Skip to main content

How shitty is Lisa Duggan, leading Rand-basher du jour?

[Note 2/4/20: I finish up on demolishing Scumbag Duggan's so-called scholarship and credibility here.]

[A follow-up to my earlier post, "How shitty are Rand-bashers?"]

I've already commented on this despicable creature here, primarily on the basis of how she makes a mockery of the very activity of intellectual inquiry.  As with other leftist losers/scum, by perverting the very form of intellectual inquiry and thereby undermining its integrity, they produce junk content.  The way Duggan replied to me in email when I asked her reasonable pointed questions virtually assures that her "scholarship" is shitty.

Lisa Duggan is a Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University.  She is the latest specimen of an author making the (futile) effort to discredit Rand in book form, with Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed (2019).  (How this piece of shit got published by a university press is a good question.  How low are the standards for the series this is a part of?  What clique of leftist scum is involved?)  She identifies herself on her twitter as a pinko/commie activist.  If Mean Girl is the "best" commentary on Rand the Left can come up with, 62 years after Atlas Shrugged, the left is kaput as a credible intellectual force.

As I pointed out in my commentary linked above, I have not read Duggan's book.  All the signs point to it being a waste of time.  The usual dishonest/slimy/scummy/lowlife/smear/sneer/strawman leftist tactics appear well on display there, and I've seen the tactics a thousand times.  The very title of the book itself is a dishonest smear.

How does Duggan promote her work in excerpt/preview form?  Here we go.  First off, the premise that Rand is "the spirit of our time" cannot possibly be true, for if it were, Duggan wouldn't be holding a university position (or, preferably, would have her act cleaned way up).  (Within the intellectual thug as we know her is an Aristotelian yearning to break out -- but that's up to her.)  For another, if it were true, a critical mass of people would have internalized the themes/content of Understanding Objectivism (i.e., become in essence Aristotelian cognizers).  But let's get to some specific claims she makes, shall we?

For one thing, Duggan is clueless about the history of Objectivist thought.  For instance, she writes:
Major figures in business and finance are or have been Rand fans: Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Peter Thiel (Paypal), Steve Jobs (Apple), John Mackey (Whole Foods), Mark Cuban (NBA), John Allison (BB&T Banking Corporation), Travis Kalanik (Uber), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), ad infinitum.
Anyone who does their homework on Rand knows that one of these concrete instances as not like hte others.  Only one of them ran a 1990s internet forum, Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy (MDOP) and could cite Rand chapter and verse.  Only one of them would have consumed pretty much the entire body of secondary literature on Rand (including Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical [1995], the author of which was a MDOP contributor).  Only one of them debated anarcho-capitalism with David Friedman on humanities.philosophy.objectivism.  Only one of them is aware of the hierarchical primacy of philosophy and how that is demonstrated by the hierarchical structure of wikipedia.

So why would she lump Jimmy Wales in with the rest of these business people as if they were all more or less alike in their Rand-expertise?

She makes the following claim:
Though Ayn Rand’s popularity took off in the 1940s, her reputation took a dive during the 1960s and 70s. 
Since when?  Reputation for what?  Among whom?  It was in the '60s that her cultural visibility was on an upward trajectory while it is true that the '70s was a lull period in that regard.  Anyone who has followed the history of Objectivism would know this.  At minimum this claim is sloppy and deceptive.

She writes:
Rand’s ideas are not the key to her influence. [!] Her writing does support the corrosive capitalism at the heart of neoliberalism, though few movers and shakers actually read any of her nonfiction. Her two blockbuster novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, are at the heart of her incalculable impact.
So if I understand this correctly, Rand's ideas can be separated from her novels.  That would come as news to pretty much anybody.  How sloppy a thinker is Duggan, anyway?
There are also large clusters of enthusiasts for Rand’s novels in the entertainment industry, from the 1940s to the present—from Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, and Raquel Welch to Jerry Lewis, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Rob Lowe, Jim Carrey, Sandra Bullock, Sharon Stone, Ashley Judd, Eva Mendes, and many more.
So Duggan can rattle off lists of Rand fans from this or that sector of the culture.  So why doesn't she rattle off the list of philosophy professors and other intellectuals influenced by Rand?  By not doing so she conveys the impression that those influenced by her don't include intellectuals and philosophers.  This is prima facie dishonest.  How can someone with the research tools at Duggan's disposal fail to notice the body of secondary literature from philosophers on Rand?  She cites Sciabarra's Russian Radical in the bibliography to Mean Girl (yes, I checked out the bibliography to see how selective it is . . . which it is, very much so . . . and it's heavily titled toward the biography-related, gossipy-level, intellectual-lightweight-level resources), so she can't but be aware of the very serious and comprehensive treatment Rand's ideas receive there.  (She says she consulted it for the biographical info therein.)

Let's say that a philosopher influences a bunch of scumbags who go on to wreak destruction on the world.  Karl Marx is one such philosopher.  But leftists counter that with "oh, but that's not Marxism proper and those are bad people, how about you pay attention instead to Luxemburg, Lukacs, Adorno, Marcuse, Fromm [whose Man for Himself is excellent, BTW], Cohen, Harvey, et al."  Good luck getting these same folks to acknowledge Hospers, Gotthelf, Miller, Den Uyl, Rasmussen, Sciabarra, Salmieri, Tara Smith, et al.  For leftists, their readings of Rand reign supreme and to hell with how other readers (who must not be very bright/reflective/critical) receive Rand's writings; but turn the tables on Marx/Marxism and they scream foul.

Duggan continues:
But how can the work of this one novelist (also an essayist, playwright, and philosopher), however influential, be a significant source of insight into the rise of a culture of greed? In a word: sex. Ayn Rand made acquisitive capitalists sexy. She launched thousands of teenage libidos into the world of reactionary politics on a wave of quivering excitement.This sexiness extends beyond romance to infuse the creative aspirations, inventiveness, and determination of her heroes with erotic energy, embedded in what Rand called her “sense of life.” Analogous to what Raymond Williams has called a “structure of feeling,” Rand’s sense of life combines the libido-infused desire for heroic individual achievement with contempt for social inferiors and indifference to their plight. Lauren Berlant has called the structure of feeling, or emotional situation, of those who struggle for a good life under neoliberal conditions “cruel optimism”—the complex of feelings necessary to keep plugging away hopefully despite setbacks and losses. Rand’s contrasting sense of life applies to those whose fantasies of success and domination include no doubt or guilt. The feelings of aspiration and glee that enliven Rand’s novels combine with contempt for and indifference to others. The resulting Randian sense of life might be called “optimistic cruelty.” Optimistic cruelty is the sense of life for the age of greed.
This is not a serious analysis but a mere pretense of one.  "Contempt and indifference toward social inferiors" is not Rand's position but Duggan's (and all Rand-bashers') fevered imagining of Rand's position.  Here's how that fevered phenomenon goes: Rand denies there is some duty to serve others irrespective of one's own interests; she speaks of "the virtue of selfishness" (which she explains the meaning of throughout her book of that title); she advocates laissez-faire capitalism as premised upon and packaged together with her-idea-of-selfishness; leftists view capitalism as an inhuman system premised on their-idea-of-selfishness; and so it must be the case that Rand is a defender of an inhuman system because that's the expression of "selfishness."  That's it.  That's the entire extent of how leftists "grasp" what's going on in Rand's writings.  And they have zero grasp of her wider philosophical principles beyond the political or ethical.  About the only thing they get right about Rand is: she advocates laissez-faire capitalism.  But they have zero in-context grasp of her reasons for supporting it.

One of Rand's wider philosophical principles -- well, in a sense the fundamental one uniting all the rest -- is the necessity of integrating one's mental contents properly, placing them within their proper context and hierarchy, perhaps using the likes of Aristotle as a guide/inspiration for how it's done (most perfectionist-like).  By doing so, one should - with enough practice and input - be able to more readily identify phenomena by their essence, which is to say, in Randian terms, the most explanatorily fundamental to the phenomena.  And if you're going to get into the topic of sense of life, you might as well get into Rand's view of the subconscious and its relation to the conscious level, a topic for psycho-epistemology (covered most indepth explicitly in such places as Binswanger's lectures).

Here's part of an explanation for how someone like Rand - or Marx, or Aristotle, or other big-impact thinkers - have the influence that they do: the power of mental integration.  Taking Atlas Shrugged (or Das Kapital) as an example: the author integrates a vast sum of material that no other authors integrated to nearly such an extent.  There's nothing nearly like Atlas Shrugged in existence; perhaps the most comparable case would be Mises' Human Action, itself an integration of vast material.  (Let's not forget the work of the sole longtime student of both Mises and Rand, Reisman's mammoth Capitalism.)  She covers a vast range of subject matter, tightly hierarchically ordered, with application to a vast range of avenues of human activity.  And it isn't just the Galt speech that is the product of an integration or organizing of vast sums of material; it's the integration of plot, characterization, theme, and style into a unity (the theme of Atlas Shrugged being "the role of the mind in man's existence" and all the applications of this all-encompassing theme).

Integrating vast sums of material into a compact/condensed/essentialized form is the aim of my own work, as evidenced in my existing book (see "About Me" above) and in the scope and ambition of my current 'Better Living Through Philosophy' project.  (The principle of integration is at work just from the unit-condensation function of all the documenting links I provide in my blog posts.)  If ever there is a legitimate product of Rand's influence it's in my own work and/or the sensibility that drives its formation (to whatever degree of perfection in result).  I have an eagle-eye out for the principle of integration at work in whatever phenomena where it might be identified.  I find Ferrarin's Hegel and Aristotle, which covers fundamentally important subject matter as treated by two of history's most searching minds, necessarily must be integrated with the Randian project (although tons of promising leads are already there in Sciabarra, which integrates vast sums of material as reflected in his bibliographies).

I could go on.  Point being, this is the sort of project someone like Duggan is too intellectually lazy to undertake.  Aristotle and Hegel would rightly be disgusted at her intellectually small MO - a case to learn from in the how-to-avoid-intellectual-bankruptcy sense.

As to the key and central claim of Duggan's book - that Rand promotes meanness and cruelty and indifference toward others - I don't know how many goddamn times I have to quote this but here it is again, from Galt's speech:
"Do you ask if it’s ever proper to help another man? No—if he claims it as his right or as a moral duty that you owe him. Yes—if such is your own desire based on your own selfish pleasure in the value of his person and his struggle. Suffering as such is not a value; only man’s fight against suffering, is. If you choose to help a man who suffers, do it only on the ground of his virtues, of his right to recover, of his rational record, or of the fact that he suffers unjustly; then your action is still a trade, and his virtue is the payment for your help. Be to help a man who has no virtues, to help him on the ground of his suffering as such, to accept his faults, his need, as a claim—is to accept the mortgage of a zero on your values."
And what is virtue, the basis upon which such help is warranted?  It is - in essence - putting forth the effort to use one's mind to the fullest:
Man has a single basic choice: to think or not, and that is the gauge of his virtue. Moral perfection is an unbreached rationality—not the degree of your intelligence, but the full and relentless use of your mind, not the extent of your knowledge, but the acceptance of reason as an absolute.
So how much thinking and use of Duggan's mind went into writing Mean Girl?

Duggan continues:
Her novels engage fantasies of European imperial domination conceived as technological and cultural advancement, rather than as violent conquest.
Pathetic.  Since the theme of her largest novel is the role of the mind in man's existence, her novel is meant to illustrate that in myriad applications.  And she has many examples to go on in the history of business.  Today she would point to the examples of companies such as Amazon, as being guided by the integrating/organizing vision of Bezos.  (Today's business titans may be ideologically mixed or indifferent, which is beside the point: no one else qua businessman seems to integrate quite at Bezos' level today.  [More here.])

Duggan:
[Rand's novels'] logic also depends on a hierarchy of value based on racialized beauty and physical capacity—perceived ugliness or disability are equated with pronounced worthlessness and incompetence.
Quite the chutzpah to use the phrase "hierarchy of value" in connection with Rand and then completely bastardize how Rand applied that concept, huh?  The dishonesty of injecting race into this should go without saying.  And it gets lower still (hold your noses; we're descending from the intellectual gutter into the sewer):
Through the forms of romance and melodrama, Rand novels extrapolate the story of racial capitalism as a story of righteous passion and noble virtue. They retell The Birth of a Nation through the lens of industrial capitalism. They solicit positive identification with winners, with dominant historical forces. It is not an accident that the novels’ fans, though gender mixed, are overwhelmingly white Americans of the professional, managerial, creative, and business classes. 
Identification with dominant historical forces?  What the fuck is she talking about?
Where are we now? Is the long career of optimistic cruelty, of contempt and indifference to human inequality, at its height? Or is the culture of greed surrounding zombie neoliberalism so pronounced now that it is effectively exposed and may finally be displaced as an acceptable political feeling? Cultural critic Slavoj Žižek has argued that Rand’s mad adoration of capitalism, her excessive overidentification with it, only serves to make its inherent ridiculousness clearly perceptible.

(The one piece by Zizek I could stomach to read all the way through was his Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) article, "The Actuality of Ayn Rand," which Duggan cites in her bibliography.  Opening up to a few different pages of his Living in the End Times I find the prose of a pretentious twit.  Early in his Less Than Nothing: Hegel and... this "leading cultural critic of the left" cited the conversation between Mahler and Sibelius as follows: "Mahler emphasized how a symphony has to encompass the entire world, while Sibelius pleaded for restraint and reserve."  His statement about Mahler is accurate but his statement about Sibelius is completely idiotic on its face.  (I count Sibelius's 2nd and 7th symphonies among my very favorite, with the 6th not far behind; Tapiola is arguably his greatest work.)  Sibelius's actual statement as reported was: "I admire the symphony's style and severity of form, as well as the profound logic creating an inner connection among all of the motives."  After encountering this piece of sloppiness from the pretentious and unreliable Zizek, I put down Less Than Nothing and have since sought out Hegel scholarship such as Ferrarin's, Houlgate's, and the Oxford Handbook.)

What's telling about Duggan's intellectual character here is that while she cites Zizek's JARS article, she doesn't show any particular concern to cite or study any other article in that journal.  Shouldn't that sort of thing be a red flag on its face?  A careful and attentive reader would look at her bibliography would notice that there is this thing she cites from called the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, and the only article she cites from that journal is from a non-Objectivist leftist - as though there were no other articles of interest in that journal that an academic writing for a university press on the subject of Rand might have discovered.  Did she make an effort to go beyond the Zizek article so she isn't just some leftist citing another leftist, all echo-chamber/circlejerk-like as is the standard leftist MO now?  When she saw that there was a Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, was she curious enough to find out whether there were other insights in that publication to draw from, that might have made her work more useful and informative?  Clearly not, because Duggan is an intellectually dishonest piece of shit whose aim is not to learn about Rand, but to smear her.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Make Presidents Great Again

or: What Would Marcus Aurelius Tweet?

The first four presidents of the United States - Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison - were philosophical people.  They loved, cherished, and pursued (and may even have attained to some extent) wisdom.  (The American Philosophical Society [APS] of which they were members was co-founded by Ben Franklin; let's call the aforementioned the Big Five of the American Founding.)  It's not a stretch to say that had America's founding generation not been of the intellectual and moral caliber that they were - had they not been the sort of people who would found or become members of a philosophical society - America probably wouldn't be the great nation it has been.

Unfortunately, their legacy has been squandered, to the point that we have the shitshow of today.  Having an uncouth, unread man as president - elected mainly on the promise of taking on the (intellectually bankrupt and therefore) corrupt swamp that is D.C. - is but a symptom of th…

#BlackLivesMatter, #EqualPay and the Anthem

The athletes disrespecting the flag and country during the National Anthem should do better than Trump.  Instead of sowing further division and sending all kinds of the wrong message (and Kaepernick and by extension Nike definitely crossed over the line with the Betsy Ross flag thing without even so much as a word of dialogue with flag- and country-lovers - roughly as shameful and disgraceful as Google's rebuttal-by-firing of James Damore[*]), they should use their creative powers to both respect the flag and send their message.

[*] - This particularly ugly episode in "woke social justice" history has me believing with at least 98% confidence that Rectenwald has these anti-dialogue cultists dead to rights.  I cannot abide these aspiring mini-Maos; disgusting creatures.  I won't even touch the trans issue with a ten foot pole given the rampant toxicity/radioactivity there I've seen just on surface inspection.  If an entity like Google fucks up as badly as it did wi…

Inn Video on Demand (VOD) Technology

As the name proposes, the innovation permits the visitors in lodgings to watch recordings on request which may incorporate motion pictures, music or more assortment of recordings, for example, narratives, travel recordings and so on. Right now will investigate the VOD innovation that sudden spikes in demand for Internet Protocols or IP in short. This is the most recent, productive and helpful innovation starting today.

How to assemble Hotel VOD framework?

A fundamental Hotel VOD framework running on IP convention involves five primary innovation parts -

Encoder

Streamer or gushing server

Decoder or Set top box

Supporter and Content administration framework/OSS

Encryption and DRM

How about we investigate elements of every one of these segments -

Encoder - The encoder basically convert the source content into fitting codec, for example, MPEG2 or H.264 and bundles it in suitable streamable organization like MPEG2 TS to make it work adequately as an "On request" content. The mo…