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If one of the purposes of your novel is to dramatize WBSHGPD (when bad shit happens, good people die), then you have to kill them off.

Otherwise you're unfaithful to your theme. And to preventing more good people from dying in the future.

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Since this thread has developed as a good one for loosely related reflections, I'll post this comment here:

If the Brandens were responsible for the moralizing penchant of the O'ist world pre-break, why hasn't that penchant gone away post-break, and why is it exhibited now -- see a thread on SOLO Pass discussing Truth and Toleration -- by persons who condemn the Brandens as more or less the source of all Objectivist woes ("the loss of Eden and all our woes...," Milton, sort of)?

The above is a rhetorical question.

Ellen

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This is a great question, Ellen.

One can go on and observe that the excessive moralizing is worse than ever. This is especially true at ARI, which is largely governed by Peikoff. Since he was Ayn Rand's chosen heir, is it not reasonable to suppose that the excessive moralizing is the result of a bad choice on Ayn Rand's part.

Furthermore, if Ayn Rand was such a bad judge of character with respect to Peikoff, why should we assume that she should be presumed free of responsibility for any poor character judgments she might have made prior to choosing an heir?

For instance, if she expected too much of Nathaniel Branden, then we should consider that his failure to live up to all of her expectations has consequences for our judgment of Ayn Rand herself. Perhaps her desire to worship a hero led her to deceive herself about the reality of Nathaniel. Perhaps the pressure of her expectations was too much for a young man who came under her influence before he was sufficiently developed as a man with independently chosen values.

For example, if you expect a boy to be both a man and a hero you may put the boy under too much pressure and decrease the probability of his succeeding in developing into both a man and a hero.

Judging people is tough work. People are complex and it is difficult to understand other people. Much of what we think we know about others is the result of our introspective understanding of ourselves. Since other people are not really ourselves, they are always substantially unknown to us. Nonetheless, we do have a moral responsibility to do our best in judging the character of others when they are a part of our life. If Ayn Rand was so disasterously wrong about Nathaniel Branden for so many years, why would this not be an important moral shortcoming on her part? The ARI group assume that the failed relationship was all Nathaniel's fault and the more scorn they heap on him, the more pristinely innocent Ayn Rand is. Yet, most of us know that most failed relationships occur due to faults and mistakes by all or most of the parties in the relationship. Due to the complexity of personal relationships, many are not sustainable for very long periods, especially if one or more parties are given to excessive moralizing.

I find it remarkable that no one will discuss these issues. I believe it is because of the high regard that we have for Ayn Rand. This being the case, however, we cannot in justice proceed to judge Nathaniel Branden less benevolently than we do Ayn Rand. In fairness, we should chalk their relationship up as a tragedy for both of them and move on. I expect that this is why TOC has not been discussing PARC. If they do so fairly, then Ayn Rand's reputation is hurt further and there is little liklihood that the parties who exclusively blame Nathaniel Branden will change their minds.

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I think the moralizing monkeyshines cut right to the essence of what people expect out of Objectivism.

The more I investigate and read, the more I come to the conclusion that Objectivism is a wonderful philosophy for reason, but it is severely lacking in getting some basic things right - starting with man's nature. (I also believe that these items can be developed within the philosophy, which is why I still use the Objectivist name.)

For example, according to official Objectivism, there are no innate ideas or predispositions. They are all "chosen." That is one fundamental aspect of man's nature.

But then, how a preverbal infant can choose ideas when he is just forming them is not addressed. The innate urge to form ideas in itself is not addressed and volition is forced in through a crack or two (and never is very convincing at that level).

If you want a philosophy for the reason side of man - and only that, Objectivism fits the bill perfectly. If you want to understand more about life and the universe, you can build on this base, which is a solid one, but you have to accept that it is incomplete and do some real independent thinking.

But if you want a complete doctrine to follow, a code to devote you life to, the full package all neatly wrapped up, these "holes" in the philosophy are a big problem.

Nathaniel Branden was one of the founders of the Objectivist movement and contributed to the core literature, even coming up with some core ideas. (The same goes for Barbara, but to a lesser extent.) His psychology practice and literature is founded on some ideas contrary to traditional Objectivism. For instance, he advocates letting emotions come into conscious awareness, innate or otherwise, without immediately judging them so that they can be dealt with. He also has strong differences with some other aspects of Objectivism.

So if one of the founders rejects the integrated package deal that is being sold as Objectivist dogma (but calling it reason), and he is successful and people get happier and more productive following his methods, that is not good for those of Rand's progeny who seek immortality for their name as being heir to "mankind's greatest thinker." (I don't just mean Peikoff, either. There are several keepers of the flame out there who seek guru-power and guru-status as Rand's true intellectual heir - in deed, if not formally.)

How on earth can a founder of "the truth" turn his back on "the truth"? David Kelley also was a core member of the "inner circle of wisdom." He also turned his back on "the truth." How can a person know "the truth" and reject it?

For those who prefer to be told what to think, that's a hell of a question.

Moral condemnation is the easiest way out. It's pretty funny to observe the habit that gets created by the practitioners, too (like in the thread on the other forum). When they momentarily run out of enemies to morally condemn, they start attacking each other.

Michael

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MSK:

It's pretty funny to observe the habit that gets created by the practitioners, too (like in the thread on the other forum). When they momentarily run out of enemies to morally condemn, they start attacking each other.

Reminds me of a quip which made the rounds back during the Peikoff/Schwartz/Binswanger vs. Reisman/Packer split.

"If things keep on like this," one person comments, "pretty soon there will only be two Objectivists left, Leonard Peikoff and Peter Schwartz."

"Right," comes the answer. "And then Peter will excommunicate Leonard."

ES

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Michael,

The Objectivism as developed to Ayn Rand's death left much work to be done. This is true for every branch of philosophy and for a broad understanding of man, life, and the rest of the universe. Issues relating to human relationships were little developed. Many issues relating to how an individual should choose his own values and develop them are little covered. There is much to do with respect to understanding human emotions. But all of these things can become known to us through the use of reason. It is reason's task to understand them better. Objectivism was not and is not now a closed and complete system of understanding. As long as man exists he will need to use reason to expand his understanding and that will be the task of any true Objectivist.

We cannot say that Objectivism took care of reason and now we have to tackle the rest. Taking care of reason will always be an on-going process and it will be the means of making sense of those things we do not yet understand. I think you know this, but your last comment can readily be taken out of its complete context and a Diana Hsieh will have a field day with it after the fashion of her 17 Mar 06 attack on Truth and Toleration as advocating both that Kelley believes in a mind/body dichotomy and that reason only adds goodies to life and is not essential.

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Charles, I agreed with your excellent post -- for the most part. You did say one thing that I'd like to follow up on, for clarification (at least of how I view the matter):

For example, if you expect a boy to be both a man and a hero you may put the boy under too much pressure and decrease the probability of his succeeding in developing into both a man and a hero.

There is a flawed concept of "hero" held by some Objectivists, to the effect that you can't be a hero unless you're morally perfect and haven't screwed up in some significant way. I look at it differently: despite Branden's screwing up in his youth, and despite his seriously undercutting himself for a number of years, he has accomplished things of enormous benefit for the understanding of psychology and the betterment of mankind. (And the healing of Objectivism's moral and psychological and thinking distortions.)

I will point to these two "exhibits" as my evidence: The Disowned Self and The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (and the techniques that have developed out of them). As long as Objectivists remain tone-deaf to the principle of "non-judgmental awareness" and its power to heal one's psychological problems and dissolve one's unhealthy life limitations, they will continue to bash Branden and the whole TOC enterprise of civility, toleration and "kinder, gentler Objectivism." And they will miss identifying -- indeed, persist in trying to bury and eradicate from the historical record -- the very real hero that Branden is to many of us Objectivists. Sadly, it is not only their loss, but the loss of the many others they will mislead into accepting their distorted view of Branden.

REB

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Ellen: "If the Brandens were responsible for the moralizing penchant of the O'ist world pre-break, why hasn't that penchant gone away post-break."

Because we discovered a magic potion which we secretly put in the water of chosen Objectivists; it turns them into fiendish moralizers. Isn't that obvious?

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Even though the concept of self-esteem is brought up in Ayn Rand's work, it is not nearly as illuminating or thorough as NB's work on the subject.

And I think that there are some pretty knowledgable Objectists who evolved into who they are without the benefits that his work offers.

Looking at those in the movement who have low or pseudo self-esteem does a lot to explain why they behave the way they do.

rde

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Ellen: "If the Brandens were responsible for the moralizing penchant of the O'ist world pre-break, why hasn't that penchant gone away post-break."

Because we discovered a magic potion which we secretly put in the water of chosen Objectivists; it turns them into fiendish moralizers. Isn't that obvious?

I was laughing over that one the whole time it took me to log on and reply -- and I think I'll be chuckling the rest of the day. Right. Oh, how well you understand the magical powers attributed to you two.

Ellen

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Barbara,

Do you mean to say that you are a sorceress - a real-life for-real mystic - and that you fooled everybody even from the NBI days and before?

And here I thought all the trouble was some kind of variation on sibling rivalry with cuzz.

(Back to building the Universal Church of Branden...)

//;-))

Michael

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Michael: ". . . according to official Objectivism, there are no innate ideas or predispositions. They are all 'chosen.' That is one fundamental aspect of man's nature. But then, how a preverbal infant can choose ideas when he is just forming them is not addressed."

I think you misunderstand Rand's concept of "tabula rasa." Certainly one cannot be born with a head full of ideas. Rand does indeed say that there are no innate ideas, no innate concepts, but she does not hold that one "chooses" ideas. What she believed occurs is that the child, having volition, chooses to raise or not to raise his level of awareness and to what degree, (according to his curiosity and interest). That will result in his forming certain ideas; but the ideas are not directly chosen -- any more than we, as adults, deliberately choose our ideas. We choose to exercise our capacity to think, to analyze, to discover, to reason, and the excercise of that capacity leads us to the ideas we accept.

Further, you wrote, as an example of Nathaniel differing from Objectivism: "He advocates letting emotions come into conscious awareness . . . without immediately judging them so that they can be dealt with." Rand has never written anything that goes counter to this and, in fact, she agreed with it. She did hold that it is important to understand and deal with one's emotioms -- which requires letting them into awareness. (What is true that her de-emphasis on emotiions, and often her apparent scorn for for them, led some of her followers to fear that if they looked carefully at their emotions, they might find demons of unreason.)

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Barbara,

I didn't express myself well. (Charles even noted.) I have been sitting on some reading I am doing and digesting it, trying to make sure that an anti-Rand bias in it is not filtering through the ideas. The book is Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature by Greg Nyquist.

What is strange about these kinds of books is that they are usually peppered with cheap shots at Rand's ideas, her manner of thinking, etc. (I am presently in a discussion with Dragonfly about this because cheap shots tend to turn both sides of an argument off, and I am very serious about trying to properly understand human nature - i.e., my own nature. We all have been subjected to cheap shots, but I am trying to get this manner of discourse out of my way so I can think properly about deep ideas. Also, I believe that Objectivism has a basic framework for human nature that is valid, especially as regards the rational faculty, but there are "holes" in Objectivism that need work.)

So in an effort to separate the wheat from the chaff (because Nyquist does present a LOT to think about, but also gets obnoxiously smarmy at times), I will give merely one small set of arguments - his list of observable innate ideas and mental propensities in human beings.

1. Aversion to incest. This occurs in almost all societies, even in ones where no knowledge of high birth defects from the practice is widely known. He notes that where it is practiced, it is seen with revulsion. He cites Wilson, On Human Nature, and Pinker, How the Mind Works, as sources. He claims that this aversion is a product of genetic endowment, not rational thinking.

2. Sexual selection. Nyquist mentions that nearly all young heterosexual males prefer beautiful young women to very old women. This preference comes built-in and is not a product of rational thought. The recent discussion on homosexuality (and Sciabarra's book on it) shows that this preference is not a trait one chooses so much as one inherits.

3. Studies of identical twins. From the book:

Studies of identical twins provide further evidence that genetics influence human behavior. Such studies reveal a genetic component in a variety of traits affecting the emotional and cognitive development of human beings, including number ability, word fluency, memory, the rate of language acquisition, spelling, grammar, perceptual skills, psycho-motor skills, and extroversion-introversion. Even when the influence of the environment has been factored in, identical twins nevertheless demonstrate a greater similarity in general abilities, personal traits, ideals, goals, and vocational interests then would be expected if genetic determination played no role whatsoever. (Wilson, 1978, 45-46; Pinker, 1997, 20-21).

4. Propensity to learn language. From the book:

There is no record of a child choosing not to learn how to speak.

He mentions the only exceptions are in cases of physical defects (for example, "deafness, mental retardation, disturbances of the brain") and cases where children have never been exposed to human speech (citing Pinker again). He goes so far as to claim that normal children are helpless to resist the propensity to learn language and that choosing has nothing to do with it.

5. Propensity to expect environmental uniformities. To understand this idea, he gives the example of a child burning his finger on a hot stove, then avoiding touching it again. The "idea" is that if it was hot once, it will be hot again. This idea (axiom of identity in Objectivist jargon, but only applied to the environment) does not come from rational thinking, but is already built into the psyche.

6. Certain types of mental mutations: Turner's syndrome, with two X chromosomes transmitted genetically, where the ability is impaired "to recall shapes and distinguish between right and left on maps and diagrams." Lesh-Nyhan syndrome, where a single recessive gene is found to be the cause of "lowered intelligence and a compulsive propensity to pull and tear at the body, leading to self-mutilation." Nyquist cites Wilson as source.

7. Handedness - right-handed or left-handed. Here Nyquist notes that rational thinking can override the innate predisposition in certain specific cases, but that the innate predisposition will assert itself if left unchecked. The example he gives is Chinese students. All left-handed children are taught to write with their right hand in China, but in other activities, the left hand asserts itself. (Wilson is the source.)

There is some other discussion, but he also makes two very important points about innate ideas and predispositions.

The first is that they can be changed only up to a certain point, but will not budge beyond that point. He used the word "bend" and he also noted that some individuals can be molded more easily than others in this respect. This directly contradicts Rand's theory that everything in the subconscious can be reprogrammed by conscious thinking - if the word "everything" is used. (Much can be reprogrammed in her manner, though, and that is where I see one of the great practical values of Objectivism.)

The second is that some innate predispositions will not become manifest (staying "dormant") or fail to develop unless specific environmental conditions are present.

Very little of all of this is covered in Objectivist literature and in Rand's "tabula rasa" concept, yet I find it hard not to accept. I see these things and I will not violate the validity of my eyes because the "idea" of what my eyes see is wrong according to a philosophy.

So I hold a view of life where the volitional faculty, which exists and is valid, sits on a huge base of non-volitional mental phenomena, including a physical brain with chemical reactions and some innate ideas and predispositions ("instincts").

I have no problem at all with accepting that both volition and inherited instincts exist. I do not see this as undermining Objectivism, either. I see it as adding to the philosophy.

I learned about innate mental things the hard way through addiction, where my own innate compulsivity led me to create strong irrational (or prerational) urges that became so acute they became cravings that short-circuited my rational capacity to choose. "Innate" is written all over many aspect of addiction.

I've been doing a lot of chewing on this. In all this mulling, I have come to the conclusion that volition kicks in only after a certain point. It is not present in the beginning or at a really low level of mental activity. Choosing to think is a great example. You think whether you want to or not. To use your own words, we can choose to raise our level of awareness - but still, there is a minimum level of awareness that is automatic, the mind is not simply a blank.

On my (poor) example of emotions, I was thinking specifically of times in Rand's fictional heroes where pain or boredom sets in and they tell themselves to "Stop it!" The emotion is immediately judged and rejected as bad. It is not accepted in a non-judgmental manner, then handled. It is condemned (with implied self-criticism for being able to feel that.) I need to work more on this example to make it work for what I was trying to say. (The old adage of using mind before engaging mouth...)

Michael

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I've just recently been catching up on this thread, and there is one comment I think I can contribute to the matter of Peikoff vs. Kelley (and the Brandens) as well as the problem of people learning the answers to philosophical questions before they know enough to as them. I have a copy of Peikoff's taped lecture series "Objectivism Through Induction" which I have found very valuable. In it, Peikoff offers what he calls a cure for rationalism, which he had noticed was a problem among "precocious Objectivists". Strudents would be able to repeat the words and catch phrases of Objectivism, but have a poor grasp of the concrete reality the principles represent. And like the title of the lecture series says, its all about induction. Peikoff goes through a number of basic Objectivist ideas and demonstrates how they are derived inductively from empirical data from the real world, all the while explaining and warning about the dangers and pitfalls of rationalism.

But then we get to the Kelley controversy about toleration. Kelley's work defending his ideas on the subject, in "Truth and Toleration" are themselves a wonderfull example of inductive reasoning and argument. But the only critiques of Kelley by Peikoff and Schwartz (Who contributed to the "Objectivism Through Induction" series) aside from presenting strawmen of Kelley's position, strike me as the worst kind of rationalism.

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Roger,

First, thanks for your comment. I would like to clarify my comments on the hero aspects of my earlier comment.

I do agree with you that a man can be a hero and yet not be morally perfect. The kind of hero that Ayn Rand projected and presumably desired to have as a romantic love in her stylized life, was probably more morally perfect than anyone we know. To expect a young Nathaniel, who came under her influence before he had a chance to learn who he was and wanted to be based on his own judgment, may have been too much for him or anyone else. Nathaniel appears to have wanted too much to please Ayn Rand and then may have found himself trapped into a life of trying to do so. With enough courage, independence, and a great self-esteem, maybe he could have overcome these problems. However, it pretty understandable that few people would have enough of these qualities to stand up to Ayn Rand.

My praise of Nathaniel Branden has been at best sparse and miserly. I am trying to belatedly come to an understanding of his contributions. After the 1968 breakup, I was initially sure that Ayn Rand had to be right. But as more and more information became available, it was clear that things were not adding up. Still, I thought that Nathaniel Branden was worse than it was likely that he was. Now, I see that Mike Lee's comments make a lot of sense. Both of the Branden's do seem to have been reasonable in those of their evaluations of Ayn Rand in her personal behaviors and with respect to her management of relationships. The ARI side has clearly been unreasonable.

In terms of Nathaniel's contributions to Objectivism, it is clear that he wrote a number of good articles and that his and Barbara's work at NBI was very important. With regard to his books, I am in no way able to comment. Too early, I read a number of bad books on psychology and I concluded that what they said fell into two categories: common sense and nonsense. I have ever since found it hard to read psychology books. My interest in history always seems to draw me away before I can finish a book. I did once read one of Nathaniel's books, The Psychology of Self-Esteem, which I thought was free of the usual nonsense. I own The Disowned Self, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, and Taking Responsibility, and have only read a part of the first two before some history book I was reading caused me to forget reading the rest. So, I am not familiar with Nathaniel's later contributions and I do not know enough about the state of psychology in general to compare his work with that of others even if I do read them.

I am coming to understand that I have not likely done justice to Nathaniel Branden even with my present understanding. I certainly did him an injustice in the past. I will make some effort to see better how far I have fallen short of doing so.

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Nathaniel appears to have wanted too much to please Ayn Rand and then may have found himself trapped into a life of trying to do so. With enough courage, independence, and a great self-esteem, maybe he could have overcome these problems. However, it pretty understandable that few people would have enough of these qualities to stand up to Ayn Rand.

I think he eventually did overcome those problems. But for many years I've thought that no one could have done so while still in a close relationship with her. (And certainly not someone of his age when he met and then when he became romantically involved with her.) She was smothering. I'm aware that that word choice opens doors to puns; thus I debated about using it. But it's the word I think is most accurate.

Prior to my moving to New York, I used to think that "my naive genius," as I'd taken to affectionately describing AR, was being misled on psychological issues by Nathaniel. I even had rescue fantasies. When I moved to New York (not because of O'ist headquarters being there, for other reasons) I had in mind that I'd try to meet her and attempt to indicate places where I thought the picture of psychology being presented in the magazine was going wrong. I was actually glad at learning the news that NBI had closed. But then came the day when I read "To Whom It May Concern," and the subsequent night described in my thread in the Branden Corner by that title. I felt that I'd realized that night just how impossible trying to correct her in wrong beliefs would have been, and just how much of a difficult situation Nathaniel, and Barbara as well, had been in.

The odd thing was, I then ended up being a voice for the defense, as it were (defense of the Brandens), amongst a couple circles of Objectivist friends. (Another circle of such friends took NB's "side" from the start; another circle, amongst whom I formed some friendships in the mid '70s, were Lonnie Leonard O'ists and didn't much care about the AR/NB rights and wrongs.) I never pushed issues to the showdown point. Gentle persuasion was my way then, as now. But I attempted to argue that "even the Devil was entitled to a defending attorney." Of course it wasn't known for sure then that AR and Nathaniel had indeed had an affair. Some people were outraged at my even suggesting that they might have -- those people assumed NB had completely made up the hint in his response to AR.

I don't think that Nathaniel's and Barbara's decisions were near "ideal," if one were to ask, What would have been the "ideal" thing to have done? But I think the circumstances they were in were extraordinarily difficult. They believed in Objectivism (to a great extent, they still do). It wasn't just that Rand would have thought their contrary inclinations were wrong; they questioned themselves. And Rand was an incredibly powerful persuader. We've all of us here read her novels, yes? We know her power of words. Her power of personality was equal.

Ellen

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[borrowing from Nyquist]

1. Aversion to incest. This occurs in almost all societies, even in ones where no knowledge of high birth defects from the practice is widely known. He notes that where it is practiced, it is seen with revulsion. He cites Wilson, On Human Nature, and Pinker, How the Mind Works, as sources. He claims that this aversion is a product of genetic endowment, not rational thinking.

The incest taboo as such can't be innate without an innate idea of kinship relationship -- which would be asking a lot of pre-programming. What would appear to be the case, according to Wilson and Pinker, is that the Wassermann not the Freudian thesis is true. The Freudian thesis of course is that the incest taboo arose to counteract the strength of the supposed Oedipus complex. The Wassermann thesis is that there's a mechanism in regard to sexual development which in the typical person turns off sexual response to "nest mates," to those with whom an animal (including the human animal) is raised in close proximity.

Support for the Wassermann thesis comes from studies of adopted children, who -- just as much as natural siblings -- tend to grow up sexually uninterested in those with whom they're raised. This holds even when the adopted child is from a genetic lineage having no close kinship relationship to the adoptive family. Thus it appears that the mechanism might be summarized as: Early familiarity breeds sexual indifference.

(True, siblings often "play around" with each other while growing up -- much more often, I'd venture to surmise, than is reported. But the "playing around" doesn't in the usual case lead to full-fledged sexual attraction.)

Ellen

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Ellen,

I will grant the familiarity idea as plausible - or at least one component of sexual indifference. However, I don't find it convincing for revulsion and taboo. And, for that to be true, family bonding at least has to be preprogrammed (as a general trait or "instinct"), since it is so prevalent in most all societies. That is one idea that is not in Nyquist's book.

Michael

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Michael,

I think the disinterest in sex with nest mates seems right to me as Ellen suggests. I believe the revulsion is learned from society. While most societies do have incest taboos, I do not think that all societies historically have had them. Clearly they did not with respect to royal familiies in any case.

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The fact that people generally are sexually uninterested in those with whom they're raised may very well be an innate trait, while it would be advantageous from an evolutionary point of view to avoid incest by this mechanism, even if it isn't foolproof (e.g. in the case of adopted children, although that would only erring on the safe side).

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Charles.

Clearly they did not with respect to royal families in any case.

Dayaamm! This isn't the place to say this, but not with hillbillies either (my background). There's an old joke:

Son: Pa, I broke my engagement to Mary Lou.

Pa: Why, son?

Son: She's still a virgin.

Pa: Well I'll be. That's a good decision, son. If she ain't no use to her kin folk, then what use is she to you?

Still, this aversion to sex between siblings and parents (or surrogates) is extremely widespread and documented. One point Nyquist made was that an innate trait can be overridden by conscious choice up to a point. Royalty would be a case of this (keeping power and land in the family).

In Brazil, in the Northeast, there are innumerable cases of birth defects among traditional families who have insisted on marrying between cousins in order to keep the inheritance (mostly land) in the family. This custom goes back to the Capitancies (state-size new-world land endowments from the King of Portugal) of the colonial period.

Michael

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Dragonfly:

The fact that people generally are sexually uninterested in those with whom they're raised may very well be an innate trait, while it would be advantageous from an evolutionary point of view to avoid incest by this mechanism, even if it isn't foolproof (e.g. in the case of adopted children, although that would only erring on the safe side).

Were you interpreting me as saying other than that? Exactly the point I was making, or trying to make, is that what would be innate is the dis-interest mechanism not the "incest taboo" as such. A taboo is a cultural belief, not a biologic mechanism. Wassermann's theory was that the cultural belief had been built on the basis of a natural aversion instead of having developed, as Freud held, to prevent a natural attraction from being inacted. (I'm not sure how familiar Wassermann was with Darwinian theory. I believe he'd already posed his theory of the origins of the incest taboo before Freud came up with the Oedipus theory and that Wilson makes the point in Consilience that there was already a biologically plausible alternate explanation available even at the time of Freud's writings. Whether Wassermann was familiar with Darwinian theory or not, his approach neatly dovetails with evolutionary thought whereas Freud's doesn't.)

Ellen

PS: It seems we've gone off on a sub-thread which might be good to switch to a different forum. Should a forum for Biology/Psychology/Evolution be started?

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When I said that psychology books of my youth were either filled with common sense or nonsense, I was talking about many popular books of the 1960s. Perhaps under the influence of Nathaniel Branden's work they are better now. In addition, I do not mean to say that psychology is an unimportant field. Indeed, much of the more scientific work revealing the influence of biochemistry on the mind and the workings of the mind is now quite interesting. But, I remain less than well-educated in this field.

Perhaps the time has come to learn more about psychology!

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I think we have the makings of a false dichotomy in the instinct vs. reason debate. With the advent of modern psychology we have a third category which seems to partake of both faculties to some degree and that is, psychological health. In addition to actions being moral or immoral, instinctual or reasoned, our actions as conscious beings may be psychologically healthy or unhealthy.

Interestingly, how one adheres to psychological health partakes both of instinct (accepting and responding to one's limits, one's nature, not trying to be something you're not) and reason (mindfully assessing the psychological toll our actions do or do not take on our well-being).

As I suggested much earlier in this thread (Ellen, still waiting on any comments you might have on that post, btw), what is philosophically compelling may be psychologically unhealthy or at least "hazardous."

Unfortunately, the science of psychology is still largely in the conceptual stage. The whole area of "psychological health" is still considered to be purely "subjective" by a lot of people.

But what if certain actions in certain situations were objectively healthier than others? What if certain emotional reactions to certain situations were inherently healthier than others?

This incest business: healthy adult sexuality involves a relationship with "the other." Healthy adult romance is all about reaching across differences and risking intimacy. With incest the possibility of healthy adult romance is virtually destroyed. At the heart of an incestuous affair is the psychologically sopporific effect of familiarity and familial safety, a feeling of riskless merging. Psychologically, siblings may be driven to incest as a reaction against a profoundly hostile experience of the outside world, tyrannically invasive/psychotic parenting, or a profound sense of affective scarcity which drives the siblings to seek whatever comfort they can in each other. In short, it ain't good, folks.

Healthy people, by virtue of their health, know this. They instinctually shudder at the thought of incest. Unhealthy, broken people, by virtue of their unhealthy brokenness do not. Now you see where this leads? Some folks reading this may disagree with me. From where I sit, I pretty much would have to conclude that anyone disagreeing with me on whether incest is inherently unhealthy or not was damaged sexually or developmentally in some way (our culture is plenty effed up about sex to accomplish all kinds of damage). Now, I don't have the hammer of hard, scientific certainty to back me up, and yet I'm pretty sure that I'm right on this.

And of course, the incest argument, like the starving child scenario, are cherry picked for their extremity. Psychological health has much more subtle implications in our lives, but until science figures out how to perceive this stuff adequately, our understanding is necessarily limited by our individual--and more often than I'm sure any of us would care to admit, collective--psychological health.

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As I suggested much earlier in this thread (Ellen, still waiting on any comments you might have on that post, btw), what is philosophically compelling may be psychologically unhealthy or at least "hazardous."

Kevin,

I'm afraid that I'm not remembering now which the post is you're referring to, and that I haven't time for searching back to try to find it in this very long thead. My limited computer-reading time has been overstretched the last several months by Branden/Rand Redux issues (all the talk of which on many lists, along with my now having read much of the Valliant book, has been sending my thoughts on multiple memory-lane trips). I'll make a note to myself to look for the post when I have a chance (which, realistically, I don't expect to have in the next couple weeks).

I feel that I must take brief exception, however, to one comment you made in the current post.

Healthy people, by virtue of their health [...] instinctually shudder at the thought of incest. Unhealthy, broken people, by virtue of their unhealthy brokenness do not. Now you see where this leads? Some folks reading this may disagree with me. From where I sit, I pretty much would have to conclude that anyone disagreeing with me on whether incest is inherently unhealthy or not was damaged sexually or developmentally in some way (our culture is plenty effed up about sex to accomplish all kinds of damage). Now, I don't have the hammer of hard, scientific certainty to back me up, and yet I'm pretty sure that I'm right on this.

Well...you've just diagnosed me as having been "damaged sexually or developmentally in some way," because, no, I don't agree with your comment as stated. You might be able to restate it in a way such that I would agree with it. But to begin with, the vast majority of universal statements about what is and isn't psychologically healthy, I'm likely to disagree with on the general principle of the difficulty of universalizing in this area. And, second, I can think of some specific cases known to me of incestual relationships which I don't consider unhealthy. Thus -- in addition to reservations on general principle -- I consider the "inherently" falsified by counterexample. (It only needs one exception to falsify a universal.)

Ellen

___

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