Branden is not denying that certain behaviors can and should be assessed as immoral or destructive. He is questioning the appropriate response to such behavior. As a psychologist, he is obviously concerned with how to go about inspiring people to grow and improve. He is saying that you do not achieve this goal through moral condemnation. (Read more...)
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Very good article. It is proper to put Nathaniel Branden's comments in the perspective of his profession, which is psychologist and psychiatrist, not philosopher. His goals are different (how to achieve mental health) and his approach must be appropriate to such goals if he is to be a competent - and great - one.
Similar to what I mentioned to another poster in an offline e-mail in discussing one of his own comments, many statements like the one from the Talmud:
A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy
provokes controversy simply because of degree (context), not because it is true or false. As a rule of thumb for personal conduct, it is a great one for self-checking that all the alternatives have been exhausted, or that there is a clear and present danger, before engaging in hostility. (A true hero checks facts before hostility.) As a definition (of hero), it is horrible.
The question always boils down to context. Since context is usually implicit, one person says something like that in one context (rule of thumb) and another interprets in another (definition). Instant conflict.
Such underlying context-shifting is built into sayings like that and it is one of the reasons religions have their staying power, but also it is one of the things that makes them become rejected and why so many new religions crop up all the time.
One thing I have to give Ms. Hsieh, however. She does not make any implicit context in her condemnation of Nathaniel Branden. She makes her context of hostility extremely clear. In a response to a comment by Adam Reed on her article (which prompted your own article), she states:
However, I do not think that Nathaniel Branden, a highly intelligent man well-trained in Objectivism, has "missed" anything. He is willfully, deliberately obfuscating. That's really, really important -- since it's what makes him evil rather than merely mistaken. He is deliberately attempting to distort and undermine a philosophy that he knows to be true and good.
Is Mr. Branden trying to "distort and undermine a philosophy" or is he trying to be a psychologist and psychiatrist? I think your article is very important for making that issue clear.
No amount of mental gymnastics, rationalizations or long-winded salvos like what Ms. Hsieh engages in ever will produce evil where evil does not exist. Such attempts merely distort reality.
When is it "*entirely* appropriate to condemn and repudiate behavior that is wrong, even in therapy?"
Suppose you were a therapist, and a client came into therapy with the personal goal of becoming a more effective (1) serial killer, (2) child molester, (3) Socialist or Theocratic "political activist." Take it from there.
"The line that so impressed me was: 'A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy.'"
Branden's statement is not just silly, it is pernicious. It sucks all the meaning out of what makes a hero.
Miss Rand did us a great service by rescuing the concept of a hero from soi-disant intellectuals who had reduced it to a comic book joke. While fashionable writers cultivated a cowardly irony to ridicule virtues handed down to us from the Golden Age of Greece, Miss Rand laid a new philosophical foundation for these virtues, like integrity, justice, self-reliance, benevolence to name a few. She then illustrated with her novels how a man becomes a hero when he embraces these virtues and then acts under dire circumstances in which no one would think less of him if he turned away from the challenge.
The practitioners of today's therapeutic culture, like Branden, have also resurrected the hero. However, their hero is anything but extraordinary. For them a hero is most anyone who deals with a problem, typically self-inflicted, with a Stuart Smalley navel-gazing declaration, "I like me!" They have deformed the hero into the epitome of banality. They have stripped him all virtue so that any of us can claim to be one.
A hero does not exist sans virtue, plain and simple. We can thank Miss Rand, not Nathaniel Branden, for teaching us that.
'A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy.'
Depends on what kind of enemy. Linz, I think I grasped immediately that this quote does not mean evil people -- like Toohey or mass murderers like Hitler*. A less ambiguous way to say this, making it clear you are not talking about vicious monsters but those who are not evil but disagree with you and are open to reason:
'A wise man is one who knows how to make intellectual adversaries into allies'.
Does that help? Objectivists are often former collectivists, for example. And often the people who are wishy-washy and in the middle and believe nothing strongly are the least good prospects for conversion, compared to those who believe deeply and passionately in something their education and the culture mistakenly presented them with.
(*However, since it's from the Talmud, I -may- be wrong on its original intent as opposed to Branden's intent.)
(I agree with Andy that the word 'hero' taken literally would not fit. But here there is literary license. You are not supposed to take this kind of quote literally. You learned in high school english how to read great, sweeping quotes: "The Wise Man learns from a Fool", "Gold, Silver and Lead …Freedom’s precious metals", "Love makes you Stupid', " men and nations will always do the right thing in the end - after they exhaust every other possibility".
In each case, Lindsay and Andy, you have to get the IMPLIED CONTEXT.) (Edited by Philip Coates on 8/25, 9:26am)
The Benefits and Hazards can be looked at as one of two complimentary works by Dr. Branden. I remastered both of them. It comes off so well when he speaks it, although it was a real pain in the ass to clean up the audio.
I love those lectures. There is also a very good audio lecture he has in the can we did of "The High Self-Esteem Leader", which to me is the best talk on business there is. I hope he does something with it someday.
Nathaniel has said a lot of good things, simple phrases that really make meaning of life. As simple as suggesting that when you wake up, to ask yourself "What is good about today? What needs done?" Or, "Your thoughts are your thoughts..."
Pertaining to one mentioned in this article, I heard him say it this way once, and it might be my all-time favorite (outside of his wonderful use of the word "purpose"): "No one has reached the heights of glory by being told he or she is rotten."
I looked up "A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy" in the Talmud. I would have translated it as "A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an opponent," because it is in the context of "makhlokhet l'shem shamaim," which in the context of the quote means "conflict between good and good." I suppose that Ayn Rand may have known of it, because in the social context that is what her heroes wind up doing. Kira turns opponent Andrei to her side, eventually. Roark turns "enemies" Dominique, and in a sense Wynand, to his. Francisco turns Rearden, and Galt turns Dagny.
John Newham wrote: "it is often *entirely* appropriate to condemn and repudiate behavior that is wrong, even in therapy."
Jordan asked: "Why is that appropriate? How is it useful?"
Adam Reed replied by seeming to quote Jordan and John:
When is it "*entirely* appropriate to condemn and repudiate behavior that is wrong, even in therapy?"
And Adam said: "Suppose you were a therapist, and a client came into therapy with the personal goal of becoming a more effective (1) serial killer, (2) child molester, (3) Socialist or Theocratic "political activist." Take it from there."
Unfortunately, Adam's examples are from Fantasyland. What serial killer, child molester, or Socialist or Theocratic "political activist" would ever go to a therapist in order to become more effective at those activities? If this is intended as an illustration, it serves more to illustrate Adam's imagination than anything plausible and helpful to the discussion.
Plus, I am still trying to get my eyebrows back down from John's initial statement that it is OFTEN entirely appropriate to condemn and repudiate behavior that is wrong, even in therapy. This is where we really differ -- and the difference is telling. If John had said "sometimes," rather than "often," I might agree -- but even then I'd like to have some decent, real-world examples, and not the feverishly cooked up phantasms that Adam offered.
You just did precisely what I said in my previous post. You are implying that Branden wants to use this quote as a definition for hero instead of a rule of thumb for pre-evaluation before bcoming hostile.
So yes, if Branden wanted to redefine what hero means, and invalidate what Ayn Rand means by hero (which is nowhere present in the writings of his I have read), you are 100% correct. If he did not, if he was mentioning this a rule of thumb, then you are merely shooting from the hip without taking aim. Like Ms. Hsieh.
Adam I agree. There are unfortunately, many therapists more concerned with helping the client "feel" good than make real change.
Jordan I was not talking about announcing it to the world. There are certain behaviors that deserve to be called out person to person however. That includes behaviors we comdemn and committ to change in ourselves!
In each case, Lindsay and Andy, you have to get the IMPLIED CONTEXT
I thought I did. A self-proclaimed guiding light of Objectivism, a philosophy which places a special emphasis on the concept of the hero, used the word in the debased way typical of his profession. Because the quotation from the Talmud is not very profound in substance, I must wonder if what hooked Branden was the word "hero" in it. If so, did he intend us to understand the word in the Randian sense or in the touchy-feel "I'm OK, you're OK" psychobabble of his profession? Either way, "hero" doesn't work if the word is to have any meaning.
I do agree with you, Phil, that a text worth reading merits the effort to put a little thought into it. Literalism and taking words out of contexts are poor ways of approaching a text. However, sometimes ideas are poorly expressed, and useful words are misused. After Miss Rand rescued "hero" from the crapper, I think a little vigilance is called for when her former acolyte is dangling it over the bowl again.
I have encountered reports of would-be psychotherapy clients in all 3 categories in the memoirs of psychotherapists. The third category - a client seeking to become a more effective political activist, for causes that an Objectivist would condemn - is very, very common; it accounts for a substantial fraction of actual psychotherapy clients in California. I would not be at all surprised if Nathaniel Branden had actually "worked" with the latter.
""Hero" doesn't work if the word is to have any meaning...sometimes ideas are poorly expressed, and useful words are misused" [Andy]
This would take us into a long discussion on when literary license, hyperbole, etc. are appropriate. But I'll just summarize it by saying: Often times in memorable quotes (e.g.,the wise man and fool quote I gave, the 'hero' quote), an overstated word is used to make it memorable. Otherwise you wouldn't retain it as a forceful aphorism. You are then expected to be able to strip away the literal meaning of the words 'hero', 'fool', etc. Another example: "The Man who Knows No History remains Forever a Fool."
You wouldn't want to water down the hyperbolic last phrase because that's what makes it memorable. Even though he is not literally a fool.
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