Jul 012002

Read Part 1.

The official version — at least the former official version, I don’t know if Barbara Branden’s hagiography in Who Is Ayn Rand? is in the canon any more — of how Ayn Rand met her husband goes like this:

One morning, she boarded a streetcar as usual for the long ride to the [de Mille] studio in Culver City…she glanced across the aisle.

He was tall and slender; a strand of fair hair fell over his forehead; he wore an open shirt, and slacks over long legs. The skin of his face was taut against high cheekbones. His mouth was long and thin. His eyes were a cold, clear blue. He was half-dozing, his body relaxed with the boneless elegance of a cat….

She knew that if she were a painter and were asked to put on canvas her own private vision of the perfect human face and figure, it would be this face and this figure that she would struggle to create. She felt as if she were chained to her seat — or chained to him — and unable to move.

Then she felt the jolt of a sudden terror: he would get off the streetcar, and she would never learn who he was.

Not to worry, kids: he turns out to be an extra in the de Mille extravaganza King of Kings, just like her. They’re together for days and she doesn’t open her mouth. Finally she manages to make him trip over her on the set and she finds out his name is Frank O’Connor. Then, disaster:

When she arrived on the set the next day he was not there. She learned that the scenes in which he was working had been completed. She did not know where he lived; his name was not listed in the telephone book; the casting office refused to release the addresses of actors; the few people with whom she was acquainted could not help her. He had vanished, and she knew of no way to find him.

Nine months later, she runs into him in the library.

He led her outside into the summer afternoon. They walked aimlessly — and talked purposefully. They discussed movies and writing and acting and what they inteded to do in the future; they talked eagerly, without strain and with no sense of being strangers. By the end of the day, she knew that what she had seen in his face, that first morning on the streetcar, she now had found in his character…She had found her spiritual ally, who saw the world as she saw it.

Uh huh. Today’s question is, did Ayn Rand fall in love with the face or the character? Did Frank O’Connor have to be a Randian hero, or just look like one? The Ayn Rand of Atlas Shrugged says she fell in love with the character:

…a man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life. Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself. No matter what corruption he’s taught about the virtue of selflessness, sex is the most profoundly selfish of all acts, an act which he cannot perform for any motive but his own enjoyment — just try to think of performing it in a spirit of selfless charity! — an act which is not possible in self-abasement, but only in self-exaltation, only in the confidence of being desired and being worthy of desire. It is an act that forces him to stand naked in spirit, as well as in body, and to accept his real ego as his standard of value. He will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience — or to fake – a sense of self-esteem….Love is our response to our highest values – and can be nothing else…

This sexual psychology is entirely deductive. Sex is a value, sex is an expression of one’s highest values, so falling in love with an inferior person necessarily puts your own moral bankruptcy on display.

Stendhal, on the other hand, says Ayn Rand fell in love with the face. We can reverse the genders for our purposes:

Here is what happens in the soul:

1. Admiration.

2. You think, “How delightful it would be to kiss her, to be kissed by her,” and so on…

3. Hope. You observe her perfections, and it is at this moment that a woman really ought to surrender, for the utmost physical pleasure. Even the most reserved women blush to the whites of their eyes at this moment of hope. The passion is so strong, and the pleasure so sharp, that they betray themselves unmistakably.

4. Love is born. To love is to enjoy seeing, touching, and sensing with all the senses, as closely as possible, a lovable object which loves in return.

5. The first crystallization begins. If you are sure a woman loves you, it is a pleasure to endow her with a thousand perfections and to count your blessings with infinite satisfaction. In the end you overrate wildly, and regard her as something fallen from Heaven, unknown as yet, but certain to be yours.

At the salt mines of Salzburg, they throw a leafless wintry bough into one of the abandoned workings. Two or three months later they haul it out covered with a shining deposit of crystals. The smallest twig, no bigger than a tom-tit’s claw, is studded with a galazy of scintillating diamonds. The original branch is no longer recognizable.

What I have called crystallization is a mental process which draws from everything that happens new proofs of the perfection of the loved one.

It is at this point, with Ayn Rand already half in love with him, that Frank O’Connor drops out of sight for nine months. Note that so far he has shown nothing in the way of character. Stendhal continues:

This is what happens next to fix the attention:

6. Doubt creeps in. First a dozen or so glances, or some other sequence of actions, raise and confirm the lover’s hopes. Then, as he recovers from the initial shock, he grows accustomed to his good fortune, or acts on a theory drawn from the common multitude of easily-won women. He asks for more positive proofs of affection and tries to press his suit further.

He is met with indifference, coldness, or even anger…

Or absence, in this case. Long absence sets the scene for what Stendhal calls “the second crystallization.”

The lover begins to be less sure of the good fortune he was anticipating and subjects his grounds for hope to a critical examination.

He tries to recoup by indulging in other pleasures but finds them inane….Thus begins:

7. The second crystallization, which deposits diamond layers of proof that “she loves me.”

Every few minutes throughout the night which follows the birth of doubt, the lover has a moment of dreadful misgiving, and then reassures himself, “she loves me”; and crystallization begins to reveal new charms. Then once again the haggard eye of doubt pierces him and he stops transfixed…Torn between doubt and delight, the poor lover convinces himself that she could give him such pleasure as he could find nowhere else on earth.

Nine months of this sort of thing would make anyone’s eye of doubt pretty haggard. Ayn Rand’s romance was on Stendhal’s pattern and not at all on her own. Frank O’Connor was neither a hero nor a villain. He was a weak and ineffectual man who liked to work in his garden, and paint, and drink, and was very much in love with Ayn Rand. The loved one is not perfect until the lover makes him so. Ayn Rand used to know this about love herself; before the notorious “rape by engraved invitation” scene in The Fountainhead, Dominique and Roark have had exactly one, highly sublimated conversation about marble. She doesn’t find out he’s a hero until she’s already been to bed with him.

It would not be necessary to insist on this rather obvious point unless Objectivism made such a virtue of ignoring it and hurt so many people in the process. Ayn Rand damaged herself and her marriage by conducting an affair with Nathaniel Branden, mostly because she thought he fit the profile of a suitable lover better than her husband did. Many followers of Rand were told to give up their lovers because they weren’t proper manifestations of the “highest values,” i.e., weren’t Objectivists. I hope Objectivist psychologists are no longer handing out this sort of advice, but I don’t know, and would be curious if any readers wish to enlighten me. It’s not the most serious intellectual error in Objectivism — only the one that has caused the most misery.

  9 Responses to “What’s Wrong with Objectivism, Pt. 2, Sexual Psychology”

  1. I think Maslow is instructive in understanding what is happening here. He categorizes human wants and needs into two groups: B-Needs and D-Needs.

    D-Needs (deficit needs) are driven by the absense of something–self-esteem, security, loneliness, etc. while B-Needs (being needs) are driven by the desire to self-actualize–to form an identity through accomplishment and development of talent.

    People should find partners that facilitate B-needs. Instead, most folks end up using partners to satisfy D-Needs.

  2. Hoo-boy, are you in for a fact-reaming by James Valliant. Owch!

  3. I doubt he’ll take issue with my facts, though he may take issue with other matters. The facts I cite are from the authorized biography, and as far as I know none of them are in dispute.

  4. As far as you know. But you haven’t read his thorough demolition of the Branden’s as sources of fact. None could be more interested observers in distorting the said facts, and their distortions are now a matter of record, based, sadly, on their own records. You should read Valliant’s D.A.-like review of their testimony before being too sure of anything they have said. However, I will leave that up to him. It’s as devestating and thorough as any closing argument you could ever imagine seeing. It’s at my website, if you want to get a jump on him. He’s at a party now, and will be back shortly. Yikes, Aaron.



  5. Sorry I misplaced that apostrophe. I was laughing too hard.

    (Keep reading, Aaron. And Mark. A serious change of opinion is coming.)

  6. If I’m to be spanked and sent to bed without my supper I’d like to know what for. The only event in Ayn Rand’s life I discuss is how she met her husband. It is a charming story, in no way demeaning, that happens to help make my case. I take the story from the hagiographical essay in Who Is Ayn Rand?, a very bad book that Rand obviously vetted because it couldn’t possibly have been published without her approval. The essay you refer me to is a lengthy demolition of Judgment Day and The Passion of Ayn Rand, neither of which I cite. Would you mind telling me what exactly the problem is here?

  7. You assume many Branden myths are completely true, which are utterly mythical when observed under the same scrutiny so readily applied to Rand’s writings which have turned out to be accurate despite knee-jerk scrutiny (her college experience, her Hollywood experiences, etc., etc.) To wit, Frank drank, Frank was her hopeless inferior, etc. These are Branden-sourced ideas, which ALL of the other sources, who refrained from ripping her off in every way imaginable, financially, philsophically and sexually, to name the obvious, claimed NEVER to have seen the slightest evidence of, even if they were themselves REJECTED by Rand for ideological reasons. That bears some skepticism for the Brandens’ unsubstantiated and self-serving claims. We’re talking about maids, here — EVERYONE. But I do no justice to the full catalogue by trying to list such testimonials here.

    NO ONE but the desperately guilty Brandens ever played into these cliches the anti-Rand forces wished so desperately to publish. Hmm. I say again, for the full spanking experience, my dear Aaron, read the damn piece.

    Frank’s real relationship with Rand is not to be found by taking the cynical intellectual con-men Brandens’ word for it. Yes, Nathaniel instantly yanked his head forward at every utterance she ever sputtered, realizing before she did the brilliance of her every verbal fart: Frank, by contrast, was a dunce. But read about her real emotional crises as an artist and who was there and what he said to her to keep her going. It wasn’t Nathaniel. The monumental deceipt of the Brandens, moreover, will simply make it impossible to rely on them as sources on anything they have to say about the issue, as they are too obviously self-interested in distorting the facts, which they have too-obviously done in the first place to get them in the trouble they wound up in with Rand. Read it.

    Then tell me their comments, before or after their split, are something anyone should put any credence in, good or bad.

    But, again, I say, read it. It’s at my sight. That’s what blogs and websites are for: fact-checking our asses. The published record is too often lacking or politically motivated, especially in Rand’s case(!), to trust.


  8. Mr. Haspel should definitely read my analysis of the Brandens’ biographies, he does buy into the whole Branden portrait, but he should read Atlas Shrugged first as he appears to be much better versed in Ms.
    Branden’s biographies of Rand than in Rand’s work itself.

    Rand rejected the "face-character" dichotomy being assumed here. While aspects of beauty are amorally outside of choice and control, much is not. A person’s posture, how she looks at things–including you–how she smiles, etc. are all reflections of her psychology and comprise initial
    evidence of her character even before any words are exchanged.

    In reality, unlike fiction, people can be contradictory and, therefore, "disappointments" to their looks, if you will. In Rand’s fiction, her characters are consistent expressions of their souls down to the smallest gesture of a pinky. They never disappoint.

    Rand sure did not believe in "love" at first sight, but she held that there is something important to that concept.

    For Rand, thinking someone is "hot" already implies an active metaphysics. Rand correctly observed, we have no instincts. We are not born with any template of human appearance, for all we are born knowing, humans are multilegged spiders and there are three sexes, not just two.
    The process of sex itself must be learned. Which sex do we find "hot"?
    What age group? What demeanor, emotions and STYLE of soul are we attracted to, etc. All of this does reflect choices, values and beliefs. The fact that we value human faces at all is, as Rand says, a "response to values," much less the KIND of face, for gosh sakes!

    Rand is refuting and rejecting the very dichotomy which is sadly the axiom of Mr. Haspel’s essay. Rand’s literary style itself is demonstration of the relationship between perception and high abstraction being missed here–especially in her love scenes. Dagny’s first impressions, her first perceptions of Galt, before any words are exchanged tells us about Galt, his arrogance, his pride, his pride in being proud, etc. His face and its expressions reflect his character, while for the rest of us only our expressions and movements necessarily do. But these things ARE reflections of our character, says Rand. She
    says it in her philosophy, she says it in her style.

    Rand is saying that sometimes, as with Roark and Dominique, what is actually said is the smallest fraction of what is being communicated. And this is fiction.

    What Ms. Branden was saying is that Rand’s meeting with O’Connor was like her fiction, i.e. Frank did not disappoint, his charcter matched his look, his charcter was consistently expressed in his demeanor and looks.

    Ironically, it is Mr. Haspel who is the rationalist and whose thought, divorced from the integrative insights of Rand, is purely deductive on the one hand, while being purely concrete-bound on the other.

    Stendhal, of course, begins the subject in the middle and continues through it in an emotional fog reflective of his own (and perhaps Mr. Haspel’s) psychology as opposed to any principles of universal
    applicability, such as Rand was articulating. Mr. Haspel, it seems, did not grasp just how universally applicable those concepts actually are.

    Rand’s heroes and heroines were, in the plots of her stories, in conflict. Conflict between the "good guys" is much more interesting than conflict just between the "bad guys" and "good guys". This conflict is reflected in the sex scenes. I never got the idea that Rand was suggesting that this was the only good sex…right?

    And where did he get that "moral bankruptcy" bit? Uncalled for, of course.

    Mr. Haspel’s use of the terms like "canon" and "official" version shows an inherent hostility to Rand. If he weren’t "Hatch"….

  9. And, one more thing regarding the "movement": just exactly which
    marriages were broken apart or set-up? This accusation is sometimes
    made, but in all my studies, not a single marriage is actually
    specified, apart from the Brandens’ own. The Branden biographies show that it was they, not Rand, who chose lovers because they "fit
    profiles"–as the story of her meeting with O’Connor actually
    demonstrates. Nathaniel Branden, not Rand, handed out professional
    psychological advice, and, from what I understand, it was often terribly inconsistent with the Objectivism Rand taught. I’m willing to bet he ruined marriages, but, to date, no one is willing to cough-up any names.
    Spreading such stories should require at least SOME evidence first, right? How are we to judge whether Rand or Objectivism was actually to blame in the absense of the facts? Perhaps Mr. Haspel knows something I haven’t yet been able to verify….

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