A quote (from AB) and comments re AR's journals


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Phil, you wrote; "Rather than say there are degrees of evasion, I would limit the concept itself very strictly to: willful failure to look when you know you should, know how to do it, and know that it is necessary right at that time."

What you describe seems to me next door to impossible. If you know you should look, know how to do it, and know that it's necessary now -- doesn't this mean you already have allowed into consciousness a good deal of information about the "evaded" subject? If I said to myself: "I will drink this martini, although I know I ought to examine what my doctor has told me about liquor and the state of my liver, I know I can easily access that information, and I know I should look at that information before I take my first sip "-- then I haven't evaded. You can't know you should look at something immediately without having allowed into consciousness some awareness of what needs to be looked at. (I hope this doesn't sound impossibly convoluted; it's clear to me.)

You wrote: "I would put it that there are -more- possibilities than total evasion vs. full focus." That was precisely my point -- however we define total evasion.

You add: "But I think I'd add a third aspect -- iii) not choosing to focus on an issue and not knowing for sure that one needs to, or not at that time." Agreed. And I like your list of some of the reasons why people may not attend to something they need to explore.

I agree with your statement: "I would even suspect that -most- really big errors that good people make which mess up their lives are not the result of evasion but of psychological problems and blind spots (or even lack of working intelligence applied to oneself.)"

I had not realized that we do not have an adequate definition of evasion -- of what you call "total evasion." "The refusal to see" simply isn't adequate. Perhaps the definition can be found in the concept of emotional repression -- that is, we have a strong feeling about some issue that our answer to ourselves is not satisfactory, but we instantly sit on, repress, that emotion before we can allow it to precipitate further investigation, because we sense that investigation will be threatening. To return to the example of the martini. I tell myself""Damn it, I want that martini, I'm going to have it, I'm sick and tired of being told what to do!" -- and I slam out of awareness before it can fully arise my feeling of guilt which has caused the defensiveness of my message to myself.

What a fascinating subject!

Barbara

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I've now read the first 59 pages of PARC. I see that I'm going to end up having to write something lengthy attempting to disentangle Valliant's legitimate complaints against features of the way in which the Brandens told their tales from the issue of the truth in what they told. For instance, on pp. 58 and 59, Valliant points to the lack of documentation for the Brandens' accounts of the "group-therapy"/"trials" occurrences. He's right in saying that a non-informed person reading those accounts isn't given enough supporting material to have a reliable basis for assessment. Nonetheless, there is evidence which the Brandens don't report which backs up their stories. Another for instance, his indicating that the entire, or at least the major, source of the repressive atmosphere in New York O'ist circles might have been the Brandens themselves. But then why did that atmosphere continue for 8+ years after NBI had folded and the Brandens had moved to the West Coast? Etc.

Ellen

PS: Roger, thanks for the good wishes about the eye problem. It isn't a problem with my vision as such; it's neuromuscular (painful twitchings and pullings in muscles, including those of the eye orbits), a long-term, and worsening, aftermath result of a mild case of childhood polio.

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> What a fascinating subject! [barbara]

I agree! All of the interlinked subjects: attention, repression, suppression, filtering which have no negative moral connotation necessarily and evasion, which does.

And how to organize these concepts: There is a whole literature in psychology on the first of these, attention - "the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one thing while ignoring other things" - which I have on my list of things to read about / think though more thoroughly.

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Ellen,

That will be a welcome analysis - one that is sorely needed to realign the lopsided balance of that book.

As I said, I will be concentrating on the rhetorical devices that were used to reinforce the author's lopsidedness.

Here is one rhetorical device, just as an appetizer, since it is the most obvious one he used constantly. (And, from what I am able to gather, it is pretty effective with people who read a bit out of focus or with an ax to grind.)

I call it argument by repetition. How it works is that the author will state something at the beginning that is opposite of the point he wants to sell. After that statement, he then starts repeating his real point every chance he gets, even in the most mundane places. He milks the more obvious examples with two or three paragraphs repeating his point. Things that clearly do not apply are used to illustrate his point. Nothing escapes. When someone calls him on the incessant harping, he points to the initial statement as his proof of "objectivity," meanwhile hoping some of the venom seeps through the cracks of repetition.

Here is an example: p. 21 of PARC:

The Brandens' portraits of Rand are nothing if not complex. Along with their many criticisms of Rand's psychology and behavior are mixed significant complimentary references. They both concede that there is much for which Rand must be praised - using Rand's own standards. Rand was a woman of fierce independence, brilliant and dedicated to her ideas and craft.

This sounds pretty reasonable by itself. Then you go to p. 23, and read, "From the ferocity of the Brandens's attack..." and off he goes, practically for the rest of the book, bashing the Brandens' works by saying that all the Brandens were doing was trashing Rand. Every little item becomes a chance to show this poor opinion of their work. And true to form, many times two or three paragraphs are dedicated merely to those poor opinions and nothing else.

He uses this same method for several issues as he goes along (their character, things like Rand's overbearing personality, which he denies in the repetition part, etc.), and there are a few other rhetorical devices he uses regularly.

If you are interested in catching one, note when he starts harping about something. Then jump back to the beginning of where he started talking about that and you will see a statement to the contrary (for his "objectivity" - I call it covering his hind-end). But then look back at the harping and see the proportion.

I really look forward to your examination of his "hard evidence," since you already show to be a person immune to a stylistic device like this in the place of balanced arguments. ("Drops wear down the stone, not by strength, but by constant falling.")

(btw - Let me echo Roger's sentiments. I go back and forth with you, not wanting you to suffer too much and wanting your participation. You do whatever is good for Ellen and that is good for me. Still, I hope... you know...)

Michael

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Roger:

1. causality -- I think that the O'ist view is exactly correct, but that the vast majority of O'ists do not apply it correctly to the mind-body and freewill-determinism problems.

Rand's definition apparently is:

All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature.

But this definition is so vague that it's worthless. You might interpret it as implying determinism ("caused and determined"), but that would imply that the human brain is also a deterministic system, which Rand no doubt would deny. So the conclusion can only be that her definition is an empty tautology which doesn't tell us anything about the real world: a thing acts according to its nature - and how do we know what the nature of a thing is? By observing the actions of that thing, so a thing acts according to the way it acts, a perfect example of a circular definition.

5. deriving "ought" from "is" -- I think this is handled satisfactorily, except for establishing the basic "ought" that you ought to value life. It seems to me that this is a choice that is pre-moral, pre-ought, and that all "oughts" flow from it.

Why should all "oughts" flow from it? The only thing you can say is that these "oughts" shouldn't be incompatible with life as a value, but that doesn't imply that they follow from that principle. In fact there are many "oughts" possible which Rand no doubt would have rejected forcefully that are also compatible with the notion of life as a value. The whole notion of "life" as an "ultimate value" from which all other values are derived is incoherent, but many people swallow such arguments unthinkingly, while they at a superficial glance may sound plausible and while the conclusions she draws are so attractive. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to say that your ideas can be proved? Alas, they can't!

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Michael:

Can you prove that?

Of course I didn't mean to imply that ideas in general can't be proved, only that those particular ideas I referred to can't be proved, and I can prove that by pointing out fatal flaws in the argument that is used for those ideas, that's all I have to do; the ball is now in the court of the proponents of that argument.

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Michael,

Yes, the rhetorical devices in PARC-- or I suppose that in lawyerly language, they might be called "leading statements" -- are as thick as a swarm of gnats, and need some strenuous effort to keep brushing aside.

Ellen

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Barbara,

I'm quite interested by your and Phil's discussion on the O'ist-lexicon meaning of and on the nature of (which might not be the same as the O'ist-lexicon meaning of) "evasion." That's a subject I puzzled about for years, until it got to seem like "angels on pinheads" and I put it aside hoping to find a fresh approach later.

In the course of my puzzling during the late 70s, I sometimes thought of a comment which I'd heard Ayn reported as having made, and which I wondered if she really said -- since if she actually said this, it seemed to me that she herself didn't understand what "evasion" was defined as meaning in her own writings. So I'd like to recount this incident and see if it squares with anything you recall having heard her say.

[Edit: I told this confusingly. The way I heard about the incident was because Harry had told the story to Evan at some point when the two of them were together; Evan in turn told me. But the incident Harry was talking about occurred at a lecture he attended -- I assume during one of LP's courses -- where Ayn was present.]

The circumstance was a conversation between Harry Binswanger and Evan Picoult -- I don't remember the exact setting, whether they were having dinner together or were both attending an O'ist social event, or what. Harry had written something he wanted Ayn to read, and he'd asked her if she'd gotten around to it. She said that she was having trouble managing to read anything except mystery novels. (This was in the years after her operation; she was tired.) Then she added: "I know that I'm evading, but at least I'm conscious that I'm doing it, so it's not as bad." HELLO? But... Isn't "evasion" supposed to require being conscious that one is "putting out of one's thoughts something one clearly or dimly knows one should be thinking of" (there I'm quoting AB's formulation of the definition)? But her statement implies: (1) that there could be, in her view, NON-conscious "evasion"; and (2) that non-conscious "evasion" would be worse morally than conscious "evasion."

So, puzzlement: Did Harry get right what she said? (I feel sure that Evan correctly reported what Harry said, since Evan was very meticulous about getting remarks he quoted exact -- or specifying that he didn't remember precisely if he didn't.)

Ellen

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On pp. 74-75 of PARC, Valliant writes:

-- START quote

In many of these cases [of breakings-off from Rand], it is clear that profound intellectual differences were emerging between Rand and the person involved, if it is not entirely clear that those differences were the proximate cause of the split with Rand.

For example, Henry Holzer [...; I have no knowledge of the details regarding Holzer, so I skip that. But he continues:]

Allan Blumenthal, a psychiatrist, has asserted that literally "all of Objectivism" was the product of Rand's efforts to cope with her own psychology. He thus appears to have endorsed a form of psychological determinism -- entirely rejecting, it seems, the possibility of objective cognition, a rather fundamental tenet of Objectivism.

--END quote

Valliant cites as the source (footnote 54) pg. 247 of Walker's book. Does anyone here have that book? I'm curious as to exactly what Walker quotes Allan as having said, since the reported quote, as rendered, is nothing I can imagine Allan ever saying. (Maybe he said that AR's ideas specifically on psychology were a projection of her own psychology; that could be plausible. But unless Allan transmogrified into a different person in the years since I knew him -- i.e., since 1980, granted, a quarter century -- the very idea that Allan ever endorsed any form of "psychological determinism" is bizarre.)

Ellen

PS to Valliant, if he's still reading this website: In case your book sees a second printing, you have the year wrong in footnote 36 on pg. 398.

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pp. 75-76, PARC:

--START quote

In the 1970s the Smiths produced an off-Broadway revival of Rand's play, Penthouse Legend. [...] Kay Nolte Smith and her husband [...], in an act exhibiting unbelievably reckless judgment, changed the dialogue in their production of [the play] without authorization from Rand. [Again, his reference for this is Walker's book.] In such an instance of systematic and personal betrayal, a break was at least understandably in order, simply on the basis of their callous indifference to Rand's personal history [the history of her battles to have her work performed precisely as she wrote it], if not to her artistic integrity.

--END quote

Does anyone know what the changes were? I attended the production, but I didn't notice whatever they were. Did the Smiths shorten a scene or scenes for reasons of length? Did they change a line or lines which seemed to them dated? Or some other minor editing? I have trouble believing that either Kay or Philip (I knew both of them) would have made any changes which they thought for a minute Rand might be upset by. But the "systematic...betrayal" makes it sound as if the changes were extensive and ones which altered the character of the play. As to the description "callous indifference," I doubt that either of the Smiths would have displayed that to anyone -- "indifference" to some people, sure; but "callous indifference," no, as I thought both of them kindhearted of disposition.

Is Philip still alive?

Ellen

[Edit: I just noticed that Phil Coates is suffering from the flu, but I assume that he's still alive.]

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Ellen,

I took MSK's advice and read Sciabarra's Notablog review of PARC. In Sciabarra's rejoinder (http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sciabarra/nota...ves/000641.html) to Valliant's reply in the comments section, he quotes Walker's book and offers comments:

-----

Valliant admits to using unnamed anonymous sources to corroborate Walker's claims with regard to the break between Kay Nolte Smith and Ayn Rand because Walker is "the only published source" on the subject. Valliant is right that Walker did not invent these claims. But a comparison between Walker's exposition and Valliant's exposition is instructive.

In his discussion of the Rand-Smith break, Valliant (2005, 400 n. 57) cites page 35 of Walker's book. In part, here is what Walker says:

"Kay Nolte Smith was excommunicated in the mid-1970s for making unauthorized changes to ~a few lines of dialogue~ for a public performance of Rand's play PENTHOUSE LEGEND (NIGHT OF JANUARY 16TH). [in an interview with Walker,] Smith concedes she shouldn't have done so but insists it was not a big deal. ~For that one mistake~ she was drummed out, 15 years of prior devoted association notwithstanding" (~ indicates ~emphasis added~)

Here's Valliant's rendering of the story, on pages 75-76 of his book:

"In the 1970s the Smiths produced an off-Broadway revival of Rand's play, PENTHOUSE LEGEND. When the play had been originally produced under the title, NIGHT OF JANUARY 16TH, about forty years previously, Rand had waged a difficult battle to keep her dialogue intact. This history was well known to the Smiths. ... Such a famous reputation might be counted on to provide caution to those who would take liberties with this author's text. Not so with Kay Nolte Smith and her husband, who, ~in an act exhibiting unbelievably reckless judgment~, changed the dialogue in their production of PENTHOUSE LEGEND without authorization from Rand. In such ~an instance of systematic and personal betrayal~, a break was at least understandably in order, simply on the basis of their callous indifference to Rand's personal history, if not to her artistic integrity" (~emphasis added~).

We have gone from "that one mistake" of changing "a few lines of dialogue" in Walker's rendering to "an instance of systematic and personal betrayal" in Valliant's rendering. Now, unless Valliant has other information from ~his~ anonymous sources that would provide us with a whole litany of other instances, which would add up to "systematic and personal betrayal," I'm at a loss as to how he reached that conclusion.

-----

J

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Then she added: "I know that I'm evading, but at least I'm conscious that I'm doing it, so it's not as bad."

Ellen, Marsha and I heard this exchange as it happened. We were quite struck by it.

John

Gasp of pleased astonishment: So all this while I've wondered if she really said that, you and Marsha were witnesses!! Wow. Thanks for telling me. (I'm reminded of an Agatha Christie mystery wherein Jane Marple finally solves it after thinking of asking the right person, someone who just happens to know a detail of information needed to explain the motive for a seemingly motiveless crime.)

Good to "see" you, if only in listland, John. And please say hi to Marsha for me.

Ellen

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> I just noticed that Phil Coates is suffering from the flu, but I assume that he's still alive [Ellen]

No. I just passed away - the rumors of my death have been greatly understated.

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> Then she added: "I know that I'm evading, but at least I'm conscious that I'm doing it, so it's not as bad."

This is what's known as whimsy or sly humor. Sort of like, but not quite the same as when she referred repeatedly, semi-disparagingly to "Objectivist bromides" in her fiction? or non-fiction? tapes (I forget which...I heard them unedited.)

[semi-disparaging in the sense that she didn't want them taken as floating abstractions or she wanted people to move beyond parotting them to more original thinking, if I recall the contexts correctly.]

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Receiving confirmation (from John Enright, a source I trust) after all these years that Harry Binswanger reported accurately a comment he said AR made about evasion has tipped the balance in regard to my repeating something else Harry said he was told by AR. I've debated about telling this but always decided against -- I've never before repeated it to anyone -- because I've always wondered if Harry might have made it up (perhaps in the belief that he was doing AR a service). Again, I got this during the late '70s at second remove from Evan Picoult. Harry told Evan that he once asked AR herself, straight out, the question left begging by Nathaniel's response to "To Whom It May Concern": Had she and Nathaniel had an affair? According to Harry's account, she replied, "No, and he wasn't my type." I.e., instead of becoming angry with Harry for even asking such a question (as Hessen said she did with someone else in another incident -- that incident during the Q and A period after one of LP's lectures), she answered directly, in the negative.

I can understand why she would have lied (assuming she did) in response to being queried outright regarding her relationship with Nathaniel by a fairly close associate (Harry was part of what in those days was often called "The Second Inner Circle"), but only on the supposition that it was important to her that the truth be kept secret -- as both of the Brandens have said it was.

Ellen

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> Then she added: "I know that I'm evading, but at least I'm conscious that I'm doing it, so it's not as bad."

This is what's known as whimsy or sly humor [says Phil].

I don't think so, Phil. That sure ain't the way -- as something whimsical -- it was reported.

Ellen

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Phil, it didn't sound whimsical. It sounded like an apology. It sounded like self-reproach.

Phil, I asked Marsha, too. She says: "No. She was guilty."

By the way, Ellen, it's spooky you mention Miss Marple. Rand told him that whatever he'd written was sitting on her desk or something, but that all she could do lately was read mystery novels.

We think this was after Frank had died.

Ellen, Marsha says hi!

As for the "no and he's not my type," Ellen, I've been telling people for years that I heard her say that. As, here:

http://john-j-enright.livejournal.com/146232.html

John

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John:

By the way, Ellen, it's spooky you mention Miss Marple.  Rand told him that whatever he'd written was sitting on her desk or something, but that all she could do lately was read mystery novels.

Yeah, Evan also said Harry'd told him that.

We think this was after Frank had died.

At what event, though? When would you have seen her after Frank died? (I forget when you two moved to Chicago.) Frank died November 9, 1979. The time when Evan told me the tale had to have either been in late '79 or (I now realize, adding up the bits and pieces) in 1980. I was taking one of the pair of courses which were the first set Allan gave when he and Joan returned from an abortive move to Palm Springs after they split with AR. I was mostly living in Philadelphia by then (though I didn't completely close down my apartment in Brooklyn till the end of 1980), and what I usually did was to take a late train to Philly after one of the class sessions. But the night when Evan told me the Harry stories, I'd stayed over in New York at his place and we talked till the very wee hours (the sun already rising before we got a bit of sleep). He'd been reading the Frank Sulloway biography of Freud, Freud, Biologist of the Mind, I think it's called, much of which I'd also read. He was very struck by the similarities between Freud's ways of acting with his close associates (and the consequent attrition of those associates) and Rand's, and we got going for a long time on the comparisons. But among other topics were those two quotes he reported from Harry, the one about evasion and the other about Harry's questioning AR re NB.

Could both of those have occurred at the Ford Hall Forum? I thought that the evasion question was at a lecture Leonard was giving, and that the NB question was something Harry said he'd asked her privately. But now you tell me -- you're a goldmine, John ;-) -- that someone asked her at the Forum and she made the "not my type" reply there. Was this a separate incident of the same reply, or was that when Harry asked her? (I don't think it would make sense for Harry to have asked her in public, unless that was set up in advance.)

Ellen, Marsha says hi!

Hi again, Marsha!

Ellen

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Ellen,

At this point I'm not sure of the event. We did used to do all her Ford Hall Forum appearances. We left New York in May of 1980. After all these years it is possible that I have some of the setting wrong, but I think I would remember if Harry had asked that question. I recall being surprised that the question was asked, and I half-expected her to blow up, but she didn't, and she got a laugh from the people listening with her smart-alecky reply, and I completely believed her. I cannot swear it was during Q&A, but I would swear it was not a private conversation. There were people listening, and they went hush at the question, at least that's how I recall it. So it must have been Q&A or one of those little crowds that would gather around her.

It looks to me like Leonard P. did his Objective Communication lectures in 1980, but I don't know what months, and I don't remember it specifically.

John

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"Ms. Marple," otherwise known as ES, has become definitely curious about the timing in John's and Marsha's and my respective remembrances.

At this point I'm not sure of the event.  We did used to do all her Ford Hall Forum appearances.  We left New York in May of 1980.  After all these years it is possible that I have some of the setting wrong, but I think I would remember if Harry had asked that question [meaning the "had AR and NB had an affair?" question].

I suppose I'll have to try to ascertain the dates of FHF appearances. I don't think they were in deep winter, and since Frank died 11/9/79, if you and Marsha left NYC in May '80 and if you heard the "evasion" remark at FHF before then, it would have had to have been in spring of '80 (if it was after Frank's death) -- or it could have been during LP's Objective Communication lectures, which you say you think were done in 1980. Thus you might have heard at least some of those before you left.

I recall being surprised that the [affair] question was asked, and I half-expected her to blow up, but she didn't, and she got a laugh from the people listening with her smart-alecky reply, and I completely believed her.

Well...I sure wouldn't have if I'd heard her, since I suspected something romantic between the two of them before I even saw the two of them together (the one time I did see the two of them together) at her McCormack (or is it MacCormack?) Place speech in late '63. A detail of Valliant's book which I chuckle at as being (perversely) correct is his remark on page 139: "Some secret." And I thought that AR had announced the "secret" to the whole world with "To Whom It May Concern" -- which, as it happened, I read while it was in process of being typed. I'd arrived in NYC from the Midwest just about a week before then and had happened to meet the typesetter, and she'd invited me to keep her company while she was typing the document. It wasn't until the last week of November of that year when (through a chance encounter) I was introduced to a group of AR's admirers that I learned that most of them didn't see the subtext which I'd thought was obvious.

Reading PARC is reawakening all those memories, most of the details of which I haven't thought about for a long while. I suppose that exact dates for some of my memories might be of use for the historical record -- if I can dredge up those dates.

(Meanwhile, I won't be home for most of the next two days and probably won't have time to check for listposts till Monday. Have a good weekend, all.)

Ellen

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Ellen writes:

since I suspected something romantic between the two of them [AR/NB] before I even saw the two of them together

Ellen, you are a veritable Miss Marple.

I never saw them together. I came into this scene just after their break, as a 17 year old trying to make sense of the smash-up. Here was my mistaken premise: she would have the wisdom to foresee that such a relationship would take a bad turn.

Why did I think this? Well, my own thought was that the age and status disparity would put her in charge of the relationship in a big way, and that this would interfere, long term, with her ability to feel worshipful the way she obviously needed to.

And, from his point of view, I thought such a relationship would be very wearing because he would end up drenched in criticism rather than basking in high regard from an appreciative woman. From his articles on romantic love, I rather got the idea that he wanted the latter.

So the funny thing, reading Barbara's book, was how well the relationship tracked to my nightmare vision of how such an affair might turn out.

John

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Jesus, John, you had sophisticated insight into sexual and romantic relationships at that age! At 17 I still wasn't even quite sure what organ went in which orifice :-) --Phil

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