Monday, January 21, 2013

Brian Leiter and Ayn Rand

This oughtta show up plenty high in the relevant Google search results.  Ain't the budding information age fun? :-D

(It's a bit unfortunate that I have to push yesterday's inauguration day / Ultimate Cliff countdown post downward in order to undertake today's trash-disposal responsibilities, but that's life.)

For those of you possibly out of the loop: Brian LeiterKarl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the Center for Law, Philosophy & Human Values at the University of Chicago, blogs at Leiter Reports, the most widely-viewed philosophy blog on the internets.  (He bragged recently about getting some 11,000 hits a day there - a total that well exceeds what this here measly blog gets, although the audience for this one has been growing at a very fast exponential pace in recent months.  Gee, I wonder why?)  More than any other philosophy blog on the internet, Prof. Leiter's blog propagates news, information and opinion of interest to the nation's (and the world's) ideas-merchants and their students, which impacts the future course of the intelligentsia, which in turn impacts the direction of society-at-large.  How well does Prof. Leiter fulfill his obligations in this regard, as a public-intellectual figure?

For those who follow his blog - for me, it's a necessary part of keeping tabs on the goings-on in the intellectual world, although more on the order of janitorial duty (cleaning out the toilet, say) - he has only nasty things to say about Ayn Rand, a figure who - 30 years after her passing - continues to exercise a growing influence on American public life.  The latest incident, posted earlier today, continues that pattern, this time linking to that amateurish Salon piece which I discussed a couple days ago.  Now, I don't really know how much Prof. Leiter keeps up on this here blog if at all (although if he doesn't, that would indicate a failure to fulfill his intellectual obligations, given that the highest responsibility of philosophers is to serve as the guardians and integrators of human knowledge).  His one public acknowledgment of this here philosopher was nearly two years ago in the comments section of another philosophy blog, referring to this here philosopher as "a deranged Ayn Rand fanatic," with no supporting evidence or argument - just a flat one-sentence assertion.  I say all this because I am in no position to divine whether or not Prof. Leiter is trolling yours truly with the latest bit of anti-Rand nastiness.  Whether he is or not, he only digs himself deeper in the eyes of history.

Prof. Leiter already has a well-earned reputation for conducting himself in arrogant, abusive, bullying ways in his blog and perhaps elsewhere, but his treatment of Ayn Rand in particular is well beyond the pale of minimally decent discourse.  This is part and parcel of his characteristically nasty treatment of almost anything and anyone right-of-center politically, including conservatives, libertarians, the capitalist economic system, or proponents of Americanism.  (It's abundantly clear to regular watchers of his blog that Prof. Leiter does not particularly care for this country.)  In this respect, he's a virtual self-parody of the leftist, anti-American, anti-capitalist, young-mind-polluting academic of right-of-center lore.  Were this nation's right-wing media aware of this Leiter entity (as they should be, out of a commitment to journalistic excellence and responsibility to the viewer/listener), and of how he so clearly epitomizes such odious perspectives, they would not only be appalled but you'd probably never hear the end of it.  (As it is, not being all that well clued in to the role of the mind in human existence, they have been focusing on a chief symptom of the nation's ills - our head of state - rather than the root cause: the nature of the intellectuals.)

There is something about Ayn Rand that has the political Left in this country running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off.  It's like they simply cannot bring themselves to treat her ideas with the respect it in fact deserves, or with the fundamental fairness that ought to be accorded any thinker's ideas.  Their bad-faith (to put it lightly) smearing of Rand over her youthful "admiration" (if it could even be called that) for a certain facet of a murderer's personality, completely divorced from the context of her lifelong intellectual progression, should be a tip-off right there that not all is well in the intellectually-inclined ranks of the political Left when it comes to characterizing those they perceive to be on "the other side."  But that is only one incident among many.  It is a constant, pathological pattern of smears, outright lies, malice, bad faith, evasion, fear, hysteria, incomprehension (often obstinate), ignorance (often willful), mean-spiritedness, mockery, bigotry, hatred, disrespect, abuse, guilt-by-association, context-flouting, selective focus, and what have you.  And it appears to be Ayn Rand that brings out the worst in these people, in inverse proportion to the true value of the unknown ideal that resides within the grotesquely disfigured strawman they create.

If you want to get into something like the hermeneutics of suspicion here, to uncover the cognitive and psychological biases that underlie this despicable behavior even among "leading intellectuals," my best guess is that it is a subconscious defense mechanism against a perceived enemy who poses the most potent threat to their leftist paradigm.  (And they would be right about that.)  They might - and often do - consciously deny that Ayn Rand is much of a real threat in her own right - Leiter has referred to Ayn Rand on numerous occasions as "an intellectual lightweight" and "a pea-brain" - and instead focus on the threat that her influence on millions of readers poses to their leftist paradigm.  To rationalize away the merits behind her influence, they have to dig their heels in deeper and attribute that influence to intellectual shortcomings on the part of those millions of readers.  "It's a youthful phase" or "it's a justification for selfishness and feelings of superiority that the assholes in society find appealing," and other such worthless ad hominem attacks.  In typical partisan and psychologically-projective fashion, the leftists might try to justify their reaction to Rand on the grounds of her admittedly piss-poor attacks on the great majority of historically-significant philosophers (Kant especially).  This simply won't fly, because it's glass-house-dwellers hurling stones at a house that is only partially adorned by windows.  Polemics is a major blind spot in Rand's case (though the underlying causes of this can be understood if you look at her context - whom she had the opportunity to engage in discussions, the intellectual atmosphere of her time, and so forth; what's their excuse?).  But there's nothing in her polemics, save arguably for her analysis of Kant's alleged psychological techniques, that comes close to the outright viciousness that these leftist "intellectuals" engage in.  It's suspicious enough when so-called intellectuals ignore or casually dismiss Rand as not being worth their time, but otherwise have the good sense and decency to keep their yaps shut; it's a different level altogether when they behave exactly as hired partisan political goons do, and engage in the lowest of cheap shots and smear tactics.  I'm not talking gutter-low here, I'm talking sewer-low.  And these thugs have the nerve to call themselves philosophers?

I want to propose a thought experiment of a certain kind, as I conduct for myself on a regular basis.  It involves a hypothetical situation (not altogether different from Rawls's Original Position, although it involves actual historical figures) in which this or that set of historically-influential philosophers all gather in the same room (or on the same parapet) and hash things out.  The group could be as small or as large as imagination permits.  It could be limited only to philosophy's "Big Three" - Plato, Aristotle, and Kant - and the emerging consensus among them would be quite amazing, I should think - perfectivist, even.  (Did I mention that you can't refute perfectivism?  It would have to be invoked or implicitly relied upon in any attempt to trump it argumentatively.  It's no accident that this here philosopher is the one to discover this principle (inductively, of course, as you see by reviewing the array of contextually-fundamentally-similar individuals whom I list in my brief "Perfectivism: An Introduction" article.).  This here philosopher is not one to be fucked with, as the likes of Prof. Leiter will come to learn the hard way, in due course.)  Another thought experiment involves all those depicted in The School of Athens, although an updated version of that scenario would almost certainly include some ladies (Ayn Rand, for example).

Now, for this particular thought experiment, imagine Brian Leiter showing up at an annual meeting of the Ayn Rand Society.  He goes right up to Allan Gotthelf, James Lennox and Fred Miller - three leading scholars of Aristotle, two of them published by the top university press, Oxford (one of them by the ultimate in academic prestige, Oxford's Clarendon Press), and one of them on the faculty of the #2-ranked graduate philosophy program in America (#3 in the world when you include Oxford's) - and he says right to their faces, "Rand is such a lightweight who can't possibly compare to Aristotle, so why do you even bother with her?"  He'd be making fucking fool out of himself, would he not?  If he had a sense of honor, integrity, decency, and courage, he'd go up to such people (online or in person) and engage them in a mutually-respectful and truth-seeking dialogue.  But would he dare?  He'd have to clean his act way up first, else he'd look like a fucking fool.

Except that he makes himself a fucking fool doing what he's doing now, on his widely-disseminated blog, by belittling and bashing Ayn Rand in terms that would get him squashed like a cockroach at an Ayn Rand Society meeting, by people who actually know what Ayn Rand really advocated - people who understand Rand in terms she herself would recognize, the way Brian Leiter presumably understands Nietzsche in terms Nietzsche himself would recognize, as against so many ignorant caricatures.  (For a sizable list of such Rand scholars, see the literature I list here.)

Brian Leiter is a coward, not a worthy fucking adversary.  He might be all great when it comes to Nietzsche or philosophy of law or what have you, but he shits his credibility away when he doesn't consistently integrate his careful scholarly interpretative methods into all his "philosophic" endeavors.  A self-styled "philosopher" bashing that which he's too lazy to even try to understand, is a fool.  The only question now is who among his professional colleagues has the guts and the wisdom to call him out on his cognitive vice.  Who out there does care about her or his intellectual reputation and is willing to do the right thing by speaking up?
"Checkmate, asshole."