Michael, I am serious.
I do not have to reread PAR, I've read it dozens of times, and used it in my research and quoted heavily from it in my Jungian Objectivism experiment (which, at the root of it, was my attempt to reconcile Rand's supposed behavior with her philosophy.) The damn book was the New Testament for me. My mistake was being taken in by the dramatic assertions in lieu of critical thinking. I was much younger when I first read PAR, so I've forgiven myself for being taken in. I don't condemn the Branden's to sheer slime, however, because I believe that much of their ideas comes from the misunderstanding of psychology.
This goes beyond the questions raised by PARC, in my mind. As much as I admired Barbara, I had personal issues with her ideas long before. My biggest problem with Barbara's memoir (and Nathaniel's work, I should add) is their take on mental illness and how they applied it to Ayn Rand. By know my sympathies to the ideas of Thomas Szasz are well known here. I do believe that neurology is legit, and that the brain can influence a person's character. However, I agree with Szasz and Jung that psychology is more akin to religion than science. Szasz has already addressed Branden's ideas in FAITH IN FREEDOM, and even though critical of Rand, Szasz also calls into question Branden's labeling of Rand's behavior as mental illness.
This is where I think the real problem lies. I do believe that Barbara really thinks that she was describing the real Rand, and it may be that what Barbara wrote was based on a reality that was filtered through Barbara's acceptance of mental illness. The character described in PAR, if true, shows traits associated with 'Asperger's Syndrome" (possibly a type of autism.) From my own personal experience, I can see the behaviors attributed to Rand, positive and negative, to be very real. But I don't accept the lablel of "syndrome," since it is not a disease. The label is a negative bias describing very real traits, traits that include an emphasis on logic, literal thinking, self-centeredness, and the ability to work for long periods of time with diminished social contact on narrow interests. Many creators are said to have these traits, like Da Vinci and Einstien.
Yes, Barbara does point out to the many achievements of Rand's life. She also reacts negatively to many parts as well. Most of those criticisms are similar to criticisms of people with Aspergers, including anti-social behavior, lack of warmth, rigid, black and white thinking, and authoritarianism. Even some of the more benign traits like overcarefullness with cooking, awkwardness with physical reality, and the tendency to talk on and on without realizing the other party may have lost interest. The disdain for small talk is a common trait, and most tellingly, the gazing stare, as if one is being looked through. Rand's stare, which goes beyond the Branden's account as being a hallmark of anyone who met her, is a classic trait.
If Barbara did portray Rand's character correctly, I claim that she did it through a bias of psychiatry that would try to weed out the supposed bad qualities from her genius. Barbara and I have differed here on SOLO regarding psychology, I think that she is too willing to accept psychology as is. Given her own accounts in PAR of her own mental health, this is not mere speculation. It can also be seen in her quickness to label Lindsay Perigo as an alcoholic.
The problem with this is that in the case of people with high functioning autism, many of the anger outbursts and other flaws are the results of many factors. But much of the anger is due to the tendency towards literal thinking and the resulting manipulation of the person's naivete. Literal thinking with a weakened ability to read personal cues and subtexts results in much miscommunication and a lack of the ability to play the games of social life. To contradict my argument against Joe Rowland's use of fictional characters in his introversion/extroversion argument, Howard Roark is an archetypal example of someone with Asperger's traits. The social ineptness married with a genius for design. Roark doesn't play golf to get a client because golf has nothing to do with architecture. Literal thinking, no social games.
All this is armchair speculation, of course. But I stand by it as a strong possibility, with this caveat: the Branden's response to Rand's behavior is typical of the reaction towards people with Asperger's. They want the benefits of the genius but without the work that comes with it. So they label the person "insane," "mad", "crazy." Crazy genius. But much of the anger pinned on people with Asperger's is the result of very real external factors, seen more sharply than others see it. Some of it is also the result of rigid thinking and inflexibility, a result of the stronger need for order to navigate the world.
That does not excuse the manipulation of people like Barbara and Nathaniel, or the social machinations of the world at large. If Rand had "Aspergers's Syndrome," then the Branden's had "social metaphysics" syndrome. The only defense I can offer the Brandens, should this be true about Rand, is that they have reacted the same way that psychology has reacted to people on the autistic spectrum: as mentally ill. (And conversely, people on the spectrum react the same way as Rand towards the world: with a misunderstanding of social conventions, which can unfairly lead to undue criticisms of social life.)
BTW, this all, to me, explains why Objectivism has not caught on more than it has; I think it appeals more to engineers and artists and such, and why the larger mainstream justifies murderous ideas like communism. "Lack of a religious brain center, indeed."
(Edited by Joe Maurone
on 11/23, 8:52am)
(Edited by Joe Maurone
on 11/23, 8:59am)