As a fan of Ayn Rand and her philosophy, the music of Canadian rock group Rush really resonates with my sense of life and stuff. But I find surprisingly few fans amongst the Objectivist community and I've always wondered why.
Just as there's no Objectivist personality, there is no Objectivist taste in art. Objectivists vary widely in their tastes in music, as well as movies and other forms of art. (Even on the most sane and level-headed Objectivist discussion forums, the fiercest debates sometimes rage over movies.)
The fact is that taste in art—music especially—is a matter of one's psychology and subconscious values much more than one's explicit philosophy. And two given people who agree on the philosophy of Objectivism don't necessarily have a harmony of psychology or sense of life.
For my part, I wonder why so many Objectivist seem to enjoy pop and rock, which I don't care for (I stick to jazz and classical, for the most part). But I don't begrudge others their preferences or think less of them for it.
answered Sep 28 '10 at 02:15
I admire the music of Rush, though it's not qua Objectivist that I love it. I admire their creative genius, but both philosophically/esthetically their music is flawed. Whenever I need a dose of pure, intense energy, "Tom Sawyer" is high on my list. However, "hard rock" (or whatever you call their music) isn't my favorite kind of music.
Liking Rush and agreeing with Objectivism are correlated by the "accident" that Neal Peart expressed admiration for Ayn Rand. Some of his lyrics appeal to the same sort of defiance that Ayn Rand's works call upon, but his philosophy is not Objectivism.
There are two levels of reasons Objectivists may not respond to Rush: emotional/sense-of-life, and philosophical.
On a sense-of-life level, I find that Rush's music conveys an extremely intense "in-your-face" defiance of society. It's not negative or hostile, like much Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, or (to take a more extreme case) Metallica, but it feels to me like a call to stand alone against the world. The lyrics bear this out: "A modern-day warrior, mean, mean stride, today's Tom Sawyer, mean, mean pride..."
You may feel that negative and angry for a day or two, but do you really have the energy to listen to that kind of music every single day? As an Objectivist in academia, and for the past two years in China, I sometimes feel the exact-same sentiment expressed by Rush in "The Camera Eye." But my preference is still for more benevolent types of music. Frankly, I don't have that much energy! On most days, I prefer music that doesn't convey such angry conflict. Rush is not "happy," it is optimistic in the face of struggle. There is a crucial difference.
Now, in terms of philosophy, I would define Rush's lyrics as brilliantly-written, Objectivist-influenced Nietzschean literature -- which is to say, decidedly not Objectivism. Let's take their brilliantly-written song "Trees" as an example. It sounds on the surface like a great anti-egalitarian manifesto, but in point of fact it's much more consistent with Nietzsche's philosophy of the ubermensch.
Here are the lyrics:
First, let's note that the analogy between trees of different species and human beings is profoundly flawed. Trees do, in fact, live with "unrest." Every species tries to "grab up all the light" and exclude all other trees. Some secrete poisons through their root systems, deliberately intending to kill off other species. All compete for a precious resource, light, and only some can succeed.
Human beings do not compete for limited resources, and there is no "survival of the fittest" for us. We trade value for value. We cooperate, as rational beings.
What would the analogy of the two kinds of trees mean, when applied to human society? It would have to mean that there are two types of men, "oaks" and "maples," and that the oaks among us are designed by nature to dominate the maples. The oaks rightly claim the position of superiority, and they rightly kill off the inferior maples.
If the maples somehow "form a union" and kill off the oaks, that is implicitly to be regarded as wrong by the songwriter. But in fact, if maple trees were in conflict with oaks, and they managed to form a union to kill off the oaks, there would be no such question as right or wrong about it. Morality would be silent on the issue.
The song appeals to the sense of struggle against mediocrity, which I can definitely understand, but it appeals to an inappropriate feeling that the "superior" are necessarily at war with the "inferior." That's just not philosophically true, and that feeling lends itself to an unfortunate feeling of alienation.
I could write a great deal more about the philosophy of Rush, but I hope this will be enough to suggest why Objectivists don't all respond to Neal Peart's lyrics. I think that those who feel more alienated are more likely to respond to Rush, while those who feel less alienated are less likely to feel so attracted to Rush's lyrics.
I recently watched a great documentary titled "Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage." It very clearly displayed the genius of Rush, including that of Neal Peart, but it also showed the latter to be a reclusive and "superior" kind of person (in the bad sense of "superior"). I don't hold that against him, because he has earned the right to feel like a member of the Nietzschean ubermenschen. However, it means that I listen to his lyrics just as I read Nietzsche: loving the poetry of it, but willfully detaching that esthetic enjoyment from the literal meaning of the words.
With fond regards to Rush for all that they have accomplished,
In my ten years of association with Ayn Rand and Objectivism, I have found, from my personal experience, that the opposite is true--most Objectivists who like rock, are also Rush fans ("and stuff"). I know this because I often ask other Objectivists about their musical tastes, and I will often specifically ask them about Rush. In short, there are more Rush fans, per capita, among Objectivists, than you would think.
A prominent Objectivist philosopher whose blog I subscribe to, recently took a poll of his membership, and asked them how they were introduced to Objectivism. The referrer with the most referrals was Neil Peart/Rush. More so than havingread the Fountainhead as required reading in high school, for example.
A few facts to keep in mind about Rush, as they pertain to Objectivism: Neil dedicated the album 2112 to the 'genius of Ayn Rand'--but the lyrics in 2112 are not consistent with the principles of Objectivism, nor were they ever intended to be. Neil has said that he is not a follower or disciple of Ayn Rand.
answered Sep 27 '10 at 23:28