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!