There are a whole lot of things that you won’t find me blogging about anytime soon. Global warming. The stock market. The war of 1812. Beethoven. Hinduism. Scientology. French cooking. The list can and will go on into infinity.
And there’s a simple reason for this: if I haven’t adequately studied something or at least begun to study something then I don’t pontificate on it in public. I might have an opinion or lean one way or another but I don’t think I can make definitive statements about something based on wikipedia entries and youtube videos.
Apparently my friend Lisa Graas disagrees with this intellectual approach.
Lisa has written three blog posts today attacking Ayn Rand and dropping me into the middle of whatever case she wants to make about Objectivism. (Apparently she disapproves of my conviction that both secularist Objectivists and believers should be able to recognize their common values and fight the Left together.)
I have no more an attachment to Rand and her philosophy than I do the Pope and Catholicism. I’ve only read bits and pieces of Rand. The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and The Virtue of Selfishness are all on the to-read list. I watched the documentary made about her. I’m friends with many Objectivists — most notably NRB‘s gifted artist Bosch Fawstin — and appreciate their defense of freedom, capitalism, America, and Israel. In other words, if Lisa wants to make Randburgers today it’s not like she’s killing one of my sacred cows.
What’s bothered me from the very beginning — when she first emailed me about Rand weeks ago — has been Lisa’s fervent anti-intellectualism. She’s taken an anti-Rand position and has bragged that she absolutely will not read any of the author’s books. She’s not going to give Rand the respect that she’s entitled to as a thinker of consequence.
She thinks that by watching a 10 minute video clip of Rand and reading a wikipedia entry she’s qualified to write about Objectivism. (Note to Lisa: if Rand didn’t need multiple books to argue her philosophy then she wouldn’t have written them. If it didn’t take whole books to demonstrate an argument then books would never be written.)
To which I respond: what would you think of a leftist who watches a 10 minute clip of David Horowitz, reads his wikipedia entry, pronounces judgment, and then refuses to read Radical Son or The Politics of Bad Faith? What would you think of an atheist who watches a youtube video of the Pope, reads the Catholicism page on wikipedia, and then refuses to dig deeper into the claims of your religion? What do you think of people who argue that Robert Spencer “caricatures” Islam but who haven’t bothered to read any of his books?
This whole way of thinking just makes my skin crawl — no matter who does it. If Bosch had decided to blog attacking Lisa’s religion — and he had not bothered to read one book on Catholicism — then I’d be coming down just as hard on him. If conservative bloggers choose to attack Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn and have not bothered to read A People’s History or Hegemony or Survival then they’ll get my wrath too.
This problematic thinking is what the Freedom Center’s Dissenting Books Campaign is all about combating. Arguing for multiple sides to be considered deeply is the foundation of the Academic Freedom Campaign that Horowitz recounts in his new book Reforming Our Universities. Academic skepticism. Looking at multiple sides of issues. Taking the time to actually entertain and consider arguments that challenge and disturb you. Reading books by people who seem like they’re evil incarnate. These are core intellectual practices that I’ve infused deeply into my being. And you know what? If it weren’t for them then I wouldn’t be a conservative today.
So Lisa, it’s not your attack on Ayn Rand. It’s your attack on my — and the Freedom Center’s — core convictions that I really do take personally.