Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Barbara Branden has passed away 12/11/2013 RIP

Rate this topic


JamesShrugged
 Share

Recommended Posts

Rational selfishness must surely contain the 'doctrine of privacy' (for want of a better term).  At one (absurd) end, I am not going to give my banking pin code to anyone who asks for it. At the other, complex end, one might very well be loath to share unasked-for, sensitive information with an acquaintance, on the chance he does damage to you, by innocently repeating it to those who could use it to attack you. 

 

I think- but may be wrong- that the "immorality" of the affair Barbara was quoted above as writing, was the immorality of psychological harm (in different ways) to the four individuals involved. I.E. not the immoral dishonesty to others, in itself, as much as the immorality of selflessness.

Edited by whYNOT
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is my point: If you are in a conversation where someone brings put the affair, of course it is a valid argument to say that Ayn Rand's personal life is irrelevant to her philosophy and that anyone who brings it up is committing ad hominem.

Agreed. I would go further: I think that is typically the proper response (whether or not one specifically refers to ad hominem, which I find to be poorly understood and has the potential to derail a conversation).

 

However, a lot of people in today's world simply won't understand what you mean by that and perceive what happened as you refusing to respond to a valid criticism. Many people will also claim "if Ayn Rand didn't live by her own philosophy, why should we believe anything she says?" Now, you can say that we don't need these people, and you might be right,

I also agree with you that many people will respond poorly. I don't know whether it's a question of "needing" those people; eventually, for the kind of world I would like to see come about, we will need a great many more to be advocates of reason and all that reason entails.

But I am dubious whether a person who is unable to draw a distinction between the fact that A is A and the person who makes that claim will be susceptible to much other reasoned argument, without resolving that issue first (and whatever underlies it). If I cannot press home the point that Rand's romantic involvements do not matter to questions of reason vs. faith, Capitalism vs. Socialism, and etc., then I maintain little hope in any other area.

 

but like it or not, they exist and will continue to spread falsehoods about Ayn Rand. I say that for every one that we can correct, there is one less person out there smearing Objectivism through Rand.

I think that those who attempt to criticize Objectivism through the sundry details of Rand's life are doing their own cause a disservice; intelligent people (who I would argue ought to be our first "conversion" targets) will be the first to recognize that these criticisms are not to the point, and reflect a weakness with respect to their own position. If the Passion of Ayn Rand (which I've never seen, nor read, and have no intention of doing) is inflammatory, and inaccurate, and even slanderous, but popular...? Then whatever lamentable faults exist there, I am at least happy in anticipating that it will lead more to discover Rand and her works for themselves. And of those who do, I believe that the more intelligent and honest will be forced to agree, through the strength of Rand's arguments, that her positions with respect to philosophy are correct, without regard to the moral status of her personal affairs.

Further, I believe that to engage people on this level... reflects some sort of tacit admission that it does matter. And further still, I think it's fraught with danger to tie oneself to the mast of historical interpretations when trying to argue philosophy. I believe that there was a time (though I was not present for it) when Objectivists might have argued against any implication that there even was an affair between Branden and Rand. Being caught out on details like that might make one regret having staked a claim to them initially, or their importance, when -- again -- what really matters is that A is A, a truth that will never be shown wrong, according to some newly discovered diary or witnesses' statement or what-have-you.

 

I'm not asking anyone to have a memorized "Official Answer" or anything. I am not what tolerationists call an "ARI cultist" (though even if I was, that would be an argument ad hominem).

LOL. I'm sure I'm not interested in unpacking what a "tolerationist" might mean in your usage, though I did not mean to imply that your answer had anything to do with ARI, or that you are a "cultist" of any stripe. It did strike me that you were suggesting that Objectivists learn (or memorize, if you will) certain responses for dealing with particular criticisms, in the manner that salesmen learn/memorize ways to deal with objections, when you said:

 

In this case, one should reply that Rand did not violate any principles of Objectivism because not revealing personal information does not constitute dishonesty (no one other than Rand's and Nathaniel Branden's respective spouses had a claim to a right to be told about the affair).

And with respect to this particular statement -- to try to pare down a previous reply -- I think that not revealing personal information may or may not constitute dishonesty, depending on the specifics of the actual relationships involved. (I don't know that I even agree that being a spouse necessarily gives one a "right" to such information, in the name of honesty or morality.) So even if I wanted a pat answer such that I could print on a card, I don't think this would be that answer. I don't think it allows sufficiently for important context.

 

And given that the official answer of the ARI regarding the affair amounts to "No comment," I am certainly not advocating the ARI position. In any case, what I am asking of Objectivists is to a) be knowledgeable about the basic details of the affair, so that they can correct any outright falsehoods their opponents commit, and to b ) know what their own reply is, based on Objectivist principles. Whether that be that Rand was in error or whether it is a defense of her decision based on the Objectivist ethics. It simply doesn't look good when Objectivists get blindsided by the affair and ignore it without making a studied response. My perspective is, however much you want to ignore it, it is not going away. This applies also to any of the other common smears ("Took Medicare!" "Idealized a killer!").

I understand.

Can I share a bit with you now? The happiest I'd ever been, as an Objectivist, was when I was new to all of these ideas and was swept away with their power and insight. I felt fully satisfied with Rand's fiction and nonfiction, and it never occurred to me to seek out a biography on her, or to care whether she was married, or how happily, or whether she ever received Medicare, or etc. I did not seek to establish the truth or falsehood of Rand's ideas according to the details of her personal life, but against the details of my own life, both in my memory, and in how I have lived from then on. I believe that is rather the proper way to go about validating an idea or a philosophy: according to your own experiences.

When I later found the "Objectivist community," it was despairing to find so much discussion over things like Hickman; to have to hear details about the Brandens; "purges"; the Peikoff/Kelley split; and the details of Rand's upbringing, and so on. None of any of this seemed to touch upon those reasons that had led me to the philosophy in the first place, or engendered such a passion in me, and (though I understand that this is all anecdotal) it seemed to me that it diminished the greatness that I otherwise had found in the potential for this philosophical revolution. It seemed to dim the lights. It seemed unworthy of what Rand had actually accomplished, to be having such discussions. Which is not to say that there aren't good discussions to be had, in the abstract, about what honesty -- or privacy -- properly entails, or questions on an 'open' vs. 'closed' system, or whether an advocate of Capitalism can morally accept governmental aid, or etc., but just that these questions, when the point of having them is to either smear Rand or even to defend her as a person, versus the underlying questions of philosophy, strike me as unseemly and unworthy. I do not expect that Rand would have been happy to find that those who adhere to her ideas would want to pore over the details of her personal life, regardless of her "and I mean it" quote. I think she would rather people discuss the ideas themselves.

And regardless of Rand's wishes on the matter, it is the ideas that I care about, and believe matter.

I have found that the more time I spend in my life pursuing these other ends, trying to assess the personalities involved and their personal splits and grievances, the less happy it makes me. And if I were to try to "sell" Objectivism to someone else, it would be on the strength of that which I find inspirational and true -- the core of the philosophy itself -- and not the details of whether Rand lived some sort of morally pure life, or whether she was right or wrong to praise any aspect of Hickman, or etc. I absolutely reject the idea that, as an Objectivist, I have some sort of obligation to investigate the details of Ayn Rand's life so that I can join in on the incessant battles over the same. To be frank? I don't care about the details of Ayn Rand's life. If it turned out that she had gone mad and eaten babies, her arguments in the Virtue of Selfishness and the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, and etc., would be just as wondrous to me, and just as correct. And that is where I would concentrate my attention, for all of the same reasons as I do today.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

[...]

I want also to note that you implied something negative (you do not specify precisely what aside from making a drug reference that I, as a non-user, did not fully comprehend) regarding the length of PARC. I do want to emphasize that this is not an "article," as you called it, but a book. These are four chapters of Mr. Valliant's book, The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics. Unfortunately, this book is currently out of print, but fortunately, Mr. Valliant made parts of it available online, which is why I posted links instead.

 

It was a humorous (although probably not inaccurate) aside--and an inside joke of sorts. I will let anybody else with personal knowledge of Mr. Valliant explain...

 

Book or not, my point was that Jim's tome was needlessly (and even intentionally, if I were to take up his own tactics) lengthy. Explaining in simple and straight-forward terms that BB got the story of Ayn Rand's name wrong (and to be clear, I don't know [or care] whether that is correct or not) and offering different evidence would have come off as somebody simply interested in getting the history right. Instead we get 10% historical content and 90% hysterical conspiracy theory. 

 

The story the Brandens tell is that they made a lot of mistakes, as did Ayn Rand. The story LP and HB want you to believe is only the former, whereas Ayn Rand was flawless, which is just ridiculous.

 

 

The former is not necessarily true. Ayn Rand was still legally married to Frank O'Connor and did not violate the contract of their marriage since she "renegotiated" that contract by obtaining his consent for the affair to occur. The people around them did not have a right to know that Ayn Rand was sleeping with Nathaniel Branden, and the idea that they did is preposterous. If she was going around telling other people that Frank was the only man she had ever loved, that would be dishonest, but there is no evidence that she did this. Again, since Ayn Rand remained married to Frank O'Connor during the affair, he still absolutely was "my husband."

 

 

When somebody tells you, "I am married to soandso", you making reference to a very complex concept that has many different CCD's in many different contexts. Telling a judge or a lawyer or a legal filing that you are "married" is very different than telling your colleagues that you are "married". Ayn Rand was guilty of intentional context dropping here, aka lying.  She might as well have had her fingers crossed behind her back when she said this.

 

And again, in real life, shit like this happens. Love affairs are complicated. Etc. Etc. I certainly wouldn't let a detail like this color my view of a towering figure such as Ayn Rand, and I don't. It's not the crime, its the cover-up.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is my point: If you are in a conversation where someone brings put the affair, of course it is a valid argument to say that Ayn Rand's personal life is irrelevant to her philosophy and that anyone who brings it up is committing ad hominem. However, a lot of people in today's world simply won't understand what you mean by that and perceive what happened as you refusing to respond to a valid criticism. Many people will also claim "if Ayn Rand didn't live by her own philosophy, why should we believe anything she says?" Now, you can say that we don't need these people, and you might be right, but like it or not, they exist and will continue to spread falsehoods about Ayn Rand. I say that for every one that we can correct, there is one less person out there smearing Objectivism through Rand.

I'm not asking anyone to have a memorized "Official Answer" or anything. I am not what tolerationists call an "ARI cultist" (though even if I was, that would be an argument ad hominem). And given that the official answer of the ARI regarding the affair amounts to "No comment," I am certainly not advocating the ARI position. In any case, what I am asking of Objectivists is to a) be knowledgeable about the basic details of the affair, so that they can correct any outright falsehoods their opponents commit, and to b ) know what their own reply is, based on Objectivist principles. Whether that be that Rand was in error or whether it is a defense of her decision based on the Objectivist ethics. It simply doesn't look good when Objectivists get blindsided by the affair and ignore it without making a studied response. My perspective is, however much you want to ignore it, it is not going away. This applies also to any of the other common smears ("Took Medicare!" "Idealized a killer!"). Look up Ayn Rand on the internet, find a recent news article about her, and look in the comments to see how many of them mention either Hickman, Medicare or the affair versus how many respond coherently to some Objectivist idea or another. These are the facts as they are, and I would prefer Objectivists be able to say "No, that's not entirely accurate and here's why, now, would you like to talk about ideas instead of engaging in smears?" That's my perspective on it as someone who has spent a rather significant amount of time in the "trenches."

With regard to "and I mean it":

Of course this does not mean that Ayn Rand was automatically always moral. However, this statement does mean that her personal life can either give a major boost to or detract significantly from arguments in favor of her philosophy. This doesn't mean that we should cover up Miss Rand's personal failings, but it does mean that we should take care to be absolutely sure that they are failings before we even come close to accepting the premise that they are.

 

Doesn't this apply to any moral evaluation? If you want to discuss whether Rand's actions are in line with Objectivist principles, you need to, as with any moral evaluation, gather the relevant facts and identify the principles involved. I wouldn't recommend accepting the premise that she had a moral failing, I recommend not debating these people until they accept the premise that it says nothing about the philosophy of Objectivism. If their topic is "Rand is immoral, she cheated on her husband!" I think it is fine to get into a discussion with them about it. Or "Rand is a fraud, she accepted SS!" It is appropriate to discuss whether this was consistent with Objectivism or not, etc. But, if the topic is "Rand is immoral, she cheated on her husband, therefore Objectivism is false," I wouldn't debate with them about her cheating on her husband until they accept the premise that it isn't true that Objectivism's truth is dependent on this issue.

 

You don't lower your standard of debate (i.e. evade logic) because people won't understand you. If they don't understand you, come up with ways to communicate it more effectively. But, my guess is that nothing you can say to these people - specifically the one's on the internet - will make them understand because they don't want to understand.

Edited by thenelli01
Link to comment
Share on other sites

First, let me say that there is simply too much here for me to give a detailed response to every point made by all three of you. I would be up all night if I were to attempt to do so. Since DonAthos shared his personal context for this, and I found it valuable to understanding where he is coming from in this conversation, I will do the same right now.

I do agree with a great deal of this:
 

 

Can I share a bit with you now? The happiest I'd ever been, as an Objectivist, was when I was new to all of these ideas and was swept away with their power and insight. I felt fully satisfied with Rand's fiction and nonfiction, and it never occurred to me to seek out a biography on her, or to care whether she was married, or how happily, or whether she ever received Medicare, or etc. I did not seek to establish the truth or falsehood of Rand's ideas according to the details of her personal life, but against the details of my own life, both in my memory, and in how I have lived from then on. I believe that is rather the proper way to go about validating an idea or a philosophy: according to your own experiences.

When I later found the "Objectivist community," it was despairing to find so much discussion over things like Hickman; to have to hear details about the Brandens; "purges"; the Peikoff/Kelley split; and the details of Rand's upbringing, and so on. None of any of this seemed to touch upon those reasons that had led me to the philosophy in the first place, or engendered such a passion in me, and (though I understand that this is all anecdotal) it seemed to me that it diminished the greatness that I otherwise had found in the potential for this philosophical revolution. It seemed to dim the lights. It seemed unworthy of what Rand had actually accomplished, to be having such discussions. Which is not to say that there aren't good discussions to be had, in the abstract, about what honesty -- or privacy -- properly entails, or questions on an 'open' vs. 'closed' system, or whether an advocate of Capitalism can morally accept governmental aid, or etc., but just that these questions, when the point of having them is to either smear Rand or even to defend her as a person, versus the underlying questions of philosophy, strike me as unseemly and unworthy. I do not expect that Rand would have been happy to find that those who adhere to her ideas would want to pore over the details of her personal life, regardless of her "and I mean it" quote. I think she would rather people discuss the ideas themselves.

And regardless of Rand's wishes on the matter, it is the ideas that I care about, and believe matter.

 

I had read AtlasThe FountainheadThe Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal before I became significantly involved in reading any Objectivist forums that dealt with issues of Ayn Rand's personal life (this forum does not, and I give it immense credit for its ability to carry out its intended focus on ideas and general exclusion of discussions on personal relationships, except for in a few self-contained threads like this one; but other forums like SOLO Passion and Objectivist Living focus a great deal on the personal relationships). And I was very happy knowing little more about Miss Rand than what was written in these books (and her other works which I was planning to read). I knew of the existence of The Passion of Ayn Rand, but I had no significant interest in reading such a biography. As far as I was concerned, all I needed to know about Ayn Rand's character was that she was the woman who wrote Atlas Shrugged (this, by the way, has been one of Leonard Peikoff's most common replies to questions about her character, something on the order of "she was the person she had to be to write Atlas Shrugged).

 

Here is where our pasts differ. When I discovered the issues of the affair, the Peikoff/Kelley split, and worse, the Hickman smear and the Medicare smear, I also found myself despairing. But it was not solely because these issues are not relevant to "a philosophy for living on earth"—though they are and it was in part. It was because they shattered my image of Ayn Rand. Of course, my image of her would have been very little affected by finding out that she was afraid of the dark or that she sometimes got angry when someone insulted her work or that she sometimes committed an error in her thinking, because the fact that she wrote "The Objectivist Ethics" and The Fountainhead and Anthem makes all things of that variety seem trivial in comparison. But the claims that she was an esthetic fascist who would purge any student of Objectivism who didn't like Rachmaninoff, or worse claims like the Hickman one did damage my view of her.

 

Why? Ayn Rand's novels show a vast intellect, but also a vast benevolence. Even Atlas Shrugged and Anthem, both about worlds dominated by irrationality, feature uplifting depictions of heroic characters who maintain benevolence despite the obstacles before them. Just from reading these novels, I got the very strong sense that Rand herself was this benevolent and this heroic—she would have to have been, it seemed, to create these characters. But after reading some of the claims of the Brandens, I was troubled. My view of Rand was conflicted by the immensity of her published works and the seeming neurosis of her personal life as described by the Brandens, among others.

And that's why these are important to me. If none of this stuff was out there, I probably wouldn't make a big deal about Miss Rand's personal life at all. But because of the prevalence of a number of claims about her that seem to contradict everything she seems from her novels to have been as a person. I'm not looking for a perfect human being or a goddess in Miss Rand, but I am looking for a hero, which I think is a justified view to hold in light of her published works. But the claims that were out there contradict a heroic view of Ayn Rand. I have read PARC and evaluated the claims independently and found them to be dishonest. I was prepared to be content, actually, with Ayn Rand was a hero with a feet of clay. As hard is it was to believe those claims, I felt that I had to admit they were true. I started reading PARC online half-expecting to find it to be as dishonest and weak as its opponents have claimed it is. When I did read it, though, I was shocked by Mr. Valliant's intellect and honesty. I credit him with restoring my heroic image of Ayn Rand and putting aside my major doubts about Objectivism that stemmed from that. That's part of why I have felt the need to have a response to them. Miss Rand is, put simply, one of my personal heroes, and I feel an emotional impulse to defend her from what I see as unjust attacks. That may be why I initially attached such importance to Objectivist responses to issues like the affair. I still do think it is better to have something to say about it than nothing, but I now realize that I may have overemphasized the need to respond, probably on account of my emotional impulse in response to certain claims.

 

I apologize, by the way, for the poor quality of my writing tonight. Sometimes I'm on, sometimes I'm off, and tonight I'm off. However, I want to respond tonight because otherwise I fear I will never get it done.

 

 

I also agree with you that many people will respond poorly. I don't know whether it's a question of "needing" those people; eventually, for the kind of world I would like to see come about, we will need a great many more to be advocates of reason and all that reason entails.

But I am dubious whether a person who is unable to draw a distinction between the fact that A is A and the person who makes that claim will be susceptible to much other reasoned argument, without resolving that issue first (and whatever underlies it). If I cannot press home the point that Rand's romantic involvements do not matter to questions of reason vs. faith, Capitalism vs. Socialism, and etc., then I maintain little hope in any other area.

 

I now agree with you with regards to the effects on the specific person to whom one is responding. Your argument is quite convincing. However, I still do have concerns about onlookers who are undecided (and perhaps not very knowledgeable) about Ayn Rand who read these online conversations without partaking in them. Most people have busy lives and don't have time to investigate an unknown philosophy very much in depth. I would hazard a guess that most people will decide whether or not to look deeper into Objectivism solely on the basis of their first significant impression of Ayn Rand, choosing to perhaps pick up The Fountainhead if it is a positive impression or choosing to ignore her entirely if it is a negative impression. I fear that such an unknowledgeable person, of mixed morality, might come to a negative first impression of her upon reading something about the affair to which the only Objectivist response is "it isn't relevant." I think that our onlooker is more likely to come to a positive impression of Rand, or at least to be interested enough to pick up one of her books and make a more detailed judgement for himself, if the Objectivist response to an attempt to smear Rand by way of the affair is something on the order of "Ayn Rand did have an affair, but she had it with the consent of her spouse and her lover's spouse, she had a rational ethical system that justified her decision to attempt it, and a large part of the reason for the outcome is the fact that her lover turned out to be quite dishonest."
 

I think, the more that I do consider it, that that first impression is vitally important. One of my middle school teachers gave me Anthem to read because he thought I would like it. I had never heard the name Ayn Rand before I read that book. I loved it, and a year later, when I became more interested in politics, that overwhelmingly positive first impression of the author led me to pick up Atlas Shrugged, and the rest was, of course, history. Whereas people I know who have heard of her before and have heard bad things about her are generally people who I've had a harder time convincing to give her works a chance.

------------------------------------

 

Further, I believe that to engage people on this level... reflects some sort of tacit admission that it does matter. And further still, I think it's fraught with danger to tie oneself to the mast of historical interpretations when trying to argue philosophy. I believe that there was a time (though I was not present for it) when Objectivists might have argued against any implication that there even was an affair between Branden and Rand. Being caught out on details like that might make one regret having staked a claim to them initially, or their importance, when -- again -- what really matters is that A is A, a truth that will never be shown wrong, according to some newly discovered diary or witnesses' statement or what-have-you.

 

This is another good point, and I agree that it is fraught with danger, which is why one should not attempt it unless they know they have the facts straight. Also, I think any attempt to rebut the claims of Miss Rand's detractors should be coupled by a strong statement that the philosophy does not rise or fall based on her personal life. But I do still believe that such a thing is worth attempting, because of the above stated impact on the onlooker getting his first impression of Ayn Rand.

 

 

LOL. I'm sure I'm not interested in unpacking what a "tolerationist" might mean in your usage, though I did not mean to imply that your answer had anything to do with ARI, or that you are a "cultist" of any stripe. It did strike me that you were suggesting that Objectivists learn (or memorize, if you will) certain responses for dealing with particular criticisms, in the manner that salesmen learn/memorize ways to deal with objections, when you said:

 

Ah, sorry, that was an instance of me unthinkingly using a term that I assumed people would know when they actually would have no real reason to know it. "Tolerationists" was referring to students of the David Kelley, Atlas Society, "Truth and Toleration" stripe of Objectivist-related thought. I have often seen them refer to people like me who support the closed system, generally agree with Leonard Peikoff, and generally reject the Brandens' picture of Ayn Rand, as "ARI cultists," implying, of course, that I blindly worship the Ayn Rand Institute. However, I did not mean to suggest that you had accused me of anything of the kind, I was merely intending to further separate myself from any possible perception that I am a blind follower of the Institute and to deny any advocacy of cult-like memorized answers on my part.

------------------------------------

 

It was a humorous (although probably not inaccurate) aside--and an inside joke of sorts. I will let anybody else with personal knowledge of Mr. Valliant explain...

 

Book or not, my point was that Jim's tome was needlessly (and even intentionally, if I were to take up his own tactics) lengthy. Explaining in simple and straight-forward terms that BB got the story of Ayn Rand's name wrong (and to be clear, I don't know [or care] whether that is correct or not) and offering different evidence would have come off as somebody simply interested in getting the history right. Instead we get 10% historical content and 90% hysterical conspiracy theory. 

 

I disagree that Mr. Valliant's work is "needlessly lengthy," but that is a side issue, as is the issue of the extent to which he provides historical content versus psychological conjecture (I disagree also with your estimated percentages). I personally don't think Mr. Valliant is that great of a writer, either (he holds his own well enough much of the time, but sometimes he goes for metaphors that end up being rather... tortured). However, this is not relevant to the purpose of PARC, which is not intended as a pleasure-read or unbiased historical account (the subtitle is, after all, "The Case Against the Brandens"). The fact is, as illustrated by PARC, that Ms. Branden got the story of Ayn Rand's name wrong. And the fact is, as you will see if you read more of the book, that this is far from the only thing or the biggest thing that she got wrong. This is PARC's value—it demonstrates what Mr. Valliant sees as fallacies in the Brandens' accounts and provides, in the second part (which is unfortunately not available online), Ayn Rand's side of the story through her private journal entries.

 

 

The story the Brandens tell is that they made a lot of mistakes, as did Ayn Rand. The story LP and HB want you to believe is only the former, whereas Ayn Rand was flawless, which is just ridiculous.

 

First, I don't think either Dr. Peikoff or Dr. Binswanger has claimed that "Ayn Rand was flawless." It seems improbable to me that either made any sort of claim on that order, so I will want to see some solid evidence before granting that premise.

I also want to say that the fact that the Brandens' account shows both them and Rand making errors in approximately equal proportion does not make this account fair. If they actually made, for example, 90% of the errors and Ayn Rand made 10%, then they can only gain from saying that 60% were their fault and 40% were hers, and so on. I know Mr. Valliant, for his part, has attributed at least one error of knowledge specifically regarding the affair to Ayn Rand: the decision to trust Nathaniel Branden for as long as she did (I think Ms. Branden, given her stated view that Mr. Branden was dishonest to Miss Rand, would have agreed with Mr. Valliant on this count).

Besides, the affair was not the only area in which the Brandens did injustice to Ayn Rand in their accounts. Mr. Valliant shows, for instance, that Ms. Branden's claim that Rand was a "repressor" is based on VERY specious evidence but is made with the utmost confidence, despite evidence to the contrary, evidence Mr. Valliant provides in PARC. One particularly damning section of PARC, as an example, is the chapter "Rand and Non-Rand, at the Same Time and in the Same Respect," where Mr. Valliant shows instance of PAR contradicting itself regarding the personality traits of Ayn Rand.

 

 

When somebody tells you, "I am married to soandso", you making reference to a very complex concept that has many different CCD's in many different contexts. Telling a judge or a lawyer or a legal filing that you are "married" is very different than telling your colleagues that you are "married". Ayn Rand was guilty of intentional context dropping here, aka lying.  She might as well have had her fingers crossed behind her back when she said this.

 

I'm just not sure that you can justify the claim that "when Ayn Rand told people that she was married to Frank O'Connor, the statement implied that she was not sleeping with anyone else at the time, therefore she was lying."

Merriam-Webster defines "marriage" as "the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law." By this definition, Ayn Rand was certainly not lying if she said she was married to Mr. O'Connor while in a sexual relationship with Mr. Branden. In fact, this definition says nothing at all about sexual relations. And everything in the O'Connor's marriage was consensual, they were united (they lived together) and their marriage was a contractual one, and recognized by the law. I don't have access right now an Oxford English Dictionary, but I will tell you that Dictionary.com also does not mention sexual relations in its definition of marriage. This is to say nothing of the growing trend among some people of engaging in "open marriages," where a couple is married but each partner is permitted sexual non-exclusivity in varying degrees by the other partner.

Unless you can show that the state of being married necessarily implies sexual exclusivity, the claim that Ayn Rand lied in this regard falls flat.

 

 

And again, in real life, shit like this happens. Love affairs are complicated. Etc. Etc. I certainly wouldn't let a detail like this color my view of a towering figure such as Ayn Rand, and I don't. It's not the crime, its the cover-up.

 

And the fact that she had the affair would not color my view of her at all. In fact, I'm  not so sure yet that she wasn't onto something. As I quoted earlier, she certainly thought that "we were right to try in the first place." And my other point is that I don't think she did lie as part of any effort to keep the affair secret, and her acquaintances certainly did not have the "right to know" that the affair was ongoing (actually, since some people mentioned it, I will assert that her husband did have a right to know, since she had presumably previously agreed to be sexually exclusive with him, so failure to obtain his permission in this regard would constitute dishonesty through breech of a verbal contract).

------------------------------------

 

 

Doesn't this apply to any moral evaluation? If you want to discuss whether Rand's actions are in line with Objectivist principles, you need to, as with any moral evaluation, gather the relevant facts and identify the principles involved. I wouldn't recommend accepting the premise that she had a moral failing, I recommend not debating these people until they accept the premise that it says nothing about the philosophy of Objectivism. If their topic is "Rand is immoral, she cheated on her husband!" I think it is fine to get into a discussion with them about it. Or "Rand is a fraud, she accepted SS!" It is appropriate to discuss whether this was consistent with Objectivism or not, etc. But, if the topic is "Rand is immoral, she cheated on her husband, therefore Objectivism is false," I wouldn't debate with them about her cheating on her husband until they accept the premise that it isn't true that Objectivism's truth is dependent on this issue.

 

You don't lower your standard of debate (i.e. evade logic) because people won't understand you. If they don't understand you, come up with ways to communicate it more effectively. But, my guess is that nothing you can say to these people - specifically the one's on the internet - will make them understand because they don't want to understand.

 

I think you, also, make a very good point, and this is good advice in general of what premises to take care to avoid granting in these types of discussions. As I said earlier, though, I do think that these types of discussion have a valid purpose regardless of the ability to reason with one's opponent because of what I said about giving people positive first impressions of Ayn Rand.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

First, let me say that there is simply too much here for me to give a detailed response to every point made by all three of you. I would be up all night if I were to attempt to do so.

Completely understandable.

 

As far as I was concerned, all I needed to know about Ayn Rand's character was that she was the woman who wrote Atlas Shrugged (this, by the way, has been one of Leonard Peikoff's most common replies to questions about her character, something on the order of "she was the person she had to be to write Atlas Shrugged).

It's... possibly a tangential issue, but on this subject, I have to say:

While it's a given that Rand was necessarily the person she had to be in order to write Atlas Shrugged, and develop Objectivism (and for my money, ITOE is Rand's highest achievement), I don't believe that necessarily expresses every aspect of her character or constitutes a blanket response to any conceivable criticism of her character. (Which, to be clear, is not what I'm saying you're in the process of doing, but it's the point I'd like to make on this subject.)

When I write fiction, or even non-fiction that is more considered than my posts here, I know that I am presenting certain aspects of myself -- but not necessarily all of them. My writing, and especially that which I seek to publish, is edited and considered and reconsidered. I don't expect that those who read my writings, for instance, will necessarily have any great insight into my bedroom proclivities, or my relationship with my parents, or if I'm sociable just after waking, or so on.

Human beings are often complicated. I know that's true of me, at least. And I have found myself to be multifaceted, and not necessarily expressed in total in my written work, even across my lifetime (let alone in any one piece). Without knowing, and without being able to make a claim one way or the other, I think it at least possible that a person could write Atlas Shrugged and yet have a terrible temper in certain situations, or whatever else it might be that constitutes the "questions of character" a person may have regarding Rand. I would not, for instance, take Atlas Shrugged as proof that Rand must have always acted morally in her romantic life.

 

Here is where our pasts differ. When I discovered the issues of the affair, the Peikoff/Kelley split, and worse, the Hickman smear and the Medicare smear, I also found myself despairing. But it was not solely because these issues are not relevant to "a philosophy for living on earth"—though they are and it was in part. It was because they shattered my image of Ayn Rand. Of course, my image of her would have been very little affected by finding out that she was afraid of the dark or that she sometimes got angry when someone insulted her work or that she sometimes committed an error in her thinking, because the fact that she wrote "The Objectivist Ethics" and The Fountainhead and Anthem makes all things of that variety seem trivial in comparison. But the claims that she was an esthetic fascist who would purge any student of Objectivism who didn't like Rachmaninoff, or worse claims like the Hickman one did damage my view of her.

I understand what you're saying. I've heard stories about Rachmaninoff (though as I remember them, they concern others seeming to change their own aesthetic evaluations of artists to better match Rand's), but to me they're largely just stories. I guess that I don't have the same kind of... attachment(?) to any particular image of Rand, where it's important to me to know what she was "really like," or whether these stories are true or not? I don't think I have much in the way of a personal regard for Rand, whether positive or negative, apart from what I'm about to say. I respect her as a thinker to the utmost degree, and regard her works as genius. And all of that constitutes "hero" enough for me; I don't know that I require much more, or entertain "heroes" outside of this admittedly rather narrow way. But, for all of the esteem I have for Rand's writings... I don't know whether I would want her over for tea. (I also don't know that I wouldn't. I would love to have met Rand, and to have had the chance to form such an impression.)

I... don't know how to approach this subject any differently. But it's like, when I watch a great movie or something, I don't find that I develop any particular attachment to the actors or directors or writers, as people. I may love their art, their craft, but I don't carry that affection over to them in the way that I have affection for my friends or my family. (I am only really disappointed when they later make a poor film, just as my disappointments with Rand concern those small areas where I find I disagree with her, philosophically.)

Since we're here, on Hickman, my personal view has been that, regardless of her purpose for making those comments in her journal, or what she might have meant by them, she was young at the time. Whatever my view of Rand amounts to, it is not that of some static, unchanging figure, born with Objectivism in her brain. I believe that Rand grew over time, probably made mistakes along the way, and if it was a mistake to have some particular fascination with Hickman or whatever at that point in time, I don't think it a much worse mistake than nearly all people make as they mature. As little as it speaks to Objectivism qua philosophy, in my view, so too does it say about Rand in later years. (Further, I might add that I do not believe that people plateau at any given age/place, and then remain static thereafter. I think it again at least possible that a person could write Atlas Shrugged at one point in their life, but later change, for better or worse.)

 

Why? Ayn Rand's novels show a vast intellect, but also a vast benevolence.

I agree with you. In her novels and in her non-fiction, I find a deep benevolence and an incredible respect for the intelligence of the reader. Arguments on philosophy aside it is deeply appealing on that level alone.

 

Even Atlas Shrugged and Anthem, both about worlds dominated by irrationality, feature uplifting depictions of heroic characters who maintain benevolence despite the obstacles before them. Just from reading these novels, I got the very strong sense that Rand herself was this benevolent and this heroic—she would have to have been, it seemed, to create these characters. But after reading some of the claims of the Brandens, I was troubled. My view of Rand was conflicted by the immensity of her published works and the seeming neurosis of her personal life as described by the Brandens, among others.

And that's why these are important to me. If none of this stuff was out there, I probably wouldn't make a big deal about Miss Rand's personal life at all. But because of the prevalence of a number of claims about her that seem to contradict everything she seems from her novels to have been as a person. I'm not looking for a perfect human being or a goddess in Miss Rand, but I am looking for a hero

And here I feel I should say that I think there's nothing wrong with your position. I was chaffing primarily against the seeming claim that, as an Objectivist, I should feel compelled to take up the cause of defending Ayn Rand's personal honor. If I overstepped and said that nobody should do so, I'd like to retract that, because I think it's fine for those who have the necessary information and the desire to have those conversations, to do so, in the name of defending someone personally important to you, or for the sake of historical accuracy. I respect your choice to investigate your hero and defend her, when appropriate.

That said, I maintain my reservations with respect to the rhetorical value of these conversations (i.e. defending Objectivism via a defense of Rand's actions or personal life), and my fear that to engage in them lends them... a certain power they wouldn't (and ought not) otherwise have.

 

I now agree with you with regards to the effects on the specific person to whom one is responding. Your argument is quite convincing. However, I still do have concerns about onlookers who are undecided (and perhaps not very knowledgeable) about Ayn Rand who read these online conversations without partaking in them. Most people have busy lives and don't have time to investigate an unknown philosophy very much in depth. I would hazard a guess that most people will decide whether or not to look deeper into Objectivism solely on the basis of their first significant impression of Ayn Rand, choosing to perhaps pick up The Fountainhead if it is a positive impression or choosing to ignore her entirely if it is a negative impression. I fear that such an unknowledgeable person, of mixed morality, might come to a negative first impression of her upon reading something about the affair to which the only Objectivist response is "it isn't relevant." I think that our onlooker is more likely to come to a positive impression of Rand, or at least to be interested enough to pick up one of her books and make a more detailed judgement for himself, if the Objectivist response to an attempt to smear Rand by way of the affair is something on the order of "Ayn Rand did have an affair, but she had it with the consent of her spouse and her lover's spouse, she had a rational ethical system that justified her decision to attempt it, and a large part of the reason for the outcome is the fact that her lover turned out to be quite dishonest."

With respect, the situation you're describing sounds to me like a battle that cannot be won. I'm trying to imagine the person who won't investigate Rand's philosophy on the basis of rumors and gossip on her private life, and... I tell such a person that, per Rand's view, her actions were all quite ethical, and that convinces them that Rand's worth listening to?

Again -- and maybe we're at an impasse here -- I think that if I could convince them of the ethical nature of Rand's actions (which would rely upon a bit of foundational matter, I think), then I could far more easily convince them of the irrelevance of the entire question. And if I cannot convince them of such irrelevance -- if they reject the principles that stand behind ad hominem; i.e. logical reasoning -- then how are they going to follow me on those principles of Objectivist Ethics that potentially justify an affair that runs so contrary to so many peoples' expectations/biases/beliefs?

(Oh. And since we're getting deeper and deeper into this conversation, I suppose that I should stipulate that I believe that there is nothing necessarily wrong with having such an affair. Though I do not feel confident in defending all of Rand's actions, and neither do I wish to investigate them to the point such that I could, I at least believe that they are defensible, in theory.)

On the subject of bystanders, I hold my position to be the same. I would rather the bystander be witness to a conversation where the person who seeks to discredit Objectivism by slandering Rand be told that his methods are poor, and not to the point, and have nothing to do with Objectivism, which is a philosophy, rather than witness a (seemingly neverending) debate about the details of the historical record, and dispute on whether Barbara Branden is a trustworthy source, or etc.

Putting myself in those shoes, as a bystander, initially ignorant to Rand and Objectivism, I can't think of anything that would have turned me off more quickly than a debate over the particulars of her personal life.

 

I think, the more that I do consider it, that that first impression is vitally important. One of my middle school teachers gave me Anthem to read because he thought I would like it. I had never heard the name Ayn Rand before I read that book. I loved it, and a year later, when I became more interested in politics, that overwhelmingly positive first impression of the author led me to pick up Atlas Shrugged, and the rest was, of course, history. Whereas people I know who have heard of her before and have heard bad things about her are generally people who I've had a harder time convincing to give her works a chance.

I don't know whether my experience speaks to your point of view, or mine, or both (or neither), but my first impression was through my mother, who recommended The Fountainhead to me as being her favorite novel growing up. (Though my mother herself is far from being an Objectivist.) And I did love The Fountainhead when I read it. But it wasn't until much later on that I approached Rand as a philosopher, and I only did that after being told some of her philosophical positions in a very negative (and distorted) light -- from people who were contemptuous of her claims, and dismissive. I figured that anyone that could provoke such an intense reaction should be investigated at least, and that's where I allow myself to say that "the rest was, of course, history." :)

 

Ah, sorry, that was an instance of me unthinkingly using a term that I assumed people would know when they actually would have no real reason to know it. "Tolerationists" was referring to students of the David Kelley, Atlas Society, "Truth and Toleration" stripe of Objectivist-related thought. I have often seen them refer to people like me who support the closed system, generally agree with Leonard Peikoff, and generally reject the Brandens' picture of Ayn Rand, as "ARI cultists," implying, of course, that I blindly worship the Ayn Rand Institute. However, I did not mean to suggest that you had accused me of anything of the kind, I was merely intending to further separate myself from any possible perception that I am a blind follower of the Institute and to deny any advocacy of cult-like memorized answers on my part.

Oh, no, I well understood your use of the word "toleration" as referring to Kelley. But just as I've mostly only taken on those details on Rand's love life which have been thrust upon me in the course of these sorts of conversations, or reading threads, and articles, and generally being sensitive to discussions on Objectivism, I only know as little as about the Peikoff/Kelley split (and resulting factions) as I can get away with. Some of the philosophical questions that have been raised do interest me, and I've read Fact and Value and Truth and Toleration and so forth, but I'm very uncomfortable with the idea that there are two warring sides composed of rigid "cultists," one representing the good guys and the other, the villains (those labels switchable, depending on whether or not you've been recently "purged"). I find it utterly distasteful when folks try to consign others to those roles, and in my personal experience, I've known people who seem to respect Kelley's views, and I've known actual people who have worked at ARI, and I've yet to damn either side to Hell. I don't expect to denounce anyone in the near future. (Though I recognize that this might make me susceptible to such damnation/denunciation, in the opinion of some. I just can't bring myself to care.)

In short, though I expect you and I could have an interesting conversation on the "closed system," just as I hope we're having an interesting conversation right now, I am far from believing that you are anything other than rational and thoughtful. Your conduct in this very thread speaks highly of you, I believe, and I thank you for your discussion.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

[...]

I'm just not sure that you can justify the claim that "when Ayn Rand told people that she was married to Frank O'Connor, the statement implied that she was not sleeping with anyone else at the time, therefore she was lying."

Merriam-Webster defines "marriage" as "the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law."

[...]

 

 

Please read (or re-read) the ITOE chapter on definitions. Just because a definition does not include something doesn't mean that is not part of the concept. That definition, read out of context, could apply to the relationship you have with your landlord or your insurance agent.

 

When a woman in a bar says, "I'm married" and shows you her ring that doesn't mean you buy her another drink and start of conversation about the various and interesting contractual arrangements initiated by humans, the fascinating history of contracts between individuals and how that helped lead to the formation proto-governments, how various religions weave such contracts into their mythology, and how that all reminds you of how hot she is right this minute. No, instead you understand the full meaning of the term, "married" and dutifully buzz off.

 

("opposite sex" -- old dictionary, huh? :-))

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please read (or re-read) the ITOE chapter on definitions. Just because a definition does not include something doesn't mean that is not part of the concept. That definition, read out of context, could apply to the relationship you have with your landlord or your insurance agent.

 

When a woman in a bar says, "I'm married" and shows you her ring that doesn't mean you buy her another drink and start of conversation about the various and interesting contractual arrangements initiated by humans, the fascinating history of contracts between individuals and how that helped lead to the formation proto-governments, how various religions weave such contracts into their mythology, and how that all reminds you of how hot she is right this minute. No, instead you understand the full meaning of the term, "married" and dutifully buzz off.

 

("opposite sex" -- old dictionary, huh? :-))

Just to try to understand your point on how this relates to honesty, if my wife and I decided that we want to have an "open relationship," would you think that we can no longer refer to ourselves as being husband and wife, or married, without making an explicit disclaimer about the particular nature of our sexual relationship -- else we would be dishonest?

If I thereafter introduced my wife at a party, would I have to say (in the name of honesty) "but we're in an open relationship"?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...