Friday, January 04, 2013

"100 Voices" Reviewed

Occasional ARCHNblog contributor Neil Parille takes a look at the Ayn Rand Institute's latest retouching job: "100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand". Kind and generous, beloved of children and small animals, never a cross word spoken etc.


Neil Parille said...

Thanks for posting this.

I should point out that Gary Weiss, in Ayn Rand Nation, presents more evidence that 100 Voices is skewed. He quotes Iris Bell, who knew Rand well for a time, as saying that her interview was edited to remove the negative things she said. She reports that other people have told her this as well.

I suspect that McConnell showed the interviewees lengthier transcripts and what they signed off on was permission to print and edit it for length.

Mark Plus said...

I don't know why Rand cultists would necessarily want to make their guru sound soft and fuzzy. Wouldn't they help Rand's status by having witnesses testify to her character as a hardass?

Neil Parille said...

Well, they have a lot invested in the idea that the only flaw was that she occasionally blew her top, and even that's not a flaw since she was angry at a world going to hell.

I think there is a perception that Rand was angry all the time. I don't think the Brandens have said that but perhaps that's how the public remembers their books. To that extent, 100 Voices is a useful corrective.

Neil Parille said...

Dan sent me this link to a piece by Jennifer Burns that is relevant to this topic. I'm not quite as optimistic as Burns is about the archives. When she was doing her research Mayhew and Schwartz/Podritske were doing their rewrites.

The archives wouldn't even acknowledge or respond to my request for a list of people they interviewed.

Gordon Burkowski said...

I think that any person who buys into 100% of Objectivism has no choice but to maintain that Ayn Rand was essentially devoid of any moral imperfection. This is so because of Rand’s analysis of emotions.

Ayn Rand believes that emotions are essentially prior value judgments, made and then hardwired into an automatic response. As Galt says in his speech: “Any emotion that clashes with your reason, any emotion that you cannot explain or control, is only the carcass of that stale thinking which you forbade your mind to revise.” In other words, an irrational emotion is the result of moral and intellectual evasion.

Now if this is how you believe emotions work, then any suggestion that Rand was jealous or irrationally vindictive or self-deluded about her own feelings amounts to saying that she had made false judgments in the past and was refusing to face up to those judgments and change them. And if that is so, how did she do this, when and why? There are a cascade of uncomfortable issues that come pouring out.

A convinced Objectivist who is faced with issues like this has a couple of options. 1) He/she can quietly discard Rand’s theory of emotion. But for someone totally committed to Objectivism, that’s the first leak in the dyke. What else ends up doubtful? 2) The other approach is the one that has been adopted by the Ayn Rand Institute: resort to any expedient to show that Rand’s behaviour was in fact always perfectly rational. And any massaging of the historical record is okay because all one is doing is ignoring things that are irrelevant, negative and probably false.

Many Objectivists try to dismiss any discussions of Rand’s character as “ad hominem attacks” by people who don’t want to come to grips with her philosophy. I’m sure that this is sometimes a just criticism. But there are other, deeper issues in play here. Rand’s theory of the emotions is na├»ve, false and destructive. And it is only just that she ended by being that theory’s worst victim.

Ken said...

she was angry at a world going to hell.

If only there were more fine upstanding citizens like William Hickman.

Mark Plus said...


In 1957, the same year Rand published Atlas Shrugged, Norman Mailer published his famous essay, "The White Negro" in Dissent magazine, in which he romanticizes the murderous "psychopath" for his authentic existence and rejection of the values of an oppressive bourgeois society. Yet Mailer stayed in good standing as a progressive after that publication. Apparently intellectuals can get a pass on admiring murderers like Hickman if they do so for politically correct reasons.

Gordon Burkowski said...

@Mark Plus:

Scroll forward to 1981. Mailer succeeded in procuring the release on parole of long time prisoner Jack Abbott, author of In the Belly of the Beast. Six weeks later, Abbott killed a man in a meaningless altercation. And when it happened, Mailer did not "get a pass": he was widely, strongly and rightly criticized for what he had done.

The Abbott incident shows what happens when a writer's weirder speculations get put into practice. Fortunately for Ayn Rand and for the rest of us, her disturbing reflections on Hickman didn't see the light of day for many decades.