The Night Watchman

A Small Beacon in the Night of Unreason
raised and maintained by Per-Olof Samuelsson


My Final Words to Michael Berliner

Background: On June 19th, 1996, I received the following short note from Michael Berliner, then Executive Director of ARI, in response to my sending him a complementary issue of the revised version of Objektivistisk skrifterie nr 1:

"One note: I would guess that Dr. Peikoff will stop giving you permission to reprint AR articles unless you eliminate TJS from your recommendations - they are very anti-ARI and anti-LP."

My answer:

Could you tell me exactly what it is the Reismans are being charged with? I have tried to find out from other sources (SRB and TIA), but all I have received is evasive and/or ad verecundiam-type answers. (I will write and ask Dr. Peikoff personally, too.)

Neither Dr. Peikoff, nor you, nor anyone, could ask of me that I take sides against the Reismans, if I do not even know (and people refuse to tell me) what the case against them is.

If your note is what it looks like, namely a threat and/or a demand that I take part in the lynching of a great man, then Objektivisisk skriftserie will have to close down, or else continue with someone else as translator/editor. For I do not work under threats and I do not take part in lynchings.

Dr. Berliner wrote me the following answer, dated July 22, 1996, which he also forbade me to disseminate:

In reply to your letters to me and Dr. Peikoff: In my previous letter, I had suggested that Dr. Peikoff might not want to continue providing permissions for reprints if you continued to plug TJS. My thought was that he might not want to supply such a major value to a publication providing prestige to people conducting a campaign agaisnt him. In fact, he did not take that position, holding that you are in Europe, not privy to the dispute etc. However, your diatribe and demands changed his mind: you have obviously taken a strong stand against him (and against ARI and the others who have borne the brunt of the Reismans' attack). therefore, he has asked me to inform you that he has discontinued cooperation with you on any and all publishing ventures.

For my own part: The "whispering" (actually screaming) campaign and the "lynching" have been conducted by the Reismans et al; any action taken by Dr. Peikoff and ARI have been solely in retaliation. If you consider it "lynching" to quietly cease dealing with those subjecting me and others to years of abuse, then so be it. But you may want to check your premises and ask yourself why three different ARI Boards of Directors took retaliatory action against them (primarily Dr. Packer) and why virtually every other prominent Objectivist ceased dealing with her over the years and prior to the most recent dispute. [Italics mine.](A personal note: in all my years of dealing with people, including 20 years at universities, I've never dealt with anyone who acted less on Objectivism than Dr. Packer.) Two further comments: The basis for our action was in private conversations, so it would be impossible to make the original dispute "objective" to others, and to attempt to do so would lead to a continual exchange of "he said, she saids" - pointless, demeaning, and destructive of our work in spreading Objectivism. However, although originally personal, the dispute became ideological when the Reismans chose to disseminate private correspondence which they were given on the condition the privacy was maintained; I was present on the phone when they agreed to that condition (insisted upon because the context was critical and not understandable otherwise). apparently their view is that private property rights can be violated if one disagrees with the contents of that property.

(You may wonder why Dr. Berliner does not want this letter disseminated, if it contains nothing but the plain truth. The reason, as far as I can make out, is the following: he has written a similar letter to at least one person, and he has stated his view of Edith Packer verbally to at least one other person I have been in contact with. He has also written personally to Edith Packer, assuring her that "I have never defamed you, neither personally nor professionally". That letter, by the way, is dated November 5, 1996. If he states to Edith Packer that he has never defamed her, then it might be at least slightly embarrassing to him if she were to know that he he has in fact done just that!)

The following is my answer:

Strängnäs, Sweden, July 30, 1996

Dr. Berliner,

Thank you for your reply. I am glad this matter is settled once and for all.

Since this is the last you will ever hear from me, I am morally obliged to make my case clear.

(i)

The publishing ventures you mention are not mine; they are Henrik Unné's. Henrik is the owner of "Objektivistisk skriftserie" and of "Förlaget Egoisten"; he is the one who takes the financial risks involved; I am, in fact, his employee. However, Henrik is dependent upon having a competent translator who also understands Objectivism. There is no such person in Sweden except me. Thus, with me boycotted, Henrik will not be able to continue his publishing ventures.

Henrik is not in any way involved in the TJS dispute: he is an "innocent bystander". I have informed him about the conflict, and presented the evidence I have; but I have not demanded of him that he take sides. Yet, it is Henrik who is going to be hurt by Dr. Peikoff's action, not me.

(ii)

I have to point out the utter futility of Dr. Peikoff's action against me. He does not have the power to prevent me from translating Miss Rand's works into Swedish; all he has the power to do is to prevent those translations from getting published. The only thing this will accomplish is that my translations will not be published until Miss Rand's works are in the public domain. This will probably not be in my life-time, but then I have always taken a long-range view with regard to the spread of Objectivism, and I will have time to complete the work I have begun. (The only thing that slows me down today is the fact that I also have to earn a living; but hopefully I will have some years left to live and work, after I have retired.)

What conceivable life-promoting purpose is served by Dr. Peikoff's action here? None whatsoever. The only purpose served is that of cheap revenge. And this shows that the power Dr. Peikoff is wielding is solely the power of destruction.

(iii)

Objectivism is still Ayn Rand's philosophy and nobody else's. It is not my philosophy, it is not your philosophy, it is not George Reisman's philosophy, and it is certainly not Leonard Peikoff's philosophy. The fact that Miss Rand bequeathed her property to Dr. Peikoff gives him the legal right to dispose of it by his own best rational judgement; it does not give him the moral license to dispose of it by whim. If he does, he has to be condemned, and condemned harshly - precisely because of the inestimable value that has been put in his custody. Thus, while I cannot dispute Dr. Peikoff's legal right to take punitive action against me, I certainly dispute his moral right to do so.

I have to disagree with the notion that is is Dr. Peikoff who has "supplied me with a value" in granting Henrik permission to publish my translations. With the exception of a few articles by other Objectivists (three by Dr. Peikoff himself), the actual value was supplied by Ayn Rand; Dr. Peikoff merely acted as her agent. The value of the translation was provided by me. True, this may be a small value compared to the original text; but it is still a value; and to someone who is not fluent in English, it might be an enormous value.

Dr. Peikoff's sole reason for penalizing me is that "I have taken a strong stand against him". Indeed, I have. By the end of this letter, you should know why I had to do so. The objective meaning of his reaction is that he regards himself as exempt from moral judgement.

(iv)

It is a long time since I sent you a current list of subscribers to "Objektivistisk skriftserie", so I include one with this letter. Obviously, I have to inform our subscribers that the "skriftserie" is closing and tell them the reason for it. However, I do not intend to make a song and dance about it, and I see no reason to spread this senseless conflict to people who know nothing about it and have no reason to be concerned with it. I will merely state that Dr. Peikoff has forbidden me to publish any more translations, that his reasons are confidential, and that they cannot stand daylight anyway. Should you disagree with this, you are of course free to issue your own statement.

(v)

You write in your letter:

"...you might want to check your premises and ask yourself why three different ARI Boards of Directors took retaliatory action against them (primarily Dr. Packer) and why virtually every other prominent Objectivist ceased dealing with her over the years and prior to the most recent dispute."

But this is precisely the question I asked of you! And it is precisely the question I have asked of others before and only received evasive and ad verecundiam type answers. (I of course did not use those exact words; what I asked was: "What is the actual case? What are the actual facts?") Now you say that I should not ask those questions of those who might conceivably know the answer; I should instead ask them of myself. The only conceivable reason for saying so is that you believe I have telepathic powers. Since you obviously do not believe this, the only remaining alternative is that you, too, are giving me an evasive, ad verecundiam argument, believing it is enough to hit me in the head with "three different Boards" and "every prominent Objectivist".

Now, I do not think that you will dispute that ad verecundiam is a fallacy. All the best authorities have said that for millenia - if you get the sarcasm. What needs to be stressed is that its psychological root is cowardice: it is used by people who dare not take responsibility for their own ideas and/or actions and who feel the need to hide behind some authority. I expect ad verecundiam arguments from sundry religionists, socialists or libertarians; I do not expect them from those who call themselves Objectivists. Least of all, I expect them in the form of "the appeal to majority opinion". Yet, this is exactly what I am getting from you.

If "prominent Objectivists" know the case against the Reismans, they can give it to me when I ask them; they should not have to hide behind Leonard Peikoff's authority; yet this is what the ones I have asked have done so far. But it is worse than that. According to Linda Reardan (whose report I have absolutely no reason to doubt), she got exactly this line ("A majority of ARI Directors cannot be wrong") from Leonard Peikoff. This means: while "prominent Objectivists" are hiding behind Leonard Peikoff's authority, Leonard Peikoff in turn is hiding behind the authority of "prominent Objectivists".

Your use of the phrase "check your premises" in the quote above is truly abhorrent; it is the voice of the primordial Witch Doctor parrotting words he has learned from better thinkers. What is the premise you want me to discard? The premise that moral judgement has to based on factual evidence - that the "who says so?" does not matter, only the facts matter. And what premise do you want me to put in its stead? Well, you have answered that in spades.

(vi)

With regard to your allegations against Dr. Packer: it is absolutely impossible for me to judge them. I do not know Dr. Packer personally; I have met her twice in person and had a ten minute conversation with her, in which she did nothing but give me some perfectly good advice. I have to judge her by her published writings and lectures. But supposing she is as bad as you make her out to be: in that case, I am perfectly capable of finding that out for myself. You have no business demanding that I take what you say on faith or that I act on it; least of all then that I judge her husband's intellectual accomplishments by it. (You should remember, from my letter to Dr. Peikoff, what is my motive for bothering with this conflict at all.)

Dr. Packer's sins (real or imagined) are an extremely minor issue to me. What is the major issue will become evident at the end of this letter.

(vii)

I agree with your point that your side of the dispute cannot be made objective to others, and I even agree with the reason you give (that it would lead to a pointless exchange of "he/she saids"). But for that very reason you cannot expect those others to agree with you, you cannot demand that they take the action you take, and you cannot punish them for not following suit. And this points to the actual, horrendous evil of Dr. Peikoff's treatment of me.

What is demanded of me is not my reasoned agreement, but my blind obedience, with extra emphasis on "blind". Now, this blindness is a blindness I would have to impose on myself. The technical name for self-imposed blindness is "evasion". And evasion is the root of evil. Thus, what is actually demanded of me is that I become evil - evil at root. There is no way around this conclusion. (And it is easily "vertically integrated" [slip of the pen; should be: "horizontally integrated"] with your demand that I make ad verecundiam my basic ruling premise in moral matters.)

(viii)

The issue of the Reismans disseminating private letters is an obvious rationalization on your part. Dr. Peikoff had already "declared them immoral", and ARI and SRB had ceased dealing with them (and threatened to destroy the master tapes of Dr. Packer's lectures) before this happened - so this cannot be their actual "immorality". It should be noted that the only person who has had the courage to present the case against George Reisman is George Reisman. If that does not tell you something, it tells me something.

The actual, objective meaning of this particular incident is this: the fact that the Reismans were considered immoral (and to be shunned) should be made known, but the reasons for it should be kept secret. If this were not so, then your side of the conflict could have made its own public statement, edited to look civilized (e.g. omitting such words as "shitlist"). [Harry Binswanger, in a scribbled message, claims that Edith Packer maintains a "shitlist", and that he is on it.] You did not do so, well knowing that your case was too flimsy (and could not be "made objective" to outsiders). Yet, you took action against the Reismans. Under those circumstances, I dispute your right to invoke property rights. What "right" does anyone have to make murky accusations while hiding the actual nature of the accusations? This is the "right" of mystics. And if your case were not flimsy, but impregnable, then you should be grateful to the Reismans for making it known.

(ix)

This dispute, to me, became ideological the moment I discovered that Harry Binswanger was in the process of re-writing Objectivism, for the sole purpose of casting doubt on Dr. Reisman's credentials as an Objectivist. This was in the memo Dr. Binswanger wrote to you regarding Dr. Reisman's pamphlet on socialized medicine. (Incidentally, Dr. Reisman sent me a copy of this memo at my request. I was interested in the philosophical aspects of the dispute.) The dispute became even more ideological when I learned that Dr. Peikoff - who should have shredded this memo the same way he shredded David Kelley's paper on "toleration" - instead heartily approved of it. At that moment it became evident to me that the alleged leaders of the Objectivist "movement" were no better than the libertarians and the kelleyites and had to be judged by the same standard.

That this re-writing of Objectivism is not an isolated occurence is evidenced by Dr. Peikoff's 1995 lectures on "moral judgement". In those lectures, Dr. Peikoff (in complete oblivion and/or defiance of Miss Rand's stated views on "psychologizing") recommended that one base one's evaluation of a conflict between "warring friends" on the respective parties' psychology. (Incidentally, the "warring friends" part of those lectures was a smoke-screen: Dr. Peikoff tried to instill in his audience's mind that the evidence in the conflict is so "evenly balanced" that one would have to resort to psychologizing to resolve it. No conflict is ever that "evenly balanced", least of all the present one.)

[To be exact, Dr. Peikoff claimed in this lecture that when everything else fails, and one cannot find any other rationalizations, one should ask oneself which of the warring parties is most prone to "building castles in the air" - and then one should conclude that is is Reisman and Packer, not Leonard Peikoff and his friends. Of course he did not mention any names; that was part of the smoke-screen.]

When people start "tailoring" Objectivism to fit their preconceived notions, their likes and dislikes, i.e. their feelings, then they are not Objectivists any longer: they are subjectivists. And they will act that way. They will become power-lusters whose main concern is no longer truth or falsehood, but whether their own "position in the movement" is threatened or not. As I once put the point (in a different context) they will act like bullies.

The truly ominous part of this is not even what you are doing to George Reisman. This is bad enough; but I believe he will eventually gain the recognition he deserves, no matter what you do to him (or fail to do for him). He "will just have to work a little harder". The truly ominous thing is what you are doing to Objectivism: not merely to the "movement" but to the integrity of the philosophy. If it is people who care about this integrity (people like me, or Linda Reardan) whom you punish, while letting others re-write Objectivism as they please, then it is you, as much as the kelleyites, who are "frauds in the short run and monsters long-range".

If you wish to save your souls, I strongly recommend that you read, or re-read, the very last page of Miss Rand's "To Whom It May Concern" - and take warning.

As for myself, I wish to have no further dealings with you, nor with Dr. Peikoff. You may have done great things in the past (Dr. Peikoff certainly has). Today, you have become irrevocably evil.

Yours,
Per-Olof Samuelsson


Post scriptum: One subscriber to Objektivistisk skriftserie wrote a letter addressed to Dr. Peikoff, which I take the liberty of quoting (the English is not 100% perfect, but that is hardly the point here):

 
It has come to my knowledge that you have withdrawn the permission for Per-Olof Samuelsson to further publish translations of Ayn Rand's work. I would like to express my concern for this decision. Living in Sweden it's very clear that her voice is still very much needed. This news came as somewhat of a shock to me. The effort Per-Olof has put in has been great, and comparing several translations of his with the original, I'd like to say that not only are his translations correct but also very describing [the word choice is odd, but I think he means something like "vivid"]. He finds ways to express the point in a fashion that retains the sense close to the original. This I cannot say however of some of the other translations that have been done for Swedish editions. I therefore find it not only remarkable but also in all honesty stupid to withdraw his permission. [My italics, and my sentiments.]

I've also been told that the reason is some sort of disagreement between the two of you. And that it is not of his business, it's personal and hasn't got to do with Objectivism. If this is true I beg you not to deny the rest of Sweden the possibility to read proper translations of Ayn Rand out of these reasons. If it is so that Per-Olof is a person that I (for some reason that must have escaped me) shouldn't be associated with, I'd be grateful if you would let me know. And in that case also why.

Dr. Berliner answered for Dr. Peikoff:

I don't dispute Mr. Samuelsson's past efforts in spreading Objectivism. However, he wrote letters to Dr. Peikoff and myself that were so hostile, demanding and presumptuous [sic] that neither Dr. Peikoff or I have any desire to continue dealing with him. That disputes are personal (in the sense that they don't involve the advocacy of bad philosophy) does not mean that they have nothing to do with Objectivism; and it certainly doesn't mean that they are irrelevant to dealing. Objectivism does not permit that sort of dichotomy or compartmentalization.

My own comment:

I have to point out that you are now also guilty of projection, by stating that "Objectivism does not permit that sort of dichotomy or compartmentalization". ("That sort" referring to the fact that I have asked you to practice what you preach.)

If a person says that his behavior toward long-standing friends "has nothing to do with Objectivism", then this is a theory/practice dichotomy as wide as from here to Alpha Centauri. Its actual meaning is: "philosophy is a castle in the air which has nothing to do with my life". And it was not I who made such a statement. It was Dr. Leonard Peikoff. (That this is also "compartmentalization" goes without saying. It certainly puts "philosophy" and "life" in different compartments.)

If you wish to denigrate my character behind my back, there is nothing I can do to stop you. But I do not like being the target of projection - I do not like being accused of my detractors' own sins. This is actually the counterpart of the Communists' policy of accusing capitalism of its own sins ("impoverishing the masses" and that kind of jazz). If you have a case against me, you can state it. But you have as big (or as small) a case against me as you have against George and Edith.

Your policy in this matter - which is answering queries with no facts at all, only with vague, contextless accusations, sometimes dressed up in Objectivist-sounding language - is bound to backfire. You seem to have too low an opinion of the average intelligence among students/supporters of Objectivism. Some of them may be stupid enough to get fooled by you. But most of them will sooner or later see through you.

POS

I am afraid my last sentence was over-optimistic. It is six years since I wrote this, and for all I see most Objectivists simply "follow suit" in this issue. Now, by my experience, neither stupidity nor sheer cowardice is a wide-spread malady among Objectivists. I guess I have to attribute the phenomenon to ignorance.

© 2002 Per-Olof Samuelsson
May be quoted freely as long as the URL to this web site is included. May not be quoted out of context.

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