we teach him is how not to be stupid when he’s pursuing his self-interest. Self-interest is taken for granted, respected, so the question isn’t whether we’re going to be self-interested or altruistic, but whether we’re going to be intelligently self-interested or stupidly self-interested. So you are going to teach your son to think about the likely consequences of his behavior.

AM: You won’t be teaching him philosophical ideas.

NB: Later in life you will. Objectivism comes on as if the most important issue you have to understand is the issue of egoism versus altruism. But that’s nowhere near the beginning of the process.

AM: Objectivism also seems to ignore that there is a process, by which one develops.

NB: Yes, it doesn’t think developmentally at all. Neither did I, in the old days, and I learned to regret it later.

AM: Rand completely wrote-off ethnicity. And it is certainly a bogus political concept. But do you think one should completely ignore one’s so-called “cultural heritage”?

NB: Why would one do that? Rand didn’t seem to understand the extent to which we unconsciously absorb a great deal from the culture from which we emerged. Therefore, she didn’t understand how important it is to reflect upon and understand that culture and how it will in part help you understand yourself.

Ernest Van Den Haag wrote this fascinating book called The Jewish Mystique. I read that book and went over to Ayn and said “I’ve got to tell you something fascinating and shocking.” Because we never thought of ourselves as Jewish in any important way. I told her, laughing, “We are both exponents of the Jewish messianic tradition. We believe we are here on earth to be signposts pointing to the good life.” What I got out of that book was how Jewish that was. The whole idea of these prophets coming along, or however he was describing it—it fit Ayn and me to a tee. I thought that was very funny.    

AM: I wanted to shift gears and ask you about something that Rand, and libertarian theorists in general, have had very little to say about: procreation. Procreation seems to be one of the few things that are essential for the survival of mankind as a species, but not essential for the survival of any individual man. And it is in man’s nature, generally, to procreate. Mother Nature wants grandchildren. Is any circumstance foreseeable in which this would result in conflict, in which it could possibly become an ethical issue?

NB: There’s no way you can tell people that they must procreate whether they want to or not. I don’t see how that can be sold.

AM: Certainly not. But in affluent countries, native populations are receding. If affluence spreads across the world, it is plausible that in the distant future the world population would recede. (Not to mention the possibility of a disaster.) So while procreation could never be a must philosophically, do you think it could ever properly feel like an obligation?

NB: Not an obligation. But the issue you raise is interesting. I’ll tell you why. We often don’t think about how we relate to future generations (or for that matter, to past ones). Suppose you knew that no person is going to be born after today, that all of us will live out our lives the best we can in a normal way, but there will be no future generations. Wouldn’t that affect anything we do? I think the answer is: it would affect, in the most profound way imaginable, everything we do. I think it would be a killer of ambition … I don’t know what the hell we would do. But we certainly wouldn’t be developing the science and technology…you see, without knowing it, we’re very often thinking beyond our own life span. We’re not aware of it, but it’s so easy to show that at some unconscious level we do. I wouldn’t believe anybody, not even an Objectivist, if he says: “I don’t care—it’s the end, it’s the end. I’ll live out my life; I don’t care what comes later anyway.” That’s nonsense. You’d have to be really disconnected to not see the truth of what I’m saying here.

And that’s the news for today!

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