Atlas Society Death Watch

 Posted by on 25 February 2009 at 3:13 pm  False Friends of Objectivism
Feb 252009
 

Here’s another milestone in slow death of the floundering pseudo-Objectivist group known most recently as “The Atlas Society”: they’re closing down their bookstore.

Once again, I’m pleased. For nearly 20 years, David Kelley and his followers have distorted Objectivism, hampered its spread, and maligned Ayn Rand and other Objectivists. (Yes, it has been that long: David Kelley’s break with Objectivism occurred in March 1989 with “A Question of Sanction.”) It’s about time that came to an end.

Jan 152009
 

Ed Hudgins of The Atlas Society recently published a new op-ed. In the midst of a major financial crisis, not to mention the upcoming change in administration to the frighteningly mystic-altruist-collectivist Barack Obama, Mr. Hudgins decided to focus on a very, very important issue. Can you guess? Oh, I’m sure you never will.

It’s ripped from the tabloids! Entitled Scientology, Seizures, and Science, it uses the death of John Travolta’s 16-year-old son from a seizure as a pretext to attack Scientology. So it’s not just focused on a culturally insignificant religious fringe, but it’s also in poor taste.

Bravo, TAS! Every time I think you’ve hit bottom, you outdo yourself with another inanity!

Honestly, I just can’t figure out why any person who even kinda sorta likes Atlas Shrugged could find this organization worthy of financial support. They’re a joke.

IOS/TOC/TAS Death Watch

 Posted by on 26 December 2008 at 4:20 pm  False Friends of Objectivism
Dec 262008
 

That pretend-Objectivist organization lately known as “The Atlas Society” has canceled its 2009 Summer Seminar due to financial woes. They intend to spend the time and money saved working on their ancient booby-trap of a web site. Robert Campbell posted the letter he received from Will Thomas. Here it is, in full:

Thanks again for sending me your presentation ideas for the planned 2009 Summer Seminar on Objectivism in Theory and Practice. I’m sorry to say that we will not be holding a Seminar next year after all.

The Summer Seminar is a vital part of our community-building and academic efforts. We do not intend to abandon those goals. Actually, we envision resuming the Summer Seminar tradition in 2010.

Our decision to suspend the Summer Seminar in 2009 is due to the economic circumstances and a constructive rearrangement of staff priorities looking forward.

It’s obvious to everyone that the future lies on the internet. It has become clear to us at TAS that one of our most urgent priorities is to update, invigorate, and expand our website to make it a more powerful vehicle for outreach and education about open Objectivism. With the web, we can and do reach hundreds of thousands, even millions of people. The Summer Seminar, for all that is an intense and uplifting personal experience, can only touch, at most, a few hundred people each year. If we have to choose between the two, the choice is clear.

Making our internet plans a reality will require taking substantial amounts of staff time, including mine, away from other projects and refocusing on web projects. Even in normal economic times, we would not be able to avoid the conflict by hiring additional staff, since key aspects of the web project require the expertise of current staff.

So please look for us to put up an improved and livelier web presence in 2009, and keep an eye out next Fall for the call for proposals for our 2010 seminars. Assuming things continue according to plan, I’ll be writing back to you in the Fall to see if you would like to renew your proposals. I’m sorry we won’t be able to invite you to speak this year.

My best guess is that the Summer Seminar will not be resumed in 2010 — or ever. IOS/TOC/TAS is a dying beast.

In recent years, their summer seminar has been ailing in a serious way. It went from about 300 attendees in 2003 (when I last attended) to something like 100 in 2008. (In contrast, ARI’s OCON has grown from about 300 attendees in 2003 to over 500 in 2007 and 2008.)

The only other discernible activity of the organization has been its magazine, The New Individualist. That failed to draw a broad readership, as they’d hoped. More importantly, its editor Robert Bidinotto left TAS entirely in mid-October, apparently on not-so-friendly terms. (That link is temporarily unavailable, unfortunately.)

Oh, and no one seems to know what the heck David Kelley does with his time; he hasn’t produced anything substantial in many years.

In short, IOS/TOC/TAS has been dying for some years now. And with the Ayn Rand Center now open and active in Washington, I don’t think it can survive much longer. As someone who wasted far too much precious time with them, I think I’ve earned the right to say, “Good riddance to bad rubbish!”

Dec 032008
 

If you haven’t yet read Alan Greenspan vs. Ayn Rand and Freedom by Harry Binswanger, published in Capitalism Magazine, I strongly recommend that you do so. It’s a great article to send to people to who claim — whether honestly or not — that Alan Greenspan’s actions over the last 25 years or so represent Ayn Rand’s philosophy in any way, shape, or form.

Consider Dr. Binswanger’s list of Alan Greenspan’s betrayals of Ayn Rand’s principles:

I can’t say I knew Alan Greenspan, though, being an associate of Ayn Rand, I met him a few times in the 1960s. But by 1970–almost 40 years ago–I and a couple of other Objectivists in that circle already realized that Greenspan was compromising on her philosophy. Little did we know how far his anti-Rand journey would take him. As the years rolled on,
  • he was hailed as the man who “saved” Social Security–by extending its confiscatory power,
  • when Bill Clinton’s State of the Union address called for socialized medicine, he rose to his feet, standing next to Hillary Clinton in giving a standing ovation to that proposal,
  • he became head of the mammothly anti-capitalist Federal Reserve, directing the government’s manipulation of money and credit,
  • he provided a laudatory dust-jacket blurb for a book attacking Ayn Rand (by a woman he had “irrevocably” condemned in print in 1968). Yet he repeatedly refused to contribute to or lend his name to the Ayn Rand Institute,
  • he wrote, in 1995, that government central banking is a necessity: “Only a central bank, with unlimited power to create money can guarantee that such a process ["a cascading sequence of defaults"] will be thwarted before it becomes destructive.” (Note that we just witnessed this “cascading sequence of defaults” despite –or, actually, caused by –our central bank.),
  • he wrote in his autobiography about coming to reject Objectivism: “as contradictions inherent in my new notions began to emerge . . . the fervor receded”,
  • and now he has blamed free markets (as if we had them!) for his failures at the Fed. In conceding that his “ideology” was wrong, he was understood to be saying Ayn Rand was wrong–even though he had long ago forgotten or evaded every essential of what Ayn Rand stood for.

Can it get any worse than that? Yes, it can — and Dr. Binswanger lays out the case clearly. In essence, “a man who betrays Ayn Rand, and who wrecks the economy of the U.S. in carrying out that betrayal, then succeeds in shifting the blame onto Ayn Rand and capitalism.” Lovely, no?

Go read the whole thing. And then post a link to it in the comments of every annoying blogger who claims that the current financial crisis is a refutation of Ayn Rand’s ideas.

Dec 022008
 

Do we need a reminder of even how some of the better elements of the libertarian movement can be hostile to Ayn Rand? Perhaps not, but here’s one that ran across my inbox a little while ago. It’s a tidbit from a December 2008 Reason article on the origins of their magazine:

[Tibor] Machan: Manny [Klausner] was never an Objectivist, and even Bob [Poole] was more mild-mannered about it. I was the philosophically grounded one, but I stylistically repudiated the atmospherics of the Objectivist world. I was excommunicated back in 1963 from the Rand thing. [Oh whatever, Tibor.]

[Bob] Poole: We wanted a magazine for thinking people, not Randians. As time went on and various marketing strategies were tried it became clear that Rand was some people’s cup of tea and not others’, and if we wanted to be influential being an explicitly Objectivist magazine was not the recipe for doing that. [Emphasis added.]

Bob Poole’s first comment is offensive as stated, but I’m willing to be generous, given that this was an “oral history.” Perhaps he meant that he wanted a magazine for all thinking people, not just Randians. (I’ve seen Poole speak a few times; he never struck me as hostile to Objectivists. However, my memory might not be what it should on that score.)

However, it’s his second comment — that “Rand was some people’s cup of tea and not others’” — that’s just so very libertarian. Reason couldn’t possibly insist that their writers agree on any fundamental principles, like respect for reason, right? No way! That might alienate some people, namely people whose “cup of tea” is supernaturalism, mysticism, and altruism. So anything goes — and the result is today’s often disgustingly postmodern Reason. (Or rather, that’s what it became after the departure of the sensible and interesting Virginia Postrel some years ago. I’ve paid it very little attention since that decline.)

The libertarian movement took so many ideas from Ayn Rand, while often spitting in her face in a manner worthy of James Taggart. If only they’d learned her most basic lesson — that philosophy matters because it’s the fundamental motor of human life — the history of the last 50 years might be different.

A Dedication

 Posted by on 7 November 2008 at 12:10 pm  False Friends of Objectivism, WTF
Nov 072008
 

In light of the recent discussion of my “gutter attitude toward human sexuality” on this recent thread [now moved here] of the so-called “Forum for Ayn Rand Fans,” I would like to dedicate the following video to all of my devoted fans on that site:

I’ve never watched Sex in the City, but people so offended by my occasional use of profanity on NoodleFood will surely be aghast at the sight of “eggs whites [with] a side of cock.” Goodness gracious, they might even utter some kind of forbidden word in dismay. If so, I see only one recourse for the person of integrity: gargle with soap.

Oct 242008
 

Gun Van Horn gives Alan Greenspan a much-needed ass-kicking for his repudiation of free markets. And here’s the Ayn Rand Institute’s press release on it:

Greenspan Has No Free Market Philosophy
October 24, 2008

Washington, D.C. –Opponents of the free market are giddy at Alan Greenspan’s declaration that the financial crisis has exposed a “flaw” in his “free market ideology.” Greenspan says he is “in a state of shocked disbelief” because he “looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity”–and it didn’t.

But according to Dr. Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, “any belief Greenspan ever had in truly free markets was abandoned long ago. While Greenspan long ago wrote in favor of a truly free market in banking, including the gold standard that such markets always adopt, he then proceeded to work for two decades as leader and chief advocate of the Federal Reserve, which continually inflates the money supply and manipulates interest rates. Advocates of free banking understand that when the government inflates the currency, it artificially increases prices and causes booms in certain sectors of the economy, followed by inevitable busts. But not only did Greenspan lead the inflation behind the .com bubble and the real estate boom, he blamed the market for their treacherous collapses. Greenspan should have recognized that what he wrote in 1966 of the boom preceding the 1929 crash applied here: ‘The excess credit which the Fed pumped into the economy spilled over into the stock market–triggering a fantastic speculative boom.’ Instead, he superficially blamed ‘infectious greed.’

“Should it be any shock that Greenspan now blames the free market for today’s meltdown–rather than the Fed’s policies, which fueled an inflationary housing boom, which rewarded reckless lenders and borrowers from Wall Street to Main Street? Greenspan didn’t mention the word ‘inflation’ once in his testimony.

“Whatever Greenspan’s economic philosophy is, it is not anything resembling a free market.”

I can’t possibly express the depth of my disgust at Alan Greenspan. Well, let me try. By continuing to associate himself with the free market ideas of his former mentor, even while thoroughly contradicting them in word and deed as Fed Chairman, and then publicly repudiating them based on a government-created financial crisis, the man has done more damage to Objectivism than Barbara and Nathaniel Branden.

Way to go, Alan. You’ve done what I thought impossible. Dr. Stadler has nothing on you.

The Essential Difference

 Posted by on 6 August 2008 at 12:00 pm  ARI, False Friends of Objectivism
Aug 062008
 

For anyone still wondering about the difference between the Ayn Rand Institute and The Atlas Society, I offer the following two video interviews by UFM.edu:

(Courtesy of an anonymous contributor to the Sunday Open Thread, embedding not permitted.)

The interviewer is the same in both interviews. The questions are quite similar. Yet the interviews couldn’t be more different.

Yaron Brook is clear and direct. With every question, he immediately hones in on the fundamental, often a crucial moral point. He clearly conveys the importance of the ideas he’s espousing, and his confidence in the truth of his answers. He knows his stuff, and he makes us eager to hear more.

David Kelley wanders and stammers in his answers. He is routinely lost in his own pointless digressions and qualifications. He speaks in terms of his own beliefs, not in terms of the truth. He displays no facility with the answers to these basic questions, nor passion for what he’s saying. It’s painful to watch.

(David is much, much worse in this interview than I ever remember him. It seems that his commitment to a subjectivist approach to ideas, Objectivism in particular, continues to take its toll on him.)

The difference between the two interviews is so great that even I’m shocked. Yet it’s so perfectly representative of the moral and epistemological gulf between the two organizations. And that’s why I’m such an ardent supporter of the the Ayn Rand Institute, particularly under the guidance of Yaron Brook.

Jul 282008
 

Yesterday, I got the following FaceBook message from Tom Stevens. (I’m reproducing it because it’s a form letter from someone wholly unknown to me.) It said:

I am the Objectivist Party Presidential Candidate and we need 9 registered Colorado voters to list as Presidential Electors. There is no obligation but if we do not get said registered voters, we will not be on the ballot.

If you could help by letting us list you, it would be appreciated.

In Liberty,

Dr. Tom Stevens
Presidential Candidate
Objectivist Party

I wrote up a quick reply, then realized that my comments might be of interest to NoodleFood readers. So I put a bit more work into it, so that I could post it here. (Be forewarned, I wrote the comments below before I realized that this guy is a Libertarian. More on that below.) Here’s my response:

Tom,

I can’t grant your request. While I am a strong advocate of cultural and political activism, I think that attempting to change American culture via a third party is not just ineffective but downright counterproductive.

The problem with American politics today is not that Americans are looking for an Objectivist candidate but the major parties will only run statists. The majority of voters are reasonably satisfied with their choice between left-wing and right-wing statists on Election Day. Objectivists must work to change the culture toward secularism, reason, egoism, and individual rights. Only then can we expect better politicians to mount a credible campaign, let alone win elections.

That cultural change will be felt within the major parties — so long as Objectivists don’t sequester themselves into political irrelevance in their own unelectable political party. If Objectivists (and sympathizers) demand that the major parties court their vote, then political change for the better is possible.

The history of the political influence of the abolitionist movement bears out this analysis. Abolitionists created new political parties, some focused on the single issue of abolition and others broadly pro-liberty. All such parties failed to gather any significant votes; they had no positive impact. If anything, they had a negative impact, in that they siphoned off strong abolitionist voters that the fledgling Republican Party would have otherwise had to woo. Eventually, the Republican Party did adopt abolitionism — due to effective cultural activism, not those minor abolitionist parties. By uncompromising moral arguments, a small band of committed abolitionists changed American hearts and minds about the evils of slavery in just a few decades. (Brad Thompson discusses this fascinating political history in his excellent lecture course, American Slavery, American Freedom. Hopefully I’ve remembered it reasonably accurately.)

Today, if the small but growing number of Objectivists and sympathizers gravitate to an Objectivist political party, the Republicans and Democrats could safely ignore us for decades to come, knowing that they’ve already lost our vote. That’s a license for more statism, not less.

Objectivists should follow the same model as the abolitionists: change American hearts and minds, and the politicians will follow. Political advocacy can and should be a large part of those efforts to change the culture, as seen in the activities of the Ayn Rand Institute and Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine (FIRM). Unlike running wholly unelectable candidates for office, that kind of activism works. And that’s where Objectivists ought to be focusing their time and efforts.

After writing most of the above, I examined the web site of this proposed Objectivist Party in more detail. In my first look, I’d noticed a strongly anti-libertarian statement in the platform itself, in the form of this quote from Harry Binswanger:

The “libertarians”…plagiarize Ayn Rand’s principle that no man may initiate the use of physical force, and treat it as a mystically revealed, out-of-context absolute…In the philosophical battle for a free society, the one crucial connection to be upheld is that between capitalism and reason. The religious conservatives are seeking to tie capitalism to mysticism; the “libertarians” are tying capitalism to the whim-worshipping subjectivsim and chaos of anarchy. To cooperate with either group is to betray capitalism, reason, and one’s own future. (Harry Binswanger: “Q & A Department: Anarchism,” TOF, Aug. 1981, 12.)

So, I thought, however counterproductive the endeavor, it didn’t seem to be corrupt. That’s one reason why I was willing to write such a detailed reply to the request. However, on reading the biographical information on Tom Stevens, the founder and 2008 presidential candidate, it became perfectly clear that he’s a Big-L Libertarian in Objectivist clothing. See for yourself:

Dr. [Tom] Stevens is the Founder of the Objectivist Party. He was elected to the Judiciary Committee of the Libertarian Party in 2006 and re-elected in 2008. He served as a New York State Delegate to the Libertarian Party’s National Convention in Atlanta in 2004, Portland in 2006, and Denver in 2008. He currently serves as President of the Libertarian Freedom Council, a national organization of students, young professionals and entrepreneurs and also serves as a member of the LPNY State Committee. In the Republican Presidential Primary, he was a supporter of Ron Paul and served as Political Consultant and New York State Coordinator for the Paul For President Coalition.

(I might add that I find other aspects of the biography, particularly the range of college-level courses that he’s taught somewhere unspecified “during the past few years,” as suspect.)

So that makes clear to me the value of this endeavor so-called “Objectivist Party.” Libertarians are not allies in the struggle for liberty. So while I think that my comments above are worthwhile as general points about political and cultural activism, this request was not worth so many electrons.

Update: July 3rd, 2009: For all that you need to know about Tom Stevens’ view of Ayn Rand and Objectivism, see his blog post Farrah Fawcett’s E-Mail Reveals Ayn Rand Thought Their Sharing The Same Birth Date Had Significance. First, you’ve got to be kidding — only he’s not. And second, UGH.

Jun 302008
 

Here are some more highlights from the second day of the Ayn Rand Institute’s summer conference (a.k.a. OCON).

Lin Zinser on “Health-Care Activism: Saving the Life Savers,” Class 2 of 3:

Today, Lin discussed some strategies for successful activism, connecting those lessons to her own experience with FIRM. (Some of her stories would be very surprising to most people — in a good way.)

Robert Mayhew on “Thales and the Birth of Philosophy in Ancient Greece”:

This lecture was a fascinating discussion of the birth of philosophy, particularly the radical departure from primitive supernaturalism that began with Thales in ancient Greece. Thales inaugurated the study of philosophy as an explicit discipline on the basis of observation and rational argument — as opposed to relying on traditional myths to explain natural phenomena. Mayhew clearly showed the radical differences between the methods of Thales and those of thinkers in other cultures at the time. Mayhew also traced the unique factors in ancient Greek culture that made possible (but not necessary) the development of explicit philosophy.

I particularly enjoyed the lessons for the prospects for Objectivism at the end of the lecture.

(The lecture was related to Dr. Mayhew’s essay criticizing Robert Tracinski’s analysis of the role of philosophy in history, posted to NoodleFood in January 2007.)

Pat Corvini: “Two, Three, Four, and All That: The Sequel,” Class 1 of 3:

This course examines three modern ideas in mathematics: (1) equivalent sets, (2) the postulational method, and (3) the continuum and actual infinities. Today, Pat explained the basics of Cantor’s arguments about comparisons of sets, with a few hints of the criticisms to come. (I remembered that somewhat fuzzily from my undergraduate course in philosophy of mathematics.) Tomorrow and the next day, she’ll lay out the standard the postulational method, and then discuss the Objectivist approach to these topics. (Very cool!)

This course is a sequel to her excellent course of last year: Two, Three, Four, and All That.

That’s all for today!

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha