The irony of the left is that they have a very dim view of humanity. If they donít believe manís inherently evil, they believe heís inherently helpless, and their philosophy, their politics and their art reflect this.
"Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead
We can change the world...
Rearrange the world...
If you believe in justice,
If you believe in freedom,
Let a man live his own life.
Rules and regulations, who needs them?
Throw them out the door....!
Not all of us on the cultural left who honor the passion of the Summer of Love do so because we believe that life is helpless and impossible. Yes, I think life can be terribly cruel, terribly unjust, terribly arbitrary- and in the end, all things fall into soft dust. Best remember that life is short and play hard.
But those are not the reasons for which I stand here under alternative skies. I take such vows as I do because the cultural left told me that I was not helpless; that living in desire and unmoderated thrill was possible. And that pledge is one that the world I have chosen has kept.
I stand with the cultural left because it whispered to me the promise that the authentic life, the erotic life, the life of desire without shame, of the storm of the passions' laughter, of all the realms of fantasy and adventure I had ever read about could be made real, physical to the touch, possible, mine. I came to the cultural left because it promised life in flames- yes, the risk of flaming disaster- but are we not capitalist risk-takers?- because risk is worth it for the chance at flaming success. Why are those of us who paid our prices, who risked our security, to stand unbent and in our own colour, our own array of vestments, with voices of songs, shorn of the uniforms of this culture's conformities, why are we too not bearers of the torch of Prometheus?
For I do not say that happiness on this Earth is impossible. Indeed, I charge the bourgeois world for denying and destroying that dream. It is the bourgeois world which tells everyone that success requires repression, that getting anywhere requires compromise, that adulthood consists in resignation, that getting the life you want is a childish dream, that practicality destines you to an existence planned on a bosses' schedule, that heirarchy is a fact of life, that you can't always get what you want but if you sweat you can get what you need, that sexual passion in a dangerous distraction, that art and games and creativity are toys for children, that a house in the suburbs is the best one can find for a Heaven on Earth. Above all, the bourgeois says: give up!, give up!, give up! Give up your eros, your rebellion, your romanticism, your idealism, and settle, give in, take your place, learn to be a neat, respectable, responsible creature, armored in denial, and live out your life in a world already made for you.
Myself, I prefer to believe that:
the world was mine when I was born
and the world in mine to win
And if it isn't, I intend to break it. I'll take my own world, thank you very much.
We of the oh-so-"nihilistic" cultural left, at least the best of us, we are those who refused to believe that "life is not like that". We are those who refused to believe that one day we would have to "grow up", set aside childish things (St. Paul), and accept that a resigned and weary smile of office convention in outward speech and dress and inward hopes and souls are metaphysical realities in life. We are those who were not willing to accept the Devil's bargain of a promise of security in exchange of becoming creatures of frozen frame and frozen souls. Nihilistic? I charge that 'tis the corporate life, the plaid family life, the lawn-and-driveway life, that constitutes what Nietzsche called 'latent nihilism' in its utter daily valuelessness. Those who wish to call life pushed to the extremes- the lives of the rock musicians and the wanderlust, the Stonewalls and the Scarlot Harlots and gender-benders, nihilistic may do so if they wish. I see the entrepeneurs of the spirit opening new cultural frontiers- frontiers that the next generation of conformists take for granted as opened without a word of thanks for the rebels who first broke the taboos and sometimes paid horrific prices for it. I see nothing nihilistic in living one's passion no matter whom it offends, and refusing to accept that the social conventions of the satisfied are unchangeable.
And no, not all of us are posturing attention seekers. Those reading this might reflect that the unconventional, wild life I have personally chosen is not exactly fashionable with the powers of society- and I here mean the literal, iron, coercive powers of the state, not to mention a broad plurality of social prejudice. I observe, as a simple matter of fact- especially as I'm a bit more loud than sensible- that I am prepared to go to jail for the life I have chosen- and I chose that life because I would here breathe free of the expectation of the bourgeois' world's restraints. Remember also that I exist as someone who cannot afford to ask the police to protect my individual rights. I dare anyone who thinks everyone who has turned their back on the straight world must be a spineless dilletantes to spend a bit of time on escort web sites and just ask what the human costs suffered because of that are. This is something I will not write on here- I will merely say that I have made mutual arrangements with friends for that awful 2AM "I need to come over and take a shower" phone call. (This is standard expectation and practice for us irresponsible hedonists)
And yes, I consider the social freedom from mainstream culture's demands for freedom worth it. Infinitely, worshipfully, worth it. I never walk out into the streets of San Francisco without mentally kissing the buildings and the sky and raising my head in the knowledge that now I may walk the streets as the person I have desired I have chosen (oh, minus a few taunts and steps aside). And there are few gay, lesbians, or transgenders- or sex workers- who do not understand in some terms what that feeling can mean.
I can walk in colors as bright as the planets sparkling at night, and can do so because I have jettisoned my tethers to the corporate world. I can sing Rush and Les Miserables openly on the street (why must singing be reserved for special places?)- I have sung it as a trial show walking in the darkness of the late evening. I can not only 'admit' but cry out and revel in explicit sexual passion in print as no one who still cares for their 'good reputation' could ever do. And yet because of all this, I could never hold an ordinary job in your world. I might someday find another place within an alternative culture, even a libertarian alternative culture, but the 'rational' bourgeois world would never accept someone like me. It has nothing to do with independence- I am a businesswoman, and just as capable of material and spiritual productivity as anyone here, and I don't think anyone doubts my intelligence or learning. Yet it is not my faults (or at least not only my faults) that would make my life utterly unlivable in Middle America- it is my virtues.
And my own case it a little different from that of other counterculturalists, but with GLBTS, Pagans, goths, kinksters, drug users, it often amounts to versions of the same treatment- there is a butter cynical wisdom among all of the above of what may happen when the wrong landlord discovers you are one of 'them'. The same passions, and the doors slammed by the institutions of mainstream morality.
Why is this not the same struggle as Howard Roark's?
Why are the colorful dress of the hippies and their heirs, the frank exuberance in sexuality and natural beauty, freedom of movement and comfort, not a celebration of life?
Why is the scream of Janis Joplin, soaring in musical space on Cherryl Taggart's leap, not the cry of a sensitive, tortured human spirit which could not live in their kind of world?
Where in the history of this human race can one find more benevolence, more sense of innocent love of life than the lyrics of Lennon and McCartney?
Do Objectivists watch the Dead Poets Society? This is the one of the most passionate pieces of cinema ever made for the cause of individualism, Yet the destroyer and enemy of individuality here has nothing to do with socialism, nothing to do with postmodernism, nothing to do with nihilism. The killer of individualism in this masterpiece is the crushing conformity of bourgeois culture, and I charge every Objectivist who throws their support behind the engine of bourgeois morality to watch this movie and not hang their head in shame. If you choose in your soul for the culture of 'discipline' that made that preparatory school, then tremble before the image of the goddess Liberty to DARE to call yourself an individualist.
There are those Objectivists who defend above all human happiness in all its forms, with whom I have little dispute and much common cause and love, and no quarrel worth its trouble. But there are other Objectivists whose first loyalty is to the society from which they were uncritically spawned, and who desire above all else the security in their comfortable houses of mind and money that a philosophy of moral selfishness can be corrupted to bring. To such Objectivists, I have nothing but contempt- for they share every essential moral feature of the moral disciplinarian and the lecturing parent, the drill sergeant and the Javertian policeman, the uptight Puritan and the arrogant boss, the stuffed-shirt masculine husband and the pontificating churchman straddling his judgements on his pet scala naturae. But such Objectivists share one thing more- the gall to call such a philosophy a Morality of Life and a pursuit of happiness. Oddly enough, for they are typically themselves miserable creatures- repressed, angry, vindictive, dismissive- which no pleasure left in life but the vanity of condemning others for their 'whim worship', 'nihilism', their 'mindless hedonism'. (and why does no one ever talk about hedonism which is *mindful*?)
And I cannot believe that there are not others who secretly desire I kind of moral right to desire which I once smothered as impossible and have now come to realize and know in the flesh.
I wonder whether even the most traditionalist souls can hear a tiny crystal echo in themselves when these words are spoken: "what would you do if you weren't afraid?"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I don't doubt there are flaws- deep flaws- in today's cultural left. I don't like the bad attitude towards economics, the distrust of logic and reason, and I far prefer the revelrous aesthetics of the capitalist-in-denial musical subcultures than the aesthetics of the ugly epater les bourgeois! avante-garde artists. But nevertheless, the cultural left has developed real virtues- it has given mass voice to the cry of individual authenticity and the flowing experience of passion that our mainstream society simply does not respect or sometimes even tolerate. And the cultural left has spun out a sexual revolution, a feminist movement, a gay rights movement; and these waves of good social change, whatever their faults, have freed an immense number of individuals to be able to lead liberated lives that would otherwise have been impossible. Let the honest Objectivists do their utmost to teach to the counterculture the virtues it lacks, and never shy from being critical of its faults. But let them also respect its real achievement, and cease to dismiss everything wrought by the heirs of Paul Goodman and John Lennon. And let it above all cease defending- in the name of Western Civilization and America- the evils along with the merits of Middle mainstream America. Corporate conformity, middle-class-morality, and an untramelled love of discipline do not belong to a philosophy of individualism.
Let Objectivism educate reason from passion and eros instead of in the name of reason denying it. Let Objectivism stand as Professor Keating did to his students- with respect and glory for poetry (whose purpose is, of course, to woo women), and celebrate the desire in objects which is the source of the clear creativity in soul and steel, but do so without hesitating to judge truth against falsehood, and passionate reason against passionate incoherence.
Now that truly would give hope for a philosophy for living on Earth.
Jeanie Shiris Ring )O(
promiscuity of the mind leads to promiscuity of the body
...and I put a concluding undisciplined postscript with some words from Sarah Maclaughlan, the hippie-freak who for this moment sings my own soul. I dedicate this to someone I've met who firely deserves a song, a brother-in-arms whom the bourgeois-style Objectivists wouldn't like a'tall. As if I could care about the opinions of Middle America after seeing what other souls are possible!
You live in a church
Where you sleep with voodoo dolls
And you won't give up the search
For the ghosts in the halls.
You wear sandals in the snow
And a smile that won't wash away.
Can you look out the window
Without your shadow gettin' in the way?
You're so beautiful... with your edge and charm
And so careful... when I'm in your arms
'Cause you're workin', building a mystery.
Holdin' on and holdin' it in.
Yeah, you're workin', building a mystery
And choosing so carefully.
You woke up screamin' aloud,
A prayer from your secret god.
You feed off our fears
And hold back your tears, oh.
You give us a tantrum
And a know-it-all grin
Just when we need one
When the evening's thin.
You're so beautiful; ~beautiful fucked up man~!
You're settin' up your razor wire shrine
'Cause you're workin', building a mystery.
Holdin' on and holdin' it in.
Yeah, you're workin', building a mystery
And choosing so carefully...!
You're building a mystery....
[Sarah Maclaughlan,Fumbling Towards Ecstasy]
Dim view of humanity! Hah!