Volition: How do you know it could have been otherwise?


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45 minutes ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:


I did three years ago. Look at the date on my post.

You just now noticed?


Besides, it was banter.

Tell me, is your meat upset?


Only slightly annoyed.  I don't to upset any more.  Life is too short. 

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  • 4 years later...

What a brilliant letter from Allan Costell, told from a proven sociologic viewpoint yet recognizing free will. So . . . in what ways is our human makeup and ways of acting determined? What things are totally within our control? Peter

From: Allen R Costell To: objectivism Subject: OWL: The Influence of Culture Date: Sat, 8 Jun 2002 23:46:28 -0500

An argument has been made (by David Potts, 6/5) and seconded (by Bruce Norbeck, 6/06) that criticizing impossible ideals and immoral images is "profoundly un-objectivist". This argument has a few problems with it, yet rather than detail them all I shall focus on the key point: independence and the influence of culture in regard to impossible ideals and images.

Here is the argument in toto, followed by my analysis: An Objectivist takes responsibility for his own life and happiness and for his own decisions -- realizing that just about everything in life is dependent on one's own decisions. The point is illustrated by some recent list discussion in which some people have been repeating the common complaint that the media are setting up the wrong ideals concerning body image for young people or women or whomever. This rhetoric is profoundly un-Objectivist. An Objectivist considers that it is up to the individual to decide what to make of  the images he sees in magazines or on television, and he does not blame other people (the faceless "media") if he discovers he has been guilty of passively absorbing their values.

While it's true that Objectivism holds that we all bear fundamental responsibility for our own lives, it is both untrue and not an Objectivist notion that "just about everything in life is dependent on one's own decisions."  Many life altering events are largely outside of your control:  natural disasters, the weather, and other forces of nature; what socioeconomic status you were born into; how you were raised by your parents; when your parents die or died; the occasional stroke of fate (from finding a good parking spot to being a victim of unexpected terrorism) -- just to name some major examples.  These facts can easily shape your life.  For example, if you were molested as a child, or even malnourished, you will have a different life than if you had been raised in a healthy, loving home.  Yet when faced with child molestation or some other powerful external event, it is incorrect to say, as David's argument says, that one basically just needs to "take responsibility." We are *contextually* independent, not *absolutely* independent.  The context of external reality has the ability to shape our lives in ways we don't and wouldn't choose.

Given this, the main issue is whether the general types of images people see -- e.g., images of women as impossibly flawless, thin to the point of being unhealthy, meek, passive and accepting, seeking approval from others, willing to be bound and dominated, always available and wanting -- are powerful.  Well, think about all these ways these images are propagated:  the thousands of commercials people see each year (not including the commercials students are *forced* to see watching Channel One in school); the fraudulent, airbrushed images on magazine covers (be they fashion, beauty, teen, exercise, car, or men's mags) at your newsstand or grocery checkout, or on pornographic magazines; the advertising located inside those magazines and various mainstream newspapers; the images of women you see in the stores, in catalogs, on the sides of buses, on the walls of bus stops, in subway stations and trains, on billboards, in unsolicited internet pop-up ads; the representations of women you see in mainstream movies, TV shows, music videos, soft-core adult films (like on Showtime), and hard-core pornographic films; the reinforcement of these ideals in locker rooms, school hallways, parties, contemporary music lyrics, and most any gathering of (especially young) peers; the threat of both disapproval, insults, and even violence when you resist . . . . and I'm sure I've overlooked some things.  (Anyone?)

Look at that force, that tidal wave.  It's more than a tidal wave; it's more like four waves coming from all directions.  Obviously I find this to be more than just a minor influence.  Bruce says "get over it" and David says "hey, it's your own fault; after all, you were the one that's guilty of 'passively absorbing' those values."  Well, that's a massive oversimplification, one that would be completely laughable and dismissible if it wasn't so common. The current structure is set in such a way that to resist this onslaught takes enormous knowledge, effort, and endurance.  Yes, independence is possible, but given the relative ubiquity of such images -- and the trillions (upon trillions) of dollars spent to bombard people with it, to saturate their environment with it -- it's extremely difficult.  Roarkian independence is an ideal to aspire to, but that entails realizing what forces seek to manipulate you and maintain their control over you. Contrary to David's assertion, that's not "blaming other people", it's recognizing their intentions and working to resist their influence, a necessary step toward living an independent, authentic, self-directed life. Allen Costell

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