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October 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1397

Song of the Day: Nasty, words and lyrics by Jimmy "Jam" Harris III, Terry Lewis, and Janet Jackson, went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B/Hip Hop Singles charts. This 1986 Janet Jackson signature tune, from her #1 album, "Control," is a particularly appropriate "song of the day" today; last night in the final face-off between Benito and Evita, "Nasty Boy" Trumpster called Hillary a "Nasty Woman," and the phrase has now gone viral. Only the future of the republic is on the line, but I'm still chuckling over a comment made by my long-time colleague and friend, David Boaz, who, when asked, "If somebody held a gun to your head, and gave you the choice of The Don or Hillary?" replied: "Take the bullet." Whatever your political persuasion, most of us will look back on this 2016 Presidential campaign as having provided us with some "nasty" entertainment for months. There's only one thing left to do: "Gimme a Beat" (and you thought I was going to say: "Rock the Vote!"). Check out the video to this iconic Janet song [YouTube link] (and yes, in the video, you'll find a young Paula Abdul, who did the choreography).

October 16, 2016

Song of the Day #1396

Song of the Day: 24K Magic, words and music by Bruno Mars, Christopher "Brody" Brown, and Philip Lawrence, is the title track of Mars's third studio album, and a bona fide hit out of the box. Part retro funk, disco and R&B, with a dollop of "Rapper's Delight" thrown in for good measure, this one is the kind of throwback that Mars delivers effortlessly (like he did with "Uptown Funk"). Great beat to start a new week. Check out the official video and his performance of it on last night's "Saturday Night Live," where he killed it [YouTube links]! [Ed: And if he killed it on SNL, he absolutely slaughtered it on the 2016 American Music Awards (YouTube link).]

October 01, 2016

Russian Radical 2.0: The Rand-Marx Parallels

The second edition of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical has continued to spur discussion in print media and online. I will be responding to many of the commentators in a forthcoming essay, "Reply to Critics: The Dialectical Rand," which will be published in the July 2017 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.

Today, I wanted to provide a link to an interesting discussion that has been provoked by writer Anoop Verma, on the blog, The Verma Report (formerly "For the New Intellectual"). His discussion and many responses can also be found among those who have access to Facebook. I've added an excerpt from his blog post, which is not a formal review, but a few provocative thoughts about one particular aspect of the book highlighting some of the parallels between Karl Marx and Ayn Rand: "Is There a Connection Between Ayn Rand and Karl Marx?"

Readers can find an excerpt from the blog post here. Also, check out my index of Russian Radical reviews here, as well as an index to all of the blog posts on "Russian Radical 2.0" here.


Postscript: As one would expect, the discussion on Russian Radical on the Rand-Marx parallels brings out of the woodwork some people who have, for 20+ years, enjoyed crapping on my achievements in that book. I won't let stand some of the wild misinterpretations of the theses presented in that book. Here are some of the comments I made in follow-up on Facebook:

In response to a comment on my understanding of Marx, I wrote:

. . . the picture of Marx that I got was through my NYU Marxist mentor, Bertell Ollman, who wrote THE book on "Alienation" and THE book on the nature of dialectical inquiry, "Dialectical Investigations"; as well as fine works by Scott Meikle ("Essentialism in the Thought of Karl Marx") and Carol Gould ("Marx's Social Ontology: Individuality and Community in Marx's Theory of Social Reality"). I strongly recommend these works to those interested in a more nuanced picture of Marx. My own book, "Marx; Hayek; And Utopia," is actually the first book in my "Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy." The second book is "Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical," and the finale is "Total freedom : toward a dialectical libertarianism."

In continued discussion, I mention the case of Edward Snowden, I remarked:

BTW, there is a scene apparently in the beginning of Oliver Stone's new movie on Edward Snowden, where Snowden admits his admiration for Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand; read Jeffrey Tucker's piece on it.

And in response to an individual who has been using various Internet forums to dump on Russian Radical for 20+ years, I wrote:

Let me make one extended comment about Mr. A IS A. He has been calling this book intellectual claptrap for 20+ years. And yet, at the time, he confided that the entire section on "The Radical Rand" was a remarkable way of integrating a massive amount of material to show just how radical Rand was in her social analysis. He falls into line though with an entire orthodoxy that came down so hard on the book that they made it among the most successful scholarly studies of Rand ever published, having gone through seven printings, and into a second edition, which, btw, includes two "largely biographical" appendices that are the only sources available of the actual courses Ayn Rand took, the professors with whom she most likely studied, and the texts she most likely read. There are no other places in the literature where this information is available.
Moreover, it is the only book in the nearly 50 years since the 1968 break that reintegrates the canoncial essays and lectures of Nathaniel Btanden and Barbara Branden, the works that Rand herself said were still part of the only "authentic" sources on Objectivism even after her acrimonious break with them. One will strain oneself to find a single reference to any canoncical Branden work anywhere among orthodox thinkers who have airbrushed their contribtuions out of the historical record.
Finally, there is nothing "inessential" about calling Rand a dialectical thinker if one defines dialectics as an essentially Aristotelian tool fundamentally concerned with the "art of context-keeping." To hold context and to ~understand~ that context on multiple levels of generality and from a variety of vantage points is a way of providing us with an enriched view of the problems being analyzed. This is the only way to get to the "root" of those problems, which is why Rand is essentially and always a "radical" (to be "radical" is to go to the "root"). The only thing I can say is that this book has withstood the test of time; for after nearly 20 years of being ignored, it is finally being grappled with in orthodox circles by scholars such as Shoshana Milgram and Gregory Salmieri in the recent "Blackwell Companion to Ayn Rand". [I say in an additional post with regard to this book: It is useful, and it is the first book that begins to grapple not only with Russian Radical, but actually includes critical discussions for the first time in orthodox circles (post-1968) of the contributions of the Brandens to Objectivism. This is a giant step forward in Rand scholarship, and I applaud it.] Milgram actually indicts Rand's recollections of Lossky as her professor, but completely confirms the facts that I unveiled with regard to her college education and her education at the gymnasium of Lossky's in-laws; Salmieri disagrees with characterizing Rand's system as dialectical, but he himself spells out one of the most important characteristics of that which I call dialectical, in his words, her ability to engage in "grand-scale integration across time and across fields in [her] interpretation of the events of her time," something that requires context-holding, an understanding of the facts of reality, and of the law of noncontradiction. On these issues and on others, I have written extensively for years. But I am not going to let Mr. A is A to try to crap all over my achievements and get with away it. Adios!

In a further response to the critic above, I wrote:

I would like to clear the record with regard to my comment above that the critic above "confided that the entire section on 'The Radical Rand' was a remarkable way of integrating a massive amount of material to show just how radical Rand was in her social analysis." I was going on memory. So I just did a search of my archives and wish to post them here, especially since Mr. Aisa has dismissed the book today as "100% wrong." He admits that he found the first "biographical" section of the book as "interesting," though he largely dismissed it in a post to alt.philosophy.objectivism on Sun. 14 Jan 1996, saying he was "quite perplexed reading the entire first section of the book."
But he admits back in 1996, that "Sciabarra's regard for Rand is obvious, and there is no evidence he is trying to smear or attack her.." And he even had a couple of kind things to say about the middle section that he now dismisses as claptrap: "The middle section of Sciabarra's book seemed to me to be an honest thinker's attempt to summarize Objectivism and relate it to Rand's fiction." But here's the part I was referring to; his evaluation of Part 3 of the book, back in 1996:
"The final section [that would be Part 3, "The Radical Rand"] was the only really valuable part of the book, in my view -- an attempt to show the relationship between philosophic ideas and culture, using Objectivism as the subject. I think that many Objectivists could greatly benefit from studying what Sciabarra points out in this section. Philosophic ideas do not exist in a vacuum, and there is a profound interrelationship between culture and philosophic ideas, which is NOT one way. For example, statist political regimes have a very demonstrable effect on what kinds of ideas are taught and promulgated, and free societies likewise. The notions in this section are not absent from Objectivist writings -- for example see: Ayn Rand's essay "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation" (_The Objectivist_, Apr 66) wherein she discusses the relationship between cultural and individual development; and Edith Packer's essay "The Psychological Requirements of a Free Society" (_The Objectivist Forum_, Feb 84), wherein she explains the interrelationship between free thinking people and a free culture -- but some Objectivists seem to latch onto the notion of "philosophy determines history", and not realize the context of that idea, and the profound interrelationships between the spread of ideas, the content of ideas, and individual and cultural practice."
So said Mr. Aisa in January of 1996; I could not have said it better myself. How all of this morphed into a growing, and hostile dismissal of my work as "100% wrong" is anyone's guess, but that's how it has been for the last 20 years since Mr. Aisa made these statements. I guess we are all entitled to change our minds. If Mr. Aisa felt personally insulted by my comments, after he joined in on a discussion that included character assassinations of me as a loon and a liar [comments since deleted, apparently], followed by his dismissal of my work as "claptrap", all I can say is, I agree with some of what Mr. Aisa said... WAY BACK IN 1996.
If folks want to get back to discussing the ideas that Anoop raised at the start of this thread, that would be cool. As for me, I've been through these discusssions as to the value of my work and the value of my character for well over two decades now. It's really starting to get old.

In response to the charge that there is no "orthodoxy" to speak of in the philosophy of Objectivism, I wrote:

The orthodoxy is defined primarily by those who have been affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute and who have had privileged access to the Ayn Rand archives. They have had a history of not citing any Rand scholarship outside of those sources that have been approved by Rand and / or Peikoff and company. They have had a history of not citing any sources outside of the circle of writers who are affiliated with the Ayn Rand Institute. And I am NOT referring to Dr. Branden's works after 1968. I am referring to this statement made by Ayn Rand after her break with Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden, in her "Statement of Policy" (June 1968):
"My role in regard to Objectivism is that of a theoretician. Since Objectivism is not a loose body of ideas, but a philosophical system originated by me and publicly associated with my name, it is my right and my responsibility to protect its intellectual integrity. I want, therefore, formally to state that the only authentic sources of information on Objectivism are: my own works (books, articles, lectures), the articles appearing in and the pamphlets reprinted by this magazine (The Objectivist as well as The Objectivist Newsletter), books by other authors which will be endorsed in this magazine as specifically Objectivist literature, and such individual lectures or lecture courses as may be so endorsed. (This list includes also the book Who is Ayn Rand? by Nathaniel Branden and Barbara Branden, as well as the articles by these two authors which have appeared in this magazine in the past, but does not include their future works.)"
Let's make one thing clear: Nathaniel Branden presented the first systematized and authorized course on Objectivism in the history of the movement, way back in 1958, a 20-lecture course on the "Basic Principles of Objectivism." Those lectures influenced thousands of people worldwide, and propelled Rand into the role of public philosopher. The Nathaniel Branden Institute presented many additional courses, including Barbara Branden's "Principles of Efficient Thinking" which was a virtual primer on Objectivist psycho-epistemology. These courses were recorded and distributed throughout the world by NBI, and heard by thousands of people throughout the 1960s. Nathaniel Branden wrote the first authorized essays on concepts that became part of the entire Objectivist vernacular: "the stolen concept," "psycho-epistemology," and all his work on self-esteem, psychological visibility, and romantic love. All of these essays appeared in The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist and they were considered even by Rand after her break with Branden in 1968 as part of the only "authentic" sources on Objectivism.
And yet, a fine scholar such as Tara Smith, author of Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics devotes 28 pages to the issue of self-esteem and does not mention a single essay written by Branden during his years of association with Rand, and still a part of the Objectivist canon, according to Rand. She refers to Peikoff. I am not referring to anything written by Branden after 1968 here. I'm talking about his pre-1968 writings. This is the kind of "scholarship" that went on for years, where nobody inside of ARI referred to anybody outside of ARI. That's not objectivity; it's partisanship, and it's disgraceful.
P.S. - The Branden statements on "homosexuality" were in his very early essays; they were deplorable, but no worse than Rand's statements that homosexuality was "disgusting", which she said live in a Ford Hall Forum Q&A session. (I have discussed this in a study of attitudes toward homosexuality in the early Objectivist movement in my monograph, "Ayn Rand, Homosexuality, and Human Liberation".)
At least Branden's views on homosexuality evolved over time, and he ultimately accepted gay relationships as mature expressions of human sexuality.
For those who are interested, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be presenting a book-length symposium called "Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy" in December 2016, a double-issue, published by Pennsylvania State University Press, that will also be available in a Kindle edition. It features contributions from nearly 20 authors in disciplines as diverse as cognitive and academic psychology, anthropology, literature, history, political theory, film, and more, discussing everything from the Rand years to the scientific and empirical status and usefulness of Branden's work as the so-called "father" of the self-esteem movement in psychology.