Yet Another Heretic Is Created
By Diana Mertz Brickell
Date: Thu, 17 Feb 1994 17:00:11 -0600 (GMT-0600)
From: Diana Mertz Brickell firstname.lastname@example.org
To: AYN-RAND email@example.com
Subject: yet another heretic is created...
Bob Stubblefield (the current publisher of The Intellectual Activist) runs a mailing list known as OSG (Objectivism Study Group). Members of the list are under contract to refuse sanction to any "anti-Objectivist" activity, where "anti-Objectivist" is used to describe anyone who disagrees with Peikoff's Fact & Value. I recently disassociated myself from OSG because there was no value to be gained from it, and to continue my subscription would have been sanctioning evil. Since I have so recently seen (and felt) the effects of Peikoff's anti-toleration stance through those who support and practice his view of moral judgment, I thought my experiences might shed some light on these issues.
In October, being quite new to the philosophy, I started my subscription to OSG with a most humble and diffident attitude (quite unusual behavior for me to say the least). It was the first time that I had come into contact with any Objectivists, and I assumed that most would be quite rational and reasonable people. It never crossed my mind that any Objectivists would be more concerned with the Written Word of Rand (or Peikoff) than with the facts of reality.
My first battle on OSG was the result of a discussion of esthetics and whether glue is valid medium of art, of all things. One member of OSG, William Wilkinson, asserted that the exclusion of glue as a medium does not follow logically from Rand's definition of art, and thus the whole debate began. King Wiemann responded, "[OSG] is not a place where the validity, truth, or logic of Objectivism is debated or challenged. If you do not understand something Ayn Rand said or wrote, OSG provides a medium to ask for help in understanding..." and then dared to assert that his view was not an issue of "faith, appeal to authority, or dogmatism." I was rather stunned and angry by this attitude and wrote up a post arguing that, according to the OSG contract, one does have the right to attempt to invalidate Objectivist principles with well reasoned arguments.
Most of the resulting discussion was quite reasonable, although a number of people were obviously more concerned with believing what Rand wrote than the facts of reality. For example, in a post entitled "Wrong or Rand, I understand" (!!!) Robert LeChevalier alluded to William (and also those who defended him) as a "busdriver with a 'Popular Science' knowledge of physics [who] had said 'Albert Einstein made a logical error in his theory of relativity since [he didn't] see time dilation'..." Such a lack of benevolence is astounding.
Bob Stubblefield, in a later post on how to deal with hecklers, was also quite critical of anyone who questions Rand.
"Consider, for example, a student of Objectivism who tells others a statement in one of Ayn Rand's articles is 'illogical.' He has ignored the difference between the effort he took to utter his accusation and the effort it takes to create a publishable article. He has ignored the difference between his mind, with its particular psycho-epistemology, and hers, which had a lifetime of never using a concept without identifying the facts of reality that gave rise to it. He has ignored what that careless accusation tells others about his attitude towards ideas. He has taken his context as not-to-be-questioned and does not check his premises."
This sort of argument from intimidation was used consistently by a number of people in any controversy. For many, I think it was a way to circumvent the issues at hand and thus ignore the contradictions in their ideas. For such people, it is much easier to proclaim that someone has attacked their highest values than to investigate the meaning and implications of what their interlocutor is saying.
When I was still quite humble and diffident, there were three posts (two by Jay Allen and one by Robert LeChevalier) on David Kelley that I printed out so that I could reread the posts after I reading Kelley's works. To give you some idea of what these posts consisted of, a few quotes are in order.
From Jay Allen (who had not read all of T&T at the time BTW): "Kelley's sundering of fact and value is a default on cognition as such; it is a declaration that some facts of reality are outside the province of moral judgement-- which means: outside the province of reason." [Kelley Exam, 8/22/93] (Allen seems to have forgotten that moral judgment only applies to volition.)"Viewed as another 'tolerance' scheme, Kelley's theory is another instance of the pragmatic cult of compromise, which dissolves fundamental philosophical differences in the lukewarm acid of 'open-mindedness' and treats all disagreements as mere 'differences of opinion.'" [Ibid]"As long as they are left alone to their own fraud, and are denied the name of Objectivists, then the Kelleyites will simply perish in obscurity." [Ibid]"So what motivated Kelley to adopt Objectivism in the first place? And why is he so determined now to distort it? This is my hypothesis:In Kelley's particular case, the emotion dominating him is fear of moral judgement. To alleviate this fear, he adopts Objectivism, which he hopes will give him the confidence he needs to overcome his 'yellow streak.' He goes through a brief "moralizing phase" which hurts many people around him and leaves him with an aftertaste of guilt. He then rebels against Objectivism..." [Kelley and Floating Dishonesty, 9/7/93] LeChevalier's post was quite bizarre. He spoke in abstract terms of a man whose concepts float, cited David Kelley as an example (simply by stating "E.g. David Kelley") and then went on to prove that Bill Clinton's concepts float. [Floating Concepts & Dishonesty, 9/5/93] In the middle of December I finally got a chance to read T&T and go over these posts with our great and venerable moderator. :-) As soon as I had gotten over my shock at how ludicrous these assertions actually were, I wrote up an article to OSG quite harshly criticizing these posts for their blatant misrepresentations of Kelley, psychologizing, and lack of evidence to support their claims. I made it clear in my post that I was not arguing for Kelley (I had not read anything other than T&T at the time so it would have been inappropriate), but rather that I wanted to hear some good arguments against his actual position. The reaction that I got was astounding. Jay Allen called my criticism of his post "hysterical judgements on the basis of so little evidence" and demanded a "WHOPPING apology." He stated that if he did not get an apology and if I continued my "outrageous behavior," he would attempt to get my removed from OSG. When I did not apologize, he threatened to quit OSG. (Allen recently apologized for this knee-jerk reaction.) Well, I was about to say that there were a number of polite replies to me, but upon looking over my OSG archives, I find this to be an overstatement. There were, of course, a few polite people, but they certainly did not dominate the discussion. Apparently, what I should have done (after apologizing) was the following, according to Mehul Dave:
Your objections against Jay [Allen] and Robert [LeChevalier] are essentially objections to Dr. Peikoff's arguments. If you have any objections to make, I would request the following:
1. State your axioms - clearly
2. State your position on the issues of truth, nature of man, nature and meaning of values, man's relationship to reality, basis of morality and moral judgement in a way from which you can demonstrate your conclusions.
3. With these, show where and why, according to you, Dr. Peikoff is wrong.
4. Show which principles of Objectivism has Dr. Peikoff violated.
5. Do all this without resorting to rudeness.
When you have done this, you have an argument worthy of consideration. Dr. Peikoff has done all this in his article simply because the context of the issue *demands* that much.
It seems that a philosophical treatise was required for any objection to even be considered! This request completely drops the context of every human's time constraints and thus manages to circumvent all discussion of the issues at hand. Since there was no way that I could comply with this request (nor did I have a desire to), I would never produce an argument or criticism that would be "worthy of consideration" and nor would anyone else. (Apparently T&T is not necessarily worthy of consideration either, for some OSGers proudly proclaim that they have not, and do not need to read it.) Despite my refusal to apologize, things soon quieted down on OSG, and a number of people started this back-patting session of 'who can say the worst things about David Kelley' with very little regard for the truthfulness of the claims. As long as posts were sufficiently denunciatory, it did not matter what was asserted. For example, a well-respected member of OSG, Betsy Speicher, wrote: "Kelley's stated view is that actions can be judged as good or evil, but that ideas may only be judged true or false. He claims that any attempt to evaluate an idea morally would have to be psychologizing..."
Most of these false claims I did not bother to refute, for it would have been a wasted effort.
It was not long after this that I excommunicated myself. I was in a debate on the property status of Objectivism and was conversing extensively with Jimbo on the subject at the time. In one post, not wanting to pass off another's ideas as my own, I gave Jimmy credit for serving "as a catalyst to a number of ideas about how to form the concept of Objectivism properly." The next day I got the following message from Bob Stubblefield: "Do you subscribe to Jimmy Wales list? If so, you are in violation of the OSG contract and will have to choose between OSG and his list." (Since the official rule is that one cannot subscribe to OSG and post to Jimbo's list, Stubblefield later retracted his ultimatum.) I responded to him that I was in not in violation of the contract as I had understood it, for I had never posted to Jimbo's list, and it is not "anti-Objectivist" anyway. I told him that if I had to choose between the two I would unsubscribe to OSG, and would like the opportunity to state publicly my reasons for doing so.
Later that day, I decided that I was going to unsubscribe to OSG regardless of Stubblefield's reaction, and so I wrote up a post to OSG to that effect. To quote myself: "I have yet to receive a reply from Stubblefield about this change in policy, but I can say with assurance that I no longer want any part of OSG. This sort of attempt to control what OSG members may read is appalling, but what is even more appalling is that people will *voluntarily* subject themselves to this sort of action by remaining subscribed to OSG. Everyone, even those OSGers who have no interest in subscribing to any other email list, should think carefully about the fact that Stubblefield may now stipulate what may be read and what may not be read by those on OSG."For some reason, my post did not go out to all list members, although enough people got it to begin asking questions about what the contract actually forbids. Stubblefield then, "for the record," posted our previous correspondence, the first sentence of my post, followed by: "This last makes me think of several interesting questions--such why such [sic] impatience in one so tolerant? why ask permission if you're going to act anyway? who is it that takes what on authority?
or why do subjectivists feel a need for intrinsic rules?" (Note: I got this from a fellow heretical OSGer; my subscription had finally been killed by this point.) Stubblefield then posted a disturbing 'clarification' of OSG's anti-toleration policy (1/26/94). He writes: "It is certainly not a sanction of Kelley to read what he has written. And I am not going to ostracize you if contribute to his royalties by buying one of his books-- even though I think it would be obscene for me to do so. But if you recommend him or his ilk as being capable of teaching someone Objectivism, that is an "explicit sanction of anti-Objectivist activities" and I will cease dealing with you.
"In the OSG contract, I gave an example of intolerable sanction as "posting to mailing lists run by libertarians who 'tolerate' Objectivists." A more blatant example would be contributing to a list that explicitly endorses anti-Objectivists. Such a list is the one run by Wales."
I think think that this behavior, for the most part, speaks for itself. It is result of Peikoff's view of moral judgment and of Objectivism as laid out in "Fact and Value." I did not understand how "Objectivists" could behave in this fashion until I saw that such people were strictly adhering to the principle of armchair moralizing as advocated by Peikoff. Although I doubt I will ever fully understand why someone would endorse Peikoff's position, I can now see why such behavior is accepted and rewarded among certain Objectivists.
And so now here I am, an enemy of Bob Stubblefield and an "anti-Objectivist" according to the Peikovians. It almost seems like an honor.
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