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Ayn Rand and the Kzinti

Posted by  $  WilliamShipley 3 years, 4 months ago to Philosophy
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Inspired by a comment that Jan made under the subject “If you could ask Ayn Rand One Question”, I am reminded of Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” and that Kzinti. Now I understand that the whole Ringworld universe involves quite a number of novels and I really haven’t read beyond Ringworld myself, but all these years later (I read it in the 70s) I still remember an interesting aspect to the Kzinti – the female of the species was non sapient.

This caused some consternation in relations between them and the Humans. From the Kzinti perspective, the fact that humans were having sex with intelligent beings seemed rather kinky, sort of like being homosexual. From the human perspective, they looked at the Kzinti as inclined toward bestiality. It wasn’t a major deal but it caused discomfort.

That is how I feel when I read Ayn Rand say:

“Now consider the meaning of the presidency: in all his professional relationships, within the entire sphere of his work, the president is the highest authority; he is the “chief executive,” the “commander-in-chief.” ...In the performance of his duties, a president does not deal with equals, but only with inferiors (not inferiors as persons, but in respect to the hierarchy of their positions, their work, and their responsibilities).

This, for a rational woman, would be an unbearable situation. ... To act as the superior, the leader, virtually the ruler of all the men she deals with, would be an excruciating psychological torture. It would require a total depersonalization, an utter selflessness, and an incommunicable loneliness; she would have to suppress (or repress) every personal aspect of her own character and attitude; she could not be herself, i.e., a woman; she would have to function only as a mind, not as a person, i.e., as a thinker devoid of personal values - a dangerously artificial dichotomy which no one could sustain for long. By the nature of her duties and daily activities, she would become the most unfeminine, sexless, metaphysically inappropriate, and rationally revolting figure of all: a matriarch."

To me Rand’s view hints of being a mild version of the views of the Kzinti, that there is something unnatural about having emotional interactions with an equal. It seems so out of touch with the modern world and a very strange view for someone who was obviously such a strong intellectual force.

Of course this may be mostly generational. I remember my wife telling me that when she was young her mother advised her that if she was in any competition with a boy that she should be sure to let him win because boys don’t like girls who are better than them. Neither of us liked that idea.

Rand can certainly be excused for wanting to seek someone who is strong and powerful and worthy of admiration, but shouldn’t men have the same goal? And really, with all the various capabilities that humans have, it’s almost entirely impossible to find someone who you are better at in every way, or who is better than you in every way. One can find someone who can be admired on either side of the gender gulf.

Of course with respect to the Presidency, the president may be the highest organizational authority, but he deals with people who are his superior on a daily basis. The people who advise him are chosen to be people with greater expertise than he has and he certainly can admire them, their achievements and their abilities.


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  • Posted by  $  jlc 3 years, 4 months ago
    I had forgotten that about the kzinti!

    It is going to take time for the genders to come to a better equilibrium after women being second-class individuals (I cannot say "citizens" because women largely were not.) for millennia. But this is happening. We are making good progress.

    Like Wm's wife, I was sometimes told as a child to 'make sure I let the boy win' if I wanted him to like me. Mostly, this was from relatives, not my immediate family: what I got there, from my mother, was the advice, "Be the power behind the throne; do not seek to sit on the throne yourself."

    Well, as many of you know, I am amongst those folks who do medieval reenactment as a hobby, so 'thrones' are very real things to me. Once, when I was in my 30's, I was having dinner with my mother at her home. I was talking about my boyfriend (with whom I was living) fighting to win the tournament called Crown, the winner of which becomes King for the next 6 months. My mother leaned forward over the table: "You should be trying to win Crown yourself, Jan!" I teased her, ironically quoting her saying back at her, "...be the power behind the throne..."

    She was lifting a forkful of green beans to her lips. She paused, with the fork halfway...put the forkful of food back on her plate. Then she looked me directly in the eyes, and the woman who had been born in 1914 said, "Well. I was wrong."

    I treasure that moment.

    Jan
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  • Posted by  $  blarman 3 years, 4 months ago
    My wife has commented to me numerous times that she is very glad she didn't marry down - a diagnosis I frequently disagree with her on ;). We enjoy philosophical discussions of all kinds - even those on which we don't 100% agree (because making up is so much fun). I know more about theoretical physics than she does, but she understands the human mind better. I speak Greek so I can talk with all the doctors. She speaks Spanish and can help our kids with their homework. But we don't compete with each other. Ever. I know that she's much better at remembering numbers, faces, etc. than I am, so if she remembers something about the past, I'm inclined to go with her. She has the games she consistently slaughters me at (Settlers of Cataan, Balderdash, etc.), there are a few I consistently win (Boggle, backgammon), and some we go back and forth on (Pinochle, Hearts, etc.). But we enjoy each others' company more than anything.

    To those looking for someone to dominate, I would say you have an ego problem. To those looking to be dominated, you also have an ego problem. You should be looking for a partner and companion in whom you share life and life's experiences. It's impossible to enjoy the journey if you're fighting over control of the steering wheel.
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  • Posted by DrZarkov99 3 years, 4 months ago
    The dilemma of how strong women have to deal with the male ego is irrelevant. Any male who has insecurities dealing with a female superior should be responsible for his own misguided thinking.

    When asked for advice about finding out if a potential mate is someone a young person can get along with, I tell the questioner to plan, prepare and serve an elaborate meal together. Decide beforehand who is to be the executive chef, and who the sous chef (subordinate). Repeat, with the roles switched. A successful distinctive meal demands confidence, communication, and rapid decision making. If the couple can trade roles successfully, giving and taking orders without serious conflict, there's promise for the relationship.

    I've been open to women who want to share the lead, or be in charge all my life, and have been disappointed many times. Some women are very comfortable letting the man make all the decisions, while others hide behind a subordinate role when convenient, reserving the right to criticize. The lament from these last is often "If you really loved me, you'd know what's wrong!"

    Thankfully, I finally met a woman who was unabashed at telling me I was full of s__t on our first date, giving me confidence I'd never have to worry about what she was really thinking. It's still working, after 35 years. We discuss, trade ideas, and switch the lead often, as appropriate.
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    • Posted by  $  jlc 3 years, 4 months ago
      I find that excellent practical advice, DrZ. If I ever find another man who succeeds in passing through the valkyrie 'circle of fire' I will engage your suggested 'trial by cooking' with him.

      Amused, but also serious.

      Jan
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  • Posted by Mamaemma 3 years, 4 months ago
    Williamshipley, what a great thought-provoking post! I am old enough to have grappled with the issues of people being uncomfortable with a strong woman. What I saw was people were much more afraid of a beautiful, feminine, strong woman than an ugly one (ex: Sarah Palin vs. Hillary). A lot of that hasn't changed. People are individuals. I have gravitated towards the ones who see me as an individual.
    Anyway, love the post.
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  • Posted by Zenphamy 3 years, 4 months ago
    The real question this post and many of the comments leading to it and following asks is; "Was Ayn Rand an 'Objectivist' and a 'Woman' that really followed her own philosophical advice, to determine 'reality' based on observable and testable 'facts', rationally and logically reasoned?"

    My answer is unavoidably and unapologetically, Yes.

    For those that believe that they've found a 'chink' in the Objectivist bulwark, AR's advice on the source of contradictions is highly appropriate, not argument after argument.
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  • Posted by khalling 3 years, 4 months ago
    I think her reasoning is flawed, but there are kernels of truth in it. Primarily from a sexual standpoint. I have witnessed marriages ruined mostly by the concept of "who wears the pants in the family." I do think it is because of peoples' contradictions over tradition and role-playing. I am reminded of Queen Victoria and her marriage obviously worked out fine. Queen Elizabeth I couldn't do it, but Margaret Thatcher could. Societal pressure plays a role. But natural leaders rise regardless of their gender.
    There's still pressure out there against female leaders and one has to integrate it.
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    • Posted by  $  3 years, 4 months ago
      I wonder how much of that is sexual dynamics and how much is just two people being able to cooperate. Many business partnerships fail as well as other types. Watching Simon and Garfunkle singing together not being able to look at each other is just sad.

      One thing about the traditional role is that it avoids having the debate over who is in charge. It wasn't just one way, the woman was traditionally in charge in the kitchen.

      I wonder if the increase in women participating in team sports will have an effect on this. One of the things that we get from team sports is the ability to set temporary roles of who is in charge.
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    • Posted by  $  jlc 3 years, 4 months ago
      It was a huge eye-opener for me when a friend of mine (who happens to be Objectivist) related, from her studies of the Victorian period, that the ideal that underlies the 'Victorian-novel culture' is that a woman is supposed to be an 'eternal child'. She is supposed to be deliberately be kept sequestered from reality, seeing the world only through the eyes of her husband. This makes her a non-competitive safe harbor.

      That is the key phrase: Safe Harbor. All of the cultural trappings are oriented towards creating an automatic proponent who will support her husband and his point of view unquestioningly because that is all she knows of the world. In return for his guarding her in perpetual childhood and providing for her sustenance, he has a mini-vacation when he comes home - someone who always sees his perspective and takes his part.

      This fair trade of physical support for blind advocacy is repugnant to me, but it explains a LOT about where we are coming from and it has the advantage in that it has no villains. The men are not trying to harm the women, they see themselves as protectors.

      Jan
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      • Posted by khalling 3 years, 4 months ago
        Jan , you may enjoy this series-http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2275990/

        Bletchley Park-where Enigma was cracked. anyway, these themes are explored. In the 1st season, our heroine, who is a pattern observer, expert code cracker, tracks down a serial killer. The dialog is excellent-and there's none of the short-cut-don't let you have all the clues (pet peeve of mine) going on. I think one time you said you may not have TV, but maybe stream it for your enjoyment.

        All of my life, whenever I was a leader, which frankly was not hard to do, eventually, I would run up against a man who said these two words if I was strident: "calm down." I NEVER hear men saying that to each other when rationally discussing a issue. I am not in hysterical mode or anything like it-just assertive. happened many times. never in front of Dale. fancy that :)
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        • Posted by  $  jlc 3 years, 4 months ago
          I watched the first episode and was presently surprised. Thanks for the suggestion. (I think that part of my disinclination to watch it when Wm described it to me was that I had been inundated with nostalgia emails that looked at the 1950's as some rose-colored paradise of the past.)

          Jan, just got second episode
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        • Posted by  $  jlc 3 years, 4 months ago
          ...or things less hospitable than "calm down"...

          Wm is fond of that series and sometimes talks about it...He and I often do not like the same shows, though. Hmm...if you think I would like it too, I will see if it is available on the Internet and give the first episode a shot.

          Jan
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      • Posted by Mamaemma 3 years, 4 months ago
        To Jan: But it's really great when the woman supports his point of view ( and he hers) because they are both rational individuals.
        I have a feeling that Jim Bob Duggar agrees with you. :)
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        • Posted by  $  jlc 3 years, 4 months ago
          Rational and intelligent agreement is a treasure, as is rational 'you need to rethink this part here' discussion. You can end up with a result that is much better than either partner could have come up with alone. But for either of those scenarios, both people have to have the basis for reasoning on the topic at hand. Sometimes that is no more than 'native intelligence' (which is something that no one has yet found a way to deny women) but knowledge and experience are assets as well.

          (I'm glad you chimed in on this thread, Mamaemma. I was hoping to hear from you. I looked up Jim Duggar...hope he does not agree with me on anything.)

          Jan
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    • Posted by jdg 3 years, 4 months ago
      Elizabeth I was not lacking in ability; she merely lived in a time where one of the rules was that if she married, her husband would become King and she would become just a wife. This perverse incentive had the predictable results: she stayed single all her life, and when she died the list of heirs was even shorter than it was when she became Queen.

      After her death the rules were changed, so that Victoria's (and Elizabeth II's) husband did not automatically become King. That seems to have worked out better.
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  • Posted by Watcher55 3 years, 4 months ago
    To use the wrong philosophical word but you'll know what I mean - on this point Ayn Rand was actually a pragmatist. Most people here would agree that she was a remarkable woman and one of the greatest philosophers. Did she therefore refuse to marry, being unable to find her intellectual superior? Did she therefore choose not to publish her philosophy due to the "excruciating psychological torture" of her position?

    No.

    So I am quite sure that if a truly great politician (yes, I write fiction) who was a woman came to her for advice on that matter and expressed similar arguments, her answer would be "If that's what you want, cost be damned: suck it up, Princess!"

    In fact her own marriage indicates the flaw in her argument. She is over-stating the business about being the ruler, and ignoring the fact that while a woman will usually want to look up to her man, she doesn't have to look up to everyone, and the President isn't God who rules over all in all things.
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  • Posted by Technocracy 3 years, 4 months ago
    Larry Niven's "Known Space" series.

    There are a lot of books in there. Three novels just on Ringworld. Many short stories collected together.

    Jigsaw Man (also all the other stories with Gil Hamilton) .... the future of Obamacare if we don't watch out.

    His books are very good, his collaborations with Jerry Pournelle are great too.
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  • Posted by lrshultis 3 years, 4 months ago
    When I read her article on a woman president, I could not see how she could think that way. I could not understand how she could make sexuality a primary aspect of her life and believe that it has anything to do with being POTUS. As animals, sexuality is important for the human specie's evolution and for pleasure, but is not something that one should allow to determine ones work ethics, Bill Clinton notwithstanding.
    After decades, I still cannot see how she could twist her view of womanhood that much. Her attitude was nearly as misdirected as one who defines his/her race as a defining factor in his/her life.
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    • Posted by  $  MichaelAarethun 3 years, 4 months ago
      For the first part go back and judge the article in the context of the time in which it was written. For the same result as to your last sentence ask anyone who has been a victim of overt racism or sexism - direct or reverse. Perhaps she and certainly I view your stance as 'twisted.' Especially since the women's movement imploded after turning their backs on their sisters in support of Clinton. The shame of that stain is still apparent and from the looks of things ready to be repeated..
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  • Posted by LibertyBelle 3 years, 4 months ago
    I could kind of understand Ayn Rand's reasoning a-
    bout the Presidency, but such a woman would not
    necessarily have to deal with "inferiors" 24 hours a
    day; for instance, she herself was married, and, af-
    ter getting out of the office for the day, she could
    go to be with her husband, who was not under
    her authority. And also, she could deal with
    foreign visitors--foreign heads of state, ambas-
    sadors, etc. (Not that it would have been pos-
    sible, with her not being a "natural-born citizen",
    but that's a whole other issue).
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    • Posted by  $  3 years, 4 months ago
      As I commented, there is a difference between organizational hierarchy and personal capabilities. The president may be the "leader of the free world", but he routinely deals with people who he can legitimately admire and respect. Scientists, military leaders, even sports figures -- if you are so inclined. Being able to win the presidency requires a special skill set but does not make you superior to everyone else. Any president who thinks so is going to make serious mistakes.
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  • Posted by  $  Temlakos 3 years, 4 months ago
    Nathaniel Branden said, toward the end of his "Benefits and Hazards" essay/speech, that he refused to accept at face value any declaration from a self-styled Objectivist that he could defend absolutely any thing Ayn Rand ever said, at any time. "The hell you can!" he said. Then he said: "This might seem a trivial example of what I mean, but it typifies the problem. I would love to see any Objectivist argue logically in favor of Ayn Rand's proposition that no rational woman would ever want to be President of the United States. That I found to be one of her more embarrassing lapses."

    I think we have to remember: Ayn Rand was into kink. She considered sexual relations to be the ultimate expression of dominance. And while she wouldn't recommend women hide their brains completely, she did hold that any woman seeks the man who can beat her at anything, and is willing to surrender herself to that man and only that man. And because the President of the United States is the most powerful person in the world...!

    If you think that's weird, ask how she would feel about when the James Bond production company decided that Bond should report to a female Head of The Firm.
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    • Posted by khalling 3 years, 4 months ago
      kink? what's the definition? anything not missionary? not between a man and a woman? I need more info.
      when you are that intellectually accomplished, wouldn't it be nice to let go and let someone else be in control -someone to let you rail and then soothe you-expressing that sexually seems perfectly normal. Also key here, what a writer expresses in a novel, is NOT what their real life is ( I guess I'll say in general). Unless the author specifically makes a statement to that affect. Joke: Lena Dunham, who in an autobiography claims all is true and turns out it's fiction :)
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      • Posted by  $  Temlakos 3 years, 4 months ago
        We may safely infer, from The Fountainhead and AS, that Rand liked her sex rough. Which is to say, she would have liked a man to take her by force, or at least to use a certain amount of force on her during intimate relations.

        At the same time, she abominated homosexuality. The very notion ran completely counter to her notions of the roles of men and women in sexual relations.

        What a writer expresses in fiction, might not be what her real life is. But it is what she would like it to be, if she describes it in positive terms.
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  • Posted by  $  sjatkins 3 years, 4 months ago
    No one is infallible including Ayn Rand. This was an opinion from her sexual pyscho-epistemology and not from reason. That is all that needs to be said about it.

    She doesn't get to define what is true "for a rational woman" to that fine a degree.

    Another point is that she put the President on a pedestal imho far higher than the founders had in mind and with much more power. The US president is not a position of superior over other lesser beings of whatever gender. That is not what the role is supposed to be.
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  • Posted by johnpe1 3 years, 4 months ago
    William, I differ with Rand about this. . and it makes
    most of my male friends uncomfortable. . I consider
    each of us a person trapped within a body. . I am a
    male person because that's the kind of body I'm in.
    my mind is genderless, if I operate it right, in my view.
    the best among us can handle power without having
    the gender of the body we're in ... interfere. . that's
    my view, and I'm stickin' to it;;; feel free to make it yours,
    as a radio personality here in town says it. -- j
    .
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  • Posted by Herb7734 3 years, 4 months ago
    Wow, William, you are reading more into that paragraph than I ever considered. What I think you don't get, is what happens when anyone assumes a leadership role. When I owned a business that had 25 employees, I needed to become the leader, which meant the final authority. In my case, the enterprise could not be run as a democracy. As the "boss" I had to assume a superior to inferior relationship with the employees, not as people but as employees. I could take suggestions but never orders. As a matter of fact, the motto over my office was "No Problems, Only Solutions." The higher up the responsibility ladder you go, the more this relationship becomes stronger and more evident, until you reach the pinnacle, the most powerful man in the world. Obama is a perfect example of what happens when her description fails to illustrate the current President. As an aside, the President in his personal life can be the mild mannered Clark Kent, but the moment he assumes the mantle of President he must become Presidential, no matter how it affects his psyche. Better still, if he is grounded in excellent philosophical premises, what he must do would not affect him any more than the criticism of Howard Roark affected his work.
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    • Posted by  $  3 years, 4 months ago
      As I've said, there is a difference between a leadership role and assuming that you are a superior being to all your subordinates. Your role requires that you make the final decision. Because of that role, the people who work under you in the hierarchy must accept that decision.

      Since it's football playoffs, let's use the quarterback. He is the leader of the team, he calls the plays (or at least can check into one). Does this mean he's the fastest runner, the best athlete? No, he's the quarterback. He can be as amazed as the rest of us at the athletic ability of one of the receivers. It doesn't matter who's the best athlete, he's still the quarterback and the receiver has to run the route he calls if he wants to get the ball.
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      • Posted by Herb7734 3 years, 4 months ago
        I fail to see your point. Your example just reiterated pretty much what I said. As another example, the boss, be he CEO or President puts on the superhero costume until the workday is over. It could be for an hour or twelve hours. Unlike fictional supermen, this in no way gives him abilities that he doesn't already posses. With that knowledge, why should he be affected negatively, unless he's prone to depression or incompetence?
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