The uselessness of PARC


Dragonfly

Recommended Posts

One point that I haven't seen mentioned in the discussions of PARC is the uselessness of it. It's apparently meant to restore the god status of Rand by trying to smear Barbara, calling her a liar etc. After all that's a rather dumb move. It may convince some randroids or protorandroids, but on many other people it will have the opposite effect. The point is that PAR isn't the only source on Rand's life, even if it's the most systematic and comprehensive source. I finally read Walkers The Ayn Rand Cult, which I'd never wanted to read while I heard that it was so biased and negative. But irritated by the idiotic rants against PAR and the Brandens I decided to buy it, and I must say that it's much better than I'd thought. Sure, Walker has a rather low opinion of Rand, and that may be hard to swallow for her admirers, but he gives also a lot of good information. What me struck is how completely it confirms the image I'd got from PAR, and that on the basis of a lot of different sources, many of them coming from the inner circle of Rand (Allen and Joan Blumenthal, Hank and Erika Holzer, Philip Smith, Kay Nolte Smith, Robert Hessen, Joan Kennedy Taylor, Edith Efron). Many of them, who were very close to Rand for a long time, turn out to be much more negative and harsh about Rand than Barbara, who in comparison is very mild. No doubt Rand's valiant defenders will suggest that they're all liars, but I think it's then time to take Occam's razor and conclude that the evidence that Rand was far from god-like is overwhelming. In fact, the more I read about Rand, the less I like her, for which I may thank her valiant defenders. So the whole exercise of PARC is futile and in fact counterproductive, it will direct outsiders only to the other evidence which gives a much less flattering image of Rand than PAR.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 52
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Useless...counterproductive...I completely agree, Dragonfly.

Earlier today, I posted the following on RoR and, to my great surprise, I have received (so far) 40 Atlas points for it, way more than anyone else except the first poster. [update: 51 Atlas points as mid-afternoon on May 31. I'm still shaking my head.] Here is what I wrote that seems to have struck a nerve with a number of readers:

I have read PARC twice. The first time, I tentatively concluded that it was a piece of garbage. The second time, I confirmed my earlier impression. Nothing I have read on any of the discussion boards since has convinced me otherwise.  

As some have pointed out, the actual effect of PARC on Ayn Rand's legacy and the spread of Objectivism is likely to be the opposite of the intent of its author and his supporters. But PARC is just one symptom of the mismanagement of Rand's estate, which has to be laid squarely at the feet of Leonard Peikoff, her executor.

If I were inclined to be overly protective of the reputation and image of the Goddess (Ayn Rand), I would have discouraged, not provided materials for, the writing of this book. So, obviously Peikoff does not care about how Rand is going to look to the general public or newcomers to Objectivism. If I were inclined to honor Rand's wishes about her writings, I would have donated them all to the Library of Congress for all scholars to study and use in their writings, not let them ooze out in carefully selected snibbets for use in "insider" books. But it appears that Peikoff really doesn't care about Rand's wishes either. So, Leonard Peikoff's role in PARC deserves a round of boo-hiss for its dishonorable, destructive results.

REB

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dragonfly, although I agree with the sentiment of your post, I'm surprised by your saying that you haven't seen the "uselessness"of PARC -- from the perspective of what JV says he was trying to accomplish -- mentioned. Several people who have read the book (including Robert Campbell, Barbara, myself, Roger, MSK, and others) have said in one form or another all along that they think the book will ultimately "boomerang" from the standpoint of the author's hopes for it.

Ellen

___

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ellen, it's true that I remember having read remarks that it will backfire, but as far as I remember (which may not be very far, I'll admit) this was mainly based on Rand's diary entries and her handling of the 'affair'. But I was thinking more of the general picture that you get from PAR and that V. tries to discredit by such silly nitpicking like the story how Rand got her name (which BTW may turn out to be evidence that Rand herself was a liar), while there are tons of evidence that if there was anything wrong with Barbara's book, it was that it gave a too rosy picture of Rand. By trying to destroy the credibility of PAR V. creates a dichotomy: either Rand was a mythical god-like figure or she was a raving lunatic. While some immature young people may be attracted to the first option, most independently thinking people will conclude that the latter must be true. If this all has been said before, I must have missed it, but there has already been written so much about it...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dragonfly, I see what you mean, and I agree with you that JV paints a "false dichotomy" (borrowing official-O'ist lingo). I think you're right that the thrust of most of the remarks prognosticating the book's eventual backfiring have been addressed to Rand's entries rather than to the substance of Part I. Although I've several times indicated that I think JV's reasoning is very poor, and several others (Charles Anderson, Rodney Rawlings, MSK, REB, Robert Campbell, and most extensively Jordan Zimmerman in his database) have also commented on the overarching logical flaws, as best I recall no one thus far has done a thorough review of why the whole approach goes wrong. Seeing various people describe Valliant's case as "logical," etc., irritates me enough I periodically entertain the thought of writing a review myself, but I doubt I'll end up wanting to spend the time it would need to perform so tedious a chore.

Ellen

___

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Seeing various people describe Valliant's case as "logical," etc., irritates me enough I periodically entertain the thought of writing a review myself, but I doubt I'll end up wanting to spend the time it would need to perform so tedious a chore.

Ellen,

This is precisely my dilemma. As a matter of fact, I have a review sketched out. When I start working, though, I get really, really, really bored. Commenting on the rhetoric in PARC is like shooting ducks in a barrel. The first couple of dozen are OK, but when there are gazillions of them and you have to do the same thing over and over, you start wondering if you are using the precious minutes and hours of your life in the best manner.

I think the reason some people find it "rational" is that they have a preconceived opinion of Rand and the Brandens and they long for "proof." PARC doesn't fit the bill logic-wise, but it does seem like it with the lawyer language and it is repetitive ad nauseam.

That's good enough.

This reminds me of a friend I once had in Brazil who went to Russia to study at the Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory on a full scholarship. When he returned, singing the praises of communism, I mentioned the difficulty people had of getting out - that they had no choice. He then said that anyone could leave. They just had to pay the state back for the expense of taking care of them ever since they were born and they could leave.

He was grateful for his free education, so anything that sounded halfway logical to justify it was OK by him.

I see this same mentality in PARC promoters.

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As the author of a PARC review, I can tell you it was an excruciating experience. But, I strongly encourage everyone to do it if they can. The more widespread and varied the debunking of it, the better for the community.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I periodically entertain the thought of writing a review myself [ . . . ]

I wish you would do more than entertain the thought, Ellen. I figure you enjoy your observations, your depth of perception, and especially enjoy a fox-hunt of analysis and conclusion -- don't you figure you would enjoy the review process and its fruition?

We all seem to want synthesis and culling of the varied threads of critique -- I believe you could do us up a bracing synoptic.

-- the better, even-tempered reviews have engendered some rational response from the reviewee, even extended dialogues --as with the La Chibarra review, which drew considerable Vallliantero entailments once Notablog comments were closed. So, only good could come of your application of skill and tact, Ellen . . .

: )

My reading of El Glorioso Valliantero online stalls at the authorial style. The haranguing, indicting tone, the confirmation bias, the Crown/Judge/Executioner hectoring -- this is unappealing to begin with. The very genre is unappealing.

I resist buying this book because it smells stale and a bit hysterical, because it took so long to write, because it's been over-sold by too many one-eyed flacks for too many months now (I find the very fact that El GV himself has been flacking nonstop online odd and unseemly -- verging on kookish: what the hell other author spends as much time flacking an opus online with anything like the tenacity of El GV and his Claquitos?).

Does a good book need such shilling? Is this minor ick factor not apparent to the actors of this masque?

I am coming to believe that those deeply immersed in O-ist psychodrama don't really appreciate how awful it sometimes looks from offshore.

I think all you need do, Ellen -- distill the best critiques, sip, savour, and then craft a jewelbox of a brief.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

WSS, your comments are flattering. But you leave out of account (a) my age (63) and yen for further exploring many realms of thought "before I sleep"; and (b) the limitations posed by my state of health. I really hope that someone else will do the honors of "craft[ing] a jewelbox of a brief."

Regards,

Ellen

___

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I really hope that someone else will do the honors of "craft[ing] a jewelbox of a brief."

Regards,

Ellen

___

Ellen, if you ever see that article, could you notify me?

I just checked out PARC via interlibrary loan, and they're letting me have it

for only eight days. I've read some of the journal stuff near the end, portraying

the lead-up to the breakup. If shows NB treating AR very badly, deceptively.

It shows AR being far more patient with him than most people would ever be.

All exactly what one would expect given BB's and NB's own accounts of the

matter. It also says NB was a power-luster, and that's consistent with his

own book _Judgement_Day_, which says he liked to keep NBI students

fearful of him. People who remember the NBI days say they were terrified

of being classed as a "social metaphysician". No great surprises here, but

it's interesting to see AR's journal entries.

So far I've read only a small portion of the early part on BB's biography.

It says BB wrote that AR "never once" did thus-and-so and two pages

later gushing about how beatifully AR did thus and so, and alternating

back and forth between those two positions. Clearly that would make BB's

biography contradictory, but would it make it dishonest? I'd have expected

a dishonest person to at least _try_ to lie consistently. Could it be that

Valliant, as a ruthless prosecutor, is being just as hard on BB as on her

former husband for the purpose of provoking her into further indicting him

by defending herself? -- Mike Hardy

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Mike Hardy wrote:

[Valliant's books says BB wrote that AR "never once" did thus-and-so and two pages later [bB is] gushing about how beatifully AR did thus and so, and alternating back and forth between those two positions. Clearly that would make BB's biography contradictory, but would it make it dishonest?

I've read Barbara Branden's book several times. I don't agree that her biography is contradictory. My perspective is, Barbara is saying that Ayn Rand often behaved in contradictory ways.

One issue: that Rand, even when her name was Rosenbaum, disliked physical exercise. Barbara later describes how the young Alice (the future Ayn) liked hiking up mountains. I do not see that as a contradiction. The first case activity was calisthenics, which are repetitious; these exercises were required of her by her mother, whom she did not like. The second activity was something of Alice's [Ayn's] own choosing.

This example is not a contradiction.

As for contradictory behaviours, I will draw an example from one of the great Americans of the Revolutionary generation: Thomas Jefferson. Every American knows {or should know} that Mr. Jefferson wrote: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

This is certainly consistent with statements made by Howard Roark and John Galt.

The record will show that the same Mr. Jefferson who wrote these words also owned slaves -- and perhaps never recognised the contradiction between the two facts.

Another historical example is the Jenghiz Khan. Was the Khan a great man, or a monster? History suggests that he was both, and that both qualities came from the same source.

If the Khan promised you that he considered you his brother, and would reward your loyalty — then he did. If he promisd you that he would destroy you, and your family, and make you wish you'd never been born — he did that, too.

Both of these conflicting sides were the result of the Khan's sense of machismo and honour.

Many of Ayn Rand's contradictions may well have risen from her idealism: this led her to feel uncomfortable at the hero-worship and disciple-like behaviour of Frank Lloyd Wright's students (because she meant what she said about valuing independent thinking) AND to later have such disciple-like followers around her (because she was convinced she was always right.)

Now let me step down from the soap box, and ask Mike, or anyone else having read Valliant's book in detail: can you name specific cases of what Valliant claims to be Barbara's contradictions? From then, we can determine whether these are actually contradictions (statements that cannot both be true) or, alternately, something else.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

I just read a very interesting post about PARC and Frank's O'Connor's drinking here. The poster is Michelle Cohen. Before continuing, let me say that I have no personal beef with Ms. Cohen. I do have some major disagreements.

Her post is a perfect example of how facts get distorted by people who become emotionally impacted by PARC. I do not believe that Ms. Cohen's error was on purpose - I believe she made an honest mistake by not checking facts to see if they are correct. I also think her error was due to the emotional feeling of certainty people allow themselves to hold when they let another do their thinking and checking for them. In this case, the idea is that if one believes all the statements in PARC are true, then one does not have to check any further when looking at similar issues not discussed in PARC - just repeating what they read is enough to make value judgments.

Ms. Cohen was discussing the effect PARC had on her, resulting in her decision to withdraw from attending and being a lecturer at a TOC (now TAS) Seminar because Nathaniel Branden was also giving a talk at the time.

In addition, one of my two planned talks was about the novels of Kay Nolte Smith. I used to downplay the claim that her "Elegy for a Soprano" was a roman-a-clef about Rand. Reading PARC, I realized the extent to which Mrs. Branden's account of Frank's alcoholism was unreliable, and what it meant about "Elegy," where the protagonist's husband is an alcoholic. (I do wonder what Kay Smith would have said about PARC. She passed away in 1993, and unfortunately will not be able to retract "Elegy.")

I once read somewhere a statement by Ms. Cohen that she had no intention of ever reading OL. That being the case, she obviously missed Barbara's disclosure of her main sources for Frank's drinking - including sources who were not mentioned in The Passion of Ayn Rand, but sources who provided tape recordings and signed statements. This is presented in a post called "Frank O’Connor’s drinking" in the PARC Fallacies thread here on OL and perfectly refutes the biased claims and insinuations presented in PARC.

However, there is a much more serious breach of facts. Elegy for a Soprano was published in September 1985 by Random House. I don't know how long it took Kay Nolte Smith to write it, but I think speculating one year minimum for drawing up the characters and their basic characteristics is more than fair. Thus she would have decided on an alcoholic husband in 1984 or earlier.

The Passion of Ayn Rand was published in 1986 by Doubleday. It is impossible for Kay Nolte Smith to have read it and been influenced by it before writing Elegy for a Soprano, as was insinuated by Ms. Cohen. Her further insinuation - that Ms. Smith would have wanted to retract a part of some of her best artistic work - is an insult to Ms. Smith's memory.

If this is an honest error, it should be corrected, especially in light of Ms. Cohen's reputation for seriousness. If it is not (and I do not believe it is), there is no excuse for it.

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

It appears that Daniel Barnes is now reading PARC and commenting on it at his Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature Blog. What is interesting is that he is a Rand critic who used to post on the old SoloHQ. His perspective is one that was always critical of Rand without reference to the Branden books. He read Rand's works instead and those are where he found (and finds) his objections.

On the blog, he calls his PARC criticism "The Virtue of Sycophancy" and numbers the entries. In the very first one, after reading about halfway through the book, he couldn't stand the hypocritical style anymore without commenting. This is the book's most obvious on-the-surface drawback and one of my own main objections to it. The mentality of a person who writes a book like that is essentially manipulative and dishonest - the "getting off on a technicality" type dishonest. This was glaringly evident even to a person who (from what I know of him) would vastly prefer to focus on the juicy parts about Rand. Daniel wrote:

Valliant manfully tries to establish his objectivity in the introduction:

"I had no illusions that Rand could be without fault or flaw. We will see that Rand herself admitted to being mistaken about something (or someone) on more than one occasion, and even her staunchest defenders have admitted that Rand's anger could sometimes be unjust."(5)

Now I admit I am halfway through, but so far Valliant's self-restraint hasn't lasted further than that paragraph. There is nothing that Rand does wrong that Valliant does not bend over backwards to defend from every angle conceivable - plus several inconceivable ones for good measure. In contrast, there is nothing that the Brandens can do right. Apparently, if Rand cheats on her husband Frank with Nathaniel, that's because she and Frank are intellectual and moral 'giants', whose revolutionary ethical system is obviously far too advanced for the mediocre and irrational society they found themselves living in. On the other hand, if Branden cheats on Rand with his bit of crumpet, that's because he has 'the soul of a rapist'!

This is what I called "Argument by Repetition" and I discussed that in PARC Fallacies in the post called Rhetorical Method: Argument by Repetition. The technique basically consists of giving a short statement at the beginning of a long section (like a book). You say the exact opposite of what you really want to say so you can give the impression of objectivity (cover your hind end). From then on you endlessly and tediously repeat your point, even in places that obviously have nothing to do with it. You never mention the original point anymore. When people call you on it, you point to the original statement and say you are not really biased. You "get off on a technicality." This would have be a subtle form of dishonesty toward the reader if Valliant had not been so plodding and pedantic. But subtle or glaringly blatant like in this case, it is just as despicable as any other form of rhetoric intended to mislead.

It is amusing to see this being noticed in the hands of someone like Daniel. Objectivists have accused Daniel of many things, but lack of thoroughness is not one of them. The guy always does the donkey work with big books and does not fake it (one of the qualities I admire in him). He states:

You really can't make this sort of thing up. Anyway, if I come across any examples where Rand does something wrong - no matter how trivial - and Valliant doesn't mount a weirdly elaborate defence of it, then I'll post it.

I have no doubt he will, too, if for no other reason than to say, "Finally here is one!" But I don't think we need to hold our breaths. (I have read the entire book and I certainly don't remember anything.)

In the second entry of the series, Daniel concentrates on Valliant's fawning over Rand. This criticism will not impress Objectivists who love Rand as much as it will those who are against her. I even felt confused for a second before it dawned on me that Daniel is a harsh Rand critic. I certainly don't find those parts objectionable like he does. (I do admit that Rand's "I'm too much for him" comment shows her blind resistance to looking at her own life critically.)

But in the third of the series, he strikes the most ominous note from Rand's actual critics - you know, the real-life ones out there in reality who can't stand her, not the ones in the Objectivist subculture who still love her:

... there remain things that, try as we might, defy even our best efforts to read with a straight face. Such is James Valliant's "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics". It's not every day we get to read a book as gloriously cracked as this one - in fact we confidently predict Valliant's vast apparatchik tome will do more to enhance Objectivism's cult-like reputation than anything her critics could come up with.

I have no doubt he will be merciless in finding Rand's own words to back up his claims. And I fear that this will be the mere tip of the iceberg PARC-wise in what will follow from those opposed to Objectivism. Greg Nyquist participates on this site and, from what I have seen on the Internet, he is in touch with many people in the anti-Objectivism contingent. Despite their bias, some of these people are extremely intelligent.

All I can do is sit back and watch the forthcoming onslaught against Rand and Objectivism that will mercilessly use PARC as the main reference for proof, defend the truths in Objectivism as best I can by my own approach of checking all premises, and say to the ARI crowd, "Brothers, you asked for it!"

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The primary purpose of PARC was to drive a stake in the turf for James Valliant, author. That supersedes his explanation of the "why," which I have never thought of as more than a hokey construct. I'm far from sure that he has the self-honesty to admit that he wants to make a name for himself; so far anyway he has not acknowledged what I find to be utterly obvious, due to the way the book was put together, and what he's off writing next. And there's nothing wrong with that, other than the fact that he continues to say he did it to balance out things. If Objectivists want to get the raw deal, all that needed done was to publish the complete archive. We didn't need a pedantic lawyer to walk us through, wearing his glasses, his personal motivations.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All I can do is sit back and watch the forthcoming onslaught against Rand and Objectivism that will mercilessly use PARC as the main reference for proof, defend the truths in Objectivism as best I can by my own approach of checking all premises, and say to the ARI crowd, "Brothers, you asked for it!"

Let's be honest, the only position which is truly vulnerable to such attacks is that of LP and his ARI minons. Rand is dead, and her work is judged on its own merits, by the rational, despite whatever flaws she presented in her life and personal thinking. Just as the validity of her political propositions can't be reduced to her utterance that she would never vote for a woman president, the fact, value, and consequences drawn from the axiom that existence exists, for example, is not in any way shape or form held to task by Rand's ridiculously pained utterances such as, "I want to stress this: I was and am too much for him. This is my full conviction, reached with the full power, logic, clarity and context of my mind..." (If only she could have faced the truth that she was just too OLD for him). Such hyperbolic, and *highly* rationalistic attempts at finger-pointing are the HALLMARKS of relationships gone bad, and anyone who can't see such unrealistic biases working in nearly all human beings during moments of intense pain or disappointment is living on Mars.

LP wants to "own" the soul of Ayn Rand? Of "Objectivism"?! Let him have it; surely the sputtering spectical of watching him try to keep the engine from running off the tracks, will be more instructive than any fictional account could be.

Remember, Dagny's error was to place the value of the unbroken line above the value of herself...

RCR

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dragonfly,

Let’s see if I got this right: You decided to read Jeff Walker’s “The cult of Ayn Rand” in some sort of retaliatory counterbalance to PARC--a book that worships Rand. It’s nice to know you have a clashing equilibrium in life, so as to divide poles. I wore white clothing today and tomorrow I’m wearing all black. ;)

Victor

Edited by Victor Pross
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Victor,

I didn't see Walker's book referenced in Dragonfly's posts in the "Links" thread. I have read PARC, though, and curiously enough, it is one of Valliant's most widely cited reference works. He leaned heavily on The Ayn Rand Cult instead of doing his own first-hand research for a great many of the issues he discussed in the first half of PARC.

I read The Ayn Rand Cult, too. I find it unfortunate that Walker had such a spiteful agenda because, next to Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical by Chris Sciabarra, it is one of the best researched books on Objectivism written so far. The list of sources is a dream-list for anyone seriously interested in Objectivism.

Michael

Edit - I found the reference to Walker's book later, in the opening post on this very thread, so I was wrong above about Dragonfly not referencing it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Victor,

This kind of oversimplification is not good for combating a book like The Ayn Rand Cult. It is not merely "so bad, pure junk." That's its problem. It is a mixture.

Jeff Walker wedded a group of highly uneven elements together in this book. The first is first-rate research (just ask Valliant, who used it plenty). Then he added some fascinating insights, like the influence of 1920s business theorists (Charles Fay, Ben Hooper, Feather, and Thorpe) on Rand's thinking, or the spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers Rand knew in the 40s, John Gall, and things of that nature, lots of juicy National Enquirer type gossip (the bad), and just plain inaccuracies (the junk). He was incredibly thorough, though. I think he was trying for his own Watergate-type exposé as a journalist and dreamed of the glories he would reap by taking someone famous down. (Sort of like what Valliant dreams about with the Brandens.)

You will find some discussion of this book here on OL here (and following) and here (and following).

Someday if that book were ever revised with the junk taken out, the gossip minimized and the use of the sources rechecked (Walker was incredibly sloppy and misleading on a few occasions), I have no doubt it would be an extremely valuable as an Objectivism resource. As it stands, it can still be read very profitably if read with your bias and BS filters on.

By biggest complaint about the book, outside of the spiteful bias against Rand, is that the chapters appear to have been written by different people. I have no doubt a lot of the text was contributed by different research assistants.

btw - I just reread Dragonfly's original post where he referenced Walker's book. Sorry I said he didn't earlier.

Michael

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The point of my reference to Walker's book was that, while Walker's opinion about Rand may be completely different from Barbara's viewpoint, his book only confirms what Barbara has written about Rand and thereby refutes Valliant's fairy tale. And as I said before: Objectivists can hardly complain about a harsh treatment of Rand if they accept everything Rand wrote, for example telling us that Kant was "the most evil person in history" or that Emerson was "a very little mind". Were those judgements fair? Small wonder that she gets a taste of her own medicine. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Michael,

If you note where most of the quotations in Daniel Barnes' second installment

http://aynrandcontrahumannature.blogspot.c...cophancy-2.html

actually come from in Mr. Valliant's book, they are expressions of effusive praise for Ayn Rand's philosophico-psychological diagnoses of Nathaniel Branden.

Jim Valliant would have done much better by Rand had he excused the "diagnoses" by reminding the reader that she was being lied to.

Robert

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now