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Objectivist Institutes Suck at Quoting

Both the Atlas Society (AS) and the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) misquote often. Their misquotes are easy to find – if you sample their most recent tweets and analyze them only somewhat thoroughly, you’re bound to find one sooner or later.

Misquotes by the Atlas Society
Misquotes by the Ayn Rand Institute
The problem

When objectivists misquote, that’s a bigger deal than when non-objectivists do so. Conscientiousness is a core objectivist value; proper quoting requires intellectual conscientiousness. (If you think some of these misquotes aren’t a big deal, read this article.) By betraying the value of conscientiousness, these objectivist institutes are not living up to their intellectual heritage and responsibility.

Their response (or lack thereof)

I’ve notified AS of some of their misquotes (here, here, and here) but, at the time of writing, they have yet to respond.

I’ve also notified ARI and got a response from their director of content, Ben Bayer. He at first denied the misquote of Rand’s ‘Of Living Death’. When I followed up with an explanation, Bayer lied about “any quotation [being] a shortening” and evaded the problem by claiming there had been “no change in meaning” in ARI’s quote. But that isn’t a proper standard for determining whether a quote is a misquote. I followed up again, explaining the issue, but he ignored me.

However, Bayer later responded to my pointing out ARI’s misquote of Rand’s ‘Man’s Rights’. In his response, Bayer demonstrated that he didn’t understand why that quote was a misquote. (He defended the use of an ellipsis, but that wasn’t the issue.) I explained; at first, he responded “Sorry this is just silly pickiness”, then quickly deleted his response and stopped talking. But if he didn’t understand the issue, how is he in any position to judge whether I was being nitpicky? Is this the standard of conscientiousness he wants to represent as ARI’s director of content? Doesn’t objectivity mean not evading the available evidence, including the evidence I have presented?

I think Bayer has since muted me. He hasn’t blocked me, I can still see his profile, but when I @mention him, the mention isn’t rendered as a link. If he has muted me, then he’s violating another core objectivist value: that of not evading reality. And if he’s not doing anything to improve the quality of quotes at ARI, then he’s violating the objectivist value of accountability. I’m guessing proper quoting is his responsibility as director of content, which is why he, not ARI’s Twitter account, responded to me. I’ll keep an eye on their Twitter in the coming days for more misquotes.

Bayer has even misquoted himself.

I think the appropriate response would have been to thank me for my discoveries and instruct whoever tweets at ARI to get better at quoting. As I pointed out to both institutes, they can use the tool I linked them to, Quote Checker, which I built. It’s free, at least at the time of writing, and it should make quoting easier for them.

Is AS worse than ARI?

AS can still respond that way. Arguably, their misquotes are worse than those of ARI.

On a general note about these institutes, I give Bayer credit for pointing out that AS “openly panders to religion”, citing a tweet of theirs addressing Christians (ie, mystics) and claiming that one “needn’t defend or support every tenet of objectivism to appreciate its political philosophy”. In other words, AS says that, as mystics, Christians can continue to reject reason but also embrace other parts of objectivism, an inherently pro-reason philosophy. Bayer is right to point out that you can’t pick and choose like that. The rejection of mysticism is a crucial element of objectivism, and the Atlas Society dilutes the value of objectivism by pandering to religion in this way. You can’t be half rational and half irrational; if you try, irrationality will win. You just can’t compromise like that, as Rand herself explained.

AS has also given religious commentators a platform on Instagram. And Jennifer Grossman, CEO of AS, likes to post Instagram stories in different outfits and/or with several filters making her look younger, including stories – she’s done this repeatedly – where she has ‘just’ stepped out of the shower (with wet hair but still somehow wearing makeup). This is second-handed, another thing objectivists shouldn’t be.

AS has posted more anti-objectivist content, such as this post stating:

We take ideas seriously—but we try not to take ourselves too seriously […].

This is really bad. Not taking oneself seriously is what the enemies of reason sell as a virtue to trick you into not defending your values.

I tentatively recommend taking AS content with a grain of salt and not counting on them to defend objectivist values. ARI also isn’t particularly conscientious but at least I haven’t seen them pander to mysticism. And Bayer responded to me whereas AS hasn’t.


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