Archive for the ‘sexology’ Category

Epistemics, Sex, and Gender

Saturday, 15 October 2022

Everyday discussions of epistemics don't require us to discuss foundational epistemology explicitly. Were someone asked how she knew that Johnny and Judy are dating, it would typically be sufficient for that someone to say that Judy were wearing his ring. We don't usually need to ask whether the witness had a false memory or hallucination, mistook someone else for Judy, &c. But it is important always to understand that no one just knows any complex proposition. The only things of which we have perfect knowledge are the things immediately before the mind — such as a feeling of coldness — and then we don't perfectly know their sources. Perhaps some of us are utterly reasonable in constructing models of the world to explain things such as our occasional sensations of coldness; certainly nearly all of us are so convinced of these models that we refer to a major share of their propositions as knowledge. But none of us just knows that Johnny and Judy are dating, that it is cold outside, that his or her eyes are blue, &c. Any reasonable belief in these things is an inference ultimately resting upon primitive experience.

I don't just know how it feels to be a man. I know how it feels to be me; I have memories, which I presume to be reliable, of how it felt to be me; and part of my model of the world (constructed to explain my experience) contains adult male bodies, one of which is my body. And, to that extent, I know how it feels to be a man. When someone else tells me something at odds with my experience of being a man, I don't think Oh, maybe I'm not a man after all! I just infer that the other person is either a man over-generalizing from his own experience or from reports, or is someone who is not a man but engaged in incompetent conjecture. I don't know how it feels to be woman. I don't even know how I would feel if I woke and found that my mind were operating in the body of a woman (which I presume would be different from how I would feel if my mind had for its whole existence operated in a female body). I simply cannot know without the experience. I could, in theory, know that I were unhappy being a man. I could, in theory, know that I wished to have a female body. But I cannot know how it feels to be a woman, and thus in no sense could I know that I somehow had a female mind in a male body. It is impossible for me to know that I am a woman. It is impossible for those who have never had a female body to know that they are girls or women. It is impossible for any of them to just know that they are girls or women. But they can certainly know their unhappiness or know their wishes. And the complement is true of those who never had the experience of being in a male body. They cannot know that they have male minds. It is impossible for those who have never had a male body to know that they are boys or men. It is impossible for any of them to just know that they are boys or men. But they can certainly know their unhappiness or know their wishes.

Hormone treatments are available to make a brain that was supposedly already female be more like an actual female brain and more as if in a female body, or a brain that was supposedly already male be more like an actual male brain and more as if in a male body. But this treatment would be actively absurd if the mind of the subject were already that of the opposite sex. I am not somehow really more a man than my levels of androgen or of testosterone or of estrogen have ever allowed me to be; likewise, I am not somehow really more a woman than my hormones have ever allowed; nor is anyone else. Those receiving such hormone treatments are not of the opposite sex; they are seeking to become more as if of the opposite sex.

If a male body could be made of a female body and vice versa, then it wouldn't matter that the female body had previously been a male body or vice versa. But present technology allows no such thing. A body that has undergone the most extensive reässignment surgery is ruined for purposes of return to its original sexual configuration. What alteration is available is primarily cosmetic, and highly destructive. Testes don't somehow become ovaries or ovaries testes; they are discarded. Breast implants may later be removed, but mammary glands become tissue to be sold or incinerated. The rest of the reproductive system is savaged.

And, if a male body could be made into a female body, or vice versa, then the change would always be something of a leap in the dark. Quite plausibly a great many people would be happy with where they landed, but others would be depressed, shocked, or horrified. With the procedures presently available — with an ultimately irreversible leap — many are indeed depressed, shocked, or horrified, without even the genuine experience of a body with a new sex. I've had at least one friend kill himself because of what he'd had done in trying to be remade into a woman. In the case of children, we are not so much considering leaping in the dark as being picked-up and thrown into the darkness. In ten, twenty, and thirty years, most of those who had been cheering the throwing will speak and write as if society were at fault in the case of those children who discovered that they'd crashed in a terrible place.

Our response to those who have come to desire interaction as if of the opposite sex should not be founded in mystical nonsense; but neither should it be characterized by condemnation or by intolerance. People should not be prohibitted from doing as they will so long as only consenting adults are involved. I think that radical treatments to change an adult's appearance to resemble that of the opposite sex are plausibly the best way for some people to alleviate very great unhappiness. I think that accommodation of such people, treating them as if they are of the opposite sex, is often quite appropriate. However, no one has a right to be treated as something that he or she is not. And, in some cases, very good reasons underlie sexual distinctions and subverting those distinctions is less humane than respecting them.

Much of the discussion of transsexualism has involved confusion — often deliberately fostered — between sex and other definitions of gender. The use of gender to mean sex actually dates to about the same time as it was introduced to refer to the somewhat related but distinct grammatic classification; but, for a time, use of gender in the sexual sense fell away. It began to be repopularized for purposes of euphemism, and continues as a euphemism into the present. The grammatic sense was related to the sexual sense in that things that were male were usually named with words that had the masculine grammatic gender and things that were female were usually named with words that had the feminine grammatic gender; but many things that did not have any sex were named with words having a masculine or feminine grammatic gender even when a neuter grammatic gender was a feature of the language, and some things that had sexes were assigned names with the neuter grammatic gender. Grammatic gender was an often odd social construct.. Grammatic gender and notions of rôles appropriate to each sex each influenced the other. At some time around 1980, the idea began to catch-on of using the term gender not in reference to sex nor in reference to grammatic gender, but to socially or personally constructed notions of those sexual rôles. The scientific and philosophic study of social or personal constructions of sexual rôles is itself very worthwhile; and the analogic appeal of extending gender to refer to such constructions is evident. However, the pre-existing and repopularized use of gender to refer to sex facilitated a hijacking of discourse, which confused sex with a social or personal construct of social rôle, under which hijacking it has been pretended that persons who are masculine are ipso facto male, that persons who are feminine are ipso facto female, that some males are neither male nor female, that some females are neither female nor male, and that any otherwise legitimate distinctions by sex must be replaced with distinctions by personal constructions of sexual rôle.

Of course, more than just grammatic gender or our notions of sexual rôles are here social constructs. Our language and every other language is a social construct, and the taxonomies of biology and of every other science are social constructs. More generally all taxonomies are personal or social constructs. But that does not make propositions subject to falsification by a device of recategorizing things, of exchanging labels amongst categories, or of applying new labels to categories. Rather, with a change of language a proposition is expressed differently; with a relevant change of taxonomy, a proposition involves more or fewer categories. If we adopted the convention of using Earth to mean only the Western Hemisphere, both that and the Eastern Hemisphere would continue as they would under the old taxonomy, rather than the underlying geophysics changing. Propositions about a sex do not become false or true by the device of insisting upon a new definition of man, of woman, of sex, or of gender.

Death and Its Complement

Sunday, 26 June 2022

On each side that is allowed a wide audience, public discourse on the subject of abortion is dominated by knaves and by fools. Arguments are offered that don't withstand much scrutiny.

But the overturning of Roe v. Wade will not result in a simple division of states into those that permit abortions in all or in almost all cases and those that forbid it in all or in almost all cases; the supposed dichotomy that has been imposed by insinuation from the commanding heights of our culture will be falsified. While I doubt that the policy adopted soon by any state will be the correct choice, the adoption of a multitude of policies will provoke a larger number of people to think more carefully about the criteria that ought to decide amongst policies.

Confined to the margins of recent discussion has been a very simple and important idea, which is the complement of the concept of brain death. This idea will make its way to the center of discussion.

Sexual [Meta]-Preferences

Friday, 20 May 2022

As I noted in an earlier 'blog entry, I use the words choice and choose simply to refer to selection; and, when I say that someone prefers X to Y, I mean that if given a set of mutually exclusive options that include X and Y then Y will never be selected. Some people try to mean something else by one or both of these terms. In the case of choose, they seldom if ever explain what that something might be. R[obert] Duncan Luce proposed to define preference in terms of probability of selection, rather than in an absolute manner as do I; that difference won't bear meaningfully upon what I have to say here.

One might have preferences about one's preferences. For example, preferring-not-to-prefer simultaneously X to Y, Y to Z, and Z to X for any X, Y, and Z. But note that making choices based upon the preferences that one has is different from choosing to have the preferences with which one makes the choice. Choices about preferences are meta-choices; preferences determining meta-choices are meta-preferences.

In theory, all choices could be determined by preferences, all preferences could be meta-chosen, all meta-choices could be determined by meta-preferences, all meta-preferences could be meta-meta-chosen, all meta-meta-choices could be determined by meta-meta-preferences, &c out to any finite level of meta that you might imagine. But the levelling cannot be infinite. At some point, one reaches a level that wasn't chosen. Varieties of choices and preferences that are turtles all the way down are an impossibility. A class of choices cannot have any members if it is defined such that each member is underlain by a choice of that same class. Likewise for preferences.

And hence I come to the expression sexual preference. As introduced and still generally to-day, it refers to what one sexually prefers; it says nothing about what one meta-prefers or meta-chooses. People said to have sexual preferences are thereby said to choose with those preferences, not to have chosen the preferences themselves. Someone said to have heterosexual preferences is not thus said to have chosen heterosexuality itself, and so too of someone said to have homosexual preferences. And if we deny that sexual preferences can be real because they are not underlain by a choice of sexual orientation, then we must claim that all non-sexual preferences are likewise not real, because it's never turtles-all-the-way-down.

The only people who will be offended by the term sexual preference itself will have confused preferences with meta-preferences — or will be those people who have simply embraced the claim that the term is offensive without much thought as to why it should be so. And a rather large group will not actually be offended, but will rôle-play as if offended, because they observe that this behavior is the practice of their political tribe.

Vocal Cues

Monday, 26 June 2017

Many animals, across different classes, have two distinct sounds that may be classified as growls or as whines, respectively. The growls signal threat; the whines signal friendship or appeasement.

The bark of a dog is actually a combination of a growl with a whine; it is thus not a pure signal of aggression, as many take it to be; it is literally a mixed signal, perhaps indicating confusion on the part of the dog, perhaps signalling both that the dog is prepared to fight and that the dog would consider a peaceful interaction.

When women talk with men whom they find attractive, women tend to raise the pitches of their voices. Men tend to do something different when talking with women whom they find attractive; they mix deeper tones than they would normally use with higher tones than they would normally use. The deep tones are signals of masculinity, of being able to do what men are expected to do. The higher tones of men carry much the same significance as do the higher tones of women — with the additional point in contrast to the deep tones that the man does not mean to threaten the woman.

It amused me to reälize consciously that this behavior by men is at least something like barking. Then I grimly considered that some men are actually barking, telling the woman that he can be nice to her if she is nice to him, but will actively make things unpleasant if she is not. But at least it should typically be possible to disambiguate the threatening behavior, based upon where the low notes are used, and of course the choice of words.

Toxic Taxonomy

Friday, 17 June 2016

Most of the time, the inability or unwillingness of people to understand the difference between sex and gender is simply a low-level annoyance for me.[1] But, over the past few days, I have been increasingly irritated by the bigotry that this confusion is facilitating.

Unfortunately, many cultures, including our own, put pressure on people of a particular sex to adopt a particular gender; this is bigotry of one sort. Unfortunately, people of a sex who don't want to be of the socially prescribed gender often develop an active hostility towards those of that sex-gender combination; that is bigotry of another sort.

People who want to be of a given gender but who are not do not represent a toxic expression of that gender, because they are not of that gender. Claiming that a non-masculine person were toxically masculine or that a non-feminine person were toxically feminine entails a logical contradiction, regardless of whether the person were a male wanting to be masculine or a female wanting to be feminine.[2] And when toxicity results exactly from the fact that a person is not of a gender that the person feels that he or she ought to be, the illogic is especially acute.

Omar Mir Seddique Mateen was certainly toxic, but he lacked at least one of the core attributes of masculinity. His desire as a non-masculine male to be masculine contributed greatly to his toxicity.

Whether intentionally or merely thoughtlessly, to use toxic masculinity in describing Mateen is a slur against masculinity.[3] And that slur will come most naturally to those who are implicitly or explicitly hostile to masculinity.

He simply wasn't of my gender; no one should speak or write as if he were.

[1] Sex is a condition of the structures of the body, and associated with reproductive function. The term gender is sometimes used as a foolish mincing term for sex, but I mean here to refer to the set of behavioral characteristics (including rôles) that are associated with sex by expectations at the social, familial, and personal level. The term gender is taken by analogy from grammar, as are the terms masculine and feminine.

[2] There are sexes other than male and female and genders other than masculine and feminine, but traditional social expectations have included correspondences amongst such sexes and such genders. Instead, people who do not fit neatly as male or as female have been expected either to seek some sort of treatment to become one of those two sexes (with a masculine gender for males and a feminine gender for females) or to withdraw from society.

[3] It would be accurate, but misleading, to instead describe his condition as one of toxic non-masculinity.

Might as Well Be Me

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Every day, I encounter one or more academic studies arguing that this or that historical figure were homosexual.

Then it occurred to me that, should I ever become famous, someone will write an article or monograph or book arguing that I were homosexual.

Then it occurred to me that I won't even have to become famous; there are so many academics who want to argue that someone were homosexual that none of us will be ignored. Sooner or later, in the case of each person for whom there is material to be interpretted, one of those academics will get around to arguing that the person were homosexual.

Then it occurred to me that I might be able to get a publication in a journal of sociology or of gender studies by arguing that I were homosexual. I wonder how that would look on my CV.

The Little Pink Little Blue Book

Monday, 20 October 2014

I have made available a PDF file assembling scans of Little Blue Book 1564, Homosexuality in the Lives of the Great, by J[ames] V[incent] Nash. The file size is 51,140,131 bytes.

This Little Blue Book seems to be one of the more difficult to acquire. I don't know if that's because the existing stock is peculiarly small or because those who have copies are especially reluctant to part with them. Meanwhile, though my investigation concluded that the work has slipt into the public domain, I have not found the contents reproduced elsewhere.

Though the scans are imperfect, I believe that the whole body of the text is easily read. As to that imperfection, I was reluctant to increase wear-and-tear on my copy, and I did not want to commit a great many hours to the project.

There are passages in this booklet that will make many modern readers wince, but it represented a relatively enlightened view for the time in which it was first published (c. 1928).

I Know It When I See It!

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Yester-day evening, I was using a publicly accessible WLAN to connect with the Internet. I found my access to this 'blog blocked by a Norton-branded product, which declared the 'blog to be pornographic.

Erotica really hasn't figured large in this 'blog. You can find the relevant entries with the tag erotica. I think that the two or three entries that caused Norton to damn this thing are specifically my entry of 2 July 2009, my entry of 26 March 2010, and perhaps my entry of 30 June 2010; the entry of 30 January 2011 may have weighed against me as well.

Of these, the entry of 2 July 2009 is the one that most likely set-off alarms. It contains an overtly erotic image (by Carolyn Weltman), and has a key-word of cunnilinctus.[1] Do a Google image-search using that key-word, and a link to that entry is currently the second returned. And, because of a couple of the other key-words in that entry, other images are also found, including one by Karel Šimůnek than many would regard as pornographic.

In the '50s, the drawings by Joe Shuster in the entry of 30 June 2011 would have been regarded as pornographic, though now the word pornography would typically be regarded as too strong. (Actually, a hundred years ago, many would have insisted that the picture in my entry of 2 February 2011 were pornographic, while now-a-days it could appear in a children's book without fuss.) Still, the text in that entry contains the term sado-masochistic and there are pictures, and Norton's classification was probably mediated with weak AI; indeed, once other flags were thrown, the appearance of the word dominatrix in a follow-up entry may have been seen as further PoP.

Most WLANs that filter do so by way of a DNS table. When a browser seeks content located in terms of a URI or of a URL, and that specification includes a domain name, the domain name is converted to an IP number by way of a DNS table. By censoring the table that is used, the WLAN can block domains.

Some people subvert this censorship by way of a proxy server, which is no more than some site that will act as an intermediary; fetching content from the blocked domain. The obvious problem here is that the proxy may be identified and blocked as well.

A better subversion is to use a different table than whatever is being supplied by the WLAN. In particular, one may configure one's system to use DNS tables provided by Google, or perhaps by some other third party. But be alert that using an alternative DNS table may not be a good idea in other contexts. (For example, when using a subscription ISP that places quotas on content for most sites, but with exceptions.)

[1]The words cunnilinctus and cunnilingus are synonymous in English and in some other languages; but in Latin cunnilinctus referred to the act, while cunnilingus referred to a performer of that act. The latter word acquired its more recent meaning as a result of incompetent posturing (something that has figured more than once in attempts to borrow foreign terms and phrases). Efforts to clean-up this particular mess have repeatedly failed, but I avoid participating in it, by using the word that is both proper English and proper Latin. Hence my use of the less common term.

Le tut-tut

Friday, 14 May 2010

From a copy of Le Rire from 1908, reproduced at Vintage Poster: [advertisement for L'homosexualite en Allemagne]

Ayn Rand and Me

Monday, 4 January 2010
art by Morton Meskin

I believe that my first encounter with the works of Ayn Rand was in seeing as a child some of The Fountainhead (1949) on television. All that I really remember seeing of it then were the final two scenes, which may indeed be all that I saw. I would have been unable to tell anyone very much about the movie (I didn't even know its name), and unaware of there being a book whose ideas were behind it.

Later, I read some distinctive stories by Steve Ditko in Charlton Comics. I was not a fan of Ditko's graphic work (which combines spareness of detail with an a propensity to put figures in ape-like positions and to present an abundance of wildly exaggerated facial expression), but the stories were written from an unflinching, and seemingly grim yet ultimately optimistic belief in straight-forward good and beauty. I wouldn't have been able to tell anyone whose prior work had informed his.

My next encounter was as a teenager, in a Midwestern drug store. Some of Rand's books were in a rack there; on the backs of the volumes were remarkable claims about Rand's popularity and about her significance to many people. I was skeptical, as I'd not otherwise heard of her. In any event, I didn't buy any of the books, but a mental note was made.

When I became more politically active over the next few years, I began to encounter frequent reference to Rand from people with whom I had some ideological allegiance. So I decided to read one of her books.

I tend to read authors' works in the order in which they were written, and the earliest of Rand's works that I found when I looked at a book-store was The Fountainhead (1943); and I had begun to think that I'd seen part of a movie based upon it; so that was the book that I first read. It was rather a while before I read any more.

Reading The Fountainhead was not the transformative experience for me that it has been for some people. There weren't any notions in it that were new to me (albeït perhaps in part due to my prior exposure to Ditko), and Rand seemed to confuse egoism with egotism. In a preface, she blamed a use of egotism for egoism on a poor dictionary (English was not her first language), but it seemed and seems that the confusion at the time that she wrote that novel was not merely one of words but of ideas.

I think that Rand suffered from mind-blindness of a sort, such that she could not use ordinary intuïtions as most people do to understand other people. That is not to say that she could not use some other means; and being compelled to use other means sometimes even caused her to have insights that other people would miss. But it was a struggle, her understanding could be imperfect, and it left her treating empathy as if it were an unfair demand. (It surely didn't help that she'd been forced to live under a regime that willfully confused coërcive redistribution with brotherhood in order to license a considerable amount of repression and brutality.)

One sees this lack and rejection of empathy somewhat reflected through-out her writing. Its expression diminished over time, but at its worst it embraced sociopathy. In some of her journal notes of 1928, a young Ayn Rand seriously planned to have a hero modelled on William Edward Hickman, who in late 1927 had kidnapped a 12-year-old girl, and then delivered her grotesquely mutilated corpse when her father paid for her return. Hickman, as Rand saw him, had acted without concern for others, with the supposed motto What is good for me is right. In The Night of January 16th (1934), the protagonist is a woman whose heroic love is for a man whom she knows to be a conscienceless swindler (inspired by Ivar Kreuger). In We the Living (1936), the heroine at one point thrills in response to a depiction of a man whipping serfs, and her truest love, Leo, lives only for himself. In The Fountainhead, that has largely been left behind, but it has a very ugly echo.[1]

In The Fountainhead, the hero rapes the heroine. I put rapes in quotation marks because, even though it is called as much in the book, it (as Susan Brownmiller noted in an moment of lucidity) isn't a genuine rape; rather, it is a confrontation, pretty literally by engraved invitation, between two individuals over whether they will have sex on her terms or on his, which he wins largely by physical force. It was enough like a real rape that I was deeply appalled. Bearing in mind the historical context, that this was written in a time when rape was still widely romanticized, did not help much.

Thereäfter, the relationship between the two remains perverse, with the heroine marrying a couple of other men, whom she certainly does not love, simply to hurt the hero, whom she does love — in her own, Randian way.

Additionally, this was a book without much salvation. In particular, no one saves Catherine, a woman crushed by abandonment, who is then drawn into a life of soul-less self-lessness, and Gail Wynand's redemption is in suïcide. If anyone is actually saved in the book, it is Mallory, who fell so far as to have made a private attempt at popular sculpture, before Roark summons him to reälize his true vision. I would note that salvation was something that I had seen in at least one of Ditko's stories, in which the hero and heroine reach out to pull a fellow doing an imitation of Ellsworth Toohey (Rand's principal villain in The Fountainhead) back into a world-view of truly humanistic possibility.[2]

I finished reading The Fountainhead with little desire to read anything more by Rand.

But she continued to be referenced, positively and negatively, by friends and by allies, and I was ultimately moved to read her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957).

Atlas Shrugged was not so unpleasant as had been The Fountainhead. Rand again manages to toss her heroine into bed with two men other than the hero, the second much to the distress of the hero (and to that of some hapless other fellow), but this time she isn't out to cause anguish; she isn't even aware of him as a person. The descriptions of sex between the principal hero and heroine seem a little peculiar, but markèdly different from the confrontational initial sex of the previous book.

There's salvation of one sort in the book — the main hero is persuading the most genuinely productive members of society to withdraw, in order to bring an end to a social order of unreason that demands self-sacrifice and becomes ever-more totalitarian. But none of these people are in danger of being lost to the unreason itself. The two characters who are in such danger, Cherryl and Tony, are basically left by the heroes to sink or swim. Cherryl literally drowns, unable to cope (with no one helping her) when she begins to grasp the prevailing social order. Tony figures it out, with little help, and is shot dead for trying by himself to stop a group of thugs from the other side; by the time that a hero could be bothered to help him, Tony was really past help.

As well as the lack of empathy expressed in the treatment of such characters, there's something else that I take to be a manifestation of Rand's mind-blindness. Some of the villains demand to be understood; the heroes reject the idea that they must understand such people. And understand is the recurring word, without the heroes asserting that there is a difference between understanding and acceptance. Personally, I very much want to understand my opponents, without any expectation that this will cause me to think much better of them. In fact, having a working model of what makes them tick often intensifies my rejection, but it allows me to anticipate their behavior. However, Rand seems truly to object to a demand of understanding. I think that it was because understanding did not come intuïtively to her.

Atlas Shrugged is often criticized for the fact that its characters are archetypal, and apt to present long philosophical monologues in the context of extemporaneous discourse. I think that such criticism is actively ridiculous (especially when it comes from people who haven't directed the same criticism at the works of Shakespeare, or at various ostensibly classic works by Russian novelists,[3] whose characters are like-wise archetypal and like-wise given to unlikely speeches). Atlas Shrugged is a novel of archetypes and of monologues because it seeks to present a fairly comprehensive philosophical statement. Even with the device of archetypes and monologues, it is a very long book, and without those devices it would be less clear and probably much longer. It is also, somewhat more reasonably, criticized as belaboring ideas, but Rand was plainly concerned not to allow a point to be treated as obvious when presented and then repeatedly ignored in application; I think that such concern is quite well-founded.

As with The Fountainhead, reading Atlas Shrugged was not a transformative experience for me. There were only three philosophical novelties for me. The first was simply interesting; the second and third were not clear to me.

It used the word justice in reference to something inexorable. I'm not sure that I would use that term in that way, though it does seem useful to me to recognize that a natural law that says that one should or shouldn't do X is founded on one that says what obtains from doing X.

What I didn't understand, but wanted to pursue, were her claims about causality being necessitated by logic and that Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification.

I came away from Atlas Shrugged more willing to read other things by Rand, especially to understand what was meant by those last two assertions. The book in which the last was answered (she was cryptic on the other, and I had to figure that one out largely on my own) is also the book by Rand that most affected me philosophically, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1979). I didn't agree with everything in it, and have since come to reject more in it than I did at first. I also came to recognize that a considerable amount of it is unacknowledgedly borrowed from Locke and from others. But I believe that there is a core to it that is an original synthesis and a genuine advancement in epistemology, more properly conceptualizing logic in terms of a Lockean notion of concepts.

As well as Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, I got and read We the Living, Anthem (1938), various anthologies derived from The Objectivist Newsletter and from its successor, The Objectivist, and a few interviews. I also found and watched a movie whose screen-play she wrote, Love Letters (1945). (And, somewhere along the line, I watched the movie The Fountainhead from start to finish.)

In the fictional work, I perceived a recurring theme. As Rand herself essentially says in a later introduction, The Night of January 16th is about how Rand felt people ought to have reäcted to Ivar Kreuger's selfishness. Anthem is an unacknowledged re-write of We (1921), by Yevgeny Zamyatin; it is the novella that she thought that he ought to have written. I think that The Fountainhead is about the sort of man whom she felt Frank Lloyd Wright ought to have been. Love Letters is supposedly based on a book, Pity My Simplicity, by Christopher Massie, but when I skimmed through that I book, I found it hard to recognize the one in the other; meanwhile the screen-play bears a significant resemblance to Rostand's Cyrano De Bergerac, except that it ends with the true author of the love letters getting the girl; it is Rand again setting things as she feels that they ought to be. And Atlas Shrugged is, of course, about the strike that really ought to be held (and, on the side, with a pirate of the sort who ought to be out there plundering and sinking the ships that ought to be sunk). As to We the Living, well, I think that it's about the man whom Rand felt ought to have loved her.[4]

The non-fiction was often insightful or amusing; and, my objections to aspects of the sexuality in her novels not-withstanding, I also thought that some of the claims concerned love and sexuality were important insights. But, at some point, I just didn't think that I was likely to get much more value out of her work. Before Rand had died, I had stopped reading her work, except occasionally to read an excerpt here-or-there.

While she was alive, I didn't encounter many people who could admit both that Rand was right in some of her unpopular assertions and that she was wrong in others. Instead, the vast majority of people who recognized her name either denounced her as having had nothing to say that were both unusual and correct, or endorsed her every claim without exception, and each group was condescending and curtly dismissive of anyone who would say otherwise. (The preëmption, whatever its motive, insulated them from potential correction.) But, over time, I have increasingly noted people who self-identify with her philosophy, but not without their own criticism, and not without a willingness to entertain the thought that further criticism might be neither knavish nor foolish.

My own philosophical position is removed from Rand's in some very important ways, and I would simply not count myself as a subscriber.

For example, Rand treated existence as a property of things; I would join with various philosophers who would assert that existence is not a property of the thing considered, but of the consideration. When one says something such as that unicorns do not exist, one is really saying something about the idea of unicorns. (And to say that the idea of unicorns does exist is really to say something about the idea of the idea of unicorns, &c.) The reason that existence seems to be a property of things is that our natural discourse isn't clearly distinguishing between things and ideas of those things. If unicorns do not exist, then it is absurd to talk about the unicorn itself as having a property of non-existence, because there is nothing to have the property. Rand objected to Reification of the Zero, but if we treat existence as a property of elephants themselves, then its contradiction, non-existence, becomes a property, which can only be held by, um, nothing; the Zero would then be reïfied. Rand's formula existence exists isn't particularly helpful, and its invocation seems to be nothing more than an artefact of confusing a crudity of grammar with a metaphysical insight.

By the way, I want to mention a book by another author, The Watcher (1981) by Kay Nolte Smith. Smith was at one time amongst those personally associated with Rand, but (like many) eventually left. The Watcher is a novel that successfully fused much of what virtue is to be found in Randian fiction with a deep sense of empathy. And its heroes don't simply march relentlessly towards triumph, but reach back to save people who ought not to be lost.

[1] I wasn't at all positioned to write that paragraph until years after I read The Fountainhead.

[2] However, Ditko certainly does not present all of his characters as saveable; and, in particular, those characters of his who step across the line between Good and Evil with the thought that they will later redeem themselves are inevitably morally destroyed.

As to such crossings, Ditko's villains are more likely than those of Rand to be conscious of when they are crossing the line or that they have crossed the line. While both Rand and Ditko would declare wickedness to be founded in a choice not to think; Ditko's villains are more likely to be in fact thinking.

[3] It is certainly worth noting that Rand was a novelist from Russia.

[4] And thence I would explain much of the sexual dynamic across her fiction.