Atlas Shrugged: Preferences Are Not Just Preferences

This is my first post where I will criticize something in Atlas Shrugged. That something is Rand’s views on people’s sexual and artistic tastes.

I think Rand believes people’s morals and thoughts cause people’s tastes. A person who thinks and acts with integrity will not have “depraved” tastes. Such a person will like only the best art and only have sex with a few chosen people. Likewise, a person who thinks or acts without integrity will enjoy modern art and be indiscriminate and promiscuous.

Here’s what Richard Halley, a composer and one of the strikers, says about his art:

“I do not care to be admired causelessly, emotionally, intuitively, instinctively – or blindly. I do not care for blindness in any form, I have too much to show – or for deafness, I have too much to say. I do not care to be admired by anyone’s heart – only by someone’s head.”

Then he says that he has more in common with tone-deaf businessmen like Ellis Wyatt, than modern artists, and his creation process is very similar to creation processes of engineers. That is, reason and thinking are used extensively, while using pure feeling is just as bad in art as in engineering.

Here’s what Francisco says about sexuality:

“But, in fact, a man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I’ll tell you his entire philosophy of life. Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself.”

and

“He will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience – or to fake – a sense of self-esteem. The man who is profoundly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer – because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut.”

and

“He does not seek to gain his value, he seeks to express it. There is no conflict between the standards of his mind and the desires of his body. But the man who is convinced of his own worthlessness will be drawn to the woman he despises – because she will reflect his own secret self, she will release him from that objective reality in which he is a fraud, she will give him a momentary illusion of his own value and a momentary escape from his moral code that damns him.”

When we see something, the signal is seen by both the rational brain and the lizard brain. We don’t rationally consider something first, and then decide how we feel about it. Our preferences cannot be the sum of our convictions – a lot of it is governed by our animal brain. Because of this, I think people often can’t explain why they like something. And if they try to explain it, a bunch of rationalizations come out, which may or may not hit the real reason on the mark.

A man with great self-esteem and self-respect might admire a heroine, but only be attracted to her if she’s physically hot. If she’s not, he might love her, but not be in love with her. And he will fuck “brainless sluts”, if they add pleasure to his life and don’t subtract from it. And it wouldn’t be inconsistent. In general, I think Rand projects her own type of female sexuality onto men, and that’s just incorrect.

And even if someone has more unusual sexual preferences, it doesn’t necessarily say anything about their character. I myself like sexually impoverished beta males and have a fetish for charity sex, but lean towards libertarianism politically. There are tons of people who are aroused by causing pain to consenting partners, yet they are not evil.

To be fair, sometimes someone’s sexuality is strikingly in sync with their other values. Many serial killers are aroused by other people’s pain. But it’s kind of like pointing out that some school shooters played violent video games or watched horror movies – dangerous psychos often love dark stuff, but so do huge numbers of normal, peaceful people.

While I like that Rand is against the idea that sexual desires are dirty and evil, I don’t like that she defines some sexual desires as signs of low self-esteem and lack of integrity, when it simply isn’t true. The implication is that you must train yourself into the right type of desires and start liking the right type of art, if you want to be a better person. I think this is a very limiting belief. It’s just another way to imprison your soul, or accept that you’re evil somehow. It sounds like modern feminism. Or Catholicism. I’m just glad it’s not a major point in the book and I can ignore it and enjoy the rest of the philosophy.

While I like that Rand values the mind so much, it seems she devalues intuition and the animal side of humans. I believe that to be reasonable, one can’t deny that one has an animal side, or try to eliminate it. Knowledge is power. And fighting a large part of yourself is very weakening. That part evolved for a reason. I won’t generalize my experience to everyone, but I became much stronger and happier by becoming friends with the “beast” and using it to my advantage. I find that being friends with my dark and irrational side sets me free from self-disappointment and pressure to be perfect. Using the dark and irrational side helps to understand other people better than using the mind alone (that’s called trusting your gut by the way, and I think it’s tragically underrated by those who only respect the mind). Last, but not least, accepting that side makes it have less power over me. And I think this is true for many other people.

And because of that, I’m all for dark, ugly art. I’m all for weird sexual fantasies. As long as you’re living a life of principles and integrity, that is 🙂 I don’t want people to just use their head when looking at my art – I want to make them feel something (with their gut or even heart), because art that leaves you indifferent also doesn’t make you think.

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11 Responses to Atlas Shrugged: Preferences Are Not Just Preferences

  1. theasdgamer says:

    You’ve hit on something that Paul Feyerabend addressed–that rationalism as a philosophy is severely impoverished. Intellectually impoverished, because it forestalls some important philosophical investigation. Experientially impoverished, because so much of important and useful human experience is essentially irrational. A lot of scientific research relieves heavily on creativity, which has no rational roots, for example. And emotions are generally irrational–things like love, joy, peace, hope, etc.

  2. Dikkeworst says:

    *offtopic* Nataliya, what do you think about Eivind’s newfound fascination with impending collapse of civilization? Do you share his concerns?

    • Well, fossil fuels running out was always a real concern, especially in many university courses I’ve had. Peak oil just says fossil fuel-related economy problems will arrive much sooner than the point where we use all of them up. Too many people + dwindling resources is a bad combination. But I’m curious to see how the future will pan out, and whether humans will be able to deal with this problem (and to what extent), or not.

    • Eivind Berge says:

      The really scary part is not so much fossil fuels literally running out, because there are still plenty in the ground, but whether we will be able to keep commodity prices high enough to extract what we need from the reserves we think we have. Almost no one worries about low prices bringing civilization down, but Gail Tverberg has convinced me that this is indeed a real possibility. If commodity prices fall below the cost of production (which is pretty much happening right now), and prices are driven further down by bankruptcies, debt defaults and unemployment (which could easily happen in the next big financial crisis), then I don’t see how we can get them back up again to sustainable levels. It means our civilization is bankrupt and can’t continue.

  3. “And because of that, I’m all for dark, ugly art. I’m all for weird sexual fantasies. …”

    I assume that you’re acquainted with anime, then.

    I don’t mind ugly art if it is meaningful. Picasso’s art is ugly, but it expressed a few simple ideas. Dali’s art was slightly less ugly, and expressed several interesting ideas. Rothko and Warhol were paid to produce art, but in fact they produced meaningless trivialities that don’t deserve to be called “art.”

    As for weird sexual fantasies – I don’t think sexual fantasies are weird if you have a scientific view of sex, and if you have given up a cultural view of sex.

    If you are thinking in terms of a culture – e.g. monogamous Christian farmer culture – then there is a right way and a wrong way to do sex. The right way leads to a good civilization and the wrong way leads to the destruction of civilization. Fantasies of the wrong sex are “weird.” Such farmers may be aware that they are narrow-minded – but if so, they will probably be proud of their narrow-mindedness.

    It’s not just the breeders who think this way. Homosexual ideologues worship sodomy just like Christians worship Christ. Many homosexuals sneer at young women who marry and start having kids right away, because to those homosexuals, anything but libertine hedonistic sex is weird and wrong. Such homosexuals are not aware of their narrow-mindedness.

    It is possible to take a truly broad-minded view. From the truly abstract standpoint, sex is never weird; there is no way that sex is supposed to be. Whether the human race breeds itself to starvation, or fails to breed and thus goes extinct, human sex is not seen as weird. This perspective has some intellectual interest, but if you live according to this viewpoint, you will probably stop having sex altogether, and you will probably fail to interact successfully with human individuals and human cultures.

    • I watched anime, but not much of the dark or fetishy type. Anything you would recommend?

      “As for weird sexual fantasies – I don’t think sexual fantasies are weird if you have a scientific view of sex, and if you have given up a cultural view of sex.”

      Just so you know I don’t think “weird” is a negative word and don’t use it to signify something bad. I use it to describe something uncommon. I have to ask though, what do you mean by scientific view of sex, and why does it make unusual sexual fantasies more acceptable? For example, what is the scientific views on necrophilia? Is it not weird? 🙂

      “I don’t mind ugly art if it is meaningful. ”

      I see. I think I feel the same way, except meaning can be in the eye of the beholder. To me, good art is any art that makes me feel or think something out of the ordinary. I recently discovered the arte povera style of art. It’s mostly these weird installations made out of cheap materials and trash. Sometimes the artist would stick a long stretch of tape on the wall, and it’d supposed to be art. It was ugly and seemed silly, but I liked it and it felt meaningful and impressed me, so I see it as good art.

      • “what is the scientific views on necrophilia? Is it not weird? ”

        I don’t have scientific credentials, but I assume a scientist in this debate would say, “The purpose of sex is reproduction. If an ignorant animal attempts to mate with something other than a living, fertile partner, while believing it to be living, fertile, etc., it is merely ignorance. If an animal somehow develops a fetish regarding dead status as sexually attractive, then that animal is no longer serving its purpose in perpetuating the species.” I don’t think science has a term for “weird.” I don’t know – we should ask an actual scientist.

      • Science has a term for statistically abnormal though 🙂 That is what I think of as weird.

  4. I think Rand believes people’s morals and thoughts cause people’s tastes. A person who thinks and acts with integrity will not have “depraved” tastes. Such a person will like only the best art and only have sex with a few chosen people. Likewise, a person who thinks or acts without integrity will enjoy modern art and be indiscriminate and promiscuous.

    It’s worthy to note that Rand was a massively adulterous slut in real life, and Rand also believed her taste in art to be perfect. Rand liked to imply that the celebrity sluts of her era were somehow inferior to her, and many of her readers misunderstood this to mean that Rand was not herself a slut. But in fact her excesses are well-documented and I will not bother to belabor the point here.

  5. Liz says:

    Another interesting writeup, Emma! 🙂
    Hm…
    “The man who is profoundly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer – because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut.”
    It has been a while since I’ve read this, but I remember it. I definitely agreed with it at the time.
    My interpretation of what she is saying here is a little different. She is describing the ideal. Another way of saying this would be “the man who is profoundly certain of his own value will engage in the highest type of activity and not overindulge in excessive eating and drinking.”
    In some ways, she’s right. Overindulgence might be viewed as a sign of character weakness, particularly if it becomes a habit pattern. But then again, a person who never ever indulges might be very “strong” in one sense, but they also have very little poetry in their soul. I doubt that Rand was much fun at parties. I enjoyed Atlas, but it wasn’t exactly a bag of laughs (and I think the unbelievably logorrheic John Galt radio speech might be a sign of actual insanity. Have you gotten to that portion yet?).

    • Not gotten to the 70 page speech yet, but I know it’s coming 🙂 Excited to find out what he has to say. I find it kind of funny how Rand heroes always engage in long monologues and no one interrupts them 🙂 Rand’s stuff is so over the top sometimes.

      I kind of agree with your interpretation, btw. I think Rand is onto something, when she says a self-respecting man will want the best woman he can find. I just think she stretches that idea too far. I think self-respecting men will not let anything shitty into their lives, whether it’s self-inflicted bad health, bad habits, or toxic people (including women) who drag them down. But they will not necessarily be so picky and demand a heroine.

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