Integrating Work and Personal Life

Apr 302006

When magician David Copperfield was recently mugged at gunpoint, he successfully used his skills to conceal his valuables from the thief:

When Copperfield’s turn came, [accused mugger Dwayne] Riley was bamboozled. Copperfield told Page Two he pulled out all of his pockets for Riley to see he had nothing, even though he had a cellphone, passport and wallet stuffed in them. “Call it reverse pickpocketing,” Copperfield said. Riley jumped behind the wheel, and the car took off.

Riley and three other accomplices were quickly apprehended and are now in police custody. (Via Fark.)

DC Objectivist Salon Launches Website

Apr 282006

David Rehm would like to announce that the DC Objectivist Salon now has a website: According to the site:

The DC Objectivist Salon is a group of individuals in the Washington, DC metro area dedicated to the serious study and practical application of Ayn Rand‘s philosophy of Objectivism. (Please note that our primary focus is intellectual, not political; we simply happen to live in the vicinity of Washington, DC.)

Activities of the DCOS include: holding a monthly discussion group (usually followed by a social dinner), supporting local campus clubs to promote awareness and discussion of Objectivism in the universities, maintaining a calendar of relevant DC-area (and significant, outside) events, and eventually hosting a wider range of social activities. For more information or to participate, send a message briefly introducing yourself and your interest in Objectivism to: [email protected].

The DCOS is a proud supporter of (although neither sanctioned nor supported by) the Ayn Rand Institute.

I helped David start DCOS shortly before I left for California, and one of my (few) regrets is that I’m no longer able to participate in the club. Its members are friendly, active-minded, and committed to studying Objectivism. I urge everyone in the DC area to join them, although it should go without saying that my endorsement is personal and does not necessarily represent the views of ARI.

(I should also note that David and I were inspired to start the club after seeing the success of Front Range Objectivism in Colorado–so many thanks to them!)

Today’s Barometer of Chinese Culture

Apr 282006

Breast sizes for Chinese women are growing dramatically, at least according to bra manufacturers who are having to produce more C, D, and E cup models for the Chinese market relative to the once-dominant A and B cups. According to the Beijing Institute of Clothing Technology, “The growth trend is credited to women eating more nutritiously and taking part in more sports.”

Mr. and Mrs. Smith Stalking Atlas

Apr 272006

Looks like Atlas Shrugged is just about to hit the big screen… for the umpteenth time. I have to say, though, that this really is looking closer than ever before: today’s morning news breathlessly reported that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are eyeing the leads and that worldwide distribution rights were picked up by Lionsgate.

Variety reports that the couple are rumoured to be considering starring as lead characters Dagny Taggart and John Galt.

‘Atlas Shrugged’ tells the story of the economic collapse of the US in the future when American industrialists go on strike and retreat to a hideaway in the mountains.

The book espouses Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, which the author described as: “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

Both Pitt and Jolie are fans of Rand’s work.

There are of course snarky reports of the news as well, but at least this one contains some interesting information after the sneering:

Frat boys and self-centered individualists of the world rejoice — Lionsgate is moving forward on a big screen adaptation of Ayn Rand’s heaviest book. …

Written in 1957, “Atlas Shrugged” is considered Rand’s masterpiece by people who believe that the Russian-born author had a masterpiece (in fairness, most frat boys usually stop after Rand’s kiddie lit effort “The Fountainhead”).

The weighty tome focuses on railroad executive Dagny Taggart, who feels crushed by society’s evil shift toward collectivism or something silly like that. …

James V. Hart (“Contact”) has written a two-part script for “Atlas,” but it’s likely that it will be tightened to a single opus.

A good adaptation is hard enough in the first place, much less an adaptation of a book this large, integrated, and philosophically/culturally challenging. And as writers, producers, directors, and actors all vie to bring their own sparkle and vision to the work, there is the tendency to dilute and corrupt even great treatments. Sigh. What are the odds that Hollywood will actually do a decent, respectful job of it? Or at least not do a horrid, slanderous job?

Given these factors, I’m not expecting great results, though I would love a pleasant surprise!

Dialectical Dishonesty

Apr 252006

Chris Matthew Sciabarra is best known as the “dialectical libertarian” scholar of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. He is the editor of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS), the author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and the co-editor of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. For many years, Chris was also a friend of mine, a rare source of support and encouragement. He particularly invited me to submit a proposal for Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand, an essay that ultimately became my first professional publication. He wrote a letter of recommendation for my application to CU Boulder’s graduate program in philosophy. He enthusiastically supported my work. He generously offered me professional advice. We spoke repeatedly on the phone about my overwhelming unhappiness with The Objectivist Center (TOC), often at great length. At least in private, he supported my eventual disassociation from that organization, albeit with some reservations about my so thoroughly burning my bridges. All in all, I have well over 400 personal e-mails between us in my archive. We spoke on the phone probably around 15 times but never managed to meet in person. After my February 2004 disassociation from TOC, however, Chris and I became increasingly estranged. We formally parted ways in August 2005 on apparently cordial terms. At that time, I told him I would not publicly attack him or his work out of consideration for our past friendship.

I can no longer in good conscience abide by that promise, nor do I regard myself obliged to do so. The consideration I offered Chris was based upon nothing real, merely upon the illusion of his friendship. In recent weeks, I discovered that this man I respected and trusted as a friend routinely deceived and manipulated me on matters of critical importance — and that he’s done the same to others. Now he whispers flagrant lies and unjust insults about me behind my back. The truth about Chris Sciabarra is far worse — and far more painful to me — than I ever imagined possible. In summary:

(1) I’ve discovered that while we were friends Chris routinely told me false stories about scholars associated with the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI). He exaggerated his limited contacts with them to create the illusion of private endorsement of him and his work on Objectivism. He impugned their integrity and independence by claiming them to be cowed by fear of ARI. Chris told these tales to at least some people other than me; I fear he’s spread them far and wide. He always emphasized the need for confidentiality, saying that he didn’t wish to create trouble for the scholars in question. In fact, that demand for confidentiality concealed and protected his lies by obliging his listeners to not investigate the facts for themselves.

(2) I’ve realized that Chris exerted substantial pressure upon me to publicly defend his work on faith as a condition of our friendship. He equated his work with his character, such that any relationship required sanction of his writings on Ayn Rand. He did that even while wrongly claiming that I would be under great pressure from the Ayn Rand Institute and its supporters to disassociate myself from him. He’s also pressured at least one other person in similar fashion.

(3) I’ve discovered that Chris now smears me as a turncoat and dogmatist in private correspondence with others, despite recent assurances to me of his persistent “fond feelings for our past friendship.” He grossly misrepresents my views on homosexuality and scholarship. He wrongly implies that I’ve violated my promise to refrain from public criticism of him and his work. He’s even called me “the veritable Comrade Sonia of Objectivism.” Even worse, he does all that while holding me to silence about him through my promise, even though I offered that consideration based upon the illusion of friendship.

(4) I’ve discovered that Chris distorts facts well-established by public and private records to excuse and defend blatant acts of dishonest injustice by Barbara Branden. His version of events is often the exact opposite of what he knows to be the case. In the process, he willingly smears his old friend Linz Perigo by accusing him of grave moral wrongs — behind Linz’s back. When confronted, Chris attempted to conceal those lies with more lies.

These discoveries were heartbreaking for me, more so than I can tell. Although I’ve long suspected that Chris was less than fully honest with me, I never expected anything like this magnitude of manipulative dishonesty. From what I’ve seen, nothing he says or writes can be trusted, not even the most innocuous claims. He pursues his own hidden agenda in all communications, without regard for the facts.

I never wanted to write this kind of post; I never imagined that I’d be obliged to do so. Even with all I know now, I regard it as an unwelcome, unpleasant chore. Yet I see too clearly that Chris’ scheming lies depend upon “confidential” whispers in quiet corners. If I remained silent, I would be protecting his deceptions from well-deserved and long-overdue exposure. He could then circulate even more unjust lies about me, as well as about people I admire and respect, to even more people — with impunity. My silence would allow Chris to trash my reputation, even while pretending to be above reproach himself. That would be intolerable. Since I do not know the extent of Chris’s lies about me, my only effective defense is public disclosure of the facts known to me.

To prove my case, I must quote from private e-mails between Chris and myself — and I do so without hesitation. Chris conducts dishonest whispering campaigns against unsuspecting people via private communications. He hides his unjust lies from public scrutiny by demanding confidentiality from his listeners — often while violating the very confidentiality promised to the person he’s smearing with those lies. Chris Sciabarra does not use confidentiality to shield honest and frank discussions between friends, but as a sword with which to stab good people in the back. That kind of confidence is not to be respected — however much Chris will protest my supposed betrayal of him with this post.

This post, despite its great length, does not exhaustively document all the evidence I’ve amassed against Chris, merely that which I regard as essential. It establishes beyond any reasonable doubt Chris’ dishonesty about those associated with ARI and manipulation of those associated with him. Lindsay Perigo will have his own comments about the lies Chris spreads about him, all of which I’ve personally verified against public discussions and private e-mails.

Before I present the evidence, I would like to offer to clear the air of Chris Sciabarra’s numerous lies, many of which are probably still unknown to me. I will answer any polite e-mail inquiries about the veracity of Chris’ claims about me. I will set the record straight, documenting the facts whenever possible. As for Chris’ claims about various ARI scholars, I’d be happy to say what I do know — and in some cases, to inquire further. To respond fairly, I must see exact quotes from Chris’ e-mails, in context and dated. To prevent the further spread of unjust lies, please e-mail those quotes to me privately rather than posting them as comments. (“The person who repeats an insult is the person who insults me.”) Also, since I would very much like to know the reach and substance of Chris’ whispers, I’d appreciate forwards even from those who now entirely disbelieve Chris’ claims. (Absent contrary instructions, I will presume that I may post quotes from Chris without naming the source, so that I can set the record straight in public if necessary.)

So let me begin with Chris’ private smears of ARI scholars. But first, let me I warn you, this post is long.

Over the course of our friendship, particularly around the time of my February 2004 disassociation from The Objectivist Center, Chris Sciabarra told me various unseemly stories about scholars affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute scholars (i.e. writers, speakers, and teachers, henceforth “ARI scholars”). For example, in the course of our December 2002 discussion of TOC’s failure to support students and scholars, Chris wrote:

And more importantly, ARI now has lots of money that it bestows on scholars—who suck up to them, and who refuse to do business with the outside world for fear of losing proprietary interest. I am in discussions with SEVERAL ARI scholars who might contribute to JARS at some point, and who are PETRIFIED of being cut off. There has to be another way to promote Rand scholarship without making prostitutes of scholars (December 13th, 2002).

A year-and-some later, Chris claimed that “a number of ARI-affiliated scholars are now ~talking~ to me about potential contributions to the journal” (April 8th, 2004). (Just to be clear on the timeline, Chris cannot be referring to Andy Bernstein’s brief reply to a review of his Cliffs Notes in either of these comments, since that was published earlier, in the Spring 2002 issue of JARS.)

So according to Chris, ARI scholars are dependent cowards who sell their integrity for the money bestowed upon them by ARI, and probably also for access to the Archives. They are intellectual “prostitutes.” That’s why they refuse to publish in his journal — at least so far.

Just upon small acquaintance with the work and character of ARI scholars, I realized the absurdity and injustice of these grave moral accusations. Certainly, some scholars receive grants from ARI to write books, teach classes, conduct seminars, and the like — but that’s no reason whatsoever to doubt their integrity. Moreover, none that I know “suck up” to ARI, nor “refuse to do business with the outside world,” nor cave to pressure “for fear of losing proprietary interest.” In fact, I’ve seen no evidence whatsoever that ARI exerts any such pressure at all. From all that I’ve seen, significant disagreements are resolved by rational argument over time — with all people free to exercise their right of disassociation.

Certainly, Chris never presented me with any concrete evidence that ARI scholars are cowardly slaves to the purse-strings of ARI — nor do I think he has such evidence. Yet he broadly indicts dozens of ARI-affiliated scholars. I recently confirmed that his only story about a particular scholar, told repeatedly to me, consisted almost entirely of baseless distortions and outright fabrications. And obviously, despite his claim that multiple ARI scholars were talking to him about “potential contributions” to JARS, nothing whatsoever has materialized in the two years since, nor do I think anything ever will.

When making these blanket accusations of cowardice, Chris was well-aware of the serious complaints about his work on the grounds of poor scholarship from various ARI scholars. For example, Robert Mayhew objected to the poor scholarship of Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand in a short 1999 review, as did Robert Tracinksi in his short note in the December 1998 issue of The Intellectual Activist. Chris posted summaries of both of these reviews on his web site — and even wrote replies to them. Similarly, John Ridpath wrote a strongly negative review of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical in 1996, again noted by Chris. More generally, I’ve certainly heard ARI scholars express grave reservations about the poor scholarly standards of JARS and Chris’ other works on Ayn Rand. Of course, not every article in JARS is an embarrassment, but many are — and others merely aspire to mediocrity. Such mixed quality is the natural outcome of Chris’ explicit commitment to allowing people to say whatever they please in the journal, even at the price of basic scholarly standards like accuracy, fairness, and civility. On a deeper level, it’s the only possible outcome of his explicitly subjectivist approach to the interpretation of Objectivism. In contrast, the explicit commitment of ARI scholars to high quality scholarship on Objectivism yields anthologies like Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living and Essays on Ayn Rand’s Anthem with consistently good to great essays. As far as I can see, such ARI scholars have nothing to gain by publishing in a journal with poor editorial standards — and so they don’t.

Undoubtedly, Chris ought to accurately report the reasons why ARI-affiliated scholars do not publish in JARS — or say nothing at all. To instead falsely impugn the moral character of these scholars — many of whom he does not even know — is a grave injustice. It’s also another good reason for them to refuse to associate with Chris in any way, shape, or form.

Chris offered further unjust criticisms of “ARI people” in an April 2004 e-mail to me. In the course of raising worries about our friendship in light of my increasingly friendly relations with some few ARI supporters, he wrote:

I do think that you are going to be pressured to distance yourself from me…

I’m not saying you are going to have to “choose” — because, unlike these ARI people, ~I~ actually ~do~ live by what I preach: that it is possible to interface with many different people coming from many different intellectual traditions. ~I~ will ~never~ ask you to choose, because I don’t believe that one needs to ghetto-ize oneself.

But it is clear to me that the ARIans don’t believe this; they won’t even interface with people who ~might~ be considered “fellow travelers” (let alone Marxists or, uh, dialecticians). They will demand a choice from you; ~if~ you decide that the status of “heretic” does not require a choice from you, great. But if you want to be even closer to them, a choice will be demanded of you that will compel you to forfeit your heretic status—and, I fear, your relationship with me. (April 15th, 2004)

I won’t dignify the accusation that “ARI people” fail to live up to their ideals with a reply, particularly given that no principle of Objectivism mandates interaction with anyone. More importantly, Chris grossly misrepresents the facts in claiming that unnamed “ARIians… won’t even interface with people who ~might~ be considered ‘fellow travelers’.” That’s flat wrong, as the past programs of the Ayn Rand Society readily show. And Chris knows that — as well as countless other examples of friendly scholarly interaction, including the ever-growing list of mainstream academic publications by ARI scholars. In my acquaintance with various ARI scholars, I’ve only seen individuals exercise their own judgment about their scholarly contacts — based upon ordinary considerations like prior acquaintance, mutual interests, depth of knowledge, intellectual honesty, and moral character. Certainly, that’s my approach — and that why I’m on friendly terms with some anarchist libertarians, but not some ARI Objectivists. To be selective in one’s scholarly exchanges is to exercise good judgment, not “to ghetto-ize oneself.” And if Chris fails to meet others’ standards, that’s his problem.

As for the claim in the above e-mail that I would pressured by “ARI people” to sacrifice my relationship with Chris, I’ll address that point later. (I wanted to keep the comments about those “ARI people” in context.) Still, I may as well mention, for the record, that I’ve never been pressured by anyone associated with ARI to do or say anything about Chris Sciabarra — ever. And anyone who suspects that I might cave to such pressure doesn’t know me at all.

Notably, Chris did not merely unjustly smear ARI scholars, he also actively sought their sanction, inventing it when not forthcoming. In a May 2004 e-mail to me, he wrote:

…I have always prided myself on the fact that even my ~critics~, left or right, have praised the ~careful~ quality of my scholarship (even Jim Lennox couldn’t deny ~that~, for the most part). … [Various "ARIans"] have asked follow-up questions about my historical research for their own research projects. These are things I don’t discuss in public, out of respect for the privacy of the people who have written to me (and I tell you all of this, confidentially). These people may disagree fundamentally with my theses, but that disagreement is not borne of disrespect for ~me~ (May 4th, 2004).

In fact, strong criticisms of Chris’ shoddy scholarship are common in both ARI and TOC circles, particularly regarding his arbitrary speculations in The Russian Radical. In particular, Jim Lennox’s devastatingly negative review of The Russian Radical contained nothing like praise for “the ~careful~ quality of [Chris'] scholarship” — only a few sentences about “exhaustively referenced” source material. However, good scholarship demands far more than wide acquaintance with and proper citation of relevant sources. The essence of good scholarship is deep understanding of the material, well-justified interpretations of texts, and conclusions solidly grounded in facts. The basic focus of Dr. Lennox’s review is the failure of The Russian Radical on those substantive points of good scholarship. Furthermore, asking polite “follow-up questions about… historical research” doesn’t necessarily imply respect for the scholar in question: such questions might seek to determine the strength of the evidence supporting a dubious claim, for example.

As for any ARI scholars who’ve conversed with Chris in a friendly way, I certainly don’t think that wrong. Still, I suspect they would not have done so if they knew of Chris’ habit of touting of that private correspondence as a sanction of his scholarship and character even while smearing them.

Finally, Chris sent to me this comment in an April 2004 e-mail in the course of our discussions about whether ARI would pressure me to disassociate myself from him:

BTW, just between us: I get regular mail from ARIans. None of them has been willing to say, publicly, that they correspond with me. … Interestingly, here is one email I got from somebody seeking to work at ARI (I’ve been very shy about releasing names… and the more I think about it, the less inclined I am to release them… I just feel a little “unclean” doing that, when I do pledge confidence):

===[begin quoted text by Chris' correspondent]
I have not read your book on AR yet, although as I am sure you have intuited I might have problems accepting the basic thesis. But your article on music won me over to your person, anyway. You’re not so bad! The trouble is I tend to agree with ARI on most things, and one day I hope to work there. So I hope they don’t notice that I dealt with you. That’ll kill my one way of ever getting the job.
===[end quoted text by Chris' correspondent]

So, clearly, different people have different ways of interpreting how ARI might or might not react to people connected to me. Remember that at one time they actually threatened a Canadian college group that if they published an interview of me in their campus newspaper, they would stop sending them funds. And that group pulled the interview to continue receiving ARI money.

Anyway, these stories: I got a million of em. (April 15th, 2004)

Unfortunately, I accepted these claims as-is, merely saying, “Ah, yes cowardice. I am familiar with that vice. :-/” Chris agreed with that assessment, saying “It’s not the worst of vices, I suppose, but it does make me wonder just how much ~worse~ it is that they talk about me in ~private~. Hehe” (April 16th, 2004).

This example is quite unusual in one respect: Chris forwarded me the actual text of the relevant e-mail. Most of the time, if not all but this once, he merely summarized the supposed correspondence — often inventing, distorting, and exaggerating in the process, I’ve discovered. In retrospect, the fact that Chris’ only qualms about passing on this correspondence to me concerned “releasing names,” the absence of similar quotes from the ARI scholars discussed in his other e-mails is quite telling. From what I’ve seen (and not seen), he has no such damning e-mails to quote. Also, Chris did mention particular names to me on occasion, so even that wasn’t a genuine concern for him.

In this case, Chris could safely take advantage of the poor judgment of this correspondent, probably some mostly-clueless undergraduate. Of course, the ill-informed opinion of such a person says nothing about the facts about ARI’s response to friendly association with Chris. That’s why Chris speaks in purely subjectivist terms of “different ways of interpreting how ARI might or might not react to people connected to me.” As for supposed incident with the “Canadian college group,” I know nothing of the particulars. However, as a matter of principle, ARI should not fund campus clubs committed to promoting its detractors (or their “dialectical” interpretations of Objectivism). To do so would be sanction of the victim. (As Paul noted, Planned Parenthood similarly should withdraw its funds from a supposedly pro-choice campus group publishing interviews with people damaging to their cause, such as opponents of legal abortion or advocates of infanticide.)

Chris’ e-mails on these topics do exhibit a certain devious pattern. He often omits the names of the ARI scholar(s) under discussion, usually claiming worries about the very confidentiality he’s violating. So anyone who believes his stories will look upon all ARI scholars with suspicion, not knowing the identity of the person(s) guilty of the alleged moral crimes. By not naming names, Chris also prevents his listeners from checking the facts for themselves. Not knowing the identity of the accused, they cannot make proper inquiries, nor alert the accused to the story. Moreover, even when Chris does name names, he suggests that the person in question was just one example of a larger pattern. In such cases, he also forbids investigation of the facts by binding his listeners to the very confidentiality he’s just broken.

Chris concealed many of his dishonest smears of ARI scholars from public exposure for years by such methods. In general, he presents a public image wholly inconsistent with his private actions. In NoodleFood comment, Chris claimed “you will never find, in my work, a vicious ~personal~ attack on ~anybody~ in the orthodoxy” (April 26th, 2004). That may well be true of his published writings, but that discretion only makes his vicious personal attacks of those same people in private all the worse, since whispered lies cannot be publicly refuted. In short, the public appearance of Chris Sciabarra bears little relationship to the private reality.

Moreover, as we’ve already seen, many of Chris’ stories about ARI scholars seek to give a false impression of endorsement of him and his work. Perhaps the most striking example of that unjust appropriation of sanction was done in public, by thanking “Leonard Peikoff… and the Estate of Ayn Rand for timely correspondence on several issues of historical and legal significance to the current project” in the acknowledgements of The Russian Radical (xi). (To be clear, the Estate wholly separate from ARI.) When I asked Leonard Peikoff about this matter, he said that his only reply to Chris Sciabarra’s inquiry consisted of a terse letter saying that he does not cooperate with biographers of Ayn Rand unknown to him due to unpleasant past experiences. Obviously, “No, I won’t help you,” doesn’t constitute “timely correspondence on several issues of historical and legal significance” by any stretch of the imagination. Dr. Peikoff resents the implication that he endorsed The Russian Radical in any way — and rightly so.

Amazingly enough, Chris attempted to conceal this lie with more (and contradictory) lies. John Ridpath’s January 1996 review of The Russian Radical in The Intellectual Activist is followed by a note that “The claim made by promoters of this book that it benefited from ‘cooperation’ by Leonard Peikoff is false: his correspondence with the author consisted of a single short, polite, dismissive letter” (21). (I’m not entirely sure of the source of the “cooperation” claim, but it’s probably this review for Laissez Faire Books in which Jim Powell says: “While doing research, Sciabarra got cooperation from both [Leonard Peikoff and David Kelley]–proof, if you need it, that he developed important findings which transcended differences among Objectivists.”) In an article entitled “Investigation: The Search for Ayn Rand’s Russian Roots” published in the October 1999 issue of Liberty, Chris replied to the comment in TIA:

Contrary to the public assertions of John Ridpath (Intellectual Activist, January 1996), that Peikoff’s response was ‘dismissive,’ I received what I believed to be a promise from the Estate. Peikoff explained that the Estate was compiling Rand’s biographical data and that if anything relevant turned up with regard to the Lossky-Rand connection, he would notify me. Hardly dismissive. I remained hopeful.

Not only is that yet another fabrication, but “No, I can’t help you now but maybe later” still wouldn’t constitute “timely correspondence on several issues of historical and legal significance”! Given the seriousness of the accusation, it’s telling that Chris has never produced the correspondence that would so easily prove his claim. Since this lie was so public, I’m not surprised that I’ve heard it cited by ARI scholars as yet another good reason to scrupulously avoid any and all contact with Chris Sciabarra.

If Chris Sciabarra would lie about such matters in his published works, I do not think that any of his work can be trusted, including his purely historical research on Ayn Rand.

Once I confirmed Chris’ unjust and dishonest smears of various ARI scholars, I expected him to lie about me too. Yet that particular discovery caught me off-guard — and sent me reeling. To understand why, I need to explain a bit about my seemingly civil parting of ways with Chris. This history will also substantiate my claim that Chris exerted great pressure upon me to defend his work on faith.

In April 2004, just a few months after my disassociation from TOC, I considered my friendship with Chris Sciabarra be beyond doubt. Yet Chris repeatedly raised questions about my regard for him.

That April, ARI student “Noumenal Self” (NS) wrote a a lengthy blog post positively commenting upon my departure from TOC. At the end, he said, “maybe soon she’ll turn a similar critical eye to the works of a certain NYU-based dialectical scholar she continues to regard as a friend.” After I merely thanked him for that post, Chris wrote me a long, worried e-mail. He began, “Please forgive my insecurities… but I am a terribly honest person—and I prefer to get things off my chest ~immediately~ rather than have them fester inside” (April 15th, 2005). He then detailed his worries (already quoted above) that I would be “pressured to distance [myself] from [him]” by ARI (April 15th, 2005). He closed by saying, “so you’ll forgive me if I am suddenly lacking confidence about the choices you may end up making” (April 15th, 2005).

Even today, I regard Noumenal Self’s comment as an (innocently) inappropriate remark. Still, in retrospect, I’m struck by the fact that he did not pressure me to abandon Chris as a friend, but only encouraged me to critically examine Chris’ work. Yet even that was deeply worrisome to Chris, probably because he feared the likely results of any such examination. However, I didn’t notice that at the time. I replied to Chris immediately, reassuring him that I’d “forgotten all about [Noumenal Self's] swipe at you,” and apologized for the oversight, saying “surely my lack of response [on that point] gave you reason to worry!” (April 15th, 2004). I then said:

The idea that my friendship with you should be up for grabs is completely absurd. In fact, it’s quite offensive. You have been a stellar friend over the past year, particularly as regards my unhappiness with TOC. I really ought to blog something on that, because it’s important for people on all sides to know that my personal relationships are not a function of philosophic agreement.

Of course, if someone reveals themselves to be dishonest, that’s another matter. And some people’s responses to my departure from TOC have solidified my impressions of them as unserious about Objectivism, e.g. [name omitted]. Such lack of seriousness is not necessarily dishonest, although I do then quickly lose interest in philosophical debate and discussion. But I’ve never seen anything like that from you… and certainly don’t expect to ever do so! (April 15th, 2004)

I also told Chris that “other than the swipe by [Noumenal Self], I have not been subjected to any pressure to distance myself from you” (April 15th, 2004). I noted that all I’d heard from my one ARI correspondent was that I was under no obligation to break off old friendships absent some evidence of immorality (April 15th, 2004).

In response, Chris explicitly assured me of his honesty, saying “Well, wipe that [question of dishonesty] out of your mind. With me: what you see is what you get. No hidden meanings, no hidden motives. It’s out there for all to see” (April 15th, 2004). (Oh, the irony!) A few days later, I strongly defended my friendship with Chris Sciabarra (and Robert Campbell) in my Friends and Philosophy blog post.

In this flurry of correspondence, I was perfectly up-front with Chris about my new hesitancy about publishing in JARS — and my reasons for doing so. I mentioned that my ARI correspondent “raised some interesting questions about the legitimacy and long-run effectiveness of your strategy of friendly engagement with academia. I’ll want to think about that some more before I decide to publish in JARS” (April 15th, 2004). (To be clear, I wasn’t suspicious of all “friendly engagement with academia,” but only with Chris’ promiscuous, indiscriminate variety thereof. Also, at this time, I didn’t think that his strategy was necessarily wrong, but merely that I wished to follow a different path.) I was also substantially worried by Chris’ comment in a phone conversation that he willingly published at least one attempted defense of Objectivism in JARS that he knew substantially misrepresented Ayn Rand’s ideas and methods. (Such false defenses of Objectivism turn the philosophy into an easily-dismissed strawman.) Although we discussed the question of effective cultural change for a few e-mails thereafter, Chris didn’t seem too concerned about my reluctance to publish in his journal.

Chris was also well-aware of my increasingly negative views of Nathaniel Branden. In late January, when I retired as Nathaniel Branden’s webmaster, Chris asked me: “Is this a decision independent of pressures you’ve been receiving from ARI-affiliated individuals?” (January 31st, 2004). Without challenging the loaded question (unfortunately), I told Chris that I’d been meaning to step down for about a year, that Branden was a difficult client in various respects, that I wasn’t “much of a fan of [his] work,” and that I had “qualms about his moral character” based upon conversations with a trustworthy TOC supporter (January 31st, 2004). As for the last, I said: “I’m particularly concerned about his apparent capacity to put on a good facade, his love of idiotic worshipful admirers, his failure to take adequate responsibility for his very damaging exercise of power during the NBI days, and so on. I don’t think him to be the devil incarnate, but I do suspect that his character is basically mixed.” (January 31st, 2004). In response, Chris defended his earlier work as “essential” but criticized his later work as having “a lot more re-treading and some questionable propositions” (February 1st, 2004). Chris praised Branden’s courage for revealing so many of his own failings in Judgment Day, as well as noted his personal appreciation for “the level of… compassion and empathy” Branden showed him “in an up-close and personal way” (February 1st, 2004). In short, Chris only defended Nathaniel Branden as intellectually and morally mixed.

On April 28th, I wrote him about Nathaniel’s essay “Who is an Objectivist?“. (Chris posted that essay to the NoodleFood comments under Nathaniel’s name at Nathaniel’s request.) I said:

I must say, it is a dumb article. The arguments (or really, random unsupported opinions) are way below the intellectual level at which the discussion must and usually does operate. It’s quite embarrassing to him, I think. In any case, I’m glad you posted it, since it is relevant (April 28th, 2004).

Chris merely said, “I thought it very relevant, regardless” in reply (April 28th, 2004). When I spoke to Chris over the phone sometime after re-reading Nathaniel’s essay “The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand,” I told him flat-out that I thought Branden’s criticisms of Objectivism were not just wrong, but dishonest and inexcusable given his knowledge of the philosophy. Chris offered no counter-argument or defense of Branden; he did not even openly disagree with me. He merely spoke of his personal debt to Nathaniel — as if that overrode all other concerns. That was a big warning flag for me, as was Chris’ blatant advocacy of postmodernish subjectivism about the interpretation of Objectivism in the NoodleFood comments.

Around this time, I started feeling caught in the middle of a firefight between two warring camps. Yet in retrospect, my position with respect to each side was very different. The ARI scholar with whom I was corresponding did not urge me to disown honest friends, squelch discussion on NoodleFood, blindly agree with him, or anything of the sort. All he asked of me was serious consideration of the arguments he offered, when I had time to reconsider the relevant source material for myself. I was more than happy to do that. In contrast, Chris demanded blind loyalty from me, as the e-mails below will show. Although Chris claimed that I would be pressured by “ARI people” to distance myself from him, the only person exerting pressure upon me was Chris Sciabarra himself.

The major troubles began in late April 2004, when Chris e-mailed me to harshly condemn the “Mysterious Stranger” criticizing his work in the NoodleFood comments. He called that Mysterious Stranger a “son of a bitch,” speculated about his identity, and finally asserted “the fact that he’s not willing to publicly tell us who he is only proves what a coward he is” (April 26th, 2005). When Chris pressed me for a response to these venomous comments, I said:

Well, I must admit to being at something of a loss about what to say. Since I know and respect the “Mysterious Stranger,” including his/her good reasons for remaining anonymous, I really didn’t want to get into the middle of anything so personal, nor reveal his/her identity. I’m trying to stay focused on the philosophical firefight… and keep my friendships safe and away from the front lines. That’s not always easy, unfortunately. (April 28th, 2004).

In reply, Chris offered some more substantive objections to the comments of the “Mysterious Stranger,” as well as his reasons for his angry remarks. He said that, “I respect your critical distance from all this [i.e. the debates about The Russian Radical" (April 28th, 2004). He explained that he was "just venting": "I just wanted to convey to you, as a friend, that I'm ~disgusted~ with that approach to my work" (April 28th, 2004). Still, he reassured me, "I appreciate your wanting to remain neutral, and don't expect you to take sides" (April 28th, 2004). (In fact, I didn't want "to remain neutral"; I wanted the time to properly judge the philosophic issues for myself, separate from questions of friendship.) A few days later, Chris apologized for his earlier "lack of civility" (May 2nd, 2004). He also said, "Our ~friendship~ means more to me than the intellectual matters that may unite us----or divide us. That doesn't mean, however, that intellectual matters don't have implications for the character of our friendship, and so, I'll send you further comments on the things that have been on my mind for the last week" (May 2nd, 2004).

Those further comments, sent two days later, were less than welcome. (They were also quite lengthy: almost 1500 words. I'll just quote the most critical portions.) Chris began by saying that he was "uneasy" about our prior exchange about the "Mysterious Stranger" (or MS) (May 4th, 2004). He then explained:

You claim to "know and respect" MS. But the attack that MS made on my work was no mere disagreement with this or that ~aspect~ of RUSSIAN RADICAL, or even a larger articulated disagreement with my historiographical or philosophical approach. It was a wholesale ~dismissal~ of me and my approach as ~trash~. He/she said, in effect, that nobody should take any of it seriously.

...The fact that your blog became a forum for MS's dismissals, however, and that you have expressed knowledge of and respect for MS, has given me pause. ... I'm starting to wonder... if your knowledge and respect for MS has translated into a similar ~disrespect~ for my work, wholesale. ... I don't know if you can remotely imagine my disappointment if I were to discover that you too disrespect my ~scholarship~, or that you now regard my work, and therefore ~me~, as a "crackpot" like "Madame Cleo."

I take very seriously the Objectivist view of productive work as central to one's life. In many respects, my work ~is~ my life. I can handle ~any~ kind of spirited disagreement with my work; but I cannot "sanction" the viewpoint that my work, as such, is "beyond the pale." ...I stand by the integrity of my work and the integrity of my conclusions. And those who would indict that ~integrity~ indict ~me~ as a "scholar" and as an "historian," and thereby indict my character as a person. Understand: Disagreement is ~not~ the issue. It's got to do with an evaluation of ~me~ that, in essence, charges me with intellectual charlatanism, intellectual ~dishonesty~ (as in "leaping to favored conclusions in defiance of the need for evidence: i.e. an epistemology of arbitrary assertions").

Now, of course, ~you~ are not the person making the charge. ~You~ are my friend, not Mysterious Stranger. Still: Your regard for MS leads me to wonder about your feelings concerning me and my work. ... I hate speculating about this---and I don't wish to disrespect ~you~ by doing so ... but I needed to just let you know that I'm in a no-man's-land right now, concerning this issue.

Disagreement does not pain me, Diana. Doubting that you value me ... does. (May 4th, 2004)

When writing this e-mail, Chris was well-aware that I was in no position to judge his work on its merits -- for good or for ill. He knew that I wished to re-read The Russian Radical, but that I hadn't yet done so, since I was overwhelmed with other concerns. In fact, just a few days before, I explicitly told him, "I'm sure that we'll have much to talk about when I get around to re-reading RR!" (April 29th, 2004). (I'd actually not read all of The Russian Radical originally, just about half of it.) Despite all that, Chris suggests that I might already regard his work as dishonest trash. Why? Only because I'd informed him of my general respect for a person who expressed that opinion in the NoodleFood comments.

Chris' whole line of reasoning is well beyond bizarre. Obviously scholars and works must be judged based upon actual merits or lack thereof, not supposed personal loyalties to "Mysterious Strangers" or anyone else. The latter method of evaluation would be so non-objective -- and so thoroughly unjust -- that to even suggest it as a possibility is offensive.

Yet Chris does reveal himself in that suggestion. He explicitly equates himself with his work: the "integrity of [his] conclusions” is his “character as a person” — that’s why any strong criticism of his work (e.g. the “arbitrariness” charge) is an indictment of him as a person. Fundamental but honest mistakes are not an option — that’s why he’s wholly unconcerned with my first-hand assessment of The Russian Radical — or lack thereof. Chris never mentions my need to re-read it because he regards such as unnecessary. He expects me to endorse and defend his work simply on the basis of my personal regard for him. If I do not, then I’m betraying him — even though I publicly defended my friendship with him in the strongest possible terms just a few weeks earlier. So while Chris might say that “disagreement doesn’t pain me,” clearly friendship with him requires substantial endorsement of his work on Objectivism.

Amazingly, Chris publicly expressed the very opposite sentiments in a NoodleFood comment just a few days before. (I only discovered this discrepancy a few days ago.) In those comments, Chris wrote:

And you will never find, in my work, a vicious ~personal~ attack on ~anybody~ in the orthodoxy. I just come from a very different school of thought, where criticism of a person’s ~ideas~ do not ~necessarily~ translate into criticism of a ~person~. (Usually, we don’t have enough knowledge to even make those logical jumps…) People can be mistaken. Not everyone we disagree with is dishonest and corrupt.

I admit when I’ve been unclear, and even when I’ve been mistaken. And through the criticisms that have been hurled my way, I think I’ve immeasurably clarified my own positions, my own thoughts, on subjects dear to my heart, like dialectics. I’m not ~afraid~ of critics.

In public, Chris claimed that he evaluates people separately from their ideas due to the possibility of honest error. In private, Chris demanded that I blindly defend his work as an expression of loyalty to him as a person. In public, Chris claimed to welcome criticisms, even those “hurled” at him. In private, Chris is furious about the Mysterious Stranger’s criticisms of his work posted to the NoodleFood comments. Once again, Chris’ public persona does not match his private actions.

As an aside, Chris’ bizarre worries in this e-mail to me do make some sense in retrospect, but only as a form of projection from his own psychology. They reflect his choice to elevate personal loyalty to Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden above all the well-established facts about their vile misdeeds. That emphasis on personal loyalty is evident in Chris’ comments to me about his personal debt to Nathaniel Branden (mentioned earlier), his lies about Linz Perigo to protect Barbara Branden, his context-dropping review of The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, and his recent attacks upon me (discussed later).

In short, contrary to his earlier assurances, Chris did ask me take sides in the substantive debates about The Russian Radical — on blind faith. At the time, I didn’t clearly see Chris’ dirty tricks for what they were. Yet I was wholly unwilling to endorse his work based upon our friendship alone. That wasn’t even an option for me.

Chris and I spoke on the phone about this e-mail, so I have no record of what was said. Although I don’t clearly recall the particulars of that conversation, I expect I told him my general view at the time, namely that his worries were groundless, since I would not judge his work one way or the other until I examined it myself. He could not have been satisfied by that.

Although that phone call was friendly, Chris and I didn’t correspond again until August 2005 — over a year later. That was a welcome respite, since I was weary of his demands of me. Moreover, by about June 2004, I’d grown thoroughly skeptical of all the nasty stories about ARI I’d heard over the years — including those Chris told me. I knew first-hand that my experiences with ARI (including its staff, scholars, and supporters) bore little resemblance to those “reports” — and that I should ignore all I’d heard so as to judge properly for myself. While I had no conclusive proof that Chris intentionally deceived me, I strongly suspected so. His stories were just too thoroughly wrong to be honest misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Also, although I didn’t re-read The Russian Radical, I read some of Chris’ internet writings and reflected upon our personal communications. That made clear enough his explicit embrace of subjectivism, indulgence in arbitrary speculation, and toleration of moral evils. After much thought, I also realized the great danger of his lax standards of scholarship, particularly in his editing of JARS. At that point, our friendship was effectively over, even if not yet officially so. Still, I had no ironclad proof of his dishonesty with me, so I felt some gratitude to the help he’d offered me in the past.

My views on proper standards of scholarship on Objectivism were so thoroughly changed by mid-2005 that I decided I very much needed to publicly distance myself from my essay in Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand. So in late July 2005, I posted Poisoning the Well. Toward the end of that post, I considered the general problem of pseudo-scholarship on Objectivism, mentioning my own Feminist Interpretations essay as an example. In the post, I deliberately avoided any reference to Chris Sciabarra: I didn’t wish to stab him in the back for the very help he’d offered me with that essay, nor open any debate with him. I also suggested that some producers of “pseudo-scholarship” might be in over their heads, as I was. I wrote:

Unfortunately, the philosophic style of this article [discussed above] is not an anomaly. Too much published on Ayn Rand in recent years has all the illusion of scholarly inquiry without any of its substance. It is pseudo-scholarship: it substitutes superficial understanding, invented controversy, and detached cynicism for the clarity, depth, and care of good study. (Certainly, my own essay in the Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand anthology betrays far too much of that kind of pseudo-scholarship. Given my skewed standards at the time, the fact that I very much wanted to write a fine essay had little bearing upon the quality of the work I produced.)

The serious study of Ayn Rand’s work — in and out of academia — is only in its nascent stages. If stillborn, our culture is doomed. (So the stakes are high, to say the least!) Whether Ayn Rand’s ideas take hold in academia and the wider culture or not will largely will largely depend upon the work produced in the next few decades. That work will consist of a relatively small number of influential publications produced by a relatively small number of scholars and intellectuals. So at this point, and for many years to come, even a few pseudo-scholars pose a grave danger, as do those who tolerate them. After all, today’s intellectuals would love nothing more than to be able to dismiss Objectivism by means of strawmen erected by its supposed defenders. (Oh, what a sad time that would be!) Such is why promoting the highest standards of objectivity in scholarship on Ayn Rand and Objectivism is not just important, but of particular pressing importance at present. It’s not just some academic game: it’s literally life and death.

I was as gentle as I could be, while still saying what I needed to say about Objectivist scholarship in general and my own work in particular.

Shortly thereafter, in early August 2005, Chris wrote me a lengthy e-mail (over 1000 words) asking where we stood. He began by expressing a hope that a note from him wouldn’t “be met with shock and horror” (August 10th, 2005). (That’s more than a bit melodramatic!) He suggested that my good relations with various libertarians might mean I’d “still be friendly toward [him]“; he quoted some text from my Friends and Philosophy post; and he observed that I’d dropped his “Notablog” from my blogroll (August 10th, 2005). He then said: “So, I’m not quite sure ‘where we stand’” (August 10th, 2005). He explained that, although we were still friends when we last spoke in May 2004, he’d decided to let me go my own way for my own sake. I’ve decided to quote a substantial portion of those comments, so as to make clear the substantial affection Chris still claimed to have for me, despite our great differences.

I’ve never been into making “public” statements to counter those who have sought to eviscerate me over such things as my stance on the war in Iraq or Ayn Rand’s intellectual beginnings. For deeply personal reasons, I have opted out of those kinds of venomous exchanges. I just can’t bring myself to become a part of that kind of Internet culture, and I am far more apt to work out differences privately than I am publicly. Indeed, I have refrained from ever commenting on anything you’ve written, and, out of respect for the friendship we had (have?), I’ve not criticized you publicly–believing that every person needs to find their own way.

You might describe my philosophy over this last year or so as: “If you love somebody, set them free…” Perhaps “love” might be a little strong… but I’m half-Sicilian and half-Greek, so you’ll forgive me.

I just didn’t want to become an obstacle to your own intellectual adventure, and reasoned that it would be best to leave you alone, to adopt a “laissez-faire” attitude and to set you free from any constant engagement by me over this or that issue, or your evaluations of various people whom I still consider friends (Robert, the Brandens, etc.). Indeed, if I stopped corresponding with people who were not on speaking terms with one another, I’d soon find myself speaking to … myself. …

I still remember, with fondness, the conversations we had over the years, and while you’ve flown the coop, and have chosen not to write to your “Mother” again… I’m still proud to have been a part of your upbringing: to have facilitated the publication of your first professionally published article, to have provided you with references and/or recommendations, to have been there for you when you were going through tough times.

I can’t deny that I’m deeply disappointed by some of the stances you’ve taken; I can’t deny that I’m not hurt, on some level, by your dismissal of your own work under my gentle editorial guidance, as “pseudo-scholarship.” But I try not to take it personally, and I readily accept the principles you enunciated in “Friends and Philosophy.”

I may not be an “Objectivist” (call me a “Randian” or a “post-Randian” or just Chris), and I don’t wish to presume for a moment that you still have any fondness toward me. But I am curious how you feel.

I ask only because I do see that discussions of “Sciabarra” have been augmented at Noodlefood… but that you’ve not said anything one way or the other. And that’s okay. You’re not obliged to say anything publicly.

That’s why this is a ~personal and confidential~ email to you, not a public statement. However you feel toward me, please know that in my heart, I will always wish you well (August 10th, 2005).

Chris then closed with, “All my best, ~always~…” (August 10th, 2005).

When I received this e-mail, I had very strong doubts about Chris’ good character, particularly his honesty with me. However, I had no conclusive proof of deception, mostly just “stomach feelings” combined with the knowledge that his many misrepresentations were so very unlikely to be all innocent mistakes. Absent that definitive proof of deception, Chris’ recollections of past friendship and expressions of present goodwill effectively aroused feelings of gratitude and loyalty in me. Still, I clearly knew that I wished nothing further to do with him. So a few days later, I replied:

I am glad that you wrote me, as you have every reason to wonder where you stand with me these days.

I bear you no ill will. In fact, I’m still very grateful for all the support and encouragement you offered me in years past. (I’m not happy with some of the results, particularly my FIOAR essay, but that’s a separate matter.) You really helped me through some tough times.

However, I don’t think that we have much common ground these days. I strongly disagree with your approach to Objectivist scholarship, particularly your embrace of subjectivism in interpretation and your tolerance for incompetent if not dishonest criticisms. (That’s obviously my characterization, not yours.) I regard that as deeply destructive of the philosophy at the core of my life and career. For your part, you strongly disagree with many of the positions that I’ve taken, including concerning friends of yours. With such large obstacles, I see no possibility of productive friendship between us.

Just so you know, I have no plans to blog anything negative about you or your work on NoodleFood. (I’ve already said all that I need to say about my own FIOAR essay.) Your past generosity toward me has earned you that consideration. (The same applies to both [former friend] and [former friend], with one small exception.)

As you’ve noticed, I do permit both criticisms and defenses of your work in the comments. I try to squash any nasty personal attacks, although I cannot guarantee to notice them all. (I was appalled by the recent “bedwetting” comment about [former friend]. If you ever get hate mail inspired by my blog comments instead [sic: again], let me know that I can say something horrible about the people who do it.) After this round of discussion dies out, I’ll probably by less tolerant of digressions from the topic at hand to your work.

I do request that you continue your current policy of not posting replies to criticisms in my comments. I don’t think that kind of debate is good for anyone, and your multitude of published writings can speak for themselves. Also I’m concerned that such a debate would require me to publicly note my strong objections to your work. Out of loyalty to our past friendship, I’d rather not do that (August 15th, 2005).

I closed by wishing Chris “the best of health” (August 15th, 2005).

Until this very post, I’ve scrupulously upheld my end of the bargain, even when it pained me to do so. For example, I very much wanted to say some choice words about Chris’ context-dropping review of Jim Valliant’s The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, but I held my tongue. I did recently state my reasons for not publishing in JARS in a recent post to a SoloPassion thread because Robert Campbell (the Associate Editor of JARS) seriously misrepresented the nature, timing, and reasons for my initial doubts about doing so. I needed to set the record straight — and so I did, as briefly as possible. Even in private discussions with friends, I said little about Chris Sciabarra or his work until I confirmed his systematic dishonesty with me just recently.

In retrospect, my promise to refrain from public criticism of Chris’ work was a mistake. He was not a genuine friend to me, so he warranted no special consideration. However, given what I knew at the time, I was caught in a lose-lose situation. Without conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, I certainly did not wish to imply anything untoward about the character of a man I once valued as a good friend. Yet Chris’ May 2004 e-mail, in which he questioned my regard for him based upon bizarre inferences from my respect for the critical “Mysterious Stranger,” clearly showed that he would take any serious criticism of his work as an assault upon his character. I did not wish to tiptoe around such sensibilities, only to be unjustly accused of personal betrayal. Still, I think I ought to have publicly commented upon Chris’ writings on Objectivism as I saw fit, then allowed the chips to fall as they may. I certainly ought not have promised Chris otherwise, as I did. Ultimately, even my stony silence wasn’t enough for Chris. Although I held to my promise, Chris bitterly complains that I betrayed and attacked him, as seen in the e-mail below. I suspect that Chris would have been satisfied by nothing less than public praise for The Russian Radical and the suppression of any criticism thereof in the NoodleFood comments. If I wouldn’t do that, I was of no value to him.

Only a few weeks ago did I confirm that Chris repeatedly lied to me while we were supposedly friends by portraying another person in an unwarranted and unjust light. That alone was enough to void my prior promise to him. Then, just a few days later, Joe Maurone kindly e-mailed me to inquire about the veracity of Chris’ recent comments to him about me. (Joe was already skeptical of the claims, but wished to hear my side.) After some discussion of the facts, he forwarded me the relevant sections of Chris’ April 2006 e-mail. Before I quote and discuss Chris’ comments about me, I need to set some context.

First, Joe Maurone and I had a bit of history unknown to me until I read the e-mail from Chris. In September 2004, I wrote a NoodleFood post mocking an essay that interpreted Objectivism through a Jungian lens. As far as I recall, I didn’t know that Joe was author of the article, nor that a companion essay was published in the Spring 2002 issue of JARS. In September 2005, Joe posted a clear statement disowning that work due to reading The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics. (As I told Joe, I now wish I’d said more of substance in my blog post.)

Second, Chris’ e-mail comments to Joe about me were largely in response to Joe’s moderate defense of me on SoloPassion. On April 4th, 2006 Joe posted this brief comment to a thread on TOC’s relationship with Barbara Branden: “I’ve noticed quite a few comments like Kenny’s [i.e. here] that seem to be setting up traps trying to trip up people like Diana and expose them as dogmatic personas…seems to be a shameful tactic coming from those who are supposed to be in favor of a tolerant exchange of ideas in a non-judgemental manner…”

Two days later, Chris wrote to Joe (in part):

Finally… I’m a bit puzzled by your apparent defense of Diana Hsieh.

Do you have any clue just how Diana has turned against me and everything I stand for? (I realize she once attacked you… but since you virtually disowned the essay for which you were attacked, I guess the slate is “clean” now…)

But this woman—to whom I was once a mentor (she called me “Mother”)—has turned on me; she attacks me, my journal, and regularly leaves her forum open for even more brutal attacks on me than the ones she herself has committed to writing. (She’s assured me that “out of respect for our past friendship”… she won’t rip me to pieces. Small consolation, that.) (April 6th, 2006).

Chris claims that I’ve attacked him and his work in writing, yet for all his venomous language, he does not cite a single example. That’s because he has none to cite. As already noted, I did not mention Chris or JARS in my blog entry on pseudo-scholarship, even though that was posted before my promise. More recently, I only applied those criticisms to JARS because Robert Campbell publicly misrepresented the facts. Even if I owed Chris a massive debt of gratitude, that would not oblige me to remain silent while his friends misrepresent my views. And even in that post, I still did not mention Chris, nor accuse him of any moral wrong. (When Robert Campbell recently accused me of the same kind of attacks, he argued that because I didn’t object to NoodleFood comments critical of Chris’ work, I must have approved of them. As I said in reply, that’s “nothing more than a pathetic and bizarre attempt to put someone else’s words in my mouth.” Somehow, I don’t suppose he thinks I also approved of the defenses of Chris’ work posted in those same NoodleFood comments because I failed to object to them.)

Despite the accusation of attacks, Chris seems to (sort of) acknowledge that I’ve adhered to my promise in the very next sentence. Yet in so doing, he misrepresents it (“she won’t rip me to pieces”) and denigrates it (“Small consolation, that”). Certainly, if Chris had ever told me that he thought of my onerous promise as “small consolation” for my supposed betrayal of him, I would have been happy to withdraw it.

As for the NoodleFood comments, I’ve seen critical and even snide comments about Chris’ work on occasion, but never any “brutal attacks on [Chris].” For example, Chris wrote me in December 2005 to complain about this comment by Fred Weiss. In the course of that brief exchange, Chris asked: “Aside from the fact that Weiss is engaging in smear tactics by claiming that I support ‘Hegelian Dialectics,’ is referring to my journal as the ‘Journal of Ayn Rand Sludge’ acceptable at Noodlefood?” (December 1st, 2005). I replied: “It’s not something that I would encourage, but I don’t regard it as anything more than a colorful expression of his judgment of JARS. That’s not on the same order as attacking you for being a homosexual or the like, as we discussed earlier” (December 1st, 2005). Neither Fred’s NoodleFood comment nor any others could be honestly described as a “brutal attack” upon Chris.

In short, Chris has no rational grounds upon which to accuse me of attacking him or his work — yet he does so anyway, behind my back.

In his e-mail to Joe, Chris continues:

But, all this aside: To defend Diana the way you do ( “I’ve noticed quite a few comments like Kenny’s that seem to be setting up traps trying to trip up people like Diana and expose them as dogmatic personas…seems to be a shameful tactic coming from those who are supposed to be in favor of a tolerant exchange of ideas in a non-judgemental manner…”) … let me tell you. She ~is~ a dogmatist. She wasn’t always a dogmatist, but she has become one. She rejects virtually ~all~ non-ARI scholarship and has become the veritable Comrade Sonia of Objectivism. (And for the record, she has even attacked homosexuality as “sub-optimal”… which is a polite way of saying “immoral” and “disgusting”… at least Ayn Rand was ~honest~ about it.) (April 6th, 2006).

Chris asserts that I’m “a dogmatist,” even “the veritable Comrade Sonia of Objectivism.” Calling me “Comrade Sonia” — equating me with the thuggish communist from We the Living — is too ridiculous for comment. The charges of dogmatism and dishonesty aren’t quite so shocking, but still wholly unsupportable. Since my departure from TOC, I’ve explained and defended the changes in my views on NoodleFood — with facts and arguments, not appeals to authority. And more recently, I’ve done the same in the rough and tumble of SoloPassion, even while my critics hide in less demanding forums like “Objectivist Living” and “Rebirth of Reason.” Since Chris has no actual evidence of my dogmatism, he flatly misrepresents my views on both scholarship and homosexuality to create the illusion of evidence. By doing so in private, he might have prevented me from correcting the record.

I certainly do not “reject… virtually ~all~ non-ARI scholarship” — and Chris has no basis for attributing such a view to me. I judge the quality of works on Objectivism (and all other topics) individually, not by institutional affiliation. Certainly, I have seen a much greater commitment to good scholarship from ARI and its affiliated scholars, both in thought and action. That’s why I’ve focused on reading those works, rather than JARS and the like. Of course, that pattern is not universal: I’ve seen some bad work from ARI scholars and some good work from non-ARI scholars. I’ve certainly been willing to praise non-ARI works when I think them of good quality — and I will continue to do so. (I said more on this topic on SoloPassion when Robert Campbell accused me of the same view.)

Far less excusable is Chris’ claim that I’ve “even attacked homosexuality as ‘sub-optimal’… which is a polite way of saying ‘immoral’ and ‘disgusting’… at least Ayn Rand was ~honest~ about it.” That makes me really, really angry. Chris knows damned well that I do not regard homosexuality as immoral. In fact, he lifted that word “sub-optimal” out of the very sentence of a NoodleFood comment in which I say, “I do not think any case can be made that a loving homosexual relationship is immoral.” Let me state my views even more clearly than I did in that comment: I do not regard homosexuality as immoral or disgusting in the slightest, I do not think homosexuals ought to try to become heterosexual, and I think of and treat homosexuals just the same as heterosexuals. If I ever hear an Objectivist claim or do otherwise, they’d be sure to get an earful from me. And Chris knows that — yet he claims behind my back that I’m dishonestly concealing my real views on the matter.

At first, I wondered why Chris would cite my views on homosexuality (or rather his misrepresentation thereof) as evidence of dogmatism. Then I recalled that he claims ARI circles to be fraught with homophobia. (I’ve heard that reported from two sources, but I have no direct quote from Chris.) So Chris’ idea is that I’m a dogmatist because I’m now toeing the anti-gay line of ARI. In fact, no such ARI line exists — and if it did, I would not toe it! Surely, some few ARI supporters are anti-gay, as happens in almost any group. Still, I’ve never seen any expression of that, just heard one report thereof. Leonard Peikoff certainly does not regard homosexuality as “immoral” or “disgusting” — as anyone can verify themselves by listening to Love, Sex and Romance. Moreover, several highly respected ARI speakers are openly gay. In short, ARI is not anti-gay, nor am I.

Once I realized that Chris was attempting to falsely portray “ARI people” as homophobic, I began to wonder whether his claims about receiving homophobic hate mail from critics was also a fabrication. In August 2005, he told me:

But while you were away [in the Grand Canyon, in May 2004], and in the wake of all the unpleasantness that had transpired on your blog at the time (something which you noted upon your return, and asked the commentators to clean up in the future), I had begun receiving awful email. The emails might be described as vile, “homophobic,” and personally threatening (so much so that I had to inform NYU)–and it was all clearly informed by the dialogue that had taken place on your blog. I never blamed you or your blog for the hate mail, but I just got so disgusted and upset, and swore I’d not post to your blog anymore to open myself up to either public or private abuse or ridicule (August 10th, 2005).

The not-quite-stated implication seems to be that some of the ARI supporters reading about and perhaps even posting in those spring debates with Chris on NoodleFood then wrote him “vile, ‘homophobic,’ and personally threatening” e-mails. Certainly, that’s the same impression given by Barbara Branden’s publicly circulated letter on the matter. (Ms. Branden further suggests that some people attacked Chris for his homosexuality in public criticisms of his work. I never saw anything of the sort, not even in the highly acrimonious debates in the NoodleFood comments.) At the time, the whole story struck me as bizarre, but I didn’t imagine that Chris would fabricate it. Now I have good reason to be far more suspicious. I’ve inquired with other people, including close friends of Chris at the time: they heard the same story I did, but never saw any of the actual hate mail. To be clear, I’m not saying that the story is definitely a fabrication; I simply don’t know that. However, I do regard it as highly suspicious: First, it contradicts what I know of ARI supporters in general and of Chris’ critics in particular. Second, it very conveniently serves his general claim that ARI is a hotbed of homophobia. And third, Chris has shown himself willing to lie when it suits his agenda.

Returning once more to Chris’ letter to Joe, Chris concludes his remarks about me by saying:

Look: I know you don’t want to have any serious disagreements with me, and I’m not putting our friendship on the line. But I can’t deny that all of this is making me very uncomfortable; seeing you cozying up with people who view ~me~ as corrupt and evil makes me a bit apprehensive. I guess I’m just wondering when the next shoe will drop… I honestly don’t think I can take a public denunciation from somebody I genuinely care about, after having been dumped on by every Tom, Dick, and Harry for years on end (April 6th, 2006).

Notably, Joe did not defend me in any strong way on SoloPassion, but merely objected to the underhanded argumentative tactics of my opponents in debate. (Of course, I sincerely appreciate that!) Yet even that is worrisome “cozying” according to Chris, just as my respect for the critical “Mysterious Stranger” raised doubts about my regard for him. Even worse, Chris does not respect Joe’s independence by presenting him with the facts, then allowing him to draw his own conclusions. Chris doesn’t say, “Joe, I think you should know these facts about Diana, since I think you’re wrong to think well of her.” Instead, he wants Joe to agree with his unsubstantiated assertions (and lies) about me. True to form, Chris made clear in subsequent correspondence that Joe’s unwillingness to discuss and agree upon these matters required them to go their separate ways. So in fact, Chris was “putting [his] friendship [with Joe] on the line” in this e-mail. He applied the very same kind of undue pressure to Joe for blind personal loyalty that he once used against me, just with more force and less subtly.

I have seen more of this particular e-mail than I quoted above, but the rest concerns Chris’ dishonest and unjust accusations against Linz Perigo. As I’ve indicated, that’s for Linz to discuss. Without a doubt, Chris’s lies about Linz in this e-mail to Joe are far worse than those about me.

As one might imagine, I was extremely distressed to read Chris’ comments about me in his e-mail to Joe. (How could I have ever trusted that man as a friend?!?) They are particularly offensive in light of his persistent professions of goodwill toward me long after our friendship ended. Just a few months ago, in the e-mail objecting to Fred Weiss’ comments about JARS, Chris claimed to “still have fond feelings for our past friendship that will never deteriorate” (December 1st, 2005). Yet a few months later, without any change between us, he’s lying about me in the most insulting terms behind my back.

Even more recently, in response to the discussion about JARS on SoloPassion, Chris made the following remarks about me in a blog post:

Second, with regard to Diana Hsieh’s criticisms of JARS: Over time, it has become very clear to readers that I have had some very serious disagreements with Diana, someone to whom I once acted as a mentor of sorts. Diana is now participating regularly at SOLO-Passion; she also runs the Noodlefood blog. Diana remarked at SOLO that she had promised not to comment “on The Russian Radical or the scholarship in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies … steer[ing] clear of such criticisms out of consideration for [her] past friendship [with me].” But I think anybody with half a brain could see the fundamental differences that have emerged between Diana and me on many, many significant questions. As my mother used to say: You’d have to be deaf, dumb, blind, and stupid not to know where those differences lie. Diana and I do not have to spend hours upon hours doing a point-counterpoint in order to articulate those differences.

As Chris says, the “fundamental differences” between us “on many, many significant questions” are fairly obvious. However, my views on important particulars, such his “dialectical” interpretation of Ayn Rand, are not at all obvious to bystanders. Moreover, I did not choose to remain silent about those particulars because I regarded them as unworthy of discussion, but out of concern to honor my prior friendship. Chris knows that. He also knows that our friendship was based upon his deceptions and manipulations. He knows that he’s been whispering unjust lies about me behind my back. Yet he’s content to keep me bound and gagged by my promise to him. A semi-honorable man would have released me from that promise in this blog post, so that we could duke out our differences in the open. Then again, a man with genuine confidence in the value of his work would not have accepted that promise in the first place.

Now that I am no longer bound by my prior offer of consideration to Chris, I am free to criticize his work as I see fit. I have no particular commentaries planned at present, although I’ve found a few items of potential interest in the course of writing this post. I still plan to do a careful reading of The Russian Radical at some point, so that I might finally come to a proper assessment of it. As always, I am committed to evaluating Chris’ work objectively — meaning based upon its merits and faults, not upon any deductions from my knowledge of the author. As always, Chris is welcome to respond to anything I write on his own Notablog or other forums — but not in the NoodleFood comments.

In summary: In light of all the evidence I’ve amassed in recent weeks, I must judge Chris Matthew Sciabarra to be a fundamentally immoral person. He has proven himself to be an habitual liar. He whispers nasty insults and false rumors about good people behind their backs. He falsely claims they sanction his work and character. He demands blind loyalty from his friends. He demands confidences that he does not respect. That is not the conduct of a good man.

For those of you only familiar with the seemingly honest, above-the-board Chris Sciabarra, you might find it difficult to believe him capable of the conduct I’ve described. You might feel overwhelmed by all the facts I’ve presented in this post. That’s perfectly understandable: I only came to my conclusions about this man I once trusted and respected as a friend after two years of suspicions, then weeks of investigation — and I often felt overwhelmed by my discoveries. So if you have questions, please do e-mail me, as I’d like to set the record straight where I can. And you might wish to e-mail this post to anyone inclined to take Chris at his word. Those who have trusted Chris’ claims based upon pretense of upright moral character — as I once did — must now think twice.

Ultimately, all that I ask is that you consider the evidence I’ve presented, investigate the facts for yourself, and then act accordingly.

Barometer of Chinese Culture

Apr 242006

I’m not entirely sure what this means, but the two Chinese students who made this now-classic “Backstreet Boys” lipsynch video are huge celebrities in China. They are now going commercial with their skills, at least as much as possible in the Chinese system:

Huang Yixin and Wei Wei, two students at the Guangzhou College of Fine Arts, were hanging around their dormitory last summer and decided — as one does — to turn on their webcam, put on their Houston-Rockets jerseys and lip-synch a few of their favourite songs by the Backstreet Boys. They uploaded the clips to Google Video, a free website full of such stuff. Their grimaces are over the top, self-consciously ludicrous. And they became famous almost instantly.

Astonishingly famous. Almost every Chinese internet user under a certain age has seen the “Back Dormitory Boys”, as they are now called. Web forums discuss their private lives. National radio and television shows have hosted them. Even their roommate, just visible in the background playing computer games, gets celebrity treatment.

Last month, a media company in Beijing called Taihe Rye hired Messrs Huang and Wei to continue their lip-synching, for cash. Song Ke, the boss, says that he has already placed his clients in a television commercial to be filmed next month for Pepsi Cola, one of China’s largest advertisers. The plan, says Zhao Qian, another manager at Taihe, is to put the Back Dormitory Boys together with their idol, Yao Ming, a Chinese basketball prodigy who plays centre for the Houston Rockets.

The old-school Chinese authorities are reportedly not amused.

(Update: In a loosely related but more ominous barometer, the Chinese government apparently now thinks that their military is so strong that they can afford to not take inductees with conditions like chronic loud snoring. I don’t think this bodes well for the West.)

Ode To Duct Tape

Apr 242006

This interesting article covers many of the unorthodox uses of duct tape, detailing some of its life-saving applications in medicine, outer space, the outdoors, etc. One funny tidbit:

Of course, for all its versatility, perhaps the most interesting thing about duct tape is also the most ironic: It’s lousy for use on ducts.

In 1998, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory physicists Max Sherman and Lain Walker tested a variety of sealing materials on sheet metal ducting, then heated and cooled the ducts to simulate the aging process. They soon found that duct tape leaked air so badly much of the cooling and heating was wasted — and that the tape frequently shrunk, dried up or separated.

“It failed reliably and often quite catastrophically,” says Sherman. “And nothing else except duct tape failed.”

Panel on the Danish Cartoons in Chicago

Apr 232006

Oh, excellent:

Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons

Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad have sparked a worldwide controversy. Death threats and violent protests have sent the cartoonists into hiding and have had the intended effect of stifling freedom of expression. The reaction to these cartoons raises urgent questions whose significance goes far beyond a set of drawings.

Come ask your questions about freedom of speech, the Danish cartoons, and the issues they have raised at a panel discussion. The cartoons will be on display.

When: Tuesday, April 25th, 7pm. Doors open at 6:30

Where: Kent 107

Panelists: Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education; Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine; Dr. Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute

Tickets: $2, in the Reynold’s Club (5706 South University) between 11am and 2pm on April 20, 21, 24. Remaining tickets will be sold at the door. Those who find it inconvenient to purchase advance tickets on campus may email [email protected] to reserve them.

For more information, check out the web site.

More Science Vs. Religion

Apr 232006

The Malaysian National Space Agency (Angkasa) will be sending either one or two Muslims into outer space aboard a Russian spacecraft, and they’ve convened a conference to help figure out how the astronauts should practice their Islamic rituals while in orbit.

Performing ablutions for Muslim prayers with water rationing in space and preparing food according to Islamic standards will be among issues discussed, said Angkasa’s director-general, Mazlan Othman.

…The astronaut will also visit the International Space Station, which circles the earth 16 times in 24 hours, so another thorny question is how to pray five times a day as required by Islam, she said.

Muslims also have to turn towards Mecca to pray and working out which direction that will be while hovering above the earth might also be challenging.

Being naturally curious, I decided to check with “Ask The Imam“. On November 17, 2002, one reader asked:

Q) What are the Islamic laws (salah, fasting,etc) when living in space? Is Islam only for the Earth? As you now people live in space stations for months on end (even >1 year). How does Islamic rules apply i.e. Prayer Times, Fasting times, sighting of the moon for eid, etc? Does this mean that Islam is only for the Earth as many sunnats not possible, e.g. no tayamum even though water in very short supply, etc. Some people would say Islam is outdated as it cannot meet these challenges. How do I answer them?

However, the Imam’s brief reply did not provide much in the way of detail, merely stating:

A) Islam can be well practised in Space as well. Which specific aspect of Islam in space do you wish to know about?

and Allah Ta’ala Knows Best

Mufti Ebrahim Desai

This Q&A from the Fatwa Center at Islam Web (dated May 2004 or “30 Rabi’ Awwal 1425“) provides a little bit more guidance:

Q) If man starts to live on other planetary bodies e.g. Mars or from far away where the Earth will only be viewed like a star then,

1. As a muslim, where will one face if he is to pray and at what time will he pray if the daylight or night-time is constant.

2. Assuming a man has left earth to settle on another favourable planet which will take him say 50 yrs to reach, how will he be able to perform hajj, will a child be sent to Mecca to perform hajj and not be able to come to his new home or what?

3. The Holy month of Ramadan is decided on the lunar calendar. Now if a muslim is on another planet (eg Mars), which the day and night and the revolution of the planet differs from that of earth, how will he be able to know that it is the month of ramadan and if daylight is constant, how will he be able to distinguish dusk and dawn?

A) Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds; and may His blessings and peace be upon our Prophet Muhammad and upon all his Family and Companions.

Your question is hypothetical, and a person should not be preoccupied with hypothetical issues which are far from becoming reality.

However, if we suppose that a person is living in such a planet, he still has to face the Earth where the Ka’ba is. If he could not do so, then he can pray in any direction.

Allah Says: {…so wherever you turn yourselves or your faces there is the Face of Allah (and He is High above, over His Throne)…}[2:115]. That is of course when it is not possible to determine the direction of Kiblah.

As regards the timing for the prayers, he has to estimate it. In this era, the means of estimation had become available, Praise be to Allah.

The evidence about this is the Hadith in which it is mentioned that the first day of the days of Dajjal is like a year, and the second day is like a month, and the third day is like a week. The companions asked the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam): ‘Is it possible for them to pray only one prayer.’ The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) replied: “No, you have to estimate for it.”

With regard to Hajj, he has to come down to the planet Earth, if it is possible for him to do so. However, if he is unable to come on Earth, then it will not be obligatory on him. In this case, he will be considered like a person who leaves in a remote country which is far away from Makkah, and cannot come to it.

Allah Says (interpretation of meaning): {…And Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) to the House (Ka’bah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses (for one’s conveyance, provision and residence);….}[3:97].

Therefore, if the life of this person is in danger when descending from that planet to Earth in order to perform Hajj, then it is not obligatory on him to perform Hajj.

In relation to the month of Ramadan, if it is not permissible to define it, (then in this case) he has to fast one month in every 12 months and this will suffice him.

Allah knows best.

However this still doesn’t cover all of the relevant issues.

For instance, what if a Muslim physician were to commit malpractice while in outer space? How can he pay the 100 camel penalty? Does he get a grace period until he returns to Earth? Inquiring minds want to know!

The Waiter Rule

Apr 222006

How can a busy CEO determine if one of his employees is genuinely nice or is a jerk merely pretending to be nice in order to suck up to the boss? According to this article, the most reliable test is how he or she treats the waiter:

Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson… wrote a booklet of 33 short leadership observations called Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management

Among those 33 rules is only one that Swanson says never fails: “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person.”

Swanson says he first noticed this in the 1970s when he was eating with a man who became “absolutely obnoxious” to a waiter because the restaurant did not stock a particular wine.

“Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with,” Swanson writes. “Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.”

The Waiter Rule also applies to the way people treat hotel maids, mailroom clerks, bellmen and security guards.

…Such behavior is an accurate predictor of character because it isn’t easily learned or unlearned but rather speaks to how people were raised…

Having slowly worked my way up the medical hierarchy from college student hospital volunteer to medical student to resident to fellow to attending physician, I can totally attest to the truth of this rule. Back when I was a professor at Washington University Medical School, I knew that my residents and medical students would always treat me with a certain degree of respect, since I controlled their grades for their radiology rotation. But I made a point to see how they treated the nurses and x-ray techs; the ones that treated the support staff with respect when they were still at the bottom of the medical ladder were also the ones that turned out to be the best doctors once they reached the top.

For some reason, there’s a particular type of sycophantic personality that’s deferential (sometimes exaggeratedly so) to their superiors, but also demands bootlicking from those below them on the ladder. Their peers generally know them for what they are, but their superiors might not always be able to tell, and hence the utility of the Waiter Rule.

Diana’s observation (which I agree with) is that this type of sycophantic person is essentially a second-hander. They view others (either above or below them on the ladder) as merely a means to an end, and the key attribute they focus on with respect to other people is the power relationship. Hence, they are just another variant of what Objectivists call “social metaphysicians”. (Via Plastic.)

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