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.

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