Romance & Rationalism
In the Objectivist world-view, there is an egregious fallacy identified as "rationalism." This is not to be confused with being rational - rather it refers to the habit of divorcing rationality from reality & proceeding on the basis of floating abstractions which are internally self-consistent but whose starting point has no connection to the real world. Religionists of whatever variety are rationalists in that they begin with a floating abstraction called God, which has no referent in reality. Ironically, the lure of rationalism is one to which Objectivists over the years have been chronically & notoriously susceptible, even while grasping in theory the error of it. So pervasive was it among Objectivists that the philosophy's principal exponent at the time, Leonard Peikoff, once saw fit to deliver a series of lectures on the subject, accurately proclaiming himself to be rationalism-prone & identifying a large number of philosophical & psychological warning signs. Would that he heeded his own message, & that more Objectivists did so! The Ayn Rand Institute, essentially Dr Peikoff's creation, is still rife with rationalism, & many non-ARI Objectivists still fall foul of it. Nowhere is it more devastating than in the realm of romance.
Romantic love, said Ayn Rand, is one's response to one's own values embodied in the person of another. This is true, & it was important that someone should say so at a time when the measure of romantic commitment was the extent to which one was prepared to sacrifice one's own values for the sake of one's partner. But it is not the whole truth. If it were, we would be obliged to become romantically involved with everyone who shared our values - a project that would have farcical repercussions.
In seeking a romantic partner, many Objectivists begin with a floating abstraction called John Galt, or Howard Roark, or Dagny Taggart - characters from Ayn Rand's novels. These characters always know their own minds, never falter, never experience fear, doubt, or confusion, never err, never belch, never break wind, never fumble when uncorking the wine. They are without flaw, failing or foible. In reality, they don't exist. But such is the power of Ayn Rand's projection of them that many Objectivists will settle for nothing less in their own lives. The consequences of this rationalistic attitude are personal misery & destruction - the very opposite of what Rand intended.
Recently, I have observed romantic rationalism in action first-hand. I have witnessed an otherwise highly intelligent, talented young Objectivist destroy two consecutive, beautiful relationships in which he was involved, because of it. In both cases he was in love with the other parties, & they with him. In both cases he persuaded himself that he ought not to be in love with them, since neither was John Galt. In both cases, he fixated on the respects in which they were not John Galt, terminated the relationships - & repressed & denied the actual love he felt for them. He himself described it to me as a "shovelling aside" process. I was aghast. The net outcome here was three very unhappy people. How on earth could this be reconciled with a philosophy that says, "The purpose of morality is to show you, not how to suffer & die, but to enjoy yourself & live"?
Another Objectivist I know of has lived an equally rationalistic lie for decades, in this case denying his homosexuality, denying himself the opportunity for any real romantic fulfillment, & subverting the happiness of a succession of unsuspecting female partners who, he had persuaded himself, were Dagny Taggart, with whom he ought to be in love, even though in truth, he wasn't.
"Rationalism" may sound like an esoteric, irrelevant concept - in actual fact, it is as real & relevant as it is lethal.
One of the reasons I am setting up SOLO - Sense of Life Objectivists (work in progress - see TFR 43) - is to provide a haven for people who are rational but not rationalistic. It will present Objectivism, as Tim Sturm observes later in this issue, "with slight adjustments & question marks where appropriate." It will present Objectivism with more than a "slight" question mark over Ayn Rand's theory of romantic love, for reasons that should now be apparent.
Yet were she here to argue the point with me, I believe I could bring her round, & by her own dazzling lights. I believe I could demonstrate to her that she had overlooked her own epoch-making distinction between a concept & a definition; that the former subsumes every characteristic of an entity while the latter specifies its distinguishing one; that while the entity man may legitimately be defined as the rational animal, the concept man takes in the totality of his being the rational animal. I would paraphrase her own paraphrasing of the bewildered question of philosophers through the centuries, "Where is the manness in man?" by asking her, "Where is the animality in man?" I would remind her that her love for her husband of fifty years, Frank O'Connor - someone by no means of the artificial stature of any of her fictional heroes - proved to be far more real, enduring & rewarding than that for the "John Galt" in her life, Nathaniel Branden.
In real life, of course, the "animality" in man is starkly manifest in his choice of romantic partner, as is his rationality (or lack of it). God forbid that it should ever be otherwise. True romance fulfills mind & body equally, to be sure. But the mind must accept, to be rational about it, that the body has reasons which, as yet - & Rand notwithstanding - the mind knows not of.
This is the last issue of The Free Radical for the year 2000. I am going to take a month out from the normal two-monthly schedule, so that the next issue will reach you at the beginning of February, 2001. In the meantime, may I wish you a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year. To those of you who currently have romance - enjoy it, unreservedly, greedily; to those who do not, may you soon find it – & may you not be derailed by the fruitless, rationalistic search for a John Galt.
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