Full disclosure: I spent 7 years trying, with all my heart and soul and strength, to get ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church before our local bishop had the decency to tell me that it wouldn't be worth my while to keep trying--and that I would simply be wasting the time of the Commission on Ministry if I tried again. They were right to turn me down, given what I discovered they were looking for in clergy, but I do wish they'd played it straight and given me a better idea how things worked before I compromised my career and neglected my family to become "involved in the church" in order to build my ordination vita.
When I first inquired about ordination I was told that they key was to be "involved" so I diligently participated in activities, joined organizations and got on committees. I liked choir, but detested everything else. The worst was the Daughters of the King. Once a month we met to tweek the Daughter's Prayer List, adding members of the parish who were sick or had other "needs" and striking those whose problems had been solved, or whom the Daughters concluded had been prayed for enough. In addition to these meetings the Daughters maintained a Prayer Chain so that when a Daughter got word of a Need she could pass it to other members of the local chapter for immediate attention. I had the Prayer Chain structure posted over my desk so that when the Daughter before me on the chain called to tell me of a new prayer request I could call the next Daughter to pass it on. It was I who usually broke the chain--shilly-shallying and praying that the next Daughter would have her answering machine on until, by an alternative route, the prayer request passed through the chain and came back to me again.
I thought these women were sickening. They had the best of intentions and, from the moral point of view were better people than me, but I found their interest in the minutia of other peoples lives, particularly their interest in other people's various miseries, incomprehensible and their compassion and smarm disgusting. They weren't merely gossips and they certainly weren't malicious--they were really interested in people's affairs, really cared and really wanted to help which is surely good from the moral point of view--but from the aesthetic point of view, in my very gut, I was nauseated. And that is what, rightly, disqualified me from ordination. The diocese had other reasons for not wanting me, illegitimate ones, but this was the correct reason for zapping me.
From the aesthetic point of view I like hard, cold, tough, aggressive, intense and angular. I've always wanted to live in a Mondrian world. That's why I got into Ayn Rand in my teens. Always operating according to Kant's maxim, "The Spirit of Thoroughness is not yet dead in Germany," I diligently read everything she wrote--from her essays in The Virtue of Selfishness and For the New Intellectual to The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. I liked the idea of striving and fighting, exerting energy and achieving. Most of all, I liked the idea of hard, cold rationality--and Rand represented herself as the Knight of Reason in a world populated by Atillas and Witch Doctors, dumb thugs and smarmy-wimpy Daughters of the King.
By the time I was 16, as a high school senior writing my term paper on her opus, I was skeptical but it was only after spending 5 months as a clerk-typist at Intercity Trans. Co., Inc. that I repudiated the whole program. I saw that in the adult world of work most people just didn't have the opportunity to strive, fight, exert energy and achieve. Work I discovered was simply drudgery--filling time and coping with boredom. Striving and exerting energy didn't pay off and there was no way to excel. So I was converted--and have kept the Faith. Lots of people get into Ayn Rand at the time of their lives that I did and get out when I did.
But it still seems to me that lots of liberals just don't understand that aesthetic preference for hard, tough, aggressive and angular or the gut level disgust most of us feel for the Daughters of the King program. They don't understand the appeal of get-toughism, or why Americans like the idea of capital punishment, three-strikes laws or programs that purport to "get tough on crime." They don't understand why street gangs are appealing to ghetto youths. They don't understand why we like guns. They don't understand why people, particularly those who aren't engaged in combat, like the idea of war. When I was a kid I regularly watched a TV series called "Combat." I was never clear what the combat was about: was it WWII, Korea, Vietnam or something else? I don't think there was an answer: the program showed soldiers with greenery stuck in the net on their helmets, crawling through swamps with their weapons, intent on capturing territory. That was good enough for me: I liked it.
Lots of my fellow liberals don't seem to get it so they ask the wrong questions. Why do ghetto youths join street gangs? What's the matter with Kansas?: why do working class Americans vote against their economic interests? Why do Muslim youths support al-Qaida? They assume we're all, by nature, Daughters of the King. The answer is that violence, rage and the taste for toughness are the default: we are, after all, carnivores and our nature as a species is to like toughness, beat people up if we can, and to kill. War and violence are natural. What takes explanation is why, in civilized societies, there is a large population of people who could, if they chose, join street gangs, do violence, beat people up and engage in warfare--but don't. The answer is opportunity costs. If you believe, with good reason, that you'll do better by suppressing the natural tendency to do violence you won' t do it.
Readling lots of liberal stuff, I'm amazed at how denatured many liberals are--how they fail to understand the natural tendency for violence and the aesthetic appeal of toughness, how they just don't get the fact that we're carnivorous, that rage is our natural condition, and how they utterly fail to understand the contempt and disgust most us feel for the Daughters of the King, for smarm, whining, softness, weakness, and what passes as "compassion." Because of this "tough-minded liberal" strikes most Americans as an oxymoron. Until liberals--or "progressives" as we now style ourselves--can break that link between liberalism and this sickening smarm sensibility we will lose. Until we can re-brand liberalism as macho we haven't got a chance. There's nothing virtuous about machismo: it's simply what most people, male and female, like. Until we accept what we are as human beings, until we accept that anger, hatred and violence are at the core of the human condition, albeit something we need to overcome, and that for all our self-deceptive and hypocritical maneuvers we're in our guts disgusted by old-lady smarm and "compassion" we will never win hearts and minds.