A word on Carl Barney’s essay

Carl Barney has posted a lengthy essay on how Craig Biddle has been treated unjustly by “some at ARI” — in particular, ARI’s leading intellectual, Onkar Ghate.

And I see a number of Objectivists confused about what to make of it. So I thought I would share my take on what one’s attitude should be toward Carl’s statement.

Summarizing Carl’s article

Carl argues that Craig has been highly praised in the past by the best minds of Objectivism and then says:

Craig’s work is exemplary, yet some people at ARI, most notably Onkar and Debi Ghate, sometimes supported by Yaron Brook, deny this and defame him. They claim that ‘Craig doesn’t understand Objectivism’ and have even said that he is “immoral.” Against so much positive evidence, what could explain this?

Carl’s answer. Onkar was “infuriated” Craig suggested a major rewrite for something Debi wrote for TOS and over time this “animosity” and “hostility” increased — especially after Craig criticized something Onkar wrote.

Then came the John McCaskey-Leonard Peikoff conflict in which Onkar, speaking to OAC students, dismissed Craig’s defense McCaskey as “garbage” but “did not give reasons, explanations, or evidence in support of his assertion. He just repeated: ‘It’s garbage!’”

The McCaskey affair, Carl says, led ARI to stop working with TOS. Later, Carl and others would try to mend the relationship, ultimately coming up with a three point agreement (I’m quoting Carl):

  1. The two organizations would have table displays at each other’s conferences;
  2. Tal would write an announcement about the reconciliation and cooperation and publish it in Impact and/or New Ideal; and Craig would write a similar announcement in TOS;
  3. Tal, or someone from ARI, would write an article for publication in TOS (later modified to Tal would do an interview with TOS).

But, Carl says, ARI didn’t hold up its part of the bargain (again, because of pressure from Onkar) because it didn’t allow TOS to table at a student conference, ARI’s announcement wasn’t as prominent as Carl thinks it should have been, and ARI did the interview, but only after pressure from Carl. (ARI, according to Carl, believed it did live up to the agreement.)

Carl goes on to conclude:

There is more to all of this. There are hundreds of documents — texts, emails, memos, and agreements — that evidence this story (which will be shared if the need arises). At this point, I just want to make these facts known because they are necessary to a just evaluation of Craig and TOS. Craig has been unjustly maligned by Onkar, Yaron, and others. It is time for this injustice to end. In fact, it is time for Craig to be properly recognized and supported for the excellent work he has done and is doing.

What to make of it?

My first reaction was bafflement. As far as I could tell, Carl’s claim is that a few people at ARI privately expressed a view that Craig doesn’t understand Objectivism and then had what amounted to a minor contract dispute with TOS.

How did that constitute a “smear” campaign and an “injustice” that required a public airing of grievances, exposing private conversations, and threatening to release hundreds of texts, emails, memos, and agreements — many of which presumably are covered by confidentiality agreements?

Public disputes are tricky because the audience almost always lacks the context to evaluate what’s going on. In this case I was at ARI during the events in question, I’ve known most of the people involved for more than a decade, and I have no clue what agreements were made between ARI and TOS and to what extent they were or weren’t kept and for what reasons.

And — this is an understatement — I certainly have no way of knowing that Onkar’s view of Craig Biddle was the result of “hostility” or some other psychological motivation.

So…how in the world is a complete outsider supposed to judge? And why would you ASK an outsider to judge? To what end?

Now, there is one thing I do have firsthand knowledge of. The OAC meeting where Onkar allegedly “did not give reasons, explanations, or evidence in support of his assertion [that Craig’s McCaskey statement was garbage]. He just repeated: ‘It’s garbage!’”

I can say with 100% certainty this is not accurate. Because I was there and I have my notes from that meeting. The meeting was private so I can’t share them, but I think I’m within my rights to say that Onkar didn’t refuse to give reasons. On the contrary, he argued that Craig’s statement got wrong:

  • the nature of the arbitrary
  • the nature of possibility
  • contextual knowledge
  • the meaning of two Ayn Rand quotes from “How does one lead a rational life in an irrational society?”
  • the nature of moral judgment
  • the nature of moral neutrality

But what if you weren’t there? Should you take my word for it that Onkar gave reasons? No, of course not.

In my view, one’s attitude to Carl’s statement should be: it’s totally irrelevant to me and my life and I can’t judge any of it except the only thing that really matters: do the different parties involved understand and effectively promote Objectivism?

That’s something each of us can and SHOULD judge for ourselves. Not by whether Harry Binswanger or Alex Epstein praised something. But by our own assessment of the quality of the work. All of that is publicly available and we have the tools to judge it first-handedly.

Speaking personally, I have known Onkar Ghate for a decade and a half. I have learned more from him about Objectivism than any living person except Leonard Peikoff. And so my attitude is just to point people to his work and say: the defense rests.

Writer. Speaker. Thinker.

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