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Post 20

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 12:25amSanction this postReply
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I have read PAR, Judgement Day, and some of Valliant's stuff on the web, but not PARC or the rewrite of Judgement Day. I now intend to read PARC, especially with Linz's recommendation. I have tried to find out as much as I can about Rand's circle and NBI by talking to as many people as possible who knew her, or who took classes from NBI or from Peikoff after NBI folded, etc.

I have heard live lectures by most of the top guys in ARI, and from most of those multiple times. I've also known David Kelley since the late 80s, before the split. I'm a TOC sponsor and have attended the last 4 TOC summer seminars.

Oh, and I used to catch Peikoff on libertarian talk radio on WBZ AM in Boston after he kicked out David Kelley for speaking at a dinner function sponsored by a libertarian bookstore.

Talking to people who knew Rand in the last years of her life, but who recommended PAR, convinced me that PAR is a bunch of bullshit. There were aspects of it that I rejected and criticized based on its internal structure, before I talked to anyone who had first-hand knowledge of persons and events allegedly portrayed in it.

They (the people who were familiar with the events) claimed that the conclusions in it are true, but that some scenes in the book were invented novelistically to make it more dramatic or to fill in gaps B. Branden's research couldn't reach. I told them that I didn't want a book with someone else's conclusions tacked on to concretes that were invented to bear the conclusions out. I wanted a book with real, factual concretes that I could draw my own conclusions from. I also said the same thing in almost exactly those words to Paul and Diana Hsieh in their dining room 2 years ago.

Reading some of B. Branden's stuff in Ayn Rand's magazines left me wondering what all the buzz was about. She seemed like an intellectual lightweight not up to the calibre of the other contributors.

I haven't delved into the B. Branden/Linz material in any depth, so I will not comment on that beyond restating my earlier position that Linz is not an alcoholic. If she is saying that he is, I hold that against her too.

N. Branden, otoh, has always struck me as a real creator who did make important contributions to Objectivism and to psychology. But I do not trust him and regard his moral transgressions against Rand as being more serious than his ex-wife's. Also, he seems in recent appearances possibly to be endorsing mysticism through innuendo. If true, I would regard that also as being beyond the pale for someone of his erstwhile talents.

I have said to numerous people over the years that the Brandens were not as great as they were puffed up to be during the heydey of NBI, but that neither are they as profoundly evil and devoid of accomplishments as they have been made out to be by the orthodoxy since the end of the NBI era. I still stick by that.

I haven't waded in to these threads before, so I wanted to lay all that on the table so you would know a little about where I stand on these issues.

That said, let me ask this question. It is not rhetorical, but I would like to address it at an abstract, hypothetical level before plunging in to the concretes of the Rand/Branden situation. Is it ethical for an employer to propose to an employee starting a sexual affair with the employee's spouse?

-Bill
(Edited by William A. Nevin III
on 11/23, 12:32am)




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Post 21

Tuesday, November 22, 2005 - 11:54pmSanction this postReply
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Michael: I just reread PAR. Barbara Branden simply did not make enough of a case that Frank O'Connor was a heavy drinker, much less an alcoholic. (But reading about him made me want to buy him a drink.) And like the allegations of alcoholism, it is simply irrelevant from any moral context if he did drink heavily during the last few years of his life, because of his dementia. In the early 1970s I saw him after one of Ayn Rand's Ford Hall Forum talks in Boston striding vigorously down the auditorium hallway to meet with her flanked by several others. I know that that was just a touch in time and a life, but this man was not then a shadow of some previous incarnation ground down by the circumstances of an unnaturally delimited existence.

I see no reason at all for anyone to suspend this type of judgment while the actual truth is rooted out--that is, Barbara Branden should not have put into her biography that he was an alcoholic or a heavy drinker without surrounding the propositions with many qualifications and question marks.

--Brant


(Edited by Brant Gaede on 11/23, 7:20am)




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Post 22

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 1:10amSanction this postReply
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Hi all,

I haven't read anything about the present controversy that hasn't been posted on this board (oh, and some excerpts from PAR that I found elsewhere).  I know nothing of the long history of this conflict other than what I've read on this board.  So feel free to dismiss my question if it's not germane or if it's been asked & answered umpteen times over the years. 

What I'm wondering is this: does it trouble anyone that AR could be deceived so blatantly for 4 and a half years?  If Objectivists were gonna criticize AR for her conduct during these infamous events, I'd have thought they'd dismiss whatever jealousy there was as epistemologically inconsequential (I know I would and do) and instead speak to the evident impairment of her rational faculty evinced by her inability to figure out that she was being cheated on for over 4 years.  Who takes that long to figure something like that out?  You'd think the woman's bullshit meter would be one of the best and most precisely calibrated on the planet, wouldn't you?  Aren't gullibility and denial much greater threats to rationality than mere emotionalism?  Now, I gather NB told her that he was having some kind of sexual crisis to account for his lack of sexual interest in AR.  Dang me, folks!  Is that not one of the oldest dodges in the book?

I know this is a hot button topic.  I know AR is beloved and I recognize that she deserves it.  But the hyperbolic terms in which her suffering is couched after 40 years and her demise, seems more than a little odd.  Isn't there a much more serious argument to be made that she suffered as a result of her faulty premises and bad choices in regard to NB?  You know, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me over and over again for 4 and a half years, I must not be paying attention?"

Again, I have no stake in this battle beside the fact that these threads keep coming up and I keep reading them, trying to figure out what all the fuss is about.  Arguing how emotional some third party was 40 years ago is one of the silliest pastimes I can imagine.  I'm not trying to undermine Ayn Rand in any way; to me, she's a talented novelist and a fascinating philosopher and my assessment will rise and fall according to the relevance I find in her work.  Frankly, I'm selfishly trying to turn the conversation toward something that I would find a lot more interesting. 

Notwithstanding, I have to say that Robert's article is the most concise and compelling statement I've seen on the subject.

-Kevin
(Edited by Kevin Haggerty on 11/23, 8:42am)




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Post 23

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 4:27amSanction this postReply
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Robert: I read part of your main post but even with your meticulous concern for the psychological truths involved in all this, I just found myself asking: Do I really care? Should I care? and the answer was "No" in both cases. I really consider it quite proper to divorce myself from all this history--and I myself have a bit of it with these folks--and focus on the ideas. Do you think I am off base and why?



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Post 24

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 4:27amSanction this postReply
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I hate this topic, and it's consumed so much space here lately.

Linz, I really like your post #9. As your review of PARC it was very clear and to the point.


Brant, your post #10 was also very good.

Ethan

(Edited by Ethan Dawe on 11/23, 6:25am)




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Post 25

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 4:28amSanction this postReply
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In the end, can't we all just conclude that Nathaniel and Barbara -- as a very human act of equalization and revenge -- very probably exaggerated the level of moralizing, psychologizing, repressing, and intellectual bullying that Rand did -- but still honestly revealed a lot of previously unknown and unadmirable personal aspects of Rand? This seems very logical, likely, normal, and human to me. History will almost certainly conclude exactly this.
 
And is it really all that likely that a true giant and hero like Ayn Rand was such a helpless, hapless, hopeless "victim" as that transcendently dishonest book, and all the other Randroid zombies, claim? After all, Rand was female, older, smarter, and more powerful psychologically. This gives her at least four aces in any man-woman relationship poker game! ;-) She was probably calling the shots virtually the whole time -- never mind any self-deception and image-protection recently revealed by her journal entries. Rand could easily have made the decision to mold/prep and eventually seduce Nathaniel several months or even weeks after she met him! Ask any older woman.
 
And let's not forget the obvious about all those wildly and shamelessly exaggerated anti-Branden smears from those pitiful verminous cult-freaks: every bad word said about Nathaniel and Barbara directly reflects on Rand herself! She made them an unbelievably intimate part of her life. Even the tiniest attack on Nathaniel and Barbara is an attack on Ayn Rand.




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Post 26

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 6:08amSanction this postReply
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The Brandens are no doubt the greatest evidence that Rand was not perfect. As Valliant points out, they were one of her obvious mistakes.

I  think there is something unwholesome about this urge to find dirt on Rand's soul, to find moral imperfection in her in order to burnish the Brandens' reputations. She obviously believed in the Brandens too much, but as they both admit and as is shown in PARC, they themselves lied to her about almost everything, claiming that they agreed with everything she thought and felt and loved even when they knew it was not true. The fact that she was fooled by them shows she trusted too much; she wanted to believe the best and could not conceive of the worst. They knew that about her, and they played her. To trumpet that flaw is to share the Brandens' agenda in a way that is unhealthy and unnecessary, unless one has some personal stake in seeing the victim morally blamed for being too innocent.

In any event, she risked that. All love is risk. She paid the price, and moved on. When she found out that for years the Brandens had colluded in deceiving her, she relieved the Brandens once and for all from her "authoritarian" presence even though they were still desperate to continue suffering it.




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Post 27

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 6:55amSanction this postReply
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I assume the author is convinced that Rand was jealous of Patrecia. It is not totally clear from the commentary, e.g. "Oh no, AR isnít jealous. Sheís perfectly willing to accept a "Miss X" in NBís life " but I guess it is safe to assume that this is sarcasm and not to be taken literally. With that caveat, and a further caveat that I have not read the referred to pages 237 - 378 of The Passion of Ayn Randís Critic, I think a definition of jealousy has been overlooked.

What does Valliant mean by this word, what does this author mean? If jealousy is hostility toward a rival/envy of another, this does not appear to be what Rand is expressing. I see expressions of bewilderment, disillusionment and betrayal which are aimed at NB, but no real hostility toward Patrecia (except a passing observation that she is dumb but pretty) but certainly no envy of the woman for bagging a coveted prize; and quotes like
"This means in effect: he knows that "Miss X" would be unacceptable to me and not to him; if she appears and he takes her, he does not have to drop me, I will have to drop himÖHe will be free to regard it as my choice and accept it as a decision or event out of his control. (January 25, 1968, p. 251)",
donít prove it to me.

As to the possibility of moral perfection that consumes many here. I donít connect with it. I have never thought it possible. Once one answers no to the question "Is infallibility possible?" one can no longer logically ask "Is moral perfection possible?"

As to comments such as, "Öthis stuff happened almost FORTY YEARS AGO, and people are still up in arms about it", I was not aware there was a statute of limitations on outrage. If 40 years is the limit I guess itís time to forgive and forget Robespierre, Hitler and others.

Casey makes the most sense to me. I particularly like:
In any event, she risked that. All love is risk. She paid the price, and moved on. When she found out that for years the Brandens had colluded in deceiving her, she relieved the Brandens once and for all from her "authoritarian" presence even though they were still desperate to continue suffering it.




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Post 28

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 7:08amSanction this postReply
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Michael: "Or how about this? Reading or rereading The Passion of Ayn Rand right after reading PARC and the reader seeing for himself if it is the smear job that it is purported to be?"

I read both, and have withdrawn my sanction for Barbara's book. Great as a novel, beautifully written, lousy biography. Is it a smear job? I don't know if its a product of Barbara's subjective view or a vicious smear job, but as a factual account, it is lacking. It is no good as a biography. Simple as that. If Rand truly was the character in PAR, a more objective presentation is needed.

Regarding the accounts of those who claimed to have walked away with a better view of Rand: this disturbs me in its implication. After reading ATLAS and everything else, then reading PAR, I had the feeling that I was cheated by Rand. What was presented was not a hero but a "one of us" kind of character that Rand wrote about, a brilliant woman who was all too human. The idea that one walks away from PAR with a better appreciation is, in my view, a confession of relief, that one does not have to meet the standards of Objectivism. Rand is not a better person in PAR, she is a tragic figure with the sugar coating of so-called "humanity". She is a contradictory figure, a paradox. She doesn't make sense. Doubts are cast on the whole of her philosophy as a result, which is illustrated by the neo-Objectivist label accepted by the Brandens.

Be honest. If you thought better of Rand after reading PAR, you weren't looking for a hero.


(Edited by Joe Maurone
on 11/23, 7:10am)




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Post 29

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 7:14amSanction this postReply
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Dr. Machan,

I will let Robert answer for himself, of course, but you ask, "Why should I care?"

It was, in one sense, not necessary for anyone to pay any attention to the Brandens' biographies -- true. Rand herself said that her personal life was a mere "postscript" to her work.

But philosophy is all about living life, not mere contemplation, and Rand's postscript, she said, consisted of the phrase, "And I mean it."

Is integrity possible? Is the life of the thinker worthy of study as it might say something about her ideas?

Just maybe.



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Post 30

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 7:36amSanction this postReply
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Joe,

Are you kidding? Seriously.

The fact that Rand was able to overcome as much as she did - internally and externally - made her a supreme hero to me. I do not find emotional repression to be heroic, so no, I don't value that part. I used to and paid a high price for it. I do value, however, someone who has a nature to do that and overcome the conflicts that ensue because of it. I believe that Rand did that. (I did also, in my own manner.)

Also, did you reread PAR after PARC as I suggested? Did you see the wonderful things Barbara wrote about Rand? The list of people in the world who were influenced by her ideas? The whole package? Or are you at this moment still under the influence of all those "perhaps," "possibly" etc., insinuations in PARC?

Rand's heroes are a "selective recreation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value judgments." They are not WHOLE characters in life. So I don't see how Rand or anybody can become one of them without cutting off a good deal of who they are. As with all art, you can only adopt aspects of a fictional character. You cannot fit your whole life in all aspects into one like putting on a suit of clothes.

Acknowledging that is is not looking for an excuse to justify anything. It is an attempt to look at reality, not art and pretend that it is reality.

Michael




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Post 31

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 8:04amSanction this postReply
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Joe,

Outstanding. Hear, hear!

(Edited by Casey Fahy on 11/23, 8:51am)




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Post 32

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 8:34amSanction this postReply
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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)




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Post 33

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 8:35amSanction this postReply
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I read Judgement Day first, then PAR, both years ago. They read well as memoirs by people who were close to her and knew her well.

They didn't turn me on to Objectivism. Ayn Rand did that, without any help from the Brandens. For *me*, the Brandens are inconsequential to my knowledge of, and agreement with, Objectivist principles. Their books were entertaining but tainted by my knowledge of what they had done to her. The fact that they succeeded in making profit from her name and that association afterwards, was and is,to me, distasteful.

I have lied and cheated in a relationship. I have wronged another in the past. I suspect many have. But to then turn around and *profit* from it while casting doubt on the character of that person seems taudry. One does not whip the horse one rode into town on. You do not write a so called biography about someone who has been used and betrayed by you.

Or maybe you do, and make buckets of money from it.

When all is said and done, I *will* be reading a couple books again, probably this weekend. They werent written by Valliant, or either of the Brandens. I will be re-reading Anthem, then perhaps get started on The Fountainhead.

Because the *ideas* which got me fired up are what interest me most, not the bickering (including my own snarky comments) about the small stuff. Objectivism is bigger than this.



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Post 34

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 8:37amSanction this postReply
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PAR is not a depiction of a hero, it is a hero dragged down into the crab bucket.



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Post 35

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 9:08amSanction this postReply
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Joe,

A LOT of food for thought, and very interesting.

I think I have Aspergers -- or at least I hope I do. I wonder how many of these "syndromes" are reductionist attempts to throw a rope around individuality and some of the traits that accompany any well-considered and chosen philosophical path. The outer description does not seem to be the antecedent -- the "syndrome" does not seem to be causative but merely descriptive to me. What do you think?

(Edited by Casey Fahy on 11/23, 9:12am)




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Post 36

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 9:48amSanction this postReply
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Casey: "I wonder how many of these "syndromes" are reductionist attempts to throw a rope around individuality and some of the traits that accompany any well-considered and chosen philosophical path. The outer description does not seem to be the antecedent -- the "syndrome" does not seem to be causative but merely descriptive to me. What do you think?"

I agree, and that's Szasz's argument against the labeling of traits as "syndromes" as well, I believe. I do have some discomfort with any attempt to attribue both genius and flaws to a simple matter of genetic programming without recognizing that free will affects how the brain will be used. Many people on the autistic spectrum believe in God, for example.
But there is a strong push for socialization in the world, and those who prefer to spend long periods of time on work are called "workaholics" simply for having such a strong interest. Rand wrote of this herself with her criticism of ARROWSMITH: "Sorry, baby, I can't go to the pizza shop with you tonight, I gotta split the atom." This person would be called antisocial or worse. But that's based on a misunderstanding. Someone like that CAN be social, and even extroverted. Witness Roark's lengthy all night chitchats with Steve and Dominique. Or Rand's all nite sessions with the Brandens. But because it's not "small talk" or "mindless partying," these things are not seen as "socially beneficial."



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Post 37

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 9:52amSanction this postReply
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Hmm, interesting standard. Nyet? ; )



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Post 38

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 10:00amSanction this postReply
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This thread is getting so strange!

Most of the people with Asperger's I have worked with have major sensory integration issues...I don't think they are simply showing a preference or choosing to be focused, logical, and self-centered. Imagining for an instant that Ayn Rand had anything like this is very jarring to me - it seems that people with Asperger's generally perceive the world in a very different way - not the way any of us perceive it - and that seems to be at odds with this philosophy. As far as Asperger's and eye gaze, their primary language issue is a complete lack of social-pragmatics skills and frequently they do not make eye contact at all (until, of course, they meet up with an amazing speech pathologist).

Casey, I don't think you would want to have Asperger's. And autistic people don't really act like Rainman :-) I do have symphathy with your idea that some syndrome descriptions are nonsense, but I don't think in most cases it is a "well-considered and chosen philosophical path" - most kids with pervasive developmental disorders (autism, asperger's) are diagnosed at age 3, 4, 5. When kids are 17 and have made the rounds to finally get a diagnoses of some bizarre sequence, then I am more suspicious.




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Post 39

Wednesday, November 23, 2005 - 10:14amSanction this postReply
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Never fear, Ashley,

The thread isn't getting too strange, just testing some ideas rhetorically.

I think it is illustrative that from reading PAR Joe saw the possibility of such a severe syndrome, as you describe it, in Ayn Rand. So much for the grand tribute MSK claims it to be...

I did not mean to downgrade the severity of Aspergers. I was only rhetorically stating that if Rand had it, I want it. (Yuck, yuck.)

But if this syndrome, like other neurological disorders, is debilitating even in early youth, then I think it is safe to say that Rand did not have such a disability. Far from it.

I am a bit suspicious that genius itself, the opposite of disability, might be redefined these days as a form of disability for those who resent the very idea of admiration.




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