A Mental Shift Towards Independence
By now, it is probably apparent that our cultural/economic state of affairs is relatively simple to remedy politically—if one values justice and rights. But it is exceptionally difficult to remedy if one disvalues these (or at least lacks knowledge of their significance). In order to seek valid remedies for the ills of our culture, people must maintain their independence. Various forms of dependence in many facets of life gradually can become the complacent norm when individuals relinquish personal control.
Dependence for adults—be it financial, intellectual, or psychological—should never be considered beneficial. The real dilemma is that people know this, at least on some cognitive/emotional level, and yet they still accept dependence. Hence, the issue becomes one of honesty, integrity, and self-esteem.
Dependence, of course, should not be confused with another relational term, interdependence, which implies such things as working together, living together, learning together, enjoying each other’s company (through sharing values and getting needs met), and so forth. People in society can be interdependent without being dependent—for interdependence can and should exist among independent people. Such people respect themselves and respect others.
Acknowledging one’s knowledge and knowing one’s value are not automatic processes, at least not consciously automatic. If dependency issues are avoided consciously for emotional reasons, then naturally the subconscious deals with them by its own methods. Dependence may become a predominant emotional theme in one’s patterns of thought and behavior.
We can always question our ability to be independent entities. As a result, we must appreciate the practice of examining both conscious and subconscious conclusions and interpretations, as well as the emotional evaluations that reflect them. Such appreciation plays a major role in the meaning of independence for us as individuals and for our civilization.
The typical psychology that would arise and flourish in a capitalistic society is one that upholds logical thinking. We have seen that this process is necessary for happiness and enlightenment. Contrary to common dogma, logical thinking is a process that ensures a healthy and exuberant emotional state. The literature portraying that reason and logic constrain and limit emotion and passion sets up a false dichotomy between thought and emotion. Such a stance promotes the belief that our inner world is naturally one of contrary faculties. Of course, for thought and emotion to be actually in opposition, mental integration must be disfavored and logic abandoned.
In a capitalistic society, a new independent psychology would arise on account of a continuous flow of ideas that upheld thinking and subsequent mental health as primaries. The free market, schools in particular, would reveal the radiance of a new era in human intellectual evolution.
Independent psychologies flourish in constant interaction with other minds. Vitality for enjoying values is part of their personalities of confidence, respect, and emotional spontaneity. Consequently, such people naturally express excitement about themselves and their experiences. They know that life is invaluable. They also understand that ideas are one of the most important aspects of human existence. They realize that facts are a primary concern for a consciousness whose distinctive form of survival relies on the identification and evaluation of facts.
Capitalism is an attainable reality for the human race. Essentially, it will arise when the contradictory ideas that have inhibited society lose their psychological appeal. Of course, the meanings of these contradictory ideas need to be illuminated on a widespread basis. Intransigent people united by fundamental principles ought not expect anything other than an enlightened society. Really, the kinds of psychologies that would arise and flourish in such a society are also needed today to create it.
Financial independence generally promotes healthy relationships. It is typically the culmination of both personal initiative and long range, thoughtful action. Its achievement can be viewed not only as proper, but also as enjoyable. What is sometimes puritanically called “hard work” is really honest effort at achieving cherished values. However, absent true capitalism, this perspective sometimes gets lost.
In today’s societies, financial independence at times might feel like a duty or a burden, rather than a meaningful aspect of one’s existence. Scorn directed at having to work and make money is often accompanied by a daydream of a paradise where no labor is needed. Clearly, fears of not being able to function competently may foster such attitudes. The idea of fully valuing oneself then becomes significant. Yet countervailing forces can interfere with this idea.
People may not expect greatness or excellence in themselves or others, and individuals may fail to broaden their horizons. Our culture also sometimes outlines unthinking and obedient drudgery (and a narrow job description) as a necessary part of work. Some employers even try to prod employees into better performance with rewards (such as incentive plans) and punishments (such as poor evaluations). They thereby bolster the belief that most people need to be motivated by others, externally, to perform well and be creative. However, the alleged merit of these tactics of “pop behaviorism,” has (like in education and parenting) been disconfirmed repeatedly by the evidence. Numerous studies indicate that such external control measures diminish creativity, decrease interest, foster dependency, and beget the perceived “need” for their continued use.48 Additionally, that they are morally repugnant nearly goes without saying.
When people are unwilling to acknowledge the true import of their existence and their relationships, they can be treated as means to other people’s ends. The toxic nature of contradictions tends to seep into all defenseless areas. Following the unexamined and unquestioned routines set forth by others may even generate a feeling of resentment towards the whole of the market system. Of course, this does nothing to change the given psychologies that contribute to this unfortunate atmosphere.
A mixed economy (i.e., one that permits government to initiate force in the market) tends to forward the mindset that most work is unwelcome toil, and that trying to make money is both frustrating and emotionally tiring. Many have the feeling that their work and existence are not about sustained enjoyment; rather, they are about survival—that is, “making ends meet”; basically in the end, death and taxes win.
Because a mixed economy has been coercively throttled, fulfilling jobs and nourishing opportunities may seem scarce, pay may be inadequate, and the future may at times look bleak. Many people decide this to be just a natural part of life. They may proceed to toil in an unscrutinized routine, or they may deny the magnitude of this situation by saying, for instance, “Things are not really as bad as they seem because, overall, life is what you make of it; so cheer up and try to enjoy things.” Clearly, both approaches disregard the possibility that conditions can and will get significantly better. Although both admit that the world could use some major improvements, “politics as usual” will prevent them from happening.
Of course, any of us can escape from the potential immensity of our political situation. For instance, we can involve ourselves in many pleasurable and amusing activities: nights and weekends of relaxation or recreation, and hours spent with numerous treasured avocations. But if our occupations require little thought beyond the immediate environment, we can lose hope of changing our existential predicament. In this issue ignorance is by no means bliss. It obviously cannot alter our social and political context.
Neither depressing pessimism nor unwarranted optimism is the answer to the problems that afflict civilization and affect people’s mental outlook and behavior. Only an understanding of the basic flaws in current political philosophy (and modern philosophy in general) together with a high degree of psychological awareness will dramatically change our conditions. In contrast to a common assumption, what most people experience day in and day out is not all there is to life. It certainly does not represent all the possibilities of human psychology and human relationships.
In addition to upholding the virtues of financial independence, a capitalistic society would encourage people to be intellectually independent. The ability to discriminate among the typical assortment of ideas and propositions is essential to achieving inner-peace, confidence, and self-reliance. Instead of just accepting cultural ideas, people would realize the crucial need to go further. They would examine whether or not particular ideas are logical or illogical, and investigate why people readily accept or reject those ideas. Individuals would critically reflect on observable events and theoretical propositions, knowing that at any point one can reach a wrong assessment.
A society that valued correct ideas would value intellectual integrity. People in a capitalistic society would greatly value facts. They would see that their lives and health depended on it. To further confirm this conclusion, they could refer to any history book.
Naturally, people who are aligned with reality are those who benefit from it, because they can adapt to it proficiently. They do not fear what needs to be faced (internally and externally). They are not reluctant to name what needs to be named. To feel comfortable (and in many cases, delight) with identifying and discussing attributes, experiences, and characteristics of our environment and ourselves both expresses and clarifies who we are. It is a main way of making our life completely real.
A psychological climate of avoidance, evasion, and general ignorance diminishes our life. In contrast, intellectual (and psychological) independence allows us to put the whole spectrum of negative emotions into proper context. Feelings of shame, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, guilt, worry, awkwardness, pain, hostility, and so on, become largely understood and are then dealt with appropriately. Individuals in a free society would understand finally, and would have integrated subconsciously, that the human organism cannot truly gain anything through evasion, repression, and rationalization.
Of course, what is presupposed in these predictions is that children are shown the necessities of psychological health, the necessities of self-esteem—such as self-reliance, self-expression, self-assertion, self-responsibility, and self-acceptance. Children would be reared to integrate, for example, the self-esteem enhancing practices formulated, discussed, and illustrated in The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.15
Learning how to make sense of one’s inner world and rely on personal resources to cope with emotional vicissitudes would be customary in an enlightened era. (Contrast this to the social atmosphere in many junior or senior high schools today, in which inappropriate behavior and recklessness (often inaccurately characterized by adults as being “a part of adolescence”) frequently holds sway.)
The social or human sciences would enlighten individuals about thinking in terms of principles, using their minds excellently, and being able to effectively face any hardship, deal with any obstacle, and resolve any conflict—be it internal or external. Hence, the young would develop of a level of confidence and courage necessary for mental and physical health.
Since the humanities would be grounded in logical epistemology and objective metaphysics, the moral values of authentic self-esteem and happiness would be extolled. A conceptual being plainly cannot move forward intellectually in any significant way by denying its power to make the world comprehensible. Correspondingly, it cannot move forward psychologically in any significant way by undercutting its ability to know and affirm its own value.
Teenage individuals would now have the psychological answers to questions that were implicit in all their searches for a mature sense of identity. Since their intrinsic capability and self-worth would be respected by elders, their minds would now be back in their own possession. They could look ahead to a life of unlimited horizons.
Indeed, philosophical and psychological transformations in junior and senior high school may be the central key to relatively swift societal transformation. To effect major cultural and political change in a generation or two, such a systemic approach in education is perhaps best. Adolescence is the time when opinions are being formed, ideologies are being shaped, and psychologies are being modified and solidified.
Within a culture of high self-esteem and self-awareness, visibility with others would be common. Feeling visible means having one’s thoughts and behavior responded to in a fashion similar to how one would authentically respond to one’s own self; it is basically about feeling understood. People who react consonantly with reality and appropriately to one’s context of thoughts, emotional conditions, and actions become unclouded and undistorted mirrors for each other.11 They acknowledge and honor the fact that we all perceive the same reality (i.e., objective reality). Though sometimes our subjective contexts or perspectives may be at odds, the underlying reality is still recognized.
So, with nearly everyone we encountered, we would be provided more opportunities for personal growth and significant experiences throughout life. This would be a veritable springboard for realizing our potentials. Undoubtedly, great changes in humans’ understanding of themselves and the cosmos would take place. Such a spiritual awakening would have advantages for virtually every human achievement. The historic nineteenth century Industrial Revolution—and even our present computer and information age—would be viewed somewhat as child’s play.
The ability to be psychologically independent is definitely involved in the preceding description of visibility. Psychological independence entails the realization that each of us is alone in the world, metaphysically speaking. And further, it means that no one from the distant wishes of our childhood is coming to take care of us or fix our problems.15 Ultimately, each person is responsible for his or her own happiness. Emotions, accordingly, are not to be viewed as incomprehensible, unchangeable absolutes—they are not to be viewed as irreducible primaries.
To be mentally healthy, an individual must be cognizant of what he or she thinks and feels. This self-understanding is, of course, an acquired trait. In order to achieve any high degree of self-awareness, one must concentrate on what is emanating from within. This necessarily requires an examination of one’s subconscious premises.
While we have discussed repeatedly the importance of understanding the workings of the subconscious, this can be accomplished only by first-hand experience—actively working with the best methods available. This involves utilization of the techniques of psychotherapy, be it alone or with assistance. Much like staying physically fit, knowledge and use of the proper equipment and activities helps immeasurably. Even though mental therapy does not have to be a constant routine for most people, the acquisition of certain skills is vital.
Some techniques of introspection were listed in a previous section with various psychotherapeutic approaches. A couple more approaches deserve brief mention here. Objectivist psychotherapy, like many other therapies, incorporates useful aspects of various other approaches (Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy being one of them).41 In addition to explicitly viewing one’s thoughts as primaries, and one’s feelings as outcomes of one’s thinking (both conscious and subconscious), this type of therapy addresses the philosophical side of psychology. Belief systems and ethical codes can be examined with the tool of logical reasoning.
Lastly, Nathaniel Branden has devised a powerful technique, remarkable in both its effectiveness and efficiency. Called sentence completion exercises, or sentence stems, they are designed to facilitate self-exploration on a subconscious level.e.g.,13&14 These practices (oral or written) enable circumvention of the perennial psychological problem of conscious censorship of subconscious information. In so doing, they allow one to grasp what is definitely happening just beneath explicit conscious activity, however vague or sketchy or fleeting it may be. This consequently makes it possible for one to work to change various root contradictions——instead of dismissing, avoiding, and ignoring them (which incidentally is a battle one cannot win).
Psychotherapeutic exercises do not so much immediately fix contradictory subconscious premises and evaluations, as allow a person to see and apprehend them. What one thinks and interprets barely below the explicitly conscious level of awareness affects feelings and behavior. By drawing subconscious thought out of the periphery of awareness into conscious light (e.g., by putting it on paper), one can begin to “rewire” subconscious habits—that is, if a person deems it worth the effort; one has to decide to be courageous enough to put forth the effort.
Mental rewiring takes the form of redevelopment and transformation of thoughts and evaluations, via heightened awareness of them. With this comes the implementation of newly understood methods of thinking and patterns of behavior. Emotional troubles and behavior patterns that seem deeply entrenched or “institutionalized” (also called conditioned responses) are usually those carried from early childhood. They are typically the most challenging too, because they have not really been consciously challenged. So, they require continuous at first, then occasional, focus and reworking.
In order to solidify changes and incorporate new psychological knowledge into everyday living, appropriate self-assertion is key—both for causing and maintaining changes. Without self-assertion, it is very difficult to convince oneself that one has indeed changed in any significant way (which is definitely counterproductive to the whole process).
While psychotherapy is still evolving from its infancy, it stands as the practical application of the science of psychology; it is the technology of psychology (its engineering field, if you will). Despite psychotherapy’s capabilities, self-examination, like common extrospection and life itself, is a self-initiated and self-maintained process. To be effective, it requires an act of will, a choice, and many subsequent choices.
Self-examination, at times, can be confusing and emotionally difficult. There may be potent disincentives to begin and continue the inner journey, the voyage into the self. A person may have reservations about where this exploration is heading. Many even think it is a waste of time—time that could be spent dealing with more “real” things. And many may wonder whether it will uncover terrifying or disturbing “deep dark secrets” about self. In fact this is how a large part of the self can remain a mystery, why inner secrets can remain so.
As sentient beings, we have an incredible talent for avoiding aversive stimuli, which means that we often quickly avoid what is unpleasant, painful, or frightening. This avoidant behavior itself is reinforcing: It diminishes the need to deal with discomfiting feelings. However, what is painful psychologically must be treated differently than what is painful physically. Rather than avoid what is causing psychological pain, we must move toward and face it. This allows us to deal with it, understand and integrate it, and hopefully work to remedy it.
Introspection asks that we have self-discipline, and that we develop a knack for identifying subconscious activity, the subtleties in our feelings, and the messages in our behavior. It also entails a healthy appetite for the whole process. Sometimes—depending on our particular situation or circumstance—a psychotherapist can aid much in achieving the desired degree of psychological clarity. Similar to a dear friend, he or she can act as a realistic as well as empathetic mirror for us, so that we may better see, understand, and function with others, the world, and ourselves. As an objective third party, he or she can also help us process thoughts and emotions resulting from various experiences or stages in our life. At times, we may be less aware of what others can see more clearly, and they can offer us valuable insights.
Psychological clarity asks that we not take unwanted or debilitating emotions for granted (or succumb to the effects of the sometimes-painful experiences of childhood). We have finally reached an era in which the importance of psychological clarity has emerged as a prominent theme in popular culture. At no other time has there been so much focus on the self and its need for intelligibility or change. Just observe the abundance of self-help books, lectures, and seminars.
Despite this, many may still think that psychotherapeutic aid is either unnecessary or merely for those less fortunate (something just for psychotics, social misfits, and/or mental weaklings). They might reject the notion that every human being is in need of this respectful treatment of self. This might be an attempt to justify as normal a less than optimal psychological predicament; it might be a way to deny any therapeutic benefits of assisted (or even unassisted) introspection.
Some may think that to admit to having difficulty with introspection and that assistance could be beneficial is undignified; they may think (or intuitively feel) that it somehow degrades the noble and heroic in them. Presumably, the idea of absolute self-sufficiency in this arena may be more important to them than responsible self-awareness. Some may even be more concerned with the perceived psychological disparity between the therapist and themselves than concerned with the particular techniques involved. They may feel that the therapist has “mastered” something they have not.
Effective psychotherapy addresses the ideas of being good enough, capable, and worthy in principle. So naturally, self-doubt can foster a variety of attempts to alleviate the potential anxiety it causes. The anxiety about lacking self-esteem can dissuade us from taking psychotherapeutic action. (Of course, a fundamental self-doubting attitude can be furthered if psychotherapists lack an understanding of their task or make it seem, however subtly, like they are treating invalids. I would hazard to guess that many therapists have, at one time or another, used their services to create an air of superiority for themselves; this may have filled voids in their own self-concept. Moreover, if a therapist advocates a contradictory philosophy, basic self-doubt can become much harder to resolve.)
Instead of viewing anxiety solely from the standpoint of self-esteem deficiency, one can objectify this issue in terms of contradictions in one’s self-concept. One’s concept of self is a vast mental world. One can have a higher level of self-efficacy in some aspects of one’s life and yet be deficient in others. To be sure, parts of our subconscious may need some work. But this says nothing disparaging about the person engaged in the quest of resolving contradictions. What is really required, then, is an enlightened perspective on our self-esteem: We must generate confidence in our capability to resolve any and all contradictions that lie before us, no matter how troubling they may be. This is truly the noble and heroic.
We now live in a world in which we are shown and told that our fundamental worthiness and right to exist for our own sake are actually debatable topics. Consequently, many people spend time trying to prove to themselves and others either that these topics are in fact unsettled, or that they are not important. But this self-esteem issue is not erased by avoiding it; this only impedes reflection on its meaning and disguises the meaning of all the activity that results from its avoidance.
In spite of these potential problems, either assisted or unassisted introspection allows us to concentrate on the psychological processes at work within ourselves—which are bearing on our thoughts and feelings of efficacy and worth. Psychotherapeutic methods can increase our awareness and widen our view of the world and ourselves; hence, they can brighten our future. If we are to advance psychologically in any remarkable way, we must focus on the reality of the situation.
Doubting our worth (or trying to prove that we are “enough”) is intrinsically invalidating and self-refuting. The dilemma we create for ourselves involves self-denial. By virtue of existing, we are enough. By virtue of being parts of the universe, we are worthy of any experience. Any belief to the contrary is contradictory.
To not believe in oneself as capable of functioning and worthy of any experience, undercuts one’s very nature as a rational animal. Since the act of doubting presupposes the use of one’s judgment, in effect one judges one’s own judgment and efficacy as wrong. This is clearly the supreme cognitive dead-end of self-doubt; it promptly stifles consciousness.
Analogous to the stolen concept fallacy, we can use our mind to deny our own mental efficacy. The rub is that, subconsciously, this process can turn into a vicious cycle: We can end up surrendering our self and thoughts to emotions evoked by our initial surrender of thought. This may also lead to relinquishment of self to others, who then dictate and influence us to their liking—although, they might be performing a variation of the same psychological practice.
To not know oneself more than superficially is to not fully live as one is capable. Anything that is important involves demands. When we focus on that very entity which ascribes importance and creates demands, we are asked to examine that which examines. Psychology, like all sciences, needs to be grasped in plain and clearly objective terms, so that we can eschew being dishonest with ourselves. Discovering long-kept psychological secrets does a great deal to bring honesty into our life. It promotes alignment with reality, which is the central path to enlightenment.
In an enlightened society that honored the ethics of rational self-interest, feelings of loneliness and alienation—as well as the common reaction to it, a clinging to the group, to others, for support and guidance—would be replaced by authentic sharing of thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Financial, intellectual, and psychological independence would be attainable conditions, because people would understand that rational thought and proper action are needed for achieving good values of any kind.
From an early age, children would be shown concrete examples of this. They would learn that psychological exercises aimed at understanding one’s subconscious and emotional world are for everyone (rather than for “irregular” or “abnormal” people). People would mature knowing that true courage and strength are evidenced by a willingness to feel and think deeply about life—as well as to allow ourselves to be comfortable with expressing our excitement and happiness.
An Issue Of Time
Knowing one’s value, trusting one’s mind, and striving to have no pretenses are prerequisites for health in an advanced civilization. As discussed, the main aspect in these activities is high self-esteem, or more fundamentally, an enlightened self-concept. In order to value and respect others, we have to value and respect ourselves. This entails consideration of ourselves as worthy of respect and worthy of happiness.
An understanding of the dynamics of self-esteem—what we can do to increase or decrease it and what it requires of us—represents the functioning of a highly evolved state of consciousness. Again, a highly evolved state of consciousness in this sense, like many aspects of intelligence, is not something persons are provided at birth. It is something they choose to achieve, because their lives are important to them. At any point in life, we can decide to throw off the shackles of inertia and cultural norms that prevent us from experiencing more of life’s possibilities. And, of course, such experiences necessarily take place in time.
Time for individuals is limited. Cultures and civilizations may last for centuries or even millennia, but particular persons arrive and depart from these settings rather quickly. Given this, the basic idea of time needs to be correctly addressed. When people plead their cases about “Our children’s future” or “Our grandchildren’s future,” they offer us a somewhat distorted time frame. Complex debates and arguments can distract us from realizing that time is of the essence for the individual.
In terms of our political and social future, crucial changes not only could happen in a few decades, but also must happen for us to benefit from them. (This of course is not taking into account the technologies that conceivably could enable our lifespan to be dramatically increased, such as cryonics and nanobots. For the time being, at least, thinking conservatively is probably wise.)
The ideal political philosophy would be mostly useless to us if it could not be implemented within our lifetime. The meaning it would have for future multitudes of the unborn distracts us from the urgency of our plight. Clearly, what is right for actual lives should be right for future lives. When it comes to the creation of a benevolent society of justice, objective law, and objective values, little matters outside the framework of present existence. In fact, to ascribe benefit or meaning outside this framework tends to miss the point. The self is the ultimate creator of all values.
In various people’s quests to implement many dubious programs of change, they usually leave this most important beneficiary out of the picture—the self. Only a person in the present can be interested in how society will affect him or her (or the planet, or future generations). What is of value to “society” is actually of value to the individual.
To see no personal value or gain in a change—be it political or otherwise—is equivalent to advocating self-sacrifice or self-surrender in the name of some “higher” goal. Yet, this is what we typically observe in today’s politics: Everything for others and unknown people in the future is good, while most things for personal gain are either bad or guiltily avoided. The psychological motives really speak for themselves in this matter. Either a hidden agenda is present (in which purported acts of selflessness are being used as a disguise), or a lack of comprehension exists about the fact that all things begin and end with the individual—not with “others.”
Everyone has an interest in taking dramatic political and psychological steps forward. Such progress ought not be delayed until sometime in the indefinite future—or be advocated only by someone else. Excuses about why society cannot effect radical change in the present usually take on the character of rationalizations. Certainly they provide a type of security that cannot be found in taking genuine, logical action. Self-assertion can be challenging sometimes, but the price we pay for not asserting our noble desires and interests is big indeed.
In the name of “It may be a possibility later, but not in our lifetime,” we could trade extraordinarily exciting possibilities of sustained joy and expansion of awareness for their frequent antagonists—supposed comfort, safety, and security. These antagonists turn out to be merely self-defeating illusions. They often lead the human organism down the dismal path of repression and rationalization. As a result, the intense fire of youth for nonstop adventure becomes a hardly recognizable smoldering cinder. So long as one tries to justify such conditions, it cannot be rekindled.
We cannot alter the fact that we are aging. Although aging is a natural factor for all things, it is especially critical for living organisms. For nonliving matter, aging and weathering take place constantly. The arbitrary or structured organization of elements may take different shape and different form. But, in the end, nothing (no matter or energy) is destroyed—although particular identities may be altered. For billions of years matter of the universe has taken on new positions and constitutions, but it has always been that which comprises the universe. The fundamental elements and molecules that form a living creature will also never be destroyed. They will only change their form and constituency. They will decompose into the random association of matter and energy that comprises any nonliving part of the universe.
The critical trait of living things is that their organization is not just arbitrary or haphazard. Rather, millions of years of selective mutation have molded them into complex designs. As noted before, there is nothing intentional about these designs. They have simply arisen from the laws of Identity and Causality: Due to the nature of combinations of certain elements (forming molecules and then cells, tissues, organs, etc.) in concert with their surroundings, life exists. And due to the nature of the composition of life and its constituent properties, it can only sustain itself for so long. Eventually, it again becomes the same random association of matter and energy. When an animal in the wild dies, for instance, its tissues are consumed by scavengers, ravaged by sun, water, and air, decomposed by bacteria, and eventually transformed to compost—providing sustenance for plants and trees and other life forms. Such cycles are unrelenting within ecosystems.
So, as living organisms, our time on this planet is finite. By our nature, we have a lifespan. In recent centuries the achievements in medical science have helped extend the average lifespan enormously; it has more than doubled in the last couple centuries. Yet, our maximum lifespan (roughly 100-120 years) has remained basically constant over the last few thousand years. The infant mortality rate in most developed countries is lower than ever before. Many more people are alive now than just a few hundred years, or even decades, ago. These results of medical and industrial achievements are quite remarkable. In fact, if it were not for discoveries of vaccines and other medicinal methods, in addition to labor and time-saving advances in other economic sectors such as agriculture, most of the human race would not be here. How intensely fortunate we are to be able to take simple breaths of air.
Our conceptual faculty has endowed us with the ability to think not only in terms of our lifespan but also in terms of geologic time and the great events of the universe. Even though we can acquire fairly exact measurements of such things as the age of Earth or the distance to the nearest star or galaxy, to actually comprehend the enormity of these measurements is difficult. Even the long reign of other species (e.g., alligators or sharks) makes the amount of time that humans have existed appear miniscule.
From all this, we might begin to think that we are just a small part in the grand scheme of things. This opinion can even be found in various scientific writings. Some believe that humans are no more (or even less) significant than other species. Certainly, what we are facing here is an issue of perspective.
The truth is that human beings are as significant as they view themselves to be. Only a human being can formulate such concepts as significant. Also, only a human being can minimize the importance of itself—that is, use its own unique tool of language to degrade its own relevance. We are definitely organisms capable of self-repudiation and all its consequences.
Still, time moves onward. Our biological clocks keep ticking. Yet we retain the ability to put knowledge about the universe, geological and biological time scales, into the perspective of our lifespan. This requires that we see this knowledge as a means to an end, an end that tells us that our lifespan is most pertinent. Regardless of past human accomplishments, or projections of future human achievements, the fact that no other age is as important as this one continually beckons us.
In an often subconscious effort to deny this fact, we can at times pursue a life of nonessentials. We can lose ourselves in our cultural environment, immerse ourselves in the particular ritual, custom, topic, trivia, or fad of the day. As noted, the tendency to think in terms of a collective group—a religion, business, community, or nation—can invite many social troubles. Finally, the inclination to see us as being just a small part of history can overpower the need to consider new possibilities.
At the same time, we can delude ourselves with the thought that we have all the time in the world. By living day to day and doing routine tasks, we can easily deceive ourselves with the belief that our life is going on forever. Our interactions with our surroundings can be so comfortable and familiar that we may tend to see life as just ordinary. If no one tries to shake us out of our lethargic model of living, “so much the better,” we may think. Yet, so much is still waiting to be discovered. Our existence should create wonder, not widespread complacency and acceptability of social norms.
Sometimes rituals, customs, and traditions distract us from seeing the issue of time clearly. They can be easy to maintain and difficult to stop and question. One just repeats the old and follows others. In a way, this bears resemblance to aspects of obsessive/compulsive behavior, in which one allows oneself to remain stuck in a certain mode of functioning. While one’s capabilities are not being stretched or fully actualized, mental inertia can take its repetitive course. To stop and inspect what one is doing may seem impossible or become inconceivable, even though nothing short of this is required to overcome the behavior.
Just as the cessation of obsessive/compulsive behavior creates anxiety—because one thinks one is losing control of a highly controlled activity—the relinquishment of various unnecessary rituals, customs, and traditions (both religious and secular) can generate emotional resistance. Granted, “unnecessary” is sometimes open for interpretation here. Yet certain activities that serve as deficient substitutes for creativity, personal growth, and adventure, clearly reveal their unhealthy nature. In the search for fulfillment, we can find more useful and challenging activities. These are often incompatible with many traditions and practices; they ask us to look to reality, rather than to others (in order to direct or follow).
One thing that we must resist is a propensity to put off what could be done today until tomorrow—or even for the foreseeable future. The undemanding allure of procrastination may seem to slow things down, but it lets time slip away even faster.
All of these psychological processes involving the issue of time can have calamitous effects on human history and human potential. Perhaps the greatest misfortune is that many do not realize this until it is too late—life is over for them; they have stepped into the void of nonexistence. And then the whole process starts anew, with new people and a new time period, but with many of the same beliefs and psychological disincentives and discouragements. If only the people for whom life is no more could speak their regrets. How persuasive would their words be?
An Issue Of Mortality
Contemplation of life’s brevity can help us appreciate the meaning of every day and year that passes. It can also put the meaning of our political situation into sharp focus. Too often, in vain attempts to deny the finality of our life, we may see political issues as mere differences of opinion and really not paramount—not ultimately matters of life or death (financially, intellectually, and psychologically). But we know that to stall the effort of thought and action will not ameliorate the situation of our life. Such a passive strategy only negates the essentials and promotes the nonessentials. Yet somewhere in the midst of these mental contortions, always remains the fact of our mortality—the fact that, literally, we will someday become nothing. On account of our current cultural condition and, of course, our very existence, we must explore this preeminent metaphysical fact. (Of course, the following exploration is not intended to be morbid. Instead, it is intended to clarify an often evaded or misunderstood topic—and hence to assist us in accurately understanding it and its serious implications.)
The phrase “Someday we will become nothing,” may sound simple, but it implies a lot of observations and quite a bit of logical reasoning. In essence it means that once we die, we will be no more, identical to any other living thing that perishes. In other words, death is the total obliteration of a living being. As in any truth-finding task, we have to understand the definite meanings of the terms.
The concept nothing can only be grasped indirectly through the absence of the perception of something. One sees or imagines something disappear, disintegrate, or decompose completely, and one concludes that it is now “nothing” or no longer in existence. (A related example of the idea of nothingness is deep meditation, which can allow us to experience a blank mind or “empty consciousness,” a state of relaxed concentration of just “being.”)
We have all witnessed what happens during a night of dreamless sleep (or of no dream recollection): the time span between consciousness, unconsciousness, and back to consciousness seems like nothing. Though brain activity was present, which indicates one is alive, for all practical purposes one experienced nothing (i.e., a total blank). Barring near death experiences, this is the closest we ever come to the “experience” of nothingness—that of our inevitable obliteration.
Essentially, we end in the same state in which we started: We did not exist before we were born, and we will not exist after we die. Clearly, this observation does not agree with the widespread belief that one will live (in some form or fashion) after one dies. The belief that humans (irrespective of other animals) do not totally die after perishing mainly relies on the belief that life (of some sort) will continue in spite of physical death.
For living creatures, there are two primary absolutes—reality and nothing (or existence and nonexistence). Living organisms are intricate compositions of matter capable of replication and self-maintenance. When they die, all the properties that distinguished them from nonliving matter disintegrate and decompose, so that eventually no trace of life can be noted. Of course, this is a readily observable event throughout the animal and plant kingdoms. We witness numerous organisms live and die during our own lifetime—pets, ranch or farm animals, wild creatures on television or from hunting and fishing experiences, insects, weeds, and so on.
Accordingly, we observe multitudes of creatures perish that have various perceptual capabilities and degrees of consciousness. In the process, death can be a directly detectable physical event, but not so tangible mental event. We can see an animal die and its body decompose, but the question may arise about what happened to its consciousness. Since inner consciousness is not a directly observable attribute (for others, that is), the finality of its death can sometimes be hard to grasp.
This issue potentially involves the deaths of other animals as well as humans. It involves all those that possess consciousness, but especially those with complex nervous systems and high levels of awareness. Death of consciousness has particular emotional import with creatures we value or cherish. For instance, the loss of a pet that was a wonderful companion is often accompanied by much grief. Naturally, we feel sadness about the loss of emotionally valued living things.
But the death of a fellow human being has special significance. Oftentimes when a person, particularly a loved-one, leaves existence we are nothing short of devastated. We may feel that the loss is beyond our capacity to articulate. The infinite value and complexity encompassed in a person contribute to the immense sense of loss. If the decomposition of the body is tragic, then the disintegration of consciousness is catastrophic. Human consciousness, with all its characteristics and personality, really creates a person. It also plays a great role in making the body so valuable and esthetically attractive; the mind animates the body and gives it meaning.
Inevitably, though, reality confronts everyone. We are a part of nature, and it will have its way with us. While we can understand nature’s laws and use them to our advantage, we are never exempt from them. Despite our feelings in these matters, we are not allowed logically to conclude that the mind is omnipotent and capable of out-living the body. The essential fact of the matter is this: Without the brain and body, no mind could ever exist; the two are inseparable. If the brain is destroyed, consciousness is destroyed.
A human being is a complex integration of mind and body. On account of its physical constituency, the body necessarily has a consciousness. Even though the mind is invisible, it definitely is not detached from the body (which was a belief strongly held in primitive times—e.g., spirits and ghosts). The age-old myth of the soul/body dichotomy still lingers in our culture. It contends that the body is material and thus mortal, and the spirit or soul is immaterial and thus immortal. Many hold dear to the fallacy that mind and body are not biologically integrated aspects of an organism.
Volumes of psychological studies show that lesions to the brain (as well as administration of certain drugs) systematically subtract, destroy, or alter mental structures and processes. Various areas and types of memory and judgment change or disappear, for example. One plainly cannot have mind or consciousness or awareness without the matter that creates these attributes. Thus, reports of the paranormal (for instance, out-of-body experiences, channeling, and life-after-death experiences) are scientifically untenable, regardless of how personally compelling they may seem. And as discussed earlier, such alleged phenomena are overt denials of the metaphysical laws.
Science continues to accumulate information about the brain. The physiological explanation of the mind is still a work in progress, and some interesting theories have been offered.71 The myriad cellular, biochemical, and bioelectrical processes that generate mental events are exceptionally difficult to untangle. Yet apart from all the questions arising from this fascinating task, we can be certain that death for an organism entails death of consciousness. Beliefs divorced from facts never will amend basic scientific truths.
To differentiate a belief from a fact is important. A fact is an observable and verifiable aspect of reality, and a belief is an idea (or set of ideas) that an individual contends, feels, or “trusts” is factual. A belief, then, may or may not be consistent with the facts of reality, which depend solely on proof and evidence (i.e., demonstration). For a belief to be true (or have some truth to it), it has to be based on fact.
Since a rational organism’s capacity for conceptualization includes imagination, it necessarily can generate beliefs that do not correspond to facts. All the novel and strange things we can imagine consist mostly of alterations or distortions of our experiences with reality. To imagine things in service of one’s life and well-being, and to dismiss or erase things that are not, are tasks for a volitional consciousness. Obviously, our imagination can be a heroically useful tool for creativity and productiveness. It can also be a tool for avoidance of reality and denial of experiences (usually only for various emotional reasons).
If no minimum scientific hypothesis or speculation formulated from proof or evidence exists for a belief (which entails observation of objectively plausible phenomena), then it is necessarily arbitrary; it is not grounded in reason or reality. The importance of this point is mainly this: If something is believed to exist but in fact does not, the belief may directly undercut one’s ability to differentiate knowledge from arbitrary anti-knowledge. As we have seen throughout this book, many beliefs—especially on the philosophical level—are not based on facts; some even oppose universally known facts.
Knowledge is the fuel that sustains and improves life. Knowledge is the factor that is necessary for human survival (and consequently for survival of our biosphere). We have seen that concepts are presupposed in human knowledge. Concepts convey identifications that should accurately depict reality, either natural or man-made. Thus, for a person to have knowledge, he or she has to understand and integrate concepts. When individuals communicate either a fact or a belief, they are relying on an enormous amount of concepts.
The logic of any discussion, culminating in the proposed fact or belief, depends on the validity, order, and use of the concepts involved. As previously noted, in order for any concept to be graspable and valid (i.e., a logical identification), the concept must have a specific definition. Words and definitions serve as labels to distinguish concepts. Without an accurate definition—a fundamental differentiation from all other concepts (with the particular measurements omitted)—a concept could not be isolated properly.
Life is defined by the occurrence of organisms and their maintenance processes. Death is defined by the discontinuance of these processes, and thus of those organisms. Only synonyms can be used interchangeably, and the words life and death are certainly not synonymous—in fact, they are the greatest antonyms possible.
Reality is defined by all that exists; it is everything. In contrast the term “supernatural,” for instance, has no distinguishing traits by which it can be defined. The idea relies solely on conjectures about unknown, indemonstrable forces outside of nature—a super-reality, if you will. However, because nothing is outside of existence (quite literally), any alleged “dimensions” must be part of existence.
Every idea a human being can possibly formulate takes place in reality; every conceivable observation or identification human beings can form presupposes reality, in which they perform it. Consequently, the postulation of a realm or dimension that is not in reality is plainly contradictory. If we were to contest this conclusion, we would have to do so in reality; the absolutism of it cannot be escaped.
To acquire knowledge of something beyond the basis of knowledge is impossible. We cannot acquire facts not connected with—or further, in defiance of—the facts we do know. Theories can be devised, to be sure. But absent any proof or evidence—i.e., absent any basis for validation—they are just products of a potentially overzealous imagination. Ideas from a book of prescientific writing, or from the contentions of one’s religious contemporaries, or from one’s personal psychological experiences, or even from a scientific journal, simply cannot begin to qualify as objective knowledge until they are related to facts. In terms of logical knowledge, sound facts are indispensable.
Arbitrary postulates, such as “supernatural,” cannot be comprehended even indirectly like the relational concept nothing. Such terms have neither referents in reality nor coherent definitions, so they are invalid. Invalid concepts cannot be understood and integrated like factually valid concepts. They mainly are isolated and kept intact by the imagination and embellished with feelings, which gives rise to a variety of vague meanings. Invalid concepts, no matter how acceptable they may appear, act just as insidiously as viruses do; they tend to undermine the mind’s distinctive faculty of survival (reason) and its products (concepts).
Necessarily, such terms as God, heaven, Satan, hell, “other reality”—essentially anything “supernatural”—are invalid. Of course, people interpret the idea of God in many ways. A few meanings are even similar to the definition of the universe—for example, “God is everything.” The term then becomes somewhat superfluous. Needless to say, the essential epistemological issue tends to blur amidst the usually strong feelings about a Creator. Our feelings (as well as the feelings of significant others) about such terms may affect whether logic remains our avenue of credibility and strength.
In order to presume that God created the universe and was the cause of everything, we basically have to deny the metaphysical and epistemological rules of the universe. The Law of Causality states that the universe is its own “cause”—meaning that it has always existed and will always exist. The universe is the eternal constant (existence). Interpretations of the Big Bang theory that contend a literal “beginning of time,” or “birth of the universe,” are merely secular counterparts to the Great Creation myth. Matter and energy can never be created or destroyed (the first law of thermodynamics). The configuration of the universe may change, but it can never be created or destroyed—since it is all matter and energy. Naturally, the only alternative to existence is nothing—and nothing can only have meaning in contrast to existence.81
If God is not considered to be just another name for the universe, then it becomes an impossible concept. Nonetheless, any alleged God would have to exist within the universe; God would have to be an existent, or being (of some sort). Yet any being that exists must be finite, no matter how large or powerful. If a being were “infinite,” it would necessarily be everything (the universe in total); actually, it would have to be endlessly more than everything, because it would be infinite—which of course is impossible; it would have no distinguishable properties.
A finite being obviously cannot create everything (which would have to include itself)—for this would be the invalid concept of omnipotence. The creation of things requires matter and energy (which, again, have always existed). Upon inspection, any imaginary “omnipotent being” would have no need to create anything. Organisms must fulfill needs in order to ensure their lives; death is the result of continuously unmet needs. Obviously, death is of no concern to an “omnipotent being.” Ultimately, because such a being is conceptually invalid, any speculations about its “needs,” “actions,” or “motives” are logically pointless.
As we study Darwin’s theory of evolution, we discover that it is more than a theory. Indeed, evolution is the supreme fact of organismic nature. One could call it a law in this sense, although many of the tremendously complex processes (especially at the genetic level) have yet to be explained and understood. Still, DNA replication and natural selection are solidly established processes.
The evolutionary process, being the scientific explanation for the existence of living creatures, is as stable as the states of matter, the force of gravity, and the events of life and death. Simply put, there are no logical metaphysical alternatives to our existence. Reality is what it is; A is A. To contend otherwise is to advocate a philosophical (and therefore a scientific) contradiction—that things are not what they are.
A popular belief, however, is that some “things” in the universe (e.g., a supernatural being or place) are unknowable; they are ineffable, mysterious, and mystical. This requires some clarification.
The word “known” describes what has already been grasped and integrated. “Unknowable” describes something impossible to acquire mentally, given the known characteristics of the things involved. A couple examples of unknowable phenomena include knowing with certainty what someone else is thinking without any form of communication, and predicting with certainty the exact outcome of an overwhelmingly complex event.
Only reason enables us to acquire knowledge that something is unknowable. Clearly, to declare that something about which we have no knowledge is unknowable defies logic; the declaration has no conceptual or factual basis. When a postulate has no basis in present knowledge, it has no basis in reason. Only reason can differentiate the knowable from the unknowable by identifying and integrating the nature of the phenomena involved.
If something exists, it necessarily has identity. With identity, it can be grasped—no matter how indirectly—by a conceptual consciousness (which is in the business of identification). Many, many things—a gargantuan, untold amount—are not known presently about the universe. But this should not imply that any of them are unknowable in principle, at any point in time and from any vantage point. Given the fact that the capacity to conceptualize is basically boundless, the acquisition of knowledge is basically boundless.
Science ultimately seeks knowledge of the fundamental nature of matter, energy, entities, and their complex relationships. We can never logically get more basic than dealing with what exists. Otherwise we end up discussing, literally, nothing.
Thus the question “What can we discover about ourselves and all other existents?” opens our world to exploration. Scientist Carl Sagan appreciated the profundity of this discovery process:
The mystic William Blake stared at the Sun and saw angels there, while others, more worldly, ‘perceived only an object of about the size and colour of a golden guinea.’ Did Blake really see angels in the Sun, or was it some perceptual or cognitive error? I know of no photograph of the Sun that shows anything of the sort. Did Blake see what the camera and the telescope cannot? Or does the explanation lie much more inside Blake’s head than outside? And is not the truth of the Sun’s nature as revealed by modern science far more wonderful: no mere angels or gold coin, but an enormous sphere into which a million Earths could be packed, in the core of which the hidden nuclei of atoms are being jammed together, hydrogen transfigured into helium, the energy latent in hydrogen for billions of years released, the Earth and other planets warmed and lit thereby, and the same process repeated four hundred billion times elsewhere in the Milky Way galaxy?
The blueprints, detailed instructions, and job orders for building you from scratch would fill about 1,000 encyclopedia volumes if written out in English. Yet every cell in your body has a set of these encyclopedias. A quasar is so far away that the light we see from it began its intergalactic voyage before the Earth was formed. Every person on Earth is descended from the same not-quite-human ancestors in East Africa a few million years ago, making us all cousins.
Whenever I think about any of these discoveries, I feel a tingle of exhilaration. My heart races. I can’t help it. Science is an astonishment and a delight. Every time a spacecraft flies by a new world, I find myself amazed. Planetary scientists ask themselves: ‘Oh, is that the way it is? Why didn’t we think of that?’ But nature is always more subtle, more intricate, more elegant than what we are able to imagine. Given our manifest human limitations, what is surprising is that we have been able to penetrate so far into the secrets of Nature.92(p.329)
Whose heart would not race with such knowledge? Elucidation of a topic that is fundamental and crucial to our existence—metaphysics—enables us to see new possibilities. The achievement of metaphysical certainty can be an important element in our outlook on life. And our outlook on life can affect whether we ask the enduring question “How do we create a society that is aligned with existence—with the nature of ourselves and the facts of reality?”
Emotional numbness tends to develop when we disregard the implications of our existence. The complete joy in being alive (that ought to be everyone’s birthright) tends to become degraded or perverted. Comprehension of a fully real reality definitely involves the search for spirituality and enlightenment (or even so-called mystical experiences). But this must be done with our tool of knowledge, reason. By relying on rational comprehension of intuition and feelings, we can minimize potential distortions in our search. By choosing to reason deeply, we become able to deal adaptively with the ordinary as well as major concerns in our life.
Grasping the essentials of existence also energizes us. We begin to get the most out of life—for it is, on the grand scale of nature, quite short. By envisioning the interminable contrast between life and death, we encourage ourselves to venture fully into life’s possibilities. Nothing less than this is asked of us when we solemnly reflect on our mortality.
Ultimately, our happiness in being alive is the maximum defiance of our eventual annihilation. An ecstatic state of consciousness is an end in itself. A reverence for life and an appreciation of nature is another end. Higher planes of understanding are always ours to reach, and joyful feelings are always ours to experience.
Yet, we live in an age in which the vast majority of people embrace the belief that consciousness is omnipotent—that death of consciousness is not final in certain ambiguous respects. It would be difficult to find an age in which most people believed otherwise. The extensive, complex myths and rituals found in humanity’s dialects and voluminous religious texts assist in solidifying visions of the supernatural, as well as maintaining a particular meaning to life and values.29
Human beings, in trying to understand the world, have been seduced frequently by the idea that an alternative reality is awaiting them. This seduction can have many sources, of course. The limits that reality sets are typically of little concern in the realm of strong hopes and wishes. People may just wish for more life, especially with loved-ones, albeit detached from biology. Or, they may wish for something different than present life. As one “passes away,” one supposedly enters the supernatural realm of “heaven” (or “hell,” for those less fortunate). This transition may concern notions such as: being able to proceed to heaven through the atonement for humanity’s sins and salvation by a universal savior or messiah; Godly compensation for the ills of earthly life; and, of course, the universal theme of entering into a place of everlasting bliss.8
A societal environment containing a sizable amount of immoral and irrational behavior and beliefs certainly makes life more difficult. Bad events and wrong behavior (perhaps attributed to sin and religious notions of evil) tend to take an emotional toll. An unperceivable “other reality”—one that is sane, pleasant, and beautiful—can be an extremely appealing option to a somewhat hellish existence (or even a mediocre one).
A malevolent view of the world and the human race can lead to an expectation of perpetual depravity and problems. People may conclude that treachery, murder, and destruction between human beings are inexorable; the forces of good and evil will always clash, and sin and injustice will always thrive in society. (Witness the violent conflicts portrayed even in futuristic, science fiction books and movies.)
Certainly, we cannot deny what is strewn throughout the pages of history books and in today’s newsprint. But the meaning we ascribe to reality as well as to human nature has a bearing on what future history books will reveal. If a person believes that death is not final and in most cases will bring about a better situation, what is the real point in the concepts of justice and human rights? How seriously will they be taken? The popular notion of supernatural justice, in which final judgment and penalties for evil actions occur after death, plainly does not satisfy the demands of individual rights.
If Earth is just a passing point, a temporary stop on the journey to greater heavens, what does life on Earth mean? Further, what meaning should be assigned to death? Many religions preach that we are here to receive an education that will prepare us for everlasting bliss after death. Regardless of what they consider education to be, think of the implication this has for life: life becomes a means to some higher end, not the sacred end in itself. And death becomes merely an unfortunate, albeit mournful, episode here on Earth, which signifies that the dead person can now “live” in heaven. Think also of the effects this can have on the concepts of human rights and justice.
Most cultures have always sought a degree of comfort in the belief that there is more to life than simply life. In a supernatural world, death does not seem so tragic or so final. After all, the deceased person (or disembodied consciousness) goes to a place where he or she can rest in peace and be eternally happy. In such a world, who would not want to join him or her someday? So, when one’s “time to go” has arrived, uncontrollable fate must not be rebuffed; the supernatural world will provide new life.
Joined to the belief in supernatural justice is the idea that, without God and an afterlife, life would be meaningless and people would be immoral (or amoral). Promises of rewards and threats of punishments in an afterlife provide the main incentives to live and be moral. In other words, without these incentives most people would deceive, assault, or kill each other, and/or be mindlessly hedonistic. So, a life of happiness with enlightened psychologies and objective laws is either impossible or unreal. Actual and final death does not make life the ultimate standard of value (and thus worth living). For many centuries, notions such as these have remained a prominent theme in the world’s cultures.
When we become aware of the finality of death, we acknowledge that A is A—that the laws of Identity and Causality are absolutes. The only rational metaphysics is objective reality, in which facts are facts regardless of anyone’s contentions, admonishments, wishes, reservations, feelings, and hopes—in which firm and knowable reality exists independently of any consciousness.
By aligning with reality, life can be realized and understood for what it is and should be. However easy it might be in daily life, we should not lose sight of an objective metaphysics. Thought and actions are put into better perspective when we relate them to the essentials of existence, which inform us of the significance of our own mortality. Naturally, focus, reflection, and objectivity are crucial. Most childhoods have frightening and painful events involving issues such as death. Adults need the words and actions that could make the world more comprehensible for children.
In addition, observation tells us that we can advocate logical ideas, but not fully integrate what they imply for our behavior. We can keep our thoughts in an unactualized state by failing to internalize them. We can also compartmentalize our thinking, which entails limiting our conceptual connections and only relating some ideas to behavior in certain respects.
Again, we see the chief volitional task: to constantly strive for a life that works for one’s individual well-being and joy, rather than against one in deficient or even destructive ways. This is where aspects of the subconscious may need to be transformed to bring about congruent functioning between thoughts, feelings, and behavior—which results in a new self-concept. Unquestionably, appropriate self-assertion and psychotherapeutic techniques are the primary methods for becoming more congruent.
As explained earlier, reflecting on the absolute wonder of life can be the most enriching and energizing process for growth and self-actualization. At times, life’s preciousness can entrance us. When it does, reality becomes stripped of arbitrary social conventions. Myriad experiences invite this kind of clarity: the cold brightness of the stars and moon on a clear night; a beautiful landscape of austere openness where the warm, fragrant wind can almost be seen; rising mountains with creeks and stark canyons that seem almost too real; a vista overlooking the vast ocean with the magnified red sun setting on its distant tides; the joyous expressions and heartfelt words of a loved one. Contrasting such experiences with the most remarkable fact that they will all be gone one day—or more precisely, we will be gone from them—can evoke a variety of strong feelings.
The realization that the spark of human consciousness will someday be extinguished in each of us should summon the best within us. We might be reminded of phrases we hear on occasion: “You only go around once, so give it your best shot” or “Carpe diem.” In order to do these things, we have to do more than live day-to-day or season-to-season like other animals. We have to see the whole scope of our limited time in existence and calibrate our thoughts and actions accordingly. We have to advocate ideas that are in our best interests—and, thus, in the best interests of society—and quite possibly could even extend our time on Earth.
Progress in the medical sciences is hampered by an enormous regulatory bureaucracy that results in high costs and a relative paucity of funds. Although great discoveries and innovations have been made—and are being made—in spite of these political problems, a capitalistic market would release latent ingenuity. As the shackles and chains of government are discarded, the medical field will have the freedom and wealth necessary to further extend human longevity, not to mention improve health (e.g., regarding blindness, paralysis, and debilitating chronic diseases). Since life is the ultimate standard of value, few goals are as profound as these.
Writers and poets throughout the ages have written eloquently about the world and our experiences. A longing for answers to life’s deepest questions is sometimes the tone in their words. Our knowledge of the universe is small in comparison to what future generations will know. We are, as a unique species, beginning to awaken. Often, we have been in a state of sleepwalking through our existence. We can perform our daily routines and never make the effort to see what is in store for us—what our life is adding up to. The image of an ostrich trying to escape doom by burying its head in the sand may seem apropos.
We can delude ourselves about the significance of our mortality by thinking that we will become immortal “somehow.” The ways a person can play this game are many. Branden outlined some of these practices and motivations for them:
…clinging to a child’s state of consciousness (“I refuse to grow up”), avoiding commitment either to a person or to an occupation (“So long as I do not enter the game, the clock has not begun to tick”), compulsive sexuality (“See how alive I am?”), keeping frenetically busy (“If I run fast enough, death can’t catch me”), leaving major tasks undone (“I cannot possibly be taken away before my work is completed”), excessive preoccupation with material acquisitions (“Surrounded as I am by the insignia of power, death would not dare enter”), placing relationships with others above personal development (“If enough people need and are dependent on me, how can I possibly die?”), and taking irresponsible and dangerous risks (“See how invulnerable I am?”).12(p.193)
Haplessly, games of this sort are easy to start, and the rules are simple to follow. They let life pass us by. And then the rationalizations follow. As in most games, however, the score has to be tallied. At the end of our years, what would we really have wanted to do with our life? This question needs a genuine answer. So let us be different than the ostrich whose fate is most likely sealed. The challenge for us will always be to live up to our potential by broadening horizons, seeing new dreams, and then actualizing them.
Realizing New Possibilities
Realizing our mortality in the context of an objective metaphysics entails visualizing all of life’s possibilities. Life for us should involve limitless experience and discovery of this planet (as well as the rest of the reachable universe). Machines and labor-saving devices serve the purpose of freeing us to do more exciting activities and interesting work. We require new knowledge and activities to be optimally psychologically healthy. Repetition of the same monotonous routine, using only a fraction of one’s mental potential, can lead to boredom and frustration. Boredom and frustration can lead to self-estrangement, self-denial, and a lack of respect for one’s life. While the patterns of life can be viewed as circular, we travel through time on courses of achievement.
Our childhood visions of a life of constant exploration and adventure should never be betrayed. Life involves the pursuit of values that further the happiness and well-being of individuals. The creation of wealth is a large part of this; it enriches the quality and increases the quantity of human activity. Wealth is basically the mind’s application of intelligence to bring more values into reality.
In a capitalistic society, there would be much less frustration over matters of money. As an innocent commodity, money need not be a scapegoat or object of envy and hatred either. Since there would be no real shortages of wealth in a free society, anyone who desired to be productive would reap great benefits. And the generosity and goodwill of people who relished their newly created values and wealth would no doubt overflow into all aspects of the culture. Consequently, few people would sacrifice their honesty, integrity, and dignity to the depravity of institutions or businesses (or bosses) in order to maintain employment; few would see it necessary to sell their souls for the sake of income. Such is the outcome of illogical short-range values.
Life certainly ought to be beautiful for people. Yet we can make it otherwise by defaulting on thought and judgment. For instance, many believe that political conditions are not as bad as some claim because “We have more rights (given to us) in America than any other country on Earth.” This opinion may do as much damage to the idea of freedom as total opposition to freedom. In truth, both opinions oppose “too much” freedom. Freedom permits people to fully utilize their own resources and abilities. Freedom provides individuals the opportunity to create novel values and pursue happiness. Some may perceive this situation as too daunting. In fact, the experience of happiness itself can cause anxiety in a person who feels like he or she does not deserve it, or who feels like he or she is unworthy of maintaining it.12
The idea that freedom should be allowed only by permission from others does not say much for the values of inner-peace and self-respect. It seems comparable to the idea that people have to “pay their dues” and toil for much of their lives in misery. That one becomes “experienced” or “wise” after such a process is, of course, contrary to the acquisition of fundamental principles. Yet those who try to put youths “in their place” with their “wisdom” (i.e., intimidate the naive) may feel a sense of superiority. But rather than becoming more joyous and happy with age, they tend to become more cynical, stubborn, and close-minded.
When fears about change, about happiness, and about freedom are not acknowledged, the idea of freedom can seem like a personal threat. Pseudo self-esteem can become entrenched as well: A false sense of efficacy and worth maintains mental barriers that prevent loss of control of a flawed value system. Holt noted the tragic irony about this situation:
The man in chains, seeing another man without them, thinks, is it possible I could have struck these chains off if I had only tried, that I didn’t have to wear them all these years? The thought is unbearable. Better get some chains on the other guy.
Only a few slaves talk about getting free. The rest argue about who has the biggest house, the finest establishment, the richest and strongest master. My team can lick your team!39(p.16)
To belittle or even destroy the vision of a beautiful existence, one needs rationalizations. The vision is lost in the name of “being strong” or “knowing one’s place” or “being mature” or “not rocking the boat.” The often heated and vitriolic rhetoric opposing the idea of pure and absolute capitalism can inevitably be traced to its cause: dislike of the task of psychological awareness and understanding. As a result, many political debates (especially controversial ones) frequently include such things as personal accusations, derisive remarks, character assassinations, and a general atmosphere of disrespect. Such defensive and offensive behavior openly displays people trying to justify unjustifiable ideas. As they hastily attempt to persuade or browbeat, they fail to realize the nature and meaning of the argument. As we know, the nature and meaning of the argument concerns one’s view of self and one’s view of life.
To admit the gigantic significance of one’s view of self and one’s view of life requires a good deal of confidence and courage. And, it requires an expansion of consciousness. To see new possibilities and perspectives in life oftentimes (though not always) requires a consciousness that is already emotionally predisposed (through previous choices) to doing this. Regardless of setbacks in life or troubled areas of self, this type of consciousness still desires to see things as they should be.
New planes of growth and happiness become visible when we comprehend that existence is absolutely amazing! And yet, on a deeper level, this identification only begins to describe it. The fact that we are an immensely complex product of millions of years of evolution is astounding in its own right. The fact that billions of neurons inside our cranium give rise to the awesome greatness of consciousness, enabling us to know and reflect, is astonishing beyond words. The intricate integration of cells, tissues, and organs within each of us is exhilarating to contemplate too. The fact that Earth is just one remarkable planet of nine in a system fueled and sustained by a heliosphere is awe-inspiring. Yet, this solar system may be simply one of hundreds of thousands in this galaxy of hundreds of billions of stars.
Our Milky Way galaxy (or as the early Ionians called it, the Backbone of the Night), is just one of tens of billions of other galaxies throughout the known universe.91 Astronomical calculation tells us that it would take 100,000 years traveling at the speed of light (300,000 kilometers per second) to journey across our galaxy. This paints a picture of just how vast the universe is——in many ways, incomprehensibly vast.
Finally, the facts that one day we will die and all of these breathtaking insights can no longer be relished (and constantly refined) leads us to the ultimate truth: One’s life is an amazing event. In fact, this event allows us to state this ultimate truth. These statements may seem like truisms, but we live in a culture in which their emotional emphasis can be lost. It is therefore mandatory to repeat them.
Few truths can be as unappreciated as your own existence, your own self in reality. Paradoxically, our existence is so amazing that we run the risk of it dulling our senses. Thus, we have to prevent it from seeming commonplace; we have to reformulate our experiences when they begin to have a superficial quality.
This age of pre-logic in the realm of philosophical and psychological issues can be seen in many respects as the denial of the glory and greatness of human existence. The greatest steps forward in life involve evolution of consciousness. Naturally, with evolution of consciousness comes evolution of politics. Thus current issues of politics eventually will become things of the forlorn and unenlightened past.
An Active Mind
The first of two psychological fountainheads necessary for a free society to occur and sustain itself is an active mind. This is distinguished from an “open” mind, which sometimes is interpreted as being receptive to nearly any idea or behavior.80 Indeed, capitalism would erase most impediments to clear, logical thinking, as well as weaken incentives to pursue irrational values. A whole new social system of active-minded people would uphold truth and rational values. People would search for the answers to questions they could not resolve that were important to them, be they extrospective or introspective. Consequently, they would have developed the invaluable habit of using their minds beneficially through logical identification.
An active mind is a crucial determinant of psychological health because it is the trait that inspires a person to think rather than remain complacent. At any point, a person is free to understand and remedy troublesome issues, or free to turn away and repeat errors. An active method of dealing with reality includes responsible awareness and full use of one’s volition. It also entails finding the truth in the face of opposition and conflict. Instead of following the debilitating values and stale thinking of others or one’s culture, one finds the strength to stand alone, if need be.
Frequently, we have discussed the need for the application of noncontradictory identification to solve any seemingly insurmountable conflict or unsettling paradox. While the nature of human consciousness does not endow us with an infallible cognitive and hence emotional system, it does bestow the ability to understand our limitations. The answer to the biological question “Why have not humans evolved so that they conceptualize reality always in a noncontradictory fashion?” is quite clear. A correct conclusion relies on many factors, and many conceptual and emotional paths can lead us astray. We are sometimes fortunate to arrive at the truth in certain situations.
As noted previously, the context of present knowledge bears on the ability to reach the truth. For instance, the search for truth in empirical study entails often meticulous scientific work that involves replication of experimental procedures and outcomes. How much logical knowledge we acquire depends on how much information we can gather (or are given) in the process. Additionally, our emotional disposition can affect the way we look at and approach an issue or situation.
In many cases, though, the decision to not reach the truth—about metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and political issues in particular—occurs when one is sidetracked by a personal context that disvalues the search for truth. Problems may arise when conscious or subconscious beliefs do not correspond to reality. Because beliefs help maintain a sense of control in one’s life, they can provide reassurance and security—a sense of normalcy. Sundry evaluations have been tied to thought patterns and actions, and an emotional system quickly detects whether one’s belief system is in jeopardy.
At any time, an individual (or someone else) can question his or her beliefs and evaluations. Now comes an ultimate test of self-esteem: to have the self-trust and self-value to actively search for the truth and renounce the false, whatever it may concern—and whatever the effects. Although it may seem natural to fear what we have avoided, only when we face problem areas in our psyche can our fears in any way subside. When we face irrationally-based fears, we discover that we had nothing to fear but our former self-induced blindness.
An active mind is a particular conscious mental activity or attitude. Yet the supremely important characteristic of an active mind is its ability to observe and deal with subconscious processes—namely, feelings. The subconscious naturally serves as a computer-like, albeit fallible, memory for experiences (and the conclusions and interpretations formed about them). It can be resistant to any mental or physical actions not in sync with its embedded structures; too many parts of consciousness can be left to their own devices (or put on auto-pilot) for too long.
Yet, to an active mind, feelings emanating from the subconscious are neither the prime signals of right and wrong nor unchangeable absolutes. Although sometimes we can carelessly allow them to direct our thought processes and actions, feelings do not serve us very well as guideposts of the intellect. They can be useful information, however, in the search for clearness in identifications.
To repudiate feelings is really to repudiate aspects of ourselves. Feelings, particularly ones that are disturbing, need to be felt and understood, not dismissed or willed away. For instance, repeated exhibitions of anger, hostility, abrasiveness, brashness, boastfulness, manipulation, guilt, shame, humility, nervousness, indifference, and so on, have definite significance. By genuinely accepting and owning feelings, we use them advantageously. By repudiating them, we tend to strengthen that which we felt powerless (or maybe powerful) over in the first place. If we superficially view certain emotional aspects of ourselves as “the given,” we thereby distract ourselves from integrating them on a deeper level and promoting any needed change.
An active minded person develops a habit of sorting out fact from fiction, the correct from the incorrect. Consequently, he or she does not settle for being mired in emotional turmoil or conflict. In any bad psychological (or physical) situation, he or she desires to ask “Why?” and “How?”. Nonetheless, at any point an active mind too can lapse in judgment of particular areas of self and reality. This can happen for a variety of reasons: the nature of free will; the tenacity of past mistaken subconscious assumptions and former psychological inertia; inadequate focus on emotional conflicts; or just plain stubbornness. The task for the active mind, then, is to acknowledge its mistakes and difficulties and move on to new dimensions of mental and emotional evolution.
Ultimately, an active mind provides hope for the human race instead of worn-out cynicism or dismal bromides. It constantly questions happenings in life and seeks fruitful answers. A person with this attitude remains attentive, even amidst an atmosphere of intellectual stagnation (in which many others have decided that they have thought enough). This attitude is frequently applied in science.
Conscientious pursuit of the truth, as well as flaws in thinking, represents the essence of any scientific work. In broad terms, anyone who discovers something new or develops something innovative can be considered a scientist (and entrepreneur) in his or her own right. A tribute needs to be given to those who have participated in such undertakings—and to any child who dreams of one day including him or herself in this discovery process.
Through science, we can understand and utilize nature in ways that past generations could not even imagine. Science not only provides for us in the present; it outlines and prevents future problems, be they individual or global. Discoveries such as new medical treatments and better, less polluting methods of energy production are ultimately scientific quests.
Yet the diligent work of the scientist might be overlooked or unappreciated at times. Science can sometimes be treated as a cultural side note. Those of us who sleep on an innerspring mattress, store food in a refrigerator, flip on a light switch to read a book, drive a car to work, and so on, are intimately connected to the achievements of science. Yet to take such conveniences for granted can be easy. They have become part of our lifestyle. However, none of our lives would have near the pleasure—or the safety and security—if it were not for the results of the thinking, active mind—the mind that wanted to know why and how and then proceeded to answer those timeless queries.
Even though science is the great safeguard for human existence, science can be used also for ill purposes (just like most other things). Some scientific achievements invoke warranted criticism: particular advances in industries or technologies that seem to cause more problems than they were designed to solve—or that solve problems for some, only to create difficulties or disasters for others. But science, per se, is assuredly not the villain in these matters. Actually, science and the free market put checks on detrimental ideas and products. Corrupt philosophical systems, namely political ones (and the individuals who uphold them), are the usual villains. So, it is vital to know what values are required for the beneficial and benevolent utilization of science.
All the plights of our non-objective civilization (e.g., nuclear and chemical weapons of mass destruction) may foster a desire for “the simple life.” On occasion, we may hear the remark that science is unnecessary, because people in primitive societies lived harmoniously with nature and were happy to be without science. Life was indeed less complicated. And without philosophically analyzing the so-called civilized world, it can be quite confounding. However, if one were to venture into the wilderness for a few months (with no items from civilization), survival undoubtedly would become the major concern. One might not even be able to escape starvation and death.
Not only do we need interaction with others for complete psychological well-being. But also individuals can achieve more in large groups than alone or in small numbers. Larger populations yield synergistic effects. Even small tribes greatly reduce the time spent on survival through cooperation and division of tasks. However, in the transition from tribal populations to the populations found in civilization, humanity overlooked the need for a civilized code of ethics and a logically advanced politics.
Ayn Rand noted that people have basically two values to offer each other in society: knowledge and trade.76 Passage of knowledge from one mind to another is an essential part of human life, and trade of values—be they spiritual or material—is necessary for any degree of happiness. That a person can attain a certain degree of happiness in any context of knowledge is true. But the highest potentials of enjoyment involve constant discovery and relishing its products. It follows that this is only totally attainable in a free society—and, preferably, a highly advanced one.
Even the primitive design of bows and arrows, fishing tackle, long-lasting shelters, cooking utensils, as well as the discovery of herbal remedies, must originate from a thinking mind. The scientific inventor, however, sets no limits upon ingenuity or creativity. He or she seeks new ideas and easier, more productive methods. Such innovators prior to a few hundred years ago were frequently denounced, spurned, stoned to death, or burned at the stake. Now they and their accomplishments are regularly embraced.
Free markets facilitate such active mindedness. The creation of a liberated environment certainly is the great task ahead for our species. The tremendous wealth of information and communication ability now available, for example, via computers and the Internet, offer definite advantages in this task. Clearly, to sort through the ever-increasing amounts of material and glean the essentials, requires an active mind. People must be able to discriminate fact from fiction, and the important from the not so important.
Life is an event that unfolds before us, forever challenging us to venture forth. The choice for us is whether or not to turn this event into something productive—something that reflects our rational values about what life ought to be. By representing our highest values, we gain both pride and happiness, which includes a passion for this planet and the universe. Since an active mind places supreme value in thought and judgment, this mindset allows all glorious achievements to take place in any age. And since the present period concerns us the most, active-minded individuals are now most needed.
A Brilliant Sense of Life
An active mind is a crucial element of the psyche for many reasons. It primarily reaffirms the conviction that one’s mind is efficacious. One’s mind is able to think and judge the facts of reality, be they internal or external facts. Another element is interwoven in this topic, though. It involves the other aspect of self-esteem: the feeling of being worthy of happiness.
The second major psychological fountainhead vital for a free society is a brilliant sense of life—characterized by an attitude of interest, enthusiasm, emotional availability, spontaneity, and genuineness. This particular sense of life can be viewed as the emotional counterpart to an active mind. Essentially, it represents the development of an affirmative outlook about oneself (and thus others) and reality.
In intellectual terms, one’s sense of life is a pre-conceptual equivalent to one’s metaphysics (one’s view of reality in general). In psychological terms, it is the sum of one’s subconscious integrations about one’s overall view of self and existence; it conveys what a person deems important about his or her experiences with others and the world, by illustrating it emotionally in words and behavior.79
Naturally, how a person sees the world depends on his or her particular sense of life. It can reflect vibrancy and aliveness or, in contrast, a gloomy, negative, or uncertain outlook on life, others, and oneself. Of course, numerous variations exist between these two opposites. Individuals can vacillate emotionally at different periods in life.
Nonetheless, a brilliant sense of life reflects the quest to make our life and, necessarily, our experiences as great as they can be. This means we no longer merely hope for happiness (no longer view it as either illusory or transient). Rather we experience happiness.
As noted before, our happiness is our own responsibility. Life is what we make of it, oftentimes regardless of our situations. We can approach challenges and experiences with an uplifting or exuberant attitude, or not. When appropriate, we can exude a playful manner of behavior and expression, or not. If we choose to live with zest, we are very likely to affect others (and be affected by them) positively. A feedback loop is thus created.
It stands to reason that those who do not at least yearn to achieve a brilliant sense of life can have trouble identifying with it. They may perhaps feel irritated or uncomfortable about such an attitude because they have difficulty or feel uneasy expressing their own excitement. Or they may be drawn by a desire to discount values, rather than nurture and cherish them. So, they may be unwilling to consciously admit the existence of a brilliant sense of life. Yet the psychological contrast between themselves and others continues to remind them that they have the choice to change.
Fortunately, most people respond favorably, if not enthusiastically, to those who enjoy life and their interactions with others. Of course, some things might be mistaken at one time or another for a brilliant sense of life: a flippant happy-go-lucky attitude; a transient frivolity (stemming from a temporary relief of persistent psychological conflict); a placating personality; a desire to needlessly entertain, and so on. Knowledge of the character and complete personality of a person will reveal the true identity.
A person with a brilliant sense of life is not, in a personal way, very familiar with despair and boredom. That is to say, he or she considers these depressing human experiences to be mostly inapplicable to life. Over time, this person has realized subconsciously (and consciously) that there is no logical reason to maintain self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy or hopelessness. At some point, he or she correctly discovered that each individual is in control of (and responsible for) his or her own psychological condition in life. He or she embraces the idea that one should make the most of every experience, and relish the invaluable moments one has. This entails being psychologically integrated enough to dismiss various irrelevant and inconsequential things, which also means not being one’s own psychological antagonist.
It is not the case that this type of person is completely untouched by psychological ailments—for that would not be human. Rather, he or she is soon able to overcome them and cast them aside; he or she does not allow psychological ailments to define the nature of his or her life and person.
One prerequisite to this process is the courage to allow ourselves to experience and “own” our troublesome feelings when we are having them, to listen to them and treat them with the respect they deserve. From here we can take the necessary psychological steps forward. The term “psychological resilience” is perhaps the most accurate name for this attitude of self-acceptance. It illustrates the significance of emotional flexibility, which involves not being stuck in a troubled state of mind, and not being emotionally rigid and closed to other evaluative possibilities and habits.15 Thus, we deal with our experiences in a healthy fashion. On an ordinary level, for instance, we effectively defuse numerous daily potential annoyances instead of becoming “stressed out” about them.
The ability to experience any event or situation, however troublesome, and focus on the essentials of one’s existence, plays a large part in a brilliant sense of life. This psychological attitude embraces the fact that we are mortal, rational beings living on an extraordinarily beautiful planet. In other words, he or she seldom loses sight of the idea that this planet is paradise and that one is an irreplaceable part of this paradise. And so, he or she realizes that it is basically senseless to spend time fretting and worrying about nonessentials, as well as being dragged down by those who do spend time this way. He or she knows that the world can be shaped into one’s greatest values.
Without question, a brilliant sense of life remains the dominant theme for anyone who has integrated the proper evaluations of self and the world. Let us examine the main factors that cultivate this attitude. A rational and self-esteeming childhood is important——for example, having parents and teachers who give the appropriate guidance and education about self, reality, and others. However, a powerful will to view oneself as worthy of happiness, no matter what one’s childhood environment was like, is even more important. Since few persons have childhoods free of negative influences (although some childhood environments are much better than others), we must credit an extraordinary will to be happy and self-assured. Although it may not be all-encompassing, this mindset includes the early formation of a strong self-concept and positive self-image.
For example, in the face of a confusing, disorienting, or even frightening incident, one draws the proper conclusions about the strangeness of the situation. The emotional mechanism is used to one’s advantage. Instead of mistakenly concluding such things as “I am to blame” or “Life will always be this way,” one learns from the bad experience in a psychologically rewarding way. Potentially harmful situations are put into proper context, and they do not impede participation in new activities. A pattern of this sort encourages further self-assertion and self-mastery, which enables one to cope enthusiastically with innumerable events in life (social, personal, work-related, etc).
The formation of a brilliant sense of life early on—and maintaining it as an adult—is quite an accomplishment. As in any psychological trait, though, it may not be practiced or exhibited continuously. Nonetheless, this mental outlook is essential to a life proper to a human being—and to the ideal society. In the end, this mindset is a prerequisite to fully experiencing new possibilities of self—which includes living in the future ideal society. Only this mindset is able to mesh fully with logical ideas about self and existence.
We should realize that all of us have been, at one time or another, our own best examples of this mental outlook. Children are naturally full of a brilliant sense of life. Yet later on, many persons are left with a vague thought—but acute feeling—that things are not really right with themselves, others, and the world. Typically, the glimmer of a bright and fresh possibility from childhood is mixed with the desire to remedy a psychology of occasional turmoil and conflict.
The process of consciously working to change aspects of poor self-concept and self-image as an adolescent or adult can be demanding. It requires fixing mistaken subconscious value-judgments, which everyone must do to some extent (we cannot escape the nature of consciousness and the age we live in). Ignorance and procrastination seem to be the worst adversaries in this procedure. One ends up paying a price for not having formed correct assessments of oneself and one’s experiences as they happened. However, the achievement of a brilliant sense of life then becomes the ultimate builder of genuine self-esteem. We amass enough trust in our mind and worth to change in greatly fulfilling ways.
As we understand the psychological attributes of an active mind and a brilliant sense of life, we notice that they are both causes and effects of self-esteem. They involve choices and then actions (either mental or physical) that sustain those choices, which then create further choices; it is a process of reciprocal causation.15 Logical insight and subsequent action encourage this psychological process to continue. Eventually, we create a new view of ourselves and life in general.
More fundamental than self-esteem is the matter of self-concept. Our view of who we are and what is possible to us may become profoundly fixed in our psyche, for better or worse, at an early age. Our self-concept can influence the ability to see any of these issues with the necessary level of objectivity. The ultimate choice, then, is to save ourselves from becoming our own psychological antagonists, and from the deleterious effects such a position has on our values, if left unrectified.
The political philosophy of liberty basically represents a society of people with genuine self-esteem. People who value themselves will value others. People who respect and trust their own thought and judgment will respect and trust them in others. People who realize the absolute worth of themselves will appreciate it absolutely in others. And people who see existence as paradise will encourage others to do likewise.
We need to remember that no contradictions can be present in objective reality. Contradictions can only be created subjectively by a decidedly unfocused mind. The decision to unfocus our mind is always ours to make, although we can leave this decision mostly to the subconscious. Thus, our beliefs and actions can become the haphazard aftermath of drifting at the mercy of our unexamined conclusions and emotions. Or, they can be the enlightened consequences of a mind in search of truth, regardless of the emotions involved (or the number of others who disapprove). Deep down, we all know the effects each policy has on our ability to enjoy life.
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