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Not Under Their Command

October 1st, 2010 by Jim May · 59 Comments · Uncategorized

A few weeks ago, a controversy erupted in the Objectivist community when John McCaskey resigned from the Ayn Rand Institute Board of Directors, over a severe disagreement with Leonard Peikoff regarding David Harriman’s book The Logical Leap.

At the time, I decided to await further information before reaching any conclusions about the involved individuals.  This remains my position, notwithstanding the fact that I nevertheless am very much inclined to a particular conclusion regarding this event, based on information currently available.

However, in light of Robert Tracinski’s shot across the bow at TIA Daily, I have found it necessary to post here a comment originally made at Diana’s place three weeks ago.  While I have many disagreements with Tracinski regarding particulars in his article (mainly, his misunderstanding of the “transmission belt” metaphor and its description of the flow of ideas in a culture), I have long known as true Tracinski’s conclusion: that all Objectivists remain independent operators, and must be careful not to lose sight of this fact.

Below the fold is my Noodlefood comment.  Edits only for context.


The following is from memory, and should be understood as such, i.e. I’m not putting words into Paul Hsieh’s mouth.

At one point during OCON (or during his earlier visit to Vegas, not sure which), Paul and I were discussing an idea of mine, that Objectivists would be better served if there were several different and even competing approaches to cultural change, that individual Objectivists should take the initiative of engaging in activism under their own aegis in addition to support for the ARI, rather than putting all our expectations into one place. My idea was sparked by the success that he and Diana have been having as independent operators, and also traces its origin back to my first encounter with the Peikoff-Kelley split. That led me to use this analogy to describe my attitude towards the ARI: I may be flying in their formation, but I am not under their command (i.e. I agree with and support them, but we may disagree in the future.)

Paul responded by noting how often he has heard other Objectivists engaging in armchair quarterbacking, criticizing this or that about the ARI’s choices. His thoughts in encountering this was to question what the armchair quarterbacks were doing besides donating? Why not get up and make active proposals of alternatives — or better, take the initiative and try their ideas out on their own (where practical)?

As PAul said then, and Yaron Brook said at OCON in his “State of the ARI” address, every one of us should be engaging in activism on our own terms, focussing on what we individually see as important, in addition to supporting the ARI.

Today, I still find these things annoying and disappointing, but I don’t get that angry about it anymore, like the way I did when I first encountered the Peikoff/Kelley split in 1994 — because I don’t have all my eggs in that one basket.

All of us Objectivists remain individuals, and will have our own ideas of what should be done first, which targets come first, what tactics to use. Moreover, we all have our own take on Objectivism itself and its myriad potential applications in life; some of us have a better grasp of certain aspects than do others.

Since none of us are infallible, disagreements are going to happen, and sometimes they aren’t readily resolvable.

The ARI remains our biggest weapon, and as such it carries a lot of our hope in it. It is not, however, our version of Noah’s Ark, was never meant to be, and should not be made into such in anyone’s mind.

So, I plan to wait and see what comes of this, as Diana counsels, and shall then evaluate the result accordingly. Whatever happens, this won’t affect my own inchoate plans for activism, as they were never contingent upon anyone but myself anyway.

59 Comments so far ↓

  • Shane Atwell

    I love ARI, but I think Atlas Shrugged will prove to be the biggest weapon.

  • Guaman

    Nice insight and and a wonderful analogy of how an objectivist individual can relate to the whole without denial of our existence as discrete moral agents.

    In the end objectivism stands strong because it is as self consistent as mathematics, at least until discussions venture to the subjective realms of beauty and personal value. It’s about the relations between people and not about people and the inanimate.

    Objectivism seems an obvious marriage of the golden rule and logic. With persistent efforts truth will prevail and a result in a better world.

    Please keep writing – I hit this site, but don’t have the time to delve deeply into what has now become the Objectivist heritage and movement.

  • dismuke

    Somehow I managed not to learn of of any of this until yesterday when I saw the Tracinski article.

    I have no real comment to make at this time about McCaskey or the Peikoff email. I will withhold judgment until I have more facts.

    I don’t deny that Tracinski raises some valid questions regarding the situation – questions that I am quite sure most of us had when we first saw the email.

    But my strongest impression when I first read it is that Tracinski is seizing the occasion to almost gleefully grind all sorts of axes that he has obviously accumulated over time.

    For context, I have always enjoyed Tracinski’s writing and was one of the people who continued to have regard for him when he was being trashed quite heavily elsewhere on the Internet. In fact, I recently resubscribed to TIA Daily because of the upcoming election and the fact that I enjoyed his analysis when I previously subscribed. So I did not go into Tracinski’s article as someone who was anti-Tracinski.

    A number of red flags went off when I read that piece. But here is what set me off and really distilled everything in my mind: Describing his period of employment at ARI, Trackinski wrote:

    “There was a growing sense that the Institute wanted only good “organization men” who could be relied upon to stick within the system and follow all the rules.”

    I have, over the years at various companies, heard a number of people I have either worked with or who worked under me, express similar sentiments. And every single last one of them was a malcontent, no good loose cannon.

    Someone please tell me what sort of company in its right mind would wish to have employees who aren’t “organization men” (i.e., loyal) and who undermine “the system” and think the rules should be merely optional?

    Obviously a well run company is going to be interested in reasonable alternatives that employees might present. Obviously a well run company will encourage employees to ask questions when they do not understand why certain policies are they way they are rather than having a “because I said so” attitude. But that is an altogether different issue.

    If you go to work for a company and take its money, it is your JOB to be a loyal “organization man” and to NOT undermine “the system” and if you deliberately diss the rules, you can and should be terminated for insubordination.

    If you cannot do that in all good conscience for a particular employer, then you need to start looking for a job elsewhere. To his credit, that is what Tracinski did – and good for him for recognizing the situation was not right for him. But to offer as a criticism of ARI or any employer the fact that he was expected to be loyal and follow company policies – well, quite frankly I have trouble taking people who say such things seriously and THAT, more than anything, significantly diminished Tracinski’s stature in my eyes.

    When I hear employees who work under me start talking like that, I begin asking myself things such as how much do I really need this employee? If I am short staffed, I might put up with it for a while so long as there is minimal danger that the attitude will spread and infect other employees. But when the next downsizing comes – watch out! And I am one of the easiest people in the world to work for and actively encourage employees to be candid with me whenever they have legitimate professional concerns. But there is a proper and professional way to bring up and discuss one’s concerns and grievances – and then there are loose cannons and malcontents.

    And ARI is certainly not the only sort of place where employees are expected to stick to “the party line.” If you work for a politician or a political party, you are expected to adhere to the “official party line” of the moment and keep your doubts and disagreements to yourself. If you cannot do so – then you resign. The reason such a job exists in the first place is because the politician or political party needs help putting forth THEIR positions. Politicians and political parties do not exist to provide staffers a platform to air and promote their personal views.

    If you go to work for ARI, that job exists because certain people have decided to put up money to promote a certain agenda. And if you are a member of ARI management, you have an obligation to your donors to ensure that their money is being spent on staff members who are NOT undermining the objectives of that organization or who think they are free agents for whom the rules do not apply.

    To be clear, I am NOT dismissing the concerns of those who fear that the ultimatum in the email might have a “chilling” effect for intellectuals and others in the movement. And I am not suggesting that McCaskey was necessarily undermining the organization or doing anything inappropriate. Like I said, I am withholding judgment on all that for the time being. I certainly have questions about it – and hopefully answers to those questions will eventually be forthcoming.

  • Neil Parille

    There’s more we’d all like to know about this, but I’d mention that a think tank is not the same as a political campaign or a corporation.

    It’s one thing for Microsoft to get upset about an employee criticizing the latest version of windows and Leonard Peikoff taking personal disagreement with Harriman’s book as a personal slight against him. Does Peikoff also get upset when people disagree with Harriman’s rewrite of Rand’s journals?

    This happened in the 50s and 60s when Rand allowed Nathaniel Branden to act as a one-man judge, jury and executioner and I don’t think Objectivism has recovered.

  • dismuke

    Yes, Parille. We know. You hate Peikoff. You hate ARI. And you don’t particularly care much for Ayn Rand, either. You have already said so in a variety of places over the years ad nauseum. Yawn.

    I guess you get some sort of thrill out of trolling around on the websites of people you clearly despise.

    Why don’t you instead just go tell it to Barbara Branden? I am sure you will find her to be a much more appreciative audience. And she might even reward you by making up some nice, juicy new story about Peikoff that you can gleefully plaster all of the place. You know, her talents are really underused and underappreciated. Right about now the Democrats are really desperate for a few “October Surprises” that they can spring in time for the election. And Dan Rather has been out of service ever since their last tough election when he tried to spring the fabrication and forged documents about Bush’s National Guard service. Next time you chat with her, tell her that Pelosi really needs her.

  • Ashley King

    Criticism, if honest and constructive, only can make one stronger. To my knowledge, McCaskey or anyone else who offers to help improve Harriman’s thesis is to be commended.

    It is sad to see Dr. Peikoff put public criticism in the category of a heresy.

  • dismuke

    “It is sad to see Dr. Peikoff put public criticism in the category of a heresy.”

    Actually, you don’t see it – because that has yet to be determined. The only thing that there is to “see” is a single email – an email that very obviously was at the tail end of previous discussions on the subject. We do not have access to what was talked about in those previous discussions.

    I will say this much: I don’t think it is sufficient for that email to forever remain Dr. Pekoff’s de facto public explanation and statement on the matter. This true even the reasons behind his ultimatum turn out to be completely valid and his behavior fully warranted. I recognize that Dr. Peikoff perhaps might have preferred the matter remain an internal ARI matter. But it hasn’t remained a behind-the-scenes matter. Like it or not, it is now public – and such things quickly become in this age of the Internet.

    Dr. Peikoff, unfortunately, does not have the luxury of saying “I don’t give a damn what people think of me – think the worst, I don’t care.” Some nobody such as myself can have that luxury. But, as a public figure, Dr. Peikoff does not have that luxury. Perhaps a mere celebrity such as a movie star might have the luxury of not caring what people think. But Dr. Peikoff is not merely a famous person – he is famous because he is a prominent advocate and authority on Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

    If Dr. Peikoff fails to defend himself by presenting his side of the story then he is failing to defend Ayn Rand, Objectivism and ARI from the fallout they will end up having to deal with as a result of the various attacks on Dr. Peikoff.

    Look at what is already starting to happen: Tracinski has seized upon this situation to vent and air his longstanding grievances – and almost seems to enjoy what he imagines to be the imminent collapse of ARI. And creeps like Parille are coming out of the woodwork (not like he ever went back in) to gloat and seek a new audience for their longstanding hostility towards ARI. Not that Parille and his ilk are worthy of much attention – but things like this muddy the water and make things very difficult for Ayn Rand newbies to sort through.

    This is NOT a criticism of Dr. Peikoff. It is merely a statement that I want to hear his side before I make any judgments – and that I do want to hear his side. I have disagreed with Dr. Peikoff on things from time to time – usually around election time. And, in the long run, I have ended up having to admit that he was, in fact, correct. I am NOT going to jump to any negative conclusions about the man based on a single email that is clearly part of a larger context. At the same time, I am not going to form a negative conclusion against McCaskey unless I have further evidence (and it should be noted that Dr. Pekoff has not suggested that anybody outside of the participants of that conversation form any conclusions).

    Both Peikoff and McCaskey are innocent until proven guilty – and I have yet to see anybody proven guilty of anything. Now, if over time, additional evidence in the form of Dr. Peikoff’s side of the story is not forthcoming, then I will have to regard its absence and omission as part of the context that I will need to consider in forming any future judgment.

    In the meanwhile, until more is known, Ashley, if you “see” what you say you see, then you have some sort of mystical gift that the rest of us do not have.

  • Guaman

    Dismuke, your private sector insights make some serious sense to me. You should see he inversion of values that exist within the executive branch of the federal government. Parochial loyalty to either the small sector that employs or the person presently representing authority within the is the expected and non-confrontational position. Following statute, regulations, rules, and policy, will create phenomenal animosity.

    Maybe there will be a book someday; something from inside the executive branch; first person non-fiction. The contents of the sausage is best revealed.

  • Ashley King


    You are correct that not all the evidence is available for us to evaluate. However, we have some evidence: an academic criticism of an academic thesis and book has resulted in the demand that an ARI scholar be dismissed.

    A theory of induction we seek to build is terribly important. Harriman has made important advances, though I myself had problems with part of his book. How about scholarly cooperation in furtherance of a common goal? There has to be a openness to legitimate criticism.

  • dismuke

    “However, we have some evidence: an academic criticism of an academic thesis and book has resulted in the demand that an ARI scholar be dismissed.”

    But the nature of that criticism and the particular reasons why Dr. Peikoff objected to has yet to be made public. The only thing we have to go on as of right now is the email and McCaskey’s description of the criticism.

    You describe McCaskey’s criticism as “legitimate criticism.” How would you know? According to both the email and McCaskey the criticism was entirely private. Were you a party to those conversations? Are you psychic and possess the gift of being able to eavesdrop on conversations that you are not present at? You have zero basis to assert that such criticism was “legitimate” – just as you have zero basis to assert that McCaskey’s criticism was somehow illegitimate.

    You are asserting that Dr. Peikoff demanded McCaskey’s resignation because he objects to criticism as such. You have zero evidence to make such an assertion. Such an assertion might fit into your preconceived notions about Dr. Peikoff and perhaps what you want to believe about Dr. Pekioff. But that does not constitute evidence.

    The particular nature of the criticism that Dr. Peikoff objected to is all-important on this. And without knowledge of that, it is not possible to form conclusions about the appropriateness of Dr. Peikoff’s actions.

    Your premise here is that any and all criticism, so long as it is by an “academic” and offered under the guise of “scholarly cooperation” is automatically to be regarded as “legitimate.” Well, that premise is nonsense. All criticism of any sort has to be judged on its own merit – not by who is making it and under what pretenses.

    ARI has a very specific intellectual agenda. If someone has a professional association with ARI and ends up criticizing something that is at the very root of the organization’s mission and agenda – well, there is obviously an incompatibility. And any such incompatibility needs to be discussed and addressed – perhaps even to the point of the person needing to resign or be involuntarily severed.

    I am NOT suggesting that this was the case with McCaskey. I am merely rebutting the bizarre implication that any and all criticism must be indiscriminately tolerated. I can think of a LOT examples where criticism by an ARI board member would require an immediate end to the relationship. To use a very crude and far fetched example: if a board member criticized Peikoff for being insufficiently respectful towards, Kant, Lenin and Barack Obama – well, you figure it out.

    Furthermore, we don’t even know if there isn’t more to the story than just Peikoff’s objection to McCaskey’s criticism. For all we know, there may be other matters that were not discussed in that particular email that were brought up in previous conversations.

    Obviously, because of McCaskey’s accomplishments and contributions to ARI, people do have legitimate grounds to be concerned about this – especially if they are an ARI donor or staff member. But what you are doing is simply making crap up.

    The full evidence needed to reach a conclusion has not yet been presented. And yet people are already making conclusions. On what basis? I will tell you exactly what basis: on the basis of their existing preconceptions and hostilities. In the absence of evidence, people are reaching conclusions based on what they want to be true. And certain individuals have a very long history of that.

    Until more evidence is presented, there is no “scandal” here. Now, to me, what might become a scandal is if, at some point, more evidence is NOT presented. That WOULD be a scandal. But since I have no idea what the full story and context is, my attitude is that the people involved need to be given every benefit of the doubt in terms of allowing them sufficient time to respond when and how they think it is appropriate.

  • Ashley King


    Don’t presume: I have no hostilities toward Dr. Peikoff. I have disappointment given his important place in advancing the right ideas.

    Second, keep to the facts: I said scholarly or academic criticism, not “any and all.”

    Third, how do I know McCaskey’s criticism is legitimate? Because I read it at

    Finally, you are pretty snippy for person who doesn’t have the guts to post their name.

  • Jim May

    This happened in the 50s and 60s when Rand allowed Nathaniel Branden to act as a one-man judge, jury and executioner and I don’t think Objectivism has recovered.

    “Objectivism” is a set of ideas — and last I checked, not a one of them has changed since the McCaskey affair, nor has the reality they describe.

    This is, therefore, a bizarre assertion — unless one assumes that Parille is conflating ideas and people. In that view, everything is about people instead of ideas. The “benefits” of that approach include never actually having to deal with ideas, and as I’ve written before, Objectivism’s enemies know that they cannot ever let the battle be fought on ideas, or they are dead.

  • Jim May

    Dismuke makes a sound point: if you join an organization, particularly one like ARI, you are committing to support the goals and ideals of that organization. Your agreement to employment there constitutes this sanction. Or, to use my analogy: if you are working for the ARI, you ARE flying under their command.

    While the philosophy itself is the common thread that runs through it all, the loyalty to that organizations’ vision thereof is part and parcel of working there, for the same reasons that making hamburgers a certain way is part and parcel of working at McDonald’s.

    That’s not to say that you shouldn’t offer new ideas; a well-run company has mechanisms in place to take advantage of good new ideas that come from anyone in their organizations. To be of benefit to that company, however, one should use those mechanisms to make one’s proposals. You don’t start making wholesale changes on your own, especially if such changes result in a significantly different product being sold under *their* label.

    That’s what David Kelley did wrong; he was passing off substandard product under the Objectivist label.

    Robert Tracinski, at least, left the organization first before putting his own ideas out there — and under his own banner.

    This is what I believe will eventually serve Objectivism the best: not a monolithic single organization by intent, but a marketplace of independent organizations and individuals all putting their own approaches to the test in a competitive market, where the best ones will win out.

    If one organization beats all competition by a mile, then we”l have one dominant entity as a flagship. If multiple groups all have comparable success, but in ways that complement and fit each other, than *that’s* what we’ll have. That’s how markets work. Objectivist advocacy is a market, like any other, unto itself and as part of the larger marketplace of ideas. There really isn’t anything new here, and as capitalists there’s no reason why we couldn’t simply accept this and figure out how to exploit it.

  • dismuke

    “Don’t presume: I have no hostilities toward Dr. Peikoff. I have disappointment given his important place in advancing the right ideas.”

    Uhhhmmm I am afraid you are the one who is guilt of making presumptions here – for reasons that I have already clearly spelled out.

    “Third, how do I know McCaskey’s criticism is legitimate? Because I read it at “

    McCaskey published his review after Peikoff issued his ultimatum – and thus was NOT what he took objection to. The fact stands: you have zero first hand knowledge and only very, very sketchy second-hand knowledge of the actual emails, discussions, conversations, etc. that Peikoff took exception to.

    In other words, you are making serious accusations and reaching conclusions about Dr. Peikoff without access to sufficient to back it up. Funny thing: you are, therefore, guilty of exactly one of the things Dr. Peikoff is being accused of.

    “Finally, you are pretty snippy for person who doesn’t have the guts to post their name.

    My name is none of your god damned business.

  • Neil Parille

    Dr. McCaskey has described what his objections were prior to Peikoff email and posted what appears to be a summary of them on Amazon.

    If Peikoff thinks Dr. M. is being selective or misleading he can correct the record.

    Based on what we know of Peikoff’s conduct here and his previous conduct I think we are entitledto conclude that he’s on a power trip.

  • dismuke

    Well, Parille, if I have or ever do have any questions, concerns, disagreements or problems with Dr. Peikoff or with ARI, I would no sooner discuss them with the likes of you than I would discuss any questions, concerns, disagreements or problems I might have with a private company with Barack Obama or the head of the SEIU and thereby provide them with further ammunition for their hostility and evil agenda.

    I would no sooner discuss them with the likes of you than I would discuss any questions, concerns, disagreements or problems I might have with a doctor with Kathelene Sebelius, the thug in charge of ObamaCare and thereby fuel her hostility and evil agenda.

    All it takes is a simply google search for someone to learn that your hostility is well documented across the web and goes back. As far as I am concerned, any engagement with you regarding matters involving ARI and Dr. Peikoff is no different than engaging Obama regarding a business enterprise when, in fact, he hates businessmen and wishes to see them destroyed.

    Whatever doubts and grievances I have or might someday have with ARI and/or Peikoff does not alter the fact that you are what you are.

    It is kind of pathetic that you spew your hostility and disdain for Objectivists elsewhere and yet you troll around websites belonging to the very people you despise in order to put up polite, innocent sounding little observations – and anyone who does not recognize your name (not everybody spends time intellectually slumming by lurking in online sewers as I do on occasion out of morbid curiosity) would have no way of knowing that, when it comes to this subject, anything you say is best dismissed out of hand.

    I have zero problem with people’s eyebrows being raised by this matter. And I think that ARI donors are entitled to an explanation defending the ultimatum – if not from Dr. Peikoff directly than at least through surrogates. But no matter how this plays out, Parille, it does not change the fact that you are a worm. Now go crawl back into your hole.

  • madmax

    But no matter how this plays out, Parille, it does not change the fact that you are a worm. Now go crawl back into your hole.

    This could be construed as an insult to worms. Parille is that bad.

  • dismuke

    madmax – you are correct. My apologies to worms. Worms are beneficial. They keep the soil aerated and make great fish bait. Some alternative lifestyle people even use them as an ingredient for cookies and various recipes.

    I will retract my comment comparing him to a worm and change that to a “snake” – but not a garden variety snake which can also be beneficial but only a hostile snake filled with foul, bitter, nasty toxic venom.

  • Richard

    “But my strongest impression when I first read it is that Tracinski is seizing the occasion to almost gleefully grind all sorts of axes that he has obviously accumulated over time.”

    Exactly this. Particularly the bit about the Objective Standard being setup as a direct competitor to TIA Daily. I have never viewed them that way. TIA seems to focus more on politics and news, where TOS is generally broader and eclectic. This almost made me feel like Tracinski was veering off into paranoia.

  • Inspector

    “My name is none of your god damned business.”

    Well said sir. I’m glad that an asinine comment like that wasn’t tolerated. The real coward is someone like King who makes underhanded attacks like that.

  • North Bridge

    “But my strongest impression when I first read it is that Tracinski is seizing the occasion to almost gleefully grind all sorts of axes that he has obviously accumulated over time.”

    Everything is wrong with Tracinski’s piece. How much of the negative reaction against Dr. Peikoff has been prompted by this — does anyone have any idea? I only learned about the conflict from Jim May’s post and am not on Facebook. But of the discussion and commentary I have read the past few days, practically all the anti-Peikoff comments begin with “Tracinski is so right, yadda yadda.”

    As I read Dr. Peikoff’s email, it can be understood any number of different ways, depending on what one is willing to read into it. Which goes to say that it really doesn’t say very much to someone who doesn’t know the context. It certainly is not self-evident that he is inappropriately pulling rank. I wonder whether Tracinski has managed to control the debate by rushing this axe-grinding commentary into the field so quickly. Or am I overestimating his influence?

  • dismuke

    Inspector: indeed.

    Personally, I question the wisdom of someone using their real name on the Internet.

    Of course, for someone like me, using one’s real name is not risky at all. That’s because I am mononominal and, therefore, only have but one name: Dismuke.

    Because of the namist, monophobic, polynominal bigotry that is all-pervasive in our culture, people just assume that “Dismuke” is a pseudonym.

    In our culture, mononominal names are only given to pets (i.e, “Spot” “Rover” Fluffy” etc.) and to people who perform yucky modern rock type music such as Cher and Madonna and the artist formerly and currently known as Prince. Well, there’s also Algore – but he has cracked so much under the pressure of being a mononominal that he has blimped up, gone off in the head and sounds like Mr. Rogers whenever he talks. We mononominals tend to be kind of embarrassed by him.

    The worst form of discrimination we mononominals face is when people deny our very existence. Thus our names are assumed to be pseudonyms because, we are told, they just can’t be real. And they even try to deny our right to work, drive and vote. Ever fill out a Social Security card or drivers’ license application form or a voters’ registration card? Observe they always ask for a First Name and a Last Name. I, of course, have neither.

    Ayn Rand, by the way, was a champion of oppressed mononominals back in a time when discrimination was even worse than it is today. For example, in Anthem when Equality 7-2521 and Equality 7-2521 free themselves from the oppressive society and choose new names for themselves, observe that they chose mononominal names “Prometheus” and “Gaea.” They did not give themselves names such as “Prometheus Smith” and “Gaea Jones.” Do you really think that this was just a coincidence?

    Anyhow, the burden of being a mononominal can be heavy at times. And the implication that my name is somehow less than real – well, it sometimes wounds my self-esteem and makes me feel as if I am, therefore, less than real. I think I deserve some affirmative action!

  • Bill Brown

    You are overestimating. The controversy has been brewing for a month. It had subsided somewhat before his essay inflamed things again. Anyone who is familiar with Tracinski knows where some of his ire is coming from, but he raises some good points about the movement that I would agree with.

  • dismuke

    “As I read Dr. Peikoff’s email, it can be understood any number of different ways, depending on what one is willing to read into it. Which goes to say that it really doesn’t say very much to someone who doesn’t know the context.”

    You have named exactly what my frustration is on this whole matter. One can read it any number of different ways. And what I am seeing is people reading it the way they want to read it.

    We have certainly seen that earlier in the comments here – including to the point of reading into it that which simply is not there.

    And it cuts the other way too – I saw something the other night online where someone trying to defend Dr. Peikoff was clearly reading from it what he wanted to read from it. It would be very sad if this sort of defense from someone who has no more access to the relevant facts than I do ends up being all that is put forth.

    My hope is that at some point, somebody who does have access to the facts and to Dr. Peikoff’s thinking on the subject puts something out that spells out the specific facts and reasons involved. The only person to do this so far has been McCaskey.

    Here is a good way to look at my frustration on this: in order to access the only information that is available regarding Dr. Peikoff’s side of the story on this one has to go to McCaskey’s website for goodness sakes.

    One of the things that I will forever be grateful to Dr. Peikoff for is his Objective Communication course that I took via tape recorded lectures. The things I learned in that course have benefited me enormously both personally and professionally over the years. I highly recommend it to anyone – Objectivist or non-Objectivist alike. But the benefits I got from that course only make this situation even more frustrating. Communication? That is exactly what has been lacking in all of this. The only communication from Dr. Peikoff on this matter that ARI donors and Dr. Peikoff’s fans and well-wishes have access to is on McCaskey’s website.

  • North Bridge

    Context is obviously key here. The situation is not that we have no evidence on which to base a judgment, but that the evidence is insufficient. I think that is an important distinction. Dismuke, I agree with your point that a reckless defense of Dr. Peikoff is as wrongheaded as reckless attacks, but that does not translate into a counsel of strict neutrality. Not claiming that that is your position, but I think it is a distinction worth making. It is possible to form a tentative opinion (or first impression) based on what is there, but from there we have to “wait and see” what else comes to light — knowing that first impressions may be mistaken. That being said, I think the evidence speaks in favor of Dr. Peikoff (for what that’s worth).

    Significantly, Tracinski takes the opposite view and dismisses the need for context. I think that is an important clue to his thought processes and motivations. Some people do dismiss the need for context whenever their sense of conviction about a conclusion is strong enough, but that is a serious cognitive aberration. The claim that “context is irrelevant” tells you that the speaker is either a weasel or temporarily insane. Nothing beyond direct perception is an out-of-context absolute.

    For the record, I don’t think Tracinski is insane.

    Here is what he states: “… some have cited ‘context’ to avoid drawing the obvious conclusions from the AthemGate e-mail, saying that we do not know what discussions and conflicts may have occurred behind the scenes. I suspect they cite this context precisely because it is unknown, thereby justifying a permanent suspension of judgment. But as others have replied … further context can only add information. It can’t make the content of the Anthemgate e-mail disappear. In what context, after all, is it acceptable to make an argument from authority?”

    To avoid drawing obvious conclusions? As dismuke pointed out, the particular nature of the criticism that Dr. Peikoff objected to is all-important. Nothing about this issue is “obvious” without that information.

    Justifying a permanent suspension of judgment? No, just a suspension until more information comes to light — with a strong hope that more information will. This is Tracinski’s underhanded way of accusing those who do not immediately pounce on Dr. Peikoff of evasion.

    Further context can’t make the contents of the email disappear? This is equivalent to claiming that Dr. Peikoff’s email is self-evidently immoral, which only evasion would lead anyone to deny. No, context won’t make the contents disappear, but it will elucidate their actual meaning.

    Case in point, the little context that we do have makes it clear that Dr. Peikoff is not engaging in argument from authority. He is not asserting his “authority” (or “status” or position) as reason for accepting his theories, or any other claim or conclusion. At worst he is trying to pressure an organization he founded to make a decision, which is more accurately described as “exerting influence.” Objectivists defend earned “economic power,” and would champion a businessman’s right to use his wealth and influence to ruin a competitor — yet we are supposed to see some self-evident wickedness in our leading philosopher asserting his (much more modest) earned “authority” to oust another individual from his circles? The action is on the order of a firing. Is this so horrifying to people because Dr. Peikoff is not the official CEO, but more like the retired founder of the organization? Grant the worst-case scenario, assume that Dr. McCaskey merely annoyed him — would that make the action self-evidently wrong? Are we able to separate the question of whether we sympathize with Dr. Peikoff’s motivations (real or imagined) from whether he has a moral right to do what he does?

    For the record, I don’t believe this worst-case scenario to be true. I don’t have the evidence to say for certain that it is not. Either way, a moral judgment does not come to me merely from gazing at an out-of-context email. The point is that there are a lot of questions that would need to be answered to even understand what happened here, let alone reach a judgment.

  • dismuke

    North Bridge –

    Very good posting.

    “That being said, I think the evidence speaks in favor of Dr. Peikoff (for what that’s worth).”

    The more thought I give the matter, the more I am inclined to agree. I wouldn’t word it quite that strongly – but I agree in that, based on what evidence is available, I can easily see a scenario where Dr. Peikoff’s actions (if not his public relations skills) would be entirely justifiable.

    Let’s consider the relevant facts that are available:

    An ARI board member offered criticism of an ARI funded project (Harriman’s book). Some of that criticism was kept internal to ARI in the form of the emails. Some of that criticism was expressed in the forum that McClaskey says consisted of “eight professors and other academics.” It is not explicitly stated that some or all of academics were individuals external to ARI – but that is the impression I get from McClaskey’s wording and from Peikoff’s email.

    According to McClaskey, there was a gentleman’s agreement that views expressed at the meeting would not be reported elsewhere. So, in that respect, any criticism at the meeting could be deemed “not public.” On the other hand, to the degree that these academics were external to the ARI board and the book writing project, such criticism cannot be considered to be strictly internal, either.

    The issue is not whether someone who is an employee or board member should refrain from criticizing organizational policies. The issue is how and when such criticism is appropriate. That, of course, is highly contextual and can differ from one organization to another. But one thing is constant regardless of the organization: If you are an employee or a member of management of an organization, any criticism of the organization, of its policies and its products must be kept strictly internal. To do otherwise is disloyal.

    Now, regarding whether or not internal criticism is appropriate depends on one’s role within the organization. There is a difference between a board member and an employee.

    If you are an employee, then, ultimately, when push comes to shove, you are paid to do as you are instructed. Now, in general, it is a good idea for a company to be open and receptive to employee concerns – and most well-run companies have procedures in place that employees are encouraged to use in order to express such concerns. But, if a company makes it clear that it is not interested in what employees have to say on a given subject, then it is the employees’ responsibility to either shut up and adhere to company policy or, if they cannot do so in all good conscience, resign.

    If you are an employee, there is no “free speech” or, to use Tracinski’s term, “independence” at work, on company property and on company time. And if an employee takes his criticism outside of the company, he should be fired.

    On the other hand, internal criticism is appropriate for a board member. If a board member has what he considers to be an important concern about the organization’s direction, policies or products, he has an obligation to speak up about it if he takes his responsibilities at all seriously.

    If McCaskey had what he felt were important concerns about Harriman’s book or any other matter that ARI was involved with, then he should have pressed such concerns with Harriman and his fellow board members.

    I seriously doubt that Dr. Peikoff would want board members doing otherwise. Let’s use a very crude and far fetched example: Let’s say that a board member’s thinking evolved to the point that he felt that Objectivism has an unnecessarily harsh view towards altruism and that ARI needs to soften its message accordingly. Do you think that Dr. Peikoff would want somebody like that on the board to just keep such an opinion to himself and continue on in the role in a sort of dishonest manner? I seriously doubt it. My guess is that Dr. Peikoff would want such a person to be honest about his views – so that the rest of the board can judge him accordingly and act accordingly.

    If you are a board member of any organization and you have a concern about something that you feel is important to the organization, you have an obligation to make that case and defend that case – even if it means that you end up being booted off the board. That is why it is beneficial to have board members who independent of the organization and do not rely on it for their financial livelihood. If you look at the resumes of most of the ARI board members, if ARI went away tomorrow, these individuals will be more than able to pay their bills. And that is the way it should be.

    When board members disagree, very often things can be worked out by “agreeing to disagree.” If extra funding becomes available, a disagreement over whether it should be spent on essay contests or archive upgrades is probably not going to split the board, especially if everybody on it supports both the contests and the archives. In some cases, disagreements will be so significant that a resignation and/or purge will become necessary for reasons of personal integrity and/or the good of the organization.

    My guess is that pretty much every member on the ARI board has had concerns and criticism of one sort or another – especially given the organization’s scope these days. Perhaps a certain program is not as effective as it should be. Perhaps a certain book is not as well written as it might have been. Perhaps certain personnel decisions are questionable. Regardless of what those specific concerns might be, it would be highly inappropriate for them to give voice to those doubts and concerns to anyone outside the organization. To do otherwise would be to undermine the organization.

    The potential red flag I see with regard to McCaskey has nothing to do with his particular criticism (which I couldn’t judge anyway – I don’t even have a high school level physics background and am almost as ignorant when it comes to the history of science) but with the fact that he presented any form of criticism at the the meeting of academics.

    My question is how McCaskey could have participated in such a forum without it having been a major conflict of interest.

    Qua ARI board member and, therefore, representative of the organization, he had a moral obligation to promote ARI and its programs and products in the best possible light. That does not mean that he should have said things that he did not believe to be true about its programs or products. But it does mean that he should have kept his doubts and criticism to himself in the exact same way that I have always kept my mouth shut outside the office about any doubts and criticisms I might have about the products and services offered by the companies I have worked for.

    On the other hand, qua academic, integrity requires that he be candid and forthright in his criticism of the book and not a mere shill for some organization. I know nothing about this forum or how formal it is. But I question why, as a an ARI board member, he was even invited. It would be sort of like having a automobile critics’ round-table and inviting someone on the board of Honda Motors to offer evaluations of various brands of cars. Would anybody really expect him to point out facts that might put Honda in a bad light? And if he did – think of the disloyalty that would represent to Honda and all of its hard working employees.

    My very strong GUESS from reading the email is that THIS – not the mere fact that McCaskey expressed internal criticism – might have been the final straw that led to Peikoff’s ultimatum. And, if so, I can certainly understand. Whether or not there should have been more discussion between Peikoff and McCaskey ahead of time or whether such a concern would have been better dealt with by means of reprimand – I have no idea.

    Anyhow, that is one way that I can see, based on the evidence that has been presented so far, where Dr. Peikoff’s actions could have been entirely justified. Whether that is what happened – well, I don’t know.

    Regarding Tracinski – he and others seem to regard this as having ominous implications for the intellectual independence of ARI staffers and intellectuals – especially those who stray from “the party line.”

    I think such a view and concern ignores the nature of exactly what ARI is and is not. ARI is NOT some sort of organization that exists to provide a climate of “academic freedom” or “academic diversity.” Crudely stated, ARI’s mission is entirely propagandistic. ARI exists because donors have put up their money to promote a very specific viewpoint. In that respect “the party line” and promoting “the party line” is the reason for ARI’s very existence in the first place. If one is not comfortable with that fact, one should not go to work for them and one should not take their money. Doing otherwise is dishonest both towards ARI and towards one’s own integrity.

    Going to work for them and taking their money does not mean that one has to become a zombie and refuse to recognize A being A when you see it. It does not mean that you have to agree with each and every policy. But it does mean that you agree to be loyal to the organization and its very specific mission and, if you are not able to do so with integrity, move on to something else.

    A good example of this is a press secretary or a corporate spokesperson who conducts a press conference. To take that job in the first place requires one to recognize that one is sometimes going to be called upon to articulate and defend policies and positions that one privately does not always agree with. Doing so is not necessarily a breach of integrity in this context. The media does not send reporters to attend a press conference to hear a spokesperson’s views – they are there to hear the spokesperson’s employer’s views. If you are constitutionally incapable of keeping your views separate from your employer’s then you probably should not become a corporate spokesperson.

    The same is true with ARI employees. If you work for ARI, the donors are not contributing their hard earned money for you to promote your views. They are contributing money for you to promote Ayn Rand’s views – and they make their contribution with the expectation that Dr. Peikoff, the board members and ARI management will exercise quality control in terms of how those views are promoted. And if your views differ from Ayn Rand’s views as ARI has deemed best to represent them in any fundamental or significant respect, then you should do yourself and the ARI donors a favor and quit.

    If you want ” independence” in any and all contexts from ARI’s “party line” (or any other employer’s “party line”) don’t work for them. Don’t take their money and you will have all the independence you desire. The fact that you might “need” their money is not ARI’s fault or problem.

    The fact that you might be an ARI employee and have significant disagreements with management and want out but are keeping your mouth shut and putting up a facade because you cannot survive without their paycheck or speaking fees – well, that’s not ARI’s fault and any “integrity” issues that might be gnawing away at you as a result are YOUR problem and not ARI’s.

    Perhaps you are right and ARI management is wrong. It doesn’t matter. You take an organization’s money, then you play by their rules and stick to the “party line.”

    Perhaps ARI is “the only game in town” without a viable competitor. Tough – that’s not ARI’s problem and it is not ARI’s or Dr. Peikoff’s job to provide you with such an organization.

    If you go to work for ARI and you have concerns along these lines and you do not bring them up candidly and honestly in your job interview, then you are not doing due-diligence.

    (Now, if you are a student in one of ARI’s programs I think there is a different standard. Obviously certain standards of agreement are necessary for admission – but one cannot realistically expect students to be fully versed in, yet alone fully agree with, “the party line” in the same way that paid staffers are. And, based on what I have heard second hand, situations where students do have concerns or doubts about certain aspects of the philosophy are handled in a respectful and professional manner)

    Tracinski’s whining on this matter makes him sound like a typical entry level malcontent employee who can never advance to management because he has zero grasp of the organizational “big picture” and thinks everything revolves around his wants and needs (or in his case, his “independence”) – and when he doesn’t get his way, he blames “The Man.” I wonder if Tracinski has ever managed people? If TIA ever became highly successful (learning how to meet deadlines would be a start) and he ended up having to hire a staff of employees, I wonder how much patience and tolerance he would have for employees exercising their “independence” on his dime and under his name.

    Anyhow, I should stop before this “stream of consciousness” goes on any further. There are a LOT of red flags in Tracinski’s article so that is a can of worms that I could very easily open but probably should not as this is already much longer than I intended for it to be. I probably should have just put up another posting about mononominals instead.

  • dismuke

    Here is a little something from Dr. Peikoff for those who assert that he somehow has a problem with people disagreeing. This, of course, is not anything new – it is not anything that hasn’t addressed elsewhere previously. But this was posted to his website on Monday so it is recent:

    Of course, this thread here in the comments section is not talking about someone being “kicked out of Objectivist society” but rather from a particular organization. And standard for an organization or business on such matters can be very different. For example, if an ARI staffer or even board member, had profoundly strong disagreements on how to best promote the philosophy and pursued those disagreements, it might very well be determined that the person’s views are at odds with the direction the organization has chosen and must therefore go. But that wouldn’t necessarily make the person somehow less of an Objectivist or less than a decent person.

  • dismuke

    I keep finding myself thinking about this issue during random, idle moments.

    Here are some more comments on the offensiveness of Tracinski’s article:

    In his article, Tracinski quotes from Dr. Pekoff’s email:

    “When a great book sponsored by the Institute and championed by me—I hope you still know who I am and what my intellectual status is in Objectivism—is denounced by a member of the Board of the Institute, which I founded, someone has to go, and someone will go. It is your prerogative to decide whom.”

    To that, Tracinski responds:

    “Many people have been shocked that this ultimatum takes the form of asking “Don’t you know who I am?” It is a caricature of the rank-pulling blowhard—more reminiscent of John Kerry than of John Galt. But the actual key phrase here is “intellectual status.”

    The obvious rejoinder is that there is no such thing. There is no “status” in science or in philosophy, no role for personal loyalty and no deference to authority figures.”

    Nice little switch of contexts there, Robert.

    Observe Trcinski’s little trick: He twists the context of Dr. Peikoff’s use “intellectual status” in order to to equate Dr. Peikoff’s exercise of organizational authority with the logical fallacy of appeal to authority

    Tracinski writes: ” There is no “status” in science or in philosophy, no role for personal loyalty and no deference to authority figures.”

    But Dr. Peikoff does not make any such claim to “status in science” or “status in philosophy” in his email. Nor is he asserting himself as a philosophical “authority figure” or a scientific “authority figure.”

    The status that Dr. Peikoff is claiming in his email is very explicit, narrow and specific: it is his intellectual status in Objectivism.

    Now, it is a matter of fact and public record that Dr. Peikoff does hold a very special and unique intellectual status in Objectivism: Ayn Rand – the person who created Objectivism – formally and publicly endorsed Dr. Peikoff as the person who has the greatest and most authoritative understanding of her philosophy.

    Tracinski is free to disagree with Ayn Rand’s endorsement – but the choice to so was hers and only hers to make.

    Tracinski is free to believe that Dr. Peikoff is not worthy of such a designation or has failed to live up to it. But what Tracinski thinks is irrelevant to the fact that Dr. Peikoff does hold a unique and special intellectual status within Objectivism that was conferred on him by the author of Objectivism.

    Tracinski twists this to suggest that Dr. Peikoff is making a fallacious appeal to authority when, in fact, what Dr. Peikoff is actually doing is asserting his authority. The authority that Dr. Pekioff is asserting is his organizational authority as founder of the Institute and, presumably, his legal authority as the owner of Ayn Rand’s estate.

    One is certainly free to disagree with how and why Dr. Peikoff chooses to assert his authority in this or any other situation. But to twist this in order to assert that Dr. Peikoff is setting himself up as an “authority figure” in philosophy and science to which people owe blind, mindless “personal loyalty” and deference – well, it is either fiendishly dishonest or else a product of a bitter, disgruntled mind viewing the situation through the lens of wishful thinking.

    I don’t care what one’s disagreements with Dr. Peikoff are – to compare him to John Kerry Who Served In Vietnam is outrageous and offensive.

    I remember reading about Kerry’s infamous “don’t you know who I am” remark. Kerry was standing in line waiting to make a purchase at a ski resort and demanded that the staff move him to the front of the line ahead of customers who had been waiting longer. When the staff refused, Kerry responded with a menacing “Don’t you know who I am?” (At least that is the instance I read about – with Kerry, my guess is he says it a lot).

    What is offensive about Kerry’s assertion of his status in this manner is his doing so in a context where it is irrelevant. In a free country, politicians are not royalty – they do not get to demand special status or favors from private citizens. Kerry’s behavior is offensive because he tried to assert status and exercise authority that he had no right to assert.

    On the other hand, when he was a presidential candidate, Kerry would have been entirely within his rights to say “Don’t you know who I am ” in the context of reining in out of control and insubordinate campaign employees.

    Unlike Kerry demanding preferential treatment from a business, Dr. Peikoff had every right in the world to assert the status and authority that is rightfully his by virtue of him being the founder of the Institute and owner of Ayn Rand’s estate. Indeed, to the degree that Dr. Peikoff takes his role of founder of the Institute seriously, to the degree he takes his job as Ayn Rand’s literary executor seriously, to the degree that he takes seriously the special “intellectual status” that Ayn Rand conferred on him with regard to her philosophy, he has an obligation to exercise his authority to the fullest extent possible whenever he deems it to be necessary and warranted.

    Now, whether Dr. Peikoff’s exercise of his authority in this matter was necessary and warranted is an entirely separate matter. If Tracinski or others wish to make the case that it was not – well, fine. But disagreeing with Dr. Peikoff on that does NOT give one license to twist his words in order to portray him as a John Kerry or some sort of cult figure who sets himself up as an “authority figure” demanding blind allegiance and “personal loyalty.” That is uncalled for and beyond the pale.

    Tracinski calls the quoted Peikoff passage “a caricature of the rank-pulling blowhard.”

    But the term “rank pulling bloward” describes someone who abuses his rank and asserts it in a context where doing so is profoundly inappropriate.

    If I am out and about someplace outside of work socializing with several of my staff members and, when the subject of what restaurant we will stop at for a bite to eat comes up, I make a demand that my preference trump everyone else’s on grounds that I am their boss and have the power to make their lives miserable – that would be an example of a “rank pulling blowhard.”

    But the mere fact that one pulls rank does not necessarily make one a blowhard. Indeed, pulling rank is absolutely necessary from time to time. Ultimately, at the end of the day, the only way irreconcilable disagreements and disputes get settled once and for all within an organization is by somebody pulling rank.

    If there is a disagreement among my staff at work as to how a certain situation needs to be handled and they cannot figure it out or work it out themselves, I have no choice but to “pull rank” and dictate how the situation is to be handled.

    And if my boss asks me to do something that strikes me as being ill advised or even irrational but which, in fact, is entirely justified for reasons he is not in a position to clue me into and I strenuously protest, at some point he will have no choice but to “pull rank” and order me to comply with his wishes.

    That is the way it is with any organization that strives for something other than chaos.

    In this case, saying that Dr. Peikoff “pulled rank” is nothing more than pointing out that he exercised the rightful authority that is his to assert by virtue of his position of founder and as Ayn Rand’s designated intellectual and legal heir.

    Tracinski does not merely object to how and why Dr. Peikoff asserted his authority but also tries to make something sinister out of the mere fact that he asserted his authority.

    There seems to be a pattern here. Tracinski is pretty much tipping his hand as someone who seems to have a major problem with organizational authority – which would basically make him almost unhirable in the eye of almost any would-be employer who was able to pick up on it. I’ve already detailed some examples in this thread in comments #3 and #26.

    To illustrate how Dr. Peikoff’s exercise of authority would be warranted and even expected in pretty much any organization and is NOT a basis for alleging that he is setting himself as some sort of cult figure, let’s project the exact same situation on to a different organization that functions in the business world and not in the philosophical/intellectual world.

    Let’s take Bill Gates. He founded Microsoft. And while he no longer has a full time day-to-day role in the company, he is still a Chairman on the board and the company’s single largest stockholder. If it weren’t for Bill Gates, there would be no Microsoft. In many people’s eyes, Microsoft is synonymous with Bill Gates.

    Let’s say that one of Microsoft’s programmers is working on a new software program that Gates has taken a very active interest in. Let’s say that Gates collaborates on the software. In Gate’s opinion, it is one of the best products Microsoft has come up with in a long time – and he has publicly said very nice things about the software program and its developer.

    Now let’s say that a board member for Microsoft has had concerns about the programming on the software for a long time and has communicated those concerns in private with the developer over email correspondence and in person. And let’s say that as the software program is being released to the marketplace, this board member is one of several programmers – some of whom do NOT work for Microsoft – invited to a roundtable discussion criticizing and offering feedback of the new program. And let’s say that this board member offered criticism of this new Microsoft product in the presence of programmers who are not employees of Microsoft. Whether or not his criticism was valid nor not the fact remains is he was criticizing one of the company’s products to outsiders.

    Now let’s say that Gates sends an email to the Microsoft board which includes, among other things, the following:

    “When a great software program developed by Microsoft and championed by me—I hope you still know who I am and what my status is in this company and in this industry —is denounced by a member of the Board of Microsoft, which I founded, someone has to go, and someone will go. It is your prerogative to decide whom.”

    Somehow I don’t think it would occur to Tracinski to denounce Bill Gates for behaving in such a manner or to twist the meaning of such a statement into suggesting that Gates is setting himself up as an “authority figure” demanding blind obedience. Then again, I don’t think Tracinski has an axe to grind against Bill Gates. It is very clear that he has several to grind against Peikoff and ARI.

  • North Bridge

    Dismuke: Well said.

    “He twists the context of Dr. Peikoff’s use ‘intellectual status’ in order to to equate Dr. Peikoff’s exercise of organizational authority with the logical fallacy of appeal to authority”

    I think this is the key issue (and made the same observation in post #25 above). From the discussion I have seen, the root of people’s disappointment and despair over Dr. Peikoff — in some cases, overt hostility — seems to be confusion about the meaning of “appeal to authority.” It is a logical fallacy with a very specific meaning: It is the claim to establish a conclusion with someone’s authority as a substitute for evidence. The fact that this is a fallacy does not imply that there is no such thing as legitimate or earned authority; it only clarifies that authority is irrelevant to establishing the truth of a conclusion.

    As long as this is held clear, authority is a perfectly legitimate concept. So is “intellectual status.” To a large extent I rely on my doctor’s authority in matters of health, and I openly acknowledge that he has a much higher “intellectual status” in the field of medicine. If I dislike his advice I am free to go elsewhere — nothing about his status or authority squelches my independence. However, if I started peddling snake oil outside his door, he would be perfectly justified in calling the landlord, asserting his “status” if necessary, and having me thrown out.

    If my doctor were to refuse to look at my symptoms or take my history, but arbitrarily told me to take these red pills “because I say so” — that would effectively be an argument from authority. Calling the landlord and asking to have a snake oil peddler removed “because I’m the doctor here” is not. And the landlord is free to evict the doctor instead if he disagrees.

    It is plainly apparent in Dr. Peikoff’s email — no further context required — that he is not invoking his “status” in Objectivism to establish the truth of his theory of induction, or of any other claim or conclusion. He is pressuring ARI’s Board to make a decision — either get rid of McCaskey or get rid of me. If I were to issue an ultimatum like that to ARI, I would be summarily dismissed as a nutcase. But Dr. Peikoff does indeed have a position (or “status”) that allows him to make such a demand. The mere fact that he does so is not on its face inappropriate.

    Yet this seems to be the one thing that people fixate on and profess moral revulsion over. The notion that no one has more “authority” than anyone else, that no one can assert a special position or “status,” that the founder of an organization should know his place, that everyone has a right to “criticize” and be heard, that even a proven expert in his field is no better than the rest of us — that is not reality, or logic, or Objectivism. It is modern multi-culti, anti-Establishment, anti-standards, egalitarian relativism. In the case of the younger kids who have this reaction, I think it can be excused as confusion and the influence of current-day cultural premises. But someone like Tracinski knows better. He has a solid philosophical grounding with which to sort this out if he chose to look at the evidence honestly.

    All this being said, be careful not to over-extend the organizational metaphor. Dr. Peikoff does assert “status” within Objectivism, not just within ARI. I believe this is true and legitimate, but Objectivism as such is a philosophy, not an organization. Some of your examples regarding bosses etc. don’t have an direct parallel in the case at hand. But mutatis mutandis I still think you are illustrating the basic principle well — I agree “in spirit,” if you will.

  • madmax

    Regarding Tracinski’s sour grapes, much of it has to do with the rejection by ARI, and most of the Objectivist community, of Tracinski’s take on America’s foreign policy. Nine years later, Tracinski and Wakeland are still carrying the torch for the nations-building, Democracy-spreading, “bring the people of Iraq and Afghanistan a little bit of paradise” (Tracinski’s actual words) faux “wars” in the Middle East. ARI’s war writers have rejected Bush’s foreign policy as altruist. Tracinski says the ARI doesn’t understand altruism and are a bunch of rationalists to boot.

    Tracinski rushed off into political commentary without truly mastering the deeper levels of Objectivist philosophy IMO. He’s occasionally bright but also occasionally dim. He has also taken ‘The Intellectual Activist’, which prior to him was an excellent Objectivist publication (how I used to look forward to every issue when I was younger), and run it into the ground. In the process he has become a marginalized voice in the Objectivist world. This, I think, contributes to his all-too-eager-view-of-the-demise-of-Objectivism position.

  • Jim May

    The status that Dr. Peikoff is claiming in his email is very explicit, narrow and specific: it is his intellectual status in Objectivism.

    Well, that’s one point that needs further exploration: is “Objectivism” an organization for the purpose of this discussion? I do not see it that way. Objectivism is a set of ideas, a philosophy originated by Ayn Rand. It is not an organization per se, in the manner that Microsoft and the Ayn Rand Institute are.

    In fact, that is central to my point in the original post: I am increasingly inclined to believe that while Objectivism (the philosophy) is monolithic, the movement itself need not be — there is good reason why there should be more independent operators pursuing their own ideas about how best to change the culture. The question is how to handle the inevitable disagreements. In my view, far better to handle those simply by going one’s own way and take the issue to that ultimate court: reality. That’s how the ARI handled the David Kelley split, and the verdict is in on that one, as Diana Hsieh has well documented.

    So, while I agree with Dismuke’s point and see how it applies to the ARI as an organization, I fail to see how it extends to Objectivism itself.

    So, I therefore question the scope and relevance “authority” as it applies to the grasp of and application of Objectivism. A person’s past achievements in the field in question does earn him a bigger benefit of any doubt in cases of disagreement, but it’s not a permanent or impenetrable shield from criticism or the responsibilities of cognition. As Dismuke noted, if Dr. Peikoff were indeed invoking his “authoritay” like John Kerry did, I would be done with him and his Objectivist credentials would be destroyed in my eyes.

    However, let me reiterate: I don’t have all the information, and *this* is where I give Dr. Peikoff his due; I need more evidence than this to reach any conclusions.

    My position remains this: the silence is bad PR, and McCaskey’s criticisms as we see them now, do not appear to warrant the “one higher rung in hell” reaction. I am, however, not certain of this, and expect that there is more to the picture.

  • North Bridge

    Madmax: “Amen” re TIA.

    Jim May: You are right to point out that Objectivism is a philosophy, not an organization. But there is a fundamental difference between using authority to back up a philosophical claim, vs. to influence an organization toward a concrete action. In the current conflict, Dr. P only asserted authority (or “status”) to influence ARI’s actions. This is why the cries of “argument from authority” are misleading and why the organizational analogies are relevant.

    “I therefore question the scope and relevance [of] ‘authority’ as it applies to the grasp of and application of Objectivism.

    This doesn’t seem directly relevant to the Peikoff-McCaskey split. Maybe you didn’t intend it to be — since the purpose of your original post seems to be to raise a wider point for general discussion.

    On that point — your comment that Objectivists should see themselves as independent operators — I think you are making a valuable observation. In fact, it goes hand in hand with the observation that Objectivism is not an organization. You can’t become a “member” of the philosophy. Calling yourself an Objectivist doesn’t automatically make you one. It is your own responsibility to learn the philosophy and ensure that your operative ideas are consistent with it (or else, to label yourself accurately as something other than an Objectivist). By the same token, assuming that people are serious and responsible about grasping the philosophy, they do have to make their own decisions on how best to spread it. And they should not assume that supporting ARI exhausts their options.

    Your original post and your comment above are confusing, however, in that you bring up the Kelley split as your example. It doesn’t illustrate the case you are arguing, so I wonder whether I am missing your point or you are just picking a poor example. That was a case of an ARI-supported philosopher publicly distancing himself from key aspects of the philosophy. He and ARI did not just go their separate ways — in fact, Dr. Peikoff issued an official (or “authoritative,” if you will) statement explicating how and why Kelley had broken with Objectivism. And — most directly pertinent to your point — what Kelley has been spreading since then is not Objectivism.

  • dismuke

    “So, while I agree with Dismuke’s point and see how it applies to the ARI as an organization, I fail to see how it extends to Objectivism itself.”

    Jim, here’s a little intellectual exercise I do when I think about such issues:

    Temporarily expunge the term “Objectivism” from your vocabulary. Instead, use “Ayn Rand’s philosophy.” The two, of course, are one and the same. But “Ayn Rand’s philosophy” helps concretize the issue and helps prevent one from inadvertently buying into some of the many false premises of what is and is not Objectivism. Then expunge from your vocabulary the term “Objectivist” and replace it with “a person who agrees with Ayn Rand’s philosophy.” And by “agrees with” I mean somebody who doesn’t merely agree with Ayn Rand on a random assortment of issues but rather someone who agrees with Ayn Rand’s integrated philosophical system.

    Doing this, now let’s go back and look at Dr. Peikoff’s role in Ayn Rand’s philosophy. His role is this: he is the individual that Ayn Rand publicly stated to be the person who has the greatest understanding of her philosophy besides herself. This was based on her own judgment of his understanding of the philosophy, and on him having benefited from a great many in-depth private conversations with her. So that is what Dr. Peikoff’s role is in Objectivism (to bring that word back int our vocabulary for a moment) – nothing more and nothing less.

    Dr. Peikoff’s role in Ayn Rand’s philosophy is that he is the person that Ayn Rand deemed to be its foremost expert. And since Objectivism is Ayn Rand’s philosophy that is a pretty significant credential bestowed upon him by someone who ought to know. To ignore that and not give that credential the consideration it is due is not merely direspectful of Dr. Peikoff – more significantly it is disrespectful towards Ayn Rand.

    Jim writes:

    “So, I therefore question the scope and relevance “authority” as it applies to the grasp of and application of Objectivism. A person’s past achievements in the field in question does earn him a bigger benefit of any doubt in cases of disagreement, but it’s not a permanent or impenetrable shield from criticism or the responsibilities of cognition.”

    But I don’t know a single person with an ounce of credibility who asserts that Dr. Peikoff is somehow exempt from criticism or the responsibilities of cognition or is somehow infallible because of his past accomplishments. You might find some “True Believer” type on a message board or on Facebook who acts on that premise – but so what? There are a lot of fools or worse out there who have no idea of what they are talking about spewing their mouths off and calling it “Objectivism.”

    When Ayn Rand endorsed Dr. Peikoff as being the foremost expert on her philosophy, she was not anointing a Pope. Ayn Rand did not put forth anything as dogma. She believed in certainty and was certain that the arguments put forth were correct and valid. But don’t fall for the religious trap of equating certainty with dogma. To Ayn Rand, certainty was contextual.

    Thus when Ayn Rand endorsed Dr. Peikoff as being the foremost expert on her philosophy, she was essentially saying: “based on the totality of my knowledge and my first hand experience working with Dr. Peikoff, he is the foremost expert on my philosophy.”

    Obviously her first hand knowledge and experience ended the day she died – as did her ability to amend or revoke her endorsement. And Ayn Rand was certainly not infallible when making such endorsements. Had she been hit by a bus in the mid 1960s, it would have been Nathaniel Branden who would have held the same special position in Objectivism that Dr. Peikoff does. And I think it is pretty clear now that, had that happened, it would have been a disastrous mess.

    Dr. Peikoff, like any other human being, possesses the faculty of volition. The fact that he was a person of high character in the past is no guarantee he will be a person of high character in the future. It is within his power to become a scoundrel if he so chooses. But that is equally true for you and for me as well. And just because he could become one or might have become one without us being fully privy to it is no reason to suggest that Ayn Rand’s assessment and endorsement of him 28 years ago is somehow irrelevant.

    Yes, if Dr. Peikoff fundamentally changed from the person he was at the time of Ayn Rand’s death, that is additional evidence that we would all have to consider in addition to Ayn Rand’s endorsement. We would have to regard that additional evidence as information that Ayn Rand had no means of knowing about and taking into consideration when she made her endorsement. If Dr. Peikoff went down the bizarre road that David Kelley has – yes, that would be evidence that would supersede Ayn Rand’s endorsement. It wouldn’t invalidate the endorsement because, at the time Ayn Rand made it and based on the knowledge she had available to her, he was the foremost expert. But if he became a David Kelley, he would have essentially repudiated the philosophy.

    But, to my knowledge, nobody has ever put forth any credible claim that Dr. Peikoff has somehow not lived up to Ayn Rand’s endorsement. Indeed, you will find that the seething, foaming at the mouth Peikoff haters despise Dr. Peikoff precisely for the fact that he has been an uncompromising and intransigent defender of Ayn Rand’s philosophy against those who have sought to rewrite and revise the philosophy into something other than what Ayn Rand intended for it to be.

    I think it is also very important to point out that Dr. Peikoff’s “status” and “authority” in Objectivism – that is, his “status” and “authority” in Ayn Rand’s philosophy – is of a VERY different kind and nature than is Ayn Rand’s “status” and “authority” in the wider field of philosophy.

    In the realm of philosophy, Ayn Rand’s status is something that has to be earned by anybody who chooses to study the subject and takes it seriously. And her status has to be earned on an on-going basis. For example, there were several authors back when I was in high school who I have a very high opinion of and they occupied a pretty high status in my view. As I got older and learned more my assessment of them began to change somewhat. I still have a positive opinion of most of them – but I also now see shortcomings that I was not able to grasp back then and have come across other thinkers who occupy a much higher status in my mind.

    By contrast, Dr. Peikoff’s special status in Objectivism – that is, in Ayn Rand’s philosophy – was something that was conferred upon him. It was conferred on him by Ayn Rand and was valid because she was the author of Objectivism.

    There is no “final authority” in philosophy. But there is a final authority in Objectivism: Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand is the final authority in Objectivism because Objectivism is her philosophy.

    The HUGE mistake people frequently make is to equate Objectivism with “correct philosophy.” Even if you regard Objectivism as correct, that is a profound mistake. As Dr. Binswanger writes: “Objectivism does not exhaust the field of rational philosophic identifications.”

    Thus Dr. Peikoff’s “authority” and “status” is very delimited and very specific – it is “status” and “authority” in Ayn Rand’s philosophy that was given to him by Ayn Rand herself based on her first hand knowledge of him during her lifetime. And that status is immutable regardless as to what Peikoff does. She did grant him that status. And if you have respect for Ayn Rand, you will show due respect for the decision she made. But, obviously, if new evidence to the contrary about Dr. Peikoff arises, that is something we will also have to weigh in addition to Ayn Rand’s endorsement. And I am sure Ayn Rand and Dr. Peikoff would both agree with me on this.

    “In fact, that is central to my point in the original post: I am increasingly inclined to believe that while Objectivism (the philosophy) is monolithic, the movement itself need not be “

    Actually, I challenge you to come up with a clear definition and clear demarcation of exact what the boundaries of “the movement” are.

    As for as I am concerned “the Objectivist movement” is more or less an “observable phenomenon” and not something that one can control. I challenge the notion that it even CAN be monolithic. I think people often think of “the Objectivist movement” as a sort of floating abstraction in the same way people often do when they talk about “society.”

    Please tell me what qualifies a person to be “in” the movement? As North Bridge points out, calling yourself an Objectivist does not automatically make you one. And yet there are an awful lot of people out there – many of them well meaning, no doubt – who have a genuine interest in the philosophy and are quick to call themselves Objectivists but whose understanding of the philosophy is either very incomplete or highly flawed. Go to message boards such as ObjectivismOnline or 4AynRandFans. You will see plenty of enthusiastic postings by people who clearly have a lot to learn.

    Are those people to be considered part of “the movement”? I think so. They are certainly interested in Objectivism. But it would be a HUGE mistake to draw any conclusion about Objectivism based on mere enthusiasts and fans who don’t always know what they are talking about.

    I have participated in local Objectivist clubs and various Objectivist oriented online venues for a number of years now. I have met some really great people. I have also met some really awful people – total scoundrels. Some were probably well-intentioned True Believer types. Some were bullies and/or power lusters who berated and used their alleged knowledge of Objectivism as a sort of club to beat over the heads of newbies and the easily intimidated. Can those people be described as being part of “the movement”? Unfortunately, I would have to say “yes” even though they are very obnoxious and detrimental to the spread of the philosophy.

    The “Objectivist movement” consists of everyone from Dr. Peikoff on down to some pretentious high school kid who, last month discovered Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and last week read The Romantic Manifesto Philosophy Who Needs It and The Virtue of Selfishness and has since dyed his hair orange, denounced his church going parents as mystics and is now blogging and pontificating his self-proclaimed brilliance and calling it “Objectivism.”

    As far as I can see, what Jim is calling for already exists. There are all sorts of different venues within the spectrum of “the Objectivist movement” that are as diverse as the people in it. There are discussion groups – some decent others horrible. There are lots of blogs – some intelligent, others pretentious trash. There are intellectuals, school teachers and professors – some associated with ARI and others not – who apply and spread the philosophy in various ways at work.

    ARI is merely an organization that has a very specific mission with regard to Ayn Rand’s philosophy – and they have done an outstanding job. But ARI is not synonymous with the Objectivist movement. I have no doubt that there are all sorts of people in the “movement” that ARI management and staff either roll their eyes at or really wish would move on to something else. And neither ARI nor Dr. Peikoff has any direct control over who does and does not get to join the movement. Obviously they tremendous influence within the movement. But they can’t stop anybody from setting up a blog or a message board or advocating the philosophy on a blog or in any other venue. They can kick somebody from the ARI board or fire an ARI staffer. They can chose to no longer fund certain ARI associated intellectuals and chose not to fund certain aspiring intellectuals. They can chose to withhold their personal and organizational sanction of certain people. In other words, they can give or withhold their individual sanction and exert their organizational powers. But that’s ALL they can do. They can’t excommunicate somebody from the movement as is often the allegation. As long as the person maintains an active interest in the philosophy and expresses that interest in public, they are part of the “movement.”

    I have been around the “movement” a long time now. As I mentioned, I have run across some really wonderful people and some really disgusting people. I will say this: the limited interactions I have had over the years with ARI directly have always been very pleasant and professional.

    “My position remains this: the silence is bad PR……”

    Agreed. Dr Peikoff’s PR skills leave much to be desired. I have felt that in a number of instances over the years – and it drives me NUTS to see his enemies make hay out of it. My guess – and that is all it is – is he doesn’t have enough regard for his enemies to really care.

    I will say this much – I don’t necessarily think that Dr. Peikoff personally needs to respond to this and certainly not to Tracinski. Sometimes responding to one’s enemies only gives them additional visibility. And there is an old principle that one should always “punch up” rather than “punch down.” That is why high ranking politicians often do not respond to their critics – especially if it would be perceived as “punching down.” But, they usually do respond in some manner through various surrogates.

    “and McCaskey’s criticisms as we see them now, do not appear to warrant the “one higher rung in hell” reaction”

    I understand why McCaskey regards that as insulting. But I don’t think his use of that is all that big of a deal. I have heard Dr. Peikoff say that before – for example, he once said it in regard to the talk show host Dr. Laura when she sided with Elian Gonzales and against Janet Reno and Mr/s Reno’s thugs. That strikes me as just Dr. Peikoff’s choice phrase for giving due credit to people he otherwise has serious issues with.

  • Jim May

    Dismuke: yet another comment laden with so much food for thought. It fleshes out my thoughts well. Your points about Dr. Peikoff’s status are valid, and helpful to my understanding. Thank you for posting it.

    Also, a tip of the hat to Gus Van Horn, who includes this post and comments as contributing to persepective on this matter.

  • EarthToContextComeInContext

    “Context is obviously key here. The situation is not that we have no evidence on which to base a judgment, but that the evidence is insufficient. I think that is an important distinction.”

    Uh huh. And Peikoff released the email memo himself for publication, and is treating it as sufficient explication. Guys, you can pretend as much as you like that Peikoff’s febrile dogmatic spewing isn’t what it is, but A is still A anyway.

  • dismuke

    “Uh huh. And Peikoff released the email memo himself for publication, and is treating it as sufficient explication. Guys, you can pretend as much as you like that Peikoff’s febrile dogmatic spewing isn’t what it is, but A is still A anyway.”

    Yeah. Right. Yawn.

    Perhaps before spewing your febrile hostility, you might consider taking the time to actually read before you spew.

    It was McCaskey who released the email memo for publication, not Peikoff. (though with Peikoff’s permission which was appropriate for McCaskey to seek.)

    And in this very thread, Jim May has criticized Peikoff’s silence on the matter and I have as well and I very explicitly stated that the email memo is not a sufficient or appropriate explanation of Dr. Peikoff’s side in this.

    Of course, even if you bothered to actually look at the individual words that Jim May and I wrote, you wouldn’t have grasped them because you are so blinded by and consumed by the need to spew your febrile dogmatic hatred and hostility towards Peikoff.

    Something I have observed over the years: the really rabid, hostile, foaming at the mouth Peikoff haters are so very frequently guilty of exactly the same things that they accuse Peikoff of.

  • North Bridge

    “Something I have observed over the years: the really rabid, hostile, foaming at the mouth Peikoff haters are so very frequently guilty of exactly the same things that they accuse Peikoff of.”

    So true.

  • North Bridge

    Question to Mr. Context: Since Dr. Peikoff has clearly not been considerate of the limits to your patience in this matter, what is the exact length of time you would have tolerated before the appearance an official statement?

    It has been a little over a month, and you are prepared to condemn him in vitriolic terms for his lack of response. So what would have been the correct response time in your estimation? Three days? A week?

    Is this crisis of such immense importance that Dr. Peikoff should drop everything else and rush to his own immediate defense? I suppose we see, again, how ruthlessly insensitive he is. He didn’t take into account how urgent this issue is to you.

    Dr. Peikoff didn’t choose to “go public” with this issue, McCaskey did. So far McCaskey has produced nothing by way of a position paper or an official statement on his side of the conflict. So how quickly, exactly, is Dr. Peikoff obliged to compose a statement?

    At the time of the Kelley split it took, as I recall, about a year before Dr. Peikoff’s official statement came out. And this was in response to an explicit position paper by Kelley, denouncing certain Objectivist principles. At that time Dr. P had to interrupt his work on OPAR and take time out to write his response.

    Now he is around 76 years of age, working away to complete his solution to the problem of induction. He has good reason to consider this work as the crowning achievement of his career. So how important exactly is it to spend time explaining to the world why he has had enough of McCaskey? How important to him?

    What if he never issues such a statement? What if his position is “To hell with it, I’m finishing my book on induction — they’ll have to figure it out on their own”? Would that prove his moral corruption? I guess to you it will make no difference, since you are already condemning him for failing to address your questions after one month.

  • dismuke

    “What if he never issues such a statement? What if his position is “To hell with it, I’m finishing my book on induction — they’ll have to figure it out on their own”? Would that prove his moral corruption?”

    You ask this question to the drive by knee jerk Peikoff basher and you correct that nothing any of us says on the subject will make much difference to a person like that. Peikoff, to such people, occupies the same position that Dick Cheney does to a Leftist. To them, both are living embodiments of “The Man” who seeks to “bring them down.”

    But I would like to answer this question in terms of more decent people who hear about this situation.

    No, it wouldn’t prove any moral corruption on his part at all for him not to respond to it. And I can actually think of several good reasons why he might not want to respond to it – including the one you mentioned.

    But somebody needs to respond to it in some form. It doesn’t have to be Dr. Peikoff personally.

    The reason is that not every decent, well meaning Ayn Rand enthusiast out there is in a position to figure it out on their own. For example, people who are new to the philosophy may only have very limited knowledge of who Dr. Peikoff is, what he has accomplished and his unique position with regard to Objectivism verses any other Objectivist intellectual or commentator.

    Bad first impressions can prevent somebody from giving the philosophy more serious consideration or study. Bad first impressions can make those who do decide to pursue further study waste a great deal of time and energy going down dead end and non-productive paths. Ask Diana Hsieh about that.

    Furthermore, as he notes in his article, Tracinski worked to accumulate a large mailing list of his own independent of ARI’s mailing list. Apparently, Tracinski has recently been sending TIA Daily postings out free to large numbers of people on that list ostensibly because he feels the election is so important – though I now wonder if it was, in fact, perhaps as a build up to his “Anthemgate” article. (He mentioned the freebie right after I actually forked money over to resubscribe. Not sure if I had waited an extra week or so if I would have been on the freebie list or not.) I am sure a lot of ARI donors are on Tracinski’s mailing list. Not all people who recognize ARI’s value enough to donate are knowledgeable enough about the philosophy or Dr. Peikoff and his history in order to figure it out on their own.

    As for the Kelley incident, all that played out in a pre-world wide web era. All of the back and forth was mostly transmitted by snail mail.

    I remember right before the Kelley controversy hit, I attended a conference in Dallas where the speakers included Dr. Kelley, Dr. Ridpath and Dr. Gotthelf. There was a really nasty ice storm at the time that lasted a few days – and an ice storm in Dallas pretty much shuts the entire city down. I remember somebody at the conference commenting that they sensed a certain amount of tension between Dr. Ridpath and Dr. Kelley. A day or so after the conference ended, the issue of The Intellectual Activist that contained Peter Schwartz’s comments against Kelley that were the first public opening shot of the controversy started hitting local mail boxes. Someone I know actually phoned Dr. Kelley for his take on the article. Kelley mentioned that the speakers at the conference had braced themselves for a flood of questions regarding the matter and were surprised that nothing about it at all was brought up. You see, the ice storm had delayed mail delivery into the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The rest of the country knew about the controversy – but we in North Texas were still in the dark about it. Had it not been for the ice storm, that conference would have been very, very different.

    Looking back on that, it sounds almost quaint today – sort of like how it must have been learning about events in Europe weeks after the fact in the days before trans Atlantic telegraph service.

    The Kelley mess unfolded by mail to an audience limited to people who were at least knowledgeable enough to be on certain mailing lists and their immediate social circle of Ayn Rand fans.

    Today, stuff like this goes out instantaneously to a world wide audience. And even if it is spewed forth on an obscure website or blog (and Tracinski is NOT obscure) it is still indexed by Google. And that stuff will remain online and indexed by Google for years.

    In today’s world, in controversies such as this, it is important that there be an articulate defense of one’s position that those interested can turn to. To do otherwise is to allow one’s enemies to frame the debate. For example, look at how many mainstream media articles over the years that are not at all hostile towards Ayn Rand, nevertheless, rely on the Brandens for biographical information. You can’t expect a busy reporter assigned to doing an article, for example, of Ayn Rand’s influence on businessmen to sort through and figure out why the Brandens have major axes to grind and are not reliable sources.

    When George Reisman and Edith Packer left the ARI board, I recall getting a simple statement from ARI that they were no longer on the board because of personal, non-philosophical conflicts. An adequate explanation does not have to go into bloody blow by blow details.

    Dr. Peikoff and ARI certainly do NOT owe any sort of explanation AT ALL to the Neil Pirelli’s of the world or this drive-by Peikoff basher. But some newbiew who has just read a few of Ayn Rand’s books and is learning about Dr. Peikoff and ARI for the first time and the person who donates to ARI because he sees value in Ayn Rand’s message but has not had the time to study the philosophy DO deserve the necessary context to understand what is going on. And that context needs to be provided by someone other than some well-intentioned but unqualified nobody such as myself. ARI and Peikoff, in my view, are both too important to NOT have their side of the story in something like this readily available.

    I can, by the way, make a guess as to one possible reason we have not had any more official word on this: it is possible that, in order for Dr. Peikoff’s position to be explained, it would require what would, in essence, be regarded as an attack on McCaskey. Perhaps Peikoff and/or ARI do not wish to do that any more than necessary given McCaskey’s past contributions. Perhaps they do not wish to do that because they do not see an escalating war of words as being productive or desirable for anybody. And, as you can imagine, Tracinski, Parelli and this drive by hostile person would love nothing more than a bitter, nasty, public back and forth flame war between Peikoff and McCaskey. Stuff like that only provides them more fodder. So, while I do think something needs to be said to address this matter, how it is done and in what context is also a very important issue as well.

  • North Bridge

    Dismuke: Excellent post. Yes, definitely a response of some kind is called for.

    As I see it, Dr. Peikoff has made at least one mistake, which was to allow his email to be publicized. The email was not written for an audience, and isn’t suitable for dissemination like this. Now he is cornered, or has cornered himself, into a position where an official statement is required.

    The thought behind the comment you quote was that if he never issues that official statement, my reaction would be on the order of: “He didn’t handle that one well.” In other words a negative evaluation, but even in that situation not a negative moral evaluation (assuming of course that nothing else comes to light). The people who are rushing to condemn him are making up reasons to do so. Which of course shows that their vitriol has nothing to do with his actual actions or omissions. This is just an occasion to come out of the woodwork and grind pre-existing axes.

    But you are right, ARI or someone else could issue a statement on his behalf, and it could be brief and neutral. Some kind of statement is called for, for all the reasons you give.

  • North Bridge

    In an earlier post above I mentioned that I think the evidence so far weighs in favor of Dr. Peikoff. Now let me go out on a limb and try to explain why that is so. I have been hesitant to post this, because I’m not sure how clear or meaningful these observations will be to others. I don’t regard anything I say here as conclusive. But I have to say that the more I try to integrate McCaskey’s statements and actions, the more it stands out to me that “something” is wrong, even if I may not be identifying it accurately. The emails he posted a few days ago gave additional confirmation to that perspective.

    Again, these comments are not an attempt to prove a conclusion. I still stand by my earlier statement that the evidence is insufficient for that. But hopefully the following will help some people look at the evidence from a perspective other than “Peikoff is a horrible dogmatist.”

    1. McCaskey is the one who chooses to “go public” and broadcast the conflict to the world at large. Yet he only releases very selective information, insufficient for anyone to understand what has happened. Here is how his statement essentially opens: “I have been an ARI Board member since 2004. Here is an email the Board recently received from Dr. Peikoff.” By leaving out the chronology and events leading up to the email, he effectively drops it on the reader in as shocking and jarring a manner as he possibly can. The insinuation is that the email is causeless and unprovoked. Afterwards he does give some patchy, selective background, but not enough to make the conflict intelligible.

    The indignant cries engendered by this are to the effect that Dr. Peikoff owes the world an explanation. But in fact it is McCaskey who made the choice to issue a declaration to the world while withholding pertinent background information. It is McCaskey who is causing confusion and doubt by the selective information he has chosen to release.

    2. McCaskey states an evaluation — Dr. Peikoff’s email is “hardly objective, insultingly unjust, a threat to ARI” — but if you pay attention, he offers no evidence or coherent account to support this evaluation. It is the absence of evidence, and the absence of any explanation from McCaskey, which creates the impression that Dr. Peikoff’s outburst is unprovoked.

    Imagine a man who walks into a bar and picks a fight with the bartender — flicks a cigarette butt in his face, starts making threatening remarks while jabbing him in the chest. The bartender doesn’t stand for this and has the bouncer physically throw him out. The man then reports the incident to the police as follows: “I walked into the place at 8:35 and was almost immediately assaulted by the bartender. I’m still shaken — I have no idea what got hold of him.” That would be an obvious lie by omission.

    I am not accusing McCaskey of lying, because I don’t know what information he is withholding. But epistemologically the case he is presenting has the same character as the man’s report to the police in this example. “I had some email exchanges with Harriman, attended a private meeting of philosophers, and suddenly Peikoff sent this. I’m shocked, simply shocked.” This does not address why Dr. Peikoff might have sent the email, but by omission creates the impression that it was baseless assault.

    If McCaskey does indeed believe that Dr. Peikoff’s email was unprovoked and causeless, it is his responsibility to state so in no uncertain terms. Since he is the one choosing to take this issue public, it is on his shoulders to present a coherent account of the conflict. Here in outline is what such an account might look like: “My email exchanges with Harriman were amicable. At the meeting I praised his book and expressed excitement over the potential of Dr. Peikoff’s theory. However, I suggested that in a second revision certain historical references be amended. Someone must have given him an inaccurate report on my comments, because out of the blue he sent this email. I find it offensive … etc.”

    Or consider this alternative example. This is another purely hypothetical account: “I sent extensive emails pointing out errors in Harrimans book after it had been published. In retrospect it might have been more appropriate to send these before it went into print. Harriman did not invite these emails, but by his responses led me to believe that they were welcome. At the meeting I expressed the same criticisms, as well as concerns about the accuracy of the underlying theory given these historical inaccuracies. I am unable to feign enthusiasm for a theory of induction that, in my judgment, may be less than 100% accurate. Accordingly I have chosen to only give the book three stars in my Amazon review. I would have expected Dr. Peikoff to invite me to a face-to-face meeting to hear my criticisms firsthand and amend his theory as necessary. I am shocked by his response … etc.”

    Do you see how different these two accounts would be? Both are more or less consistent with the information McCaskey has released. Either could, for all I know, be expressive of how he views the conflict. Either way, by giving an intelligible, coherent account he would provide the reader with the means to evaluate his statements. In the first example we might conclude that there was some innocent misunderstanding. In the second example, we might conclude that McCaskey had made a nuisance of himself and suffered the consequences.

    Since McCaskey chose to turn this into a public debacle, he owns the responsibility for putting forth a coherent statement. Objectivity requires that much of him.

    Yet he has chosen to offer only a few selective, seemingly innocuous pieces of criticism. He initially backed his announcement with only a “representative” sample of his criticisms that somehow happened to be written after the fact. Later he has released some selective samples of his original emails.

    Even assuming that he is not hiding anything in particular, the method is manipulative. If he thinks he had legitimate criticisms and believes that he has been unjustly treated, why use indirection and insinuation as the tools for making his case?

    3. McCaskey mentions a “meeting of eight professors,” where he criticized Harriman’s book and Dr. Peikoff’s theory. It sounds to me like it may have been an ARI-sponsored meeting (the fact that we don’t even know what kind of forum this was and what kind of professors were present illustrates the patchy, incoherent nature of the information McCaskey provides). This may not have been a “public” event, but it is not exactly “private” either. Criticizing Harriman and Peikoff, who presumably were not present (again we don’t clearly know), in front of eight other professors is certainly not equivalent to a one-on-one exchange with either of them.

    Why make a point of the confidential nature of the meeting if the only criticisms he presented were wishy-washy, pedantic comments on historical details like the ones he posted on Amazon? Even though he doesn’t express it in so many words, he clearly wants the reader to perceive that he feels betrayed by the breach of secrecy. Why would confidentiality be an issue to him if he thought he had said nothing of note?

    In fact he does mention in passing that he “speculated on ways the theory could be refined.” He chooses — maybe wisely — not give further details.

    Many of the subsequent attacks on Dr. Peikoff are based on the idea that “all McCaskey did was disagree with his theory,” so therefore it is self-evidently dogmatism to sever relations with him — everyone has a right to an opinion, after all. McCaskey is certainly implying this interpretation. But in reality the propriety of criticism depends on the audience and circumstances, the nature of the criticism, whether or not it is frivolous, and yes, whether it is presented to someone’s face or behind their back. McCaskey doesn’t give the context to assess any of this. All he states is that he expressed “ideas” to a “forum.” Who could possibly find fault with that? Per my no. 2 above, he implies by omission that Dr. P’s response is irrational.

    4. McCaskey makes a point of the fact that he has made no public comment about Harriman’s book, yet after resigning quickly publishes some selective representation of his criticisms — on Amazon, of all places. If he had thought until then that public criticism would be inappropriate, why did he change his mind? Why does he suddenly rush into the most public forum he can find with a long, almost exclusively critical review? Why post on Amazon, rather than – say – a full account of his disagreements with Harriman on his own website?

    The only explanation I can come up with is that he wants readers to perceive how innocent he is, and thus infer how unjust Dr. P’s response is, while at the same time inflicting as much damage as possible on Harriman’s book.

    5. McCaskey makes a display of the fact that he is choosing to resign from ARI’s Board because it “would be damaging to the Institute” to act on Dr. Peikoff’s ultimatum and dissociate itself from either of the two parties.

    Now what exactly does that mean? If McCaskey is indeed as innocent as he claims, yes, it would be damaging to ARI to be pressured into throwing him out. But if Dr. Peikoff is going off his rocker, as McCaskey takes pains to imply, and issuing a fatwa against him on hear-say evidence, essentially for daring to point out that a friend has overlooked some historical details — wouldn’t it be in ARI’s best interest to officially distance itself from him? Or maybe find some inconspicuous corner to put him in where he can’t do too much damage? If McCaskey is this concerned about ARI’s long-term well-being, shouldn’t he be fighting to have Dr. Peikoff shuffled into retirement from ARI — based on the interpretation of events he is implying?

    What exactly does it mean to say that McCaskey is resigning in the interests of protecting ARI — other than that he wants to be seen as a martyr for the cause? Might it not be more accurate to say that it is in McCaskey’s interest to resign, rather than be booted out?

    6. McCaskey’s actions and omissions have all the marks of passive-aggressive behavior. If you have no experience with passive-aggressive people, this observation is going to mean nothing to you — if so, feel free to dismiss it and substitute your own identification of the pattern between 1 – 5 above. I’m guessing Dismuke will know exactly what I’m talking about. It is a common behavior problem that a business manager has to deal with among staff.

    I say McCaskey’s concern clearly is to (a) gain sympathy for how innocent and unjustly treated he is, (b) make the biggest possible noise while (c) refusing to explain himself clearly, (d) not commit to any definite claims, (e) by implication and indirection let the world “see” how badly he has been treated, (f) “get back” at his persecutors while (g) looking like the long-suffering martyr who (h) simply can’t understand why is being treated so badly.

    Incidentally, if you think I am making claims about the psychology of a man I don’t know, the concept of passive-aggressiveness only refers to a pattern of observable behavior. It does not concern itself with the motivations behind it.

    To close the circle, my overall claim here is that whatever evidence there is points in Dr. Peikoff’s favor. McCaskey on the face of it does not approach the conflict as a truly innocent man or an objective thinker. But I don’t regard this as conclusive. I don’t know what McCaskey is withholding about his own role in this, if anything. I don’t know what he would say if he chose to present an objective case. I can’t say whether Dr. Peikoff’s response is fully justified (although my gut feeling is that it is).

    Within the next few days I will try to post some more detailed comments on the emails McCaskey has released, but this has gotten way too long already.

  • dismuke

    North Bridge –

    Thanks so much for posting this. You raised a lot of points that simply had not occurred to me but which make a lot of sense.

    “What exactly does it mean to say that McCaskey is resigning in the interests of protecting ARI — other than that he wants to be seen as a martyr for the cause? Might it not be more accurate to say that it is in McCaskey’s interest to resign, rather than be booted out?”

    Here you touch on something that has bothered me about this since the get go: McCaskey’s statement portrays the board as being a bunch of helpless victims caught in the middle.

    But the reality is that we have no idea what the mind of the board was on this – and probably never will.

    The notion of the board as being a bunch of helpless victims doesn’t ring right to me. Some of the people on the board I know very little about other than having heard their names. But of the ones I have actually met or had at least some form of dealings with, I have a difficult time picturing them as helpless victims.

    For example, Dr. Binswanger has openly disagreed with Dr. Peikoff on HBL on more than one occasion. I don’t think anyone can suggest that he is some sort of helpless, mindless acolyte. (And I can certainly understand why he would shut down Tracinski’s and other people criticism of Dr. Peikoff on HBL. He surely realizes that there are a lot of hidden agendas against Peikoff amongst certain types. Disagreeing with someone on a particular issue is not the same as wishing to play host to those who seek to attack the person.)

    And then there is Yaron Brook. I have a hard time seeing him as a helpless victim as well. This is a guy who does not need ARI. My guess is he would have no trouble at all finding a comparable position with another organization making just as much, if not more, money than he is making at ARI. Given his track record at ARI, my guess is there are a LOT of organizations that would be very eager to recruit him. Finding someone with his level of organizational skills, strategic planning skills and who has the ability to ask with confidence and credibility someone to write a check for a million dollars is very difficult. And when you do find somebody with that level of skill set – well, let’s just say that such people are not easily “pushed around.”

    I have only met Dr. Ridpath on a handful of occasions. And all occasions were in strictly polite social settings where it was difficult to get much of a read on his private personality. But seeing the man speak on subjects he is passionate about – well, let’s just say he is passionate in a very understated yet intense way. Listening to him lecture about various philosophical “bad guys” – well, my impressionis that I don’t think I would enjoy being on his bad side.

    If Dr. Peikoff’s position on this was truly so awful and McCaskey is truly a victim of a grave injustice – well, I think it would odd that there have not been at least some additional resignations over the matter.

    Is it possible that the board would submit to demands they don’t particularly like “for the sake of the Institute” and would such submission be morally valid? Sure – but only to a certain point.

    For example, years ago at a previous employer, I stuck my neck out on behalf of a fellow who worked for me by ignoring a direct order from above to discipline him. This was one of my top employees who had worked for me for a very long time. The order I received was arbitrary, made on the spur of the moment with zero regard for context or facts and little more than a product of my superior’s bad mood. Fortunately, as I had hoped, the issue was never followed up on and it just faded away. But had it been followed up on, I was fully prepared to defend my behavior – hopefully at a moment in time when my superior was more calm and less emotional.

    On the other hand, I have also been in very similar situations when I simply did not stick up for the employee. Maybe the particular situation of the moment was being blown up out of proportion – but when I took into consideration the employee’s long term track record I did not regard them as being worthy of putting my credibility and possibly my neck on the line in order to fight for them.

    I have worked for companies where clients have made demands that I considered to be bizarre, petty and border line psychopathic. We basically rolled our eyes and complied (and said some pretty crappy stuff about the client amongst ourselves in private conversation) as the issue was simply not worth jeopardizing a relationship which was, in the very large picture, extremely beneficial for a great many people. On the other hand, there is a definite limit beyond which stuff like this becomes unacceptable.

    One of the things that is the hallmark of a mature person is the recognition that one has to pick one’s battles in life.

    So the fact that Dr. Brook and the rest of the board are, to my knowledge, still intact, also counts as evidence that must be taken into consideration.

    And the fact that a fundraising letter signed by John Allison was sent out several weeks after McCaskey announced his resignation is also a bit of evidence that I think must taken into consideration. Look at it this way: If were to send an email to Dr. Peikoff or ARI saying that I am a donor and demanding to know what was happening, my strong guess is I would not get a reply. Nothing against small donors such as myself – but let’s just say that, given the value of Dr. Brook’s time, if he were to send me a detailed email reply on company time explaining the situation, ARI would have lost money on me as a donor for the year. But given Allison’s contributions both financially and otherwise, my guess is that Dr. Brook and Dr. Peikoff would be more than willing to find time in their schedule to discuss any concerns that he has. And if he had doubts and they refused to address them – well, my guess is that a person who managed to take a backwater bank and build it up into one of the nation’s largest and most successful financial institutions is not some helpless little victim who is easily pushed around and incapable of asking tough questions.

    I am not suggesting that such people’s judgment on the matter is a substitute for our own judgment. I am just merely pointing out that they have access to facts that we do not have access to. So, in that context, the character of such individuals and their behavior in the aftermath of something like this does, in and of itself, qualify to a certain degree, as evidence for us to take into consideration.

  • Dana H.

    Getting back to the original posting, there seems to be a mistaken impression among some that ARI sees itself as the be-all and end-all of Objectivism. Anyone who has paid attention to Yaron Brook’s State of ARI presentation over (at least) the past two years would realize that this is manifestly false.

    A key theme of a lecture he and Onkar Ghate gave at OCON 2008 was that ARI *cannot* do it alone, that success in changing the culture requires an entire network of think tanks, action committees, ad hoc alliances, academics, individual activists, and so on. They cited the success of the supply siders in the 1970s and 1980s as an example of the effectiveness of this approach.

  • Jim May

    If McCaskey is this concerned about ARI’s long-term well-being, shouldn’t he be fighting to have Dr. Peikoff shuffled into retirement from ARI — based on the interpretation of events he is implying?

    How exactly would they do that? Dr. Peikoff is not an employee, or otherwise “fireable” from the Institute, AFAIK.

    Moreover, he is also Ayn Rand’s **legal** heir, the owner of Ayn Rand’s estate, including all the copyrights and the ownership of all materials (including, I presume, the Archives and the use of her name). The Estate is separate and distinct from the Institute, and the former remains under Dr. Peikoff’s control.

    From this basis, I can imagine no good results from anybody attempting to “shuffle off” Dr. Peikoff.

  • North Bridge

    Jim May:

    You are right that there is no literal “retirement” possible in the situation, but I was speaking in broad strokes. Of course they would find a way to keep him at arm’s length if they had to. There are many ways to “put someone in a box” (an actual business expression) or keep them out of the loop.

    Anyway, it’s a twisted scenario that I really don’t care to dwell on. The point was only to illustrate that you can catch McCaskey manipulating the facts if you pay attention to his words and actions.

  • Jim May

    Burgess Laughlin has a good post detailing his approach to issues like this one, that is worth bearing in mind.

  • The Drs. Hsieh on John McCaskey: The Facts — The New Clarion

    […] It is an excellent addition to the discussion in the comments on my previous post. […]

  • North Bridge


    Burgess Laughlin is a good man who has been around the Objectivist movement forever. It is worth paying attention when he speaks. I like his article and read it as an antidote to the notion that one has a “duty” to take sides whenever there is a rift between prominent Objectivists. At the time of the ARI/Reisman split, an acquaintance of mine (up until then) acted on that error and sent his own position paper to Dr. Peikoff and ARI. Dr. Peikoff shot him down with a brief note saying, in effect, “You don’t need to have an opinion on this” (quoted from memory). This quite impressed me at the time.

    However, I wouldn’t take Laughlin’s article and try to turn it into a general rule of never reaching or expressing a judgment unless one is compelled to. And I don’t think Laughlin intends it that way. He poses a series of pertinent questions that people should ask themselves before deciding to speak up — but he doesn’t claim that there is only one valid answer to each question.

    I have witnessed a great many rifts in my years in Objectivism. As far as I recall I have never expressed an opinion on any of them in public before. What changed my mind this time was really Tracinski’s article and the fact that I found endless posts and articles critical of Dr. Peikoff online, but was unable to find a single one defending him. I don’t care about Tracinski or the “Peikoff bashers” (as Dismuke calls them), but I do care a great deal about the impact on young kids who are new to Objectivism and have no way to evaluate a murky conflict like this. I hope that some kid who, after encountering Tracinski’s article and other writings like it, goes searching for a fuller perspective, may come across my postings here. That really has been by motive all along. If there had been better alternatives available online I wouldn’t have bothered.

    In your latest post you make the comment that: “… the ones who impress me the least in all this are the ones who have already leaped to conclusions, condemning either Dr. Peikoff or Dr. McCaskey on insufficient evidence.”

    In light of that, let me make it clear that the purpose of my comments here has not been to condemn McCaskey. I do think he has handled the conflict horribly. If he wanted to briefly explain his resignation, he could have done so in neutral, professional terms. Since he decided to publicize his complaints about Dr. Peikoff’s email and Harriman’s book, he brought upon himself the responsibility to make a full and objective statement. In that regard he has failed miserably, in my opinion, and his actions have been inappropriate.

    But in regard to evaluating the underlying conflict, this is only circumstantial evidence. To my mind it tips the scales in Dr. Peikoff’s favor, as I have said, but it is far from conclusive. And that is an important distinction that maybe I haven’t dwelt on enough. The faults I have pointed out on McCaskey’s side amount to more than a raised eyebrow, but not to a condemnation. And problems with McCaskey’s conduct are not evidence that there are no problems with Dr. Peikoff’s conduct in the matter. They could potentially both be wrong.

    If you step back and look at my comments in the larger perspective, I have been arguing that: (1) There is no basis in available evidence for condemning Dr. Peikoff, (2) Tracinski’s piece is manipulative, and (3) McCaskey has not been objective in his handling of the conflict. In a nutshell I believe that is all we know so far. That is not a complete picture, and as I have noted repeatedly, insufficient to reach a judgment on the issue.

    With that, I’ll put an end to my comments. I mentioned that I would post an additional comment on McCaskey’s emails, but I don’t think that is necessary. I have made the points I needed to make.

  • Jim May

    North Bridge: understood and noted. I had the good fortune of meeting Burgess while I was in Oregon some years ago, and I agree that he is one who deserves your ear.

    I believe that you are handling the issue properly; you clearly explain why you are taking the position that you do, but you know that the evidence is not conclusive.

    This line in particular:

    I like his article and read it as an antidote to the notion that one has a “duty” to take sides whenever there is a rift between prominent Objectivists

    … goes directly to the heart of the issue Burgess discusses, and which I have been pondering for years. If you head over to the discussion now happening at Diana’s place, you’ll see commenter George Saad invoking this “duty” by implication (which is to say: George may not have meant to do that), and my challenge to him.

    I don’t care about Tracinski or the “Peikoff bashers” (as Dismuke calls them), but I do care a great deal about the impact on young kids who are new to Objectivism and have no way to evaluate a murky conflict like this.

    You are now where I was when I discovered the Peikoff/Kelley dispute in 1994. I too was angry about what the dispute would mean for incoming newbies, partly because at that time I was “new” (to the scene, not Objectivism itself).

    Back then, I eventually realized that there was nothing for me to do about it but make sure that I resolved the issue for myself. Is this time different?

    In one respect, it is: This time around, I have a rapidly clarifying picture of the problem that seems to underlie all these “schisms” thanks to having this “live” example to study, and that’s what I hope to tackle at some point when the dust settles.

  • On Peikoff’s condemnation of McCaskey « Applying philosophy to life

    […] That aside, the crucial question that this issue raises is: How should the ARI handle disagreement between its members on philosophical issues that do not come under the scope of Objectivism? It would seem that such disagreements should be tolerated given that the mission of the ARI is to promote Objectivism. But, given the nature of objectivism – the fact that objectivism demands (and rightly so) moral judgement of ideas – it is not realistic to expect people to work with those whom they morally condemn. Over time, as Objectivist intellectuals work on issues that Rand did not address, such disagreements are bound to increase. In the long term, this means that there can be no single organization that lays claim to Rand’s ideas. This is not something to regret. […]

  • Joey

    The irony of this entire episode is deafening. I agree with some commenters over at Noodlefood (Adam Spong in particular) who have pointed out that McCaskey’s criticisms of Harriman’s theory are off base. Harriman was not intentionally nor wrecklessly ignoring historical evidence of the processes going on in particular scientist’s minds, but rather that he was abstracting away the important elements in order to present an example of his theory of induction. These are elements that the scientists themselves may not have been aware of, and that they either omitted or misidentified in their own recollective writings. I see this as the value of Harriman’s book, and I regard McCaskey’s criticisms as counter-productive exactly for that reason.

    Nevertheless, does his having levied those criticisms warrant the kind of response and treatment he has received? Especially considering who he is? What he has done for Objectivism? Absolutely not.

    I don’t believe that the motivation for why McCaskey raised the criticisms he did is as simple as preserving historical accuracy. I believe that McCaskey – just like Harriman and Peikoff (and many rank-and-file Objectivists, for that matter) – was and is ignorant of the issue he was actually introducing to the subject of Harriman’s presented theory. He thought that he was introducing some essential evidence that may or may not have a direct impact on the validity of Harriman’s theory of induction (it doesn’t), when in fact what he was doing was highlighting the role that psychology (or, more precisely, psycho-espistemology) plays in human cognition. The psycho-epistemology of the person being studied is a factor that many people (and, for reasons I will discuss shortly, especially Objectivists) are unfamiliar with and uninterested in. Nevertheless, it is a fact of reality and so when a person it trying to make sense of another person’s behavior it’s influence is sensed. Those who are ignorant of it, lacking any other explanation for why things “just don’t quite sit right”, instead look directly to the topic in front of them. They fall into the trap of thinking that it has to be “either or” – either the “facts” (ie: the subject’s recollections of his own complex internal machinations) are wrong and therefore the theory of another which explains them is wrong/inchoate, or the theory is obviously wrong because the “facts” (again, mere personal recollections) don’t support it. The notion that, perhaps, the scientist’s own recollected words contradict his actions in toto completely escapes them. I believe that this is what caused McCaskey to be critical of Harriman’s work.

    But, if that is the case, why then didn’t Harriman (or Peikoff, in his defense) make exactly the point that the Noodlefood commentors have made? It’s a relatively simple one. Why didn’t he (or Peikoff, in his defense) retort to McCaskey that of course he was aware that the scientists he chronicled had confusions between what they were doing and what they later thought they had done, but that his purpose was to highlight what they had actually done (and thus what they had actually thought). That that was the example and historical validation of his theory of induction? Why would Harriman regard this kind of journalistic selectivity as obvious, and not say a word about psycho-epistemology – if not in his book as part of the preface, at least in response to McCaskey raising of it? After all, McCaskey was not just some rank-and-file Objectivist. He was Harriman’s esteemed colleague. Why, instead, simply banish McCaskey on a personal and professional level? Why treat him like a nobody deserving of no clarification? I believe the answer lies in the political atmosphere that has surrounded the Objectivist movement for decades.

    Had Harriman made his point to McCaskey explicitly, it would have called into question another, more famous example of this process being employed by a prominent Objectivist. Only when it was utilized that time, instead of being defended by Dr. Peikoff (and his many apologists), he was attacked and denounced for it.

    David Kelley was conspicuously aware of that fact that The Libertarian Movement was philosophically empty. That, lacking a proper philosophical grounding for it’s belief in “liberty”, it necessarily has to devolve into a crusade for nihilism (just as liberalism has already done). However, unlike Dr. Peikoff, et al, Dr. Kelley regarded the majority of Libertarians as otherwise decent people who, lacking an awareness and understanding of the “common sense” thinking that had attracted them to the movement (and away from the Democrats and Republicans) in the first place, were vulnerable to being corrupted by the worst (ie: most consistent) practicioners of Libertarianism (ie: moral subjectivism). But, Dr. Kelley thought, if this potential was true, it also meant tha the opposite was true. Dr. Kelley saw in these “common sense” Libertarians not potential nihilists, but potential Objectivists. He saw engaging with them as an opportunity to make more Objectivists since, psycho-epistemologically, they already were Objectivists anyways. Dr. Peikoff and the established order of Objectivism disagreed. Their position was that no one could honestly conclude that the Libertarian movement was a valid means of creating a free society. The only explanation, in their minds, for why someone would become a Libertarian was because of a secret desire to behave nihilistically (eg: take drugs, molest children, violate copyrights) – and that their political activism was just a means of securing the freedom to do so. What Dr. Peikoff and his camp was asking the undecided Objectivist to do was to “look at the facts” – the Libertarian movement’s statements themselves – in order to judge what the overall thrust of a given individual’s association with the Libertarian movement actually is.

    Of course, the behavior of ARI Objectivists during the Kelley episode contradicts ARI Objectivism’s position on America’s Founding Fathers (who are forgiven for their conclusion that their achievements in political philosophy were due to their faith, because Objectivist scholars recognize that these achievements were done in spite of their faith, not because of it), just as it contradicts Harriman’s and Peikoff’s position on the role of psycho-epistemology in the current controversy regarding McCaskey.

    So again, why wouldn’t Harriman or Peikoff just make their point, brush off McCaskey’s criticisms like the details they are, and move on in respectful disagreement with McCaskey about what they would term an “unimportant differnce”? I think the answer is obvious: To do so would mean to admit that McCaskey’s criticism’s are details. That they are non-essential – not “fundamental.” That would mean not only forgiving him, reinstating him on ARI’s board, apologizing for the knee-jerk demand for his removal (and the personal insults like “hell-bound” and “Kant-sympathizer”), but more importantly than that – more profoundly damning of Peikoff’s credibility as a man of justice – it would also mean admitting that in judging any one particular Libertarian, the fact that Libertarianism would lead to nihilism in some unspecified future is also a detail in regards to that individual’s probability of rejecting Libertarianism, and embracing the Objectivist method of viewing the world.

    It was obvious that McCaskey, in innocent ignorance (and in actually admirable fidelity to what he thought was truth), was not going to drop it. Sooner or later Harriman or Peikoff would have had to address this. Either because doing so would be too much for their own psyches to handle (both being well-groomed ARI “company men” “firmly” in agreement about the Kelley issue), or because it might get pushed so far as to have to be refuted publically (and thereby expose the contradiction explained above for all to see) – they likely decided that the best thing to do would be simply to force McCaskey to “drop it” by forcing him out of Objectivism altogether. Hopefully, then, the topic his actions unintentionally raised will just peter out, the rank-and-file will get so confused about what actually happened they will just chalk it up as a curiosity of the history of the Objectivist movement (as they have done with the Kelley episode), and a few more years of power will be bought because no one of consequence will notice the pattern.

  • Robb

    An incredible amount of discussion on this topic. I’ll be more interested when it has more direct relevance to my life. Selfishly speaking.

    I agree with Jim May: we can all do our own thing to advance Objectivism and save the culture.

  • Andrew Dalton

    Joey –

    That rambling post of yours is, to borrow from Ambrose Bierce, an army of psychoanalysis escorting a corporal of facts.

  • Joey

    Andrew Dalton,

    Ironic, really. Your comment, that is. The core of the criticism of McCaskey is that he criticized Harriman for interpreting (as opposed to simply reporting and staring blindly at) the known facts about certain scientists. Was that not “psychoanalysis” on his part?

  • Andrew Dalton

    My comment was entirely about *you*, not the dispute over McCaskey.

  • Joey

    And my retort was entirely about the fact that if you wish to criticize my post as factually unsupported, you must stand with McCaskey against Harriman for exactly the same reason. Or, if you stand with Harriman against McCaskey, then you must either disagree with my facts as such (and address or correct them), or retract your criticism that my post was “psychoanalysis.”

  • jca


    Thank you for your comments; I found them to be insightful and helpful in clarifying my thoughts on the issue – I agree with yours entirely.

    In regards to the Tracinski article (I was not aware with his previous axe-grinding while reading eat, although afterward heard of his rantings on H.B. list, etc.), upon reading it, the first red flag that I came across was during his first “alarm bell” (I may not be accurate about where exactly this occurred) – after his description of the situation of the first “alarm bell,” he begins to psychologize Peikoff, which was not only entirely inappropriate, but seemingly unfounded and ‘conspiracy-theory’-like.

    One particular comment of yours that I really liked was this:

    “Objectivists defend earned “economic power,” and would champion a businessman’s right to use his wealth and influence to ruin a competitor — yet we are supposed to see some self-evident wickedness in our leading philosopher asserting his (much more modest) earned “authority” to oust another individual from his circles?”

    This comment sparked a light in my mind; I had not even thought of this. Thanks for pointing out this contradiction.

    Again, thank you for your comments; this is the first time that I have really read the “New Clarion;” I began after reading an article by Tim DiVeto titled “Man the Hero” (which is a great article, by the way), and I am impressed.

  • jca

    Also, great comments by North Bridge as well. Given the argument that you have provided, and what I have learned about the conflict, I think you are correct in stating that the evidence weighs in favor of Dr. Peikoff.

  • Joey


    I completely take issue with Dismuke’s comment. Simply because Objectivists defend a business’ right to ruin a competitor doesn’t mean that an Objectivist necessarily is, or even should be, neutral in his moral evaluation of such behavior. That’s like saying that because Objectivists support the right of individuals to use black tar heroine, they should not have any opinion about the use of black tar heroine as such (and certainly not about the use of it by a particular individual in a particular context).

    No, Peikoff’s behavior is not self-evidently “wicked”, but neither is it self-evidently appropriate simply because of his earned (?) authority.