Monday, September 13, 2010
The Objectivist Philosophy on Sexual Desire
Invariably, whenever I go out and meet friends that I haven't seen in a while or just curious new found acquaintances, shortly after the obligatory questions like "where do you live?" and "what do you do?", there is always at least one person that wants to know if I have a girlfriend and, if I don't, why. It's hard to frame my philosophy on sexual relations and dating in the 140 characters or less world of Twitteresque conversations that my generation and scores of other people now engage in. In lieu of trying to condense the set of morals that guide my relations with the opposite sex into a more palatable form, I think that it would be more helpful to directly cite the words that influenced what was admittedly a change of heart from my many previous interactions with the opposite sex. It should come as no surprise to those who know me that the text is Atlas Shrugged and the author is the brilliant Ayn Rand.
At this point in the novel Henry Rearden, the millionaire steel magnate has just finished being put on trial by a government entity for not obeying their legislation limiting the amount of Rearden Metal he can produce and whom he may sell his alloy to. After making a rousing testimony in defense of free market economics and individual rights, Rearden is "let off' with a $5,000 fine and a suspended sentence. Upon returning to his suite at the local 5 star hotel, Rearden has the sudden urge to visit Francisco D'Anconia, the billionaire mining playboy who is the only other man in the world that Rearden truly admires and respects and who happens to have a suite in the same hotel several floors above Rearden. Rearden enters D'Anconia's suite and, after some talk regarding Rearden's trial, the following conversation(the conversation that changed my mind and my life) ensues:
(Talking to Rearden, D'Anconia asks)
"Do you remember what I said about money and about men who seek to reverse the law of cause and effect? The men who try to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind? Well, the man who despises himself tries to gain self-esteem from sexual adventures--which can't be done, because sex is not the cause, but an effect and an expression of a man's sense of his own value."
"Did it ever occur to you that it's the same issue? The men who think wealth comes from material resources and has no intellectual root or meaning, are the same men who think--for the same reason--that sex is a physical capacity which functions independently of one's mind, choice or code of values. They think that your body creates a desire and makes a choice for you--just about in some such way as if iron ore transformed itself into railroad rails of its own volition. Love is blind, they say; sex is impervious to reason and mocks the power of all philosophers. But, in fact, 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, only in self-exaltation, only in the confidence of being desires 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. The man who is proudly certain of his own value, will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer--because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement, not the possession of a brainless slut."
"He does not seek to gain his value, he seeks to express it. There is no conflict between the standards of his mind and the desires of his body. But the man who is convinced of his own worthlessness will be drawn to a woman he despises--because she will reflect his own secret self, she will release him from that objective reality in which he is a fraud, she will give him a momentary illusion of his own value and a momentary escape from the moral code that damns him. Observe the ugly mess which most men make of their sex lives--and observe the mess of contradictions which they hold as their moral philosophy. One proceeds from the other. Love is our response to our highest values--and can be nothing else. Let a man corrupt his values and his view of existence, let him profess that love is not self-enjoyment but self-denial, that virtue consists, not of pride, but of pity or pain or weakness or sacrifice, that the noblest love is born, not of admiration, but of charity, not in response to values, but in response to flaws--and he will have cut himself in two. His body will not obey him, it will not respond, it will make him impotent toward the woman he professes to love and draw him to the lowest type of whore he can find. His body will always follow the ultimate logic of his deepest convictions; if he believes that flaws are values, he has damned existence as evil and only the evil will attract him. He has damned himself and he will feel that depravity is all he is worthy of enjoying. He has equated virtue with pain and he will feel that vice is the only realm of pleasure. Then he will scream that his body has vicious desires of its own which his mind con-not conquer, that sex is sin, that true love is a pure emotion of the spirit. And then he will wonder why love brings him nothing but boredom, and sex--nothing but shame."
So we see from this excerpt that Rand's philosophy on sexual desires and our choice of sexual partners in drawn from the same place as her philosophy on individual rights, the proper role of governments, and monetary policy--the law of cause and effect. More specifically, it is drawn from either a man's recognition of this universal law as immutable or his attempts to abdicate the law entirely, which leads to either a recognition that the thoughts of one's mind and the actions of one's body are inextricably connected or to a futile attempt to fake reality with contradictions that only serve to sustain the ego while having no effect whatsoever on the facts of objective reality.
Walking into a room with a beautiful woman on your arm is a status symbol in our society. We are all familiar with or have heard the overture that women are attracted to men who have been vetted by other women and that a man who attracts attention from the opposite sex is given Alpha male status amongst his cohorts. However, a man devoid of true respect and admiration for himself is by default incapable of true respect and admiration for his partner. The beautiful woman on his arm then takes on the character and function of a shoulder bag, umbrella, or tote--an accessory on display for a specific function for a finite period of time. As Rands explains in the aforementioned text, the man who chases women for sport is the farthest thing in reality from an Alpha male because his need for constant female attention displays a deep seeded inferiority complex that betrays his outward bravado.
The truly confident man--the truly selfish man--the man who loves himself above all and who holds his own life and happiness as the only absolute in this world is the true Alpha male because he realizes that the thoughts of his mind, the actions of his body, and the emotion that fusion of the two causes are all one. Not just any woman will suffice when it comes to meeting his needs because he is not attempting to meet his needs, but rather to express his joy. A man of true confidence looks for the expression of his inner self in his opposite and, when he finds it, the combination of the two has the same effect as the collision of atoms.
It took me a long time to realize these truths. For so long, my greatest desire was not to find the smartest, most confident and talented woman out there but rather the drunkest slut with such a disregard and hatred for herself that she would be willing to sleep with me to fulfill her subconscious societal role as a submissive woman and I could stave off the feeling of being inadequate as a male for another night. There was never any emotion involved--we would go through the prescribed motions, receive a momentary burst of pleasure, and find ourselves right back where we started--with an insatiable hatred for ourselves and each other.
Now, I realize that I've been faking reality in lieu of really, truly being alive. I realize that the pleasure of conquering one person that is your equal is far more gratifying than sex with a slew of women whose names you barely remember and whose faces you wouldn't be able to pick from a line-up. The other side of my bed is a lot lonelier and colder at night. I lay side by side with my ego.
My sense of pride comes not from how many women I've managed to wrangle in a given week, but in actually having pride for once in my life.
The past is history and the future is a mystery but I can say with conviction that the next woman will truly be a reflection of my new found inner joy and the celebration of that shared joy will have been the first time that I've truly made love ;-)