Peter Schwartz wrote in a forum, among many of my friends, colleagues, and associates, that he has “no objection to someone who criticizes ARI’s policies or strategies,” but that I’ve gone too far. I’ve been criticizing ARI over the last several months, and he says I’ve engaged in “smears and half-truths.” He makes two claims in this regard: First, he says that I wrote that “Yaron Brook, on his show, said that no one who supports or votes for Trump could call himself an Objectivist. Yet [I] had to know, since Yaron made it very clear, that he was referring, not to those who reluctantly vote for Trump, but to those who enthusiastically embrace him and ignore his significant failings.” I had to know?! How? I don’t listen to Yaron’s podcast. I receive reports from his listeners. Based on a report (which I verified by listening to that awful section), what I actually wrote was:
One prominent ARI Objectivist stridently asserted that you cannot be an Objectivist if you support Donald Trump… Unknown [to Yaron] was the fact that Leonard Peikoff, the world’s most prominent living Objectivist, supported and even contributed to Trump.
Compare this to what Peter wrote. Was he accurate? This is the transcription from Yaron’s podcast that was sent to me:
Those of you who are apologists for Donald Trump, please never use the word “Objectivism” to associate it with yourself. Because you cannot be Objectivists—you are not Objectivists [this was practically shouted at the audience]… You’re the fifth-column within Objectivism. You all will destroy Objectivism. And it will ultimately be on you if America declines, if America disappears, if America succumbs to either the whackos of the left or the whackos of the right.
Those were Yaron’s words. What I said was accurate, not a “smear” or “half-truth.” He accused Trump supporters of being enemies who are going to “destroy Objectivism.”
As Ayn Rand wrote, “definitions are the guardians of rationality.” What is the definition of “apologist?” I provided it in my post:
An apologist is a person who offers an argument in defense of something controversial. Is it controversial to support Trump? Yes, to some. Is it controversial to say he is less bad than Biden? Perhaps, to some. Does holding one of these positions make you a sell-out who doesn’t deserve to call himself an Objectivist? Does it make you a fifth-column within Objectivism—an enemy of Objectivism? Yaron says, yes, it does.
Then I cited what Leonard had to say:
It’s not surprising that Leonard Peikoff responded as follows: “The one [issue] that galls me the most is his [Yaron’s] statement on the radio that anyone who sympathizes or votes for Trump is not an Objectivist. So, he is implicitly declaring that my life work is not by an Objectivist, but his is.”
So Leonard also got the impression that Yaron was clearly saying that you’re not an Objectivist if you sympathize with or vote for Trump.
Leonard wrote to me that he was “steaming” about Yaron’s comments regarding Trump, and also publicly declared at his Zoom birthday party:
I am voting for Trump. That’s it! I heard somebody say: “No Objectivist would vote for Trump,” and I’m still steaming over that. So I’m trying to publicize the fact that whoever said that is crazy.
I wonder if Peter would say “[Leonard] had to know!” and that Leonard was smearing Yaron with half-truths.
I then concluded my post with: “Whose thinking should you follow—Yaron’s or Leonard’s? Neither. You should think for yourself.”
Clearly, what I wrote was accurate, not a “smear” or a “half-truth.” Peter, I ask you to correct or withdraw your claims.
Only after Yaron became aware of Leonard’s displeasure (and after losing donors’ money)—and without making an apology—did he say that he really didn’t mean what he said but was only “referring, not to those who reluctantly vote for Trump [as Leonard and Harry did], but to those who enthusiastically embrace him and ignore his significant failings” (emphasis added). I don’t think that any rational person could possibly ignore Mr. Trump’s many “significant failings.”
Peter makes another claim: Onkar conducted a phone meeting with Objectivist Academic Center (OAC) students (during the McCaskey imbroglio) to inform them of the reasons that Craig Biddle was not going to be speaking at a lecture tour on behalf of ARI. This time, Peter cites accurately what I wrote:
When students asked him to specify what about Craig’s statement was wrong, Onkar did not give reasons, explanations, or evidence in support of his assertion. He just repeated: “It’s garbage.”
Peter does not include what I wrote next, which was:
This did not satisfy independent-minded OAC students. Several of the brightest quit as a result. Onkar was frustrated and furious. He reacted by denouncing Craig as “immoral,” saying “Craig doesn’t understand Objectivism,” and by making the policy that ARI would no longer work with Craig or promote his work.
Onkar created an unnecessary schism between TOS and ARI to the detriment of both organizations (and thus the advancement of Objectivism). Peter does not seem to know what Onkar said at the OAC meeting. Here is the key portion of the transcript in which Onkar addressed what Craig wrote about the McCaskey affair:
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.
Are those reasons or rationalistic, floating notions? Would you accept them as reasons?
Peter cites Don Watkins’s post relating to this issue, in which Don claims that Onkar did give the OAC students reasons. But Don (who apparently speaks for Yaron and Onkar) got it wrong; he did not recall the events accurately. In reply to Don’s claims, Craig shared the full portion of the transcript in which Onkar addressed these issues, making it clear that Don’s recollection of Onkar giving reasons was false. Don then withdrew from the field.
Peter is a skilled polemicist, so I’m surprised that he failed to quote me correctly. He wasn’t quoting something I said but something I wrote, and he clearly had the writing in front of him. I’m also surprised that he failed to look into the veracity of Don’s claims before agreeing with them. He called Don a “highly credible source.” That clearly was not the case.
(Why are Peter, Don, and others having to speak on these matters at all? Why doesn’t Onkar simply speak up and say, “Here’s why I was right…,” or, “Hey, look, I made a mistake…”?)
I am deeply disturbed and distressed by these unseemly disputes and the hostility and infighting. And from emails and comments, I know you, too, are sickened by it. I have no interest in continuing this debate with ARI. But I did not start it. ARI did. And I am not the cause of its continuation. ARI is. I wrote The Truth About Craig Biddle vs. Smears by Some at ARI only after I discovered that Yaron had defamed me and Craig in an effort to turn Leonard Peikoff against us to stop us from publishing and promoting Leonard’s courses. That was beyond the pale. I decided I had to speak up.
If this nonsense continues—if my or Craig’s efforts to promote Objectivism and Ayn Rand continue to be undermined by anyone through any means, including attempts to poison Leonard against Craig or myself—then I will take every action necessary to combat it, including legal action. To the parties involved: Please understand this and stop any further smears or attacks on me (or on Craig Biddle). If you cease and desist, I will have nothing more to refute and nothing more to say, which would make me happy.
A concluding question for readers: When someone makes an evidence-based criticism of a person or an organization in the Objectivist community, should that be condemned as “an attack” or a “smear?” Or is it legitimate, rational discourse according to the Objectivist ethics? I’d like to know your opinion.