Objectivism and Rage


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Objectivism and Rage

by Barbara Branden

A lecture presented at the TAS 2006 Summer Seminar, July 4, 2006, Chapman University, Orange, CA

One cannot avoid recognizing that we live in a very angry age. At one time, people spoke to “My worthy opponent” when addressing someone who disagreed with their views. That attitude of respecting differences has long disappeared. Today, in discussions of politics, of religion, of environmentalism, of war and peace, of abortion—of all the issues that concern and often divide us—we hear little but raised voices and enraged insults coming from all sides of every issue. Speak to an opponent of the Iraq war and suggest that it might have been a good idea—and a torrent of abuse washes over you. Say that Israel is morally superior to the Palestinians—and statistics about Israel’s supposed “atrocities” of the last 2,000 years fly furiously at your head. Say a kind word about George W. Bush—and you had better take to the hills at once.

Objectivists are by no means immune to this rage. On the contrary, I find it to be increasingly prevalent among Objectivists. We see everywhere—particularly on the Internet—the spectacle of supposed supporters of reason and free inquiry erupting in fury at the least provocation and hurling abuse at anyone who opposes—even questions—their convictions.

But what I call “Objectivist Rage” has a peculiar twist to it, unlikely to be found anywhere else except, paradoxically, in religion. It is almost always morally tinged. Those who question our ideas and those who oppose them, we are told, are not merely unintelligent, ignorant, uninformed; they are evil, they are moral monsters to be cast out and forever damned.

And that is what I want to discuss today: the immensely presumptuous moralizing, the wildly unjust condemnations, and the towering anger and outrage exhibited by so many Objectivists. I want to explain, as best I can identify it, why this happens—that is, what are the mistaken philosophical ideas that lead to it, and what appears to be the psychology of many of its practitioners. If we are to defend ourselves against it and prevent it from contaminating our own dealings with others, our first requirement is to understand it.

Let me say that I have found The Objectivist Center [now The Atlas Society] to be a significant exception to Objectivist rage, certainly an exception as regards its official policy. Although I have also found that by no means are all TOC members immune to it. And I am certain that many, perhaps most of you, have at one time or another had this sort of injustice very painfully directed against you. I am especially concerned with young people, new to Objectivism, who find themselves angrily accused of heresy, of evasion, of being “enemies of Objectivism” and therefore “evil” because they do not understand certain Objectivist ideas and/or because they disagree with them. Terrible damage is done to young people by this means. I have seen so many instances in which newcomers to Objectivism become rigid, fearful true believers in order to escape censure—or else they are driven away to lick their wounds in hurt and bewilderment. And sadly, often the victims in their turn become victimizers—spewing the poison that sickened them onto the next young Objectivist they encounter, having learned to treat even the most polite and reasoned disagreements with contempt and insult and morally-outraged fury.

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

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

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

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

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

This is a problem that has caused many well-meaning people to turn away from Objectivism after painful and humiliating encounters with moralizing Objectivists; it thereby endangers the future acceptance of the ideas that are important to all of us. I wonder if the Savonarolas of Objectivism have any idea how many men and women who were drawn to Objectivism, eager to understand it and to learn its application to their lives, are now saying: “If this obsession with finding and rooting out ‘enemies,’ this fanatical unearthing of villains—if this is Objectivism, I want no part of it.”

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

So we must consider very carefully the sources of this dangerous error.

1. Evil Ideas

A major source of unjust moralizing and condemnations is the belief that ideas can be either good or evil—that it is not merely people, their motivations, the degree of their rationality, their characters, and their actions that are open to moral evaluation, but also and primarily their ideas and convictions. We can—and must, this view holds—judge people, judge the very nature of their souls, according to that which they hold to be true. It is what one thinks that determines one’s virtue or vice.

Objectivists are not alone in holding such a view, although it is relatively rare among people who are not Objectivists. Several years ago, I had dinner with some liberal acquaintances when a discussion of the present Administration began. I mentioned that I liked George Bush and approved of many of his policies. No one asked me why. No one said a word. A dead silence fell over the table. Everyone stared at me, aghast, as if Satan, complete with horns, hooves, and a tail, had seated himself among them. They wanted nothing to do with me, they did not want to know me; I had established myself as irredeemably evil. Approve-of-Bush is an evil idea, is it not?

Let me hasten to say that this attitude is not limited to liberals. Had I been at dinner with conservative or libertarian acquaintances and said I approved of many of the policies of Bill Clinton, I have little doubt that I would have met with the same appalled rejection and similarly been viewed as an advocate of the gentle art of well-poisoning.

The view that ideas can be evil is held implicitly or explicitly by a great many Objectivists. If someone tells us, for instance, that he is religious, presumably we know—without knowing his context, the extent of his understanding, or the depth of his commitment—that this is an evil idea that cannot be accepted by a mind devoted to reason. Therefore, at least to the extent of his religiosity, we know that the person is evil. Or again, if a man tells us he is a political liberal, presumably we know—again without knowing his context, the extent of his understanding, or the depth of his commitment—that this, too, is an evil idea that cannot be maintained by a mind devoted to reason. Therefore, at least to the extent of his liberalism, we know that the man is evil.

How do we know it? How do we decide which ideas are proof of evil? What the argument ultimately amounts to is that mistaken ideas of a fundamental sort—fundamental to whichever branch of knowledge is being considered—are evil. The concept of error, of innocence, vanishes, and error is transmuted into evil.

And worse. What do we hold to be the mistaken ideas that constitute proof of evil? Why, those ideas that contradict our own, of course. We are not religious mystics, we do not believe that the use of force is permissible in human society, we despise non-objective art, we know that certainty is possible, we know that emotions are not tools of cognition—and those who do not recognize these truths are our mortal enemies, Satanic beings to be shunned, denigrated, denounced.

It makes moral judgment so very easy, does it not? All we require in order to know that someone is worthless is to know that he holds convictions contrary to our own.

And if we hold such a view, we necessarily will morally denigrate and verbally abuse those who do not agree with us. We will be indignant at our opponents’ presumption in asking that we even consider or attempt to disprove their evil ideas. Instead, to the cheers of those who agree with us, we will ringingly denounce their dishonesty, their irrationality, their evasion, so that the world will recognize them for what they are.

And what superior and virtuous beings we are! And how incredibly smug and self-congratulatory! We cavalierly dispense with most of the human race for not agreeing with our philosophy. Socialists are evil, theists are evil, determinists are evil, so are Democrats and so are Conservatives and so are Libertarians, so is anyone who has read Rand and is not an Objectivist, and so are many who call themselves Objectivists but who don’t think ideas can be evil. As someone once said, “That leaves you and me, my friend . . . and I’m not so sure about you!”

I have seen lifelong friendships end, families bitterly divided, savagely cruel things being said that cannot be forgotten or remedied because of such an easy ascribing of evil. Yes, momentous issues sometimes are at stake, but that does not automatically turn one’s intellectual opponents into moral monsters.

So let’s examine a bit further the belief that ideas can be evil and a proof of evil.

I think we all will agree that Muslim fundamentalism is a dangerous and deadly threat to our values and to our very survival, that it is the most pernicious force facing our world today. Surely we must damn as evil anyone who accepts its doctrines. Must we not?

Imagine an Arab boy of twelve, born in a remote village in Saudi Arabia. He cannot read or write and he has no knowledge of the outside world. From the time he is five years old, he and the other boys are read to from the Koran by the village elders, the only role models he has. He is told that the Koran is the word of Allah. He is told that Allah demands that his servants kill all unbelievers, because their purpose in life is to destroy the Muslim world, to slaughter his parents, his sisters, his friends. The boy sees the men of his village go off to immolate themselves, cheered by the villagers, their victories and their deaths celebrated as heroic, as a valiant martyrdom to be rewarded by their acceptance in heaven. And he longs for the day when he can join these heroes.

If this young boy considers himself a fundamentalist and upholds its doctrines, is he evil?

If the boy were an adult who had seen something of the world, who had had an education, who had heard intelligent opinions in conflict with those he’d been taught, then yes, we could consider him evil—evil because he has so corrupted his thinking that he is willing to ignore the evidence he has heard and seen. But in so concluding, we would be taking his context into consideration, the fact that he is educated, that he has traveled, that he has learned of other ways of living and of thinking.

Or consider Andrei Taganov, the Communist protagonist in We The Living. He is a man of great integrity, dedicated to the communist principles he believes are right; but when he finally understands that communism inevitably leads to inhuman conditions, he abandons his allegiance. But communism is an evil idea, is it not?—an evil idea which proves the evil character of the man who endorses it. Was Andrei evil while he endorsed communism? I suggest that in today’s world, most people who embrace communism are, indeed, intellectually corrupt, not because the idea per se is evil, but because the anti-life consequences of creating a communist state have so clearly and universally been demonstrated. Unless one lives under a rock, I see no way in which one can be unaware of this. Today, Andrei would not have been a Communist.

And just as mistaken ideas are not proof of evil, so correct ideas are not proof of moral virtue. There can be many reasons why one adopts valid ideas—it might be because of peer pressure, because one believes that embracing a certain set of beliefs will raise one’s status in society, because one feels that they are true, because one believes they are the word of God, because endorsing them will lead to the advancement of one’s career, because one has been brainwashed—or because one has conscientiously examined the evidence and understood the rationale of the ideas.

An idea, like an emotional reaction, is not a moral agent. Only men and woman are moral agents; only they can be good or evil. And the overwhelming majority of them are not wholly one or the other. Stalin was evil; your next-door-neighbor, who may believe he ought to be his brother’s keeper, is not. Thomas Jefferson, despite owning slaves, was basically a good and honorable man; the historical revisionists who focus malignantly only on his errors in order to “cut him down to size,” probably are not. Actions can be good or evil. Ideas cannot. To think something cannot make a person evil, just as it cannot make a person virtuous.

Before we presume to pass moral judgment on a person, we need to remember that we, too, are fallible. We need to remember that knowledge often is hard-won, and that if we were immeasurably assisted in our pursuit of knowledge by the work of Ayn Rand and by many others, we ought to be grateful to them, not pompous about what we have come to understand. Nor should we denounce someone who does not understand what we learned only yesterday. Were we evil the day before yesterday? We need to grant to others, and to ourselves, the right to make mistakes, even serious mistakes, without being flayed alive for them.

I do not wish to deprive you, and certainly not myself, of your inalienable right to anger—even to enraged, tempestuous, foaming-at-the-mouth anger. I am not suggesting endless civility, politeness, and the King’s English when one is driven up the wall in a discussion. You have a perfect right not to like some people and not to deal with them. I wish only to deprive you of specifically moral outrage when it is unjustly directed at your opponents. Be fiercely angry because you know the deadly consequences when certain ideas are translated into action. But recognize, recognize clearly, that it is likely that many of your opponents do not grasp those consequences—and that, if they did, they would change their convictions. In a very real way, it may be said that a great many people who hold ideas that many Objectivists judge as evil, do not really hold those ideas; that is, they do not understand the source, the full meaning, or the consequences of those ideas. Perhaps they need educating. They do not need moral damnation. As Nathaniel Branden has pointed out, we do not bring a person to virtue by informing him that he is evil.

As people who hold unconventional ideas, we all know the experience of stating what we think—say, about ethics—and suddenly being treated as if we were plotting the immediate destruction of civilization. “What! You think people should pursue their own self-interest? How can you be so cruel? Why do you want the weak to starve?” We don’t like it when we are treated this way. Let’s not do it to others.

I feel sometimes that I want to say to Objectivists: “Isn’t there enough pain in the world, my friends? Must we really create more? Must we leave so many bruises and scars in our wake as we move through our lives and our human relationships?”

2. Consequences as self-evident

Now I want to consider a source of irrational anger and moralizing that results from quite a different sort of error. It consists of a failure to recognize the long chain of observations and reasoning required by philosophical or moral conclusions. I’ll give an illustration from my own experience.

In my university days, when I first met Ayn Rand and was introduced by her to Objectivist ideas, I was quick to anger in intellectual discussions with my classmates and professors—probably in part because I was not yet totally sure of my ground. I don’t doubt that I quite often shed more heat than light. However, as time went by I learned to be calmer . . . most of the time. With one blatant exception. If the subject was the military draft, I immediately lost my composure in the face of disagreement, and anyone advocating the draft faced a torrent of outraged denunciation. I was emotionally convinced that such a person was a moral monster. Why?

It seemed to me that I could see, as if it were a visual perception, the meaning of “military draft”—and what I saw was a field strewn with the butchered bodies of dead and dying young soldiers, soldiers who were scarcely more than boys, who had been sent to bleed and die for purposes that were not their own. I was certain that my opponent saw precisely what I saw, the same field, the same young bodies—and so it must be the case that either he wanted those consequences or he simply did not care. In either event, he was profoundly immoral, in the exact sense of that term: he was anti-life. But when, at last, I came to understand that not everyone “saw” what I “saw,” that my opposition to the draft was not a simple acknowledgement of a fact of reality easily available to everyone, then I was able to be relatively sane in such discussions.

To understand the logical consequences in action of our ideas is not done by an act of perception. It results from a complex chain of reasoning. We don’t “see” those consequences; we understand them, and only if we have undertaken that chain of reasoning. With regard to the draft, that chain requires the understanding and acceptance of a moral code that rejects altruism and the sacrifice of some individuals to others. It requires the recognition of each human being’s right to arrive at and act on his own convictions. It requires the knowledge that we do not have the right to sacrifice others to our purposes and that we are not the owners of any lives but our own. By holding that to understand the immorality of the draft was a childishly simple matter of observing reality, I wasn’t seeing the meaning of the draft; instead, I was blurring my own understanding of why it was wrong. By vastly oversimplifying the errors involved, I was failing to understand and deal with the opposition of those who supported the draft

As an aside, it was recognizing this mistake that helped me to understand, at least in one respect, Ayn Rand’s quickness to pass negative moral judgments. I believe that because of her remarkable intelligence, she often grasped the consequences of ideas, for good or for bad, with the clarity that was typical of her—as if those consequences were visual perceptions. And so she failed to recognize that the consequences so blazingly evident to her were by no means evident or understood by others. Instead, she decided they were evading what was so clear to be “seen.”

Many years ago, when Nathaniel Branden was becoming acquainted with Rand and the sweep of her ideas, and was reading Atlas Shrugged in manuscript as it was being written, he wrote her a letter in which he said that although he was trying not to get angry in philosophical discussions, he had exploded at a man who was denouncing big business. In her reply to him, reproduced in The Letters of Ayn Rand, she wrote: “I was amused to hear that it is the words ‘selfish exploitation’ that blew you up. Can you tell me why? I suspect that this is the influence of my new novel. Is it because you see Hank Rearden when you hear those words? (italics mine) I know that’s the reason for my own anger at this sort of attitude.”

Leonard Peikoff makes the identical error, and has attempted to justify it philosophically. He wrote: “A valuer is a man who evaluates extensively and intensively; his value-judgments are integrated into a consistent whole, which to him have the feel, the power, and the absolutism of a direct perception of reality.”(italics mine)

In this connection, I cannot recommend too highly David Kelley’s The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, in which he points out the many errors in this statement.

It is true that many of our convictions may begin to seem almost self-evident to us. But we must recognize that this is not so, that we have learned the truth of them as a result of many complex and extended processes of observation and thought—which means that they are not self-evident to our opponents. Our opponents rarely disagree with us out of sheer perversity, willfully denying the evidence of their senses. We ought to treat them accordingly, to remember that we did not always know what is so clear to us today, and, very importantly, to remember the steps by which we came to know it.

3. Evasion

Another major source of irrational moralizing is a belief that also vastly oversimplifies a complex issue. And that is the view that evasion—which Rand defined as “the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know”—can easily be recognized and identified.

The science of psychology, despite its impressive progress in recent decades, is still a youthful one. It has existed for only a short period of time compared to the physical sciences, and is hampered because it often is impossible to apply the methodology of the physical sciences to the human mind: we cannot conduct potentially dangerous experiments on human beings. Further, there is no agreed-upon philosophical base to the science of psychology, no accepted starting point from which psychologists and psychiatrists conduct their investigations and do their theorizing.

And we are immensely complex creatures psychologically, who often fail even in our best efforts to understand ourselves and our own motivation, much less to understand other people. Do we fully know, for instance, why we fall in love with a particular person? Oh, we probably can specify some reasons—perhaps we say that our lover is an honorable person, kind and strong and wise; but we forget that we have known others who were honorable, kind, strong, and wise with whom we did not fall in love. We forget that we may also have known others who, if judged solely in relation to our philosophical values, would rank higher on the ladder of values, yet we did not fall in love with them. We are less than satisfied if the psychiatrists we turn to for explanations tell is that we chose our lover because of an unresolved Oedipus complex, or because of our irrational value system—or even our rational value system—or because we were bottle-fed as babies.

I believe the idea that self-esteem or its lack crucially affects our approach to life and its challenges, including the challenge of love and sex, points toward the day when we will not only better understand ourselves and others, but will be able scientifically to validate our understanding. But that day is still in the future.

Thus, we must recognize that we cannot look into another human mind. We can know what we ourselves understand; we cannot know what others understand. And we certainly don’t have the right to accuse others of evasion, of the deliberate refusal to understand, until and unless we have incontrovertible evidence. We may feel bewilderment that a particular person fails to see the logic of an idea when we have explained it so clearly and carefully, and when the evidence appears to us everywhere to be seen—but our failure to understand this does not constitute knowledge that the person is evading.

Often, it is difficult even for us, who have unique entry into the workings of our own minds, to say with certainty if we have or have not evaded in considering a particular issue. We might ask ourselves, about a decision we made which we later came to realize was a serious mistake: Did I think about it as carefully as I should have done? Or: If I did not, did I know that I ought to have examined it more closely? Did I allow any out-of-focus moments to blur my understanding of the alternatives? Did I have any small glimmer of awareness that there were more issues to be considered than I was thinking about and that my decision was questionable? Was there at times a fuzzy quality to my thinking that might have alerted me? Did I select only those facts to think about that supported what I wanted to do? Did I really do my best to understand?

I submit that these are often difficult and sometimes impossible questions fully to answer. No one says to himself, as seems implicit in Rand’s description of evasion: “I’m not going to think about X because if I did so I would have to recognize truths that I am unwilling to recognize.” We do not knowingly evade. When evasion occurs—and of course it does occur—it is on a level that involves only minimal conscious awareness, perhaps only the discomfort of a nagging uneasiness.

How much more difficult it is to see into other people’s minds. We cannot know precisely what information they possess or how their minds dealt with that information. We cannot know the degree of their intelligence or their context or their life experiences. We cannot know how or why they have arrived at ideas that we may find abhorrent and irrational. Yes, we may feel, when an opponent seems invincibly ignorant: “The world is racing toward disaster and we all face extinction because you refuse to think!”—but our emotions are not tools of cognition. Justice demands that we withhold moral censure where we do not have certainty. Life would be much simpler if the line between honesty and dishonesty, between intellectual integrity and evasion, were self-evident. But that line is not self-evident.

Of course there are thoroughly dishonest people in this world. Of course there are people who deserve the strongest possible moral condemnation. Of course there are people who push away guilt feelings and continue to act destructively and irrationally. Of course there are people who act without thinking, who mouth ideas they do not take the trouble to understand, who refuse to examine their own motives and purposes. Of course there are people who would rather die than think—and often do. But the fact that someone holds ideas contrary to your own is not a reason to rush to judgment, to hurl accusations of evasion as if it were a scarlet letter rather than an ad hominem attack. Accusing someone of evasion should never be done casually, or on the assumption that disagreement is a sign of intellectual dishonesty. To do so is both unjust and presumptuous. We must recognize that most of the time, disagreement means . . . disagreement.

4. Some psychological causes of Objectivist rage

Now, let’s consider some of the psychological reasons why so many Objectivists are quick to morally condemn and denounce. There is no single psychological syndrome that explains every judgmental person’s attitude or why such a person might be drawn to Objectivism, but there are some sources of moralizing that I’d like to point out, with others left for another day.

It is generally recognized by psychologists that human beings often repress pain and fear and guilt and profound self-doubt, not wanting to recognize them as real, and instead of acknowledging and dealing with them, they turn them outward onto others, transmuting them into anger and condemnation. They blame everyone but themselves for their suffering, for their failures in life, for their damaged self-esteem.

Most of us, if we have emotional problems, are our own worst enemies. That is, we, not others, are our primary victims, in the form of unfulfilling lives, and we are aware that it is not other people who have caused our suffering. But the sort of person I have described, who damns others for his own sense of inadequacy, leaves victims strewn in his path. He is incapable of experiencing empathy, like a psychopath for whom other people are unreal and for whom any context but his own is non-existent; he has no capacity and no desire to put himself in someone else’s place and attempt to understand the reasons for views other than his own, and he lashes out blindly with no concern for the damage he creates.

Philosophy is not psychotherapy, and not even the most powerful philosophy is a cure for severe emotional problems. Objectivism doesn‘t magically elevate one to sainthood. Dependent people, cruel people, dishonest people, need more than philosophy to change them; in most cases, they need psychological treatment. And until and unless they get it, or have life experiences that awaken them to their mistakes, they will be dependent, cruel, dishonest adherents of Objectivism. If you were a nasty bully when you discovered Objectivism, the odds are that you still are a nasty bully. And you will have discovered an entire vocabulary that gives you an arsenal of weapons to use in your bullying that you did not have before—such as the concept that ideas can be evil and that the consequences of certain ideas are self-evident.

Let me give you an example of what might happen if such a person considers himself an Objectivist—and even supposing that he has authentically embraced many of its principles but has not incorporated them into his psychology. A friend says something to him that he fears means that the friend secretly despises him. He does not want to acknowledge his guilty sense that he may have given his friend cause for such a reaction, and so instead he works himself into a rage and tell himself and others that it is he who rejects and despises his friend. The false friend has shown himself to be irrational, evasive, an immoral subjectivist or an equally immoral intrinsicist, intellectually bankrupt, a rationalist, a social-metaphysician, an enemy of the good for being the good, a whim-worshipper, a deliberate distorter of Objectivist principles, anti-conceptual . . . well, you all know the drill. “You don’t like me!”—becomes “You fail to meet the minimum standards of objectivity!” He insists—using concepts he has plucked from Objectivism as a set of buzzwords to feed his malice and to be brandished as a club—that he is the true defender of Objectivism and reason, and it is his friend who is the destructive and evil heretic.

But how is it that such people—who, after all, are of little or no importance in themselves—acquire the power to create victims? Why are they not simply ignored—just as, once we are no longer children, we ignore the street-corner bully who once had the power to make us uneasy, because we have learned that all bullies are cowards?

This leads us to another psychological phenomenon.

We human beings find great value in the company of others who see the world as we see it, who share our sense of life and our intellectual commitments, and with whom we can experience the joys of comradeship and mutual affection. This is why young—and not so young—Objectivists seek out Objectivist groups, hoping not only to learn from them but also to be accepted by them, to be treasured as fellow-fighters in the same noble cause.

But there are potential dangers involved in group membership, any group membership, dangers immensely magnified if one is not aware of them.

I want to tell you about a fascinating—and blood-chilling—documentary I saw on television about the psychology of suicide bombers. But before I do, I hasten to assure you that it is not with the intent to compare Objectivists—even of the most misguided sort—to suicide bombers. Except in one significant respect. (I can see the headlines now: Barbara Branden likens Objectivists to suicide bombers!)

In the documentary, psychologists and psychiatrists--who had interviewed unsuccessful suicide bombers in many different countries and over a period of years, and had also interviewed friends and families of those who had succeeded, in order to learn if such people had characteristics in common--presented their findings. What they found, despite what one might expect to the contrary, is that suicide bombers are not united by race, religion, class, intelligence, economics, or education. Nor do they tend to be wild-eyed, screaming fanatics; they are not psychotic, they are not paranoid; for the most part they tend to be average, commonplace, normal.

However, there is one important characteristic that they share: membership in a group. They are not created in isolation and they do not function alone. They become part of a group—and then they become like that group, they take on its characteristics. It is group dynamics, the researchers contend, that creates suicide bombers.

What is it that occurs within groups that can make this happen? Often its members find in the group a new family, superseding their real families in importance, and with whom they develop a powerful bond. They spend most of their time together; they become progressively cut off from the larger society, progressively more alienated from it. As a result of this deep alienation from a world they believe does not understand them, they cease to regard the rest of society as being fully human; people outside the group become things, they are de-humanized, they are evil, and thus it is not possible to feel empathy or compassion for them.

It was clear to me, from what these researchers learned, that the group was now ready for the bully—the man who did not have to learn from others the art of de-humanizing one’s opponents, the man seething with hatred and resentment and the need to reduce the self-esteem of others to the level of his own. Such a man may, nevertheless, be highly intelligent, charming, able to dominate and intimidate. If the group he joins, or perhaps forms, consists of people who have embraced Objectivism, he will show himself to be well-versed in its principles, and especially well-versed in using those principles as his means of intimidation and control. The members of the group, eager, even desperate to maintain their membership in their new family, never to be thrown out into what has become an alien and threatening world, will follow his lead. They might have learned to be tolerant and kind if they were led in that direction; but they have submerged their identity into the larger social or ideological system, and will exhibit a degree of cruelty and hostility they would not be capable of if they were acting on their own. They glory in the self-importance of being a member of their group, and whatever its direction, that is what they will follow. Oscar Wilde wrote: “Most men are other people. Their thoughts are someone’s else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” Whether or not this is true of most men, it certainly is true of a great many—and particularly of those most tightly bonded to a group.

Someone recently said, “I see the acts of suicide bombers at the far end of a continuum that starts with the deceptively simple ‘suicide’ of one’s individuality in the face of group identity.” And, I would add, in the face of group pressure.

Let’s return for a moment to the television program. One of the researchers demonstrated a fascinating and relevant experiment. Six or seven people were asked to participate in a simple test: to look at several straight lines drawn on paper, and to say which one of them most closely matched a particular line in length. In fact, only one young male participant was, in effect, the guinea pig; unknown to him, the others had been told that each of them was to choose a specific wrong line—that is, a line that did not match the given line in length. The guinea pig at first looked startled at the selection of the others, and, shaking his head in bewilderment and uncertainty, he nevertheless gave the correct answer. But by the time he reached the second set of lines, he still gave puzzled looks at the others—but he gave the same wrong answer they had given. It was chilling to watch; the young man clearly knew that his answer was highly dubious, but he was intimidated and overwhelmed by what he experienced as the power of the group.

Knowledge is power. If we do not know the potential dangers of group membership, despite its advantages, if we do not keep sacrosanct our own independent view of reality, we may not become suicide bombers, but we surely will become the Peter Keatings or worse of Objectivism.

Of course, there are Objectivists who come to this philosophy in search of a new religion, a dogma they can blindly follow, a set of rules that will bring them the certainty they require, eager to lose their blemished selves, their sense of personal failure, in something larger than themselves. These are the true believers of Objectivism and they are epidemic in every intellectual movement, whether the movement be philosophical or religious, social or political—whether it upholds reason or mysticism, freedom or force, the individual or the collective. Any vital new philosophical system will attract true believers. The psychological needs that normally draw a man to faith and force may instead lead him to stumble into a philosophy of reason and seek his fulfillment there. But what he is seeking is not reason, it is not knowledge; he seeks a holy cause to which he can submit himself, he renounces intellectual independence and its attendant doubts, uncertainties, and errors—he renounces spiritual struggle and the sense of wonder—for the certitude of dogma and faith.

My own understanding of maturity is that it requires the ability to live with uncertainty. Because no matter how much we know, how much we learn, we always are faced with many uncertainties—uncertainties about ourselves, about other people, about the world. No one can once and for all tie reality into one pretty parcel for us and tell us we need never doubt or wonder again. If we cannot accept this fact, and live comfortably with it, we are in very deep trouble indeed. How wonderful it is to find answers in an area where before we had only doubts and questions and uncertainties. And it can be equally wonderful to find new questions where before we thought we had certainty—and then to leap into the unknown in the search for knowledge. Surely this is a substantial part of what the richly lived life is all about.

It is the people who cannot bear to live with uncertainty who are the greatest threat to Objectivism. They are the ones we must beware of. We must never let them tell us that we are culpable for what we do not know, for our doubts, for our questions, for our disagreements with aspects of Objectivism. We must wear our uncertainties as a badge of honor, for it is only through uncertainty that we will find the path to knowledge.

And we must never give them the sanction of the victim by allowing their ugliness and hatreds to cause us to doubt ourselves.

None of us is likely ever to forget the excitement of our first discovery of the works of Ayn Rand and of the exalted vision of the human potential that she offered us. Let us never allow anyone to turn that discovery into dogma, heresy trials, and excommunications. The real meaning of Objectivism in our lives is surely contained in The Fountainhead, in the scene with the boy on the bicycle, who found in Howard Roark “the courage to face of lifetime.”

------------------

Barbara Branden is a writer, lecturer, and author of the best-selling biography The Passion of Ayn Rand (Doubleday, 1986). An M.A. in philosophy (New York University), she was for eighteen years a close associate of Ayn Rand, the managing editor of The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist, and executive vice-president of the Nathaniel Branden Institute in New York, where she wrote and lectured on the philosophy of Objectivism.

Objectivism and Rage

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This discussion is generating more heat than light. I think it would be more useful to concentrate on some specific text by Kelley, so that we ourselves can judge the merits of his ideas, instead of a

Dragonfly is exactly right. What matters is the validity of Kelley's ideas, not whether he has or has not diverged from "pure Objectivism." Also, what matters is not whether I say he has good methodol

I remember reading this black humor story that focused on conventional morality and ethical relativism. If I recall correctly, I believe the writer was trying to make a case for an “absolute morality” by using black humor. However, in his attempt to make a philosophical case, he was not, of course, as effective as Ayn Rand. But the writer's gift for black satire was rather brilliant, and he did make his point.

There is a passage from the book that I never forgot: the scene takes place between the two characters—one of them being a rather conservative looking fellow and the other an artsy grunge kind of guy. The conservative looking guy was pronouncing a negative moral judgment upon some character he had just read about. It involved the rape and murder of a child. What drove the conservative chap up the wall was not only the murder of a child, but the killer, in this case, was particularly blithe and smug about his crime.

“We all have to die sometime,” the killer said, “so I don’t see what the big deal is.” We learn that the killer usually embeds his crimes in philosophical garble.

This statement outrages the conservative looking guy. He was raving for the next ten minutes against the child killer while the grunge guy sat looking befuddled. Finally, during the rant, the grunge guy took on a severe look. Noticing this look, the conservative character went on denouncing the child killer as “the scum of the earth” and as a “lowest black mark on humanity.” Finally after the rage subsided, the grunge character became indignant and stood up in a flash. “Oh, I see! And you’re perfect! Right?”

Subtle and troubling, I think the writer's message is pretty clear in this passage alone. It was a "black satire message" story. The whole story can knock you down, that's for sure.

Question: What would you take from that scence?

Edited by Victor Pross
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I submit that these are often difficult and sometimes impossible questions fully to answer. No one says to himself, as seems implicit in Rand’s description of evasion: “I’m not going to think about X because if I did so I would have to recognize truths that I am unwilling to recognize.” We do not knowingly evade. When evasion occurs—and of course it does occur—it is on a level that involves only minimal conscious awareness, perhaps only the discomfort of a nagging uneasiness.

How much more difficult it is to see into other people’s minds. We cannot know precisely what information they possess or how their minds dealt with that information. We cannot know the degree of their intelligence or their context or their life experiences. We cannot know how or why they have arrived at ideas that we may find abhorrent and irrational. Yes, we may feel, when an opponent seems invincibly ignorant: “The world is racing toward disaster and we all face extinction because you refuse to think!”—but our emotions are not tools of cognition. Justice demands that we withhold moral censure where we do not have certainty. Life would be much simpler if the line between honesty and dishonesty, between intellectual integrity and evasion, were self-evident. But that line is not self-evident.

Fantastic piece of writing, Barbara. Your article should be mandatory reading for anyone new to Objectivism. It is the perfect antidote to Peikoff’s “Fact and Value.” Your examination of the notion of “evil ideas” and the psychology of evasion is very incisive, and provided me with confirmation of some of my own thinking in this area. A long time ago, I came to the realization that most people are simply not independent thinkers. Even Leonard Peikoff, despite some of his valuable contributions to Objectivist thought, is just following in the footsteps of his mentor.

When I read Ayn Rand’s angry denunciations of various people for their irrational beliefs, I often wondered how she could be nice to anyone, from storekeepers to waitresses to cabdrivers. The only difference between them and the people she was condemning was that she was ignorant of their specific ideas. Given the radical nature of Objectivism, the chance that such people were not equally worthy of her venom for some of their evil premises was pretty close to zero. Why not just attack them as soon as they say ‘hello’? After all, we know they probably deserve it just as much as any professor or presidential candidate.

To live in this world, Objectivists have to appreciate the fact that most of the people they encounter every day hold core beliefs totally opposite to ours. If we have any chance of influencing others, we must first accept where they are coming from. We must deal with their intellectual context. Nathaniel Branden once addressed this issue in one of his “Seminar” recordings. When we disagree with another person, we may well be threatening them on a much deeper level than we realize. We may well be challenging the underlying philosophical premises that have guided them for a lifetime. If we want to communicate with those who see things differently, we have to appreciate that fact. We have to help them consciously see that the real difference is on a much deeper level than this concrete issue, and then show them that there is a rational alternative.

Very often, as Ayn Rand recognized with respect to writers such as Victor Hugo and O. Henry, a person’s sense of life may be much better than their conscious premises. In other words, their implicit philosophy is much more rational than their explicit beliefs. The “American sense of life” that tends to be shared by people born in the U.S. is much more consistent with Objectivism than Judeo-Christian values and principles, and makes it much easier to get along with such people. If we approach most people from this perspective—without dwelling on explicit beliefs--we can live well in today’s world. But whether we have any hope of changing those underlying beliefs, paving the way for a far better future, depends totally on how we deal with those differences.

A local radio talk host often says that he prefers clarity to agreement. I think that is how Objectivists must approach their profound disagreements with others, rather than through moralizing or anger. Instead of condemning those who differ with us, if we can show them where their underlying premises take them to different conclusions (e.g., God’s commandments vs. man’s life as the standard of ethics), we can meet them on common ground, and give them the choice to continue living by an irrational standard of value, or adopt a new standard that will promote their life and happiness.

Deliberately destructive behavior—whether self-directed or intended to hurt others--deserves condemnation. Immature, irresponsible behavior may or may not, depending on the specifics of a given situation. A therapeutic approach may be more appropriate. But irrational beliefs, per se, without knowledge of the individual context—NEVER! Not if our goal is to make this a better world, and—as far as ultimate, social goals are concerned-- that is the only rational one I can imagine.

Kudos to Barbara for expressing these important insights so beautifully, and to TAS for providing her with a forum to insure that her voice rings out loud and clear to anyone who was ever captivated by the words and ideas of Ayn Rand.

Dennis

Edited by Dennis Hardin
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The link to this article was posted on Aug 3, 2006 on RoR by Robert Bidinotto. The following is a composite of some posts I made in that thread, starting here.

Reading Barbara's article after hearing it live was quite a treat. As I read it, I kept seeing in my mind's eye the packed lecture room slowly settling down as she spoke, then the crowd listening in mesmerized silence for about an hour, and then the enthusiastic standing ovation at the end.

On the theme, I fully agree with her. The silly raging has to stop if Objectivism is ever to stand in the world as a major force. This is one of the main reasons it has gained a widespread reputation as a cult.

Here is how the lecture room initially reacted to Barbara. There had been a lot of Internet noise months before her presentation on a couple of other Objectivist sites doing the standard denouncing, yada yada yada. The expectation from the TAS Seminar members who followed all this (but, believe it or not, there are many fine Objectivists I met who simply did not know about what goes on at these sites because they are too busy leading their lives in other directions) was that the presentation was going to be some kind of answer to the hostility personally directed toward her.

It wasn't.

Barbara dealt with fundamental truths, as anyone can read here. She struck a deep chord in the soul of the people listening. As they settled down, I saw a pleasantly surprised look starting to dawn on the faces of those most "in the know." They were not hearing a food-fight. They were hearing something crucial, sorely needed, and extremely well presented.

This was a target crowd, granted. The people listening were knowledgeable Objectivists. But I did not see the same reaction from them at the other lectures I attended (except for the Atlas Shrugged movie people and a theater presentation of Anthem staged by Duncan Scott). Barbara earned her standing ovation that day the hard way. She induced people to think by being brilliant.

(For the record, a small minority of several people remained seated during the standing ovation.)

As I mentioned, Objectivism is widely perceived by the public as a cult. I applaud Barbara for taking a strong step in the direction of making this perception go away. Now for the hard part: getting Objectivists to agree to stop the silly raging and obnoxious behavior.

Objectivists who are already addicted to bad behavior will rarely change, but we can refuse to play their silly games and we can grow in a healthy direction. Only good things can come of actively seeking this.

Michael

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Anybody...everybody [?]

While I agree with many of the points expressed in this article, I do have a minor critique to make on a few points that are problematic to me. May I speak freely---but respectfully? Or would I be shunned as an ARI Randroid fanatic? :unsure:

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Victor,

In Basic Objectivist Living stuff, there is the following statement about the Brandens:

For the detractors of the Brandens, please be advised that Objectivist Living is a haven for them. People can get a positive image of them here. They can learn about the Brandens and learn from them. The Brandens were fundamental to the creation of Objectivism and we feel lucky to be able to interact with them. Disagreements with them on specific issues are OK, but Branden bashing is not tolerated. Instead, we wish to honor them.

That's the spirit here. It's perfectly OK to disagree with both Brandens. But thank you for asking.

(Maybe one day in later history, the need to emphasize civility like this will seem comical.)

Michael

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Michael,

Thank you for posting that guidance post, I have already taken the time to read it and intend to follow its injunction---always.

A little clarification: I don’t consider Barbara my “worthy opponent” as I don’t consider her an opponent. Very much the opposite, I want to converse with her and earn her trust and respect--but not with a fake two-face.

And I don’t want to simply offer a hit-and-run critique without her participating in a civil dialogue in turn, answering whatever objections I raise. I don’t have a gavel in which to “bash a Branden.” And I am not a “Branden detractor”—I simply have a few things I would like to discuss concerning this specific article. If someone else had wrote it, I would still have the same problems with it---intellectual problems, not personal. (Mind you, I largely agree with it, the disagreement is minor when compared).

The problems I have identified in the article are driven by purely a philosophical inquiry and are utterly lacking in malice or showmanship. In fact, let this be an example of how two towering intellects converse and sort out a philosophical difference, something that others may hopefully emulate. :rolleyes:

With this understanding and proviso, may I proceed (however comical it may seem to ask?)

Victor

Edited by Victor Pross
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Michael,

Well, if I'm going to write a novel, I better learn to have a flair for the dramatic.

Actually, I will get to it tomorrow. I think I’m gonna settle down to a flick right now. Anybody ever see “Carnal Knowledge”, an early 70s flick with Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margaret? [Hmmm, Ann-Margaret].

edit: Anger management? Hey, did you stop beating your wife? :P

Edited by Victor Pross
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Barbara,

Your philosophical indictment of the “true believer” mentality that infiltrates Objectivist circles is as cogent as anyone as ever written. You have identified the typical power monger and manipulator mentality all too common in actual cults.*(1.1) Too often Objectivist circles have been plagued with backbiting, hysterical denunciations, zealous sectarianism and unjust inquisitions.**(2) Being the “cult of one” that I am, I try to distance myself from the party-line types.

What can be observed in Objectivist circles is the craving to humiliate and debase a person before a crowd.*(1.2) People lobby and organize well around a common villain, and they turn off their rational faculty in the process.*(1.3) Too often, they don’t care for justice and rationality, it’s the simple pleasure plunge of disgracing somebody that becomes so intoxicating. We all know this is true. It's as old as humanity itself. These creatures cultivate obnoxiousness and cruelty and do so as if it were a virtue.*(1.4) Sadly, it's here to stay.

I think you provide Objectivism an invaluable service by identifying and casting a spot light on the reckless and immoral behavior of these intellectual thugs. And, Barbara, with all the condemnations and critiques you are going to encounter because of your article---those deadly spot-on identifications are going to be glossed over or completely ignored—most especially by the people who exhibit that behavior and even by the sycophants who have been the victims of it. It’s the contradictions in the article that will provide fodder for philosophical critique.

Moral denunciation of evil is one of the formal principles of Objectivism*(1.5)---and this is precisely, perhaps ironically, what you are doing. I applaud you for it. You are identifying irrational and inappropriate behavior of these types and you are calling them to task on it. You have made a moral judgment.

Okay, I have said a few things where you and I agree, and now let’s take a look at where I disagree with you.

I do not agree with the idea that if one is to accept the benefits of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, then one must also be prepared to accept its “hazards.” [insofar, that is, that those hazards are allegedly said to be inherent in the philosophy itself.]

What are Objectivism’s hazards? It doesn’t matter to me if some proof-reader counted the number of times Rand used the word “contempt” in her writings, I don’t agree with the injustice of saddling Ayn Rand with blame for the ill-behavior of her supporters. God, how tired I am of listening to people who blame Ayn Rand for their own shortcomings!

I believe that fighting the problem of what has been identified in some other post as “Objectivism’s plague” starts with actually proscribing to the philosophy—and in this case, I mean this: Individual responsibility. If I blame Ayn Rand for my mindless decisions to brand someone “irrational” merely because they have offended me---I’m not taking responsibility. If I blame Objectivism for my choice to practice the virtue of justice, but misunderstand or purposely contort its application---I’m not taking responsibility. If I blame a certain organization’s teachings because I thoughtlessly recycle ideas without appying first-handed independent judgment---I’m not taking responsibility. And by blaming mommy or the devil or Rand, they are seeking scapegoats, which are not offered to explain poor choices, but to justify them. If you want an example of moral cowardice, there it is.

It's the individual that must take responsibility. [Gee, what a concept, huh!]

God knows, I have behaved badly, but I didn’t go around blaming Ayn Rand or Lindsay Perigo. Listen, I would never give another human being that kind of power over me. I’m responsible for my own actions and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I, Victor Pross, took a hard introspective look at myself and judged my own actions and thoughts---objectively. I was harder on myself than I have ever been on anybody else---because *I* have to live in this mind and body--and will spend more time with me than I will anybody else. Yes, I took responsibility for MY actions. Objectivism in action!

In regards to proper moral judgment, it is not an easy task, as Rand concedes. It is not, as she makes clear, a task that can be performed automatically by one's feelings, "instincts" or hunches. And one of Rand’s most salient points in regards to the “awesome responsibility” in making moral judgments is to be found here: “It is a task that requires the most precise, the most exacting, the most ruthlessly objective and rational process of thought. It is fairly easy to grasp abstract moral principles; it can be very difficult to apply them to a given situation, particularly when it involves the moral character of another person.” [italics mine].

Your points of ill-behaving Objectivist are valid---when considered in isolation. A casual glance at reality validates it as does the occasional visit to Solo Passion. But I think those observations were sited as a build-up preamble to your actual thesis: the immorality of making moral judgments. By the detailed examination of Objectivist bullies and power-monger behavior, it’s as if you are saying this: “See, this is what you get with moral judgments.” If this be so, I most ardently disagree. Why? Because it is a logical non sequitur of mammoth proportions. The “Objectivist plague”, as so aptly coined when observing some of the Objectivist circles, is due to irrational and irresponsible moral judgment---not in making moral judgment as such.

If ideas themselves are neither good nor evil and if the people who hold them are too complex to judge---where does this leave morality in a human being’s life? Think of walking in a field of landmines. Leaving aside, for now, the theory/practice dichotomy this position insinuates, this stance leaves human beings totally unarmed in the living of their life and of making moral choices. As Peikoff wrote: “In order to achieve one’s goals in any field, one must choose among alternatives—which requires that one must choose among alternatives—which require that one know the things around one and judge them rationally.” Here--and anywhere else--rationality is the order of the day.

Peikoff goes on to illustrate that the necessity of knowledge and judgment is especially important in regards to human beings because the differences among them are more consequential than those of, say, inanimate matter, because human being’s have volition, with everything this implies. The wrong picnic spot could ruin a Sunday day off and the wrong shirt can ruin one’s appearance---while the wrong person can kill you.

This is so very true.

I, for one, will not consign my life and my interactions in human relationships to the realm of agnostical chance. I make judgments, as we all must do, and our selfish responsibility to ourselves is to do so justly and rationaly. We owe it to ourselves---not to Ayn Rand. Making moral judgments is a serious responsibility that does not involve unthinking condemnation or blanket approval, but a process of cognition---the very same process of that one employs in regards to inanimate matter. Our success and life depends on it.

When Rand wrote that passing moral judgment is "an enormous responsibility” more "awesome than a public tribunal", and when she says one should not rely on "slogans", "snap judgments", or "hunches", and that moral judgment requires a "ruthlessly objective and rational process of thought"—she did NOT say we should "urge instant contempt" and exhibit a "quickness to pass negative moral judgments". On all these points, her position is absolutely clear and valid.

If it is true---IF, I said---that you are trying to provide a litany of excuses for not making moral judgments versus, say, speaking against improper and irrational judgments and are advocating abstaining from passing moral judgment—then that is just flat-out wrong. Never mind, for now, if this position is or is not consonant with Objectivism [it is not] or if it rubs party-liners the wrong way, forget that for now, let’s just focus on the fact that the advocacy of this moral neutrality is suicide!

Even with the best intentions in the world and with taking justice and objectivity seriously, executing moral judgments is not easy and we will make mistakes. Does it follow, then, that we can’t and should not make them? A resounding NO! The price is much too higher.

As Ayn Rand wrote, “The opposite of moral neutrality is not a blind, arbitrary, self-righteous condemnation of any idea, action or person that does not fit one's mood, one's memorized slogans or one's snap judgment of the moment.” I have observed people who have seen--or who have been victims of--authoritarian browbeating moralizers, and decided to flip the other side of the same counterfeit coin thereby adopting moral neutrality as the panacea of human virtue. Yes, that’s right, I agree with Rand: “Indiscriminate tolerance and indiscriminate condemnation are not two opposites: they are two variants of the same evasion.”

To make a moral judgment does NOT have to involve making it public nor shouting denunciations into someone’s face—if only Perigo and gang could grasp this simple little gem. It could be argued that one should not denounce someone with rotten ideas, particularly if that person were a committed irrationalist. Instead one should leave them alone—now that you have made your objective judgment of them that you should leave them alone. Let them go about their life with their wrong ideas. Let them pay the price reality demands, I ask nothing of them. I don’t even condemn them all—hell, they have condemned themselves by their own philosophy and actions. This was Roark’s attitude with respect to Keating. It was not a “go to hell and rot” but rather a simple “go away.”

In closing:

Let us not be blinded to the fact that your Objectivist Rage article is laced with the identification and the pronouncements of moral judgments. In my estimate, Barbara, they are proper and accurate moral judgments casting an illuminating light on the grotesque behavior of certain individuals who laughably present themselves as rational and just human beings. Ultimately, there is an unfailing litmus test to apply, it’s very ancient—way before Objectivism---and I doubt it can be improved. “By their fruits you shall know them.”

Insofar as you cite irrationality and malice in the attempt to make a case for ethical agnosticism or moral neutrality, the article fails on philosophical grounds. Again, with the identification and condemnation of bully behavior of certain individuals, your own brand of Objectivist rage is applauded by me.

***

Note: I have stated that your article is laced with contradictions and that you leave yourself exposed to attack because of those contradictions, and saying so I would be happy to put my money where my philosophical mouth is and point out those contradictions. I welcome your feed-back—and those of others—to my post here. Thank you.

NOTE FROM ADMINISTRATOR:

** Plagiarized from Post 29 by Michael Stuart Kelly from the "Objectivism's Plague: Questions" thread on OL. The original passages read as follows:

(1.1)

Another type is the typical power monger and manipulator who can be found in all cults.

(1.2)

What we witness in the Objectivist movement, however, is the urge to humiliate a person before a crowd – time and time again.

(1.3)

People organize well around a common villain. The strength stops there, however. Scapegoating is only a strong selling point in terms of emotions. When it is overused, it makes people turn off their critical rational faculty.

(1.4)

... but there are some independents – especially Solo Passion, where obnoxiousness is cultivated as a virtue.

(1.5)

Moral denunciation of evil is one of the formal principles of Objectivism.

(Note: These three are borderline plagiarisms since they are short and there is some paraphrasing, but they qualify for the present context since the plagiary pattern is so well established and they all come from the same post.)

* Plagiarized from Post 21 by Barbara Branden from the "Objectivism's Plague: Questions" thread on OL. The original passage reads as follows:

(2)

The spectacle of people whose most fundamental dedication is not to the spread of important philosophical ideas, but to backbiting, hysterical denunciations, fanatical sectarianism, and inquisitions.

(Note: This is a borderline plagiarism since it is short and there is some paraphrasing, but it qualifies for the present context since the plagiary pattern is so well established.)

OL extends its deepest apologies to Barbara Branden.

Edited by Michael Stuart Kelly
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Victor,

I don't want to speak for Barbara, but I am confused. You just wrote that she made an "attempt to make a case for ethical agnosticism or moral neutrality," and I am wondering (seriously, not with hostility) if you read the same article I did. I didn't see that anywhere.

I saw a very clear definition of what moral agents are, for example:

An idea, like an emotional reaction, is not a moral agent. Only men and woman are moral agents; only they can be good or evil.

I also saw statements like the following:

Of course there are thoroughly dishonest people in this world. Of course there are people who deserve the strongest possible moral condemnation. Of course there are people who push away guilt feelings and continue to act destructively and irrationally. Of course there are people who act without thinking, who mouth ideas they do not take the trouble to understand, who refuse to examine their own motives and purposes. Of course there are people who would rather die than think—and often do.

Where is the "ethical agnosticism or moral neutrality" here?

When I read morality or moral judgments being criticized by Barbara, I read adjectives like "unjust" or "presumptuous" or the term "wild moralizing" and so forth. Like you pointed out, she was morally condemning the abuse of facile moralizing - in very harsh terms, I might add.

So where is the "ethical agnosticism or moral neutrality" in this?

Her essay is an extremely lucid and inspiring call for a person to act on his knowledge - all of it - when judging a person (a "moral agent"). She condemned making moral judgements only on isolated details, which is what the wild moralizers do. If you act on knowledge, you are being rational. If you blank out knowledge, you are being irrational (once again, like the wild moralizers do).

I believe it is that simple. The accusers are the very thing they condemn.

One extremely important item of knowledge a person has is when he does not know something. He knows that he does not know it. No amount of moralizing will make him know what he does not. That is one of the principal messages I understood in Barbara's essay.

Like she so wisely stated:

Justice demands that we withhold moral censure where we do not have certainty.

For instance, in her statement:

Stalin was evil; your next-door-neighbor, who may believe he ought to be his brother’s keeper, is not.

What do we know about the next door neighbor? Only what he professes to be his beliefs, like an altruistic opinion or a belief in the afterlife, or do we also know that he has lived a productive life in peace for decades in addition to his beliefs? How on earth does a person - a professed Objectivist - have the gall to call such a productive peaceful man "evil" because he goes to church? What are they thinking about when they forget that productivity is high value in Objectivism or that peace is based on rational values? Blanking out the knowledge of the acts of this neighbor's entire life is precisely what the moralizers gleefully call "massive evasion." And it is massive. And of course, it is what they gleefully do.

Then look at Stalin. Is it not possible that Stalin uttered many rational thoughts? Of course he did. Was he not evil when he uttered them? Hell yes he was evil! He was evil as all get out. Look what he did - the death and destruction - with his exercise of power. We all agree that this man was the vilest form of evil - a monster.

So I simply see the contrary of your charge that Barbara attempted to make a case for "ethical agnosticism or moral neutrality." I saw a case for ethical clarity and a strong moral stand. Frankly, my take is that she made a resoundingly clear case for exercising much more rationality in moral judgments than normally is practiced by fanatical Objectivists.

Does not that fit Rand's call to treat moral judgments with "enormous responsibility" and utilizing a "ruthlessly objective and rational process of thought"?

What could be more moral than that?

Michael

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Michael,

I’m always happy when you respond to any of my posts!

The sections you quoted serve to point out, I believe, the contradictions I also spoke of. I will follow up and contrast some sentences where I think contradictions occur. If I’m wrong in my reasoning, I’ll be the first to acknowledge it. In fact, in one section of my post I did allude to a big IF in my analysis, as I am not committed to the critique offered. I do want to make sure I understand the article correctly, and that’s the beauty of the internet that we can all communicate as we are.

By the way, I identified what I saw as the article's faults---way before any of the posts that are now appearing on SLOP---pointing out to myself what is now being pointed out there at SLOP, but devoid of the characteristically pissy and snarky manner of the SlOP bullies. They are not “worthy opponents”—they are simply bully opponents, EVEN if I should agree with them on certain issues.

Still, I did anticipate the arguments because I believe they are there to be plucked. We’ll see. But if I’m wrong—I welcome the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and have no problem being corrected, as if that could be a threat to my self-esteem.

When I read the article, I thought: Oh no, here comes the storm! It's a SLOP thug storm, mind you. Barb's identification of those ugly thugs ['by their actions you will know them'] will and ARE being ignored or down-played, as I said they would be, but she is right on those issues!

However, I wish to interact with the worthy Barb Branden. :)

edit: God, I love saying SLOP!

Edit again: Christ, I was just back on SLOP and the abuse is, of course, very ugly. As more posts appear, watch the occasional striking point injected with hurtful and unnecessarily venom. Ugly! They are vindicating parts of Objectivist Rage—in spades.

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Ring-a-ding, here’s Perigo take on the article: To the moral agnosticism, moral equivalence and downright amoral nihilism of our age Ms. Branden's carping strictures against a rush to judgment (of which no real-life examples are given) is no antidote; they amount to a slow, excruciating crawl to no judgment. She wishes to dilute the antidote to such an extent that it reinforces the disease.

Like I said, I identified what I believe to be the articles faults--way before the SLOPERS started posting their critiques. I knew the weaknesses in the article that were easily vulnerable to attack, and they were readily made available for attack. Guess what? They were attacked! Perigo even uses the phrase “moral agnosticism”—however, he may have said that only because I did. [i have the copy right on that, Perigo]. :)

Now, I am reserving moral judgment—in fact, no, I don’t think its necessary to make a moral judgment on this article. That's NOT why I'm here. I wish to express, rather, an intellectual evaluation on the merits and demirts of the article, a very different thing. Actaully, I find this casting of Barbara as a villain of Kantian proportions bloody theatrical and ridiculous. But I suppose some people wouldn't feel they are being "good Objectivists" if they weren't daily bashing somebody. And we know the buzz of the top drama-queen anyway, don't we?

Perigo declares that no examples of thuggish rush-judgers are given. Well, Mr. Perigo—you are one of them, sir. Jesus, you are the poster boy for spewing pre-judging-prior-to-all-facts presented, you piss and vinegar nit. Do I have to spell it out? Do you want concrete facts? ;)

South Park “fuck off” Kenny also comes to mind. He comes across like a gerbil thug with a velvet suit and pencil-thin mustache. Brass-knuckle crass-words Brant also comes to mind. So does snot-nosed-held-high Joe M—except he has the saving grace of actually having a brain.

There are too many examples. It is a problem within Objectivism. I know--I have been there and done that, and fell vicitim to it.

Now, I don’t want to engage some flame war, but in defense of certain sections of Barbara’s article, I wanted to be specific and provide flesh-and-blood examples. [i was charged as being a floating abstractor in my article The hatred of Objectivism is the hatred of Objectivity, even though I did eventually provide ample examples.] Barbra, its not bad forum if you meet the challenge and provide concretes examples—if you agree with the evaluation that they are lacking.

**

Soon, I would like to say more about moral judgment---and to provide, as I said I would, the apparent contradictions in the article---but not in the manner of a moral evaluation and snot-nose theatre, but rather, for the value of intellectual give-and-take. OL, I hope this is understood.

I think this issue is very important.

Victor

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Ring-a-ding, here’s Perigo take on the article: To the moral agnosticism, moral equivalence and downright amoral nihilism of our age Ms. Branden's carping strictures against a rush to judgment (of which no real-life examples are given) is no antidote; they amount to a slow, excruciating crawl to no judgment. She wishes to dilute the antidote to such an extent that it reinforces the disease.

Like I said, I identified what I believe to be the articles faults--way before the SLOPERS started postings their critiques. I knew the weaknesses in the article that were easily vulnerable to attack, and they were readily made available for attack. Guess what? They were attacked! Perigo even uses the phrase “moral agnosticism”—however, he may have said that only because I did. [i have the copy right on that, Perigo]. :)

However, I am reserving moral judgment—in fact, I don’t think its necessary to make a moral judgment on this article. That's NOT why I'm here. I wish to express, rather, an intellectual evaluation on the merits and demirts of the article, a very different thing. Actaully, I find this casting of Barbara as a villain of Kantian proportions bloody theatrical and ridiculous. But I suppose some people wouldn't feel they are being "good Objectivists" if they weren't daily bashing somebody.

Perigo declares that no examples of thuggish rush-judgers are given. Well, Mr. Perigo—you are one of them, sir. Jesus, you are the poster boy for spewing pre-judging-prior-to-all-facts presented, you piss and vinegar nit. Do I have to spell it out? Do you want concrete facts? ;)

South Park “fuck off” Kenny also comes to mind. He comes across like a gerbil thug with a velvet suit and pencil-thin mustache. Brass-knuckle crass-words Brant also comes to mind. So does snot-nosed-held-high Joe M—except he has the saving grace of actually having a brain.

There are too many examples. It is a problem within Objectivism. I know--I have been there and done that, and fell vicitim to it.

Now, I don’t want to engage some flame war, but in defense of certain sections of Barbara’s article, I wanted to be specific and provide flesh-and-blood examples. [i was charged as being a floating abstractor in my article The hatred of Objectivism is the hatred of Objectivity, even though I did eventually provide ample examples.] Barbra, its not bad forum if you meet the challenge and provide concretes examples—if you agree with the evaluation that they are lacking.

**

Soon, I would like to say more about moral judgment---and to provide, as I said I would, the apparent contradictions in the article---but not in the manner of a moral evaluation and snot-nose theatre, but rather, for the value of intellectual give-and-take. OL, I hope this is understood.

I think this issue is very important.

Victor

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Victor,

Good Lord. Who cares about those people? I have read some of their critiques so far. They all amount to the following argument: Barbara said this but she meant that. Then there is a diatribe against that, peppered by some nasty insults against her.

So far, I find your criticisms leaning in that direction (without the personal insults), but you have yet to give examples. So I will wait and see. Still, I do wish you would provide an example of a contradiction before claiming that the contradiction exists in a decisive manner.

But lets keep perspective on people. A crowded hall of Objectivists paid good money to hear and applaud Barbara's lecture. Those folks you cited staged an event a few miles away around the same time to bitch about her. One even traveled halfway around the world just for that event. About 10 people showed up in a crowded shopping mall. This was next door to Irvine, California, where ARI is situated - so not even any ARI people went. Worst of all, that event was for free.

Let's be clear. They laid an egg.

The Internet is another matter. It is also for free, but people like to watch Jerry Springer on TV, even many Objectivists. Clicking a mouse takes a lot less effort than getting in a car and going somewhere. So a few more people end up taking a look. But why debate Jerry Springer? He is for cheap entertainment only. The free-for-all is the draw.

I say, let those people bitch. Nobody is really thinking about their arguments. Most people skim over them just to get to the insults.

I, for one, will discuss ideas with you or anybody else of goodwill. I will not discuss their pronouncements as they are not people to take seriously.

Michael

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Michael,

You ask:

Good Lord. Who cares about those people?

How can I argue with that? I suppose I feel left out and missed the hey-day when OL DID talk about those people! :)

So far, I find your criticisms leaning in that direction (without the personal insults), but you have yet to give examples. So I will wait and see. Still, I do wish you would provide an example of a contradiction before claiming that the contradiction exists in a decisive manner.

Yes, I will conclude on my points. I said I would. It's just that I don't like splashing everything in one post as it does become overload for one sitting, and this is a complex issue calling for lengthy argumentation and discussion. I fear people get turned off posts that seem to scroll down to China. What I have wrote so far is to warm the pot. Plus the drama is exciting, no?

But lets keep perspective on people. A crowded hall of Objectivists paid good money to hear and applaud Barbara's lecture. Those folks you cited staged an event a few miles away around the same time to bitch about her. One even traveled halfway around the world just for that event. About 10 people showed up in a crowded shopping mall. This was next door to Irvine, California, where ARI is situated - so not even any ARI people went. Worst of all, that event was for free.

Huh-huh, I hear you. Still, one event was a lecture of full length [much more interesting] and the other a book-signing event. [Yawn!] Nevertheless, seeing either Branden wins my ticket price before hearing the blubbering babble of Perigo. Did I ever tell you that N. Branden came to Toronto in 1997 (or so) and I saw him? I also had a very brief conversation with him, but I doubt he would have remembered it. :mellow:

I say, let those people bitch. Nobody is really thinking about their arguments. Most people skim over them just to get to the insults.

Um, he's talking to you, Kenny. :P

Kenny of SLOP, that is.

Um...I just had to say SLOP again. I love saying it.

Soon....Victor

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Victor,

I would like to address on a personal level one of the more controversial items that has been widely discussed ever since "Fact and Value." The notion that ideas are evil or not. Obviously the problem starts with defining terms. Evil in Barbara's (and Kelley's) use of the term means involving action - doing something. But this term can be used metaphorically to apply to an idea, also. Still, ideas by themselves do not do anything. Only people do things. So something could be a very bad idea, but to be evil in the sense most people use the word, it needs to be acted on and it needs to be chosen. (Remember volition as one of the bases of ethics?)

Here is how the sleight of hand works in a couple of syllogisms:

A: Idea X is evil

B: Person Y thinks Idea X.

Conclusion: Person Y is thinks an evil idea.

Then

C: Person Y is thinks an evil idea.

D: People who think evil ideas are evil people.

Conclusion: Person Y is an evil person.

Now the definition of evil for "idea" (meaning bad in the sense that acting on it bears negative results) is far different than the one for "person" (meaning that the person engages in immoral and destructive behavior).

The same word is used for two different concepts, thus it inserts a concept where it doesn't belong. Two concepts - one word. The result: poor thinking.

Now here is how this works on a personal level in my own life.

The Objectivist Living site databases were recently destroyed by a hacker. I literally would like to murder that hacker. On being 100% honest with myself, I see that I really do think this and I am talking about taking his life away. Does this make me evil? No, because I also think other things that guide my actions - such as moral principles. I will not murder anyone, except for immediate self-defense or the defense of my loved ones, because I have delegated my use of force to the government (and I accept that). So I think about committing murder (at least, I will think it as long as the emotional outrage lasts), but I act in peace. I would say that I am virtuous, not evil, for doing this.

Is murder an evil idea? In the metaphorical sense, yes it is evil, because acting on it would result in a death I have no right to cause. But that only makes it a bad idea, not an evil one in the strict sense, because nothing actually happens. In the strict sense, if acted on, the person who acted on it would be evil, not the idea. In the sense of causing destruction all by itself, the idea cannot be evil. It cannot do anything all by itself.

The war of ideas is actually the war to influence people to act on ideas - to to influence them to choose to act on ideas.

Now let's look at the hacker. This was obviously someone from the Objectivist or libertarian world (and please, no public speculations on who it is from anyone - if you wish to discuss this, please do it off line). If this person is involved with Rand's works, he obviously thinks NIOF is good, not evil. He obviously thinks initiating force is evil. But the same principle of thought and action applies. Just because he thought something good, this does not make him a good person. He acted in an evil destructive manner. He initiated force against you, me and everybody else on this forum by physically destroying our work. He chose to do that.

He is an evil person.

I see no moral equivalency in this. I see a very strict use of reason to arrive at these moral judgments. And, unless I have not understood anything at all, this is in perfect alignment with Barbara's article as a practical application.

Michael

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The What and How of ideas: Context.

Let’s establish the basics: The contention is that ideas can neither be good or evil. This leads to a practical problem from the outset: if we are to act on an idea—and as volitional beings, we must act on ideas if we are to live---we must first make an ethical evaluation of a given idea (or ideas) to determine if we should or should not act on the idea. Can we agree on that? By whatever starting point, religious or Objectivist, we first evaluate, appraise--we judge, a given idea as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ before we decide to act on it. Before we judge a person who has carried out some idea, we all judge the idea in advance. We are conceptual creatures. It’s in our nature to do that.

Let me concretize this point.

Michael, suppose for the moment that I’m a cleaver, but a very wet-behind-the-ears, teenager. Let’s say that I’m still grabbling with different ideas, trying to sort it all out, and we fall into a conversation. You are an advanced Objectivist thinker, my professor. I’m a babe-in-the-woods when it comes to philosophical ideas, and I don’t know anything about Objectivism. Let’s say I advance the Marxist idea: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his according to his need” and suggest THIS ought to be politically implemented, as I think it’s a good idea. Do you consider me an evil person? No, not necessarily. You have taken context into account: I’m an ignorant and inexperienced youth.

But you might still object: “Listen, that’s not a practical idea.” I arch a brow. “Well,” I counter, “maybe it’s not practical—but it’s good.” As an Objectivist, you argue further: “No, Victor, it’s not good, because it’s not practical.” I ask you to clarify your point: “So, are you saying…it’s not a good idea?” “More than just that,” you hasten to add, “It’s an evil idea.” I chortle. “It’s an evil idea, you say? Ha, that’s sounds like religious talk, Michael.”

You skirt the issue by trying to introduce me to other ideas---ideas that are the opposite of what I’m putting forth. And why do you? Because you recognize the idea I have advanced is evil. You recognize that “the evil” is the impractical. You understand that regardless of all the best intentions in the world such an idea cannot lead to good---no matter what your moral estimate of the people who would have it established.

Still determined to sway me, you call history to my attention. “This idea has already been put into action,” you claim, trying to appeal to the empiricist in me, “and it was a bloody disaster!” I shrug, and fix my eyes upon you. “Where the leaders of those times evil?” “Yes, they were!” you answer. “Well, Michael, I’m not evil. Men should share with each other that which has been given in common. I’ll make this good idea work.”

You grumble for a moment, thinking of a different approach. “Listen, I’m not saying that ideas are good or bad…its people that are good or bad. Now let me tell you about the ideas of Capitalism…” “Okay, fine,” I interrupt, “I’m a good person. Ideas are not good or bad, you say? Great! Knowing that, I feel comfortable in trying to have this idea established.” A vision of me in power flashes in your imagination, and you feel a chill down your spine. “But if you go about preaching that idea and devote your life in trying to have it established---you’ll become evil!”

My patience with you is reaching a boiling point, because I took a philosophy 101 class and I can identify a contradiction when I hear one. “Listen, Michael, how can you say ‘I’ll become evil’ if I act on this idea? I suppose you are morally judging the idea in advance, huh? How do you know this? How do we decide which ideas are proof of evil? An idea, like an emotional reaction, is not a moral agent. Only men and women are moral agents; only they can be good or evil…”

This is where you stop me, because you know now that I have read Barbara Branden’s article.

No, I don’t consider the teenager evil in my story, and not because I cast myself in the role. I have been that ignorant youth, spouting off ideas left and right. That’s why I have entitled this section the “How” and “What” of ideas---that is, we must consider context at all times: “What is the idea? And How is it held?

The What, in this case, was collectivism—always an evil idea. And the how, in this same case, was an evil idea held by an otherwise good teenager still struggling with the world of ideas.

***

Now, putting aside my little morality play, let’s cover a few basic issues. Before doing so, I want to say first that I particularly like the chapter “Philosophy: Who needs it” from the book of the same name. I also like the “Philosophical Detection.” In any philosophical discourse, I try to live by its injunctions. It has been enormously helpful to me in my intellectual growth. “The laymen’s error,” Rand writes, “in regard to philosophy, is the tendency to accept consequences while ignoring their causes.” Of course, the “causes” are ideas. That’s where we begin before we act. Now consider this: Rand quotes the common bromide ‘This may be good in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice.’ She then asks—“What is a theory? It is a set of abstract principles purporting to be either a correct description of reality or a set of guidelines for man’s actions…if a theory is inapplicable to reality, by what standard can it be estimated as ‘good?’"

By this, we can take the following as our standard in judging ideas: Reality and rationality. Is this idea true--and therefore good? Or is the idea false--and therefore evil? This is what I concern myself with as my standard in judging ideas. [And please, I don’t need to spell out that human beings don’t require omniscience in order to judge people or ideas].

And never mind what someone or other 'thinks' regarding ideas--what are the facts--as judged by YOU, the individiual? [i'm reminded here of the excellent article 'Who is the final authority in ethics?]

When judging a person who is advocating an idea, I take all things into context. As an Objectivist, I take things into context as part of my methodology. I am able to differentiate between, say, a twelve-year-old Arab boy, entrenched in a certain culture and an educated Western intellectual who advocates the ideas the Arab boy was inculcated with. Context! That is: What and How?

Incidentally, here is one of the contradictions in the article that has been troubling for me to reconcile to the overall thesis. Barbara writes: “If the boy [the twelve-year-old Arab boy] were an adult who seen something of the world, who had had an education, who had heard intelligent opinions in conflict with those he’d been taught, then yes, we could consider him evil—evil because he has so corrupted his thinking that he is willing to ignore the evidence he has heard and seen.”

So in other words, we CAN judge this man to be evil?

Barbara does not describe the man as carrying out his ideas in action, leading to bloodshed--to pronounce him as evil, but rather: he has “corrupted his thinking” and chooses to entertain—and presumably to advocate and instigate—ideas he knows that there are alternatives to. How do you reconcile that with the assertion that “ideas are neither good nor evil”---that is, true or false?

Good ideas or Bad? Rand offers the following: “Observe that the history of philosophy reproduces---in slow motion, on a macrocosmic screen—the workings of ideas in an individual man’s mind. A man who has accepted false premises is free to reject them, but until and unless he does, they do not lie still in his mind, they grow without his conscious participation and reach their ultimate logical conclusions. [italics mine]. Some ideas promote life--others are a danger to it. Ideas, you might have heard it said, are important.

Now as to some of the questions you put to me.

Let me be brief...

The hacker: was he evil before he committed the crime of destroying property? How the hell do I know for sure? I don’t know the bastard! Was his action evil? Yes. Still, let’s consider ideas. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, he held---implicitly or explicitly--such ideas as “I can behave in ways that are damaging and inimical to others, as my emotions dictate, as this advances my interests” and “My interests are best served by harming others—that’s practical, that’s how you get ahead in life, and besides, it makes me feel good.” This is an evil idea—a false idea. Bad ideas lead to bad consequences. This little fucker carried out a bad idea—a very safe assumption.

Now as to you: No, your feelings are not to be judged as evil or good. Your emotions are entirely in accordance with your values. As an Objectivist, you know this. An act of force was initiated against your property, your values--and your natural response was anger---rage even. Is murder an evil idea? Again and again: What’s the context? What and How? Are you seeking values by killing someone? Are you killing someone to obtain their money? Are you killing somebody who is simply trying to kill you first? Are you killing someone to protect yourself? Do you feel like killing somebody who has done you harm? These are all very different things. And in some of those examples, "murder" is the wrong word.

More to come later—the next section is: Moral Judgment: Good and bad.

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Victor,

Three points:

1.

Is this idea true--and therefore good? Or is the idea false--and therefore evil?

I don't follow this. Here's a simple mathematical idea:

2+2=5

In your formulation, this is evil. Calling it evil makes me laugh.

David Kelley wrote that ideas are correct or incorrect. Living being are the entities that value - the "will" using the ideas so to speak. How they attend to their values is good or evil. There can be no good or evil without value. A false idea is merely incorrect, not value-depriving. It becomes value-depriving when it is used (in reality) in the place of a true idea.

2. You left out the whole context of celebration of killing unbelievers in your Arab boy analysis. If the boy had experienced and participated in as much as was given in the example, he obviously would have done more of the same - or worse - as an adult. So the adult, after seeing the world enough to challenge his premises, is evil should he continue on the path of celebrating those who kill unbelievers, or actually killing them himself.

Edit: Victor, I wish to make another point with this. You wrote about the Arab:

So in other words, we CAN judge this man to be evil?

Actually, there are two "men" being considered. One who has grown up from that 12 year old knowing only that culture, and another who has gone out into the world and experienced the rest of it; who has seen the glories of modern culture, yet maintains a fundamentalism that promotes the bloodshed of nonbelievers.

The man in the first case is far less evil (if "evil" can even be applied where there are no alternatives to choose from) than the man in the second case, who chooses to be that way in the face of perceived alternatives. This does not mean that the man in the first case is not dangerous - he probably is. In any war, he must be killed if he is fighting, and if he tries to kill innocent people, he must be stopped by any-and-all means possible, including killing him. But he is a far different animal than the second man. He is that way because that is all he ever knew. The second man wants to be that way and knows better. (End edit.)

3. My context for murder could have been more explicit - it was murder as punishment for deleting databases. This obviously is disproportionate, yet I honestly hold this idea in my mind. (I will not act on it, though, even should I ever get the chance.) Is that disproportionate idea evil or wrong? Does holding it make me evil?

Michael

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3. My context for murder could have been more explicit - it was murder as punishment for deleting databases. This obviously is disproportionate, yet I honestly hold this idea in my mind. (I will not act on it, though, even should I ever get the chance.) Is that disproportionate idea evil or wrong? Does holding it make me evil?

Michael,

I will have a more elaborate answer to give soon. But I did want to respond tonight, in part, to your recent post--the third question, that is, however brief.

Since you mention Peikoff’s Fact and Value, I am reminded of one section that does apply to your third question. In the Peikoff article, the following is offered for consideration: In a specific context, a man is appropriately held untarnished for an unreasonable idea, as Peikoff states, so long as he himself does not act on it.

Let me offer the Peikoffian argument: if you conclude that--though you are innocent of any wrongdoing--the death of the hacker would be a fantastic thing, but you then remind yourself of his rights and hold yourself in check by refraining from killing him, you may be free of blame and can even be, it is further suggested, given a certain moral credit: "Michael kept that bad idea within his own mind," one could say, "he did not allow it to lead to the destruction of the innocent. [although, the question of innocence is in question;]

Still, to that degree, Peikoff makes clear, and in actual practice, you are moved by the recognition of reality.

“But this kind of analysis does not absolve the philosophic advocate of unreason,” Peikoff states. “In regard to him, one cannot say: ‘He implicitly advocates murder, but does not himself commit it, so he is morally innocent.’ Peikoff illustrates that “The philosopher of irrationalism, though legally innocent of any crime, is not “keeping his ideas within his own mind”—but rather he is swaying them on the world and into actual practice.

Encouragement of this kind is a form of action: it represents an entire life spent on subverting man's mind at its base, Peikoff declares, and he asks this crucial question: “Can anyone honestly hold that such advocacy pertains not to 'action,' but merely to the world of ‘ideas,’ and therefore that verdicts such as ‘good’ and ‘evil’ do not apply to it?

This is a brilliant example, among other things, of context-keeping.

But I will follow up...allow me to think over a few more things, and respond to this as you see fit.

Edit: I still insist that the context I pointed out, that you’re feeling that you could kill this bastard—this being a feeling spurred by the violation of your property—is miles away from, say, an actual calculated plan for killing somebody in order to gain something not rightfully yours. I’m sorry, Michael, I think you’re better than an actual killer. I hate to break to ya. B)

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Victor,

Then, according to your argument, the idea of me murdering the hacker for deleting the databases is not an evil idea at all. Neither is it morally good. It is merely an idea that I have to weigh against other ideas - in terms of which are more in line with reality. That means correct/wrong, not good/evil. David Kelley's point.

The good/evil part comes in with what I decide to do with the ideas.

On calling philosophy professors evil because they teach incorrect ideas, I remember college and a slew of half-assed teachers, so the temptation is to call them evil. But I have personally met evil people in life - the real bad guys. The ones who blow a person away for money and then go home to dinner, watch the seven o'clock news and sleep like a baby. Sorry. Your little college professor whose major entertainment is to pour over the differences in two or three translations of Kant or whatever is not even close to those guys in being despicable.

There is another huge premise that needs checking that runs parallel to this: that philosophy is the sole major element governing human history. The more I study man, the more I see things like herding, social hierarchies and other elements as equally strong governing influences. In my present view, philosophy is not THE OINLY fundamental influence. It is ONE OF SEVERAL major fundamental influences.

So teaching poor ideas is not the only thing that will cause a social catastrophe, although it will probably be a factor. Whether these philosophy professors are seeking that catastrophe (choosing it) is another matter.

Michael

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Michael,

You wrote: Then, according to your argument, the idea of me murdering the hacker for deleting the databases is not an evil idea at all. Neither is it morally good. It is merely an idea that I have to weigh against other ideas - in terms of which are more in line with reality. That means correct/wrong, not good/evil. David Kelley's point.

And if you are able to judge an idea as being “more in line with reality”---most especially when the existential import of that idea will have great ethical ramifications, and you know that ahead of any action—then you can evaluate an idea as good or bad [as guided by a standard] PRIOR to taking action on it. This brings up 'is' and 'ought'...right?

Of course, that’s a brief answer. More to come.

***

An aside: You say—“David Kelly’s point” as if I’m an enemy of Kelley categorically. I’m not. As a thinker, I regard him as I do Peikoff: I agree with both men on certain points and then I find myself in disagreement on other points. Remember my non-partisan status, the Objectivist without a party-line home. :rolleyes:

Victor

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