Monday, December 28, 2009

Modesty, honesty and friends

To be yourself or not to be yourself? To hide your greatness, you achievements, or to share them with others?

Some, perhaps many, respond with jealousy and resentment to achievements that surpass their own.
This poses a potential down side to being good, and to being open about it. Will others not like me as much? Maybe it will be some of my closest friends?

I believe we all encounter this question at some point of our lives, maybe on the first time of getting a better grade in a test than someone else or achieving a great figure.

It is not a good idea to hide one's greatness. It is not a good idea to fake modesty.

Others may not like who you are, others may not like that you are better than them at something. Those others are not worth keeping around as friends. A friend is someone who helps you flourish, someone who encourages you to become the best that you can be and is there to celebrate it with you when you achieve it (and vice versa).

A friend is someone who loves you for who you are: YOUR sense of humor, YOUR way of thinking, YOUR taste in music, people, activities and the things you are good at.

Being open and proud of your achievements in communication with others achieves a double purpose: First, it encourages others to achieve the best that they can achieve and creates an environment where success is greeted with benevolence. Second, it allows others to know you and you to know others and tell apart the people who enjoy the sight of an achievement from those who look down at it.

Being honest requires courage, because so many things in our lives depend on how others feel about us and our actions, and yet honesty is the best way to get real friends who will love you for who you are and help you grow.

Give up being yourself, and you give up everything.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wishing you a happy holiday...

Glitter Graphics

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Work, Games and self-esteem

Often people look at work as a synonym of necessary punishment, while they look at games as something fun, desirable and totally different. 

But in fact, work and games have a common psychological goal. Psychologically they provide the same end in different forms.

Consider what one gets out of games (like computer games): Primarily, it is a sense of accomplishment, of achieving a prize and performing efficiently. Performing well in a game, advancing in a game provides an uplifting feeling of excitement - it is the essence of having a good time playing. Contrast it with failing repeatedly at some task in a game: it is a very frustrating experience. Nobody would want to play a game in which success is impossible. 

One might ask: Well, if the purpose of games is to provide a sense of accomplishment, why not make them super easy so that anyone can do it effortlessly? The reason is that such setting would not provide a sense of accomplishment. If a game is too easy it becomes boring and cannot provide that uplifting feeling of efficiency. Babies may find interest in a sorting bucket game, but for an adult such a game is utterly boring. If forced to play one would experience such a game as "work".
The feeling of efficiency cannot be faked by making a game too easy. A game, to be good, must provide the means of genuinely earning the feeling of accomplishment by providing a decent challenge. 

The essence of the uplifting feeling is self-esteem: the recognition that one is performing well, that one is good: good for succeeding at things, achieving one's goals and gaining values. 

Another important part of games is the reward. Successful action provides rewards like coins, life points, neat items, new quests, score bonus etc'. 

One might ask, if games are about rewards, why aren't games designed to give rewards without effort? Like, say, design 'Diablo' so that the player gets the best weapons and armor right away, and the player is so powerful that just by showing up all the enemies in a scene drop dead. The reason is that no one would buy such a game. Effort and challenge are good, they are a necessary ingredient in gaining self esteem and a sense of efficacy. 

Games involve training and effort. Games have and need to have the option of failure. These are usually the elements that are looked down upon in work. A work is said to be unpleasant because it requires effort, because it does not come easy and because it has the option of failure. But these all are, in fact, essential elements of any game. 

Work, apart from being a necessity for living, has the exact elements as in a game. One is constantly after some goals and the goals and the achievement of those goals brings about a reward and a feeling of accomplishment. 
If a job is too difficult for one's ability, or it provides nothing but obstacles and no rewards it becomes like a game in which it is impossible to succeed and equally frustrating. If a job is well adjusted to one's ability and provides immediate rewards for successful actions it becomes closer to the feeling of a game. 

As evidence, notice that people who are disappointed or stuck in their work, often find themselves drawn to games, sometimes to the point of addiction or replacing work time.
The reason is that games provide a replacement for a feeling of efficacy that is normally attained at work. 

So what are the differences between game and work? 

  1. The main difference is: A game is designed to provide short-term satisfaction (immediate gratification) for successful actions, by allowing to get the required skill in a short amount of time.

    A good game always keeps the required level of skill within short-term limits. The difficulty of a game progresses gradually, always allowing the player to achieve success within a relatively short amount of time.

    A game is designed to always reward for successful actions, and provide the rewards immediately, without a need to wait for the end of the month, year or 7 years of med-school.  

    This is unlike work, in which training can take years and may seem unsuccessful for long periods of time. The learning curve may not be well adjusted to one's ability but very steep at times. The reward does not immediately fall from the sky like coins or score points, but requires waiting. 

    Imagine a perfect school in which the material is taught gradually and allows students to practice and see the results of what they've learned immediately. In this school, a student is sitting in class with a sense of complete control over the material. The previous stage is perfectly clear, the student knows he has perfect control over it since he succeeded at a task practicing that knowledge; he is awaiting the next bit of information because he is eager to add it to his growing stack of skills. 

    What is this school? It is the learning process as designed in every video game with multiple layers of skill. 
    But if such a school existed in real professions (to the degree it is possible): it would have produced the exact feeling of playing a game: a feeling of confidence and accomplishment. 

    In short: Work involves long-term (rewards and training) and games are short-term. The disadvantage is the need of persistence and patience, but the advantage is that a career provides a lifetime of accomplishments. 

  2. Work can provide a deeper, stronger sense of accomplishment than a game. 
    Being a great surgeon is more satisfying than being great at Packman, for example, because the skill encompasses the surgeon's intelligence more fully, thus providing a deeper sense of efficacy and self-esteem. 

  3. In a game one's rewards have meaning only in the context of the game. In real life one can take pride in knowing that one's accomplishments support one's actual life. The wealth and services one produces have meaning in the real world, not in an imaginary one.

    It is this last fact that makes work an irreplaceable psychological value (irreplaceable by games). Self esteem in essence is the recognition that one is fit to live, to succeed in supporting one's life. A game can only simulate that in an imaginary world: But to have that recognition, productive work is the only option of getting and maintaining self-esteem. 

  4. Games are a more limited environment than reality is. A game has a plan for the player, in reality one makes one's own plan. It requires that one takes the driver's seat, not the passenger's seat (while in a game it is somewhere in between). 

  5. Other differences are that games have an additional artistic element and personalization element. 

Games are an end in themselves: People don't play a game to make a living, but for the fun of playing it. The conclusion is; that if people could experience work as they experience a game (as something that gives them that uplifting feeling of efficacy), they would work not just to support their life, but for the psychological value of self esteem

This is how work should ideally be experienced: As means for that uplifting feeling of self-esteem. Productive work is the only way to achieve that value, to fulfill that inherit psychological need. 
To accomplish that, a career needs to be chosen like a game is designed: To match one's abilities and potential, to allow progress in one's chosen field within relatively short amount of time, all the time. A career, like a game, must always grow and develop. Stagnating on one level of skill with no challenges cannot provide a sense of efficacy. 

Rewards and success are fuel for action: both in games and in work. 
Unlike a game, a career has long-term goals and long-term rewards. It therefore requires reminding oneself, during periods of effort without reward, that the reward is attainable further in the future. In other words: being persistent. 
Moving from games to an actual career involves mastering two things: 1. Long-term vision and 2. Independent decision making. 

Games cannot replace the role a job has in sustaining man's self-esteem, but they are a great way to experience a world in which progress is easy and fast, rewards can be attained immediately and one's achievement are quickly stacking up. 
If you ever excelled at a game, it is a good feeling to remember - so you can aim at getting that same feeling from a career of your choosing. 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What is ethics and why do we need it?

We make decisions every day, all the time. 

What do you think is the fundamental reason for our need to act, to make decisions?  

One thing to notice is that our feelings and sensations depend on our choices. Certain things will make us happy, certain things will make us miserable. 
Losing a house, a great job, a tooth, or a girlfriend can make one miserable. And yet the possession of these things is not automatic: it depends on the choices one makes every day. 

So why do we need to make decisions? Because if we don't, we loose the things we enjoy, or don't gain them in the first place. And if taken to the extreme: Lack of action, lack of decisions - leads to death. 

This much is available to every person: Just look at the decisions you've made today and notice that each one of them ultimately influences your feelings, sensation or well being. 

Let's throw in a few examples:
  • Getting out of bed to go to work: Why make such a decision? Maybe because you love your job and you can't wait to get there. Maybe because if you don't, you don't have money, which means you can't pay rent, which means you live in the street in the rain and suffer. 
  • Brushing teeth: Because it influences the sensation in your mouth and in the long run your ability to chew with your own teeth. 
  • Turning on the T.V. : The enjoyment of watching entertaining things.

If you don't get out of bed, brush your teeth, turn on the T.V the default is death and suffering. 
On the other hand if you make the right decisions the result is happiness, pleasure, enjoyment, health. 
In other words we need to make decisions because fundamentally action is required to achieve happiness and to remain alive. 

Every human being that ever existed needed some sort of guidance how to live, what to avoid, what to seek, how to get it. 
We need that guidance not only in isolated cases, but in the most fundamental questions in our lives: What kind of person do I want to be? What lifestyle do I want? What purpose or goals should I seek? 

Ethics is the branch of philosophy which answers that need. Ethics is known to most people as a list of "you shall"s and "you shall not"s. Or - "this is good" and "this is bad".  The bible provides such guidelines or suggestions, such as "you shall not steal/ kill/ cheat...". 
Some people think, therefore, that ethics is an arbitrary social invention, intended to bind some to the will of others. 

Ethics is indeed a guide to life, a "shall and shall not's"- except, it assumes a standard. What is good and what is bad makes no sense apart from someone for which it is good or bad for, and a goal by which to measure "good" or "bad". 

If you want to build a house, you should take certain actions and should not take others. Some actions are good and some are bad for your goal. The same is true for the ultimate goal - our own life and the enjoyment of it. 

Notice that once the need has been identified - Ethics becomes a scientific matter. It requires a careful study of generations of human beings - the behaviors that promote their well being and the behaviors that inhibit or destroy it. It is a study that must identify our nature and needs, and provide principles accordingly. 

Ethics is not empirical - just as building a table is not empirical. One indeed makes several trials building a table - but over the trials one discovers the proper principles of building it. 
Similarly, ethics is not about measuring the gross domestic product of a society and recording the behavior of the majority of people living in it. It involves identification of the principles of behavior that lead to the success of an individual and a society. These principles are timeless, they always "work" given their context (that life, choice and happiness are possible). 

Let's summarize: The need for ethics comes from the fact that we need to make decisions, and that our decisions influence our sensations, feelings and survival. If we wish to live, we need to act. Ethics therefore is a science that identifies the principles that best serve this goal. 

Let's look at some examples. What method is best to make decisions? Is it our emotions, or our reasoning mind? Do we need to seek the truth, or is it best to indulge in self-illusions? These are fundamental questions and as such belong to the field of ethics. 

Ethics does not prescribe every single decision one makes. It does not prescribe the method to brush one's teeth - but it will tell you that your health is a value that needs to be maintained. The details are up to a more specialized or specific study.  Ethics won't tell you how to play chess - it will only evaluate the value of thought provoking games for you, and their role in life. 

Ever had to decide between preparing for an important exam and going out for a movie? To make this decision, one must turn to basic principles: Do I decide by what provokes the strongest emotion or by reason? Do I decide by what I know is good for the long run? Should I even be doing something which is unpleasant for me at all? "live like there is no tomorrow" is a philosophical, ethical guideline (good or bad). One needs ethics whether one wants it or not, so long as one chooses to live. 

Why choose to live? Because this is the only way for us to experience any pleasure. Pleasure is what we are driven by, by our nature. This is why suicide is only committed by depressed individuals, and not as a matter of a meaningless arbitrary choice. We all know that by living we can have everything, and in death there is nothing at all. 

In conclusion, I want to emphasize one more aspect of ethics: Ethics is primarily a guide for an individual - not a society. It does have implications for life in society, if one chooses to have that, but it is primarily a personal guide. 

If you now understand what ethics is and why we need it, the big question remaining is: what are those scientific ethical principles?

I found the answer in Ayn Rand's writing (which I cannot recommend enough) and in large this is the question I dedicate my blog to.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Leadership & Values: a lecture by John A. Allison

A great lecture by John A. Allison, CEO of BB&T corporation bank, about the significance and practicality of morality in life.

The significance of acting by a moral code explained by a man who has a long experience managing a big company and seeing people act everyday in ways either leading to their success or their failure.

(Note: Audio quality improves after a minute and a half of the video, about the time where John Alison is introduced to the stage).

[Watch the lecture on Youtube].

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Faulty common beliefs

Do your parents know best for you? No, you know best for you, and if you don't, you better start making it so.

"Casual sex is all about physicality, not about psychology". Wrong. Casual sex is possible by projecting a personality onto a stranger. When you get to know someone better it's less easy to project a personality on them. You must actually like them for who they are. Casual sex is very much about psychology, only it involves projection rather than actual knowledge of the partner.

Does god exit? No. "God" is an invention of man, held as a belief out of conformity, psychological weakness or lack of critical, logical thinking on the subject.

"Bad guys get away with it". Wrong. Bad guys may not feel guilt, but the way they experience life is influenced by their principles making them less happy or even full of negative feelings toward themselves, the world and other people. Their punishment is a spiritual one - and not in the afterlife. (there is no afterlife).

"Being practical means that I go after the career that offers the most money with the most stability". Wrong - being "practical" is realizing that your life is only worth something by being exiting and happy, therefore pursuing a career that will satisfy and engage you - level of lifestyle comes second. What good is a great apartment if you come home to it unhappy and tired?

"Ah... the ideal life is life without having to work, only sitting in a Jacuzzi and watching TV with my friends". Badly mistaken.
The happiest people are those who engage in the adventure of using their skills to create new things. They can experience pride and satisfaction in their own mind, independently of others - it makes you strong and gives your life a sense of purpose. It allows you to experience that you can do things well, which is fuel for living. True relaxation comes with a productive lifestyle, not without.

"If I lie, I benefit from it and others lose". Other people may lose from your lie, but you will not benefit either. Benefit is not measured primarily in material terms.
Notice that the man of integrity and principles has confidence in himself, while the one that lies and betrays his beliefs is scared of what everyone else would think of him. Which one do you think feels better?

"I am a better person if I give the slimiest sleezbucket the benefit of the doubt". No, that makes you a coward, or conveniently unrealistic, but not a hero.

"Guns create violence". Human beings create violence. The bad ones start it and the good ones use it to finish it. Disarming your self defense will not make an evil man any less evil or more compassionate. It simply makes it easier for him to hurt you. So no, guns do not create violence - in fact, in the right hands they are necessary to fight and end it.

"If I will suck up to a girl I have better chances of catching her romantic interest". Big mistake. No decent person, especially women, likes a groping man. women like men who pursue their own pleasure and pursue it confidently and openly. (No, you are not a sleezbucket to pursue your own pleasure. How else would you rather live, as a slave?)

"Winning always comes at the expense of someone else losing. Life is about hurt others to gain, or hurt yourself to benefit others". This is a common world view and is absolutely false.
Life is best when you are in a win-win situation with people around you: In friendships that provide mutual gain, in a great business deal both sides get what they prefer to have (you get the chicken, they get the cash).
If you are a man of honor and by being yourself you are hurting someone else, then their pain is a result of their own fault - not your creation. Therefore, you do not gain at their expense: You simply gain, and they simply suffer by their own doing.

This concludes my advices for today on common yet faulty beliefs. Hope you found it useful.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Community service" and help in good will

Yesterday, September 11th, Obama made a speech to the nation claiming the significance and meaning of the day is "community service".

Take a moment to ponder: what exactly is the meaning of "community service", and is it really the reason so many American citizens helped others during the event 8 years ago?

To "serve" means "work for or be a servant to", "do duty", "devote (part of) one's life or efforts to" another person.
Is this what was the help about? Were those who helped saw themselves as servants of the ones under the ruins? Did they see it as their duty to selflessly serve the men in need?

I don't think so. Those people were proud, not humble. They saw themselves as soldiers, not as servants.
"Community service" and what was going on there that day and in the days that followed were complete opposites.

Those people who helped others did not do so because they thought their duty is to sacrifice their lives so that others may live. I believe they did not do it out of moral duty, but out of a spiritual, selfish reason - they valued the lives of the kind of people under the ruins, who shared their values and the American love of freedom.
They were angry at the terrorist attack which stood directly against what America is stands for, and by helping others they were fighting for and reaffirming their own spiritual values.

This was not service to the state or the "community". It was devotion to their own ideals and values.

This is a very important distinction to understand: If someone is doing something for someone else, it could have two opposite meanings. The "Stalin" meaning of "you are not important, live for the greater good", and the American generosity.
If both are "doing something for someone else", what is the distinction between the two?

It is this
distinction that Obama wants people to lose. He wants to take the second meaning of genuine generosity and replace it with the "Stalin" meaning of "live for others".

He wants to scare people that if they don't agree to his idea of "community service" that they are not generous, when in fact generosity and "community service" are complete opposite.

Generosity is an extension of one's spiritual values toward another human being who shares them. It is those spiritual values that allow a man to truly value human life, and thus see them as worthy to preserve.
The man whose sole value is to sacrifice his life for the "community" is incapable of valuing human life.

When I help someone, I do so because their own well being is a selfish value to me. I do so because I see in them the spiritual values I respect and have in me: integrity, courage, determination, honesty.
Does Stalin ever helped anyone? He talked a lot about "service of the greater good", "service to other men", "service to the state" - Did he ever help another soul?
His kind is a void. He has no spiritual values. Human life means nothing to him. This, is the meaning of true selflessness, of "community service", of living for someone else.

Yes, the help is extended to someone else, but the reason is not selfless service, but pride, justice and profound individuality.

Keep in mind this important distinction: Selfless service or selfish generosity? The two could not be further apart.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Common sense in Ethics

What makes "common sense" ideas in ethics common sense? Consider the following examples:

  • Example: Owner of a Pizza place, advertising his store with the following message: "Big chain of Pizzerias cannot produce the same quality of food as our small cozy store. come taste the difference".
    Then, after a few years he becomes so successful that he opens up a chain of Pizzerias. If he were to advertise it as "Best Pizza ever, we treat every pizza as if it came from our personal home oven" he would be regarded as a phony by people, because he previously claimed it is impossible to produce high quality food in mass production.

    Why would he be regarded as a phony? Because people realize in a common sense way, that if a principle is true a certain point in time, it should also be true for a later point in time. [An abstraction is true regardless of time]

  • An example showing another aspect: A principle in ethics cannot be true for one man but not for another - it is true as an abstraction for every man. Every kid knows that if it is wrong for others to cheat in a game, it is wrong to cheat in a game, period. For others and for himself. Or if one kid accuses another kid for doing X (like talking during an important class), then it would be hypocritical for the blamer to do X and at the same time preach to someone else that doing X is wrong. A typical response a kid would give to such accusation under the circumstances is: "But you do it too!"

The two examples show that it is common sense that an evaluation of an action (as good or bad, just or unjust) cannot be isolated to a single instance - it must be a principle.

What makes it "common sense"?

To understand it, let's look at how human cognition works in regards to inanimate objects. If one object falls down when you release it from a height, and this happens with every object, then one concludes that objects fall down when released from a height. People would consider a lunatic a person who would go "this objects fall" "and this object falls" "and this object falls" "But what happens with this object? I don't know". In other words, our cognition functions seeking abstractions, generalizations, principles. This is how even the least intelligent (yet still rational) man thinks. Even if all he knows is how to grow oranges, he would still know that all orange trees needs water to grow, that this is the nature of an orange tree as a principle.

Deciding on shoulds, on right and wrongs in human behavior, is different than learning that objects fall and more complicated, but nonetheless, it remains the same that if a principle applies to one man, it applies to all men. If it is bad to murder, then it is bad to murder for everyone at every time. What makes this common sense, something that every kid understands, is the fact that our consciousness functions as an abstracting mechanism - this is the way we comprehend reality.

Therefore a thieve cannot feel guiltless and still hold that if someone steals his property he's bad. In the back of his mind he knows and feels that if he condemns someone for doing X, then he is bad as well for doing it. A thief therefore has to develop a different view of ethics that would make stealing alright. For example "it's a dog eat dog world. One must steal and kill to survive, it's just a question of who does it better". Such a view makes a justification as a principle for stealing. [as a side note, notice the destructive role this conclusion plays in his life. He will regard thieves as virtuous and seek their company, even though they are the most untrustworthy people out there, he will not have the moral ammunition to blame someone for stealing from him. He basically strips himself off a central principle for survival]

He may try to say that other people are bad if they steal from him, yet he is not bad for stealing from others - but then he would go against the very essence of his thinking, of how his mind grasps everything in the world. If X is wrong for men but not for him, even though he's a man, then generalizations as such cannot be trusted. If it is good for others to be happy, why would this mean that it is good for him as well? If a certain medicine is good to cure something for all men, who is to say that it is good for him as well? If it is wrong to grow orange trees without water, who is to say that this applies to any particular orange tree? He says in essence that generalizations about human nature and human behavior are illegitimate. But he cannot escape the fact that his consciousness acts seeking unity of his knowledge. If generaliazing about stealing is wrong, then generalizing as such should be doubted in other cases as well.

He will no longer be able to say with conviction "well of course it's good for people to be happy, that is human nature". And since he rejects his ability to form principles in ethics, he is left helpless to survive. He can no longer hope to find a reliable guide for action. How could he? What's good for humanity, what man should do to live a good life can no longer logically apply to him as well.

I think most people struggle to explain why things like murder, theft, dishonesty, etc' are bad on principle. The difficulty here is to comprehend that principles are equally valid to human actions as they are for the behavior of any other object or phenomenon.

Conclusion from all the above: Moral people are those who stay loyal to the understanding that a principle of human action is a principle. In other words, practice what you preach.
They may not know why this is right, they may only experience it as a strong emotional conviction, but the fact remains that they stay loyal to the proper method of making conclusions. And the strength of the conviction comes from the fact that they realize that if they desert this method of thinking about ethics, they desert their method of thinking about everything.

Seemingly, the man who acts regardless of a principle because he cannot think of a rational explanation why it should be otherwise is the one acting on reason, not on emotions. But this is not true.
He acts regardless of his implicit knowledge, which he did not insist on understanding. It would be the equivalent of dismissing the feeling of strong conviction that orange trees need water to grow because he is not yet sure what is the source of the feeling.

By far, the more difficult thing to grasp in ethics is why things like stealing, killing, etc' are experienced as bad as common sense. Why these things and not others?

The common sense behind that is that without those things life is not possible. If life is not possible, game over, there is nothing more to talk about.
If someone came to you and said "Why do you need your house? this is nonsense, I'm taking it away from you", you'd smack the bastard on the head. It would be clear to you that you need your house to survive, and that something that goes against your survival is bad. "Why do you need to be alive? What do you care if I cut your throat?" Such a question would be a sign of lunacy. It is clear to one that living is important, it is important, because without that there is nothing else to experience or regard as important.
So in these extreme cases which are easily observable to one, like a fist quickly approaching one's face, one understands implicitly that life is the standard of value - of regarding something as good or bad.
The difficulty is in generalizing cases like that to the rest of one's life. Something like lack of a law against stealing seems much further away and less tangible than a knife in proximity to one's throat.
This is why, in my opinion, people have a problem explaining why stealing and killing are wrong, even though they are experienced as a common sense thing.

A: "Why do we need laws against stealing and killing?"
B: "Because that is the only way we can survive as a society"
A: "And why is that significant in any way?"
B: "Because if it wasn't, you wouldn't be standing here, punk."

The last answer of B is the recognition that life is an ultimate value, one that makes all others possible. A question "why is living of any importance?" bypasses the fact that anything that is important is within one's life. No life, nothing to regard as important or non-important. It's like asking "why are questions important?" bypassing the fact that the questioner is asking a question.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Values as objective

What makes something good? Is it how you feel about it, how the universe "built" it, or how something in the universe relates to you?

These are 3 different philosophical approaches to "the good", which are Intrinsic, Subjective and Objective:
  • Intrinsic: "Eating a banana is good because food is good"
  • Subjective: "Eating this banana is good because I feel like it"
  • Objective: "Eating this banana is good for me because it gives me energy, health and enjoyment"

  • Intrinsic: "Religion is good because that's the nature of reality as dictated to us by god"
  • Subjective: "Religion is good because I feel good whenever I read the bible"
  • Objective: "Religion contradicts reason, which is requires for my survival, therefore it's bad"

A description of the three approaches by Ayn Rand, from "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" (in blue):
"There are, in essence, three schools of thought on the nature of the good: the intrinsic, the subjective, and the objective.
The intrinsic theory holds that the good is inherent in certain things or actions as such, regardless of their context and consequences, regardless of any benefit or injury they may cause to the actors and subjects involved. It is a theory that divorces the concept of “good” from beneficiaries, and the concept of “value” from valuer and purpose—claiming that the good is good in, by, and of itself."
"Intrinsic value" is the approach of the man that says that what makes something good is how the universe "built" it.
Examples of an intrinsic approach to values:
  • "The elimination of the human genes in the process of evolution is good because this is the nature of the universe, or the will of the universe, if you will"
  • "The existence of living things is good" (This implies that something can be good regardless of someone for which it would be good)
  • "Having sex before marriage is bad" ("Why? Because god said so" - or "it simply IS")
  • "Cutting down plants is bad because it hurts mother earth"
The Subjective approach:

"The subjectivist theory holds that the good bears no relation to the facts of reality, that it is the product of a man’s consciousness, created by his feelings, desires, “intuitions,” or whims, and that it is merely an “arbitrary postulate” or an “emotional commitment.”

The intrinsic theory holds that the good resides in some sort of reality, independent of man’s consciousness; the subjectivist theory holds that the good resides in man’s consciousness, independent of reality."

Subjective approach examples:
  • "Religion is good because whatever makes the person happy is good for him"
  • "What I see as good is not the same as what you see as good, therefore, there is no real concept of "good" or "bad"; In your worldview, a killer is bad, but in his worldview, he is not."
  • "Nobody really knows what is good or bad for anyone - it's a matter of individual feeling."
  • "I am good because I am me, and every person thinks of himself as good." (implies that a person is good because he wants to be good, not because he has some criterion to judge himself by)

"The objective theory holds that the good is neither an attribute of “things in themselves” nor of man’s emotional states, but an evaluation of the facts of reality by man’s consciousness according to a rational standard of value. (Rational, in this context, means: derived from the facts of reality and validated by a process of reason.) The objective theory holds that the good is an aspect of reality in relation to man—and that it must be discovered, not invented, by man."

Objective approach examples:
  • "This medicine is vluable to me because it will cure my illness"
  • "I value independent thinking because it allows me to create material good necessary for my life"
  • "Listening to this kind of music is good for me because it uplifts my spirit and inspires me to acquire the success I dream of having"
  • "Listening to this kind of music is bad for me because it drives me further into despair, despite the fact it provides temporary emotional relief" (a dis-value)
  • "This woman is no good for me because she is a liar and a cheat who will end up hurting me" (again a dis-value)
Notice that in each case a fact of reality is identified, which is relevant to the person's well being - not just his momentary feeling, but that which allows good feelings in general. He holds his own life (not someone else's) as the standard to judge what is good and bad for him, and ultimately it his his choice and understanding that makes something a value to him.

In summary:

If the intrinsicist followed his idea of the good to the fullest, he'd be like a robot acting to satisfy the universe or "god" or some unquestioned moral code. In one example, he'd be trying to eliminate himself in favor of the next step in evolution, or in favor of preservation of "mother earth".

If the subjectivist would follow his ideas to the fullest, he'd be looking only at his inner state to decide what is good for him - never at reality. If he craves food he'd be fat, and if he's fat, then he'll say that being fat is good, because he decides what is good.

Only the objectivist (denoting here: a man who uses the objective approach to values) lives with his eyes open, considering both the facts of reality, how they relate to his well being and to the satisfaction of his spiritual needs.
What makes something good for someone is not just how it makes him feel, nor how the universe is built - but his own identification that the thing promotes his physical and spiritual well being.

Like the subjectivist - he strive to enjoy things - to give his emotions satisfaction and achieve pleasure. But unlike the subjectivist he uses reason to identify how to achieve enjoyment, not mere emotions.

Like the instrincisist he strives to follow a moral code - but unlike the intrinsicist he does not take a moral code from "the universe", from god or from society as a given - he develops his own moral code by discovering the principles necessary for his life and happiness.
Personal experience, books and other people can be of great aid in this process, but essentially the process is done with his own judgement.

Under this process the values he chooses are objective: They are his choice, but not an arbitrary one: They are a result of correct identification of the facts of reality in relation to him.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Values without a valuer

What is "important" in life? A commonly accepted answer is: Getting your name down in history books, bringing progress to humanity, helping people, changing things on a major scale. 
Then, there is a sub-version of what is "important": the idea of what is "successful". "Successful" means being famous, having a triple degree in something, rich, popular, good looking.

Even though this concept of "important" refers to an individual, and what an individual should do - What it fails to consider is the actual individual. It prescribes what is "important" to an individual while making irrelevant the actual opinion of an individual person. 

Ethics taken as duty are experienced as an end in themselves: A person is honest for the sake of being good, he does well in school for the sake of being good, he goes on a diet for the sake of being "successful" etc'.

Philosophically he views morality as duty: as a set of rights and wrongs dictated to him from something outside himself (like society or god). 

 this view of morality puts a wedge between his self esteem and desires; because he needs to choose if he wants to be good and obedient, or pursue his own desires and goals and give up being good (which means to give up self-esteem). 

Philosophically, a proper moral code depends on man's choice to live and achieve his needs. It's opposite, a moral code prescribed as duty, makes personal goals and thinking irrelevant, and is therefore improper as a guide to life (which is what ethics in essence IS).

Psychologically, the distinction between morality from choice or from duty is not between following good morality or bad morality - rather the method by which a man accepts his moral code and why he accepts it. 
Does he choose his moral code to better his life, or does he accept it unquestionably, as something above himself to live up to? 
If a man sees morality as "the good" (i.e. "this is what I should do to be good!") and not as "the good for me" ("I should do X if I want good things for myself") then he accepts morality as a matter of duty, regardless of how good the moral code is philosophically. 

The person with the first approach ("be good!") has no explanation of why these things are important. It seems to him like there is no explanation - those things simply ARE important, even though he never reached this conclusion himself nor recall ever choosing those things. His concept of "important" is divorced from his desires and ideas. 

For many it can be difficult to grasp that a proper moral code actually depends on their choice; Many of us are educated to accept what is "good" or "bad" as irrelevant to our choice and beyond our reasoning.
Kids are taught what is "important", such as; it is important to get good grades, important to keep a safe, traditional path vs. pursuing a "hopeless" dream, important to have friends, not to upset anyone, to "get along". It is important to do "great things", to have money, important to share, important to be modest, nice, etc'. All this is demanded from a child as measurement of how good he is, without providing an explanation what makes these things good 
for the child. Without giving him incentive or reason to choose this course of behavior himself. [Additional note at the end regarding this point]

This sort of "education" sets the psychological state of mind for having values without a valuer. To pursue "important" things that one does not enjoy and that are not part of individual self-fulfillment, rather they stand above one's self, as a test of his worth. 

What kind of psychology leads a man in one direction or the other? I find that the answer lies in the trait of selfishness. 

A selfish person is primarily motivated to achieve his own enjoyment. And unless some enjoyment logically follows in exchange for the effort of acting - he does not move an inch. When there is something he values - he does not give it up. 
A non-selfish person gives up his pleasure and his values easily if he is taught that the good is to do so.  He does not act to achieve pleasure - rather he acts in a "moral" way for the sake of not disappointing himself - for the fear of being bad or the attempt to be good, without any further purpose - without attempting to gain something of personal importance to him, something he enjoys. 

For example: Suppose someone enjoys romantic relationships. And some day he learns that according to an accepted ethical principle, this kind of behavior is bad. If he is selfish he will say: "To hell with this principle, it's taking away my enjoyment. Unless I understand in what way this principle is good for my life, I say to hell with it". 
The person who sees morality as duty, however, will think: "Well, to be good I must give up my pleasure from dating. Being good is more important than my pleasure". 

In what way, then, can morality be selfishly chosen? 

As we grow up we learn that a certain course of action is required to achieve the things we aim at getting. We look for some guidance for the kind of person we want to be in order to deal with the difficulties in our lives and enjoy it, we look for some ideal or role model for guidance of the kind of person we want to be. Most people do not realize that this is their first step to choose a moral code - and not what they were taught to believe is "the good". 

The correct method to choose a moral code is highly personal: It is acting as the kind of person you are inspired to be, for the sake of achieving things you enjoy. And the process of integrating a chosen moral code to one's life goes through one's ability to understand it.


Most of us get educated with one bad idea or another. It is therefore important to make sure what we consider as important actually serves our enjoyment and well being. 

If there is one advice I could offer someone who wants to get rid of morality from duty it would be - focus on your pleasure, use the fullest capacity of your reasoning mind to maximize your enjoyment through the whole of your life. Learn to notice what you enjoy and what you drag yourself through in order to be "good". 
One cannot chose a career or personality that are good for him and yet make him self-alienated and bored.

The purpose of morality compatible with human life is to provide us the principles to guide our lives: to teach us the kind of person we need to be in order to enjoy our lives and sustain them.

Don't give up your life for any purpose less than that. 

[Note: to some degree, a child always acts without fully understanding the benefit of some behavior to his life. It is the role of his parents to teach him to act in a certain way. But the right way to motivate him to do it, while he learns the importance of that behavior for himself, is to give (or take) values, and not by presenting the rule as a gauge of his worth.
For example: You can motivate a child to learn to read by promising a prize. But a bad way to motivate him would be to present the activity as an end in itself: in the form of "if you learn how to read you are good and I will love you, and if you do not you are bad and I will not hug you", which teaches him that "good" and "bad" are impersonal concepts.] 

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Role of Emotions in life

  1. Positive emotions are the reward for living.
  2. Emotions motivate us to act to gain or keep values.
  3. Emotions are a mechanism whose goal is to safeguard our life.
  4. Emotions are crucial cognitive aids.

  1. First and foremost: Emotions, positive emotions - are the reward for living. They are the reward for every action, every effort we put in to achieve something.
    Falling in love, enjoying some activity, person or object, Feeling relaxed, joyous, entertained and the rest of the pleasant emotions are the reward for living - they are what make life worth maintaining. Psychologically - there is no escape from the fact that enjoyment is the fuel life requires. The only purpose of life compatible with the human nature is happiness.
    To quote Ayn Rand: "It is by experiencing happiness that one lives one’s life, in any hour, year or the whole of it."

  2. Emotions are motivators for action. Pleasure motivates us to gain values and unpleasant emotions motivates us to protect values from danger. Without emotions we would not even care if a danger was staring us in the face. Without holding in mind the enjoyment promised by having money, or the fear of being homeless - there would be no motivation to work.

  3. Emotions are mechanisms aimed at helping our survival (helping to achieve and keep values).

    "In psychological terms, the issue of man’s survival does not confront his consciousness as an issue of “life or death,” but as an issue of “happiness or suffering.” Happiness is the successful state of life, suffering is the warning signal of failure, of death." (Ayn Rand, The virtue of selfishness)

    Emotional pain (such as sorrow, fear, anger) by its nature, indicates a danger to a value; such as fear of losing our wallet or anger at having a piece of property taken away from us.
    Because emotional pain is experienced as unpleasant it motivates us to avoid that feeling, which in action is achieved by protecting our values and trying to regain what is lost or threatened.
    Emotional pleasure is a result of achieving a value; such as enjoying a stack of money, a comedy act or Relaxing at the safety of your home.
    Since these emotions are experienced as pleasurable, we are motivated to achieve them by achieving values: Earning money, going to see a comedy act or building a home.
    Happiness results from achieving values, and therefore indicates a successful state of being - a success in living.

    Overall emotions as a mechanism safeguard our values. Values are things which our life require - and therefore emotions safeguard our lives.

    [One important note to add here is that values still need to be chosen by every person. Wanting a house or money is not automatic. But once a person chooses to live, these other values are what is required to sustain that choice. If a person thinks correctly he will end up holding these things as values].

  4. Emotions are cognitive aids in several ways:

    • They provide a quick summary of your subconscious evaluation of something based on vast amount of knowledge. Emotions are experienced as an emotion, but what the feeling is based on is some intellectual calculation. For example: when you feel fear at reading a piece of news that may affect your stock value negatively, Like a person for holding certain fundamental ideas you agree with, or enjoy a new cellphone.
      In all these cases there is a lot of knowledge that you are not directly aware of when you experience the emotion which is involved in generating the emotion.
      In the first example I gave: you subconsciously understand how the piece of news will affect your stock value, how much money you put into that stock, other assets in your life that may be in danger if you loose a certain amount of money, or the threat to your dream vacation you were planing to pay for with the money. The threat to these values is what triggers the fear - even though you are only directly aware of the newspaper article (at least at the first moment of grasping the issue).
      Unlike reason - which is a more precise tool, but is much slower than emotions, which are lightning quick calculations of how something relates to you, based on all of your knowledge.
      Because of that they provide very important input for you to consider and can help make a thinking process faster and based on more of your knowledge.

    • Certain class of emotions are devoted to the value of knowledge, and they help our thinking by providing feedback about our process of conscious thinking. This class includes: Confusion, clarity, unclarity, certainty, doubt, surprise, suspicion, boredom, curiosity.
      To see the significance of these emotions to your thinking, try to imagine how the process of learning a new subject would go if you didn't have the emotions of confusion or unclarity. You would not know when to ask questions because nothing would indicate to you the need to ask, because you would never feel that something is unclear or confusing. Furthermore, the motivation to avoid an intellectual state of confusion will be gone. Confusion is an unpleasant emotion which motivates us to straighten out the facts so that we are clear on a subject.

    • Emotions help keep concepts concretized (This idea is taken from Leonard Peikoff's audio course "Understanding Objectivism" ). A concept like "life" or "rights" when accompanied by the right emotions helps keep in mind what these words mean in reality: "life" is not merely a definition of biological function, but it means your life, the existence of people you love, the difference between the fun you had with a pet when it was alive vs. lack of it after it is gone. "Life" then means something real. Similarly "justice" means the difference between wasting one's life in jail because of injustice and not merely a dictionary definition. One can stay indifferent about a dry intellectual definition of the word justice, but one cannot stay indifferent about spending time in jail while being innocent.
      A great example of that would be something I heard in sociology class long time ago: After extensive research, two sociology researchers found that a clear connection exists between feelings of distress and suicide.
      For a normal person, the idea of suicide is concretized by an understanding of the negative emotions involved. Nobody thinks that a man takes his life without feeling some emotional distress. But for the researchers, it was a purely statistical intellectual matter - which is why they saw the need to conduct a research for what every idiot on the street could tell them right away.

This has been a rather condense discussion of the role of emotions in life because it was connecting the topic of emotions to many different subjects.
I'd appreciate your feedback if something was left unclear and whether or not it was too condense to keep all the conclusions in mind.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Selfishness in relationships

It is a common view that the interests of two people involved in a relationship collide. To take a romantic relationship as the leading example: She likes Ballet, he likes baseball, nobody likes to do the dishes - therefore many times, one has to sacrifice and suffer while the other enjoys. The relationship, therefore, by this view, necessarily has internal battles, and selfishness is a threat to the relationship - something that pulls away from the "together" and builds a wall. 

The exact opposite is true, when "selfishness" is understood correctly. 

To explain what I mean, let's take the common notion of "selfishness" to its extreme: The ultimate selfish person would be the one who could make his girlfriend into a slave. She will cook for him, massage his feet, clean his apartment, and if needed, open beer bottles for him with her teeth. 
Most people will not dispute that this is the ultimate selfish person - concerned with nothing but his own “ass”. The other end of this idea of "selfishness" is the sucker - the woman from this example, who never gets what she wants and is always busy pleasing her man. 
One thing that’s obvious about this allegedly selfish person is that he acts to satisfy his immediate needs. But this is not the essence of selfishness.

To explain why, let's consider a whole different type of a relationship: a relationship where each one enjoys making the other person happy and cares about their partner's well being. 
In action, this means occasionally spending hard-earned money buying presents for the partner, giving them massage when they're tired, making food for them when the time and mood is right and giving them support and encouragement in their career.  

Are they "suckers" or "selfless" for doing such things for their partner? Similarly, is a mother taking care of her kids, paying for their college, instead of training them to be house slaves - a sucker, who is not concerned with her own well being? 

It is precisely their happiness and well being that the person from my example (and the mother) is motivated by, while the so called "egoist" I first discussed is not concerned with happiness at all - especially not in the context of the relationship. One cannot seek happiness in a relationship with someone one tries to enslave. And a person who prefers a beer over a happy relationship with his girlfriend (or boyfriend) is not concerned with his enjoyment. He does act to satisfy his immediate wants, but he does not seek the best possible for himself in life. 
The person who seeks the best for himself, tries to find ways to get out of a swamp – instead of occasionally scratching his bottoms when the swamp water irritate it. He does not adjust or accept the swampy in his life – he acts to change it.

Investing in those one loves gives tremendous value. It is ultimately one's “ass” that one looks after when investing effort in supporting a loved one. The smile on their face gives pleasure, their good mood is fun to be around and their psychological and physical well being is required to enjoy their company.

The other type, who cares best for his beer (to choose a random example) is looking, at best, for some sort of comfort from how much his life suck, but it is not enjoyment or happiness that he seeks in the relationship.  

To use an example to make this even clearer: If a person grows a plant, and spends time nurturing it – is he a selfless sucker, or is he acting selfishly? After all, he is working for the benefit of the plant. Wouldn’t he be selfish to say “the hell with it, I’m not going to enslave myself for the good of a plant”? 
It is easy to see that this thinking is ridiculous – a person nurturing a plant is doing it to enjoy it (for the fruit or the aesthetic value). The fact that it benefits the plant is irrelevant. 
Same thing is true if you replace the plant with a human being. 

Investing in your partner is ultimately investing in your own happiness. It is part of acting to make your life happy – and because of that it is selfish.  

Does this mean that meeting your partner's every requirement is always centered around one's well being? No. Investing in someone else as means to one's own enjoyment depends on one's mood, tasks for the day, personal interests, etc'.  

For example, if you are so bored with ballet, that if you go with your girlfriend to see it, even though her mood might be good afterwards, yours will be so low, you won't be able to enjoy her company at all - obviously in this situation it is not selfish to go see the ballet show with her. But, to give another example: if your time is free, you don't mind or like cooking, and your partner comes home exhausted and hungry - it increases your enjoyment to cook something for them and it is therefore selfish.  
About doing the dishes – assume two people living together, both equally busy, both finding the task annoying. Is it selfish to try to make the other person do it? Essentially, is it selfish to act unjustly to your partner to get away with doing dishes? 
It is not selfish for a few reasons: One is that you will be damaging your relationship – nobody likes to be treated like a slave – it is a certain romance killer. To prefer avoiding dishes over a happy relationship is not pursuing happiness, but the opposite. And the second reason is that being just to other people is a requirement of self-esteem (but I won’t get into it now). It is in both the partner’s interest to reach some just agreement to handle dishes in this case. Their interests do not collide when both of them have their best self-interest in mind. 

To further expand this understanding, consider the case of a battlefield: Is it selfish to stay in your hole, never sticking your neck out to shoot an enemy or help your fellow soldiers? No, it's stupid. Your fellow soldiers alive and well means more firepower. Cooperating with your fellow soldiers (such as providing backup) means you act in the most efficient way to defeat the enemy thus securing your own survival. The guy sitting in his hole doing nothing is escaping the reality of the situation - not acting to support his life. 
What will he do once all his other teammates are dead? His death will follow too. Cooperation with his team is required for his survival.

Does this mean you should do nothing but provide backup for your teammates? Obviously, this would be putting other people’s life above your own. The soldier in this situation has to primarily look out for his own well being, which in turn requires cooperation with the others, and helping them to the extent it serves one's cause (in this case, survival). 

In summary – the selfish person seeks happiness in life – and nurturing a person he loves is an extension of that. Selfishness is therefore a requirement for a good relationship – not a wedge. 
The interests of two such people in a relationship do not collide so long as they do not ignore reality. 
And the common view of selfishness is completely wrong – reversing the meaning of self-interest by presenting laziness and exploitation as selfish behavior, when in fact just cooperation with people is selfish. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thoughts about death and life

Fear of death is a powerful and helpful motivator to take actions to keep us alive, such as treating a medical problem or fighting efficiently in a physical battle.

However, in this post I want to analyze the fear of death as an abstract idea (not as a fear of some immediate, concrete threat). Just the fear that someday you will die.

I'll start with some analysis of scary thoughts about death, and whether they are rightfully scary or not:

  • Dying as a painful experience and as "the end of me".
    Death is just your consciousness ceasing to exist. When you die you do not experience "yourself" as not existing - you simply experience nothing.
    Worst possible option is some pain before death, but it's not a big deal - it lasts a short while - no more big of a deal than the pain felt under injury or some disease after which you get better. Sure, it hurts, but we can all take some amount of pain (even if severe) bravely. So strike out pain as a big issue regarding death.

  • The disgusting idea of your body turning into a rotting corpse: Well, you're not there to witness that. The whole process takes place after you are no longer conscious. the disgusting physical aspect is only a problem for you regarding other people's death - but usually in today's society you can easily avoid the view of the dead body, let someone else take care of the funeral arrangements, and just keep in your mind the memory of the person as he was when he was alive - and this is what other people you know will experience in regard to you - so really us humans only experience one another in the nice clean form of moving, thinking, living people - and we have very little touch with the ugly side (except for undertakers). Seeing that this is the case, there is no point thinking of the ugly side, since you won't deal with it anyway - and just act like for you it doesn't exist (because it is actually true for your life - unless you're an undertaker/grave robber).

  • Fearing the thoughts before death - about whether or not your life has been good.
    My answer to this is: Why fear that time? This will be a feeling that could last, say, I don't know, a few moments or a few days. You have numerous days to have all the other variety of feelings. It is senseless to spend all those days now preparing yourself for a single short moment in the future.

So given that these three options are struck out - what else is left to fear about death? All it is, is just your consciousness stopping, like what happens when you're under full anesthesia (or sleeping). Suppose you don't wake up from either one - no pain will be involved. There will simply be nothing but the cessation of life. Death is meaningless - it is simply the absence of everything. Life is what counts.
And when you realize that this is all death is - all that is left is to focus on living - on the enjoyment you can achieve while alive. Wasting time thinking of death is utterly useless (other than the time required to understand this fact) - all it accomplishes is wasting the time you do have on negative feelings. It will be the equivalent of going on vacation and spending all of it worrying and crying about the time when it will end.

Practical point to consider: what do you do if you DO have thoughts about death? Answer: you act to eliminate them by repeatedly reminding yourself the uselessness of thinking about it, followed by shifting your focus to something else. After enough time of repeating this your subconscious automatizes this correct approach and such thoughts don't appear anymore.

[As a general rule of maximizing the enjoyment from your life: Only allow negative emotions in your life to the extent they can be used to better your life (by motivating you or helping you to correct a problem) - but do not dwell on them when they arise from a situation you can do nothing about. ]

The only legitimate scary thought about death (which is actually a scary thought about life) is to live an unhappy life without the option of anything better in the future (since death eliminates the option of having a future).
So long as you are alive and think you will remain so for a long time, feeling bad can be tolerable, because you can always keep in mind that in the future more good things await. This is why in times of feeling bad thoughts of death become more scary - because death in this case means no hope for anything better. But if your life is good, and if you know you used your time in a satisfactory way - the end of the "vacation" is easier to accept.

What this scary thought of death comes down to - is fear of unexploited life, of life without the highest enjoyment you could achieve.

It all comes down to one conclusion: Live your life the best way you can to maximize your enjoyment, and stay focused on this goal.

Friday, April 17, 2009

How do we get acquainted with the concept of morality?

We get acquainted with the idea in the form of a need for a role model as we grow up. We look at different characters around us and look for specific traits and principles of behavior that we admire, that make us feel uplifted, that give us a sense of self esteem and enjoyment in living.

Practically, emulating these traits leads to achievement and enjoyment of our values: of the things we pursue, enjoy and need: like friends, hobbies and other productive activities (like cleaning our room, or building airplane models, or painting).

Existentially, the purpose of morality and the reason men need it is because they need guidance how to live: How to survive, and how to achieve things that improve their lives.
However, a man growing up gets acquainted with the need of morality through a feeling of admiration for role models - more so than through the need for a specific course of action to achieve some value.

The reason is that someone else's personality concretizes for us the principles of behavior. It allows us to take a step back from some specific action, to look at the underlying principles that guide the hero's behavior. Like being tough and brave, direct, independent, powerful, etc', vs. telling the truth in some particular instance, or a one time instance of managing to overcome fear of spiders to whack one to a mush. 

A nice example to illustrate this, is the T.V show Survivorman. Survivorman is, I am not ashamed to say - my hero. He goes out to the wild, for 7 days, with very little equipment - to survive on his own: on his wits and strength of character. 

Nothing illustrates better than that the significance of the right personality (which means, the right morality) for a man's survival. 
In nature, he faces so many difficulties, that if he did not have the right spirit - he would surely die. 
He needs to cope with cold, rain and hunger, he needs to have the strength to go and look for food, and think how to build a shelter after 3 days of no eating. He needs to find the strength within him to continue thinking of ways to catch food or heal his worsening injury under exhaustion, and he needs to be optimistic that he can find his way out of a jungle after a night of sleeping on spiders, crawling scorpions and killer ants, after walking in the jungle for 2 days without water and thinking he may not find his way back in time. He needs to be able to enjoy the beauty of the jungle or play his harmonica to uplift his spirit when everything seems to be going bad. 

What he needs is strength of character, optimism, rationality under pressure, being action-oriented and enjoyment-oriented and not trouble-oriented, determined, and brave. 

He needs a moral ideal to literally survive, and he needs to be that ideal. 

He needs certain personality traits (which are essentially principles of behavior, or virtues).

He needs something that takes all the specific actions required for survival in various situations, and abstract the underlying principles out of them.

When we grow up, this is what we respond to - the abstract principles embodied in the personality of our role model.
Even though we may not see the connection between that personality and the achievement of our values - the connection is there, existentially, and in our subconscious. 


Monday, April 13, 2009

Ayn Rand's Philosophy - Objectivism

In the head of the blog I describe my blog as having the philosophy of Objectivism as the background for my writing.

What is Objectivism?

In this video Ayn Rand explains parts of her philosophy and what philosophy is.

For a fuller presentation I recommend her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, her non-fiction book The Virtue of Selfishness and an online lecture by Leonard Peikoff presenting the basics of Objectivism (link)

Part 2 , Part 3

Understanding Objectivism can give your life tremendous value, with the ultimate goal of being happy.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jealousy and Self-Esteem

Jealousy and Envy (quick dictionary definition): painful desire of another's advantages. 

This feeling comes in 2 forms: 

Jealousy is about losing a value to someone else (the context for jealousy is always social). It is a painful feeling regarding a value one has and is afraid of losing - or something a person has difficulty having, but see another enjoying. 
Example: Seeing the object of your romantic interest showing affection to someone else. 
Envy is about something one does not have, does not believe he can have,and yet see another person having and enjoying. 

Example: A chronically fat woman envying a good looking woman for being thinner. (You know the saying, "don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful"). 

Jealousy, like other emotions, serves human survival. It is a negative emotion alerting a person in a painful way that his values are slipping away or that he is missing something crucial to him. 
To illustrate: a child who feels unloved when his parents take away attention from him onto a new little brother, becomes jealous and upset. This shows in his behavior and alerts his parents that he needs more attention. Jealousy here serves to show that some value is in danger (in this case, it's the parent's affection). 
While this is the normal function of jealousy (to protect life), it can arise as a result of some psychological problem or wrong standard of judging oneself. 

By itself, jealousy is not related to self esteem. In other words the mere emotion of jealousy is not an indication of lack of self esteem. It depends what the subject of the jealousy is. 

In some cases jealousy (or envy) is directed at another person's being, when the desired value in danger is one's own worth. Examples: Being jealous of someone because you consider them a better person morally, professionally, aesthetically, more popular, etc'. 

To illustrate: suppose the person you're romantically interested in dates someone else - there are two types of jealousy possible here: One is being jealous for the woman - wanting the woman and being jealous that someone else has her. The other option is being jealous of the personality of the man who has her and seeing it as reproach for your personality not being good enough. The last type is much more severe and threatening.

The second type of jealousy in this example revolves around a self-doubt - a crack in one's self esteem. 

In this case, a psychological problem (like a wrong premise) is involved and the actual threat indicated by jealousy is one's self-esteem. 

How does this come to be? What makes some people satisfied with what they have, while others are jealous of someone's success?

It all starts with how a person learns to judge himself. Each person has some idea of his own worth in his eyes. Each person has a standard, or a set of ideas with which he judges himself. 
Jealousy of the type associated to other people's success always involves an irrational standard for judging one's worth, and this can largely be based on how he was educated as a child - how his achievements and failures were treated by people the child looks up to for approval. 
Consider the parents who make clear to their child, that to be loved and appreciated, he needs to get the best grades in the class, regardless of his actual ability. This places all the weight of his self worth on the actual concrete - the good grade - and not on his performance. If he did his best, and got an average grade - he is not worthy of a prize, but worthy of contempt or indifference. This kind of education makes self-esteem impossible. And worse, it places one's self esteem on a value that does not naturally arise from one's desires and interests. This child is taught that repression, self-beating and hard, joyless work are his main tools to become a worthy person. The feeling is of having something bigger than oneself, something from above, like a severe judge, that the person has to live up to to be worthy. "One day I will be happy, when I am thin". "One day, I'll be happy, when I am rich". And guess what? When they finally do get thin or rich, they are not happy. Because it has no personal value to them, it is a value gained only to "please the judge". 

To give more examples of irrational standards: A standard for success is that one ought to succeed right away, purely from natural talent. Consider what it does to someone passionate about painting: He does not do as well as Michelangelo in his first attempt and then concludes he's no good and drops the whole thing. Or another example: Someone taking the action of productivity, divorced from his own desires and abilities, as part of his standard for judging people's worth (and his own worth). He immediately finds himself facing his own demand to start producing stuff in order to gain self-esteem. He becomes a slave to his own bad idea. A slave, because he makes himself work overtime without pay. "One day, when I am productive, I'll be happy". 

A rational standard of judging oneself is based on evaluation of one's performance in relation to one's actual abilities. The last part is crucial. It sets the basis for rational self-esteem, which means, evaluation of one's worth rationally, by what is possible in reality, and not by a dream-goal which is unachievable to the individual. 

[A side note: It is also important to choose the goals according to one's personal interests based on how a person feels about various things. A value should never be "something from above"]. 
From this it follows that a person should learn what are his abilities in those fields he wants to pursue (like sports, programming, painting, etc'). He does this by trying the best he can and observing the results and speed of progression in improving his skills in that field. 

Once he has some idea what he can expect from himself, he judges himself by how well he did compared to his ability. This way, so long as the person does his best, he gains self esteem, even if others can do better than him.
In contrast, a person who judges himself only based on achievement of something or failing to achieve it, will always be on the lookout to see what others achieved. If they achieve better, he feels like they "steal" his self-esteem and feels hostility. This is because he places all the emphasis on the concrete. Admitting that he does not have what it takes to achieve that concrete is like death to his self-esteem. He must be all-powerful without limitations. So if someone else achieved it, but he did not, it shows that the concrete can be achieved, and therefore automatically it is a reminder of his personal failure, and a cause of jealousy. In fact, there may be no failure involved. It could be that this person did the best he could. 

On the other side of the rope, telling a child that no matter what he does he is accepted and appreciated is bad too, since it encourages no effort from the child. The correct combination is judging one's success in achieving things but in relation to his abilities and limitations.
This creates an environment of self-acceptance and ambition combined (and I believe this is a rare combination nowadays). 

This is a good place to remind that by itself, jealousy is not related to self esteem. The mere emotion of jealousy is not an indication of lack of self esteem.
It is only an irrational standard of judging one's worth that leads to the jealous type whose self-worth is threatened by other people's success. If one wishes to eliminate the jealousy - one needs to replace his incorrect standard.