|This is part two of my response:|
The Jon Galt picture has caused a commotion. The commotion was addressed on the SOLO yahoo group, and actually, Arthur Silber himself enunciated his own concerns on the "Light of Reason" blog. Let me say that I recognize these concerns, and I don't wish to belittle them. But I think we need to place this whole discussion in a wider context.
First, THE FREE RADICAL---which is where the photo was initially published--- ~ regularly ~ prints photos of people who are naked, thanks to our esteemed editor Lindsay Perigo who has never shown the slightest embarrassment over the depiction of all sorts of male and female naked bodies. :) Jon Galt provided us with the opportunity to look over a number of his photos, and I can tell you that the one that was selected was the ~least~ "pornographic." Because his name was mentioned in the article, it was not an unusual choice to include a photograph of him.
When I did an article on rapper Eminem, and interviewed Brooklyn teens about him, THE FREE RADICAL published photographs not only of the rapper, but also of the teens whom I interviewed. So there was nothing strange, on the face of it, in publishing a photo of a person mentioned in an article.
I must confess I, myself, remain a bit mystified over the controversy of the photo, because I don't think it is all that revealing. (This might say something about my own libertine mores, but I don't think so...) We see the man's penis, but not the "head" and it is certainly not depicted in an aroused state. He is also in pretty good physical shape.
The interview itself portrays Galt as an adult film star who is very intelligent and concerned about the role of adult films as a purveyor of positive sexual values. Galt also makes points about eroticizing safe sex and about his libertarian concerns over the issue of censorship. All of these points, I think, are challenging. A part of me thought it necessary to introduce Jon Galt, not only because of his name and his love of Ayn Rand, but also because I do like pushing the envelope... and, as I explained above, not for its own sake.
I think that just as FEMINIST INTERPRETATIONS OF AYN RAND upped the ante on discussions of gender in Objectivism, and just as the "homosexuality series" upped the ante on discussions of sexual orientation in Objectivism, so too raising the issue of "obscenity" and "pornography" has upped the ante on this discussion. I think there is a general discomfort among Objectivists with ALL of these issues, and for a philosophy that speaks of overcoming the mind-body dichotomy, this is all the more important to address.
I think we need to remind ourselves that Rand herself was criticized---in her time---for including steamy "fornicating bits" (as William Buckley called them) in her own novels... yes, even "rape scenes," rough sex, and B&D, S&M-type imagery. (The very name "Dominique" suggests "domination", and Rand's journals clearly show that she was dealing with all of these issues quite consciously.)
I also think it should be noted that for all of her problems with "pornography," Rand herself had absolutely no problem being interviewed by Alvin Toffler in PLAYBOY magazine in the 1960s. In that issue of PLAYBOY, there were lots of naked women in sexually-charged poses. If Rand herself had no problem being published in a magazine that, even during the 1960s sexual revolution, was viewed as "pornographic" by some, and that published photos of naked women, why should we be ashamed of depicting a not-fully-naked photo of Jon Galt in an article that mentions his name? Galt's photo is actually ~less~ revealing than any photo found in PLAYBOY, hardly a "hard-core" pornographic magazine. Is it because he's a man? Is it because he's gay? If so, then we need to check our premises.
I'm not certain of this, but I suspect that the outcry over this particular photo makes people uncomfortable for different reasons, but that uncomfortability itself has generated a valuable discussion; for that reason alone, perhaps it wasn't a bad thing to publish after all.
Some people have suggested that I should do a sequel series on "Pornography and Objectivism," but I think I'll put that one on the back-burner for now. Pretty soon they'll be calling me the "Larry Flynt of Objectivism"; I'm not sure I'm ready to add that title to the many other illustrious ones that I've heard. :)
Finally, I do appreciate Ari's suggestion that I need to "take a look at Chris Sciabarra from the outside." I actually do this on a very regular basis; I have to. In my capacity as an editor, whether of FEMINIST INTERPRETATIONS or of THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, I frequently have had to deal with authors who are constantly challenging me on all sorts of issues, and those challenges, by their nature, require the kind of self-examination that Ari thinks necessary. I sometimes have published articles with which I've had so many disagreements, that I startle myself for my liberality!
But the truth is that I publish such material (as long as it passes the required double-blind review process) because I am actively seeking to "up the ante" in Rand studies. I think that the outcry over the homosexuality series and several articles in THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, and, before that, the feminist book (which got a thorough trashing in the pages of THE FREE RADICAL for over a year), are all indicative of just the kinds of things that Objectivism needs: engagement with hot-button approaches and issues.
The FEMINIST book alone brought together many different styles of feminism, but it also featured some cogent critiques of left-wing feminism in the contributions of authors such as Nathaniel Branden, Diana Brickell (now Hsieh), Sharon Presley, Karen Michalson, Wendy McElroy, and Valerie Loiret-Prunet. It also featured an interview with David Kelley (in Joan Kennedy Taylor's essay) that brought into question the very term "feminism." That this book now appears on the shelf as part of a series featuring over twenty similarly titled anthologies on Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Dewey, and others, speaks to its importance. Through my efforts and the efforts of many of my academic colleagues, Rand is being taken very seriously by scholars worldwide coming from very different traditions. It is simply one more necessary step in the wider permeation of Objectivism into the academy and into the wider culture.
Do some of these initial steps falter? Perhaps. That depends on the standard by which you evaluate them. I can only say that a baby doesn't learn to run, until it has learned to walk, and it doesn't learn to walk, until it begins to crawl.
Rand studies are probably still in the crawling stage. Some day, they will be soaring through the air.
In my view, Objectivism needs even more "enemies" to help that process along.
And as I've said in previous postings, if this be treason, I'll make the most of it.