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Robert Campbell

Atlas Society will hold no Summer Seminar in 2009

113 posts in this topic

As one of a number of people who submitted proposals to give talks at the 2009 TAS Summer Seminar, I received this email today from Will Thomas:

Thanks again for sending me your presentation ideas for the planned 2009 Summer Seminar on Objectivism in Theory and Practice. I’m sorry to say that we will not be holding a Seminar next year after all.

The Summer Seminar is a vital part of our community-building and academic efforts. We do not intend to abandon those goals. Actually, we envision resuming the Summer Seminar tradition in 2010.

Our decision to suspend the Summer Seminar in 2009 is due to the economic circumstances and a constructive rearrangement of staff priorities looking forward.

It’s obvious to everyone that the future lies on the internet. It has become clear to us at TAS that one of our most urgent priorities is to update, invigorate, and expand our website to make it a more powerful vehicle for outreach and education about open Objectivism. With the web, we can and do reach hundreds of thousands, even millions of people. The Summer Seminar, for all that is an intense and uplifting personal experience, can only touch, at most, a few hundred people each year. If we have to choose between the two, the choice is clear.

Making our internet plans a reality will require taking substantial amounts of staff time, including mine, away from other projects and refocusing on web projects. Even in normal economic times, we would not be able to avoid the conflict by hiring additional staff, since key aspects of the web project require the expertise of current staff.

So please look for us to put up an improved and livelier web presence in 2009, and keep an eye out next Fall for the call for proposals for our 2010 seminars. Assuming things continue according to plan, I'll be writing back to you in the Fall to see if you would like to renew your proposals. I'm sorry we won't be able to invite you to speak this year.

Regards,

--Will

That The Atlas Society needs to get its website in gear—and ought to be devoting commensurate resources to that effort—will not come as a shock to anyone.

But I do have to wonder where TAS will be going from here.

Robert Campbell

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I was stunned, and saddened, to read here that TAS has now decided to discontinue their summer seminars, which I believe has happened every summer since the inception of IOS/TOC/TAS, and had served as their primary event to spread understanding of objectivism and its applications.

This happens closely after the departure of Robert Bidinotto as Editor of their flagship publication. Indicating some sort of internecine struggle, Bidinotto has further indicated that he will no longer publish articles in TAS publications nor lecture at their Summer Seminar.

I think it is safe to speculate that TAS has suffered a decline in membership and financial support, which has caused or contributed to these events.

The TAS Board of Directors needs to review these events and take bold steps to stop the organizational/financial bleeding NOW.

As a guidepost, I suggest that they review again what led to the founding of IOS (e.g., Kelley's Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand). And correct course before they end up ship-wrecked.

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As an unorthodox Objectivist I shudder to think about how, without TAS seminars, we will ever be able to get together...

Maybe I (when I am in the US) could organize "non-ARI Objectivist" weekend parties in Vegas?

But honestly, I hope 2010 sees a triumphant return of TAS seminars. I also hope to see more TAS in the media. And more TAS commentary on pop-culture (how about pubishing my positive, "this-doesn't-defame-Objectivism" review of BioShock instead of canned apologetics that fail to take into account the actual game and the commentary of the game's designer?).

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Web's the thing.

With the backlog of material TAS has, it could command a highly authoritative high-traffic (for this subculture) Internet presence.

I lament that TAS will not do a Seminar in 2009, but I am glad that emphasis will be on the Internet.

Michael

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I have been aware that was coming for the past month. The economy and time are the big problems. Will is the principle person working on the Summer Seminar. I'm thinking about Freedom Fest.

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Jerry; Please look again at Will's statement about the Summer Seminar. TAS is not having it this year and they plan to have in 2010.

As someone who is a friend and supporter of TAS you should not mis-state a cancellation for one year as a permanent cancellation. There are enough enemies of TAS and open Objectivism who will put this event in the worst possible light that friends should try and avoid predictions of doom.

Edited by Chris Grieb
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I think what has happened is that TAS has attenuated Rand's ideas to the extent it is evaporating into the general culture. ARI is the proper place for adherents of "Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand." Unfortunately, that is several decades obsolete. TAS has failed to come up with a substantial alternate that can be called, say, "Objectivism, the philosophy for reality." If it had it could speak with the strong, clear voice of ARI without the nonsense.

--Brant

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Robert,

I always get amused at declarations of impending death of others. What a hoot.

This is so ingrained in the spirits of what I call the "control freak" faction of Objectivism that it is one of the reasons I have reevaluated the Objectivist theory of humanness. There is more at work here than a simple choice (volition) based on values.

Probably the most ridiculous display of predictions of death and doom was the outpouring of comments from the "click whrrrr" boneheads supporting Valliant's PARC. Time after time I read that "xxxxxxxx (some kind of vague evil) is now finally laid to rest" or strong insinuations that the Brandens were such disgraced people that their lives were practically worthless, i.e., that they would never be taken seriously by people again (especially by those interested in Objectivism).

Well, here we are, aren't we? It didn't come to pass. And it never will.

I have been reading Cialdini's Influence: Science and Practice recently and I can't help but notice a striking resemblance between this behavior and that of doomsday cults. Cialdini discussed the investigation of a Chicago UFO Doomsday cult that was researched by a group of 3 young scientists in the 50's, Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken and Stanley Schachter. (This case is presented in their book, When Prophecy Fails.)

They infiltrated the cult and witnessed firsthand what happened when the prophesy of destruction did not come to pass. Here is the part Cialdini expanded on. Instead of the collision with reality making these people question their core beliefs, it actually strengthened the beliefs of most of them and they then started seeking converts. As much as I am tempted to discuss the reasons right now, this is beyond the scope of this post (and the limits of my time), but it is a fascinating glimpse into the underbelly of epistemology in addition to group psychology.

(One little hint in epistemology is that when we do not get facts from direct observation, we look to people similar to us to see what they think and do. Then we adopt their observations and example as if they were fact. We all do this, especially when we are uncertain. We come prewired this way, although we can override it at times with some effort. Also, automatic reactions are not all bad. We actually need them to get through the complexities that advanced thought and action have produced. Automatic reactions mostly coincide with facts. The problems happen when they collide with facts. I believe that a good part of ethics is not denying this automation, but running constant checks on it and keeping it tuned to reality.)

The simple truth is that the world didn't end for the UFO cult and the Brandens didn't end for the Objectivist orthodoxy (and neither will their work).

Here is my prediction for TAS. TAS will not end. I don't know what form it will have later since it does have a board of directors, and I have no idea why Robert Bidinotto is no longer with them other than what he said and some personal speculation I have not shared with anyone, but TAS will not end.

Maybe someone should point out to the prophets of doom of others that the Internet is a low cost and high penetration medium. (But, hey. Since when did reality ever bother these folks if Rand did not notice it?) Just that fact alone practically guarantees that any group that wants to survive will survive, even ARI after Rand's works go into the public domain, although I expect the influence of this organization to lessen at that time.

(btw - I have no problem with Hsieh or anyone hostile reading OL. I'm glad they do. :) )

Michael

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Michael,

Wnen Prophecy Fails is a classic of social psychology.

I wasn't intending to complain about Ms. Hsieh (or anyone else who dislikes OL) reading the board.

If Ms. Hsieh is reading OL that closely, she has to be up to date on Neil Parille's complete demolition of Mr. Valliant's opus. Yet she is issuing no defenses of Mr. Valliant's book over on her board.

Speaking of failed prophecies...

Robert

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My experience is that organizations that change their name every few years are doomed. Bragging that "we are the most respected independent source of information about Objectivism" doesn't exactly inspire confidence and the events around the last summer seminar don't either. I think it will slowly fade away, as it has been doing already for some time.

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I think it was a mistake to change the name from IOS.

In my opinion, they should try to become more like the Ludwig von Mises Institute -- place their conferences on the web for free, have a blog, publish reprints of valuable out of date books and the like. It would be a nice change from the ARI (which I confess has gotten a bit better in some respects). Certainly their website needs to be improved.

-NEIL

Edited by Neil Parille
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Dr. Campbell,

While it may be more the passing of time than my PARC critique, I would note that PARC seems to have dropped out of the ortho universe. I've seen it mentioned only once in the past year.

Diana Hsieh said a couple years ago on SO__ that she might critique my work, but apparently hasn't had the time or interest.

-NEIL

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Neil,

Diana Hsieh will get around to critiquing your work after she finishes her epic analysis of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.

And neither will happen unless she sees career advancement coming out of them.

Robert Campbell

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Robert,

Of course, my comment was not meant to insinuate that you were complaining about anything. Complaining about Hsieh is no biggee, anyway. She provides a lot of opportunity. :)

I just looked at the comments on Hsieh's blog entry and saw a bunch of responses typical of the ones for Valliant's book, i.e., people gushing as if the fact of doom had already occurred and it is time for celebration.

I am beginning to believe that people who are not like them cause them enormous discomfort because it throws a monkeywrench in their social proof.

Cialdini, in the work I mentioned above, also analyzed the Jim Jones mass suicide. One of the conclusions he reached (which actually is a synthesis of the studies he presented) was that if Jones had tried to pull off a stunt like that in San Francisco with those same people, he would not have been successful. The jungle created a lot of uncertainty in the followers (which is when use of social proof is strongest) and there was a telling lack of people similar to them but outside the cult to observe. Just having a bunch of similar people—like from their background—around reacting vehemently against killing themselves, would have interfered with their reliance on social proof as their main source of fact. But there were no others like that around, so the social proof from observing the fanatics and each other, who all seemed OK with the idea, overrode their common sense and produced a highly orderly mass suicide. These people literally stood in line without much fuss to take their turn at dying.

That is the true danger of not having others who disagree with you around.

The hostility by the orthodoxy to TAS and people like Chris Sciabarra (and the hatred the tribal orthodoxy folks display) is so great that I am convinced it is rooted in their own uncertainty. They can't silence some really fundamental doubts in their minds when there are other people they observe who appear to be happy and successful, but practice Objectivist ideas differently. They are happy when such a person disappears so they can slam that particular mental door shut.

That's just an opinion, but I have no other that rationally explains such an outpouring of relief that greets an apparent setback by a so-called "false friend of Objectivism" (Hsieh's name for people interested in Objectivism whom she doesn't like). The reasons they claim (like protecting Rand's reputation, etc.) are not borne out by their deeds, but that's another can of worms for a later time.

I personally am not bothered by those who think differently than I do. I am talking about a deep level.

Even on the level of insults, I may not be amenable to hosting gross insults against me or what we do here, but I am not really bothered by them. Obviously I engage in PR controversies once in a while, so I am aware of them. :)

In private, I just continue on with my productive efforts and I literally don't think about the nasty folks when I am studying or creating.

Michael

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I'm sorry to hear that there will be no summer seminar for 2009. I was hoping they'd have it in Chicago and we'd be able to go. I understand there are other priorities at this time and limited resources and vamping up their web presence is less costly and would reach more people than putting on such an event. I hope things start looking up in the coming year and their next event is as great as the Atlas Shrugged event.

I wish Ed, David and everyone at the Atlas Society a very happy, productive and prosperous New Year.

Cheers!

Kat

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Kat; You are really a class act. I can see why Michael loves you.

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Neil,

Diana Hsieh will get around to critiquing your work after she finishes her epic analysis of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical.

And neither will happen unless she sees career advancement coming out of them.

If she makes it in academia is besides the point for she can continue without surcease married to a radiologist. But continue to what? As an "Objectivist philosopher" she is not a philosopher. If she were a philosopher she would objectively find a much narrower albeit deeper field of study than, say, psychology. There's really a lot to study between the ears of myriad human beings. The academics still haven't caught on that philosophy and psychology should be an integrated field of study (plus biology, of course). For the philosophers, they would have to give up too much, especially the arbitrary. Philosophers don't have to study people to build their castles in the sky. It might take decades for someone like Freud to crash and burn, but philosophers don't even have to get off the ground, only their castles. Psychologists can generate data--they don't have to, but philosophers can't. The work of philosophers is generally inside their heads or referencing other philosophers. Psychologists can legitimatize themselves by referencing actual human beings--their psychology. And they can reach out with their left hands and grasp any pertinent philosophy, but can you imagine a philosopher deciding to reach out into the world of psychology? Too much work. Too much can potentially go wrong. Data can be upsetting to one's suppositions. And philosophers look down their noses on all the soft sciences and even science is considered derivative at best. It's about status. As Ayn Rand once told Nathaniel Branden, "How can you stand all that depravity?" (Approximate quotation?)

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede
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Brant:

Good points. I see philosophers as creative thinkers that ask cohesive fundamental questions as to the whys and develop a self contained cohesive explanation as to how to get to the good by applying the answers that they either arrive at or help you to arrive at.

Adam

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Brant:

Good points. I see philosophers as creative thinkers that ask cohesive fundamental questions as to the whys and develop a self contained cohesive explanation as to how to get to the good by applying the answers that they either arrive at or help you to arrive at.

Adam

But do they know to whom they are referring? I know they think they know if they think about it at all--or if you ask them.

--Brant

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Whither IOS/TOC/TAS? It seems like an empty shell. I'm very sad about this.

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If Ms. Hsieh is reading OL that closely, she has to be up to date on Neil Parille's complete demolition of Mr. Valliant's opus. Yet she is issuing no defenses of Mr. Valliant's book over on her board.

On this recent thread over on OO, Hsieh claimed that PARC presents "evidence" which shows that Rand didn't fabricate any of the reasons that she gave for breaking with Nathaniel Branden. When I asked Hsieh in this post to cite any actual evidence, such as financial records or other documents, she neglected to respond to that part of my post.

OO's moderator, "softwareNerd," temporarily closed the thread, and, after he re-opened it a few days later, I posted a message reminding Hsieh that she hadn't responded to my request that she cite any actual evidence that Rand's accusations against Nathaneil Branden in To Whom It May Concern were true, and I also mentioned that in light of what Barbara Branden has said here about Rand's lawyer, Henry Holzer, publicly stating that there was no evidence that Nathaniel Branden was in any way financially dishonest in any of his dealings with Rand and/or the Objectivist, I'd be very interested in seeing actual evidence to the contrary. I parenthetically added that, by "evidence," I meant relevant documents and not just Hsieh's feelings about James Valliant's interpretations of events in the absence of such documents. The moderator immediately deleted my post. Heh.

I'm guessing that in saying that PARC presents "evidence" that Rand didn't fabricate her accusations, Hsieh means that she chose to believe Rand and to interpret Valliant's spin as the truth in the absence of evidence.

J

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Diana doesn't look at evidence. I'm shocked!

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As far as evidence goes, Valliant says that Barbara Branden's 1968 business plan and some letters from the time were found in the archives (pp. 108 & 404). He doesn't reproduce them or discuss their contents. He doesn't mention having reviewed the financial statements, other financial documents, or the articles of incorporation of The Objectivist, Inc.

How then can Ms. Hsieh claim that Valliant has evidence which proves that Rand was correct? With respect to Rand's most serious claim -- wrongdoing with respect to the 1967 loan -- Valliant says he can't verify the numbers.

Valliant is clearly wrong in claiming that Branden concedes that the loan depleted the assets of The Objectivist, Inc., that Rand didn't know about it, and that it was prohibited by a verbal agreement between Rand and Branden.

Let's remember that Valliant has said that he had access to everything in the archives.

Does anyone know where Henry Holzer has said publicly that there was no financial wrongdoing by Nathaniel Branden?

-NEIL

Edited by Neil Parille
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Jonathan,

Ms. Hsieh brought up Mr. Valliant's opus on Objectivism Online, not on her own forum.

Even then, I doubt she would have mentioned PARC had her pre-conversion statements not been cited. She is still quite sensitive about those.

Robert Campbell

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