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.”
“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.”
“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.