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Leonard Peikoff’s “Presumed Consent” Podcast

Those who follow the goings on at the Ayn Rand Institute know that Leonard Peikoff sponsored three hundred or so podcasts at  Out-Loud-Opinion.com  (dashes inserted for readability), a website that once offered audio versions of various newspaper and magazine editorials by neoconservatives and their weakest opponents. One podcast that Mr. Peikoff sponsored – dated December 8, 2010 – was an editorial from Investor’s Business Daily celebrating the demise of Wikileaks. The throaty-voiced and garishly earnest actor begins reading the script: [1]

“This episode brought to you by Leonard Peikoff Podcasts. ... If you’re familiar with Ayn Rand you’ve probably heard of Leonard Peikoff, the world’s foremost authority on Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism. He’s created a website that features weekly podcasts where he addresses questions asked by real people challenged with real problems who are looking for an Objectivist opinion.”
Real people, real problems, Objectivist opinion by the world’s foremost authority – what’s not to like? If you visited Leonard Peikoff’s website on February 6, 2012 you would have been among the first to hear him answer the following question (paraphrased): May a man lie to a woman in order to have his way with her, or is that a kind of rape?  Between a brief introductory reply and his substantial reply Mr. Peikoff inexplicably digresses, as transcribed below (emphasis his):
“You have to determine here, before you talk about rape, what is the context. A woman can give her consent by her presence, in certain contexts, and that frees the man to have sex regardless of what she then says. I’m thinking of that case of Kobe Bryant, where the woman came up sometime in the middle of the night, after some drinking, to his bedroom, and then when he purported to do something, she said, ‘No, I don’t consent.’ You cannot do that. You have given every evidence that that is what you are gonna do, and it’s too late at that point to say, ‘Sorry, but no.’”
Well, at least it’s clear. In what follows we assume Mr. Peikoff meant what he said. [2]

The example Mr. Peikoff gives of a lady committing herself is absurd. A woman merely visiting, no matter how late the hour or in what room, is no commitment. Not even close.

Mr. Peikoff’s statement that mere presence is sufficient “in certain contexts” is so strange, as is his bringing up this particular “context” in the first place, that one suspects something else is going on here, something Mr. Peikoff might be thinking about besides a black basketball jock.

In any case, Objectivist discussions were abuzz with talk about Mr. Peikoff’s podcast and his defense of what would be a crime except, as he says, “in certain contexts.” Those who mindlessly follow ARI no matter what its writers do or say twisted themselves into rhetorical pretzels defending his statement. Others were outraged. Others took a wait and see what he says later attitude.

Regarding the clarity of Mr. Peikoff’s statement, some of his defenders argue as follows:

We can assume that Mr. Peikoff would not utter an absurdity, such as it might appear he did. Therefore he must have meant something else, even though it isn’t clear just what.
This sort of argument can be useful, a sort of presumption of good will, but in this case the presumption is false. Mr. Peikoff does utter absurdities. His endorsement of government institutionalized torture is well known, as is his unqualified defense of the Waco massacre, and his promotion of American empire at the expense of domestic freedom – in practice if not in those words.

Some claim Mr. Peikoff was speaking extemporaneously and that excuses any blunder or confusion. This doesn’t bear inspection. He was in control of the recording process. Though he may have been speaking off the cuff, that he broadcast the recording to the world makes it a deliberate statement. [3]

The ancient poet Ovid once wrote: “Sometimes a little forcing is not unwelcome.” Here, however, instead of a friendly meeting we’re talking about criminal rape, a very ugly thing. If the lady persists in saying no, she means it. At least that must be the assumption outside of romance novels. This is obvious, except to Mr. Peikoff.

Again, the question he ultimately answers is about whether or not a man may lie in order to get what he wants. Immediately after the part we quote above, Mr. Peikoff says:

“So, we’re assuming it’s not that type of case, that you actually have created some kind of false identity, she falls for it ...”
Thus apparently he described the earlier type of case because he wanted to rule it out from his discussion of the case of deception.

In the earlier, ruled out, case the man didn’t lie, which (per Mr. Peikoff) makes the forcing justified when consent seemed to have been given even though it was withdrawn. In the case where the man lies, the lying makes the unforced act wrong, perhaps even criminal (though as Mr. Peikoff points out, difficult to prosecute).

Thus Mr. Peikoff’s “we’re assuming it’s not” etc. only underlines what he said at first. He seems to be saying that, for lack of a better phrase, “forthright rape” in such circumstances as illustrated by his example is permitted, just don’t lie to get there.

Whatever.  Tweezing apart is unnecessary.  In the recording when Mr. Peikoff quotes the woman “No, I don’t consent.” his voice is derisive, mocking. When he says “You cannot do that.” – that is, the woman cannot refuse after seeming to consent – his voice resounds with righteousness. To him “that type of case” has a moral component, and the lady is on the wrong side.

One more attempt at rehabilitation. As quoted in our main text, Mr. Peikoff describes a concrete example, then says the lady “has given every indication” of her consent, therefore the man is justified in understanding this as an irrevocable yes. If we ignore the concrete example and instead simply posit that she “has given every indication,” then of course she said “yes.” But unless Mr. Peikoff argues in tautologies this could not be the substance of his remark. And there would still be the question at what point is “yes” irrevocable.

In any case Mr. Peikoff did in fact illustrate his “every indication” premise with an example and it is that example which informs the whole and makes it ridiculous.

Then again, consider—

... What is this, The Creature That Would Not Die, starring Boris Karloff ?

One more try, Froggy, now please be quiet. Keep in mind that the attitude towards visits is less inhibited these days than it was when Mr. Peikoff (born 1933) was growing up. It might be that he was subconsciously thinking as in the days of yesteryear when such a visit as he described was (I suppose) tantamount to “Take me, I’m yours.” There still remains the issue of that being irrevocable, but suppose he was thinking events had gone further than he actually described and it was indeed irrevocable. Then his statement “You cannot do that.” – that is, the lady cannot retreat at that point – far from taking the man’s side may actually have been a warning to women everywhere not to put themselves in that situation.

... You should’ve been a lawyer.  I see now that the lady got what she deserved. To think I was taken in by your shabby arguments earlier.  Women everywhere, don’t take your safety for granted!  Watch out!  Men are animals!  Worse than animals!  Worse than—

Froggy, that’s enough.  The above is a stretch, possible but hard to believe, because it goes against the general tenor of Mr. Peikoff’s wording. And judging from his tone of voice while uttering “You cannot do that.” he had no sympathy for the woman whatever.

In any case, that he would digress onto this path in the course of answering the original question is passing strange. The situation he describes is not a natural contrast to the situation posed in the question.

UPDATE:  After the above podcast had been up for a month Mr. Peikoff issued a retraction March 5 (all of Episode 206, about 15 minutes long). He said that in the earlier podcast he wanted to defend Kobe Bryant against people he loathed, and that he

“... confused a feeling of justice with a knowledge of what is really proper. That’s an example of going by emotion, and not clearly understanding what the issue is, not attempting to understand, because you just go by the emotion and think: ‘well, that’s self-evident.’ ”
Then he becomes unbearably sordid and I turned it off. From reviews, he utters the words “moral” and “immoral” as he goes over a number of sexual gestures. But, as one reviewer pointed out, he fails to consider the morality of being guided solely by feeling when making and recording and broadcasting a public statement. That was merely an “error.”

Anyway, it’s over. The lemmings who followed Mr. Peikoff over the cliff and into the sea after his first Podcast had nothing coherent to say.

1  “WikiLeaks In Chaos” Out-Loud-Opinion reading December 8, 2010 from Investor’s Business Daily December 9, 2010 (the reading date predates the magazine date). The URL was:
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2  What Mr. Peikoff makes of the Kobe Bryant case can be considered as a given hypothetical. The actual details are of no concern here, what matters is what Mr. Peikoff thinks they are.
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3  All Mr. Peikoff’s podcasts are listed on his website. The underlying links go to blubrry.com, a separate commercial website designed to host audio and other media. The link to the portion of the podcast considered here (our quote starts 30 seconds in) was placed on his website February 6th:
media.blubrry.com/peikoff/www.peikoff.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2012-02-06.202_E.mp3 .
Two days later, February 8th, his entire website was taken down, though the above audio file remained on blubrry.com. The next day, February 9th, the audio file was removed and his website restored minus the above link and any mention of it.

That Mr. Peikoff blundered and after two days realized it, is one thing, but there is still the question what was behind the blunder. This was no mere gaffe.

Two days later, February 11th, the audio file was restored though it remained missing from the index of individual questions. Eventually the index entry was restored. The full podcast, Episode 202 lasting 14:20 minutes (in which our quoted part starts at 9:40), was always available and listed on the index of full podcasts.
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