Sunday, July 07, 2024

Objectivism and Transgenderism

Charlotte Kushner over at the has written a harsh critique of ARI's attack of Matt Walsh's documentary "What is a Woman?" While Kushner's article makes some interesting points and lands a few well aimed blows at Onkar Ghate, Chief Philosophy Officer at ARI (what a title!), what interests me more is the general view taken by ARI on this contentious issue. The position of ARI, as far as I can make out, is that there is nothing wrong with transgenderism and that there is no reason to object to individuals transitioning from one gender to another. This is notable if for no reason then it's not likely  that Rand would have agreed with this. But it's also interesting in that there are reasons to doubt that Rand herself could have provided a cogent argument against the morality of transitioning based on the principles of her own philosophy.

There are four basic positions on the trans-issue:

  1. Gender dysphoria is both a real and a dire condition which can be successfully treated through a surgical intervention by which the individual is turned into a kind of replica of the gender he/she identifies with. This treatment is so effective at curing the individual's suffering that it can and should be used on minors. Transgenders are often to brutally treated by society that they deserve to have their medical expenses compensated by the state (i.e., taxpayers) and/or insurance companies.
  2. Gender dysphoria is likely real and a dire condition, but to "cure" it by surgical intervention is so radical and invasive that only adults should be allowed to make use of it. Minors should not be allowed to transition because it's just too risky. What if they live to regret the irreversible changes inflicted upon them?
  3. Whether gender dysphoria is real or not is besides the point. Transitioning is just too extreme a cure for the condition. That such procedures should be allowed against children is a scandal. Psychologists who manipulate minors into transitioning and the surgeons who perform the operation deserve prison sentences. Adults, however, because they are adults and hence free and sovereign citizens, should be allowed to transition, but they must bear all their medical expenses and not become a burden on tax payers (or insurance companies).
  4. Any kind of transitioning or puberty blockers should be illegal, because it's against the laws of God and/or the universe. Gender dysphoria, to the extent that it is real, is a mental illness that needs to be treated with psychology-based interventions, not physical mutilation. Those who transition become perpetual patients (i.e., they need constant medical care and access to hormones), and this means they'll likely become a burden on an already over-burdened medical system.
Now one of the claims of Objectivism is that it can determine questions of morality through "reason." But how would "reason" determine which of these four positions is, from an ethical point of view, most correct or valid?  It seems like whenever people talk about this issue, whether it is Yaron Brook, Matt Walsh, or Joe Biden, the main issues at stake are assumed as kind of moral axiom that cannot be questioned or denied.  And no wonder---because, as George Santayana reminds us, "The ultimate intuitions on which ethics rests are not debatable, for they are not opinions we hazard but preferences we feel; and it can be neither correct nor incorrect to feel them." If you are horrified by the sufferings of gender dysphoria and are convinced that radical surgical interventions can bring an end to all this suffering, then it's hard not to conclude that either the first or the second position is the morally "right" one. But if on the other hand you find yourself horrified at the idea of genital mutilation and creating permanent wounds that have to be kept in an unhealed state, you'll be hard pressed to regard gender assignment surgeries as anything but an abomination that needs to be put down by the force of law. But in either instance, where is the "reason"? It is certainly not found in the mere feeling of horror.

Objectivists have failed to add anything to this controversy through their so-called "reason." They have merely expressed their various preferences, and then quibbled in bad faith about the rationalizations used to justify rival positions. Ghate and company have it out for Matt Walsh. So they put the worst possible interpretation on everything he says and act like this somehow makes them "rational." Ghate contends, for example, that because Walsh went to Africa to ask some tribesman what they thought of men trying to become women, this constitutes evidence of a desire to return to a more primitive state---as if Walsh is eager to give up all his wealth and access to modern conveniences in order to live in a grass hut in Africa. Walsh of course has no desire to live in a grass hut and Ghate's inuenndo is just another of the usual smears that Objectivists of the more orthodox stripe often specialize in. 

Monday, July 01, 2024

Objectivist Roundup, July 2024

1.  Another month and another Kindle Book.  The Atlas Society just published Robert Tracisnki’s Pocket Guide to Ayn Rand.

2.   The Ayn Rand Fan Club had an interesting discussion of “Social Hierarchies In and Out of Objectivism.”  They mention a recent interview with economist Walter Block who was involved in the Objectivist movement in the 1960’s.  He confirms the cultish side of Objectivism and says Rand would excommunicate people if she thought they were failing to see the implications of her thought.  They also include an interview with up-and-coming Objectivist psychologist Gena Gorlin.  Gorlin is asked if she’s read Nathaniel Branden’s The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (a post-Split book).  She says she hasn’t read it or much of Branden.  She says he’s a minor figure in psychology and implies his theory of self-esteem is outdated.  Certainly, Branden’s exaggerated view of the importance for self-esteem hasn’t held up well in recent research (for example, it’s been shown that criminals have high self-esteem and even commit crime to keep their self-esteem up).

3.  The Ayn Rand Institute Press just published a collection of writings by Tara Smith and others called The First Amendment.  I enjoyed Smith’s essays and in particular her discussion of religious exemptions to government laws and regulations.  Of note is Onkar Ghate’s essay on the “separation of church and state.”   As long time readers of the ARCHN Blog know, the First Amendment applied only to the federal government.  States could and did support religion in various ways.  Ghate doesn’t mention this or even appear to know this.  He mentions Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist where he coined the phrase.  However, in his Second Inaugural Address, Jefferson wrote, “I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it; but have left them, as the constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of state or church authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies.”  And what would an essay on religion be without the Tertullian misquote – “I believe because it's absurd”?

4.  The big news this year is that the Ayn Rand Institute is moving from California to Austin, Texas, minutes away from the University of Texas at Austin.  The ARI has purchased the land and will construct an Ayn Rand Center and an Ayn Rand University campus.  I don’t know if there is a backstory here, other than the ARI’s major donor lives in Austin and the ARI funds some professorships at UT-Austin.

Sunday, June 02, 2024

Objectivist Roundup, June 2024

1.  The Ayn Rand Fan Club’s Scott Schiff has a way of getting under Yaron Brook’s skin.  I thought it was standard Objectivism that philosophers rule the future, but I guess it’s just one guy with a YouTube channel.

2.  The Ayn Rand Institute Press just published a collection of essays by Leonard Peikoff entitled Why Act on Principle?  Among other works, it contains Peikoff’s October 2001 editorial in the New York Times called “End States Who Sponsor Terrorism” where Peikoff all but calls for the use of nuclear weapons against Saudi Arabia and Iran.  He demands a full-scale invasion and years-long occupation of Iran to “de-Nazify” the nation.  It also includes 1989’s “Fact and Value,” Peikoff’s excommunication of David Kelley for his advocacy of “Open Objectivism.”  Left unmentioned, of course, is that Peikoff’s split with Kelley started when Kelley refused to denounce Barbara Branden’s 1986 biography of Rand.  Peikoff insisted at the time that Branden’s report of Rand’s affair with Nathaniel Branden was an arbitrary assertion.  I do find it interesting that so much Peikoff material (such as transcripts of his courses) has been published near the end of his life.

3.  Frederick Cookinham will be publishing the first volume of a commentary on Atlas Shrugged entitled The Journey of Dagny Taggert.  At 476 pages the commentary might well be longer than Atlas.

4. Kirkus Reviews has a brief review of the upcoming biography of Rand.  It’s been a while since I read The Fountainhead, but it never occurred to me that Roark was a “new Jew” strengthening the Diaspora.

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Objectivist Round-up, May 2024

1.  Former Ayn Rand associate Robert Hessen has died.  Chris Sciabarra has a post.  For reasons I can’t recall, Hessen and his wife Bea Hessen ended up in Peikoff’s dog house after Rand’s death and they were written out of Objectivist publications.

2. Objectivist philosopher Tara Smith will soon be publishing Egoism Without Permission: The Moral Psychology of Ayn Rand’s Ethics.  Although associated with the Ayn Rand Institute, Smith is one the less dogmatic of ARI scholars.  ARI Chairman of the Board Yaron Brook interviews Smith. here.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Objectivist Round-up, April 2024

1. Another month and another Kindle book about Rand.  This time it's Individual and Society: Navigate Ayn Rand's Individualism and John Dewey's Communal Insights by one Adrian Locke  It's brief and I've only skimmed it, but the book mentions Dewey only twice in passing without any citations to his works (likewise no citations to Rand's work) so I'm not sure what the point is.

2. Yale University just announced an addition to its Jewish Lives series, Ayn Rand: Writing a Gospel of Success by Alexandra Popoff  It will be the first English biography of Rand since the 2009 biographies by Anne Heller and Jennifer Burns.* The book, which is due out in August, will be 264 pages long.  The blurb says the book is "exhaustively researched" but it's shorter than three full-length biographies of Rand (Burns, Heller and Barbara Branden).

3.  Speaking of biographies of Ayn Rand, Yaron Brook said recently the long-awaited authorized biography of Rand by Shoshana Milgram Knapp has taken longer than he "would have liked or expected."  One can only speculate on the reason for the delay.

4.  The Ayn Rand Institute's Ayn Rand University is up and running.  If you don't want to enroll you can audit Harry Binswanger's Objectivist Logic for a mere $1,580.

*If I recall correctly, there were biographies in French and Russian.

Monday, March 04, 2024

Objectivist Roundup, March 2024

1.  ARI scholar Jason Rheins said that he hopes Donald Trump has a stroke and calls conservative Republicans Nazis.  The ARI party line is that Trump is bad and Republicans a mixed bag, so this is rather extreme.

2.  ARI scholar Mike Mazza wrote an interesting article Why can't Professional Philosophers Get Rand Rights?  Mazza is correct that many philosophers don't understand particularly well, probably in large part that they disagree with most of her ideas.  (Rand had a hard time understanding people she disagreed with as well.)  On the other hand. he writes as if disagreeing with Rand equals misunderstanding her.  His solution is to read more ARI affiliated authors.

4.  One Vladimir Lincoln Armstrong published the Kindle book, Debunking Ayn Rand: The Truth About Money Creation Or Why Work Doesn't Create Money.  It's a small book which claims that Rand believed workers create money and  gives reasons why this isn't so (such as The Federal Reserve and fiat money).  He doesn't document his claim about Rand's view of money and I don't think even her staunchest supporters think she had much to say about monetary theory.  There is no mention of Objectivist influenced economists who have written about money such as George Reisman and Richard Salsman.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Objectivist Roundup, February 2024

1.  There is a new Kindle book, The Rational Edge: Ayn Rand on Nature and Essence by one Andy Randell.  It's a brief overview of Objectivism with some objections and possible responses.  Unless you are completely new to Objectivism or have Kindle Unlimited, I can't recommend it.

2.  Ben Bayer of the Ayn Rand Institute interviewed Harry Binswanger on his years with Ayn Rand.  It's somewhat defensive (for example Rand was not a difficult editor) but it does contain interesting anecdotes and observations.   A few of Binswanger's observations:
 i.  Rand was always intense, even when reheating the Borscht her cook made.

 ii.  Binswanger concedes that Rand occasionally got unnecessarily angry at interlocutors because she would judge their motives and premises prematurely.

  iii.  Rand didn't see all the implications of some of her ideas until the 1970s.  That was a new one to me.

  iv.  Rand was a great psychologist, including better than many "respected historical psychologists."  James Valliant made a similar claim recently.

   v.  Binswanger still hates the Brandens ("villains").  Fair enough from his perspective, but he actually claims Rand's excommunication letter in 1968 (To Whom It May Concern) was measured and even Olympian.  It's hard to imagine calling Nathaniel a thief without evidence as being measured.  As Nathaniel said in his memoirs, Rand's attack was so "over the top" that people wondered if he was an alcoholic or a child molester.

   vi.  Maybe not a major point, but Binswanger misrepresents Barbara's Branden's biography (The Passion of Ayn Rand) on Rand's final meeting and phone call with Rand.  As Binswanger says, Rand and Barbara met in Rand's New York apartment in 1981.  According to Barbara, after the meeting, she sent Rand a letter stating that she was writing Rand's biography.  When Rand didn't respond, Barbara called her.  Rand refused to talk.  Barbara says she was certain that this was due to Rand's disapproval of the prospective biography.  Binswanger doesn't mention the letter and says Barbara first mentioned the idea of the biography in the phone call and asked for Rand's assistance.  He says  Barbara claims that this final conversation was of a "I'm sorry that things didn't work out" variety.  This was manifestly not what Branden wrote.  (The existence of the post-meeting letter mentioning a biography is confirmed by Cynthia Peikoff in 100 Voices).  Perhaps Binswanger should have re-read the relevant page in Branden's biography before accusing her of lying.


Monday, January 01, 2024

Objectivist Roundup, January 2024

1.   William O’Neill’s 1971 book With Charity Toward None: An Analysis of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand was recently re-published.  It was probably the first critique of Rand’s philosophy published.  It’s been years since I read it, but my recollection was that it was hit-or-miss.

[O'Neill's book was the first philosophical critique from an academically trained savant. Albert Ellis had a few years earlier written a book length critique of Objectivism (i.e., Is Objectivism a Religion?) focusing on psychology, politics and economics.]

2.  Carl Barney, the multi-millionaire ex-donor to the Ayn Rand Institute, and head of the Prometheus Foundation, recently posted a curious blog entry, Who Represents Objectivism.  He writes:

“There have been many alleged spokespersons for Objectivism—Mike Berliner, Harry Binswanger, John Ridpath, Peter Schwartz, Yaron Brook—and we’re now told of a “Chief Philosophy Officer,” Onkar Ghate. There’s something we should not forget.”

I’m wondering if there is a back story here.  With the occasional exception of Binswanger, I’m not sure if any of these have ever claimed to be a spokesperson for Objectivism.  Barney then goes on to sing the praises of Leonard Peikoff, who claims to quite literally speak in the name of Ayn Rand.  

This is something I didn’t know:

“Much of Leonard’s clarity and conviction undoubtedly was influenced by his 30-year close relationship with Ms. Rand—thousands of hours of discussion (from which he took careful notes), and the Q&As, and the collaboration undoubtedly enabled him to speak with such clarity and conviction.”

Can the publication of Leonard Peikoff’s Journals and Marginalia be far off?

3.  Long-time Objectivist author Andy Bernstein has a new Kindle book on racism called American Racism: Its Decline, Its Baleful Influence, and Our Looming Race War.

4.   Speaking of Bernstein, Yaron Brook wasn’t pleased to be asked why he isn’t teaching at Ayn Rand University.  Brook claimed not to know.  I certainly don’t know but considering that he writes for Craig Biddle’s The Objective Standard I doubt he will be teaching at ARU any time soon.

5.   Speaking of Brook, he is scheduled to appear on January 12, 2024 in Centennial, Colorado.  For a mere $400 you can sit next to him at the post-speech dinner.