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A Response To Robert Bidinotto
First, I want to comment on a couple of points raised by Alec Mouhibian:
"I know this sounds terribly cheesy and I should probably burn in hell for saying it, but complaints directed toward TOC should qualify as ‘constructive criticism.’ As I told a TOC staffer who privately criticized me for my criticisms, I make a stink because I CARE, and because I see increasing apathy and hopelessness as the ultimate death knell of TOC. I fear that, yet that's what I'm seeing! The fact is, if TOC fails, there will be no catastrophe and no funeral. There will only be a gradual surrender of hope and lack of caring on the part of its followers. As soon as an organization fails to motivate its own supporters, it is doomed -- you don't even need to consider fundraising consequences to see why."
Alec raises a matter that seems impossible to get through to the TOC hierarchy—if they carry on as they are, extinction will almost certainly be the result. This is not a perception confined to Alec and me—it was palpable among many attendees at TOC-Vancouver, concerned as they were about the lack of a sense of direction, an absence of runs on the board, a low level of productivity …
Now, notwithstanding my differences with TOC, its demise is not something I wish to see. To point to the likelihood of extinction, even in anger, is not an act of wishful thinking, or of hostility—at least not on my part; rather it’s an exhortation to do better, as a matter of urgency. "Urgency" is what most seems to be lacking. From even before the time I was offered a job there, TOC has been navel-gazing about its reason-for-being. It still doesn’t seem to know what that is. Well, guys, six years of navel-gazing is enough—time to sort your mission out and get on with it.
"Likewise, it is important for all who care about TOC to voice their concerns and demand change wherever they know it is needed, and I'm upset that more people haven't been doing it. Things change only when there is a demand, and in the intellectual sphere, where demand is much more vague (and hence tougher to identify and measure), it is much easier for an organization to morph into an ineffective bureaucracy. This, I know, is Lindsay's primary motivation, his end. I do not consider it ‘bashing Objectivists’ to constructively criticize in an Objectivist forum. We are among friends, and if we don't correct ourselves, nobody will."
Again, he’s right on the money. First, too few who have concerns are making them known; second, the organisation is too quick to bestow persona non grata status on those who do criticise, at least those who criticise publicly. Here I speak from personal experience.
"But we all know that Lindsay has his own, shall we say, methods, and this time I must criticize some of them, because the issue is too important...
"1. It is wrong for him to imply that SOLO and TOC are in any sort of competition, to pit the two against each other. I know he doesn't always mean to pit the two, but it is an unintended consequence of some of his rhetoric. SOLO is not aimed at generating scholarship. Scholarship cannot have the type of KASS that polemical intraobjectivist journalism can and should have. And SOLO, what's more, is not a think tank, but an intraobjectivist forum for likeminded people to strengthen their minds and entertain themselves. I'm aware of Linz's fondness for fruits, but this apples-and-oranges comparison gets us nowhere."
Well, from what I’ve been reading on this thread, aside from assigning Kelley to philosophy, TOC is *abandoning* its scholarly projects. And if you grant that "polemical intra-Objectivist journalism" *should* have KASS, where does that leave ‘Navigator’?
"2. Linz should not make his random public wisecracks about TOC. I support humor and edginess in all its forms, but this is one case in which I think circumstances require special tact. The fact is, Linz, everyone doesn't know your entire history with and philosophy regarding TOC, and such cracks are bound to be taken out of context. They are bound to insult and seem like self-important name-calling, and thus bring the attention to you, rather than the real problem. Your position as head of SOLO and as vanguard of objectivist reform requires that all your public criticism of TOC be in the constructive context."
My "position as head of SOLO and as vanguard of Objectivist reform" doesn’t mean I’m a saint, especially by Objectivist standards of saintliness. No doubt on this occasion I was guilty of inappropriately intense anger, but mad-as-hell anger *is* justified in the face of TOC’s repeated "freest country on earth" travesty (repeated yet again in the last month), and that anger is bound to spill over into other discussions of TOC.
Which brings us to Mr. Bidinotto:
"I hope you and others grasp that my complaint is not about criticism of TOC per se. It's the fact that such criticism has gone way over the top. It has become personal and nasty. If one wishes, say, to criticize ‘Navigator’ as being dry and boring, fine. However, if one then publicly ascribes such stylistic dullness to ‘cowardice,’ he has crossed the line. Lindsay has crossed the line."
All right. "Cowardice" is too strong. I withdraw "cowardice" and substitute for it, "timidity." But please remember: I was talking of TOC qua institution. I did not single anyone out, and I had no particular person in mind. Individually, TOC staffers are fine people, with whom I get on well, as far as I know; it's just that collectively—paradoxically, maddeningly—they can't seem to project any degree of testicularity.
"Let's get real, shall we? True ‘cowards’ would do things other than become lifelong, devoted public advocates of an unpopular philosophy in a hostile culture -- as David Kelley and the TOC staff have done. And would a real ‘coward’ respond to being expelled from an orthodoxy like ARI by setting up his own alternative organization -- as David did? Or would he instead crawl back on his knees, groveling and boot-licking and apologizing for his alleged transgressions, as so many others (who will go nameless) have done?"
Let’s indeed get real—I have never expressed anything but admiration for David for his courage in breaking away from the cult that the ARI had become. That’s a matter of public record—anyone can trawl back through my writings and verify it. That hasn’t changed. The issue we’re discussing here is, has the organisation lived up to the promise of those first heady days? David specifically faulted the ARI at the time for low productivity, for example; after 15 years of TOC, what can be said about *its* productivity? Yes, it’s had its moments, but predominantly in recent years it has seemed to languish in a state of torpor. Some of us want to see that arrested and reversed. In fact, *all* of us, no?
Robert: "Oh, I suppose I could have taken the occasion of my leaving TOC to do a bit of guttersniping. I have a blog, after all; and I might have followed the heroic path pioneered by one or two former TOC hangers-on, who have transformed their departures from TOC into Extreme Makeovers, crafting entirely new public identities and even forging new social circles from these episodes. Ah, the things some nonentities will do to acquire Significance..."
Now, I realise that’s not directed at me, but at the recently-departed Diana. I can’t help wondering, however, how it qualifies as an example of the eschewing of the "personal and nasty" that Robert preaches?
Robert: "But those are not the things true Objectivists should be doing. For moral instruction, let's play the old ‘What would Howard Roark do?’ game. Why didn't HR invest his time publicly blasting Francon & Keating, et al., for their bad architectural ideas or ‘compromises’? Because he knew that the best way to put forth a better alternative was...well, to put forth a better alternative. This is called ‘competition in the marketplace of ideas.’ If you don't like what some other established, allied group or spokesman is doing, well then, show the world how to do it. It is much more practical -- and reflects far more savvy, class and character -- simply to put forth your better alternative."
Well, let’s see now, there’s a rather excellent thing called SOLO I had something to do with, on whose very board Mr. Bidinotto is free to post his criticisms, and another thing called ‘The Free Radical’ that arguably is a marginal improvement on ‘Navigator’ … Given that I have a day job as well, I think I can reasonably claim to be walking the talk.
Robert: "But if you spend a lot of time simply cutting down your philosophic colleagues, calling them wimps and ‘wusses’ and cowards and compromisers and the like, you'll not accomplish any of those things. Those are not constructive criticisms; those are ‘fighting words.’ (And if you choose to ‘get personal’ in that way, please don't start whining afterwards when somebody gives you a taste of your own medicine. Perhaps that was done precisely to demonstrate that such is not a profitable or worthy form of criticism...hmmm?)"
Oh, actually, I’m well used to being attacked personally, but there is the little matter of accuracy to be considered. In his previous post, Robert claimed that my writings were overwhelmingly negative, focused on "Evil"; that by "passion" I mean "propensity to rant." That is a manifestly unjust claim. I did a quick check of just those articles of mine that are posted on SOLO—I saw eulogies to heroes such as Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Rand, Wright, Lanza, Moffo, Reagan, Ingersoll, and a whole category of heroes named NEM: New Enlightenment Men; I saw titles such as "A Thanksgiving For The Best Of All Mankind," "Philosophy For Life" and "Affirming Life"; I saw expositions of the fundamentals of Objectivism; I saw an article contrasting belly-laughter with anal-retentiveness; I saw speeches about turning Objectivism into the vast, open, sunlit field that it ought to be … I did *not* see an overwhelming, ranting preoccupation with evil. Yes, I attack evil, and I make no apology for that (I believe attacking evil is something TOC needs to do more of)—just as I’m sure Robert wouldn’t apologise for attacking eco-fascists—but preoccupied with it I am not. Mr. Bidinotto, here *you* crossed the line.
What is especially puzzling about this accusation is that Robert was among those present at my TOC-Vancouver lecture, ‘The Elixir of Youth’—he knows how rapturously it was received, and he knows it wasn’t an evil-preoccupied rant, and he knows he was one of those who complimented me on it.
There were other injustices in Robert’s previous post, but to rectify them would require a relitigation of ancient history, and I have no appetite for that. Anyone who’s curious can check out the facts as laid out in my review of ‘Contested Legacy’ and in the article Robert mentions, ‘Singing SOLO.’
Robert: "Are charges of ‘cowardice’ and the like ever appropriate? Sure. They are appropriate for adversaries, but not for allies. If one has truly decided TOC represents an enemy, then fine -- the gloves can come off. But in that case, one shouldn't also be feigning cooperation or friendship by accepting speaking engagements and the like. It seems to me it's ‘either/or.’"
For goodness’ sake! I’ve *never* described TOC as an enemy. *Of course* TOC is a friend—a bloody frustrating friend, but a friend nonetheless. Will Thomas spoke at SOLOC 3 in Philadelphia. I spoke at TOC-Vancouver. I hope we can continue to cross-fertilise. But no false pretences! A friend who doesn’t speak the truth as he sees it is not a friend at all, in my book. And yes, it cuts both ways.
Let me close by repeating what I said in my first post to this thread: I’m delighted that David Kelley will be devoting all his energies to that he’s best at, and if there’s a whole new TOC regime in town then I hope it will bring some KASS to its activities. I say this in hope and despair, in affection and irritation … but ultimately and faithfully, in friendship.
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