Part 2:  18 May 2003 - 30 June 2003

Part 1 (13 December 2001 - 16 May 2003); Part 2 (18 May 2003 - 30 June 2003); Part 3 (1 July 2003 - 2 December 2003); Part 4 (3 December 2003 - 29 January 2004); Part 5 (3 February 2004 - 17 April 2004); Part 6 (16 May 2004 - August 2004); Part 7 (12 December 2004 - June 2005)

 By Chris Matthew Sciabarra

Over the years, Chris Matthew Sciabarra participated in several Internet discussion forums, including several Objectivist lists (including The Atlantis Discussion List [ATL], Atlantis II, Mudita Forum, Objectivist Outcasts,  Philosophy of Objectivism List [OWL], Secular Individualism List, SOLO HQ, SOLO Yahoo Forum [SOLO], Starship Forum, among others), and lists devoted to Nathaniel Branden, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Karl Marx, psychology, Randian feminism, ifeminism, and so forth.  Below are a few posts from the various lists.

Table of Contents

Reason/Mindfulness (30 June 2003)

More on Aristotle (30 June 2003)

Aristotle (Again) (25 June 2003)

Rocking the Boat (24 June 2003)

Regarding Aristotle [On Logic and Dialectics] (24 June 2003)

A few random thoughts (on books about Ayn Rand's life) (20 June 2003)

Re:  Academization of Objectivism, Take 3 (4 June 2003)

Re: Academization of Objectivism (2 June 2003)

Academization of Objectivism (1 June 2003)

Reflections on Miles Davis, Bill Evans, and Kind of Blue (28-29 May 2003)

Rock in Red Square (25 May 2003)

Being Dialectical about Dialectics (18 May 2003)


(Mudita Forum, Posted:  Mon, 30 Jun 2003 22:17:11 -0400)

A asks: "Chris might be able to correct me on this, but I think even Rand, whether or not she specifically identified reason with the conceptual faculty, certainly wrote in many respects as though they were one in the same. I wonder if some of the disagreement here has to do with the fact that 'reason' can have two meanings. Sometimes, people use 'reason' to refer to a basic mental tool---one that can be used well or misused, i.e., used for the improvement of one's functioning in the world, or used for rationalization. Other times though, we speak of 'reason' as a process distinguished by honest application; e.g., we might say that someone who is ~rationalizing~ is being ~irrational~, i.e., is not using 'reason.' "

This is a complex question. Throughout her writings, from her journals to her fiction to her nonfiction, Rand provides very different takes on the faculty of reason. In ATLAS SHRUGGED, she defines reason as "the faculty that perceives, identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses." Nathaniel Branden has suggested that his noting of the inclusion of a perceptual aspect in her definition of reason led Rand to slightly revise that definition in "The Objectivist Ethics" as: "Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses." (Here, she drops any mention of "perceives".)

Rand adds, of course, that "it is a faculty that man has to exercise by ~choice~." And since it is the conceptual level of awareness that is open to such choice, this implies an identification of conceptual awareness and the rational faculty.

But if one looks at earlier Rand writings, one sees formulations of the concept that seem to identify reason with consciousness. In her journals, one finds the comment that "all consciousness is reason," and "all reason is logic." I think, in the end, as I argue in RUSSIAN RADICAL (and as others, such as Norman Barry, have noted), reason is an expansive concept in the Randian corpus. The fact that Rand seems to incorporate moments (or aspects) of perception, volition, focus, abstraction, integration, logic, conception, etc. into her notion of "reason" suggests that she refused to dis-integrate the faculty. Like Mark L. emphasizes, I tend to believe that Rand thinks in terms of "both/and" rather than "either/or" in her expansive view. For Rand, reason is both a logical and a practical faculty, one that includes both perception and conception, both differentiation and integration, both analysis and synthesis, both identification and evaluation. That doesn't mean that we can't isolate the different aspects for analysis; it just means that, in their organic unity, they constitute what Rand means by a "rational faculty."

And yes, folks, this is part of what ~I~ mean by a dialectical conception; if dialectics is the "art of context-keeping," an essentially "both/and" way of looking at the world, then a dialectical conception is one that must embrace the full ~context~ of any object of inquiry, including "reason" itself.




(Objectivist Outcasts, posted under the heading:  "Re: Aristotle."  Posted:  Mon 30 Jun 2003, 06:28:21 -0400)

Just a couple of brief points in response to R:

It is true that "hypothesised entities even though they cannot be observed due to limitations at any specific time in mankind's ability can turn out to exist." But what Aristotle was objecting to was the a-priori ~imposition~ of a cosmological explanation on the workings of the world ~without~ any interest in empirical verification. Yes, of course, we test our hypotheses. But even the hypotheses have to begin ~somewhere~. To simply say "the moon is made of green cheese" is not enough to justify treating it as a legitimate hypothesis, in the absence of any evidence. And to build a whole cosmology on that proposition and to universalize that cosmology as a metaphysics of explanation, without any empirical testing, is eminently unscientific. That's why it is not Aristotle's ~specific~ theories that are at issue here; many of his theories were, in fact, wrong. It's his overall ~method~ that is of far greater significance. I discuss this in TOTAL FREEDOM.

. . .

I don't want to sidestep your discussion, R, of relativism v. contextualism; but I devote a lot of space to it in TOTAL FREEDOM, and can't do justice to it here. What I should say, briefly, however, is that relativism would result if one ~reifies~ a specific vantage point or perspective as if it were the whole. The way you avoid relativism is to keep switching your perspective and then, to unite the various perspectives into a comprehensive view. It's a question of ~integration~.

As for the post-Aristotelian backlash that eventually led to the Age of Reason: Many of the Scholastics perpetuated what was "dead" in Aristotle's philosophy, and it was in reaction to those ~dead~ elements that thinkers such as Petrarch and Bacon wrote. But, in the end, they only reaffirmed, inadvertently, Aristotle's core notion that "demonstration" is the foundation of knowledge. One good book to look at in this regard is an edited anthology entitled PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES IN ARISTOTLE'S BIOLOGY (edited by Allan Gotthelf and James G. Lennox).

Finally, one brief point on the doctrine of the "golden mean" in Aristotle. SLD writes: >>Anyway, I have read of Aristotles "Golden Mean", or concept of the middle road. This seems logical of course. If you eat too much you face a bloated belly and possible health risks. If you drink too much beer you face a hangover and may make a fool of yourself in front of that hot babe. However what of those situations where there does not seem to be a "middle road" to take. For example, keeping or breaking a promise, marital fidelity or infidelity, telling a lie or telling the truth? In instances such as this how can one apply Aristotle's Golden Mean?"<<

The thing to remember about Aristotle's mean is that it isn't an average of two extremes. Aristotle operates ~dialectically~. He observes various oppositions and argues that they are false alternatives. His "mean" solution, therefore, is one that tries to get beyond the limitations of the conventional alternatives.

Of course, the Objectivist response to keeping or breaking a promise, fidelity or infidelity, honesty or lying is an outgrowth of the Aristotelian perspective. And what is essential to that response is: The context. For example, honesty is a virtue because it means that one does not fake the facts of reality. But honesty is not a ~context-less~ virtue. If a kidnapper comes into your home and demands to know where your child is, so that he can be kidnapped, you are not obligated to be honest with the kidnapper. In fact, other things being equal, if you love your child, I'd say being ~dishonest~ is, in that context, the moral course of action. Rand was infinitely aware of the fact that different situations provide the context and conditions for various courses of action, and that morality could not be used as a dogmatic writ to guide action in ~all~ contexts and under ~all~ conditions.




(Objectivist Outcasts, Posted: Wed, 25 Jun 2003 21:38:54 -0400)

R, on the issue of Aristotle and differential perspectives, I should recommend to your attention his classic work on dialectics, THE TOPICS. I devote a whole chapter to Aristotle's dialectical principles in my book, TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM. . . . The chapter in question is actually Chapter 1, entitled, "Aristotle: The Fountainhead."

As for Aristotle versus the Copernican Revolution, let me say this: Aristotle may have gotten many ~substantive~ things wrong in terms of empirical science---and I'm certainly not supporting him as the omniscient authority on all things. Knowledge has advanced in a couple of thousand years, thank goodness. :) But Aristotle's overall ~methodology~ and his this-worldly emphasis on reason remain at the foundational core of science, regardless of whether his own substantive conclusions were true or false. To that extent, the Age of Reason, broadly speaking, was a child of Aristotelianism.

Finally, I should note that shifting "respects" and "perspectives" are not equivalent to the philosophy of relativism. What Aristotle argues for is ~contextualism~, that one must always take into account the context in any inquiry. Unlike Plato, however, Aristotle saw dialectic not as a synoptic discipline (something that wasn't possible to human beings), but as a perspectival technique for establishing the foundations of scientific research. Piecing together diverse vantage points on any object of inquiry helps us to come to a more comprehensive understanding of its nature.

Ultimately, Aristotle repudiated all those who sought to apply various a priori metaphysical doctrines (Democritean atomism; Parmendiean monism; Pythagorean dualism; Platonic synopticism, etc) to the study of reality, and who tried to force the world into their preconceived metaphysical strait-jackets. In this regard, his attitude was eminently ~scientific~.


(SOLO, Posted:  Tue, 24 Jun 2003 07:26:27 -0400)

S makes a good point---and brings the point home---when he states that he doesn't want SOLO HQ to devolve into a discussion of such topics as "An Objectivist Proof of Socialism: The Perfect System of Governance" or "Objectivism: Ethnic Cleansing As The Only Moral Means Of Ensuring White Dominance" or "Objectivism And Male Dominance:  The Inferiority of The Female Mind."

(Though, I should point out, there have actually been several articles written through the years that argue that Objectivism is ~consistent~ with socialism. Much of this consistency is traced to the Marxian notion of labor and the union of the laborer and the laborer's product.)

I would be a bit more ~liberal~ with articles appearing in forums that ~discuss~ or ~critique~ Ayn Rand and Objectivism (e.g., THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES), rather than in forums that purport to ~represent~ Objectivism. That doesn't mean, however, that one should not discuss issues that are open to deep disagreement even (especially?) within forums representing Objectivist thought. As Linz (Lindsay Perigo) has pointed out, the core elements of Objectivism are not open to revision---if the philosophy is to remain Objectivism. But applications are ~always~ open to rigorous discussion, with or without disclaimers. I would suggest that even the ~core~ elements should be open to discussion; if the core elements are realism, reason, egoism, and capitalism, for example, I think there are plenty of worthwhile discussions that can ensue about the nature of these elements---and what they entail. Many Objectivist-influenced anarchists, for example, argue that capitalism ~requires~ the end of monopoly government. One can see this as a contradiction to Rand's stated position, but that doesn't make the debate any ~less~ interesting. That's what "rocking the boat" is all about... not "rocking the boat" for its own sake. But for the sake of intellectual clarity, honesty, and integrity.

For those who fear "rocking the boat," let me simply quote Ayn Rand, from her essay, "The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus." Rand writes: "It is obvious that a boat which cannot stand rocking is doomed already and that it had better be rocked hard, if it is to regain its course---but this realization presupposes a grasp of facts, of reality, of principles and a long-range view, all of which are precisely the things that the 'non-rockers' are frantically struggling to evade." I believe this statement applies as much to Objectivism as to any other -ism or any other issue in the sea of discussion.

Speaking of Rand, MB asked yesterday, "Why is it that Ayn Rand was so guarded about naming her sources of inspiration in her work?" To which MN replies: "We, as artists, have all kinds of influences but we spend lifetimes 'breaking the mold' to evolve our own 'voice'."

I think MN is right here.

I think there is a genuine fear, too, among innovators, that an acknowledgment of an influence might imply a "package-dealing" of thinkers. Rand may have taken something substantial from Nietzsche, for example. She may have even taken something substantial, methodologically speaking, from her Russian teachers (as I have argued in AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL). But she ~differs~ with Nietzsche and with her Russian teachers in so many significant ways, and I think that the prospect of being ~lumped together~ with those who have positions ~opposite~ to one's own is enough to keep one very guarded about such acknowledgments.

Rand was not unique in this regard, though I do think she was a particularly dramatic illustration of somebody who sometimes projected a "sui generis" self-conception.

The philosopher Barry Smith has made a good point about our attempts to grasp lines of intellectual influence. He tells us that historians must deal with "the problem of how much credence one ought to award to self-interpretations when seeking an assessment of the nature and significance of a given thinker's achievements. For self-interpretations are very often flawed because their authors naturally give prominence to the detailed ~differences~ between their own ideas and the ideas of those around them; they pay attention, in other words, to what is original, quirky, or odd. That which they take for granted, and which they have imbibed from their surrounding culture, is thereby no less naturally and inevitably ignored."

And ~that~ is why intellectual history is so important to study: because tracing lines of influence will sometimes tell us important things about the thinker that we study, things that might not be apparent at first glance and that will enrich our appreciation of that thinker's originality and place in history.




(Objectivist Outcasts, Posted:  Tue, 24 Jun 2003 06:18:09 -0400)

R writes: "If for instance you ask the question - does a specific object such as an apple have the colour red. The answer instead or being 'yes' or 'no' can be 'yes and no' simultaneously. Is the apple red? Answer: yes and no. For instance: (i) there could be Doppler shift changing the colour, (ii) different observers could see different things due to colour blindness (iii) the apple might be an colour that is difficult to tell whether it is red or not, etc. The apple might then be all red and all green at the same time."

Whoa, there.

The law of identity says that A cannot be A and non-A ~at the same time~, yes, but also ~in the same respect~. The moment you talk about Doppler shifts and shifting perspectives---you are changing the ~respect~ in which A is ~viewed~. And the moment you talk about a difficulty in ~measuring~ a color, you're only talking about a measurement problem, not an identity problem. Measurement (or lack thereof) does not destroy the reality of that which it seeks to explain. That reality is what it is---regardless of whether you now have the capacity to measure it, or not.

I absolutely agree with R that "Simple 'yes' or 'no' answers are not always possible to such questions, and the answer is sometimes . . . 'yes and no simultaneously.'" And Aristotle would agree with Roger too---given his emphasis on shifting "respects" and "perspectives." Aristotle was not only the father of logic. He was also the father of dialectics---the first formal theoretician of dialectical inquiry (see his TOPICS). And one of the principles of dialectics is that one ~must~ taken into account the "point of view"---because shifting ~contexts~ and ~perspectives~ will often bring out different ~aspects~ of the object that you study.


(SOLO List; Posted:  Fri, 20 Jun 2003, 07:48:56 -0400)

Just a few comments on various threads:

1. Linz [Lindsay Perigo] writes: "I'd better take lessons from Chris in self-promotion. I *should* have *all* the links off-pat. Hehehe!"

Well, truth be told, my shameless "P.T. Barnum"-like self-promotion has been the direct by-product of years of being criticized, attacked, and misrepresented. I've learned that if you don't let people know what you're doing or what you've written or what you've said, they'll come up with the most ~amazing~ interpretations of your thought. In fact, they ~still~ do. LOL But at least we can't blame it on ~ignorance~ of what I've actually written. :)

So, I say, boldly and proudly, among a group of rationally self-interested individualists: PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE! :) :) :)

2. In reference to proofing THE FREE RADICAL, Linz points out the problem of seeing things that aren't there. "It was an object lesson in how we tend to see what we *expect/hope* to see, even when it isn't there. I told Chris *not* to tell anyone I had reached such a Kantian conclusion. But he's probably about to denounce me because of all the fun I've been having at his expense on this Forum today, so I'd better get in first. :-)"

I repudiate you, denounce you, ex-communicate you, and otherwise stomp my feet!!! Thrice!!! :)

Seriously, I think this is a genuine phenomenon among editors: Our minds sometimes see the word in its perfect Platonic Form, in contrast to the mistake that is staring us right in the face. :) Perhaps we yearn for that heroic realm of Grammatical Perfection!!! :)

So Linz is right on this as a guiding principle: "Assume that *every word* contains a mistake!"

3. H mentions that he hasn't seen "The Passion of Ayn Rand" because he was told that it vilifies Rand. Some of those who have seen the film agree.

I honestly don't believe that "Passion" portrays Rand as "utterly corrupt." I think it portrays her as utterly human. And, in contrast to Linz, I did like Helen Mirren's performance. She showed strength and vulnerability, and her use of facial expression to convey thinking and feeling was superb. I also thought the understated performance of Peter Fonda (as Frank O'Connor) was perfect.

Perhaps there is a happy medium between the occasional hagiography and one-sidedness of [the film, "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life" (which has many ~good~ moments too) and the one-sided emphasis on the affair in "Passion." Fortunately, THE PASSION OF AYN RAND ~book~ is the best out there right now: It provides us with a much richer picture of Rand's life.

The problem with the film is that it narrowly focuses on the affair, bracketing out almost everything prior to 1950 and almost everything post-1968. Producers and directors have to make choices, of course, in presenting a biographical film, but I wish more could have been done to dramatize Rand's heroic struggles from Russia to the heights of THE FOUNTAINHEAD.

I do believe, btw, that the Branden books are honest. Ayn Rand made a deep and lasting impact on their lives; Nathaniel certainly didn't need to make a "quick buck" off Rand's memory---by the time his book came out, he was already a million+++ seller in the area of self-esteem. And Barbara's book is so meticulously researched and well written that it ranks as a ~classic~ biography, quite apart from (or perhaps because of) her intimate knowledge of its subject.

Nathaniel's memoir, however, is not a biography; it is his attempt to come to grips with his life---and the many profound mistakes he made---in his relationship with Ayn Rand. It's a very painful book to read, in many ways, but it is about ~his~ evolution, not about Ayn Rand per se.

Understand, however, that ~no~ historical rendering is "neutral." "Objectivity" requires that one present the facts, but those facts are always related to an interpretive framework. One of the best definitions of history that I've ever read was presented by Roy Childs (and his definition is heavily influenced by the way Rand defined "art"): "History is a selective recreation of the events of the past, according to a historian's premises regarding what is important and his judgment concerning the nature of causality in human action." (This is from an essay called "Big Business and the Rise of American Statism," reprinted in LIBERTY AGAINST POWER: ESSAYS BY ROY A. CHILDS, JR, which I strongly recommend to your attention.)

In many ways, this perfectly encapsulates how history is written: it ~must~ be a ~selective~ recreation, otherwise it is nothing more than a ~chronicle~ of events. In essence, unless historical facts are misrepresented, the ~core~ of one's criticisms of a particular historical work will almost always center on the historian's ~premises~. Sometimes, you can disagree with that historian's premises, but still appreciate the ways in which the facts have been selected and assembled into a coherent whole. That assemblage may even lend itself to a conclusion ~opposite~ that of the historian who did the assembling, which is why a critical reading is essential when digesting such texts.

I agree, btw, that it would be nice to see a documentary or even a book that is entirely separate from the principals in the story of Rand's life. My own book, AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, is not a biography, but part one of that book is a kind of "intellectual biography" that traces Rand's philosophical development from her early years as a student in Silver Age Russia to her death in 1982. It does make use of historical evidence that was not available to Barbara when she wrote PASSION. (Some evidence on Rand's college years was not even available to ~me~ when I wrote RUSSIAN RADICAL; I present my post-RUSSIAN RADICAL findings in this article on Rand's college transcript.

Unfortunately, much biographical material is under the control of Rand's Estate---and the prospect of a bona fide independent biographer gaining access to that material in researching a biography is very slim, given the control that the Estate exerts over the Rand archives. Hopefully, in time, the archives will be wide open to individuals regardless of organizational or intellectual affiliation.




(SOLO List; Posted:  Mon, 4 Jun 2003, 09:57:59 -0400)

I'm going to say a lot more about my autobiography here, not because I want to "toot my own horn," but because I think a larger context needs to be established. Linz [Lindsay Perigo] writes: "Dr Diabolical Dialectical thinks he can convert [academia] by speaking to it in its own language. I'll make a wager here: if academia can be won over by speaking its own 'Polish' to it, I'll spend a day listening to Eminem!! Deal, Chris?? :-)"

Well, I doubt I will ever convert ~all~ of academia by speaking "Polish" to it. And though I'm a shameless self-promoter, I don't think I've ever really discussed, on an Objectivist list, just how seriously my work is being taken by non-Objectivists and non-libertarians. I have seriously affected, impacted, or otherwise influenced certain scholars on the left with my discussions of dialectics. Some "conversions" have taken place primarily in cyberspace. The influence, however, is being felt in a growing number of published scholarly works. My work is showing up in left-wing studies of Marshall McLuhan (THE METHOD IS THE MESSAGE by Paul Grosswiler), left-wing critiques of neoclassical economics (DEBUNKING ECONOMICS by Steve Keen), and left-wing histories of dialectical method (a forthcoming book by a British scholar that had to be seriously revised in several sections in the light of my contributions to the subject).

I think I can say, without "boasting," that my work on dialectics is beginning to pose a ~profound~ challenge to the monopoly held by left-wing thinkers, and they ~know~ it. Yes, of course, there is "shallow pretentiousness" in contemporary academia. They give out annual awards in one academic publication for the most ~cryptic~ sentence to appear in the past year's scholarly publications. The "winners" are beyond laughable!

But I don't think I've ever adopted that kind of cryptic language, and I don't think I ~become~ shallow and pretentious by learning to speak a certain technical language or learning to debate other technical theorists within the context of contemporary concepts of social theory. Yet, Linz suggests that "'Polish' . . . is deliberately, gratuitously, maliciously meaningless verbosity. Or, more accurately, *anti*-meaning verbosity." He suggests that my own attempts to "speak Polish to the Poles in order to convert them," helps to legitimize that pretentiousness and to "succour" the pretentious. But I don't believe that my own writing constitutes "deliberately, gratuitously, maliciously meaningless verbosity" even insofar as it uses some five-dollar words in strictly defined contexts.

Understand that when I chose to take up the mantle of dialectical method and to characterize it as "the art of context-keeping," I was harking back to an ~ancient~ methodology, whose first ~theoretician~ was Aristotle. I face the same problem in reclaiming "dialectics" that Ayn Rand faced in reclaiming "selfishness." Both words have been heavily weighed-down with all sorts of negative connotations. Though Rand was not an academic scholar, even she had to work hard to separate her "new concept of egoism" from former concepts, as put forth by Nietzsche, Stirner, and others. Even her conception of "capitalism, the unknown ideal" had to be distinguished from previous defenses of capitalism (e.g., those offered by Social Darwinists, and so forth).

The problem is compounded in the defense of dialectical method, however, because the conventional contemporary advocates of it are almost all left-wing or steeped in verbose rhetorical traditions. I would not have even been taken ~seriously~ by fellow scholars in the field if I didn't attempt to understand the alternative uses of dialectics and to separate the wheat from the chaff so as to clarify all of the confusion surrounding that word. It required me to distinguish it from other orientations: "organicism," "atomism," "dualism," and "monism"---all five dollar words. But still words with meaning---and I carefully ~define~ each of these terms in my work.

The discussion also required me to examine age-old battles in philosophy dealing with the nature of "relations"---battles that hark back in time to Thomas Aquinas and beyond! So you'll find references to internal and external relations, synchronic (system) and diachronic (process) relations, symmetrical (evenly reciprocal) or asymmetrical (some causal dependence) relations, and so forth. It's not verbosity if you take the time out to ~define~ your terms and to ~explain~ them in simpler language. It ~is~ verbosity if you use the words and don't ~define~ your terms. Indeed, the lack of clear definitions will, by intention or unintended consequence, ~obfuscate~ meaning and ~destroy~ objectivity.

And on this point, RW is absolutely correct: you need to chew or "to break the topic into manageable pieces" if you want to swallow and digest it---cognitively. So you'll find whole discussions of internal and external relations in my work that make use of everyday language and ~concrete~ examples. For instance, in my discussion of internal and external relations in process---how certain events interconnect in ~essential~ and ~nonessential~ ways over a given period of time---here's how I try to explain it in TOTAL FREEDOM:

"Let us say that today I experienced a car accident. I would not have had the car accident if I had not been in the car at that precise moment, on that precise street. I would not have been on the street at that moment if I had not been shopping for groceries. I would not have been shopping for groceries today if I had done it yesterday. I would have gone yesterday, but I was having a romantic candlelight dinner with a hot date. Now, while it is true that every event is part of a series of events and that each event is related to what has come before it, it would probably be incorrect to conclude that dating causes car accidents. (Well, not necessarily at least.) Where is the criterion of relevance?"

And then, I launch into a more formal discussion of how to draw the boundaries in any investigation of any object of inquiry, and the importance of using criteria of relevance to decide what is ~essential~ (internal) and what is ~nonessential~ (external) in any given context. My attempts to deal with contemporary debates are, as I've explained elsewhere (in my "Dialectics and THE ART OF NONFICTION" essay), no different than similar attempts by David Kelley, who had to take into account the vast work in the area of perception in order to stake a claim to an alternative "realist theory." Scholars just won't appreciate what you have to offer if you show ~no~ knowledge of alternatives and make ~no~ attempt to situate your own approach within the larger technical field.

I should add that I've not "spoken Polish" for the sake of speaking Polish and I have not "sold-out" by embracing dialectical method. I am ~committed~ to the reclamation of dialectical method from those who have misused or abused it. I am ~committed~ to the conjunction of dialectics and libertarianism because it is ~right~, not because it will advance my career. Believe me, there are just not that many people (any?) out there who argue for an explicit conjunction of dialectics and libertarianism. (Of course, I've done a lot of work to show that there is an ~implicit~ conjunction going on in the works of many thinkers.) If I wanted to advance my career, this was certainly not the way to do it.

But I did have to learn how to play by the rules in order to ~begin~ my career. I needed to earn my union card (a Ph.D.) in order to be taken seriously in my scholarly writing. That's not social metaphysics; it's just reality. You can't practice medicine among doctors without certification; you can't publish consistently in university presses and scholarly journals without some kind of advanced study or institutional affiliation.

And some of what goes on in the field is no different than when a singer learns a few pop songs in order to score a hit, which allows the singer to move on to a more interesting and musically challenging recording career. Though my mentor, the Marxist theorist Bertell Ollman, encouraged me to pursue my work on Rand, he most certainly did ~not~ encourage me to make Rand the focus of my dissertation or my first book. He---and the dissertation committee---respected my original work on Rand, but they strongly urged me ~not~ to make Rand the focus of my very ~first~ scholarly publication. Though my work could have had an even earlier impact on the ~serious~ treatment of Rand in the global community of scholars, my dissertation advisors argued that there would be more than enough time for me to make that impact. Some told me bluntly that they didn't want me to become a martyr to a cause and that I needed to establish my scholarly credentials first.

That doesn't mean that my dissertation was a sell-out. I focused on Karl Marx (to show my scholarly expertise in "classical political theory"). But I also focused on F. A. Hayek and Murray Rothbard! The Marx-Hayek sections became the basis of MARX, HAYEK, AND UTOPIA; the Rothbard sections became part two of TOTAL FREEDOM. The post-doctoral work on Rand (AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL) and the history of dialectics (part one of TOTAL FREEDOM) formed the basis for the rest of my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy.

So, yes, I had to start somewhere---but this has also given me an opportunity to gain a reputation as a respected Marx scholar. Because of this, I was recently invited to write a 2000-word entry on Marx for an important forthcoming encyclopedia that deals with economic sociology. But I parlayed that invitation into a contract for a ~second~ 2000-word entry---on libertarianism---for the same encyclopedia. I'm using the framework of my chosen profession to advance the intellectual causes about which I am passionate. And I have not diluted my message one whit.




(SOLO List; Posted:  Mon, 2 Jun 2003, 07:53:14 -0400)

I wrote: "I'm in this not because I revel in studying the philosophy as an abstract 'intellectual curiosity.' I'm in it because I want to change the world."  L replied: "But I bet you'd never say or imply that in a book or journal article intended for a scholarly audience!"

On the contrary. My whole "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy (MARX, HAYEK, AND UTOPIA; AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL; TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM) is ~dense~ with scholarship and all its "trappings" (footnotes, anyone?). But it is also, practically, a call to arms. It is first and foremost a call to defend political freedom by understanding---and changing---the "full context" of factors upon which its achievement depends. And this point hasn't been lost on ~academic~ reviewers. Indeed, some have ~criticized~ me for it. For example, in a review that appears in the AMERICAN POLITICAL SCIENCE REVIEW (can't get more ~mainstream~ a journal in political science than that!), Professor Peter Stillman offers praise for my book, TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM, along with criticism of the fact that its not ~pure~ scholarship, but something that seeks to conjoin scholarship with a political purpose. Stillman writes:

"Sciabarra's book attempts to conjoin dialectics with libertarianism to produce total freedom. He is led to this seemingly odd conjunction by a concatenation of concerns. He sees dialectics as the logic or method most attentive to contexts and libertarianism as a radical political ideology of freedom. He sees the opportunity to free dialectics of its totalitarian (including Marxist) overtones and libertarianism of its apparent irrelevance, which is the more galling now that once-popular Marxism has failed as radical social theory. . . . No longer need libertarian thought be seen as atomic individualism struggling for freedom against state violence; building on dialectical thinking shorn of its Marxist content, libertarians can embrace whole individuals living in rich social environments that can carry out, without violence, the social powers that the state has illegitimately appropriated."

Ironically, though Stillman praises "[Sciabarra's] approach [which] verges on the encyclopedic," because it "encompass[es] a wide range of secondary sources or alternative positions (or both)," though he writes that "[n]o one can doubt the amount of his scholarship, his commitment to his topic, his generosity of spirit, and his desire to encompass as many opinions as possible," he is also quick to note that the "book is not a scholarly or analytic discussion of dialectics or a complete dialectical critique of Rothbard's libertarianism. But perhaps it was meant to be not a scholarly work but a book dedicated to reshaping libertarian theory and ideology."

For those who don't know, "ideology" is a code word in the political science mainstream, meant to convey that the author has written a political tract designed to change the world. But I don't speak in code on that point. I make it very clear throughout my trilogy, and in countless scholarly articles, that my goal is social change on ~every~ level: the personal, the cultural, and what I call the structural (political and economic). In TOTAL FREEDOM, I argue that dialectics "is a precondition of revolutionary politics," and that such a "revolutionary politics" is ~necessarily~ libertarian: "... a dialectical libertarianism is not only possible; it is a . . . turn ~essential~ to the future of ~both~ dialectics ~and~ liberty." On this issue, I appropriate Marx's dictum and use it in the name of ~liberty~, that we cannot simply study and "explain the world in its intricate complexity; . . . the point is to ~change~ it."

Can't get more explicit than that, except to provide a blueprint for the revolution. :)

L admits to not having read FEMINIST INTERPRETATIONS OF AYN RAND (though I doubt he could have avoided all THE FREE RADICAL hoopla [start here] surrounding the book, since the magazine provided quite a forum for the airing of differences). He wonders how any "feminist interpretation" could be "more valid or useful than 'Islamic Interpretations' or 'Marxist Interpretations,'" however. The debate on these questions is featured [here], and Diana Hsieh ~might~ have something to say about this, considering that she was once Diana Mertz Brickell, a contributor to the anthology herself! I've answered L's questions throughout that debate, but the only thing I can add here is this:

I was given an opportunity to co-edit a book with Mimi Reisel Gladstein, as part of a ~major~ scholarly series, published by a reputable university press, called "Re-reading the Canon," which, thus far, includes more than 20 volumes, each devoted to another thinker in the history of philosophy. A list of its diverse volumes can be found [here]. Placing Rand on the same shelf as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Sartre, and others, and featuring mostly ~individualists~ in the volume itself (including such writers as Barbara Branden, Nathaniel Branden, Joan Kennedy Taylor, Wendy McElroy, Karen Michalson, Sharon Presley, Diana and others) were both ~political~ acts, in many ways, because the volume's very existence ~and~ its contents were ~major~ challenges to the status quo in both "feminist scholarship" and "Rand scholarship." The fact that Rand is given a place alongside the most important philosophers in the history of Western thought ~and~ that the volume itself features the interpretations of ~individualists~ who examine both Rand and feminism ~critically~ are ~major~ accomplishments of that volume.  One does not have to agree with all of the articles in an anthology (or in a magazine, like FREE RADICAL, or a journal, like THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES) in order to appreciate the ~forum~ that provides such opportunities.

And, the fact is, I do ~not~ agree with many of the articles in FEMINIST INTERPRETATIONS OF AYN RAND, but that doesn't take away from the value of the anthology.

Finally, with regard to my review of THE AYN RAND CULT, L says that, based on my acknowledgment of the book as "full of distortions, speculations, and unsubstantiated claims," I ~should~ have concluded "that the book is immoral, or even that it's practically useless." But I don't think the book is immoral and practically useless. I do ~not~ believe that "scholarly interests and motivations supercede philosophical interests and motivations" (I think the two are integrated, properly), but I sure do believe that "getting [THE AYN RAND CULT] in the hands of more people [could] somehow help change the world." For the same reason that getting the BIBLE or Kant's CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON into the hands of more people could change the world---~if~ one reads such books ~critically~ and with an eye toward ~debunking~ those claims that are false. Every time we debunk a false claim, we ~change~ the world, imperceptibly and subtly perhaps, but it changes nonetheless.

The Walker book mixes refutable points with valid ones, and the job of ~any~ critical reading is to separate the two. And there surely are ~valid~ points in that book---despite its mean-spirited, tabloid quality---with regard to what I call "the ridiculous and the tragic in Objectivist sub-culture." For the most part, Walker's book makes the job easier for those who wish to study "the ridiculous and the tragic," because it places all of the dirt on the Objectivist "movement" in a single source. How can I criticize such points, when I've focused attention on "the ridiculous and the tragic" in the area of Objectivist attitudes toward homosexuality, for example? How can I fault Walker's attack on rationalism and cultism in Rand circles, when I, myself, engage in the same attacks?

The central difference between Walker and me, however, is that I view rationalism and cultism as ~distortions~ of Objectivism, and ~I say so~. Walker sees them as part and parcel of the philosophy itself. And on this, I argue ~he is wrong~. And I take him to task for his serious lapses throughout my review.

Nevertheless, as a practical matter, I should add: I'm a very thorough scholar. I don't see the point of ignoring books that are bad. In fact, I see it as strategically ~necessary~ to deal with the bad and the good, because if one does ~not~ bring up the material that one finds bad, problematic, ridiculous, or tragic, then one will be criticized for ~ignoring~ it. That's not the kind of scholarship I do. But unfortunately, it's the kind of "scholarship" that one finds in the works of several "Objectivists" who dismiss various theses with a single sentence, and don't bother to note just ~who~ actually argues for such theses and ~why~ such theses are wrong. I discuss several examples of this in my essay, "Objectivism and Academe: The Progress, The Politics, and The Promise."

Finally, one last comment, unrelated to the above: Linz [Lindsay Perigo] writes of the coming SOLO gathering in Philly: "*Jazz* & cocktails? Oh my God! First it was rice-eating, now it's jazz. I'm afraid I shall have to denounce & excommunicate *everyone*! Of course, it's all Sciabarra's fault! I'm gonna tell [Andrew] Bernstein."

I'm ~always~ to blame. :)

BTW, "jazz and cocktails" is a famous phrase from a great standard, "Lush Life" (written by Billy Strayhorn), one of those super-painful paeans to loneliness and despair. It begins:


I used to visit all the very gay places [for Strayhorn, this is a not-so-subtle double entendre]

Those come-what-may places

Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life

To get the feel of life from jazz and cocktails


... they don't write 'em like they used to ... I think I should go put on a CD...




(SOLO List; Posted:  Sun, 1 Jun 2003, 14:57:44 -0400)

Having made a career, of sorts, entailing the "academization of Objectivism," I too can get a little sensitive about those who bemoan it. But it does seem that L is bemoaning the split between study and activism, or study and living---as it were. And, truth be told, I'm in this not because I revel in studying the philosophy as an abstract "intellectual curiosity." I'm in it because I want to change the world, and part of what it means to change the world is to change the culture. But the culture is not monolithic---and there are different levels of culture that one can address. I focus on academic culture primarily, but my own work has been just as interested in examining and infiltrating popular culture, which is why I've written on everything from dialectical method to Eminem.

The point here is that every "culture" (or subculture) has its own "language." I know I've taken my lumps around here for my occasional forays into "Polish," but I just don't see how one can ~speak~ to contemporary debates in an effort to influence them, if one does not get ~inside~ those debates so as to bridge the gap between oneself and one's interlocutors. Now, I'm not saying that this requires that one become what D has called a "philosophical whore" or that one should engage in successive "philosophical one night stand[s]" (though ~some~ people, ahem, have viewed my interactions with Marxists, feminists, conservatives and others, as a sign of ~proud~ and ~militant~ whoredom on my part... :) ).

But one can't engage in seduction of ~any~ sort, least of all ~intellectual~ seduction, if one doesn't appreciate the ~context~ within which the seduction takes place. One of the hallmarks of Objectivism is this ~contextual~ (or what I've called "dialectical") emphasis; it is no less important in the art of exposition. I address some of these issues in my article on "Dialectics and THE ART OF NONFICTION":

I've written introductions to Objectivism (e.g., AYN RAND: HER LIFE AND THOUGHT), specialized studies of Rand's intellectual development and methodological underpinnings (e.g., AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL), encyclopedia articles on Rand for high school & college students, research surveys for philosophers & social scientists, and popular articles for daily newspapers (e.g., my piece in the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS on "Howard Roark"). Each of these different forums provides an opportunity to address a different audience, requiring a different manner for self-expression. And the ~context~ of the audience---its knowledge, its interests, and so forth---will help to ~shape~ that mode of expression.

In the specialized sciences, this should not ~require~ you to use "obtuse statements and obscure words or phrases," as R suggests, ~for their own sake~. But it may require, on occasion, that you speak ~Polish~ among the Poles, as a means to bringing them to the plain English you champion.

Finally, R writes: "And forever having to write in the third person doesn't help. (I'd be grateful if someone would point out the swine who banished the use of the singular pronoun from scientific writing. I'd like to do him a grievous injury.)"

I agree. :) Third person works on occasion, but don't let that stop you from asserting the Primacy of the I. :) I do it all the time. It certainly makes clear just who is taking responsibility for what in any article you'll ever write.




(SOLO List; an edited combination of two posts, under the heading, "Re: non- academic background (Was Re: Re: Radical?)." Posted on Wed, 28 May 2003, 10:39:49 -0400 and Thu, 29 May 2003, 07:11:12 -0400)

K wrote: "Here's one exception: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. I don't know enough about jazz, although I do have some Coltrane, Ella Fitz, and loads of big band stuff. But Kind of Blue is a masterpiece. It's very (deceptively) simple and spare, and very aesthetic. That's one album I'll take to a deserted island. -K"

K, I'm coming with you. Love that album; it's as much a product of Bill Evans' modal impressionist approach (influenced by Ravel and Debussy---listen to those chord changes... mmm) as it is of Miles' remarkable ability to get a group of in-sync musicians together. Check out Bill Evans' albums if you like "Kind of Blue"---including his recordings with bassist Scott LaFaro, "Live at the Village Vanguard," [and his duets with guitarist Jim Hall, or] with bassist Eddie Gomez, "Intuition"... not to mention his various "Conversations with Myself" albums and his "You Must Believe In Spring," which includes a wonderful rendition of that melodic Michel Legrand composition.

Many classical pianists worship at the Evans altar---as do many jazz pianists, who credit him as one of the giants of modern jazz piano. In fact, classical pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet recorded a tribute album to Evans (called "Conversations with Bill Evans"), wherein he played ~transcriptions~ of Evans' solo work as if they were classical compositions. (The album includes a heartbreaking rendering of the "Love theme from 'Spartacus'.") Thibaudet believed that Evans created a "natural, organic" fusion of classical and jazz, with a deep harmonic sense and a real appreciation for dynamics.

Now, what island would you like to go to? :)


MD has "modal" right, of course, when he describes it as "based on . . . scales that follow the pattern of one central tonic note." But when I mentioned "impressionism" [above], I meant it in terms of the whole shimmering quality of Bill Evans' use of chords, which was influenced by musical impressionists like Debussy or Ravel, and others in the European classical tradition. The drummer on the "Kind of Blue" session, Jimmy Cobb, remarks in a recent documentary on Miles Davis, that the whole session was, in essence, driven by Bill Evans' style. "Miles fell into [Bill's] style," Cobb observes. Evans' "impressionistic piano chords" were such that he could play one chord, with complex voicings and harmonies, and convey a whole ~feeling~, setting the thematic character of virtually the entire session. The music was based on one or two scales, but the critics continue to praise its "supremely lyrical quality." It remains, I believe, among the biggest selling jazz albums of all time, if not the biggest.

Evans developed this style throughout his life. I saw him perform in-person at the Village Vanguard some years before he passed away. The man had these short stubby fingers, not typical of a pianist, and he sat hunched over the piano---to the point where, in silhouette, it seemed as if he'd become part of the instrument. And that's how it sounded. For me, it was a perfect integration of reason with a remarkable depth of emotion; every note, every chord had its inner logic, connected to the totality of his performance---and what emerged was, for me, a sonic seduction.

Ironically, so much of the history of jazz is a reflection of the history of race relations in the United States. Ken Burns made this one of the central themes of his series, "Jazz." Though I've been critical of Burns' series (see my essay on "The Subtle Racism of 'Jazz'" from JUST JAZZ GUITAR & JAZZ TIMES), this much he got right.

Miles Davis dealt with enormous racial prejudice in his life, but it never prevented him from picking musicians regardless of race, which is why one finds whites, Latinos, and blacks sitting side-by-side in Davis' various innovative small-group combos. (On this, it appears, he learned much from Benny Goodman, who always fronted integrated groups, bringing such black musicians as pianist Teddy Wilson, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, and guitarist Charlie Christian together with white musicians such as drummer Gene Krupa or trumpeter Harry James.)

When Miles came under criticism for picking the white Bill Evans, rather than any of the many superb black pianists famous at the time, Miles is reported to have said, "But ~nobody~ ~plays~ like Bill..." And yet, he'd kid Bill Evans all the time; if Evans contributed a thought to the discussion among Davis, Coltrane, or Cannonball Adderly, he'd say (according to Cobb): "Listen, man, we don't wanna hear no white opinions."

But it was Evans's "opinions" that graced the liner notes for "Kind of Blue," wherein he discussed "Improvisation in Jazz." In those notes, Evans talks about the "complex composition and textures" that result from the spontaneous "direct deeds" of improvisation---something, by the way, that did not begin with jazz, but is steeped in the classical tradition.

Robert Campbell wrote on this subject on the Nathaniel-Branden yahoo group, and he's worth quoting here. For those of you unfamiliar with Robert, he's my associate editor at THE JOURNAL OF AYN RAND STUDIES, a psychology professor, who also happens to be a prolific writer on jazz for such publications as CADENCE magazine; he's also given a two-part introduction to jazz at the TOC Summer Seminar, which "included jazz from all historical periods (starting in 1919) and from a wide variety of styles." Robert writes:

>>  I also listen to a wide range of Western classical music (as I write this, my computer is playing a CD of music written by Sylvius Leopold Weiss, a lutenist who was nearly an exact contemporary of J. S. Bach). I heartily concur with [S's] judgment that the great jazz improvisers . . . will stand with the great Western classical composers in their command of music and their powers of invention. What Louis Armstrong was best at is not, of course, what Johannes Brahms was best at: improvisation works well over the structure of a 12-bar blues or a decently written 32-bar Tin Pan Alley pop tune, not well at all if you're trying to put together a 4-movement symphony. But beyond these points, it's worth noting that improvisation played a significant role in Western classical music until a little after 1800. Ludwig van Beethoven was never the most technically polished keyboard player around, but before his hearing started to give out he was (according to an array of contemporary accounts) a brilliant improviser on the piano. Even today, a Corelli violin sonata makes for a dull listening experience if the violinist sticks to the notes on the page (Corelli took it for granted that violinists would improvise on top of his structures). And while a Mozart piano concerto is still worth listening to when played as notated, that's not what Mozart did, nor what he expected other pianists to do.<<

In any event, response to music---like response to all art---is intensely personal. So, it's possible that some of the music discussed herein won't be your thing. My purpose here is only to describe ~some~ of what ~I~ feel when ~I~ listen to it.




(SOLO List, Posted:  Sun, 25 May 2003 11:44:37 -0400)

Classic comment by newsman Tim Russert this morning on "Meet the Press." They showed scenes of ex-Beatle, Paul McCartney, singing "Back in the USSR" in Red Square---among tens of thousands of Russians who were bopping to the music.

Russert said that back in 1959, Premier Nikita Khruschev boasted that American grandchildren would be living under communism. But yesterday, Russian grandchildren were rocking to the sounds of the Beatles in Red Square. So much for the inevitability of communism in history.




(Nathaniel Branden List, Posted:  Sun, 18 May 2003 00:49 am)

MM agrees with my view on the integrated structure of Rand's system and the fact that she engages in shifting levels of generality and vantage point. But he wonders if I contradict myself when I write: "Dialectics doesn't tell us ~where~ to draw the line on relevance; what it counsels is that the line ~must~ be drawn ~somewhere~" He replies: "Compare this to what you write earlier in the email: >>For me, the integrated structure of Rand's analysis hangs together "dialectically," that is, with an eye toward grasping the full context of any problem or issue.<<  In the first quote, are you trying to sneak some illogic by me? Of course it has to be drawn somewhere, reality demands it. If dialectics says it must be drawn somewhere, but does not give a clue as to where to draw it, then what is its use? It seems that I could keep expanding my levels of analysis and this would not be a problem in dialectics because dialectics does not care where the boundary is. Remember what I said about playing context deuces wild?"

Okay, we're going to need to back up a bit.

If somebody gives you a microscope and tells you that you can look at an object from different levels of magnification, do you also expect them to tell you, before you actually investigate the object, what is the best level of magnification? The answer is: It depends. It depends what you're looking for. It depends what your cognitive purpose is. Since each level of magnification will reveal different things about the object, I say: Do the investigation. Keep your purposes "pure," but not so "pure" that you're not open to revisions along the way. You'll discover, by actually ~investigating~, what is relevant and what is not relevant in any given context and for any given purpose. Dialectics counsels us to look at the object on different levels and from different vantage points. Don't become complacent and reify a single level or a single vantage point as the ~only~ one necessary to understanding. And don't become convinced, alternatively, that one level or vantage point is as good as another. Eventually, you'll be led by observation and investigation to an understanding of the object as a totality and to an appreciation of its essential (internal) and nonessential (external) characteristics in any given context.

Dialectics is like a microscope or a telescope---it is a tool, or many tools, which we use to keep context.

But please remember that my analysis of dialectics is itself an abstraction of ~one~ important element of what "good thinking" means. It is not to be sundered from other elements of "good thinking," including the use of logical and empirical skills. These elements---the dialectical, the logical, the empirical, and so forth---constitute a totality. I focus on dialectics only to highlight the importance of ~context-keeping~ to good-thinking. When I investigate the evolution of the concept of dialectics, I am attempting to isolate and abstract formal principles of context-keeping that may be on display in the works of many thinkers, even though not every thinker is ~successful~ in terms of offering a valid perspective. (I can engage in the same formal abstraction of the principles of logic, without necessarily embedding these principles with any specific content.)

Different thinkers may use the same tools of dialectical context-keeping, but the tools are only as good as the person using them. One can marvel at the dialectical dexterity of other thinkers, such as Marx, insofar as he focuses on integrated structures, dynamic processes, and contextual forms. That doesn't mean that one should accept as ~legitimate~ the conclusions of Marx. Rand herself admired Marx's attempts at systematization, even though she rejected the validity of the substantive content of his ideology.

So, yes, on one level, I ~am~ abstracting the form of dialectical method from the content. But this is only because I want to bring attention to the ways in which context-keeping is achieved. Briefly, context-keeping requires at least three cardinal techniques:

1. That we look at the object of inquiry on different levels of generality (and we'll need to define these levels).

2. That we look at the object of inquiry from different vantage points (and we'll need to define these vantage points).

3. That we view the object of inquiry as a unit in time and within a given space, which means: (a) that we think of the object in terms of its past, present and future (which is the dynamic, temporal, or historical aspect of context-keeping); and (b) that we think of the object in terms of its relationships to other objects, and the larger context that these objects ~might~ constitute in their interconnections (which is the systemic aspect of context-keeping).

These three cardinal techniques will help us to piece together a comprehensive view of the object of inquiry. And they are three techniques that Rand uses in her analysis of any social problem. I explore this aspect of her analysis especially in Part Three of AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL. One of the examples I use in that part of the book is Rand's analysis of racism. I argue that Rand establishes three basic levels of generality, which I define as the personal (Level 1 or L1), the cultural (Level 2 or L2), and the structural (Level 3 or L3). Each of these basic levels of generality provides Rand with the ability to shift vantage points within that level. The personal includes such vantage points as the psychological, psycho-epistemological and ethical dimensions. The cultural includes such vantage points as the ideological, linguistic, pedagogical, and aesthetic dimensions. The structural includes such vantage points as the political and economic dimensions.



Finally, Rand looks at each problem in terms of its evolution over time and in terms of its relationships to ~other~ problems.

Let me reproduce below, my comments on this from the OWL list, which summarizes the discussion from Chapter 12 of AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL:


On L1, Rand focuses on the ethical and psycho-epistemological dimensions of the problem. She views racism as a crude form of collectivism that negates individuality, ascribing moral, social, or political significance to group lineage. Racists use the weapons of collective guilt, and assert a "pseudo-self-esteem" based on their own kinship ties, rather than by virtue of their own actions as individuals. The racist's psycho-epistemology is associational and concrete-bound, a manifestation of the "anti-conceptual mentality." Group loyalty, blood ties, and chauvinism are all viewed as extensions of tribalism, "a reciprocally reinforcing cause and result," in her words, of a long history of caste systems and the rule of brute force (see Rand's "The Missing Link"). [Here, note Rand's explicit attempt to connect between L1 and L3.] Moreover, Rand and her associates recognize how the psychology of victimization is often "a precondition of the power to control a pressure group" (Rand, "The Age of Envy"); this enabled Rand to trace the deleterious effects of this psychology on the culture of the African American community, for example. [Here, note Rand's explicit attempt to connect between L1 and L2.]

On L2, Rand examined, among other things, the various "anti-concepts" and corruptions of language that racism required. She attacks multicultural conceptions of "ethnicity," the view of language as "a mystic heritage," and the "hysterical loyalty" to dialect and cultural rituals. She argues that the cultural predominance of the altruist morality and the educational system's perpetuation of concrete-bound pedagogical methods reinforce the tribalism evident on L1, just as they reinforce a country's political and economic trends toward statism [L3].

On L3, Rand and her associates focus on the institutional mechanisms that perpetuate racism. Again, she emphasizes the mutual implications of her levels of analysis. "The political cause of tribalism's rebirth is the ~mixed economy~---the transitional stage of the formerly civilized countries of the West on their way to the political level from which the rest of the world has never emerged: the level of permanent tribal warfare" ("Global Balkanization"). She argues that the mixed economy both requires---and perpetuates---social fragmentation; it puts at a competitive disadvantage any individual who lacks a group affiliation. In such a society, we are all victims and victimizers; statism makes the whole society into "a class of beggars." For once the rule of force begins to predominate, the institutional means for legalized predation expand exponentially. "If ~this~ is a society's system," writes Rand, "no power on earth can prevent men from ganging up on one another in self-defense---i.e., from forming ~pressure groups~." ("How to Read and Not to Write"). . . .

Stressing the structural factors that perpetuate social fragmentation, Rand observes: "If parasitism, favoritism, corruption, and greed for the unearned did not exist, a mixed economy would bring them into existence" ("The Pull Peddlers").

Racism is therefore only one aspect of the social fragmentation perpetuated by the rule of force, according to Rand. In discussions of the social disintegration at work in some elements of the African American community, for instance, Rand recognizes the historic legacy of slavery and the entrenched welfare-statism of her own day as two means of creating a class of modern-day "slaves." She also indicts both the conservative's attempt at "forced segregation" and the liberal's attempt at "forced integration." Other Objectivists, such as George Reisman, criticize the zoning laws, rent controls, public housing and education, quotas, municipal health and sanitation services, franchises, and licensing laws that have victimized blacks in the long-run.

The whole point of such a full-throttle tri-level analysis of racism (which I discuss to a much greater extent in Chapter 12 of RUSSIAN RADICAL) is that the problem of racism, like ~every other social problem~, cannot be resolved without a complete epistemological, ethical, cultural, and political revolution.


Let's return to MM's comments. I wrote: "So, for example, you might actually fault ~me~ for inadequate assumptions about human efficacy, while ~not~ faulting dialectical method per se---which does not dictate any ~specific~ assumptions in this regard." To which MM replies: "How convenient!! This method is becoming identity-less. It seems you are trying to divorce method from method here. How could you possibly fault any other person's analysis according to the dialectical method? Are you saying that dialectics says nothing about one's base premises and how they should be chosen--all it says is "please choose something"? What if I disagreed with your viewpoint on dialectics and instead regarded it as a bipolar synthesis. How could you fault me? By your definition, my dialectical view of dialectics would be fine. Otherwise, you are forced to draw the line on dialectics, which would be contradictory to your saying that "Dialectics doesn't tell us ~where~ to draw the line on relevance". This also seems to be teetering on the edge of a subjectivist view of histriography and analysis. Only a small root is letting your version of dialectics cling to reality. On what basis do you fault the assumptions of another historian? How do you determine who is right in a given circumstance? If your dialectics does not tell us where the boundary is drawn, how can criticize somebody with a boundary different from yours?"

But this is the point: I've ~never~ claimed that dialectics is ~all~ of human thinking. Context-keeping is an absolutely necessary component of good thinking, but it is not sufficient. When I advocate dialectics, I ~never~ advocate it in the abstract. My whole trilogy is a discussion of the virtues of what I've termed "dialectical libertarianism"---and when I advocate such, I advocate it as an integrated whole. As I state in TOTAL FREEDOM: "... a dialectical libertarianism is not only possible; it is a methodological turn ~essential~ to the future of ~both~ dialectics ~and~ liberty. Dialectics requires free inquiry. Free inquiry is a component part of 'total freedom'. But 'total freedom'---a freedom bolstered by a recognition of its complex preconditions and effects---requires the repudiation of [context-dropping] in philosophic and social thought that [has] poisoned previous attempts at dialectical thinking and previous conceptions of human liberation."

So, an effective defense of freedom requires both a validation of its principles (the logical and empirical emphasis) and an understanding of its wider context, preconditions and effects (the dialectical emphasis). And these aspects ~cannot~ be sundered. This is not simply dialectics at work; it is also a way of being dialectical ~about~ dialectics as an aspect of good critical thinking.

Validation and context-keeping go hand-in-hand. There are plenty of examples in contemporary libertarianism of those who validate and defend the "non-initiation of force" principle, but who drop the wider personal (Level 1) and cultural (Level 2) preconditions for its effective political (Level 3) implementation. I spend much of Part 2 of TOTAL FREEDOM critiquing those quasi-atomistic forms of libertarian social theory.

I accept the ~defense~ of the free society offered by Rand not simply because it is ~dialectical~; I accept that defense because it is ~right~, because it is ~correct~, because it is ~valid~. I emphasize the contextual (dialectical) elements because I think that part of what makes Rand's defense ~correct~ is that she refuses to fracture the connection between validation and context-keeping.

This is, by the way, an aspect of Rand's Aristotelianism. The chief achievement of Aristotle in advancing dialectical inquiry was that he delineated the ~formal~ principles of dialectical analysis (focusing primarily on shifting "points of view"), but severed their connections to an idealist Platonic ontology. Aristotle advanced dialectical thinking by ~grounding~ its formal techniques in the facts of the real-world. On this point, see Chapter 1 of TOTAL FREEDOM.

MM asks: "Who does not believe in shifting perspective in order to get a more holistic view?" I'd like to count the people and count the ways, but this is already becoming a very long post. So I'll only refer you to Chapter 4 of TOTAL FREEDOM.

MM asks: "But you seem to be very non-committal in your view on relationships. The relationships are still what they are, A is still A. These are metaphysically real and do not change by changing context."

I agree, but that doesn't make me noncommittal. I'm just not willing to declare ~a priori~ the nature of a relationship before doing an ~actual~ investigation. One of the central problems in the history of philosophy is that assorted atomists, organicists, dualists, and monists have been making arm-chair judgments about the ultimate relational nature of the constituents that make up our universe. Rand rejected this kind of cosmological speculation---at the root. She refused---and I refuse---to assert the metaphysical necessity of internal or external relations as a universal or cosmological maxim. We need to actually ~do~ an investigation in order to come to certain conclusions about the nature of the constituents and their connections within any given system and across time.

MM comments: "In the example you give on coercion, the relationship is STILL one of coercion. AR is just giving us a more complete view on what makes this coercion possible (sanction of the victim). She is most definitely not saying the relationship is a voluntary one--it is still forced at the point of a gun. Just as one looks can look at a drop of water from many different levels, the relationship of hydrogen to oxygen does not change; however, changing perspectives (say to a molecular level) will give us more complete knowledge about the nature of water (ie., the bonds)."

I agree with what you say.

MM asks: "So, as to the last part with respect to internal and external relationships, are you saying that they change with changing perspectives?"

I'm saying that an internal or external relationship ~exists~ but not as some intrinsic essence or subjective construction. The relationships are ~objective~, but the ~objective~ is not context-less. "A" might be internally related to "B" in ~one~ respect, while being externally related in ~another~ respect. The whole point of Rand's objective approach to this is that we can never drop the ~respect~ or ~context~ which helps us to define the internality or externality of any given relationship.

Finally, let me quote again from AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, Chapter 6:

"Thus, Rand's epistemology does not endorse intrinsic essences as in traditional internalism. But neither does it endorse the subjectively identified essences typical of externalism. Rand argued that the relations one traces in reality must be connected to a specific cognitive task. Every characteristic of an entity is potentially relevant to our grasp of its meaning. And each existent is potentially relevant to everything else that exists in the universe. But this relevance must be ascertained ~within a specific context~. As Peikoff explains, every blade of grass is potentially relevant to human life, because ~within a specific context~, an attempt to count these blades must be related to a particular human purpose. The context helps us to determine relevance and essence. The meaning we attach to such counting is internally related to our actions, purposes, and knowledge. The meaning, the concept we form, constitutes a relationship between existence and consciousness."

I'm sure this raises a few more questions than it answers... but there you have it.



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