|Regarding posts #3 and #4: You guys just can't let this go, can you?|
Okay, I'm compelled now to weigh in in Barbara Branden's defense.
I've said before: I really loved Barbara's biography of Ayn Rand, and I really loathed the lurid, prurient "Showtime" film that focused on only one tiny aspect of the events chronicled in that biography: the Affair.
I just can't fathom how anyone extracts, from the actual text of the biography (not from the movie, over which Barbara had little control), any hint of "hatred" and "revenge" motives. I've known Barbara for some years, and I have never detected a flicker of malice toward Rand. In my opinion, anyone who watches her video tribute and can still claim that Barbara is motivated by hostility, is smoking something weird.
I'd invite those of you who do, to conduct an honest, private little thought experiment:
You are married to someone. All of a sudden, you begin to see that there's a growing attraction between your best friend and your spouse. You are rattled emotionally to the foundation of your being.
Then one day they come to you and present you with an incredible proposal: You are asked to tolerate an extra-marital sexual relationship between the two of them -- and you're also asked to remain married to your spouse.
Try to conceive of the shock you would experience. Try to imagine your actual feelings. These are the two people you adore and admire most -- people closer and more important to you than anyone else on earth. One is a genius and a philosopher; the other is a brilliant, skilled psychologist. Now, you are very intelligent; but you are also quite young, naive, and intimidated by these personal icons. They have been your inspirations, your intellectual mentors, and your constant companions since your teens. They are the two people in the world who have helped to forge who you are -- the two to whom you've entrusted your life, future, and happiness.
Now -- using every bit of their combined genius and emotional influence over you -- they offer up a host of "reasonable"-sounding philosophical and psychological arguments to get you to accept this "arrangement." They, the authors of the moral and psychological principles to which you are dedicated, cite these very principles in the arguments they raise against you. And to clinch the deal, they appeal to your idealism and self-image: They tell you that because you are a "moral giant," just like them, you will, of course, understand and accept this arrangement.
Now, what would YOU have done in the face of this kind of pressure from Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden?
Yes, Barbara made the wrong choice. But that wrong choice, under those bizarre circumstances, I for one find perfectly understandable. Indeed, most people cave in and make mistaken choices in life under pressures a lot less compelling.
So now, let's fast-forward twenty years or so.
You are now writing an account of the life of that philosophical and artistic genius. And you reach the part of the history that concerns the devastation wrought in your life -- and to the entire movement led by your book's subject -- by that arrangement, and by those two people whom you had idolized.
How would you feel?
What would you now say about it?
It's clear that any honest biography of Rand (especially one written by an intimate participant in its events) had to tread on this uncomfortably private territory -- if only to make comprehensible the destruction of the fast-growing, then-unified Objectivist movement of the 1960s. Prior to Barbara's book, the very suggestion of the existence of that Affair was denied heatedly, and those even hinting at it were damned and ejected from the Objectivist movement. Barbara's biography for the first time revealed the truth and made those nightmarish days intelligible.
In doing so, her book embodied an honesty not in evidence in the officially sanctioned, hagiographic documentary Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life. Where the Showtime movie distorted (and evaded) heroic facts of Rand's life in order to transform her into a manipulative neurotic, the "approved" documentary rationalized (and evaded) less-than-heroic facts of Rand's life in order to transform her into a flawless goddess.
Sense of Life, with a running time of 145 minutes, condensed the entire 18-year relationship of Ayn, Nathaniel, and Barbara -- including the whole history of the NBI period -- to just three minutes of screen time. And those minutes consisted solely of a vague, fact-free narrative by Leonard Peikoff and his ex-wife rationalizing the Affair. Incredibly, the very existence of Barbara Branden and NBI was not even mentioned! For a biography claiming "objectivity," this airbrushing of eighteen years of its subject's life was utterly disgraceful.
By necessity -- and by an honest historian's requirement to make those painful years intelligible -- Barbara took a different route. What is extraordinary is not that she revealed her emotional anguish and conflicts about those years, or that she voiced a few criticisms of Ayn Rand. What is extraordinary is how utterly devoid of bitterness her account actually is: how few and mild the criticisms are, and how extraordinarily generous and admiring she is toward the person who had such a traumatic impact on her marriage. Many reviewers outside the Objectivist movement have marveled at her generosity, bigness of spirit, and lack of bitterness -- characteristics that are in short supply in most memoirs.
But that positive view of Barbara Branden is not shared by those who are emotionally wedded to the idea that Ayn Rand must be presented as a flawless being -- at all costs.
Any depiction or discussion of Rand that even hints at the slightest personal criticism provokes the ugliest forms of psychologizing and moralizing imaginable. The substantive facts of such criticisms are completely evaded, by means of diversionary ad hominem attacks that focus instead on the (alleged) motives and morals of those raising the questions or criticisms. In the psychologizers' script, such people are portrayed as envious mediocrities trying to find "feet of clay" on a heroine, as a rationalization for their own (allegedly) blighted lives. Never are they regarded as people who simply might have honest criticisms of rare mistakes or isolated flaws in a person whom they otherwise admire tremendously.
Such self-proclaimed "defenders of Ayn Rand" have advanced the moronic proposition that the validity of Objectivism itself is tied intimately to the character of Ayn Rand: If she was not completely perfect, then her philosophy is not practicable. Therefore, to criticize her person in any way, to any extent, on any count, no matter how minor, is to undermine Rand's entire case for rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride.
This is nonsense standing on twenty-story stilts.
The validation of ideas does not depend on the character of their advocates. The validation of ideas depends solely on their relationship to reality. Objectivism does not need the example of Ayn Rand (and I do believe that she was a GREAT example) to establish its connection to reality. Objectivism's validation requires only the rationality of anyone who cares to grapple with its ideas, and to trace them back to their roots in the facts of reality.
A forthcoming biography by Anne Heller promises to reveal fascinating new material about Ayn Rand the visionary thinker, artist, and achiever -- and I may read it for those new insights. I am indeed interested in how the experiences and influences in a giant's upbringing and personal growth may have contributed as incentives (either positive or negative) to that person's extraordinary idealism and incredible achievements.
But as for the facts about Ayn Rand's intimate life, I have made clear elsewhere my indifference to the topic, for the reasons given above. I've made clear to Anne Heller herself that the truly private stuff doesn't interest me in the least. My desire for psychological enlightenment about the genesis of human greatness does not translate into a desire to know every intimate detail of a great person's private life.
That Ayn Rand was a great woman -- intellectually, artistically, and morally -- I have absolutely no doubts. But on these counts, neither does Barbara Branden have any doubts. That was clear in the closing two chapters of her book, in which she gave her summary verdict on Rand's life.
And, in my opinion, anyone who views her extraordinarily moving tribute to Ayn Rand on that YouTube video cannot have any rational doubts about her love and admiration for Ayn Rand, either.
[Edits below solely to correct a few grammatical errors and a missing or extraneous word or two.]
(Edited by Robert Bidinotto on 11/15, 6:47pm)
(Edited by Robert Bidinotto on 11/16, 11:47am)