Prudes and Passion
[Extracted from The Hijacking of a Philosophy, Homosexuals vs. Ayn Rand's Objectivism by Reginald Firehammer. This book is now available for sale on The Rational Argumentator's Online Store.]
From the last third of the chapter, "Morality, Normality, and Decency," which defines the principles on which the last chapter, "What's Wrong With Homosexuality?" is based.
The Nature Of Sex and Sexual Desire
(The preceding subsections, Association, Reinforcement, Excitement, and Habituation are left out of this section.)
Association, reinforcement, excitement, habituation all play a role in the development of our sexual interests and desires, but the most important part of that development is our thinking, which ultimately determines the specific character of that development, becomes part of it, and determines how it is expressed behaviorally.
We do nothing we do not first think of or about. Since everything we do we must consciously choose to do, before we can do anything, we must choose it, and to choose it, we must be conscious of it, that is, we must think of it.
In the process of sexual development, what one thinks, and what one thinks about is crucial. Since the feelings, the emotions and desires are determined by one's thinking, their values, and their intentions, it is paramount that one's thinking be rational, their values objective, and their intentions be to live rationally, morally, and normally.
The development of our values and our thinking processes are subject to the same influences of association, reinforcement, excitement, and habituation as all other behavior. We develop habitual thought patterns, which are reinforced when pleasurable and exciting. The content of those thoughts, the associations, will come to dominate our interests, desires, and usual ways of thinking.
It is also our thoughts that are the major contributors to that development. This is especially true in the area of sex, because the thinking itself produces pleasure, is exciting, and habituating.
While what we experience is not always voluntary, and whether those experiences are pleasurable or painful, exciting or boring, may not be within our field of choice; what we think about them always is. It is ultimately what we think about our experiences that determines how we evaluate them, which in turn determines how we feel about them and whether we desire them or not.
Sexual desires do not happen to us, we learn and develop them; sexual orientation is not a condition we are born with, it is the product of our own thoughts and actions.
What is the right approach to sexual desires? Do we examine desires in the light of what we know to be true about our natures and the requirements of them and determine to adjust our thinking and values to conform to our understanding, or do we simply recognize we have desires, without questioning either their source or nature, and adjust our thinking and values to conform to our desires, our passions, or our "orientation?" The first method of dealing with desires is that of the Objectivist , the second is the method of the subjectivist, masquerading as an Objectivist.
I Am Worthy
Self-esteem is used by Ayn Rand to designate that general emotional state arising from the recognition of ones own moral integrity and virtue. The term, in popular usage, has been greatly corrupted. As Ayn Rand used the term, it only means one understands they are competent and worthy of the life they enjoy, that they deserve it, because they have earned it. A man's self-esteem is, "his inviolate certainty that his mind is competent to think and his person is worthy of happiness, which means: is worthy of living." Everything else is a fraud, a fraud one can be perpetrated against everyone except one's self.
Man's emotional structure precludes his ability to enjoy what he has not earned and does not deserve. He can gain wealth without earning or producing it, but if he gets wealth that way, he knows his wealth is a lie, that the wealth that ought to be the concretization of his productive effort, is only loot, the evidence of his crookedness or his pandering to the weaknesses and vices of others; he can have pleasure he does not deserve, but can never enjoy the sense of human integrity that knows, "I am worthy of this pleasure and my enjoyment of it is both a reward and affirmation of my virtue."
Self-esteem is the emotional reward of integrity. One cannot violate one's own integrity and have genuine self-esteem.
Integrity requires that one's knowledge be fully integrated, not compartmentalized, not harboring contradictions or evading truth. Integrity requires one's values to be based on reality, all of reality, their own nature and the nature of the world they live in. Integrity requires one to act consistently in accordance with their knowledge and values.
Worthiness and self-esteem come from knowing one is competent to live their life successfully in this world and that they are living it non-contradictorily, consistent with their knowledge, values, and nature, and that all they have and all they enjoy they deserve, because they have earned it and have achieved it by their own effort. All that is less than this is experienced as guilt, and ought to be.
In the realm of sex, worthiness is a very important issue, and we shall see its application when evaluating, "What's Wrong With Homosexuality?"
The Virtue of Repression
Another word from the annals of Freudian psychobabble is repression. How such a concept could possibly be smuggled into the body of ideas that are supposed to be Objectivist is difficult even to imagine.
The word "repression" found its way into the corpus of psychology in the 1930s. It was actually Sigmund's daughter, Anna Freud, who introduced the word together with "denial," as part of the Freudian theory of psychological defense mechanisms, supposed to prevent unacceptable ideas or impulses from entering the consciousness.
There is terrible confusion about this idea of repression, and it is used, almost always, as a means of justifying choices, that on any other grounds, would be unacceptable. Repression is nothing more than self-imposed limits. It is not oppression, not self-abnegation, not self-sacrifice, it is self-control.
Repression means choosing not to do something one has a desire to do. It is impossible to live as a human being without repressing desires.
In the first place it is not possible to fulfill and satisfy all our desires. We just desire too much (and only stop desiring more than we can have when we are dead). Life is like a menu, we may desire most or even all of the items on the menu, but neither time or our appetites allow us to eat everything on it. We must choose something, and whatever we choose, it means we have to, "repress," our desires for everything else.
There are always conflicts in desires. There are only so many hours in a day, we only have so many resources, and every day there are more things we desire to do and desire to have than it is physically possible for us to do and have. We cannot fulfill our desires for two or more things that all require the same hours of our time. We cannot read the book, watch the television program, play the game of cards, and wash the car. We have to make a choice and that means "repressing" one (or more) of our desires.
We do not usually think of such choices as repression because the choices usually involve picking from all the desirable things, the one we desire the most. (Washing the car is probably out.)
Sometimes we desire what we ourselves know is wrong. If those desires are not strong, we have no problem, "repressing," them, because it is our own values that prompt us to avoid what is wrong. It is our values that enable us to determine a thing is wrong, even when desired, because it conflicts with all that we know is right and best for us.
It is only when a desire for something wrong is very strong that the question of, "repression," usually comes up. Some of us have learned the, "hard way," just how bad the consequences of yielding to some desires are, and would never consider doing it again, no matter how strong or, "overwhelming," or, "persistent," the desire is. The fulfilling of no desire is worth some consequences.
Anyone who has ever broken a bad habit, anyone who has ever overcome a behavior that was harmful to themselves (like eating too much) has done so only by, "repressing," desires. Everyone who was ever tempted to do something they knew was wrong and chose not to do it, "repressed," a desire.
There is another word for repression. It is self-discipline. Self-discipline is being in rational control of ones desires and passions for one's own benefit. One or the other must be in control of one's life and behavior, the rational self or the irrational passions. Repression only means self-control, those free of repression are out-of-control.
Freedom is Self-discipline
Freedom means freedom to choose and determine for one's self, how to live and what to do.
Discipline means control. One is "disciplined," by whatever determines or is in control of an individual's behavior. If one is under another's discipline, a slave-owner or an oppressive government, for example, they are not free. Freedom is being under one's own discipline and one's own control.
Human beings have only one faculty for making choices, their rational consciousness. Self-discipline means rational self-control, it means, making one's choices by means of one's best possible reason.
Surrendering ones choice to whim, or passion, or desire is surrendering reason to the control of the irrational. One must choose to act, and desire is the motive, but which desires one chooses to pursue and how one chooses to pursue them must be chosen rationally and objectively.
Freedom is self-discipline, it is the opposite of being disciplined by something else, one's desire, one's feeling, one's circumstances, or other individuals. It's one or the other; one either takes the authority for their lives and makes the choices of how they will live, or they surrender that authority to something or someone else. Almost always, the act of surrendering to a desire or a passion makes one subject to someone else's authority, the authority of whoever it is that supplies the object of the desire or passion.
Surrendering to the desire for security makes one the subject of the government that "guarantees" it, surrendering to the desire for a free lunch makes one the lackey of the politician that promises it, surrendering to a desire for approval, makes one the lap dog of whoever provides it, surrendering to the desire for drugs, makes one the servant of the drug pusher, surrendering to the desire for sex, makes one the slave of the next prostitute, pimp, or whore that comes along.
In Praise of Prudery
The pejorative meaning of the word, "prude," certainly has its use and is appropriately applied to those busy-body mind-everybody's-business-but-their-own types that would like to foist their personal moral values on everyone else, which in this day, usually means some kind of PC-multicutural-inclusivism.
During our research for this book we discovered one or two places where those who do not agree that homosexuality ought to be normalized were called "prudes." No doubt, some such are prudes. We are not much concerned with individuals being called prudes, especially if they are, but, there is a much more important meaning to the word prude than the pejorative one, and we are concerned that the word prude with that meaning be cast aside with the prudes.
The word prudent means, "1. Wise in handling practical matters; exercising good judgment or common sense. 2. Careful in regard to one's own interests; provident. 3. Careful about one's conduct; circumspect."
I have a wonderful Irish Catholic friend who occasionally relates colorful stories of mutual friends and acquaintances who have gotten themselves into various difficulties through their sexual indiscretions. He invariably remarks, in his lovely Irish brogue, "wouldn't you think the Good Lord could have found another way for us to procreate? This way gets us into so much trouble!" Of course it is not, "the way," that's gets us into trouble, but like all the other human attributes, it is how we use it.
And that, of course, is the heart of all our discussion. There are two views we have been contrasting, the one that every human faculty and attribute is under the control of the individual's ability to reason and choose, the other holds there are aspects of human nature that are beyond the rational control of the individual.
We hold the former view, of course, and holding that, we believe one ought to use their ability to reason ruthlessly to insure the behavior they choose really enables them to achieve the purpose of their life, their enjoyment of it. Since prudent means, among other things, "careful in regard to one's own interests," anyone pursuing their life along Objectivist lines will certainly be prudent.
In that light, we would like to present some very "prudish" ideas to conclude this discussion of Objectivist morality.
Some Very Prudish Ideas
If it's doubtful, it's dirty.
Suppose one is about to eat dinner, and noticing something odd about their plate, picks it up to examine it. "What are you doing, dear?" his wife asks. "I'm trying to determined if this plate is clean or dirty?" he says. "If it's doubtful, it's dirty," his wife wisely replies. Almost no one would choose to eat off a dirty plate, and would always do the "prudent," thing. It might not be dirty, but what's the point in taking a chance that it isn't, if it is and one gets sick from using it?
In almost every other area of life today, the suggestion that one ought to be, "prudent," is met with scorn, and anyone who suggests it is often rewarded by being called "old fashioned," or, "puritanical."
But is it puritanical to suggest one make wise choices? What is prudence really?
Prudence means choosing wisely, it means shunning rashness and whim, it means not risking more than the prize is worth, it means living and choosing rationally and objectively, not yielding to just any urge, desire, or passion. Prudence means considering the consequences of one's choices and actions, it means taking the long view and not yielding to every immediate impulse. Prudence means knowing one is responsible for one's choices and making certain one only makes those one is willing to bear the responsibility for. It means having an integrated life with a chosen order and purpose, not a disintegrated one consisting mostly of meeting emergencies and avoiding trouble. It means living like an Objectivist.
There is a more serious aspect to this, "doubtful is dirty," concept, one which no Objectivist can ignore. An Objectivist seeks to be ruthlessly virtuous, allowing no compromise in principle or truth. When a position or a practice is questionable, if the integrity of a position or the honesty of a practice is not certain, an Objectivist rejects it. To say, "I don't know that it's wrong, so there is nothing wrong with doing it," or, "I can't be sure anyone will be cheated by this, so it is OK to do it," is an equivocation. It means one is willing to do wrong and to cheat people so long as one is not sure they are doing wrong or cheating. An Objectivist is never willing to do wrong or cheat people, and will avoid every possibility of doing either. To base any choice on ignorance is irrational. There are plenty of things we know are right and our moral choices must be based on those.
There is another name for this radically-objective ruthlessly-honest "lifestyle." It's called decency.
Some things you only get to do once.
There is a first time for everything we do in life, but we only get to do anything for the first time once, and some things we only get to do once, ever. In most cases, we will only ever get to attend any particular grade in school once (especially today). We only get to graduate from high school once. Each birthday is a once-in-a-lifetime event. We only get our first drivers license once. Our first date, our first prom, our first job only occur once. We only have our first baby once, and each child's birth is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Whether we make something special out of these once-in-a-lifetime occasions or not, their significance is never lost on us. We almost always remember those one-time and first-time events, because they almost always mark significant steps or turning points in our life. All those firsts are beginnings of new phases or aspects of our lives which affect us for as long as we live.
Virginity used to be one of those things that was held in high regard, because there was significance in the event that ended one state and began a more important one. It is true, religion played a role in earlier views of the importance of virginity, but with or without religion, most women knew, that not being a virgin anymore was not a trivial matter, or at least should not be, because it should be the beginning of something important enough to remain for the rest of their lives.
Of course, we know this is all old fashioned, and just about every young silly girl throws her virginity away on the first hormone addled adolescent that seeks it. Virginity doesn't matter anymore, because what comes afterward matters even less. Not all young people have yet been reduced to this moral nihilism.
I know a young man who intends to remain a virgin until he is married. It has nothing to do with religion. His explanation is nothing short of heresy today. When you get through all the "likes," "wows," "mans," (he is young), what he says amounts to this: "I'm very selfish and very particular and I know exactly what I want and don't want, and when I get married, what I don't want is used goods. I want to be in a position to demand what I want, and I figure if I am used goods I don't have the right to demand my wife not be."
Is this an individualist? Today, he certainly is. Is he moral? You bet! Does he have character? He's willing to pay the price. Does he demand too much? No Objectivist could ask that. Should he be discouraged? Anyone who would discourage this young man, if we may borrow a quaint Christian image, ought to have a millstone hung around his neck and be dropped in the nearest deep pond.
There are plenty of candidates for "pond dropping" around today, including almost anyone associated with government education. They are all, apparently, competent to teach young people all about sex, and teach them all the words (except, possibly, words like virgin, abstinence, and "no"), and encouraging all children to have as much sex as they possibly can and the earlier the better. After all, it's only sex. It's no big deal. (We assume they base that opinion on their own sex lives.)
But, if it's no big deal, what's the hurry?
Well, it turns out, its not a big enough deal to get all, "up-tight" about, as they put it, but its certainly a big enough deal to require us to have the schools full of expensive "sex" experts to educate the children about it.
So it is a big deal after all, and if it is such a big deal, is it possible, maybe, we should give a little more thought to when that one-and-only first time ought to be, and with whom?
There is someone watching you?
The religious sometimes make the point that one reason you cannot do wrong and get away with it is because there is always someone who sees everything you do, and "He" will not let you get away with it. Eventually, you will have to pay.
The religious are right. An Objectivist does not mean the same thing the religious do, but it is still a fact that someone knows everything you do. Your every thought is being observed and recorded. You cannot do wrong and get away with it.
That someone that sees and knows everything you do, even your most secret thoughts, is the one, in all the world, who is most important to you; it is yourself. You can fool your friends, your acquaintances, your family, even the whole world about what your real motives and your actual intentions are, but you cannot fool yourself. You can hide the things you do from others, but you cannot hide them from yourself. You always know who and what you really are, and you are always your most critical judge. You know if you do wrong, it is against yourself that you have done it, and you know you have done it.
Others may forgive you, and you may forgive others, but you can never forgive yourself, nor should you. It would be prudent to make sure your judge only ever sees you doing right.
'Til Death Do Us Part
We mentioned that sex gets people into trouble; lots of people into lots of trouble. It is incredible that so many men and women who exhibit the extraordinary self-disciplined character necessary to accomplish heroic achievements in so many fields destroy their lives, their careers, their reputations, their health, or their ability to enjoy their lives, over this single, evidently, uncontrollable passion. That something meant for human enjoyment could be the cause of so many human disasters is both incredible and alarming.
At least, it ought to be alarming. While the evidence piles up that indiscriminate, irresponsible, "recreational," sex has consequences which are not good, the educators, intellectuals, the media, and all popular "authorities" become increasingly less critical of any sexual excesses, treating even the most damaging of sexual activities as a joke or inevitable.
A casual look at the statistics for the last twenty years provides irrefutable evidence of the ever increasing carnage "runaway" sex has wreaked. Oddly, while this disaster has been mounting, during the very same period, sex education has steadily increased; not even a correlation has been noticed by the experts, and the demand (at least by the "professional" educators) has been for more sex education.
Well this little lesson is for free, and meant only for those who are concerned about their own selfish little lives and don't really give a hoot if the entire rest of society wants to die in an orgy of irresponsibility.
There is one class of people for whom all the horrible statistics do not pertain, the heterosexual monogamous.
Men and women who stay faithfully married and in love for life have the fewest sexual problems of any kind, the least disease (no STDs or AIDS for example), the least anxiety, and, if statistics mean anything, the most satisfying sex lives; and they live longer. But they also have the fewest psychological and social problems, their children are the most well adjusted, and, in their own opinion, they have lives which are the most satisfying, interesting, and the least disappointing.
"You mean married people don't have any problems?" someone asks. Of course they have problems. The most consistent Objectivist that ever lived had problems. Even for objectivists, however, heterosexual married couples are the most successful.
Objectivism does not dictate how people must live their lives. Marriage is not for everyone, but for many, probably most, it is the way of life most likely to fit their nature and the requirements of it. One thing is certain. Those who choose it and are faithful to it have none of the problems with sex that spoil the lives of so many people.
In addition to the health advantages, both physical and psychological, the fact that there is more enjoyment of life, (which is, after all, the purpose of one's life), and the fact that their children are both healthier, happier, and more likely to be successful themselves, there is one more advantage to marriage. One choosing that, "lifestyle," does not have to question its normality, its morality, or its benevolence. The remaining question, is, no doubt, the most difficult—whom to marry?; but that is, at least, the only question that really needs to be answered, and discovering that answer can be a real adventure.
Statement of Policy.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.