(This is intended for Objectivists; if you’re not an Objectivist, you’ll want to skip it.)
I have been traveling, loving life, and in no rush to comment on Onkar Ghate’s March 5, 2022, article, “Of Schisms, Public and Private,” published to the world in “New Ideal.” (Commenting on it is perhaps unnecessary, but the fact that it was written by the “Chief Philosophy Officer” of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) and defames Craig Biddle and me, and discredits Objectivism’s values, prompts me to make a brief response.)
Tal Tsfany, in his introduction to the 20-page article suggests that Onkar spent months, perhaps even a year, writing it. Tal also says it was edited by Harry Binswanger, who is listed as its co-author. Was he really co-author? The thinking and writing seem too poor and disjointed for that to be the case. Tal further claims that he asked ARI’s Board of Directors to approve its publication. I can assure you that ARI’s Board has no say about what Onkar publishes. As the “Chief Philosophy Officer,” he calls such shots. This may be why Tal says only that he “asked” ARI’s board of directors to approve its publication; he does not say they approved it. Did they? I hope not. And I doubt they did. I think Tal asserted this to give the illusion of a united front when, in reality, only a few on the Board would want their names on this.
Onkar and Harry write that the primary goal of the “schisms” piece is “to clarify why we consider Barney’s and Biddle’s accusations to be completely non-objective.” What “accusations”?—they never specify. They say that they “don’t want to refute any specific claims” (why not?), “but to say only enough to make objective why we have dismissed the allegations.” What allegations are they referring to? They do not say. Is that objective? If Craig or I said something untrue or somehow inaccurate, why not simply cite what we said and explain what is wrong with it? This piece is a personal attack, not an evidence-based assessment or evaluation of anything Craig or I have said or written.
I Think Ayn Rand Would Be Furious
Neither Ayn Rand nor Leonard Peikoff ever wrote about or declared “schisms.” The reason is obvious. “Schism” is a religious term, used primarily by Christians to identify splits and factionalization over Christian doctrine. During the Reformation, for example, Protestants and Catholics split over disputes about Christian doctrine. This bleak, puritanical article reminds me of Kant and Savonarola.
The term “schism” is fraught with religious connotations, and it would be tragic if it became associated with Objectivism. Articles such as Onkar and Harry’s will make it so. This is a disservice to Ayn Rand’s philosophy. And it is an embarrassment.
Objectivity Requires Evidence
What are the charges? What exactly did Craig or I say or do that warrants a year-long effort with seminars culminating in a 20-page article condemning us morally? What is the evidence of our alleged malfeasance?
The article contains none. It is a massive floating abstraction, with no relevant concretes or logical arguments supporting its moral condemnations. It swamps the reader with a barrage of irrelevant examples and pseudo-arguments that supposedly support the article’s conclusion but do not. The aim of the piece is to defame Craig and me by insinuating that we are somehow bad and that Objectivists should shun us. Indeed, Harry ranted in an HBL “Meeting of the Minds” (MOTM) phone conference about the article and told his listeners that if they attend or speak at Craig’s conference, TOS-Con, they are “immoral.” I’m told that Harry’s wife, Jean, saw the inanity of Harry’s comment and angrily made him revise it in real time so as not to offend the HBLers who had registered for or were speaking at TOS-Con. Notably, although that MOTM was recorded, it was never posted, as they normally are.
Rather than provide concrete, specific evidence of Craig’s and my alleged malfeasance, Onkar and Harry’s article is a disjointed discussion of relationships and rifts between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford and others—none of which relate to anything that Craig or I have said or done. There are so many fallacies and fabrications in the article that it is painful to read. (For details, see Craig’s response: “Misused Words, Made-Up Rules, Fabricated Evidence, and an Argument from Intimidation.”)
Instead of addressing real issues, Onkar has wasted a huge amount of time and donors’ money in an effort to create a schism. This is where ARI’s donor’s money is going: toward methods and aims that make ARI look like a Christian sect.
Who Went Public First?
Onkar and Harry try to convince readers that Craig and I made this dispute public and that “As a rule, one should be suspicious of the first side that goes public in a private dispute.” As Craig has pointed out in his response, speaking publicly about a private dispute can be and often is perfectly legitimate and morally necessary. For what it’s worth, neither Craig nor I went public first. ARI did. Here is a rough chronology of their initial public acts and Craig’s or my responses to them:
- In 2010, ARI authorized the public release of Leonard’s private email about John McCaskey, which caused a disastrous PR flame war. Yaron, Arlene, and Harry essentially threw Leonard under the bus. Craig wrote a response to that letter.
- The next day, ARI publicly canceled Craig’s publicly announced lectures. Craig posted on Facebook that ARI had done so.
- Shortly thereafter, Onkar (semi-)publicly defamed Craig to 70 OAC students, who were potential affiliates, writers, or partners. Not until ten years later did Craig mention publicly that Onkar had done this.
- In 2018, ARI and The Objective Standard (TOS) wrote a three-part reconciliation agreement and announced it publicly. ARI broke the agreement. I told them I was not going to give them any more money if they did not uphold their agreements. In retaliation, Yaron then gave ARI’s Board an ultimatum: Remove Carl from the Board or he would resign. Yaron made this public.
- I later wrote about these disturbing events to let people know the manner in which I was removed from the Board. (See my articles, “The Truth about Craig Biddle vs. Smears by Some at ARI” and “Response to ARI.”)
- Craig shared my post “The Truth about Craig Biddle vs. Smears by Some at ARI” with TOS’s readers after ARI had reneged on a publicly made agreement with him and TOS, and because TOS’s subscribers were legitimately curious about why the agreement had fallen through. They deserved to know.
- Yaron and other ARI employees and affiliates then publicly attacked me for writing those posts and attacked Craig for sharing them. These attacks included Yaron shamelessly lying about Craig and me on his public podcast, and Don Watkins lying about us in his public posts on Medium and Facebook. (For an indication of the attacks see Craig’s responses, “Onkar Ghate’s Pseudo Reasons and His Responsibility to Give Real Reasons” and “Context Dropping and ‘Arbitrary Tu Quoque’.”)
- In March 2022, Onkar and Harry wrote their “Schisms” piece and posted it publicly on New Ideal. Craig wrote a public response to it in April. I am posting my public response now.
In every instance, ARI went public first. Craig’s and my responses were responses to their initiated public actions.
Why I Stopped Supporting ARI
Some think that I stopped supporting ARI because Yaron and Onkar breached the publicly announced reconciliation agreement with Craig and TOS. That broken agreement was one of a series of broken promises and was just the final straw; but it was not the fundamental dispute.
My break with Yaron (and it was fundamentally with Yaron rather than with ARI) came about when I was giving him about $4 million a year and he wanted more. I said I would give him more, but I wanted to know his strategy for ARI and Objectivism. After painfully frustrating and failed strategic planning meetings, Yaron, in order to persuade me to continue funding ARI, agreed to promote and deliver Leonard’s courses. This was really important to me. But he didn’t keep his word. Yaron obtained millions of dollars from me on a promise he didn’t honor. And he later admitted (orally and in writing) that he wouldn’t promote and deliver Leonard’s courses. He said it was up to me to do it personally if I wanted to. Despite continual efforts to prevent me, I am doing so now. (I’ll write more about this in the coming weeks.)
What is Onkar’s Motivation?
Why did Onkar spend so much time and donor’s money on his shoddy article? What motivates this attack? Only he knows. However, there is credible circumstantial evidence to infer his motivations.
First, his animus to Craig and me (evidence of this can be seen in the articles linked above). But what deeper motives may be driving him? He, like Yaron and some other Board members, is angry that I stopped contributing millions of dollars to ARI. This was very painful for Yaron and for Onkar. (It was also difficult and very painful for me to stop my many years of support and financial contributions to ARI—an organization into which I had poured enormous amounts of thought, time, and money.)
Second, Craig/TOS/OSI are being hugely successful: about 400 people attended TOS-Con this year (he’s shooting for 800 next year!). More than 10 million people have viewed the three PragerU videos that Craig and OSI helped create. These videos resulted in a doubling or tripling of Ayn Rand book sales immediately after each was released. They also have inspired many PragerU listeners to engage with OSI and TOS, to take OSI courses, to subscribe to TOS, and to attend TOS-Con, where they have learned more about Ayn Rand’s ideas. And there are loads more successes and many more in the works. (For an indication, see: Craig’s “Objective Standard Institute’s Fabulous First Year” and his forthcoming report on OSI’s super second year.)
Third, I have been critical of ARI for various reasons concerning their lack of strategy, effectiveness, and measurable, objective results (see, for example, “ARI Is Failing and Needs Our Help); and they do not appreciate critical feedback. (Nor have they ever even attempted to answer the questions I’ve raised.)
Finally, and I suspect this really angers Yaron, Onkar, Tal, and others at ARI: Some former and long-term supporters of ARI have switched some or all of their donations from ARI to OSI. Some are also switching their bequests in their wills from ARI to OSI.
I think these are the main motives behind Onkar and Harry’s defamation campaign and Tal’s and Yaron’s support of it. They seem willing to do whatever they can to defame and derail TOS, OSI, Prometheus Foundation, and both Craig and me personally. But their efforts are not working; they are backfiring. Because of these efforts, ARI is losing credibility and support. Unfortunately, they also are harming the reputation of Objectivism.
Not the First Degradation of Objectivism—But Hopefully the Last
This latest unseemly display, Onkar and Harry’s “Schisms” piece, may end up being the most destructive to the reputation of Objectivism to date. But it is not the first time that Objectivism’s reputation has been seriously damaged. Over the past several decades, the Objectivist community has witnessed many disputes and conflicts, some petty, some serious, but all destructive of the reputation of Ayn Rand’s vital philosophy. These include conflicts involving Harry Binswanger and Peter Schwartz vs. George and Edith Reisman, Peter Schwartz vs. David Kelley, Harry and Peter vs. Leonard, Leonard vs. ARI Board, David Harriman and Onkar vs. John McCaskey, Onkar vs. Craig, Peter Schwartz vs. John Allison, ARI Board vs. John Allison, Yaron vs. me, and many more. It’s all so very sad.
The spectacle of senior Objectivists unable to live in harmony, smearing each other, employing ad hominem and arguments from intimidation, vying for “power,” and divorcing in a huff, is sheer buffoonery. These spats are deeply damaging to ARI, to the Objectivist community, and to the reputation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. They cost you, me, and other Objectivists piece of mind, and rupture working relationships and friendships. And they cause those who are new to Objectivism to wonder: “Is this really Objectivism? Is this what it looks like in practice? Do I want to get involved with a philosophy that leads people to behave this way?” Although people would be mistaken to conclude that Objectivism sanctions such behavior, it is an understandable error.”
Of course, vigorous disagreement and criticism can be objective and sometimes is warranted. But gratuitous yelling back-and-forth in an all-out campaign on HBL, MOTM, YouTube, podcasts, and social media, and defaming people with false or fabricated charges is disgraceful. ARI is not, and should not be, the Onkar Ghate Grievance Institute or the Yaron Brook Battle Institute. But that is what it seems to be becoming.
How Should Disputes Be Handled?
My efforts regarding the dispute resolution process go back to 2015. I said to Yaron and some ARI Board members, “I have a lot of money invested in the success of ARI. Another disruptive conflict, such as the McCaskey affair, could severely damage ARI and my investment as the McCaskey affair did. So, would you agree to a dispute resolution process to head off any further disputes?”
Yaron agreed and said he would make it happen. (This was a condition of my giving him more money.) Over the next few years, I met with two lawyers who were also involved with ARI, Steve Simpson and Larry Salzman (Larry was on ARI’s Board). We met for many hours, attempting to draft a process that would be approved by Yaron. The lawyers and I met, discussed details, drafted versions, critiqued them, and edited them over and over. But ultimately, Yaron and Onkar would not approve them. I tried and tried, for about four years, working with Steve, Larry, Yaron, and others to establish a dispute resolution process. I spent probably between 100 and 200 hours. But nothing came of it.
An effective dispute resolution process involves selecting an impartial mediator or arbitrator, placing the available and relevant facts/evidence on the table for assessment, and discussing the facts and the differences of opinion about them. Such a process could have resolved many of the unseemly public disputes in the Objectivist movement and prevented eruptions that have harmed so many and harmed the reputation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.
Despite years of advocating for a dispute resolution process while I was on the Board, a few people, most notably Yaron and Onkar, pretended to but would not embrace the idea. Why? What about such a process are they afraid of? It is incomprehensible.
Today, Yaron is emphatically against dispute resolution. His position, in effect, is “We don’t need no stinkin’ dispute resolution process.” On his podcast, he parodies the idea as a “Kumbaya” approach, saying: “Kumbaya is boring. Kumbaya is unproductive. We are not Kumbaya. Kumbaya sends all the wrong messages.” What messages does Yaron want to send? Disputes would be exciting, productive, and the right message!? If “Kumbaya” means treating each other with respect and good will and attempting to resolve disputes rationally before they blow up and damage the reputation of Objectivism, count me in. Of course, if it means betraying the principles of Objectivism, I have no interest. But Yaron has embraced a big false alternative: Either treat people as he feels and dictates is correct—or be a compromising sell out. That is ridiculous. The third, morally correct, objective alternative is to go by reason, evidence, and logic—and to establish an effective dispute resolution process. Would that benefit ARI and the Objectivist community? What do you think?
A friend forwarded notes of Yaron’s podcast of November 1, 2020. At 23 minutes in, Ann M. asked a question: “Barney claims you didn’t honor agreements, didn’t create a conflict resolution system. Is that something that should be implemented within Objectivism?”
Yaron answered: “No. I don’t think it should be implemented within Objectivism. I don’t see the purpose of it. It’s cultish [cultish? That’s rich.]. And I’ve always been against it. But, at the same time, I tried to accommodate [Carl’s request]… I tried to do something…”
Yaron said later that all organizations and movements have conflicts, so why should we worry? True, but very few suffer the frequent continuing, unprofessional, disgraceful public disputes that ARI and the Objectivist movement have suffered. And this is mainly because most organizations have effective dispute resolution processes in place to quickly handle conflicts objectively. And they work.
Why does Yaron think of so many as enemies, and how come so many are opposed to him? And why so arrogant, so dogmatically judgmental, about other Objectivists and other organizations? He says that he loves to fight.
What causes these conflicts and disputes? He says that we have so many conflicts and disputes “because we are moralists. We take ethics seriously!” Really? If Yaron were a moralist, he would keep his word (he did not) and he would treat good people who are advancing Ayn Rand’s ideas with justice—including the good will and benevolence they deserve.
Yaron continues: “The idea that I didn’t honor the agreement [for a dispute resolution process] is blatantly false… Blatantly false! [That is a whopper.] So, now, I don’t want to litigate that. You can ask me specific questions if you’re interested. Like, ‘should there be a conflict resolution system in Objectivism’—whatever the hell that means!” Yaron, everyone in the business world knows what “conflict resolution” means. You included. Pretending otherwise is childish and evasive.
Leonard Peikoff and Conflict Resolution:
Leonard certainly understands what conflict resolution means—and he advocates the process. At OCON in Tahoe City (1999), Leonard was furious with Harry and some on the ARI Board and threatened to denounce Harry publicly from the OCON stage. This would have been disastrous! I frantically spoke to the Board and several others I thought could persuade Leonard to participate in a mediation or arbitration session to resolve the dispute. I was told emphatically that Leonard would never agree to it. Never! Ever! Well, Leonard did agree to it.
I (along with John Allison) conducted an arbitration session with Leonard and Harry (with Harriman and others in attendance), and the outcome was that a massive disruption to OCON and the Objectivist community was avoided. At the end, Leonard graciously apologized to Harry (the problem was caused by David Harriman, who had lied to Leonard), and Harry and Leonard went on to amicably discuss their differences. They left at that time as friends.
At another time, Leonard initiated a mediation between Yaron and me (over the broken agreements). Yaron was reluctant. A brief initial start was made at my home with Leonard mediating. Unfortunately, Leonard got distracted with other matters, and with Yaron moving to Puerto Rico, the mediation was not conducted. What a shame.
Leonard believes in such a process. Yaron, however, does not.
If ARI’s donors want disputes to be resolved before they blow up and harm individuals, ARI, and the reputation of Objectivism, they should speak up and demand that ARI develop and implement an effective dispute resolution process. If none speak up, there will be more harmful disputes and conflicts (such as the current one) which will continue to harm ARI and the reputation of Objectivism.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below. And please forward this post to other Objectivists who may be interested.