Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Atlas Society loses a key voice

On March 8, 2008 I wrote a post titled “Kudos for the Ayn Rand Institute” on how the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) is doing a better job getting into the public spotlight than The Atlas Society (TAS). While ARI continues to get op eds published on the current financial crisis and other issues (as shown on their web site) it looks like TAS has just taken another step backward. Robert Bidinotto, editor of their The New Individualist, recently announced on his blog that he has left TAS and no longer edits TNI. Robert has done a terrific job in building the magazine in terms of content, number of pages, appealing, professional design and public visibility. As a result TNI even won the Folio award, a national and prestigious prize, for best editing - beating out 3,000 contestants in the process.

In the interests of full disclosure I should report that Robert and I have been good friends since my freshman year in college. At the time Robert was co-publishing a newsletter advocating Objectivism aimed at the students and professors. Being the true professional that he is Robert did not divulge to me what happened between him and TAS. It ultimately doesn’t matter to me why he left. The bottom line: Robert’s departure just further and drastically reduces what impact TAS has in the market of public opinion.

Where has Robert gone? Check out his new web site: www.

Noodle Food has jumped on the vast stylistic differences between David Kelley and Yaron Brook in two video interviews held by the same organization. Noodle Fooders took Kelley’s lackluster and rambling reply to be proof that bad premises (i.e., his stance on Objectivism and toleration and other issues) have rotted his mind. While I agree Brook comes off much better I have as much issue with what he said as they did with Kelley. (My key disagreement with Brook is with his answer when asked to define capitalism. Instead of saying that it is an economic system in which individuals have rights to private property and to free exchange including starting their own businesses, he launches into telling us what capitalism isn’t. I’m drawing from memory so I don’t recall Brook’s reply verbatim. Anyone disagreeing with me show have a bit of tolerance, OK? Oops, I used a bad word!)

As much as I disagree with the wishful psychologizing behind the attack on Kelley (and by association the critics extend their argument to rest of the TAS staff including Robert), there is one inescapable fact: ARI knocks the snot out of TAS in public exposure – with a consistently strong message.

I must add that The Objective Standard also does a particularly good job of presenting Objectivist analyses of issues. Their articles are well researched, thoughtful and polemical without going over the top. I recognize that TOS is not an “official” ARI outlet but the connection between them is strong. Where is the TAS equivalent?

ARI has numerous op eds, frequent press releases, the essay contests, Q&A videos posted on You Tube, and so on. Where are the TAS equivalents?

You could argue that this just further supports the argument that TAS suffers from bad premises. In a way I agree, but not in terms of their understanding of Objectivism. I believe it comes down to a dismal lack of focus and an understanding of marketing principles. I don’t believe all differences in effectiveness come down to whether or not you “truly” understand Objectivism. There are plenty of other ways to go wrong. Allowing Robert Bidinotto’s departure is one of them.


Richard said...

I agree that it was a bit of a stretch to interpret Kelley's lackluster appearance on that video as exemplary of inner rot. Within any group, the members (and their articles) will have varying degrees of skill and knowledge. There will be mistakes as well. It remains, in general, that where TAS is founded on erroneous epistemological principles, ARI is not. This shows in both the actions each group pursues and in the articles they produce.

Henry Scuoteguazza said...


I'm glad you take my point about reading too much into Kelley's performance. It's obvious however that we still disagree on whether TAS in general is mistaken or not in it's basic approach. If anything I think ARI's spokesmen have elements of rationalism. Meanwhile they accuse TAS of subjectivism and feel it's a badge of honor to be called rationalist by subjectivists. I'll have more to say on this down the road.

Richard said...

Please place a comment here, that I may be notified of your further remarks.

Steve B said...

The supposed values of tolerance, benevolence, generosity of spirit, being a good listener, etc. apparently have become an issue. I think that an understanding of a proper role for these values is needed. Clearly they are not an unalloyed good.

At this point, I think they are an aspect of rationality - an orientation to other people in order to learn if their values and statements are such that dealing with them would further one's own values.

I don't see how they can be ends in themselves. That would be altruistic and self-defeating. Properly understood, I think they will fade away as they are now understood and practiced.

Henry Scuoteguazza said...

Steve, I agree with you. Tolerance, benevolence, etc. aren't ends in themselves nor should be expressions of altruism. I do think these virtues can improve the receptivity of our message. I also think it's an issue of personal style (for the lack of a better word). In other words even if these traits didn't help sell our ideas I'd still exhibit them as expressions of values that I feel are important.