Sunday, March 12, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, March 2023

The big news is that Craig Biddle and Stephen Hicks will be debating Open Objectivism at next month’s Ayn Rand Europe’s Belgrade conference.  Hicks, who is associated with David Kelley’s The Atlas Society, will be taking the Open Objectivism position.  The push-back by the Closed position advocates has been intense, see here and here.  James Valliant was particularly irate, arguing that Open Objectivism is dishonest, an anti-concept, a repudiation of Ayn Rand, etc.  He says that to debate Hicks on the topic is equivalent to debating a Holocaust denier, a flat earther, and an advocate of slavery.  Valliant’s anger toward The Atlas Society apparently goes back to 1986 when Kelley allegedly said that there should be a debate over Barbara Branden’s just-published biography of Rand.  Valliant is upset that when he published The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics in 2005, Kelley refused to debate.  Perhaps Kelley changed his mind in the intervening 29 years or concluded that it wasn’t worth his time to debate the author of a book who considers throwing surprise parties immoral.

For background on the Open Objectivism controversy see here and here.  The debate seems to be mostly about the amount of judgment and condemnation that Objectivists should have toward non-Objectivists (particularly leftist academics) and group rivalries than about the essentials of Rand’s philosophy.  For example, Closed Objectivists don’t get worked up over the Ayn Rand Institute purporting to know what Rand would have thought about Donald Trump.

[Contributed by Niel Parille.]

Monday, March 06, 2023

The mRNA Vaccine Controversy and "Reason"

Ben Bayer, "director of content" over at ARI, wrote an article back in May of 2022 arguing that "vaccine refusers" (i.e., people who refused to take the mRNA vaccines) should not be criticized for being "selfish," that on the contrary, getting vaccinated is very much in the individuals rational self-interest. Bayer of course takes it for granted that the mRNA vaccine's are "safe and effective":

While some people have good medical reasons not to get vaccinated [writes Bayer], others are disproportionately worried about rare side effects. Of these, far too many are irrationally allowing themselves to be taken in by quackery and conspiracism.

Now Bayer believes he has come to this conclusion by the use of his "reason." This means he has evaluated all the relevant facts and, through "logic" and valid concept formation, has arrived at a correct (and "certain") conclusion. But here's the problem. He actually hasn't done any of that. He undoubtedly thinks he has, but he's deluded. His conclusion, far from being based on all the relevant facts and/or logic, is instead derived from an argument from authority (which is technically a logical fallacy). Because the medical and scientific establishments have claimed that the mRNA vaccines are "safe and effective," he has decided that's good enough for him. However, there's a potential contradiction here. How can Bayer be certain that these establishments are in all respects trustworthy? After all, can Bayer truthfully contend that he always accepts the conclusions of the scientific establishment, regardless of what they might be? Would he, for example, accept the scientific establishment's views on climate change and global warming? If not, why not? If he accepts one and not the other, isn't that an example of cherry picking the evidence?

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, February 2023

1.  In 1983 Leonard Peikoff released his long-awaited book The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America. Peikoff argued that the United States was on the same road as Germany during the Weimar Republic's descent into Nazi madness. Two-thirds of the book consisted of a discussion of the rise of Nazism, which Peikoff viewed as caused by irrationalist philosophy, particularly that of Immanuel Kant. The remainder of the book was an overview of American history and thought, arguing that the United States, thanks to its Kantian-influenced philosophers, was on the same path as Germany in the 1920s and 30s.

Libertarian philosopher David Gordon gave the book a scathing review in 1983.  Forty years later he revisits it here.  I’ll make a couple additional points:

i.  At Michael Berliner's suggestion, Peikoff decided to publish the chapters concerning Germany as a stand-alone book in 2013, The Cause of Hitler’s Germany. Based on Peikoff's new introduction, I get the impression that he thinks this is the more important part of The Ominous Parallels and didn't get the attention it deserved. The text of these chapters is identical to the original, with the exception of changing a few sentences that refer to the omitted chapters. That's a problem since The Ominous Parallels contained numerous mistakes in intellectual history. One of the biggest problems is Peikoff's repeated references to Rauschning's Hitler Speaks (aka The Voice of Destruction), a book of largely manufactured discussions with Hitler. While the fraudulent nature of Rauschning's book wasn’t known until after The Ominous Parallels was published, it widely known by 2013.  A friend of mine told me that when he first read The Ominous Parallels, he thought some of the quotes (for example, “the age of reason is over”) were “too good to be true.”

ii.  Peikoff references all number of (in his view) anti-rationalist writers and thinkers such as Emil Brunner, Karl Barth, Thomas Mann, Sigmund Freud, Ernst Cassirer, etc. but hardly ever mentions that these people were anti-Nazi.  Of course Peikoff could argue that they didn’t draw the conclusions to Kant’s work that a consistent Kantian would, but an author should take into account possible objections to his thesis.

2.  Timothy Sandefur recently published The Furies: How Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand Found Liberty in an Age of Darkness.  It’s an account of the friendship of these foundresses of modern libertarianism in the context of the politics of their time.  I have only skimmed it, but it looks outstanding.  I was naturally interested in the sources Sandefur would use for Rand’s life.  He says he relies principally on the late Anne Heller’s 2009, Ayn Rand and the World She Made, while noting that Rand’s followers view this and other (unnamed) biographies differently.  He doesn’t cite Barbara Branden’s 1986 biography, The Passion of Ayn Rand (or mention her at all) much less a certain critic of the Branden biography.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Objectivist Roundup, January 2023

Not much happening.  The Ayn Rand Institute just released their 2022 report.  It contains a previously unanthologized essay by Rand about the Spanish painter Jose Manuel Capuletti.  The ARI reports that it is currently digitizing the Ayn Rand Archives.  For those of us who would like to see the unbowlderized Rand Journals and other material, don't expect to see them anytime soon.  It will be a "multi-year project."


Thursday, December 15, 2022

Objectivist Roundup, December 2022

1. The big event last month was The Daily Wire’s purchasing the rights to Atlas Shrugged.  Greg Nyquist has the low down.  Here is the video where James Valliant expresses his terror.

2. In 2009, Jennifer Burns came out with her biography of Ayn Rand, Goddess of the Market.  I just came across this 2010 Amazon review by Jan Schulman, who knew Rand.  It is quite insightful about the nature of the movement in its heyday.  

AR [Ayn Rand] was a brilliant, angry, disturbed, troubled woman. i loved her and loathed her. most especially, i loathed 'the movement' and all that it represented. a great example: one time i had worked for NB [Nathaniel Branden] doing secretarial services for him (after the break) in l.a. i had typed up a letter he dictated, signed the letter (he was out of town) and mailed it. he came to our house the following saturday morning when my husband and i were having breakfast and still in our robes. he sat down, had coffee and then expressed his extreme displeasure with me. "You used an exclamation point in the letter!" he practically screamed at me. "What?" I responded, stunned and confused. "You used an exclamation point! Do you know what an exclamation point is?" "Well, it signifies an important statement, one that is strongly felt." "It's a scream!" he barked at me. "And that tells me something about YOUR psycho-epistomology."

I looked at him like he was crazy. (i actually thought he was.) "But you said you had never been so happy in your entire life. i thought it was deserving of an exclamation point." i said. "it was a strong statement and it was about your feelings and it was an exclamation." he went on to state that he was horrified and embarrassed beyond belief that that letter was sent with that piece of punctuation in it. that was when i realized, fully and clearly, as if a light went on in my head, that he and AR and everyone around them, were so full of their own self-worth (actually so full of crap) that they had lost sight of everything rational. that was when i became not only an ex-objectivist, but practically an anti-objectivist. i let NB know what i thought of his opinion and especially his nerve in blustering his way into our apartment only to insult me, while drinking my coffee (feel free to laugh). (i made really good coffee...smiles...) a few days later he apologized to me, but by then, i didn't care what he thought.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Daily Wire Secures Exclusive Rights to Atlas Shrugged

The conservative internet news site and media company the DailyWire has announced that it has secured the exclusive rights to Ayn Rand's controversial best selling novel Atlas Shrugged. Daily Wire co-CEO Jeremy Boreing indicated plans for creating a series based on Rand's novel that would be streamed on the subscription-based DailyWire+. As Boering explained,

When we [i.e., the DailyWire] decided in 2020 to launch into entertainment, my vision at that time was to bring Ayn Rand’s seminal work on the creative power of economic freedom and the terrible consequences of its loss to the screen as a premium series. The obvious problem, we thought, is that we would never be able to get the rights to such a culturally ubiquitous work. I was wrong.”

I suspect Boering was not alone in believing that he would never get the rights to Atlas. So how did he pull it off? As far as can be made out, a deal was negotiated between Leonard Peikoff's and the DailyWire's lawyers, which strongly suggests that Peikoff himself must have signed off on the deal. As the DailyWire explained:

The deal was negotiated by Sonnier and general counsel Joshua Herr on behalf of DailyWire+, Roger Arar and Kaslow on behalf of Atlas Distribution Company, and Tim Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd. on behalf of the Peikoff Family Partnership and the Estate of Ayn Rand.
Some orthodox Objectivists (James Valliant for instance) have declared themselves "terrified" by this news. They fear the DailyWire smuggle "conservative" notions into Atlas, particularly religious tropes. Jeremy Beoring insisted that the DailyWire+' version of Atlas would be true to the book’s message, plot, and character archetypes. I suspect being "true" to Rand's novel was part of the deal with Peikoff, although what exactly that will mean in practice remains to be seen. Bear in mind that those in the Objectivist world who wish to see a well-made version of Atlas don't exactly have a lot of choices when it comes to getting Atlas on screen. Hollywood would never deign to make such a series and the DailyWire is about the only film company in the world with first-rate production values willing to take on such a quixotic venture.

Of course it goes without saying that, even with high production values, Atlas remains essentially an unfilmable novel. It will be interesting to see who Boering enlists as the screenwriter for the project. Will Andrew Klavan be asked to try his hand at the business? And who's going to direct and act in this thing? Most Hollywood actors wouldn't dare involve themselves in a DailyWire+ project—let alone one involving the Ayn Rand. Is everyone ready for Gina Carano as Dagny Taggart and Laurence Fox as Hank Rearden? There's a decent chance both those actors, each of whom has suffered cancellation for their political views, will star in the series. Perhaps they can also find a part for James Woods.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Objectivist Roundup, November 2022

1.   Anne Heller, author of Ayn Rand and the World She Made, passed away recently at the age of 71.  Heller’s biography of Rand, which was published in 2009, was excellent but probably didn’t get the attention it deserved.  A few months before it came out, Jennifer Burns published her biography of Rand, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right.  Goddess of the Market was the first biography of Rand since Barbara Branden’s 1986 The Passion of Ayn Rand.  Burns had almost complete access to the Ayn Rand Archives and revealed, for the first time, that six of Rand’s posthumously published books – most notably Rand’s Journals - were so heavily edited as to be practically worthless.  So Heller’s book was perhaps bound to be overshadowed (she was not allowed access to the Archives).  Chris Sciabarra has a tribute.

2.  Long time Objectivist writer Andrew Bernstein recently publish a book on US education: Why Johnny Still Can’t Read or Wright or Understand Math.  I haven’t read the book, but the Ayn Rand Fan Club recently interviewed him.  Bernstein makes some good points but seems to think students would do significantly better on average with improved teaching methods, which is an implication of Rand’s view of intelligence, which I discussed recently.