Discord

This is where I address significant disagreements (or attacks) among individuals or organizations about which I have relevant knowledge and think speaking up is required for clarity and justice. It’s unfortunate that such a venue is necessary, but several people have made it so. If you are not interested in such matters, I urge you blissfully to ignore this Discord blog. Instead, see my home page and podcast, where the fun stuff happens.

“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.”

Context Dropping and “Arbitrary Tu Quoque”

[Originally posted on Facebook October 21, 2020]

Don Watkins posted another article on Medium, this time claiming that in a recent Facebook comment I quoted Onkar Ghate out of context. Don is wrong again, and his article is misleading in the extreme.

Don contests the final four sentences I quoted from Onkar speaking to seventy OAC students about my statement regarding the McCaskey affair. Here’s that passage:

It’s garbage… It’s terrible… Of the many philosophic concepts misused in that statement are the nature of the arbitrary, the nature of possibility, the nature of contextual knowledge, both of Ayn Rand’s statements that are quoted, the nature of moral judgment and what a judgment is, the nature of moral neutrality… I’m not going to go into all the details of the nature of the statement or what is wrong with it… If you read and can understand the philosophical issues involved in Craig Biddle’s statement, there are significant problems here… It is possible that you cannot see the issues in Craig Biddle’s statement. But I am not a student. I am a professional philosopher. And I can see many things that you can’t see.

Don says that those last four sentences “seem really weird.” Then, in an effort to show that I took those sentences out of context, he quotes a passage from OPAR. That passage is excellent and relevant, so let’s put it on the table too:

[Quoting a person out of context] means quoting some statement [of his] while ignoring other statements that constitute its background and determine its proper interpretation. By this device, one can make a person appear to advocate virtually any idea. Such quoting is fallacious, because men do not write or speak in a vacuum; they do not emit a stream of disconnected sentences, any one of which can stand independent of the rest. To communicate a viewpoint, a man must say many separate things, each relying on the others; the viewpoint is understood only when the listener grasps the relationship among the items and thus the total. To interpret any single remark, therefore, one needs to know: what else did the man say (or presuppose) that condition[s] his statement? What was the surrounding framework? What is the context?

All of that, of course, is true. So let’s bear it in mind as we consider Don’s effort to convince you that I have somehow quoted Onkar out of context.

Don writes:

According to Craig, Onkar is seeking to establish “why my statement was wrong and why it demonstrated that I don’t understand Objectivism.” But is that really the context? Well, I can only go by my notes, since I don’t have a pirated recording of the meeting. But as best I can tell, that is not at all the context. The context was explaining why ARI chose to cancel Craig as a speaker under its auspices as the result of his McCaskey statement…

The problem with Craig’s statement, [Onkar] argued, was not that Craig was siding with McCaskey, but that in the course of doing so, Craig published something that in ARI’s judgment revealed him to be unfit to speak on the Objectivist ethics. And that context helps us make sense of what would otherwise be a baffling set of statements: “It is possible that you cannot see the issues in Craig Biddle’s statement. But I am not a student. I am a professional philosopher. And I can see many things that you can’t see.”

Onkar wasn’t asking the students to agree with his assessment. He was explaining why ARI canceled an event… That is a very different point requiring very different evidence than the one Craig portrays Onkar as making.

First, I never claimed that Onkar was asking students to agree with his assessment. Would that he had been so direct.

Second, it is true that when Onkar said “It is possible that you cannot see the issues in Craig Biddle’s statement. But I am not a student. I am a professional philosopher. And I can see many things that you can’t see.”—he was discussing ARI’s cancellation of my campus talks. But he was not talking about my Facebook announcement regarding the cancellation, as Don suggests when he quotes that announcement and writes: “That is what Onkar was addressing” (Don’s emphasis). My Facebook announcement read: “I regret to announce that because of my recent statement ‘Justice for John P. McCaskey,’ the Ayn Rand Institute has cancelled my ARI-sponsored speaking engagements in the coming weeks.” Although Onkar mentioned this announcement in passing much earlier in the call, he did not not discuss the announcement at any point during the three-hour call. I’m not sure why Don is diverting attention to it. But whatever his intent, his claim here is misleading.

Onkar’s language in those four sentences was clear—and so was the referent: “It is possible that you cannot see the issues in Craig Biddle’s statement...” (emphasis added). He was referring to the “issues” in my statement about the McCaskey affair and to the rationale for cancelling my talks—which, as Onkar previously made clear, was that my statement “misused” various concepts (none of which he ever explained or concretized).

That was the surrounding framework in which Onkar’s “really weird” statement was made. That is the background that determines its proper interpretation. That’s the context that conditioned his words. And it cannot rationally be dropped. Don’s effort to tear those four sentences away from the relevant context and to quarantine them from the material that makes their meaning clear is not only context dropping; it is an extremely misleading instance of the fallacy. (To make this crystal clear, I have provided a full transcript of this portion of the OAC call below.)

In another extremely misleading instance of context dropping, Don quotes from my October 2010 statement about the McCaskey affair and omits important material that clarifies the point in question. He then uses the resulting decrease in clarity to misrepresent what I said. Here is what I wrote—but with Don’s omissions replaced (the material between the <arrow brackets> is what Don omitted):

The claim by some that we cannot judge Peikoff’s judgment because we don’t have complete information is false. We never have complete information about any person or event, and we don’t need complete information to make moral judgments. We can and must make moral judgments on the basis of partial data; and, as a matter of observable fact, we do so virtually every time we make a moral judgment. <For instance, we don’t have complete information about why politicians take the actions they take, yet we can and legitimately do judge many of their actions to be immoral. Likewise, we don’t have complete information about why John D. Rockefeller took the actions he took, yet we can and legitimately do judge his productive actions to be profoundly moral. One could multiply such examples endlessly.>

The fact that we don’t have complete information means only that our judgments are contextual—i.e., based on the information available to us at a given time. In many cases, the possibility remains that we will gather additional data in the future that will bear on our judgment and require us to revise it. But until such data are available, we are warranted in making judgments on the basis of the currently available and relevant facts. And when our values are at stake, we morally must make such judgments.

When faced with an apparent injustice against a man whom one values and whom one has substantial reason to believe is of the highest moral character, one should gather the available and relevant facts and make a judgment on the basis of those facts. If one later discovers additional facts that logically warrant a change of judgment, then one should revise one’s judgment. But, as Rand noted, “in no case and in no situation may one permit one’s own values to be attacked or denounced, and keep silent.”

The fact that we can, must, and regularly do make judgments without complete information is essential to my point there. And I provided crystal-clear examples to show that we regularly do. But Don omitted those examples. And with the resulting decrease in clarity, he claimed that “According to Craig, since we ‘never have complete information,’ we must make moral judgments on partial information, and, if we don’t, we’re guilty [of] the kind of moral neutrality Rand condemns in ‘How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?’”

By dropping much context—and by claiming that I said “we must make moral judgments on partial information, and, if we don’t, we’re guilty of moral neutrality” (I never said or implied that)—Don mislead readers again.

Don goes on to commit another fallacy—this time a hybrid that deserves its own name. He managed to combine the fallacies of “tu quoque” and “arbitrary assertion” to create what may be called “arbitrary tu quoque.”

Without offering a shred of evidence in support of his claim, he asserts that 15 or 16 years ago, I said, “some of the major courses on Objectivism from ARI got things about the philosophy wrong.” He further asserts that I refused to give examples and instead said, “If you listen to them, you’ll see the mistakes.” He then concludes, “I remember feeling unsatisfied, as if the speaker was telling me: ‘To those who understand, no explanation is necessary; to those who do not, none is possible.’”

Here we have essentially this: “As my arbitrary, evidence-free assertion shows, Craig did the same bad thing that Onkar did!”

Remarkable.

I’m not going to keep going back and forth with Don on Facebook. I think you can see a telling pattern in these few exchanges. If I address further misinformation from him (or others), I’ll do so in a different format.

In the meantime, to forestall further false claims about what Onkar did and didn’t say about my statement during the November 2010 OAC meeting, I’ll post below a full transcript of the portion of the call in which Onkar addressed my statement regarding the McCaskey affair and explained why ARI cancelled my campus talks.

Also, for clarity and fact-checking, here are links to relevant documents:

Carl’s post about events surrounding me and ARI: https://carlbarney.com/2020/10/06/the-truth-about-craig-biddle-vs-smears-by-some-at-ari/

Don’s article claiming that Onkar provided “reasons”: https://medium.com/@dwatkins3/a-word-on-carl-barneys-essay-9b0ff34e38b9

My comment showing why Don is wrong about that: https://craigbiddle.com/2020/10/17/onkar-ghates-pseudo-reasons-and-his-responsibility-to-give-real-reasons/

Don’s post claiming that I quoted Onkar out of context: https://medium.com/@dwatkins3/dangerous-misinformation-ac307540dc66

Don’s Facebook thread where he and others are discussing all of this: https://www.facebook.com/don.watkins/posts/10164188350010545

My 2010 statement about the McCaskey affair: https://craigbiddle.com/discord#mccaskeystatement

A Q&A about my 2010 statement: https://craigbiddle.com/discord#mccaskeyanswers

A transcript of Onkar’s comments about my statement regarding the McCaskey affair and why ARI cancelled my campus talks (from the November 2010 OAC meeting): [The following passage is transcribed from a recording of that OAC meeting, which was temporarily posted on the Internet in November 2010. Here is exactly what Onkar said about my statement to the seventy students on the call.]

It is the quality of that statement which I regard as terrible, philosophically terrible. Of the many philosophic concepts misused in that statement are the nature of the arbitrary, the nature of possibility, the nature of contextual knowledge, both of Ayn Rand’s statements that are quoted, the nature of moral judgment and what a judgment is, the nature of moral neutrality. I think it gets all these issues in significant ways wrong.

Now this is somebody who is speaking at an ARI—or would have been speaking at an ARI-sponsored event or events—both on Objectivism, mostly on Objectivist ethics—who publishes a statement one business day before going on the speaking tour in which he hits me over the head with the fact that he doesn’t understand the Objectivist ethics.

Now we as an organization have a serious decision to make that we have to make very quickly. We have someone going out to speak on the Objectivist ethics who’s given us real evidence of massive confusions about the Objectivist ethics. And given that he’s just published a statement and he’s going to campus clubs which will include in the audience many Objectivists—and the clubs before and after often go to dinner before or after the event or go for drinks after the event—will naturally be asking him about this statement which not only—now it’s true in the specific content evaluation I don’t agree with at all but don’t agree with the philosophic content or methodology of the whole statement—who’s coming as a representative of ARI—that we’re in a real predicament there. And there’s a real question of why did he wait so long to issue the statement? Why one business day before going on events for us?

And indeed it’s also relevant that he spent, as he said, something like 6 weeks on the statement—and this is the quality of the statement? As an institute, and as a philosophic institute, we have to make these kinds of decisions all the time, and I’m not going to go into all the details of the nature of the statement or what is wrong with it or what our standards are for someone speaking at a campus club, but we do have standards for those, and we do make and we have to make judgements about what do we think a person’s knowledge is of Objectivism—or putting it more narrowly, what do we think a person’s knowledge is on the topics on which he’s going to speak.

Now this can be, I knew full well that in doing this that the people who dislike us are going to portray this as, “well, here you can’t say one thing in disagreement with Dr. Peikoff’s email, and if you do, you’re going to no longer have any relationship with ARI.” I know that that will be how it will be spun in certain circles. That cannot affect the decision of whether this person really is capable of representing the philosophy and the Institute at a public event. And I do have serious questions about that.

Did we tell Craig that we’ll never have anything to do with you anymore? No, we told him we have serious questions about your understanding of the Objectivist ethics, and given that you’re going to speak on this next week, you’ve put us in a real predicament. And why did you have to issue this statement a day before going on these speaking events?

Now even in the way that it is spun in certain circles, and leaving aside the sophisticated philosophic issues that are involved in the statement, the statement should seem bizarre to you. It starts off as this is a statement from me personally, Craig Biddle, it doesn’t have to do with The Objective Standard, so it’s not being issued by The Objective Standard, it ends with removing Yaron from the masthead of The Objective Standard, so supposedly it doesn’t have to do with The Objective Standard. If that is legitimate, if it can be removed, and it’s actually not even true that that is what happened, but you’re removed unilaterally, what is so unusual that we say we’re removing you unilaterally from these speaking engagements? I mean why is it that this is a heroic act on Craig Biddle’s part to issue this statement and remove Yaron from the masthead, but when we do it, it’s oh my god, what’s the Institute can tolerate no dissent and so on.

And I’ll tell you even more. If there is a criticism to be made about the Institute that we’re dogmatic, that everyone has to tow exactly the line that our speakers tow, that is not, if that’s a legitimate criticism of the Institute, it’s the other way around. It is that we allow too many people with too shallow a view, too shallow a knowledge of Objectivism, to be speaking on difficult philosophic issues. There are many campus club talks where I think half of it was wrong. There are many talks at OCON where I think well half or more was wrong. There is not this kind of atmosphere at the Institute of “You mess up and make one wrong, one thing that we think is wrong, and that’s it, you’ll never, we’ll never engage with you again, you’ll never speak for us again and so on.” Nevertheless there are some standards. And there have to be standards. What I’m saying is that if there’s an argument, it’s that our standards are too lax, not that they’re so incredibly dogmatic that, and involved in these kinds of personal things that well, if somebody says something that I think Leonard’s email is non-objective, then that’s the end. But that is not.

If you read and can understand the philosophical issues involved in Craig Biddle’s statement, there are significant problems here. And again, you can disagree with that, but it is not some crazy decision that we’ve made. And it again should be, well why did he have to issue this? I mean an outsider can ask why did he have to issue this one day before going on a speaking tour for ARI when it’s reasonable to think that ARI might have some issues with the statement? And now there’s much more background knowledge but I don’t want to get into that.

These kinds of decisions are made and have to be made at the Institute should not be some oh my god, this is some surprise about how the Institute functions. And you might disagree with a particular decision or that we allow a particular speaker to speak on a particular topic and go on and come to OCON or go to campus clubs. And you might disagree that we’ve stopped someone and said no we don’t think you’re capable of speaking on this issue in a way that is sufficiently knowledgeable, professional, etc. to represent the Institute. And you might say that no, I really think this person does have it and disagree with a particular decision. But we make that kind of decision and have to make that kind of decision should not be a surprise.

It is possible that you cannot see the issues in Craig Biddle’s statement. But I am not a student. I am a professional philosopher. And I can see many things that you can’t see. And that’s part of my job.

Yeah, I think that’s sufficient on that.

[Here, Debi Ghate begins a Q&A session.]

Onkar Ghate’s Pseudo Reasons and His Responsibility to Give Real Reasons

[Originally posted on Facebook, October 17, 2020]

I thought someone else might address this, but no one has, and I don’t want to let dangerous misinformation go unaddressed.

Don Watkins posted a piece on Medium claiming that according to his notes from the OAC meeting, Onkar did give reasons to support his claim that my statement was garbage. I can verify that Don’s notes are correct, but his interpretation of them is not.

The following passage is transcribed from a recording of that OAC meeting, which was temporarily posted on the Internet in November 2010. Here is exactly what Onkar said about my statement to the seventy students on the call:

It’s garbage… It’s terrible… Of the many philosophic concepts misused in that statement are the nature of the arbitrary, the nature of possibility, the nature of contextual knowledge, both of Ayn Rand’s statements that are quoted, the nature of moral judgment and what a judgment is, the nature of moral neutrality… I’m not going to go into all the details of the nature of the statement or what is wrong with it… If you read and can understand the philosophical issues involved in Craig Biddle’s statement, there are significant problems here… It is possible that you cannot see the issues in Craig Biddle’s statement. But I am not a student. I am a professional philosopher. And I can see many things that you can’t see.

Those are the “reasons” Onkar gave for why my statement was wrong and why it demonstrated that I don’t understand Objectivism. And those are the only reasons he gave. He did not point to any specific instance of a misused concept. Not one. He simply recited a list of highly abstract concepts and phrases and said that my statement misused them all.

That does not qualify as giving reasons.

If someone claims that an article misused a concept such as “arbitrary” or “context,” the onus is on him to point out specifically where and how it was misused. Likewise, if someone claims that an article misquoted Rand or misrepresented something she said, the onus is on him to specify the way in which the article misquoted or misrepresented her. Waving one’s hands and saying “The article misused concepts” is not giving reasons. Indeed, it is evading the responsibility of giving reasons, a responsibility that comes with making such claims—especially when the claims are made by a teacher to his students.

Suppose a philosophy professor told a class of seventy students that an essay by Onkar Ghate is garbage because “it misused the nature of the arbitrary, the nature of possibility, the nature of contextual knowledge,” and so on. And suppose the professor failed to provide any specific instance of the alleged misuse; he just asserted that the article misused all these concepts. Would you say that the professor gave the students reasons why Onkar’s essay is garbage? Of course not. Now suppose the professor followed up his claim with, “It is possible that you cannot see the issues in Onkar Ghate’s article as I see them. But I am not a student. I am a professional philosopher. And I can see many things that you can’t see.” How should his students respond to that? Should they say, “Well, professor, now that you’ve clarified the matter, I too see that Ghate’s article is garbage”?

Exactly.

Expecting students to accept such assertions as reasons shows utter disregard and disrespect for their minds. And the disrespect is multiplied by Onkar’s naked appeal to authority and a perfect instance of “To those who understand, no explanation is necessary; to those who do not, none is possible.”

No wonder several students quit the OAC after that meeting.

I’d rather not spend another minute of my life on this ugly situation. So I won’t say more about it unless further misinformation arises.

Back to producing values and loving life…

November 10, 2010

Answers to Questions about “Justice for John P. McCaskey”

Because I have received many inquiries about my statement regarding McCaskey, I’d like to answer some of the recurring questions here for the benefit of those who may also be curious about these issues but have refrained from inquiring. I may post additional questions and answers in the future. —Craig Biddle

What do you mean when you say that you “unilaterally” removed Yaron Brook from the masthead of TOS? Did you not even speak with him about the matter before doing so? If so, why?

“Unilateral” means “performed by only one side.” That I unilaterally removed Brook from the masthead means that I made the decision to remove him and that he did not. But this does not mean that I didn’t speak with him about it. Nor does it mean that he didn’t appreciate the gesture.

Three weeks before I wrote “Justice for John P. McCaskey,” I spoke with Brook and told him that I was considering posting something about the matter. He noted that my doing so would put him in a tricky situation. Whether he remained on or removed himself from the masthead, his choice would be interpreted as making a statement. Given everything he was going through, I did not want to put him in that position. I thought it would be unfair to effectively make him make a statement. So I told him that if I were to say anything publicly about the matter, I would remove him from TOS’s masthead myself in advance. Although he said okay, the decision was mine.

I did not remove Brook from the masthead out of spite. On the contrary, I removed him out of respect for him and in order not to worsen his awful situation. And he knows this.

Why did you post your statement just before you were to embark on a speaking tour for the Ayn Rand Institute?

The timing of my statement was unrelated to my scheduled speaking tour. I posted the statement on Friday, October 29 because by then I had had enough time to identify the available and relevant facts, to think through the issue, to decide whether I needed to make a public statement, to write up my thoughts, and to get a couple of days distance from the draft before finalizing it. Of course, I could have waited longer to post it, but I wanted to make my thoughts available to students of the Objectivist Academic Center, who were scheduled to hold a meeting regarding the Peikoff-McCaskey matter on the following Tuesday with staff of the Ayn Rand Institute. I’ve been told by a number of these students that they appreciated being able to read my statement prior to that meeting, so I’m glad I posted it when I did.

It is worth noting that objections to the timing of my statement would have been raised no matter when I posted it. (Imagine if I had posted it immediately after my lecture tour.) I think interested parties should concern themselves with the substance of my statement rather than its timing.

Why did you post your statement on your personal website rather than on TOS’s website? And if it is a personal statement, not a statement from TOS, why did you conclude it by saying that you removed Yaron Brook from the masthead of TOS?

TOS’s primary target audience is not Objectivists but active-minded non-Objectivists. Although many of our readers are Objectivists and are aware of and interested in this matter, many are not. I and the other people involved with the journal want to keep TOS focused on subjects that are of general interest to our readers, especially to our primary target audience. My statement about justice for McCaskey does not meet that criterion.

Although the statement is a personal statement, this fact does not eliminate the relevance of my removing Brook from TOS’s masthead. TOS is my journal, and the intended audience of this statement is Objectivists who likely want to know why I removed Brook from the masthead, so I included that point in the post.

Do you think McCaskey was morally warranted in releasing Peikoff’s email? Granted, Peikoff and the Ayn Rand Institute gave him permission to post it, but McCaskey could have refrained from doing so anyway. Should he have posted it?

Yes, McCaskey was morally warranted in posting Peikoff’s email, and, all things considered, I think he should have posted it. I am in full agreement with Paul Hsieh’s analysis of this issue.

October 29, 2010

Justice for John P. McCaskey

Note: This post assumes general understanding of the publicly available facts about a conflict that has recently emerged between Leonard Peikoff and John P. McCaskey. For a fairly comprehensive statement of these facts, see Paul and Diana Hsieh’s post on the matter. To read the email in which Peikoff (among other things) morally condemns McCaskey, see McCaskey’s announcement of his resignation from the boards of directors of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) and the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship.

Because John P. McCaskey is on the masthead of my journal, The Objective Standard, and because I have great respect for him, I want to say a few words about Leonard Peikoff’s now-public moral condemnation of him. This is a personal statement from me, not a statement from TOS, and it does not imply that those who contribute to or are involved with the journal (including McCaskey) agree with me.

Ever since McCaskey announced his resignation from the boards of ARI and Anthem, and posted, with Peikoff’s permission, the email in which Peikoff morally condemns him, I have been trying to make sense of the situation. Toward that end, I’ve emailed Peikoff and asked whether, given McCaskey’s presence on the masthead of TOS, he could provide me with any information that might help. Unfortunately, more than a month has passed, and I have not received a reply. I’ve spoken with Yaron Brook about the matter, but he told me that he and the board members at ARI are bound by confidentiality agreements and thus cannot provide any information. I’ve looked through the correspondence I have between McCaskey and David Harriman, in which McCaskey provided Harriman with comments and criticisms about a chapter of The Logical Leap that I later published in TOS. But far from this correspondence revealing anything morally condemnable on the part of McCaskey, it shows that he was always thoughtful, professional, and polite. I’ve also spoken with McCaskey about the situation, and he has provided the information he can, which is essentially included in the aforementioned post by Paul and Diana Hsieh. </>Given the available information, I find Peikoff’s email to be nonobjective in several respects, but I will focus here on his moral condemnation of McCaskey, which I regard as unjust.

Peikoff claims in his email that McCaskey’s (alleged) wrongdoing is sufficiently bad that even his enormous contribution to the spread of Objectivism only “raises him one rung in Hell.” At first blush, one might assume that Peikoff is exaggerating here, as people sometimes do in private emails, and that he doesn’t really mean to morally condemn McCaskey. But because Peikoff authorized McCaskey to post the email as a public statement of Peikoff’s position, and because Peikoff has not come forth to say that he did not mean to morally condemn McCaskey—which he could do easily and quickly were that the case—I must take Peikoff at his word.

What reason does Peikoff give for his condemnation of McCaskey? He says, “[McCaskey] attacks Dave’s book, and thus, explicitly or implicitly, my intro praising it as expressing [Ayn Rand’s] epistemology, and also my course on induction, on which the book is based.” But criticisms of books, ideas, or intellectuals are not grounds for moral condemnation unless the criticisms are irrational (i.e., dishonest, unjust, or baseless), and Peikoff offers no evidence to suggest that McCaskey’s criticisms were irrational. Peikoff merely says, “I have seen a large part of this criticism myself, and have heard its overall tenor and content from others who attended a forum on the subject.” If McCaskey made irrational criticisms of Harriman’s book, and if Peikoff has seen or heard these criticisms, then the onus is on Peikoff to reveal the content of the criticisms in order to support his now-public condemnation of McCaskey. Likewise, if people are (rationally) to accept Peikoff’s moral condemnation of McCaskey as legitimate, they need to know the content of the criticisms and to understand why the criticisms are irrational. But Peikoff has thus far failed to support his claim with any such data or explanations.

(I will not here consider in any detail McCaskey’s comments at Amazon.com about Harriman’s book, as they were posted after Peikoff condemned him and thus cannot be the grounds for that condemnation. I will note, however, that although I take issue with aspects of McCaskey’s comments at Amazon.com, nothing in those comments even remotely warrants moral condemnation. If I see reason to further address those comments or related issues in the future, I will do so then.)

Rather than provide good reasons in support of his condemnation of McCaskey, Peikoff has provided only this unsupported conclusion: “In essence, [McCaskey’s] behavior amounts to: Peikoff is misguided, Harriman is misguided, [McCaskey] knows Objectivism better than either. Or else: Objectivism on these issues is inadequate, and [McCaskey] is the one pointing the flaws out.” Peikoff does not present any evidence that McCaskey has said anything that amounts to such claims. Moreover, even if McCaskey did issue criticisms amounting to such claims, unless he did so in a dishonest, unjust, or baseless manner, such criticisms would not warrant moral condemnation.

Even if Peikoff personally has good reason to condemn McCaskey, his failure to make known what that reason is, his failure to present evidence or argument in support of his assertion, means that those of us who need to make a judgment on this matter must do so on the assumption that he has no good reason. The claim by some that “maybe Peikoff has a good reason but just isn’t revealing it” is baseless. “Maybe” is not evidence—not in a court of law and not in a rational mind. To accept an idea in support of which there is no evidence is to indulge in the arbitrary.

To morally condemn a man, authorize that condemnation to be made public, and then fail to provide a good reason for that condemnation is nonobjective and unjust. As Ayn Rand put it: “When one pronounces a moral judgment, whether in praise or in blame, one must be prepared to answer ‘Why?’ and to prove one’s case—to oneself and to any rational inquirer.”1 This is a basic requirement of objectivity, and, in this case, Peikoff has failed to meet it.

The claim by some that we cannot judge Peikoff’s judgment because we don’t have complete information is false. We never have complete information about any person or event, and we don’t need complete information to make moral judgments. We can and must make moral judgments on the basis of partial data; and, as a matter of observable fact, we do so virtually every time we make a moral judgment. For instance, we don’t have complete information about why politicians take the actions they take, yet we can and legitimately do judge many of their actions to be immoral. Likewise, we don’t have complete information about why John D. Rockefeller took the actions he took, yet we can and legitimately do judge his productive actions to be profoundly moral. One could multiply such examples endlessly.

The fact that we don’t have complete information means only that our judgments are contextual—i.e., based on the information available to us at a given time. In many cases, the possibility remains that we will gather additional data in the future that will bear on our judgment and require us to revise it. But until such data are available, we are warranted in making judgments on the basis of the currently available and relevant facts. And when our values are at stake, we morally must make such judgments.

When faced with an apparent injustice against a man whom one values and whom one has substantial reason to believe is of the highest moral character, one should gather the available and relevant facts and make a judgment on the basis of those facts. If one later discovers additional facts that logically warrant a change of judgment, then one should revise one’s judgment. But, as Rand noted, “in no case and in no situation may one permit one’s own values to be attacked or denounced, and keep silent.”2

McCaskey has made enormous contributions to the Objectivist movement. He is a highly valued contributing editor to The Objective Standard. And, to my knowledge, he is a man of impeccable character. For Peikoff to morally condemn him without providing good reason for doing so is objectively wrong.

Does this mean I am condemning Peikoff wholesale? Absolutely not. Rather, I am morally condemning Peikoff’s act of injustice against McCaskey. An injustice of this kind committed by a man of Peikoff’s moral stature does not warrant wholesale condemnation of the man. But it does warrant identifying the injustice as an injustice, and, if Peikoff does not correct the injustice (or show that it is, in fact, not an injustice), it warrants a proportional adjustment of my heretofore enormously high esteem for Peikoff.

I did not arrive at this conclusion quickly or easily, and it pains me to the core to make this judgment. Peikoff has fueled my intellectual development more than anyone except Ayn Rand. He has helped to clarify and concretize in my mind the principles on which human life, happiness, and freedom depend. He has helped me to better understand the principles of communication, grammar, and logic. For all of this, I owe him immense gratitude and the highest respect. Part and parcel of that respect, however, is taking the principles of Objectivism seriously. One of those principles is the moral necessity of judging people according to the available and relevant facts. Another is the requirement of evidence in support of the ideas one accepts. Another is that when one’s values are denounced, one must defend them. And so, it is with great sadness that I make this statement and do so publicly.

What is to be gained by making my thoughts about this matter public? Justice—and everything that follows from it. In addition to the primary gain, which is the moral defense of an innocent man, I gain the self-esteem that follows from upholding my principles and values. Further, in addition to what I gain, my friends, colleagues, and associates gain the knowledge that I will not remain silent in the face of an injustice against them. Further still, we all gain the value of a public rejection of moral neutrality. As Rand wrote, “moral neutrality necessitates a progressive sympathy for vice and a progressive antagonism for virtue.”3 Conversely, moral justice necessitates a progressive predilection for virtue and a progressive antagonism for vice.

A final note concerning the masthead of TOS: The conflict between Peikoff and McCaskey has put Yaron Brook and those on the board of ARI in an extremely difficult position, and I do not want to add to their problems. Thus, in order to forestall any possible assumption that Brook’s presence on the masthead of TOS might imply his or the board’s agreement with me on this matter, I have unilaterally and respectfully removed him from the masthead. He and ARI’s writers are welcome to continue contributing to TOS, and I hope they will.

—Craig Biddle, October 29, 2010

For answers to some recurring questions about this post, click here.

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1. Ayn Rand, “How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?,” in The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1964), p. 84.

2. Rand, “A Rational Life,” p. 84.

3. Rand, “A Rational Life,” p. 85.