Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Objectivism & Religion, Part 7

Ideas and doctrine as scapegoat. To what extent are ideas, doctrines, beliefs responsible for conduct? To what extent is any doctrine responsible for crimes committed in its name, or with the help of its influence? To what extent is Christianity, for example, responsible for the medieval Inquisition?

Zealous partisans of the anti-Christian (or anti-Catholic) point of view would be quick to assert that Christianity is responsible for Inquisition; that the Inquisition is merely the logical application of Christian doctrine (or of “faith” in general) to society. As Leonard Peikoff puts it: “There can be no philosophic breach between thought and action. The consequence of the epistemology of religion is the politics of tyranny.”

Yet if you can blame the bad stuff done in the name of Christianity on Christianity, can’t you also blame the bad stuff done in the name of Objectivism on Ayn Rand? If there can be no philosophical breach between thought and action, what are we to make of someone like psychologist Lonnie Leonard, who, in the name of Objectivism, manipulated his female patients into granting him sexual favors? If Christianity is responsible for the Inquisition, why isn’t Objectivism responsible for Lonnie Leonard?

If it is said that Objectivism cannot be responsible for Lonnie Leonard because Leonard’s conduct goes directly against Objectivist doctrine, well the same thing can be said of Christianity. Where in the New Testament does is say one should torture and murder people over trivial points of doctrine? If it is said that Leonard merely used Objectivism as pretext for carrying out his nefarious deeds, that his motives had nothing to do with Rand’s ideas, well the same thing can be said of the Inquisition. Christianity was merely a pretext which allowed powerful church authorities to murder their enemies and pilfer the property of so-called “heretics.” Just as Objectivism had nothing really to do with Lonnie Leonard’s misconduct, so Christianity had nothing to do with the Inquisition.

Even this, however, doesn’t seem quite right. Surely Christianity had something to do with the Inquisition. True enough. But the linkage is very complicated. These complexities are ignored by people with axes to grind, who obscure the real issues involved by not being sufficiently detailed and masking their bigotry with broad-level abstractions. The term Christianity is far too vague to be used as a cause of anything, since there are many different forms of Christianity and many doctrines within each form. We need to isolate which doctrine (or doctrines) may have contributed to the Inquisition, and which forms of Christianity adhere to those doctrines.

The great historian of the Inquisition Henry Charles Lea placed the blame for the disaster on false ideals mixed with human nature. The conditions for the Inquisition, he wrote,
was the outcome of the theocracy whose foundation had been laid by Hildebrand in the belief that it would realize the reign of Christ on earth. Power such as was claimed and exercised by the Church could only be wielded by superhuman wisdom. Human nature was too imperfect not to convert it into the gratification of worldly passions and ambition, and its inevitable result was to plunge society deeper and deeper into corruption. Thus the divine law on which the Church professed to be founded was superseded by human law administered by those who profited by its abuse.


In other words, authorities in the Catholic Church were pursuing an imaginary end. While the pursuit of imaginary ends does not always lead to disaster (see my post on myths), this does not mean that the pursuit of every imaginary end will lead to a good result. Some will, some won’t. What are the worst sort of imaginary ends? Generally speaking, imaginary ends that are based on false views of human nature are particularly dangerous when zealously pursued. The imaginary ends pursued by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages helped bring about the Inquisition by entrusting too much power to individual men on the grounds that the power would be used well because they were “men of God.” A very unwise thing to have done.

We can apply some of the same logic to the Lonnie Leonard fiasco. Objectivism also pursues an imaginary goal: namely, Rand’s ideal man, the man of “self-made soul” who “has no inner conflicts, his mind and his emotions are integrated, his consciousness is in perfect harmony.” Now this is all nonsense. Men don’t have self-made souls, nor are they without inner conflicts. This view is a “myth” (using the term as defined here.) Now the question is: does this myth, when “followed,” lead to good or bad results? Well, that depends on the individuals involved. Some individuals may use myth of the ideal man to help motivate themselves to use more self-initiative, and if this leads them in a positive direction, then the Randian myth, in this respect, has operated for the better. But there are other individuals who either lack self-initiative or cannot exercise such initiative without leading themselves into trouble. It is precisely these kinds of individuals who are prone to the manipulations of charlatans like Lonnie Leonard. Leonard presented himself as an ideal man who could help others become the embodiment of Rand’s ideas. Leonard’ attracted just those individuals in the Objectivist movement who weren’t getting positive results from following Rand’s ideas and therefore concluded that they needed psychological help. Since these individuals wanted to believe in Rand’s ideals about self-made souls and perfect emotional integration, they were susceptible to believing that Leonard was, in fact, a Randian ideal man. Hence when Ellen Plasil exposed Leonard as a fraud, the natural reaction was to blame, not Leonard, but Plasil. “I received innumerable phone calls, from men and women alike,” Plasil later recalled, “who condemned me for terminating my own therapy and for the reason they had learned was behind my doing so. In one call, I was accused of ‘destroying the closest thing Man has ever had to a god.’ In another, I was threatened with retaliation for causing the closing of Dr. Leonard’s practice.” (Therapist, 158)

Now while Rand is obviously not responsible for Leonard’s gross immoralities, does her philosophy perhaps bear some responsibility for the behavior of Leonard’s apologists? After all, their behavior was inspired by her ideas? If it is argued that Rand cannot possibly be responsible for this behavior, because she would have deplored it, the same argument could be used to defend Christianity against the behavior of medieval inquisitors. It is very difficult to determine the degree to which a specific doctrine is to blame for the conduct of those inspired by it, particularly when the doctrines involved contain imaginary goals based on a false views of human nature.

28 comments:

Wells said...

You can pull anything out of a holy book, especially a Bible or a Koran. To study a religion is really to study what people who are communicants of that religion actually believe. By communicants I do not mean people with power, (who will do things to keep it, damn religion), but common folks. Anything else is axe-grinding. Same with ideologies.

Damien said...

This is one of the things objectivists are either ignorant of or want the rest of the world not to know. If the world really worked the way Rand thought it did, how would she explain people who claim to agree with her, but act in a manner opposite to her belief system. In fact I would bet that some of Rand's followers disagreed with her on somethings, but hid the fact for fear of her reaction.

Jay said...

This is one of the things objectivists are either ignorant of or want the rest of the world not to know.

Yes, you're so right. Objectivists are scared to death of people associating them with this one nut job psych. It's totally, completely on par with pushing the Catholic Orthodoxy on entire populations resulting under threat of death. (3,000-5,000 deaths in the Spanish Inquisition alone.)

SRC: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Inquisition#Death_tolls

Jay said...

the same argument could be used to defend Christianity..

This was a very interesting post, and something I've wondered about myself. I think you might be reaching a little bit, though. There have been so many more religiously-inspired atrocities than Objectivist-inspired ones that it's really an apples and oranges comparison. Even if you normalize for the fact that there are far fewer Objectivists, it's still not even close.

In fact, it's not even close when you ignore the Inquisition, the Crusades, the rise and fall of the Holy Roman Empire, etc. Let's say we started comparing from the time Atlas Shrugged was published 'till the present. There's 9/11, constant war in the Middle East, abortion clinic bombings in the US, and on and on.

Let's see some more Objectivist atrocities before we compare Lonnie Leonard to the Inquisition.

Damien said...

I don't think what Lonnie Leonard did was on the same level as the inquisition. However what he did was still bad and it creates a serious problem for objectivism as a philosophy. Yet there is another problem with Rand's view of ideas and human nature. She seems to think at times that all human behavior and all human thought is the result of their learned ideas. If this were the case, than it would be impossible to argue which economic system is better, in any remotely objective manner. For example, if all human thought was learned, both communism and capitalism should work equally well. But in the real world they do not. Rand would argued that is because communism is a bad idea. But it would be possible to motivate someone to behave the way the communist ideology says they ought to behave and communism would be a success. The only other thing you might have to do, to make it work, would be to isolate people long enough from the wrong ideas. This of course is not reality and only makes sense if some of human behavior and some human thought has a biological and not just a cultural/philosophical basis. Man cannot be born a blank slate, no matter how much we would like that to be the case.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Jay wrote:

I think you might be reaching a little bit, though.

And then some -- especially since Lonnie explicitly, and loudly, said that he deviated from Objectivism's theory of sex, and he made his own theory of sex the center piece of his further emendations.

Which isn't by the way to say that I agree with Leonard Peikoff's statement that "There can be no philosophic breach between thought and action." I don't even understand what he meant, in the context, by that statement. It's certainly possible for people to act differently than their stated beliefs, and it's certainly possible to entertain a thought without acting on the thought. And I find the wording "no philosophic breach" uninterpretable. Nonetheless, I do agree that "The consequence of the epistemology of religion [if taken seriously and acted upon, and defining such epistemology as that of faith, which is how he defined it, might I remind readers, in the item being quoted -- "Religion Versus America"] is the politics of tyranny.”

Ellen

David said...

Off Topic - but the RandZapper has a new post!

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "Let's see some more Objectivist atrocities before we compare Lonnie Leonard to the Inquisition."

The point of the post was not to compare Lonnie Leonard and the Inquisition. The Inquisition was obviously far worse than what Leonard did. The point I was trying to make in the post has to do with the degree of responsibility that a doctrine has for people acting in its name. Moreover, whatever responsibility Objectivism has or does not have for what happened with Plasil must be centered, not so much on Leonard himself, who was obviously acting on a non-Objectivist agenda, but on that portion of the Objectivist community that sanctioned Leonard and gave him his place as the most important psychotherapist in New York (the center of Objectivism in those days) after Allan Blumenthal. Keeping this in mind, what degree of resonsibility does Objectivism have for this fiasco? And if the answer is, Objectivism has no responsibility (which may be the right answer), then why does Christianity bear responsibility for the Inquisition?

Now keep in mind, just every decent Objectivist would deplore what happened to Plasil at the hands of Lonnie Leonard Objectivists, so every decent Christian deplores the Inquisition. So whether the religion or ideology officially condones the horrendous evil in one case and unethical behavior in the other is not a point at issue.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Moreover, whatever responsibility Objectivism has or does not have for what happened with Plasil must be centered, not so much on Leonard himself, who was obviously acting on a non-Objectivist agenda, but on that portion of the Objectivist community that sanctioned Leonard and gave him his place as the most important psychotherapist in New York (the center of Objectivism in those days) after Allan Blumenthal. Keeping this in mind, what degree of resonsibility does Objectivism have for this fiasco? And if the answer is, Objectivism has no responsibility (which may be the right answer), then why does Christianity bear responsibility for the Inquisition?

Now keep in mind, just every decent Objectivist would deplore what happened to Plasil at the hands of Lonnie Leonard Objectivists, so every decent Christian deplores the Inquisition. So whether the religion or ideology officially condones the horrendous evil in one case and unethical behavior in the other is not a point at issue.


Greg,

First, I'm glad to see you acknowledge that Lonnie Leonard "was obviously acting on a non-Objectivist agenda."

Second, the question you pose isn't asked in a legitimate form.

Objectivism isn't an actor; nor is Christianity. Persons are actors. Persons have moral responsibility. "[T]hat portion of the Objectivist community that sanctioned Leonard and gave him his place as the most important psychotherapist in New York (the center of Objectivism in those days) after Allan Blumenthal" was, precisely, Allan Blumenthal. Allan is the one who recommended clients to Lonnie, and then wouldn't make a public announcement as to why he was no longer recommending clients to Lonnie, and who wouldn't even answer questions clients of Lonnie's asked him privately, as long as those persons were still Lonnie's clients. Objectivism doesn't carry responsibility for Allan Blumenthal's cowardice in the circumstances. (I suspect there were mitigating factors, since I suspect Lonnie threatened Allan. But I don't know if I'm right. One way or the other, mitigating factors or not, Allan was the actor who sent people to Lonnie and then didn't blow the whistle after he knew there was a whistle to be blown.)

Furthermore, I don't see that anything you're arguing here is addressing Leonard Peikoff's actual point, which is that Christianity, contra the claims of the New Right, is NOT correctly viewed as the moral foundation of the theory of rights adopted by the "Founding Fathers" of the United States.

Do you disagree with that thesis?

(As to whether "decent" Christians would abhor the Inquisition, btw: "decent" Christians when? And are you defining "decent" Christian as one who would abhor the Inquisition? I'm not sure if even to this day the Inquisition - a/k/a the Holy Office -- has officially been disbanded. Has it? I seem to recall reading, in some posts by someone I know on another site, someone well familiar with Catholic history, that it was only officially disbanded in the recent past, but I haven't time just now to track down the accuracy of the recollection)

Ellen

Neil Parille said...

Ellen,

The Holy Office still exists.

Various Inquisitions were often run by the state and punished political opponents under the pretext of heresey. Many of the church inquisitions punished common crimes as well. I've read that in certain countries the church courts were seen as fairer or more lenient.

The Catholic Church accepted religious freedom at Vatican II. (There are still some traditionalists who disagree.)

The Inquisition was horrible, but the numbers of people executed that I've read (16,000 in Spain and not all for heresy) is about a day's work for Stalin. Why isn't secularism or atheism blamed for that?

Damien said...

Neil Parille,

I don't think you can blame atheism or secularism for Stalin, despite the fact he was an atheist. Atheism is nothing but a belief that their is no God or gods, it says nothing about morality. However it make some sense to say that communism was at least partly to blame for Stalin's brutality. They were as Greg would put it, trying to force people into a way of life that was contrary to human predispositions. Yet even with an incredible amount of force they couldn't make the system work.

Dusty Rose said...

Hello, Daniel,

You have so much good food for thought here!

We all heard it before: Christians say that those who were responsible for the inquisition,the Crusades, the witch hunts and what's not were not true Christians. Muslims say that terrorists are not true Muslims. And now, Objectivists are saying that Leonard is not a true Objectivist.

I see a problem with this logic: Christianity teaches that humans are imperfect. That to sin is human. That everyone sins, to lesser or greater degree. So it is very easy for them to blame the misdeeds of some Christians on Human Nature. That they were exposed to the True Doctrine (Christianity), but, being human, were simply unable to fully follow it.

But Objectivists do not have this convenient scapegoat called "Human Nature"! Objectivists teach that people can, and should, be perfect. That humans can, and should, be in total control of their actions. That man has no instinct - and by saying this, they pretty much are saying that Human Nature is a myth!

Methinks they really boxed themselves in with this one...

Keep up good work, Daniel!

gregnyquist said...

Ellen,

I'm not sure you've altogether grasped the point of my question. Of course people are ultimately responsible for what they do, but does that mean that ideas play no role at all? Now Objectivism tends to emphasis the importance of ideas to a considerable extent, so much so that they assert that the course of history is determined by ideas. I have criticized this doctrine on a number of occasions. I regard it as one of Rand's very worst errors. Yet having said that I would not go so far as to say ideas have no role at all or no influence at all. Marxism obviously is an idea that led to bad things. This doesn't mean that Marxism is entirely responsible for the crimes of communism; but it was a contributing factor.

Now when I bring up the question of to what degree, if any (and I'm willing to be convinced that there isn't any), Objectivist doctrine contributed to the Lonnie Leonard fiasco, I'm thinking, not so much of Alan Blumenthal's unfortunate role in the business, but the Objectivist community around Lonnie Leonard. One of the things I find most disturbing about the whole episode is that just about every Objectivist that Plasil knew other than her boyfriend was upset with her for telling the truth about Leonard. The fact of the matter is, the Objectivist community, the rank-and-file, treated Plasil deplorably. Now what role, if any, did Objectivist doctrine play in this? (Incidentally, I find it rather implausible to believe that Leonard threatened Blumenthal, and this is the reason Blumenthal didn't speak out. I think Blumenthal was silent because he was embarrassed. That's what Objectivists, in my experience, do when they've done something that makes them look bad: they pretend it never happened.)

The other point of my post simply involves the issue of fairness. Peikoff says the doctrine of Christianity leads to tyranny, and he gives the Dark Ages and Puritan New England as examples. Well if you can do that with Christianity, why can't you do that with Objectivism? If the way some Christians (or people claiming to be Christians) act allows us to make adverse judgments of Christianity, then why doesn't the same logic apply to Objectivism? It seems to me that Objectivists have no conception of fair play. When they are confronted with the same type of arguments that they use against rival points of view, they scream foul.

As to your claim that I'm not addressing Peikoff's "actual point" about the moral foundation of rights, here I rather suspect you are merely shifting the argument to more favorable ground. This post is not about that. It's about Peikoff's related claim that Christianity leads to tyranny (as exemplified in the Inquisition, for example). I am also a bit surprised by your implication that Christians still favor (or do not oppose) the Inquisition. I don't know of any Christians that do. There may be a few ultra-Catholic apologists who don't regard the Inquisition as bad as secular and Protestant historians have made it out to be. But I do believe that most Christians, and all Protestants, deplore the Inquisition.

JayCross said...

Greg,

The biggest, most glaring difference is that Catholic doctrine does endorse the Inquisition. Just as official Islamic doctrine endorses the murder of non-Muslims. Now, I would agree with you that most people calling themselves Christians today would deplore the Inquisition. I would also submit to you that many of them are not Christians, according to official doctrine. The US is full of "Christians" who work on Sunday, covet material possessions, and worship graven images. To distance themselves from the Inquisition, Christians need to essentially say "I'm a Christian, except for all that awful stuff."

Objectivists don't have to do that because Objectivism does not endorse what Lonnie did. Objectivist doctrine would regard his calculated deception of patients as morally repugnant and totally unacceptable.

Damien said...

JayCross,

Regarding Catholic doctrine.
It does or it did at one point support the Inquisition? Because I have heard even some of the recent popes denounce the inquisition. I am also not hearing any remotely mainstream Catholic support it today. Robert P. Lockwood of the catholic league doesn't like the inquisition either.

TEXT

Although he defends the church, he clearly doesn't like the inquisition. Also Bill Donohue says that Catholics should tolerate, Jews, Protestants and even Muslims. He doesn't support forcing people to change their faith.

VIDEO

So how is the inquisition still part of Catholic doctrine?

Jay said...

Damien,

We might be talking about two different things. I was under the impression that Catholic doctrine is the Bible, whose teachings are said to transcend time, place, culture, and human reasoning. The Bible has not changed since it was written thousands of years ago.

JayCross said...

To be fair, Atlas Shrugged hasn't changed since it was published either. That's why I'm starting to think those (like me) who accept Objectivist ethics but reject blank slate and her theory of sex aren't "official" Objectivists.

Damien said...

JayCross,

Just out of curiosity, I wonder how Peikoff would define the core of objectivist philosophy.

Damien said...

Jay,

Catholic Doctrine is a little more than just the Bible. Fundamentalists Christians claim their doctrine is the bible, but in reality it is largely just their interpretation of it.

JayCross said...

Damien,

Couldn't it be that "moderate" Christians ignore the literal meaning of the Bible and interpret it in ways that seem more palatable to their sensibilities?


(Btw, I am Jay and JayCross. Sometimes Blogger logs me in and sometimes not, so I show up as both.)

Damien said...

Jay Cross,

It could be that moderate Christians ignore parts of the Bible they don't like, but so do Fundamentalists. The Fundamentalist just won't admit it.
By the way I should have said Protestant fundamentalists, Catholic doctrine is based on more than just the Bible.

Damien said...

Jay Cross,

Sorry for any confusion I may have caused.

gregnyquist said...

Jay: "The biggest, most glaring difference is that Catholic doctrine does endorse the Inquisition."

No, not in any meaningful sense. The Catholic Church does grant itself the power to maintain a certain level of uniformity of doctrine among its members. But ARI does the same thing. What the Catholic Church entirely repudiates is the practices of the mediaval Inquisition. As the Catechism puts it: "In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors." Go here for more info.

Ellen Stuttle said...

Neil:

The Inquisition was horrible, but the numbers of people executed that I've read (16,000 in Spain and not all for heresy) is about a day's work for Stalin. Why isn't secularism or atheism blamed for that?

Thanks, Neil, for the reply about the Holy Office (vis., that it does still exist).

I'm not sure what your point is in the question you ask. Secularism or atheism ARE blamed by some -- and not a small number of "some," I think -- for the murders under Stalin, and Hitler, and Pol Pot, and....

I recently, on an OL thread about Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design, posted an excerpt from an op-ed by Charley Reese assigning just such blame.

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?s=&showtopic=5658&view=findpost&p=50321

Below is the excerpt I posted there. I'll make the same recommendation I made there to read the whole piece, which isn't long.

Just in the last couple days I've become aware of a recent movie -- it's being talked about "all over" the web; I was slow to notice the talk -- called "Expelled." One thesis of the movie, I gather, is that atheism and Darwinism led to the Holocaust. (The main thesis is that ID proponents are being denied fair hearing by scientists and fair placement by universities.)

I think that the argument that secularism or atheism (or Darwinsim) logically entails totalitarianism is invalid. The argument that a faith-based epistemology does logically lead to attempts at control of thought (and hence easily leads to murderous methods) I think is valid.

--

The Reese item is titled "Trust God, Not Man." For the full text see:

http://www.lewrockwell.com/reese/reese135.html

Here are some excerpts:

<<<

Excerpts

"Trust God, Not Man"
Charley Reese
November 13, 2004

"[...] without religion, one can make a perfectly logical and reasoned argument for murder. [....]

"If indeed there is no God, then human life is just an accidental phenomenon and no more valuable than that of a mosquito. As we saw in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, societies without God create rivers of blood. In a crazy way, humans will always be under a god – if not the God of the universe, then the state will become God. Personally, I prefer the one in the sky to the one in the uniform.

"Western civilization was built on the foundation of Christianity. That's a fact, not an opinion. A lot of sinning notwithstanding, the laws and institutions of the West were derived from Christianity. It is no accident or whim that Europe was long known as Christendom. It is no accident that George Washington said a man who was an enemy of religion was also an enemy of the republic.

"Unfortunately, the West is losing its Christian moorings. Europe today is far more secular than the United States. The Europeans could not even bring themselves to acknowledge Christianity in their new constitution.

"In the United States, the push is on to lock Christianity up in its church buildings. Keep it out of politics. Keep it out of the public arena. Well, this militant secularism is one way to commit national suicide. Washington's comment was connected to the fact that it was impossible for a free republic to exist with immoral people. Cut people loose from the moral moorings of religion, and the state will have no choice but to step in and control them. Remember, it's always a choice between the God in heaven or the God who commands the army and the police.

"One of the favorite canards of the secular folks is to blame wars on religion, but the truth is that the all-time champion murderers have always been atheists. [....]

"One piece of sophistry employed by the secularists is the claim that "you have no right to impose your morality on other people." That's bull. Every law in every law book in the land is an imposition of morality on other people. The only question is whose morality is going to be imposed. What the secularists are really up to is imposing their morality on Christians and other people of faith.

"I really believe the future of America depends on whether we experience a revival of the spirit. If we don't, if the secular trend continues, then politics won't save us. In fact, politics devoid of God will doom us.

"Liberals hate it when I say this, but the Third Reich was secular liberalism carried to its logical conclusion. That's plain enough if you study the Third Reich and compare it with the positions advocated by today's secular liberals. It is always a fatal error to put one's trust in man instead of in God."


[End excerpts]

>>>

Ellen

Ellen Stuttle said...

Dusty Rose:

And now, Objectivists are saying that Leonard is not a true Objectivist.

Lonnie Leonard himself said that he wasn't a true Objectivist, as of 1971.

I have never considered myself an Objectivist -- though from quite different reasons from Lonnie Leonard's.

I knew Lonnie Leonard, and a goodly number of his clients, and I heard a great deal of what was going on which didn't appear in Ellen Plasil's book -- she left town before the full shit hit the fan.

I think the attempts to depict Lonnie as some sort of logical resultant of Objectivism are in error -- and come from people who have only (or primarily only) Plasil's book as their source of information.

Ellen

Ellen Stuttle said...

Greg:

One of the things I find most disturbing about the whole episode is that just about every Objectivist that Plasil knew other than her boyfriend was upset with her for telling the truth about Leonard.

Does she actually say that "just about every Objectivist" she knew "was upset with her for telling the truth about Leonard"? (I know she said that a lot of the O'ists she knew were; I'm questioning the "just about every"?)

For one thing -- and I've commented about this before on a different thread (I don't remember which) -- "just about every Objectivist" Plasil knew was a Lonnie Objectivist, which is to say was in (obligatory, to remain Lonnie's client for long) disagreement with certain aspects of standard Objectivism. Ellen Plasil came straight from the Midwest into Lonnie's circles. Lonnie's group was discouraged from interacting much with the wider O'ist circles (either Randian or Brandenian).

For another thing -- I couldn't assess the percentage, because I don't know who all the people were whom she knew (incidentally, strange to say, I never met her -- or maybe not "strange to say"; maybe it's indicative of the extent to which she did keep mostly within the Lonnie circles) -- but just judging from clients of Lonnie's I knew who also knew her, I doubt it was the case that "just about every Objectivist" she knew was upset with her. The majority of Lonnie's clients whom both she and I knew were grateful to her. They'd increasingly been adding up to a feeling of something really wrong going on in their circles and they were relieved at the revelation.

The fact of the matter is, the Objectivist community, the rank-and-file, treated Plasil deplorably. Now what role, if any, did Objectivist doctrine play in this?

No, the rank-and-file -- if you're meaning the NON-Lonnie rank-and-file -- didn't treat her deplorably. They mostly didn't know her and mostly were themselves leery of Lonnie and weren't surprised at learning for sure that Lonnie was a bad 'un. Those who treated her deplorably were Lonnie fanatics: it was Lonnie to whom they were committed, not to Ayn Rand personally or to Objectivism philosophically. A number of the Lonnie fanatics left Objectivist circles after that and went off seeking another guru.

(Incidentally, I find it rather implausible to believe that Leonard threatened Blumenthal, and this is the reason Blumenthal didn't speak out. I think Blumenthal was silent because he was embarrassed. That's what Objectivists, in my experience, do when they've done something that makes them look bad: they pretend it never happened.)

Well, (a) you didn't know Allan; (b) you didn't know Lonnie. Lonnie could so easily have been terrifying. He was in superb physical shape, with a lithe, catlike co-ordination, a Judo master (whatever the highest "belt" is). Allan is a small man; Joan is smaller and delicate boned. (I think it's more likely that Lonnie would have threated to harm Joan than to harm Allan directly.) Furthermore, Allan at that time I felt was upset with a vibration of fear. I was there the night of the day when he and Lonnie parted company. As it happened, Allan had a course session that night, a course I was attending and Lonnie had been attending. I'm not desirous of writing an account of the details, but it did seem to me that something of major intensity was going on.

Furthermore, there's a passage in Plasil's book -- which I never got around to reading until '96 -- in regard to which I felt "Ah, I see," when I read it. Plasil tells how she became physically afraid because Lonnie was musing about, Suppose someone was threatening a man's career, would murder be justified? Plasil thought she was talking about her as the threatener, because she was considering seeking advice from Allan. My suspicion is that he was talking about Allan.

Now I strenuously emphasize that I do not know for a fact that Lonnie threatened Allan (or, as I said, more likely, threatened to harm Joan if Allan wasn't careful). What I know is:

I and several others were puzzled, at the time (in 1977) when Plasil (and the other two who joined in bringing suit) went public and a great many accumulated but until then privately kept notes began to be compared, wondering why Allan had acted as he had in not telling people, in not warning them off from Lonnie. His ostensive reason -- that of "professional etiquette" constraints -- seemed most insufficient. And he was reported, by some who proceeded to question him about why he hadn't warned them, "oddly" uneasy, not like his usual way of acting, in his answers. And bear in mind -- this was during the same stretch when he and Joan broke with Ayn Rand and he was willingly answering all sorts of other questions; he was for the first time being open to questioners about his criticisms of AR. But there was something "different" -- and it puzzled us wondering what -- on the whole Lonnie issue.

I also know that Lonnie would have been very, very capable not only of threatening someone but of making good on the threat. And I have no doubt that he would have been convincing if he did make a threat, that Allan would have believed he meant it.

I repeat yet again, I do not know if I'm right as to the reason for Allan's silence. But I find the idea that Lonnie issued a threat fully plausible and indeed the most plausible explanation for all the little particular details I remember about what I observed in Allan's behavior and what others told me.

Ellen

Ellen Stuttle said...

Sorry to be writing a whole series of posts in a row, but I don't often have time for reading this blog.

Greg, con.:

The other point of my post simply involves the issue of fairness. Peikoff says the doctrine of Christianity leads to tyranny, and he gives the Dark Ages and Puritan New England as examples. Well if you can do that with Christianity, why can't you do that with Objectivism? If the way some Christians (or people claiming to be Christians) act allows us to make adverse judgments of Christianity, then why doesn't the same logic apply to Objectivism? It seems to me that Objectivists have no conception of fair play. When they are confronted with the same type of arguments that they use against rival points of view, they scream foul.

As to what "Objectivists" have or don't have a conception of, or do or don't scream foul about, the remarks are inapplicable to me, since I am not an Objectivist. Nor do I object to the same logic applied to Objectivism as to other doctrines. Indeed I think there are plenty of examples all over O'ist list-land of bad behaviors to which Objectivist beliefs taken seriously lead.

Nonetheless, I do object -- and on grounds of unfairness -- to using the Lonnie Leonard incident as indicative of results of Objectivist doctrine. Use people who actually subscribe to the doctrine if you want fair examples.

Lonnie was a very bad person in search of a power trip who spied an opportunity in Objectivism because of the theory of sex and the idea of an "ideal man," a idea he could use to twist into something different than Rand's actual meaning. He played Allan for a fool and got set up in business with a group of clients and then went from there, increasingly sequestering his people from the wider O'ist world -- and he was careful about which people he chose as targets for manipulating; those not susceptible at all to his ploys he soon got rid of as clients; others, only partly susceptible, he didn't take into the inner sanctum as it were. He proceeded to play a dangerous power game with his little group, toward the end seeming as if he was almost taunting people expecting someone to throw the spark which would explode the whole thing. I think that it's an interesting story featuring a particularly perverted psychology. But he isn't a case which it's fair to use to demonstrate a thesis about the nature of the effect of Objectivism on people. Cult dynamics more widely he's illustrative in regard to, but even there it's not every sort of cult group which would have that degree of sickness in its workings. It was more like some of the poisonous small sects, closer to Jonesville dynamics and stuff like that.

Ellen

Ellen Stuttle said...

As to your claim that I'm not addressing Peikoff's "actual point" about the moral foundation of rights, here I rather suspect you are merely shifting the argument to more favorable ground. This post is not about that. It's about Peikoff's related claim that Christianity leads to tyranny (as exemplified in the Inquisition, for example). I am also a bit surprised by your implication that Christians still favor (or do not oppose) the Inquisition. I don't know of any Christians that do. There may be a few ultra-Catholic apologists who don't regard the Inquisition as bad as secular and Protestant historians have made it out to be. But I do believe that most Christians, and all Protestants, deplore the Inquisition.

I think I'll repeat the question re Peikoff's "actual point": Do you disagree with his thesis of re the New Right and their claim that Christianity is the necessary moral foundation for the founding philosophy of the US?

If you don't disagree with that, then I'm not understanding why you'd take that particular speech as a springboard for a whole series of posts.

Re the Inquisition, I did not imply "that Christians still favor (or do not oppose) the Inquisition," if by that you mean details of the image of what was done in the heyday of the Inquisition in various countries, and especially in Spain. I don't personally know or know of any Christians today who would approve of burning heretics. Burning books, I've met those who would approve of. And there are groups which approve of using stern measures with dissent, though generally not physical measures, instead ostracizing, shunning, etc.

What my questions re the Inquisition pertained to, though, were to how you're defining "decent" Christian -- it seems that what you mean is a Christian who would agree in broad terms with your views of ethics, but then is there anything specifically Christian in the definition?

I further wondered if it's true that the Holy Office is still in existence. Neil answered in the affirmative. What does the Catholic Church say today about the former activity of that Office? (I don't know; I'm asking.)

In regard to "all Protestants [today] deplor[ing] the Inquisition," probably so, if you mean officially as the stated doctrine of various Protestant groups. There are, however, some Protestant groups who support some pretty damned bigoted views and even programs -- see some of the anti-Semitic sites for example.

Ellen