I want to start this post by thanking Jordan, Jennifer and James for their posts on this subject.
The two things I want to address are the context around my caustic remarks (as Jason put it) concerning Rowlands’ article on “Objectivism: Not Just a Better Set of Rules,” as well as to expand on the double-standard that Jordan has already touched on concerning attacks on proprietors (kings) of web sites.
I’ll start with the latter. I have owned and run an Objectivist monthly magazine, and I have helped moderate an Objectivist yahoo group. In both cases, I was occasionally attacked and often unjustly – especially at the magazine, where it got brutal at times. My rule for publishing or responding to those who attacked me was that they had to at least make a case for their attack – which I did thoroughly in my attack on Rowlands’ article. My incivility was backed by what I considered a rationale for my incivility. I went to lengths to stress my opinion and to do so concisely and clearly. I did not just go after him whimsically in some blowhard retribution without a shred of justification. Many of you may disagree with my points, but I made my points and still feel they were right (in fact, I’ve not seen anyone directly address those points, which I’ll talk about in the second part of this post).
As a magazine publisher/editor and group leader, if I thought my attackers were being irrational but were still sincere, then even the caustic and sometimes extreme nature of their attacks was acceptable to me. That is the nature of some arguments in the world of ideas – if one party feels the other is being unjust, as I believe Rowlands to be. That is also how things get worked out and how you get the measure of the man. It’s not so much a thick skin one needs in a position of leadership or ownership of a forum as it is a good sense of humor (e.g. Linz) and an understanding that it’s always OTHER people who are just fucking wrong. heh heh. Seriously, exasperation is a constant in such positions, and dismissive over-reaction is the bugaboo to watch for in your own responses.
My incivility with Rowlands may have seemed that it was out of left field, but it was not off the cuff. I had considered his post and previous posts and found in them something that I felt warranted my reaction, and I explained those thoughts in that post and a follow-up post. I’ll go into that further in just a moment because the reaction of many folks on SOLO indicates to me that my reaction to him is virtually singular.
One more point on being the proprietor of a web forum. You absolutely cannot expect special treatment as the proprietor – especially if you are posting weekly articles and making regular comments on others’ ideas in other threads! That is a double-standard. Even when I was working 90-hour weeks as a publisher/editor and spending all my money on my magazine, I tried to err on the side of allowing more caustic remarks in my regard to ensure open conversation. I did not hold up my financial position as a sword of Damocles to turn my readers and writers and critics into threatened dependents upon my fickle pride. I did not wish to be king.
If you create a site dedicated to “free discussion,” as Rowlands and Company have said they have done here, then you cannot make exceptions to the sometimes withering comments of your detractors – not unless you want to put a cloud over the site, and not unless you want to put under the front page banner “Bastion of Free Exchange, But Please Do Not Make Caustic Remarks About Joe Rowlands. Thank You.”
Now let me try to give context to my extreme reaction to Rowlands.
He and I recently had a lengthy and partisan argument on his “Virtue Dichotomies” article http://solohq.com/cgi-bin/SHQ/SHQ_FirstUnread.cgi?Function=FirstUnread&Board=2&Thread=1188.
If you go read our exchanges, I think you’ll find that my posts were reasonable and even-handed, as well as moderate in tone. Please review them if you are interested in seeing how I address those who I believe have simply just made an honest mistake and have no axe to grind or alternate philosophy to pontificate on and propound (as I initially thought of Rowlands). I even complimented Rowlands on the “tenor and general idea” of his article but tried to explain to him how he had a wrong view of the nature of independence.
Linz actually began the escalation of the rhetoric on that thread when (in his post 13) he said I was “pursuing” Rowlands and that I was a rationalist (one of the worst things I think you can call anyone). But I let that slide, so I could stay focused on the more important issue of Rowlands’ error (though I got the feeling from Linz’s post that I had somehow trampled on sacred ground and that I was being warned to tread softly or get the hell off). Rowlands upped the ante in that discussion (in his post 33) by condescendingly saying, “One more time, for those who still don't get it,” despite the fact that he himself had refused to address Rand’s actual definition of independence – and had, in fact, continually built strawmen in the discussion and somehow erroneously linked independent thought with material independence. My view of Rowlands after this discussion was that he had not actually seriously studied and/or digested Objectivism and still had an “old world” feel for philosophy – wherein one simply uses vague, pre-Randian definitions for Randian terminology. I looked over some of his previous articles and found the same confusion, but since I was working on my own articles, I didn’t want to address those errors – and I figured he would write more and I would get a change to point out to honest minds on SOLO where his mistakes were.
Rowlands’ ignorance on the subject was not in itself something to blast him about. I am ignorant on many subjects (most subjects) and hope for benevolence from those who know more than I. But Rowlands’ way of arguing was snooty (notice quote above and other of his comments in that thread and others), dishonest (strawmen representations of his opponents’ ideas), evasive (not going to fundamentals despite being repeatedly asked), rationalistic (not using cogent examples for empirical analysis unless asked and then not doing so thoroughly), and turgidness (repeating virtue/value statements continuously instead of making pertinent comments, as well as convoluting definitions). Please read the above thread well to see exactly what I am talking about, if you are still interested.
All of the above would still not have been enough for me to broadside him in my initial post on his “Objectivism: Not Just a Better Set of Rules” thread http://solohq.com/Articles/Rowlands/Objectivism_Not_Just_a_Better_Set_of_Rules.shtml, when I saw the same patterns. Rowlands, however, used his article as a direct attack on “moral perfection,” which was a stance I took and explained in detail – and which he ruminated on only once on a very long thread despite virtues/values being of great importance to him. He is, obviously, not obligated to make many posts on a thread that aligns with his values, and he is not required by dictate to say that I, David Elmore, had been the one who propounded the idea that “moral perfection” is possible. But the timing of his comments on the above thread directly after our confrontation and his disagreement with me on the subject made some mention necessary by anyone with benevolence as his guiding spirit.
All of this, however, was still not enough for me to blast him with my comments. The straw that broke the camel’s back was his taking of his strawman routine to another level by mischaracterizing my comments on the “moral perfection” thread (http://solohq.com/Forum/ArticleDiscussions/1154_10.shtml#210) to ram home his point that values and virtues cannot be separated. If you read my post #210 above and all of my other posts on that thread, you’ll see that I discussed moral perfection in the context of both virtues and values, that I said often and deliberately that they must be together in all things, and that to be perfectly moral, you have to have your values perfectly aligned. Yet Rowlands deliberately built his strawman for four full paragraphs at the end of his article.
Read the following graph from his article’s end, and then read my Post 210 above (which included the phrase “Moral perfection involves keeping the mind focused on virtues, values and, of course, happiness.”) and see if you don’t think he likes his strawman.
This (rules-based mentality) was embodied in the discussion of moral perfection on SOLO recently. The notion of moral perfection was aimed at whether a person obeyed the morality, instead of whether he actually benefited. It's as if the means were elevated above the ends. The discussion of moral perfection didn't revolve around making choices that best promoted a person's life. It focused on whether people were able to consistently follow the rules. The means were elevated above the ends. The tools of life were being treated as more important than life.
So, why did he distort comments to make a case for the obvious? I don’t know. I don’t like to psychologize; only he can explain himself. But he didn’t stop with just building his strawman. After he falsely said that we moral perfection advocates were dichotomizing, he of course needed to characterize us: “Those who view morality as an end in itself are not concerned with life.” That is a true statement, but it does not characterize those of us who believe that the rational person can achieve moral perfection – happiness. All of the above is why he received ridicule from me.
With all of the above said, I wonder at how effective my incivility was. I purposely made my ridicule over the top (the phrasing from Heart of Darkness, the alliteration, the verbosity) to give clues as to my following opinions not being of the utmost gravity (If I thought Rowlands worthy of censure, I certainly wouldn’t have started with some light humor. If I’d thought him capable of worse, I would have started with blister, not bombast). I also thought I’d be preaching to the choir a bit with my comments, so I expected some snickers at Rowlands’ deserved expense. Though I think I got a few of those, it appears that most of you do not view Rowlands in the same way that I do. Be that as it may, I’ll know better next time who is off-limits – if there IS a next time! Linz?
(Edited by Lindsay Perigo on 6/12, 7:57pm)