Freedom—An Intellectual Issue
Historically, markets changed appreciably when knowledge and technology expanded and relatively less coercive political environments emerged. The progression of the sciences also served as an important catalyst in this process. The growth of market economies, and thus the division and specialization of labor, opened a wide variety of areas for people to make a living.
In an advanced market system, individuals did not have to provide for all of their own needs. They could develop expertise in what most interested them (or at least in what they thought was available). So, the trader principle solidified. With the creation of wealth also came the resources and time to dedicate to tasks normally of less concern: academic or intellectual tasks. The intellectual pursuits arose fairly recently as a worldwide dimension of human undertaking. Prior to emergence of advanced economies, neither the wealth nor the demand for a professional group of thinkers existed. Most abstract thinking was done by a select few such as clergymen or members of governmental or aristocratic establishments. Now, however, a great many people are able to make a living by studying, interpreting, and distributing ideas. Fields of work such as the human sciences have been thoroughly established in our culture.
In any age or culture, people hold a given set of ideas about what human relationships entail. For example, they have ideas about what kinds of behaviors are permissible or expected. These ideas are usually in accordance with the predominant intellectual views. Such ideas are developed—or at least systematized and made explicit—primarily by philosophers. They are then propagated by intellectual centers such as universities. They transmit through society in many ways: literary works and movies; television, print, and Internet media; primary and secondary schools; community institutions and organizations; and the whole political arena. This transmission of ideas influences the trends in society’s general ideologies.
Clearly, we live amid the ideas of the culture. As we mature, we can be influenced heavily by these intellectual factors—as well as family factors. Children learn a great deal by watching others act. When we are young, others are the main frame of reference by which to judge what personhood is all about. We form a philosophy from these experiences and influences, a system of ideas that represents our views of life. For instance we develop knowledge about morality and human relationships. However, we may never actually recognize and define this as a philosophy. The level of awareness we bring to it can vary considerably.
Typically, philosophical premises are not understood explicitly by the young. A generalized, vague, and sketchy system is formed in childhood and adolescence; it may or may not be reflected on as one matures to adulthood. Many factors affect whether philosophical premises are made entirely explicit. In general though, the more a person wants to differentiate assorted ideologies, the more he or she will succeed. Discovery and application of beneficial principles has to be kept a priority.
Every person uses some form of philosophy in order to make decisions and exercise judgment. Philosophy assists to guide one throughout life. The opposite of being philosophical is, of course, being lost in particulars, concretes, and derivative issues, unable to relate them to principles, unable to make things comprehensible.
So, either one can make one’s philosophy explicit and integrate the terms involved—or one can hope for the best in what one has absorbed from the culture (and family).80 We can accept, implicitly and mostly unwittingly, whatever system is offered in our surroundings. Like the rising and setting of the sun, “cultural osmosis” happens effortlessly.
Yet, if we do not shine the light of logic on a particular philosophy, chances are high that we will not think much about it. Even though we may use it almost reflexively, the philosophy will remain more or less implicit. In this process we can reach many subjective, illogical conclusions. The pitfalls definitely are not small in number.
The explicit integration of logical philosophical premises necessarily fills in the blank spots of cognition and interpretation about the world. As we have seen, logical philosophical premises are needed in order to properly think, judge, and act—that is, in order to live independently and happily. Granted, in a culture of capitalism, implicit acceptance of the dominant ideas would not be as harmful as today. However, only an explicitly defined logical philosophy would enable one to think in terms of principles and, therefore, to use one’s best judgment. Indeed, immersion in the reality of a capitalistic society would make it virtually impossible—outside of being a total recluse—to not have at least a rudimentary understanding of the culture’s philosophy.
The human conceptual faculty attains mental health by seeking logical clarity. And only with a high degree of intellectual independence can human beings maintain a society with objective laws. We are quite fortunate that key logical philosophical premises have already been identified. In the past, humans lacked the incalculable advantage of this philosophical knowledge. Yet, even though mental growth and political progress were more difficult, the striving for logical clarity by active minds continued.
As noted, discovery of philosophical truths depends on the current hierarchy and context of knowledge. In some instances, though, the mind of a genius may discover that which other active minds had difficulty discovering (which is simply the nature of genius and of human discovery). The task for human beings in any age is to recognize truth when it is discovered and appreciate valid knowledge when it is presented.
Yet, most fields of work usually involve specific tasks and reality-based problem solving—and little philosophical reflection. Since an advanced civilization comprises an extremely complex set of interactions and tasks, individuals plainly can only focus on a particular area of expertise. After all, a specific career represents an embodiment of the fullest use of one’s mind and ability. It consists of ever-progressing work and achievement.
Most people attempt to find a balance between routine tasks and more creative ones, depending on their present values or stage in life and their basic intellectual capacities (and oftentimes the current economic and political conditions). One’s occupation is naturally a matter of personal context, preference, and values.
Individuals in this country and around the world who realize that nothing will get done without effort must be saluted. They perform tasks that keep civilization alive and prospering. They build high quality products, conduct dignified commerce, offer superb services, and do incredibly demanding tasks. They also establish the pride and piece of mind that come from pushing one’s mind and body to the limit on whatever job needing done. A strong work ethic contributes to the accomplishments in so many sectors of the economy. The list is practically endless: the vast service industry, the various construction and repair trades, engineering, agriculture, textiles, natural resource production, high tech fields such as computers or aerospace, and so on.
Obviously, it is impossible for a person to be a complete master of many (or even a few) vocations. We have only a certain amount of time to experience, think, integrate, relate, perform and practice—all the while, never losing sight of two goals: achievement and happiness. Under these circumstances, many may figure that so long as they are productive in their own work environments, everything in society will turn out for the better. As a result, they may conclude that people in other areas of specialization, such as the intellectual pursuits, have their own set of problems and tasks to deal with.
The intellectual fields, indeed, are occupations in which philosophical thinking is more common. However, from the standpoint of a rational human being, in any occupation, philosophy is indispensable. A human being has a need to be a complete organism of thought and action. A man should be both a man of the mind and a man of action. A woman should be both a woman of the mind and a woman of action. A person who acts should do so based on principles made explicit and verified through the process of logic. A person who thinks should do so based on the observable implications of ideas, rationally identified outcomes, and logical deduction and inference. In truth, a society of thinkers should be a society of doers; they should be one and the same.
With capitalism, a minority of people would never think for the majority and determine their ideas. Certainly, the intellectual professions would still exist, but they would strive for more clarity. They would recognize the various contradictions, fallacies, and non sequiturs that are undercutting our civilization and affecting people negatively. The denial of objectivity is the flawed foundation on which our culture rests.
An illogical system can only continue to flourish by appealing to ignorance, apathy, or fundamental self-doubt. That one can think and judge for oneself and that one can act competently in accordance with thought and judgment becomes de-emphasized within such a system. Laypeople may even tell themselves that self-doubt is warranted, because surely groups of professionals in a complex society know more than the individual—surely a panel of “experts” knows best—surely the collective is a better judge of reality and what is good for a person than that person.
Irrational values stem from irrational motivations, both of which prosper in a psychological climate where aspects of pseudo self-esteem replace self-esteem. Of course, the culture or society per se does not maliciously create this situation (i.e., no great plan exists to destroy the beauty of human existence). But adults do have the choice to maintain certain levels of unawareness. They also have the choice to nurture the rationality of the child or to discourage and short-circuit it (which may echo their own childhood history). If they choose the latter, then in certain respects the child may begin to think that adults (and later as an adult, just other people) understand things that he or she cannot understand, know things that he or she cannot know, perceive things that he or she cannot perceive. In subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, a child may be led to believe that others will always know more than he or she; others are better equipped to judge aspects of reality.
When nations of productive people quibble over only the effects of various intellectual doctrines (rather than the logic of the doctrines themselves), they fail to break out of a flawed mold of collectivistic thinking. Their social milieu can become one in which any significant form of independence is shunned, and obedience and servility to the group is praised, like in all the tribes of yore. Such social systems encourage millions, actually billions, of people to follow the given context. The performance unhealthy and even life-threatening tasks is considered customary. In all the frantic or anxious productivity, few ask if frustration and unhappiness have to be intrinsic to material progress.
With genuine productiveness, mental progress must occur. Obviously, just pretending to understand the nature of one’s predicament does not fulfill the unabated need for clarity. Simply working hard does not satisfy a rational being’s need to be aware of its internal and external surroundings—and this noticeably includes the political context in which one is working. Even though our capacity for self-delusion is endless, we can never fool the real inner-self—the one emanating from childhood that initially demanded rationality and comprehension of its surroundings.
Today, those who choose a profession of abstract thinking and contemplation—those who deal with philosophical ideas—bear a great responsibility. They must respectfully consider the moral implications and practical outcomes of their theories. Regularly, they have suffered the same troublesome effects of the ideas that afflict everyone outside their profession. Irrespective of the type, the mistaken or misguided premises currently in operation have definitely done their damage—more than most people realize.
The best rectification, consequently, would be to start over with the guidance of reason and the method of logic. This, of course, entails contesting very entrenched ideological (and emotional) systems. Nevertheless, such a rectification provides a vision of heroic individuals that hold no higher values than truth, self-esteem, and a concomitant society of blissful and benevolent progress. In the end, nothing in the universe is worth the cost of sacrificing preeminent values.
The interpretation and implementation of ideas by active minds is something we need to see in society. Rather than becoming further distanced from reality and from our true identity, we need a philosophical mindset grounded by reason and rooted in reality. Implicit in such an attitude is a set of ethical premises. These premises foster a better relationship with ourselves and reality—and by extension, with other people. So, the third branch of philosophy, ethics, is the main topic to which we now turn.
Freedom—An Ethical Issue
When psychological processes lead people to a realm in which trials and tribulations of human relationships are the overriding issue in life—rather than life itself—it indicates that we have drifted off ethical course. Ethics is the branch of philosophy dealing with the theoretical aspects of morality and moral codes. While morality has been explained throughout this book as the application of the laws of reality to ensure individual survival, we must delve into the topic further. Since morality has to do with values and virtues, it also has to do with how people should behave toward each other.
Many college ethics classes focus on the forms of morality that deny the importance of the self. Morality can be an emotional topic, and sometimes critical analysis may be lacking. For instance, an ethics class might not elucidate the essential flaws in moral codes such as John Stuart Mill’s (or Jeremy Bentham’s) utilitarian ethics or Emmanuel Kant’s ethics of duty.
In the classroom, one may even encounter a lack of recognition of what most moral doctrines really ask of the individual. Instead, most of the doctrines might be upheld with somewhat equal plausibility. Because virtually all the doctrines presented are just variations on the same general theme, the theme of self-sacrifice, it is no wonder that few can decide which doctrine is “best.” As a result, students normally leave an ethics class bewildered or dissatisfied. This definitely does not bode well. After all, we need to rely on some code of values and virtues to guide our actions, some system of identifications to assist in determining good and bad, right and wrong.
As mentioned much earlier, values are things one acts to gain and/or keep. Virtues are the ways in which one acts to gain and/or keep values.76 These definitions are simple enough and not really an issue of dispute for most people when discussing morality. The controversy usually arises when one attempts to discern what these values and virtues should be and who or what they should serve. Do they primarily tell us how we should deal with other people, or do they reveal how we should deal with reality and ourselves and then, secondarily, other people?
Thus a main question for morality is this: Is one’s life the ultimate standard of value, or are other people’s lives? By what standard do we judge one’s actions to be good or bad? If one chooses others as the standard, then who are these people, what ideas do they hold, and more importantly, how or by what standard do they judge morality?
Codes of morality are necessarily devised in existence. In fact, no ethics could ever be formulated unless reasoning beings existed and survival was the underlying driving force in their activities (the pursuit of values). The basic choice for anyone, then, is either to honor reality-based survival and well-being or to mostly ignore their significance—and search for something supposedly more important or more essential.
This sort of search, of course, is in vain. Reality is needed to verify the ideas and actions that ensure survival and a healthy mental state. We can only correctly determine right and wrong, good and bad, when we first look to reality and the conditions for life itself. Only after we have done this can we determine how people should treat and deal with each other.
So, to survive healthily and happily we must take reality seriously and as a primary. Only a reality-based ethics abides by the laws of nature, which includes human nature. With an ethical system rooted in and derived from reality, instead of other people, we can determine an objective value system. With an objective value system, we neither encounter nor create any large or irreconcilable conflicts of interest or clashes of behavior.
Since values must relate to dealing with reality so that mental and physical benefit are ensured, logically one’s own spiritual and material values take precedence. Values such as reason, logic, authentic self-esteem, enlightened self-concept, active mind, brilliant sense of life, and productive achievement (purpose) can be considered primary. Virtues are the complex ways we sustain and improve these and other values. Thus, rationality, integrity, independence, responsibility, honesty, productiveness, and so on, can be considered primary virtues.
Other values and virtues arise from these primaries. Values such as love (in all its forms) and friendship, and virtues such as empathy, understanding, benevolence, generosity, and goodwill, flow from primary values. Also, many material values promote pleasure and quality of life. Ultimately, all reality-oriented values and virtues mesh and interact as a sum total of what a human being deems essential in life.
In contrast to an objective code of morality, however, a social-based ethics typically admires only derivative virtues—such as caring, concern, benevolence, compassion, hospitality, generosity, helpfulness, politeness, friendliness, and kindness. Indeed, these are important and desirable virtues. But a social-based code of morality hampers formulation of the primary values by which these virtues can be maintained.
If the primary values—such as reason, purpose, and self-esteem—are bypassed, a society of lasting kindness and goodwill becomes less likely. We already know what happens in the realm of politics. For people to be genuinely benevolent and respectful of self and others, their minds must not be placed on a sacrificial alter in homage to authority and the collective.
If we treat human relationships as an irreducible primary, we do not do justice to human beings or to reality. Such a practice only adds confusion to ethics, and it can foster neuroses that are overlooked as normal human behaviors. In all its endless variations, a social-based ethics can also be called a morality of dependence; nearly everything about ethics is stated in relation to others.
That morality concerns principally how we should treat other people is a very persistent idea. For instance, some uphold obedience (“discipline”) and socialization as the greatest goods for the child’s development. But these so-called virtues plainly are no replacement for development of a rational mind. The adult yearning for children to be altruistic, empathetic, and caring signifies somewhat flawed interpretations of these terms. Young children usually spontaneously see the alleviation of distress of others as important; they commonly see helping others as the way to make the situation better—so that all can enjoy further activities. In contrast, many adults see helping others as an end in itself; they see it as a means to artificially tie people together—so that the natural helping attitude of children is replaced with insincerity and duty (and guilt from potentially being too selfish). Since these adults obviously were children once, what happened to their initial mindset?
Essentially, adults can lose the confidence they had as small children. Early on, children are not frightened of the unknown and the uncertain. They have yet to become preoccupied with self-doubt (and all the complex ways of avoiding this feeling). If the independent and assertive attitude gets minimized in a culture, demands or requests for sacrifices—as well as desires to be taken care of—become the recurring themes.
A social-based ethics is normally accompanied by the sacrifice of self to others or the sacrifice of others to self. Particular emotions follow from this respectively: shame, guilt, humility, and servility (and corresponding resentment) or anger, avarice, hostility, and disrespect (and corresponding cruel indifference).
No matter how much efficacy one tries to attain, one is never enough with the dependent morality. Being good enough (or having moral certainty, for that matter) becomes hard to establish, both consciously and subconsciously, because this personal judgment has been deferred to others. One’s worth depends chiefly on how one deals with others. Because it is tied to others, it must be constantly proven and defended. Thus, one will seldom look to reality—and to the self—for validation and acceptance. Thoughts of one’s mortality and objective reality will no longer seem to be of much concern. Additionally, most of one’s accomplishments primarily will be gauged in relation to the accomplishments of others.
Since a morality derived from how people should treat each other tends to disconnect itself from reality-oriented values and virtues, it tends to disconnect individuals from their own lives. Yet very few in our culture can escape the pressures placed on us to twist our mind and perform this kind of disconnection. No doubt most of us have been affected by social influences to unduly appease, satisfy, impress, please, placate, help, or forgive others.
From childhood onward, most individuals are admonished for being “selfish.” Despite their feelings in this matter, most are often instructed to anticipate the expectations and guess the needs of others—so that they can be socially appealing, polite, and acceptable. The rule is not to observe reality and act accordingly, but to observe others and act accordingly. Sometimes, even adoration is directed at a person who attempts to become selfless. A person must disregard the rational needs of self to fulfill supposedly higher goals—such as the needs of other selves.
Yet, acceptance of the services of a decidedly selfless person is, of course, also being selfish. Apparently, then, there must be only givers and no receivers. Perhaps if one tries to accept a giver’s offerings with total selflessness, then it is not being selfish. Maybe if one discounts personal desires and satisfaction, then one can never be selfish. Clearly, this sort of ethics can turn into a contest that subverts the nature of a human being to experience enjoyment and happiness. After all, to not benefit selfishly from a pleasurable activity is impossible.
In modern usage, selfishness is mostly a pejorative term. It probably has always been one. Selfishness is viewed as an insensitive (or even wicked) attitude only concerned with benefits for oneself. Being selfish entails disregarding others (or not sharing with them) and, especially, not considering the psychological harm done to them.
However, in reality, every individual ought to be exclusively self-interested. His or her own values are primaries. If one practices rational self-interest (or enlightened selfishness), one is naturally considerate of the views and needs of others—that is, when appropriate. Individuals of high self-esteem factor in the interests of others when they are involved. One’s self-interest in social contexts is thus furthered. After all, conflict, deception, and thoughtlessness are rarely conducive to getting one’s needs met or desires fulfilled.
So upon inspection, we discover that selfishness is an anti-concept; it mixes valid and invalid meanings. It seeks to deny that a person must—by nature—be selfish, or self-interested. The motives for using “selfish” to describe inconsiderate behavior tend to be more unsettling than simple semantics.
A society that continually upholds selfless action as the good and selfish (or self-interested) action as the bad, fosters many expectations or demands or wishes about how people should act and treat others. This can generate a psychology of peevishness when others do not exhibit a sufficient amount of humility, servitude, obsequiousness, or groveling in order satisfy the requisite norms. People perhaps seek the assurance that they are not the only ones participating in a dependant code of morality. They might conclude that to sacrifice one’s true ambitions, interests, and integrity (and resent those who have not), is much easier than to uphold a reality-based system of values with self-esteem as a foremost goal.
Inconsiderate behavior definitely involves disrespect of self and others. It may indicate a lack of self-understanding and self-appreciation (lack of self-respect), which reflects itself in a social context. Moreover, a petty self-absorbed attitude (i.e., narcissism), regardless of whether it offends others or disregards their context, is certainly a phenomenon of the insecure. It exhibits a lack of a fully-formed and confident self.
What is the appropriate response to these kinds of behaviors? If the relationship is important, one attempts to understand the person’s psychological context, discover the underlying causes, and help increase his or her awareness. If the relationship is not important, one respectfully asserts one’s interests and leaves it at that. To merely label someone’s attitude or behavior as being selfish may be easier, but it is neither accurate nor helpful. Incidentally, this applies to any superficial label; labeling is disabling.
Rather than accuse others of being selfish, we need to appreciate and admire genuine acts of self-assertion. Rather than claim that the world seems to be disintegrating because people are not selfless enough, we need to integrate a logical code of ethics—one that remedies value-system deficiencies. A noble civilization must dispense with name-calling and examine the code of morality that encourages it.
A moral code that embraces most things other than independence and that extols “caring” as one of the highest virtues has other dire consequences. Such an ethics induces guilt and teaches people to be altruistic—that is, willing to sacrifice their time, money, and effort for any person or persons desiring to put a claim on them. This is all thought to make the world a better place. Proponents of this moral code rarely ask why individuals seem to always need help from others and what causes unwarranted dependence.
Since everyone is in need in one way or another, need is therefore context dependent. But ethics can be turned into a game designed to rationalize deficient behavior. It can be designed to deny two principles: that help given to anyone should be sincere rather than dutiful, and that self-sufficiency is a beneficial virtue. Those who are not able to function completely on their own obviously have a different metaphysical situation. Compassionate individuals and charitable organizations are free to assist them. They are free to determine when (and why) people genuinely need help.
Most current existential assistance (particularly that provided by groups) is inadequate for effecting true change—no matter how beneficial it may be for the short-term. Whether many of the accomplishments of humanitarian organizations throughout the world (for example, the Peace Corps) are all that valuable for the recipients (especially for the long-term) is debatable. Whether those who work on the ground level of these organizations agree with many of the directives given to them to essentially meddle in others’ affairs is also open to question.
The problematic, political nature of the business creates these problems. The corrupt systems of government and welfare-States throughout their regions of work contribute substantially to various humanitarian failures and inadequacies. Unfortunately, aid organizations typically concede the same premises about the rule of people. At best, they advocate Democracy, in which non-objective law presides and people remain locked in their impoverished situations.
The real reasons for such desperate and dire conditions as in third-world countries, and even in developed inner cities, have to be directly dealt with. The plight of indigent people can only be remedied by instituting the values of liberty. Capitalism’s dramatic changes would empower individuals. Economic growth, rapid innovation, and technological advances would be the real keys to helping those in need (whatever their particular needs might be). And these forms of assistance would never ask for sacrifices.
In contrast to altruism, rational self-interest asks for independence and a world in which people view help as a dignified exception, not as a sanctified right. Herein rests the dependent morality’s stranglehold on people’s lives: Rather than being kind and compassionate, continual altruistic service verges on plain cruelty. It keeps otherwise competent individuals, albeit in alleged need, relegated to a perceived state of inability, helplessness, and hopelessness. So long as these individuals are encouraged to be dependent rather than self-sufficient (i.e., so long as they are given disincentives to become independent), assisting them ought not be called “moral.” To stifle positive psychological and economic change in society is not moral.
What is moral is the promotion of Self-Governing Capitalism, which is the only system beneficial to everyone’s rational self-interest and particular level of ability, or inability.
As noted, the general theme of sacrifice can be found in every social-based ethics and dependent code of morality. Not surprisingly, sacrifice is mentioned commonly in political and in religious contexts. In order to comprehend with clarity this widespread doctrine, we must once again define our terms. It is the multifaceted usage and implications of the concept that are of concern.
The following definition—which will be called the objective definition—is immeasurably helpful in understanding the concept. Sacrifice is defined as: the giving up or relinquishing of a higher value in favor of a lower or lesser value, or even no value at all.76 Clearly, any rational person would want to avoid such an act.
As one might suspect, the objective definition can conflict with the usual way sacrifice is meant to be interpreted and applied. A common dictionary meaning is “to give up a valued thing for the sake of something more important or worthy.” This suggests that sacrifice is something one ought to do. Even though it might entail a loss of something important, one attains something supposedly better.
Yet, because of the various connotations that accompany the common meaning, sacrifice can be used very ambiguously. For example, it can mean merely the abandonment of one value for another, with no distinction made about which value was more important. It can mean the relinquishment of a great value for a supposedly greater value, for instance a “societal” value. It may describe a change or rearrangement of one’s hierarchy of values, that is, letting go of past values. It can also describe the acquisition or preservation of genuine values at the expense of time and effort. Lastly, it can describe “selfless” actions done in the name of country, community, group, or family. There simply is no end to the equivocation of the term. It is basically a result of a society that has chosen no objective reference or guide by which to judge virtue.
When it is used indiscriminately for so many types of behavior, “sacrifice” is plainly an anti-concept. It obfuscates rather than clarifies. The objective definition avoids such confusion, since it does not follow that sacrifice entails giving up some lesser value for a greater value. Sacrifice means giving up a higher value for a lower value.
The relinquishment of any value in favor of a lesser value or non-value sets a rational organism against itself and its capability to survive. Sacrifice is a descent along the path of decay, which if left unchecked and not reversed, will lead to debilitation or even death. The complete sacrifice is the annihilation of the self for some purportedly higher value.
However, the anti-concept of sacrifice can be used to connote an image that one is performing a glorified duty that transcends any individual value. The person preaching sacrifice usually gives little recognition to the fact that the only moral values are individual values, no matter how many people espouse or practice them. Yet those who ask for sacrifices often know full well what people must give up. To obtain sacrificees, they depend on misguided value systems.
No greater cause exists than the achievement of one’s own values. Any attempt to refute this is self-contradictory—it is attempting to live outside oneself, in the minds and expectations of others. Therefore, striving for rational values is not a sacrifice. Acting in self-defense is not a sacrifice. Participating in a cause that cultivates or protects individualism and human rights is not a sacrifice. Safeguarding and providing for those we love and value is not a sacrifice. Compromising with those who share our principles and standards is not a sacrifice. Assisting those in need on the basis of their struggle to be virtuous (e.g., independent) is not a sacrifice. Following our greatest ambitions is not a sacrifice. Honoring the self is not a sacrifice.
Any value that is worth the struggle to attain ought not involve sacrifices. To contend otherwise implies that one’s lesser values are just as important as (or actually more important than) one’s greater values; it implies that life is not a progression of achievements, but rather a difficult game of trade-offs that involve losses much of the time. Here, the sense of life sadly speaks for itself. The doctrine of sacrifice reflects an attitude of self-pity—a view that life is an uphill battle.
That we must relinquish formerly important values to pursue newly important ones requires mental flexibility. We have to prioritize what we value. This is a sizable issue in parenting, for example. A prevalent idea is that parents supposedly sacrifice themselves and their desires for their children. If one truly values one’s children more than the values one relinquished to have them, one happily accepts the responsibilities of parenthood. Logically, one does not make sacrifices to do this. Any actual sacrifices, however, reveal a different story. Parents might then search for a scapegoat for their own choices.
Some parents may say that their goal in life is to give their children a better life than they. And so, sacrifices need to be made. To squelch a part of one’s self is supposedly all right because one benefits others in the process. The effects of this viewpoint tend to be twofold. First, it allows parental life to become stale, mundane, or even awful. Parents do whatever work, not because they personally desire it, but mostly for the benefit of their children. They make the age-old sacrifices that substitute for achieving self-esteem, realizing ambitions, and attaining happiness. Second, it creates a neurotic psychological tool (in line with the dependent morality) known as unearned guilt. Parents may seek to have their children feel guilty about their reliance on parents for sustenance. Often they expect their children to make sacrifices in turn. In addition, parents may have hopes (or demands) of achievement for their children despite their sons’ or daughters’ interests.
Normally, children find this whole situation perplexing and frustrating. They may form antagonistic relationships with their parents. They might rebel against the demands placed on their time and labor (and not live up to parental expectations). Or, they might spend a good deal of time trying to be the perfect child. Being perfect may entail making payment on the debt one incurred with one’s supposedly selfless parents.
The greatest contradiction here is the belief that sacrifice—either espousing it or indulging in it—is beneficial for anyone. In terms of personal evolution, sacrifice is nothing but a side-road leading to a dead-end. And it demands further sacrifices from others to avoid recognition of this. Eventually, no one has a real self; just selfless thoughts and actions for others remain (who also have no real selves). Not surprisingly, feelings of resentment, contempt, envy, jealousy, and guilt become predominant, which are the ancient masks for insecurity and diminished self-worth.
To constantly show examples of self-sacrifice—and claim the good in it—will rarely engender authentic respect and admiration. Only by pursuing our highest values will we encourage children to pursue their highest values. In the process, we will be able to provide for them greatly.
An ethics devised solely from human relationships has no direct reference to reality. Judgment of what is good and what is bad—and also what is right and what is wrong—becomes mere opinion. Morality becomes subjective and relative. As a result, people may take actions that could never be objectively deemed life-generating and life-sustaining.
In addition, various types of short-range hedonism that are destructive of long-range values are sometimes considered to be self-interested actions: Life is about indiscriminate pleasure, some say—irrespective of its mental and physical consequences. Predictably, the life and well-being of the individual are viewed at times to be expendable. A mixed bag of contradictions, fallacies, and non sequiturs tends to reinforce unhealthy attitudes and actions.
What also keeps this deterioration of logic intact are rationalizations. One rationalization (which is taught to students frequently) declares that objectivity does not exist; only the subjective and the relative exist. Those who have habitually upheld contradictions fail to inspect whether this declaration is an objective one. They typically proceed to claim that there are no absolute truths. Whether this is an absolutely true claim apparently makes no difference either. The fallacies of self-exclusion and stolen concept simply go unnoticed.
Rationalizations of this sort permeate our culture implicitly too. They exist as the untold and unstated agreements between those who believe that contradictions are okay, mainly because they make them feel better. Some may find it disturbing to see behavior and thoughts objectively, because objectivity protects no one from his or her pretenses or possible shortcomings. Instead, objectivity illuminates proper values and acts of virtue and restores well-being.
A psychology that rationalizes its unhealthy practices is in a precarious position. Defensiveness and techniques of intimidation may be used as support. Conversely, guilt, shame, and humility help to maintain deficient practices. Since issues concerning self-concept are not confronted, such behavior reinforces itself and solidifies.
Various psychological patterns can take their toll on a person’s will to understand: chronic mistaken evaluation of situations; large reliance on emotions for cognitive guidance; and submission to particular influences to disown the self and renounce moral certainty.
Such practices usually commence in childhood. With pressures to conform to adult expectations and the prescribed manner of dealing with people, a child sooner or later can become quite distanced from reality. Losing sight that reality can be one’s closest friend and safeguard is part of the process of fearing the judgment of others and doubting one’s mind to interpret facts.
Reality can be comforting when one’s relationships with others have become disorienting and unpredictable. A certitude and strength is gained by accurately identifying and interpreting reality. Apart from all the lunacy, inanity, and senselessness that may occur among people, physical reality will always have its own stability and certain properties: Reality will never uphold or enforce contradictions.
But fears of parental rebuke and rejection can lead a child to doubt his or her own assessment of the world (that may oppose theirs). The fateful step is taken when the child places faith in others judgment and rulings, rather than continues to question the propriety of their values and behavior.
Conformity to a flawed ethical system is furthered by praise and rewards, both emotional and physical, for appeasing significant others. This can be appealing. The child may succumb to a secure feeling that he or she will be taken care of by others—others will provide the necessary interpretations of reality. All that is required of the child is agreement (even if only subconsciously) with this state of affairs.
As a consequence, autonomous characteristics may come to be seen as anomalous or even unappealing. Some may even believe that there is little to gain from and offer to others (in an emotional way) who either do not display obedience or do not project an air of superiority. Additionally, a repressed fear of upsetting others can lead to a hatred of them. Such a fear can turn the child or adult into someone who wants to control the consciousness of others. In a vain attempt to be emotionally satisfied, manipulative or tyrannical behavior can be part of the psychology also. The dependent or social-based ethics renders its twisted forms pseudo self-esteem.
As one matures, such instances of dependence are supported by the culture. One can find a plethora of advice-givers, counselors, decision-advisors, leaders, commentators, pundits, holy men/preachers, gurus, and even psychics, who want to filter and interpret reality for others and guide their way. However unwittingly, many of these various filterers fail to honor the nature of human consciousness. Individuals are fully capable of making sense of the world on their own. They need no one to stand between them and reality. This only diverts the task of independent thought and judgment.
In order to have invigorating and healthy relationships we must take reality and our own well-being as primaries. Doing so provides us a sound standard of judgment by which to determine good and bad, beneficial and harmful. Objectivity in ethics allows us to see the light of day and, if need be, adjust our values accordingly. A rational moral code is definitely a dramatic step forward for our species, whose members have tended to deny or misinterpret their individual worth and greatness.
In Our Own Image And Likeness
Implicit in the preceding sections has been the idea that Self-Governing Capitalism will mark one of the greatest evolutionary transformations since humans developed the capacity to reason (which made them human). This transformation will occur not by direct, natural selection through factors in mutation. Rather, it will occur by the effective use of a naturally selected, adaptive function: volition.
History reveals the occasional failure of this adaptive function in its capacity to benefit the human organism. Accordingly, illogical thought (and subsequent improper action) could be termed maladaptive. More often than not, it is detrimental to survival, despite being an effect of a beneficial capacity. With volition comes some degree of maladaptiveness—due to its nature of learning from mistakes and the sometimes complicated process of grasping reality correctly.
For any reasoning being, choice will always be a primary, although a great deal of refinement of this capacity (along with the mind in general) is certainly possible. For instance, a reasoning mind could evolve to make faster integrations of knowledge or assimilations of information. It might even be able to entertain multiple thought processes at multiple levels of abstraction simultaneously. Or, it could have more capability to recognize and interpret subtle emotions and heed internal signals (i.e., more emotional intelligence). Or it could form a greater capability to concentrate and focus on all perceived information. Or it could have greatly enhanced memory capability and utilization. (Indeed, at least some of these attributes may be the destiny of computer-based robots, as well as human brains with computer interfaces, in the not-too-distant future.)
While all these changes add up to more intelligence and more capability, they would never produce a totally infallible mental mechanism. Much of what we know about the nature of intelligence points to the acquired ability to correct errors, learn from them, and expand into previously unknown areas of discovery.
With choice, risks will always be involved. By choosing one course of action we immediately eliminate others. Only with the epistemological (and hence, physical) impossibility of knowing everything could an organism not risk making a mistake or not risk taking a less than optimal course of action. Oftentimes, the “optimal” course of action depends on one’s particular situation and context of knowledge. Hindsight may enable us to notice whether our specific choices were less than optimal. But there is nothing we can do to reverse our choices; we can only learn from them.
Yet, in concert with exposure to non-objective value systems, children may be encouraged to see parents and significant others as omniscient, infallible, and omnipotent. From a child’s point of view, adults seem to know almost everything, appear to hardly ever make mistakes, and seem to control and do just about anything. Clearly, if adults do not inform and show children that none of these three mystical properties are possible, many psychological problems can be created. Specifically, individuals may spend much of their time trying to live up to unrealistic expectations (both of others and themselves).
Omniscience, infallibility, and omnipotence are invalid as well as anti-concepts. They cannot be applied in reality and are impossible attributes that attempt to undermine the meaning of rational cognition and human ability. Irrespective of what entity or nonentity is accredited with having these special powers, they can affect one’s sense of confidence in one’s mental and physical abilities.
Concepts of this sort probably have arisen out of a general discomfort or uncertainty with mental and physical effort, as well as a misunderstanding of reason. Instead of accepting the metaphysically given—that humans are finite and have definite limitations—some proceeded to wish of defying their own identity. They envisioned a life without restrictions or limitations, a life without the laws of reality. Since their wishes could not come true, they simply gave them to supernatural beings they could never equal.
The idea of knowing everything is certainly a fanciful dream. If one could be omniscient, then there would be no need to discuss or reflect on anything; it would already be known. Every problem and task would be solved and remedied, and knowledge would be total and all-encompassing. In a sense one would be like the mythical couple in “paradise,” Adam and Eve, who had nothing to do and no real reason to engage in any activity (at least before “The Fall”). In addition, communication and concepts themselves would not be necessary, because everything would already be understood and explained. We could go on and on attempting to imagine an omniscient consciousness. But, plainly, it is contradictory for any finite being to know everything. Moreover, the age-old idea that an “infinite being” can know everything is beyond logical discussion.
Yet we can still be significantly affected by the concept of omniscience. For instance, many people still expect individuals to somehow feel guilty about being uninformed or lacking knowledge. Though our level of knowledge normally has a bearing on our abilities and skills, the ideas of omniscience and infallibility can only detract from the cultivation of confidence and competence. Parents (and other children), for example, may be quick to disgrace a child for not knowing something or not doing something correctly.
Clearly, this type of ridicule can promote self-doubt and separation from reality-oriented thinking. For an adult, it can generate uneasiness, frustration, and even hatred in all sorts of environments. In fact, capitulation to the demands of impossible concepts such as omniscience and infallibility can make the processes of learning and working quite hellish. It can make one’s activities seem difficult, anxious, and dreary.
Whatever the profession, some individuals may desire to play the role of omniscient instructor, boss, leader, manager, worker, and so forth. Those who lack the necessary knowledge to perform a task need to understand the meaning of such role-playing. To act guiltily or anxiously or angrily is to support the mentality of the “authority figure.” The situation oftentimes could be much different if those involved were to see the posturing or the demanding of omniscience for what it is. This, of course, requires an understanding and acceptance of the nature of one’s consciousness.
The human mind needs conditions to function and expand its abilities. Sometimes a lack of knowledge may lead to the false belief that someone knows something one cannot know. Sadly, some may even conclude that a more knowledgeable person has more worth or value on account of this. (The morality of sacrifice has relied on this sort of notion for centuries.)
Grasping and dealing with reality, whatever one’s level of knowledge, should never entail a question of our worthiness. Once again, our self-worth need not be an issue for debate (consciously or subconsciously). A person represents values and virtues, and these are rightly determined by focusing on reality and the requirements of life. Thus, our culture’s near obsession with comparison and competitiveness between individuals is unwarranted.
Yet this is not the way some may see the acquisition of knowledge and skills, and deal with others who have more. They may feel as though their lives depended on striving for some sort of omniscience. This may be partially due to their anxiety about those who seem bent on inhibiting people instead of inspiring them. Those who belittle the value of others and exploit fears are certainly in a troubled psychological state. Frequently, in fact, their world also revolves around how others assess them and how they size up against them. In other words, their subconscious is overridden by social concerns. Perceived threats and insults tend to take center stage in their mind. By having distanced themselves from objective reality to such a degree (perhaps due to initial fears of not being good enough or fit for existence in the eyes of significant others), they seek a tenuous amelioration by trying to control others through emotional exploitation.
Control of others can serve as a substitute for self-esteem. One can be a master, not of reality, but of others. Oftentimes the person seen as an intimidator directly relies on others’ insecurities about omniscience, infallibility, and omnipotence. Again, because the participants usually do not focus on the underlying nature of their predicament (and the nature of their self-sacrifice), they often do not deal with the situation appropriately. Intimidators are stopped in their tracks, psychologically, when they no longer have others’ perceived inadequacies and negative emotions to feed on.
In order to create healthy conditions for personal growth and psychological progress we have to see the nature of our consciousness and our value clearly. What makes us most equipped for life is not how much we know, but the way in which we obtain new knowledge and use the knowledge we do have. Do we use our knowledge to (however subconsciously) intimidate, manipulate, and control others? Or do we use it to deal proficiently with reality and appropriately with others—and encourage and respect them along the way? It is obvious which of the two methods reflects the morality of reason and rational self-interest. To reiterate, by virtue of existing in the universe we are fit for life and worthy of it. Others may help or hinder recognition of this irrefutable observation. But how we react to their practices (that evidence their own strengths or shortcomings) is our decision.
The idea of infallibility has the potential for generating as much guilt and worry as the idea of omniscience. In fact the two ideas are linked. As we discussed earlier, for a rational organism to never make an error, it would have to know every possible alternative; it would have to be omniscient. Nevertheless, we can continue to feel guilty or worried about making mistakes—even though we know we are going to make them. One can clearly see how these two anti-concepts utilize each other to ruin genuinely spontaneous and effective functioning.
As an anti-concept, infallibility is something we are told exists only for supernatural “entities,” but not for human beings. We are told that perfection is simply impossible for lesser beings, such as people. Based on this view we sometimes hear the phrase, “But we are only human.” Of course this can be taken to mean that we should recognize our capabilities. However, such a phrase often implies that a human being is somehow inadequate or less than optimal; it will never live up to the imagined ideal. The ideal represents some vague mystical thing that will forever be superior to us.
While “perfect” can describe something that is flawless according to a specific standard, the idea of being perfect according to an impossible standard is nonsensical. Perfection (reflecting infallibility) in this context is therefore another anti-concept.
Perfection for us should have a rational standard that incorporates fallibility. It should mean the ability to function in accordance with our nature. The rational standard is the nature of human consciousness——its normal attributes, properties, processes, and so on. This necessarily includes making mistakes and regulating our thoughts and behavior appropriately. In other words, a perfect person is an authentically thinking and feeling person.
The nature of human consciousness is fallible in respect to acquiring knowledge, and it is fallible and limited at times in utilizing memory to embellish and refine this knowledge. The mental connections we can make are made possible fundamentally by factors in our biological structure and, as a result, volition (i.e., by the physical and metaphysical aspects of human consciousness).
We all experience times when we cannot recall something, but we know it is stored in memory (the “tip of the tongue” phenomenon). We all experience times when we have trouble with a problem or have difficulty comprehending what we are reading; we may have to work on the problem longer, or reread the information. We all experience times when we could have done something better, had we concentrated more or been more aware; we may have to ask ourselves what we can do to improve. Still, none of these situations suggests that we should feel guilty or like failures—for that would be to deny or reject who we are as rational beings—to not fully accept our methods of dealing with reality.
Important moments for us psychologically are times when we are keenly aware of the nature of our consciousness to make mistakes and falter. At such times, we need to dismiss anti-concepts and invalid concepts for their destructiveness and their irrelevance. We should take pride in our ability to see our mistakes, understand our limitations, and proceed to accomplish that which only a human being can accomplish. Doubtless, these activities are as much a subconscious issue as they are a conscious one (perhaps even more of a subconscious issue). Nonetheless, the right conscious assessment can certainly facilitate subconscious exploration and improvement.
Those who become preoccupied with their weaknesses and limitations may never stop to think about their uniquely human strengths and abilities. We should be thoroughly excited about all the joy we can experience, all the infinite discoveries possible to us, and all the inventions that increase our capabilities. This is tantamount to forming a realistic conception of ourselves.
We need not despair over what we are not. We need not fret over what we cannot do. Those who engage in self-degradation tend to become their own enemies. Some may even reduce their lives to nihilism.
We cannot expect to have total control over reality either—to be omnipotent—because we have, like everything else in the universe, a specific identity and a definite way of functioning. Nothing can act in opposition to its identity or different from its composition or beyond its limitations. Sure, we can try to vainly imagine making all the right decisions and being all powerful, but wishing will certainly not make it so. A task for a volitional consciousness, then, is to identify and integrate these conclusions.
Yet children may be reared in environments where it seems people have forgotten or never realized that making mistakes is a necessary process. Many face humiliation when they “screw up” or make a “stupid” mistake. Parents who experienced similar humiliation in their younger years may treat error-making as the object of teasing, sarcasm, and degradation. This reflects their own discomfort and anxiety, of course; they are actually concerned about the use of their own faculty of judgment.
Some religions even teach that to make an error marks one’s soul with a flaw. These flaws, or “sins,” and can be devised for the sole purpose of stockpiling unearned guilt. To admit that some so-called sins are actually good for a person, that is, actually within one’s rational self-interest, is normally in violation of religious dogma.
Psychologically, the notion of sin can have its own pay-off: “perfection” is unattainable because the battle was lost either when we were born (Original Sin), or as we matured and succumbed to variety of sinful temptations. As a result, to strive for a better world or to fully believe in human dignity or to take responsibility for one’s happiness all might be viewed as misguided efforts. Human beings will always be inherently flawed, some religions say. Tied directly to this viewpoint is the idea of being forgiven for one’s sins.
In regard to erring, forgiveness can be a completely justifiable and useful idea. It can reassure a person that one does not expect omniscience or infallibility, and that one understands a person’s psychological context. Additionally, since at times we can be harsh judges of ourselves, the idea of self-forgiveness can be extremely valuable. It can help free us from prior unfavorable habits, past errors, and poor judgment. It thereby rejuvenates us and increases our capacity for enjoyment and living in the present.
However, conspicuous problems arise when forgiveness is misinterpreted. Many contend that any wrong or harmful act against others must be taken as an automatic effect of human nature. In other words, since people either have no choice in their behavior or they cannot always make the correct choices in dealing with others, they should be forgiven. Obviously, forgiveness then becomes a way to avoid the root psychological causes of particular actions. This misinterpretation of human fallibility can spawn a desire not to be held accountable for one’s actions.
That every individual makes mistakes is incontrovertible. Mistakes are natural human occurrences. However, this fact of human nature does not excuse wrongful acts. When forgiveness is used to absolve acts of misconduct or iniquity, it becomes another anti-concept. Adding to this ethical confusion are the institutions that relate to others in less than respectful and benevolent ways (e.g., government). The widespread acceptance of this behavior further contributes to misunderstandings about the idea of forgiveness.
The subtle (and not so subtle) ways that declared “mistakes” are used to nullify personal accountability have become commonplace in our culture. In a morality not grounded in reality, such practices become merely the consequences of the doctrine of sacrifice. The doctrine of sacrifice seeks to pardon those who do wrong.
Non-objective morality simply muddles the distinction between right and wrong and good and bad. This not only diminishes self-responsibility, but also mocks one’s power to understand and correct mistakes. Personal accountability presupposes being able to understand a deliberate action or an error—especially what caused it (i.e., what motivated it)—and just as importantly, experience the consequences.
When a mistake or error in judgment concerns others (or implies thoughts of them), analysis of the motivations and emotions involved is important. One’s moral code (one’s values and virtues) may be an issue on which to reflect—in order to discover the reasons for the behavior. This enables one to learn from the incident and to take responsibility for it.
Most actions we take contain a constant correction of errors and removal of possibilities for further errors. Mistakes contribute to our comprehension of what it takes to live well and ensure a healthy mental state. Our incorrect or undesirable actions, either physical or mental, ultimately help guide us onto the proper life course.
Learning from mistakes happens during and after the process of making them. Our honesty and courage enable us to alter our thoughts and behaviors when they are not in our best interests. As we appreciate our faculty of reason, we come to understand why it is all right to make mistakes, take responsibility for them guiltlessly, and learn from them. When we embrace mistake-making as a natural process, we decrease the likelihood of making mistakes. However paradoxical this may seem, acceptance of our fallibility strengthens our reasoning capability——we no longer doubt our ability or regret our nature. We allow ourselves the freedom to change in many ways. This leads us to our final chapter.
CHAPTER EIGHT: THE MENTAL ESSENTIALS OF CHANGE
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