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. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Orthodox Objectivism's Struggle with the Inheritability of Intelligence

[Introductory Note: the following is an important article by ARCHNBlog contributor Neil Parille. One thing to bear in mind in relation to the subject of intelligence is that the correlation between measured intelligence (i.e., IQ) and societal outcome success is one of the highest correlations ever measured by social science. The persisting skepticism of intelligence in orthodox Objectivist circles constitutes, as Neil explains in this essay, the legacy of Rand's blank slatism.]

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that Objectivists are, like apparently a fair percentage of the population, skeptical of intelligence tests (which I’ll call IQ tests).  A while ago I heard Ayn Rand Institute president Yaron Brook claim that IQ tests are “B.S.” (he didn’t use the abbreviation). Perhaps less surprising is that Objectivists are generally skeptical of the contention that intelligence is a highly heritable (put colloquially, genetic) trait.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is quite a disconnect between what psychologists know about intelligence and what the average person believes.  Here is what probably close to 100% of experts in the field of intelligence research believe:

1. There is such a thing as intelligence.  Some people are better at math, have a bigger vocabulary and are better at solving problems of all kinds.

2. IQ tests reliably measure what we consider intelligence.

3. Intelligence is a highly heritable trait, probably in the 50 to 80% range.*

4. IQ correlates to a variety of life outcomes.  Higher IQ people on average commit less crime, have less illegitimacy, have lower rates of drug use, etc.

If you don’t believe me, here are three prominent left wing intelligence researchers.

Here is Rand’s definition of intelligence:

“Intelligence is the ability to deal with a broad range of abstractions. Whatever a child’s natural endowment, the use of intelligence is an acquired skill. It has to be acquired by a child’s own effort and automatized by his own mind, but adults can help or hinder him in this crucial process.”

It is occasionally said by Objectivists and others that there are kinds of intelligence or aspects of intelligence that aren’t captured or measured by IQ tests.  This idea was made popular by Harvard University’s Howard Gardner in his book Multiple Intelligences.  Gardner listed among other types of purported intelligence musical ability and athletic ability.  Most would consider these things skills.  In any event, this dubious theory doesn’t undercut the consensus view of intelligence.  For example, if you consider playing baseball a form of intelligence, it is still the case that given two equally gifted baseball players the one with the higher IQ will tend to be a better player.  Put differently, nothing has been identified as a form of intelligence which inversely correlates to IQ.

Leonard Peikoff was asked in 2016 what Ayn Rand’s IQ might have been.  He responded that he didn’t have any idea because IQ was not a topic in the Objectivist community during Rand’s life.  He said that he didn’t know whether IQ tests were valid.  I recall, but can’t find the podcast, where Peikoff was asked if Rand believed intelligence had a genetic basis.  His response was that Rand didn’t think it mattered because we don’t use all of our brain power (or words to that effect).  This is a common claim but, if one thinks about it, is untrue.  If someone has an accident and loses twenty percent of his cognitive functioning, he is unlikely to increase his mental ability to his pre-injury level by more effort.

It does seem that Objectivists who are informed on these issues accept the consensus.  Edwin Locke is a prominent Objectivist psychologist and an expert in the field of motivational psychology.  In his 2017 book, The Illusion of Determinism, he accepts that intelligence is genetic in the 50 to 80% range. He sees egalitarianism behind the multiple intelligences theory, e.g., “we are all equally smart, just in different ways.”  In his 2020 Objectivist Conference talk he discussed IQ tests and accepted their validity.  Harry Binswanger said in a couple podcasts that he thinks IQ tests measure intelligence and intelligence is at least moderately heritable.

I imagine that many Objectivists have a hard time accepting the high heritability of intelligence for a few reasons: 

First, it conflicts with their blank slate view of human nature.*  As Rand famously said, man is a “being of self-made soul.”  In her essay “Racism,” Rand defined racism as “the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry.”  Taken to the extreme this means that every person is born with the potential to be a Newton since Newton’s genius must have been unrelated to his “body chemistry.”  (But note that in her definition of intelligence Rand referenced a child’s natural endowment.)   Yet if intelligence is highly heritable then nature places a limit on human ability.  The average IQ is 100.  It takes an IQ of 115 to be an accountant and an IQ of 130 to be a Ph.D. research scientist.  It follows then that the average person will not be able to become an accountant and the average accountant won’t be able to become a physicist. 

Second, an additional reason is the correlation between intelligence and desirable life outcomes.  Put differently, people with an average IQ of 110 will have an easier time navigating the difficulties of life than people with an average IQ of 90.  Some people are just born to be more successful than others. Although high IQ people can make a mess of their life, the Bernie Madoffs of the world are the exception.

Third, Objectivists, like Rand, contend that achievement is largely a question of proper epistemology.  In Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Rand considered the world’s problems to be largely caused by an inability to solve “the problem of universals” (which she considered to be synonymous with a theory of concept formation).   I’d rather have a good theory of concept formation than a bad one, but there is no evidence to believe that Objectivists develop scientific breakthroughs at a higher rate than others.

Fourth, if intelligence is highly heritable, then what about other traits such as political beliefs, personal honesty or industriousness?  Evidence shows that there is at least a moderate genetic component to these as acknowledged by up and coming  Objectivist psychologist Gena Gorlin.

_______________________

*This is established by studies of identical twins separated at birth and adopted into families with different socio-economic status.  The IQ of an adopted child correlates to the IQ of the biological parents than the adopting parents.  

**I’ve heard Objectivists say that Rand’s view of man being a blank slate is limited to the rejection of innate knowledge and isn’t necessarily related to the nature/nurture debate.  On the other hand, I’ve corresponded with at least a couple prominent Objectivists who claim that males are not innately more aggressive than females notwithstanding that this is observed everywhere and persists even when attempts are made to raise boys and girls equally.  See James Q. Wilson’s Crime and Human Nature.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Objectivist Roundup, October 2022

Not much happening in the world of Objectivism in the last month or two.

The only thing of note is Carl Barney’s response the ARI’s strange piece on schisms.  Barney makes several good points and it’s also interesting to see his version of the events that led to his break with the ARI.  Some money quotes:

My break with Yaron (and it was fundamentally with Yaron rather than with ARI) came about when I was giving him about $4 million a year and he wanted more. I said I would give him more, but I wanted to know his strategy for ARI and Objectivism. After painfully frustrating and failed strategic planning meetings, Yaron, in order to persuade me to continue funding ARI, agreed to promote and deliver Leonard’s courses. This was really important to me. But he didn’t keep his word....

My efforts regarding the dispute resolution process go back to 2015. I said to Yaron and some ARI Board members, “I have a lot of money invested in the success of ARI. Another disruptive conflict, such as the McCaskey affair, could severely damage ARI and my investment as the McCaskey affair did. So, would you agree to a dispute resolution process to head off any further disputes?"

Yaron agreed and said he would make it happen. (This was a condition of my giving him more money.) Over the next few years, I met with two lawyers who were also involved with ARI, Steve Simpson and Larry Salzman (Larry was on ARI’s Board). We met for many hours, attempting to draft a process that would be approved by Yaron. The lawyers and I met, discussed details, drafted versions, critiqued them, and edited them over and over. But ultimately, Yaron and Onkar would not approve them. I tried and tried, for about four years, working with Steve, Larry, Yaron, and others to establish a dispute resolution process. I spent probably between 100 and 200 hours. But nothing came of it.

One might cynically point out that the most rational people on earth shouldn’t need a highfalutin conflict resolution process, but $4 million a year is a lot of money.  And if Brook is half as arrogant and condescending in private as he is in public, I can’t blame Barney.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

An Epistemological Quandry

Harry Binswanger has come out with a video on Ayn Rand's break-up with philosopher John Hospers. Binswanger attended the notorious meeting for the American Society for Aesthetics that led Rand to terminate her friendship with Hospers. Against the advice of his colleagues, Hospers had invited Rand to present a paper on aesthetics. Rand read one of her essays on her concept of a "sense of life." Afterwards, Hospers offered some criticisms of Rand's theories, to which Rand then offered a replied. 

Now according to Binswanger, Hospers criticism was "unhelpful," amounting to something of a philosophical put-down. "He didn't give her respect," he would later recall. When Rand delivered her responses, she was "so nice and so gentle." But when she looked in Hospers direction, to perhaps gauge his reaction, he not even paying any attention to her.

Hospers delivers a remarkable different account of the event:

By tradition, commentators make criticisms. Mine, I thought, were mild as criticisms go. I wondered publicly about whether every work of art (even mediocre ones) carries with it a sense of life; I mentioned Ayn’s own example of Dinesen (fine writing, but an awful sense of life); I speculated about whether to any extent what we say about sense of life depends on the language we use to characterize it ("emotive meaning" again).

I saw something wrong when I noticed that her remarks in response were icy, sarcastic, even insulting. I never discovered what there was about my remarks that made her "go ballistic." Apparently I had betrayed her, and I had done so publicly, when an academic audience already presumed critical of her might have been turned her way. There was no doubt that she felt deeply hurt. At the party in her room afterward, she would not speak to me, nor would anyone else: word had gone out that I was to be "shunned." I never saw her again.


So the epistemological question that confronts us is How can we know which account is the right one? Presumably, almost everyone who participated and witnessed the event in question is dead. A few members of the audience who, like Binswanger, were mere students may still be around. But finding them would be difficult and verifying that they were actually in attendance at the meeting close to impossible. So it really is Binswanger's word versus that of Hospers (who is no longer with us). How are we to determine which, if either, is telling the truth? Does Rand's own epistemology provide us any insights on solving this quandry?

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Review of Simon Lemieux's Book on Rand

Who the Hell is Ayn Rand? was recently published.  It is written by Simon Lemieux who teaches at Portsmouth Grammar School in England. It’s a volume in a new series of brief introductions to ancient and contemporary thinkers. It’s a good overview of Rand’s life and philosophy from a somewhat left-wing perspective.  In particular, I like how Lemieux lets Rand speak for herself, letting the reader judge for himself if Rand’s ideas are correct or practical.  In this respect it’s quite unique in the world of Randian criticism.  In lieu of a formal book review, I’ll summarize each chapter and make some comments.

Introduction

The introduction points out that Ayn Rand continues to be controversial.  Lemieux also notes that Rand has been misrepresented and “wasn’t a fully-fledged libertarian or a reckless libertine.”  He makes the interesting observation that Randianism is something of a combination of Nietzscheanism and can-do American individualism.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Objectivist Round-up, September 2022

1. Who the Hell is Ayn Rand? was recently published by Simon Lemieux. It’s a volume in a new series that provides brief introductions to ancient and contemporary thinkers. It’s a good overview of Rand’s life and philosophy from a somewhat left-wing perspective. I hope to review it in a week or two.

2. Ayn Rand Fan Club interviewed Michael Stuart Kelly of the Objectivist Living website. I enjoyed the discussion of his friendship with Barbara Branden, his involvement in The PARC Wars, and the rise and fall of Objectivist forums.

3. Chris Sciabarra just announced that the final issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will come out in 2023. JARS published numerous significant articles on Rand and related issues. Chris also published two important essays on Rand’s college transcripts based on archival research. I will always be grateful to Chris for printing three book reviews I wrote. JARS was first published in 1999.