Ayn Rand/Objectivism Sightings
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Starring: Dennis Hof, Madam Suzette, Isabella Soprano, Sunset Thomas
Director: Patti Kaplan
|Introduction and Context Setting|
A valid philosophy requires the induction of abstract principles based on a suitable number of similar concretes. When she developed Objectivism, Ayn Rand induced many such principles across all branches of philosophy. In metaphysics, Objectivism contends that we all live in one reality and that each of us has a specific nature and no other. In epistemology, it argues that reason based on the evidence of the senses offers our only way of understanding the reality of the external world and of our own souls. In ethics, it maintains that each person lives as ultimately as an end in himself and not the means to the ends of others. In politics, it holds capitalism as the only moral system, i.e. the only system that recognizes a person's moral right to his own life, liberty and property. In aesthetics, it advances the ideal of romantic realism, i.e. a restatement of Aristotle's principle of art as a depiction of life as it might be and ought to be.
In the field of romance, Ayn Rand submitted that sex manifests a consummation of the highest form of love between a man and a woman -- a union of two people at the levels of spirit, emotions, mind and body. For her, sex had too much value to share indiscriminately. Instead, it demanded reservation only for sharing between two people with common core values and a deep respect for each other.
The question remains: From what concrete evidence did Ayn Rand induce this abstract principle?
Based on known biographical information, we can say with certainty that she enjoyed at least two sexual lovers in her life: Frank O'Connor and Nathaniel Branden. Her love life in Russia remains somewhat elusive in details and we cannot tell what sorts of sexual experiences, if any, she had prior to meeting Frank. In one of her question and answer sessions, a query about where she drew her material for the passionate love scenes in her novels prompted the humorous response, "Wishful thinking."
Obviously she had many books about love and romance at her disposal during her education in Russia. Whether she actually had much exposure to formal sex education while she originated Objectivism seems unlikely. The subject remained largely taboo in much of the developed world due to the influence of Christianity and other social mores. So the dearth of concretes at her disposal to form a comprehensive treatise on sex, combined with her own admitted "wishful thinking," might have led to an incomplete theory of sexual love.
A complete philosophical treatise on sexual flourishing must necessarily account for all observed concrete instances of sex. Objectivism holds human life as the standard of value and reason as man's means of survival. It considers man as a being of self-made soul capable of choosing his own values based on resolving his own unique spiritual needs against the objective mandates of reality. Through these standards, an Objectivist can not only identify and interpret observed concretes, but can evaluate them as good or evil, i.e. as beneficial or detrimental to human life.
Exploring a Wide Range of Sexual Concretes in a Controlled Environment
This brings me to the subject of this review. Prostitution has earned a reputation as "the oldest profession" for good cause. Its colorful history has seen it legalized, outlawed, praised and demonized depending upon the cultural climate. Today, a few locations in Nevada offer the only legally sanctioned courtesan services in the United States. Among these, Dennis Hof's Bunny Ranch offers some of the most famous names in the business.
Over the last few years, the Home Box Office (HBO) premium cable channel has conducted documentary recordings at the Bunny Ranch for broadcast. The producers began with a one hour special called Cathouse in 2002. They followed a year later with a one hour sequel called Cathouse 2: Back in the Saddle. In 2006, they broadcast an entire season of eleven half hour episodes called Cathouse and intend to televise a second season in 2007.
Modern legal prostitution includes state regulations that mandate regular health checks of all legal brothel workers as well as the use of condoms for all encounters. While this approach violates Objectivist sensibilities about laissez faire capitalism, it still stands as vastly superior to the practice of outlawing sex workers altogether and thus driving them into a dangerous underground of violence and disease. Nevada at least recognizes the natural right of courtesans and customers to exchange sex for money even if it regulates the exchange in a way to secure public health. This overcomes one of the main objections that statists make against prostitution, namely the spread of diseases. The incidence of disease incurred in the legal brothels comes very close to zero.
Given the proven safety record of legal Nevada brothels, people desiring sex and unable to get their desires satisfied in traditional romantic relationships can safely fill those desires for the right price at the Bunny Ranch. This, in essence, represents a repeated theme in every episode of Cathouse. Dennis Hof, proprietor, regularly comments on the wide range of customers he sees pass through the doors of his establishment. Not just single, lonely men procure their services. People from all walks of life do. These include couples who want to explore, women who like women, boyfriends whose girlfriends want them to learn how to become more dominant in the bedroom, and many others.
The courtesans themselves have unusually high sex drives and supply intriguing interviews and commentary. Madam Suzette, general manager at the Bunny Ranch, reports receiving thirty or more calls every single day from women inquiring about working there. The courtesans offer their own unique perspectives on the extensive assortment of customers and the "parties" they request.
Many of these women enter this business because of its lucrative features. Payouts per hour can range from $1000 to $2000 or more depending on the negotiations in the bedroom. So this career path can certainly reward women already endowed and inclined toward both sex and money.
In her essay "Censorship: Local and Express," Ayn Rand decried pornography as disgusting yet vigorously defended the natural right of individuals to produce and consume it. Objectivists who share her disgust for adult entertainment should forego watching this show as it does include explicit sex scenes recorded with the consent of the subjects. For the rest who have the stomach for it, or otherwise find it not offensive, the series can educate the viewer in ways that textbooks and trial and error simply cannot.
In addition to offering insights into the sexual psychology of a wide range of persons, the show also looks at the social aspects of life in the Bunny Ranch. Weekly tea parties in the lounge among the ladies along with birthday parties and other special events provide variety and humor. Salespeople bearing new and exotic bedroom toys for demonstration also pepper various episodes with spice. Subject matter experts such as purported national fellatio expert Tabitha Stevens offer instructions to the workers about how to improve their skills. Some even work outside the brothel to offer instructions to long married women who want to improve their bedroom abilities with their committed husbands.
Some Closing Thoughts
As stated in the introduction to this review, a complete philosophical theory of sexuality must ably identify, interpret and evaluate all instances of sexual behavior. The Cathouse series offers many such instances between consenting adults in a fully legal, medically safe environment. No question arises in Objectivism about the legal permissibility of these actions. Clearly Ayn Rand supported keeping government out of the way altogether.
The question does arise about the morality of these actions. How should a rational egoist who views sex as the highest form of expressed love evaluate these events? He might simply appeal to the authority of Objectivism's originator, Ayn Rand, and recite chapter and verse from any of her various authorized publications. Such a rationalistic approach may have some merit but also begs questions about the origins of those articulated principles.
Ayn Rand herself practiced sexual love with more than one man concurrently. Although she did not openly advocate this as a principle of romantic love, not even her most ardent supporters deny this state of affairs. Why did she pursue this path of action? Clearly she considered it a way to augment her enjoyment of her own life in the context of voluntary sexual relationships.
Objectivism holds human life as the standard of all values and happiness as the moral purpose of human life. Any suggested path of action must necessarily meet these fundamental tests even to warrant consideration. Although it ended disastrously, the Rand-Branden affair appeared to pass these tests at first blush.
What about brief sexual relationships at the Bunny Ranch? Do they pass these tests?
Given the rigorous medical standards, clearly no physical risk faces the participants. Given the consensual nature of the trade, clearly no coercion risk faces the participants. Because of the enjoyable nature of sex, clearly these participants can satisfy their profound psychological need for pleasure through these trades.
What about the psychological risks? Do these exchanges risk driving a wedge between mind and body for these people? Based on my perusal of all thirteen of these shows, I say no and contend that these barters can indeed affirm life and advance happiness when rightly practiced.
I will not address the customers who tell lies to their wives or girlfriends -- or husbands -- about their procurement of these services. Those persons create inner mental wedges because of their lies, not because of the sex. I will confine my commentary to those who either have the consent of their partners or who find themselves without a partner at the time of the "party."
The Objectivist theory of romantic love in its fiction depicts serial monogamy as the ideal. Ayn Rand herself admitted to her fictional love scenes as "wishful thinking." Her personal range of experience in sexual matters shows all signs of narrowness, involving only two lovers of which we know. Yet to form a comprehensive theory of sex requires many more concretes than these by Ayn Rand's own admission.
The Objectivist theory of knowledge requires the individual to make his own observations and to do his own induction and integration of those observations into valid abstractions. In accordance with its tabula rasa theory of the mind, man has no innate or automatic knowledge of anything, including sex. Even understanding his own uniqueness requires a man actively to look inwardly and then apply reason to make sense of the contents of his own subconscious.
Frequently, a man will not fully understand his own soul, including his sexuality, until he places that soul into new contexts. Relying on introspection and "wishful thinking" alone will not always do the trick. Sometimes he needs to pay for "tricks" instead to acquire and validate self-knowledge with certainty.
Based on these facts, I suggest looking more deeply at the Objectivist theory of love, sex and romance and its roots. Certainly the aspects of psychological visibility that serve as the spiritual crux of Objectivist romance remain valid. But a man and woman in a committed relationship can still have that "safe place" to which they can retreat while also honestly exploring some unconventional aspects of their own sexuality. Meanwhile, a single person wanting to get to know his own sexuality can use the services of a safe and legal sex worker quickly to acquire a self-knowledge he may not otherwise ever gain.
Prudish Objectivists who attempt to defend to the letter their own restrictive interpretations of Ayn Rand's theory of romance improperly apply Objectivist epistemology. They attempt to follow rationalism rather than objective reasoning to draw their conclusions. As a result, they cheat themselves of seeing a much bigger picture, repress desires they might feel but can never satisfy, and oppress those who do seek to live a larger, richer and more satisfying life.
I encourage such prudes to check your premises and rethink your approach to practicing Objectivism. I will even argue that a woman Objectivist with an unusually high sex drive could legitimately pursue a career as a courtesan at the Bunny Ranch. Every major virtue of Objectivism -- rationality of the mind, productiveness of the body, pride of the emotions -- can rightly manifest itself in the commitment to doing an excellent job as a courtesan. To argue otherwise denies the ultimate moral right of the individual to live his own life his own way according to his own values in voluntary transactions.