Category Archives: Sexuality

DWR (8): A Dialectical Journey from Religion to Politics and Elsewhere

As readers know, I have had an ongoing dialogue with my very dear friend, Ryan Neugebauer, whom I have known for nearly five years. In those five years, we have developed a remarkable friendship, uplifted by spirited intellectual engagement, mutual inspiration, support, and love through good times and bad.

I’ll have more to say about some of his future activities in the coming weeks, but today, I’m just pausing to say how proud I am of his newly published wonderful essay—his first ever posted on Medium—entitled “A Dialectical Journey: From Religion to Politics and Elsewhere“. I’m not promoting the article simply because he describes himself as a dialectical left-libertarian, who places a high value on “the art of context-keeping”, with an explicit nod to my “conception of what dialectics is.”

What impresses me most is Ryan’s intellectual honesty and vulnerability, his willingness to explore his intensely personal evolution that has shaped his attitudes toward religion and ritual, politics and culture, sexuality and social change. As he writes:

It would be easy for some people to wonder why they should trust my thinking after having admitted that I have changed and evolved so much. I’d first respond by saying that I’d be skeptical of the thinking of anyone who hasn’t changed or evolved. No human has a synoptic or total view of everything, so we are all going to get plenty wrong and must engage in a life-long learning process. I also think that most people just go about their lives unreflectively and take whatever they think as “the truth”, which takes little effort. So when they see someone who has changed a lot and expelled a lot of effort, they look down on it and pity the person. Well, much like Socrates, I think the unexamined life is not worth living.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, moving forward I hope to get better in touch with my principles and provide even greater evidence-based arguments in defense of them. I also hope to keep an open mind to conflicting information, which is why I watch content and engage with others that I don’t agree with. It’s unhealthy to stay in an echo chamber where you only hear arguments and commentary in favor of your positions. That’s a sure way to grow callous toward those opposed to your views and to remain quite ignorant. That goes for strict Fox News watchers and MSNBC watchers alike, just as two examples.

A good framework for moving forward would be to get in touch with your own perspectives and arguments. Know why you hold them and what their strengths and weaknesses are. There are no risk-free or negative-free options, as pretty much everything comes with a tradeoff of some kind or another. Know what tradeoffs you’re willing to put up with and why (as one example, do you think that high economic inequality is worth putting up with in the pursuit of some rigid free-market perspective? Why?). Be open to hearing arguments opposed to your position and seek to buttress your position by taking into account criticism/feedback. Be charitable to those who respectfully disagree with you and seek their best, most steel-manned argument to deal with rather than some weak strawman argument. Doing all of that is what I strive to do, even if I still fall short. I think it’s the best way forward if we are to progress in any meaningful sense, personally and as a global community. So, let’s get to it then!

I can’t think of a more refreshing approach to ideas—and to life itself. Here’s to many more articles and much future engagement!

Sharon Presley (1943-2022), RIP

My dear friend, Ellen Young, announced today that Sharon Presley, lifelong libertarian feminist writer and activist, died on Monday, October 31, 2022, at the age of 79. Her partner Art—who has had his own share of health challenges—was able to be there to say goodbye to her.

Sharon had been suffering from serious illnesses for quite a while. In the wake of eviction from her apartment and the loss of her cats, she was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes for over a year.

Sharon received her B.A. in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, her M.A. in psychology from San Francisco State, and her Ph.D. in social psychology from the City University of New York. She taught on the psychology of women and other gender-related courses at California State University, Iowa State University, the College of Wooster, and Weber State College. Her published research included historical papers on women resisters, a study of Mormon feminists, an edited collection of essays on nineteenth-century individualist feminist Voltairine de Cleyre and the 2010 volume, Standing Up to Experts and Authorities: How to Avoid Being Intimidated, Manipulated, and Abused. Sharon was also a national coordinator for the Association of Libertarian Feminists and Executive Director of Resources for Independent Thinking.

Her frail state over these many months was quite a contrast to the rambunctious fireband whom I met way back in 1978, when I was an undergraduate student at New York University. She and John Muller had helped to launch Laissez-Faire Books, which offered a treasure-trove of classical liberal, libertarian, and anarchist literature in the heart of Greenwich Village. As a cofounder of the NYU chapter of Students for a Libertarian Society, I spent a lot of time at that bookstore, especially in 1980, when it became a virtual warehouse of antidraft placards and pamphlets that we distributed in Washington Square Park, joining with other student groups to protest Jimmy Carter’s reinstatement of Selective Service Registration.

From the very beginning of our friendship, Sharon and I had our differences, but it never interfered with her willingnesss to step up and speak out in an uncompromising, principled way on many controversial topics. She gladly accepted our invitation to speak at an NYU-SLS-sponsored event, delivering a fiery lecture in support of reproductive freedom. Given that Ayn Rand’s work played such a key role in initially sparking Sharon’s political radicalization, I was delighted, many years later, when she accepted an invitation to be among the diverse group of contributors to Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (1999), which I coedited with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, for the Penn State University Press series, “Re-reading the Canon.” That volume, prominently featured among anthologies on thirty-five major figures in the Western philosophical tradition, brought Rand’s work into critical engagement with various feminist perspectives. Sharon’s essay, “Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Individualism: A Feminist Psychologist’s Perspective”, was one of its gems.

My very deepest condolences to all those who knew her. I will miss her.

Sharon Presley (1943-2022)

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Song of the Day #1967

Song of the Day: Loser, words and music by Charlie Puth and Jacob Kasher Hindlin, was released today along with Puth’s third studio album, “Charlie“. The album has an ’80s throwback groove, as Perfect Pitch Puth provides some emotionally raw content of unrequited love and loss. Rolling Stone praises the album as “terrific, cohesive” and “expertly crafted”. And Vulture praises Puth for incorporating a remarkable inclusiveness into his “font of musical knowledge.” The official video is hilariously ambitious, but it ain’t no spaghetti Western (Sergio Leone‘s legacy is preserved). Check it out here [YouTube link]. And check out an acoustic version, live from the Howard Stern Show [YouTube link].

Song of the Day #1951

Song of the Day: Sweet Cherry Wine, words and music by Richard Grasso and Tommy James, appeared on the 1969 psychedelic rock album “Cellophane Symphony,” by Tommy James and the Shondells. This anti-Vietnam War protest song was among those included on the jukebox at the Stonewall Inn in the early morning hours of this day, when that gay bar was raided by police for the umpteenth time. But the patrons fought back, asserting the authenticity of their own lives and the right to pursue their own happiness. In looking back on the Stonewall riots, some commentators have cited an urban legend that views the June 27, 1969 funeral [YouTube link] of gay icon Judy Garland—who was born 100 years ago this month (on June 10, 1922)—as an emotional catalyst for the riots late that night. This view has been challenged by many, but there is a poetic irony that gay men of a different generation once referred to themselves euphemistically as “friends of Dorothy” and that Garland’s most iconic song (and LGBTQ anthem), “Over the Rainbow” [YouTube link] (from the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz“) finds its symbolic expression in the rainbow flag of Pride (though its creator, Gilbert Baker, denies the connection). Be that as it may—today, I proudly salute the Stonewall Rebels. From the 1969 Stonewall jukebox, check out “Sweet Cherry Wine” (below).

It’s Mourning in America

If you are among those conservative folks who simultaneously believes that abortion—even in the first trimester—is murder, and you also happen to be in favor of the death penalty, I hope you’ll be ready to start executing women and doctors who defy your celebration of today’s US Supreme Court ruling, which overturns Roe v. Wade after fifty years. The conservatives aren’t done yet. One of the concurring justices in today’s decision, the repulsive Clarence Thomas, thinks that today’s decision can very well impact the court’s rulings on contraception, sodomy, and same-sex marriage. (And under the radar today, the Court even eroded Miranda rights.)

It’s mourning in America.*

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* For those who don’t ‘get’ the title of this post, it’s a play on Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign ad—given that the Reagan administration was the first to so embolden the Religious Right and its war on humane, cosmopolitan, liberal values. Well, that war has finally borne rotten fruit.

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Postscript #1

On Facebook, enraged over today’s ruling, I added these points:

I confess that I’m most angry at those ‘libertarians’ who have traditionally sided with Republicans because they favor “less regulation” and “lower taxes”—for them, it’s all about “business”. Gotta oppose the “left wing” and their “woke” agenda, after all! Don’t worry about things like “abortion”, they were saying, because it’s been the law of the land for 50 years. “Nobody is gonna touch that!”

Well, we’re back to the patchwork of state-by-state illegalities that will make it impossible for poor people especially (poor people? who cares about them?!), living in states dominated by the reactionary right, to secure reproductive freedom. Those who supported the GOP for “economic” reasons traded-in people’s personal liberties and the looney-tune right-wingers have finally won out. [And mind you, there’s nothing about the GOP that will ever give you “less regulation” or “lower taxes”, given the GOP’s commitment to both economic nationalism and the military-industrial complex.]

My rage is only outstripped by my fear—that I will never live long enough to see the damage done today, undone.

And with Reason magazine telling us to chill because the “other conservative judges don’t necessarily agree with” Clarence Thomas, all I could add is: “F*^K him, F^%K them, and F&^% all of them who got behind the conservative agenda [of “low taxes” and “less regulation”], such that this could eventuate.”

And by “this“, I mean not only the erosion of reproductive freedoms but the reactionary war on profoundly personal liberties, which will only gain steam in the shadow of today’s obscene Court decision.

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Postscript #2

This New York Times piece tracks which states banned abortion today. And it tells us which states are on the way to a total ban or deep restrictions. This is a blow to human liberty. Those who voted in the SCOTUS majority be damned!

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Postscript #3

Ayn Rand was correct when she cited the moral bankruptcy of conservatism. She understood that the “pro-lifers” were at their core anti-life and anti-liberty. And she also understood the blatant attack on the poor that the denial of reproductive freedom would entail. From the Ayn Rand Lexicon:

Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable. . . . Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives. The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility, which no one should undertake unwittingly or unwillingly. Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock-farm animals. For conscientious persons, an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster; to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyone’s benefit, but for the sake of misery qua misery, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfillment to living human beings.

The question of abortion involves much more than the termination of a pregnancy: it is a question of the entire life of the parents. As I have said before, parenthood is an enormous responsibility; it is an impossible responsibility for young people who are ambitious and struggling, but poor; particularly if they are intelligent and conscientious enough not to abandon their child on a doorstep nor to surrender it to adoption. For such young people, pregnancy is a death sentence: parenthood would force them to give up their future, and condemn them to a life of hopeless drudgery, of slavery to a child’s physical and financial needs. The situation of an unwed mother, abandoned by her lover, is even worse.

Jim Peron’s “City Limits”

Having finished Jim Peron’s novel, City Limits, I sent him this blurb, and hope folks will check out the book! It can be purchased here.

Jim Peron has gifted us City Limits—a novel rich in characterization, adventure, charade, and humor, which takes us from a rural Kansas town to the ever-colorful Castro district of San Francisco. Peron’s laugh-out-loud portrait of a faith-healing evangelist crusade hellbent on keeping folks from embracing their inner truth is offset by a subtle shout-out to Ayn Rand, in her tribute to a “life, undefeated”. Though embedded in the particulars of a time and a place, this book’s poignant depiction of the search for individual authenticity and self-discovery carries with it universal appeal. A must read!

Song of the Day #1948 & 1949

Songs of the Day: This Track is a Planet Killer / Milky [YouTube links] are two songs composed by Soy. (to appear on their upcoming album “Johnathan”), with my dear friend Eric Fleischmann on vocals. The starkly different tracks, which follow one another, are united as part of a live performance that debuted on 2 January 2022 [YouTube link]. The first track is full of punk fury; the second is an ambient-alternative instrumental. The full 50+ minute official video can be viewed here. When Eric isn’t protesting on campus or writing about the work of Laurence Labadie or subjects as varied as historical materialism and the anarcho-punk movement, he’s busy wreaking havoc on stage with his bandmates: Mose Hatcher (bass), Max Folan (guitar, vocals), Noah Michalski (drums), Lex Puckett (guitar), Shaan Dahar aka HHP (guitar, backing vocals).

Soy.

The Essential Women of Liberty

For people looking for a fine introduction to the thought of a select group of women who have contributed to the cause of liberty, let me recommend The Essential Women of Liberty, coedited by Donald Boudreaux and Aeon J. Skoble, published by the Fraser Institute, with a foreword by Virginia Postrel. My dear friend Aeon informs me that the book is also available in hardcover and softcover editions.

The volume includes essays on Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Martineau, Rose Director Friedman, Mary Paley Marshall, Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, Ayn Rand (a nice essay by Carrie-Ann Biondi), Anna Schwartz, Jane Jacobs, Elinor Ostrom, and Deirdre McCloskey.

I am truly delighted by the remarkably diverse selection of thinkers featured in this anthology. Indeed, any volume that runs the gamut from Wollstonecraft and Rand to Jacobs and Ostrom is worth the price of admission.

Deirdre McCloskey is the only woman featured in this collection whom I’ve ever had the privilege of getting to know personally, having worked closely with her as a contributor to The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, which I coedited with Roger Bissell and Ed Younkins. (Indeed, a Facebook symposium dedicated to that anthology generated a colloquy on her delightful contribution, which appeared in the May 2020 issue of Poroi.)

The book is available as a PDF (for free) and in a Kindle edition (for a mere 99 cents!). Check out a nice YouTube video highlighting the collection …

“Roe, On the Edge”

It’s all over the news this morning. As David Leonhardt tells us in the New York Times:

The Supreme Court has decided to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to outlaw abortion, according to a written draft of the justices’ decision obtained by Politico.

Other publications have not confirmed the authenticity of the draft, and Supreme Court justices sometimes change their minds during the writing of opinions. But many legal observers are treating the draft as authentic and assuming that abortion policy in the U.S. is about to be transformed.

Among the reasons: The tone and style of the draft match those of earlier court decisions. The outcome also matches an outcome that seemed plausible based on the justices’ questions during arguments in December. After Politico published its story last night, the Supreme Court declined to comment.

If the court overturns Roe, many conservative states would likely outlaw nearly all abortions. One estimate suggests that the number of abortions in the U.S. would decline by about 14 percent, The Times’s Claire Cain Miller and Margot Sanger-Katz explain.

I note this here not to get into a debate on the reasoning of Roe v. Wade or to even debate the issue of when life begins. I note this here for one reason and one reason only: If this Court overturns Roe v. Wade, and throws it all back to the states, with many of the most neanderthal states looking to outlaw it completely, it will have annihilated the reproductive rights of women who have fought for a generation to secure them.

If folks thought the “culture war” has been raging out of control, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. A fight must be waged against those who have the audacity to think they can dictate what any woman can or should do with her own body and her own life.

LGBTQ + Education

Folks have long known my stance on LGBTQ+ issues, but I wanted to give a H/T to Ari Armstrong, who provides some worthwhile “Notes on the ‘Groomer’ Panic and Transgender issues“. Ari is spot on in his central concern that “various conservatives seem to be intentionally drumming up a moral panic about the alleged ‘grooming’ of school children who are exposed to conversations and readings that <gasp!> discuss gay and transgender people.”

Thanks too, Ari, for citing my 2003 monograph, Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation (now on sale at the Center for a Stateless Society).