Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Walla Walla Bing Bang

In the 47-page essay that makes up the first third of her short book For The New Intellectual, Ayn Rand makes much use of two archetypal terms coined by Nathaniel Branden. Two kinds of human, one a figure of force and the other a figure of faith.

For a completely slanted (and often vitriolic) summary of the history of philosophy, FTNI is an interesting read. It was with good reason that a friend of mine once remarked, "Miss Rand should always be read with one eyebrow permanently raised." But even if it's not much good for anything else, the essay makes great use of the two archetypes played against each other, and against mankind. The rubric used lends a compelling perspective to certain cultural trends, both throughout history and in the present.

So, the archetypes. The first is called Atilla. This is the psychological symbol of blunt might, of violence as the solution to all problems, of destruction of one's enemies as an ideal. The second is called the Witch Doctor. This is the human who eschews reality, who retreats "into his emotions, into visions of some mystic realm where his wishes enjoy a supernatural power unlimited by the absolute of nature." They might seem like polar opposites, but Rand plays them as two sides of the same coin. Both are interested in forcing reality to conform to their desires; and while Atilla strives for physical conquest, the Witch Doctor seeks to rule the soul. The muscle of Atilla can take purpose from the values of the Witch Doctor, and in turn the Witch Doctor gains protection from and power over "any recalcitrant who may choose to challenge his authority." Rand plays both as the enemies of reason, and as proponents of the precept that wishes are superior to reality.

From page 17:

Since the clash [between reality and wishes] is constant, the Witch Doctor's solution is to believe that what he perceives is another, "higher" reality―where his wishes are omnipotent, where contradictions are possible and A is non-A, where his assertions, which are false on earth, become true and aquire the status of a "superior" truth which he perceived by means of a special faculty denied to other, "inferior," beings. The only validation of his consciousness he can obtain on earth is the belief and the obedience of others, when they accept his "truth" as superior to their own perception of reality. While Atilla extorts their obedience by means of a club, the Witch Doctor obtains it by means of a much more powerful weapon: he pre-empts the field of morality.
There is no way to turn morality into a weapon of enslavement except by divorcing it from man's reason and from the goals of his own existence. There is no way to degrade man's life on earth except by the lethal opposition of the moral and the practical. Morality is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions; when it is set to oppose his own life and mind, it makes him turn against himself and blindly act as the tool of his own destruction. There is no way to make a human being accept the role of a sacrificial animal except by destroying his self-esteem. There is no way to destroy his self-esteem except by making him reject his own consciousness. There is no way to make him reject his own consciousness except by convincing him of its impotence.
The damnation of this earth as a realm where nothing is possible to man but pain, disaster and defeat, a realm inferior to another, "higher," reality; the damnation of all values, enjoyment, achievement and success on earth as a proof of depravity; the damnation of man's mind as a source of pride, and the damnation of reason as a "limited," deceptive, unreliable, impotent faculty, incapable of perceiving the "real" reality and the "true" truth; the split of man in two, setting his consciousness (his soul) against his body, and his moral values against his own interest; the damnation of man's nature, body and self as evil; the commandment of self-sacrifice, renunciation, suffering, obedience, humility and faith, as the good; the damnation of life and the worship of death, with the promise of rewards beyond the gravethese are the necessary tenets of the Witch Doctor's view of existence, as they have been in every variant of Witch Doctor philosophy throughout the course of mankind's history.
The secret of the Witch Doctor's power lies in the fact that man needs an integrated view of life, a philosophy, whether he is aware of his need or notand whenever, through ignorance, cowardice, or mental sloth, men choose not to be aware of it, their chronic sense of guilt, uncertainty and terror makes them feel that the Witch Doctor's philosophy is true.

In contemplating such forceful rhetoric, I think of our culture and the tag-team of the Religious Right and the Republican party over the past couple decades. It isn't a perfect match for Rand's perspective in the early 1960's, but in some ways it fits remarkably well. Perhaps where I differ from Rand's formulation is in my questioning of whether the two archetypical characters must necessarily be joined as a team. To wit: what happens if Atilla and the Witch Doctor are no longer able to get along?

My current hypothesis is that, should the tag-team continue to be stressed by Giuliani's leading in most polls, and should the stress be maximized if/when Giuliani wins the nomination, and if that were to result in the evangelical/fundamentalist "base" of the conservative party actually refusing to vote for Giuliani because of their myopic view of a few social issues, we will see two things happen. One, the Democratic candidate will win the White House; and two, the tag-team of religious conservatives and the Republican party will be (permanently?) damaged, perhaps dissolved. If our culture and our discourse and our politics can all three step together into the 21st Century to join the rest of Western civilization, the modern Republican party might only remain relevant to the extent that it marginalizes the evangelical/fundamentalist block that it has so long courted. We may very well be staring at the cusp of a political and cultural shift as it is about to happen, with the result being that we finally escape some of the ancient social taboos that we've so long been shackled to.

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