Monday, May 24, 2010

The Vampires of Objectivism

I completely understand why Diana Hsieh had to practically put everything else down she was doing in order to write the majority of her "False Friends of Objectivism" series! I wanted to resume my Inductive Quests posts, but my mind is still racing with the issues that revolve around The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics.

Here's a couple:

(1) David Kelley's hypocrisy. Kelley roundly criticized Peikoff and the ARI when they turned a mostly blind eye to the substance of Barbara Branden's biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand. He said:
The most damaging aspect of idolatry is the feeling that any flaw in Ayn Rand as a person means a flaw in the philosophy, with the implication that any evidence of such flaws is metaphysically threatening. In effect (to paraphrase [Dostoevsky]), people felt that if Ayn Rand is not perfect, then everything is permitted. I’m convinced that this explains some of the virulence of the reaction to Barbara Branden’s book.

It is clear to me that Ayn Rand was a woman of remarkable integrity, who largely embodied the virtues she espoused. But it is also clear that she had certain other traits often found in great minds who have waged a lonely battle for their ideas: a tendency to surround herself with acolyte from whom she demanded declarations of agreement and loyalty; a growing sense of bitter isolation from the world; a quickness to anger at criticism; a tendency to judge people harshly and in haste. These faults did not
outweigh her virtues; I consider them of minor significance in themselves. But they were real, and I thought Branden’s book, whatever its other shortcomings, gave a reasonably fair and perceptive account of them.

All of this is arguable, of course. But it should have been argued, and it wasn’t. When the book appeared, I was shocked by the refusal of many prominent Objectivists to discuss the issues it raised, and their tendency to condemn anyone who did. [Italics mine]
But Kelley can't make this argument anymore, now that PARC exists, and has so for nearly five years. As James Valliant himself said: "That's what I was trying to do: start a critical discussion, one long overdue."

What was it met with? Ironically, the same mound of silence Kelley and his supporters criticized the ARI for committing.

In five years, Kelley has not said a word, from what I've researched.

Asked if he would respond to PARC, Nathaniel Branden said: "No. What for? If a reader can't see what's insane about that book on his own, I doubt that help from me would accomplish much."

Barbara Branden has become absolutely bored by the entire spectacle of Objectivists digging into Rand's life, conveniently when the facts being uncovered reveal great immoralities and conscious evils on her part. As her lies have come more out in the open than they were, something unsurprising happened: she lied some more.
In her book, Barbara claimed she heard [the origin of the name "Rand" coming from a Remington-Rand typewriter] from Rand’s first cousin, Fern. For his part, Nathaniel later claimed that he heard it from Rand herself. On SOLO, we were treated to Barbara suddenly recollecting, after her memory was refreshed by Nathaniel, that she had, indeed, heard this from Rand herself and not just from Rand’s first cousin. Those who had relied on the veracity of her book and its sourcing were dealt the first blow to its credibility.
Also, based on zero evidence, she accused Lindsay Perigo, creator of Sense of Life Objectivists (SOLO), of being an alcoholic: the same charged she levied against Frank O'Connor in her biography, thereby revealing her level of scholarship in the process.

Neil Parille, Robert Campbell, and other TOC-supporters have nothing positive to say at all about PARC, despite the far higher standard of scholarship that it has over both of the Brandens' works, and, most shockingly, even though it contains primary material from Rand herself. Instead, they attack it piecemeal, similar to Daniel Barnes of the "Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature" blog. Shouldn't we be worried when the alleged Objectivists are in substance no different from the anti-Objectivist, Rand haters?

(2) (This is taken from an e-mail I sent that I haven't edited, but may do so in the future.)

It vexes and angers me that this is the state of self-styled "Objectivists," who feel free to embrace subjectivism and pass moral judgments on little to no evidence whatsoever (or with deliberate lies).

Finishing PARC has brought to my attention so much information I've been storing since my early days reading SOLO, or participating on the [Objectivism Online] forum, all the while learning about Objectivism. The Brandens and their ilk (Dr. Robert Campbell, Michael S. Kelly, and so forth) are hell-bent on defending their main criticisms and positions:

(1) Their conspiracy theory that Leonard Peikoff has stifled independent thought (much like the Brandenian criticism of Rand), creating Objectivist robot zombies out of anyone involved with ARI, including OAC students [Campbell is especially adamant on this issue.]. This includes an alleged shift after Understanding Objectivism experienced by Peikoff, from being "tolerate" and "benevolent" to becoming a rationalistic moralizer, due to the publication of PAR. [This was brought up by Kelley in "Truth and Toleration," p. 92.]

(2) It was Rand who maligned and wronged the Brandens. Everything that the Brandens said about Rand was undoubtedly true--and that we all owe a lot to the Brandens for revealing the truth.

(3) Corollary to (2): PARC is useless nonsense, and is even worse than Peikoff's non-response all these years(!) [This is what Robert Campbell holds.] This, after the Brandens's side has criticized Peikoff/Rand's side for years for being dishonest and not presenting their views, even if it aired out dirty laundry. (N. Branden basically dismissed Rand's private journal entries before they even came out(!) as a pile of lies. This is probably the same attitude taken by those who side with the Brandens and Kelley.)

(4) The conspiracy theory that the ARI (specifically Peikoff) is guilty of "airbrushing" or "rewriting" the history of Objectivism, removing literature or works of those who have been "purged," i.e. the Brandens, Packer, Reisman, Kelley, etc. The counterpoint that it might be for legal reasons is only a convenient cover-up for the ARI's self-serving rewriting.

(5) Peikoff is wrong on every issue he debates with Kelley, and Kelley is completely right.

(6) Corollary of (5): The closed system must result in the treating of Rand as an infallible Goddess, and the works of hers as true dogma, to be accepted on faith in order to be an "Objectivist." Objectivism must be accepted in total or in part, and the philosophy includes all of Rand's views, philosophic or not.

All of these are arbitrary: Anyone who seriously holds any of them is either grossly ignorant of Rand, of Peikoff, or of the fields of philosophical scholarship or copyright law, or (more likely) is a habitual evader on the kind of scale that precludes an honest understanding of Objectivism, even before the evasions. Instead of learning the merits of their opponent's view, they spend their time insulting them on the internet, with no appreciation for the opposition's actual views (or a care to even appreciate). Dr. Campbell is a case in point: he's a professor of psychology, yet he totally dismisses the closed system viewpoint: is his position then that we're free to change the content of previous psychologist's theories at will, which is the (underlying) purpose of the open system regarding Objectivism? I bet he would say "no," and would rationalize this in some way so as to not show a contradiction when the same logic is applied to Objectivism's connection to Rand as its originator. [...]

B. Branden apparently gave a speech on "Objectivist Fundamentalists," last month, and one of its main points was summarized as: "They believe it is their duty to carry on the great battle of modern history, the battle of God (i.e., Rand) against Satan (i.e., the Brandens), of light against darkness, and to stamp out all dissenters who attempt to undermine Objectivism."

In a sense, they're guilty of the worst sort of criticisms of us (of anyone who agrees with Peikoff), condemning us for following Objectivism, which necessarily involves passing moral judgments (it is their own fault that these judgments are mostly negative when applied to them).

But in another sense, they're right: If Rand is right about philosophy's role in history, if Objectivism is true, then this Rand (and Peikoff)--Branden and Peikoff-Kelley controversy is a great battle of sorts, a war that will determine the future prospects of the philosophy. If the Brandens (and their side) have their way, then Rand will be rewritten in accordance with their biographies and summarily dismissed, with them becoming the very "Popes" that they criticize Peikoff for representing. (As we know from PARC, the Brandens are more than capable of being autocrats when the opportunity presents itself. See: Objectivist Living. See also the case of Brant Gaede, who read PARC and disassociated himself from B. Branden, and then shifted his position back to pro-Barbara--which is simply bewildering.) Objectivism will be followed cautiously, if not abandoned entirely, as the Brandens's (false) criticisms of the philosophy will be fresh in every student's mind. If Kelley wins, then a principled Objectivist will be seen as nothing but a hopeless sycophant, incapable of independent judgment or intellectual agreement; Objectivism will turn into the philosophical mess that libertarianism currently enjoys, merely a grab-bag of philosophic systems--with similar practical results in reality (which are few and far between).

If we (by that I mean any Objectivist wishing to defend the truth) believe that ideas matter, we can't let their nonsense go unchallenged, it'll only reduce the credibility of Rand and of Objectivism (which, I'm now convinced, is their deep, underlying and unexpressed purpose). We have to stand up and fight them.

Mary Ann Sures once said that when Rand died, someone somberly stated that anger had gone from the world. If that's so, then I'm going to bring anger back, and I'll argue with every ounce of my intellect as to why such anger is warranted. I'll pick up and proudly wave Rand's banner, in whatever form is available to me, for as long as her name and philosophy needs a defender.
There's more where that came from.


  1. "There's more where that came from. "

    I look forward to it. :-)

  2. Just a slight typo in the last paragraph. "argue with every once" should read "ounce" it seems.

    Good post :)

  3. Thanks for the correction, Richard. And thank you both for the comments.

    PC: do you have anything to add, since you know a lot more about these issues than I do?

  4. Mr. Fitts,

    I have said an occasional good thing about PARC. For example, I think it is a valuable reminder that the Branden books should not be taken as the last word on Rand and that the journals printed in PARC are of great value.

    I think PARC's scholarship is very poor. I wrote a detailed critique here --

    -Neil Parille

  5. Hello Neil Parille.

    I've already read bits and pieces of your criticisms on SOLO and elsewhere, but when I have the time, I'll read the whole essay (I'm already 20 pages into it).

    If PARC's scholarship is "very poor," then PAR's is laughably bad, this despite the many dozens of tapes of research interviews Barbara Branden had conducted. Even Brant Gaede admitted the difference in scholarship between the two once, at a time when he had repudiated Barbara.

    More than the research involved, there are claims that Branden makes in PAR that are demonstrably false, thanks in large part to the material in PARC. For instance, she claims in the "Introduction," page xi, that Rand's eyes never had an inward look, a look of learning about oneself, of "one's own spirit and consciousness." Rand's journal entries on Nathaniel Branden are filled with insights into her own psychology, her own view of herself, the physical product of her introspections about herself, precisely what Barbara claims "never" happened. See pages like 244, 245, and especially page 290 where she talks about her own "self-protective withdrawal." The true point is that no one knew as much about Rand as she herself did.

    On page 173, she claims that Rand's tastes in humor "ran rather to the broad and obvious" [as opposed to the subtle and sophisticated], but that doesn't stop Rand from noting the humorous incongruity between Lenin's "New Economic Policy" which let up some of the government's interference in the Russian economy, and Nixon's "New Economic Policy" which led to government interference in the *American* economy in her speech, "The Moratorium on Brains," in 1971. (It's available for listening on the ARI site, and has at least 5 more instances of humor just in that speech. I was surprised, myself.)

    I just picked a lecture at random to listen to, and in "The Age of Mediocrity," (1981) she states:

    "[Talking about her disgust with Reagan's non-philosophical approach] Speaking of fuel shortages, no one has pointed out to him that this country is perishing from a shortage of an *intellectual* energy, and that there are no Arabs to help us out in this crisis." [4:12-4:30]
    Such a statement elicited quite the laughter and applause from the audience, I'll add.

    That's what I'm focused on: the truth. I think there's more than enough evidence to refute many of things Barbara claims, which reflects *very* negatively on her level of scholarship, in my view.