Monday, April 18, 2011

Bearing the Bad Times

Times are undoubtedly getting bad. Not only for the United States, but for the entire world. The economy is quite bad off, and with current political actions it's probable, if not certain, that a bout of intense inflation (or hyperinflation?) could come our way and eradicate everyone's savings. US foreign policy is a mess, with our enemies largely being ignored and unimpeded in their murderous endeavors, leaving the possibility for devastation in the future, while American soldiers engage in fruitless combat in obscure locales for obscure purposes and clear-cut failure. Laws are getting more dictatorial and ambiguous, eroding freedom more rapidly ever before, and the assault is going to continue for years yet. With things as difficult as this it can be easy to get depressed in assessing the situation, and that's probably the mindset of most of the people in the US today, particularly Objectivists, who with special emphasis pay attention to the culture at large.

These past several weeks this is what has been upsetting me, mostly, as I hate viciously problems I have to deal with that are not of my own making or moral failure. I am thoroughly attached to the notion of living by my own judgement and living or failing by that alone, so to suffer due to someone else's evil is downright infuriating. But I must, as we all, deal with it, for it's a problem already long here, with no other option than for me to tackle it. While it's easily to speculate on the matter of degrees, it's hardly contestable that things are going to get worse. Life -- true life: full happiness -- will be delayed for all of us.

But I have come to terms with this negativity, and aside from recognizing it I am learning to cope with it. It can be easy to despair over such issues and to sense that things are hopeless. If they truly were, however, then wouldn't you be dead? Without any prospect of anything to live for, wouldn't you cease maintaining your life? Your sustained living shows you're still here on earth for a reason. I myself still believe life is worth living, and beyond that I believe there's still reason to be objectively hopeful for the future.

Even as terrible as things are, I still maintain the same optimism I had in 2009, and recent happenings are strengthening my case. It's too easy to lose hope for the future and happiness when a terrible piece of legislation is passed, such as mentioned in that post, or when a disaster happens, such as the earthquake in Japan, but we must remember to introspect on the entire context and to take a bird's eye view of things, waiting to arrive to conclusions until after a distressed mood passes. Additionally, I think there are also some methods to maintain some base level of contentment during the meanwhile, to bear the stress during the bad period.

The best sign of positive change is on the cultural front regarding ideas. As I've noted elsewhere, people are more and more starting to discuss and debate alternative ideas to long-held dogmas, which indicates that the battle of ideologies have already begun. You know how Galileo, the scientist, was arrested by a church and sentenced to lifelong imprisonment? (In his own home, I believe.) He was in a legitimately hopeless situation. His mind was so potent that he was identifying aspects of nature that nobody else had before, making him the only man in the world, at his time, to have knowledge of such facts. (I don't know much about Galileo, except that arrest was his fate.) That situation can be summarized as one man literally against the world, and in his own personal realm it was a battle in which he was overwhelmingly outnumbered and could not win in his lifetime, though at least passed on his ideas to other generations. Given the impossibility of his situation -- judging from the limited context of his personal happiness, not his cultural impact -- despair would be the logical and inevitable response of any person in his shoes, and reasonably so. But this is far from the situation today -- far, far, far away. It's not the case that only one or two people are holding positive ideas against a crushing world of opposition, but rather that there are thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of people who hold better ideas to combat the ones being practiced today. And I don't mean just strict Objectivists either; in addition to those people, there are also helpfully sympathetic people who are, while not fully adhering to the philosophy, do agree with some of its most important aspects (e.g. the capitalist politics), and furthermore there are still good people who are neutral or innocently mistaken and can still be reached with honest and respectful debate. Even counting Objectivists alone is a sign of hope, as they are many and still sufficient to greatly offset any "one man against the world" scenario.

Besides that, many of the advocates of bad ideologies have self-defeating behaviors which thoroughly limits the reach they have. Evil ideas have bad and evasive epistemology at their root, so most, if not all, of these people who operate on these ideas have not thoroughly or honestly thought about them before accepting them, so their potency in persuasion is limited. People who are not honest usually ignore alternative ideas in debate, become hostile in their behavior, run away from challenge, and so on. Let's just think about these three behaviors. If they ignore alternative ideas in debate, then how can they strengthen their arguments to take into account the alternatives that are being given? Their opponents are made all the more powerful by such evasions. If they become hostile in their behavior, then what type of people are they going to appeal to or repulse? They'll likely garner the weak-willed afraid of disagreement and people who already agreed with their conclusions, and the honest and respectful people will listen more attentively to those who not only present their case calmly and respectfully, but also take into account alternative ideas and modify their positions to acknowledge them. And if evil apologists decide to run away from challenge, then what's going to stop the good guys from spreading their ideas? Fewer challenges mean fewer impediments, and with continued evasions the evil guys could wake up one day with a culture past its ideological tipping point. Truly the battle of ideas must be fought against the inertia of old ones, as the evil advocates of rotten ideas don't put up a competent fight and only have the advantage of pre-established traditions and habituated thinking.

Concretely, we can see good ideas are getting mentioned more and more all the time. Our politicians may be stuck in their thinking and destructive courses, but it seems the American people aren't staying mentally idle. Opposition to current politics is being sustained and strengthened by the continued destruction. Just look at how the Ayn Rand Institute is flourishing. In just a span of two or three years, they've been making more television and radio appearances, putting out newspaper columns and blog articles, giving frequent lectures, getting increasing donations and support, building new offices in various states, and there's probably more I'm not aware of. To see this dramatic increase of life in the institution in just a span of a few short years is impressive, and we can expect to see it increase its impact for a long while yet, especially given the sales spike of Atlas Shrugged due to the newly released movie.

In the meanwhile things are just going to have to get bad since cultural momentum has driven us to this point, and yes it will be painful. Aside from looking at the facts that justify objective hope for the future, there are ways to grin and bear the frustration in the meanwhile. As difficult things are, I've been thinking about what facets constitute thorough happiness in human beings, and I think that if we were able to just at least satisfy the very fundamental needs of our psychology in the meanwhile, things would be more tolerable during the period they must be bad.

My thinking is hardly in depth at this point, but I've been introspecting on how such a small thing as being back to work has satisfied me. I value my career to the point that I don't think I'll ever retire from working, unless it meant moving from one field to another, and being back to work has satisfied me on a deep level. During my labor-intense shift I noticed I was actually getting increasingly relaxed and started doing refreshing exhaling. Given my view on the role of work in one's life I have a psychological need to work, and working satisfies it. I don't even think all that much about the money; just whether I'm doing my job well. If things go to hell and we're all poorer, I would still be satisfied if I were still minimally employed, scraping by. I may not be able to pursue my fullest happiness given economic restrictions, but it would at least basically satisfy the need.

Another facet I've been thinking about is the need for valuable friendship. I tolerate alone time quite well and even enjoy it, but I'm starting the feel the pain of being alone spiritually. Given complications from my past life, I've seldom had satisfying relationships with people who share my worldview, and I crave to meet those people so as to add value to my own life and keep before me the good that exists in this world. If I were to satisfy that need, then my contentment would increase and my life would be richer, making for another facet of my being that has been satisfied.

What I'm trying to say here is that one's psychological needs is composed of various facets which have requirements for satisfaction, and to leave any one unsatisfied is to reduce one's satisfaction with life and bring on uncomfortable, even painful longings. I'm not sure how many facets there are, but I can at least think of career and friendship as two. I assert that if one were to satisfy the barest basic requirements of all these facets, then a deep-down contentment can be nurtured and render one more resistant to the stresses of the world. Without these general satisfactions, then the pains of the world will intensify in their stressful nature. To paraphrase Atlas Shrugged, with inner satisfaction set then pain will only go down so far, never succeeding to erode the fundamental contentment. I'll have to do more thinking about what other facets there are to be tended to, but I'm starting to take steps and am planning on leading a more active social life, including attending an Objectivist Society here in Texas.

The bad times are here to stay for now, but I don't think they will be permanently. There are many objective signs for hope for a better future, and we shouldn't let our emotions get the best of us and decide everything is hopeless just because a single bad event has happened. And even while the bad times are here there will still be some values untouched and available to pursue, contributing to the happiness of one's life, so while the bad times must be endured it is these values one should concentrate on.

If you or I really judged things to be hopeless, then I don't think either of us would continue living. Why would we? And yet, here we are. I think life is still worth living all the way to its natural end, and I think you do too.

1 comment:

  1. Good article. You've identified what makes you happy, and seek to maximize that in tough economic times.


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