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(1) On Nathaniel's list today, there was a post by Michael Lee which catalyzed something I've been on the edge of realizing: how horrified I am by the amount of...what word do I want? I'll settle for now for the word "venom"...which is emerging in the latest battles over Rand and the Brandens. I'm reminded of a line from "Judgment at Nuremburg": "Are we going to do this again?" For me, and for the Brandens, and for others old enough to have been there at the time of the original split, this is the third major time the battle has been fought (the second time was when David Kelley invited Nathaniel to speak at IOS in '96). Why is there such intensity? Why do people get so personally involved in what happened between Rand and the Brandens? What is at stake for people? And a more overarching question: Why do Objectivists act the way they do? Why do they savage each other's characters over disagreements? Why are they so quick on the trigger finger with condemnations? What is the source of these behaviors? Is it something in Objectivism itself which encourages moralism? I believe that there is something in Objectivism, an attitude which was conveyed by Rand, although I think it would be possible to filter that attitude out. But many Objectivists don't seem to want to filter it out; instead they seem to want to cling to it; they seem to derive a sense of virtue from judgmentalness.

(2) By contrast, in reading the posts here today, I've been feeling: How interesting it is, the differences in background, in life stories amongst various persons on this list. And how amicable it's thus far been here -- as Roger said, a kind of haven from the you-know-what going on you-know-where. And the amicability doesn't feel to me forced, instead natural. That always-be-alert-for-evil attitude prevalent among Objectivists seems to me to be missing here. So why is that? Why is it missing? Is there a general characteristic which is present which accounts for the absence?

Ellen

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Ellen, I'm definitely tuned in to what you're saying and what you're noticing. The difference in "there" and here is real and palpable.

As for why the intense and personal nature of the venom being sprayed "there" (and it is not in just one place), I have some definite thoughts on that, but I'd rather let them steep a day or two, while I decompress from my Disney schedule and adjust to the "carefree" life of a road musician.

But why is it so un-toxic here? It is because people want it to be -- not just Michael and Kat, who will definitely enforce "the peace," if need be, but the rest of us, too, who are fed up with the vitriol and incivility "there." I confess that it is not always effortless for me; sometimes it takes work to keep from being defensive or sarcastic. But I would rather re-write a post once or twice to strip that kind of stuff out (as much as I can), rather than start down the road to animosity. It just isn't worth it!

Well, I'm up way past bed-time. I just had to get some things done before leaving town on this tour, and unfortunately it was two night's worth of stuff that had to fit into one. But thanks for sharing your perceptions, and you have asked good questions that we should all reflect on, as we enjoy the sanctuary here that Michael and Kat have made for us.

I'll write more in a day or two.

Best to all,

REB

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Ellen,

Well, I went over and read what Mike Lee said. It cracked me up, to tell you the truth. What exasperation! I sure hear him loud and clear - and I do hope he joins in the comments here, since he joined OL recently.

I believe this site, OL, is a step in the right direction away from all the "brain-rot," although let me be clear that I have NO INTEREST WHATSOEVER in becoming a guru or leader of some kind of movement. Neither does Kat. I just want a place to interact with people I care about - or could care about in the future - regarding things I care about, or could care about in the future. (Objectivism is one of those things - one of the main ones.) Or even just shoot the breeze and be pleasant.

There are a few differences in concept that I tried to instill here - most are intentional - but let me mention a few.

To start with, Objectivism is used to justify hatred and arrogance much of the time - and here, I am trying to foster respect and love. (I don't care if that does sound touch-feely. It's what it is.) I personally care about and love (to greater and lesser extents) every active poster on OL, and many of the inactive ones. All this will only increase over time. I think this is felt around here too. I know that the resonance twitching my antenna in return is that I am highly esteemed and that makes me very, very content. I am not ashamed to say that I love strongly and love being loved.

Frankly, is there anything better than that as a background for intellectual development and discussion? For creating? We are all important here, both to ourselves and to each other. This isn't talked about much and I am probably making one or another uncomfortable just by saying it, so I will not dwell on it. Let's leave it at the fact that we simply do that here. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words anyway.

I think the "brain rot" Mike mentioned from adopting Objectivism comes from a strong attempt by many Objectivists to overcome psychology with philosophy. They make a perfect mish-mash over this distinction.

Kevin Haggerty, in a recent email to me, made an extremely insightful comment - that there are two types of people who study and derive value from Objectivism. (I am using my words, not his, but they essentially mean the same thing.) There are those who try to impose Objectivist principles on themselves and they usually become aggressive, bitter, negative, and constantly make strong hair-trigger moral denunciations.

Then there are those who look inside themselves and try to see the reality there, while fitting that knowledge in with the Objectivism they learn. These people usually tend to be kind, attentive, respectful, highly intelligent and listen before they speak (and they do not lack in passion, either).

Basically, those who deny the reality of their own minds as a whole pay a heavy price in unhappiness - and those who accept it in all its glory and defects and use it for building their lives - these are the Objectivist people who become happy. (The first kind will arrogantly sneer that he is happy and strongly denounce anyone who says he isn't, usually with a sarcastic laugh...)

This distinction really hits me hard when I see one of the negative-type Objectivists talk about addiction. (I know that field intimately.) The first thing he says is that addiction is nothing but choice and that there is nothing heroic about overcoming it. Usually, he uses words like pathetic, vomit, evasion, and so forth.

What he gets wrong is that there are many parts of the mind, not just the volitional part. Those parts that are affected (and, in my view, diseased) can be treated either by using conscious choice, or by imposition from outside, such as being interned in a clinic by force (or even a few other methods like chemical treatments). I don't want to go into addiction per se here, merely mention that the study and treatment of these parts of the mind have very little to do with conscious volition as exercised morally. They can become so degraded that the faculty of volition itself is short-circuited. This is pure psychology.

You cannot cure addiction with philosophy alone. That's the truth. You can condemn it though. To cure it, you have to use responsible and intelligent psychology, then gradually add the philosophy as the mind gets stronger. Volition is used both in the psychology part and in the philosophy part - but it is not the whole story to recovery.

Thus heroism should never even be brought up, much less condemned, when talking about recovering from addiction. It is not heroic to get well from cancer, for instance - although the "will to live," the "not giving up," and the focus on deriving great value with the time left by the diseased person could be seen as a heroic attitude. In that sense, this could apply to an addict too, except that the "heroic" concept becomes very dangerous to him, as it is a trap for an easy relapse.

So the recovering addict himself normally will be the first to say that he is not a hero. Yet whenever a hardcore negative Objectivist hears the word "addiction," without being prompted, he practically always pops out with a loud over-the-top moral denunciation against addicts being considered as a heroes when they stop.

I believe this is because he senses somehow that it is important to belittle the problem of addiction because it is psychological and not moral, and he has a strong need to feel "above" psychology. He needs to constantly prove to himself that philosophy is more important that anything else in life.

Just about everybody on this site is a person who is not afraid to look into himself/herself and see what is there before messing with it (especially before pouring in precooked ethical principles right out of the can). This kind of self-honesty leads to overall good vibes and general tolerance. I think the difference between psychology and philosophy is not a minor one to the people here. They know the difference from living it in their own lives - and both psychology and philosophy are important to them.

Another huge difference is talent. There is a whole lot of talent running around here. I have made it plain both online and off that I intend to nurture all this talent to the best of my ability to see that it grows in people and that works are produced. I include myself among those with talent who need to grow.

Bad vibes are not good for fostering talent and, as Roger mentioned, most everyone seems to feel a need for restraint on the bad vibes so as not to contaminate this fertile atmosphere and haven. (Once again, I use my words, but I think he essentially means this.)

I could go on, but I don't want anybody to get a fat head. (I know mine is starting to swell, so it's time to stop. Michael with a fat head is not a good thing.)

:D

Michael

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To some degree I think the venom is valid in some places. These are important issues and it's natural people on opposing sides will respond with strong emotion while discussing their convictions. And a lot of these issues need to be fought out long hard and bloody (figuratively) if there's to be any legitimate progress.

Conversely I think forums like this one are great. While fierce debate is important, it's also good to find a place where people with occaisionally extreme differences can just learn from each other, and nurture the things they have in common, in a civil environment.

---Landon

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I believe that there is something in Objectivism, an attitude which was conveyed by Rand, although I think it would be possible to filter that attitude out. But many Objectivists don't seem to want to filter it out; instead they seem to want to cling to it; they seem to derive a sense of virtue from judgmentalness.

Perhaps they also derive their self-esteem from such judgement. When you are unsure of yourself, it's much easier to just claim certainty about others. As for the rest of your first comment, I think some of the venom comes from follow-the-leader and social metaphysics, some from just being naive and not thinking critically, and I think some have vendettas. I think it is this last group that drives the others. It's like watching Pentacostals at a revival service.

As for your second comment, from the few objectivists groups I've participated in, this place truly amazes me. What a wonderful group of people we have here. Of course it's just all because we all worship at the church of moral grayness. ;) God forbid we have any discussion of ideas without tossing out insulting monickers and charges of evil.

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Jody:

Of course it's just all because we all worship at the church of moral grayness. ;)  God forbid we have any discussion of ideas without tossing out insulting monickers and charges of evil.

LOL. Right. I do become tired of charges that I lack passion because condemning people isn't my favorite sport. (I've been the recipient of numerous such charges over the years.)

Ellen

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The problem of what Ellen rightly calls "venom" is one I've been thinking about for years. This summer, at the TOC's Summer Seminar, I'll be giving a talk entitled "Objectivism and Rage," in which I'll deal with it. I by no means know everything about it, but I believe I've come to understand some important elements, and I want to explain them.

I'm not being coy by not going into details here, but it's a very large subject and I haven't finished preparing the things I want to say. I hope that some of you will be able to attend the Seminar, and that we can talk further about the issue.

I truly believe that Objectivism will stand or fall, as far as public acceptance is concerned, by whether or not this issue can be resolved. Orthodox Objectivists may be willing to put up with being called "dishonest" and "evil" at the least imagined provocation; I don't think the public at large will stand for it or respect a philosophical system that they are told demands it.

Let me give you an example, from a letter I recently received, of the damage this venom does; it's one of many such letters written to me.

"I was interested in the books and philosophy of Ayn Rand, but my few brushes with organized Objectivism has left not only a bitter aftertaste but also some emotional and social damage in my life.

"I guess I should introduce myself a little more. I am university student in Toronto, in my final year studying biomedical sciences (I graduate in May). I turned 21 last October. I started reading Ayn Rand's works in 2004 (When i was 20). I have read Anthem, Atlas Shrugged and watched the Fountainhead movie. I attended one meeting of my school's Objectivist club (and decided not to go back after that). . . I also corresponded with the owner of an Objectivist adult

site. . . .

"Although my involvement with objectivism is relatively mild compared with some of the other horror stories I hear about, I still do believe it had a significant negative impact on me. It had a bad effect on my emotional and social life, made me rigid, humorless and judgemental, slowly lose friends and nearly precipitated a bitter split from my boyfriend of 3 years, whom I loved dearly. . . ."

This young woman now refers to herself as "a recovering Objectivist."

From everything I've seen, certainly the staff and probably most of the attendees at TOC are relatively free of the problem. But I know that many have been bitterly hurt by their encounters with its practicioners -- hurt and bewildered. I hope to arm them against it, and to help them understand it.

Barbara

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I've been lurking for some time on several Objectivist forums, which has been a fascinating experience, though you might call it a morbid kind of fascination. Often you see the following happen: a new, young participant asks an intelligent question which might be seen as disputing some Objectivist tenet. If this is a first offense, the usual reaction is patronizing: the newcomer should first study Objectivism for several years, instead of displaying such ignorance about it; then he would of course understand that his question was unwarranted while.. blah blah blah. Sometimes the newcomer apologizes and thanks the Objectivist for his comments. But not everyone gives up so easily, some persist in asking intelligent questions and making astute remarks. At that point I think: "uh-oh, there we go...", as I know what is going to happen. Soon the Objectivist will make a remark that the newcomer apparently is "an enemy of Objectivism" (if the Objectivist is relatively polite), and if he still persists in his evil ways he's even banned from the forum. Note that I'm not talking about trolls who just ridicule Rand's ideas for the fun of it, but of people who're obviously sincere and intelligent. I've seen it happen too often.

This attitude never ceases to amaze me, as I find it so incredibly dumb. How can you ever expect intelligent people to take your ideas seriously if you refuse to discuss them on essential points? After all Objectivism is supposed to be a rational philosophy. If you'll allow me some armchair psychologizing: I have the suspicion that one of the reasons is a basic insecurity, and that Objectivists are afraid of not being able to answer really tough questions. They may put the wool over young and inexperienced people by snowing them with Randian bromides, but they feel helpless against more experienced opponents. They often tell other people to check their premises, but the last thing they want is to check their own premises, you might never know if the foundations of your belief are really that solid! Sometimes their defense is really comical: "There is no need to discuss Objectivism, as it is true!" is a reply that I've heard more than once. It isn't therefore surprising that many people compare Objectivism to a cult or a religion. You have to swallow it lock, stock and barrel, otherwise you're an evil person!

Even more ludicrous is the situation in forums where venom and invective not only are tolerated, but even encouraged by the leaders, supposedly while this would represent a fearless, no-nonsense attitude with regard to the evil heathens. Perhaps this may attract some insecure young people who like to make an impression on others by simulating "toughness", but do they really think that they can win intelligent adults for their case this way?

I've found it also strange that on the SOLO and the RoR forums there is a separate category "Dissent", apparently to prevent unorthodox ideas from polluting the discussions in the other forums. Suppose that an outsider might think that such an idea would be representative for Objectivism! They should therefore be put safely into quarantine.

After the split RoR seems to be doing better, but you can still see some of the bad habits. Several times I've been compared there to some former participant (whom I don't know), supposedly some evil mutant who came to a bad end, and it has been asserted that some of my ideas are "pure Kantianism" or another "ism" different from Objectivism, as if that would impress me... (they should read Rand's "The Argument from Intimidation"!)

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A quick remark on my way out the door for an appointment. Much more later.

Dragonfly:

Several times I've been compared there to some former participant (whom I don't know), supposedly some evil mutant who came to a bad end, and it has been asserted that some of my ideas are "pure Kantianism" or another "ism" different from Objectivism, as if that would impress me... (they should read Rand's "The Argument from Intimidation"!)

The former poster to whom you're being compared is Daniel Barnes, a Popperian. An intelligent and perceptive guy who was asking mighty good questions. I don't remember off-hand the name of the thread on which he was asked to leave. He and another whose name was shortened to Laj -- full name something like Abolajai Ogunshola (last name probably badly misspelled), a Dennettite -- a thread on which he was participating was posted as a link by Ed Thompson in one of the discussions you were having with Ed. If you go to that thread Ed linked and click on Laj's name so you can get his full list of posts, you'll find threads in which Daniel Barnes also participated. The two of them often posted in tandem. The last (chronologically) post (top of the list under the name) listed by Laj will give you the thread in which the two were asked to leave.

Ellen

PS: Barbara, I think you're on the nail about the cruciality of the venom problem being solved (if it can be solved) if Objectivism is to have any welcome by the wider world.

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Barbara,

Are both you and Linz going to be at the TOC Summer Conference? Oh, Lord, that will be interesting, if so. Where's the location? Wherever it is, Larry and I can't attend for more than an afternoon; he'll be teaching -- summer school -- and meanwhile we'll be in the last stages of preparing for a trip to Budapest (symmetry conference). But if it were within driving distance of here, we might be able to "nip over" to say hi.

Ellen

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The former poster to whom you're being compared is Daniel Barnes, a Popperian. An intelligent and perceptive guy who was asking mighty good questions.

Of course, otherwise they couldn't compare me to him! :D

Not that I know what exactly a "Popperian" is, I'm wary of such labels. Labeling is one of the favorite pastimes of Objectivists, they're quick to brand you as a Kantian, a rationalist, a pragmatist, a collectivist, an empiricist or whatever -ist or -ian they may come up with, as long as it isn't an Objectivist. Of course this is a Very Bad Sign!

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OK.

I haven't even read through the posts about Mike Lee. That even includes reading Barbara, who I am so happy to see here that I generally read anything that comes off her pen.

I'm just very busy today with being a capitalist, and making preparations for playing music. I will read Mike Lee's post post facto.

I can speak in front of Mike Lee; he is one of the funniest people I have ever read in my experience with O'ist forums. No, erase that, he IS the funniest. He is simply a great writer. I've never corresponded with him, because I thought that would spoil it.

You know, there is a lot of ground that got covered back in the NB forum days. We used to run wild and free in there. Now, it is different, and there are few posts. But, there were days, man. Amazing writing, funny and powerful stuff.

That needed to be said.

If you go in there to the archives, you could see, if you had a machete and cut through the swamp of all of it. It was probably the most amazing forum experience I ever had.

I don't know much about RCR, the moderater, other than two facts; he has been reasonably civil to me, and he has not been very successful as an impresario. We used to rock that place. Look at the stats.

Now, it is humbled. Maybe that is OK. We were mean, and we probably weren't attractive to newcomers. I understand that part, but I don't understand the non-results that now are the case.

Mike Lee is a great writer. He doesn't hold back. I don't even know his email address or who he is, but I'll tell you one thing: I'll read anything he writes.

rde

Censorship always sucks and this is why.

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Dragonfly:

Not that I know what exactly a "Popperian" is [...].

But you do know what a "Dennettite" is? ;-) (You didn't object to that description of Laj.)

Daniel describes himself as a Popperian; this isn't a label which has been stuck on him by Objectivists. He subscribes to Popper's theories of the nature of mind (the details of which I'm not too clear on; I never did get around to extensive reading of Popper). Interestingly, Daniel and Laj get along together just fine. I don't think they knew each other before they "met" on the old SOLO list, but they developed a camaraderie there. This is interesting to me because it just goes to show you the way intellectuals in the wider world can relate to each other, unlike in the O'ist world. Popper and Dennett are not in agreement on theories of mind. And yet Daniel and Laj have no troubles being friendly with each other -- and most of the rest of the list considered the two of them more or less the evil twins.

Ellen

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Rich,

Re the current deadness of NB's list: I'd prefer not to engage in the details of a "post mortem," but since you provided a tentative diagnosis, I feel obliged to indicate that I think you're focusing much too narrowly in looking for causes.

Ellen

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Ellen:

But you do know what a "Dennettite" is?  (You didn't object to that description of Laj.)

AFAIK I wasn't compared to Laj, so the need for protest didn't arise. My problem with such labels is that they suggest that you agree with everything that label stands for. If you choose to do that yourself, fine, but I don't want to be labeled by other people. I won't call myself a Dennettite, as I don't know if I'd agree with him on everything, although I recognize many of my own ideas when I read him and I agree with most of what I've read by him about consciousness and Darwin's dangerous idea.

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Dragonfly

Well, since Mike (Psychmajor) left the list, it is dead as a doornail.

I think that his leaving headed the list toward a moribund state, but that there's more to the problem than Mike's absence and RCR's being at the helm. Connect with events in the wider O'ist-related world. Truth is, I think there's been a turning against Nathaniel on the part of several who were former fairly frequent flyers on his list.

Ellen

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I thought I would share some thoughts about the intense, personal nature of the condemnations that Objectivists dish out, especially toward certain prominent people. But a warning – there will be a good amount of psychologizing as well as judgementalness in what follows, so if that is not acceptable to you, you are hereby warned: don’t read on!

[Re-read the preceding paragraph before reading further.]

OK, who are the two people most roundly denounced by Objectivists, and what do they have in common? My best guess is: Immanuel Kant and, of course, Nathaniel Branden – and they both have been enormously prolific. Whatever errors they made, or might have made (Fred Seddon's book on the history of philosophy in relation to Rand and Objectivism is pretty eye-opening with respect to Kant), you have to admit that they didn't let a lot of grass grow under their feet. In other words, they have been intellectually productive to a high degree. (The only Objectivist or Libertarian I know who has been more prolific than Nathaniel is Tibor Machan, and he is not one of NB's critics, certainly not one of the bashers.)

Now, we could try to rest content with the idea that this is all a matter of “movement dynamics.” Every intellectual movement has to have an enemy to demonize, in order to stir up and rally the troops in support of their values (aka the projects of the leaders). It’s just archetypical of movements that they need a devil to hate and to denounce, as an example of what is absolutely evil and wrong. Whether you label Kant as the original “nihilist” or a “moral cannibal,” and whether you label Branden as an “Existentialist” or a “spiritual rapist,” it is clear that the point is: you do not want to be like these guys, but instead you want to do all you can to marginalize and diminish their influence in the world. The health and success of your movement demands no less.

Surely there is some of this factor present in the current animus toward the Brandens and David Kelley et al. But I think it would be a big mistake to say that is all there is to it. Instead, I think it would be instructive to compare Kant and Branden to their Objectivist critics. In particular, I think the most revealing question to ask (and to which I have already alluded) is: who among them (the critics) has produced more than a tiny fraction of IK's or NB's intellectual output?

Ayn Rand wrote numerous essays, but she couldn’t hold a candle in sheer volume and systematic rigor to Kant. He was wrong as hell, but he cranked out a system and offered it to public scrutiny. Rand by contrast wrote a couple of overviews (of her system in Galt’s speech and of the history of philosophy in “For the New Intellectual”), but nothing on a large scale. Branden’s and Peikoff’s lectures on Objectivism were good first and second attempts to systematize Objectivism, but Rand herself did philosophy more like an author of short stories than a novelist! Yet, she took it upon herself to scathingly denounce Kant as "the most evil man in history." Surely it takes a bit more to support this claim than a swipe here and there in her epistemology and ethics writings, yet that is all she gave us. Even Peikoff, a historian of philosophy, focused more in his “Ominous Parallels” book on the (supposed) consequences of Kant (Nazism) than Kant himself.

Usually, it is pointed out that destruction can be done rather quickly and easily, but that creative, positive work and thought takes much more time and effort. Well, if there is a monumentally evil system out there that is destroying the world, shouldn’t Rand have put all most of her efforts into making sure that a monumentally good system was erected to oppose it? Perhaps it’s still “earlier than we think”…

As for Branden’s critics and enemies among the orthodox Objectivists, you could cite their lecture courses, but in my book, talk is cheap. Who among Branden’s critics has been willing and able to put himself on the line with book after book, putting his ideas out there so that the general public – and not just the devoted few who will shell out money for the lecture courses live or recorded – will be able to pore over and criticize those ideas and find them wanting? Objectivism's "aural tradition" is ideally designed to hide a "multitude of sins." Such as?

What I am suggesting is that "certain people" have an unwillingness to be vulnerable, to take chances, to expose their ideas to the public – and that this fear of being vulnerable, in turn, is due to the fear of being shown to be in error, the fear of being ridiculed, and the fear of losing face among those in one's relatively small, relatively private circle.

"Certain people" thus as a result feel so chagrined by their own relative lack of productivity and confidence at exposing their ideas to the public, that they distract themselves and others from this paucity of output by lashing out at those who have produced. A certain blog-mistress repeatedly begs her readers' indulgence, that she will soon, very soon, turn her focus back to positive, productive philosophy, as soon as she gets her condemnations of David Kelley, the Brandens, &c. off her chest. But her chest apparently keeps piling up with more and more to say about these evil, “anti-Objectivist” people! As a result, we are still waiting for the constructive stuff. And I think we will continue to wait, so long as the Brandens and Kelley refuse to dry up and blow away.

That, I think, is a key factor in all this. When the big Split happened in 1968, two important things were supposed to result, neither of which did.

One, Nathaniel Branden, being utterly parasitic intellectual upon Ayn Rand, don’t you know, was supposed to wither away into intellectual impotence and disappear. Twenty books, many lectures, and a flourishing therapy practice later, he’s still going strong. (He and Tibor are neck and neck in competition for the title of Energizer Bunny of non-orthodox Objectivism :) )

Two, once the oh-so-pernicious, thought-deadening influence of the evil Brandens was removed from the daily lives of the Loyalist Randian Objectivists, their intellectual energies were supposed to have been liberated, with shelf-fulls of books to result. Yet, over 35 years later, Leonard Peikoff (now 72 years of age) has written two books, Harry Binswanger one, Peter Schwartz one, etc. (I’m not counting the edited volumes of Rand’s journals, letters, marginalia, Q&A, &c, nor the edited anthologies of other people’s essays. It’s all good stuff to have and read, but it’s not what we’re focusing on here.)

What is the net effect of these two factors? The relatively unproductive Randian Loyalists are faced with the spectacle of their (supposed) moral inferior, Nathaniel Branden, producing rings around them and not even breathing hard. This has to be maddening. It is almost as if the benevolent universe has slipped a cog, or something. But what has slipped a cog is their own intellectual self-confidence. They have been free from any evil, controlling, Brandenesque influences, and the evil Brandens have been excommunicated for nearly 40 years now, but the “good guys” continue to be relatively unproductive, and the “bad guys” still refuse to curl up and die. The on-going disconnect between what was supposed to happen and what really has happened – especially in terms of their own productivity – is such a threat to them, that it cannot be tolerated any longer. It must be wiped out. The world must be set to right, and this can only be done by eradicating the source of the “contradiction” – and especially the standing reproach to their own lack of productivity. Hence, the intense, personal nature of the hatred being shoveled at the Brandens and anyone who associates with them. Hence, the ongoing feverish efforts to shovel their and Kelley’s intellectual efforts down the Memory Hole.

Let’s try a thought experiment for a moment. Suppose we analogize between Howard Roark and the Loyalists on the one hand – and Ellsworth Toohey and Nathaniel Branden on the other. Let’s suppose that Branden and his “Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand” is the same kind of monstrous, anti-life stuff as the criticisms of Roark that emanated from Toohey and his crowd. How did Roark deal with Toohey’s antagonism? He ignored it! (“I don’t think of you.”) What did he do, instead? He produced! Is this what we see the Branden bashers doing? No, instead they claim to be incensed with Branden’s supposedly vicious criticisms of Rand, and they have taken it upon themselves to cut him down in any way they can. And not surprisingly, this significantly cuts into their available time for doing positive, constructive philosophy.

Since the parallel to Roark and Toohey doesn’t seem to fit too well in the direction that favors the Loyalists, suppose we reverse the analogy. Branden, like Roark, has been the target of bitter denunciation for decades, but has this distracted and slowed him down one bit? Not at all. He’s as productive as ever, having recently finished a novel and a screen play, on top of the 20 books he’s already written. Not bad for a 75 year old guy! Like Roark and his vision of architecture, Branden has stayed independent and true to his own vision of how psychology should be done. He has stayed open to new ideas and has continued to “think outside the box.”

This has to be all the more maddening to those who must live with the fact that, thanks to the dominant notion that Objectivism is a “closed system,” they may earn the title “Objectivist philosopher,” but none of their philosophizing (except what was approved of by Rand before she died in 1982) will ever be called part of Objectivism! Talk about intellectual emasculation!

Further, any intellectual creativity by an orthodox Objectivist (or by anyone offering it to them for consideration) has to be looked upon with suspicion, if not outright immediate rejection, since Rand is not around to officially endorse it. Instead, orthodox Objectivist intellectuals (of the closed school) are on safe ground only when they rehash (“chew”) Rand’s ideas. And after you’ve heard or read so much of that stuff, well…you want something new, creative, and original! But you won’t get it from the orthodox Objectivists. Or, if you do, it will only be in a lecture. They seem to cower in trepidation at the thought of actually putting original thoughts in print. (How I long for even one of them to prove me wrong!)

So far, I’ve concentrated on the relatively “pretty” side of the phenomenon of Branden bashing. (Oh, really? <shudder>) Now for the ugly side…

In order to gain (or retain) acceptance by the orthodox Objectivists, you have to bend over backwards to prove your acceptability. Especially if you once collaborated with the Brandens and/or TOC, you must furnish more than mere assurances that you have “seen the light.” Instead, as part of your rite of passage, you must “come out” as realizing just how evil and “anti-Objectivist” the Brandens and Kelley and their supporters are. And if you do it well enough, in gratitude the orthodox holders of the institutional moneybags just might grant you some scholarship or fellowship money to support your efforts in positive philosophy – if you can remember what they were supposed to be, or if you can pump up enough enthusiasm for something that just doesn’t generate the kind of adrenalin that Branden-bashing provides. (Scathing denunciation is kind of like Krispy Kreme donuts. It’s not a bit good for you, but it’s so hard to stop once you’ve started. If denunciation were donuts, some Objectivists would weigh 300 pounds!)

But I think there’s more at work here than simply compulsive negativity in the service of becoming accepted by one’s new gang. I think that there is actually a competition for “more moral than thou” among the orthodox, and that it amounts to a drive for status – perhaps even to be King (or Queen) of Objectivism some day. If you are not willing to pronounce moral judgment, you cannot hope to sit on the throne. But if you are willing to be very intense and personal in your denunciations, you just might have a shot at it.

These two motives – attacking those whose productivity is a reproach to your own lack of it, and attacking those whose enemies may reward you with money and/or power – may work separately in people. But there are probably some who operate by both motives. And it is those people who are the greatest ultimate threat to the health and longevity of Objectivism. We can weed out tinges of such motives in our own psyches, as well we should if we catch a whiff of them. But all we can do is “fix” ourselves. We cannot fix these wounded souls who are scrambling for power over Ayn Rand’s legacy, and who are trying to destroy those who “don’t think of them.”

I’ll close this piece by repeating something I learned from Branden recently. He was asked what future he sees in Objectivism. He said that the future is not in rehashing Rand’s ideas, but in creative, original application of what you learn from her to your own field. He said that if you have insights and discoveries to contribute, you must write books and get your ideas – your ideas – out there. Then, what you will have accomplished is not necessarily the furthering of the philosophy of Objectivism, but something far more important: your own fulfillment and happiness as a human being. I agree. If there is to be a future for the human race, that is what active intellectuals must do, not spend their time and energy in struggles for dominance over a miniscule group of people, in defense of a closed system of thought.

Thoughtful replies are welcome!

REB

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Roger,

You just wrote the funniest line I have read this year:

If denunciation were donuts, some Objectivists would weigh 300 pounds!

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL...

Ain't it the truth?

Anyway, there are a few comments I would like to add to your spot-on analysis. The first is the "brain-rot" that Mike Lee mentioned.

I think of the mind as something organic that grows stronger with exercise - like muscles. But proper training is essential. I once knew a guy who worked out lifting weights without having any kind of supervision. The result is that his right back, chest and arm muscles were much larger than the ones on his left side. When this deformity finally dawned on him, he became so embittered against weight training that he did not do corrective exercises to let his left side catch up. Thus he condemned himself twice to being deformed.

Another place I observed imbalanced exercise is in at the few Rosicrucian meetings I attended and living within a Rosicrucian social culture for a couple of years (one of my exes was a master). Part of the Rosicrucian study is to attempt to develop ESP in several areas through specific exercises. What I noticed is that if a person had an emotional imbalance, this imbalance would get observably worse the more they studied and exercised. A lot of people stayed normal, of course, but I met some real fruitcakes who only got more and more neurotic over time.

I find the way some people adopt Objectivism is a parallel to these kinds of harmful exercise and makes people morally lopsided - usually evidenced by them mouthing off before they think objectively, if they ever do. Many I have seen exercise the normative side so much that they atrophy the cognitive side. Their laughter goes down the drain also.

(The blog queen you mentioned has not yet entered a state of cognitive atrophy, from what I have observed, but she is exercising her cognitive identification on several topics less and less - and has even stated that she needs to program her subconscious to learn not to laugh at "inappropriate" matters.)

Thus a moral condemnation will pop out in a heartbeat while the accuser will be extremely sloppy in actually identifying what he is denouncing. This is so widespread that it almost needs no further examples. They are all over ALL of the Internet forums (except here, of course :) ).

Thus I think that some Objectivists (not all - or even most), literally mutilate their minds by improper and imbalanced exercise.

Another thing I have seen up close is the crowd mentality Barbara wrote about in the psychology of suicide bombers in the Articles section. The twist in Objectivism is that a person is called on to surrender his thinking to the guru of the moment (or Rand when a local guru is not available) while being fed the illusion that he is adopting a philosophy of independent thought.

Moo.

Then there is the issue of intellectual laziness. Yup, Roger. Pure laziness. (This runs parallel to the lack of productivity you mentioned.)

Rand often gave the impression that a good deal of her views came from sitting and thinking - not from reading and studying. Her sloppy scholarship, and her proud display of it (usually critiquing a book about a source like Kant or Rawls, rather than their original writings), leads followers to the conclusion that all they have to do to understand something is to think about it. Studying it is not essential.

But no one can fake knowledge to himself, no matter how much he lies to himself about what he knows. Thus it is easy to declare another person as evil if he gets too close to being unmasked. I have seen this time after time. And if the intellectual adversary leans toward the obnoxious and is overly condescending (like a certain Popperian who has been recently discussed on OL), I will admit to being guilty of this myself.

(As an interesting aside, I became friendly with Daniel Barnes offline right before he asked for his account to be canceled on the old SoloHQ due to the overly vicious attacks and a request from the site owner that he leave. We still disagreed on much, but we started a dialogue that was much more in line with my nature - and his nature too believe it or not, as he was not obnoxious or condescending to me at all. We even joked a bit about hell freezing over. I am thinking of writing him again, but lack of time prevents me so far - as arguing with him demands a lot of time.)

So let me admit out loud that blasting him in moral terms was a whole lot easier than reading Popper - and the result is that I have a twinge of residue guilt that makes me want to read Popper to make sure that I was right. I have already skimmed over a couple of websites and I have my eye on a couple of books down at the bookstore that I have thumbed through. (So far, I feel that my accusation of "primacy of conscious" root to it all is still valid, but I really need to do a lot more study to feel absolutely sure.)

I have more to say on this, but time is short right now.

Michael

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Ellen asked me: "Are both you and Linz going to be at the TOC Summer Conference? Oh, Lord, that will be interesting, if so. Where's the location?"

Apparently, we both will be there.

The Seminar will be held at Chapman University in Orange, California, from Saturday, July 1 to Saturday, July 8 (with presentations July 2–7). I know that this is very far from your neck of the woods, but I'd love it if you could be there. This applies to all Objectivist Living members.

Barbara

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