Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spanner: Willa Explains Class Conflict, the Objectivist Way

As I continue to struggle with the Spanner TV series for Script Frenzy, I've been procrastinating on TV Tropes again and found this "useful notes" page on Objectivism. Ayn Rand famously opposed altruism in its strong form (as defined by the philosopher who coined the term, Auguste Comte) in the name of her form of classical egoism. The strong definition of "altruism", of course, is "live for others [vivre pour autrui] at the expense of oneself." In short: love others, hate self. Comte believed altruism justified an ideal dictatorship; his description of it became the political ideal of a very influential later disciple, right-wing occultist Alexandre Saint-Yves d'Alveydre, and his disciples, the Synarchists and their successors the Fascists and Stalinists. You can find an informative discussion of the issue here.

My last post, once you get past the indignation, is about how the more dubious parts of Rand's personal history were reflected in parts of her ethical system that were interpreted to justify the extreme forms of "rugged individualism" behind the current manifestation of American corporatism and leading up to the corporate dictatorship in Spanner. Here, my character Willa Richter-Thomas explains (not necessarily in these exact words) that the classical egoist ethics of Rand and her hero Aristotle turn out to have completely different implications according to social class:
For the Corporate oligarch, concern for others can only be at the expense of concern for oneself. The world of business is a non-stop battle royal, you see, and all the other dogs are out to eat you. Our Corporate frenemies call this "rugged individualism." But for the ordinary working people, concern for others is concern for oneself. Their predicament was elegantly summed up by Ben Franklin: "We must all hang together, or we shall all hang separately."

My guess is that any worker with a sufficient knowledge of both Rand and Marx can correct the most unpleasant parts of Rand by using her philosophy, including her ethics, to bolster Marx. But if you're Corporate, Rand means Stirnerism and Social Darwinism. The same thing can have completely different meaning depending on where you are in the hierarchy.
Rand put great emphasis on the importance of context. In the case of her egoistic ethics, context changes everything when the context is social class. The Corporate oligarch takes egoism to the extremes of militant egotism; that is, after all, required to succeed in business, in which all your competitors are eternally out to destroy you. But in the lower reaches of the social hierarchy, among the working people Rand so disdained, egoism and the fact (which Aristotle famously pointed out) that man is a social animal have equal emphasis, reinforced by necessity: one worker is insignificant, but masses of workers united are very powerful indeed. This is the principle behind trade unionism; combined with the phenomenon known as "the wisdom of crowds", it is also the foundation of democracy itself (which, of course, Rand also disdained).

The political consequences are likewise opposite. The upper-class interpretation Rand preferred ultimately leads, as we are finding out here in America, to authoritarian plutocratic oligarchism in politics and monopoly corporatism in economics. Never mind that Rand was attacking just that in the character of Nietzschean media lord Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead and the "looter" corporatists in Atlas Shrugged, even going so far as to call the latter altruists. The working-class interpretation, by contrast, justifies democracy and the corresponding democratic form of socialism (as opposed to conventional state socialism, which is little more than state corporatism and frequently overlaps with the plutocratic variety as in China).

What's missing, of course, is the free market Rand championed. That's strictly a middle-class ideal. Libertarianism is the radical politics native to the independent petite bourgeoisie which is the "threat from below" that the oligarchs are most determined to destroy. Willa (a professional, either as outcast psychologist or outlaw musician) does not see much evidence of this class' survival in the reactionary plutocratic dictatorship of Spanner's Imperial Confederacy. And it isn't the independent businesspeople who are protesting the TEA Party corporatists' jihad to either enslave or starve them in the name of the Free Market.

Even if you start from the identical premises, class context produces opposite perspectives and thus opposite politics. Context matters indeed.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Ayn Rand, the Psychology of Fangirlism, and How America Lost Its Freedom

The article: this one on Ayn Rand as serial killer groupie.

I've been upset enough about the Republican Party's jihad against the poor and the middle class on behalf of the ultra-rich to write Spanner. Turns out their overclass supremacism, Social Darwinism, hatred of democracy, and lust for corporatist tyranny come ultimately from Ayn Rand. And then I read the above linked article, which claims that her entire philosophy of Objectivism stems from her hero worship of a serial killer. That's right: not long after she fled Stalin's Russia for America in 1926, Ayn Rand became a serial killer groupie. Turns out she was so busy fangirling the sadistic murderer William Hickman that she blanked out the fact that his moral retardation made him too dumb to live.

I myself didn't realize the truth till early afternoon today, when I was drinking my second cup of coffee. There's a pattern here. 9-year-old Alissa Rosenbaum became a huge fangirl of the arrogant British-imperialist hero (named Cyrus, no less) of a serial adventure novel called The Mysterious Valley. Her earliest essays in Russian? On Hollywood stars. When she left for America to become Ayn Rand, where did she go? Right straight to Hollywood, where she became a scriptwriter. In her late essay "On a Woman President", she denounces the idea of female leadership because, she claims, the function of woman is to hero-worship a man. In other words, she defines fangirlism as the essence of female nature. In her manifesto "The Goal of My Writing", she says the purpose of fiction, or at least her fiction, is the creation of an Ideal Man—capitalized, of course—in order to hero-worship him with her fiction. In her lectures and essays, she constantly quotes not other philosophers, but her own heroes: Howard Roark, John Galt, Hank Rearden, Francisco d'Anconia—they, not all those "lesser" philosophers she despised (meaning all the rest), were the authorities to turn to in philosophy.

Is the picture becoming clear to you already? If not, I'll tell you. I realized with a shock: who is Ayn Rand? The most famous and influential Ascended Psycho Fangirl in history. Her entire philosophy is geared toward fangirling the oligarchs of Big Business. Sure enough, she was quickly surrounded by a worshipful cult of psycho fanboys and fangirls, which eventually expanded to include the oligarchs themselves. After all, she made them (along with herself) the object of worship of the entire American civil religion. Is it any wonder that she became far more influential than her fellow/rival Angry Atheist Battleaxe, Madalyn Murray O'Hair?

It all came together in this line spoken by my character Willa, talking about her early rock 'n' roll days in Spanner:
I remember narrowly escaping being murdered by psycho fangirls repeatedly. About the same time, I became intrigued by this Ayn Rand. Then I read her essay on why she thought a woman president would be a bad idea. Turns out she hated the idea of female leadership because she believed women were supposed to worship male heroes. In other words, if you're not a fangirl, you're not a woman, period, by definition, so saith Ayn Rand. She lost me there. I wasn't the least bit surprised to find out later that she was once a serial killer groupie.
And so I find that when I write a character to resemble an Ayn Rand hero, he turns out to be a villain. Conversely, though some of my heroes (including not just Shira but Willa as well) share some of the Rand hero's ruthlessness, I can't write them like Rand heroes because they're not antisocial enough. The most important Spanner characters "born without the ability to consider others" are vampires, whose disease has eaten away the moral centers of their brains.

I also find myself witnessing (and, in Spanner, writing) an unfortunate parallel between the ideal Randian political system the Republicans are trying to impose (by brute force if necessary, as in the 2012 coup in Spanner's backstory) and the Stalinist dictatorship Rand fled. In fact, the political structure turns out to be identical to her hated Soviet Russia, with corporations replacing soviets, Republican neocons replacing Communists, and big businessmen becoming the new nomenklatura—which, it turns out, is exactly what happened in Russia after the fall of Communism. The GOP's trying to turn America from the flawed democracy we've got now into a corporatist dictatorship modelled after authoritarian Russia and China. In the name of Ayn Rand, mortal enemy of Communism, America is turning into the right-wing version of the Soviet Union, with the Corporate oligarchs as the new master race (see her "Big Business: A Persecuted Minority").

And if you suspect there's a strong element here of what literary theorist Harold Bloom calls "the anxiety of influence"—that is, the artist's war against his strongest influences (John Milton, in the case of the English Romantic poets)—you hit it on the nose. It's supposed to be unconscious according to Bloom's theory, but my case is so bad I'm fully conscious of it. My villains all think they're Rand heroes because their real-life counterparts in the New Right believe they are. The Rand hero takes the American frontier ideal of "rugged individualism" to the sociopathic extreme; this explains why the Corporate elite are hellbent on not just stealing all the money in the world but seizing absolute power as well. They don't care if they make enemies out of the entire American middle class; after all, they can always follow the example of John Galt and kill off all of humanity except for the chosen ones in Galt's Gulch.

Fandom can go psycho. Science fiction author Harlan Ellison once wrote a famous but now rare essay on the phenomenon. But now America's ruled by an ideology based entirely on psycho fannism, created by the Ascended Psycho Fangirl named Ayn Rand. So why am I writing this in my project blog rather than my opinion blog? Because I happen to be something of an "ascending fanboy" myself, and I riff off various fanfics and doujinshi. You think psycho Twilight fangirls are bad enough? Now think of America turning into a dictatorship ruled by psycho Ayn Rand fanboys. You get the picture...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Script Frenzy 2011: Chaos Angel Spanner, The TV Series?!

I originally envisioned Chaos Angel Spanner as an ongoing comics series inspired by my favorite manga and anime. I attempted to write the comic's script for Script Frenzy 2008. It turned out to be my only Screnzy winner. Yet after a few good scenes, I ended up winging it. Then I started novelizing the script for JulNoWriMo and ended up changing just about everything, including the scene order. Certain scenes and storylines, I dropped altogether.

Now I'm coming full circle. I'm adapting the half-edited novel for Script Frenzy, this time as a TV series. I kind of gave up on comics, actually. For one thing, it's actually extremely difficult to create a comic, and I failed to learn how to draw. However, scriptwriting has always come easy to me. So why not write a script for another medium?

Actually, the reason I chose comics in the first place was because I always knew whatever I wrote would be unfilmable for strictly political reasons. Then I chose to write it as a novel for the same reason: there's things you can get away with in words that no one could ever get away with in pictures. And yet I'm adapting the novelization into a TV series? What's gotten into me?

Well, there's this series running on MTV called Skins. It's about teenagers on the bad side of town who get into sex and drugs. It pushes a lot of boundaries, including even limits on what's actually legal to show on TV. Since Spanner is in effect Max Headroom meets Skins by way of Reds or similar stories about revolution, my muse figured, "Why not?" and got me thinking about actually putting this five-volume controversy magnet on TV. In fact, she had me actually write the novel as a 23-episode TV series in prose...

And so I'm entering Spanner into Script Frenzy for the second time, this time as a TV series, or at least a pilot episode. And then I'll novelize the first season back, maybe even for the novel's second draft. Who knows, I might adapt the whole thing right back into a webcomic...