Monday, July 15, 2019

Promoting Hate Speech

I recently left an organization that I was very proud to be a part of. People have asked why I left, so I am sharing the Formal Complaint I wrote before I left. Some details have been redacted for legal purposes.
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Dear Board of Directors,

I have been a _________ [Organization] member since 2011. I was on the Board of Directors for __________ [Organization] from October 2015 until October 2017. I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of __________ [Organization] for many years – up until this past July when I experienced unfair treatment at the hands of Managing Artistic Director _________ [Person's name]. I resigned from the Board of Directors on October 2, 2017, as a direct result of this unfair treatment. I am hereby filing a formal complaint against Ms. ________ [Person's name].

Complaint 1: That the Managing Artistic Director falsely accused me of the charge of promoting hate speech, despite the fact that I have never once spoke or wrote the words in question (see Detail 1), never agreed with the words in question, nor do the words in question even meet the criteria to be defined as hate speech by any authority on the matter.

Complaint 2:  That the Managing Artistic Director threatened to try to remove me from the Board of _________ [Organization] because of the aforementioned false accusation.

Complaint 3: That the Managing Artistic Director threatened to deny me access to programs that I helped create within the organization, solely on the basis of the aforementioned false accusation.

Complaint 4: That the Managing Artistic Director of an Arts Organization attempted to censor anyone’s artistic expression, without cause, solely because it contradicted her own personal opinion.

Complaint 5: That the Managing Artistic Director made several disparaging comments and decisions about me that seemed connected to the aforementioned false accusation.

Complaint 6: That the Managing Artistic Director body-shamed me.

Complaint 7: That the Managing Artistic Director disability-shamed me.

Detail 1: On July 15, 2017, Ms. Stephanie Porfert (my cousin) posted some comments about a sensitive subject matter on my personal Facebook page. She stated that she believed “abortion was evil”, and she gave reasons why she believed this way (See below for screenshots). I replied that I disagreed with her, but that I respected her right to her opinion. On July 17, 2017, Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] entered into an argument with my family member on my Facebook page. This is not unusual on my page, as I have friends and family from every political, religious, ethnic, gender, transgender, sexual preference, and geographical backgrounds all cohabitating on my small little corner of the internet. Sometimes this diversity leads to debates or argument, but I try to always encourage civility, even while disagreeing.






Detail 2: On July 17, 2017, Ms. ________ [Managing Artistic Director] contacted me via private message and demanded that I remove my family member’s comments from my page. (See below for screenshots). I felt that Ms. _______’s demand crossed a line, as she is neither my boss nor does she have any authority over my personal Facebook page. I stated that I believe in fair and open dialogue, and that I was sorry she was upset, but that I would not remove the comment. Ms. ______ accused me of not complying solely because I am a “white male”. Ironically, all three people in this discussion were white, and the demand that she placed on me was to silence a woman. In my opinion, a man silencing a woman over any issue – but especially over a women’s health issue – would be far more misogynistic than allowing her to speak.







Ms. _______ then claimed that I was “representing hate on my page”, and stated that she would delete me as a friend and report me to Facebook for promoting hate speech. (Click here for the definitions of “hate speech” by Facebook, the American Bar Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union – all of which contradict Ms. ______’s [Managing Artistic Director] definition of “hate speech”). I truly was upset to be responsible in any way for upsetting Ms. ______, whom I respected. After all, Ms. ______ and I are aligned politically on most issues, including this one. Our only disagreement seemed to be about Facebook etiquette, and about how we interact with people with whom we disagree. I am strongly opposed to silencing anyone, unless they make threatening or belligerent statements. I have deleted and will continue to delete comments on my page that are threatening and/or verbally abusive, but I did not (and still do not) feel that Ms. Porfert’s comments qualified as either.

Detail 3: Later that day, I worried that this disagreement might impact our working relationship at _______ [Organization]. I reached out to Ms. ______ and requested that we meet face-to-face to discuss this issue, as opposed to hashing out our disagreements over Facebook messenger. I even suggested we ask someone else to mediate our discussion (perhaps _________ [Organization] Board President _______ [Board President's name]) if she didn’t feel comfortable meeting one-on-one. I did not receive a reply until July 21 (4 days later), when Mr. _____ [Board President] wrote to us both and agreed to set up a mediation.

Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] and I met with Mr. ______ [Board President] on July 26 at 12pm. I had hoped for a productive dialogue, in which Ms. ______ would voice her concerns, I would voice mine, and we would ultimately both recognize a mutual respect and desire to work with one another. I was mistaken. During the next hour and a half, I was accused no less than 6 times of “promoting hate speech” on my page. As opposed to two colleagues listening and discussing a serious issue with one another, this meeting became an interrogation session in which numerous allegations were hurled at me without justification.

I have strong, deeply held beliefs about freedom of speech, but my beliefs were declared invalid in the face of the alleged “hate speech” of Ms. Porfert (my cousin). Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] threatened to bring these accusations before the Board of ________ [Organization] in order to have me removed, under the premise that if people saw all this “hate” on my page, they might somehow mistake my cousin’s comments as an official policy position from _______ [Organization]. She then stated that she felt very uncomfortable with me working with a _____ [Organization] mentorship student, even though I was the one who helped create the mentorship program and sought out numerous enrollees.

She also questioned my fitness to be a college professor, since I “allow hate speech” on my page. The irony is that my students come from every political, social, religious, ethnic and so on, backgrounds, and many of my students are actually pro-life, as well as many that are pro-choice. In all of my classes, we spend a great deal of time listening to one another and discussing complex issues with respect and consideration. Open dialogue and free sharing of ideas is something I encourage in all of my classrooms as well as on Facebook. In this meeting, Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] stated, “I wonder how your student’s parents, or even your dean would feel if they knew you had so much hate on your page”? I interpreted that statement as a threat – as though she intended to contact my dean. Not that I had anything to hide, but the prospect of having to defend myself in this manner was appalling. Earlier in the conversation, she asked if my Facebook page had any privacy settings. It did not, as I had never run into a problem like this before. (Consider that – in 14 years of having a Facebook account, I had never run into a problem like this before). Based in part on this perceived threat, I agreed to add privacy settings to my page.

Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] stated that she would accept that compromise. I compromised in agreeing to add privacy settings to my Facebook page. She compromised in agreeing to lay off the incendiary charges. I commented to Mr. ______ [Board President] after the meeting: “That was brutal. If she ever talks to me like that again, I’m leaving the Board.”

Detail 4: On August 20, 2017, Ms. ________ [Managing Artistic Director], myself, and several others met with the _________ [Organization] mentorship students, and the meeting was overall very successful. During that meeting, however, Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] spoke at considerable length for the need for students to stay off their mentor’s Facebook pages. I actually agreed with her on this topic, but then she repeated this statement over and over and over again. By the fourth time she repeated it, it felt like a personal attack on me.

Detail 5: On September 21, 2017, Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] chose to demote me from Executive Director to Program Director for the 24-Hour Plays. This decision was made without consulting me or the rest of the Board. (See below for screenshot) Two years prior, I was the co-Executive Director of the event, and it went very smoothly. I was originally brought on to reprise my role. There was no reason to demote me, other than what I perceive to be personal vengeance. Because of the previous conflict I’d had with her, I was hesitant to begin a new argument.



Detail 6: On September 22, 2017, Ms. ________ [Managing Artistic Director] and I entered into a seemingly routine disagreement on protocol for the 24-Hour Play Festival. Earlier in the planning stages, the committee voted on how we should divide up the actors. The committee voted unanimously to allow Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] and Ms. ________ [another Board member] to divide the actors’ headshots into 12 separate packets, with a careful eye to diversity regarding age, race, gender, and so on. I was a proud supporter of this proposal. However, I requested at that time that we allow the playwrights to randomly select the packets so that no one could claim favoritism, or have any hurt feelings. The committee voted (at my insistence) to allow playwrights to randomly select their packets. For approximately two months, that was the designated plan – until September 22, when Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] stated, in an email thread, “I think we should hand them their packet. One less thing to do.”

I replied with: “I strongly disagree. If we pre-plan and they find out it was pre-planned, there may be some bitterness if they end up with a cast they don't like. Especially if someone else ends up with a great cast. The randomness protects us from accusations of favoritism.”

Ms. ______ [Managing Artistic Director] replied in an email to the entire 24-hour play committee by accusing me of not respecting or understanding diversity. (See below for screenshot). I made no claims about diversity in my comment, and have been a proud supporter of the plan to pre-fill each packet with a diverse cast from the beginning. My concern in this instance was only in regards to the vote we had already taken, which was to allow playwrights to randomly select their packet. I felt that Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] was now unilaterally changing the rules that we had already voted on.



I believed that her accusation about my lack of respect for diversity to be so off-base, and so incredibly distasteful in light of her previous unfair charges against me, that I wrote a resignation letter to Mr. _______ [Board President] the very next day (See below for screenshot). I agreed to work through the 24-hour festival, but then resign immediately after.




I then clarified in an email to the 24-Hour Play committee that I had full respect for diversity, and was only concerned about the randomness of the packets. Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] remained silent for two full days. At 2:14pm on September 24, I submitted a resignation letter to Ms. ______ [Managing Artistic Director] stating how hurt I was that she would continue to accuse me of such things without cause. (See below for screenshot). I again stated my intentions to resign immediately after the 24-hour play festival.


Detail 7: At 10:07pm on September 24, 2017, Ms. ______ [Managing Artistic Director] finally acknowledged that she had made an error in her assumption. She did not apologize for her accusation, but she thanked me for clarifying my position. (See below for screenshot) I accepted this error. I accept that a mistake had been made. However, I felt (and still feel) that she would not have made the same mistake if my comments had been made by any other person on that committee. I believe she accused me of not respecting diversity because she already believed I did not respect diversity (which is simply false, and I believe rooted in a false understanding of the events on July 15).



Detail 8: On September 27, 2017, the Board of Directors met for our final discussion on the 24-Hour Play Festival before the event. In that discussion, I stated that I would be there to help playwrights wherever needed. Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] replied, in front of the entire Board, that “what I see you best suited for, Dan, is making sure the lids are on the food, and making sure that no one gets lost.” I am a playwright with 20+ years of experience in the field, over 400 productions around the world, I have a Master’s Degree in Dramatic Writing, and I teach playwriting for a living. In addition, I was one of the only people on the committee with any experience running a 24-hour play festival. I can see no other way to interpret her comment except as an intentional insult.

To be very clear, I am happy to get my hands dirty and do whatever needs doing. Indeed, for nearly two hours after the event, I cleaned garbage pails and carried boxes wherever they needed to go. But where I am “best suited” in an event on playwriting is most certainly not in putting the lids on the food. I will do that if needed, but I am beyond capable of more.

Detail 9: On Saturday, September 30, the day of the 24 Hour Play Festival, Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] finally (6 days later) acknowledged my resignation email, and she apologized for hurting my feelings. (See below for screenshot) It was a well-written apology, and seemed to be a heartfelt sentiment. The only part that concerned me was this sentence: “It’s not personal, and never has been.” I can assure everyone reading this complaint that the discussion about my Facebook page certainly felt personal, and it was very difficult for me to believe that sentence. This point aside, I appreciated the apology and told her as much. I expressed my desire to have a fun evening working with one another.



Unfortunately, things did not improve.

Detail 9: That same day, the committee met at 12pm to go over the plans for the 24-Hour Play Festival. We took a tour of the facilities and saw the costumes. I asked the question, “Do we have enough costumes for actors of different sizes?” Ms. _______ [Managing Artistic Director] looked at me from head to toe and said, “MOST actors are skinny, so no. I think these will be fine.” As a larger sized actor myself, I found this horribly offensive. Luckily, Ms. _____ [another Board Member] corrected her by saying, “No no no, we have plenty of actors of different sizes. A very diverse group.” And sure enough, there were at least three actors at the event my size or larger.

Detail 10: As the evening wore on, the tension between us got worse. It was a stressful event, especially as the night progressed and no one was sleeping. Regardless, I watched Ms. ______ [Managing Artistic Director] thank every volunteer and every committee member there – except for me. I don’t recall a single “thank you” the entire 24 hours we worked together. Not one “good job”, nothing. Despite the fact that she just told me Saturday morning that none of this was “personal”. At best, I feel this was a missed opportunity to set our differences aside and for her to truly be a great leader for the organization. At worst, I feel this was just another intentional slight against me.

Detail 11: Instead of the slightest positive acknowledgment that evening, Ms. ______ [Managing Artistic Director] provided me with a number of eye rolls, loud sighs, and a raised voice to let me know she was irritated with me for most of the event. At one point, she asked me to print something. I printed it, put it at her desk, and she yelled at me for not printing it. I said, “It’s right there!” On several occasions, she apparently asked me something, but I didn’t hear her, and she started throwing her hands around like she was furious. I wear hearing aids. I am completely deaf in one ear, but my hearing aids do a nice job of helping me – except sometimes in noisy rooms, and then my hearing aids don’t always know what to focus on – the loud printer, the person speaking, or the dog barking across the street. All someone has to do is tap me on the shoulder and repeat themselves, and I’m happy to do almost anything the person asks. Ms. ______’s impatience with my hearing loss began to feel very offensive by about the 18th hour.

Although I had not slept in over 24 hours, I could still barely sleep when I arrived home from the event as I was so frustrated with the way I’d been treated. I spent that night composing my official resignation letter from the Board. The next day, October 2nd, I proofread my letter and sent it in. (See screenshot below).



Conclusion: My original intention was to stay private about this abuse, so as not to upset the organization, and you will see me state as much in two of the attachments. However, after I resigned, I spoke to several of my colleagues who advised me to at least document my concerns with the Board, so as to protect others in case this behavior repeats itself.

It is not my intention to have Ms. ______ [Managing Artistic Director] fired or unjustly punished. I believe she brings quite a lot of good to the organization. I also find her to be a strong person with strong beliefs, and I think that’s needed in our society today. However, I too am a strong person with strong beliefs, and her lack of respect for me in this regard is troublesome. There is no room in an organization like _____ [Organization] for body shaming, disability shaming, or intolerance towards other opinions or beliefs that contradict our own. Ms. ____’s outspokenness about issues such as diversity and inclusiveness are indeed assets to the organization, but such claims towards inclusiveness become hypocritical if an arbitrary boundary is placed when it comes to personal beliefs.

I also wish to state very clearly that had Ms. Porfert’s comments actually qualified as hate speech, I would have removed the comments on my own, and Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] and I would never have had this conversation. The fact that Ms. _____ [Managing Artistic Director] chose to accuse me of such a serious charge as “promoting hate speech” without actually researching the definition of “hate speech” is a serious problem. The fact that she threatened to abuse her authority as Managing Artistic Director in order to have me removed from the Board, or potentially fired from my day job, is an even bigger problem.

It is my hope that these complaints may be used as a learning tool to help the organization move forward. Until and unless it does, I can no longer consider myself proud to be a member.

Sincerely,

Daniel Guyton

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Vote No On Kavanaugh

Mr. Perdue, you are my senator. As a voter, I am urging you to vote no on Brett Kavanaugh. There are other, far more qualified candidates available. I did not necessarily agree with Neil Gorsuch, but I did not oppose his nomination as he mostly seemed like an honorable man. After watching Mr. Kavanaugh's testimony this past week, I feel no such respect for Judge Kavanaugh. I found the man's testimony to be petty, vindictive, and small-minded. Even on the off-chance that he is innocent of the charges levied against him by 5 separate women (which I doubt), the fact that he would blame (without evidence) Dr. Ford's testimony on Hilary Clinton showed him to be a partisan hack, no worthier of the Supreme Court nomination than Alex Jones or any other talk show host. As a judge, he should know the value of evidence, as opposed to incendiary rhetoric. His fiery testimony would make more sense at a political rally or a talk show than at an interview for the highest court in the land.

In addition, the American Bar Association had concerns about Brett Kavanaugh's impartiality 12 years ago, and they obviously still have concerns with him this week, as they've requested an FBI investigation into him. Even if we remove the 5 sexual assault allegations against him, this man's temperament and controversial history have shown him to be unworthy of the Supreme Court nomination. Beyond that, the emotionally devastating impact this man's cavalier and unapologetic testimony has had on women and sexual assault survivors across this nation should be enough to disqualify him as well.
I realize that you are not up for re-election until 2021, but I have no plans in leaving Georgia before then, and I fully intend to base my vote in 2021 on your vote in this confirmation process this week. Please vote no, and please encourage President Trump to appoint a more qualified candidate as soon as possible. Thank you.
Daniel Guyton
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David Perdue
GEORGIA
Tel: (404) 865-0087
Fax: (404) 816-3435
Washington, D.C. Office
Tel: (202) 224-3521
Fax: (202) 228-1031

Please Contact Your Senators

I believe the following senators would like to hear from you this week. Please do not disappoint them.
David Perdue
GEORGIA
Tel: (404) 865-0087
Fax: (404) 816-3435
Washington, D.C. Office
Tel: (202) 224-3521
Fax: (202) 228-1031
Online email form: https://www.perdue.senate.gov/connect/email
Johnny Isakson
GEORGIA
Tel: (770) 661-0999
Fax: (770) 661-0768
Washington, D.C. Office
Tel: (202) 224-3643
Fax: (202) 228-0724
Online email form:
https://www.isakson.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-me
Jeff Flake
Washington, D.C. Office
P: 202-224-4521
F: 202-228-0515
Phoenix Office
P: 602-840-1891
F: 602-840-4092
Tucson Office
P: 520-575-8633
F: 520-797-3232
Online email form: https://www.flake.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-jeff
Susan Collins
Washington, DC Office
Phone: (202)224-2523
Portland, ME Office
Phone: (207) 780-3575
Online email form: https://www.collins.senate.gov/contact
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sensusancollins/
Lisa Murkowski
Washington, D.C. Office
Phone: (202)-224-6665
Fax: (202)-224-5301
Anchorage, AK Office
Phone: (907) 271-3735
Fax: (877) 857-0322
Online email form: https://www.murkowski.senate.gov/contact/email
Kamala Harris
Washington, D.C. Office
Phone (202) 224 - 3553
Fax (202) 224 - 2200
Los Angeles Office
Phone (310) 231 - 4494
Fax (202) 224 - 0357
Online email form: https://www.harris.senate.gov/
Mazie Hirono
Washington, DC Office
Phone: (202) 224-6361
Fax: (202) 224-2126
Honolulu, HI Office
Phone: (808) 522-8970
Toll Free: 844-478-3478
Fax: (808) 545-4683
Online email form: https://www.hirono.senate.gov/contact
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/maziehirono/
Joni Ernst
Washington, DC Office
Phone: (202) 224-3254
Fax: (202) 224-9369
Des Moines, IA 50309
Phone: (515) 284-4574
Fax: (515) 284-4937
Online email form: https://www.ernst.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-joni
Instagram:
https://www.instagram.com/senjoniernst/
Cindy Hyde-Smith
Washington, DC Office
Phone: (202) 224-5054
Fax: (202) 224-5321
Jackson, MS Office
Phone (601) 965-4459
Fax (601) 965-4919
Online email form: https://www.hydesmith.senate.gov/content/contact-senator
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sencindyhydesmith/?hl=en
Deb Fischer
Washington D.C. Office
Phone: (202) 224-6551
Fax: (202) 228-1325
Lincoln, Nebraska Office
Phone: (402) 441-4600
Fax: (402) 476-8753
Omaha, Nebraska Office
Phone: (402) 391-3411
Fax: (402) 391-4725
Online email form: https://www.fischer.senate.gov/public/?p=email-deb
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/senatorfischer/
Shelley Moore Capito
Washington, DC Office
Phone: 202-224-6472
Charleston, WV Office
Phone: 304-347-5372
Online email form: https://www.capito.senate.gov/contact/contact-shelley
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sencapito/
Tammy Baldwin
Washington, D.C. Office
Phone: (202) 224-5653
Milwaukee, WI 53203
Phone: (414) 297-4451
Online email form: https://www.baldwin.senate.gov/feedback
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/senatorbaldwin/
Maria Cantwell
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-3441
Fax: (202) 228-0514
Seattle, WA Office
Phone: (206) 220-6400
Fax: (206) 220-6404
Spokane, WA Office
Phone: (509) 353-2507
Fax: (509) 353-2547
Online email form: https://www.cantwell.senate.gov/contact/email/form
Patty Murray
Washington, D.C. Office
Phone: (202) 224-2621
Fax: (202) 224-0238
Toll Free: (866) 481-9186
Spokane, Washington Office
Phone: (509) 624-9515
Fax: (509) 624-9561
Online email form: http://www.murray.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contactme
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/senpattymurray/
Heidi Heitkamp
Washington, DC Office
Phone: (202) 224-2043
Fax: (202) 224-7776
Bismarck, ND Office
Phone: (701) 258-4648
Fax: (701) 258-1254
Online email form: https://www.heitkamp.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-heidi
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/senatorheitkamp/

I Support #MeToo

The pain that I see in my friends' posts, my loved ones' conversations, and in the countless interviews I've seen in the news in response to Kavanaugh's hearing, as well as in the last several years of the #metoo movement, have deeply affected me.
I have hurt people. Mostly without realizing it. Sometimes I did realize it, but I justified it by saying that other people laughed, so it was ok. Hurting people was never the end goal; the goal was usually to make people laugh - but if some people got hurt in the meantime, well, so be it. I was driven from a young age by a need to make people laugh - I found it to be an effective defense mechanism against an otherwise cruel world. But occasionally, I perpetuated that cruelty unto others.
One time, I broke up with a girl in a really cruel way because it sounded funny in my head. Why would anyone try to be funny in a break up? I have no idea. I can't even begin to understand my own logic at the time, let alone explain it. All I know is that I recognized the cruelty even as the words were exiting my mouth. I do not regret breaking up with her (it was not a healthy relationship), but I have regretted the way I went about it for years. I even wrote half of a play about it once, but I didn't finish it because the friends I had shown it to said the male character was way too vicious, and they didn't like it. (They didn't recognize that character was me, and I didn't have the courage to tell them. I also didn't feel right watering it down, so I just set it aside for a time).
Sometimes I was cruel in a way that I instantly regretted. Other times, it took a while for me to recognize how much I had hurt someone. (And I also don't mean to imply that my life has been spent inflicting one cruel joke after another - I hope I have ultimately brought more joy than pain to others over the long haul - but there were enough cruel moments in there for me to feel the need to share this.)
My wife is one of the most empathetic people I know. When we met, I was not in a great place in my life - but she listened, loved me, and made me feel like I meant something in this world. She also taught me that there are a lot more ways to make people laugh than just being cruel. Over the last 10 years, I have listened to her, I have grown with her, I have developed a far keener sense of empathy and compassion than I even knew I was capable of. Most people who have met me in the last 10 years probably would not have recognized me in the previous 30.
When the #metoo movement began, I listened - to my wife especially - but also to many others.
In addition to waking me up to the horrific experiences of others, these stories have made me reflect upon my own bad behavior. I know that I have been a terrible person at times, and that I have caused people pain.
When people say that Judge Kavanaugh couldn't have been guilty of hurting someone in his teens because he's "so nice now", I call bullshit. Maybe he found God (or lost God), or maybe his wife helped him to become a better person (or not, because based on his testimony, he certainly doesn't SEEM like a nice person). But, even the nicest human being in the world is capable of hurting others. This does not mean that anyone (even Kavanaugh) is incapable of redemption, but it certainly means that an effort must be made.
If you have hurt someone in your past, please acknowledge it - at least to yourself. Listen to others. Reflect on your past. Promise yourself and others that you will do better - and actively work towards doing better. None of us are perfect. All of us are human and fallible - but if we can't even acknowledge our own shortcomings, then how can we expect it of others?
I am deeply ashamed and sorry for my actions which have hurt people. I truly wish I could undo those actions, but I CAN work harder towards being a better person today. The world is far too cruel as it is without my dumb ass adding any more to it. For all those who've shared #whyididntreport and #metoo messages, please know that I'm listening, I hear you, and that your words are having an impact. Please don't ever feel that you need to be silent. These messages break my heart, and they make me want to be a better person. I know I'm not alone in this. And neither are you.
#IBelieveTheWomen

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Atlas Shrugged Vs. The Fountainhead

I originally wrote this back in 2010, but I read it again today and it still holds up:


So, I recently read Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" for the first time, and was... well... impressed by the scope of the novel, however disappointed by the actual writing - especially compared to her previous novel, "The Fountainhead", which I loved. A friend asked why I liked one, but not the other, and here was my reply:

"The Fountainhead" deals primarily with art and imagination and creativity, and not letting any other human dictate what one should or should not create. So much so, that Howard Roark (the novel's protagonist) will not be moved by public opinion OR by financial concerns. He would rather go bankrupt and be blasted publically by every newspaper from here to kingdom come, than to sacrifice his vision. To that end, I found it fascinating. Yes, the protagonist is an architect, not a playwright, but I still connected with him on an artistic level.

In "Atlas Shrugged" however, we focus on businessmen. These businessmen have the same intensity of focus as Howard Roark in "The Fountainhead", which I admired, AND their approach to business is very similar to Roark's approach to his architecture. They plan to earn money REGARDLESS of public opinion, and even in the face of pending bankruptcy, they will still do everything they can to produce, create, and hopefully make their millions in the process. In many ways, I admired "Atlas Shrugged" and what it set out to do.

However, "Atlas" is WAY too judgmental of other viewpoints. In a key scene, the main protagonist calls social workers the most evil people in America, because all they want to do is take money away from the rich and give it to the poor. I happen to like social workers. I have several family members who are social workers. They are about as diametrically opposed to evil as I am from a turtle. The most likable character in the novel makes a broad comparison of Robin Hood to the devil, and over and over again, Rand calls people with a social conscience "Evil" or "a looter", as if a person's desire to help others is a sin. Yes, I understand WHY she wrote this novel, and what worldy concerns were happening (Stalin was in power, Cuba was overthrown, the Red Scare was in full effect, and McCarthy was at the height of his popularity). However, the judgments hurled at some of my own philosophies were not well met by me as a reader. In fact, I felt many of her arguments were not even well formed. Had she been in the room as I read it, I'd have challenged her on many tenets of her argument.

On the flip-side, the protagonist in "The Fountainhead" makes one thing very clear - he doesn't give a DAMN what others think of him or his work. Roark does not judge people - not even Peter Keating, who is stealing his ideas and marketing them as his own. He just does what he does, and allows others to judge themselves. He is a mirror by which others can see their own faults and reflections. Yes, the character of Ellsworth Toohey is a Socialist, and clearly the villain of the piece, but in the greatest line of the novel, Toohey asks "Why don't you tell me what you think of me, Mr. Roark?" Roark replies, "But I don't think of you." It sums up everything.

Had Rand been more subtle in "Atlas Shrugged", I might have been on board. But "Atlas" is SOOOOOOOOO judgmental, with the words "Evil" and "A socialist" tossed around so much that it resembled a McCain/Palin rally, and EVERY SINGLE ONE of her protagonists is so amazingly brilliant and of the same mind, I felt bored. Yes, there are some (possibly many) great businessmen out there who make a sizable profit doing the right thing. But as we've seen recently with Enron, Halliburton, BP, and many other examples, there are LOADS of businessmen who are JUST AS BAD as the corrupt politicians who are villainized in "Atlas Shrugged." Rand proposes (like a Tea Partier) that government should stay out of big business. That's all well and good, and I might be able to support it - Except in her example, all businessmen would naturally work within the United States, keep jobs for our citizens, promote the best employees, fire the worst, regulate themselves in order to maintain a better profit, and so on. Yet that doesn't happen! Businesses are constantly outsourcing, letting people go regardless of their talent, as long as they can save a buck somewhere else. Rand IGNORES the handicapped entirely, shits all over anyone who cares about their family more than work, and she favors social selection over any other societal model. Which again, is an ok philosophy worth debating, but in this novel, she makes NO ROOM for disagreement or doubt. Her protags are all perfect beings - ALL of them. And I get her point - we should encourage the best workers and discourage the worst. Fine, I'm all for it. But deregulating completely? Going back to "the perfect world" of laissez-faire capitalism? I'm sorry, I don't think it works. There is JUST as much temptation for a businessman to be corrupt as a politician.

Some other complaints:

1) She blames the fall of capitalism on Robin Hood - the idea of stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Yet, Robin Hood didn't steal from the hard-working rich, who earned their money honestly! He stole from LAZY rich, especially from the lousy politicians who over-charged taxes on their citizens, without offering comparable benefits in return. Robin Hood would have NEVER stolen from King Richard, the king everyone admired - he only stole from Prince John, who is the same type of douchebag as James Taggart in the novel. Prince John and James Taggart were both handed everything, put forth zero effort, yet felt the world owed them everything. So Robin Hood said "Screw you, I'm taking all your unearned tax money back." Based on this novel alone, I would have thought Rand would LOVE Robin Hood. In fact, she even has a likable character named Ragnar Danneskjold who is a modern-day pirate, who does what? Oh right, he steals from the corrupt politicans who overtaxed the businessmen, and gives the money back to the rightful owners. Ragnar Danneskjold IS Robin Hood. This was a poorly conceived metaphor on her part. Robin Hood is actually about as Ayn Randian as you can get...

2) Two of her main protagonists were born rich and handed everything. Francisco and Dagny were both heirs to MAJOR sources of wealth and property. Yes, so is James - one of the antagonists. But maintaining one's wealth, and rising up from nothing to earn it are two different things entirely. If you want to argue about the merits of capitalism, to a country that is divided economically, these two characters are NOT the best examples. They work as foils, but they're not going to "speak" to someone who is raising three kids, working two jobs, and struggling to pay the bills. Reardon did work hard to get where he is, but he certainly didn't come from poverty. He rose up from the middle class. Unfortunately, because of this, "Atlas Shrugged" smacks of an "I-have-everything-and-I-want-to-keep-it" smugness. In "The Fountainhead", you at least have Gail Wynand, who rose up from the slums of New York to become wealthy, which is more impressive, and you also have Roark, who doesn't CARE about money. Possibly John Galt's background is comparable to Wynand's, though he's only in the novel a relatively short time, and really, he's more comparable to Roark. Money is important to Galt, but more as a philosophy - making money IS Galt's artwork.

3) As a novel, Rand fails in "Atlas Shrugged" by creating TOO MANY perfect protagonists! There are not enough flaws (tragic or otherwise) in any of her protagonists, and there are SO MANY flaws in all of her antagonists. It's hard to swallow, at least on a dramatic level. I suppose the metaphor works for what she's trying to say, but as a novel, it sucks. In "The Fountainhead" you have ONE perfect person, and even the people who want to be like him fall short. I can buy that. I just can't buy that every single person who cares about money actually follows the same moral code as every other person who cares about money. I just don't buy it. They all use the same language: "The looters", "evil", "I will never put anyone else's interests above my own." etc. It's not that I don't get where she's coming from -- it's that for someone SO concerned with individuality, it seems weird and contradictory that these staunch individualists would each share the same philosophy - right down to the EXACT SAME WORDS every time they speak!

4) Dagny sleeps with three dudes in the novel - each one more impressive than the last, and EACH TIME, the previous dude is like "Wow, I'm so glad you're sleeping with that dude - because he's so much better than me." BULLSHIT! That is such bullshit. I don't care how "perfect" you are! What MAN, let alone a staunch individualist such as Francisco D'Anconia and Henry Reardon, is going to back down on his sexual conquest in order to promote the greater good of his philosophy? WTF?!? Again, I get where her philosophy is coming from, but it's BULLSHIT, and goes completely against human nature and biology.

5) And with all of those staunch individualists in that one community, are you really going to tell me that no wars are started? No arguments? No one has a bad day or gets sick, or wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and says something dumb to someone else? No one decides they want to make more money than the next guy, or tries to rob someone, hoping that no one will notice? And what about children? How will this society sustain itself without children? And if they have children, then what happens when those children become teenagers or decide they don't like the philosophy espoused by the rest of the community? I don't buy it. I DON'T BUY IT. The people in that community are described as having the biggest egos in the world. How are they even living near each other? Let alone not ripping each other's throats out? Again, it's a nice philosophy, but it's BULLSHIT. Human nature does NOT WORK THAT WAY.

6) And what happens when one of these amazing people has a child who is handicapped, and unable to give back to the society? Who takes of the child? Obviously not a social worker, since they're all evil. And probably not the parent, since they're so busy making money and being amazing for the good of all society. So do the parents simply abort the child who is incapable of providing any benefit to the society? This is never even touched on, and yet it is the biggest flaw in her entire argument.

Perhaps I'm cynical, and I really TRIED to see it Ayn Rand's way, but I don't. I think her "community" would dissolve in a month if it ever came to be. It would fall apart EXACTLY the same way communism would. One person would eventually get tired of being equal, and would try to tip the scales in his or her favor, which would piss off the other people, and a war would start. One person would eventually get sick, and out of fear of dying, might do something dumb - or the people that love them might do something dumb, or they might have a stroke and go crazy and break the rules. I don't know! But she completely fails to account for human nature. Not all people are smart, not all people are capable, and not all people are of sound body and mind. In her "ideal world," those people would just die, I guess. I simply can't accept that... There are far too many flaws in this novel for it work on its own merits.