Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Unpleasant Business

Diana Hsieh writes,

I particularly recommend [Noumenalself's] two posts (one and two) on Robert Tracinksi's continued defense of the Iraq War. (Then again, I'm not sure that any critique could be quite so devastating as Barbara Branden's hearty endorsement of The Intellectual Activist. As Betsy says, "In the long run you get the kind of friends -- and the kind of enemies -- you deserve." So true! The advocates of a kinder, gentler, and more tolerant "Objectivism" (like Barbara Branden and Robert Bidinotto) should be expected to support those defending the ongoing sacrifice of American soldiers in an altruistic-in-design and unwinnable-as-fought war. They should be aghast at those advocating lasting victory over the enemies who actually threaten us. And so they are.)

Barbara Branden also speaks glowingly of Ayn Rand. Should we think less of Ayn Rand for that?

Robert Tracinski wrote "Notes On A Question of Sanction," a detailed critique of David Kelley's tolerationism. He has neither disavowed his essay nor expressed support for Kelley. Why would it be devastating if tolerationists agreed with his position on Iraq? Given that the Kelley faction loathes ARI, it figures they would agree with anyone who disagreed with ARI on Iraq. They might even agree with one of their most prominent critics; that's what toleration is all about. But it does not follow that their agreement with him, which he neither sought nor celebrates, makes Tracinski look bad.

You can criticize Tracinski's stand on the war -- I have questions about it myself -- but to suggest that Tracinski is wrong or somehow tainted because a tolerationist recommends his magazine is not logical.


madmax said...

"Barbara Branden also speaks glowingly of Ayn Rand. Should we think less of Ayn Rand for that?"

Actually, this is not the case. I don't know if you have read James Valliant's "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics", but you should. Both Branden's have shown nothing but thinly veiled contempt for Ayn Rand. In fact, most of today's personal smears against Ayn Rand - from either the Right of Left - originate from the Branden's attacks.

To give an example of this, I was looking up a movie on the IMDB that had an Ayn Rand reference in it. I asked a question concerning the movie on that movie's forum. I received about six replies all of them hostile and the most hostile of them all quoted chapter and verse from Barbara Branden's hatchet job biography, telling me how mean Ayn Rand was as a person, etc, etc. So in my opinion Diana is justified in her criticism of the Brandens.

As for Tracinski, I disagree with his war policy and I have for about three years now. I also disagree with him in his analysis of Right vs Left in America. But your point about not judging Tracinski based on who agrees with him (tolerationist or not) is a valid one. But in defense of Diana, I think she was just making a "water seeks its own level" type of statement. She has written before about her disagreements with Tracinski so she wasn't basing her arguments against TIA based on who agrees with them or not.

There are divides in the Objectivist movement and they seem to be growing. The Iraq war and conservative vs liberal (as in who's worse now and in the future) are two major sources of that division. Tracinski continues to take positions that have (and will continue to) make him very unpopular in the Objectivist movement. (Whether or not he is right is another question.) This will be very interesting to watch unfold.

Myrhaf said...

Madmax, I've read Barbara Branden and James Valliant. Branden praises Ayn Rand and recommends her books, and also psychologizes, attacks and distorts. She praises so she can smuggle in the criticism. That does not contradict my statement.

Diana Hsieh's criticism of the Brandens is entirely justified. It has nothing to do with my post, which is about her criticism of Robert Tracinski. If you want to defend her statement, you must explain how Barbara Branden's endorsement of TIA devastates Tracinski's position on Iraq.

If Diana Hsieh's statement makes no sense, then it's not fair is it? Perhaps it is even an act of injustice.

Kim said...

Good point. It reminds me a little of Peikoff's wife's comment that a picture is not an argument.

Given what we know of Diana's feelings toward Betsy Speicher, the use of Betsy's quote is also a meant as a virtual slap-across-the-face for Betsy. Could it also be a way of painting both Betsy and Tracinski with the same brush?

I don't know much about the details involved in Tracinski's arguments and I don't know if Betsy has been supporting Tracinski in the past.

Kim said...

I'm sorry. In the second paragraph I should have said "Given what we know of Diana's feelings toward Betsy Speicher, it looks like the use of Betsy's quote could be a virtual reminder for Betsy. It could also paint both Betsy and Tracinski with the same brush."

That is a more accurate statement. The previous comment was overblown--to say the least.

madmax said...

I get your point Myrhaf and its a valid one. For the record, I am not a fan of Tracinski nor am I a fan of Branden or Bidinotto. So I agree with Diana in total. But you are right that by stating things the way she stated them she has left herself open to the charge of ad hominem. I hope she corrects this in the future.

Myrhaf said...

The important thing, Madmax, is that we identify the truth and make sure we do not evade it because our self-esteem is wrapped up in what we wish to be true.

Dismuke said...

Myrhaf, I completely agree with you that Diana's comment was a very cheap shot and that an endoresment that one has neither asked for nor has any control over is NOT a proper basis for forming a negative judgement against someone.

Several years ago, Bidinotto was in charge of a previous incarnation of The Atlas Society when that name was used as some sort of failed outreach project of the IOS/TOC/TOC-TAS/TAS-TOC or whatever it calls itself these days. On its website, Biddennotto put up a link recommending a website I created which provided examples of music that Ayn Rand either enjoyed, mentioned or were featured in films of her works. When I found out about the link, I wrote a polite, non-confrontational email to Biddenotto informing him that I preferred that he remove the link as I do not want any sort of confusion created that I might support his organization. I never heard back from Bidinotto. Since one does not have a legal right to prevent someone from posting a link to one's website, I just let the matter drop and signed my website up with a pro-ARI webring to make it clear what side I was on. Eventually, I moved the site to a different server and I found it quite humerous that, for a few years afterwards, Biddenotto's site was never updated and the link directed to nothing more than an error message.

I suppose somebody who took issue with my understanding of some aspect of Objectivism could have used that link as a cheap shot against me - which, of course, would have been utterly undeserved.

My guess is that getting high praise from Bidinotto or Branden requires that one do little more than merely have some sort of contentious disagreement with ARI or very prominant Objectivists. The specific nature of such disagreement matters little to them. Indeed, the central premise of both IOS/TOC/TAS and that disgraceful forum that Branden and Bidinotto post to is to function as sort of big umbrella for various sorts who are all united by the fact that they are anti-ARI and anti-Peikoff. Just like the libertarians claim to be pro-liberty but, in fact, are merely anti-government, IOS/TOC/TAS and that icky forum claim to be "Objectivist" but, in fact, are merely anti-ARI anti-Peikoff. (And among the ranks of both there are plenty who actually openly identify themselves as libertariains.) So if any of us were to someday have reason to voice public disagreement with some aspect of ARI or with Dr. Peikoff, my guess is we, too, would be heaped with high praise for our "courage" our "independant thinking" and our "growth."

So I agree, regardless of how controversial Tracinski has become, we most certainly should not allow the utterances of Barbara Branden, of all people, to influence our opinion of anyone or anything

As for Diana - well my thought is to look at it from a big picture perspective. So she saw a delicious opportunity to take a cheap shot at couple of people she very obviously does not like and ran with it. Well, I have certainly done that in my life more times than I can remember - so I am the last person in the world who can fault someone for taking an occasional cheap shot.

As for Tracinski, he has said things that have raised a few red flags with me - but I have not yet made up my mind about the controversies that surround him, primarily because I haven't had the time nor, quite honestly, the desire to give them sufficient thought.

That is also my attitude with the Diana/Betsy flame war. I don't know Diana but I have followed her blog on and off for a couple of years or so and have a lot of respect for her. I don't know Betsy personally, but I interacted with both her and Stephen online in various forums for a very long time. They have both been kind to me over the years and I like them as much as one can like someone one has never met. So seeing all this has not been pleasant for me - especially in light of Stephen's death which shocked and saddened me. And I have yet to sort through it all because 1)it is not pleasant 2)I have been and am preoccupied with concerns that are much more important to my daily life and values 3) the dispute seems to center, in part, over disagreement over philosophical issues that I am still thinking through 4) I keep hoping the whole thing will just blow over saving me the effort of untangling it all - which appears increasingly unlikely. So until I have the time and stomach to force myself to try and sort through it all, my approach is to dismiss pretty much anything either side has to say about the other. I do it not out of any form of agnosticism but rather out of recognition that I have neither the facts nor the time to gather them to do either side any justice.

madmax said...

Excellent post Dismuke. Your ideas, as always, help me to clarify and improve my own thinking.