Rand's Peripheral Issues


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From: BBfromM

To: atlantis@wetheliving.com

Subject: ATL: Waa Ayn Rand ever wrong? To Ellen Moore

Date: Tue, 5 Jun 2001 11:05:03 EDT

To Ellen Moore:

To date, you never have said -- and have denied it when an instance was raised -- that Ayn Rand made a mistake. I want to ask you about the following:

Ayn Rand smoked a great deal, and for many years. And she announced often, publicly as well as privately, that there was insufficient evidence to prove that smoking caused cancer or any other disease. Many Objectivist students across the country felt safe in continuing to smoke because of her convincing arguments against statistical "proof." Then, when she was diagnosed with lung cancer, she stopped smoking at once, finally convinced that the evidence was sufficient. Her doctor did not have to tell her to stop; she did it before he could raise the subject.

When she was well, and back at work, friends said to her that she really should tell people that she had changed her mind, that now she was convinced that smoking was indeed dangerous to life. She flatly refused to do so. The reasons is not relevant; I can think of no reason good enough to warrant her silence when the results could be the death of some of the people who had accepted her original arguments and therefore had continued smoking.

For those of you who wish to know her so-called reason, it was her horror of announcing that she had cancer, because she believed that any serious illness resulted at least in part from "wrong premises." She could not bring herself to inform her students that she had any wrong premises, since she had so often told them and countless others that she had none, and had believed it herself. No matter how long and how hard her friends tried to persuade her, she refused. And she spent months, probably years, trying to discover the wrong premises that had resulted in her cancer.

Ellen, my question is: Do you think Ayn Rand was wrong not to tell her students her new conclusion about smoking?


From: BBfromM

To: atlantis@wetheliving.com

Subject: Re: ATL: Waa Ayn Rand ever wrong? To Ellen Moore

Date: Tue, 5 Jun 2001 14:41:02 EDT

Tim Hopkins wrote: << So I do think that the reason for not telling her [Ayn Rand's] students and admirers that she had changed her mind on the smoking issue is important, since it is possible (again, correct me if I am wrong, since I did not know her) she was *not* convinced of a causal relation between smoking and cancer, and stopped smoking on the basis that such a relationship was probable, not proven. >>

Even if it is the case that she considered that the relationship between smoking and cancer was probable, not proven -- I believe that she had the moral obligation to tell her students and admirers that much. It would have stopped many of them from continuing to smoke.


From: BBfromM

To: atlantis@wetheliving.com

Subject: Re: ATL: Re: Waa Ayn Rand ever wrong? To Ellen Moore

Date: Tue, 5 Jun 2001 18:16:56 EDT

You are quite right, Jeff, but this was not Ayn Rand's position. She did think that her smoking had been at least a partial cause of her lung cancer. And she should have told this to NBI's students.


From: Nathaniel Branden

Reply-To: brandenn

To: atlantis@wetheliving.com

Subject: ATL: Rand and smoking

Date: Tue, 05 Jun 2001 16:05:42 -0700

When Devers Branden visited Ayn Rand, as reported in the revised edition of my memoir, Devers still smoked (1980-81).

When Devers pulled out a cigarette AR said to her, "Oh, you really should not smoke. It's very bad for your health."

Devers promised to quit and she did.

Nathaniel Branden

From: BBfromM

To: atlantis@wetheliving.com

Subject: Re: ATL: Re: Was Ayn Rand ever wrong?

Date: Wed, 6 Jun 2001 00:29:13 EDT

Steve Reed wrote:

<< Was it that she [Ayn Rand] had, in fact, decided (or not) that smoking was genuinely dangerous to -human life,- in more general terms? Or that it clearly had been a cause of harm to -her own life,- in specific terms? I never quite understood which alternative was involved here. (Perhaps something else.)>>

I think that both sides of the alternative were involved. That is, that she began to think it likely that smoking potentially was dangerous to life and that it had been at least a partial cause of her own cancer.

Steve further wrote:

<<It would only tend toward being a causal "result" for those who -substituted- Rand's judgments about this evidence for their own appraisals. We do that all the time when relying on expert testimony. Many strong admirers of Rand (such as I) have had moments of doing so. . . . Yet whether Rand had enough of a scientific basis at hand to be properly relied upon as an expert on this issue is another matter. She had one genuine broader philosophic truth at hand, that "correlation is not causation" -- yet she ended up using this, it seems, as a mere rationalization.>>

If you had heard Ayn Rand's arguments about why there was no proof that smoking had a causative role in cancer, you would not speak of her listeners substituting her judgment for their own appraisals. As usual, her arguments were powerful, even overwhelming. I believe that most of our students were convinced by her reasons, whether or not they also saw her as an authority figure. Unless one went home, thought about what she said and how convincing it was -- and then thought: But is just isn't so! Although there are many exceptions, the correlation between smoking and cancer is simply too strong to be explained away.

It is very difficult to make real to people who didn't see her in action, the extraordinary intellectual power of Ayn Rand. We are very lucky that she wasn't a communist, because if she had been, we probably would now be living under a communist dictatorship. (I know, I know, I'm uttering a near-contradiction – Ayn Rand as a communist would not be Ayn Rand -- but it approximately makes my point.)

Steve also wrote:

<< . . . Mind-over-disease cults have had a long history of popular appeal in Russia, over two centuries -- and have had a newly fueled appeal with Russia's equivalent of tabloid TV, in the past decade. Especially in light of Chris Sciabarra's recent research, I wonder if some of -that- perspective sneaked into her outlook at a tender age.. . . . It's no calumny on Rand to note this possibility, as some of the Orthodox have implied in bashing Barbara's bio. Irrationalism has deep roots, and the human mind deals with too many matters at once to make it easy to exclude others' bad judgments.

I quite agree with you that it's no calumny on Ayn Rand to suggest that the mind-over-disease idea might have begun with her early years in Russia. I have said before that the astonishing thing about her was how many of the ideas that constituted her world as a child, she was able, then and later, to question and, if they didn't make sense to her, to reject. Most people never question the ideas they are exposed to in childhood, the ideas that seem to the child to be so universally accepted that there must be nothing to question or doubt, and that there cannot be a justification, since "everybody knows they are true," even to expose them to the light of reason. Her extraordinary ability and determination to do this to the extent that she did do it, is one more expression of her genius. That she missed a few of the ideas that everyone knows are true but are not true, is not surprising; it probably is inevitable for any mind. Even a great mind cannot know to question *everything.*

This is an aside, but reading her Journal, I was struck once again, as I have been so many times in the past, with the incredible scope and range of her intelligence. In her early teens and twenties, she was thinking about the major concepts of philosophy, and struggling her way to her own philosophy. Hers was as firsthand a mind as I can conceive of.

However, though her view might have begun in Russia, it was later buttressed and expanded upon by Nathaniel, in long conversations they had over many years. He was convinced in those years that the mind and the emotions played a crucial role in disease -- which may very well be so, but that is another issue.


From: "Peter Taylor"

To: atlantis@wetheliving.com

Subject: Re: ATL: ARI on Smoking

Date: Sat, 15 Jul 2000 17:52:33 GMT

To briefly recap the smoking thread:

Jason R. Walker wrote:

"The compromise is this: in the state of Florida, "Big Tobacco", as it's referred to, will no longer sell cigarettes in exchange for amnesty from the suit."

Steve Reed wrote:

"The tobacco companies were craven enough to dig their own grave of precedent. Let them lie, and die, in it. I'll save my moral support for Gates."

Thomas Gramstad wrote about the auxiliary costs of smoking: "1. Material and medical expenses because of fires caused by smoking. 2. Material and medical expenses because of traffic accidents caused by smoking . . .

3. Medical expenses related to diseases where smoking is a contributing, but not the single or major cause of the disease. 4. Smokers are usually allowed many short smoking breaks on the job."

Dennis May wrote in support of the benefits of tobacco:

"The findings:

Cigarette smoking improves hand eye coordination. Increases the speed of reflexes. Correlates with higher intellectual capabilities. Increases alertness. And increases blood pressure, reducing high-G induced blackouts."

Peter Reidy wrote about being objective during this argument and mentioning all the facts:

"I haven't been following this discussion, but have people mentioned that smokers never get Alzheimer's, or that they save the rest of us money by dying sooner? They are much less likely to spend the last decade or two of their lives collecting pensions, in and out of the hospital."

Brant Gaede wrote about ARI's support of smoking:

"Sure one's total context determines whether it is rational to smoke or not, but maybe the context itself is not rational. I think the ARI is just trying to justify Ayn Rand's smoking. I think Ayn Rand was irrational about her smoking and rationalized it."

And now I write:

$140 Billion may seem an excessive judgment, but then again, considering the worth of even one life, perhaps it is the correct, "jury-nullification" type of verdict, i.e., allowing a jury to express outrage at a terrible injustice, even if the dollar amount is later lessened.

Perhaps it is the correct "jury-nullification" type of verdict - because "they," (the management of the tobacco companies, or Big Tobacco) have a product, if used correctly, will addict you. And if you are addicted, your life will be "greatly" shortened. And the evidence is definitely pointing towards the fact that second-hand smoke also significantly shortens the life of the breathers of second-hand smoke.

And "they" know it. "They" have known it, about addiction and health risks associated with smoking, since the fifties and they have known it *for sure* since the sixties. "They" are liars. They have allowed and encouraged people to use their product and then die agonizing, early deaths. And they did not give a fig. Perhaps fraud was involved, and criminal as well as civil laws were broken.

Just imagine this same scenario with any other product, say automobiles. Let us imagine, The Twentieth Century Motor Company made a car that vented a portion of the exhaust, as well as an addictive gas, into the cab of all its vehicles. The exhaust is a carcinogenic (just as diesel gas exhaust is.)

The owner of The Twentieth Century Motor Company, Ma Chalmers and Elsworth Tooey, tinkered with the design, until it took, say, one-hundred rides, in one of their cars, before the passengers were physically addicted. They decided to keep the facts a secret.

People had tremendous loyalty to this brand of vehicle. The cars were heavily advertised and became "stylish." People also had tremendous loyalty to this brand of vehicle because they became physically addicted to driving the vehicle. When they drove one of these vehicles a certain anxiety left them. They felt calm and fulfilled. They were getting a "fix" of the addictive, exhaust mixture. Vroom! Vroom!

And "they" did not care that their defective product would kill. In fact, Ma and Elsworth's only concern about the death of their car-buyers, was that they would constantly need to replenish the ranks of Twentieth Century Motor car drivers. So, they put their ads on bill-boards, in magazines, on the side of buses in the city, and they especially put their ads everywhere that kids and teenagers could be influenced to drive their vehicles, so that "they" could maximize the length of time that addicts could buy new cars.

Likewise, the tobacco company's universe was not "benevolent." I say this verdict is not an argument about freedom or Capitalism. It is about a murderous intent to hurt, maim, and kill, where the concealment of the true nature of their product, involved fraud and coercion. Sure, we should have the right to buy any product we wish, however, we should also have the right to sue the maker's of defective products or products that were intentionally-made-lethal and that cause the owner's death.

The fact is that the majority of non-smokers will say, "Of course. Sue the Bastards . .."

And smokers will disagree and begin stock-piling cigarettes if there is ever evidence that cigarettes will become illegal. This helps to prove my point. Addiction is an insidious process. An addict will do terrible things (and the least terrible thing they do, may be to evade, and then like ARI, defend their position to their death) just to be able to continue "to feed their habit" or to "get a fix."

In the name of my father, who died of smoking-related disease, I hope the tobacco companies are sued into oblivion. "They" do not deserve the good feelings or support of any Objectivist. "They" killed Ayn. "They" have killed too many of us.

Peter Taylor

From: "Peter Taylor"

To: atlantis@wetheliving.com

Subject: ATL: ARI and Smoking

Date: Sat, 15 Jul 2000 18:14:08 GMT

This is a slightly revised reprint of a letter I wrote to "family" and "agora" when I first entered the World Wide Web, around nine months ago.

On page 22 of the paperback version of Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand writes about her character Dagny Taggert, ". . . When she extinguished her cigarette, she knew that she needed another one, but thought that she would give herself a minute, just a few minutes, before she would light it . . ."

Rather than being evasive or defensive about Dagney's and perhaps her own nicotine addiction, Rand openly states this fact for a discerning reader to discover. Many fans of Ayn Rand may know that she died from smoking related disease. Why didn't she ever write anything derogatory about smoking, after discovering her illness?

I am certainly not going to "Psychologize" her, but when Rand wrote her masterpiece she was aware of several things - the unhealthy effects of smoking on herself - the effects of addiction on herself - the possibility that her glamorization of smoking would cause others to feel permissive about smoking. To paraphrase something that I once heard on the radio, ". . . as early as 1901, the writer O'Henry wrote that a cigarette was a nail in a smoker's coffin . . ."

She knew.

She knew . . . though she certainly could not have envisioned people wanting ARI's writing contest (and her book) CLOSED to High-School students because of what we now know about the long-term effects of smoking.

When she ends Atlas Shrugged on page 1074, Ayn writes,

"The road is cleared," said Galt. "We are going back to the world. He raised his hand and over the desolate earth he traced in space the sign of the dollar."

Does any reader doubt that his hand held a cigarette?

My father died from smoking related disease and I have two non-smoking daughters, a college aged daughter Sarah, who has read Atlas Shrugged and a fifteen year old named Laura, who seems to be stuck at page 40 but says she is going to read it. I cautioned my daughters about being influenced about smoking by the world's greatest writer, persuader, and pro-smoking advocate.

I would like to benevolently extend this caution to everyone, and especially to some of the most valuable people in the world, Objectivists, Students of Objectivism, Libertarians and all people who have enjoyed her books and consider themselves pro-reason.

Inhaling burning vegetation, to be more adult, to be better able to concentrate and "think" more clearly, to be "Cool," or to be like Ayn Rand's characters - could be traveling a road that leads to addiction, illness, and an early, agonizing death. That is not Objective. This is not what Ayn Rand would have wanted.

Live long and prosper,

Peter Taylor

It's not particularly relevant to this discussion, but although Rand had lung cancer in the 70s, it did not recur after her surgery. She died of congestive heart failure. However, as someone who was foolish enough to smoke for many years, I know, as every smoker knows, that we all twisted our brains into pretzels in order to avoid facing the fact that cigarettes might very well kill us. Yes, in the early 60s, when Rand said there was no poof that smoking caused cancer, it was true that there was no final, definitive, absolute, syllogistic, incontrovertible, undeniable, non-statistical, overwhelming proof. But we knew. We all knew, including Ayn Rand. With regard to any other issue, had we had the amount of evidence we had about the danger of smoking, we would have considered it more than enough evidence for us to act upon.


April 3, 2008

I have some bad news, Laura.

My Uncle Peter died this morning of tobacco related, chronic lung disease. He had been in the hospital for two weeks and was scheduled to go into hospice today but he died at 5:30 this morning. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Uncle Peter, my Dad, and several other members of my Dad's family including first, second, third cousins, and aunts and uncles, were identified and tested by the medical establishment, in Philadelphia, back in the 1970's.

A researcher had noticed the family name "Taylor" popping up again and again, as people who needed treatment at lung centers at Johns Hopkins and Philadelphia hospitals.

My Dad's side of your family Laura, way back then, was identified as having a predisposition to nicotine addiction. Once addicted, it is very hard for a Taylor to quit. Recently they identified genes that show a predisposition to hard nicotine addition. Our family may have this "marker."

Unfortunately, we also have a greater intolerance towards the affects of tobacco smoke. We show irreversible, lasting lung damage, earlier. Smokers in our family age at a faster rate in their faces and internally. While we have the genes to live into our nineties (and that is no exaggeration) no smoker makes it past their seventies. And the last years are hard.

All of our family's smokers are in a decline by the time they reach 50 years of age. You saw my Dad before he died. He was as pathetic as the Physicist, Stephen Hawking, tied to a bed or chair.

Remember my Dad at your cousin Susan's wedding, wheeled around in a wheel chair? He carried oxygen tanks with him everywhere. He said his every breath was painful. Doctors who manage chronic pain say dying from burns is a level ten pain. Dying from this disease is also a level ten pain. It consumes your very being.

During the last years of his life, my Dad hoped to die every day.

We love you very much, Laura.

What else can I say?

Semper cogitans fidele,

Your Dad

Edited by Peter Taylor
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And the point of your posting from another forum of this exchange on Rand vis a vis smoking is,.... what?

Perhaps I am dropping into the middle of another discussion of this non-issue. I say it is a non-issue. Why?

First of all your subject for this thread is "Was Ayn Rand ever wrong. Did she ever make a mistake."

I do not know if there is anyone worth debating with that would answer that with "No. She was perfect in all respects. All her conclusions about every possible issue are derived from unassailable logic and are therefore correct and consistent in all respects." If you run into such people, I suggest that you drop further conversation with them on this matter. And probably on everything else.

Such a belief can only be applied to a deity (and even then, it is not a tenable position), not to a human being. Even Rand has admitted making errors. Peikoff has even admitted it ( although he would maintain that the essentials of her philosophy, such as he has outlined in OPAR, is logically consistent).

She was obviously wrong on smoking. Fatally wrong. And how many smokers, of any and all philosophical positions, continued to smoke well past the time that evidence of a close connection to lung cancer was established? And how many still continue to do so? Despite their other admirable characteristics?

So was she capable of error. Puh-leeze! Did she ever make mistakes? Hell, yes!!

But, so what? That just shows that she was human. I have not seen a viable argument establishing that that means that her other writings or her philosophy should be extinguished along with a cigarette.

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Jerry Biggers wrote:


And the point of your posting from another forum of this exchange on Rand vis a vis smoking is,.... what?

End quote

My other post on Peripheral Issues, abortion is not drawing much attention or criticism. However, any thread that begins with some old letters from Barbara Branden will draw some attention. And I thought the letters I selected (out of perhaps a hundred) were decently written.

It is critical that we re-examine what was written fifty years ago, and these peripheral issues, smoking, abortion, air pollution, a woman president, homosexuality, and "absolute property rights" i.e., I will do on my property as I wish, are a few of my favorites.

I maintain that a contextual reexamination will strengthen Objectivism. Must advances in Objectivism only come from outside the ARI establishment? Will our growing philosophy be called little "o" objectivism?

The absolute property rights issue, for example, would do away with hundreds of years of common sense, and English and French common law concerning property ownership. Zoning for example will remain in limited form under state governments after an Objectivist / Tea Party Constitution is enacted in my humble opinion, though not at the federal level or at a repressive level with State or County Governments.

Peter Taylor

Edited by Peter Taylor
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