The Downward Spiral

 Posted by on 11 April 2006 at 1:16 pm  Uncategorized
Apr 112006

In the course of preparing my recent post on my history with the Brandens, I noticed that The “Objectivist” Center seems to be doing even worse than I imagined. Consider the following:

Their supposedly fantastic new web site is actually fantastically inept. (Mind you, this web site has been live since December 8th, 2005.) On the search results page, TOC is said to be “The Obejctivist Center” (!). Those search results often include missing pages. And pages from the prior design persist, including an out-of-date home page. Broken image links abound, as on this page and this page. If you try to browse all commentaries from the link on the home page, you’ll be forced to browse them in the least useful order possible: alphabetically. All press releases have a date of “1/1/0001.”

Linz Perigo just posted some funny comments about their just-updated links page: one word and two names misspelled, plus the choice of links and comments thereabout are, um, interesting. They identify Rebirth of Reason as an “Objectivist discussion board” and link to the odiously mis-named Objectivist Living without reservation, but they warn that SoloPassion is “not very friendly to The Atlas Society/Objectivist Center.” In fact, Robert Bidinotto and Ed Hudgins, both of whom post on “Rebirth of Reason,” refuse to post on SoloPassion, despite Linz’s multiple invitations to do so, probably because they don’t wish to face tough questions.

Oh, and did I mention that the whole site loads at the pace of dial-up?

Notably, their web site is not in bad shape because they are so busy writing and publishing. According to their web site, TOC has published just two op-eds in these first three months plus of 2006 (100 days exactly!): Ed Hudgins’ “Environmentalist Vultures” on January 30th and “France Labors at Folly” on March 29th. (Heck, I’ve written three op-ed in 2006 for my OAC class!) They’ve also published three “Reports from the Front”: David Kelley’s “BB&T Stands up for Rights” on January 26th, Ed Hudgins’ very messy “It Takes a Moral Mess to Know a Moral Mess” on March 8th, and his “Atlas Forced into Early Retirement” on April 5th. So that makes five short articles in over three months, three written just for their web site, with just one on the most important cultural conflict in a decade, i.e. the jihad against the Danish cartoons. (As for Ed Hudgins’ longer article on the matter for The New Individualist, I’ve noticed nothing but deafening silence from TOC supporters since Greg Perkins urged people to actually read it. Also, TOC’s last Media Sighting was in August 2005.

In the meantime, IOS Journal Navigator The New Individualist is lagging way behind in its promised publication schedule of ten issues per year. The July 2005 issue was published in late November 2005. To try to catch up, a “Fall 2005” issue combined the August/September/October issues, although it wasn’t published until January 2006. According to Editor-in-Chief Robert Bidinotto, that consolidation was necessary because they’d “fallen behind in [their] publishing schedule” due to the “recent move to Washington.” (That move happened in late March of 2005.) Bidinotto promised another consolidated issue for November and December. And that was published in late March, with the next issue, apparently January, promised the very next week. Although it’s now a few weeks later, there’s no sign of that January issue yet. In short, when Bob Bidinotto took over The New Individualist, it was four to five months behind schedule. After consolidating five months of issues into two months, they’re still four months behind. That’s not a good sign.

The schedule for the upcoming 2006 TOC Summer Seminar was posted fairly recently. It is rather threadbare — and with more than the usual share of dubious content. Instead of the usual six days of lectures, the seminar will have only five. Most time slots will feature just one speaker, rather than two or three, as in past years. Many speakers are giving multiple lectures, and TOC staff is giving far more than its usual number of lectures. I presume that such measures are intended to save money. That’s not a mark against TOC per se, although it indicates some financial distress. However, the actual content of the lectures selected for the seminar certainly are a black mark against them. (Even enthusiastic supporters of TOC are unhappy with the weak program.) So let’s take a look at some of the gems of the upcoming Summer Seminar.

I see two rather defensive lectures by TOC staff, re-hashing material already covered in Truth and Toleration. I imagine that TOC is feeling the heat from various quarters, even though Robert Bidinotto refers to those critics as “guttersnipes” while refusing to mention them by name.

William Thomas, M.A. — Who is an “Objectivist”?: From time to time the Objectivist movement has faced the question of who is in it and who is out. One cause of ongoing controversy and confusion is a lack of agreement about what defines an Objectivist as such. Is an Objectivist someone who was deemed so by Ayn Rand? Is an Objectivist anyone who calls himself such? This brings us to the question of what defines Objectivism as a philosophical system, and of who is to be judge of whether a person or an argument is, or is not, essentially Objectivist. William Thomas will provide answers to these questions, and relate his discussion to the founding principles of TOC.

Robert James Bidinotto — The Anatomy of Cooperation: Is it ever proper to cooperate with people who do not share your philosophical principles–especially in organized intellectual or ideological endeavors? In her seminal essay “The Anatomy of Compromise,” Ayn Rand offered three rules about how principles apply to situations of philosophical conflict or collaboration. But Rand noted that these three rules “are by no means exhaustive.” Robert Bidinotto builds on Rand’s analysis, outlining additional rules and considerations to help individuals determine when philosophical cooperation is appropriate, and when it is not.

Despite Jim Valliant’s devastating book The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, TOC’s “openness” and “toleration” still means the rejection of all standards. Even blatantly dishonest critics of Ayn Rand and Objectivism like Nathaniel and Barbara Branden are warmly welcomed to TOC’s platform.

Barbara Branden, M.A. — Rage and Objectivism: It is lamentable but true that a great many Objectivists–although certainly not all–have been very angry people, given to excessive moralizing and condemnations of those who disagree with them. Over the years, Barbara Branden has identified some of the fundamental reasons for this rage, such as the beliefs–as David Kelley has noted–that ideas as such can be evil, that evasion rather than simple error, naivety, or confusion is the predominant source of philosophical mistakes, and so on. Error has become the original sin of Objectivism. In this talk, Ms. Branden will discuss the effects of excessive rage, and will suggest ways in which anger can be addressed and brought into balance with rational judgment and reason.

Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D. — The Implications of Love: Nathaniel Branden asks, what do we mean if we tell someone “I love you and I want to make a life with you?” What is our lover entitled to expect? While anyone can claim to have fallen in love, handling a love relationship competently is no simple matter. It requires a high level of consciousness, self-responsibility, and empathy. If we learn to meet this challenge, the reward includes more than a happy love-life. It includes growing in maturity as a human being.

I do wonder whether Barbara Branden’s topic of “Rage of Objectivism” was motivated by at all by the fact that I booted her from NoodleFood for her blatant dishonesty about Ayn Rand and others and that Linz enforced her repeated declarations of imminent departure from SoloHQ by blocking her posts. As with her psychologizing of Ayn Rand in The Passion of Ayn Rand, surely no explanation other than “rage” could possibly explain those decisions!

As for Nathaniel Branden’s talk, after reading The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, I’d rather learn about “Jewish Achievements in History” from Hitler than about love from Nathaniel Branden!

However, Nathaniel and Barbara Branden are giving yet another lecture — together:

Barbara Branden, M.A. and Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D., with Duncan Scott — At the Signpost Up Ahead: Galt’s Gulch… Can a work of fiction be a roadmap for creating a real-life Objectivist community?

Ayn Rand created a vivid image of an Objectivist community called “Galt’s Gulch” in her novel, Atlas Shrugged. Can such a place be fully realized, or is Galt’s Gulch more a symbolof [sic] Objectivist values and sense-of-life? To put it another way, how far can we take Rand’s fictional illustration of an Objectivist utopia and apply it to building a flesh and blood community? These are the questions that will be explored by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden in their first joint presentation at an Objectivist conference in over 35 years.

In the early 1960s the Brandens created The Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI), primarily offering lectures on Objectivism and related subjects. It soon became a Mecca for like-minded artists, scientists, educators, musicians, businessmen, and writers. NBI events ranged from lively intellectual discussions to concerts, art exhibits, sports and even fashion modeling. Since the closing of NBI, nothing quite like it has existed.

Drawing from their experience in developing NBI, from decades-long association with Ayn Rand, and from some 55 years of involvement in the development of Objectivism, the Brandens will explore the tantalizing prospects for a real-world Galt’s Gulch. The session will be moderated by Duncan Scott, Director of The Objectivist History Project.

That lecture is nothing but a fantastic opportunity for Nathaniel and Barbara Branden to lie about their association with Ayn Rand — yet again. The mind boggles at the thought of allowing such people to speak on such a topic — at a supposedly Objectivist conference! Why not just invite Whittaker Chambers to speak on Atlas Shrugged? I suppose that this kind of moral travesty is precisely what happens with the leadership of an organization assiduously avoids the overwhelming evidence that their long-time intellectual allies are dishonest. (From what I understand, Bill Perry was the only TOC employee willing to read Jim Valliant’s The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics in full — and he’s now abandoned the organization!)

Although the other offerings of the seminar aren’t so morally offensives as those lectures by the Brandens, they are still more than a little objectionable. For example, libertarian Tibor Machan will give two lectures on philosophy but apparently wholly unrelated to Objectivism:

Tibor R. Machan, Ph.D. — Politics, Faith and God’s Non-Existence: Unless one person or family rules or the population is very homogenous, a faith cannot be the basis of public policy, argues Tibor Machan. Only the most minimalist theism–Aristotle’s or Spinoza’s, for example–has a chance of being rational. God in the vast majority of theist thought is personal, intentional, and mysterious: knowable only by faith. Various attempts to prove this God’s existence–first-cause arguments and the like–commit fatal fallacies, including the fallacy of the stolen concept. Another try at substantive-minimalist theism, Charles Hartshorne’s, is no theism at all. A humanist, secular foundation is needed for law in a human political community.

Tibor Machan, Ph.D. — Wittgenstein’s Naturalist Ethics?: It is widely contended that Ludwig Wittgenstein is a non-cognitivist. He himself so claims in places. But perhaps we should observe what he does, not worry about what he says, argues Tibor Machan. In places where he isn’t being self-consciously philosophical, Wittgenstein talks as if he were a meta-ethical naturalist. So Wittgenstein seems conflicted, but by his own philosophical notion that the meaning of terms is their use in the language–that that’s were the meat is to be found–he looks closer to being a naturalist than most would suspect.

I have no problem with lectures on these topics at a general philosophy conference, but isn’t TOC’s Summer Seminar supposed to be an Objectivist conference? So shouldn’t the lectures bear some relationship to Objectivism?!?

Another lecture promises to cover seven major topics in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics:

Alexander R. Cohen, M.A., J.D. — Aristotelian Ethics for Objectivists Part 1 of 2: The first of a two-lecture series, the first session will introduce you to Aristotle’s main ethical work, the Nicomachean Ethics. Why be virtuous? What is happiness? What are pleasure and pain, and what is their role? How can we become virtuous? How much can arguments help? Can we reasonably be held responsible for the formation of our own character?

I know nothing about Alexander Cohen’s understanding of Aristotle or his capacities as a speaker. However, I do know Aristotle’s ethics and the limits of lectures. No single lecture could possibly cover the topics listed. TOC certainly ought to know that such a lecture is simply impossible to do competently, let alone well.

Some lectures are sure to be philosophic disasters, just judging by the confused premises found in the abstracts:

William Thomas, M.A. — The Government that Governs Best: Limited vs. Small Government: Ayn Rand described the essential principles of a genuinely limited government, basing her conception of a free society on the principle of non-initiation of force. Yet how precisely does Objectivism as such determine what governmental intuitions will be appropriate to a free society? Objectivists and libertarians often debate the contrast between a society with no formal government at all (anarchism) and a very, very small government (minarchism). But work by a variety of Objectivist and classical liberal thinkers has suggested that the range of government institutions appropriate to a free society may be wider than many think. Could the government that governs best not be the one that governs least?

C.A. Baylor, M.A. — American Exceptionalism: Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff point to America as a country uniquely influenced by the Enlightenment’s ideas of liberty. Scholars call this now-controversial point of view “American Exceptionalism.” To what extent should Objectivists celebrate American history? The scholarly literature shows at least three widespread cultural ethos with remarkable staying power: classical republicanism, which stresses the public interest, self-sacrifice, and shared values; classical liberalism, which stresses the importance of individuals voluntarily choosing their own ends without coercive restraints; democracy — the idea of implementing the will of the people; and race and gender prejudice. This discussion will examine the relative influence of each on the American Founding and some later periods, and where America is now. Liberalism is the most distinguishing feature, but the public’s understanding of liberalism has changed over time so that contemporary liberals can advocate more, rather than less, government coercion.

Walter Donway — Neuroscience and the Nature of Man: Ayn Rand attacked contemporary theories of psychology, political philosophy, and sociology for their premise that human nature, especially man’s mind, was “infinitely elastic.” Now, discoveries in neuroscience are showing that the mind has inherent characteristics in areas ranging from temperament to intelligence, from sexual psychology to learning, and from career preferences to reaction to artworks. Does brain science’s emerging view of man differ from Objectivism’s basic views or shade our interpretation of them?

Edward Hudgins, Ph.D. — Individualism and Community: Edward Hudgins willspeakon [sic] the tensions between individualism and the collective interaction that creates a community.

I’ll give five points for every false or confused premise in those abstracts clearly identified in the comments!

Then we have two bits of fluff, although the first lecture is rocket science compared to the second:

Jay Friedenberg, Ph.D. — Yoga Practice for Objectivists: The purpose of this workshop is to provide basic training in a variety of different yoga techniques. These include poses, breathing, and meditation exercises. The specific benefits of each procedure will be explained, as will suggestions for how to incorporate them into various workout routines. Learn how to increase your physical strength and flexibility and to develop mental calm and clarity. Little or no prior experience with yoga is necessary.

Molly Johnson — Reclaiming the Virtues of Homemaking: The lost domestic arts and their relation to Objectivist life: This lecture applies Objectivism to domestic life, with an emphasis on homemaking activities. Molly Johnson will present seven virtues of homemaking and show how they relate to survival, rationality, benevolence, excellence, and the expression of values. Questions from the audience will lead into a lively discussion of traditional and modern roles of women in making a home, plus a takeaway questionnaire for further reflection on this important but oft-neglected activity.

And what, may you ask, are Ms. Johnson’s qualifications? Why she’s “a full time homemaker, long-time Objectivist, and former writer and software designer. She helps friends with home organization and is in the process of building a custom home.”

That really just says it all, I think.

Honestly, even if TOC weren’t philosophically corrupt, I cannot imagine wanting anything to do with their distinct brand of incompetent inanity.

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