May 10, 2021

“Trafficking in Stolen Goods,” the Hierarchy of Moral Principles, and a Decade of Defamation

In 2010, Onkar Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) held a phone meeting with seventy students from the Objectivist Academic Center (OAC) to discuss my statement about the McCaskey affair. An OAC student posted to the Internet a recording of the call, which I downloaded and transcribed. A decade later, in 2020, I shared a portion of that transcript to show that Don Watkins’s public claims about what happened at the meeting were false and that he had maligned Carl Barney and me by misrepresenting the facts regarding the call. When Don doubled down and made further false claims, including claims that I had quoted Onkar out of context, I shared more of the transcript to show that Don was wrong again, that I had quoted Onkar contextually and correctly, and that Don had dropped context to make his false claims appear true. Since then, Robert Mayhew has claimed on the Harry Binswanger Letter (HBL) that I have “trafficked in stolen goods” by sharing the partial transcript of the call. Mayhew’s claim grossly ignores (among other things) the hierarchy of moral principles that govern such matters.1

Why do moral principles exist? What is their purpose? Their purpose is to guide our thought and action in a life-sustaining, life-furthering manner. Their purpose is to enable us to understand reality so that we can live as human beings. And, in a social context, their purpose is to enable us to engage with other human beings, to judge them correctly, according to the facts, and to treat them accordingly, as they deserve to be treated.

Because that is the purpose of moral principles, to formulate or apply a moral principle in a way that contradicts or undermines that purpose is to err. (To do so knowingly in order to smear someone is dishonest and unjust.)

Observe that no one who understands and upholds the principle of honesty—the truth that one must never pretend that facts are other than they are—would say that it means you may not lie to a robber about whether there is hidden money in your house. That would be Kantian. The principle of honesty requires us to bear in mind the purpose of moral principles and to account for the full context of available and relevant facts of a given situation. The full context here includes the fact that your money belongs to you and that the robber has no right to it. In acknowledging such truths and telling him that there is no hidden money in your house when in fact there is, you are accounting for all of the relevant facts and ignoring none of them. Your lie in this case is not an act of dishonesty, but an act of honesty. You are refusing to pretend that facts are other than they are. The robber is pretending.

Likewise, if someone smears you by claiming publicly that you have lied or misrepresented information (as Don Watkins did about Carl Barney and me), and if you have evidence showing that his claim is false (as I did), you are morally justified in sharing that information (as I did) with the people who have been misled by the person who presented the false information.

Why? Because you own your reputation; the misrepresenter does not. Your reputation is your property, and he has no right to damage it by making false accusations. To damage someone’s reputation through false claims is to commit defamation, which is both immoral and illegal. Conversely, for the person who is defamed to expose the truth of the matter in order to protect his reputation is both moral and legal. This principle holds even when the information used to show the truth comes from a leaked recording of a phone call, as was the case with the OAC call in question. (My main concern here is the morality of using leaked material to protect oneself against defamation. For information regarding the legality of using leaked material, see Bartnicki v. Vopper and New York Times Co. v. United States, aka “The Pentagon Papers.”)

When a recording is leaked to the public, the person leaking it may have violated an agreement or obligation. But a person who happens to hear and transcribe it has not. And if the material in question shows that he (or someone else) has been defamed, he has a moral right to share any portion of the information that demonstrates this fact with the audience to which he was defamed.

Moral principles are hierarchical. Some are more fundamental than others. The most basic moral principle is the fundamental truth that man’s life is the standard of moral value. This principle manifests at the social-political level as the right to life, the truth that each individual has a moral prerogative to take all of the actions necessary to sustain and further his life. The right to life includes the right to build a good reputation and to protect it—because doing so is a basic requirement of human life in a social context. You need a good reputation in order to engage socially and trade with other people. And when you have earned a good reputation and someone damages it by making false accusations, he damages your ability to engage and trade. He damages your relationships. He damages your livelihood. He damages your life. When this happens, and when you can mitigate the damage by exposing the truth of the matter, you not only have a moral right to do so, you have a selfish, moral obligation to do so.

What about those who own the recording of the phone call? Have their property rights been violated by the sharing of the portion of the transcript? Perhaps in some respect. But if and to the extent that their rights have been violated, they have been violated by the person or people who necessitated the sharing of the portion of the call that exonerates the person that he or they defamed. The people who necessitated my sharing of the portion of the transcript of the OAC call showing that Carl and I had been defamed are: Don Watkins, who claimed falsely and publicly that Carl disseminated false information about the 2010 OAC call—and Onkar Ghate, who claimed falsely to seventy students on the call that my statement misused many philosophic concepts; who pretended to give reasons (which, as I’ve shown, were non-reasons, including a world-class appeal to authority); and who concluded on the basis of zero evidence and much hand-waving that I don’t understand the Objectivist ethics.

It’s worth emphasizing that although I acquired and transcribed the recording of the OAC call when it was posted on the Internet in 2010, I did not share any of it with anyone for a decade—even though Onkar had defamed me to seventy students, many of whom were planning careers in my sphere of professional work, and some of whom to this day remain deceived by Onkar’s false claims about me on that call. The reason I didn’t share the information in 2010 is that, at the time, and for several years thereafter, I thought ARI was doing more good than harm, and I didn’t want to harm the organization by exposing Onkar’s character. I also held some degree of hope that, over time, he would change for the better or that ARI would fire him. Neither happened.

Indeed, the defamation continued and compounded—not only through Onkar, but through other ARI employees and affiliates as well. Robert Mayhew, for instance, contacted TOS’s writers and told them not to write for the journal and not to work with me anymore because I was somehow “immoral.” This, of course, had no effect on independent-thinking intellectuals such as Andrew Bernstein and John David Lewis—both of whom asked Mayhew for evidence of my immorality, which he could not provide.

Likewise, Onkar and Yaron lied about me on stage at OCON 2016, telling approximately 500 people that I committed an “injustice.” They said, in part: “Craig’s statement around the [McCaskey] dispute is all wrong—like, it’s completely wrong, and the methodology involved in it is wrong. . . . It was an injustice. And we’ve tried to address this with Craig.” They didn’t present a shred of evidence in support of the claim that I committed an injustice, which is not surprising, as no such evidence exists. They just defamed me to 500 people by saying that I acted immorally. They also claimed that they had tried to address said injustice with me, when, in fact, neither of them had ever said a word to me about the matter. Later that year, in September 2016—two months after the conference—Yaron and I met at Carl Barney’s home to discuss a possible rapprochement between ARI and TOS. Prior to that, my only communication with Yaron since October 2010 consisted of four brief email exchanges, none of which included any mention of the alleged injustice.

As for Onkar, I had no communication with him from September 2007 to July 2018, when Carl Barney, John Allison, Lars Seier Christensen, and Tal Tsfany tried to facilitate the aforementioned rapprochement between ARI and TOS.2

Contrary to their claims, neither Yaron nor Onkar ever discussed the alleged injustice with me, which is why neither of them can specify an email, a text, a phone record, a meeting, or even a date in support of their claims. Yet as recently as October 2020, on his podcast, Yaron persisted in telling people that he tried to address the injustice with me and that I am “lying” about it.

Given that Onkar and Yaron have been saying for a decade that my statement was garbage and unjust and that it shows that I don’t understand Objectivism, and given that they claim to have explained the reasons to me and to others behind the scenes, why don’t they simply make a public statement explaining where and how I erred and why it was immoral? That way, everyone interested in these matters can judge for himself what makes sense and what doesn’t. Also that way, if they show with evidence and logic that I erred, I can thank them for the correction—and if it becomes clear that they erred, they can apologize for a decade of defamation.

As you can imagine, this sustained defamation has significantly damaged my reputation, my professional relationships, my businesses, my income, my life. I make a living as an Objectivist writer, speaker, and teacher. The false claims made by these ARI employees and affiliates have negatively affected my speaking and teaching engagements, book sales, TOS’s subscriptions, and more. In retrospect, I erred in not exposing all of this as it was happening. I will not make the same mistake moving forward.

When it became clear to me that ARI was fully controlled by Onkar and Yaron and that the organization was not going to change fundamentally for the better anytime soon, I saw the need for a new educational organization, one that advocates and teaches Objectivism with a value-up approach—and whose executives and key employees uphold and live by the principles of the philosophy. This is why Sarah and I created Objective Standard Institute (OSI).

Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), OSI’s great achievements in its first year of operation have been met with more irrationality, hostility, and attacks from certain ARI employees and affiliates. For instance, Harry Binswanger, Peter Schwartz, Don Watkins, Robert Mayhew, and a few others on HBL have attacked my OSI-sponsored interview with Dennis Prager, and they’ve done so using all manner of irrational tactics and logical fallacies—from “the argument from intimidation,” to “moving the goalposts,” to “no true Scotsman,” to “special pleading,” to the crudest of nonsequiturs. (I’ll write a separate post detailing some of these.)

And now the attacks against me on HBL have devolved into yet another round of defamation—this time in the form of claims to the effect that I am an immoral lawbreaker for protecting my reputation against defamation by sharing the private property of an organization whose employees and affiliates perpetrated the defamation.

The bottom line on my alleged “trafficking in stolen goods” by sharing the truth about the OAC call is that there is no such thing as a right to violate a right—nor to aid, abet, or conceal the violation of a right. Just as the principle of honesty does not mean that you may not lie to a robber about whether there is hidden money in your home, so, too, the principle of property rights does not mean that you may not share an organization’s private information in order to expose or mitigate defamation perpetrated by the employees and affiliates of that very organization. The purpose of moral principles is to make human life possible—not to give cover to those who seek to harm or destroy it.

If Robert Mayhew, Don Watkins, Onkar Ghate, or anyone at ARI wants to challenge any of this, I would be happy to see them in court. I’ve documented everything that has happened since the beginning of these godforsaken conflicts. I’ve saved every email and every text. I’ve chronicled and dated every discussion. I’ve captured and cataloged everything. Consequently, I have a mountain of evidence showing the facts of the matter, including who said and did what and when. All of the facts are on my side. And if this dispute ends up in court, I will put the proceeds from my certain victory toward the advancement of Ayn Rand’s ideas in ways that make it more difficult for ill-intentioned intellectuals to fool good people into believing that non-reasons are reasons or that inverting the hierarchy of moral principles is morally permissible.

In any event, I will no longer remain silent about irrationality or injustices on the part of ARI employees or affiliates. I will address them here, on Discord.


1. Mayhew also implied on HBL that I’m somehow degenerate for sarcastically mocking assertions that I’ve trafficked in stolen goods. Citing a note I wrote on Facebook about such claims—namely, “I’ve heard that some people are claiming that I stole the recording of the OAC call. Yes, indeed. You should have seen me breaking into ARI headquarters in the middle of the night in a tight black leotard”—Mayhew said this shows that I don’t take seriously my trafficking in stolen goods or my need to defend my having done so. What my sarcasm actually shows, however, is that I regard context-dropping, hierarchy-inverting attacks on my character as small, pathetic, worthy of mockery, and undeserving of serious attention beyond what’s necessary to expose them for what they are so that people are not fooled by them. Also, such attacks make me laugh . . . as does the image of me breaking into ARI headquarters in the middle of the night in a tight black leotard.

2. For information about that effort and the failed rapprochement, see “The Truth about Craig Biddle vs. Smears by Some at ARI.”


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