Stephen Speicher

Response To Charges Against THE FORUM

367 posts in this topic

On Harry Binswanger's List, Robert Mayhew tried to justify his refusal to answer a member's question on Ancient Greece by blaming and attacking THE FORUM.

Unfortunately, I'm reluctant to discuss these issues further. My essay is being "discussed" on a dubious Objectivish internet forum, where dusting off a copy of W.T. Jones and doing a Google search on Thales are considered adequate substitutes for erudition (and where reading the essay under discussion is optional). I do not wish even to appear to be contributing to such a discussion (however indirectly), so for the time being, at least, I cannot answer any questions related to this subject (even good questions, like Michelle Cohen's).

In response, I sent the following post to HBL.

Dr. Mayhew wrote that his

> essay is being "discussed" on a dubious Objectivish internet forum,

> where dusting off a copy of W.T. Jones and doing a Google search

> on Thales are considered adequate substitutes for erudition (and

> where reading the essay under discussion is optional).

Dr. Mayhew is referring to the discussion of his essay on THE FORUM for Ayn Rand Fans. In that discussion, some members support Dr. Mayhew's position, while others -- my husband Stephen Speicher especially -- question the historical accuracy of some of Dr. Mayhew's citations and point to fallacies in Dr. Mayhew's argument.

Rather than take Dr. Mayhew on faith, I urge any HBLer interested in this controversy to read Dr. Mayhew's essay and then read Stephen's posts critiquing it at

http://tinyurl.com/yuqqbz

and

http://tinyurl.com/2nohqk

and

http://tinyurl.com/2p2cv8

Then you will be able to decide for yourself, who has their facts straight, who is arguing properly, and whether Dr. Mayhew's characterization of THE FORUM as "dubious," "Objectivish," with "substitutes for erudition" is accurate or grossly unjust.

As of this writing, my reply has not been posted to HBL.

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Referencing Mayhew's attack of THE FORUM on HBL (see Betsy's post above) and another recent e-mail attack, I posted the following response on the Rob Tracinski on "What Went Right?" thread.

Presently, I want to add only this to the conversation:

I applaud Stephen Speicher's courageous stand in speaking publicly about the manner in which Tracinski's essay - and the man himself - has been criticized. Right or wrong, Tracinksi's views deserve to be discussed without any attached invective. It's regrettable that Stephen's stand should need to be courageous, but there it is.

The one thing that is, sadly, too frequently absent in discussions among too many Objectivists is objectivity, yet it ought to be utterly commonplace. It is this characteristic that Stephen brings to all his posts, as do many others on this forum.

Bravo, Stephen.

Belatedly,

Jeff Perren

Thank you, Jeff. I'm grateful for your support.

Right now Betsy and I feel as Ayn Rand did when she said, "I'm not brave enough to be a coward -- I see the consequences too clearly." Because we know we are right, it makes it easy for us to speak up publicly and openly state the facts and the reasons that led us to our conclusions and trust that reasonable people will evaluate us on that.

We are well aware that there are those who would like Objectivists to unquestioningly take them on faith and hate those who won't, but they don't dare say that publicly. Some are cowards who give pseudo-reasons for their hatred and then refuse to answer questions about their attacks. Then there are those who spread rumors and smears behind the scenes, like the well-known intellectual who sent letters to other Objectivist intellectuals attacking THE FORUM, calling Betsy and me rationalistic imbeciles, and saying that I was bolstering my "pseudo-self-esteem through finding errors in the writings of his intellectual superiors." (I am not making this up!)

With opposition like that, courage is easy.

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I think I've had one post deleted and it was clearly explained why it was deleted with good reasons. From all my experience on this Forum, Stephen has always tried to have discussion and disagreements focus on objective ideas and facts. I've neither seen him allow personal attacks nor make any himself.

That's all I have to say in this post, because anything more would just be mere speculation on people's motivations, which I know Stephen would (justifiably) delete. ;)

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Referencing Mayhew's attack of THE FORUM on HBL (see Betsy's post above) and another recent e-mail attack, I posted the following response on the Rob Tracinski on "What Went Right?" thread.

......

We are well aware that there are those who would like Objectivists to unquestioningly take them on faith and hate those who won't, but they don't dare say that publicly. Some are cowards who give pseudo-reasons for their hatred and then refuse to answer questions about their attacks. Then there are those who spread rumors and smears behind the scenes, like the well-known intellectual who sent letters to other Objectivist intellectuals attacking THE FORUM, calling Betsy and me rationalistic imbeciles, and saying that I was bolstering my "pseudo-self-esteem through finding errors in the writings of his intellectual superiors." (I am not making this up!)

With opposition like that, courage is easy.

If anything, you were reluctant to accept what Tracinski wrote, until you investigated further. I for one am delighted to see Objectivist thinking in action here on the Forum. By that I mean that the essence of Objectivist thinking isn't so much as always being right, as always using reason to question existing beliefs. As soon as the high priests ask one to defer to their wisdom, they do themselves more harm than good. As long as the Forum is open to sincere questioning, it will not be "Objectivish", but truly Objectivist. As long as you are happy with your conclusions, their opinions are just that. Truth is not reserved for the elite. Keep your chin up. ;)

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If anything, you were reluctant to accept what Tracinski wrote, until you investigated further. I for one am delighted to see Objectivist thinking in action here on the Forum. By that I mean that the essence of Objectivist thinking isn't so much as always being right, as always using reason to question existing beliefs.

It's always using reason to question, accept, reject, understand, or learn. It is always using reason, period.

As soon as the high priests ask one to defer to their wisdom, they do themselves more harm than good. As long as the Forum is open to sincere questioning, it will not be "Objectivish", but truly Objectivist. As long as you are happy with your conclusions, their opinions are just that. Truth is not reserved for the elite.

Thank you for your understanding and support, Arnold. I note your focus on the need for first-handed thinking, a notion that you, I, and many other FORUM members value and employ. You are certainly right about the harm those who would have us "defer to their wisdom" can do.

Yet others would disagree, like that behind-the-scenes letter writer who claimed my "finding errors in the writings of his intellectual superiors" [emphasis added] means I have a psychological problem.

Also, Tore Boeckmann, in an 4/29/05 post to HBL, criticized THE FORUM (like Mayhew, without naming it) thusly:

Even excluding the obviously pseudo-Objectivist ones, these groups [internet discussion forums] are characterized by a low level of understanding. There is more rhetorical posturing than actual thought. Innocently ignorant "newbies" who come with reasonable questions are often answered very misleadingly (or even met with ridicule) by pretentious self-proclaimed "experts" on Ayn Rand's philosophy.

Instead Boeckmann recommended:

The effective way to understand Objectivism lies in instruction from an expert, followed by private cogitation. One can learn from books (starting with Ayn Rand's), lectures, classes -- and from "discussions" if a genuine authority is in charge.

Here is a different view

Who "decides" what is the right way to make an automobile, to cure an illness or to live one's life? Any man who cares to acquire the appropriate knowledge and to judge, at and for his own risk and sake. What is his criterion of judgment? Reason. What is his ultimate frame-of-reference? Reality. If he errs or evades, who penalizes him? Reality.[Emphasis added.]

Any man who uses reason and whose frame-of-reference is reality possesses the key to understanding Objectivism -- or anything. Those who would have us defer to "intellectual superiors" and "genuine authorities" instead of reason and reality, are dead wrong.

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-----------

Any man who uses reason and whose frame-of-reference is reality possesses the key to understanding Objectivism -- or anything. Those who would have us defer to "intellectual superiors" and "genuine authorities" instead of reason and reality, are dead wrong.

I think some clarification is needed on this. When learning a subject, being taught by an expert in the field is a very effective way to learn, and then go and think about the issues. But to denigrate a discussion forum for not being the most effective way to learn Objectivism, is, in my opinion, a straw man. Is there anyone here who actually thinks that it is more effective to learn about Objectivism in a discussion group rather than to read what Ayn Rand or Leonard Peikoff actually wrote about the subject? A discussion group is simply a way to discuss ideas among a variety of people, many with whom one may disagree to various degrees. It is a way of clarifying and checking one's ability to express the ideas one has learned from experts.

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Here is a different view

Any man who uses reason and whose frame-of-reference is reality possesses the key to understanding Objectivism -- or anything. Those who would have us defer to "intellectual superiors" and "genuine authorities" instead of reason and reality, are dead wrong.

Once again I thank you, Stephen, for the clarity of your statement. I could not agree with you more and am truly appalled even by the use of such language as "intellectual superiors" and "genuine authorities" (and all this latter, in particular, implies) by any person, let alone any Objectivist. I'm further appalled and deeply saddened that individuals like you, Betsy and the participants of this Forum, who ARE actively engaged in using their minds precisely to understand and to know, could be the objects of what I view as wholly unwarranted and ultimately counterproductive attacks.

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Any man who uses reason and whose frame-of-reference is reality possesses the key to understanding Objectivism -- or anything. Those who would have us defer to "intellectual superiors" and "genuine authorities" instead of reason and reality, are dead wrong.

100% right. And I've never heard anyone use terms like "intellectual superiors" without implicitly applying it to themselves. I can't imagine Ayn Rand using such a tern to describe herself.

What's more, the issue isn't learning from experts vs. open discussion among rational students. The real issue is having to take the expert's opinion without question or debate.

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Here is a different view
Who "decides" what is the right way to make an automobile, to cure an illness or to live one's life? Any man who cares to acquire the appropriate knowledge and to judge, at and for his own risk and sake. What is his criterion of judgment? Reason. What is his ultimate frame-of-reference? Reality. If he errs or evades, who penalizes him? Reality.[Emphasis added.]
See also my signature.

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I will try to find something substantive in that post and respond, eventually.

One allegation is that we are in "clear violation of HBL policies." I have always asked for permission in reproducing an entire post, but thought that extracting a few sentences was fair use. In fact, we may have unintentionally acted against HBL policy in reproducing a few sentences from two HBL posts. I don't remember that being in the original agreement many years ago when HBL started.

We have written to Harry about it. We certainly do not want to violate the HBL policies, and we want to do the right thing.

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Stephen,

You are truly an inspiration to me. Your drive for moral excellence, your quest for truth, your insistence upon justice, all instill within me an immense desire to praise and emulate you. I find the forum to be a wonderful place, a perfect example and proof of your proud and bountifully joyous spirit.

Thank you for giving me such a gift, and thank you for being such an inspiration.

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I have to say that reading Diana Hsieh's smug commentary on her blog reminds me of why I never believed her "reform" after literally years of her avid support of explicit enemies of Objectivism. There are those interested in the truth of a matter, and then there are those who seem to think that intellectuality is some social game that relates to who you faithfully support regardless of facts and reasons. I am reminded of one of Betsy's many insightful comments: people get the friends and enemies that they deserve. And so it is with DH's newfound clique, in both directions.

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I have to say that reading Diana Hsieh's smug commentary on her blog reminds me of why I never believed her "reform" after literally years of her avid support of explicit enemies of Objectivism. There are those interested in the truth of a matter, and then there are those who seem to think that intellectuality is some social game that relates to who you faithfully support regardless of facts and reasons. I am reminded of one of Betsy's many insightful comments: people get the friends and enemies that they deserve. And so it is with DH's newfound clique, in both directions.

No kidding. :D

Diana's comments:

...For some weeks now, I've been enormously disgusted by those attacks...To attack his scholarship, particularly in the manner done by Stephen Speicher, is simply beyond the pale.

During the election debate last fall, I resolved never to post on The Forum again in light of the attacks on Leonard Peikoff, myself, and others. (I asked Stephen to delete my account; I didn't even wish to be counted as one of the "users" thereof.) I wanted nothing further to do with either Betsy or Stephen Speicher, but I hoped the discussions on the Forum wouldn't be quite so vitriolic after the election. That was clearly a false hope. The recent attacks on Robert and Tore showed that Objectivist intellectuals -- particularly those critical of Robert Tracinksi's views -- will be savaged by the Speichers, however flimsy the grounds. To add insult to injury, such attacks would occur under the banner of a "Forum for Ayn Rand Fans."

In my view, such a forum clearly deserves to be boycotted by anyone with a respect for the facts, let alone by anyone with respect for the Objectivist intellectuals targeted by the Speichers.

...

Moreover, in this case, the Speichers' actions have put the Objectivist intellectuals under attack in a serious bind, in that they have no proper place in which to respond to the criticisms. It would not be appropriate to clutter up HBL with responses to posts from The Forum, particularly not if those responses might also be publicly quoted and criticized out-of-context. Nor should other Objectivist forums (like ObjectivismOnline) be dragged into such debates. Yet it would be sanction of the victim for the intellectuals under attack to enter into debate on the Speichers' Forum, particularly when subject to Stephen's heavy-handed moderation. What would need to be said -- namely something akin to Tore's essay above -- could not be said.

...

Undoubtedly, my decision to post Tore's essay will engender further attacks on both of us on The Forum. That's hardly new for me: I learned to endure that kind of vicious behavior from once-friendly people when I left TOC. That's precisely why I'm so determined to now defend the integrity of Objectivist intellectuals unjustly maligned -- and why I think The Forum deserved to be boycotted.

How do people get so twisted up into unfounded dramatics like this?

Where are these dreaded 'attacks', and since when has Stephen's sharp standards on Forum decency become some kind of Czarist intellectual oppression?

The real bizarre thing is that the people wailing about these 'attacks' are really the ones doing all the unfounded attacking, by reacting harshly to any and all criticism. :)

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I've tried to come up with a civil response to Diana's and Tore's post, but it really speaks for itself.

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I've tried to come up with a civil response to Diana's and Tore's post, but it really speaks for itself.

Actually, there is one thing I want to say.

In the sciences there is lots of room for disagreement. The smartest guy in the room will concede when presented with the facts. But for some who make a Big Deal out of claiming to uphold reason, individualism, and objectivity, the first reaction to any dissent is to take it personally. For them it is a personal affront and an attack to question their thinking.

How ironic to see self-declared experts on this most objective of philosophies to behave in such a poor manner. But it is clear to the firsthanders involved what their behavior indicates, and there really is nothing more to add.

Look at the facts. Look at who turned issues of facts, theory and applications into one of personal vendettas.

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That article is what is passing for "genuine authority" in Objectivism nowadays?! I admit OPAR was the last Objectivist work I read or listened to (I don't have any interest in the lesser players after Peikoff). But this stuff is pure rubbish.

1. Boackmann accuses Mr. Speicher of relying on authority in the person of, A.A. Mosshammer, but only after waiting a couple of paragraphs after doing it himself with Jonathan Barnes.

2. How it is possible to get subjectivism and anti-intellectualism (and apparently it is obvious) out of Mr. Speicher's statement (I hope you don't mind me quoting it)

"Any man who uses reason and whose frame-of-reference is reality possesses the key to understanding Objectivism--or anything. Those who would have us defer to 'intellectual superiors' and 'genuine authorities' instead of reason and reality, are dead wrong."

is beyond me.

3. Because the referenced article by Mosshammer is the third hit in a Google search, that must by where Mr. Speicher got it. Ah, yes, he does say "presumably" at first, but it quickly becomes established fact later. Later, presumably after you forget he has established no evidence that this is true. Of course, he did go through the trouble of putting in a link to the article for the reader to try. If that is to establish his claim, then I guess proof is a very simple matter indeed. And arbitrary.

4. Apparently Mr. Broakmann has direct access to the contents of Mr. Speicher's mind (I tried this once because I was interested in learning a little physics, but I was blasted by a cerebral firewall!), and of Mr. Mayhew's (of whom I know nothing).

Hence the following from Mr Broakmann:

Now, there is a large scholarly controversy over this matter, of which Speicher knows nothing and Mayhew knows everything.

Here is my favorite from the whole essay betraying the article top to bottom:

Objectivity demands that if you are only barely familiar with a field, you do not criticize, question, pontificate to or write about distinguished authorities (i.e., experts) in that field without, at the very least in some manner of form, taking the difference of knowledge into account.

I have no idea what his definition of "barely familiar" is, but the authoritative "shut up" is right up front. I mean do I have to disclaim any observation I make by giving an inventory of what is in my mind, or should I let the authority assume the level in my stead? If Kant were alive now, would I have to stipulate that my view that we do perceive reality as it really is, is without import because he is recognized as an authority in philosophy while I schlep booze?

The rest of that article slips embarrassingly into an emotional tantrum.

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------------

How do people get so twisted up into unfounded dramatics like this?

-----

It's from being rationalistic. Someone latches on to one statement that one disagrees with, and rather than looking at the facts of the disagreement one asks oneself why such an attack took place (since, in the opinion of the rationalistic person, the attack is unjustified.) One then deduces the reasons for the attack by attributing motivations to the attacker. These motivations may be psychological or philosophical. In either case, there is no concrete evidence that such motivations are present in the attacker. The motivations must be present, according to the rationalist, because what else would explain such unjustified attacks? Once the entire structure of the argument is established, alleged facts are brought into play to support the rationalistic argument. At that point, others begin to argue over the alleged facts without realizing that the entire argument is floating in air.

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It's from being rationalistic. Someone latches on to one statement that one disagrees with, and rather than looking at the facts of the disagreement one asks oneself why such an attack took place (since, in the opinion of the rationalistic person, the attack is unjustified.) One then deduces the reasons for the attack by attributing motivations to the attacker. These motivations may be psychological or philosophical. In either case, there is no concrete evidence that such motivations are present in the attacker. The motivations must be present, according to the rationalist, because what else would explain such unjustified attacks? Once the entire structure of the argument is established, alleged facts are brought into play to support the rationalistic argument. At that point, others begin to argue over the alleged facts without realizing that the entire argument is floating in air.

There is one more point that needs to be brought out. The reason that the rationalist brings the issue of motivation into the argument is to divert the argument away from the facts or issues under disagreement. And this has nothing to do with the truth of falsity of the original issues. Thus, the issue is no longer the truth of what Mayhew said about Tracinski's argument, or about what Speicher said about Boeckmann's argument. The issue becomes tranformed into defending "the integrity of Objectivist intellectuals unjustly maligned." The rationalist ignores the fact that no one has been maligned.

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There is one more point that needs to be brought out. The reason that the rationalist brings the issue of motivation into the argument is to divert the argument away from the facts or issues under disagreement. And this has nothing to do with the truth of falsity of the original issues. Thus, the issue is no longer the truth of what Mayhew said about Tracinski's argument, or about what Speicher said about Boeckmann's argument. The issue becomes tranformed into defending "the integrity of Objectivist intellectuals unjustly maligned." The rationalist ignores the fact that no one has been maligned.

Paul, I enjoyed reading your critique. Excellent. Thanks for posting.

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Paul, I enjoyed reading your critique. Excellent. Thanks for posting.

Your welcome. The last sentence of mine needs to be expanded for the sake of preciseness. It should read, "The rationalist ignores the fact that "Objectivist intellectuals" was not the topic under discussion; the rationalist ignores the fact that the integrity of anyone was discussed; the rationalist ignores the fact that no one's integrity was maligned."

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One allegation is that we are in "clear violation of HBL policies." I have always asked for permission in reproducing an entire post, but thought that extracting a few sentences was fair use. In fact, we may have unintentionally acted against HBL policy in reproducing a few sentences from two HBL posts. I don't remember that being in the original agreement many years ago when HBL started.

We have written to Harry about it. We certainly do not want to violate the HBL policies, and we want to do the right thing.

Harry Binswanger has informed us that we were not in violation of the stated HBL policies.

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