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Consumerism Qua Materialism: A Modern Confusion – Article by Kaiter Enless

Consumerism Qua Materialism: A Modern Confusion – Article by Kaiter Enless

Kaiter Enless
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Materialism has become a rather dirty word, principally through its connection to consumerism. Indeed materialism seems to have become so thoroughly conflated with consumerism as to be wholly indistinguishable. For example, in the study, Changes In Materialism, Changes In Psychological Well-Being: Evidence For Three Longitudinal Studies & An Intervention Experiment, the authors write: “Studies 1, 2, and 3 examined how changes in materialistic aspirations related to changes in well-being, using varying time frames (12 years, 2 years, and 6 months), samples (US young adults and Icelandic adults), and measures of materialism and well-being.”

It would be mistaken to conflate a philosophy of materialism, with mere consumerism as behavioral practice. I am not here suggesting that this is what the authors of the document have done (indeed, it appears as if they are simply using ‘materialism’ as a placeholder for ‘material object; principally, those objects manufactured and distributed in modern western society’), however, at first glance, it is difficult to tell and this is the crux of the problem. When one word is conflated with another, after a sufficient period of usage the two become implicitly associated, regardless of whether they are actually interlaced in any meaningful way. Thus, when one deploys the term ‘consumerism’ one instantly thinks of ‘materialism’ and vice-versa. This, I shall argue, is wholly mistaken; however, before proceeding, let us define our terms.

Consumerism is a term which rose to prominence in the 20th Century with the advent of mass production and denotes a social order wherein goods are purchased and used (‘consumed’) in ever increasing quantities. It has a few other more technical definitions, however, this is generally the explicit meaning of the term when it is negatively deployed (and it is almost always negatively deployed, at least, as of this writing, though positive variations of the term were used, such as by J. S. Bugas who deployed the word to refer to consumer sovereignty). In this negative characterization, consumerism is keeping-up-with-the-Jones or Patrick Batemanism — normative behaviors which privilege non-noetic objects over noetic ones with the exception of the referent consumer (the individual who is consuming the non-noetic objects, who naturally does so, not because they care solely about the objects themselves, but because they gain something from the consumption of those objects).

Materialism, broadly, briskly and vulgarly speaking, is a philosophical position generally characterized by substance monism, which holds that because everything which has been observed is energy and matter, it is rational to conclude everything that exists is (or is likely to be) composed of energy and matter (the same inductive reasoning is at work in expanding the theory of gravity to all places in the universe, even those wholly unobserved). As a school of thought, it has gone through numerous incarnations ranging from Democritus the atomist, to the cosmic mechanists prior to Newton, to the scientistic physicalists of the modern age (such as Hawking, Krauss and Dawkins).

More rigorous, sophisticated and logically defensible forms of ontological naturalism (sometimes referred to as ‘realism’ in contradistinction to ‘idealism’) which have been referred to as various materialisms can be found in the work of such philosophers as Wilfrid Sellars, John McDowell and Jeremy Randel Koons, and the neuroscientist, Paul M. Churchland.

Regardless of whether or not one agrees with the ontological assertions or arguments of any variation of materialism – atomist, mechanist, Sellarsian or eliminativist – it should be clearly noted that consumerism is a descriptive set of social practices, not a holistic formal ontology. One may be a Buddhist, Christian, Muslim or Daoist and still be a consumerist. Indeed, the vast majority of those who have ever lived western consumerist lifestyles within modern society have been Christians (principally Catholics and Protestants), not scientistic materialists (as is sometimes alleged); this is demonstrable simply by reference to religio-demographic composition, as most consumer societies were, from their inception, constituted by Christians who are, obviously, non-materialists (philosophically speaking). Of course, it is perfectly possible to be a stalwart materialist (in the philosophical sense) and still be a consumerist, but it is not intrinsic to the position.

Drawing a clear distinction between materialism and consumerism is important given that because consumerism has become so thoroughly disdained, referent to it likewise besmirches any materialist ontology through negative moral assignation, RATHER than through rigorous logical refutation, thus engendering an impairment, not only of the thorough-going materialist diagrams, but also of critical, logical thought itself.

Kaiter Enless is the administrator and principal author of the Logos website and literary organization.

Gennady Stolyarov II Interviewed on “Lev and Jules Break the Rules” – Sowing Discourse, Episode #001

Gennady Stolyarov II Interviewed on “Lev and Jules Break the Rules” – Sowing Discourse, Episode #001

Gennady Stolyarov II
Jules Hamilton
Lev Polyakov


U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II was recently honored to be the first guest ever interviewed on the video channel Lev and Jules Break the Rules with Lev Polyakov and Jules Hamilton. Lev and Jules have produced this skillfully edited video of the conversation, with content references from the conversation inserted directly into the footage. For those who wish to explore broad questions related to technology, transhumanism, culture, economics, politics, philosophy, art, and even connections to popular films and computer games, this is the discussion to watch.

This video was originally posted here. It is mirrored on Mr. Stolyarov’s YouTube channel here.

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

It is republished with permission.

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How Anti-Individualist Fallacies Prevent Us from Curing Death – Article by Edward Hudgins

How Anti-Individualist Fallacies Prevent Us from Curing Death – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
July 3, 2015
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Are you excited about Silicon Valley entrepreneurs investing billions of dollars to extend life and even “cure” death?

It’s amazing that such technologically challenging goals have gone from sci-fi fantasies to fantastic possibilities. But the biggest obstacles to life extension could be cultural: the anti-individualist fallacies arrayed against this goal.

Entrepreneurs defy death

 A recent Washington Post feature documents the “Tech titans’ latest project: Defy death. “ Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist, has led the way, raising awareness and funding regenerative medicines. He explains: “I’ve always had this really strong sense that death was a terrible, terrible thing… Most people end up compartmentalizing and they are in some weird mode of denial and acceptance about death, but they both have the result of making you very passive. I prefer to fight it.”

Others prefer to fight as well. Google CEO Larry Page created Calico to invest in start-ups working to stop aging. Oracle’s Larry Ellison has also provided major money for anti-aging research. Google’s Sergey Brin and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg both have funded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation.

Beyond the Post piece we can applaud the education in the exponential technologies needed to reach these goals by Singularity U., co-founded by futurist Ray Kurzweil, who believes humans and machines will merge in the decades to become transhumans, and X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis.

The Post piece points out that while in the past two-thirds of science and medical research was funded by the federal government, today private parties put up two-thirds. These benefactors bring their entrepreneurial talents to their philanthropic efforts. They are restless for results and not satisfied with the slow pace of government bureaucracies plagued by red tape and politics.

“Wonderful!” you’re thinking. “Who could object?”

Laurie Zoloth’s inequality fallacy

 Laurie Zoloth for one. This Northwestern University bioethicist argues that “Making scientific progress faster doesn’t necessarily mean better — unless if you’re an aging philanthropist and want an answer in your lifetime.” The Post quotes her further as saying that “Science is about an arc of knowledge, and it can take a long time to play out.”

Understanding the world through science is a never-ending enterprise. But in this case, science is also about billionaires wanting answers in their lifetimes because they value their own lives foremost and they do not want them to end. And the problem is?

Zoloth grants that it is ”wonderful to be part of a species that dreams in a big way” but she also wants “to be part of a species that takes care of the poor and the dying.” Wouldn’t delaying or even eliminating dying be even better?

The discoveries these billionaires facilitate will help millions of people in the long-run. But her objection seems rooted in a morally-distorted affinity for equality of condition: the feeling that it is wrong for some folks to have more than others—never mind that they earned it—in this case early access to life-extending technologies. She seems to feel that it is wrong for these billionaires to put their own lives, loves, dreams, and well-being first.

We’ve heard this “equality” nonsense for every technological advance: only elites will have electricity, telephones, radios, TVs, computers, the internet, smartphones, whatever. Yes, there are first adopters, those who can afford new things. Without them footing the bills early on, new technologies would never become widespread and affordable. This point should be blindingly obvious today, since the spread of new technologies in recent decades has accelerated. But in any case, the moral essential is that it is right for individuals to seek the best for themselves while respecting their neighbors’ liberty to do the same.

Leon Kass’s “long life is meaningless” fallacy

 The Post piece attributes to political theorist Francis Fukuyama the belief that “a large increase in human life spans would take away people’s motivation for the adaptation necessary for survival. In that kind of world, social change comes to a standstill.”

Nonsense! As average lifespans doubled in past centuries, social change—mostly for the better—accelerated. Increased lifespans in the future could allow individuals to take on projects spanning centuries rather than decades. Indeed, all who love their lives regret that they won’t live to see, experience, and help create the wonders of tomorrow.

The Post cites physician and ethicist Leon Kass who asks: “Could life be serious or meaningful without the limit of mortality?”

Is Kass so limited in imagination or ignorant of our world that he doesn’t appreciate the great, long-term projects that could engage us as individuals seriously and meaningfully for centuries to come? (I personally would love to have the centuries needed to work on terraforming Mars, making it a new habitat for humanity!)

Fukuyama and Kass have missed the profound human truth that we each as individuals create the meaning for our own lives, whether we live 50 years or 500. Meaning and purpose are what only we can give ourselves as we pursue productive achievements that call upon the best within us.

Francis Fukuyama’s anti-individualist fallacy

 The Post piece quotes Fukuyama as saying “I think that research into life extension is going to end up being a big social disaster… Extending the average human life span is a great example of something that is individually desirable by almost everyone but collectively not a good thing. For evolutionary reasons, there is a good reason why we die when we do.”

What a morally twisted reason for opposing life extension! Millions of individuals should literally damn themselves to death in the name of society. Then count me anti-social.

Some might take from Fukuyama’s premise a concern that millions of individuals living to 150 will spend half that time bedridden, vegetating, consuming resources, and not producing. But the life extension goal is to live long with our capacities intact—or enhanced! We want 140 to be the new 40!

What could be good evolutionary reasons why we die when we do? Evolution only metaphorically has “reasons.” It is a biological process that blindly adapted us to survive and reproduce: it didn’t render us immune to ailments. Because life is the ultimate value, curing those ailments rather than passively suffering them is the goal of medicine. Life extension simply takes the maintenance of human life a giant leap further.

Live long and prosper

 Yes, there will be serious ethical questions to face as the research sponsored by benevolent billionaires bears fruit. But individuals who want to live really long and prosper in a world of fellow achievers need to promote human life as the ultimate value and the right of all individuals to live their own lives and pursue their own happiness as the ultimate liberty.

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.

The Emersonian Qualities of Lucas Jackson in the Film “Cool Hand Luke” (2003) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

The Emersonian Qualities of Lucas Jackson in the Film “Cool Hand Luke” (2003) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 28, 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 earned over 1,000 page 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 28, 2014

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Lucas Jackson, the protagonist of the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, displays the kind of conviction in his own worth that Ralph Waldo Emerson recommends in Self-Reliance. From cutting off the heads of parking meters to encouraging his friends in prison to tar a road at an impressive rate, Luke rebels and rises above the oppression imposed on him.

Within the opening scene of Cool Hand Luke, the parking meters are symbolic of societal restraint on individual freedom and choice. By arbitrary fiat of local government, the meters place a limit on the duration of time for which an individual can place his car at a particular location, thus limiting the amount of time an individual can spend going about his own business outside the car in the vicinity and diverting an individual’s funds into the stagnant coffers of bureaucracy.

Luke’s destruction of the parking meters is symbolic of the individualist’s attempt to defy societal restrictions. Though he is drunk and semi-conscious, he nevertheless directs his actions not toward some wanton spree of murder or theft but toward the elimination of a nuisance to individual liberty. In return, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance, society “whips him with its displeasure,” as he is apprehended, arrested, and locked in a facility where his own liberty becomes virtually nil.

Self-Reliance has further relevance to Luke’s demeanor in prison. Emerson writes, “I cannot consent to pay for a privilege where I have intrinsic right. Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony.”

Luke epitomizes this philosophy when he neglects to degrade himself to the level of the standard “new meat” prison novice. He proudly asserts his name as “Lucas Jackson” during Carl’s declaration of the rules and refuses to submit his dignity to Dragline’s decision to recognize him as a significant member of the prison community. He realizes that he does not need the recognition of others in order to exhibit his self-worth or actualize his potential, but rather that those characteristics flow from within himself.

Later, when the prisoners are forced to tar an extensive stretch of road in oppressive heat, Luke encourages his comrades to labor to their fullest capacity and finish the tarring job at a far swifter pace than had been expected of them. He realizes that an intelligent approach that facilitates coordinated activity among the members of the group would both accomplish the task and frame it as a challenge to be aspired toward in the minds of the prisoners.

Luke transcends what has been assigned to him and transforms the dull routine into a search for his own objective, leisure time that is immensely difficult to acquire in a road prison. Once he establishes the tempo of work, all the other members of his gang gravitate toward his approach and undertake a lively, motivated effort. This is reminiscent of Emerson’s proposition that men will come to admire and uphold the man of intrinsic determination and self-reliance. Ultimately, not only is the ardor of the assignment alleviated by the workers’ internal drive, but they receive additional leisure afterward to use as they please.

Courageous Individualism in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and the Film “Cool Hand Luke” (2003) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

Courageous Individualism in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and the Film “Cool Hand Luke” (2003) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 28, 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 earned over 6,300 page 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 28, 2014

**

“For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure,” writes Ralph Waldo Emerson in his renowned treatise, Self-Reliance. For nonconformity, the world also forces you to pave roads in the scorching heat, dig ditches only to fill them again later, and, of course, spend nights in the box. Both Emerson and the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke emphasize the repression and intimidation that a man of greatness encounters in a regimented, entrenched society. Yet both Emerson’s vision of the self-reliant man and the integrity of Lucas Jackson persevere through any and all barriers imposed upon them by the dictates of others. The lessons of individual dignity and the autonomy of one’s mind can be applied to the creator man who seeks to triumph amid the atmosphere of today’s world as well.

Through cultural norms and stigmatization, as well as outright coercive actions, certain societies seek to shackle the men of creativity and initiative. Lucas Jackson is imprisoned in a “corrective road prison” for the grievous crime of cutting off the heads of several public parking meters. The parking meters themselves are symbolic of societal restraint on individual freedom and choice. By arbitrary fiat of local government, the meters place a cap on the duration of time for which an individual can place his car at a particular location, thus limiting the amount of time an individual can spend going about his own business in the vicinity and diverting an individual’s funds into the stagnant coffers of bureaucracy. Luke’s destruction of the parking meters reflects the individualist’s attempt to defy societal restrictions. Though he is drunk and semi-conscious, he nevertheless directs his actions not toward some wanton spree of murder or theft but toward the elimination of a nuisance to individual liberty. In return, society lashes at him with the fullest extent of its brute force, as he is apprehended, arrested, and locked in a facility where his own liberty becomes virtually nil. Even had he murdered, Luke’s ultimate punishment would likely not have been as severe, for the totalitarian environment of the prison will eventually kill him for his adamant individualism.

Luke’s genuine trials begin when he no longer faces the law as applied to free citizens, but the petty whims of his prison bosses. Emerson’s work analyzes the consequences of such a transformation of environment. “It is easy enough for a firm man who knows the world to brook the rage of the cultivated classes. But… when the unintelligent brute force that lies at the bottom of society is made to growl and mow, it needs the habit of magnanimity… to treat it godlike as a trifle of no concernment.” Emerson’s statement was meant as a general social commentary. The dominant-paradigm-entrenched academic or big government advocate may treat the freethinker with aversion, stigma, and heated criticism, which amount to mere grumbling at the sidelines of the individualist’s path. But when the men who wallow and revel in ignorance, sloth, and brutality are invested with the capacity to direct a better man’s fate, the man of reason and initiative will encounter the most infernal conditions possible.

The prison bosses are the most uncultured and sadistic of men outside the Gestapo. Boss Godfrey’s hobby is, put plainly, to shoot things. After Luke’s first escape, Godfrey, with a grim equanimity, blows the head off a rattlesnake in the grass. In the final showdown of the bosses with Luke near the church, Godfrey will with a similarly unperturbed conscience launch a bullet through Luke’s chest. Boss Paul is a man who loves to bring about and witness the writhing and suffering of the prisoners; after Luke’s second escape, Paul orders him to dig a ditch only to conspire with another boss for the latter to periodically come by and inform Luke that forming the ditch is against prison rules. These frequent recurrences of contradictory instructions are accompanied by beatings intended to force Luke down on his knees in utter submission, pleading for mercy. They are ultimately aimed not at his body, but at his spirit, thrusting a rational, aspiring man into a realm of the chaotic, incompatible, unknowable, and savage. This is the lowest of the unintelligent brute force that Emerson addresses, worse than even the hollers and threats of the rabble that occasionally befall a free man.

The unlivable realm of the prison is rendered even more so by the Captain’s mocking friendliness, a façade, with the essence of despotism lying hidden not too deeply underneath. The Captain regularly speaks with a deliberately soothing voice, informing the prisoners that “We are trying to help you here. We are doing this for your own good.” Emerson, viewing the matter from the perspective of the individualist, realizes the gross fallacy of such a claim. He writes, “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it.” The Captain is such a man, who holds that the ultimate good is the blind obedience of a regimented automaton to his social engineers. But the Captain’s philosophy on its own is a wobbly construct that would crumble upon meeting the first wind of greatness, were it not reinforced by the fist, the rifle, and the sweat and blood of its prey. When Luke objects to the Captain’s mentality, stating, “You shouldn’t be so kind to me, Captain,” thereby rejecting the Captain’s idea of “help,” he is struck violently to the ground. Then the Captain resumes his tone of mocking kindness, pronouncing, “What we’ve had here is a failure to communicate.” According to the Captain, the man of independence must either renounce it willingly or renounce it through the imposition of societally legitimized brute force. In any case, renounce it he must, and if pseudo-polite paternalistic exhortations fail, the growl and lunge of the worst elements possible in man will bring about the social engineers’ aim.

Few men less deserving than Luke had ever been thrust into such hostile surroundings, from which physical escape will be met with pursuit and mental dissent with the box or the fist. Yet even there, Luke, and Emerson’s vision of the independent spirit, are able to persevere. From the beginning, when Carl lists all the innumerable infractions for which one can be put in the box, Luke is not intimidated. He responds with a relaxed shrug and presents his characteristic Luke smile, then anticipates that Carl’s next sentence will end with “a night in the box.” Carl notices that Luke is not the typical “new meat” prisoner and asks with an authoritative voice, “Well, what have we got here?” Unflinchingly, Luke responds, “We got a Lucas Jackson.” Luke possesses a firm pride in his identity and inherent human dignity, qualities that he will not permit a regimented environment to shatter. Emerson writes: “I cannot consent to pay for a privilege where I have intrinsic right. Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony.” Luke epitomizes this philosophy when he neglects to degrade himself to the level of the standard “new meat” prison novice. He refuses to subordinate the fact of his existence to Dragline’s decision to recognize him as a significant member of the prison community. He realizes that he needs not the recognition of others in order to exhibit his self-worth or actualize his potential, but rather that those characteristics flow from within himself.

Initially, Luke’s open defiance of a long-standing prison tradition is met with great indignation and outright aggression on the part of his peers and Dragline. Luke adheres to the expression of the truth as observed by his mind, no matter how controversial, displeasing, or unconventional such honesty may be. Emerson writes, “I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways,” and Luke agrees. When Luke does not hesitate to assert his reason in regard to Dragline’s needless lust-filled commentary concerning a woman he had spotted during a round of work, he encounters the climax of Dragline’s rage. Luke is challenged to a fight, and repeatedly pummeled to the ground. Yet he remains adamant and continues to stand every time, not intending to devastate Dragline so much as to assert that such tactics of brute aggression will not conquer him. Luke recovers from every failure, ever-ready to recover and fight another round. Like the Emersonian man of all professions and opportunities, Luke “always like a cat falls on his feet. He has not once chance, but a hundred chances.” And, using one of those chances, Luke wins the fight in a far more meaningful way than would have been if Dragline were physically subdued. He is able to earn Dragline’s deepest respect through his resiliency, as Dragline realizes that this man of persistence, conviction, and integrity is not a cynical upstart, but rather a valuable potential friend.

Through the firm exercise of his creativity and autonomy, Luke is able to beautify the social conditions of his circle of fellow inmates and earn a general, profound, lasting respect. In order to do this, Luke implicitly recognizes another Emersonian insight: “Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.” If Luke had merely fallen in line with “the way things had always been done” in the prison, he would have encountered the same arduous, scorching, monotonous routine, a condition deliberately intended to stunt his ambitions and aspirations. When the prison bosses “reward” Luke’s gang for exemplary work by delegating to it a colossal road tarring job, Luke encourages his comrades to labor to their fullest capacity and finish the endeavor at a far swifter pace than had been expected of them. He realizes that an intelligent approach that facilitates coordinated activity among the members of the group would both accomplish the task and frame it as a challenge to be aspired toward in the minds of the prisoners. Luke transcends what has been assigned to him and transforms the dull routine into a search for his own objective, leisure time that is immensely difficult to acquire in a road prison. One he establishes the tempo of work, all the other members of his gang gravitate toward his approach and undertake a lively, motivated effort. This is reminiscent of Emerson’s proposition that men will come to admire and uphold the man of intrinsic determination and self-reliance, that, in the grand scheme of events, every institution is but “the lengthened shadow of one man,” the man who dared to introduce a radical change in the way a given matter was approached. Ultimately, not only is the ardor of the assignment alleviated by the workers’ internal drive, but they receive additional leisure afterward to use as they please.

Even as prison conditions become intolerable, Luke does not surrender his will to freedom up to the inevitable climax of the life-or-death struggle between him and his totalitarian overlords. Upon the death of Luke’s mother, the bosses seek to amplify his misery by sentencing him to three nights in the box, intended to decisively strike at his mind while it was still recovering from a blow. Luke realizes that no amount of ingenious coping, no invention of lively leisure activities of poker games, road tarring races, and egg-eating events will conceal the grim realities of the inhuman, whimsical, arbitrary condition imposed upon him. He must, and he will, liberate his body and his mind. After a failed escape attempt, he does not hesitate to stage another, despite the increased vigilance of the bosses. Man of reason that he is, he is able to spot the deficiencies of every one of his plans. The first escape, he is apprehended by a policeman due to the suspicious appearance of his prison clothes. During the second escape, he largely evades “civilized” roadways until he is able to remove his chains and mislead the prison dogs. Nevertheless, he is unable to fully disable his abusers’ means of pursuit. His third escape, co-orchestrated with Dragline, is a brilliantly executed theft of all the prison vehicles’ keys and use of one of the trucks to drive considerably far away from the prison prior to continuing the journey on foot. Every time, Luke is able to, through his autonomous thought, revise his errors and fall on his feet once more. Had he grasped but one more key Emersonian insight, he might have survived in body. “It is only as a man puts off all foreign support, and stands alone, that I see him to be strong and to prevail. He is weaker by every recruit to his banner.” Luke’s escape jointly with Dragline is his crucial mistake, for Dragline remains unable to fend for himself when necessity compels the two of them to split up. He lacks Luke’s tactical ingenuity and quickly falls into the hands of the search parties from the prison, leading them to Luke, misled into believing that Luke’s voluntary surrender, and the sparing of his life, could be achieved. Dragline, however well-intentioned, remains a follower, subject to the mercy of higher forces, be it the positive influence of Luke, or the soothing promises of the Captain. Dragline is not of the “class of great men,” in that his longings and hopes had all been derived from his admiration of Luke, not the products of his own mind.

Dragline does not expect his compliance to bring about Luke’s demise, but Luke, true to his nature, cannot bear to accept confinement once more. Instead of blindly subverting himself to the bosses, he proudly steps to the window of the church and announces, echoing the Captain’s one-time words, that “what we’ve had here is a failure to communicate.” Mr. Jackson recognizes that he is not to blame for not falling in line with prison impositions, but rather that the bosses had grossly misjudged his nature by seeking to stifle it “for his own good.” Yet the bosses come not in pursuit of communication, but of blood. Realizing that the individualist always shall overcome every form of degradation and every barrier, the bosses, with Godfrey as their agent, seek to render it impossible for Luke to ever rise again.

Thus ends the life of Lucas Jackson, but not the integrity that characterized it. Dragline realizes that no negotiation, no compromise, between freedom and submission are possible, and lunges at Godfrey, leading to the destruction of the boss’s grim and concealing sunglasses. Before he is imprisoned once more, Dragline at last rises to the level of grasping that, which is beyond persecution. “What the man acquires is living property, which does not wait the beck of rulers, or mobs, or revolutions, or fire, or storm, or bankruptcies, but perpetually renews itself wherever the man breathes.” The dauntless innovation and longing for liberty in the autonomous man cannot be dethroned by any physical means; it can only be diminished by a voluntary subordination of the individual’s mind to tyranny, which Luke had refused to accommodate. The legacy of Luke thus lingers on, as he remains, in Dragline’s words, “a natural born world shaker,” whose radiant smile and confident posture remain vivid in the prisoner’s minds. In its own characteristic way, Luke’s greatness has been released from the box and into eternity, as “the triumph of his principles” has at last granted him peace. What remains for the living prisoners is to discover on their own what Luke had known, and rely on his example as a steppingstone, but not a definitive standard, for their autonomous development.

The relevance of Luke’s example and Emerson’s message to the political situation today is of greater magnitude than it has ever been. Today, if parking meters were the only restriction placed on our autonomy, or if a mere widespread facetiousness in human interactions, of the manner that Emerson denounced, had afflicted our society, we would have been living in a comparatively promising and free world. Alas, the scope of our current confinement by far exceeds this.

The government of this country has usurped almost every sphere of human activity, shackling the creative entrepreneurial innovators through “antitrust” laws, restricting the amount of market share a business may through its owners’ skill and the quality of its product acquire. It has erected barriers to the advancement of thoughtful freethinkers by the imposition of affirmative action initiatives that prevent their attainment of education for faults not their own. It has presumed to dictate to businessmen and settlers what forms of land usage are permissible by standard of societal sanction, through laws of eminent domain and environmental preserves that force men to “absolve themselves in the reflex way” not only to their neighbors and the community, but the bureaucrats, the lobbyists, the endangered spotted slugs and numb lifeless rocks. It has imposed a quasi-prison environment on the young people of this country through the encouragement of forced volunteerism, in menial tasks similar to road tarring, within the schools, and the impending fear of the military draft that will make Godfreys of our officers and “new meat” of our boys, which the politicians implicitly advocate by maintaining draft registration. And all disagreement is reduced to virtually naught, since the freethinkers (often prosperous, industrious men) are extorted for gargantuan sums of their income to fund this socialist behemoth. Some of this income is expended in false philanthropy, becoming the “wicked dollar” that Emerson did not wish to give, that is used to uphold in a state of prison-like dependency hordes of welfare recipients who can be counted on to vote in their overlord incumbents and by the sheer volume of their holler overrule all dissent in the passage of the next statist subversion of liberty. And if any of these intelligent voices dissents by refusing to sacrifice his money for causes that will do him harm, the full weight of government retaliation is borne upon him. What can a man of independent convictions and self-reliant disposition do in such a setting, that grows more restrictive by the day?

Henry David Thoreau, Emerson’s friend and fellow thinker, tried the tactic of civil disobedience in defiance of a tax that was used to fund what was in his opinion an unjustified Mexican War. Thoreau was thrown in prison and, though he demonstrated considerable fortitude of conviction, he did not defeat the tax. Emerson’s fellow abolitionist and friend John Brown attempted to, through an armed raid on Harper’s Ferry, unseat an institution of slavery, which was backed by the coercive hand of big government, with only a handful of arms and supporters. He was executed for the attempt, and, though he became a martyr for the abolitionist cause, he did not defeat slavery. Lucas Jackson confronted the nuisance of parking meters with the saw and the cruelties of the prison with escapes. He, too, received a bullet in the chest in the end and failed to eradicate the root of his sufferings. Though all three of those men preserved their dignity intact through their punishments, they did not accomplish their aims, for they overlooked the fact that the complete triumph of individualism requires another approach.

Of the individualist, Emerson writes that “the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries, and customs out of the window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him, — and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history. It is easy to see that a greater self-reliance must work a revolution in all the offices and relations of men; in their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views.” Emerson advocates not an armed revolution, nor even overt disobedience of the law, but rather a mode of living that exemplifies a man who loves, and takes advantage of, the freedom to use his mind. Emerson did not go to prison for tax evasion; nor did he start a slave revolt; nor would he have decapitated parking meters today. Nevertheless, his ideas and influence have spread to the present day in precisely the manner that he intended. He did not wish to be worshipped as an idol or regarded as an unquestionable sage, but rather to give men a stimulus to more closely examine their habits and the capacities that only they can unleash from within. Rather, he is a thinker who should be analyzed with a critical intelligence, and whose views should serve as useful tools and steppingstones, but not finished products or ends-in-themselves.

Emerson’s key proposition in regard to self-reliance as a vehicle for reform is that voluntary persuasion and personal example can eliminate a societal peril. In a man’s every implicit gesture, he reveals a certain mode of function that is inextricably tied to his nature. “Your genuine action will explain itself and will explain your other genuine actions. Your conformity explains nothing.”

A man who opposes the usurpations of government, or the spread of cultural decadence, or the increasing “faraway escapes” that many modern men seek from their lives, must speak firmly and act firmly for the establishment of a freer world where individual creativity is left unbridled. He should not cower for fear that the public will reject his claims simply because he does not hold two and half Ph. Ds in the subject that he addresses. The Ph. Ds themselves are too often handed out by the zealous guardians of the current political and cultural paradigm, the entrenched academic elites who endlessly cite Marx, Roosevelt, and Keynes, and preach “of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations.” If deference to authority and the miserable record of the ages in the political sphere is abandoned, and the clarity and logic of the advocates of freedom is exposed, then, as the fellow inmates reached toward Luke, the public will gravitate toward the new, original, promising thinkers who uphold as their highest value the individual’s intrinsic right to exist and to be let alone. The politicians will abandon their pragmatic give-and-take approach to matters where liberty is at stake, and will realize that only the triumph of solid, uncompromising principles within them will maintain them the support of a reformed constituency.

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

Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Employment (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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The mistaken identification of wealth with money, which I refuted in an earlier installment of this series, results in yet another damaging fallacy: the idea that the only legitimate “employment” is work performed for somebody else in exchange for money. This cultural confusion has become so deep-rooted that even people who own their own businesses or function as independent contractors are classified as “self-employed” – which, despite the second component of that term, is somehow seen as distinct from being “employed,” which has become in the minds of many identical to working for a formal organization on a fixed schedule for largely fixed compensation. There is nothing wrong with the latter kind of employment; indeed, I am currently engaged in it, and it pays well. It is a practical and a tremendously useful way to earn a living for many. But the societal stigma against many individuals who choose not to pursue that path needs to end.

I am not here seeking to justify individuals who refuse to work out of sloth or rebelliousness – or individuals who choose to subsist off of the welfare system. Indeed, I am not at all seeking to justify individuals who refuse to work at all. Rather, I seek to effectuate a cultural re-identification of employment with doing actual useful work – physical or mental – irrespective of how much, or how little, money that work earns. If wealth is not money but rather useful goods and services, then useful employment is any activity that generates useful goods and services. Some such activities happen to be highly compensated with money, either because there is large market demand for them or because they are subsidized by private institutions or governments. But other such activities arise out of individuals’ volunteer efforts, hobbies and interests, and desires to improve their immediate environment. An individual who devotes himself or herself primarily to the latter sorts of activities can be as worthy of respect and just as productive as an individual who makes a six-figure monetary income.

First, it is essential to recognize that either market value or institutional advantages that result in monetary subsidies are not necessarily a reflection of genuine wealth creation or usefulness. For instance, numerous products of high culture – including philosophy, literature, and classical music – are not in high demand among the masses, who simply do not understand such products. The creators of high culture will not earn as great an income on the market as the creators of light magazines and popular music. However, these same creators will contribute a much longer-lasting value to human knowledge, refinement, and moral standards for generations to come, whereas the creators of more popular works are unlikely to remain in demand for more than two generations. There is nothing wrong with this differential in compensation, per se, as people who do not appreciate high culture are entitled to vote with their dollars however they please. But this state of affairs does invalidate any notion that the amount of money one receives from one’s work is in any manner connected with one’s worth as a human being or one’s contribution to improving one’s own life and the lives of others – both in the short term and in the long term. Many creators of more refined works have even decided that it is unwise to try to make a living from such works and depend on their approval by a mass audience; instead, they have decided to subsidize their own creations and the dissemination of these works by means of a monetary income they earn from another occupation. This allows for works of high culture to be created exactly as the author intended them to be; if the author is talented and has a consistent vision, such works will be much more likely to endure long into the future.

Another important recognition is that some work is either impossible to transfer to the market given present technology or is prohibitively expensive to transfer. For instance, if I wish to go into my kitchen and get myself a beverage, it would be highly impractical for me to hire another individual to do this for me. If I get the beverage myself, I do not either collect or spend any money – provided that I already own the beverage, the glass, and the living space. But it cannot be denied that the act of getting the beverage was desirable to me and improved the quality of my life. Likewise, numerous actions that an individual performs to improve his or her own skills – such as reading books, practicing musical instruments, and doing mathematical problems – cannot be outsourced to other individuals and retain their value for the individual, which arises from the act of learning new skills that the individual himself would be able to use in the future. Indeed, it is true that all of us, if we have even the slightest desire to live well, will perform a wide variety of work every day for which we receive no monetary compensation at all! If we did not perform this work, it is unlikely that we would be in any position to earn any money, either.

A popular source of contempt in contemporary culture is the individual who, instead of leaving the home to work for money, chooses to remain at home and maintain it in good working order. This is, in my judgment, the single most egregious consequence of the fallacy that employment is the same as working for money. Working within the home – especially when supported by the monetary income of another family member – is a tremendously useful and life-affirming occupation; it facilitates a division of labor where various family members can specialize in the tasks they are most skilled at performing, thereby making good use of the principle of comparative advantage. Moreover, it enables a greater degree of care for any children in the household and provides a source of relief for those individuals who simply do not like working outside the home on a fixed schedule.

I note that there is nothing in this implying that any particular gender of individual should choose to stay at home, or that a family cannot function well if all of its members choose to work outside the home. Rather, I argue that a productive family can exist irrespective of which of its members do or do not choose to work for money. Indeed, for a family which has accumulated sufficient money and physical goods, it is possible to maintain productivity and a high standard of living even if none of its members earns a regular monetary income. Even if an individual has never earned any money in his or her life and, say, lives off a vast inheritance, it is still possible for that individual to perform useful and productive work. Indeed, one of the arguments that the great Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek made for the right of inheritance can be summarized as follows. Even if the vast majority of people who inherit their money will spend it unwisely, it is enough for one out of a thousand inheritors to be a great thinker and innovator. This individual, through his inheritance, will have the time and leisure to bring his vision to fruition, without needing to worry about providing for his day-to-day subsistence. The result could be a tremendous philosophical, technological, or artistic breakthrough that improves the lives of millions for centuries to come – and this result is worth the wasteful spending any other heirs might engage in.

Of course, the manner of productive work one does is often constrained by one’s current material situation. Many people will work for money, even if they wish to do something else, because they need the money to maintain the standard of living they wish to have. Increases in monetary income can go a long way toward improving both one’s access to leisure and one’s level of security and comfort. On the other hand, the same goals can also be achieved in part by spending less of the money one already earns and by living within one’s means – never letting one’s expenses exceed one’s income, which is akin to deficit spending for individuals, and not taking out interest-bearing debt, unless there is no other option, and the good the debt would fund could be seen as a necessity – such as a house. Devoting some time to managing one’s spending and establishing less expensive lifestyle choices is just productive as working to earn a salary increase.

If you wish to work to earn money, by all means do so. If you would rather focus on working in the home or doing volunteer work of any sort, this is excellent as well. Provided that one works and has useful outcomes to show for it, there is no need to feel any inferiority in one’s own case or any disrespect for others.

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

Heidegger, Cooney, and The Death-Gives-Meaning-To-Life Hypothesis – Article by Franco Cortese

Heidegger, Cooney, and The Death-Gives-Meaning-To-Life Hypothesis – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
August 10, 2013
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One common argument against indefinite lifespans is that a definitive limit to one’s life – that is, death – provides some essential baseline reference, and that it is only in contrast to this limiting factor that life has any meaning at all. In this article I refute the argument’s underlying premises, and then argue that even if such premises were taken as true, the argument’s conclusion – that eradicating death would negate the “limiting factor” that legitimizes life – is also invalid, because the ever-changing nature of self and society – and the fact that opportunities once here are now gone –  can constitute such a scarcitizing factor just as well as death can.
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Death gives meaning to life? No! Death is meaninglessness!
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One version of the argument is given in Brian Cooney’s Posthumanity: Thinking Philosophically about the Future, an introductory philosophical text that uses various futurist scenarios and concepts to illustrate the broad currents of Western philosophy. Towards the end of the book, Cooney makes his argument against immortality, claiming that if we had all the time in the universe to do what we wanted, then we wouldn’t do anything at all. Essentially, his argument boils down to “if there is no possibility of not being able to do something in the future, then why would we ever do it?”

Each chapter of Cooney’s book ends with a dialogue between a fictional human and posthuman, meant to better exemplify the arguments laid out in the chapter and their various interpretations. In the final chapter, “Posthumanity”, Cooney-as-posthuman writes:

Our ancestors realized that immortality would be a curse, and we have never been tempted to bestow it on ourselves… We didn’t want to be like Homer’s gods and goddesses. The Odyssey is saturated with the contrast of mortal human life, the immortality of the gods and the shadow life of the dead in Hades… Aren’t you struck by the way these deities seem to have nothing better to do than be an active audience for the lives and deeds of humans… These gods are going to live forever and there is no scarcity of whatever resources they need for their divine way of life. So (to borrow a phrase from your economists) there is no opportunity cost to their choosing to do one thing rather than another or spend time with one person rather than another. They have endless time and resources to pursue other alternatives and relationships later. Consequently, they can’t take anyone or anything seriously… Moreover, their lives lack meaning because they are condemned to living an unending story, one that can never have narrative unity… That is the fate we avoid by fixing a standard limit to our lives. Immortals cannot have what Kierkegaard called ‘passion’… A mind is aware of limitless possibilities – it can think of itself as doing anything conceivable – and it can think of a limitless time in which to do it all. To choose a life – one that will progress like a story from its beginning to its end – is to give up the infinite for the finite… We consider ourselves free because we were liberated from the possibility of irrationality and selfishness.”   –   (Cooney, 2004, 183-186).
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Thus we see that Cooney’s argument rests upon the thesis that death gives meaning to life because it incurs finitude, and finitude forces us to choose certain actions over others. This assumes that we make actions on the basis of not being able to do them again. But people don’t make most of their decisions this way. We didn’t go out to dinner because the restaurant was closing down; we went out for dinner because we wanted to go out for dinner. I think that Cooney’s version of the argument is naïve. We don’t make the majority of our decisions by contrasting an action to the possibility of not being able to do it in future.

Cooney’s argument seems to be that if we had a list of all possible actions set before us, and time were limitless, we might accomplish all the small, negligible things first, because they are easier and all the hard things can wait. If we had all the time in the world, we would have no reference point with which to judge how important a given action or objective is. If we really can do every single thing on that ‘listless list’, then why bother, if each is as important as every other? In his line of reasoning, importance requires scarcity. If we can do everything it was possible to do, then there is nothing that determines one thing as being more important than another. Cooney makes an analogy with an economic concept to clarify his position. Economic definitions of value require scarcity; if everything were as abundant as everything else, if nothing were scarce, then we would have no way of ascribing economic value to a given thing, such that one thing has more economic value than another. So too, Cooney argues, with possible choices in life.

But what we sometimes forget is that ecologies aren’t always like economies.

The Grave Dig|nitty of Death

In the essay collection “Transhumanism and its Critics”, Hava Tirosh-Samuelson writes:

Finally, since death is part of the cycle of life characteristic of finite creatures, we will need to concern ourselves with a dignified death… the dying process need not be humiliating or dehumanizing; if done properly, as the hospice movement has shown us, the dying process itself can be dignified by remembering that we are dealing with persons whose life narratives in community are imbued with meaning, and that meaning does not disappear when bodily functions decline or finally cease.”   –  (Tirosh-Samuelson, 2011).
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She may have provided a line of reasoning for arguing that death need not be indignifying or humiliating (convinced me that death has any dignity whatsoever), but I would say that she’s digging her claim’s own grave by focusing on the nitty-gritty details of humiliation and dignity. It is not the circumstances of death that make death problematic and wholly unsatisfactory; it is the fact that death negates life. Only in life can an individual exhibit dignity or fail by misemphasis. Sure, people can remember you after you have gone, and contributing to larger projects that continue after one’s own death can provide some meaning… but only for those still alive – not for the dead. The meaning held or beheld by the living could pertain to the dead, but that doesn’t constitute meaning to or for the dead, who forfeited the capability to experience, or behold meaning when they lost the ability to experience, or behold anything at all.

Tirosh-Samuelson’s last claim, that death need not be dehumanizing, appears to be founded upon her personal belief in an afterlife more than the claim that meaning doesn’t necessarily have to cease when we die, because we are part of “a community imbued with meaning” and this community will continue after our own death, thus providing continuity of meaning.  Tirosh-Samuelson’s belief in the afterlife also largely invalidates the claims she makes, since death means two completely different things to an atheist and a theist. As I have argued elsewhere (Cortese, 2013, 160-172), only the atheist speaks of death; the theist speaks merely of another kind of life. For a theist, death would not be dehumanizing, humiliating, or indignifying if all the human mental attributes a person possessed in the physical world would be preserved in an afterlife.

Another version of the “limiting factor” argument comes from Martin Heidegger, in his massive philosophical work Being and Time. In the section on being-toward-death, Heidegger claims, on one level, that Being must be a totality, and in order to be a totality (in the sense of being absolute or not containing anything outside of itself) it must also be that which it is not. Being can only become what it is not through death, and so in order for Being to become a totality (which he argues it must in order to achieve authenticity – which is the goal all along, after all), it must become what it is not – that is, death – for completion (Heidegger, 1962). This reinforces some interpretations made in linking truth with completion and completion with staticity.

Another line of reasoning taken by Heidegger seems to reinforce the interpretation made by Cooney, which was probably influenced heavily by Heidegger’s concept of being-toward-death. The “fact” that we will one day die causes Being to reevaluate itself, realize that it is time and time is finite, and that its finitude requires it to take charge of its own life – to find authenticity. Finitude for Heidegger legitimizes our freedom. If we had all the time in the world to become authentic, then what’s the point? It could always be deferred. But if our time is finite, then the choice of whether to achieve authenticity or not falls in our own hands. Since we must make choices on how to spend our time, failing to become authentic by spending one’s time on actions that don’t help achieve authenticity becomes our fault.Can Limitless Life Still Have a “Filling Stillness” and “Legitimizing Limit”?

Perhaps more importantly, even if their premises were correct (i.e., that the “change” of death adds some baseline limiting factor, causing you to do what you would not have done if you had all the time in the world, and thereby constituting our main motivator for motion and metric for meaning), Cooney and Heidegger are still wrong in the conclusion that indefinitely extended life would destroy or jeopardize this “essential limitation”.

The crux of the “death-gives-meaning-to-life” argument is that life needs scarcity, finitude, or some other factor restricting the possible choices that could be made, in order to find meaning. But final death need not be the sole candidate for such a restricting factor.
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Self: La Petite Mort
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All changed, changed utterly… A terrible beauty is born. The self sways by the second. We are creatures of change, and in order to live we die by the moment. I am not the same as I once was, and may never be the same again. The choices we prefer and the decisions we are most likely to make go through massive upheaval.The changing self could constitute this “scarcitizing” or limiting factor just as well as death could. We can be compelled to prioritize certain choices and actions over others because we might be compelled to choose differently in another year, month, or day. We never know what we will become, and this is a blessing. Life itself can act as the limiting factor that, for some, legitimizes life.

Society: La Petite Fin du Monde

Society is ever on an s-curve swerve of consistent change as well. Culture is in constant upheaval, with new opportunities opening up(ward) all the time. Thus the changing state of culture and humanity’s upheaved hump through time could act as this “limiting factor” just as well as death or the changing self could. What is available today may be gone tomorrow. We’ve missed our chance to see the Roman Empire at its highest point, to witness the first Moon landing, to pioneer a new idea now old. Opportunities appear and vanish all the time.

Indeed, these last two points – that the changing state of self and society, together or singly, could constitute such a limiting factor just as effectively as death could – serve to undermine another common argument against the desirability of limitless life (boredom) – thereby killing two inverted phoenixes with one stoning. Too often is this rather baseless claim bandied about as a reason to forestall indefinitely extended lifespans – that longer life will lead to increased boredom. The fact that self and society are in a constant state of change means that boredom should become increasingly harder to maintain. We are on the verge of our umpteenth rebirth, and the modalities of being that are set to become available to us, as selves and as societies, will ensure that the only way to entertain the notion of increased boredom  will be to personally hard-wire it into ourselves.

Life gives meaning to life, dummy!

Death is nothing but misplaced waste, and I think it’s time to take out the trash, with haste. We don’t need death to make certain opportunities more pressing than others, or to allow us to assign higher priorities to one action than we do to another. The Becoming underlying life’s self-overcoming will do just fine.

References

Cooney, B. (2004). Posthumanity: Thinking Philosophically about the Future. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN-10: 0742532933

Cortese, F. (2013). “Religion vs. Radical Longevity: Belief in Heaven is the Biggest Barrier to Eternal Life?!”. Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Arguments and Rants about Immortalism. Ed. Pellissier, H. 1st ed. Niagara Falls: Center for Transhumanity. 160-172.

Heidegger, M., Macquarrie, J., & Robinson, E. (1962). Being and time. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Tirosh-Samuelson, H. (2011). “Engaging Transhumanism”. Transhumanism and its Critics. Ed. Grassie, W., Hansell, G. Philadelphia, PA: Metanexus Institute.

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.

Flourishing and Happiness in a Nutshell – Article by Edward W. Younkins

Flourishing and Happiness in a Nutshell – Article by Edward W. Younkins

The New Renaissance Hat
Edward W. Younkins
June 3, 2012
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By integrating features found in the writings of Aristotle, Austrian economists, Ayn Rand, and a number of contemporary thinkers, we have the potential to develop a powerful, reality-based argument for a free society in which individuals have the opportunity to flourish and to be happy. Modern contributors to this approach include Tibor R. Machan, Douglas B. Rasmussen, Douglas J. Den Uyl, Frederick D. Miller, Roderick T. Long, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, George Reisman, Eric Mack, Neera K. Badhwar, Lester H. Hunt, Geoffrey Allan Plauché, among many others.

At the big-picture level, it can be argued that Aristotelian and neo-Aristotelian theories of morality and human flourishing can be compatible with Objectivist teachings regarding the nature of reality and man’s distinguishing characteristics of reason and free will and with Austrian ideas with respect to value theory, decision making, action, and social cooperation. It may be possible to construct an integrated conceptual framework that coordinates the ideas of Aristotle, the Austrian economists, Ayn Rand, and a number of current philosophers, economists, political scientists, positive psychologists, and others.

My inquiry in my book, Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, does not extend beyond a systematic level that relies heavily on logic and common sense. My purpose has been to outline the essentials of a worldview leaving it to philosophers and economists to fill in the details and to evaluate, critique, revise, refine, and extend my systematic understanding. What follows here is a brief summary of my attempt to formulate ideas and to relate them logically to other ideas and to the facts of reality. Although a person’s ideas are derived from reality and are about reality, there are differences between one’s ideas and the identity of the things that we can know. The rules of logic are determined by the facts of reality. In a sense, logic is both epistemological and ontological.

A proper philosophy must appeal to the objective nature of human beings and other entities in the world. There is a world of objective reality that exists and that has a determinate nature that is intelligible. Reality will not yield to permit a person’s subjective desires. Reality establishes the conditions for objectivity. It follows that realism is a necessary, instrumental means for a person’s success in the world. To be morality efficacious, a person must discern and use proper means to attain his truly valuable ends.

There is a human nature and it is man’s nature to be individual, volitionally conscious, rational, and purposive. Because each individual has a specific identity as a human being, we can say that there are particular things and actions that are appropriate to him and for him. Individuality is essential to one’s nature. Possessing reason and free will, each individual has the capacity and responsibility to choose to try to actualize his potential for being a flourishing, individual human being. Each person is a metaphysically unique self who is responsible for discerning what is good for himself. A person discovers his individual strengths and virtues through a process of moral development. A particular man’s own life is his purpose or goal. One’s aspirations are the aspirations in the only life he has to live. One’s entire life can be viewed as a project or overall goal which is subject to continual evaluation.

The goal or function of an individual human being is to perfect himself by fulfilling the potentialities that make him who he is. One’s flourishing is teleological consisting in fulfillment of his unique set of potentialities to be a mature human being. Each person has an innate, unchosen potentiality for his mature state along with the obligation to attempt to actualize that potentiality. Each person is responsible to discern and to live according to his daimon (i.e., true self) which includes his aptitudes, talents, and so on. This involves a process of progressive development, unfolding, or actualization in which a man attains goals that are in some way inherent in his nature as an individual human being. What constitutes a person’s daimon at a given point in time is a function of his endowments, circumstances, latent powers, interests, talents, and his history of choices, actions, and accomplishments. We could say that the fulfillment of one’s daimon is not static or fixed. An individual uses his practical rationality to assess himself and to work on his life in accordance with the objective standard of his flourishing as a singular human person. He can increase his generative potential to attain his own flourishing. A person is able to critique what he has done in the past and can change what he does with respect to the future development of his potentialities. Possessing free will, a man can adjust his actions in response to feedback that he has received.

Morality is an essential functional component of one’s existence as an individual human being. Moral knowledge is possible and can be derived from the facts of reality including human nature. Possessing rationality and free will, a person needs a proper moral code to aid him in making objective decisions and in acting on those decisions in his efforts to attain his true self-interest. Morality and self-interest are inextricably interrelated. Morality is concerned with rationally determining what best contributes to a person’s own flourishing and happiness.

Flourishing is a successful state of life, and happiness is a positive state of consciousness that flows from, or accompanies, a flourishing life. The legitimate function of every human person is live capably, excellently, and happily. This involves an ethic of aspiration toward one’s objective well-being that is actively attained and maintained. A person should aspire to what is best for him taking into account his given potentialities, abilities, and interests. Limits for self-fulfillment are set by reality including the type of being that we are and our individual characteristics.

Rationality is the foundational means to the end of human flourishing. Rationality is necessary to effect the appropriate means to a person’s ends and to integrate them. To be rational, a man must be committed to reality, truth, and logic. Not solely instrumental with respect to a person’s flourishing, rationality can also be viewed as partially constitutive of his flourishing. Rational introspection by a specific individual can enable him to determine the type of life that he should be leading.

Practical wisdom, an aspect of rationality, involves the ability to discern the relevant and important aspects of one’s circumstances in order to make the most proper response to them. The use of practical wisdom (or prudence) can only take place through self-direction or human agency. An individual requires practical wisdom to contend with the specifics, contingencies, and circumstances of one’s life. Practical wisdom is needed to guide oneself regarding the progressive fulfillment of his own potential to flourish. A prerequisite for one’s flourishing is self-direction or autonomy. Human flourishing requires self-direction and practical wisdom.

Natural rights are based on the common attributes of human beings and, therefore, apply universally to all people and to all actions. A metanormative system of negative rights that provide a context of self-directedness can be derived from a proper conception of human nature. Such a system of rights allows for value pluralism and for a variety of approaches to living one’s life. A conception of negative rights emphasizes where one individual’s life begins and another individual’s life ends. A political and legal order that protects natural rights is a necessary precondition for individual self-direction and for the possibility that human flourishing can take place in a social context. Protected self-directedness is necessary for social cooperation, specialization and trade, freely-chosen productive work, private property, free markets, voluntary contracts, and so on.

There is an important interrelationship and complementarily between the ideas of natural rights and human flourishing which together comprise a two-level ethics. At a metanormative level, rights protect people’s liberty to pursue (or not to pursue) their own good. They simply regulate the conditions under which moral conduct may (or may not) occur. In turn, what is good for the life of each individual person is found in the realm of personal virtue, morality, and flourishing. The ideas of natural rights and human flourishing describe different but related sides of what it means to be a human being. Together they provide a rational ethical framework.

The only enforceable limits on one’s actions are other people’s rights. We must recognize other individuals as purposive beings with ends of their own choosing. It would be contradictory to advocate my own rights and not to recognize the rights of other individuals. If a person does not acknowledge the rights of others, then he cannot declare that his own rights are valid. Each individual is thus permitted and limited in both the private and social spheres with respect to the types of actions in which he can engage.

People are born with physical, philosophical, and psychological needs specific to them as individual human beings. Human beings have needs embedded in their nature. We could say that value derives only to the extent that something satisfies an objective human need. The term value implies the personal importance or significance of an activity or object. Self-interest refers to the objective needs of a flourishing human life. Values promote and constitute one’s life and happiness. They have a metaphysical foundation in the nature of reality. There is an inextricable connection between values and natural facts. A value relationship exists due to the nature of a living beings and the nature of other existents in the world. Something in the world can be a value to a specific man even though he does not view it as valuable or even if he is not aware of its existence.

A flourishing life, including the happiness that accompanies it, is a person’s ultimate value. Everything else in life is aspired to because of this chief value. All of a man’s other values are instrumental and/or constitutive of the ultimate value. Means that serve the end of a flourishing life can be part of that end. Constitutive values such as a productive career, friendships, and so on are not simply means to a flourishing life but are also vital parts of such a life.

In order to flourish and to be happy, each man must select values, place them in a hierarchy, and strive to attain them. A person must experience many aspects of reality in order to discover values that are proper for him and that interest and inspire him. This active learning process highlights the exploratory nature of individual human interests and values. A person decides to live a particular type of life because he sees the value of it. He should select and pursue specific meaningful values that are metaphysically appropriate for him. He needs to identify the positive relationships in which things exist in relationship to his life. The meaning of particular projects in a person’s life is a function of his individuality.

There are differences among needs, values, and goals. Whereas needs are inborn, values are acquired. Values prioritize needs. People require a value hierarchy in order to be able to make choices. Goals are values applied to particular circumstances. Goals achieve values and values fulfill needs. A person’s goals and values should be consistent with his needs. Values are translated into reality through the means of goals. Value attainment requires setting and pursuing goals. Needs lead to values, values lead to goals, and goals lead to action.

Human beings are goal-directed. Goals are specific forms of values. Values provide a strategic underpinning for a person’s goal-setting activities. They supply meaning and purpose to a person’s goals. We could say that goals depict values as related to particular states of affairs. Because not all goals are equally valid, a person needs to examine the values underlying his goals. It is important to realize that goals are not isolated from one another. A person should strive to create a rational system of goals aimed at his flourishing and happiness.

Human flourishing is related to a number of general goods and virtues that provide structure but not specific direction or content with respect to living one’s life. Because there is a wide diversity of human beings, it follows that a flourishing life is not universal. Generic goods such as knowledge, health, and friendships need to be integrated in various measures and the virtues need to be applied in specific circumstances.

Each person needs to consider a variety of values, goods, and virtues in order to determine the relationship among them that will best achieve his flourishing as an individual human being. This requires rational insight into the particular and the contingent. Reason is the basic means used by human beings to create the values necessary for life and to interrelate and integrate goods and virtues into their lives. Virtues may be viewed as a set of fundamental principles that a rational person uses to guide the long-term course of his life.

Virtues can be viewed as principles of action which promote the flourishing of an individual who, by following them, engages in consistent actions that are in alignment with practical rationality. Virtuous actions enable a person to gain (and keep) the values he pursues. The virtues are required for one’s practical efficacy and happiness. Of course, virtue, by itself, is not enough to guarantee practical efficacy. A person also needs to have the relevant skills, resources, and so on. The fundamental virtue is rationality and the other virtues are particular expressions of that basic virtue. The virtues are both instrumental to, and a constitutive part of, an agent’s flourishing. They are valuable, not merely as means to flourishing, but also as partial realizations of it. Virtuous action begins with the ability to discern the aspects of a situation that are the most relevant and that fit the circumstances at hand. A man needs to possess the ability to decide which virtues are required in a particular situation and the optimal way of applying them. Virtuous actions tend to foster further virtuous actions. Applying the virtues is heavily dependent upon the context of a situation. People tend to take pleasure in virtuous actions—affect is related closely to virtue especially when one’s emotions are properly aligned with his rationality.

Ayn Rand makes a powerful case that the rational pursuit of one’s flourishing requires the consistent practice of seven essential virtues—rationality, honesty, independence, justice, integrity, productiveness, and pride. She saw rationality as the master virtue and the other six virtues as derivative from the primary virtue. Some scholars have pointed out that Rand did not specifically discuss the intellectual virtue of practical wisdom (i.e., prudence). It is likely that she considered practical wisdom as part of rationality. Others have suggested that her version of virtue ethics might be improved by including positive qualities such as benevolence, kindness, generosity, charity, tolerance, and so on in her prescription for moral perfection.

Emotions are an important part of one’s life experience and are relevant to his moral character. A case can be made that many emotions are the products of a person’s judgments of value as integrated by his subconscious mind. Such emotions stem from a person’s values and estimates which, in turn, depend upon his knowledge. They are about personally meaningful values and circumstances. These emotions are directed by one’s chosen values. It follows that a change in one’s values can bring about a change in his emotions. Emotions can encourage or discourage goal-directed actions. Correctly programmed positive emotions can be indicators that we have located objective values. Such emotions both signal and promote a person’s optimal functioning and flourishing. Justified positive emotions are fundamental conditions of human existence. We could say that emotional and psychological well-being is a crucial part of human flourishing.

Happiness occurs to the extent that one leads a flourishing life. We could say that happiness is an emergent effect of living a good life. Happiness has both cognitive and affective dimensions and depends upon the degree to which a person responds realistically, morally, and efficaciously to his life circumstances. Successful people tend to be happy people who continue to intentionally seek new, not-yet-attained goals. There are various degrees of personal growth, development, and happiness. A person can be happy and still strive to be even happier. Happiness is an issue of living a particular type of life—it is not just a case of having positive feelings. However, happiness is related to emotion-laden experiences such as flow and self-esteem.

A person is apt to be in a psychological state of flow when he is engaged in meaningful, self-controlled, and goal-related activities. Flow involves focused immersion in an activity, lack of self-consciousness, and the merging of awareness and action. A man is in the flow state when he is vitally engaged in enjoyable activities that offer him scope.

Self-esteem refers to a person’s legitimate attitude of self-affirmation. Self-esteem is connected to a sense of agency and control of one’s environment. A person with self-esteem tends to be competent, optimistic, and virtuous, and to have self-respect. A person who does not practice the virtues (such as rationality, honesty, justice, and so on) is not likely to possess self-esteem. Virtuous action leads to self-respect and self-esteem.

People should take virtuous actions in alignment with their objective values. A person must use his practical wisdom to examine and judge the context of a situation before freely choosing to exercise virtuous action. Deliberation itself is an action aimed at an end. The final end of the actions of a human being is his own flourishing life. People are capable of taking self-directed, deliberate, reasoned, and planned actions directed by a notion of an ultimate end. Of course, they can choose to act and live in a variety of ways that are not conducive to a flourishing life.

Austrian Economics and Objectivism agree on the significance of the ideas of human action and values. The Austrians explain that a person acts when he prefers the way he thinks things will be if he acts compared to the way he thinks things will be if he fails to act. Austrian Economics is descriptive and deals with the logical analysis of the ability of selected actions (i.e., means) to achieve chosen ends. Whether or not these ends are truly objectively valuable is not the concern of the praxeological economist when he is acting in his capacity as an economist. There is another realm of values that views value in terms of objective values and correct preferences and actions. Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is concerned with this other sphere and thus prescribes what human beings ought to value and act to attain.

Austrian economists contend that values are subjective and Objectivists maintain that values are objective. These claims can be seen as compatible because they are not claims about the same phenomena. These two senses of value are complementary and compatible. The Austrians view actions from the perspective of a neutral examiner of the actions and Objectivists suggest values and actions for an acting human being as a moral agent himself. The Austrian economist does not force his own value judgments on the personal values and actions of the human beings that he is studying. Operating from a different perspective, Objectivists maintain that there are objective values that stem from a man’s relationship to other existents in the world. For the Objectivist, the purpose of ethics is to live a flourishing and happy life by recognizing and responding to the significance of human action.

It is possible for these two schools of thought to be combined into an integrated framework. At a descriptive level, the Austrian idea of demonstrated preference agrees with Ayn Rand’s account of value as something that a person acts to gain and/or keep. Of course, Rand moves from an initial descriptive notion of value to a normative perspective on value that includes the idea that a legitimate or objective value serves one’s life. The second deeper level view of value provides an objective standard to evaluate the use of one’s free will.

Austrian praxeological economics (i.e., the study of human action) has been used to make a value-free case for liberty. This economic science deals with abstract principles and general rules that must be applied if a society is to have optimal production and economic well-being. Misesian praxeology consists of a body of logically deduced, inexorable laws of economics beginning with the axiom that each person acts purposefully.

Although Misesian economists hold that values are subjective and Objectivists argue that values are objective, these claims are not incompatible because they are not really claims about the same things—they exist at different levels or spheres of analysis. The value-subjectivity of the Austrians complements the Randian sense of objectivity. The level of objective values dealing with personal flourishing transcends the level of subjective value preferences.

The value-freedom (or value-neutrality) and value-subjectivity of the Austrians have a different function or purpose than does Objectivism’s emphasis on objective values. On the one hand, the Austrian emphasis is on the value-neutrality of the economist as a scientific observer of a person acting to attain his “subjective” (i.e., personally-estimated) values. On the other hand, the philosophy of Objectivism is concerned with values for an acting individual moral agent himself.

Austrian Economics is an excellent way of looking at methodological economics with respect to the appraisal of means but not of ends. Misesian praxeology therefore must be augmented. Its value-free economics is not sufficient to establish a total case for liberty. A systematic, reality-based ethical system must be discovered to firmly establish the argument for individual liberty. Natural law provides the groundwork for such a theory and both Objectivism and the Aristotelian idea of human flourishing are based on natural-law ideas.

An ethical system must be developed and defended in order to establish the case for a free society. An Aristotelian ethics of naturalism states that moral matters are matters of fact and that morally good conduct is that which enables the individual agent to make the best possible progress toward achieving his self-perfection and happiness. According to Rand, happiness relates to a person’s success as a unique, rational human being possessing free will. We have free choice and the capacity to initiate our own conduct that enhances or hinders our flourishing as human beings.

A human being’s flourishing requires the rational use of his individual human potentialities, including his talents, abilities, and virtues in the pursuit of his freely and rationally chosen values and goals. An action is considered to be proper if it leads to the flourishing of the person performing the action. A person’s flourishing leads to his happiness. Each person is responsible for voluntarily choosing, creating, and entering relationships in civil society that contribute toward his flourishing.

Long ago, Aristotle observed that social life and social cooperation in a community are essential conditions for one’s flourishing. Today, it is generally held that a person’s social networks have strong effects on a person’s well-being. Mediating institutions such as charitable societies, fraternal organizations, churches, clubs, and so on, provide individuals and communities with valuable interaction networks. Most people hold memberships in a number of value-providing associations. It follows that civil society is important to the pursuit and attainment of our individual ends.

Unlike the state, which is based on coercion, civil society is based on voluntary participation. Civil society consists of natural and voluntary associations such as families, private businesses, unions, churches, private schools, clubs, charities, etc. Civil society, a spontaneous order, consists of a network of associations built on the freedom of the individual to associate or not to associate. The voluntary communities and associations of civil society are valuable because human beings need to associate with others in order to flourish and achieve happiness.

One’s personal flourishing requires a life with other people. Sociality is essential to a man’s attempt to live well. Benefaction (i.e., charity) can be viewed as an expression and specific manifestation of one’s capacity for social cooperation.

The interpersonal realm is integral to a well-lived life. We love our friends because we appreciate their potential to advance our well-being. Friendship and love have an egoistic basis in a person’s love for, and pride in, himself. The well-being of a person who is a value to an individual increases the individual’s own ability to flourish and to be happy. The fundamental reason for performing other-regarding actions is to enhance one’s own well-being. Other people’s interests can be viewed as contributive to, or interrelated with, one’s own interests as evidenced in the case of production and free trade. It can be said that a person’s authentic self-interest cannot conflict with the self-interests of other people.

Dr. Edward W. Younkins is Professor of Accountancy at Wheeling Jesuit University. He is the author of Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise [Lexington Books, 2002], Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond [Lexington Books, 2005] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.), and Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism [Rowman & Littlefield Pub Incorporated, 2011] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.). Many of Dr. Younkins’s essays can be found online at his web page at www.quebecoislibre.org. You can contact Dr. Younkins at younkins@wju.edu.