Friday, February 26, 2010

Ayn Rand Smears Still Popular with the Left

It would seem that the left still enjoys painting Rand and Objectivists as giggling baby-eaters. A recent spate of disinformation pieces have been circling the internet here and here. The basic gist is that they drop context on some lines taken out of Ayn Rand's personal journals in which she comments on the William Hickman kidnapping murder of a young girl in the 1920s. It's funny too, because they're really just plagiarizing the same drivel that was passed about a few years ago with an 2005 article here. The response should be the same as the response it got the big red x in the upper right of the window. A brief discussion on the Objectivism Online Forum should help clarify how the argument is specious. I've included a link to that discussion here.

I quote the very eloquent summation of one poster, Dismuke:

"To summarize - that article drops several bits of very important context.

1. The fact that the journal entries were PRIVATE, not intended for publication and, therefore, the contents were not written for the purpose of being objective to any audience other than Ayn Rand's own eyes.

2. The entirety of Ayn Rand's explicit philosophy which was consistent across volumes of works written over the span of many decades - including her philosophy's contempt for those who initiate force.

3. The fact that Ayn Rand herself dismissed it all as probable "idealizing."

4. The fact that, Ayn Rand, unlike the author of the article, did not equate self-interest with "walking across corpses" and, therefore, did not regard an out-of-context admiration for certain attributes of a brutal murderer's statements and demeanor as having possible negative implications for a morality of self-interest worthy of giving serious consideration to in the mental exercise the journal entry documents.

Now, if someone who was very familiar with the William Hickman case but had never heard of Ayn Rand before somehow stumbled across that particular journal entry, I can fully understand why he might properly conclude that Ayn Rand must have been some sort of strange, sociopathic kook not worthy of looking into further. But the author of that article very clearly IS familiar with the larger context of Ayn Rand's work and her personal history - so my conclusion is the article is nothing more than a cheap and sleazy "hit piece" designed to smear Objectivism. Don't be too surprised if it is embraced by the likes of David Kelley and Barbara Branden as more "proof" that Ayn Rand was indeed nothing more than a malevolent neurotic kook who somehow, nevertheless, managed to make a few good philosophical points here and there."

I can't think of anything more to add to this, except to express my sincere hope that trash like this will stop popping up in the news results for Rand on the right side of this blog. It is increasingly clear that the Left has no rational refutation of Rand's philosophy and can only resort to character assassination and ad hominem flubbery. Context is everything. ANY quote taken out of context can be read to mean anything you want it to. That is why the process of contextualization is so important in all written forms of exposition and especially literary, scientific, and philosophical exposition. Ayn Rand's journals were none of these, simply personal notes and notations meant to guide her own thought process.

If a man were to find admirable qualities in Obama, it would not make him instantly an Obama acolyte. If a man were to find admirable qualities in Reagan, it would not make him instantly a Reaganite. One can admire certain qualities of a person without admiring their motivations or actions, hence the restriction to certain qualities. Some people admire Rommel, despite the fact that he was a Nazi. They can admire his intelligence and skill without admiring his political ideology. Some people admire Clinton despite his philandering. It doesn't mean they admire the whole person, just some things that he did or said. The only way to be certain of why, in what way, and under what conditions that admiration existed, is to have a properly contextualized account of that admiration. The reasons, the exceptions, the moderations...these elements are essential to understanding the meaning of any given utterance in the English language. Without this account, irresponsible accusations slapped onto decontextualized cherry-picked quotes say no more about the character of a person than graffiti on the wall of a bathroom stall--the very place where such "journalism" the toilet.


byafi said...

Thanks for taking the time to expose this stuff for the trash that it is. When I saw this in Rand's journal, I thought nothing of it, knowing Rand's beliefs as I do and as you discussed.

What surprised me was Jennifer Burns' comment that Rand was "sympathetic rather than horrified" about what Hickman had done. Perhaps this is the source of the recent junk.

American Anti-theist said...

You're welcome. I can't claim much originality here, but sometimes it helps to resurface the old rebuttals when the old criticisms resurface. It's funny in a sick way that the only "objective" historical assesment of Rand that the leftists will accept is one that assumes Rand to be morally debased. Begging the question seems to be the only way that the left can argue anything anymore.