Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Effects of Nathaniel Branden's Dishonesty

"Honesty is the best policy."

This is a bromide that Ayn Rand spent countless hours concretizing and explaining in person and in her works. For 18 years, Nathaniel Branden stood next to Rand and listened to all those explanations, knew first-hand how they were irrefutable, knew how they were universally applicable and concretizable, etc. - and he evaded it all.

Human beings have free will, and as such, the course of history is not determined ahead of time. Let's imagine, if we can, an alternate historical path in which Nathaniel Branden remained an integrated being of theory of practice, which meant being honest to Ayn Rand (and all the other people he manipulated in those years). There was one basic value Rand sought and asked for in people: honesty. They could be confused or wayward or have all kinds of errors, but if they made a good-faith, conscientious effort to work them through, then that's the best she could have asked of someone. ("In the name of the best within us...")

As Rand's journals during her falling-out period with Branden show, she held up her end of things most admirably. She showed the utmost benevolence and attempted to understand this man she thought and trusted to be an adherent of his own teachings. The idea that a man who preached so vociferously and convincingly about the need for mind-body integration would lie straight to her face - while using her in effect as a psychotherapist, no less - would have been too horrifying for her to contemplate in the absence of evidence pointing in that direction. That left her having to grope desperately for explanations for this man's disintegration. (This motherfucker - who used Rand as a psychotherapist - tells the rest of the world that she knew nothing of psychology. The contradiction is so glaring that it takes a kind of suggestible human being - in other words, sociopath Branden's prey - to buy into it. What a fraud of a human being he is.) Perhaps this was a flaw on Rand's part: she was too trusting of people, expecting out of the sheer goodwill she brought to life that they would live up to the moral standards she did. Well, she - and the world - got burned.

Had Branden done the right thing and been honest, the historical progression of things would have been different. As many all-too-painfully know, the 1968 break-up and closing of NBI fractured the movement and set back the advancement of Objectivism as a cultural force for decades. The momentum that was gathering up through 1968 was halted. One could envision an alternate history in which Rand and Branden remained associates, NBI stayed together, and by the early to mid 1970s, the so-called libertarian movement would be much more fortified. The personalities-aspect that throws so many people off even in the realm of ideas (call it social metaphysics, perhaps, or an effect of comprachico-ization) would not have gotten in the way of such an intellectual juggernaut. You'd have a different coalescing of intellectual forces than what we had; the philosophical community would have had to focus more and more attention on Rand's ideas and arguments; the combination of Rand, Branden, Peikoff, Binswanger, the Dougs, Mack, Norton, Hospers, Nozick, Rothbard, Nobel Laureates Friedman and Hayek and the younger Friedman and Roy Childs and George H. Smith and on and on -- it would simply have been too much for the pro-Rawls segment of the academy to handle.

So, as a result of Nathaniel Branden's massive dishonesty, the progress of the pro-capitalist cause was set back by decades. Decades of delayed human progress. Do you fucking realize how many lives this cost, or how many people remained impoverished as a result? Billions, potentially. If sheer numbers dead or impoverished as a result of someone's dishonesty were the measure of evil, Branden might well be the most evil man who ever lived.

(Kant? The issue there is screamingly rationalistic psycho-epistemology, an inheritance from his rationalist and empiricist predecessors, only amplified. The case for his being evil or dishonest is ill-supported. With Branden there is no shadow of a doubt.)

This is not to say that Branden has blood on his hands; the causation for which he is responsible is his moral betrayals and the breakup of the Objectivist movement. This is, however, to say that widespread death and destruction can come from the bad decisions of just one person when that person is in a position to drastically affect the course of history. A genius-level philosopher is in just such a position, and it was Branden's relationship with and proximity to a genius-level philosopher that makes his actions so historically significant.

Potentially billions of lives lost or impoverished, due to one man's dishonest behaviors.

Thanks a lot, Nathan.

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