Dear Reader (and everyone else who, like me, can now say they’ve won as a many Tour de France titles as Lance Armstrong),
When I was in college, I knew a lot of women who loved Andrea Dworkin, the late feminist who argued – in effect, at least – that all heterosexual sex amounted to rape. Or as she put it, “Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men’s contempt for women.”
And yet: Most of these women did not become lesbians, nor were they perpetually chaste, spending their days knitting and devoting their lives to testing their home’s structural capacity to contain as many cats as possible.
I also knew women who read Michel Foucault and that whole crowd, who believed, as an academic matter at least, that all sexual taboos were mere social constructions worthy of nothing but disdain.
And yet, most of these women, as far as I could tell, didn’t live lives best suited for a late-night Cinemax movie. They wanted steady boyfriends and, eventually, husbands. Some might have been free-spirited but – again, as far as I know – they weren’t characters from a game of perverted Clue; “Miss Jones in the library with a Thai trapeze, three augmented women, and what looks like Peter Dinklage on a Hobby Horse.”
The point is that reading feminist thinkers doesn’t turn women into slatterns or old maids, any more than reading Nietzsche makes you syphilitic or reading the instruction manual to an AMC Pacer makes you an AMC Pacer.
Now you might think I bring this up as a way to get at the whole Todd Akin story. You also might think if you sculpt a helmet out of peanut butter on your basset hound’s pate, he’ll be able to speak French. In both cases you’d be wrong.
I already wrote about the Akin story in this thoroughly mediocre column. As for the peanut-butter-basset-helmet we all know it doesn’t work without that Prussian spikey thingy, and even then it’s not French but Hochdeutsch.
Paul Ryan Believes What?
No, I bring this up in the context of Paul Ryan and the rash of liberal pants-wetting he has elicited. In the last couple weeks, there’s been this frenzy to make him into a Randian ubermensch. He liked Rand’s books! He told interns they should read her (or maybe he didn’t, but who cares we’re typing exclamation points here!)! Therefore he wants to impose a Randian autocracy where the poor and the enfeebled are required to lend what strength they have to spinning the Wheel of Pain until we get around to making them into nummy, nummy, crackers (“Soylent Green Is People! – Who Don’t Pay Any Income Taxes!”).
Many of the same liberals are also wigging out over the fact that Paul Ryan is a serious Catholic. Already you can feel the cognitive dissonance of these two allegedly antipodal worldviews colliding into each other like tectonic plates. The resulting earthquake will sound like Maureen Dowd smugly shouting “hypocrisy!”
If you’ve been following the world of liberal eggheadery as long as I have, the pattern is familiar. Liberals assert that conservative X believes in Whacky idea A. Several days of mule-headed and ignorant mockery ensues, usually of the Kinsleyesque variety. “Whacky Idea A is so stupid! Don’t conservatives understand that if they really believed in Whacky-Idea-A-ism they’d have to require farm animals to marry before having offspring?”
Then it becomes apparent that Conservative X actually believes in Scary Idea Z! “Scary Idea Z is so scary,” Salon intern #8 writes, “that if he’s elected congressman, Corporate CEOs and dudes with windowless vans will be able to bid on our children in utero.”
Then, as neither account of reality is all that persuasive, it dawns on the left that Whacky Idea A and Scary Idea Z are in conflict and therefore anyone who subscribes to both is a hypocrite or fool.
But this is the kind of ass-clownery that stems from the fact that all philosophy looks weird when you don’t have one.
Paul Ryan is a mainstream modern conservative. That means he holds a lot of libertarian ideas and a lot of social-conservatives ideas simultaneously in his head. While it is absolutely true that Ayn Rand and, say, Thomas Aquinas (whom Ryan claims as a bigger influence) aren’t exactly complementary to each other, that doesn’t mean that faithfully admiring both intellectual traditions will make your head explode like Android #1 in “I, Mudd.”
Think of it this way. When you make a jigsaw puzzle, first you take the picture,then you cut the pieces. You don’t draw a picture on each piece and then try to fit them together.
The modern conservative mind is composed of many influences, some libertarian, some more traditional. Cut a picture of that mind into a bunch of jigsaw-puzzle-sized pieces and some will be Randian or Hayekian. Other pieces will go over here with the Burkean and Kirkian part of the picture.
The pieces fit together because they fit together in the conservative mind.
The Meaning of Rand
Truth be told, I’ve never been a huge fan of Rand’s. I liked some stuff, but I never really got into her novels (“Not enough lasers or swords?” – The Couch). Still, I very much liked Cathy Young’s take on what liberals don’t understand about Rand. An excerpt:
In The Fountainhead, Rand’s first bestseller (and best novel), the hero, architect Howard Roark, describes “the man whose sole aim is to make money” as a variety of “the second-hander” who lives through others, seeking only to impress with his wealth. Roark himself turns down lucrative jobs rather than sacrifice his artistic integrity, at one point finding himself penniless.
Rand extolled “selfishness,” but not quite in its common meaning. (To some extent, she was using the now-familiar confrontational tactic of turning a slur against a stigmatized group – in this case, true individualists – into a badge of pride.) Roark’s foil, the social-climbing opportunist Peter Keating, gives up both the work and the woman he truly loves for career advancement. Most people, Rand says, would condemn Keating as “selfish”; yet his real problem is lack of self.
To Rand, being “selfish” meant being true to oneself, neither sacrificing one’s own desires nor trampling on others. Likewise, Rand’s stance against altruism was not an assault on compassion so much as a critique of doctrines that subordinate the individual to a collective – state, church, community, or family.
Again, I’m less of a fan of Rand than Young is, but I think she makes a very good point that you can admire this aspect of Rand’s thought without buying into Rand’s mockery of transcendence, religion, and altruism.
This is a point I tried to make over and over again in Liberal Fascism. Poisons are determined by the dose. A little nationalism is healthy, a lot of nationalism is dangerous. A little social solidarity is moral, too much is immoral. When a conservative tempers his social conservatism with libertarianism or when a Libertarian tempers his utopian tendencies with an appreciation of tradition, it’s not called hypocrisy, it’s called wisdom.
Rage Against the Stupidity
This isn’t just an argument about philosophy either. There’s a tendency – on the right and the left – to take pop culture as a bunch of irreducible set pieces. For instance, I’ve been told many times – by conservatives and liberals – that if I like The Wire, I must either (a) agree with its creators’ crypto-Marxist indictment of America or (b) I don’t really get it or (c) I’m a hypocrite. Why can’t there simply be parts of it I like, parts of it I don’t, and parts of it I just don’t care about? The great thing about art – even pop art – is that you’re free to take from it what you want. This is a point liberals love to celebrate, right up until the moment people who disagree with them like their stuff.
Which brings us back to Paul Ryan. After he was selected to be Romney’s running mate, the New York Times reported:
Yet even if he is viewed as politically pure by the modern-day standards of his party’s base, he is not without contradictions. The nation’s first Generation X vice-presidential candidate, he is an avowed proponent of free markets whose family has interests in oil leases. But he counts Rage Against the Machine, which sings about the greed of oil companies and whose Web site praises the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street movement, among his favorite bands.
Oh those terrible contradictions! I suppose the New York Times is similarly vexed when white liberal politicians say they like this or that gangster rapper who “sings” about shooting cops, slapping around bitches and hos, and whatnot.
Don’t mistake me, I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta “rage” in him: A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment. Basically the only thing he’s not raging against is the privileged elite he’s groveling in front of for campaign contributions.
You see, the super rich must rationalize having more than they could ever spend while millions of children in the U.S. go to bed hungry every night. So, when they look themselves in the mirror, they convince themselves that “Those people are undeserving. They’re . . . lesser.” Some of these guys on the extreme right are more cynical than Paul Ryan, but he seems to really believe in this stuff. This unbridled rage against those who have the least is a cornerstone of the Romney-Ryan ticket.
As Laura Ingraham likes to say, “Shut up and sing.”
Apatow vs. Goldberg
So last night on Twitter, partly at the behest of my wife, I lamented how sad it was that Judd Apatow wastes so much time being a DNC shill. Much to my surprise, he responded to my tweet and started coming at me about campaign-finance reform. In all honesty, I have no idea why he thought that was my complaint – my real objection was to his hackneyed attacks on Paul Ryan. Anyway, I engaged him in a conversation about campaign-finance reform. It was kind of sad. His view boils down to: It’s bad when people he doesn’t like get to spend lots of money on political advertising. I tried to explain to him that everyone – not just him, Hollywood, the NY Times, et al – have free-speech rights. But he didn’t get it.
You can read Sonny Bunch’s thoughtful synopsis here.
At one point Apatow tweeted: “when one man’s voice can be a billion times louder than another’s then money has trumped everything. Founding fathers didn’t know TV.”
For obvious reasons I think this misses the point. It also doesn’t give due credit to the Founders. Here’s James Madison in Federalist 10:
The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.
Various & Sundry
First of all, thanks to so, so many of you for your incredibly generous feedback on the G-File. One of the things I like about writing the G-File is the message-in-a-bottle quality of it. One of the things I don’t like about writing the G-File is the message-in-a-bottle quality of it. You never know if the message is getting out there, or if you’re having an impact, or if my spaghetti-strainer codpiece is on so tight I’m starting to hallucinate. Anyway, your encouragement is greatly appreciated. Oh and the consensus was: “Don’t change a damn thing about the G-File!”
I’ll be closing down the Tyranny of Clichés blog soon. Please, no self-defenestrations. Already it’s starting to feel like that cave they found on the beach in the Planet of the Apes; old relics to a time long forgotten and all that. At least I won’t have to kiss a chimp before Dr. Zeus blows it up. While I’m glad the book was a bestseller, and I’m delighted by the fact that its reviews have been so great, I won’t lie and say I’m overly pleased with how it’s done. At some point I’ll write up my lessons learned about the whole affair. In the meantime, if you would like a signed bookplate there’s still time. Send a self-addressed stamped envelope to me c/o The American Enterprise Institute, 1150 17th Street, NW, WDC 20036, and I’ll sign whatever will fit on a bookplate for ya. If you want me to sign the actual book, send that with the appropriate SASE. If you want to send me large quantities of currency, brown liquor, or cigars, I will offer only token opposition.
I’ve been noodling a big piece for the magazine on conservative take-away from liberal popular culture (with special appearances by: The Wire, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, True Blood, Sons of Anarchy, House, etc.). Feel free to send me your thoughts and suggestions.
Also, I want to compile a list of movies where the goal of the good guys has been to create “clean renewable energy.” My list is already in the low single digits, but I’m sure I’m missing a bunch.
Gore Vidal was a conservative?
This butterfly can see with its butt.
Fifteen Companies that originally sold something else.
Two (very handsome) golden retrievers aren’t as good at the piano as you’d think.
I’m off to the Open Bar Republican Convention this weekend. Keep hope alive.