Yet Another Heretic is Created

Posted on MDOP on 17 February 1994

Note: This post is reproduced here for historical reasons only. For my present views, please see my collection of writings on The False Friends of Objectivism.


Date: Thu, 17 Feb 1994 18:14:10 EST
From: Diana Mertz Brickell <dmbricke@artsci.wustl.edu>
To: AYN-RAND <AYN-RAND@IUBVM.BITNET>
Subject: yet another heretic is created...

Bob Stubblefield (the current publisher of _The Intellectual Activist_)
runs a mailing list known as OSG (Objectivism Study Group).  Members of
the list are under contract to refuse sanction to any "anti-Objectivist"
activity, where "anti-Objectivist" is used to describe anyone who
disagrees with Peikoff's _Fact & Value_.  I recently disassociated myself
from OSG because there was no value to be gained from it, and to continue
my subscription would have been sanctioning evil.  Since I have so
recently seen (and felt) the effects of Peikoff's anti-toleration stance
through those who support and practice his view of moral judgment, I
thought my experiences might shed some light on these issues. 

****

In October, being quite new to the philosophy, I started my subscription
to OSG with a most humble and diffident attitude (quite unusual behavior
for me to say the least).  It was the first time that I had come into
contact with any Objectivists, and I assumed that most would be quite
rational and reasonable people.  It never crossed my mind that any
Objectivists would be more concerned with the Written Word of Rand (or
Peikoff) than with the facts of reality. 

My first battle on OSG was the result of a discussion of esthetics and
whether glue is valid medium of art, of all things.  One member of OSG,
William Wilkinson, asserted that the exclusion of glue as a medium does
not follow logically from Rand's definition of art, and thus the whole
debate began.  King Wiemann responded, "[OSG] is not a place where the
validity, truth, or logic of Objectivism is debated or challenged.  If you
do not understand something Ayn Rand said or wrote, OSG provides a medium
to ask for help in understanding..." and then dared to assert that his
view was not an issue of "faith, appeal to authority, or dogmatism." I was
rather stunned and angry by this attitude and wrote up a post arguing
that, according to the OSG contract, one does have the right to attempt to
invalidate Objectivist principles with well reasoned arguments. 

Most of the resulting discussion was quite reasonable, although a number
of people were obviously more concerned with believing what Rand wrote
than the facts of reality.  For example, in a post entitled "Wrong or
Rand, I understand" (!!!) Robert LeChevalier alluded to William (and also
those who defended him) as a "busdriver with a 'Popular Science' knowledge
of physics [who] had said 'Albert Einstein made a logical error in his
theory of relativity since [he didn't] see time dilation'..." Such a lack
of benevolence is astounding. 

Bob Stubblefield, in a later post on how to deal with hecklers, was also
quite critical of anyone who questions Rand. 

        "Consider, for example, a student of Objectivism who
        tells others a statement in one of Ayn Rand's articles
        is 'illogical.'  He has ignored the difference between
        the effort he took to utter his accusation and the effort
        it takes to create a publishable article.  He has ignored
        the difference between his mind, with its particular
        psycho-epistemology, and hers, which had a lifetime of
        never using a concept without identifying the facts of
        reality that gave rise to it.  He has ignored what that
        careless accusation tells others about his attitude towards
        ideas.  He has taken his context as not-to-be-questioned
        and does not check his premises."

This sort of argument from intimidation was used consistently by a number
of people in any controversy.  For many, I think it was a way to
circumvent the issues at hand and thus ignore the contradictions in their
ideas.  For such people, it is much easier to proclaim that someone has
attacked their highest values than to investigate the meaning and
implications of what their interlocutor is saying. 

When I was still quite humble and diffident, there were three posts (two
by Jay Allen and one by Robert LeChevalier) on David Kelley that I printed
out so that I could reread the posts after I reading Kelley's works.  To
give you some idea of what these posts consisted of, a few quotes are in
order. 

From Jay Allen (who had not read all of T&T at the time BTW):

        "Kelley's sundering of fact and value is a default on
        cognition as such; it is a declaration that some facts
        of reality are outside the province of moral judgement--
        which means: outside the province of _reason_."  [_Kelley
        Exam_, 8/22/93] (Allen seems to have forgotten that moral
        judgment only applies to volition.)

        "Viewed as another 'tolerance' scheme, Kelley's theory is
        another instance of the pragmatic cult of compromise,
        which dissolves fundamental philosophical differences in
        the lukewarm acid of 'open-mindedness' and treats all
        disagreements as mere 'differences of opinion.'" [Ibid]

        "As long as they are left alone to their own fraud, and
        are denied the name of Objectivists, then the Kelleyites
        will simply perish in obscurity." [Ibid]

        "So what motivated Kelley to adopt Objectivism in the
        first place? And why is he so determined now to distort
        it? This is my hypothesis:
        In Kelley's particular case, the emotion dominating him
        is fear of moral judgement. To alleviate this fear, he
        adopts Objectivism, which he hopes will give him the
        confidence he needs to overcome his 'yellow streak.'  He
        goes through a brief "moralizing phase" which hurts many
        people around him and leaves him with an aftertaste of
        guilt. He then rebels against Objectivism..." [_Kelley and
        Floating Dishonesty_, 9/7/93]

LeChevalier's post was quite bizarre.  He spoke in abstract terms of a man
whose concepts float, cited David Kelley as an example (simply by stating
"E.g. David Kelley") and then went on to prove that Bill Clinton's
concepts float. [_Floating Concepts & Dishonesty_, 9/5/93]

In the middle of December I finally got a chance to read T&T and go over
these posts with our great and venerable moderator. :-) As soon as I had
gotten over my shock at how ludicrous these assertions actually were, I
wrote up an article to OSG quite harshly criticizing these posts for their
blatant misrepresentations of Kelley, psychologizing, and lack of evidence
to support their claims.  I made it clear in my post that I was not
arguing for Kelley (I had not read anything other than T&T at the time so
it would have been inappropriate), but rather that I wanted to hear some
good arguments against his actual position.  The reaction that I got was
astounding.  Jay Allen called my criticism of his post "hysterical
judgements on the basis of so little evidence" and demanded a "WHOPPING
apology." He stated that if he did not get an apology and if I continued
my "outrageous behavior," he would attempt to get my removed from OSG.
When I did not apologize, he threatened to quit OSG.  (Allen recently
apologized for this knee-jerk reaction.)

Well, I was about to say that there were a number of polite replies to me,
but upon looking over my OSG archives, I find this to be an overstatement. 
There were, of course, a few polite people, but they certainly did not
dominate the discussion.  Apparently, what I should have done (after
apologizing) was the following, according to Mehul Dave:

        Your objections against Jay [Allen] and Robert [LeChevalier]
        are essentially objections to Dr. Peikoff's arguments.
        If you have any objections to make, I would request the
        following:
           1. State your axioms - clearly
           2. State your position on the issues of truth, nature
              of man, nature and meaning of values, man's relationship
              to reality, basis of morality and moral judgement in
              a way from which you can demonstrate your conclusions.
           3. With these, show where and why, according to you, Dr.
              Peikoff is wrong.
           4. Show which principles of Objectivism has Dr. Peikoff
              violated.
           5. Do all this without resorting to rudeness.
        When you have done this, you have an argument worthy of
        consideration.  Dr. Peikoff has done all this in his article
        simply because the context of the issue *demands* that much.

It seems that a philosophical treatise was required for any objection to
even be considered!  This request completely drops the context of every
human's time constraints and thus manages to circumvent all discussion of
the issues at hand.  Since there was no way that I could comply with this
request (nor did I have a desire to), I would never produce an argument or
criticism that would be "worthy of consideration" and nor would anyone
else.  (Apparently T&T is not necessarily worthy of consideration either,
for some OSGers proudly proclaim that they have not, and do not need to
read it.)

Despite my refusal to apologize, things soon quieted down on OSG, and a
number of people started this back-patting session of 'who can say the
worst things about David Kelley' with very little regard for the
truthfulness of the claims.  As long as posts were sufficiently
denunciatory, it did not matter what was asserted.  For example, a
well-respected member of OSG, Betsy Speicher, wrote: 

        "Kelley's stated view is that actions can be judged as
        good or evil, but that ideas may only be judged true or
        false.  He claims that any attempt to evaluate an idea
        morally would _have_ to be psychologizing..."

Most of these false claims I did not bother to refute, for it would have
been a wasted effort.

It was not long after this that I excommunicated myself.  I was in a
debate on the property status of Objectivism and was conversing
extensively with Jimbo on the subject at the time.  In one post, not
wanting to pass off another's ideas as my own, I gave Jimmy credit for
serving "as a catalyst to a number of ideas about how to form the concept
of Objectivism properly." The next day I got the following message from
Bob Stubblefield: "Do you subscribe to Jimmy Wales list?  If so, you are
in violation of the OSG contract and will have to choose between OSG and
his list." (Since the official rule is that one cannot subscribe to OSG
and post to Jimbo's list, Stubblefield later retracted his ultimatum.) I
responded to him that I was in not in violation of the contract as I had
understood it, for I had never posted to Jimbo's list, and it is not
"anti-Objectivist" anyway.  I told him that if I had to choose between the
two I would unsubscribe to OSG, and would like the opportunity to state
publicly my reasons for doing so. 

Later that day, I decided that I was going to unsubscribe to OSG
regardless of Stubblefield's reaction, and so I wrote up a post to OSG to
that effect.  To quote myself: 

        "I have yet to receive a reply from Stubblefield about
        this change in policy, but I can say with assurance
        that I no longer want any part of OSG.  This sort of
        attempt to control what OSG members may read is appalling,
        but what is even more appalling is that people will
        *voluntarily* subject themselves to this sort of action
        by remaining subscribed to OSG.  Everyone, even those
        OSGers who have no interest in subscribing to any other
        email list, should think carefully about the fact that
        Stubblefield may now stipulate what may be read and what
        may not be read by those on OSG."

For some reason, my post did not go out to all list members, although
enough people got it to begin asking questions about what the contract
actually forbids.  Stubblefield then, "for the record," posted our
previous correspondence, the first sentence of my post, followed by: 

        "This last makes me think of several interesting
        questions--such why such [sic] impatience in one so
        tolerant? why ask permission if you're going to act
        anyway? who is it that takes what on authority? or
        why do subjectivists feel a need for intrinsic rules?"

(Note: I got this from a fellow heretical OSGer; my subscription had
finally been killed by this point.)

Stubblefield then posted a disturbing 'clarification' of OSG's
anti-toleration policy (1/26/94).  He writes:

        "It is certainly not a sanction of Kelley to read what
        he has written.  And I am not going to ostracize you if
        contribute to his royalties by buying one of his books--
        even though I think it would be obscene for me to do so.
        But if you recommend him or his ilk as being capable of
        teaching someone Objectivism, that is an "explicit sanction
        of anti-Objectivist activities" and I will cease dealing
        with you.

        "In the OSG contract, I gave an example of intolerable
        sanction as "posting to mailing lists run by libertarians
        who 'tolerate' Objectivists."  A more blatant example
        would be contributing to a list that explicitly endorses
        anti-Objectivists.  Such a list is the one run by Wales."

I think think that this behavior, for the most part, speaks for itself. It
is result of Peikoff's view of moral judgment and of Objectivism as laid
out in "Fact and Value." I did not understand how "Objectivists" could
behave in this fashion until I saw that such people were strictly adhering
to the principle of armchair moralizing as advocated by Peikoff. Although
I doubt I will ever fully understand why someone would endorse Peikoff's
position, I can now see why such behavior is accepted and rewarded among
certain Objectivists. 

And so now here I am, an enemy of Bob Stubblefield and an
"anti-Objectivist" according to the Peikovians.  It almost seems like an
honor. 

diana mertz brickell.