Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Biggest Bomb Yet.

Box Office Mojo reports on Atlas Shrugged III's opening weekend:
The three-part adaptation of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged ended with a whimper this weekend. Opening at 242 theaters, Atlas Shrugged Part III: Who Is John Galt? bombed with just $461,179*. In comparison, the first two movies each opened above $1.68 million. To be fair, the second outing opened at over 1,000 theaters, and both previous movies had more marketing/publicity ahead of their launches.
Ultimately, the entire three-part endeavor will likely wind up with less than $10 million at the domestic box office (and not a whole lot overseas as well). The troubled production history is surely to blame for some of this—the cast changed with each installment—though it does call in to question whether the novel is as popular as it's perceived to be.
Never fear, the business masterplan will be to cream it on the merch!


Friday, May 16, 2014

Surprise Defection from the Peikoff and ARI

This is actually somewhat old news (several months old), but apparently there's been a rather startling defection from the ARI/Peikoff/Orthodox wing of Objectivism. This isn't so much as an excommunication as a pure defection, and from an entirely unexpected source. Dave Harriman, Peikoff's most prominent philosophical protege and virtual co-author of The Logical Leap, has defected from the ARI to TAS, from Peikoff to David Kelley. I have no idea why Harriman defected. Usually, there are personal reasons for splits of this sort, which are masked with philosophical ones. Apparantly, Harriman and Peikoff have not been on speaking terms for last year or so. Beyond that we know nothing and are not likely ever knowing much more than that, as it looks Peikoff and ARI are going to be silent on this one, since it's obviously a defection that places them in a very awkward position. They cannot, after all, turn Harriman into a complete non-person, since Harriman, rather than Peikoff himself, wrote the book which introduced Peikoff's theory of induction to the world. That book won't be disappearing from ARI book shelves any time soon, regardless of what Peikoff may privately think of Harriman. My guess is that this weakens the orthodox faction over at ARI, and makes Peikoff and the old guard look out of touch and even irrelevant to many within the Objectivist movement.

Those of us who are outsiders and critics of Objectivism have always regarded Harriman some suspicion, not only for his close ties with Peikoffian orthodoxy, but for his rather eccentric views on physics. Kelley's version of Objectivism has always sought to make Rand's ideas as intellectual respectable as possible. Will Harriman's views on modern physics soften now that he has thrown over the incubus of Peikofian orthodoxy? Hard to say. But his first scheduled talks for the Atlas Society have nothing to do with physics.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Attack of the Overzealous Spam Filter!

Apologies are due to a number of commenters here. Looking back on the blog's spam filter I see a number of comments from genuine writers have been caught inadvertently. 
There's not huge numbers - maybe 10-15 over the past couple of years. I've reverted them back, probably too late now, however. Once again, my apologies.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Future of Objectivism 8

Peikoff's Legacy. How will Leonard Peikoff be remembered by future Objectivists? Will even the orthodox remember him all that fondly? Will he continue to be influential? Rand's most steadfast and controversial protoge casts a long shadow over orthodox followers of Ayn Rand. His legacy is definitely of the questionable, perhaps even dubious, variety. While he exhibited some skills as a teacher, lecturer, and expositor of Objectivist orthodoxy, whenever he attempted to stray from the Randian straight and narrow, and take flight on his own intellectual steam, the consequences were often deeply embarrasing. The man simply has very little in the way of independent judgment. Couple this with an over-sensitivity to criticism and a deep-seated distrust of anyone who refuses to defer to even his most outlandish ideas, and you have the perfect recipe for the paranoid idealogue, seperated from the world by his own political and moral delusions. His apologists describe him as a man who does not well suffer fools; which is an overly kind way of saying that Peikoff is not a nice man.

Peikoff's legacy consists of four parts: the intellectual, the institutional, the personal, and the cultural. Let's examine each in turn.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Future of Objectivism 7

John McCaskey, the candid Objectivist. Whereas many Objectivists, especially from the older generation, come off as a bit insular and even paranoid, McCaskey seems more open and engaging. He teaches part time at Stanford, and is well-liked by his students. He writes a blog, where he invites comments and even (sometimes) responds in a civil manner. There can be little doubt that evangelizing for the Objectivist cause means a big deal to McCaskey. He's a true believer in the Randian cause. But the way he goes about evangelizing his ideological preferences seems far more reasonable and inoffensive than what we've been accustomed to at the hands of Peikoff, Schwartz, Binswanger, and even Rand herself. Unlike those Objectivist luminaries, McCaskey is not offended when people disagree with him; nor does he automatically equate criticism with a personal attack. He seems to understand, what so many older orthodox Objectivists fail to grasp, that you don't win converts by displaying contempt for the people you disagree with.

McCaskey made a good deal money in the computer business. He then went back to school to get a Ph.D. in history. Presumably, he should have been perfect ARI board member. He had money, he had the credentials, he shared an obvious passion for Rand and her ideas, and he wanted to teach. What more could be wanted by the folks over at the institute? Well, there was a fly in the ointment; a tragic flaw, if you will, that would lead to McCaskey's fall from grace over at ARI. And I suspect it goes well beyond merely disagreeing with Harriman and Peikoff over a few points of historical scholarship. When Peikoff described McCaskey as "an obnoxious braggart" and "pretentious ignoramus," Ayn Rand's heir clearly exaggerated. But if you read McCaskey's blog, you  may detect an element of truth behind Peikoff's exaggerations. Peikoff likely had reasons beyond McCaskey's criticisms of Harriman for his histrionic denunciations of the former ARI board member. Indeed, I would not be surprised if the McCaskey's Harriman criticisms were merely the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. While calling McCaskey an obnoxious braggart and pretentious ignoramus is clearly over the top, McCaskey does exhibit just that sort of breezy self-confidence as an expositor of Randian ideology that could easily exasperate the over-protective, thin-skinned Peikoff. In his infamous "ultimatum" letter, Peikoff described McCaskey's criticism as saying, "in essence, Peikoff is misguided , Harriman is misguided, [McCaskey] knows Objectivism better than either." At the time, Peikoff's criticism struck many ARI critics as unjustifiable hyperbole stemming from an over-sensitivity to criticism. But if, as I suspect, McCaskey had, during his tenure on the ARI board, been riffing on Objectivism like he riffs on his blog, I can see how that would get on Peikoff's nerves. Riffing has always been a problem for orthodox Objectivism. Objectivism mostly appeals to high school and college students. While some of these students are content to follow an orthodox path, the more bolder nascent Objectivists often irrepressible desire to "improve" Objectivism in some way or another. It is likely that Peikoff, over the years, has received scores of emails from pretentious, sometimes even belligerent and nasty college students offering "improved" versions of the Randian creed. This sort of thing was never welcomed by Rand, and it certainly would not have been welcomed by Peikoff. McCaskey's riffs may seem, to those of us who are outsiders, as mild and inoffensive. They most deal with semantic issues (i.e, with how Objectivist arguments are worded) rather than posing any serious challenge to orthodoxy. But any sort of changes, even if merely to the phrasing of arguments, would constitute a challenge to Peikoff's authority as the most qualified interpreter of Objectivism. Over the years, Peikoff has guarded his position as the supreme authority on Randian doctrine with an intense, paranoid jealousy.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Future of Objectivism 6

John Allison IV, the sociable Objectivist. Although Yaron Brook is generally seen as a protege of Leonard Peikoff, there is another man who, I suspect, has also exercised a great influence on Brook: namely, John Allison. If Brook's energy hearkens back to Nathaniel Branden, Allison's practicality and business success suggests parallels to Alan Greenspan. In terms of basic disposition, Greenspan and Allison are poles apart. Greenspan is introverted, reserved, enigmatic; Allison affable, charming, gregarious. What they share is an ability, not all that common among hard core Objectivists, to get on in the world of business. They have social skills that other prominent Objectivists lack. They come off as having a real understanding of other people as autonomous individuals, with sentiments, points-of-view, and ideals uniquely their own. Leonard Peikoff, along with many of other orthodox Objectivist luminaries over at ARI, seem completely oblivious, even indifferent, to the social world around them. They are unable to relate in any meaningful way to the non-Objectivist world. They are insular, narrow-minded, aloof, narcissistic. It can be uncomfortable watching them engage in interviews with non-Objectivists. In terms of social awareness, they can seem, at times, semi-autistic.

Last year I heard Allison pump his book, The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure, on the Dennis Prager show. While Allison didn't say anything particularly new, striking or original, he nonetheless made a good impression. He was warm and friendly, and he tailored his message to Prager's audience, emphasizing points of agreement and skillfully avoiding anything that might arouse hostility. When Prager challenged him on Rand's atheism, he merely acknowledged that Rand didn't believe in God and left it at that, thereby avoiding a fight which would only have served to alienate his audience and entangle him in a debate with a skillful adversary.
I suspect that his years in business encouraged Alison to learn how to seek points of agreement with other people. That's how one succeeds in business and politics. That's not, however, how Objectivists have typical strived to succeed. Instead of finding points in common, Objectivists, following Rand's example, often seek for points of disagreement. Rand was the model for this sort of behavior. She was constantly ferreting out sources of disagreement, particularly among potential allies. She had a penchant for taking positions that alienated other free market advocates on the right. She antagonized and/or quarrelled with Leonard Read, Rose Wilder Lane, Ludwig von Mises, Whitaker Chambers, John Hospers and Murray Rothbard among others; and she maintained a lifelong contempt for Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, because neither were quite "pure" enough in their advocacy of the free market. Her shrill denouncements of libertarianism were much too broad, sweeping, and unfair. The consequence of this approach is that, while Rand's ideas remained broadly (if rather vaguely) influential, neither she nor her orthodox disciples have played a significant role in the development of the free market advocacy movement.