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.