Selective timeline and links of the Kelley-Peikoff schism


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My research on the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion is taking me through a number of articles in The Objectivist Forum. I didn't subscribe to the periodical in its day, so some of this material is new to me.

The June 1987 issue consists of "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand," which was Leonard Peikoff's Ford Hall Forum speech given on April 26 of that year.

Is "My Thirty Years" the speech that Robert Bidinotto is referring to in his SOLOHQ post from 2005?

Even after publication of Barbara's book, the "official" position was still heated denial: continuing accusations that the Brandens were liars, that their accounts were "non-objective." But I noticed cracks in the public facade. In his own published screed against Barbara [August 20, 1986], Peter Schwartz asked in his closing paragraphs: So what if any of the claims in Barbara's book happen to be true? The real importance of Ayn Rand, he said, lay in her philosophy and novels: "It is her books that she should be judged by."

A curious position coming from people who had long argued that Objectivism permits no breach between mind and body, theory and practice -- and who had, since 1968, used that very argument against the Brandens.

Then -- FINALLY -- at a Ford Hall Forum speech which I attended, Peikoff revealed during the Q&A that he had recently "discovered" among Ayn Rand's personal papers some letters that confirmed that, Yes, there had been an affair.

The body of the speech, as published, says many negative things about unnamed memoir writers and the claims they make about Ayn Rand... but never alludes to the affair.

However, the question and answer period to this talk would have been an obvious place for someone to come out and ask about it.

I'm trying to get the timeline straight, and not just because it would be useful to know whether Dr. Peikoff's public admission followed the publication of Barbara Branden's book. I'm also wanting to make sure that in his 1986 piece, Peter Schwartz really meant to say that anything that BB said about the affair had to be an arbitrary assertion.

Robert Campbell

PS. Did Leonard Peikoff give any Ford Hall Forum speeches after 1987?

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I'm trying to get the timeline straight, and not just because it would be useful to know whether Dr. Peikoff's public admission followed the publication of Barbara Branden's book.

Robert, yes definitely Peikoff's Ford Hall Forum statement that there indeed had been an affair, followed by some months the publication of my book. For months before the Forum talk, he had been saying that I invented the entire story. He should have added, but didn't, that my literary imagination in inventing the story and all its details and psychological ins and outs, should have won me the Nobel Prize for Fiction.

Barbara

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Barbara,

So here's what I have now:

--In May 1986, you published The Passion of Ayn Rand

--In June 1986, Leonard Peikoff ran his one-paragraph dismissal of your book

--In August 1986, Peter Schwartz declared anything you said about Ayn Rand to be arbitrary

--In April 1987, Leonard Peikoff gave his talk "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand," never alluding to the affair in the body of his talk, or in the published version

--But during the question and answer period to the same talk, Dr. Peikoff admitted that there had been an an affair after all

According to Jim Valliant in his magnum opus, anything that you say about Ayn Rand is arbitrary and will remain arbitrary, even if it is corroborated in the future by evidence from sources acceptable to Jim Valliant.

But back in 1986, Peter Schwartz was already claiming that anything you said about Ayn Rand was arbitrary.

"Therefore," your published statement that Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden had an affair was arbitrary in 1986, was still arbitrary in 2005, and will be arbitrary forevermore.

Whereas when Leonard Peikoff admitted in 1987 that there had been an affair, his statement was true.

According to Messrs. Schwartz and Valliant, then, you're still eligible for that Nobel Prize.

Robert Campbell

PS. If I've rendered their reasoning correctly, the Peikovians have provided their own reductio ad absurdum of the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion--they've needed no help from me or any other critic.

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Robert, your post, although clearly arbitrary -- meaning: would be heatedly disputed by Messrs. Peikoff, Schwartz, and Valliant -- is exactly correct. My statement declarimg it to be arbitrary is, of course, not arbitrary -- although it may be so next week -- and then again, it may be true and therefore not arbitrary next month. And if this isn't clear to you, it's a sign of your evasiveness and general depravity, for which you should be shunned by all rational people, such as Messrs. Peikoff, Schwartz, and Valliant.

Barbara

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Robert Campbell:

>PS. If I've rendered their reasoning correctly, the Peikovians have provided their own reductio ad absurdum of the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion--they've needed no help from me or any other critic.

Yes, so much for the folly. Now as to what it accomplishes.

The whole principle of objective truth is, obviously, that a statement is true no matter who says it. So if we regard the proposition "Ayn Rand had an affair with Nathaniel Branden" as objectively true, it is true regardless of whether I, Barbara Branden, Leonard Peikoff, or David Letterman or the Pope anyone else says it - just as the statement "Napoleon died on St Helena" would be.

However, this obvious point is precisely what Peikoff denies. According to Peikoff, the truth of a statement now rests on whoever is making it. Thus if Barbara Branden says "Napoleon died on St Helena" this statement is no longer true, it is apparently "arbitrary", which he defines as neither true nor false*. But if Leonard Peikoff says it, then the statement magically becomes true!

Thus Peikoff has effectively destroyed the idea of objectively true statements, and returned via the back door to the era of personal authority as the source for truth. This is, I think, the end trajectory of his obscurantist strategic maneuvering with the term "arbitrary." Further, it is notable that Peikoff himself only finally validates the statement "Ayn Rand had an affair with Nathaniel Branden" because Ayn Rand said so in some letters. His own personal judgement of the situation during the near 20 years between 1968 and the alleged discovery of the letters must have been very interesting. Either he believed it was untrue - perhaps because, once again, Rand said so, and shutting his ears to all suggestions that contradicted the one source of truth - or, his judgement sat suspended, hovering in its own netherworld of the arbitrary through the decades, in a state perilously close to what is called "Blank out."

*How Peikoff justifies this "Neither/Nor" position with the Law of the Excluded Middle I have no idea.

Edited by Daniel Barnes
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Daniel, I sympathize with your disdain for Peikoff's mishandling of the notion of the "arbitrary," but I think you are off track in regard to the concept of "truth":

1. What you are advocating as the "principle of objective truth" is actually a view of truth as being intrinsic to utterances. Truth is not just some sort of structural identity or “isomorphism” between an utterance and reality, a sort of one-to-one “correspondence” between the utterance's content and structure and that of reality. That is the “sea shell” fallacy Peikoff has spoken of (shells wash up on the beach and spell “A is A”—true? false? neither!). Truth is the product of a mind grasping the facts of reality. It’s fairly well understood that truth is not intrinsic to reality. What must also be realized, however, is that truth is not intrinsic to utterances, either. What “correspondence to” really means here is: constituting recognition of, or correctly identifying.

2. Truth, like everything else that exists, is subject to the Law of the Excluded Middle. A proposition cannot be both true and not-true at the same time or in the same respect. But...if we are careful to specify the different times or respects involved, a given proposition jolly well CAN be both true and not-true. For this reason, it may very well be that a proposition could be true when uttered by one person and not-true when uttered by another. The reason this seems a bit questionable may be the residue of the intrinsic view of truth. But follow my reasoning here: if you hear someone claim that a given proposition is true—which can only be so because it “corresponds” to reality—then you have to determine whether it is the product of anyone's mind correctly identifying reality. If in one person's mind the proposition is the product of a correct identification by that person, then it is true for that personand for anyone else making the same identification. But by the same standard, if in another person's mind the proposition is not the product of a correct identification by that person, then it is not true for that person. This is how a given proposition can be both true and not true, provided it is not in the same respect. The respects that differ are the proposition’s being a correct identification by the one person and not being so by the other person.

3. Does this mean that truth is "relative"? Of course. Everything that is objective—as opposed to subjective or intrinsic—is relative, relational, dependent upon a specific cognitive relation between a knower and the world. But by being relative, truth does not thereby become subjective. All I am saying is that a proposition is not true by some kind of cosmic remote control or osmosis (which would be the intrinsic model of truth)—but instead by the fact(s)' appearing to the subject, with all evidence supporting it the proposition about it, and no evidence contradicting it, such that there is no rational (evidence-or-logic-based) reason to doubt it. Any person uttering a proposition that has no basis for it is not uttering the truth, even if we, who are greatly more informed, happen to have a basis for accepting the proposition. It is true for us, not because the person has uttered it, but because we have an independent basis for accepting it, and in spite of the fact that the person has uttered it. The person's having uttered it is ruled as inadmissible epistemically, just like the parrot or the sea shells—even if and even though we accept it for perfectly good reasons of our own. The truth resides in a proposition entertained by the mind(s) and only by the minds of the people who have the warrant/justification for the proposition. Truth does not attach to unjustified propositions, just because someone at some time may see that there is actual justification for them. Truth is not an ontological attribute, but an epistemological attribute. That means without knowledge, there is only reality, facts—not truth. The day the Objectivist movement votes to reject this view is the day I turn in my badge, for it will have become meaningless and worthless to me.

4. Now, how does this apply to the huge, sad brouhaha between the Loyalists and the Brandens? Haven't I just agreed, in essence, with Peikoff's position on truth? Yes. But I am not thereby agreeing with the abusive misapplication he has made of it. We are entitled, even obliged, to disregard and reject the claims made by people who have proven themselves to be unreliable sources of factual information. But even if the personal writings of the Brandens consisted of subtle and egregious self-serving lies intricately interwound with great amounts of verifiable fact, their writings constitute an enormous source of insight and perspective about Rand and the Objectivist movement. It is our responsibility not to reject them on the basis of Peikoff's authority, but to carefully sift through them and use our best rational judgment about what to believe and what not to believe.

5. In particular, it is not true that Barbara Branden or Nathaniel Branden had no basis in fact for asserting that Nathaniel and Ayn had an affair, and that their assertions of the affair were purely arbitrary. We're not talking about gremlins or green cheese on the moon here! The Brandens offered a great deal of plausible and verifiable evidence to support their claims about the affair. It behooves us to use our own independent judgment to decide how much of their claims to believe, how much to doubt, and how much to reject—not someone with a personal axe to grind against two of his principal rivals. And consider how absurd it is for Peikoff to say the Branden's statements about the Affair were arbitrary. He is saying their statements were baseless. That logically implies (among other things) that they had no personal experiences on which to base their statements. Even later, though, when he found out that the Affair did happen—and thus that the personal experiences supporting those statements really existed—he still claimed that the statements were arbitrary. This is nonsense on stilts!

REB

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Hi Roger

I think I follow your lines of argument, tho I have some points of disagreement, particularly your 2). But fortunately I think we can leave these aside for now, as I wasn't so concerned with the thorny issues of the conditions for accepting the truth of statements as Peikoff's backdoor strategy for validating personal authority. This is why I included the statement about "Napoleon died on St Helena" for comparison. Because everything Barbara Branden says is supposedly inherently unreliable, hence "arbitrary", one presumes this statement - which is generally accepted to be true, and is nothing to do with anyone's personal experience of the Objectivist movement - must be also considered neither true nor false when she says it - but if for example, Ayn Rand said it, then it would be regarded as true. This amusing absurdity is in effect James Valliant's argument in PARC and as he is not very original I presume he has swallowed it whole from Peikoff.

Edited by Daniel Barnes
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I think we can imagine situations where even a person who is an eye-witness says something so fanciful or has so little credibility that we would, in effect, reject what they say out of hand or refuse to investigate it further. But Valliant's finding the Brandens (and their "friends") credible when they support what he says but not credible when they say something about his hero he doesn't like is arbitrary.

This is from Peikoff's web site:

"Anyone who can conceive and create Dagny Taggart is Dagny Taggart—intellectually, psychologically and emotionally. For further details, listen to my talk “My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand” available at the ARI bookstore. "

I believe Peikoff was quoted at the time of PAR as saying something to the effect of "consider what kind of person wrote Atlas Shrugged."

It is quite breathtaking for LP to urge us to reject what the Brandens say based on a "rationalistic" construction of what Rand must have been.

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Neil:

>But Valliant's finding the Brandens (and their "friends") credible when they support what he says but not credible when they say something about his hero he doesn't like is arbitrary.

Oh, the irony...;-)

>"Anyone who can conceive and create Dagny Taggart is Dagny Taggart—intellectually, psychologically and emotionally. For further details, listen to my talk “My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand” available at the ARI bookstore. "

This sort of thing is just crazytalk. But then on the other hand it is not suprising, given that a vital human quality like imagination gets so little formal respect within Objectivism.

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Peikoff:

"Anyone who can conceive and create Dagny Taggart is Dagny Taggart—intellectually, psychologically and emotionally. For further details, listen to my talk “My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand” available at the ARI bookstore. "

So...Ayn Rand is also - intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally - Howard Roark? John Galt? Ellsworth Toohey? Robert Stadler? Wesley Mouch?

Shakespeare is Hamlet? Macbeth? Doestoyevsky is Raskalnikov? Thomas Harris is Hannibal Lecter?

And so forth. The man seems to be in the grip of a strange fantasy - or at least is no longer able to distinguish fiction from reality.

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This is from Peikoff's web site:

"Anyone who can conceive and create Dagny Taggart is Dagny Taggart—intellectually, psychologically and emotionally. For further details, listen to my talk “My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand” available at the ARI bookstore. "

No one is Dagny Taggart, not even in the sense persons might be Shakespearian characters, since Rand's characters aren't full-fleshed.

Re Peikoff's "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand," see some comments of mine well back in this list's history:

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/in...post&p=1391

I'll repost those comments using the quote feature available with the current list software:

This comes from a speech by Leonard Peikoff, "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand: An Intellectual Memoir," delivered at the Ford Hall Forum on April 26, 1987. It was reprinted in Vol. 8, No. 3, June 1987, of The Objectivist Forum and copyrighted 1987 by TOF Publications, Inc.

In the deepest epistemological sense, Ayn Rand was, as we may put it, the opposite of an egalitarian. She did not regard every aspect of a whole as equal in importance to every other. Some aspects, she held, are critical to a proper understanding; others merely clutter up the cognitive landscape and distract lesser minds from the truth. So the task of the thinker is to distinguish the two, i.e., to analyze and process the data confronting him, not to amass mounds of information without any attempt at mental digestion. She herself accordingly always functioned like an intellectual detective, a philosophical Hercule Poirot, reading, watching, listening for the fact, the statement, the perspective that would illuminate a whole, tortuous complexity--the one that would reveal the essence and thereby suddenly make that complexity simple and intelligible. The result was often dramatic. When you were with her, you always felt poised on the brink of some startling new cognitive adventure and discovery.

[so far so good, but now comes the example.]

Here is an example of what I mean. About a dozen years ago, Ayn Rand and I were watching the Academy Awards on television; it was the evening when a streaker flashed by during the ceremonies. Most people probably dismissed the incident with some remark like: "He's just a kid" or "It's a high-spirited prank" or "He wants to get on TV." But not Ayn Rand. Why, her mind, wanted to know, does this "kid" act in this particular fashion? What is the difference between his "prank" and that of college students on a lark who swallow goldfish or stuff themselves into telephone booths? How does his desire to appear on TV differ from that of a typical game-show contestant? In other words, Ayn Rand swept aside from the outset the superficial aspects of the incident and the standard irrelevant comments in order to reach the essence, which has to pertain to this specific action in this distinctive setting.

"Here," she said to me in effect, "is a nationally acclaimed occasion replete with celebrities, jeweled ballgowns, coveted prizes, and breathless cameras, an occasion offered to the country as the height of excitement, elegance, glamor--and what this creature wants to do is drop his pants in the middle of it all and thrust his bare buttocks into everybody's face. What then is his motive? Not high spirits or TV coverage, but destruction--the satisfaction of sneering at and undercutting that which the rest of the country looks up to and admires." In essence, she concluded, the incident was an example of nihilism, which is the desire not to have or enjoy values, but to nullify and eradicate them.

Nor did she stop there. The purpose of using concepts, as I have suggested--and the precondition of reaching principles--is the integration of observed facts; in other words, the bringing together in one's mind of data from many different examples or fields, such as the steel and the coal industries, for instance. Any Rand was expert at this process. For her, grasping the essence of an event was merely the beginning of processing it cognitively. The next step was to identify that essence in other, seemingly very different areas, and thereby discover a common denominator uniting them all.

Having grasped the streaker's nihilism, therefore, she was eager to point out to me some very different examples of the same attitude. Modern literature, she observed, is distinguished by its creators' passion not to offer something new and positive, but to wipe out: to eliminate plots, heroes, motivation, even grammar and syntax; in other words, their brazen desire to destroy their own field along with the great writers of the past by stripping away from literature every one of its cardinal attributes. Just as Progressive education is the desire for education stripped of lessons, reading, facts, teaching, and learning. Just as avant-garde physics is the gleeful cry that there is no order in nature, no law, no predictability, no causality. That streaker, in short, was the very opposite of an isolated phenomenon. He was a microcosm of the principle ruling modern culture, a fleeting representative of that corrupt motivation which Ayn Rand has described so eloquently as "hatred of the good for being the good." And what accounts for such widespread hatred? she asked at the end. Her answer brings us back to the philosophy we referred to earlier, the one that attacks reason and reality wholesale and thus makes all values impossible: the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.

Listening to Ayn Rand that evening, I felt that I was beginning to understand what it means really to understand an event. I went home and proceeded to write the chapter in my book The Ominous Parallels about Weimar culture, which develops at length Ayn Rand's analysis of the modern intellectual trend. The point here, however, is not her analysis, but the method that underlies it: observation of facts; the identification of the essential; the integration of data from many disparate fields; then the culminating overview, the grasp of principle.

I use the term "overview" deliberately, because I always felt as though everyone else had their faces pressed up close to an event and were staring at it myopically, while she was standing on a mountaintop, sweeping the world with a single glance, and thus able to identify the most startling connections, not only between streaking and literature, but also, as you must know, between sex and economics, art and business, William F. Buckley and Edward Kennedy; in short, between the kinds of things that other people automatically pigeonhole into separate compartments. Her universe, as a result, was a single, unified whole, with all its parts interrelated and intelligible; it was not the scattered fragments and fiefdoms that are all most people know. To change the image: she was like a ballet dancer of the intellect, leaping from fact to fact and field to field, not by the strength of her legs, but by the power of logic, a power that most men do not seem fully to have discovered yet.

So... It's easy to be sucked in by this passage, since by the time he's done with it, he's describing a way of thinking which was a major aspect of her brilliance. But her conclusions about the streaker's psychology are utterly unwarranted: he's a nihilist whose strings are being pulled by Immanuel Kant? Oh, really? Just how could she know that? I'd say that by far the most probable explanations are the ones she brushes aside. And recall, this occurred at the height of the streaking craze; there'd been streakers' fests in Central Park; someone had streaked across the stage at the National Book Awards (whoever was the master of ceremonies brought down the house by nonchalantly remarking, "Oh, I didn't know Alfred Knopff was attending"), etc. Streaking was the fad of the "hour," the then-equivalent of cramming into phonebooths (or managing to hoist a car onto a rooftop, a current fad). Probably this kid was just a kid on a highjinks, a bit bolder than most. In any case, to have had a legitimate basis for a confident ascription of motives, she'd have needed to have known some details (considerably more extensive details than the fact of his streaking) about that specific person.

Ellen

___

Edit: Corrected a couple typos I noticed.

Edited by Ellen Stuttle
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Ellen,

Thank you for reminding us of your earlier post on this subject.

On reading all of "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand" for the first time, I (once again) was amazed by the example of the streaker at the Academy Awards.

If anyone else had jumped to such conclusions about the guy's motives, it would have been denounced as "psychologizing." But when Ayn Rand did it, it was praised as the product of deep insight, unattainable by anyone else.

The same speech, of course, includes the passage in which Leonard Peikoff announces (in effect) that when it comes to Ayn Rand, he's nonobjective and proud of it.

What an irony that he publicly admitted the affair between AR and NB in the question and answer period to the very same talk.

Robert Campbell

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Roger and Daniel,

The points you've raised are at the very heart of epistemology.

And, IMHO, Leonard Peikoff handles them very poorly.

A good place to bring the issues up in detail would be in the discussion of Karl Popper's chapter from his book on Objective Knowledge, which I hope we can do soon. (I need to reread it, but should be able to get to it in the next few days.)

In the meantime, though...

There is a crucial difference between saying or claiming or believing something that is true, and knowing that what you've said or claimed or believed is true. In her conception of truth, as elaborated by Dr. Peikoff, Ayn Rand seems to have been maintaining that it isn't true unless you know that it's true.

Robert Campbell

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Roger,

I must respectfully disagree with your defense of Leonard Peikoff's conception of truth.

(1) Dr. Peikoff would have a Holstein if he heard his position netted out in the terms, "The same proposition can be true for me and arbitrary for you." He considers "true for me" language, which he traces back to William James' version of pragmatism, to be the ultimate in subjectivism.

(2) I used to think that Peter Schwartz's and Jim Valliant's proclamations about "the Brandens" were abuses of the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion. But now that I've studied it more carefully, and tracked the various twists in Leonard Peikoff's own presentation of it, I can't agree that these are abuses. So far as I can see the doctrine is internally inconsistent and therefore cannot be applied objectively.

For instance, in his initial publication on the "arbitrary" (from 1987) and the very slight revision that later appeared in OPAR, Dr. Peikoff declares that "channeling" is nonobjective, and the claims about "past lives" that it leads to are a tissue of arbitrary assertions.

But in "Fact and Value," published in 1989, Dr. Peikoff puts channeling on his index of "inherently dishonest ideas," which means that claims based on channeling are false, and their proponents (at least the movement leaders, like Shirley MacLaine) know that they are false.

Finally, in his 1997 series Objectivism through Induction, Dr. Peikoff insists that when Ms. MacLaine makes a claim about her past lives, or yours, she is propounding a falsehood if she accepts Objectivist definitions of "life," "mind," "soul," and whatnot, but propounding an arbitrary assertion if she resorts to mystification when asked to defend her position.

In other words, over a decade Dr. Peikoff has been all over the bloody map about channeling.

Is this because the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion is clear and sound, and its chief spokesman is applying it improperly? Or because it is such a mess that its chief spokesman can't do any better than make the thing up as he goes along?

Robert Campbell

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Prof. Campbell,

I really think that Peikoff is in the make-it-up-as-you-go-along phase.

On his website he says that a professor who risked his life to save students at Virginia Tech was "heroic," but that a student who risked his life to save other students was "weird." What's the difference?

I recall listening to his DIM courses and it was the same. I didn't get the impression that had given anything he said much thought, and I recall he changed his opinion mid-stream on whether materialism was "D" or "M."

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Ellen,

Thank you for reminding us of your earlier post on this subject.

On reading all of "My Thirty Years with Ayn Rand" for the first time, I (once again) was amazed by the example of the streaker at the Academy Awards.

If anyone else had jumped to such conclusions about the guy's motives, it would have been denounced as "psychologizing." But when Ayn Rand did it, it was praised as the product of deep insight, unattainable by anyone else.

The same speech, of course, includes the passage in which Leonard Peikoff announces (in effect) that when it comes to Ayn Rand, he's nonobjective and proud of it.

What an irony that he publicly admitted the affair between AR and NB in the question and answer period to the very same talk.

Robert Campbell

I think the streaker is an example of what might happen to a fiction writer and thinker transitioning to non-fiction. In writing a novel the author is like a god and the explicated upon motives are as true as the author claims. Thus we get the tunnel incident with all the passengers neatly dealt with and dismissed, asphyxiated, blown up and buried. The reader agrees--or is supposed to, if not antagonized.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede
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I did a quick search and found that the streaker was a 33 year old advertising agent who wanted to jump-start his career and make a statement about public nudity (he was for it).

Streaking had become such a phenom that Ray Stevens' song "The Streak" had already been written (but not released).

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Neil;

We know the streaker really had been reading Kant and Hegel before he took off his clothes. I suspect there was a writer named Ellsworth nearby.

I always liked David Niven's quick comment about the streaker revealing his shortcomings.

Edited by Chris Grieb
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Neil:

>I really think that Peikoff is in the make-it-up-as-you-go-along phase.

Put me down for "making it up as he goes along." But I'm enjoying the comedy!

I want to write a bit more about Ellen's post, because it says so much about Rand, Peikoff, and their intellectual relationship in a short space. In other words, I want to do a bit of gratuitous psychologising...;-) Plus I know I owe a bit more on Popper's "Epistemology Without a Knowing Subject." Will cough up in the next couple of days.

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Dan,

It's unfortunate that no one had the courage or the brains to tell Rand, "Sometimes a streaker is just a streaker."

Or to tell her anything one had half an idea that she would take the wrong (right?) way.

--Brant

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The streaker issue opens two cans of worms in Objectivism to me.

The first is the disguised sexual Puritanism I have noted throughout all Objectivist literature and history. Lip service is given to the good of sex by saying it is too wonderful for this or that, then there is a barrage of "this is disgusting" and "that is disgusting" (pornography, homosexuality, etc.). Rand's steamier rough sex parts of her novels and the affair supply some interesting counterpoint, but the Puritanism runs deep among many Objectivists. Uptight is a pretty fair description of what I have observed. (This is particularly noticeable when reading reviews of The Passion of Ayn Rand movie. Change the names and you could substitute many with sermons from the Bible Belt.)

Also, I have no doubt that if the streaker had been playing some kind of prank WITH HIS CLOTHES ON, Rand's discourse on the principles involved would have been different. I can even imagine something along the lines of claiming that the childlike and benevolent sense of life of Americans manifests itself through mischievous pranks that will not allow tradition qua tradition to ever become part of the American way of life, like dusty old Europe, etc.

The other issue is not the streaker issue per se (although it reflects the issue), but something in "My Thirty Years With Ayn Rand" that really bothered me. And this ties in with both the notion of arbitrary and David Kelley. Here is the quote (it can be found in The Voice of Reason, p. 348):

In every aspect of life, she once told me, a man should have favorites; he should define what he likes most and why, and then proceed to get it. She always did just that—from fleeing the Soviet dictatorship for America, to tripping her future husband on a movie set to get him to notice her, to ransacking ancient record shops to unearth some lost treasure, to decorating her apartment with an abundance of blue-green pillows, ashtrays, and even walls.

Ayn Rand was a woman dominated by values, values that were consistent expressions of a single view of life—which is what you might expect of a great thinker who was at once a moralist and an artist. The corollary is that she had strong dislikes in every department, too. You cannot love something without rejecting just as passionately that which you see as the antithesis of your love.

In every aspect? Really? According to what standard? How does one rationally choose a favorite color? How does the following statement sound (to paraphrase)? "A man should have favorites; he should define what he likes most and why, even if he has to decide by whim, and then proceed to get it."

That doesn't sound very Objectivist, but that is exactly what is meant when someone who does not have a favorite color is told he must choose one. I shudder when I think of applying this standard to love.

Where does indifference come in? We know Rand was indifferent to a lot of things. I suspect arbitrary would fit the bill quite nicely, except the examples do not fit.

But this is indicative of a much larger issue. The more I learn about Objectivists, not just Objectivism, the more I discern a mental laziness in a large part of them in executing the identify-then-evaluate process. I perceive an "evaluate for the sake of evaluating" posture that really bothers me. (I normally use the words "cognitive" and "normative" to discuss this.) Mental laziness may be a bit harsh, but what I have seen borders on faith. Why should a person always have favorites? Just because Rand said so?

I suspect that there is some kind of mental/spiritual mold that these people project and they try to fit themselves into it. They want to be able to react emotionally and instantly to anything and be 100% right while doing so. Here is what Peikoff said about emotions in OPAR (pp. 155-156):

There are four steps in the generation of an emotion: perception (or imagination), identification, evaluation, response. Normally, only the first and last of these are conscious. The two intellectual steps, identification and evaluation, occur as a rule without the need of conscious awareness and with lightninglike rapidity.

The wish is to be able to live on an emotional plane without thinking (identifying and evaluating), apparently because the thinking had been done once and more thinking is not needed about what generates the particular emotion. They want to live using thinking that has been automatized and is no longer within the plane of awareness. In essence, they do not want to think when they are conscious. They just want to react. I often perceive this as a wish to be able to choose and not choose at the same time.

David Kelley's heresy was to tell them that the "valuer" mold will not absolve them from the responsibility of thinking before evaluating, even when they have already done some thinking—and worse, that some identifications do not need evaluations at all.

Yea gods! That's scary! That means they are on their own and it's a cold cruel world out there. They have to rely on their own minds to face reality, not use their minds to fit inside somewhere safe.

I constantly hear the cry (often expressed differently, but the essence is the same), "We are passionate valuers above all else!"

Then I hear the heresy that really ticks them off, "Valuing is not an end in itself."

No wonder they hate Kelley. Rand said one should always have favorites and Kelley said he wanted to think about it first. He prefers his mind to Rand's.

So here is the issue. A person is confronted with alternatives to which he feels indifferent (like colors). Why can't indifferent be OK? Isn't it possible to love some things passionately and not have any opinion at all about others? We live in a pretty big universe, after all. The "passionate valuer at all costs" claims that, in a particular issue like favorite color, the indifferent person has an almost ethical obligation to choose one alternative and learn to love it. I personally find that notion to be a bit, er... arbitrary...

:)

Michael

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Michael,

I remember filling out a questionnaire from my school's newspaper when I was in 8th grade. It asked for favorites in several areas where I had no strong preference; I ended up leaving several items blank. One asked for my favorite color...

And I still don't have one.

I suppose this makes me deficient as a valuer :cry:

Robert

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Michael,

I would say that this underscores a problem with Objectivism: its rationalism. Just as Rand "knows" why the streaker did what he did w/o the facts, Peikoff knows why the Nazis came to power.

I'm the last to deny the importance of ideas in the rise of the Nazis, but it's also the case that if Hitler's opponents had acted a bit more wisely, he might not have taken over.

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