Greetings! This new introduction to Rift Rants is being written in August 2014, approximately nine long years after the first introduction that immediately follows. Much has changed. The political/philosophical views expressed in my list of essays are still mine yet in some ways I cringe a little when I read some of them. Maybe it’s the strident tone, the sense of certainty that pervades so many of them. Not sure. I know that life has changed me, made me a little more tolerant, a little more mellow, and a little less sure of what I know, if a little more sure of what I want.
Peace of mind is very important to me. The last few years have been tough. My husband became my ex-husband over two decades ago, then became my friend, and then in the last years of his life became something more than a husband or a friend: He became the living embodiment of the values I hold dearest and a testimonial to what the human spirit is capable of achieving. With his body in tatters, his mind soared even though it was often racked by boredom, loneliness, pain, anxiety, and fear. It is over three years since he has died and I will never cease to be amazed at the calm, equanimity, gentleness, humor, and joy in the simplest things that I witnessed in so many of his last days.
How has it changed me? In mourning him, I have become more gentle, less inclined to harshly judge, and dare I say it, less inclined to generalize. Many of the essays below were reactive in nature, stemmed from anger at the way I was treated and the way I saw others treated. The problem with anger is that it distorts. What can be good about anger is that it can supply the energy and motivation to bring about change. Definitely a powerful tool, like fire, for good or evil.
I am still a feminist, just one who is less inclined to divide my world into males and females. I am still not religious, although I do recognize a spiritual dimension and, again, I’m less inclined to harshly judge religionists even when I still think their dogma blinds them. God? Still not relevant in the limited sense that most people use that term, as an entity that is known or can be known if you simply read the right books. Maybe there is a God and maybe it all comes out in the wash, so to speak. If so, I welcome the idea. Anything to have my Zoogz back in some “way, shape, or form,” an expression he often used.
But if not, if it’s all wishful thinking, then so what? If there is nothing but the nothing that is, to paraphrase Wallace Stevens, then there will be no one to get in my face and say, “See, the fact that you held out hope for something rather than nothing” got you nothing. Well, nothing is nothing but nothing...so there you go. Won’t make any difference if everyone in the world is wrong. No difference at all.
Truth? I call it the most noble value in one of my essays. Not so sure now. It is certainly a noble value, but the most noble? I think love is just as noble, maybe even more so.
Abortion? My views are the same. I’d like to believe that there is an honest difference of opinion between those who think abortion should be legal and those who don’t, and perhaps that’s all there is to it when one disagrees about the value of the fetus in the latter stage of pregnancy, but I still think dishonesty and self-righteousness is at the heart of the “pro-life” movement, especially in those who would criminalize abortion even when undertook in the earliest stage of pregnancy.
That said, it does no one any good to react in anger, hatred, or smug condescension to those with whom one disagrees. I hope I don’t come off as smug in any of the below essays, but if I do, so be it. They represent my mindset and my concerns during the first decade of this new century. Take them with a grain or two of salt as do I.
Here below is the original introduction.
This collection of essays deals mostly with abortion and with my feminist vision, including my interpretation of modern and historic misogyny, the origins of partriarchy, and the challenges worldwide feminism faces in the future. There are also several essays on religion, including an exploration of religious hypocrisy and a “how-do” guide for atheists in dealing with the religious mentality.
A little background: I began my venture into philosophy as a child when I became disturbed by the mythology of the religion I was raised in: the Protestant brand of Christianity common to the dominant ethnic group of white Anglo-Saxons of which I was a member. My Sunday school lessons reverberated with a distinct, although rarely explicitly articulated idea: men were primary, women secondary; men were dominant, women subordinant; men were superior, women inferior; men were central and important in society; women were peripheral and unimportant.
The myth of Adam and Eve and the overwhelming dominance of male religious figures from Abraham to Jesus emphasized this point, and of course, the masculine nature of God Himself. I disliked this intensely and also came to dislike what I saw as a huge gulf between what people said they believed in and their actual behavior.
Increasingly as I got older, I began to notice the contradictions within the Bible itself and came to the disconcerting conclusion that religion consisted of layer upon layer of irrationality. In the last few years I have discovered some interesting things about hypocrisy, namely its complexity. Hypocrisy also comes in layers, and most religious people do not simply fail to practice what they preach, they don’t even believe in what they preach. Religion is, in effect, a con of a con. Religious people generally con themselves and then con others. The trick is never to own up to the con. As long as the con is never exposed, everyone lives happily ever after. This desire to live happily ever after is what I call the ultimate hedonism and I’ve written an essay on that very subject.
Let me backtrack a bit. When I entered my teen years I became, for lack of better terms, a radical feminist and left-wing ideologue. I never bought into socialism because my sense of justice would not allow for it. I’ve always accepted the commonsensical idea that if you work harder and better than the next guy you deserve to get paid more. Seemed fair to me then and it seems fair to me now. Still I was a liberal at the very least. All that changed when I read The Fountainhead and then Atlas Shrugged. Slowly, I started to adopt the ideas of Ayn Rand and the philosophy of reason and individualism she called Objectivism.
Up until around 2001, I considered myself an Objectivist. I liked Rand’s emphasis on reason, on the evidence of the senses, on the right of an individual to live for himself or herself, and on the idea that a code of morality has to be based on the requirements of existence on this earth, something practical that people can and will adhere to.
However, despite my love affair with Ayn Rand, even from the beginning I had issues with her and the philosophy she created. I disliked her hostility to feminism (especially since her hostility seemed to go well beyond left-wing, “victim” feminism to include what I would regard as mainstream feminism as well) and her appalling ignorance about sex, reproduction, and evolutionary biology. Eventually I came to understand some of the reasons why she did not seem to want to learn more about these subjects or try to better integrate them with her philosophy of Objectivism. I came to understand that laissez-faire capitalism is completely incompatible with free women reproducing at or above replacement levels and that is the primary reason why Rand and Objectivists are hostile toward feminism.
This fact is the focus of my essay “Stopping the Engine of the World.” Once I understood that laissez-faire capitalism could not provide conditions that would make reproduction attractive to women, I understood all the other reasons that laissez-faire capitalism is not necessary for a free society. On the contrary, the cause of freedom is better advanced in a so-called “mixed economy”—one that creates conditions that make it possible for the vast majority of people to meet the requirements of existence and pursue rational values.
Most of these essays were inspired by my participation in online Objectivist mailing lists, most notably in the Atlantis list, from approximately 1997 through 2002. I found it infuriating that Objectivists and Libertarians consist of people who claim to believe in freedom yet have an incredibly narrow, mostly economic idea of what that word means. I also found that Libertarians range from people who believe in anarchy (a total disavowal of government that I believe, if enacted, would lead to a virtual hell on earth) to those who believe one can on the basis of science assign rights to zygotes.
What this group of people helped me do was “think outside the box,” fully appreciate the value of inductive reasoning, seek the widest possible context when looking at any issue of life, and attempt simultaneously to approach a problem from a variety of perspectives. This change in thinking is what my essays hope to reflect. Feedback would be appreciated.
Here’s my list of essays: