Ayn Rand, Joseph Smith and the Culture of Superiority
Kenny and I once had a rather fierce argument about cultural relativism and the notion that one culture could be ‘superior’ to the other; I was young and stupid, and hadn’t yet taught myself that the key to winning an argument is to be right rather than loud, so it got messy. I remember that I struggled with the idea of applying relativism to dysfunctional cultures that practiced slavery, cannibalism, and human sacrifice; it seemed absurd to assert that ancient Athens was not superior to the Maya, for example. Yet I did eventually come to understand that when the word ‘superiority’ is involved, relativism is the only approach that makes sense because it becomes a matter of what yardstick is being used to make the measure; in the case of the Athenians and Mayans, it is an apples and elephants situation where none of the appropriate yardsticks correspond in any meaningful way. They were both societies of human beings in different situations at different places and times that developed out of completely different situations; comparisons are valuable because they tell us more about ourselves as a human family but have little value in determining what culture is ‘superior’ to the other. Especially when one considers how fluid the idea of human culture can be.
I used to have arguments about Israel and Palestine that were predictably loud and never settled a damned thing, but one of the things that would often be asserted by my opposition was that the Israelis had a better claim because they had a superior culture; at times, one of my most liberal humanist friends made arguments on behalf of Israel that could only be described as racist when they would assert things like the Palestinians were inherently violent and untrustworthy. They had attended a private fundamentalist Christian high school and even though they had rejected the brainwashing they still had a strange grasp of the facts of history at this point in their lives. While I insist on the right of the existence of the State of Israel and embrace them in brotherhood, it is impossible for me to ignore the apartheid they impose upon our Palestinian brothers and sisters. Terrorism is a tactic, not an inherent trait in a people’s culture. Every successful human society when faced with an existential threat has embraced unconventional and immoral methods to ensure their own survival; that humans in captivity will continue to plot and struggle against their captors is one of our most admirable and valuable traits. This is not to praise terrorism but to condemn the conditions that brew its necessity.
This is why Mitt Romney was so remarkably wrong when he asserted that the Israeli culture is superior to the Palestinians; even though he was using a simple yardstick of individual incomes in both societies, his failure to acknowledge Israeli apartheid as a factor renders the judgement completely worthless to any fair observer. Of course, the line was being offered as flattery to a roomful of wealthy and powerful conservative Israelis, many of whom have spent money on his campaign, but it was also tuned for the self congratulatory elites and conservative ideologues back home. It is a remark revealing into the mindset of the man who would be President as well, and could explain why he wants Paul Ryan at his side, uniting the disparate ideologies of this Republican ticket and the contemporary conservative movement with the idea of their superior culture.
Objectivism, the philosophy found in the writings of Ayn Rand, whom Paul Ryan has said is very influential upon his thinking, not only is atheistic and cynically dismisses the most important teachings of every major spiritual and philosophical tradition, it embraces the worst excesses of self indulgence and the egotistical notion of superiority. It is essentially a philosophy of might makes right and every man for himself, which is not exactly a step forward in the development of civilization. It is a materialist philosophy that recognizes possessions and power as the only yardsticks to measure the world, and is utterly bankrupt as a result. It demands the sacrifice of mercy and sneers at love; it debases humanity even as it supposes to lift the individual above it. To say that Objectivism is at odds with Christianity is an understatement; it luxuriates in the clutch of anti-life and basks in the gloom of un-creation while claiming happiness is a twitching thing in a cage. Any culture that embraces Objectivism will congratulate itself to death before long.
Then there is the matter of the self-proclaimed prophet, Joseph Smith, and his follower, the candidate Mitt Romney. The Mormon Church swathes itself in secrecy, or more accurately, the Mormon Church exercises misdirection like a three card Monte hustler; their marketing puts their most wholesome face and the name of Jesus Christ front and center while blurring and obscuring the details, which is where the devil always dwells. The Jesus in Joseph Smiths book is a bootleg Jesus as authentic as a pair of Beijing Levis. To be clear, to be a Mormon is to be a follower of the Prophet Joseph Smith, not a disciple of Christ, in the same way that to be a Muslim is to be a follower of the Prophet Muhammad, not a disciple of Christ; this is not a matter of debate, opinion, or prejudice, it is what is. Islam and the Mormon Church have more in common than Madonna and Lady Gaga. This is notably ironic because for all of the absurd rumor mongering about the Christianity of President Obama, the Republican Party is running a distinctly non-Christian ticket against him. This sort of willful blindness is necessary, however, to maintain the belief in the illusion of superiority, which Mitt Romney and those who share his mindset clearly cherish.
There are multiple ironies presented by the Romney and Ryan ticket, not the least of which is that while the Presidents long-form birth certificate hasn’t been good enough for most birthers Romney steadfastly maintains that the rabble have no need to see tax returns from as recently as 2oo9. But then, ideologies that demand absolutes are fertilizer for irony and paradox which result regardless of how hard they try to be avoided. For example, the Republicans wanted to avoid evoking Bush for this ticket so their nominee is a wealthy former governor who is the son of a famous politician. They have, with great effort, managed to put together a Presidential ticket even less appealing than McCain and Palin. At least I respect John McCain.