Diana Hsieh's Subjective Morality

On January 4, 2012, a commenter made a statement on a thread of Diana Hsieh’s Facebook profile, in which he accused Leonard Peikoff of “deductionist philosophizing”.  (This about the man who has dedicated a sizable portion of his illustrious career to teaching us the proper methods of induction and not falling prey to rationalism!)

When I saw it, it had been many hours since the comment was posted and it was just hanging there, unanswered.  So, I made the first comment I ever made on Hsieh’s wall.  I asked her why she would allow that kind of Peikoff-bashing on her wall without addressing it.

Within minutes, she responded to me.  She stated that she didn’t judge anything on her wall to be overtly insulting or to be “Peikoff-bashing”.  Then, she launched into a tirade condemning me for my rudeness and incivility and called me a “mega-asshole”.  Then she blocked me from being able to view or comment on her Facebook profile.  She also blocked a person who had made no comment, but had merely “liked” my question.

So, referring to Leonard Peikoff as a "deductionist philosophizer", in Hsieh’s estimation, does not rise to the level of insult, rudeness or incivility, but my questioning of it does and so does merely clicking “like” on my question?  Apparently, making derogatory remarks about Leonard Peikoff is not noteworthy, but challenging Diana Hsieh’s friends, by asking a strongly worded question (though not one containing any profanity) is worthy of immediate condemnation, outrage and profane remarks.

So, why do I bring this up now?

On April 6, 2012, Hsieh published a lengthy blog post about her recent falling out with James Valliant.  At the heart of their personal schism lies Hsieh’s refusal to, publicly or privately, comment on some very strong and very public insults directed at Leonard Peikoff by her personal friend Trey Givens in his blog, wherein Givens writes the following:

 “This level of ignorance here in 2011 is really pretty inexcusable.  Do some fact checking before shooting your mouth off, OK?  I know it’s Dr. Leonard Peikoff and this is just part of his routine, but it’s tired and I really believe it is detrimental — and getting worse — to the promotion of Objectivism in our culture.  I mean, how can we expect people to take us seriously when our ideological leaders can’t even figure out Google.”

Diana Hsieh refuses to acknowledge that that statement by Givens is insulting to Leonard Peikoff.  She prefers to think of it as a simple statement of disagreement.  She even refuses to state whether she agrees or disagrees with the sentiments expressed therein!

Why, you might ask, should Diana Hsieh comment on the commentary of Trey Givens?  There are two reasons:

 1)      She has posted links and references to Givens’ blog commentary and used his public statements as evidence and to bolster her own arguments in the past.  This fact certainly qualifies as a public endorsement of Givens and his blog.  She has publicly “hitched her wagon to his train” when it suited her purposes, so it does fall upon her to constantly evaluate the person whom she has endorsed and the ideas that that person is publishing.

2)      Dr. Peikoff is justly deserving of the utmost respect.  It is not a moral crime to disagree with him on some issue.  I have done so, myself.  But, regardless of how vehemently I may have disagreed with his stance on some specific issue, I never have, nor will I ever, speak of him with anything less than the respect that he has earned.  Leonard Peikoff’s life, his work, stands nearly equal to that of Ayn Rand’s in the promotion of reason and Objectivism.  After Rand’s death, he took over as the leader of a philosophical movement which was not widely recognized and was still obscured in the scandal of the Brandens.  He built Objectivism, as a force for cultural change, into what it is today, when references to and discussion of Rand and Objectivism are a daily occurrence in the mass media and thousands of people around the country display signs and placards urging people to “Read Rand” and ask “Who is John Galt?”.  How many, who now call themselves Objectivists, discovered the works of Ayn Rand through one of the programs that are funded and administered by ARI?  How many young Students of Objectivism have enriched their lives and understanding through the many lectures and books offered and promoted by ARI?  How many new intellectuals, working diligently to spread reason and Objectivism in the culture, are where they are today because of ARI programs?  Who refused to allow the name of Objectivism and the ARI to be usurped and compromised by the likes of David Kelley?  Every one of us has Leonard Peikoff to thank. Every person who dares to call himself an Objectivist should have nothing but the profoundest respect for Leonard Peikoff and should demand nothing less from their friends and cohorts who also call themselves Objectivists.  To fail to do so is an act of injustice!

Diana Hsieh’s application of the principles of moral judgment can only be seen as highly subjective in light of these (and other) interactions.

Her friend calls Leonard Peikoff a "deductionist philosophizer" on her Facebook profile—she calls it “expressing disagreement”.

I ask why she allows such rhetoric to go unchallenged on her wall—she refers to my question as an “invective” “drive-by shooting”, condemns me, calls me a “mega-asshole” and blocks me and anyone who had the gall to simply “like” my question.  (This was well before there was a CheckingPremises.org.  She, in her own words, "didn't know me from Adam", at that time.)

Her friend (Givens) publicly accuses Leonard Peikoff of “shooting off his mouth” in “ignorance” and says that Peikoff’s “routine” is “detrimental” to Objectivism—she calls it non-insulting criticism of ideas, not of the man.

James Valliant messages her privately to discuss what he considers public insults and disrespect toward Dr. Peikoff—she decries Valliant's "unfair attacks” against her friends.

There are so very many more concrete examples of Hsieh’s subjective and often hypocritical approach to judgment in this regard.  She chastises the use of even minor profanity by those who disagree with her and deletes and/or blocks them, while lambasting those who disagree with her, using some of the most foul-mouthed invectives I have ever seen…and I was a sailor.  But, I’ve seen those friends of hers who use profanity against those with whom she disagrees be rewarded with smiley-faces and “points of awesomeness”.  She blocks anyone who makes her angry (which isn’t hard to do) and then, when those people take their arguments out in public, she condemns them for not discussing it directly with her, after she has made it impossible, or at least very difficult, for them to do so.

What is the common denominator here?  It’s not that hard to identify.  If you are part of her circle of friends and admirers, then you seem to have a moral blank check—as long as you don't challenge her or her public pronouncements, directly, then you are safe from her moral scrutiny.  If you aren’t, well then, you better be very careful about which ideas you express and how you express them.  She does not consider herself obliged to comment when her friend unloads vitriol upon the pre-eminent living Objectivist, to whom we all owe a great debt of gratitude.  But, what happens when anyone deigns to step up in defense of Leonard Peikoff as a value?  Well, those people are obviously just attempting to establish Objectivism as a nouveaux religious orthodoxy and can’t stand the sight of all the “independent minds” standing in their way!

Why do I say that Diana Hsieh’s behavior in these matters is subjective?  Ayn Rand said of subjectivism in ethics, the following:

“The subjectivist theory of ethics is, strictly speaking, not a theory, but a negation of ethics. And more: it is a negation of reality, a negation not merely of man’s existence, but of all existence. Only the concept of a fluid, plastic, indeterminate, Heraclitean universe could permit anyone to think or to preach that man needs no objective principles of action—that reality gives him a blank check on values—that anything he cares to pick as the good or the evil, will do—that a man’s whim is a valid moral standard, and that the only question is how to get away with it. The existential monument to this theory is the present state of our culture.” (“The Objectivist ethics”, VOS p. 34)

How does this apply to Hsieh’s refusal to take a stand on this matter?  If you read her blog post in response to Jim Valliant, it becomes pretty clear that she considers personal friendships to be outside the boundaries of her moral responsibility of judgment, even when she has publicly endorsed them and their actions and statements are of a public nature.  Friends have a blank check, as long as they don't cross her or one of her higher-tier friends.  Emotional ties, apparently, trump all else.

On what criteria, then, does she choose her friends?  Who knows, that’s her own “personal context” and apparently we have no business judging her by the company she keeps.

Except we do judge people (at least partially) by the company they keep.  And that is not wrong.  The relationships we choose to engage in with other people reflect our values.  Being friends with someone doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with them always and automatically.  But, when you publicly endorse a friend in the realm of ideas, the ideas that friend disseminates will reflect upon you.  If you disagree with an idea, then it is your obligation to say so, if you understand the importance of ideas and take them seriously.  If you agree with an idea and it comes under attack, then you have an obligation to defend that idea, if you understand the importance of ideas and take them seriously.  Those last two sentences are equally true if you substitute “value(s)” for “idea(s)”.

Either Diana Hsieh agrees with the statements made about Leonard Peikoff by her friend(s) and she refuses to say so, even though her friend has come under attack for expressing ideas with which she agrees; or, she disagrees with those statements and refuses to say so. 

Either alternative is an instance of putting some emotional consideration above one’s regard for the truth and can only be rooted in subjectivism and moral cowardice.


(DISCLAIMER: The expressed opinion is not necessarily endorsed by members of Checking Premises.)


Copyright © 2012 John J Kagebein, All Rights Reserved.