AN UNFORTUNATE ENCOUNTER WITH OBJECTIVIST DR. DIANA HSIEH

0Article by Mark I Rasskazov, editor in chief.

UPDATE (2347 26 MARCH 2013): I offered the olive branch to Dr. Hsieh, but it seems we have irreconcilable differences.  Such is life.  We all live in glass houses.  Those who throw stones at mine tend to find it’s made of thicker glass than most.

TENTATIVE RETRACTION (1717 15 MARCH 2013): Dr. Hsieh has explained her response, and it seems reasonable, so my comments about her character may be false.  Also, her lack of comments may be more a function of the fact that her attention is taken elsewhere, than a reflection on her personality.  My comments about her career; some scholars pursue academics; others pursue activism.  Perhaps she is the latter.  My comments about the nature of Objectivism, I stand by; I’ve read most of the main items written by Ayn Rand, and have given them a lot of thought.  My comments about Rand’s personality, I stand by; I’ve met a lot of elderly Russian women, and based on video clips, her writing style, and accounts about her behavior, I would say that she was very much a Russian woman of her time and place in many ways.

NOTE: This is a tough love piece.  I am not down on Objectivists in general like so many out there are.  If there are Objectivists reading this, please have the intellectual courage to read it in its entirety and judge it objectively.

Dr. Diana Hsieh is one of the top figures within the current Objectivist movement.  My perception is that there’s Dr. Leonard Peikoff, Dr. Yaron Brooke, and Dr. Diana Hsieh — in that order.  She’s pretty high up on the Objectivist totem pole.

Now, I like Objectivism as a philosophy.  I don’t agree with it 100% — but I would say that I do agree with it about 90%.  Their politics are usually on point.  Their ethics are usually very close to the truth (if a little narrow, at times).  Their epistemological system is nearly flawless — although I have not encountered any Objectivist writings on cognitive philosophy.  The fundamentals of their metaphysics are sound (things are what they are), with the exception that they don’t seem to have a satisfactory answer to the mind-dualism problem.  Their Aesthetic is like a shot-gun blast — not very subtle, and not very accurate, but it gets the job done (their conclusions are on the right track, although they need to take a closer look at their premises in this field).

All of that having been said, I did encounter Dr. Hsieh online, and I am sorry to say it did not go well.

Now, Dr. Hsieh has a radio show podcast, and she has a blog.  I visited her blog, «Noodlefood.»  What I find interesting is that, whereas she is very prominent in the world of Objectivism, and whereas her blog has over 6,000 posts, intellectual interactions on her site are very sparse.  I commented on her second most recent blog post.  There are 8 posts between that one and the next one with any comments (2 comments — one of them hers — on that one; followed by two more posts with empty comment sections).  Now, the value of a blog’s content is not necessarily measured in the number of comments it generates, however, if a blog has been around as long and as prolifically as that one has, one would expect a little more interest in the content.

To give you an idea, this WordPress powered online newspaper and philosophy forum (the TDJ, that is), which has been around for about month gets comments almost every post, now; sometimes 6-7 comments per post.  Compared to Dr. Hsieh, I am a nobody.  How am I able to generate so much more interest in my writings than she is?

That’s not the only thing.

On her blog, she’s always asking for handouts; «tip your philosopher,» etc., whereas, I don’t see any advertising on her site.  Now, I am not, in principle, opposed to asking for donations, but I would expect a proponent of Capitalism to be just a little more savvy.  Why would she ask for donations?  She’s a prominent Objectivist.  It’s embarrassing!  How about providing a product for peoples’ money instead of trying to guilt them into donations?  WWJGD (What Would John Galt Do)?  I’m betting he’d sell t-shirts, coffee mugs, and books, and get sponsors — not grovel and guilt-trip for donations.  Jussayin.

Now, here is how she describes herself on her site:

«Dr. Diana Hsieh is a philosopher specializing in practical ethics. She received her Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2009. Her dissertation argued that Thomas Nagel’s «problem of moral luck» can be resolved by an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility. She began podcasting in 2009, then webcasting in 2010. She switched to internet radio in 2012.

Diana blogs at NoodleFood and podcasts at NoodleCast. Her other active projects include Explore Atlas Shrugged, Modern Paleo, and OList.com. She also contributes to Front Range Objectivism, the Coalition for Secular Government, and Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine. Diana lives with her husband Paul Hsieh and a small menagerie of beasts in Sedalia, Colorado.»

No books?  No teaching career?  Her major accomplishment as a philosopher is a dissertation about another philosopher’s work?  Kinda thin resume, considering her status in the Objectivist world.

This is Dr. Diana Hsieh.  Now, all of this having been said, I don’t judge someone on the basis of tokens of accomplishment — the substance of one’s work matters far more than the generation of tokens of accomplishment, and I did not make any premature judgments about this person prior to talking to her — in fact, I was hoping to establish a friendly, collegial relationship with her — I do not ascribe to the philosophy of Objectivism, but I do have a lot of respect for it.  I am an «Objectivist sympathizer,»  As Dr. Peikoff has put it, in the past.  However, while I approached her with an open mind, hoping for a meeting of the minds, I say all of this to point out that an accomplished thinker will usually have more to show for himself/herself than what has been described above.

The exchange that took place between us can be seen here, and is republished below:

Rasskazivats (me): Huh!  I published an article by Barbara Cornell about a «regretful parent» myself, recently: [http://transegoism.us/snake-mom].  Cheers!

Diana Hsieh: Playing (annoying) music automatically on opening a web page?!? AUGH. I can’t imagine any better way to drive people away from a web site.

NOTE: It is in poor taste to address someone you’ve never even spoke to before, and who is approaching you in a friendly, professional manner in this way.  However, rather express offense at this, I chose to remain friendly and professional by providing her with an alternate means of reading my content, without having to endure the «annoying» music on my site.

Rasskazivats: Here’s my RSS feed: [http://transegoism.us/feed/].

Dr. Hsieh has not condescended to resume our conversation.  The only thing I can figure is that she is offended that I did not immediately apologize to her for not running my site in such a way that she finds tasteful, and immediately complying with her tastes.  Now, that music was created by a good friend of mine.  I enjoy it.  I’ve received compliments elsewhere about it.  Beyond that, if it really were in bad taste to have music playing automatically, there’s a right way and a wrong way to bring that up.  Insulting me at a first encounter when I am projecting a friendly demeanor, is the wrong way.  I didn’t ask her what she thought about my site, yet I did provide her with a music-free alternative — and for the record, my month old site seems to be doing substantially better than hers.  With a personality as charming as her’s I can’t imagine why.

NOTE: A passage from The Fountainhead comes to mind; when Peter Keating asks Howard Roark for advice on his work, Roark, at first, balks, and says something to the effect of «Why would you even ask for my advice?»  Dr. Hsieh, with respect, I did not ask for your advice.

Which brings me to another point — Ayn Rand was a brilliant philosopher, but a flawed person.  Her main fault (so far as I can tell from reading about her) was that she was an extremely abrasive person.  Now, people seem to think that her abrasiveness is somehow a necessary function of her philosophy.  Her personality surely influenced the presentation of her work, although I think it has little to do with the content.  What most people don’t understand is that abrasiveness is a personality trait that is very common among Russian women — particularly women of her age (women who survived one or both of the world wars, and/or the Russian civil war).  People view her personality as being an integral aspect of her beliefs, whereas it has more to do with the Russian culture (which is not at all Objectivist, by and large) than with the belief system she created.  Yet, unfortunately, she managed to impress the worst aspects of her personality upon everyone who was associated with her — to a lesser or greater extent.

Dr. Hsieh, I find it to be a sign of weakness that you have failed to develop your own personality and have adopted the worst aspects of Rand’s character.

I am disappointed.

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