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Daily Linz 15 - This Cheek's Not For Turning
Michael’s mission is to show that Jesus’ precept of turning the other cheek is, contrary to what we may have hitherto believed, compatible with Objectivism:
“... are religious principles like turning the other cheek really anti-Objectivism? There goes that little child inside me again. He tells me that Ayn Rand’s heroes turned the other cheek all the time in her fiction. Ta-daaaa!”
He tries to cut off all demur at the pass, before even making his argument:
“Here come the knee-jerks! Moral denunciations! Ayn Rand’s heroes turning the other cheek? Dayaamm! The very idea!”
That tactic may have worked with the numerous posters who, astonishingly (well, in some cases not so astonishingly) sanctioned the article and heaped praise upon it. Doesn’t work with me. If protecting Objectivism from marshmallow-mush is going to result in my being called a knee-jerk moral denouncer, so be it.
Rand’s heroes turned the other cheek “all the time”? I don’t think so. Ever. Michael’s examples certainly don’t come close to proving his point. Roark’s “But I don’t think of you” to Toohey is his way of telling the truth in the most contemptuous way possible. Note, he doesn’t say, “Well actually I think of you a lot, since you’re seeking to destroy me and all. Believe me, I understand where you’re coming from, and I’d like to think of you even more often but these damn buildings take up so much of my time. However, if there’s some way I can help you destroy me, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do.” (Actually, Michael missed his best opportunity where Roark is concerned. Had he cited the dynamiting of Cortlandt Homes as an example of turning the other cheek, then he might have convinced me!)
Galt’s unsolicited advice to his torturer doesn’t stack up either. Making an abject fool of someone in that way scarcely constitutes cheek-turning. It’s a case of returning torture with torment, knowing that the result will be, not more torture which a true cheek-turner would encourage, but no more torture.
Let us note also that literal cheek-turning didn’t serve Michael himself at all well in the improbable example from his youth that he furnishes of his practising it. (I found myself alternating between asking if this story could possibly be true and marvelling at what sort of conceit it must take to think God is putting one to a test.)
Now, I can’t recall Rand’s ever commenting specifically on turn-the-other-cheek, but I think we can glean a pretty good idea of what she thought of it from the quotation I’m about to cite on appeasement. I’ll preface it with exactly the same gospel excerpts Michael quotes on cheek-turning, so we may observe the two ethicists back-to-back. Note, I am not here concerned with whether Jesus meant something other than he appears to mean. I’m taking cheek-turning to mean exactly what Michael took it to mean in his youth. “You want to strike this cheek? Go ahead. Then I’ll present the other one for your kind attentions.” “You want Sudetenland, Herr Hitler? Hell, we’ll give you Poland as well!” “Good job on the Twin Towers, guys. If you wanna take a crack at the Empire State Building next, we’ll stand our military down to make it easier for ya.” “Rape my girlfriend, you say? Be my guest. If once doesn’t satisfy you—bang her again.”
So, then, to Jesus himself:
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matthew.)
"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke.)
Now, Ayn Rand:
“The truly and deliberately evil men are a very small minority; it is the appeaser who unleashes them on mankind; it is the appeaser’s intellectual abdication that invites them to take over. When a culture’s dominant trend is geared to irrationality, the thugs win over the appeasers. When intellectual leaders fail to foster the best in the mixed, unformed, vacillating character of people at large, the thugs are sure to bring out the worst. When the ablest men turn into cowards, the average men turn into brutes.” (Altruism as Appeasement.)
“Appeasement is not consideration for the feelings of others. It is consideration for and compliance with the unjust, irrational and evil feelings of others.” (The Age of Envy.)
Need we dwell on what Ayn Rand might have said about turning the other cheek—or trying to turn her philosophy into a cheek-turner?
So what’s this powder-puffery all about, then, really? No need to guess ... Michael tells us.
“Maybe the age of the hard sell is over. Rand had a habit of couching her views in such a manner as to cause maximum dramatic impact. She was always careful about defining her context, but those who have followed have not been so particular. You see many of them bashing religion and all that religion has ever stood for throughout history, because it is fun. They can pretend to be kick-ass intellectuals without having to expend any of the thought needed to do what Rand did. Maybe that’s fun, but it is extremely poor salesmanship. I even think it is extremely poor philosophy.”
Ah! Michael wants to do his bit in ushering in the age of the soft-sell and bringing an end to religion-“bashing.” (Disagree with him and you’re a pretend “kick-ass intellectual.” There he goes again!) Well, if he were advocating clarity without dogmatism, KASS without hysteria, reasonableness without appeasement, I would agree with him. But as far as I can tell, he’s pitching for an Objectivism that is New-Aged to the point where it is not only unrecognisable as Objectivism, but is antithetical to it. His Brandenian slip is showing.
I fully expect the title of Michael’s next article to be Ayn the Altruist, with content to match. Only that one won’t slip through the net the way this one did. It’ll be headed straight for the Dissent board, where it belongs.
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