Christopher

Settling the debate on Altruism

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From each according to his abilities, to each according to their needs...hmmm

now there is at least a movie or a miniseries in those scenes!

Film at 11:00

Adam

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From each according to his abilities, to each according to their needs...hmmm

now there is at least a movie or a miniseries in those scenes!

Film at 11:00

Adam

I suspect your inventory is low, quantitatively speaking.

--Brant

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To individuals who experience empathy, valuing others before the self is a conscious ascription of the events that are occurring. When Brother John helps the homeless Macy Gray by giving her his food, Brother John will always assert that he has sacrificed his needs for another. He will add that the motivation for his behavior was a result of empathy. Although Brother John asserts that he has placed another above himself, the ontological truth is that he has placed his values embedded in feelings of empathy above values embedded in his ego. When Brother John later reports that putting others before himself provides a sense of fulfillment, we can be sure that Brother John’s sacrifice, unbeknownst to him, was indeed an act of putting himself first. Thus, because empathic values and fulfillment arise from the self, perceptions of sacrifice in the context of empathy are actually consistent with the ethics of Objectivism.

The word "sacrifice" is a big topic in Rands writings. She is downnright obsessed with the term.

"Sacrifice is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser

value", she writes in "The Virtue of Selfishness".

But is it? Isn't the exact opposite the case?

What exactly is a sacrifice? It is an act directed by something which the person peforming the act considers as a greater value then that which is sacrificed. Imo there is NO exception to this principle.

.

Whether it was ancient tribes sacrificing animals or humans to the gods (the origin of the term refers to a religious act [from Latin "sacer" (holy) and "facere" (to do)], whether it is people sacrificing a good time of their lives caring for their ailing parents, whether it is the suicidal terrorist causing a plane to crash, or whether my colleague offers to take over an undesirable job instead of me, sacrificing her free time, or whether one "sacrifices" a pawn in a chess game because one wants to gain one of his opponent's figures of higher status or another strategic advantage through the act - whatever the sacrifice is, ALWAYS the motive is present to gain a higher value.

Ayn Rand claims that the frustration of a desire is a "sacrifice". But does that qualify as sacrifice? A feeling of frustration because a desire has not been fulfilled??

Isn't there a crucial element of the term sacrifice missing here?

Rand (in TVOS, pb. page 33) theorizes that (I'm paraphrasing a bit) when Jim robs John of his car, John is being sacrificed, and Jim too. Imo neither John nor Jim are being sacrificed through this act.

Does anyone here think they are? If yes, why?

Edited by Xray

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The word "sacrifice" is a big topic in Rands writings. She is downnright obsessed with the term.

"Sacrifice is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser

value", she writes in "The Virtue of Selfishness".

But is it? Isn't the exact opposite the case?

What exactly is a sacrifice? It is an act directed by something which the person peforming the act considers as a greater value then that which is sacrificed. Imo there is NO exception to this principle.

It might be much clearer if you consider who is calling an act a "sacrifice." For example, consider somebody sacrificing an animal to a god. In Rand's view it is a sacrifice of something of value for nothing. To the person doing the sacrificing, it is giving up a lesser value to obtain a greater value.

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Merlin,

That's exactly correct.

And from the animal's perspective...

:)

The problem to consider before using the word sacrifice is standard of value. Once the standard of value is identified, it is relatively easy to judge what is a sacrifice and what is a bargain.

Michael

EDIT: btw - Welcome to OL, Xray. I hope you enjoy it here.

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It might be much clearer if you consider who is calling an act a "sacrifice." For example, consider somebody sacrificing an animal to a god. In Rand's view it is a sacrifice of something of value for nothing. To the person doing the sacrificing, it is giving up a lesser value to obtain a greater value.

So it looks like what considers a "value" is basically a subjective choice.

The problem to consider before using the word sacrifice is standard of value. Once the standard of value is identified, it is relatively easy to judge what is a sacrifice and what is a bargain.

Michael

EDIT: btw - Welcome to OL, Xray. I hope you enjoy it here.

Thanks for for the welcome, Michael. I'm from Germany and didn't know about Ayn Rand until two years ago during a discussion on atheism.

The problem to consider before using the word sacrifice is standard of value. Once the standard of value is identified, it is relatively easy to judge what is a sacrifice and what is a bargain.

But aren't those "standards of value" subjective choices too?

Person A's standards of value may differ from person B's and C's, etc.

Edited by Xray

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So it looks like what considers a value is basically a subjective choice.

Xray,

This depends on your standard of epistemology.

The power to make a choice (and to value) is not the same thing as identifying something correctly.

Michael

By what criteria does one identify something correctly? It is fairly easy when it comes to correctly identifying e. g. a chair, but as for abstracts as "values", how does it work?

Edited by Xray

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Xray,

What works of Rand have you read?

I ask because it would be a good idea for you to learn the Objectivist version of these questions before going in depth on questioning them.

After all, this is a forum devoted to discussing Objectivist ideas, both pro and con.

Once I know what you know of Objectivism, I will know how to respond.

Michael

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So it looks like what considers a value is basically a subjective choice.

Xray,

This depends on your standard of epistemology.

The power to make a choice (and to value) is not the same thing as identifying something correctly.

Michael

By what criteria does one identify something correctly? It is fairly easy when it comes to correctly identifying e. g. a chair, but as for abstracts as "values", how does it work?

Hey Xray,

I read through the recent threads, and I'll take a stab at defining values from an Objectivist standpoint. Mind you however, I packed away Virtue of Selfishness (sadly), so I have to go by the imprint it made in my mind.

A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep.

Objectivist ethics holds that man is an end in himself, that man should act towards his survival and happiness.

Therefore:

Man is free to choose values antithetical to his survival, but he is not free to escape the consequences. The consequences are played out in reality - perhaps he has worse relationships, perhaps his mind or body becomes unhealthy, perhaps he risks the possibility of early mortality. In any case, the conflict between man's choice of values and the demands of reality is where man will suffer.

Therefore from Objectivist standpoint, I would assert that man sacrifices himself when he follows values antithetical to his nature.

Best,

Chris

Edited by Christopher

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Values

Values are that which we seek to achieve or maintain according to our life as the standard of evaluation. Values are the motive power behind purposeful action. They are the ends to which we act. Without them, life would be impossible. Life requires self-generated action to sustain itself. Without values, one could not act, and death would follow.

Value specifies a relationship between a person and a goal. A value requires a valuer--a particular person who aims to achieve or maintain something. An object cannot have value in itself. Value is relational, and so requires a person and a goal. The goal to which one aims is called the "value", but the relationship is always required. This means an object cannot be a value in itself. It only gains the title of value when a person acts to achieve or maintain it.

Values are essential to ethics. Ethics is concerned with human actions, and the choice of those actions. Ethics evaluates those actions, and the values that underlies them. It determines which values should be pursued, and which shouldn't. Ethics is a code of values.

[from Objectivism 101]

Edited by anonrobt

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[...]

But aren't those "standards of value" subjective choices too?

Person A's standards of value may differ from person B's and C's, etc.

Xray, in discussing Objectivist ethics, a certain precision in terminology may be helpful. Ayn Rand makes the distinction between a standard of values and a hierarchy of values.

Take the following analogy. The length of the meter is a standard unit of length; so is the length of the foot. We can choose whichever standard to use for a discussion. But once it is chosen, that is an invariant absolute. Contrasting the standard unit of, say, the foot, there is your foot and its length, and there is my foot and its length. Your foot has a certain specific length, as measured by the standard foot, which may differ from the specific length of my foot. Yours may be under a foot; mine may be a little over a foot.

Now consider the standards of values in the Objectivist ethics. Ethicists define many standards of values on the basis of reality. Rand distinguishes two standards: standard of values befitting a man's life, and standard of values befitting the life of a brute. Objectivists take ethics to be about discovering the proper methods of living one's life (ITOE 36), with life qua rational man being the standard. (Tradional moralists tend to adopt the life of the brute as the standard in their prescriptions of what people ought to do.) Now, within the context of a standard of values, each individual has his own hierarchy of values. Your lover and your career, which are different from my lover and my career, are at different placements in your hierarchy, as the respective placements are different in mine.

This distinction between standard and hierarchy makes possible the judgment that a person's hierarchy of values may be more or less correct, relative to the standard of values. For example, if a standard calls for man to take reason as his only absolute; then if a particular man's hierarchy places reason as a mere backup to faith, then his hierarchy of values is inappropriate by that standard.

[...]

I would assert that man sacrifices himself when he follows values antithetical to his nature.

[...]

Christopher, I would agree to your formulation only if it is qualified to include his already knowing what's what. Sacrifice is an act that presumes a prior knowledge of a hierarchy of values. Suppose, right or wrong, a mother values her baby higher than a bunny rabbit. Then, when while driving in a car with her infant, she veers off the road suddenly in order to avoid colliding a crossing bunny at the cost of crashing the vehicle and killing the baby, she is in effect surrendering a higher value, the baby, in exchange for a lower value, the rabbit. Relative to her particular hierarchy of values, she has made a sacrifice.

Of course, relative to an environmentalist of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (Cf., Ed Hudgins's "Light Up the World for Humans"), the mother's action would not be a sacrifice. (On this point, I agree with Merlin's Post #30.) More generally, from an altruist's perspective, the interests of others are placed high on his hierarchy of values, higher than his own personal interests. His acting for the benefit of others is not seen by him as a sacrifice; but as seen by and translated to any egoist's own hierarchy, an altruist's every action is an act of self-sacrifice. Right or wrong, sacrifice, then, is a judgment in the context of some hierarchy of values. Relative to oneself, it is the effect of reneging on one's established hierarchy. (In this context, Christopher, I repudiate entirely your assessment of altruism in your Post #1.)

Applied ethics, or moral living, has three phases: choosing the correct standard, choosing and ranking values, and pursuing values. The most difficult phase is the last. Ayn Rand writes about the first two phases: " 'That which is required for the survival of man qua man' is an abstract principle [a standard] that applies to every individual man. The task of applying this principle to a concrete, specific purpose--the purpose of living a life proper to a rational being--belongs to every individual man [a hierarchy], and the life he has to live is his own." (TVOS 27) It is in the third phase that volitional beings need to acquire rational virtues in order to avoid acting sacrificially. In particular, Rand advises that egoists cultivate the virtue of integrity in order to avoid valuing one way but acting another. (TVOS 28) For the same reason, a living altruist cannot help but be a hypocrite.

[...]

Value is relational, and so requires a person and a goal. The goal to which one aims is called the "value", but the relationship is always required. This means an object cannot be a value in itself. It only gains the title of value when a person acts to achieve or maintain it.

[...]

Robert, I agree with your conception of values. My elaboration of the criteria of values is posted here.

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Xray,

What works of Rand have you read?

I ask because it would be a good idea for you to learn the Objectivist version of these questions before going in depth on questioning them.

After all, this is a forum devoted to discussing Objectivist ideas, both pro and con.

Once I know what you know of Objectivism, I will know how to respond.

Michael

I have read The Fountainhead, The Virtue of Selfishness and have just started with her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged.

Of works about Rand, I have read Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand.

The Q&A section on this site is very informative too.

The impression I have so far is that while Rand advocates indivdualism, she is very dogmatic, for example in deciding what an "objective" value is.

Edited by Xray

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Xray, in discussing Objectivist ethics, a certain precision in terminology may be helpful. Ayn Rand makes the distinction between a standard of values and a hierarchy of values.

Take the following analogy. The length of the meter is a standard unit of length; so is the length of the foot. We can choose whichever standard to use for a discussion. But once it is chosen, that is an invariant absolute.

So it was Ayn Rand who chose the objectivist standard of values, and once chosen, it is regarded as an invariant absolute?

Contrasting the standard unit of, say, the foot, there is your foot and its length, and there is my foot and its length. Your foot has a certain specific length, as measured by the standard foot, which may differ from the specific length of my foot. Yours may be under a foot; mine may be a little over a foot.

In terms of quantity, it is fairly clear. It gets difficult when it comes to quality.

I'd like to discuss those objective quality standards.

For example, Nathaniel Branden writes in his essay "The Psychology of Pleasure" (1964, in the The Virtue of Selfihsness, pb, p. 71-78)), about the pleasures appropriate or inappropriate for the "rational, psychologically healthy man".

[N. Branden]:

Observe, in this connection, the modern "beatniks" - for instance, their manner of dancing. What one sees is not smiles of authentic enjoyment, but thevacant, staring eyes, the jerky, disorganized movements of what looks like decentralized bodies, all working very hard - with a kind of flat-footed hysteria - at projecting an air of the purposeless, the senseless, the mindless. This is the pleasure of "unconsciousness."

So everyone who danced like that got the thumbs down from Rand and Branden because they "know" it is no "authenic enjoyment" and these people are purposeless, mindless, senseless?

Frankly, I have read similar lectures on the "wrongl" way to dance in Jehova's Witnesses' brochures. :)

Branden also uses the word "crippled" in combinaton with lesbian ("crippled lesbian").

What "objective" standards of values are these?

Edited by Xray

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xray:

Out of curiosity, approximately how old are you? If its none of my business, I am fine with that as an answer.

Nathaniel was quite pompous, "stiff" and interesting in the 60's. Some thought he was quite condescending, but I guess my ego does not allow condescension towards myself so I do not even notice it. I could see how his austere arrogance would give that impression, but he always had a little "smirk" which amused me.

He taught me a lot. Breaking Free was a perfect book for me. I started really writing poetry when I read that book.

As Ayn so effectively put it, judge and be ready to be judged as the obverse of judge not lest you be judged.

Also, I am ...

therefore I think - to me unified my knowledge of the world and I completely rejected the I think, therefore I am.

Smart lady...now wisdom she needed improvement like we all do. lol

Adam

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The impression I have so far is that while Rand advocates indivdualism, she is very dogmatic, for example in deciding what an "objective" value is.

Yes, I agree. And there is nothing wrong with promoting individualism, after all, we are all unique individuals. General semantics approaches the problem of how we should behave (ethics) by proposing a theory of sanity and then using it as the standard. It doesn't mean the theory is absolute - its just a theory, but you have to start somewhere.

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Man is free to choose values antithetical to his survival, but he is not free to escape the consequences. The consequences are played out in reality - perhaps he has worse relationships, perhaps his mind or body becomes unhealthy, perhaps he risks the possibility of early mortality. In any case, the conflict between man's choice of values and the demands of reality is where man will suffer.

So what about when a soldier sacrifices himself in a war? Suppose you are ordered into a mission where the odds are very poor that you will survive or high casualties are expected , a practicing objectivist would not accept this would he?

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The impression I have so far is that while Rand advocates indivdualism, she is very dogmatic, for example in deciding what an "objective" value is.

Yes, I agree. And there is nothing wrong with promoting individualism, after all, we are all unique individuals. General semantics approaches the problem of how we should behave (ethics) by proposing a theory of sanity and then using it as the standard. It doesn't mean the theory is absolute - its just a theory, but you have to start somewhere.

Sanity? Well, that leaves me on the outside looking in.

--Brant

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Man is free to choose values antithetical to his survival, but he is not free to escape the consequences. The consequences are played out in reality - perhaps he has worse relationships, perhaps his mind or body becomes unhealthy, perhaps he risks the possibility of early mortality. In any case, the conflict between man's choice of values and the demands of reality is where man will suffer.

So what about when a soldier sacrifices himself in a war? Suppose you are ordered into a mission where the odds are very poor that you will survive or high casualties are expected , a practicing objectivist would not accept this would he?

Depends on the war.

--Brant

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Depends on the war.

--Brant

Please explain. I thought man's own survival was the utmost value?

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[...]

I have read The Fountainhead, The Virtue of Selfishness and have just started with her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged.

Of works about Rand, I have read Barbara Branden's The Passion of Ayn Rand.

The Q&A section on this site is very informative too.

The impression I have so far is that while Rand advocates indivdualism, she is very dogmatic, for example in deciding what an "objective" value is.

[...]
[...] Take the following analogy. The length of the meter is a standard unit of length; so is the length of the foot. We can choose whichever standard to use for a discussion. But once it is chosen, that is an invariant absolute. [...]

So it was Ayn Rand who chose the objectivist standard of values, and once chosen, it is regarded as an invariant absolute?

[...]

I'd like to discuss those objective quality standards.

For example, Nathaniel Branden writes in his essay "The Psychology of Pleasure" (1964, in the The Virtue of Selfihsness, pb, p. 71-78)), about the pleasures appropriate or inappropriate for the "rational, psychologically healthy man".

Observe, in this connection, the modern "beatniks" - for instance, their manner of dancing. What one sees is not smiles of authentic enjoyment, but thevacant, staring eyes, the jerky, disorganized movements of what looks like decentralized bodies, all working very hard - with a kind of flat-footed hysteria - at projecting an air of the purposeless, the senseless, the mindless. This is the pleasure of "unconsciousness."

So everyone who danced like that got the thumbs down from Rand and Branden because they "know" it is no "authenic enjoyment" and these people are purposeless, mindless, senseless?

[...]

Xray, to be clearer, I could have written more concretely, "We can choose whichever standard of length to use for measurement purposes. But once it is chosen, that is an invariant absolute." If you want to measure pieces of lumber to build a bench, then choose your standard of length and start measuring; but don't switch standard in mid-activity and confuse yourself. That is what is meant by retaining a standard as an invariant absolute. Similarly, for purposes of choosing and ranking values to live one's life, a chosen standard of value is an invariant absolute.

Now, you asked the follow-up question: "So it was Ayn Rand who chose the Objectivist standard of values, and once chosen, it is regarded as an invariant absolute?" My short answer is: Yes, for herself. My long answer is the rest. Read on. In both the above cases, who does the choosing of the enumerated categories of standards? Anyone, really. It is you for your bench, if you want to make one; it is you for your life, if you want to live.

And your choice depends on the standard of epistemology, as MSK alluded in Post #33. More specifically, it depends on your chosen standard of psycho-epistemology--your manner of processing cognitively from the aspect of the interaction between your mind and the rest of your faculty of consciousness. Ayn Rand discovered and elaborated on two such standards. There is the standard of the second-hander psycho-epistemology. There is also the standard of the first-hander psycho-epistemology. For short, let us call these long-naming standards by the synonym of cognitive styles.

When a person 1) observes something, 2) makes a judgment on it, based on some standard of evaluation, and then subsequently 3) reports to you about it; what do you do cognitively about the report? If your chosen cognitive style is of a second-hander, you zero in exclusively on the person doing the observing, judging, and reporting; you evaluate his social standing, his notoriety, his political pull; and then you take whatever he reports as your own judgment--regardless of any actual personal observation and/or any actual personal judgment from observation (based on some standard). On the other hand, if you adopt the first-hander cognitive style, you do consider the reporter's credibility as part of the larger context, of course, but more importantly, you take the report as an invitation to do the observing yourself, if feasible, and to make the judgment yourself, if you adopt the same standard; and once having made your own independent judgment, you evaluate the reported judgment against your own before accepting or rejecting it.

Nathaniel Branden observed the beatniks dancing, judged their activities on a standard of mental health, and wrote about it. What to do cognitively?

I would argue that some second-handers will accept NB's judgment wholly, uncritically. Some other second-handers, following other figures of authority, of different social standings, etc., will reject NB's judgment wholly, uncritically.

By contrast, the independent first-hander, I would argue, will read the report and decide to accept or reject the proffered standard of mental health on its own logical merit. If he rejects the standard, the entire report is dismissed. If he finds the standard plausible, he goes on to observe first-hand the dancing of beatniks, and then to judge their activities in accordance to the standard. Only then will he make the secondary judgment about NB's judgment of the dancing of the beatniks.

Generally speaking, the individual who takes up the cognitive style of the first-hander will place no one else's judgments of reality above his own, not even those of Branden or of Rand. This is the meaning and the standard, as taught by Ayn Rand. (But don't take my word for it. Read it for yourself, if you choose.)

If a person understands something first hand, he understands the reasoning and the evidence for it--down to the level of perceptual observation. By contrast, if a person does not take the first-hand approach to cognition, then he takes the thing taught as dogma, without any understanding. Though Rand has taught (and provided reasoning) that one should never take anything dogmatically, the fact that others have taken her teachings as dogmas or have piled on to condemn her as being dogmatic, merely illustrates that there are more than one standard of psycho-epistemology at work in the minds of men.

In the realm of psycho-epistemology, Rand illustrates two standards of cognition in her novel The Fountainhead. She chose for herself in her own life the cognitive style of the first-hander. No one else has to follow her example because of her social standing, notoriety, or influence. Similarly, in the realm of ethics, Rand illustrates two standards of living one's life in her novel Atlas Shrugged. She chose for herself the Objectivist standard of life qua man for the purpose of identifying her own hierarchy of values so as to live her own life. No one else has to follow her example.

Each and every one of these decisions that a person makes for himself depends on his psycho-epistemology.

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Generally speaking, the individual who takes up the cognitive style of the first-hander will place no one else's judgments of reality above his own, not even those of Branden or of Rand. This is the meaning and the standard, as taught by Ayn Rand.

......................................

And yet, when it comes to aesthetics, this seems not to be applied, and most graspings of art works seem to settle within the conventional of the social world around them, as if that were the norm from which to base [in this case specifically, paintings] the 'universe' within the four walls - and which, among those who claim adherence to reality, such as Objectivists, results in accepting as 'valid' fantasy works like fairies, dragons, angels, demons, trolls, and such disfigurements as hiding the figure amidst clothing for the so-called 'virtue of modesty', and living in economically non-viable setting like feudalism on a planetary or trans-planetary scale [and, along with it, all the servitudes of altruism] - all because the technical quality of the rendering makes these fantasies seem 'possible' because of how they are 'seen'.... instead of glorifying reality and the extrapolation of that - reality - to the future...

Edited by anonrobt

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Depends on the war.

--Brant

Please explain. I thought man's own survival was the utmost value?

Rand might assert that war is necessary if the alternative embraces anti-life ethics (loss of freedom, of thinking, etc.). Wouldn't you go to war with poor odds against Stalin rather than slowly (or quickly) die living under him? I certainly would.

Here's an ethical dilemma (true story) I've never had the perfect answer for. I would love to hear what you think:

Two journalists living in Iran wrote news articles vehemently against the Iranian government. Eventually the government went after them both and demanded they stop writing antigov articles. One journalist complied, wrote pro-government articles for roughly a year, then moved to England and wrote anti-Iranian gov. articles. The second journalist refused, was imprisoned for about a year, then left the country upon his release. Who acted more consistent with Objectivist ethics?

Chris

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Depends on the war.

--Brant

Please explain. I thought man's own survival was the utmost value?

I was never on the premise that I was going to be killed in war, but I knew it might happen. After a few months in Vietnam I knew it was a cluster-fuck and I was so happy to get on an airplane and get out of there and back to civilian life in Sept. 1967. I had nothing against killing communists and had some success, but all that interminable, unnecessary killing to no good effect was a complete turnoff. You fight battles to win a war. There was no such policy in Vietnam. It was all battles that were battles to preserve the integrity of South Vietnam which morphed into battles to help get us out of South Vietnam = several million dead and North Vietnam won after we abandoned our "ally."

Wars of self defense means you are fighting to defend yourself, your country, your values. Now if I saw someone being attacked with a gun, say, and I pull out my gun and shoot him down, my action would be considered self-defense (by proxy) and my attitude was the same as a soldier. There is a social interconnectedness that encourages such an attitude and I'm convinced it's built into the human psyche. I'd like to think someone would do the same for me, but I don't like to think I wouldn't deserve it.

The heroes in Atlas Shrugged were all at war in various ways. Some were even at war with each other. In that sense they were all conventional, striving heroes--never mind that in-real-life-unworkable strike on the premise of the impotence of evil. "Man's own survival" means understanding men (people), something Rand was partially good at and partially very bad at, which is the whole problem with The Objectivist Ethics based as they are on what she imagined people were, should be and needed, without much if any empirical study and investigation.

The impotence of evil premise is good so far as it goes except you can have good and bad in one person--and are likely to because of free will--and few if anybody will cut off their right arm to keep it from doing bad things. So the potent part drags along the impotent part in a destructive grotesquerie. It's actually how impotent or potent an individual human being is--how good or bad--not the potence and impotence of "evil." "Evil" is not a being. It's a pure abstraction and moral judgment.

Edited by Brant Gaede

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