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Scholarship and causality: the case of The Atlas Society

Over at The Atlas Society’s website, Phil Coates and I are discussing the delay over the publication of Will Thomas and David Kelley’s Logical Structure of Objectivism. Despite the mutual exasperation on display in the discussion, I think it’s an important discussion to have.

Coates wonders what’s taking Thomas and Kelley so long to publish the book. My answer has two or three parts, depending on how you count them: (1) they’re not ready to publish because the book is itself not ready for publication; (2) since TAS’s institutional priorities aren’t primarily focused on the production of academic or scholarly work, one can’t expect them to revise the manuscript in an expeditious manner. (3) Further, it makes no sense to publish a book prematurely, in the full awareness of the fact that it’s not the best book you could produce.

I’ve heard versions of Coates’s complaint for many years now, and in a certain version, I’ve made it myself. But I think Coates’s particular version of the complaint exhibits what Ayn Rand called the desire for effects without causes. The complaint is that TAS scholars aren’t producing enough scholarship, or aren’t producing it fast enough. Having made this complaint, the complainant fails to ask the following questions: What are the optimal conditions for the production of scholarship? Are they instantiated at TAS? If not, why not?  Having failed to ask or answer these questions, he nonetheless persists in making the complaint.

A thought experiment: Imagine an organization with a relatively small staff and relatively small budget. Now suppose that, in response to demands by the organization’s own clientele, its principal decision-makers burden its staff with the task of effectuating several competing projects, some scholarly/academic, some not. And suppose that scholarly/academic work is decidedly not the first priority on the list. Indeed, no one can clearly say what priority it has, mostly because the clientele is itself not sure what priority it ought to have. The clientele wants scholarship/academic work, but it wants other things as well, in no particular order; basically, it wants everything at once. The organization insists, however, on making the production of scholarship one goal among several other competing goals (competing, that is, for labor-time). Along comes a complaint about the insufficient quantity or inadequate quality of the scholarship that the organization’s staff has produced or failed to produce.

Question: Is this complaint really a fair one if the complainant fails to grant that the outcome is a predictable consequence of the organization’s response to consumer demand? Answer: no.

We could, I suppose, challenge the relative passivity of the organization’s response to consumer demand. Perhaps (in a formulation I’ve heard over and over) TAS should be the Howard Roark of Objectivist organizations, flouting the wishes of its own would-be clientele, and “having clients in order to build.” It need not passively respond to what its would-be clients want, but should shape what they ought to want. There’s something right about that, but also something extremely unrealistic—a failure to grasp the distinction between the requirements of fiction and the demands of non-fictional life. The connection between the two is not as direct as many Objectivists think.

Not to belabor the obvious, but The Fountainhead is fiction. In it, Howard Roark does hard time in a rock quarry, meets his future wife there, has sex with her, gets a job offer elsewhere—and quits, leaving the future wife in the lurch for several hundred pages (a plot device which, along with the circumstances of the sex itself, was not intended as dating advice, but is sometimes taken that way). He doesn’t face the prospect of working in a rock quarry for the rest of his life, and you probably couldn’t write a successful novel in which he did.

Now imagine a Byronic Fountainhead in which Roark, Dominique,* Wynand, and Co. are all ultimately destroyed by Toohey, and Roark’s last dilemma (on p. 695, still in the quarry) consists in whether or not to accept a state disability check for the herniated vertebral disc that he’s suffered at the worksite. Would you read it? I don’t think so. (“Howard Roark screamed. The epidural injection had hit a nerve, and the anesthesia had ceased to work. But that was the least of his problems. He wondered how he would pay for all of this medical care. His job at the quarry didn’t come with health insurance, and …” Etc.)  Could you bear to watch the movie? Probably not. But could it happen? Sure.  In real life, we might applaud Howard Roark’s decision to leave architecture for the quarry, but our judgment would also have to be balanced against the tragedy that would occur if he stayed in the quarry for the rest of his life. I don’t mean, of course, that in a case like that we would counsel the violation of integrity in the name of amoral expediency. I mean that we’d be obliged to conceive of integrity from the outset so that it didn’t in cases like this lead to tragedy. (I’ve used the example of integrity here, but the same basic point applies to lying, theft, etc.)

Before we conclusively offer the “Howard Roark prescription” for TAS, we ought first to consider the economic climate in which it operates and the options it faces. TAS responds relatively passively to consumer demand because it operates in a climate where its rival, ARI, has a monopoly on access to the consumers (mostly because ARI has a monopoly over the name “Ayn Rand,” and can market itself via its access to Rand’s books). Further, TAS needs revenue:  without paying consumers, it makes no money, and without money, the organization ceases to exist. A person who really took the “Howard Roark” interpretation seriously—while granting my etiological point about consumer demand—would have to conclude that if the right kind of consumers didn’t exist, TAS should itself cease to exist. He would also have to think that many of its staff should be consigned to work in the equivalent of rock quarries for the rest of their lives. Thus David Kelley, now for various reasons unemployable as a college or university professor—and out of favor among libertarian think-tanks—ought to disestablish TAS, and throw in the towel as a public intellectual. There are (this view continues) plenty of jobs out there; he could become a plumber, a high school English teacher, a middle manager at a medical billing firm, or the owner of a 7-11 (among other things). That’s a possible view to take, but I wonder whether it’s really compatible with the Objectivist conception of the identity of the moral and the practical. It sounds to me more like a Byronic or Quixotic bifurcation of the two.

My aim here is not primarily to defend TAS (I have no official position in the organization, and have just recently started interacting with it after 16 years’ absence), but to insist on the proper application of the principle of causality to the case at hand. I have no problem with complaints about TAS per se. There are criticisms to be made. But complaints and criticisms have to be integrated with the relevant causal and deliberatively relevant facts. From that perspective, shouldn’t part of the “where’s the scholarship?” complaint—in fact, a huge part of the complaint—be laid at the door of TAS’s clientele (or at least some of them)? If they haven’t asked themselves about the conditions under which scholarship or academic work is produced, can they expect it magically to be produced regardless of the existence or non-existence of the relevant conditions? And if they are the reason why the optimal conditions don’t exist, can they justifiably blame TAS staff for not being optimal producers of scholarship…under conditions that are obviously suboptimal for its production?  My answers: yes, no, no. But, as usual, make up your own mind.

P.S. I think I owe the “Sistine Chapel” anecdote in my exchange with Coates to Roderick Long, who suggested that I use it when people asked whether my dissertation was “done yet.” It took me twelve years to finish my dissertation, from the acceptance of the proposal to the granting of the degree. The Sistine Chapel line often came in handy, even if my dissertation ended up looking more like a competently painted shed than Michaelangelo’s masterpiece. To borrow a line, “no presumption of stature” was intended by my use of it. I doubt that any was inferred, either.


*I originally wrote “Dagny.” Thanks to Will Thomas for spotting the error.

P.S, May 22, 2013: The Atlas Society’s Director of Programs, Will Thomas, adds this postscript to our discussion:

TAS has launched a new Frank W. Bubb memorial fund for Scholarship. It’s purpose is to fund academic work, research, and scholarships. Contributors interested in work like LSO can contribute to the fund to enable that kind of work.



  1. emozes says:

    As I understand you, you’re making two distinct points here; one that I almost completely agree with, one that I very strongly disagree with.

    Your first point is that the delay in the publication of LSO is a symptom of much more fundamental problems in TAS, which make it inimical to the production of high-quality scholarly work. Those who complain vociferously about the delay in publication of LSO (I am definitely one of them) should not talk about this as an isolated issue, and simply advocate that the book be published. They should identify the deeper problem with TAS; and either advocate drastic, fundamental changes in TAS to address these problems, or advocate that TAS be closed down so that those of its employees who have actual talent – such as David Kelley and Will Thomas – can form a new and better organization. On this, I almost completely agree with you.

    I say “almost”, because there’s one point I think you’re missing: if the conditions within TAS make it impossible to complete the book, and David and Will are unwilling to form a new organization, they can and should complete the book on their own. This is especially true today, when raising money for specific, delimited projects has become easier than ever before, thanks to the availability of Kickstarter (I haven’t researched whether there are other similar sites, there probably are, but this is the most famous one). To complete LSO, David and Will would have to answer three questions:

    A. If they dropped everything else and devoted themselves full time to completing LSO and getting it ready for publication, how long would it take them to do so?

    B. If they took an unpaid leave of absence from TAS for amount of time A, how much money would they need for their living expenses during this period?

    C. Once they’ve completed the writing of LSO, how much money would they then need for the expenses of publication?

    If they can come up with good estimates of the answers to these three questions (and I see no reason why they can’t), they can then try to raise amount B+C on their own. There would be no risk in trying to raise the money, since they can do that while still working for TAS, and take the leave of absence only if they succeed in raising the money.

    I think they’d have a good chance of success. Of course I can’t be certain of that, the only way to know for sure is to have them actually try it. Their failure to try this by now proves them not to be serious about wanting to get the book published; for that it is reasonable to criticize them, quite apart from the institutional problems of TAS.

    My really strong disagreement is with your second point: your defense of TAS’s Peter-Keating-like approach to running an organization. I’m one of the people from whom you’ve heard the Howard-Roark/Peter-Keating analogy (I know you know that, but I’m stating it here for the information of other readers of this blog), and I think it is completely to the point. I find it hard to believe you really mean your rejection of it.

    To belabor an obvious point that you seem to be ignoring, at least when discussing this issue: The Fountainhead being fiction does not make it irrelevant to real life. It is fiction dealing with real-life philosophical themes. Someone who finishes The Fountainhead with the thought “Roark is a great fictional character, but of course if I want to succeed in real life I have to take Peter Keating as my role-model, have no vision of what I value doing, and just do whatever people would pay me for”, has not gotten much value from the book. And if the leaders of TAS don’t understand that, they have no business claiming to run an Objectivist organization.

    I am not at all convinced that it’s impossible to find donors who’ll support serious work on Objectivism. TAS’s leaders evidently believe that is impossible, but that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. TAS’s activities for the past ten years have alienated those who care about serious intellectual work, so when TAS look at what their current donors ask for, of course they’ll find that the donors aren’t willing to support serious work. That proves nothing about what an organization with a clear vision could raise funds for. Trying to run the Howard Roark of Objectivist organizations would involve risk, yes; but many real-life people have taken Roark-like risks in their professional lives, in some cases succeeded, in other cases failed and then bounced back from the failure. People running an Objectivist organization should be more willing than average to take such risks.

    But if it turns out that you’re correct, and that there’s really nobody out there with both serious interest in Objectivism and large amounts of money to donate; then that makes it impossible for TAS to ever accomplish anything of value. If it closed down, the main effect is likely to be that its donors would donate the same money instead to the Cato Institute, the Institute For Justice, or other organizations that are honestly non-philosophical and do actual good. So yes, in that case TAS should cease to exist.

    (Actually, I’d say TAS should cease to exist in any case. Some of the work it has published in the past ten years has been so bad that any good work they might do in the future will lose credibility by association. So it’s better if TAS closes down and those of its employees who actually have talent then form a new organization with a clear vision for serious work on Objectivism, and raise funds for the new organization with no institutional connection to TAS. But that’s a separate issue.)

    You suggest that if TAS closed down, there’s the danger that David Kelley would be unable to make a living in any way more intellectually fulfilling than “become a plumber” or “the owner of a 7-11”. I find that a bizarre prediction, and I’m sure Kelley would be able to find better work than that. But if Kelley believes otherwise, and agrees with you that the consequence of leaving or closing down TAS would be consignment for the rest of his life to doing boring work that he hates, then honesty requires that he publicly admit it. In that case he should come out and clearly state that his reason for continuing to be involved in TAS is not his belief in the value of what TAS is doing, but his fear of being unable to make a living otherwise. As long as he doesn’t openly say that, your suggestion that these are his motives for continuing to work for TAS implies that he is dishonest, and therefore completely fails as a defense for him.

  2. irfankhawaja says:

    Brevity is not usually my forte, but I can be brief with this response. The issues strike me this time as very obvious.

    We agree on the very first issue (the need for systemic analysis rather than isolated complaint).

    On the “almost,” your entire argument turns on the “good chance of success” for the strategy you describe. But you’re recommending a strategy, and making comments about its expected success, without mentioning any of the risks, and without taking any responsibility for the consequences of complete failure. You’re simply saying: “Try it, I’m sure it will be successful. Of course it may not be. But try it.” No rational person can take advice seriously when offered in that form. From the fact that it’s now easier to raise money, it doesn’t somehow follow that it’s easy to raise exactly the amount you need, when you need it. Nor does it follow that if you try, you will actually raise it. If the money isn’t forthcoming, what then? In other words, what then, after having “dropped everything”?

    On the second part of your comment, expressing outright disagreement, almost all of it is a series of strawman arguments based on a misreading of almost all of what I actually wrote. I didn’t say The Fountainhead is irrelevant to real life. My point was that a novel is not intended as the medium of advice to be taken literally an implemented as written. I didn’t defend taking Keating as a role model. I defended the need for subtlety about taking Roark as one. The point is not that there are no donors who will support scholarship on Objectivism, but not enough to make scholarship the primary purpose of an organization with a staff and infrastructure. And so on. I’m not going to re-write and re-explain every claim in the post.

    If you think Kelley “would be able to find better work” than I described, what work would you suggest? I wasn’t suggesting that the work I mentioned (plumber, high school teacher, etc.) was bad. I mentioned it because I know people who do it–and because I know that Kelley is ill-suited to doing what they do. But the options available to someone in Kelley’s situation are very limited, and mostly undesirable. I know that, because I know other people in similar situations. That’s how I got my list of jobs in the first place.

    Finally, though I’ve been criticizing TAS, my point was not that Kelley himself agrees with all of my criticisms, so that he’d be forced to the admission you want from him (“not his is belief in the value…but his fear of being unable to make a living”). An alternative to everything you say in the second half of your comment is a re-configuration of TAS, or a reconceiving of its priorities, not its abandonment. How radical a re-configuration is possible is unclear, but reform would (for many reasons) be preferable to abandonment.

  3. emozes says:

    Irfan, the problem with your response to my comment was not its brevity, it was how quickly you wrote and posted it, evidently without taking the time to read my comment with any attention.

    In objecting to my suggestion that David and Will should try to raise money on their own for completing LSO, you assert that for them to try it would involve a great risk, without saying anything to specify what you think the risk is. You write:

    If the money isn’t forthcoming, what then? In other words, what then, after having “dropped everything”?

    You completely ignore my statement explicitly addressing this very point:

    There would be no risk in trying to raise the money, since they can do that while still working for TAS, and take the leave of absence only if they succeed in raising the money.

    This is central to Kickstarter’s business model, and a major reason for its popularity. It not only makes it much easier to raise money, it also avoids the risks of more traditional fund-raising methods. Backers of the project pledge the amount they are willing to donate, but don’t actually pay anything until and unless the pledges add up to at least the target amount. It is possible to found a project on Kickstarter with very little effort or expense or risk, starting the real effort only when and if the money has been raised. Kickstarter’s answer to “if the money isn’t forthcoming, what then?” is: then the project is cancelled without the backers having gone to any expense and without the founders having risked anything.

    If you disagree, and think that for David and Will to try this would involve some serious risk, then you should explain what you think the risk would be, rather than simply ignore my statement. The only explanation I can see, for why you completely ignored my statement, is that you responded to my comment without bothering to read it with enough attention to notice what I said. The fact that you posted your response just half an hour after I posted my comment makes this a very plausible explanation.

    On your rejection of “the Howard Roark prescription”, if you really think my criticisms are based on a misunderstanding of what you meant, then calling my statements “a series of straw man arguments” and then throwing out a few brief, cryptic, hastily-written sentences doesn’t help; the appropriate way to respond is by making an effort to clearly explain what you did mean.

    Finally, let me point out that I posted my comment almost 24 hours after your initial post. There’s a reason for the delay; it was because I made an effort to take the time to read your post with attention before responding, and to actually address what you said; to effectively do this, I needed to wait a while after initially writing my comment, then re-read both your post and my comment, and then spend some more time thinking about it. Even now, responding to your very brief comment, I am posting my response almost 11 hours after you posted yours. Let me suggest that our exchanges on this blog would be more productive if you also make it a point to always, before posting a response, take some time after initially writing it and then re-read both the comment you’re responding to and your response.

  4. irfankhawaja says:

    I know how Kickstarter works.

    If the CEO of TAS is not willing to pay Kelley and Thomas to write LSO right now, that means that he doesn’t regard the LSO project as sufficiently central to the mission of his organization to justify doing so. Whether he’s right or wrong about that, that is the basic factual assumption of the whole discussion.

    Recall that TAS *is* his organization. It’s under his control. And K&T are his employees. Given those facts, it makes no sense to suggest that K&T can “ask” the CEO for an unpaid “leave of absence” for some appreciable length of time–a “leave of absence” whose purpose is to bypass his organization altogether and do something unrelated to it for however long it takes. If they are his employees, and he doesn’t want to pay them to go forward with the LSO project, why would he grant them a leave of absence at all, whether paid or unpaid, to go and do it while effectively on sabbatical from TAS? For the time that they’re gone, he loses their labor. In an organization as small as theirs, and given their centrality to it, it’s obvious he would never agree to do such a thing. The very supposition of a “leave of absence” is either so absurd that it nullifies the value of the suggestion from the start–or requires so drastic a change in circumstances that it collapses into my suggestion that we reform the institution (which you disdainfully reject). But given the current climate (which is what we’re discussing), they *can’t* keep working for TAS as the pledges accumulate in Kickstarter. Doing so is flatly incompatible with their employment contracts, and would lead to termination. Given his current conception of TAS, he’d just turn down the request. The more insistently it was made, the more likely he’d be to fire the person making it. In that case, he’d dissolve TAS, and start a new business in a different field.

    OK, now let’s imagine how your suggestion would actually work in a bit more detail. Here are three possibilities.

    (1) Suppose K&T tell the CEO that they’ve got a Kickstarter campaign going in order to write LSO, etc. There is a quarrel over this. He fires them. Now imagine the Kickstarter campaign fails (“the money isn’t forthcoming”). In that case, they neither have LSO nor have jobs at TAS–because there is no TAS (they’ve “dropped everything”).

    (2) Suppose they don’t tell him, but secretly get a Kickstarter campaign going. In the nature of such a campaign, it’s discoverable. Suppose it’s discovered and gets back to the CEO. There’s a quarrel. He fires them. The campaign fails. Same outcome. The money wasn’t forthcoming, and they’ve “dropped everything.”

    (3) Suppose they don’t tell him, but secretly start a Kickstarter campaign. He doesn’t discover it, and it makes the asked-for amount of money. Of course, when they “ask” for their “leave of absence,” they get fired from TAS, but still, they have enough money to finish the book. So they do so. Then they submit it to a publisher. Unfortunately, no publisher takes it. Demoralized, they go back to TAS–except that there is no TAS, because the CEO, disgusted of dealing with intellectuals, has gone on to a totally different sort of business. Result: no published book, no job. Here, the money was forthcoming, but they still ended up dropping almost everything (except the finished manuscript).

    Scenarios 1 and 2 are what I meant by “complete failure”; scenario 3 is “nearly complete failure.” Every scenario runs into the same problem.

    Of course, we could have this:

    (4) They start a Kickstarter campaign, and tell him. He says yes to the leave of absence. They raise the money needed for the book. He does without them for a few years, but he waits. They write the book. It gets published. It’s a success. They come back to TAS. Their jobs are waiting for them.

    But (4) can’t happen now, given the way people think about these issues. Option (4) would require having some arguments and gradually revising the organization’s self-conception. It would also require a transformation in the way rank and file people thought about the purpose of such organizations. But those are the very reforms at TAS that you reject. Meanwhile, those reforms cohere in an obvious way with my original post. So you’re not entitled to (4). I am. Anyway, if we can aim at reforms of the kind (4) requires, we shouldn’t need Kickstarter campaigns. A reformed TAS could and should fund scholarship on a traditional model with (4) as an intermediate option. But (4) was not what we were discussing, whether on the Kickstarter or the traditional model. It presupposes something you’ve vehemently rejected.

    You can now see why I ignored your statement “explicitly addressing this very point.” It doesn’t “explicitly address” the relevant point. It proceeds as though the relevant point could itself be ignored. Your strategy is not compatible with K&T having jobs at TAS while the Kickstarter campaign is going, but requires sacrificing their jobs and then hoping that the Kickstarter campaign works after they’ve lost them. In the better of these cases, we’re to imagine them writing LSO in the knowledge that when they’re done, they’ll be unemployed.

    I said that you were “recommending a strategy, and making recommendations about its expected success, without mentioning any of the risks and without taking any responsibility for the consequences of complete failure.” Forget how long it took me to write that. I wasn’t wrong.

    The rest of what I wrote was neither cryptic, nor unclear. It’s only “brief” relative to other things I’ve written here. There’s no need to say any more about it.

  5. emozes says:

    Putting aside the tone of your last comment, and responding only to its substance; you make two points:

    Your first point is that you dispute my claim that David and Will can try to complete and publish LSO on their own, without taking any risk. Your argument is that you expect Aaron Day to refuse to grant them an unpaid leave of absence for the purpose, and this creates a risk for them.

    Since I’ve never met Aaron Day or had any interaction with him, I am certainly willing to concede that you know him better than I do. That said, I find your prediction surprising. Many people have taken unpaid leave of absence from their job for the purpose of writing a book, or for some other personal project. This is always done in order to “bypass [the employer] altogether and do something unrelated to it for however long it takes”, doing something that the employer “doesn’t want to pay them for”; that’s the whole point of taking a leave of absence from one’s job rather than doing the project on the job. Employers don’t need to approve of a project for which they grant an unpaid leave of absence, let alone hold the project as their own priority; they just need to recognize that the employees care about the project enough to be willing to di without their salary for as long as it takes to accomplish it, and value the employees enough to want them to back at the job after they’re finished with it. Why would Aaron Day refuse to allow David and Will something that many other managers have allowed their employees? He does not want TAS’s budget and the employees’ “company time” spent on scholarly work; and if David and Will ask for an unpaid leave of absence, this would be precisely in order to comply with his wishes, and avoid spending any of TAS’s budget and of their “company time” on LSO. Why would he have a problem with that?

    But let’s concede that it’s possible that he will refuse to grant a leave of absence; that still doesn’t create a risk for David and Will. An action is risky only if it involves uncertainty that cannot be resolved in advance, before committing to taking the action. In this case, David and Will have an obvious, simple, straightforward way to resolve the uncertainty, and find out in advance whether Aaron Day will agree to the leave of absence or not, before committing themselves to anything: ask him. It makes no sense for us to have speculative arguments about whether he would agree to this or not, when David and Will can so easily find out the answer. If they ask him and he says he will allow it, then what I said in my previous comments holds; the Kickstarter business model makes it possible for them to try to complete and publish LSO on their own, without taking any risk.

    If they ask him and he says he would not allow it, then they’d have to consider how important LSO is to them, and whether getting it published is worth quitting TAS, and accepting the consequence that after the book is published – or immediately, if they fail to raise the money they need to complete it – they would need to look for work elsewhere. If they do choose to stay with TAS, with the very high likelihood that by doing so they are giving up any chance of ever getting LSO published, it would then be legitimate to debate whether they did the right thing. But for now all these questions are premature; these questions would only be relevant after they ask Aaron Day, and only if he answers “no”. Did they in fact ask him already, and did he answer “no”? If so, then I, Phil Coates, and all the others who’ve been complaining about the delays in publishing LSO, should be told about that. But I have no evidence to suggest that they did ask him.

    If they didn’t ask him, why didn’t they? Do you think Aaron Day is so hostile to the idea of scholarly Objectivist work that he’s liable to fire them just for raising the suggestion? If so, then an allegedly Objectivist organization whose CEO is so blatantly irrational doesn’t deserve support from anyone, and David and Will should certainly be criticized for continuing to support it (and so should you, for agreeing to teach at the TAS graduate seminar). So assuming that Aaron Day is at least not that irrational, and that the worst he could do in response to such a question is answer “no”; then there’s no risk in asking him. So if they haven’t ask him yet, why haven’t they? This is such an obvious idea that I can’t believe they never thought of it; the only reasonable explanation I can see is that they did think of it, and decided that they’re not interested in doing it, even if Aaron Day were to agree. If that’s the case, that demonstrates that they’re not serious about wanting to get the book published; and it is reasonable to criticize them personally for that, quite apart from the institutional problems of TAS.

    Your second point is that you now say you would support calls for reforming TAS by “revising the organization’s self-conception” and “a transformation in the way rank and file people thought about the purpose of such organizations”. I passionately and whole-heartedly agree. But this seems to directly contradict everything you said in your original post in the section on “the Howard Roark prescription” (the four paragraphs starting with “We could, I suppose, challenge” and ending with “Byronic or Quixotic bifurcation of the two”). I re-read your original post, and still can’t find any possible way to read these four paragraphs other than as a disdainful rejection of any suggestion for reforming TAS. The first time on this thread you made any indication, that you might support calls for reforming TAS, was in the last two sentences of your first comment (the comment of May 16, 10:33am); but you made it with no explanation, either there or in your second comment, of how to reconcile these statements with what you said in your original post.

    TAS’s current configuration and priorities are based on what their donors asked for. Any attempt to significantly reform the organization would therefore necessarily meet with objections from the donors; as long as the leaders of TAS are only willing to attempt reform that the donors don’t object to, the reform will never happen. In order to have any chance of accomplishing reform of the organization, they must be prepared to resist the objections, and insist on setting the organization’s priorities based on their own values. They must commit themselves to having donors in order to run the organization, rather than running the organization in order to have donors. They must be prepared to take donations only from donors who’re willing to donate to the reformed organization; existing donors who’d continue to donate because they find the changes acceptable, as well as new donors who’d start donating because of their agreement with the new priorities. And they must accept the risk that if not enough money can be raised from such donors, they’d need to drastically reduce TAS’s staff and activities, perhaps even close TAS down completely, requiring David Kelley and all other employees to look for jobs elsewhere. In sum, reform of TAS would require its leaders to start running it on the same principles on which Rand depicted Roark as running his architectural business. Which is why those who passionately believe in the need for such reform, including myself, have so often expressed the call for reform by saying that TAS should become “the Howard Roark of Objectivist organizations”.

    So how can your statements that “the Howard Roark prescription” – i.e. the call for reform of TAS – fails “to grasp the distinction between the requirements of fiction and the demands of non-fictional life”, that it ignores “the economic climate in which [TAS] operates and the options it faces”, and that you “wonder whether it’s really compatible with the Objectivist conception of the identity of the moral and the practical”, be reconciled with your now saying that you do support the call for reform? Maybe you don’t really want to reconcile them; maybe on reflection you just want to retract everything you said in these four paragraphs. But if that’s not the case; if there’s some point you intended to make in these four paragraphs that you still stand by – which I take it would be a point consistent with calling for reform of TAS – then I am completely mystified as to what that point could be, and I am certain that everyone else who’s read this thread is just as mystified as I am. You need to explain what that point is.

    Once you explain your intended point, maybe it will turn out that I completely agree with it, and we never really had a disagreement on this in the first place. Or maybe it will turn out that I still disagree (though if your point is consistent with supporting calls for reform of TAS, my disagreement will certainly not be anywhere near as strong as my disagreement with your formulation in the original post); in that case I’ll explain my disagreement and we can continue the discussion from there. The first step – assuming you did mean something that you still stand by – is for you to explain what you meant.

  6. irfankhawaja says:

    Before I address anything in your May 20 comment, I’d like an answer to the question I asked you on May 16: “If you think Kelley “would be able to find better work” than I described, what work would you suggest?” You find my suggestion “bizarre.” I assume you have a better suggestion, and that you’re very confident of its nature and expected success. So what is it? And try to be as specific as possible. It’s in the nature of advice that it guides its intended beneficiary to a course of action feasible to him, given the circumstances he’s actually in. What course of action do you have in mind, to what intended result, with what probability of success?

  7. Irfan, your exchange with Coates at TAS has been deleted “because staff do not currently have time to respond.” Happily, it (or most of it) is still archived here here.

  8. irfankhawaja says:

    Yes, I noticed that. Thanks for pointing out the archive location, which I missed. My understanding was that they hadn’t literally deleted the exchange, but had taken it down until such time as they could respond. Truth to be told, I didn’t think that the Logical Structure page was the right place for that debate. I also haven’t followed that debate since before I left for Jerusalem three weeks ago, so I don’t know what they were responding to; I didn’t have time to look while I was there.


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