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#IAmTranshuman – Video Compilation #1

#IAmTranshuman – Video Compilation #1

B.J. Murphy
Ira Pastor
Tom Ross
José Luis Cordeiro
Charlie Kam
Bill Andrews
Gennady Stolyarov II


Leading transhumanists from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives provide concise, powerful statements as to why they are transhuman. The Transhuman Era has arrived; some of us are aware of this already, whereas others are transhuman but do not know it yet. The #IAmTranshuman campaign helps illustrate how emerging technologies and the accompanying shifts in thinking are already transforming everyday life.

This video was compiled and formatted by Tom Ross, the U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party’s Director of Media Production.

The following transhumanists are featured, in order of appearance:

– B.J. Murphy, Director of Social Media, U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party
– Ira Pastor, Regeneration Advisor, U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party
– Tom Ross, Director of Media Production, U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party
– José Luis Cordeiro, Technology Advisor and Ambassador to Spain, U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party
– Charlie Kam, Director of Networking, California Transhumanist Party
– Bill Andrews, Biotechnology Advisor, U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party
– Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party

Learn more about the #IAmTranshuman campaign, the Transhuman Present Project (#TranshumanPresent), and how you can readily participate here.

You can participate in the #IAmTranshuman campaign by submitting still images or video recordings of one minute or less (15 seconds or less for Instagram stories, one minute or less for Instagram-compatible videos). Use the hashtag #IAmTranshuman, and let us know if you would like your video included in a subsequent compilation!

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Apply here in less than a minute.

Become a Foreign Ambassador for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. Apply here.

Review of M. Zachary Johnson’s “Emotion in Life and Music” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Review of M. Zachary Johnson’s “Emotion in Life and Music” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

G. Stolyarov II

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Everyone intuits an emotional substance to music, yet few can explain its nature and origins. According to some, it is merely subjective; a piece evokes feelings that are personal to the listener but have no basis in the actual structure, melody, and harmonies of the composition itself.  According to others, emotion in music can only be explained if anchored to a particular story or the historical context of the composer’s life and motivations. Still others disdain talk of musical emotion altogether and prefer a pure formalism, sometimes seeking to explain why music that feels jarring, discordant, or no way in particular can still be great because of some convention-flouting thing it does. M. Zachary Johnson, a teacher and historian of music and himself an accomplished composer, differs from all of those commonplace views and, in Emotion in Life and Music: A New Science, sets forth a framework by which the mathematics inherent in musical relationships and the feelings to which music gives rise are not only reconciled but shown to be inextricably linked, providing “connection of the emotion with the exact mathematical ratios which measure pitch distance and explain our qualitative affective experience” (p. 163).

Johnson’s concept of the psychological signature of a piece based on three measurable dimensions of intensity, speed, and affect provides a rubric for discerning which basic emotions a musical passage will elicit in the listener. As Johnson points out, these are generalized emotions such as pride or anguish, not anchored to a particular context (e.g., the feeling of accomplishment at having run a marathon or the feeling of having been betrayed) – although other media, such as the storyline of an opera, and even the listener’s personal experiences can provide such a context, which is indeed why different listeners may have different subjective associations with a piece of a particular, objective psychological signature. Even though musical tastes do vary widely among individuals, Johnson convincingly articulates that these tastes are still in reference to something in particular and that an individual’s response to the objective psychological signature of a piece tells more about the listener than about the piece itself. This is a welcome, refreshing contrast to the often militantly intolerant subjectivism of those who proclaim that there are no distinctions of quality or even nature to music or even art in general – that it is all up to the arbitrary preferences of the composer and/or listener, and that anyone who dares challenge this dogma deserves condemnation in the most strident terms. Perhaps contemporary Western culture, or at least the occasional oasis of rationality within it, is beginning to turn away from such absurdity, and Johnson contributes theoretical support to the view most articulately (in our era) espoused by Alma Deutscher that music should be beautiful.

Why is it desirable for dissonance to be resolved? Johnson explains that “Feelings such as pleasure, joy, serenity, inner harmony and balance – these are settled, complete states of mind. They are self-sufficient rewards, forms of satisfaction and contentment. They are ends in themselves. Feelings such as pain, suffering, fear, anger, restlessness, emotional distress and chaos – these are unsettled, incomplete, resolution-demanding states of mind. They motivate us to take some form of productive or corrective action. In respect to psychology, these are a propulsion to satisfy a need, to resolve a clash, to soothe oneself and heal, to strengthen, to gain adaptive flexibility, to stabilize the psyche and bring order to it” (p. 65). Wholesome, constructive music does not merely exist for its own sake but can greatly assist individuals in this task of achieving emotional integrity and strength. This includes music which expresses the darker or incomplete emotions, as long as this expression offers the listener an effective laboratory of the mind to work through such emotions without the risks and harms that would give rise to them in one’s personal life. Johnson notes that “Music rewards you for successful cognitive action, not for successful existential action. And when it gives you darker emotions, the function is not to indicate loss and failure, but to provide a means of sensually enjoying and studying and contemplating the states of consciousness, independently of the issue of actual material loss or gain – which is a form of self-knowledge, an affirmation of the value of one’s own faculties, and therefore itself a spiritual gain” (p. 110). However, there is a difference between a healthy, structured, rational exploration of the darker emotions with the intent of achieving resolution and completeness and the self-destructive embrace of those emotions, which certain types of “music” attempt to inculcate.

I consider myself to be within the same broad Apollonian musical and esthetic tradition as Johnson – as contrasted with the Dionysian revelry in the shocking, debased, and unrestrained. Yet perhaps my most significant difference with Johnson is the scope of what I would encompass within the Apollonian milieu and the latitude which I would allow to certain composers whom Johnson portrays rather harshly. Yes, Richard Wagner had his long, moody, meandering passages – but when his music becomes focused, determined, and structured, it is truly majestic. Yes, Dmitri Shostakovich was often despondent, but he could also write a fugue without any dissonance – and, besides, who would not be despondent when responding to the atrocities of the Stalin regime, but needing to do so in a veiled, indirect manner to create plausible deniability? (Shostakovich, too, had his heroic moments, as in the ending to his Seventh Symphony, which is about as optimistic as one can reasonably be in the midst of the devastation of World War II.) Nor would I agree with Johnson’s portrayal of the Second Movement of Wolfgang Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-Flat as conveying a message of hopelessness or futility; I would rather characterize it as expressing mild, reflective melancholy. As for Arnold Schoenberg – well, Schoenberg deserves all of the criticism that Johnson has in store for him; he had no excuses for the misguided rebellion against tonality.

Yet, more generally, it is perhaps a misdirection of effort to focus on criticism of singular figures in musical or intellectual history. The massive departure of “high” music from tonality in the early 20th century certainly could not have been solely Schoenberg’s doing – nor could the intellectual seeds for this trend have been planted a century and a half in advance by Immanuel Kant (whom Johnson characterizes, following many similar assertions by Ayn Rand, as the mastermind of the end of the Enlightenment and the decline of the West). Kant had his errors, to be sure (though Rand always somehow overlooked the redeeming aspects of his immense humanism and political classical liberalism, especially in the context of his time), and Schoenberg’s music is simply not pleasant to the ear – but one could have a civilized and interesting conversation with either Kant or Schoenberg over a cup of coffee. No – the rebellion against the Enlightenment was more the doing of the rabble who cheered when the guillotine fell during the Reign of Terror. The widespread descent of music into atonality could not have occurred were it not for the slaughter of World War I, a crime of millions against millions – and against themselves. Johnson’s criticism of rock music (perhaps itself a bit harsh – but I offer my evaluation as one who has only heard the music separately from its typical “scene”) is better leveled at the ordinary revelers at Woodstock and Altamont – not the music itself (which is rather harmonious and innocuous compared to what commonly passes for popular “music” today). The tendency toward dissipation and destruction is not orchestrated by a handful of avatars of particular movements – but, rather, it lurks within the masses of people because of regrettable cognitive biases and irrational emotional urges that are the unfortunate inheritance of humankind’s deeply flawed evolutionary origins. In certain eras these destructive inclinations are subdued due to general prosperity and the proper incentives within social, political, and technological systems – whereas in other eras, arguably including our own (though not always or everywhere), they are encouraged by widespread norms of (mis)conduct, cultural portrayals, and everyday attitudes to become acted out by masses of people to great personal and societal toll. This is, in many regards, an ancient and recurring problem, sometimes taking on bizarre manifestations such as the pathological dance epidemic of 1518.

Accordingly, it is more important to advocate the Apollonian mindset in general in opposition to the Dionysian proclivities in general than to seek to single out particular instances of the latter. As long as humans continue to contend with our flawed evolutionary inheritance – which may not and should not always be our lot – and as long as some humans also retain aspects of nobility of character and aspiration for a better life, there will always be some exemplars of both the Apollonian and the Dionysian to point to. A more salient question, though, is, “Which of these paradigms is proportionally predominant?” Furthermore, how can the proportions among cultural creations be shifted in favor of the Apollonian?  The more immediate problem we contend with is that there are vast quantities of people who would understand nothing in Johnson’s book and would have no knowledge of anything he praises or criticizes; they would be equally ignorant of Mozart and Beethoven, Aristotle and Kant, Schoenberg and Shostakovich, Brahms and Ayn Rand, and yet they would hate everything about any mention of them (in whatever light) – or about my review of Johnson’s book, or about a review from a critic with views diametrically opposite mine. The problem of anti-intellectualism in contemporary Western societies (particularly the United States) runs that deep, and it is evident that Johnson is gravely concerned about this predicament.

But perhaps good music can offer us a path toward a brighter future. If anti-intellectualism is the predominant cultural malaise of our time, then the inoculation against it may be found in Johnson’s articulation of the purpose of the best music as expressing the love of intelligence: “The essence of our humanity, the linchpin integrating reason and emotion, the special theme of the good life, the hallmark of virtue, the root of justice, the core of idealism and aspiration and heroism, the fundamental guardian of political freedom, and the root of all human love, is the love of man’s intelligence. […] The essence of music is precisely the love of human intelligence. Music, as nature’s reward for cognitive fitness, is the greatest medium in existence for expressing that theme” (pp. 179-180). Could exposure to great music – simple exposure, without even the theoretical explication which is accessible only at a much higher level of erudition – instill a love of intelligence in sufficiently larger numbers of people so as to turn the cultural tide? This is at least worth including as a tactic in the great, ongoing endeavor of civilizing the human mind and ensuring that the nobility of sentiment can grow to keep pace with material and technological advances.

This article is made available pursuant to the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author, Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II). Learn more about Mr. Stolyarov here

Transhumanism: Contemporary Issues – Presentation by Gennady Stolyarov II at VSIM:17 Conference in Ravda, Bulgaria

Transhumanism: Contemporary Issues – Presentation by Gennady Stolyarov II at VSIM:17 Conference in Ravda, Bulgaria

The New Renaissance Hat

G. Stolyarov II


Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, outlines common differences in perspectives in three key areas of contemporary transhumanist discourse: artificial intelligence, religion, and privacy. Mr. Stolyarov follows his presentation of each issue with the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s official stances, which endeavor to resolve commonplace debates and find new common ground in these areas. Watch the video of Mr. Stolyarov’s presentation here.

This presentation was delivered by Mr. Stolyarov on September 14, 2017, virtually to the Vanguard Scientific Instruments in Management 2017 (VSIM:17) Conference in Ravda, Bulgaria. Mr. Stolyarov was introduced by Professor Angel Marchev, Sr. –  the organizer of the conference and the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s Ambassador to Bulgaria.

After his presentation, Mr. Stolyarov answered questions from the audience on the subjects of the political orientation of transhumanism, what the institutional norms of a transhuman society would look like, and how best to advance transhumanist ideas.

Download and view the slides of Mr. Stolyarov’s presentation (with hyperlinks) here.

Listen to the Transhumanist March (March #12, Op. 78), composed by Mr. Stolyarov in 2014, here.

Visit the website of the U.S. Transhumanist Party here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Fill out our Membership Application Form here.

Become a Foreign Ambassador for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. Apply here.

Can Toyota and Reason Overcome Blindness? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Can Toyota and Reason Overcome Blindness? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
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If you’ve shut your eyes at the ugly spectacle of political and cultural decline around you, look in the right direction and you’ll see what’s best in the world, including innovations from Toyota that are helping the visually impaired.

Technology helping the blind see

The research department at the world-class auto maker is doing more than designing Priuses. It recently unveiled Project BLAID, a shoulder and neck-worn device that can help guide visually-impaired folks through building interiors with cameras, speakers and other technology. This is just one nice bit of good news in a world where the media is ruled by “if it bleeds, it leads.” This is one of many innovations in a world that is being transformed by exponential technologies.

For example, in January an Australian research team at Monash University announced development of another system to help the blind that it will test soon. It bypasses the eyeball, which is often damaged beyond use in blind people, and uses a pair of glasses that feeds visual data directly into the brain. At this time that technology at best would give blind people very limited vision, only enough to let them maneuver around like the Toyota technology does. But it’s a start.

Technology helping the deaf hear

Let’s remember that in recent decades, some 190,000 deaf individuals have received cochlear implants. These devises do not simply amplify sound as do hearing aids. They translate sound into electrical impulses that directly stimulate the cochlear nerve in the ear so the individuals can hear. It is estimated that around 150,000 children are born each year with hearing impairment so serious that they could benefit from such implants.

So as the costs of these implants decrease, we will see the gradual elimination of the ago-old scourge of deafness just as the blight of blindness will gradually disappear from list of human woes as companies like Toyota continue their work.

Reason as the cure

The proximate cause of all this good news is the exponential increase in information processing capability, usually called “Moore’s law.” Since the mid-1960s the capacities of semiconductors have doubled every eighteen months. A capacity of 1,000 at that time is 2,000,000,000 today. That means not only the advent of laptops, tablets, and smart phones but also medical devises that would have been thought science fiction decades ago.

But what is really behind these achievements is a moral code that treats rationality as our highest virtue and human achievement as our highest purpose. It is a commitment by individuals to objective reasoning and to understanding the world so that they can control it to enhance human life and flourishing. And it is a joy that individuals take in the process of understanding and creating.

Ayn Rand called machines “the frozen form of living intelligence.” Do you want to live in a world from which blindness and other illnesses or physical defeats are banished? Then fight for this morality of reason.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

A Transhumanist Manifesto for Calgary and Beyond – Article by Reed Nelson

A Transhumanist Manifesto for Calgary and Beyond – Article by Reed Nelson

The New Renaissance HatReed Nelson
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What is Transhumanism?
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Transhumanism is the idea, philosophy, movement, what have you, that human beings both can and should be enhanced by the use of technology. So while some people use glasses, cars, phones computers, airplanes, and so forth, well, we Transhumanists want to go further.

A lot further.

We want robotic hearts, we want to stay young, we want to be stronger, faster, smarter, and more loving than we are now.

And we don’t people to feel depression, or rage, or extreme loneliness, or to experience cancer, AIDS, or disability of any sort.

We want everyone to feel and function well, all of the time, and we want to grow as never before.

Now consider this.

For the entirety of our species we have only been changing the external – where we live, what clothes we wear, what religions we devote ourselves to and so forth.

And now, I and many others believe that it is time to change the inside.

It is time to evolve.

On Rational Devotion

It seems to me that within Christianity, as well as many other religions, there is the idea that one must devote to God, and God will respond – that is to say, God will heal you in his time.

His time? Does that mean, not even in this life, and yet still you are asked to devote?

(Oh, and why does he heal say, loneliness but not an amputee?)

If God is real, then at minimum, he should meet us halfway, and for each prayer, a little healing, and for each verse read, a little healing.

But of course it doesn’t work that way, and the believer is told to keep going and just, well, believe. That to me sounds like mental slavery.

And I will have none of it.

Technology heals. Nature heals. Animals heal. People heal each other.

And technology has the potential to be, and often already is, the greatest healer of all.

Why devote to anything else then?

P. S. In the movie Forrest Gump, what heals the legs of Lt. Dan? Oh right, technology.

Please, brothers and sisters, let us now turn away from the empty promises of holy books, and instead let us support Transhumanism, for it shall lead us to real healing.

So now we come to arguably our crystalline truth – if there is a biological problem, there is a biological solution.

Zoltan Istvan for American President 2016.

Spread the Good News.

600px-Transhumanism_h+.svgH+ Symbol Image by Antonu

Reed Nelson is the founder of The Transhumanist Party of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. See the Facebook page of The Transhumanist Party of Calgary here.

Illiberal Belief #15: Everyone Is Selfish – And That’s Bad – Article by Bradley Doucet

Illiberal Belief #15: Everyone Is Selfish – And That’s Bad – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
March 11, 2015
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Liberty is won and preserved not primarily with guns, but with ideas. Spreading freedom requires that we spread an understanding of the benefits freedom brings, that we explain to whomever will listen how freedom is really in everyone’s best interest. In making the case for a truly free society, however, we will inevitably come up against a wide array of illiberal beliefs that keep others from embracing our vision of a better world. The more we seek to understand those beliefs, the better we will be able to counter them and address the concerns that underlie them. In this ongoing series, I address some of the issues we can expect to face, along with brief outlines of the kinds of responses I think can be helpful.

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Is it true, as cynics believe, with some backup from certain schools of economics, that everybody is selfish? Well, no. But even if it were true, is being selfish really such a bad thing anyway? The answer to this question depends on what you mean by “selfish.”

The traditional view of selfishness, promoted by religion but maintained by many secular thinkers as well, is that it is bad. According to this view, a selfish person thinks only of his own interests, disregarding the interests of others. Such a person might steal from, lie to, betray, or at the extreme even go so far as to murder others in order to get his way.

But is this really a selfish way of acting? It’s a petty, criminal, malevolent way of acting, to be sure—but does a person really serve his own interests by stealing, lying, betraying, or murdering? It might serve one’s immediate interests to have more money, avoid responsibility for something, or do away with someone who stands in one’s way, but what about the longer-term consequences? Embracing a life of crime, aside from eating away at your soul, for lack of a better word, will very likely come back to bite you, landing you in jail or in an early grave. It’s not a great way to make friends, either.

A person who is selfish and rational takes the longer-term consequences of his actions into account when deciding how to act, what kind of life to lead, what kind of person to be. A rationally selfish person doesn’t cheat or steal, but instead works hard, learns about the world, respects the rights of others, and builds lasting, fulfilling relationships—the kinds of things that are actually in a person’s best long-term interests. This is the kind of view taken by philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, who titled one of her collections of essays The Virtue of Selfishness. This kind of rational self-interest is not something to be lamented, but something to be celebrated, leading to greater wealth and happiness for all.

Those who moan that everyone is selfish have the first kind of selfishness in mind, the bad kind, but clearly not everyone is a thug or a cheat. True criminals are a tiny minority in any civilization. Most people follow some kind of moral code, however mixed up and unexamined it may be. They feel the need, not only to enjoy lives full of rewards, but also to deserve those rewards. They want not merely to have good lives, but to be good people. This simple, basic truth flies in the face of what the cynics out there would have us believe.

The economists who inadvertently lend some support to the cynics have the other kind of selfishness in mind, the good kind. Economists since at least Adam Smith have been unable to deny the beneficial side-effects of lawful self-interested action—though they have not, as a rule, been as unapologetically enthusiastic about it as Rand.

In an article entitled “The Denial of Virtue” published in the January/February 2008 edition of Society, sociology professor Amitai Etzioni takes on economists and other social scientists who are quick to explain away charitable behaviour as a way to get tax deductions, volunteer work as a way to meet other singles, or heroic acts as the result of “hard-wiring.” Etzioni tells us about experiments suggesting that many people do not “free ride” even when they think they can get away with it. He also points out that many people vote, even though they know the chances that their vote will make a difference are close to nil. In these and other cases, people plausibly report that their actions are motivated not by self-interest but by what they think is right, by what they think they ought to do.

I think Etzioni is correct, as far as this goes. The claims of economists and social scientists that all actions are self-interested—that whatever people choose to do necessarily reflects their calculations of costs and benefits for themselves—is belied by clear cases of people acting out of a sense of duty, either to god or society or their parents.

Where I part company with Etzioni is in believing that this sense of duty is a good thing. Etzioni can point to people doing good out of a sense of duty, but I can point to people disowning their natural desires for pleasure out of a sense of religious duty; sacrificing their rights out of a sense of national duty; abandoning a career or a mate out of a sense of duty to their parents. I do believe in virtue, but I believe that duty is its enemy. Duty ethics ask you to adhere to a set of rules, whereas virtue ethics ask you to live up to an ideal, which is a very different focus.

It is a good thing people are not all selfish in the narrow, petty way the cynics imagine them to be, but it is actually unfortunate that people are not all rationally self-interested in the way social scientists suppose. This kind of rational self-interest not only has beneficial spill-over effects, but is in fact a virtue—it leads people to act virtuously, to live fulfilling lives, and to be good people. As Dr. Nathaniel Branden wrote in “Isn’t Everyone Selfish?” published in the Rand book mentioned above, this rhetorical question, though intended as a cynical jab, actually “pays mankind a compliment it does not deserve.” Hopefully, more and more of mankind will deserve it as they increasingly embrace the virtue of rational self-interest and reject not only petty, narrow selfishness but also the heavy hand of duty.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.

The Destructive Nature of the Mystical Rebellion Against Reason in Lisel Mueller’s “Monet Refuses the Operation” (2003) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

The Destructive Nature of the Mystical Rebellion Against Reason in Lisel Mueller’s “Monet Refuses the Operation” (2003) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 29, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2003 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  The essay received over 1,200 views on Associated Content / Yahoo! Voices, and I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  
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~ G. Stolyarov II, July 29, 2014

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Monet Refuses the Operation” by Lisel Mueller, though unintentionally, reveals an intriguing insight; that mystical rebellion against reason is primarily fueled by physical shortcomings and defects.

In the poem, Claude Monet, the aging artist heading inexorably toward blindness, rejects a doctor’s offer to restore his vision. He extols his present incapacitated state by discarding as purportedly insignificant all that had been previously accessible to him. He rejects artistic principles necessary for conveying a realistic three-dimensional perspective, such as the horizon line and even the entire objective of creating a three-dimensional portrayal.

Moreover, the fictional Monet seeks to abolish “fixed notions of top and bottom” and the essential characteristics of Euclidean regularity, identity, and consistency which ubiquitously dominate actuality. Instead, he, with his link to reality (his sight) severed, reverts to the dazed, bumbling, confused notion of Heraclitean flux, which in itself incapacitates man’s reason, understanding, and cognitive capacity. The absolutes, which he has departed from, he disdainfully dubs “youthful errors.”

But what, in fact, is senescence but a departure from an optimal link with reality? With senescence, the body decays, as do the physical aspects of consciousness. The senses are no longer as keen, nor one’s insights as adaptable to the attainment of fresh, innovative, yet still firmly grounded and objective discoveries, as they had once been. This deterioration in Monet is amplified by the decay of his sight and causes him to lapse from clarity to delusion. The old, blind, sick Monet is fomenting a reaction against youth, health, certainty, and forthrightness.

Descriptions of the habits of the blind in Annie Dillard’s “Seeing” also suggest a direct link between physical incapacity and mystical tendencies. For example, many of the blind, having no knowledge of the appearance of their gestures and exterior to the receptacles of sight, do not groom themselves properly and mar their undertakings by aesthetically awkward movements. Despite their knowledge that a world of the seen and objectively perceptible exists, many nevertheless continue to act in utter disregard of it.

This belief in the irrelevancy of reason is an instance of mysticism. The disease, is, however curable along with its physical symptoms. Once cataract operations are performed on these unfortunate individuals, they reform their habits and begin to distinguish objects instead of viewing random and indeterminate color patches. They become conscientious about their appearances and gradually renounce their former abhorrence of the visual world. A girl who spends her first two weeks of sight in denial, a spillover remnant of mysticism, later on admits the beauty of her new endowment and thereby gains access to a tool of empowerment.

While blindness is a physical defect, mysticism is a defect of the mind. It is not curable automatically, as the fictional Monet’s actively resisting example proves. However, a removal of the physical obstacles between one and the absolute enable an exposure to the world of truth, to which delusional untruth can then be compared. The inclinations of a man’s reason and common sense are evident, and it takes extensive self-deceit to subvert them. Thus, he whose physical state is sound is dependent solely on his volition to cure his mysticism. Will he choose darkness and flux, like the fictional Monet, or light, color, and proportion, like the newly-sighted girl?

Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published November 26, 2009
as Part of Issue CCXX of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 24, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CCXX of The Rational Argumentator on November 26, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 24, 2014
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 One of the most grievous errors made by most people in the Western world today can be found in the prevailing view of happiness as constant pleasure or euphoria. This vision of happiness is not only unattainable but destructive of genuine happiness. A much more realistic and satisfying understanding of happiness can be found by combining the insights of Classical Aristotelian and Enlightenment philosophers and applying them to the vast opportunities we have in our time.

The view of happiness as pleasure or euphoria fails in multiple ways. First, it is physiologically unattainable. It is simply impossible for the human body to experience euphoria except in short, fairly infrequent bursts – the body simply cannot produce enough of the pleasure-stimulating chemicals that lead to the desired sensations. Moreover, the body reacts in the same essential manner to pleasure deserved through effort – such as the pride in having completed a creative work or in having transformed an aspect of the world – and to pleasure brought about by the introduction of certain foreign substances, such as drugs, into the body. It is well-known that a drug user needs increasing doses of a drug to experience the same euphoria; the doses that could produce it originally no longer suffice, because the body becomes accustomed to them. However, a lack of the drug altogether results in feelings of active, often severe, displeasure, because the body has come to treat the presence of certain amounts of the drug as its default, neutral state.

The same can be said of any life dominated by pursuit of pleasurable feelings for their own sake – detached from the events and conditions of the external reality. If an individual does manage to experience feelings of heightened pleasure all the time, his body will eventually become desensitized to them – to the point of viewing them as the neutral state. Every pleasurable feeling has a cause – be it internal or external. The individual will therefore come to view the cause of the pleasurable feelings as needing to be present in order to maintain even a neutral state of mind. As it is virtually impossible to maintain the causes of unusual pleasure in operation all the time, this individual will be certain to experience emotional “withdrawal” more often than he experiences pleasure.

Furthermore, a life dominated by the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake becomes a trap for the individual – preventing him from exercising his agency in the external world and instead confining him to replication of biochemical patterns within his own body that are aimed at producing the sought-after feelings. Instead of reshaping the elements of the world outside him into increasingly favorable configurations, he will become a slave to the peculiar construction of his own organism – and he will short-circuit its mechanisms in such a manner as to deprive feelings of pleasure of the utility they would have for a person who is not obsessed with them. The external reality is often quite unaccommodating; the man who focuses on his own feelings instead of observing and responding to the outside world will quickly find the outside world wearing away at his life until there is nothing left.

The sensible function of pleasure is as a reward for objectively beneficial behaviors. If an individual feels good after performing an act that improves his chances of survival, then this gives him an incentive to perform that act in the future. This is why the human capacity to experience pleasure was favored by natural selection for thousands of generations. However, this capacity evolved in a very different environment from our current one – where feelings of pleasure were largely extremely difficult to earn; good food was scarce and only attainable after strenuous hunting and foraging, and even the comfort of a shelter secure from the elements was a rarity. In our era, human beings have become extremely adept at artificially stimulating their pleasure centers without doing anything beforehand to earn such stimulation. The coupling of humans’ new possibilities with their ancient biology can explain such bizarre phenomena as obesity, recreational drug use, promiscuity, and the teenage culture in the contemporary Western world.

Pleasure can still serve its more beneficial function as an incentive for accomplishment, and, by being framed in this manner, it can be limited to a reasonable presence. But it has become much easier to bypass this much more demanding route to pleasure. The solution, of course, is not to reject our life-improving modern conveniences, but rather to alter our thinking about what constitutes a happy life.

To gain a more sophisticated understanding of happiness, it is useful to refer to two sets of historical philosophers. The Classical Greek philosophers, beginning with Aristotle, developed a concept of happiness as being inextricably linked with virtue. The Aristotelian view of happiness, or eudaimonia, did not emphasize pleasure or emotional states. Rather, it saw the truly happy man as the man who has actualized his full potential and has thereby positively influenced the external reality to the entirety of his ability. Virtuous habits – including moderation in the pursuit of pleasure – enable the individual to devote his energies toward self-actualization, which produces a longer-lasting, sustainable happiness. The Enlightenment philosophers contributed to this view by emphasizing the tremendous potential of the human rational faculty in literally reshaping the world and taking humanity out of the muck of poverty, vulgarity, and violence that it had been immersed in for most of its history. Each individual’s use of reason is his means for cultivating his full potential and for attaining true happiness. When the American Founders talked about a natural right to “the pursuit of happiness,” it was this rational, virtue-driven happiness that they had in mind.

It is important to emphasize that this view of happiness does not advocate asceticism, either. A certain sustainable amount of pleasure is preferable to complete avoidance of enjoyment – because the latter cannot be maintained indefinitely and is likely to result in an eventual reaction toward the opposite extreme of hedonism. It is also important to recognize that what constitutes self-actualization will differ considerably among individuals, and the sustainable level of pleasure will also vary in accordance with an individual’s material circumstances and psychological inclinations.

Nowhere is the sharp distinction between the conventional, hedonistic view of happiness and the rational, virtue-based view more evident than in human relationships, particularly those of a romantic nature. Those who expect their romantic partners to continually inspire them with feelings of ecstasy or euphoria are sentencing themselves to a lifetime of frustrations, breakups, and serial attempts at happiness – which will all inevitably end in the same way. A genuinely fulfilling romantic relationship is not one that continually stimulates the pleasure centers of each party’s brains, but rather one that exhibits a lasting commitment on both sides and a continual cooperation for the purpose of making life better. Feelings of love and affection should be present, of course, but they are much more sustainable in a gentle, comforting, persistent form than they could be in the form of the rapture that so many people mistakenly imagine love to be. My essay, “A Rational View of Love“, offers a more thorough exposition of this idea.

Finally, it is important to recognize that no life – and particularly no productive life – will be free of negative feelings. Whenever we seek to overcome obstacles, we are likely to encounter difficulties we cannot immediately resolve. This may produce feelings of doubt, fear, anger, disappointment, and frustration, in various mixes and degrees. As the world is severely flawed in most ways, it would be unreasonable for us not to have a substantial amount of negative feelings about it. These feelings should not be banished from our brains; indeed, they can serve as useful indicators of the problems in our lives and can motivate us to resolve them. Many people today make the mistake of abandoning any aspect of life they may occasionally feel negatively about – be it a job, a relationship, an educational pursuit, an independent creative work, or a set of ideas. But a negative feeling should not be the equivalent of a mental off-switch or “Keep Out” sign. Instead, it should be seen as an invitation to explore, resolve, challenge, or resist. Turning away from anything that does not trigger immediate good feelings is the surest recipe for unhappiness.

If it is not through a constant feeling of pleasure, then how can one know if one is happy? I posit that this can be ascertained by asking a single question: “Am I pursuing an overall course in life with whose consequences I expect to be satisfied for as long as I live?” This question ignores the everyday fluctuations in emotional states and arrives at the core issue: how one’s choices and behaviors contribute to the actualization of one’s potential and the establishment of a sustainable, ever-improving life. It shifts the focus of one’s attention from one’s present feelings to the future effects of one’s actions. Incidentally, however, it also has the effect of making one feel better on average, since one’s present emotional state is heavily dependent on whether one has behaved in a life-affirming or a life-undermining manner in the past. The more one does now to benefit one’s future, the better one will feel in the future. But it is a good, flourishing life itself that constitutes happiness, and, as a byproduct, results in mild, sustainable, and profoundly rewarding pleasure.

Read other articles in The Rational Argumentator’s Issue CCXX.

The Human Rational Faculty and the Necessity of Property Rights (2005) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Human Rational Faculty and the Necessity of Property Rights (2005) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 20, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2005 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  
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~ G. Stolyarov II, July 20, 2014
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Each individual is, by his fundamental and inextricable identity, a rational being, with a means of accurately identifying and analyzing reality with his mind. The individual’s rational faculty is his sole gateway to knowledge, and the sole means by which he can direct the application of his knowledge to the external world.
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Nobody else’s activity of any sort can substitute for the individual’s own thinking, just as nobody else’s activity can substitute for an individual’s own digestion. Each individual is also fundamentally a volitional being, and can choose to default on the responsibility of thinking for himself, thereby also choosing to bear the consequences.

However, whatever he chooses, it remains irrefutably true that he still possesses the capacity to be rational. From this capacity it is implied that he ought to be allowed to be rational, i.e., that he has a natural right to use his reason and benefit from the applications thereof.

Nobody should be permitted to intervene with another individual’s use of reason, nor to substitute his reasoning for another’s and force another to agree with or accept the consequences of his reasoning unless the other explicitly consents.

When two individuals come to an agreement, each has used his own reasoning to embrace it. When, however, such a clear, unambiguous agreement is not present, the individual who presumes to place his thoughts in the stead of another’s is committing the initiation of force, which is the opposite of reason.

Since all natural rights are derived from the human capacity to reason, all violations of natural rights are derived from the initiation of force by some individuals against others.

The only manner in which reason can have any concrete, material expression is by means of property, i.e., those material entities which belong to an individual as a consequence of his use of reason. Even the very capacity to reason itself is dependent on property, as the individual mind is a material entity, and, were it not for the concrete biological mechanisms of the brain, there would not be abstract thought.

Thus, to be able to reason, the individual must have a property in his physical mind. In order for his physical mind to function, an individual must also have property in his physical body, since, not only is the mind part of the body but, without the proper functioning of the remainder of the body, the mind would not be able to survive. In summation, the right to the use of one’s reason implies the right to property in oneself and, as a corollary, the right to use one’s reason to determine what shall happen to one’s mind and body.

Who Really Cares – Article by Bradley Doucet

Who Really Cares – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
January 31, 2014
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I have a pretty positive view of human nature, for a number of reasons. Partly, I’m consciously correcting for the negative bias of “if it bleeds, it leads” journalism. I also reject the idea that being self-interested is necessarily anti-social. Pursuing your own happiness, rightly understood, is a good thing. In fact, I would argue that those who care little for loftier goals like the good of society often do more good than do-gooders, as long as they pursue their self-interest rationally.
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But caring about others is also a good thing, of course. And nobody cares more than those activists, pundits, political leaders, and enthusiastic voters who are involved in fighting to bring about a better society, right? Well, not according to philosopher Michael Huemer. In a very readable and thought-provoking paper entitled “In Praise of Passivity,” Huemer suggests that most people who see themselves as motivated by some high political ideal are instead motivated “by a desire to perceive themselves as working for the noble ideal.”How can you tell who really cares?
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Huemer writes, “If people are seeking high ideals such as justice or the good of society, then they will work hard at figuring out what in fact promotes those ideals and will seek out information to correct any errors in their assumptions about what promotes their ideals, since mistaken beliefs on this score could lead to all of their efforts being wasted.”
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This requires, among other things, reading up on more than one side of a controversial issue. Huemer doesn’t think most people with strong political opinions do these kinds of things. Rather, according to his observations, “most people who expend a great deal of effort promoting political causes expend very little effort attempting to make sure their beliefs are correct. They tend to hold very strong beliefs that they are very reluctant to reconsider.”This tendency certainly counts against my positive view of human nature.
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Given how difficult it is to acquire real knowledge in the social sciences—something Huemer explores in his paper—people who merely want to perceive themselves as working for high political ideals are very likely to do more harm than good. But all is not lost. For one thing, I ascribe no ill will to people who want to feel good about themselves. And fortunately, there are workarounds for our all-too-human cognitive biases. Huemer has several recommendations for how to do some real good (and avoid doing real harm) in the world, recommendations that will surely challenge many people’s assumptions — which is itself a good thing.

 

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.