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It's Time To Move On: A Personal Statement
We see ourselves most emphatically as being at war with the current culture: the culture of anti-heroes, nihilism, destruction and dishonesty (hence a significant, though by no means exclusive, focus on esthetics here). Yet we acknowledge that Objectivism's critics can be honest, and should be granted more than a perfunctory discussion or two before being dismissed out of hand. We acknowledge that Ayn Rand made mistakes; that she didn't answer every question that can be asked; that she was wrong about some matters of considerable existential moment, such as homosexuality (which matter we have already addressed). But we salute her as an epoch-changing giant - comparable to Aristotle - whose mistakes were of little moment when compared to her unprecedented insights (just as his mistakes were of little moment).
The above parenthetical remark "which matter we have already addressed," was inserted in a later version of the Credo, because at its founding, the matter had not been addressed. The newer, parenthetical remark links to my monograph, Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation. In a foreword to that monograph, Perigo observes:
The Mission Goes On and On and On ...
Ah, if only it were that simple! Though reviews started to appear in various venues (and these can be referenced here), nothing quite rivaled the full-scale response mounted by Reginald Firehammer in his own monograph, The Hijacking of a Philosophy: Homosexuals vs. Ayn Rand's Objectivism.
My review of Firehammer's book, "In Praise of Hijacking," however, was less about the topic of homosexuality, and more about the topic of Objectivism: what it is, where it's "open," where it's "closed," and where it can be extended or applied. Firehammer responded in print to my review, Barbara Branden responded on SOLO HQ to Firehammer's reply, and I too wrote a rejoinder to Firehammer. Discussions on each of these threads have proceeded, showing that the topic remains a popular and provocative one.
But I must say that in all my years of debating this issue, I can count exactly one person who ever changed their mind. One. In all other instances, I have observed that attitudes toward sexuality are among the most tenacious in the human species. (Heck... even attitudes on the Iraq war don't seem to be as tenacious as the ones on sexuality!)
And so, it is because of this perennial division that Perigo's Credo is so relevant. The "critics can be honest, and should be granted more than a perfunctory discussion or two," but that discussion or two or three or four has now taken place. SOLO was created to fill a gap between "rational passion and passionate reason." It has allowed free-flowing discussions of this topic and many others, and to its credit, it has allowed the highest dissent from one of its founding missions: to liberate Ayn Rand's philosophy from the harsh moralizing its founder exhibited in her assessment of homosexuality.
With Sam Erica, we can congratulate SOLO for permitting the airing of "alternative views." Nevertheless, I must also agree with Erica when he suggests that too much space has been allocated to this issue. As important as this subject is, it is, indeed, "a peripheral issue," as Erica puts it.
Now, there is a reason why Perigo teases me about the "black mark" that is my "academic respectability." It's because, like most academics, I have a history of not knowing when to shut up. This essay is perfect proof. I have a history of allowing a discussion to continue even beyond the point where it should end. I have learned the hard way that such discussions should end the moment any semblance of incivility rears its ugly head. All too often, discussions on this topic in particular have led to that kind of incivility.
As I expressed here, I have been, for the most part, quite pleased at the level of dialogue that has been manifested on SOLO HQ concerning this extremely volatile subject. But the other day, I also wrote what I had hoped was my final post on this subject here, because I am convinced that those who claim that they are not moralizing on the subject of homosexuality have nonetheless embraced moralizing on a colossal scale. For those who understand Rand's radical challenge to the fact-value dichotomy, such moralizing is fully apparent. "The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do." If one accepts Rand's ethics, one cannot continue to argue that something is metaphysically given without it having an ethical implication. One cannot continue to argue that all sexuality is volitional, without it having an ethical implication. Because morality and choice are partially constitutive of one another, one cannot claim that human "decisions" regarding the latter won't have implications for their status in the realm of the former.
I'd agree, actually, that those aspects of sexuality open to our choice do have ethical implications; but it doesn't follow that all aspects of sexuality are open to our choice. And so, we can explore, in depth, the nature of the connections between certain facts and certain judgments. We can engage in arguments in good will, and without indicting one another's intellectual integrity. But beyond a certain point, my friendly critics are essentially correct. To continue to sanction such arguments that assail one's status as an eminently moral agent is to sanction one's own victimization. Even if the arguments are civil, poised, and respectful.
So, I'm done. I'm really done.
Final Thoughts ...
It has never been SOLO's mission or my mission to espouse homosexuality as a "moral virtue." As I wrote in my review of Firehammer's book:
It also illustrates how profoundly wrong Firehammer is when he suggests that my "real mission" is to affirm homosexuality as a "moral virtue." In and of itself, it is neither virtue nor vice. What matters is the honor and nobility that is possible to individuals who choose to live rational and passionate lives - whatever their sexual orientation. And that's why so many gays and lesbians have benefitted from reading an Ayn Rand novel: it has provided them with the spiritual fuel for genuine human liberation.
And that is the issue. Not one's heterosexuality or homosexuality or bisexuality, but the morality of living one's own life authentically, of applying Rand's ethics to the context of one's own life, regardless of one's orientation.
Now, the opponents would say that this is question-begging. Because most of them seem to dismiss the very notion of "orientation" out of hand. But their mission is not SOLO's mission.
I must admit that I long ago ceased calling myself an Objectivist because I became convinced that too many Objectivists were, as my friend Larry Sechrest once said, "conservatives who simply don't go to church." In my own attempts to "hijack" Objectivism, I have focused instead on what I believe is Rand's "radical legacy," not the vestiges of conservatism that she and many of her followers retained.
Through Perigo's efforts, my efforts, and the efforts of others, one aspect of that radical legacy has been reclaimed. The deplorable history of homophobia in the Objectivist movement has now been made apparent. This historical undertaking has not been an end in itself, but a means to an end: a means of acknowledging and transcending the mistakes of Rand and many of her followers; a means of disarming the moralizers who would seek our sanction for their gay bashing; a means of living authentically, of taking ownership and responsibility for the application of essential principles to the context of our own lives, whatever our orientation.
This is not a call for the end of all dialogue on this subject; alas, it will continue long after we're gone. But I must agree with Lindsay Perigo: "Mission accomplished." Those who don't share in this mission should seek other forums on this topic. But even for those who do share in this mission:
It's time to move on.
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