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Justin Kalef vs. Paths Forward

Philosopher Justin Kalef joined FI list, then quickly left. I emailed him about leaving:

I see that you decided to leave without offering a criticism of any point, sharing any of your positions, or attempting discussion once. Sad. I take it you disagreed with some things I said and changed your mind about your supposed interest in open discussion. Presumably you mentally categorized your disagreements as something other than disagreement (e.g. you judged me unserious, ignorant, arrogant, or whatever). And somehow that let you think there was no need to allow the possibility of counter-arguments or clarifications-of-misunderstandings regarding your your negative judgements.

Since you won't argue your case (including by linking anything prewritten), do you know anyone who will discuss and could represent your views? If not, aren't you shutting down rational enquiry regarding your views? If you care about the truth, how can you simply silently refuse to argue your side by any means (including link or proxy)?

If you don't know how to fit discussion into a busy schedule, there are methods which I can explain to you. That's a solvable problem, not a reason one has to give up. Or if there was some other problem, you could have stated it briefly in case there was a misunderstanding or solution.

He replied 5 weeks later:

Hi, Elliot. Apologies for taking so long in getting back to you: I'm in transit this summer and had many administrative issues to deal with, also.

The main reason I decided to leave the group was that I am very busy and need to be highly selective with how I spend my free time. I occasionally participate in online discussions, but usually I do this on widely read blogs where I think a point needs to be made to stop large-scale consensus from shifting uncritically in a certain direction, or where I expect that the other participants in the conversation are likely to offer arguments, information, and ideas that will be particularly useful to me in the pursuit of my (admittedly quite narrow) range of interests.

I appreciate what you're trying to do, but a) my inbox is already too full, and it was filling up with more and more posts from your website; and b) frankly, I think the questions your group was discussing were not in general being addressed very helpfully. For instance, there was (as I recall) a discussion on artificial intelligence. There is a wealth of important material to digest on that subject. If this were a conversation in which some genuine experts on robotics, logic, computer languages, etc. were taking part, I could see some optimism for helping to resolve it: but as it stood, it seemed that the crowd was trying to tackle some a posteriori issues from the armchair. That's just one example.

I don't agree that, by my leaving the group, I am shutting down rational enquiry regarding my views. I am far from the only person in the world who could explain the problems with many of Ayn Rand's ideas; and even if I were the only one, you could pursue these conversations on your own without me. I have in no way prohibited you from having your own conversations. Surely, what I do with my own time is my business, particularly when I have the sorts of constraints on my time that I do. Do you really think that, if a thousand groups wanted me to participate and talk about my ideas, I would be doing about my ideas, I would be morally obligated to participate in all of them?

That being said, I would be willing to address one of Rand's arguments that I disagree with. If you like, please send me a number of her conclusions: your choice. If any of them are both interesting and dubious to me, I will ask you to reproduce a summary of her argument for the conclusion (with short quotes if you like). I find that Randroids tend to refer excensively to her novels. That's okay, but a novel is not an argument. If you can extract from her novels a coherent argument for an interesting view, I will address that argument (again, if the conclusion is interesting and if I find the argument dubious).

I replied:

OK, Rand conclusions:

VoS ch. 4:

there are no conflicts of interests among rational men

RotP, The “Inexplicable Personal Alchemy”:

nobody builds sanctuaries for the best of the human species

VoS ch. 8:

One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment.

CUI ch. 14:

  1. In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.

  2. In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.

  3. When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.

AS:

money is the root of all good

(all italics omitted)

Regarding being busy and discussion: I think, if you wish to be a serious, rational, public intellectual with an opinion on Ayn Rand, who is very busy, then you ought to have a website (or equivalent) where you've posted your position on Ayn Rand (references are fine for unoriginal points). Otherwise your view of Ayn Rand is inaccessible which prevents both learning from it and criticizing it.

You say there are other critics. Sure. But you haven't chosen specific criticisms which you will take responsibility for. Just pointing in the general direction of a bunch of arguments – many of which contradict each other – isn't a meaningful take on the matter.

If you choose to focus on other matters, that's fine. I and others can pursue the matter without you. In that case, I'd say that you should not make claims about the matter you've chosen to stay out of.

It's interesting that you bring up the scenario of 1000 forum invitations. When we first met, I asked if you knew of a single good forum meeting certain criteria. You said that you didn't know of any, so I invited you to FI. There is a shortage of invitations to worthwhile forums, not a surplus! In this context, you shouldn't give up on a forum so fast. You should instead write a public criticism and see if there's any answer or misunderstanding – especially a criticism of a way in which FI fails to meet the criteria we'd discussed (which I understood you to think were good criteria).

Regarding AI: If lack of expertise caused any mistakes, you could point them out rather than comment on the credentials of the speakers. Especially when you don't know, and didn't ask, anyone's credentials. (A lot of the discussion participants do have expertise relating to computation).

It's also generally a difficult and debatable problem to judge which credentials matter – e.g. for AI discussion, is it more important to be good at programming or good at epistemology? And which credentials shall we defer to for that meta-debate? That's another reason to focus on the issues, not credentials.


Which Rand conclusions would you have used? Share them in the comments below!


Elliot Temple on July 25, 2017

Comments (2)

Kalef's reply is such a non sequitur. It doesn't engage with the specific things Elliot initially said.

Anonymous at 2:45 PM on July 25, 2017 | #8873
Justin Kalef hasn't replied to me. Note the dishonesty:

> I would be willing to address one of Rand's arguments that I disagree with

That was a lie. I provided exactly what he requested of me, but he hasn't done what he said he would do.

curi at 12:42 PM on August 10, 2017 | #8945

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)