Saturday, March 27, 2010

Parable #5: The Golden Suit

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Once upon a time..
in the land of Potoma (which sat between two rivers in a country I've forgotten on a continent that has subsequently been lost), there lived a clever tailor named Samuel Turkey. Sam Turkey made exquisite suits the like of which were rarely seen. The fabric shimmered, the lapels were perfectly sharp, they were always cut just right in the leg and broke exactly as one expects a perfect suit to break. A Sam Turkey label in a suit guaranteed quality.

One fall, the Emperor of Potoma came to see Sam. His retinue crowded into the tailor shop, parting as the man himself stepped from his long black limousine and sauntered inside, waving to the small crowd which had formed on the street.

Barack, the Emperor of Potoma, was always perfectly dressed. He wore dazzling robes, a smart fur hat, and his fingers glittered.

"I'd like to commission a suit from you" he said to Sam. "A suit the likes of which the world has never seen. It will have gold braid and silver lapels. It will be seamed with rubies and sapphires. It will be woven with platinum thread. I will wear it to the annual ball. Have it completed by a fortnight hence."

Sam Turkey bowed low at this great honor. He spent the rest of the afternoon taking the royal measurements. He did not see the Emperor again. The men of the treasury arrived the following day with all the precious metals required. As Sam stitched and sewed this miracle suit, they kept a careful eye.

As the night of the ball came closer, Sam's work on the suit became more intense. He lined it with rare silks, he embroidered tiny images of Potomac history onto the cuffs, he soaked it in the subtlest of fragrances. Then he gave it a pressing and, for good measure, used a nonabrasive silver polish on the buttons.

On the night of the ball, it was complete. Sam Turkey laid the suit carefully in a box and took a smart pumpkin carriage up Pennsylvania Avenue to the palace. He marveled at the preparations. A small orchestra was tuning beside the dance floor. Flowers festooned the tables, long tapers were set in sconces and awaited the match.

Barack was in his private quarters, still in pajamas, lounging like a cat on silk pillows. He faced a long mirror and, as Turkey entered, it became clear that the Emperor was blowing kisses to himself.

The Emperor was far less impressive in his pajamas than he had been in his flowing robes at the tailor shop, Turkey decided. Without the distraction of the magnificent clothes, one could see that the Emperor was in fact a quite ordinary man; he was greying, lined, a little scrawny, and overall not much to look at. But such thoughts were not to be pursued.

"My Emperor, I have brought the suit as requested!"

"Suit? Oh yes the suit. Well, show it to me then."

Sam unboxed the suit. It caught the fading rays of the sun outside. It sparkled. It shimmered. It set tiny prismatic sparks rotating about the room.

"I don't like it." said Barack.

"But why?"

"You dare question your Emperor? If you must know, it is far too magnificent. It will distract from the magnificence of myself. Keep the suit. The gold of its construction shall be your payment."

And, with this, Barack returned to his reflection and paid the hapless tailor no more mind.

Turkey was stunned. TOO magnificent? Whatever could that mean? He slipped the suit on a hangar, put it over his shoulder, and stepped from the room glumly.

The ball was underway. The people of Potoma were decked out in their finest. Feathers bobbed. Medals glinted. Chenilles and chiffon shifted under the lights. Military boots dueled with high heels on the polished dance floor. It was a magnificent celebration.

Then Sam Turkey stepped into the room.

The orchestra played a fanfare and began to play "Hail to the Emperor" the traditional tune for the head of state. Thinking Barack must be entering behind him, Sam turned and began to bow. But no one was there.

Was the room bowing to Sam Turkey?

No, not to him. To the suit!

All eyes were on the magnificent suit that he carried on his shoulders. As Sam stepped into the crowd, men saluted smartly, women curtsied.

The Emperor's Wife led Sam out onto the dance floor for the traditional first dance. She held the empty sleeve as if it were her husbands arm and she and Turkey spun in circles as the orchestra played "The Mirror Song" from the popular operetta "The Feigned Prince".

As the crowd clapped, Sam looked with wonderment at their faces. They had no idea that the empty suit he held was not their Emperor- so dazzled by it were they. They raised glasses in a toast, and Sam raised a sleeve in salute.

"Stop!" cried a voice. Barack the true Emperor appeared at the top of the marble stairs. He wore his usual robes, thrown back over his shoulder. He pointed a long, accusing finger at the hapless tailor. "Traitor! How dare you impersonate me? How dare you dance with my wife! Guards! Have that man executed!"

Barack strode menacingly towards Sam Turkey. But suddenly guards stood between the two men, blocking the emperor's way. Weapons rallied to Sam Turkey's aid.

"Who is this madman?" came a soft voice at Sam's side.

The Emperor's wife (whose name was Clarissa) was clutching the sleeve of the magnificent suit.

"I am your husband!" cried Barack.

Clarissa leaned her soft cheek on the golden lapel.

"My husband is here" she said. "Take the fool away."

The guards bowed to their Empress and crowded around Barack, seizing him. His tasseled shoes lifted from the polished marble.

"No!" he was heard to cry. "You don't understand! THE CLOTHES HAVE NO EMPEROR!!"

And then Barack the Vain was gone.

For centuries since, the Kingdom of Potoma has been ruled by the sons of Sam Turkey, who act as chief advisors to The Golden Suit.

The Suit itself lies still on the throne, empty as it has always been, waiting till the day that time and tarnish free the people from their bedazzlement...

© Richard Gleaves 2009-12-10
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Friday, March 26, 2010

On Pedophile Priests

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They're in the news again.

What is a rational person to make of these scandals -- are they corrupt perversions of Catholicism? A symptom of society's ills?

Or do they tell us something about the Church-- something unpleasant, something that we suspect and fear might be true?

I think it's time we stopped being squeamish about this issue and shone some healthy sunlight on what's actually going on.

The hallmark of a spiritualist philosophy like Catholicism is hatred of the material -- wealth, success, the body in general and sex in particular. The Church creates the pedophilia problem through two mechanisms: unearned self-esteem and repression.

The most glaring question is "why is it always BOYS"? Where are the priests molesting little girls? After all, despite pernicious myths, heterosexuals comprise the vast majority of sexual abusers. So why are the altar boys the ones that are always fleeing for their lives?

First issue: Unearned Self-Esteem. The priests in question are obviously homosexuals of SOME stripe. Why have they gone into the priesthood? The answer lies in the church's own teachings about homosexuality. They preach that it is evil and so any true believer who nevertheless grows up gay is going to have both a spiritual dilemma and an existential crisis. He will hate himself, and he will be unable to "come out" to a Catholic family. He will overcompensate and become an ever more fervent disciple of Christ. He will need a cover story as to why he does not have a girlfriend or a wife. A celibate priesthood is tailor-made to absorb gay catholics. By becoming priests, they become sources of PRIDE to their family, not shame. They are relieved of the burden of feigning heterosexuality, and they may believe their souls have been saved from everlasting torment. Looking in the mirror at their vestments, they feel a self esteem they had lacked as closeted and miserable gay teens.

And life is good for a while.

Second issue: Repression. Hatred of the body is unnatural and self-destructive. Celibacy is perverse and unwholesome. A lifetime without physical contact or intimacy will ultimately warp a personality. Sexual desire does not go away with self-denial, quite the opposite. I suspect many celibate priests are obsessed with sex and sexual fantasy and sublimate it into overeating or self-injury or other compulsive behaviors.

And sometimes they just can't take it anymore.

A child is an attractive sexual partner to such people not as a child per se, but as something that can be controlled, intimidated and silenced. Their fear of exposure as homosexuals is so great, and yet their need for human contact so dire, that many seem to express their sexuality only with those who can be strictly controlled and manipulated. I suspect that prostitution and perhaps bestiality are also common for the same reason. (I read a story recently on a Vatican male prostitute scandal HERE)

I think you can see from this brief sketch how the unnatural, pernicious and inhuman teachings of Catholicism (in particular) create unnatural, pernicious and inhuman behavior in its practitioners. And is that such a surprise?

The solution? The abandonment of priestly celibacy, of the perverse hatred of sexuality (specifically of homosexuality), and an alignment of religion with reason and human nature. Let people live and love in a guiltless, natural, honest and honorable way, and you would stop creating pedophiles.

It ain't gonna happen.

In order to see the beauty in sex (or in wealth) the church would have to abandon it's spiritualism, embrace reason, and espouse an ethics of rational self-interest rooted in the nature of man. It would have to be the opposite of what it is now. Think about this and the implications it has for the rest of the church's teachings.

I see organized religion as far more disturbed and "sinful" than the philosophies and lifestyles it typically condemns. I give it absolutely no moral credibility.

Religion has demonstrated time and again its incompatibility with human happiness. In its zeal to twist the natural into a guilty secret, it looses a horde of pathetic and victimized neurotics upon our innocent world.

--Richard GleavesBookmark and Share

Friday, March 19, 2010

Parable #4: The Parable of the Octopus Man

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Once upon a time, a young man named Quincy got sick.

It wasn't anything serious, just a head cold-- a minor bit of sniffles. Every reputable doctor he visited told him to go home and drink fluids and sleep and he'd feel better within a few days. But, because Quincy was a hypochondriac, he continued searching until he found someone who told him what he wanted to hear.

"You are dying!" shouted Dr. Lyndon.

"I am?" Quincy asked?

"Oh, yes. You need my ministrations immediately!" and he pulled out a bottle marked MEDICAID. "Swallow this, and I'll have you right where I want you... um... I mean, you'll be right as rain!"

Quincy paid Dr. Lyndon a few hundred billion dollars and went home. That night, he took his first spoonful of MEDICAID. And, sure enough, after he'd slept a few days and had some fluids he did feel better!

And so, after that, he took a spoonful of MEDICAID every time he had a cough, or a cramp, or a bit of a chill. Strangely, these symptoms were coming on more and more. And he noticed something else-- he was growing suckers on his toes! In fact, his legs seemed to be becoming more like, well, tentacles!

He brought this unpleasant fact up to Dr. Lyndon, and was assured that it was the fault of the evil drug companies. He insisted that Quincy give up Dimetapp, Halls and Sudafed and rely on MEDICAID exclusively. Quincy agreed, and took out another hundred billion dollars.

Years went by. Quincy suffered from all sorts of ailments. He was constipated, and his arms hurt. He had constant headaches, sore throat. Perhaps even a touch of leprosy. But worst of all, his lower body had become entirely that of an octopus. Sometimes at night he would wake up to feel the tentacles around his own throat-- as if his octopus half intended to strangle him in his sleep.

And the pain!He didn't feel as if he had always been an octopus-- it didn't feel natural-- along his waist was a festering, creeping wound where his human torso was attempting to reject his octopus limbs. Like a badly performed transplant, his two halves were at war with each other-- neither able to accept the others existence.

He slithered into Dr. Lyndon's office. The old doctor peered through his spectacles and scratched his chin.

"I don't know what to make of it." he muttered. "What do you think, nurse? More MEDICAID?"

Nurse Obama inspected the problem."Oh, no, doctor. The problems are FAR too severe for that!" She said. "I recommend a fundamental transformation."

"A fundamental transformation?" gasped Quincy. "What do you mean?"

"We have to turn you entirely into an octopus!" Obama said.

"I agree." Said Lyndon. "MEDICAID isn't working, and it's better to do something instead of doing nothing."

"But..." stammered Quincy "Can't I just go back to being a man? Why don't I stop drinking the MEDICAID?"

"WHAT" shouted both at once.

"That's impossible!" Said Obama. "You're implying that MEDICAID did this to you, you ungrateful thing?"

Lyndon put a wizened hand on Quincy's shoulder. "The MEDICAID is the only thing keeping you alive, son. Let us do the operation. Let us transform you. Or you will surely die."

And so, because he was a hypochondriac, Quincy agreed to a fundamental transformation.

He was wheeled into the operating room to meet Specialist Pelosi and Anesthesiologist Reid. Lying under the hot lights of the operating table, Quincy heard a voice shouting in the distance.

"Don't do it! Don't do it! For the love of..." the voice was cut off by a slamming door.

"Let's go!" said Nurse Obama, cheerily, and Quincy inhaled the anesthesia.

And they went to work-- cutting off all the parts that were still human, and replacing them with pure octopus.

Hours later, the transformation was complete. Quincy was fundamentally transformed into a perfect octopus! His limbs were strong, with powerful suckers. He had a beak that could easily crush small businesses. He had beady little eyes fit for a tax collector. His whole body glistened a beautiful SEIU purple. Not a trace of humanity or reason was left in him.

And he was never sick again because, that night, Lyndon, Obama, Pelosi and Reid went to the home of Dr. Roosevelt, the inventor of the procedure; they celebrated late into the night, toasting their success-- stuffing their happy faces with caviar... and champagne...

...and fried octopus.

-Richard Gleaves

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Good Objectivist - Part One

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It is time for some proper introspection and self-examination in the Objectivist community. We are at a crossroads in human history. Liberty is under daily attack. We are truly living in the pages of "Atlas Shrugged".

Yet in our world there is no John Galt. There is no valley we can escape to. We do not have a separate society in which we can find shelter.

We do have a separate society-- a thriving Objectivist movement with untold members.  But shelter? Can anyone find shelter in the society we've created?

Not the way we're operating it.

A disturbing pattern has emerged over the years.

We hear constant reports of individual Objectivists jockeying for positions of respect within the movement not by productive effort (i.e. not by contributing to the body of literature or spreading ideas effectively), but by serving as gatekeepers or protectors of ideological purity.

This is an unusual concept for Objectivists to embrace. In practice, it does not mean honesty (i.e. fealty to truth), or integrity (i.e. fealty to one's own values) but loyalty (i.e. fealty to a person, a group or a creed). It is expressed in terms of loyalty to Ayn Rand, loyalty to her designated heirs, or loyalty to a particular Objectivist ideological position. This assumes of course that Rand and her heirs have earned a particular person's loyalty (I believe they have earned it from me as I judge the work of the Ayn Rand Institute to be excellent) or that the ideological position has earned one's conviction -- that it has convinced you.

What, then, does it mean to harangue a young Objectivist into declaring fealty to a particular organization, or to declare you will break with him if he does not hold a particular ideological position that has not yet convinced him, though it may have convinced you?

Are you not asking for him to accept your authority in intellectual matters? But if he does so, he has abandoned a fundamental tenet of Objectivism -- his intellectual independence -- his integrity. If he does not do so, you propose to deprive him of your association and, if you choose to blacklist the person, of the association of others -- of the very people who might actually change his mind. You offer him a choice between ~either~ accepting on faith a position or fealty he does not understand ~or~ losing any opportunity to understand!

Understand me: You may be right, but it is your job to convince the other person, not his job to accept blindly.

Let us put ourselves, for a moment, in the shoes of a bright, eager young person who has just read Atlas Shrugged. He is stunned by the vision that Rand offers. His mind is swimming with questions. He burns to know. He is a potential ally, a potential friend, a potential fellow fighter in the cultural battle to be waged between between ethical egoism and the self-sacrifice morality of altruism. He could become the vote that defends your liberty, or the industrialist that improves your life, or the friend you've always hoped to find: a person who shares your values, and our fight.

He finishes the novel, and wants to know more. He wants to understand what he has read. He reaches out to his friends and family. He tries to explain about the ethics, but they come back with arguments about duty and self-sacrifice that he is not prepared to answer. They tell him he's getting involved with some "cult". They ridicule him and punch holes in his reasoning. It's easy. He has had mere weeks or months to master a new argument. Everyone else in the culture comes armed with bromides and slogans with which to slap him down: "Don't be selfish!""That's true for you but it's not true for me!""You want the poor to starve!""You hate government!""That sounds good in theory but it doesn't work in practice!"

He needs allies. He needs people of whom he can ask hard questions. He needs a space in which to argue, to learn, to make mistakes. He needs shelter and encouragement. He is not an automatic Objectivist. He is not an automatic Philosopher. He is not an automatic Intellectual. If he's never been trained in logic, or paid attention to the field of philosophy, he will not come armed with words like "epistemology" or with concepts like "is-ought" or with an understanding of what constitutes a logical fallacy. He may not even understand the core ideas. He may be surfing on an emotional reaction to the grandeur of the books. Maybe no one has even taught him to think in principles before. Like Helen Keller finally understanding "wa-wa", our hypothetical young person (or OLD person) may be discovering a whole field of discovery that he had never even imagined looking into. Most people ARE contemptuous of moral issues-- they treat morality, in Rand's words as:
"a phantom scarecrow made of duty, of boredom, of punishment, of pain, a cross-breed between the first schoolteacher of your past and the tax collector of your present, a scarecrow standing in a barren field, waving a stick to chase away your pleasures."
And they are right to feel this way if they've never heard a rational alternative to the creeds around them. They should be contemptuous of morality and ideas, given the rotten maxims of our traditional codes.

This is the context, this is the culture that ALL of our new allies and friends will be coming from. They will be staggering to Objectivism with wounds inflicted by all the nonsense of church and community, every contradiction and species of claptrap from communism to Christianity and down the line. They will come to us staggering across an intellectual minefield, weaving to avoid every conceptual booby trap laid to attack their independent spirit -- they will stagger to us -- holding out only to collapse heroically in the arms of a Fellowship of Reason -- their destination reached, at last.

And are they welcomed, supported, given the admiration and congratulations they have earned? Are they accepted happily as a student and a friend?

No. They are attacked and pushed away by the very people they have searched the Earth to find.

They are attacked for their intellectual independence -- for the very quality of mind that safevouched them through the battlefield of postmodern and religious society. They are attacked for their lack of understanding, which was the motivating force behind their desire to find Objectivists. They are attacked for their associations and affiliations when most have merely clutched the first chance at fellowship that was offered them. They are attacked on message boards, banned, denounced; they are ridiculed; they are made to feel the horror of the inexplicable. They are expected to have loyalties to values they've not even discovered yet, as if values were intrinsic and not chosen.

They come to us for the sanction of reason, and are turned away irrationally and cruelly.

I find this to be a moral outrage.

This is how a new Objectivist should be greeted into our company:

“[Dr.] Akston smiled.  `What does this look like to you, Miss Taggart?’  He pointed around the room.

            “`This?’  [Dagny] smiled suddenly, looking at the faces of the men against the golden sunburst of rays filling the great windows. `This looks like . . . like that dream you imagine in childhood, when you think that some day, in heaven, you will see those great departed whom you had not seen on earth, and you choose, from all the past centuries, the great men you would like to meet.

          “`Well, that’s one clue to the nature of our secret,’ said Akston.  `Ask yourself whether the dream of heaven and greatness should be left waiting for us in our graves – or whether it should be ours here and how and on this earth.’

            “`I know,’ she whispered.

            “`And if you met those great men in heaven,’ asked Ken Danagger, `what would you say to them?’

            “`Just . . . just “hello,” I guess.’

            “`That’s not all,’ said Danagger.  `There’s something you’d want to hear from them. . . . Miss Taggart, you’d want them to look at you and to say, `Well done.’  She dropped her head and nodded silently, head down, not to let him see the sudden spurt of tears to her eyes.  `All right, then:  Well done, Dagny – well done – too well – and now it’s time for you to rest from that burden which none of us should ever have had to carry.”
 -Ayn Rand, "Atlas Shrugged"

That is what newcomers are hoping to find, but that is not what some Objectivists are striving to be. Instead, many of you are striving to be individual gatekeepers, each pushing the uninitiated from the gates of heaven. You are not acting as the welcoming fellowship of some new Atlantis, but rather acting as gossipy, petty, mean little St. Peters guarding our pearly gates with vindictive haughtiness. 

And if heaven is denied them, where else is left to go?

Some valid philosophical issues are in play, and also some important values which DO need to be protected. I fight daily on behalf of Rand's legacy, I correct misrepresentations whenever I find them, I support the organizations such as ARI that have earned my trust, and I stay true to the ideas I have accepted as true. But in my dealings with others, particularly new or "mixed" Objectivists, I believe that context-dropping leads to serious errors of judgement. Therefore, I try to judge others not merely by their words but also by their actions over a period of time with an eye towards establishing their respect for individual rights (which is a precondition of civilized interaction) AND towards defining the mental processes in which they habitually engage. I watch new people not for deviations from established dogma, but for any failing to exert proper mental effort. I watch for evasion, obfuscation and deceit. I try to convince them to value that which I value, but never to coerce them to accept my assertions on faith. That is what they are trying to escape from. I will not inflict it on them.

What we should look for is not loyalty (which is a value to be earned) but honesty, justice and integrity (which are virtues to practiced). We should encourage these virtues, as well as the virtue of pride in every new mind we encounter. We should embrace the optimistic eagerness that looks to find potential value in every man, and the joy in discovering a fellow traveler or fighter in the war against unreason.

We need to be flame-spotters in the world. We need to find the sparks of intelligence, fan them and protect their blaze.

And nothing gutters a barely kindled spark like a blast of hot air.

--Richard Gleaves
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Parable #3: The Parable of Auguste the Monk ~or~ "Hang together, boys!"

Once upon a time, in the high cliffs of Northern Turkey, lived a monk named Auguste and his band of Holy Brethren. They possessed the grandest monastery in Turkey, with high battlements and fortifications, on the tippest top of a dangerous crag so high that enemies could be seen coming from miles around. The barbarian hordes had no hope of breaching this mighty castle, and the monks, their treasured scrolls, and golden chalices were kept safe for generations.

Auguste became leader of the group in his 40th year. He was a wise man, well versed in every aspect of the holy scriptures. Of the 100 monks in the Monastery of the Cliff, Auguste was easily considered the purest.

Until Davide came along. Davide insisted that the holy literature was incomplete, that the Revelation was ongoing, and that the monks must scan the heavens and their hearts for new wisdom. Nonsense! Cried Auguste-- the Word was complete, or else nothing could be certain. With regret, he banished Davide from the monastery. Davide and his followers fled to the hills, where they scanned the heavens in vain for some missing truths. Their numbers dwindled and their names are now lost to time.

Some of the remaining monks had been friends of those who had gone. Some were not convinced that the split was necessary. Some did not find the matter in question to be particularly important, for weren't both groups servants of the Word? But Auguste silenced this dissent, insisting that solidarity and purity be maintained.

But the squabbling continued.

Some monks abandoned their faith altogether. Some lost their fervor. Some warred with other monks. Young initiates who had expected to find a sanctuary of tranquil holy men were known to turn back at the gate and return to their homes and hearths, never to pursue the Word again.

Yet Auguste's mania for purity continued, and further splits occurred:

A Monk named Christian developed a new theory about the origin of the scriptures. He was banished. Then Ferdinand the bald wrote an illuminated manuscript depicting the prophet as a mortal man. He was excommunicated. Intense young Nicholai designed a model of the universe that conflicted with an established interpretation of holy writ. He was kicked to the ecumenical curb.

With each purge, more students, followers and believers left the Monastery of the Rock. Students of Christian settled in France, Nicolai's men dispersed to Italia, Ferdinand's to distant Spain. Without the security of the monastery, each group was ultimately overwhelmed by the hordes of Europe and lost forever.

Auguste realized: his ideology was pure, but his brotherhood had become as a drop of wine in a glass of water. They had no impact on the wide world. The soldiers of the Word were lost to each other. He wept.

But he possessed a vault of scriptures at the Monastery of the Rock! And those scriptures were direct holy writ from the source of all knowledge. They were uncorrupted, unaltered, eternal! Auguste and his remaining five monks would bring the Word into the future incorruptible and imperishable!

Then the barbarians came.

There were no monks to man the battlements. There were no monks to fire the cannons. There were no monks to bar the doors. There were no monks to carry the water. There were no monks to save the burning scriptures. There were no monks to protect Auguste himself from the King of the Barbarians.

And, ultimately, there were no monks at all...

--Richard Gleaves

"We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately" - Benjamin Franklin at the signing of the Declaration of Independence