Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Convenient Untruth

Jennifer Burns’ taut, perfectly judged new Rand bio is good news for American intellectual history and bad news for the cult wing of Objectivism.

In June, 1968, as the seismic shocks from Ayn Rand’s break with Nathaniel Branden ripped apart the world he’d lived in since adolescence, Leonard Peikoff made his choice the only way he knew how: he wondered, incredulously, how anyone “could possibly believe the author of Atlas Shrugged had done anything fundamentally wrong.” More than 40 years later, this almost touching belief in his mentor as some kind of infallible guide to ultimate truth, with a work of fiction the only evidence he ever needed, is finally being confronted by reality.

Jennifer Burns’ new biography, Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Market is a genuine event: the first independent, scholarly biography of one of the 20th century’s most widely read novelists and thinkers, arriving right in the middle of her biggest revival in decades. Goddess has been acclaimed from the mainstream of Time magazine to the margins of Mises.org, and been plugged from the left of The Daily Show to the right of the Economist. But there’s one place where it literally doesn’t seem to exist: over at the organization Leonard Peikoff founded in 1985, three years after Rand’s death, the Ayn Rand Institute. Searching their website turns up only some fine-print references to it in relation to the Ayn Rand Archives; officially the ARI has not even mentioned it, let alone promoted it.

A Convenient Untruth

The reason for this is simple. The Ayn Rand Institute’s mission is not to further intellectual enquiry but instead to perpetuate the jejune cult of personality that surrounded the writer, and that Rand herself endorsed from its earliest beginnings. The Rand personality cult portrays her as the greatest human being who has ever lived, her novel Atlas Shrugged as the greatest human achievement in history, and the adoption of her philosophical system, Objectivism, as essential for mankind’s continued survival on earth. This cult of personality was in part driven by the charisma of Rand and her lover Nathaniel Branden, but also was a logical consequence of her philosophical system which made philosophy the master discipline controlling all intellectual, ethical, aesthetic and even sexual life. With philosophy as the ultimate discipline, and Objectivism as the ultimate philosophy, its inventor could only be, therefore, the ultimate philosopher – and with all the intellectual, ethical, aesthetic and even sexual qualities that that entails (Not for nothing did Joey Rothbard crack that one of Rand’s main philosophical tenets is that “she is the most sexually desirable person in the world”). While this personality cult had plenty of upside in terms of money, media coverage, and influence – at least for a while - the long term downside is that Rand, as the centre of the edifice*, must be flawless in order for it to hold. Thus a convenient untruth was required: a stylized, fantasized, even flat-out idolatrous version of Rand that not only her followers, but Rand herself believed in and encouraged. It is this convenient untruth which sustains the official Objectivist movement today.

Burns’ terrific, toughminded new book, whilst broadly sympathetic to Rand, nonetheless paints an often unflattering picture of the novelist-philosopher, summarizing her life as “a tragedy of sorts.” Faced with the inconvenient facts, delivered by an independent historian with no pre-existing agenda and whose evenhandedness is evident on every page, the Ayn Rand Institute and their fellow travelling True Believers' response has been to simply pretend it doesn’t exist: a state of denial Rand called a “blank out.”

Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Market is not the large-scale biography that Anne Heller’s new Ayn Rand and the World She Made (which I haven’t read yet) apparently aims at. However due to Burns’ masterful control and economical, highly readable style both Rand and the times she lived through leap from the page: Burns’ reach easily outstrips the book’s stated scope.

A Tragedy of Sorts

Goddess of the Market is gripping from the git-go, dropping the reader straight into the drama of post-Revolution Russia, with Red Guard soldiers pounding on the door to seize the Rosenbaum’s chemist shop as the young Alisa (Rand’s real name) watches, outraged. Burns whirls us from this formative misery of early Soviet Russia to the seedy glamour of early Hollywood in a handful of pages, and by the beginning of the second chapter Rand is already in her mid-30s and about to write “The Fountainhead”. Yet the story somehow doesn’t feel rushed, and telling historical and psychological moments are present and correct. From there, Burns deftly exposes the political, intellectual, and personal sinews that held the American laissez-faire movement of the first half of the 20th century together. This is really The Education of Ayn Rand; where the oddball immigrant, simmering with equal parts talent, ambition, and resentment, absorbs the basic political program she was to later do so much to promote. Much of it was a revival of the ideas that had dominated the late 19th century – such as Herbert Spencer - by a cast of equally misfit personalities such as Albert Jay Nock and Isabel Paterson, with Paterson in particular becoming an important mentor, tutor, and friend to Rand.

So far, Rand’s story seems full of promise – The Fountainhead is a surprise hit, and Ayn and her husband Frank O’Connor are suddenly wealthy and bona-fide celebrities. Yet as Goddess moves on the writing of Atlas Shrugged, and the formation of the Objectivist movement, we see Rand’s latent tendency to hubris come to full flood. She becomes surrounded by young, uncritical groupies, and drifts away from the more pragmatic political and social currents of the preceding years into what was to become her own peculiar brand of American Idolatry. Nemesis in various shades is just upriver. In a fashion entirely typical of such cults, Rand, as the leader, and an ambitious young groupie, the 25-years-younger Nathaniel Branden, enter into a concubine arrangement, with scheduled weekly sexual appointments. As both were already married, they insisted that both her husband Frank and his wife Barbara accede to this “rational” arrangement whilst also keep it secret from the rest of the movement. (Frank, handsome yet bland, already seemed to fulfill a concubine role to the domineering Rand. Burns poignantly records that at one point Rand makes him wear bells on his shoes around the house so she would know his whereabouts). Inevitably this conveniently untruthful relationship ends in tears when more than a decade later and at the height of their fame Branden confesses to the by-then 63 year old Rand that he’s taken up with a luscious young cookie named Patrecia. Rand, in a fit of woman-scorned fury, then dynamites their relationship and their whole, multi-million dollar EST-like Objectivism franchise with it.

From there, Goddess describes the light going out, spark by irreplaceable spark. The movement dwindles. Rand becomes frail and isolated, able to work only sporadically. Frank, who unsurprisingly seems to have been drinking heavily for many years, falls into dementia. And Leonard Peikoff, long considered the runt of the New Intellectual litter, becomes Rand’s “intellectual heir” through unquestioning loyalty and obedience rather than any distinctive philosophical contribution.

Burns spends little time on analyzing Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism itself, although it is clear she has an excellent grasp of the main points. This in itself is quite an achievement, for beneath a superficially clear prose style in fact Rand was a confused and contradictory thinker, who had a garbled misunderstanding of the important philosophical problems she claimed to have solved and depended on her own obscure, pseudo-intellectual jargon – not to mention her sheer chutzpah - to conceal her lack of comprehension from both her followers and herself. (In a deadly accurate bon mot, David Ramsay Steele described Objectivist doctrine as little more than “bluff, buttressed by abuse of all critics”). Happily, Burns also provides firm support for some of the main contentions of this blog’s eponymous book Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature; for example, that Objectivism was driven by Rand’s idealised romantic feelings of “man worship”, and that Rand’s absurdly rationalistic tabula rasa view of the human mind really does deny the existence of natural talents. She also clearly understands the unpleasant implications of Randian doctrines such as “social metaphysics” and the incitements to cultism her philosophy contains:

"The presence of Rand, a charismatic personality, was enough to tip Objectivism into quasi-religious territory, but Objectivism was also easy to abuse because of its very totalizing structure. There were elements deep within the philosophy that encouraged its dogmatic and coercive tendencies." [Goddess, Chapter 8, pg 237.]


These “totalizing” and “absolutising” elements are of course not unique to Objectivism; we find them to some degree in most belief systems. But in Objectivism they are writ particularly large, with both bizarre and genuinely tragic personal consequences.

Rand Via Kafka

There's no doubt Rand's life and times are one hell of a story, and its truthful telling is of major importance to American intellectual history. But of course the truth is anathema to the cult-wing of Objectivism. Following Rand as in all things, Peikoff’s official Objectivism has dutifully continued her practice of falsifying of her personal history to erase her influences and present herself as a millennial, sui generis genius. For example, Goddess gives us good cause to believe that Rand’s emphasis on the paramount importance reason is due to Isabel Paterson’s teachings, whereas Rand would have us believe the fundamentals of her philosophy were formed when she was two and a half years old. Burns’ research has also revealed a burgeoning scandal at the Ayn Rand Archives, where swathes of Rand’s unpublished writing and speeches have been stealthily rewritten to banish all uncertainties and contradictory thoughts, and keep the convenient untruth of Rand's immaculate conceptions alive.

Already the difference between the reaction of the wider literary and intellectual world and Objecti-World is telling. Where Burns’ book has been widely anticipated and gathered enthusiastic reviews, within Objecti-World (and particularly among the orthodox) the reaction has been muted at best. Not a whisper of the book’s existence can officially be heard from the Ayn Rand Institute, despite it being the first independent biography of their heroine. ARI true-believer Ari Armstrong, seemingly holding Goddess with tongs, got only as far as reviewing the introduction of Goddess before crossing himself with a few catechistic criticisms and averting his eyes. Blogger Diana Hsieh, caught between her loyalty to Official Objectivism and her academic credibility simply republished Armstrong’s review and disingenuously fluttered about ever finding time to fit Goddess into her busy reading schedule. Best of all, the Ayn Rand Institute’s Ed Cline, a T-1000 version Randroid, declared that he was in “total agreement” with Armstrong’s negative remarks, despite the slight problem that he had not even read the introduction that Armstrong had not made it past. Intellectual standards at the ARI clearly owe as much to Franz Kafka as Ayn Rand.

Indeed True Believer Objectivist writing has an institutionalized, Kafkaesque quality to it, particularly in response to non-Objectivist criticism. The template is worth examining. First, they begin with the pro forma objection that the critic is "biased" against Rand, and “doesn’t understand Objectivism”, despite the fact that it is far from clear who, if anyone, actually does understand Rand’s rambling and ramshackle construction. (For example, Leonard Peikoff himself once announced that any Objectivist who votes Republican “does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism”, instantly wrong-footing a legion of followers who’d spent years loyally forking out for ARI conferences and 26-hour tape lectures and the like only to find out they were not really part of the cognoscenti after all).

Second, True Believer Objectivists invoke what I’ve dubbed the Objectivist Double Standard. This means that when Rand makes a wild, evidence-free claim or uses the most malicious, unsympathetic interpretation possible of another thinker’s work - where she had even bothered to acquaint herself with it - this is ok because with her millennial genius she is in fact grasping the “essentials” of her opponents’ arguments. On the other hand, anyone who criticizes Rand must have read everything she ever wrote or said about anything, and allow her any concession and sympathetic interpretation demanded, no matter how obscure or unlikely.

The final True Believer tactic is to simply limn the piece in question for various Thought Crimes such as “determinism”, “pragmatism” or “subjectivism” - terms so conveniently vague that it’s possible to convict just about anyone. For example, The Objective Standard’s Robert Mayhew and Shaving Leviathan’s Jeff Perren lead the New Intellectual pack by at least making it all the way to the end of Goddess before issuing their ritual denunciations. Just how trivial Mayhew and Perren must get in order disparage Burns says it all. Mayhew rails against Goddess’ entirely ordinary suggestion that Rand’s background or the people she met influenced her intellectual development, claiming this means Burns is supposedly a "determinist". Meanwhile Perren's review consists of flailing efforts to reveal Burns' subjectivist and pragmatist "tinges." In a closely fought match, the prize for pompous inanity goes to Perren, who informs us that “people, not philosophies, have tendencies”, regardless of the fact that dogs tend to chase thrown sticks, Harley Davidsons tend to leak oil, and that Objectivist essays tend to contain amusingly pseudo–intellectual pronouncements designed to imply the author’s superiority with quite the reverse effect. Watching Mayhew and Perren trying to fisk Burns is like watching two ducks trying to nibble someone to death.

Largely trivial as it is, Perren’s critique is unintentionally instructive in that it gives voice to the underlying sentiments of those who prefer their Convenient Untruth about Rand to the real story as it emerges, warts and all. Most telling is Perren’s wistful suggestion that the basic problem with Burns’ book is that it is “not…the biography Rand fans could wish for” - as if a Rand biography should be like a Star Trek movie, written primarily to please ageing fanboys. Such is his longing for a fans-only biography, he even takes a passage from Burns’ book and rewrites it as “someone more inclined to admire Rand might…” It’s a genuinely pathetic sight.

Blank Out

And that is pretty much the response to a major event like Goddess from the outlying satellites of True Believerdom. From the central darkness of Planet Peikoff itself, only a few, faint, on-the-fritz radio signals have been detected. The first is from Harry Binswanger who has issued his remote-controlled repudiation of Burns from the hermetic safety of his loyalty-oath-requiring e-list but which is now available to the collectivist anti-mind of the general public via samizdat here. The second is from Peikoff himself in a brief comment (transcribed here) on one of his weekly podcasts. I reproduce it in full below:
Q: Do you plan to read either of the new Ayn Rand biographies?
Peikoff:NO! I won’t read any of them, EVER!
Q: Do you have any advice in this regard for others?
Peikoff: Yes, do the same. I have had enough experience in my years of what these people write, uh, I’ve authorized one, um, biography, and its in the works and some day hopefully, uh, will be done, but my experience has been SO HORRENDOUS, with so many people interested in doing a biography that I just stay away from it entirely. Uh, the dishonesty of the people, you know they start with an interview and in the old days I interviewed then I quickly stopped. But now, this is the kind of thing I get, um, somebody wrote with one of these biographies, and we wrote back a form letter saying, hiss hiss, the Estate of Ayn Rand has no, uh you know what, dealings, er, or correspondence with any biographer. That’s it, a form letter, better worded than that. And the book came out, in the acknowledgements, thanked the Estate of Ayn Rand for its correspondence. So, ha ha. Here’s another one, the archives of the institute, I think this is one of the current ones, have, are, are open to anybody in the universe. They’re not restricted to Objectivists, eh, so anybody can get in. So somebody apparently, one of these biographers has in her blog, either thank you or I don’t know, Dr. Peikoff has approved my access to the archives. So, the whole thing is too disgusting to be imagined. That’s my view. This is not even to say, oh I’ll take it back, I don’t even want to start with it.


Such is life on the planet Ayn Rand made. For the rest of us living here on earth, Burns's book is a blessing as until now anyone who’s wanted to know more about Rand's life has had to rely on mostly pap. It’s been either Facets of Ayn Rand, by pliant drones Charles and Mary Sures - a book with all the literary qualities of an infomercial - or The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics by bug-eyed laughingstock James Valliant, which is to a serious intellectual history roughly what Plan 9 From Outer Space is to astrophysics. Even Barbara Branden’s bestselling memoir The Passion of Ayn Rand which was at least prepared to break the silence around the Rand-Branden affair, was too marbled by personal tensions to be fully credible. And of course, despite the fact this was published 20 years ago, Leonard Peikoff still claims to never have read it.

The simultaneous publication of both Burns's and Heller's books is also a sign that Rand is finally entering the serious intellectual mainstream and breaking out of her own peculiar mix of populism and cultism. This is to be celebrated, because it's only by close examination and searching criticism that the long term value of her work will be able to be assessed. The fact that, to date, the energies of her faithful have been entirely devoted to keeping the Convenient Untruth alive rather than undertaking such a critical examination does not bode well.

*In strict Objectivist terms, Ayn Rand is and can be the only true Objectivist, and everyone else is merely a student of Objectivism.

54 comments:

Neil Parille said...

An obvious question is what has taken the ARI so long to produce an authorized biography?

The ARI has been promising an oral history of Rand, 100 Voices, for a while. It was supposed to be out in 2008.

None of the reviews mentions Valliant's book. Apparently Cline has had a change of heart since he praised it a couple of years ago.

gregnyquist said...

"An obvious question is what has taken the ARI so long to produce an authorized biography?"

I believe we've discussed this question before. I think it comes down to the difficulty of finding a person who is both competent and can be trusted to stick to the party line. It's just taken some time for that person to emerge (and we still won't be sure about the competence until the authorized biography finally sees the light of day). Writing biographies, particularly when your conclusions are set ahead of time, is not easy. Imagine how tricky it will be for the orthodox biographer to navigate through all of Rand's troubled relationships. Perhaps they have to wait for all of Rand's old associates to pass from the scene so they don't have to be worried about being sued for libel. In any case, one can see a train wreck in the making every bit as bad as the tunnel disaster in Atlas.

gregnyquist said...

LP: "...the dishonesty of the people..."

If people are so dishonest, why does Peikoff think Objectivism will eventually win? Yes, I know, he claims to believe it's all Kant's fault: but does he really believe that deep down? or is it just what C.S. Peirce called a "paper belief," something one argues on paper but doesn't believe in one's heart or as part of one's praxis?

LP: " They’re [the Ayn Rand archives] not restricted to Objectivists ... so anybody can get in. So somebody apparently, one of these biographers [Jennifer Burns] has in her blog, either thank you or I don’t know, Dr. Peikoff has approved my access to the archives."

Here's what happens when you don't take the time to check your facts—a habit that Peikoff acquired from Rand herself and, because he never lets himself be challenged, but instead has surrounded himself with dutiful yesmen, will never get over. Burns received a form letter signed by Peikoff authorizing her to use material from the archives. She had years before been given access to the archives, without Peikoff being any the wiser. Nor did she thank Peikoff for granting her access, as Peikoff suggests. Here's what Burns' actually wrote on her blog: "The letter I received from Leonard Peikoff was a mere formality; he simply signed off on a standard request to publish specific unpublished material from the archives (a list of which stretched to more than 14 pages)." And: "Please note: I have not ever met or spoken to Leonard Peikoff, Rand’s literary heir and the custodian of her estate...."

Neil Parille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neil Parille said...

If the archives are "open," but you need permission to use its material, how can anyone say they are "open"?

Neil Parille said...

It looks like Shoshana Milgram is writing a full-length biography of Rand. The original scope was an intellectual biography up to 1957.

This change in plans might delay the project by years.

The delay in 100 Voices is interesting as well. Both Heller and Burns quote it for negative stuff.
Just this year Objectively Speaking (a collection of Rand's interviews) was published which, according to Burns, is a typical ARI-rewrite.

I'm wondering if the delay in 100 Voices has something to do with the orthodox old guard.

Abolaji said...

"Utopia is not under the slightest obligation to produce results: its sole function is to allow its devotees to condemn what exists in the name of what does not."

- Jean Francois Revel

Abolaji said...

Daniel,

Your essay is uniformly excellent. I sometimes wonder where you find the inspiration to write such - seriously. Subjecting Rand to such scrutiny when you have a family is mind-boggling to me.

Daniel Barnes said...

Thanks Laj!

I usually don't have time, which is why this review should have been out a couple of months ago...;-)

Richard said...

Neil Parille asked:

If the archives are "open," but you need permission to use its material, how can anyone say they are "open"?

"Openness" would refer to individuals being able to view the archived materials. (Of course even there a private archive is rarely going to be open to just anybody off the street. Usually they will want some explanation of who you are and why you want to view the material, and are more likely to give access to bona fide scholars rather than random fans.) But openness for viewing doesn't change copyright law. To publish material written by someone else, you need permission from the copyright holder. The Archive could put the documents in their lobby as a public display, but you would still need Peikoff's permission if you wanted to publish the textual content of them.

gregnyquist said...

Richard: "'Openness' would refer to individuals being able to view the archived materials... But openness for viewing doesn't change copyright law. To publish material written by someone else, you need permission from the copyright holder."

I think Neil's point is that archives are not, despite what LP suggests, "open." Anne Heller, for instance, was denied access. In addition, I would suspect that anyone who is granted access to the archive probably signs an agreement that they won't use any material without first getting permission from the archive copyright holder. Otherwise, they could publish brief excerpts of the material under fair use.

Cavewight said...

'And Leonard Peikoff, long considered the runt of the New Intellectual litter, becomes Rand’s “intellectual heir” through unquestioning loyalty and obedience rather than any distinctive philosophical contribution.'

Philosophical contributions are always wanting on the Objectivist front. But Peikoff did contribute a few things to the movement, first and foremost, his intellectual article entitled The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy, a work which propelled Peikoff to fame within the cult. And at the time mentioned he was also working on Ominous Parallels.

So in fact Peikoff had, and still has, his philosophical contributions to make, even if they only make waves at the ARI.

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Cavewight,

As I recall The Ominous Parallels was produced working closely with Rand. The A/S Dichotomy I don't know about, but find it reasonable to suspect Rand would have been all over that too.

LP's big chance is his purported solution to the problem of induction. Given his general performance to date I doubt this will amount to much.

Neil Parille said...

Richard,

I was trying to make the point that Greg was making. In addition, this is what Burns said:

_____

Now we were down to the wire. My manuscript was due in a matter of weeks. It was now finalized to the point where I knew what I wanted to include. This in itself had been a tricky process. I had tried to write the manuscript so that if I were denied permissions to quote directly, I could do a quick rewrite. But in truth, I knew that a denial of permissions would have gutted the book.
The first step was to hand the manuscript over for review by an Objectivist scholar trusted by the Estate. The verdict was favorable. The reviewer disagreed with much of what I said, but recognized this was a serious book about Rand. The Estate indicated it would grant permission for all but two quotes, both involving Ayn Rand’s opinions about certain people close to her.
_____

So the entire process seems something beyond merely getting copyright approval.

For example, if the Archives allowed Chris Sciabarra access to do a revised version of Russian Radical that he would flunk one if not both of the two layers apparently needed (Objectivist scholar and definitely Peikoff)?

Neil Parille said...

I gather Peikoff is working hard at his DIM book.

Ominous Parallels was a flop. OPAR, for whatever value it has, is a summary of Objectivism.

I think Peikoff believes DIM will be his legacy.

Abolaji said...

I just read the comments below the blog post where Diana Hsieh posts Ari Armstrong's review. Pretty pathetic stuff. If the issues are so serious, why not get access to the ARI archives and write your own biography?

"Utopia is not under the slightest obligation to produce results: its sole function is to allow its devotees to condemn what exists in the name of what does not."

Oh, I forgot. That's why!

But what I find interesting for the future is how the ARI (or Shoshanna Milgram's bio) is going to stick to the party line without avoiding serious debates. I think this will be the true benefit of Burns's and Heller's books - that they will present inconvenient truths for the party-line Objectivists to deal with and that omitting and/or not discussing those inconvenient truths will be problematic in the eyes of most fair-minded people.

Daniel Barnes said...

Peikoff:
>"... the archives of the institute...are open to anybody in the universe. They’re not restricted to Objectivists, eh, so anybody can get in. "

Richard:
>"Openness" would refer to individuals being able to view the archived materials.

Great, let's test this supposed "openness" of the Archives then.

As someone in the universe, I'm going to write to the Archives in the new year on behalf of the long running and highly critical Ayn Rand Contra Human Nature blog. There are a number of aspects of Rand's work that I would like to write about that will require me to view the archives.

Richard, you seem to want to explain how Archive policy works to us, care to make any predictions as to how I'll get on?

Richard said...

Greg Nyquist wrote:

I think Neil's point is that archives are not, despite what LP suggests, "open." Anne Heller, for instance, was denied access.

Peikoff's statement is at best an exaggeration, as I seriously doubt the Archives will let "anybody" in. The question is how restrictive they are, and perhaps more important, what is the basis for granting access. Heller, for example, says in her book that she was denied access because she is not an Objectivist. But Burns, who is also not an Objectivist, got access and says Heller was denied because her work conflicted with an Archives-sponsored project (the Milgram bio). These are rather different explanations and carry different implications for how open the Archives are.

In addition, I would suspect that anyone who is granted access to the archive probably signs an agreement that they won't use any material without first getting permission from the archive copyright holder. Otherwise, they could publish brief excerpts of the material under fair use.

The publishing of previously unpublished material as "fair use" is dicey under US copyright law. It isn't absolutely prohibited, but you would need a compelling case. An ordinary publisher putting out an ordinary book would want copyright releases. It is possible that the Archives requires visitors to sign something additional, but if so it would be largely superfluous.

This was essentially my point: The copyright release issue has nothing to do with whether the Archives are open or not. That issue would exist regardless of whether the materials were on display in an independent university library, or locked in Peikoff's attic.

Daniel Barnes wrote:

Richard, you seem to want to explain how Archive policy works to us, care to make any predictions as to how I'll get on?

Odd, I thought I explained a copyright problem, not "Archive policy". As to your requested prediction, I must ask: Do you have bona fides as a scholar or journalist to show the Archives that you are working on a legitimate project? I doubt that "small-time blogger" is an ideal description of who they want rummaging through their materials, and the blog's regular practices of hostility and distortion do not raise confidence that you would use the material in a serious or scholarly way.

Daniel Barnes said...

Richard:
>Peikoff's statement is at best an exaggeration...

LOL! Actually, Richard, the word you're looking for is lie.

>Odd, I thought I explained a copyright problem, not "Archive policy"

Actually, you were providing your usual waffling apologetics for the indefensible.

gregnyquist said...

"As I recall The Ominous Parallels was produced working closely with Rand. The A/S Dichotomy I don't know about, but find it reasonable to suspect Rand would have been all over that too."

I seem to remember Peikoff once admitting he really struggled with A/S Dichotomy, couldn't figure out what was wrong with it and Rand had to keep setting him straight on it. In any case, the final article is a confused mess which, as far as I can make out, is merely a stealth defense of trying to determine matters of fact on the basis of logical deductions from vague generalizations & tautologies.

Xtra Laj said...

I seem to remember Peikoff once admitting he really struggled with A/S Dichotomy, couldn't figure out what was wrong with it and Rand had to keep setting him straight on it. In any case, the final article is a confused mess which, as far as I can make out, is merely a stealth defense of trying to determine matters of fact on the basis of logical deductions from vague generalizations & tautologies.

I think it is the single most convenient article to refer someone who is familiar with good contemporary philosophy to if they want to become quickly acquainted with all the problems with Objectivism. Read the introductory part where Peikoff talks about what the Professor said and it will remind you of all the discussions we have on ARCHN when Objectivists say things like "In a real capitalist system, monopolies are not possible". A perfect example of the problem with refusing to understand what someone else is saying.

Richard said...

Daniel wrote:

LOL! Actually, Richard, the word you're looking for is lie.

No. If Peikoff had said the archives are open to malicious internet guttersnipes with no credentials and obvious bad faith intentions, then that would have been a lie.

Daniel Barnes said...

Richard:
>No. If Peikoff had said the archives are open to malicious internet guttersnipes with no credentials and obvious bad faith intentions, then that would have been a lie.

Oh, come on Richard. It's quite obvious that it's you who is arguing in bad faith here. If only it was merely "malicious internet guttersnipes" that were blocked from the archives then no one would be the least concerned. But in reality it appears that there is not a snowball's chance in hell of say, David Kelley or anyone associated with The Atlas Society or Chris Sciabarra or The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, or either of the Brandens, would gain access, despite their obvious credentials. At least while Leonard Peikoff is alive.

Diana Hsieh performs the typically convoluted apologetics here in which she comically proclaims both how "open" the Archive policy is and also how perfectly justified it is in denying access to people such as the above!

Now, I am sure you can play the Good German all day with this if you choose. But I'd prefer to think your conscience might be actually pricked enough by this obvious dissembling to just admit that Peikoff was simply lying when he made out that the Archives were open to anyone.

Richard said...

Daniel Barnes wrote:

Oh, come on Richard. It's quite obvious that it's you who is arguing in bad faith here.

I would love to hear your statement of exactly what it is you believe I am "arguing". Preferably with direct quotes of passages from me where I argue it. Please try not to confuse anything I've actually said with positions you make up in your mind and attribute to me.

Now, I am sure you can play the Good German all day with this if you choose.

Are you aware of what the phrase 'Good German' refers to? Are you actually trying to compare the policies of the Ayn Rand Archives with the Holocaust?

Daniel Barnes said...

Why don't you just tell us what you're trying to say, Richard?

It looks to me like you're just doing your usual waffling apologetics for the indefensible - in this case the apparent policy of the Ayn Rand Archives to deny access to people they believe are Philosophically Incorrect, Enemies of Objectivism, etc.

So if that's not it, why don't you explain exactly what it is you are trying to tell us folks here at the ARCHNblog? What is the vital message you bear, given it's your usual policy to "refrain" from posting here, that drives you into Special Policy Override Mode? Perhaps you think copyright needs some proper conceptual explication to the lumpenproles here in this particular sliver of the anti-mind? Perhaps you consider readers need to be reminded of the many important nuances of the word "openness", and you're just the man for the job? Perhaps...perhaps...what? Do tell.

>Are you actually trying to compare the policies of the Ayn Rand Archives with the Holocaust?

Gosh, you are really trying so hard to find an offense to take, aren't you? How did you ever make it through a typical Ayn Rand essay without fainting dead away, given you are such a delicate, intellectually fastidious creature?

Richard said...

Daniel Barnes wrote:

Why don't you just tell us what you're trying to say, Richard?

I did tell you, very explicitly: "I explained a copyright problem". Neil (and later Greg) seemed to misunderstand the copyright limitations on the use of unpublished works, thinking that the need to secure copyright owner permissions had something to do with the openness of an archive. That was a red herring, and I tried to correct the misunderstanding. That's all. A simple comment with simple intentions.

But apparently in your mind, a simple comment from me cannot be just a simple comment. So you have decided that I have a hidden agenda for my comments ("waffling apologetics for the indefensible"), an inflated sense of self-importance ("vital message" and "just the man for the job"), and disdain for everyone who reads this blog ("the lumpenproles here in this particular sliver of the anti-mind"). But none of this is anything I've said or even implied. It is all stuff you made up in your own mind.

Gosh, you are really trying so hard to find an offense to take, aren't you?

So, you freely make up stuff that I didn't say and claim it as my intentions, but if I notice the inappropriateness of something you did say, that makes me "a delicate, intellectually fastidious creature"? Wow. This is why I typically refrain from posting here, because of the amazing capacity people seem to have for one-sided interpretation, distortion and outright invention.

Daniel Barnes said...

Richard:
I did tell you, very explicitly: "I explained a copyright problem"...I tried to correct the misunderstanding. That's all. A simple comment with simple intentions...But apparently in your mind, a simple comment from me cannot be just a simple comment.

Yes, I'm sure you hang around blogs you don't like to "correct misunderstandings" at random. As the Cockneys say: Pull the other one mate, it's got bells on.

Actually, the comment you got all in a snit about was not the above at all - as well you know - but when I suggested that Peikoff's statement was best described as a lie, and that your "at best an exaggeration" was just laughable weasel-wordery on your part.

Peikoff is lying because the notoriously restrictive actual practices of the Institute and the Archives embarrassingly clash with their supposed philosophical principles of open intellectual inquiry. But because he reckons he's dealing with some rube of a fan, and anyone with an ounce of critical nous won't be listening to his podcasts, he simply makes a blatantly bullshit claim, knowing he'll never get called on it.

And he's right - just look at you. All you've done so far produce disingenuous waffle to imply everything about the ARI and the Archives is just so...normal! Why, there are these copyright laws, don't you know! Why, there are all these supposedly different "explanations" and "implications" to be considered! When he says the Archives are open to "anyone in the universe", poor old Lenny's just indulging in a bit of harmless exaggeration! So what if in reality hardly anyone except ARI-approved Objectivists get access to the Archives, and there is a list a mile long of "enemies of Objectivism" that will never get access despite their high academic credentials and lifelong devotion to Rand's ideas. Anyone that would call him a liar is just malicious internet guttersnipe!

Sure, be a bullshit apologist all you want, Richard. Just don't expect to get a free pass on it here.

Richard said...

Yes, I'm sure you hang around blogs you don't like to "correct misunderstandings" at random.

Well it is a bit random in that I don't read every post. Nor do I read every comment even when I read a post. So I could only correct something if I happened to read it. But the correction was not random, nor did I claim it was. I intentionally addressed something that was simple and largely unrelated to Objectivism, in the hope that such a correction could be made without triggering a round of denunciations based on wild speculation. Clearly I was wrong.

As to Peikoff's statement, anyone with common sense would realize that a statement about "anybody" being given access to the Archives could not be taken literally, since that means they would let homeless people wander in and ramble through Rand's papers. So at best it is an exaggeration, as I said. To assess it beyond that would require guesswork about the Archives' actual degree of openness (which is in fact not fully known, although Jennifer Burns probably has the best estimation of the matter) and Peikoff's state of mind. Not being interested in indulging a round of speculation, I replied within the limitations of the knowledge I actually have. Then again, someone with common sense would also recognize that saying a statement "is at best an exaggeration" is hardly an endorsement. But you have such a one-sided perspective on Objectivism and Objectivists that any comment that isn't a harshly worded denunciation appears to you to be "apologetics".

But where this discussion really went downhill was when you started displaying your telepathic powers: You knew that Peikoff was lying, to the point of knowing his specific thoughts when he spoke ("he reckons he's dealing with some rube of a fan", "knowing he'll never get called on it"). You then extended those telepathic powers to me, diving the supposed thinking behind my response. But in my case your ESP is flawed, because I know my own thoughts and it turns out they aren't what you indicated. Which makes me suspect you may not be the best mind reader for Peikoff, either.

Anyone that would call him a liar is just malicious internet guttersnipe!

No, wrong again. Calling Peikoff a liar does not make someone a "malicious internet guttersnipe". That imprecation is earned through a long-term pattern of distortions, one-sided interpretations, and claims of knowledge about other people's secret thoughts.

Dragonfly said...

The fact that Heller was denied access is proof that the archives are not open to anybody. After all she's a serious researcher and the excuse that her work "conflicted" with the Milgram bio is of course a lame excuse. If Peikoff wants the archives only open to ARI-approved projects, ok, but don't lie then about archives that are "open to anyone". That is Orwellian doublespeak.

Daniel Barnes said...

Richard:
>Then again, someone with common sense would also recognize that saying a statement "is at best an exaggeration" is hardly an endorsement.

No, it is weasely-worded, disingenuous waffle, just as I said, and just like the rest of your reply.

>That imprecation is earned through a long-term pattern of distortions, one-sided interpretations, and claims of knowledge about other people's secret thoughts.

I must say it's this sort of thing that I find particularly hilarious. Let's just step back a moment and recall that this is coming from someone to whom Ayn Rand - the author whose philosophy earned the imprecation "the Gospel of Spleen" - is an intellectual hero. Rand is deservedly famous for her "pattern of distortions, one-sided interpretations, and claims of knowledge about other people's secret thoughts" which you can find in just about every essay she ever wrote.

Yet Richard, who runs a whole site dedicated to the Gospel of Spleen, also would like us to simultaneously believe he is the Little Miss Manners of highbrow debate. He enthusiastically swallows Rand's voluminous ravings, which commit all of the sins of the above and more, yet chokes on the gnat of the ARCHNblog! He boldly and unequivocally voices his denunciations of little old us, yet when we criticise the ARI - which has approximately the same relationship to American intellectual life as North Korea does to the rest of the world - like a typical Useful Idiot he feels compelled issue gaseous, finely nuanced apologetics on behalf of the Dear Leader such as we see above.

Of course, in all this scholastic fiddle-faddle Richard is simply conforming to the Objectivist Double Standard. And while we freely accept that in the now-hundreds of posts and thousands of comments here at the ARCHNblog there are bound to be distortions and mistakes we've made, as I recall Richard has not even attempted to demonstrate that there are any of significance, let alone any "patterns of distortion". (In fact, contra Richard, the major theses of the book ARCHN, and the ARCHNblog itself seem to have found support in recent non-partisan work on Rand like Burns "Goddess").

It would be much more interesting if he was to actually tackle something of importance that he thinks we have wrong, rather than his apparent focus on either trivial meta or vague apologetics. In fact, I'd be happy to let him guest post he had some decisive criticism of the ARCHNblog's major arguments. But certainly nothing like this has emerged from him to date.

Michael Prescott said...

"The fact that Heller was denied access is proof that the archives are not open to anybody. After all she's a serious researcher ..."

Bingo.

Peikoff can hardly claim that "the archives of the institute ... are open to anybody in the universe. They’re not restricted to Objectivists ... so anybody can get in ..." when the author of a major biography of Rand is denied access.

Heller is exactly the sort of person who would be welcomed to the archives if they were open to outsiders.

Either Peikoff doesn't know the policies of the ARI (which he runs) or he's being disingenuous here.

gregnyquist said...

Richard: "But where this discussion really went downhill was when you started displaying your telepathic powers: You knew that Peikoff was lying, to the point of knowing his specific thoughts when he spoke"

One doesn't need to be telepathic to suspect Peikoff of lying. It is not improbable to assume that Peikoff knows the admittance policy of the AR archives. The fact that he commented on it at all suggests he has some idea about the policy; which means he must, at some point, have been involved either in making that policy or approving such policy as was made. Therefore, he is (probably) in a position to know what that policy is; and so if he misrepresents it, it is not a stretch, nor does it require ESP, to assume he is lying.

Now this notion about the archives not letting "homeless people wander in and ramble through Rand's papers" is utterly beside the point. We wouldn't be criticizing Peikoff or archive admittance policies for not allowing homeless people access to them. Our criticism is based on the fact that Heller was denied access. No individual can in good faith say the archives are open to "everybody" (except, we all assume, homeless people and the like) while Anne Heller is denied access. (And surely, you are not suggesting that Anne Heller is merely somebody "off the street"!) Either Peikoff is ignorant of archive policy (in which case, he really shouldn't be commenting on it), or he is being dishonest.

Abolaji said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abolaji said...

Dan and Others,

While I fully appreciate your judgment of bias for Objectivist scholarship on the part of the ARI, I think that you haven't found the right kind of scholar to prove this out and that Richard's position is not being addressed.

I wouldn't compare Richard's post with Diana Hsieh's, whose rationalization of keeping out anti-Objectivist scholars was an add-on without any basis I am familiar with. Richard did not go that far.

Look at Jennifer Burns's blogpost:
http://jenniferburns.org/blog/64-in-the-rand-archives-part-1-gaining-access


"As it turned out, the archives were open, and willing to have me, with stipulations. The primary stipulation was that I not use the archival material to write a full length biography, since the Ayn Rand Institute had commissioned an Objectivist literary scholar, Shoshana Milgram, to write an authorized biography. Because my focus was on Rand in relationship to a particular aspect of American history – the American right – my work was classified as a “special study.” I was also told I would not be shown certain material related to legal disputes and a few items of sensitive nature pertaining to persons still living. Other than that, I had free rein in the archive. (Along the way, I did in fact stumble across some material I wasn’t supposed to see – more on that later)."


So Burns says she was notified of this stipulation of not writing a bio when she requested access, and in sense, she could have been accused of falling foul of it if the ARI wanted to go that far.

My main point is that Heller's case is problematic if used as an example of bias on the part of ARI. You'll need another scholar to make the case of the archives not being open.

Abolaji said...

Here is Burns's position on the question of "openness" (and she obviously has good insight into the partisanship of Randian scholarship if you've read her series on the Archive):

1.) I believe the archive will continue to offer access to scholars interested in Rand’s work, and by scholars I do not mean those exclusively associated with the Ayn Rand Institute, but persons enrolled in or working for a degree granting institution or those who can demonstrate, through the formulation of a cogent research proposal, that they have a serious intellectual interest in Rand.

2.) Scholars primarily interested in the personal or biographical aspects of Rand will encounter difficulties, at least until the publication of Shoshana Milgram Knapp’s authorized biography of Rand. Knapp, an English professor at Virginia Tech, is devoting significant time to this project. Though I do not know the details of her arrangement with the archive or the Estate, it is my understanding that authors working on projects which may compete or conflict with hers will not be given access to the Ayn Rand Archive (this is the reason Anne Heller was denied permission to view Rand’s papers.) The publication of Knapp’s book should be good news for the entire community interested in Rand. She is a serious scholar who does careful work, and she will likely produce a detailed and intelligent account of Rand’s life. Knapp has shared some of her preliminary findings with me, and I know they will arouse great interest. Her project was originally limited to the years prior to 1957, but may have developed since.


The rest is here:

http://jenniferburns.org/blog/74-in-the-rand-archive-part-iv-prognostications

Of course, this is her opinion/prediction. But for obvious reasons, it carries good weight and you can see that it is tempered by the knowledge of partisan scholarship on the part of the ARI and her uncertainty as to what her book's effect on future decisions will be.

Abolaji said...

Finally, if anyone needs to remember how partisan ARI scholarship can be, I got two words for you: James Valiant. If he can get access, says a lot about partisanship.

gregnyquist said...

"My main point is that Heller's case is problematic if used as an example of bias on the part of ARI. You'll need another scholar to make the case of the archives not being open."

Given the long history of generally unfriendly, even to the point of hostility, behavior of ARI toward non-ARI affliated scholars (even towards those sympathetic to Rand), it would appear that its up to the other side to prove its case: the weight of the facts is all on ours. You may say that Heller is problematic; but the fact is, she was denied access. What non-ARI affliated scholar other than Burns has been granted access? Moreover, denying access to the archives to protect commercial interests of the authorized biographer does not strike me as an adequate excuse. In any case, it is not entirely consistent with an open policy.

The stated policy of the ARI archives is that physical access is limited to scholars and staff of ARI. Inquiries about access from unversity affliated graduate students and scholars are "encouraged." Here is the actual wording of the policy:

"At present, due to preservation tasks, physical access to the Archives is limited to the Ayn Rand Institute staff and affiliates. However, research inquiries from university-affiliated graduate students and scholars are encouraged and will be accommodated whenever possible. "

The phrase "accommodated whenever possible" is rather vague and gives a lot of wiggle room for denying access. There are other ambiguities in the wording that can be used as well. In any case, I don't think Peikoff is justified at this time in describing the archives as open, when non-ARI afflicated scholars must go through a screening process by an organization not known for dealing fairly with those outside its ranks.

Abolaji said...

Given the long history of generally unfriendly, even to the point of hostility, behavior of ARI toward non-ARI affliated scholars (even towards those sympathetic to Rand), it would appear that its up to the other side to prove its case: the weight of the facts is all on ours. You may say that Heller is problematic; but the fact is, she was denied access. What non-ARI affliated scholar other than Burns has been granted access? Moreover, denying access to the archives to protect commercial interests of the authorized biographer does not strike me as an adequate excuse. In any case, it is not entirely consistent with an open policy.

Diana Hsieh gave an example of one other scholar in the blogpost that Dan links to.

OK, so the ARI is open to scholars except those who are interested in working on a biography of Ayn Rand. In any case, saying that Heller was blocked purely for partisan reasons is easy to dispute.

Burns argued that the functioning of the Archives was similar to that of others she worked with.

I think that in the absence of information on a specific scholar that was denied access and was not working on a biography (again, just one will suffice), we're using our judgments about how we know the ARI to operate as a proxy for how the Archives operate, which Burn's blogposts have clearly disputed, and to my mind, quite convincingly. Also, Burns talked about the preservation efforts. If it is purely being used as cover, it was a well chosen cover.

Daniel Barnes said...

Laj:
>Finally, if anyone needs to remember how partisan ARI scholarship can be, I got two words for you: James Valiant. If he can get access, says a lot about partisanship.

As usual, Laj hits the nail on the head.

What, exactly were the serious academic credentials that gave Valliant access to the Archives? Answer: he was going to write a hit piece on the Brandens. That's all the qualification you need, obviously. In Valliant's case they would have been better off with the homeless people...;-)

I think you can reasonably say the Archives are "open" the day they let someone from the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies in.

Now, I'm perfectly happy to agree that there are conflicting tensions at the Archive, and perhaps even within the ARI itself. Burns talks about the eye-rolling that goes on among Archive staff members there when the policy of rewriting-by-stealth (as perpetrated by Harriman and the like) is discussed. It's not uncommon for well meaning people to find themselves working with an unconscionable official policy, with the result that they often work to subvert it. But that doesn't change the obviously highly restrictive official policy, and the dishonesty of claiming it is otherwise.

I hope Burns is right - that the Archives do become open to outside scholars. Nothing could please us ARCHNbloggers more than Rand getting some first hand scrutiny from the intellectual mainstream.

But I also note that Burns' remarks Laj cites are all more or less prior to the uniformly hostile reaction to her work (and Heller's) from Peikoff, Binswanger, Cline etc. She's also revealed the scandal of the ARI's covert re-writing of Rand, which is surely a major act of intellectual dishonesty, and a major embarrassment. As a result, I'm going to go out on a limb here, and make a speculative prediction that there'll be a snap-back; that the freedom given to Burns has resulted in what the ARI regard as an abomination, and has embarrassed them to boot, so that you won't see the Archives become more open to non-Objectivist scholars. The swallow that is Burns does not make a thaw at the ARI.

Happy to admit I was wrong in say 12 months time, if a troop of non-Objectivist projects have marched thru the Archives in that time. I'll be watching with interest.

Daniel Barnes said...

So, apropos of this discussion, I asked Robert Campbell of the Journal Ayn Rand Studies via email what his experience with the Archives was. He replied:

"In the past, the Ayn Rand Archives were never open to anyone who published in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Well, with the lone exception of [the ARI's] Andrew Bernstein, but his one-paragraph reply was barely published when he publicly repented his sin."

Now, JARS is a "non-partisan, semi-annual, interdisciplinary, double-blind peer-reviewed scholarly periodical". Yet they have been not only blocked from access, but this block has extended to anyone that's written for the publication. The bizarre incident with Andrew Bernstein, where he had to subsequently publicly atone for contributing a single para to JARS, is detailed here.

So clearly this idea that the Archives have been "open" to all interested and credentialed scholars is, in fact, bullshit.

Now let's cut to Richard Lawrence:
>To assess [Peikoff's claim] beyond that would require guesswork about the Archives' actual degree of openness...I replied within the limitations of the knowledge I actually have...

Strangely, despite running the Objectivist Reference Centre, Richard has apparently never heard of this long running policy of excluding any scholar with any connection to JARS from the Archives. It was outside "the limitations" of his knowledge. Or if he had, he somehow forgot to mention it.

Well, now he knows.

Robert Campbell said...

Perhaps Richard could explain what policy he thinks the Ayn Rand Archives should follow, as to who is considered a legitimate scholar and allowed access.

For that matter, has Richard ever been allowed into the Archives?

Would he be comfortable, for instance, with a blanket prohibition against any "commentator hostile to Ayn Rand and Objectivism"?

I think Laj is granting too much credence to the official excuses for keeping Anne Heller out.

Ms. Heller has said that she was given conflicting explanations at different times for being barred from the Archives (the alleged grant of monopoly to Shoshana Milgram was just one of them). She was not allowed to see material on Ayn Rand in the archives of the Curtis Brown literary agency, which are kept at Columbia University, because Leonard Peikoff specifically denied her permission.

Robert Campbell

Robert Campbell said...

A thought about Leonard Peikoff's originality (or lack of it).

Peikoff's personal myth of origin requires him to have made no creative contribution to Objectivism. His claim to authority depends on Ayn Rand having spoken and his having listened and repeated.

In reality, I suspect that several Objectivist epistemological doctrines are his. That essay on the analytic-synthetic dichotomy has a distinctly Leibnizian cast to it, for which I doubt that Ayn Rand was responsible. The latter-day doctrine of the arbitrary assertion appears to be his work as well.

I am not saying that the distinctly Peikovian components in Objectivism are all good. (I've been pretty rough on the doctrine of the arbitrary assertion in particular.) But I think it is a serious mistake for those who are inclined to be critical of Leonard Peikoff's work to buy into his myth of origin.

Robert Campbell

Wells said...

(Frank, handsome yet bland, already seemed to fulfill a concubine role to the domineering Rand. Burns poignantly records that at one point Rand makes him wear bells on his shoes around the house so she would know his whereabouts).

^
|
|
|
I'm going to let you all finish, but this is one of the kinkiest things of on this blog, One of the kinkiest things on this blog.

Ayn Rand actually deserves mad props here.

Anonymous said...

Why on earth would any sane person want access to the archives at the ARI? What possible enjoyment could anyone get wading through those? Isn’t life too short?
I can understand Objectivists themselves and those wishing to write a bio of Rand.

Abolaji said...

I think Laj is granting too much credence to the official excuses for keeping Anne Heller out.

I have no doubt this is possible, and Heller pointed out an important difference between Burns and herself when both spoke at the Cato Institute: Burns was a graduate student when she first got access, while Heller was already a known professional writer.

Given that the other citation that Hsieh provides is also a graduate student, it might mean that graduate students may see no difference in being permitted access, while professional scholars will have a different experience.

However, my original point was that Richard was to some degree being spoken past - it's by looking at individuals like Valiant and reviewing who else has gotten access to the archives other than Burns (as Greg pointed out) but who is not a graduate student that might be the key question. And while I don't expect Richard to respond anytime soon, I think that is the query he needs to respond to in part to make a case for the fairness of the Archives.

Richard said...

Daniel Barnes wrote:

I must say it's this sort of thing that I find particularly hilarious. Let's just step back a moment and recall that this is coming from someone to whom Ayn Rand - the author whose philosophy earned the imprecation "the Gospel of Spleen" - is an intellectual hero. Rand is deservedly famous for her "pattern of distortions, one-sided interpretations, and claims of knowledge about other people's secret thoughts" which you can find in just about every essay she ever wrote.

So are you admitting that you do engage in distortions, etc., but think this is OK because someone else did it in the past? (I imagine that would be the Barnesian interpretation, were our roles reversed.) If you mean to make some accusation of hypocrisy, I note that I am not Ayn Rand and she was dead before I ever heard of her, so I can hardly be held to account for her argumentative sins. I have also stated disagreements with her in the past in ARCHNblog comments that you have read, so you already know that my view of her is not one of unqualified endorsement. Yet you ignore this and try to pull off a poorly done tu quoque argument, which would be a fallacy even if accurate.

If I point out distortions and misinterpretations of my own comments, then supposedly I am presenting myself as "the Little Miss Manners of highbrow debate", a claim that is itself another distortion. If I'm going to get, I'm willing to give also, a fact that should be apparent in this very thread. (Ironically, the comment thread you linked to as an example of my "denunciations" is a mild, civil discussion.)

Finally, if I want to comment on some particular, I'm not obligated to first address something you consider more important. And since I have pointed out past distortions and dubious interpretations on multiple occasions (possibly every time I gotten involved in a discussion here, although I haven't checked all the threads to be sure), I think I'm well within my rights to refer to a "pattern of distortions" without first having to collate all the complaints into one place as a demonstration of the pattern.

Richard said...

There seems to be a notion in the heads of some parties that: 1) I claim to know what the specific policies and practices of the Archives are, and 2) I am defending those policies and practices. Given that both of those notions are unfounded in reality and disconnected from my actual comments, any posting based on them is likely to descend in to fantasy.

Daniel Barnes wrote:

Strangely, despite running the Objectivist Reference Centre, Richard has apparently never heard of this long running policy of excluding any scholar with any connection to JARS from the Archives. It was outside "the limitations" of his knowledge. Or if he had, he somehow forgot to mention it.

That's right, I never heard of this purported "long running policy". I say purported because no details have been given other than Robert Campbell's conclusions. Was someone actually told this is a policy? Is there an established pattern of such denials, and if so, what are the instances? I know from past situations that Dr. Campbell sometimes presents conclusions based on very limited evidence as if they were firmly established facts, so I would want to hear about specific evidence rather than just his conclusions. Anyhow, even assuming the claim is in fact true, I'm not sure why it is so strange that I would not be aware of it, since there is no connection between JARS and the Objectivism Reference Center (note the name, which I've corrected you on before). You run a blog critical of Rand, yet you were apparently unaware of it as well. Or you somehow forgot to mention it.

Abolaji wrote:

And while I don't expect Richard to respond anytime soon, I think that is the query he needs to respond to in part to make a case for the fairness of the Archives.

Since I have not been attempting to make such a case, I have no need to ever respond to any such query. But if I understand what you wrote, I think it contains a false premise: You said that "the other citation that Hsieh provides is also a graduate student". But the example she gives is from a 2002 paper by Merrill Schleier, a full professor who got her Ph.D. in 1983. Clearly an established professional scholar.

Richard said...

Robert Campbell wrote (taken somewhat out of order):

For that matter, has Richard ever been allowed into the Archives?

I've never asked, nor do I have any compelling reason to ask. If you have specific projects in mind, feel free to send me suggestions.

Perhaps Richard could explain what policy he thinks the Ayn Rand Archives should follow, as to who is considered a legitimate scholar and allowed access. […]

Would he be comfortable, for instance, with a blanket prohibition against any "commentator hostile to Ayn Rand and Objectivism"?

That strikes me as an unnecessarily restrictive condition and counterproductive to the Archives' announced purposes. If someone has a specific past history of misrepresenting materials from the Archives, then excluding them would be reasonable. But presumably that means they have to have had access at some point in the past for such a conclusion to apply, and I'm talking about flagrant misrepresentation, not just differing interpretation or editorial decision-making.

Within reasonable limitations, I see no reason why anyone with appropriate academic credentials and a realistic research proposal shouldn't be allowed to conduct research there, regardless of their opinions about Rand and Objectivism. Not knowing the physical condition of the materials and facilities, I couldn't say anything specific about what those limitations would need to be, nor am I a professional archivist in any case. I also have no objection to the Archives applying special restrictions to avoid conflict with sponsored projects. But I see no good basis for ideologically-driven restrictions.

Ideally, the bulk of the content could someday be made available digitally, with relatively little limitation on who is permitted access. But until that is possible, I don't immediately assume bad faith on the part of archivists who have a myriad of legitimate concerns to worry about, from the hazards of over-handling decades-old materials to the privacy of still-living persons who may be discussed in archived materials.

BTW, it is not surprising that it takes a non-regular here to actually ask what my opinion is on how such matters ought to be handled, rather than assuming I am an "apologist" for whatever the current practices are.

Abolaji said...

Since I have not been attempting to make such a case, I have no need to ever respond to any such query. But if I understand what you wrote, I think it contains a false premise: You said that "the other citation that Hsieh provides is also a graduate student". But the example she gives is from a 2002 paper by Merrill Schleier, a full professor who got her Ph.D. in 1983. Clearly an established professional scholar.

Thanks for the corrections. On the latter, for some reason, I assumed that a title would be next to the citation, and why I assumed that, I have no clue - I should simply have looked up the author. But this is not an issue that I have given much thought to. Ideological limitations, sloppy research, I guess, but such is life.

On the former, I don't think you've misrepresented yourself at all (at least, not as obviously as Dan thinks). You've presented a position on the Archive's access that is fully consistent with the facts publicly available and Dan's also is, and despite my false premise pointed out by you, my conclusion that the Archive does play favorites is consistent with James Valiant getting access. My point is that various hidden premises buttress all these differing conclusions, and it seems more that you and Dan have reached a point where there is clearly a lot of bad faith about each other's hidden premises so you're better off just accepting it that way.

Daniel Barnes said...

Laj:
"...it seems more that you and Dan have reached a point where there is clearly a lot of bad faith about each other's hidden premises so you're better off just accepting it that way."

Correct...;-)

Neil Parille said...

Robert,

Have people who have written for JARS been refused access to the archives?

frediano said...

Riveting. And, what of the foot fungus of Ayn Rand? It was said to be terrible. And, I hear she was mean to cats.

Anything but her her ideas, please.

Because you can't. I guess it must hurt to be nailed to the wall by someone dead for a quarter of a century...

Gee, what is it about what this woman actually wrote that has folks of a certain bent still lathered up and deflecting about her ... foot fungus... 25 years later?

As in, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Ironically, if not Burns, Heller includes as a chapter heading a quote from Rand, paraphrased: "Don't ask me what I feel, about my friends, about my family, about my life. Ask me what I think."

Or, deflect, as an absolute necessity, with breathtaking exposes of ...

Seriously. Was she a folder, or a crumpler? Did she scream in bed? Who did she scream with? What were her favorite sexual positions? Was she mean to kittens?

Anything but the ideas; why, we hardly notice that.

Sorry for pointing that out. Back to "The Foot Fungus of Ayn Rand..."

Daniel Barnes said...

Frediano:
>Anything but her her ideas, please.

This is a strange comment. Actually, this site contains some of the most extensive and detailed criticism of Rand's ideas you'll find online, Frediano. Just take a look at our ARCHNFILES sidebar for Economics, Ethics, Epistemology, History etc. There's now over 400 posts - not to mention a whole book, which kicked this site off - so take your time.

And if you take a look at the latest post you'll see right now we're up to Objectivism and Politics, Part 38. Hardly "anything but her ideas"!!

Of course, once you've had a chance to familiarise yourself with the ARCHNblog, you're welcome to tackle any of these criticisms we've made, and debate them right here. Whether you agree with us or not, I think you'll find few critics who've taken the time to study Objectivism as thoroughly as we have here.

Over to you.

Anonymous said...

"Did she scream in bed? Who did she scream with? What were her favorite sexual positions? "

Please, some things are best left unsaid and stop coming on here frediano with straw-man arguments that just won't wash.

Steven Johnston