This delightful gem of a comment was offered on my blog post, Asking for Rape?, presumably because I dared to criticize Leonard Peikoff’s view that a woman cannot withdraw consent for sex after penetration.

I feel sorry for these haters of mine, in a way. I was supposed to wither away into obscurity after they’d exposed my treacherous ways — particularly, my failure to properly respect every last one of Leonard Peikoff’s opinions. Surely, I couldn’t possibly succeed after that!

BWHAHAHAHAHA!

Instead, my influence has continued to spread, as evidenced by an over 50% increase in downloads and listens to Philosophy in Action Radio in 2013. I published my first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame too. That’s not a bad bit of work for the year after my intended demise!

So… go home, dogmatic Objectivists, you’re drunk!

Jimmy Wales on Criticism

 Posted by on 7 November 2012 at 2:00 pm  Communication, Criticism, WTFuffles
Nov 072012
 

I loved this Quora Q&A with Jimmy Wales. Here’s the question:

How does Jimmy Wales feel about his detractors?

I’ve noticed that there is a possy [sic] of Jimmy Wales detractors on Quora and elsewhere. There’s even a ‘news’ site which seems to specialise in negative stories about him.

Obviously, in business you can’t make friends of everyone, and no-one in business is a saint. So, I’m sure there’s always going to be a few disgruntled individuals, but some people in particular seem to be obsessed with doing him down.

What’s the best strategy for dealing with these kinds of difficult interactions?

Here’s Jimmy’s reply:

I’m always open to valid criticism. This is particularly true when it is offered in a constructive way and especially in a way that is actionable by me to make some improvement. “Jimmy Wales is stupid” – nothing I can do about that. “Jimmy Wales should do X” – ok, maybe I should, let’s talk about it.

Some people are just lunatics, though. I find it best to simply ignore them. For some of them, I feel bemusement that they spend – as far as I can tell – most of their spare time obsessing about me. What better way to deal with a nutcase, than to let him waste his life?

Clearly, I need to adopt that perspective on the Premise Peckers! They richly deserve it.

Jun 012012
 

My most heartfelt thanks to Kelly Elmore, Jenn Casey, Miranda Barzey, and everyone else at ATLOSCon 2012 for reminding me of the sheer joy of spending time with awesome Objectivists. I needed that really, really badly.

After enduring months of intense bullying from some so-called Objectivists, I’d been feeling really disheartened — even seriously depressed — in the weeks leading up to ATLOSCon. At my worst, I felt a desperate need to flee from the Objectivist community — not just in disgust, but to protect myself from further attacks. Overall, the whole experience felt far too reminiscent of my “mean girls” hell of 7th grade in public middle school.

Many people were appalled by the attacks of the CP’ers and their ilk, I know. I’m deeply grateful to every person who opposed their bullying, whether by public comment or private message. I’m especially grateful to the people who made a good joke of the CP’ers, as they so richly deserved. Yet that doesn’t mean that their defamatory campaign was easy for me to endure.

Alas, many Objectivists were aware of these attacks yet said nothing, even privately to me. I wouldn’t expect anything of strangers, but I did expect something from people I’ve known and been friendly with for years. Never in a million years would I have stood by silently if those people were attacked and defamed in such vicious ways, even if I disagreed with them on some points.

Perhaps those silent people didn’t realize the extent of the attacks; perhaps they didn’t think I was much affected by them; perhaps they assumed that I’d know their view of them; perhaps they’re secretly sympathetic to them; perhaps they think I’m getting what I deserve. I just don’t know, and I’ve been painfully shocked by too many people to make benevolent assumptions any longer.

My disappointment was so much more bitter given the hard work I’ve done over the past decade to promote Objectivism and individual rights, as well as to cultivate an active Objectivist community. For example: I managed Front Range Objectivism for five years, making it into one of the largest and most active Objectivist communities in the US. In that time, I lead three Atlas Shrugged Reading Groups; I helped establish three new study groups; and I produced two fabulous SnowCons. I created the Explore Atlas Shrugged series of podcasts and discussion questions. I co-authored two policy papers, an essay for The Objective Standard, and many op-eds and letters in defense of abortion rights. I raised money for The Undercurrent via matching funds. I created the OLists, enabling Objectivists to interact based on their shared values, including activism. I created a friendly Objectivist presence in the paleo movement via Modern Paleo and its weekly Paleo Rodeo. I testified at two hearings against Colorado’s campaign finance laws. I edited many op-eds written by Ari and Paul. I gave lectures on the Objectivist view of moral perfection, myths about Ayn Rand’s philosophy, the virtue of pride, the virtue of justice, the moral basis of capitalism, the deeper meaning of “Atlas Shrugged,” and more. I did all that and more while busy in graduate school, struggling with health problems, and developing my career. I was only rarely paid for my efforts.

Given that context, I was shocked and hurt by the seeming indifference of so many Objectivists to the vicious bullying I and others endured for months on end. If the most productive, capable, and ambitious volunteers in a community are repeatedly attacked, maligned, and misrepresented — while most in that community watch in silence — those people will flee and focus their efforts elsewhere, with predictable results for said community. Objectivists, of all people, should understand that.

(Hence, if you’ve been aware of the attacks but you’ve not said anything to me, better late than never. Unless we’ve been in contact lately, I don’t know where I stand with you, but I’d like to know, for better or worse.)

I was particularly disappointed by the silence of people who knew what was happening and could have made a difference, if only they’d spoken out. That’s been really painful for me to accept. The whole experience has affected me deeply, and it’s not something that I’ll ever forget.

That’s a pretty depressing backstory, I think. Alas, it’s been far worse to live through it. Yet the cloud has a silver lining: that depressing backstory is also why ATLOSCon was so vitally important to me this year.

At ATLOSCon, I could talk to anyone, whether we’d met before or for the first time, without worrying that I’d be accused of eating babies for breakfast. I enjoyed my time spent connecting with old friends, as well as meeting new people, immensely.

At ATLOSCon, I delighted in the thoughtful and creative contributions of my audiences in my presentations. I love to learn from intelligent, principled people — and I experienced that in spades.

At ATLOSCon, I enjoyed a slew of conversations with smart, thoughtful people on topics of major interest and value to me, such as personality theory. I learned some surprising things about myself from these conversations. Win!

At ATLOSCon, I heard, first-hand and in-person, just how disgusted people were with the attacks on me. Even when I already knew the person’s views, that meant a whole lot to me.

At ATLOSCon, I could disagree with people, tentatively float some idea, or make some outrageous joking claim for laughs — without fearing that someone would twist my words so as to unjustly attack me. I didn’t feel on guard in the slightest.

Mostly, I was among my kind of Objectivists — meaning rational, independent, benevolent, joyful individuals. For the first time in months, I knew and felt fully the value that such people bring to my life and my work. I’m so grateful for that.

So thank you again to Kelly, Jenn, and Miranda for making ATLOSCon happen. And thank you to everyone who attended for their own selfish reasons. ATLOSCon was exactly the spiritual fuel that I needed so desperately, delivered just in time.

Mostly thanks to the joys of ATLOSCon, I refuse to give up on the prospect of a thriving Objectivist community, well-grounded in the virtues. Of course, some people will continue to behave like dogmatic asses, and others will continue to tolerate that. Alas, that’s not likely to change any time soon.

The rest of us are not powerless, however. We can practice the virtue of justice by speaking clearly and forcefully against any further bullying — whether publicly or privately. That might not stop the attacks, yet we shouldn’t underestimate the power of mere words. Mere words can discourage further attacks, particularly because so many bullies are cowardly social metaphysicians. Mere words can make all the difference to the people attacked, who often feel utterly alone, vulnerable, and abandoned by their friends and allies. Mere words can mean that other bystanders don’t walk away from the Objectivist community in disgust.

On the power of mere words, recall what Eddie Willers tells Hank Rearden on the eve of Hank’s trial. (The ellipses are in the original.)

“I wanted to say… because tomorrow is your trial … and whatever they do to you is supposed to be in the name of all the people… I just wanted to say that I… that it won’t be in my name … even if there’s nothing I can do about it, except to tell you … even if I know that that doesn’t mean anything.”

Hank replies, “It means much more than you suspect. Perhaps more than any of us suspect. Thanks, Eddie.”

Thank you, to every Objectivist who speaks out against bullying, intimidation, and unjust attacks done in the name of Objectivism, whoever the latest target. It means much more than you might know — more than any of us might suspect.

Mostly though, I hope that we’ll meet at SnowCon in March or at ATLOSCon next May!

 

On Saturday, I posted a notable comment on the thread of On Jim Valliant. (It was written in response to this comment from Jim.) It explains as much as I plan to say about my personal judgment of Leonard Peikoff, so I’m reposting it here, with some editing, plus an addendum on the “Premise Checkers.” Hopefully, these will be my very last remarks on these ridiculous WTFuffles.

Jim claims that I am “simply trying to conceal [my] true opinion of Leonard Peikoff from others” because “this would alienate a whole class of readers.”

That’s wrong, and it’s unfair. I am refusing to talk about my own judgment of Leonard Peikoff as a person because it’s a personal and private matter. It’s none of the world’s business.

Some years ago, I was friends with Dr. Peikoff. I didn’t discuss that publicly. Then, the friendship disintegrated. Again, I didn’t discuss that publicly. As usually happens when a friendship sours, I lost some respect for Dr. Peikoff as a person as a result of what happened. Again, I won’t discuss that publicly.

Basically, I regard my personal judgment of Dr. Peikoff as my private business, and I’m entitled to keep it that way. It depends on my private experiences, as well as my personal context of knowledge and values. For me to expose my personal conflicts with Dr. Peikoff to the world would be morally wrong. I won’t do it, no matter how much some people attempt to pressure or provoke me.

Other people can and should should judge Dr. Peikoff for themselves, based on their own experiences, as well as their own contexts of knowledge and values. Even though I might disagree with other people’s judgments, often strongly, I don’t regard the matter as suitable for public debate. That could only be a source of bitter conflict and pointless distraction at a time when our culture desperately needs an infusion of rational ideas.

My personal rift with Dr. Peikoff has not affected my intellectual judgment of his achievements as a philosopher. I don’t always agree with him, but his courses and lectures are indispensable to anyone interested in deeply understanding Objectivism. I’ve learned more from him than I can say, and I’m hugely grateful for that. That’s why I routinely recommend his lectures and books, and I will continue to do that.

Yes, I’ve had some serious disagreements with some of Dr. Peikoff’s remarks in his podcasts over the last few years. I’ve spoken publicly about some of them, partly as an expression of my respect for his importance and relevance to Objectivism. When my disagreements were strong, I expressed them in strong language — rightfully so, I think. I take full responsibility for what I’ve said, and I explained my views in my January blog post, On Some Recent Controversies.

As a result of expressing those disagreements, I’ve been unjustly attacked, harassed, lied about, and defamed on the internet. I can bear that well enough, but it’s an unpleasant distraction, to be sure. I’ve got better things to do than deal with the Premise Checkers and their ilk — as does every other rational and productive Objectivist.

That’s why I don’t plan to comment further on Dr. Peikoff’s podcasts, whether I think them right or wrong. I’ll simply talk about the substantive issues of interest to me, as I did in my recent webcast discussion of consent in sex. That’s a sad state of affairs, in my view: Objectivists should be able to discuss their disagreements openly, without worry that they’ll be unjustly smeared by a bunch of random strangers on the internet.

My critics can choose to interpret all that as me dishonestly concealing my true opinions of Dr. Peikoff. That would be completely wrong, however. I’m trying to be fair to a philosopher who has produced a fantastic body of philosophic work, who I’ve had a personal and private falling out with, and who expresses opinions on occasion that I think seriously wrong.

I will continue to expand my knowledge, pursue my values, cultivate my skills, act on principle, advocate good ideas, and enjoy my awesome life. Yes, I can do that while studying and enjoying Dr. Peikoff’s philosophic work, yet not revering or admiring him as a person.

Addendum

The latest essay from the “Premise Checkers” — Diana Hsieh’s Subjective Morality by John Kagebein — aims to prove that I’m a moral subjectivist and a coward. That’s absurd, as anyone familiar with me and my work knows. (In addition to poor writing and poor argumentation, the essay seriously mispresents the cited exchange on Facebook. In fact, John and other soon-to-be “Premise Checkers” trolled a thread of mine with hostile comments that began with John saying, “Really, Diana? Your’re [sic] just going let the overt, mindless Peikoff-bashers have free reign on your wall?” It went downhill from there. Yes, I got irritated. Yes, I was rude. They earned it — in spades.)

The essay is informative on one point, however: it clearly states the basic moral standards and values of the “Premise Checkers.”

First, John is not merely concerned to defend Dr. Peikoff’s philosophic work, but rather his whole life: “Leonard Peikoff’s life, his work, stands nearly equal to that of Ayn Rand’s in the promotion of reason and Objectivism.” Then, after enumerating some of Dr. Peikoff’s accomplishments, John writes:

Every person who dares to call himself an Objectivist should have nothing but the profoundest respect for Leonard Peikoff and should demand nothing less from their friends and cohorts who also call themselves Objectivists. To fail to do so is an act of injustice!

That’s quite revealing of the core dispute here. The Premise Checkers are not merely lauding Dr. Peikoff’s achievements. They are not merely judging Dr. Peikoff to be a great person. That would not be controversial or problematic. Instead, they are claiming that anything less than “the profoundest respect” for Dr. Peikoff’s whole person constitutes as an intolerable moral failing in an Objectivist. That’s deeply wrong, even alarming.

Personally, I’m not interested in any such cult of personality — and I don’t wish to see the Objectivist movement transformed into that.

A person is an Objectivist or not based on his agreement with and practice of the principles of Objectivism. Objectivists can reasonably disagree amongst themselves about applications of Objectivist principles, as well as about issues outside the scope of the philosophy. Similarly, Objectivists can reasonably disagree in their judgments of any given person due to differences in their knowledge of and experiences with that person.

Some criticisms of Dr. Peikoff are unjust, but that’s not always the case. People can disagree in their judgments of him — or have less than “the profoundest respect” for him — without being irrational or unjust. Here, recall that a number of prominent Objectivists in good standing with ARI have conflicts with Dr. Peikoff. (He said in his statement on John McCaskey’s resignation that he is “on terms of personal enmity” with “a few longtime Board members” of ARI.)

Ultimately, to demand that every Objectivist experience and display “the profoundest respect” for Dr. Peikoff means demanding that some people ignore what they’ve seen and heard for themselves. Basically, it’s a demand for blind worship of a person — meaning: a demand that Objectivists repudiate the virtues of rationality, independence, and justice. Revering Dr. Peikoff based on your own judgment is not wrong. Loudly demanding that others do so, despite their own judgment, is deeply, deeply wrong.

If this cult of personality gains traction, the Objectivist movement will become insular, dogmatic, and repressive — as I’ve said before. Happily, I see much resistance to this trend, particularly from some of the most productive, benevolent, and effective Objectivist activists.

At this point, the “Premise Checkers” have revealed enough of their own premises, motives, and methods that I don’t plan to say anything further about them or their defamatory campaign against me. It’s just a waste of my time. The “Premise Checkers” will likely continue their attempts to intimidate Objectivists into their cult of personality. I hope that people resist, whatever their view of Dr. Peikoff and whatever their view of me. It’s a matter of principle, not personality.

Objectivism is a philosophy for living on earth… thank goodness!

Apr 062012
 

Several people have asked me about Jim Valliant’s recent public condemnation of me on Facebook. I’ve struggled with what to say about it because I think that Jim has judged me too hastily, based on some serious misunderstandings. He cut off our discussion prematurely, and much of what I say here is what I’d planned to explain to him. So I hope that he’ll reconsider his judgment.

Jim e-mailed me in mid-March because he wanted to write for “Checking Premises.” He didn’t wish to offend me, but he wanted to defend Leonard Peikoff against criticisms by others that he regarded as grossly unfair. In particular, he criticized Trey Peden, Kelly Valenzuela, and Jason Stotts in harsh terms to me.

As you might expect, I told Jim that I couldn’t look kindly on his writing for “Checking Premises,” and I gave my reasons for that view. As for the rest, that turned into Jim repeatedly demanding my view of claims made by Trey and Jason, usually framed in morally-loaded language.

I was perfectly willing to discuss any beef that Jim had with me — meaning, any problems with what I’d said and done. However, I didn’t think myself obliged to jump into the middle of Jim’s conflicts with other people, simply because those people were friends and acquaintances of mine. Speaking generally, disputes about whether one person has insulted or shown insufficient respect for another person usually generate more heat than light. A dispute about whether my friend Trey Givens insulted Jim’s friend Leonard Peikoff was sure to be hopelessly confused and painfully heated, in my view.

Basically, I didn’t want to get in the middle of conflicts between Jim and anyone else. Moreover, I didn’t think that Jim was entitled to interrogate me about the views of my friends. People can judge me on whatever basis they like, but some aspects of my life are private, and I plan to keep them that way. That includes many facets of my friendships.

My friends are my friends for good reasons, grounded in my own personal context and values. If I have a problem with a friend, I’ll discuss that with him or her privately. I don’t publicly announce every agreement or disagreement with a friend, even when substantial. I don’t feel any need to justify my friendships to others, and I don’t take kindly to insults of my friends from people who don’t know them. Hence, people ought to assume that I regard my friends highly, but not that I agree with everything they say or do. Some of my friends might dislike or even despise each other: I expect them to manage that civilly, with respect for my context of knowledge and values, as well as my independent judgment. If they can’t do that, they should distance themselves from me as needed.

I’ve been friends with Kelly and Trey for many years: we interact routinely online and in-person. I don’t always agree with them, but I respect, value, and trust them — hugely. I don’t know Jason well, but I’ve interacted with him enough to regard him as honest, careful, and fair.

As I mentioned, Jim attacked these people repeatedly in his e-mails to me. From the outset, I knew that those judgments were seriously mistaken, simply based on my personal knowledge of their history, personality, and character. In contrast, Jim has never met these people: he only engaged them online, and he did so for the first time recently over contentious issues. That, in my experience, is an easy way to misjudge a person.

Jim’s claims against Trey, Kelly, and Jason were not of a kind that could affect my own first-hand, in-person judgments of them, established over the course of many years. That’s why I told him that my friendships were not negotiable.

Unfortunately, Jim ignored or rejected my attempts to show that his judgments of these people were in error, despite my far better knowledge of them. After that, I declined to discuss them further with him, although he repeatedly queried me about whether or not I agreed with their views.

As I told Jim, I didn’t want to play defense attorney to my friends. Plus, I knew that any discussion about what others said was sure to become a terribly confused mess. For me to read Trey’s many controversial blog posts with a fine-tooth comb, trying to parse sentences for disagreements of substance versus style, would have been a waste of my time. Also, I wasn’t willing to pass judgment on a short phrase of Jason’s repeatedly quoted by Jim — not when its meaning and context were unclear to me. (The phrase was not from any public statement by Jason, but rather taken from a private conversation between Jason and Jim of which I knew nothing.) I said that I wouldn’t use such a phrase, but that wasn’t enough for Jim.

Instead of discussing the views of other people, I proposed to Jim that we discuss our own disagreements directly. I outlined my views on the date rape podcasts in an e-mail to him, but he ignored that. Also, as I told him, I thought he was seriously misinterpreting some of Peikoff’s remarks on controversial topics, which I thought was unfair to Dr. Peikoff and unfair to Dr. Peikoff’s critics. His reply mostly focused on Trey’s claims, yet again.

Basically, Jim was focused on what other people said and whether I agreed with them. I thought that line of conversation not just futile, but also inappropriate. I’m happy to defend my own words and deeds, but I didn’t see any reason why I was obliged to defend the words and deeds of other people acting independently of me, simply because I’m friends with them or because I’ve mentioned them favorably on NoodleFood. My refusal to discuss his charges against others was a matter of principle: his questions were intrusive and inappropriate, in my view.

In addition, Jim says the following in his Facebook comments:

[Diana] has also repeatedly indicated to me, without qualification, that she agrees with what Peden wrote in his attacks on Piekoff [sic] in this post specifically. Since she did not attempt to distance herself form [sic] any of it, I must conclude that she agrees with all of it, including the unnecessary personal attacks on Peikoff himself.

That is just not true.

First, I never claimed to agree with Trey’s public blog posts, nor his remarks on Dr. Peikoff. Instead, when I told Jim that I agreed with Trey’s arguments, I was referring specifically to Trey’s arguments on transgenderism from his private correspondence with Jim. (Jim sent me that correspondence with Trey’s permission.) Jim misunderstood that as a more global endorsement in his reply, so I explicitly clarified what I meant in a subsequent e-mail. Jim seems to have missed that, and the result is that he’s seriously misrepresenting me.

Second, I’ve not publicly commented on Trey’s controversial posts, either in agreement or disagreement, except to link to a post on transgenderism for its factual content. That silence should not be construed as agreeing with Trey’s other controversial posts in whole or in part. I’ve not publicly stated any opinion, and I don’t plan to do so.

Moreover, I’m not interested in stirring up any more pointless controversy among Objectivists. At this point, I’ve already said all that I wish to say publicly on some controversial topics, such as Peikoff’s views of transgenders. I’ve deliberately refrained from making any public comment about more recent controversies, such as Peikoff’s podcasts on date rape. Similarly, I’m not interested in discussing my private views of Objectivist public figures with anyone but close friends, as my views are personal to me and my context of knowledge and values. I’m certainly not obliged to discuss such topics, simply because other people are doing so.

If people find my refusal to say more than I have on these issues unacceptable, then they are welcome to judge me and act accordingly. Still, I don’t regard myself as obliged to submit to unwelcome and intrusive interrogations.

Based on his e-mails, Jim was deeply unhappy with my refusal to discuss what Trey and others wrote. I wanted to explain my reasons for that in greater detail, as I’ve done above. I didn’t know what the result would be, but I liked Jim enough from our interactions many years ago to make an attempt.

Unfortunately, that attempt didn’t go as planned. Jim repeatedly insisted that I respond to his e-mails immediately, even though my schedule did not permit me to do so. My mother was visiting, and then I had a lecture to prepare for Wednesday night. Plus, I wanted time to think through the issues carefully, rather than replying hastily.

Repeatedly, I told Jim that I was occupied with prior commitments, but that I would reply late this week. For reasons that I cannot understand, he found that unacceptable. He unfriended and denounced me on Tuesday evening.

Basically, Jim cut off our conversation prematurely, based on incomplete information and misunderstanding. That’s unfortunate, in my view. Again, I hope that he will reconsider.

To summarize:

(1) I value my friends, but that doesn’t make me responsible for what they say, nor imply that I agree with everything they say.

(2) I regard arguments about whether your friend insulted my friend as confused messes of fruitless conflict.

(3) I’m entitled to keep some of my views private, even when people inquire about them.

And that’s that, I hope.

P.S. I sent Jim Valliant a draft of this statement last night. He replied, but in a way that didn’t address my objections to his inquiries. In any case, he’s welcome to post that reply in these comments.

 

On Monday, Dr. Peikoff released a podcast with the following question:

Do you distinguish official Objectivist doctrine from Ayn Rand’s personal views?

His answer was excellent: it’s a brief but clear explanation of the meaning and implications of the “closed system” view of Objectivism. That’s what I advocate, what I practice, and what I defended in my recent blog post. If you’re interested in these matters, I recommend listening to his answer. (It’s only 2 minutes, 31 seconds long.)

Here’s the transcription, courtesy of D Jason Fleming:

Philosophy is broad principles, about the nature of the universe, the means of knowledge, the nature of man, and then the value doctrines that all that leads to. All this is interconnected. In a proper philosophy, it’s one system, as in Objectivism.

Now that does not mean that every specific application of that philosophy is inherent in the philosophy. A philosopher can hold views that do not necessarily follow from the philosophy, but are its application to a realm where facts are established by science, or observation, or some other appropriate means.

Philosophy is wide abstractions. That does not entail specific choices or specific interpretations of how they apply to concretes. For instance, take my theory of history presented in the DIM book. I make a definite distinction between official Objectivst doctrine and Peikoff’s theory of history. Now, I believe that my theory is based on Objectivism, but it does not follow from Objectivism, it is not therefore Objectivism as such. It is my application and each person has to decide is this the correct application or not? It is not subjective, but it’s still not a question of what is the philosophy, but what is its applications? And in that regard, Ayn Rand and I and others can disagree without anybody contradicting the philosophy.

Remember also that there are personal options in applying broad philosophic principles. You can say that, for instance, “sex is good” is a philosophic principle, but that does not necessitate any special particular position or clothing, et cetera. It does specify that the general principles of morality apply, such as fraud, force, evasion, et cetera. But as apart from that, there are many different interpretations and complete options which would be personal, not official.

So: yes, but without that implying a contradiction or a subjective viewpoint.

Hear, hear!

Twelve Compelling Reasons To Denounce Me

 Posted by on 27 January 2012 at 2:00 pm  Funny, WTFuffles
Jan 272012
 

Since I blogged my serious comments on the recent WTFuffle on Wednesday, I now feel at liberty to post these twelve compelling reasons to unfriend and denounce me:

(1) During the holidays, I happily sing Christmas carols glorifying Jesus.

(2) I think that mixed nuts are an abomination. The taste of each kind of nut contaminates the taste of the others.

(3) I’m a narcissist. Sometimes, I post a picture of myself to Facebook after I get a new haircut. That’s inexcusable, I know. Facebook should be about depressing political news only.

(4) I prefer Glock to 1911. Also, 9 mm is wimpy.

(5) I wear turtleneck sweaters. (Apparently, this is controversial! Who knew?!?)

(6) I enjoy skiing and snowboarding about equally. I refuse to pick a side.

(7) I like saying “bijillion” to mean “some huge unspecified number.” That must reveal some kind of corrupt epistemology.

(8) I swear. For particularly frustrating circumstances, I prefer “Fuckity Fuck Fuck.”

(9) I enjoy off-color jokes, including jokes about penipodes. Yes, genitalia is sometimes funny.

(10) I like Ke$ha. She’s crass, I know, but her music is catchy too!

(11) I tend to overuse exclamation points, particularly in e-mail. I edit out as many as I can, I swear! Still, I’ve just got to express my enthusiasm somehow!

(12) Sometimes, I post about what I ate for breakfast. In my defense, it usually involves bacon.

So that’s my list, but I’m sure that other reasons equally if not more weighty can be easily found… and I’d encourage you to post them in the comments.

Just remember to pick a reason and unfriend me before you become contaminated with my evil ways! Don’t be a mixed nut!

P.S. WTFuffe = A kerfuffle with a hefty dose of WTFery.

 

Yesterday on Facebook, I was alerted to a new web site attacking me: CheckingPremises.org. The web site claims to be “in response to the danger that some, who may seem in agreement with the philosophy, are in fact subverting it.” It has pages on “The Brandens,” “David Kelley,” and “Libertarianism,” with a few perfunctory links. Then, under “Current Controversies,” you’ll find six pages on me, albeit with little of substance. The site claims:

We believe [Diana Hsieh] has revealed herself to not understand and/or to not agree with certain aspects of Objectivism. In addition, we have serious concerns about the nature, frequency, and tone of her public disagreements with Dr. Leonard Peikoff.

The purpose of the web site is clearly to attack me, and I was expecting that something like that might happen. As many of you know, a handful of people have been loudly condemning me on Facebook in recent weeks, demanding that our mutual friends un-friend me, and so on.

The site is not something that I can take too seriously. A handful of people — none of whom I know, except to barely recognize a few names — think poorly of me. Mostly, I regard the site as an embarrassment to Objectivism: it deserves to disappear into the ether.

For obvious reasons, the creators and supporters of this web site are not welcome in my life, including online. They are not entitled to post belligerent comments on my Facebook wall or in these NoodleFood comments, as happens periodically. They should have had the good sense to unsubscribe themselves from my OLists, rather than obliging me to remove them. Most of all, they’re not entitled to violate my rights, such as by reposting video segments from my webcast without my permission. (Happily, I was able to remove such a video with a DMCA takedown request.)

Here, I’d like to explain my views on some of the controversial topics, so that anyone confused by this brouhaha can know where I stand and judge me accordingly. If you have any further questions, please e-mail me privately.

For me, discussion between thoughtful and friendly Objectivists — not just on the proper application of our common philosophic principles, but on a wide range of practical topics — is a huge value. In such discussions, reasonable people will disagree from time to time, particularly on complex topics. Such disagreements can provide an excellent opportunity to question assumptions, consider new facts, understand opposing views, and more. That’s a value to me — and to many others too.

Such friendly discussion doesn’t happen automatically: it requires purposeful effort. The people involved in the discussion need to focus on the substantive issues. They need to strive to be rational and benevolent, including in their assumptions about and treatment of others. They need to give others the necessary time to think through the issues on their own. They need to consider the judgments of experts carefully, yet come to their own rational, independent conclusions. By such means, disagreements can be friendly, or at least civil, and even a passionate disagreement need not cause rifts among good people.

I learn lots through such discussions with my fellow Objectivists, and I hope that others do too. That’s part of the purpose of the various OLists, and I’m proud of the success of those lists.

If Objectivists don’t nourish and protect that kind of rational culture, then a self-destructive culture of suspicion, hostility, and dogmatism will take its place. Then, any disagreement — even if trivial, even if outside the scope of Objectivism — will become grounds for denouncing someone else as dishonest and attempting to ostracize them. Any connection with a condemned person will be grounds for your condemnation too. People will fear speaking their minds, and some will even forego thinking for themselves.

That kind of repressive culture actively undermines the virtues of rationality, justice, and independence. It’s not compatible with the fundamental principles of Objectivism, nor is it the kind of culture that can revitalize America.

To promote a rationally benevolent Objectivist culture does not mean eschewing moral judgment, nor that every Objectivist will join hands to sing kumbaya. A person may falsely describe himself as an Objectivist, meaning that he rejects core principles of the philosophy in word and deed. Such people, as well as the dishonest critics of Objectivism, should be judged and treated according to their merits (or lack thereof). Moreover, some Objectivists just might not wish to work together due to personal conflicts. That’s to be expected — and while sometimes unfortunate, that’s hardly unusual for intellectual movements.

As for me, I occasionally disagree with other Objectivists — including with scholars and intellectuals who I like and respect — on various topics. When their publicly-stated views are relevant to my projects or of sufficient interest to me, I might discuss my disagreement publicly. That’s been my longstanding policy. People familiar with my history know that I’ve spoken out on controversial topics before, and that I’ve sometimes taken heat for doing so. That’s nothing new for me.

Of course, I’m always interested in substantive arguments against my views. I’m happy to change my mind when I see that I’m wrong — or at least to accept that my opponents have a better case than I realized. However, I’ll never accept someone else’s say-so, nor hide my views because I think they might be unpopular. That’s just not the kind of person I am, nor the kind of person that I’d ever want to be.

As it happens, Dr. Peikoff has said some things in recent podcasts that I disagree with, sometimes very strongly. Twice, I’ve made my disagreement known — in my webcast discussions of compulsory juries (May 2011) and the transgendered (Oct 2011). (In the debate about the NYC Mosque, I blogged my view before Dr. Peikoff’s podcast on the topic, and I continued to disagree with him on that issue.) Given that Dr. Peikoff and I happen to share some similar interests in practical philosophy, such periodic disagreements are hardly surprising.

On the whole, I’ve tried to be careful in my tone and manner, as is evident from my writings on the NYC Mosque and John McCaskey’s Resignation. Alas, I didn’t take proper care in my discussion of compulsory juries. Unfortunately, some people wrongly interpreted my enthusiasm for the topic as enthusiasm for criticizing Dr. Peikoff. I didn’t intend any disrespect, and I regret that I could be interpreted that way. (I say more on this later.)

Because I expect to disagree with other Objectivists from time to time, particularly on applications of the philosophy, I don’t regard my occasional disagreements with Dr. Peikoff as of much significance. I almost always agree with him, so disagreements are a kind of interesting philosophical mystery that I like to unpack. Sometimes, after further reflection, I find that I was wrong, and that Dr. Peikoff is right. But that’s not always the case.

Of course, I regard Dr. Peikoff’s books and courses as a huge value: I’ve learned more from him over the past two decades than I can properly express. As I routinely tell people, anyone who wants to deeply understand Objectivism simply must read his books and listen to his major courses. Nonetheless, I’ve never thought myself duty-bound to agree with Dr. Peikoff, nor to be silent about any disagreements, due to that appreciation for his work. To remain silent would not be respectful: it would be either patronizing or cowardly.

Unfortunately, a few Objectivists seem to regard any disagreement with Dr. Peikoff as some kind of personal attack on him. That’s wrong. To criticize a person as wrong — even very seriously wrong — on some particular issue is not the same as condemning the person. Good people can be very seriously wrong sometimes. To personalize mere disagreements over ideas by interpreting them as personal attacks is unwarranted, as well as unfair. It’s also toxic to the Objectivist movement, as that approach erodes the much-needed culture of independent thinking and rational judgment.

Notably, my occasional disagreements with Dr. Peikoff and other Objectivists are not disagreements about the principles of Objectivism — like that humans have free will or that integrity is a virtue. At most, they concern the application of Objectivist principles to circumstances and questions not considered by Ayn Rand. As such, they’re outside the scope of Objectivism. They are the kinds of peripheral issues about which Objectivists sometimes disagree, and when they do, they should do so civilly, particularly if they wish to succeed in their own lives and change the culture.

Remember, Objectivism does not encompass all philosophic truth. It’s the philosophy developed by Ayn Rand, and it’s a closed system. Hence, even the best scholarly work done by Objectivists since Ayn Rand’s death cannot be regarded as part of Objectivism. As Leonard Peikoff himself explains in Fact and Value:

“Objectivism” is the name of Ayn Rand’s achievement. Anyone else’s interpretation or development of her ideas, my own work emphatically included, is precisely that: an interpretation or development, which may or may not be logically consistent with what she wrote. In regard to the consistency of any such derivative work, each man must reach his own verdict, by weighing all the relevant evidence. The “official, authorized doctrine,” however, remains unchanged and untouched in Ayn Rand’s books; it is not affected by any interpreters.

Objectivism doesn’t have a theory of induction or a theory of children’s rights. It doesn’t tell us who to vote for in 2012 or whether Agora was a good movie. Many Objectivists have views on these topics, and those views might be more or less consistent with Objectivist principles. However, there is simply no such thing as “the Objectivist position” on the NYC Mosque or “the Objectivist position” on gun rights or “the Objectivist theory of induction.” (People often loosely describe new philosophic works that are consistent with and based on Objectivism as “Objectivist,” and that’s fine. However, such works are not part of the “official, authorized doctrine” of Objectivism.)

To claim that my few disagreements with Dr. Peikoff on issues outside the scope of Objectivism prove that I don’t understand or don’t agree with Objectivism is just plain wrong. Although Dr. Peikoff understands Objectivism thoroughly, he’s not immune from error, particularly in the application of Objectivist principles to current events or new questions. Everyone must judge for himself the truth of Dr. Peikoff’s claims, as well as their consistency with Objectivism.

Personally, I take the closed system view of Objectivism very seriously, particularly because I thought long and hard about it some years ago. (See my essays Ayn Rand on David Kelley and The Open System, One More Time.) I’m an Objectivist because I agree with and practice the principles of Objectivism. I don’t claim to speak for Objectivism, nor do I regard my new philosophic work as part of Objectivism. (That’s part of the reason why my webcast is “Philosophy in Action,” not “Objectivism in Action.”) I regard my philosophic work as compatible with Objectivism. But it is my own work, and others can and ought to judge its compatibility for themselves. As always, I welcome substantive comments and criticisms, particularly from an Objectivist perspective.

As for some of the particular objections raised against me, I’d like to explain a few points that might not be apparent from a distance. (I’ve explained much of what follows to people who inquired with me, usually to their satisfaction. A person’s action and motives are often not what others suppose from afar. That’s why justice often requires inquiring with a person about the facts in a civil way before judgment.)

NYC Mosque

All of Paul’s and my blog posts are collected here, in reverse order: NYC Mosque.

This issue was hugely controversial among Objectivists. It is a complex and difficult subject, partly because the debate concerned what people ought to do given that our government refuses to do the right thing, namely protect us against terrorist threats from Islamists by declaring war against states that sponsor terrorism. With the proper course closed off, our only options were “bad” and “worse,” and Objectivists were arguing over which was which. (That’s similar to debates about the proper rules for government schools: since government schools ought not exist, plausible arguments can often be made both for and against some proposed rule.)

I stand by the concerns that Paul and I raised in our blog posts, but I understand — mostly thanks to Amy Peikoff’s posts — why others saw the matter differently. I was, and still am, disturbed by Dr. Peikoff’s manner in his podcast discussion, and I found much of his argument unpersuasive on its own.

Mostly though, I think that Objectivists ought to be able to disagree about this kind of topic in a friendly or at least civil way.

John McCaskey’s Resignation

Paul and I have already said all that we wish to say about this matter in these posts. We think that our concerns about Dr. Peikoff’s letter were warranted, and we think that the dispute between Dr. Peikoff and Dr. McCaskey could and should have been handled better by ARI.

Compulsory Juries

As I said earlier, I should have been more careful in how I expressed my disagreement with Dr. Peikoff in my webcast discussion of compulsory juries. As my regular webcast viewers know, I love wrangling with difficult issues, particularly when I think I can cut through them clearly. I was enthused about this particular topic, and I knew that my arguments on it were solid. I didn’t intend any disrespect to Dr. Peikoff: I was too focused on the substantive issues to even think about that. That was a mistake, of course, and I don’t intend to repeat it. (It’s easy to make such errors in speaking extemporaneously, as everyone who speaks extemporaneously knows.)

My views on the issue have not changed: I do not think that compulsory juries are compatible with individual rights, particularly given Ayn Rand’s clear rejection of the draft and compulsory taxation. Moreover, a compulsory jury is an attempt to force men to think, and that’s something that Ayn Rand knew to be impossible and dangerous. Also, I think that my summary of Dr. Peikoff’s stated views was fair. Mostly, I quoted him at some length. Although he was uncertain whether juries would be used in a free society, he clearly stated that they could be compulsory, if so.

Dr. Peikoff didn’t offer any substantive justification for his views in his two podcasts. After my webcast, Amy Peikoff attempted to defend his view in this blog post by appealing to tacit consent to a social contract. Her argument fails for the reasons given in this comment by NS. (When preparing for the webcast, I thought that Dr. Peikoff’s remarks perhaps suggested an appeal to social contract. However, I never would have attributed that view to him, not even provisionally, because I’ve long known that social contract theory is wholly incompatible with individual rights.) Also, for more on the errors of social contract theory, I’d strongly recommend reading Harry Binswanger’s April 29th, 2011 post to HBL. (That’s only available to subscribers of HBL, but it was sent to me as the “HBL Monthly Enticement” on May 30th, 2011.)

I’ve not yet seen any plausible defense of Dr. Peikoff’s views, and I hope that he reconsiders his position at some point.

Anencephalics

I discussed the rights of the severely mentally disabled in a May 2011 webcast. My basic view is that normal children, as well as mentally impaired children, have all the usual rights to care from their parents. However, in the rare cases of complete mental incapacity — such as in the horrifically tragic cases of anencephalic babies, where only the brain stem exists — rights cannot apply. Rights are not inherent in our DNA; they’re based on the role of reason in man’s survival. Hence, if a child is proven in court to have zero current or future capacity to reason — or, as in the case of the anencephalic, not even the potential for consciousness — then that child could be humanely enthanized by its parents.

On hearing this view, any thinking person will immediately inquire about the logical implications of saying that anencephalic babies have no rights. Consider the extreme cases: Does that mean that they could be treated like any other animal, e.g. used for medical experiments, kept as a pet, or even eaten for food? (UGH!) The thought is repulsive, undoubtedly, but that’s not a reason to refuse to think about it. An honest person’s thinking is guided by facts, not emotions, and refusing to examine the logical implications of views under consideration is just evasion. (I was asked about this very issue in a discussion over dinner with some Objectivist friends prior to the webcast. It’s a natural question.)

In the webcast, I said that using such babies as a food source, even if legally permitted, would be morally horrifying. That feeling would be pretty near universal, however, so I couldn’t imagine that any kind of widespread problem with that would ever exist. That wasn’t a pleasant thing to say, but I didn’t want to evade the question.

Later, someone seemingly determined to misrepresent what I said in the webcast — as if I was all in favor of eating babies for breakfast — questioned me about my views. Part of that discussion showed up in these NoodleFood comments. I found the whole discussion pointless and irritating, but I was thinking through my views as I posted comments. Hence, some of what I said earlier in that thread is definitely wrong. My current view can be found in this comment. Basically, I can imagine a few far-fetched scenarios in which consuming human flesh would not be horrifyingly immoral, provided that no rights were violated in doing so. (I’m still uncertain about Case #3: I feel an overwhelming sense of revulsion at the thought of doing that, but I’m uncertain that every rational person would necessarily feel that way. When in doubt, I will not condemn.)

The whole topic is so ridiculously far-fetched that I just can’t see any point in further discussion of it. I’d be far more interested to hear a well-reasoned defense of some kind of legal protections for anencephalic babies, even if not rights. (That could have fascinating implications for laws pertaining to the treatment of animals.) Of course, any such attempt would have to be based on the Objectivist theory of rights, as opposed to the intrinsicist view. That intrisicist view says that rights are inherent in human nature, and it leads to granting rights to zygotes.

If anyone wants to assess my understanding of rights, I’d recommend reading my two published writings on the nature and basis of abortion rights, both co-authored with Ari Armstrong:

I’d also recommend reading my two graduate papers on the follies of animal rights:

The second paper discusses what rights humans without any capacity for rational thought might have, and the implications of that for claims about animal rights.

The Transgendered

I strongly disagree with Dr. Peikoff’s moral condemnation of the transgendered and their surgeons. In this December 13th, 2010 podcast, he claims that transgenders are engaged in “a war against reality.” He also says that the doctors who perform sexual reassignment surgery are “corrupt without qualification,” and he likens them to the doctors who performed experiments in Nazi concentration camps. In this June 20th, 2011 podcast, he claims that a person’s sex is immutable, that sexual reassignment surgery does not change it, and that such surgery destroys a person’s capacity for sexual enjoyment. In this January 2nd, 2012 podcast, he says that transsexualism is a “metaphysical assault on reality” and “a thorough corruption” that he would “never voluntarily associate with.” He thinks that gay groups should be opposed if they welcome transsexuals. (Note: This third podcast was posted after my webcast discussion.)

I briefly registered my strong disagreement in this webcast discussion: Restrooms for the Transgendered in Transition. I regard Dr. Peikoff’s views on this subject as terribly ill-informed and his moral condemnations as unjustified. I was particularly disappointed because his moral condemnation of transsexualism seems exactly like the moral arguments against homosexuality that used to be common in Objectivist circles.

Given that I know some transgendered Objectivists — and that OHomos @ OList.com welcomes transgenders — I didn’t want to remain silent about these repeated public condemnations of the transgendered, particularly not when I was answering a question on the transgendered in my webcast. Others have spoken up too, and I’m glad of that. People — particularly the transgendered — should know that Dr. Peikoff doesn’t necessarily speak for other Objectivists on this topic. Also, I wanted transgender Objectivists to feel welcome in the forums that I manage.

In the webcast, I said that Dr. Peikoff’s comments on this topic are “horribly ignorant” and “armchair philosophizing.” I stand by those remarks, strongly-worded as they are. Dr. Peikoff doesn’t seem to be aware of the basic claims about the psychology of transgenderism. He would likely disagree with those claims, but a fair judgment of the transgendered and their doctors requires some familiarity with them. His remarks are premised on other critical factual errors, as Trey Givens discusses in this blog post. Moreover, in light of the strength and vehemence of Dr. Peikoff’s repeated condemnations of the transgendered, I don’t think my language was out-of-proportion. Of course, my criticisms are limited to his comments on this particular topic, which I regard as a striking exception to the keen insight that I’ve enjoyed in Dr. Peikoff’s lecture courses, time and again.

Privacy Lies

For many years — probably more than a decade — I’ve been interested in the question of the morality of lies to protect one’s privacy. That’s part of my broader interest in the virtue of honesty — as evidenced by my two published papers on the topic: “Dursley Duplicity: The Morality and Psychology of Self-Deception” in Harry Potter and Philosophy and “False Excuses: Honesty, Wrongdoing, and Moral Growth” in the Journal of Value Inquiry. Privacy lies are of particular interest because Objectivists often disagree about them, and I enjoy sorting through such moral tangles. However, there’s more to the story.

For many years, I knew that Nathaniel Branden condemned such lies in very clear terms in his “Basic Principles of Objectivism” course. (That course was originally given at NBI, and it was approved by Ayn Rand.) However, the version of that course available to the public (which I own) was actually re-recorded after his break with Ayn Rand. I worried that, particularly on this issue, Branden might have changed the content. Recently, I was able to get my hands on a rarity: the original lectures recorded at NBI. To my surprise, the discussion of privacy lies was exactly the same as in the publicly available versions. Moreover, Ayn Rand didn’t seem to change her view later in life: her remarks in the Q&A of Dr. Peikoff’s “Philosophy of Objectivism” course indicate that she still regarded lies for the sake of privacy as wrong in 1976.

However, Leonard Peikoff has claimed that lies for the sake of privacy are justified. He discusses the issue in Understanding Objectivism, and he has a line about it in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. When I asked him about the issue during an OCON Q&A, he wasn’t able to offer a suitable example of what he meant. (I don’t mention that to fault him, but rather only to indicate my longstanding interest in this topic, including my attempt to get a better understanding of Dr. Peikoff’s views.)

Personally, I’m fascinated by this apparent difference of opinion between Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff. I want to consider what each side has to say in depth, and I’d like to see if their views can be reconciled. Mostly though, I want dive into the substantive question, then develop a clear and cogent analysis of these kinds of lies from an Objectivist perspective.

My own view has long been that privacy lies are dangerous (like other kinds of lies) and unnecessary (provided that a person thinks ahead). Ultimately, if Dr. Peikoff disagrees with Ayn Rand on privacy lies, I won’t consider that any reason to cast doubt on his understanding of and committment to Objectivism. Given that the topic is so narrow, that would be silly and wrong for anyone to do that.

When I was playing the relevant segments of audio from the tapes of the “Basic Principles of Objectivism” to create MP3s on my computer, I posted a quick status update to Facebook on the topic. I said, “I’ve been doing some fascinating historical digging on Ayn Rand’s view of ‘privacy lies’ today. Her view, in contrast to that of Leonard Peikoff, was that such lies are wrong, and often downright vicious. And she’s right!” In the first comment, I said, “Hopefully I’ll have the time to put together a blog post on this topic sometime in the next week or two.” Later in that thread, I said more about my sources and my own views.

I thought that people might be curious about the issue, as I was. Naively, I never imagined that people would get upset about the matter. (Alas, I’ve learned that anything that can be taken out of context via unfavorable assumptions about my motives probably will be. Recently, I posted a simple quote from Ayn Rand on rights. Much to my amazement, some people interpreted that as “quoting Ayn Rand out of context as a weapon against Leonard Peikoff.”)

According to my critics, I’m culpable on this issue of privacy lies because I’ve not yet blogged about it. Of course, if anyone had asked me why, I would have given them a very simple answer: I’ve been very busy of late, and I have about 20 blog posts that I’d like to write at any given moment. I will blog about it — although I’m not sure exactly when — precisely because privacy lies have been such a longstanding topic of interest for me. In the meantime, anyone else can investigate the matter for themselves, as all the sources are public.

Objectivists ought to be able to discuss — and disagree on — the morality of privacy lies in way that respects each person’s independent judgment and context of knowledge. Ultimately, I suspect that a person cannot coherently advocate for the morality of privacy lies and uphold the virtue of honesty. However, that’s far from self-evident, and some might argue that privacy lies don’t aim to gain a value but only to keep it. Among Objectivists, any such claims will have to be argued carefully and chewed over thoroughly, as people think through a wide range of cases in light of the virtue of honesty and other relevant principles. Objectivists can foster that kind of discussion by scrupulously respecting each person’s independent judgment, rather than demanding deference to experts. I’d like to see that happen, and I hope that my future writings on this topic contributes to that.

* * *
Objectivists will disagree with each other on occasion: that’s inevitable. To be happy in our own lives, as well as promote rational ideas in the culture, we must keep those disagreements in perspective. We must take care to practice the virtues and respect them in others. By doing that, we can create a vibrant, healthy, and friendly community of Objectivists. That will attract others to our ideas, and enable us to be better advocates for Objectivist principles in the culture.

I’ll continue to promote that kind of Objectivist culture — and to fight for reason, egoism, and rights in America. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far, and I’m eager to do even more in the years to come. Surely, I’ll err on occasion — but I’ll always strive to correct my errors and do better in the future. I appreciate substantive arguments against my views, but I’ll pass on the circular firing squad. I’ve got too many positive values to pursue and too much statism to fight for that kind of silliness.

Again, if you have any burning questions, please e-mail me privately.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha