Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Re-Checking Some Premises

Update: Dr. Hsieh has written her own response to the shameful checkingpremises.org site here.

A new Objectivism-related website named checkingpremises.org went live yesterday. My interest was piqued when I saw a link in Facebook comments, so I paid the new site a visit. According to its Purpose page, the site was "created by serious students and proponents of Objectivism in response to the danger that some, who may seem in agreement with the philosophy, are in fact subverting it."

Checkingpremises.org contains a few select quotes and links related to David Kelly, the Brandens, and Libertarianism. Also present is Peikoff's oft-quoted "Fact and Value," a very enlightening statement on disputes within the Objectivist movement. Links to works by Harry Binswanger, Peter Schwartz, and Ayn Rand are there as well.

So far, this is nothing unusual. There are already numerous sites on the web offering resource material on various disputes in the Objectivist movement. This site adds nothing new on that front, and is by comparison quite lacking in content. What makes checkingpremises.org stand out (and not in a good way) is its concerted, focused attack on professional intellectual Dr. Diana Hsieh. Based on the website's presentation at launch, one can only assume that it was created specifically to attack Dr. Hsieh, and explicitly to lump her together with David Kelly, the Brandens, and Libertarianism, i.e., as an enemy of Objectivism.

[At launch,] Checkpremises.com contains a total of 13 pages: one page on its Purpose, one page on its Context, one page about Libertarianism, one page about the Brandens, one page about David Kelly, one Resources page, one About Us page, and six pages about Dr. Diana Hsieh. Even more striking is the complete lack of meaningful content on the non-Hsieh-related pages. For example, the entries on David Kelly and the Brandens contain two sentences and one link each. The Current Controversies page -- dedicated entirely to Dr. Hsieh -- contains two full paragraphs along with links to five other pages, each with additional comments on Hsieh's alleged transgressions against Objectivism.

Despite their mission to expose "subversive" threats to Objectivism, the authors of checkpremises.com contribute nothing of value to advance this end. The entries on Kelley and the Brandens are ridiculously short; no effort whatsoever is made to substantiate criticism of these individuals. This is not to say no criticism can be made, only that the site's creators make no attempt to do so.

Ironically, Drs. Diana and Paul Hsieh have contributed literal volumes of thought-provoking essays related to the various Objectivist splits. Dr. Diana Hsieh's collection of essays False Friends of Objectivism contains a wealth of insights from a professional intellectual who has been personally and emphtically promoting Objectivism for many years. Dr. Paul Hsieh's brilliant article The Fable of the Cartiac Surgeon is perhaps the best, most easily accessible criticism of Libertarianism I have ever read. I may not agree with everything the Hsiehs have written over the years, but they are always thoughtful, they always cite their sources, and they always stimulate the mind. They are fiercely independent thinkers who have dedicated their lives to promoting a philosopy for life on earth. They are anything but subversive enemies of Objectivism.

If there is anything "subversive" brought to light by checkpremises.org, it is the underhanded way in which an entire website was created as a giant smear of Dr. Hsieh, then dressed up and presented as a resource site for conflicts within the Objectivist movement.

For a site that boasts of fifteen contributors, it is laughably short on content and substance. These fifteen individuals (did they write one sentence each?) expose one further subvertive element within the Objectivist community: the tendancy of loud, cynical, moralizing Objectivists to wage propoganda wars against purported "enemies" over non-essential disagreements. A distinction needs to be made between anti-Objectivists like Kelley, the Brandens, or pedophile-defender Michael Stuart Kelly -- and others like Tracinski, McCaskey, and the Hsiehs (and Reisman and Packer?) who have had non-essential disagreements with other Objectivist intellectuals which blew up into widely-publicized conflicts.

Thankfully, this destructive trend to focus disproportionately on negative elements within the Objectivist community seems to be waning. Objectivist bloggers and professional intellectuals are dissiminating the philosophy every day by applying it to a variety practical subjects. Those with a passion for written communication openly debate a wide range of topics, and all benefit. Your average college-age Objectivist out there may not even know who David Kelley is, but is much more likely to have written dozens of posts on internet forums in his pursuit of knowledge. I think this is a very good thing.

Dr. Diana Hsieh is already a much more important contributor to the history of the Objectivist movement than David Kelley ever was. She is a far greater a contributor still than those now concocting these smears against her. The tens of thousands of pages of material she's published, the thousands of online discussions, and the dozens of lectures speak for themselves. While I would never say that I'm in the Hsieh's "camp" (they don't have one) I consider them much greater allies, who contribute so much more to my life, than those Self-Centered, Malevolent People Premisers of checkpremises.org.

--Dan Edge

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Goodbye Dr. Lewis, Mentor and Freedom Fighter

A few days ago I learned the terrible news that Dr. John David Lewis, possibly my favorite professional intellectual I’ve ever met, lost his battle with cancer and passed away on January 3, 2012. I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Lewis on a number of occasions, and was always struck by his passion, his intelligence, his charisma, and his acute judgement. Though I spent less than 15 hours with him in total, I received an incredible bounty of concentrated education, which led to hundreds more hours of contemplation and conversation, all inspired by this one man.

I’ve read several moving tributes to Dr. Lewis over the past few days, including kind notes from Paul and Diana Hsieh, Craig Biddle, and the ARI via Yaron Brook. As these and others have done, I would like to share a story about one of the ways in which Dr. Lewis changed my life for the better.

After 9/11, I was mad as hell and cried out (in vain) for a proper retribution. Though in general I supported military action against state sponsors of terrorism, I still didn’t fully understand what Dr. Lewis called “The Will to Victory.” I scoffed at friends who called for a nuclear strike on our enemies, or for mass bombing to target the enemy population and industry. I had studied a great deal of military history, but had never fully integrated the concept of individual rights with the function of the military. Dr. Lewis changed all that forever.

My first step was reading his articles No Substitute for Victory and William Tecumseh Sherman and the Moral Impetus to Victory. These articles are so clear, so well-researched, and so logically sound, I was immediately inclined to agree with his view. As wonderful and convincing as these articles are, they do not compare to meeting Dr. Lewis in person. I attended an event of his about the Iranian threat for the NYU Objectivist Club, and was delighted at the quality of the lecture. Dr. Lewis was even better during the Q+A period, dealing effectively and charismatically with every question.

I asked Dr. Lewis to clarify an issue related to individual rights: If all men possess individual rights, including civilians living in an enemy country, isn’t it a violation of their rights to destroy their homes and offices? After all, they didn’t do anything to us, not directly. How can we justify raining utter destruction on entire cities of non-combatants?

Thanks to Dr. Lewis, I already had an outline for the answer to this question. And his response filled in the rest of the pieces of the puzzle. Dr. Lewis has a way of making complex ideas amazingly clear. He explained to me that individual rights define man’s needs in a social context. It runs counter to our need for freedom to allow enemy nations to flourish though our own lack of moral will. History teaches us again and again that coddling an enemy, giving ground, anything less than the conviction to achieve complete victory, will result in failure.

After the lecture, I had the pleasure of dining with Dr. Lewis and talking with him casually. He was so positive, so generous, so excited to be there -- it was infectious. Dr. Lewis loved to laugh, and he could speak intelligently on virtually any topic. But even with all that knowledge, whenever he spoke to you he always showed interest in you. He made everyone feel at ease. He was a natural people person because he was a genuine lover of human life.

I met Dr. Lewis several more times, and each time my respect and admiration for him grew. He made such a difference in so many lives, mine included, and I deeply mourn his loss. He will live on in the memories of those he inspired, to learn all that we can and to fight the good fight, as he did. Goodbye Dr. Lewis, mentor and freedom fighter.

--Dan Edge