Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Virtue of Sycophancy (2)

We are not worthy! James Valliant on Ayn Rand:

"The potential impact of Rand's work is comparable only to that of a great religious or philosophical system."(217)

"Rand's own mind cannot be cut into parts - her extraordinarily logical cognitive method was intimately tied to her passionate 'sense of life.'"(220-21)

"Rand's ignorance of the wide array of lies, however, could not survive the careful moral thinking which Rand was bringing to the matter."(255)

"But Rand's perceptiveness, as usual, goes a step deeper: she concludes that Branden's mind is not functioning in a reality-based way."(265)

"Rand certainly possessed a healthy self-esteem...But Rand also made allowance for a whole range of other values and options just as objective as passionately loving her."(268)

"Rand's advice is sincere and obviously, a powerful, if incomplete diagnosis of Branden's psychology. She may not know all the facts, but this makes her analysis all the more powerful" (282)

"Bullseye, Miss Rand."(282)

"Rand's mind is the equivalent of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging device in psychological diagnosis."(287)

"Again one must be impressed by both the honesty of Rand's sentiments and the power of her insight."(291)

Gee, now that's objectivity for you. My personal favourite so far however is:

"One wants to cry out to Rand and tell her the truth, despite the logical paradoxes involved in time travel"(271)

That qualification added no doubt, just to quell any tiny whisker of irrationality that might be suggested by the term 'time travel'. Of course, when it comes to that distinctive mix of blissful egoism and equally blissful lack of self-awareness, it is hard to go past Rand herself. After Branden breaks off with her she writes:

"I am convinced that the clearest and probably conscious fear in his mind was the fear of admitting that I was 'too much for him.'...I was too much for him - in every sense of the phrase and in a deeper sense than would apply to the type of men he despises. I want to stress this: I was and am too much for him. This is my full conviction, reached with the full power, logic, clarity and context of my mind..."

Etc.

(Quotes from "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics:The Case Against the Brandens")

24 comments:

Mike Huben said...

Wow. This is just too funny. Ayn Rand as Mentor of Arisia. Don't worry, Mr. Valliant, time travel is unnecessary for Ayn to have known this truth: her giant brain foresaw every detail of this future.

Mark Plus said...

"But Rand's perceptiveness, as usual, goes a step deeper: she concludes that Branden's mind is not functioning in a reality-based way."(265)

Neither did Rand's. She migrated to the U.S. so she could work in motion pictures, she married an actor, she published her idiosyncratic fantasy life in novels, and she hired Nathaniel & Barbara Branden to create an alternative society full of people to praise her constantly -- all in the name of celebrating a comic-book caricature of the "men of the mind" who do useful things instead of just fantasizing about them.

Contrast Rand with her inspiration for Howard Roark, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright attracted a cult around himself to stroke his enormous ego, but at least he got his ideas off the paper and into tangible buildings for his clients. This suggests that regarding architecture, Wright's mind functioned in a "reality-based way."

Daniel Barnes said...

On the plus side, however, it is clear the worldwide oil crisis is now over. Future generations will simply be able to drill into Valliant's book for unlimited supplies of oleaginousness...;-)

Greg Nyquist said...

Valliant's book is manna from heaven for critics of Rand, because he proves what we've been saying all along: that Objectivism not a serious intellectual movement, that its orthodox adherents have no idea what it means to be fair or objective or even honest. In saying this, I'm not suggesting that Valliant is dishonest. I would think better of him if he were, because it really is disheartening to contemplate any individual who is capable of believing what Valliant asserts in his gloriously preposterous book. Valliant (very much to his shame, I might add) is utterly sincere and passionately honest in everything he writes. He revels in his own delusions and is completely unaware of how great a fool he is making of himself. His sad case should remind us all that any philosophy which encourages self-delusion on such a grand scale is not a philosophy worthy of our contemplation and respect. Philosophy ought to be a road to wisdom and self-awareness, not to foolishness and egotism.

Daniel Barnes said...

Greg N:
>Valliant's book is manna from heaven for critics of Rand, because he proves what we've been saying all along: that Objectivism not a serious intellectual movement...

This, I think, is the blowback effect in the long term. I know quite a few Objectivists are simply embarrassed by the thing, but these tend to be the less orthodox anyway, so they're not taken seriously - it's just more evidence of their inner apostasy. It's a shame: quite a few people are drawn to Rand by the inspirational power of her writing, and find it hard to reconcile with the way the movement pans out in reality; the lack of creativity and productivity, the infinite conferences and blab, the hostility to new ideas, the regular ideological 'purifications' such as TPARC. It's something I'm going to write about at a bit more length later; not so much the 'benefits and hazards' of Objectivism, as how the benefits so easily become hazards.

Steve Jackson said...

Mr. Barnes,

I think you are right about the movement. Rand died in 82, and althought there are lots of well-educated Objectivist scholars, their output of original material seems quite slim.

The most published is Robert Mayhew who has edited a number of books (Marginal, Q&A, essays on this or that Rand novel) but his only original contribution is a book about Rand's HUAC testimony, which doesn't exactly expand Objectivism.

Tara Smith is the only O'ist scholar I'm aware of that shows any creativity.

And Objectivism has to be the only movement which thinks it will expand by selling tapes and holding blabfests. Whenever I point out to some Objectivist a weakness in Rand's ideas, I hear that Dr. So and so answered that in his $75.00 tape series sold by the ARI. Well why doesn't So-and-so publish this so it can be critiqued and discussed?

Daniel Barnes said...

Steve writes:
>I think you are right about the movement. Rand died in 82, and althought there are lots of well-educated Objectivist scholars, their output of original material seems quite slim.

Hi Steve,

I actually backdate it to the last Objectivist work of any major originality or significance - "Atlas Shrugged". So that's almost half a century now, and and what is there to show for it...? TPARC??

Steve Jackson said...

Dan,

As I understand it, there are two biographies of Rand in the works. One by someone associated with the ARI (who has access to the archives) and another by Anne Heller (who, of course, doesn't have access).

So in a few years TPARC will be obsolete. But this silly work of hagiography will be in the public record.

If Peikoff cared about advancing Objectivism rather than building a cult, he would open up the archives to Heller. Then the public would have two bios to choose from -- an official one and one no doubt more critical.

Daniel Barnes said...

Steve:
>As I understand it, there are two biographies of Rand in the works...

Yes, but my point was that producing various biographies of Rand, no matter what the source, hardly count as either original or significant new work. Quite the reverse. Objectivism has had 50 years to produce something of similar, equal or greater importance, along with absolutely unprecedented publicity and readership for a philosopher. It has not. Instead it is productive mostly of large amounts of highly emotional schisms and/or blab. This fact, plus the fact that it keeps always falling back to Rand herself, and unending scholastic debates about who is or is not a 'true' Objectivist, suggests to me it does not simply because it cannot.

Mark Plus said...

Rand apparently wanted to become something like the "anti-Marx," but she failed at that, too. A generation after Karl Marx's death, social-democratic parties all over the world attributed their inspiration to his writings, and within a few years some of them proved effective at gaining political power. Marx certainly offered plenty to criticize, and the movements he inspired have passed on, historically speaking. But you can't deny that a lot of dissatsified people around the beginning of the 20th Century found his vision compelling enough literally to take up arms against the established order.

By contrast, Rand's "philosophy" tends to attract nerdy, risk-averse and fairly cold people who want to make a lot of money within the current system, minus most of the taxes and regulations on business they don't agree with. They have basically a conservative outlook and personality, despite Rand's superficial "radicalism" regarding peripheral issues like religion and extramarital sex. I think that helps to explain Randroids' relative lack of intellectual creativity.

Steve Jackson said...

Dan,

I'm not saying that these bios have any value as far as extending Objectivism. My point was simply that even TPARC has little long-term merit given that there are 2 bios coming out.

Daniel Barnes said...

Steve,

Oh, I gotcha. Yes, I agree.

Daniel Barnes said...

Mark:
>I think that helps to explain Randroids' relative lack of intellectual creativity.

To some extent, yes. On the other hand I think it has a lot to do with the basic logical structure of Objectivism. For a start, look at its denigration of the subjective. Of course, what Rand is trying to do is attack what might be called a comprehensive subjectivism, that the world is some kind of personal fantasy. Of course, her case is wildly overstated - hardly anyone thinks like this. Actually human subjectivity is actually vitally important for creativity - heck, it's vital even for individualism - but Rand so crudely demonises the word that it becomes a kind of hate-speak: 'whim-worshipping' and so forth. Nothing could be more guaranteed to strangle creativity in its cradle.

Michael Stuart Kelly said...

Genlemen,

I do hope you will not mind me standing amongst you from time to time. I am an Objectivist, albeit a renegade Objectivist. Daniel and I communicate in peace and I do wish him great success with this venture.

I look forward to discussing some of the more problematic sides of Objectivism with all of you, hopefully without acrimony. I do feel that the group on this thread (and others who should be showing up over time) is a fine group of highly intelligent people. It is always a pleasure and an honor to interact with such people in good will.

Despite harboring several disagreements so far, I am grateful that Mr. Nyquist wrote his book, ARCHN, and that I have read some of it (I intend to finish it, of course). I find I have many surprising agreements with it. This book has given me many moments of healthy questioning and contemplation with respect to Objectivism. I extend my congratulations to the author for such a serious book.

I take issue, though, with Mr. Nyquist's contention that the philosophy is not "serious" and that it leads to delusion. After all, it takes a ton of effort to write a book as in-depth as he did and my impression is that he is not a silly man - one who expends much thinking and effort on trifles.

As regards Objectivism leading to delusion, delusional people are to found in all religions and philosophies. That does not means these systems lead to delusion. Also, I am an Objectivist. In my own life I have had some very foolish high-adrenaline phases, but I am not delusional. (Not yet anyway...)

Furthermore, I take issue with Mr. Nyquist's appraisal of James Valliant's sincerity in PARC. There is only one point where I believe Valliant is sincere: in his blind worship of Rand. As for the Branden bashing, the ham-handed rhetoric, the warped bias, etc., he knows exactly what he is doing and the nature of the acolytes he is seeking. He is a lawyer, one who has long ago forgotten that justice comes from objectivity, and has embraced the system of winning a case by any and all means of distorting facts and intentions permitted within a system of procedural rules. His goal is not to find the truth, but to sway a jury.

(Like I said, he seeks acolytes, not objective people. Acolytes are his "jury" in this case. He does not write for the objective minded, but seeks converts instead. People who think for themselves find his book both tedious and comical - witness this very thread - and he knows it.)

I cringe at what the anti-Rand people are going to make of Rand's journal entries in PARC, but there it is. She wrote what she wrote - he published it - and it does not reflect well on her. I can see what's coming and it ain't pretty.

(For the record, let me state loud and clear that I admire Ayn Rand enormously, warts and all, and heartily endorse the fundamentals of her system.)

Either Valliant's Rand-worship and Branden-scapegoating blinded him to the actual nature of this material, or he thought he would be able to hide it with rhetoric and leading statements. I am inclined to believe the second. My appraisal of Valliant, both from the book and from over a year of interacting online with him (which has thankfully stopped), is that he is dishonest, evasive and manipulative, but not stupid.

I have a lot of material on PARC on my website, Objectivist Living (www.objectivistliving.com). All PARC-related stuff is in the "ARI Corner." (They endorsed and supported the book. Now they can live with it.)

In "PARC Facts," there is a list of links to all the online reviews and discussions concerning PARC I could find (excluding interviews with the author and advertisements). In "PARC Fallacies," there is a list of some of the more blatant errors in the book, albeit the thread needs, and will receive, an update. There are also other threads covering specific aspects of the book.

It has been an honor, gentlemen.

Michael

Daniel Barnes said...

Can I just thank Michael S Kelly, owner of objectivistliving.com, for showing up here in the first place? One observation I made some time ago is that while critics occasionally appear on Objectivist lists ready to argue their case, in my decade or more of internet discussion groups I have rarely encountered Objectivists doing likewise in other groups. In my opinion others would do well to follow his example.

I also apologise for the comments hack I currently use on Blogger, which often does not show new comments. I am looking at alternatives.

Brendan Hutching said...

Hi Michael K

I second Daniel’s tribute to your courage in moving out of your comfort zone to visit a site that challenges your obviously deeply-held beliefs.

You and I have had our stoushes in the past, but I can see that you have made a conscious effort to leave behind the excesses of the hard-core Randians, and I can only applaud you for that.

Interesting site you have in Objectivist Living, especially the items about the history of the movement. Fascinating stuff.

“There is only one point where I believe Valliant is sincere: in his blind worship of Rand.”

This is true, but isn’t that the point at issue? The PAR/PARC dispute is at base about the person and character of Ayn Rand: saint or sinner, perfect being or flawed genius?

Over on SOLO Poison, one poster expressed it like this: “It really sums up PARC's contribution, in that it has helped many people resolve their love/hate relationships with Rand.”

In other words, PARC is primarily about the internal workings of the Objectivist movement – the hopes of Valliant and others that it’s going to somehow influence future intellectuals in their appraisal of Rand is ludicrous.

It seems that people who are otherwise intelligent and even quite sensible check their brains at the door when it comes to Rand.

Brendan

Daniel Barnes said...

Brendan:
>In other words, PARC is primarily about the internal workings of the Objectivist movement – the hopes of Valliant and others that it’s going to somehow influence future intellectuals in their appraisal of Rand is ludicrous.

Well said. It is exactly this: an attempt to restore the myth of Rand's perfection for the sake of a movement which, due to the limitations of Rand's philosophy, cannot progress in any other direction. Valliant's initial claims about Rand being not being flawless are just blowing smoke, as there are hardly any examples of error, no matter how trivial, that he does not find excuses for. It is basically an apparatchik work designed for the internal politics of Objectivism. To outsiders it is laughable.

Neil Parille said...

I've been working my way through PARC here:

http://www.solopassion.com/blog/95

and here:

http://objectiblog.blogspot.com/

Valliant often misrepresents what Branden says. Typically, however, his alleged evidence for a claim doesn't support it. Ocassionally it stands for the opposite.

I think many people who have been swayed by this book haven't bothered to check the footnotes.

Michael Hardesty said...

Gentlemen, I see a lot of heat, a lot of namecalling, a lot of tagging, a lot of ad hominem attacks and little if any light.
Rand was a genius, a philosopher in every sense of the term and a
fantastically best selling authoress whose sales flourish over
a quarter century after her death.
If anyone here can approach her record please speak up !
She had her faults but I'd take her over 99.99% of the rest of
humanity. As Rothbard noted she
was a life giving Sun among the
planets.
As regards PARC can anyone here come up with specifics ? Like
say factual errors ? He is a prosecutor and he has nailed cold two ideological criminals. I'm very sorry that this so unnerved
Brandenroid groupies like Michael S. Kelly but some of us think it is 30 years overdue. Judging from the howls of the Brandenroids I'd
say Valliant has pay dirt here
regardless of how obnoxious his
other views on foreign policy et al are. The intellectual bankruptcy of the Brandenroid groupies is a sight to behold.
You Brandys protest too much !

Daniel Barnes said...

Michael H:
>You Brandys protest too much !

I thought the book was absurd not because it was factually wrong - it may well be - but because the author took what facts he had and derived absurd theories from them. But I will write more on this next week, as I am on holiday at present.

Neil Parille said...

Michael H -

I believe I have shown that the book contains numerous errors, or more exactly misrepresentations of the Brandens' books, upon which Valliant builds his "case" against the Brandens.

I've discussed these on my blog

http://objectiblog.blogspot.com/

and on www.solopassion.com

For example, Valliant says that the Brandens see Rand as "intolerant" for dissaproving of libertarians. But he doesn't produce any quotes from the Brandens to support this. When I challenged Valliant, he refused to provide any sources for his contention.

And I agree with Mr. Barnes that many of the conclusions Valliant draws are just silly. Assume that the Brandens don't agree with Rand's views on libertarianism, is that any reason to disrust their books?

Michael Hardesty said...

Well, unless you gentlemen are more specific in your criticism
I have no basis to evaluate your comments as anything other than
assertions. The beauty of the Valliant book is precisely his specificity of the numerous Branden (plural) lies. These folks have had a free ride for alomost 40 years and when I read Valliant's book about 15 months I
was astounded how much both Brandens lied. I had suspected as
much but the amount was astonishing
and the contradictions, which I more readily noticed, were numerous. The reason one should
distrust the Brandens is that they
are self-serving liars, something I
didn't require Valliant to tell me. I heard a tape where Branden
did indeed chastise Rand for her total disavow of libertarianism.
He seemed to think it was related
to himself being a libertarian but
that was just his narcissism speaking. Rand should be criticized
for giving both Brandens the benefit of the doubt for way too long. Of course we all need a theory just to make sense of the facts and I find Valliant's interpretation of both Brandens'
actions & words to be reasonable
in most cases. The soul of a rapist
remark he made about Nathan was
extreme though I have to say that
one of Nathan's closest friends
once told me something about him
that was far more extreme than anything in Valliant's book.

Neil Parille said...

Mr. Hardesty,

How does what you say prove that Valliant is correct when claims the Brandens accuse Rand of being "closed minded" for denouncing the "Libertarian PARTY"?

Michael Hardesty said...

I thought it was obvious from Nathan's remarks years ago on tape
that I was repeating. He gave as an
example of her alleged narrow-mindedness her repudiation of the LP and the movement generally.
She had had differences with Rothbard, Machan and other libertarians long before her split with NB. I think she recognized differences with them and she was concerned lest people cofuse objectivism and libertarianism, which standard NB pretty much upheld when he was associated with AR.