Saturday, February 10, 2007

The continuing post-midterm election debate . . .

The news of the week is the acrid fallout that continues from the post-midterm election debate, this time centering on an essay by Tore Boeckmann which defended Robert Mayhew's criticism of Robert Tracinski's new theory of history.

I personally have been taking my time responding to Trasinski's thesis in-depth (for the record, I disagree with him). Nevertheless, I have been monitoring the debate elsewhere and from time to time I have offered limited commentary. At Diana Hsieh's blog, I noted my view that many of the attacks from the pro- Tracinski side of the debate seem to be the result of the anger many still seem to feel over Leonard Peikoff's election-eve rebuke. Peikoff's statment has caused them to "upchuck a stream of context-busting and concrete-bound arguments, and then engage in an orgy of backslapping for the "courage" it ostensibly takes to disagree with Leonard Peikoff and other scholars." I know, not very subtle and I own that, but unfortunately, the statement reflects my perception of how the debate is rapidly degenerating.

In reply, I noticed a post on the THE FORUM for Ayn Rand Fans, that labels Hsieh, Mayhew, Boeckmann and me as "implicitly and explicitly" issuing "exhortations to Authoritarianism" (note the capital "A") and that the poster has determined that we are disqualified as either "exponents of or legitimate 'authorities' on the philosophy of Objectivism."

Savor the irony. And in my particular case, there's a lot to savor. After all, when Leonard Peikoff first posted his election comments on his website, I agreed with the essential part of his assessment in that some Objectivists are underselling the threat of the religious conservatives in a way that reveals a flawed understanding of how ideas shape history, but I initially disagreed with his lesser important (in my view) position on the importance of voting one way or another (and my disagreement was unequivocal). Ultimately I voted for the Democrats in the election, but I always maintained that one's vote is only as important as the chance that it could swing an election, which is near nil.

So I guess if I'm an "Authoritarian," I don't even get the benefit of being a good one. And it goes even worse for Diana Hsieh; one poster remarks that they never really believed Hsieh rethought and abandoned her previous pro-TOC position. Sure, you can write thousands upon thousands of words frankly acknowledging the errors in your thinking and how you recovered from them, but according to this person's seeming assessment, once a tolerationist rat, always a tolerationist rat. That's a tough break, Diana . . .

Since it has been said that the FORUM is firmly moderated and given that the posts in question are still online, I can only assume that it these posts have met the FORUM's standards for integrity and decorum; that is, that these kinds of wild charges are considered legitimate and helpful commentary by the FORUM's moderators and owners. That's too bad, but it's obviously revealing. I expect that this debate will only become more acrimonious over time.

At the same time, I think this debate is necessary. Lest it be claimed that there are bigger fish to fry elsewhere, I would like those who hold as much to explain to me how people are anything more than vauge allies (if that) when their view of Objectivism leads them to conclude that Bush is a war leader beyond reproach and that the conservatives are not systematically undercutting the advance of freedom in America (that is, when they are not outright threatening it).

Update: Fixed some spelling errors, reordered words in the last sentence for clarity.


Anonymous said...

Nick, you wrote:

I would like those who hold as much to explain to me how people whose view of Objectivism leads them to conclude that Bush is a war leader beyond reproach ...

And worse - whose view that Objectivists criticizing his weakness are essentially traitors: in the TIA Daily of 6 Feb, 2006, Jack Wackland wrote:

To say that George Bush's efforts at national defense are worse than nothing--something I hear way too often from Objectivists--is worse than factually false. If you follow the implications of this falssehood to claim that America is losing, you are doing our enemy's work. The enemy is far too weak to win on the battlefield. His can only win by reducing the effectiveness of our efforts by conning us into altruist mercy--and then hoping we'll become too weary and disgusted with the futility of the ineffective efforts; too weary and disgusted to remember what we're fighting for; too weary and disgusted to stay on the field of battle.

Before you trumpet each small failure in the American war effort, remember you're a part of the enemy's battle plan. Before you minimize each small success in the American war effort, remember whose side you are on.

You continue:

... and that the conservatives are not systematically undercutting the advance of freedom in America (when they are not outright threatening it) are anything more than vauge allies.

Could you clarify this? Do you mean vague allies in the war on terror? Or in general?


Nicholas Provenzo said...

My position is that such people are vague allies in general (and that's putting it nicely), on the grounds that while they say the admire Ayn Rand's philosophy, they do not have an accurate view of how ideas shape history, and thus they misunderstand Objectivism. And I've been unequivocal that I think Wakeland is an outright mess of late (search for "Wakeland" on the blog to see). I remember admiring Wakeland's expose of Sen. John McCain in the pages of TIA. In contrast, his writing of late has been outright disastrous.

In short, I'm 100% in agreement with Leonard Peikoff's pre-election statements. At first I was off-put buy the harsh tone against pro-Republican Objectivists, but as the months have progressed and the various sides have dug into their positions, I've become convinced of both the truth and the appropriateness of the tone in his argument.

And that's a funny thing about Leonard Peikoff. Every time I disagree with him, he ends up being right.

Jack Galt said...

I’m disappointed by the tone of the ongoing debate (unfortunately, I think that’s just the way debate on the Internet works) but I do think that the pro-Tracinski side is more in the wrong in that they are both incorrect in their broad reasoning and more often than not, quite rude about it.

That’s not to say that Tracinski has been rude himself (unless you count him publishing Wakeland’s various fiascos), that’s simply to say that his supporters seem to be both quite Pollyannaish in their view of the world and appalled that anyone disagrees with them for it.

And that brings me to my question: what is the state of America (and the world) right now?

My view is you’ll know Objectivism is winning when the conservatives are seen for what they are, and that is primarily a bunch of religious altruists in free-market, pro-America clothing, and that Objectivism is the only real alternative to the status quo. At the same time (and in defense of Tracinski), I think Tracinski is on to something when he says that some Objectivists are overly pessimistic about the world.

Anonymous said...

Ditto on JG’s question: how goes the world?

And I hate to put it this way, but does anyone else find Betsy Speicher’s boosterism of Objectivism a little off-putting? I noticed at Noodlefood in Robert Mayhew’s reply to her husband’s criticism of him, Mayhew makes a subtle dig at her manner of having an Ayn Rand quote in close proximity to nearly anything she says.

That’s not bad in and of itself (AR is a great person to quote), but all the time? And from a person who seems constantly on a quest to spin Objectivism’s glass as half full (even when it isn’t).

Maybe it’s undeserved, but I wonder if Betsy (and her husband) are simply driving other Objectivists nuts.

Anonymous said...

Nick, you write:

"Since it has been said that the FORUM is firmly moderated and given that the posts in question are still online, I can only assume that it these posts have met the FORUM's standards for integrity and decorum"

My question is towards your selective attention here: you blame Speichers for some harsh words on their side, but leave Diana and all people on her side completely off the hook for saying things MUCH worse. Why do you not blame Diana for the far harsher and far ruder comments she allowed?

I mean despite all the disagreements, no one on the other side questioned Mayhew's or Boeckman's integrity towards Objectivism; on the other hand, the latter are extremely willing to throw out "Objectivish" and "pseudo-intellectual" accusations. And Diana, far from criticizing such outrageousness, is only too eager and trigger happy to post it and make it public, and keeps on piling into the debate which she herself has no place in. The kind of stuff she said makes even the worst Speichers stuff tame by comparison, and she's aided by abominable viciousness from Mayhew and Boeckmann, all piling together into one big mass of seething vituperation.

And yet -- the Speichers are SO mean, according to you. What gives?

Nicholas Provenzo said...

>Maybe it’s undeserved . . .

It is—totally. And let’s for a moment pretend that you are right; it’s that Betsy Speicher is just too positive for some people to take and that’s the singular issue that drives the current disagreements people have with one another. Well, my answer would be “tough for some people.” If you personally don’t like Betsy Speicher’s style, then leave it at that, but don’t pretend that your issue with her seeming abundance of cheerfulness goes anything beyond your personal tastes.

I for one am disappointed by Speichers because I see them taking their opponents out of context, which is unfair, and allowing (and making) some outright personal attacks to creep into the mix, which is also unfair. People have every right to think that their FORUM is not the best place to debate ideas, especially given some of the sniping that goes on there. I mean come on, I am not an authoritarian. Neither are others.

My view is the best way (that is, the most scholarly and thoughtful way) to critique an opponent’s argument is to take it at its best possible light, essentialize its arguments, and respond back with contrary evidence. I maintain that Robert Mayhew did this in his essay responding to his perception of the errors in Tracinski’s representation of Greek history—a perception based upon his intimate knowledge of Greek history. Mayhew should not have been subject to kind of flippant attacks he received, and others were well within their rights to be off-put by these attacks. Disagreement is one thing. Internet pile-ons are another.

So where then does that leave us? I for one want to get back to the real meat of the matter, which I maintain is Robert Tracinski’s thesis. And to give Tracinski at least a little credit (while maintaining my overall disagreement), yes, we do need to think carefully, deeply and accurately about how goes the world and why.

Darren said...

Nick, when you say that the "real meat of the matter" is Robert Tracinski's thesis, are you saying that Tracinski's thesis is the central issue in this debate?

From what I've read, it seems that Robert Mayhew took offense to the way Stephen Speicher criticized Mayhew's essay against Robert Tracinski's thesis, and Tore Boeckmann wrote his essay to defend Mayhew. But Speicher's criticism of Mayhew's essay was about the facts in Mayhew's essay, not the fact that the essay was against Tracinski. And Boeckmann's defense of Mayhew wasn't related to Tracinski's thesis at all, but the way that Speicher criticized Mayhew. Everybody else that has joined the debate on both sides don’t mention the content of Tracinski's thesis, either. I don't see how Tracinski's thesis is playing any role in this fight.

I read your post on Noodlefood that you think that the "real cause of this debate is Robert Tracinski's positions over the past several years," but I don't see how Tracinski's pro-Bush ideas played that big of a role. But even if they did, it's another step to group those who disagreed with Peikoff's election analysis with Tracinski's "What Went Right?" essay. I haven't read all of the comments about the essay on The Forum, but I do remember quite a few criticisms of it from those who didn't want to vote for Democrats, especially early after it was released. (Is it even finished yet?)

Also, I have yet to see one Objectivist claim, on The Forum or anywhere else, that "Bush is a war leader beyond reproach" and that the conservatives are not a threat to our liberty. The question of who is more of a threat to our liberty has been debated, but I haven't seen anybody take a position anywhere close to the one you describe. Who were you referring to when you wrote that?

Anonymous said...

Kudos to this inclement weather for keeping me shut inside with time to catch up on this blog. I truly appreciate this particular site as a breath of fresh air from other sites hosted by Objectivists or Objectivist allies. In general the discourse is both informative and polite. The posts are great, and so are the follow-up comments back and forth.
Nick, I really wanted to post tonight to remark that I got a great laugh when you were specifically cited as one leaning toward Authoritarianism. It's always funny to see yourself referenced by people who don't know you, isn't it? Enjoy. :)
Cheers to all and stay off the streets.