Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Broken Soul

I have previously discussed Man's Creative Capacity/ Man as an Individual.

Today I want to discuss the opposite- the ways in which people are hurt, controlled, ruined or destroyed by those that deny their individuality and attempt to do away with their ability to create.

I want to make a very firm statement before I begin.

I do not agree with, nor will I ever agree with, all of Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Ayn Rand's ideas are not always articulated perfectly, sometimes she contradicts herself, her word is a world of black-and-white and the characters are symbolic rather than human. She believes in a conqueror's, rapist's love as the ultimate form of worship, and oftentimes finds herself in a bind because her phraseology does not hold through. I am aware that there are problems with her ideas and her worldview, that she held a deep and personal hatred towards Communism and Marxism, and that sometimes her definitions- of happiness, of love, of whatever it may be- are shallow.

However, I still feel that there is much to be learned from her.

How is that possible? In the way of a parable. Ayn Rand sets up the kind of world that exists in the world of fables and parables, stories with morals. Her morals are uplifting. Her ideas are well-meant.

And her villains' speeches are disturbing- because they are so true.

If you have the time to read the entire speech, then you should download and read Ellsworth Toohey's speech here: Ellsworth_Toohey_Power_speech.doc

If you don't have the time to read the whole document, then look at the important parts over at this website. Scroll down past the bullet points, and read the excerpts from the actual essay.

These are the ways, according to Ayn Rand, to break a man's soul.

1. "Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity...To preserve one’s integrity is a hard battle. Why preserve that which one knows to be corrupt already? His soul gives up its self-respect. You’ve got him. He’ll obey. He’ll be unclean. "

2. "Kill man’s sense of values. Kill his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it...Don’t set out to raze all shrines—you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity—and the shrines are razed."

3. "Kill by laughter. Laughter is an instrument of human joy. Learn to use it as a weapon of destruction...Don’t let anything remain sacred in a man’s soul—and his soul won't be sacred to him. Kill reverence and you’ve killed the hero in man. One doesn’t reverence with a giggle. "

4. "Don’t allow men to be happy. Happiness is self-contained and self-sufficient. Happy men have no time and no use for you....Bring them to a state where saying ‘I want’ is no longer a natural right, but a shameful admission."

5. "It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s sacrifice, there’s something being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master."

6. "Don’t say reason is evil- though some have gone that far and with astonishing success. Just say that reason is limited. That there’s something above it. What? You don’t have to be too clear about it either...You tell him that there’s something above sense. That here he must not try to think, he must feel. He must believe. Suspend reason and you play it deuces wild. "

7. "A world in which man will not work for so innocent an incentive as money, but for that headless monster- prestige. The approval of his fellows- their good opinion- the opinion of men who’ll be allowed to hold no opinion."

8. "Let all sacrifice and none profit. Let all suffer and none enjoy. Let progress stop. Let all stagnate. There’s equality in stagnation. All subjugated to the will of all."

~

That was the world of Ayn Rand. Now let's apply it to the Orthodox Jewish world of today. Of if you won't go that far, let's apply it to Templars.

1. This is what Orthodox teenagers, at least the ones that I know, are taught all the time. Guilt and more guilt. Guilt because you don't dress modestly enough. Or because you talk to boys. Or maybe because a boy is being bittul Torah. Possibly guilt because a boy masturbates. Who knows why? The emphasis is always negative, always mussar, always explaining why we are bad or are not on the level of the generations before us. Guilt is our mantra. It chains so many teenagers. It's the reason people won't speak up at Templars. Because they've been made to feel guilty. I...I am an exception. I would not feel guilty for crimes I did not commit. But staying sane when so many people are accusing you is hard. I don't know if I could have done it without my parents.

2. We are taught- all of us teenagers are taught- that we will never live up to the Gedolim. That everybody is on a higher madreigah than we are. That all previous generations were more religious and better than we can ever be. Instead of focusing on the differences between us, instead of looking to our challenges and stating that we can be just as or even greater than they were in facing the problems and questions of our time, instead of teaching us to reach for the sky- they teach us never to try.

But beyond that, I personally know how it feels to break because your teacher enshrines mediocrity. My English teacher at Templars used to take the "best" essays and papers from the class and pass them out so we could learn from them. Generally this wouldn't bother me. At my new school, my AP English teacher reads aloud from the best essays, and fosters a sense of good-natured competition amongst the classmates. At Templars, I watched my teacher pick extremely shallow, poorly-written papers- and hold them up as examples to everyone. I watched her enshrine mediocrity. This is not only frustrating, not only hurtful, but it truly does break a person's soul. I know it.

3. Mockery. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been told that I take myself too seriously. The number of times people have poked fun at me and my views, telling me that I am just a child, just a little girl or teenager who is "confused" and needs to have more fun. Everyone is so quick to laugh nowadays. Many times, that laughter destroys your own soul.

4. Men are allowed to desire, to say "I want" and work for that goal. One cannot take the posessions of another- one cannot steal, or covet the wife of another- but there should be no harm in desire. And yet, so many Templars teachers preach sacrifice, telling us we should give up what we want to make another person happy. There are certain instances when this is understandable. Most times, however, it is not.

5. "For the good of the class, Chana, you need to stop rocking the boat..." "For the good of the class, Chana, you need to bring these questions up later..." "We have to go on, now, Chana; you can write down your questions and bring them to me..." "You can't switch to another class, Chana; it will send a message that the teacher is incompetent..." When someone- when a human- asks you to sacrifice something, they do not ask it of you without a motive, and most times that motive is wrong or cruel. I have to sacrifice my curiousity, my desire to learn, or my desire to be challenged "for the good of ________."

6. This is the typical "Accept, don't question," approach. Templars teachers, and most Orthodox teachers, have a very difficult time saying, "I don't know." Admitting ignorance is one of the hardest traits to master, but all good teachers share this trait. To state that there is something above reason or above a child's question, to answer, "God said so, that's why" is no answer at all. If you do not know, you do not know- and that in itself is an answer.

7. So much in the Orthodox world revolves around the way we are seen and perceived. "This above all- to thine own self be true," Polonius tells Laertes in Shakespeare's play Hamlet. How many people can really master this? How many people can really be true to themselves? Every day we are faced with concessions, questions of whether we are going to act a certain way to "fit in" or to earn another's good opinion, or whether we will act that way because it is truly how we feel. This is not meant to judge anyone. I can't say you are a lesser person because you compromise on certain things so as not to be kicked out of the community. I can say that there are certain times when one should not ever compromise- and there are very, very few who can say they have stood up for the truth.

8. Equality. A wonderful idea that was stressed to me over and over again at Templars. I was supposed to feel sorry for people who weren't as bright as I was, as smart as I was; I was supposed to feel pity and compassion for them and therefore endure classes that were utterly dull and boring. I was supposed to understand that I was "three steps ahead of the speaker," so when he talked, I had to make amends for his statements and instead listen to his speech in terms of what he meant to say rather than what he really did say. I was supposed to realize that every person can teach me something- and that was enough of a reason for me to stay in a class where the teacher wouldn't even call on me because she felt so threatened by me. I was supposed to love each and every Jew.

No. That's not equality. We don't have the same roles in the Torah. There are priests and there are levites. There are kings and there are commoners. There are Rabbis and pupils, students and teachers. We are not all equal. Korach's 'Common-Sense' Rebellion claimed that we were, and you can see how that turned out. We are all individuals, we combine to form a community, but we retain our individual identities. And stagnation as a form of equality is just not Judaism.

Ayn Rand writes of Ellsworth Toohey, possibly the vilest character in all fiction. He speaks of how to break men's souls.

So many marvel at the idea that today's youth are "turned off"Judaism. Oftentimes, we discuss the "lure of the modern world." But I ask you, if you don't teach your youth true Judaism, if you shelter them, if you break their souls in the aforementioned ways- why would they stay?

They may not have the ability to articulate this, or it may be too personal for them to tell you.

The broken soul...so that man comes to you, bearing the whip and chain, begging to be flogged.

Does it horrify you? It makes me weep...
But it is true.

21 comments:

Halfnutcase said...

i don't think there was anything on that list they did not do to me either, and i didn't fair half as well as you have, i broke. i hope one day someone might find all the peices and put me back together again.,

we really do ourselves a great disservice breaking our best and brightest like this.

Jewish Atheist said...

The things on that list are not unique to Orthodox schools. Public schooling is notorious for stifling individualism and valuing conformity over all else. I think the points Rand lists are problems with the majority of humanity.

Take a look at an African American boy in a poor city who works hard to get good grades. Chances are, he'll be ridiculed by his peers for "putting on airs" and "acting white."

The business world is notorious for rewarding mediocre conformists by putting them in charge of the talent.

People feel threatened. Some know that they can't measure up and so delight in taking others down. Others don't want the responsibility that comes with their talents, so they try to hold their peers back.

My only advice is to try to be around great, courageous people who will encourage you rather than trying to slow you down.

Masmida said...

"If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools...."

any schoolyard bully can show you how to twist and break another soul... how do you build them?

Chana said...

Something I should clarify at once-I agree with you, Jewish Atheist. The reason I bring these up separately in terms of the Orthodox world is because oftentimes we exclude ourselves from this/ assume it happens to other people, but not to us. While it impacts all of humanity, I contend that it's even worse when these ideas are implemented in the name of God.

e-kvetcher said...

Masmida,

I always understood that poem to mean that the way to build the soul is to endure all the garbage that the world throws at yu instead of trying to eliminate it, perhaps because Kipling realized that it can never be eliminated since it is a part of human nature.

One of my favorite poems ever, btw!

Ezzie said...

Another brilliant post, Chana. I was shuddering inwardly as I read the 8 excerpts; then watched as you showed just how wrongly so many schools utilize them. (Though apparently Templars does so to a much greater extent than most places... ouch.)

JA is right: These are issues not limited to Orthodox Jewish schools, but the points still stand.

However, I feel the need to play Devil's Advocate on a few of them - not because I disagree with you, but because I feel there are or can be positives even to the Templars approach in certain situations; just not to the extent they did so, nor in the situations they did so.

1) I think there is a time for guilt, particularly when someone is actually doing something wrong and shaming them may help them correct the issue.

2) I don't understand enshrining mediocrity. I do understand saying it's impossible to fully appreciate that which someone before us has done; only they truly can know all that they knew. But there is no reason we can't be great by being our own great selves.

3) Laughter is needed to destroy those ideas which are so false that they are not worthy of rational response. It is when it used to mock that which we cannot understand that it becomes a problem - people are scared of that which they cannot answer, and laugh at it in the hopes it will be shamed enough to go away. Don't go away.

5) True - but from a teacher's POV, they have to act in the best interests of the class as a whole. It's not the teacher's fault you're in their class - they are placed in an impossible situation and choice: Teach the elite or the masses. They are paid to do the latter. (And good comment at Gil, even if I don't fully agree.)

7) I think more people do so than you give credit for. There's also the aspect of: 'It won't accomplish anything but create further problems in this situation.'

4, 6, and 8 were just about flawless. The rest were simply great, with only the nit-picky comments above somewhat problematic.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Chana: Do you think today's teenagers are so different than teenagers of 100 years ago, or a thousand years ago? Are you saying it used to be better for teenagers? Has Orthodoxy mutated that much?

What's changed (in your opinion) that makes the establishment want to "break" a person's soul?

Irina Tsukerman said...

Re mockery, I'm so with you on that! It used to drive me crazy, but now I think the reason people do that is because they are afraid to think. They are afraid to take those issues seriously, *they don't want to know*. So I just ignore it.

Re good teachers, I remember asking the weirdest questions in high schools. And when my teachers didn't know something, some of them went as far as actually researching my question and coming back with an answer for the class. I thought that was great!

e-kvetcher said...

Jameel,

What's changed is not the establishment but the popular conception that students need to rebel against authority as a fundamental aspect of their role in society, although I believe that this started in the mid 1800 and has become more and more accepted.

If you ask me, the students in today's mainstream universities are just as involved in political activism and vocal anti-establishment causes as they are in educating themselves.

This is not necessarily to negate Chana's points, but to just point out that it's not necessarily that Orthodox education changed, but it could be the educated, and to state that this is not in any way exclusive to Orthodox Judaism.

Chana said...

Ezzie,

We appear to disagree again. :)

1) Guilt and shame both come from the inside- I feel shame or feel embarassed, and that is why I decide to change. Teachers announcing that you failed a test in front of the whole school, or yelling at a kid who wet his bed, as a "shaming" technique simply hurts people. If the kids don't feel guilty about skipping mincha, then you're either making them feel bad (assuming they accept the guilt) which never yields results, or you simply build resentment.

2) Enshrining mediocrity would be, for instance, taking a book like R.L. Stine's "Goosebumps" and saying that was the best literature in the world. People who wrote truly great literature, like Tolstoy, would be mocked and laughed at- because it's not "Goosebumps."

3) I disagree. Remember Shammai and Hillel? Shammai told the man who wanted to learn Torah on one leg that he was a fool, effectively laughing in his face. Hillel, however, taught him- which yielded results. Sure, Shammai's approach is technically "correct" but we see that it does not yield effective results.

5) But it is the principal's fault...if he won't let you switch classes.

7) I can count the number of truly genuine people I know on my fingers. This may just be because I haven't had a lot of exposure- certainly I haven't been all around the world. Still, I think that what I'm suggesting is a really difficult thing to attain.

Tobie said...

While I agree with the points that you have raised, I think that the opposite extremes are equally dangerous- Ayn Rand's philosophy tends towards selfishness and shallowness precisely because of her complete opposition to these eight points.
But without guilt, there is no repentance or self-improvement. Without laughter, there is no perspective- the ability to laugh at ourselves is the ability to put ourselves in context.
Without sacrifice, there is no selflessness.
Without the ability to doubt our reason, we become complacent, self-satisfied, and are robbed of the ability to see beyond ourselves.
Without regard for public opinion, we become arrogant and trapped in our own limitations.
A person who truely shied away from Rand's "evil" would be selfish and heartless, unable to believe that they might be wrong, unable to care that they might be evil, unable to be humble or reflective because their opinion is all that exists.
I'm not saying that the opposite is any better- the crushing of self-faith, originality, desires, and aspirations is an ugly thing to watch. But, like all things, it's not black and white, either/or, but a balance between two equally terrifying extremes.

Chana said...

Chana: Do you think today's teenagers are so different than teenagers of 100 years ago, or a thousand years ago? Are you saying it used to be better for teenagers? Has Orthodoxy mutated that much?

What's changed (in your opinion) that makes the establishment want to "break" a person's soul?


The teenagers of before were responsible people. They were raised to be responsible. Look at Tevye's daughters in 'Fiddler on the Roof.' Do they rebel? In their choice of whom to marry. Are they disrespectful or crude? No. Let's go back to the "old country." The teenagers of that time had to learn trades, work as apprentices or study in schools. Their childhoods were brief; adulthood came early.

Even nowadays, I don't think American westernized teenagers are the standards for and of teenagers all around the world.

Does this mean that our new teenagers are bad people, that we are all doomed, that it is wrong to want Ipods or Northface jackets? No. It does mean that our culture is evolving into that of an "instant gratification" world and my generation is termed the "Entitlement Generation."

And that's what's changed. The idea of entitlement. That a teacher is not entitled to respect because she's a good teacher, but simply because she's got a degree, which puts her "above" the students and makes them automatically "beneath" her.

You earned your way. This is Ayn Rand's whole point about "creators" and "second-handers." Our world increasingly fills with "second-handers" who feel they are entitled to everything without having to lift a finger.

It's also filled with people who are afraid of questions, of thinking, and of people attempting to become "creators" and explore.

In times past, you had to earn your position or your job. Was there corruption? Certainly. Am I saying times past are better than now? I'm saying they are different. In those times, you were entitled to nothing. Your existence rested upon how skilled you were- and whether or not you lived in a country that was anti-semitic, and how virulent that anti-semitism was.

We used to have anti-semitic Tsars and others trying to break us or hurt us. Now, under a democratic system, Jews break other Jews- no matter whether they are Conservative, Reform or Orthodox. I'm talking about the Orthodox world, but we could take this farther. Jews destroy other Jews.

Am I saying we all have to agree with one another? No. But the bashing, the cruelty, (and yes, I'm going off on a whole other tangent here) and the way Jews speak about other Jews is depressing.

There's a quote from the Rav (on page 48 in Aaron Rothkoff-Rakeffet's book) that I want to type here, but I have to go home first (so I can get the book.)

Okay. I've really gone off tangent. Ah, well...

Tobie said...

>We used to have anti-semitic Tsars and others trying to break us or hurt us. Now, under a democratic system, Jews break other Jews- no matter whether they are Conservative, Reform or Orthodox. I'm talking about the Orthodox world, but we could take this farther. Jews destroy other Jews.

I only wish that there was a time when this was not the case. Long before there were denominations, there was bitter infighting among the Jews. Does burning the Rambam's book, the Emden-Ishbitz controversy, the reaction to chassidism, or any one of a hundred bitter, personal vendettas among communities exactly smack of unity?

Ezzie said...

Chana - Not as much as you think :)

First, I should emphasize that I'm being picky; my point is more along the line of Tobie, that each has its place, and the reverse extreme is equally as bad. Take the Rambam's middle path.

1) When I refered to guilt, I had in mind when someone sits you down and makes you realize that what you did was wrong. There is [almost] never a place for public humiliation, and I never had in mind examples such as those you mention.

2) LOL. I meant "I don't understand why people enshrine mediocrity" - whoops.

3) Granted; however, you can't possibly spend the time answering every single cracked idea that is out there. The answer to most Q's cannot be told in a few words. There is much wisdom in Shammai's answer as well.

5) Right - blame the principal, not the teacher. :)

7) What can I say... meet more people? :) There's a reason why my header says what it does.

Chana said...

Tobie- I agree with you, insofar as people have had different views. But I want to qualify your statements. In all those situations, at least the people's intentions were good. People really thought they were defending the Torah and attacking heresy. People worried that chassidism changed too much in Judaism, and that's how misnagdim vs. chassidim were born. Granted, things went too far. But the prime motivation of those people was to defend the Torah.

I still think that under our democaratic system, people don't attack Reform or Conservative people to "defend" the Torah; it's understood that if one is Orthodox one does not agree with the other factions. To spend time badmouthing or railing against other Jews nowadays is done for no good reason- it's not "in defense of the Torah." For me, therein lies the difference.

Halfnutcase said...

if such behavior wasn't there to rienforce the assumptions conservative and reform jews have of the orthodox, i suspect that it actualy might weaken their possition, (funily enough)

however somehow i think the moment that jews stop railing one another is going to be the same time moshiach comes.

Ezzie said...

however somehow i think the moment that jews stop railing one another is going to be the same time moshiach comes

Yes. Isn't that depressing?

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Chana: I'm not convinced that teenagers were so different back then...and they were as rebellious back then as they are today.

In fact, I think the guilt factor may have been even higher then.

However, there are a few aspects to this discussion:

1. Are today's teenagers different, which is what makes chinuch so much more complicated?

2. Has chinuch changed, irrespective of teenagers?

3. It's also filled with people who are afraid of questions, of thinking, and of people attempting to become "creators" and explore. Where did this come from? I don't think people were so simplistic "back then" that they didn't ask questions, or were afraid of "thinking people"

4. For some interesting parenting POV on this issue -- Orthomom has posted about it here

Lastly - (to comment on your tangent), when Am Yisrael is threatend, that's when we (finally) pull together. Its unfortunate, but its the reality of our people.

Perhaps thats the explanation for the 2 different ways Mashaich and redemption will come:

B'ita vs. Achishena

When we respect each other and are unified...vs. we are too factioned to survive as a people.

jewish philosopher said...

I'm impressed by your blog. It sounds like you read a lot, which is one of my hobbies. I just have a hard time believing you are really 17 and not 27. Are you pulling our leg?

dbs said...

Another great post. I'm not too worried about your spirit being broken, but poor Templars.

Alan said...

Very nice post. There is a lot to be drawn from Ayn Rand for one's values and philosophy, although she makes a lot of errors and does go too far (particularly because of her fundamental dogmatism about her values and her ignorance of human psychology). For a good critique of her, check out Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature by Greg Nyqvist.