Monday, June 6, 2011

My Coming to Objectivism

In the past weeks I have read some accounts of other people's journey to Objectivism and atheism and have been inspired to write my own account. It's interesting to see how people come to take such strong ideological stances as these, for if these transformations were documented in a story, they'd be a dramatic turning point in the plot. Besides, I notice some people are often interested in some alternative ideas but are afraid to give them thorough thought for fear of how they might affect their relationships or put obstacles in their way, so I'd like to demonstrate that any hardship endured as a consequence is more than worth it.

For the most part, the reason why I've become an Objectivist is because I spent the majority of my life suffering from the bad philosophical ideas that Ayn Rand repudiated. My elders are ideologically blank and adopted the ideas that form their character with unthinking absorption and no intellectual interest, so I adopted the same ideas by observing their practices and grew up very miserable as a result, made worse by the fact I often didn't know why I thought life was so horrible. The majority of my childhood was spent either playing video games, watching television, or daydreaming, as ceasing any of those activities would make me aware of how terrible I felt deep-down.

A lot of my pain was derived by not only accepting bad ideas in unconscious terms, but also by not having any stance in important areas and therefore being plagued by uncertainty. I had pro-capitalist emotions in my teen years, but absolutely no political views while growing up, for instance, as my elders never talked about politics or took any kind of political stance. I even had a terrible stint where I doubted the validity of my sensory perception and believed I was doing evil things beyond my awareness, as one time a kid maliciously and falsely accused me of a crime without having evidence or witnesses, and yet most all the adults seized on me and with much rage urged me to "confess," despite the consistency with which I denied committing such an act and didn't even remember coming in contact with the kid. Their "certainty" in my crime made me think my memory was somehow unreliable, so I was terrified that I might be a horrible person and not know what acts I committed.

Even though my philosophy was adopted without thinking, it can still be identified in explicit terms now that I'm wiser. Metaphysically, I struggled with a mystical, religious universe in combination with one that had an identity separate from anyone's consciousness, as I both believed in God and an atheistic, scientific reality. I always had doubts about God, but since my elders didn't take my questions seriously and instead brushed me off my questions simply went unanswered, but they ultimately never left my mind since they were never refuted either. My ethical premise that thoughts themselves can be evil prevented me from thoroughly thinking about those questions however, as I thought even the slightest doubt in God could sentence me to Hell, so I actively refused to think about those matters.

Epistemologically, I adopted secular faith. While I was religious, it was primarily an intellectual position I held to, but largely paid lip-service to. The extent of my family's religious beliefs were that there is a God and he gave ten commandments, but nobody read the Bible, went to church, or took any other aspect of religion seriously. They just said they believed in God, maybe prayed at night, and otherwise lived their lives in contradiction to their supposed beliefs. I was never taught how to learn things or by which means to identify that something was true, so I developed a "somehow" mentality in which I was expected to believe in things because my elders "said so," "just know" it's true, and so on. I was perpetually uncertain, but had no thinking tools in which to fully address these premises.

My ethics were probably the most developed and destructive. It consisted of altruism, that thoughts can have moral status, and second-handedness. On the first, through whatever means I gained the belief that one should sacrifice for others, but in the end it caused me much pain since not only is sacrifice painful, but also because I grew up largely without friends and therefore without recipients for my sacrifices, and I didn't want to sacrifice anyhow since my life was spiritually painful enough as it was, so I lived with perpetual guilt. On the second, since I lived with an elder who was emotionally unstable, unpredictable, and even explosive, I gained the belief that thoughts can have moral status given how hysterical they would react to some things I said, so I thought even the mere contemplation of a "bad" thought can make one evil. I resorted to suppression, which made the bad thoughts worse and therefore me more grieved. On the last, I had another elder who was literally obsessed with what other people thought of them, so watching how they were constantly petrified at other people and always trying to cater to them made me believe it must be ethically necessary to be concerned with others, so I too became immensely worried about what other people thought of me. My self-esteem ended up being eroded since I was heavily bullied, had few to no friends, and had mostly teachers indifferent to my problems, so, granting weight to other people's thoughts, I lowered my opinion of myself. All three tenets combined made me endlessly guilty that I was not doing my altruistic duty, distraught at my mental processes, and avoiding people for fear of what they thought of me.

And politically, as stated before, there were no views. I'm not sure if my elders even voted while I was growing up. No subject of any political nature was ever brought up, and to this day I have no idea what most of my family's political affiliations are. I think they were too afraid of the slightest strife to be able to take a stance on anything, so they avoided endorsing or condemning anything, if they had any political beliefs at all, in order to get along with other people. In my teens I developed pro-capitalist emotions since I somehow arrived at the conclusion that other people should not force their beliefs on others. This didn't grow to a full political belief, however, as I still didn't know how to think in ideological terms.

The philosophy as a whole consequently made me grow up in a miserable. My metaphysics and epistemology made me confused and constantly doubtful. My ethics made me view myself as an evil person who deserved to die and was resentful at other people's perception. And my absence of any sort of politics left me ideologically powerless to society's laws since I had no conception of how men should treat each other. A lot of philosophical stances were actually something I potentially leaned towards, like atheism and rational egoism, but the ethical tenet that thoughts can be evil made me refuse to think about them, and I could hardly think in explicit terms anyhow. I played video games, watched television, and daydreamed endlessly to avoid thinking or even acknowledging the reality my life, and got depressed otherwise.

I adopted all of these ideas from my elders, who were (and still are) largely unaware of them themselves, and at the same time they hardly participated in my spiritual raising. They entertained me with material goods and fed me, but I could never have deep talks with them nor engage in any meaningful activities that would allow me to spiritually bond and nurture a love. My mother's emotional instability established my misery, made me afraid of her, and made me avoid her since I couldn't predict her behavior. My grandmother just gave me a lot of presents and material goods, which I enjoyed, but cannot appreciate her character on the basis of since her personality if of a different nature. My grandfather sat around and drank soda all the time, and eventually I became afraid of him when he one day lifted me by the front of my shirt collar, looking like he was going to hit me, all because I had a bad day at school and provoked him by looking sad, so from then on I avoided him for fear of danger. I was left to my own devices then, and could do practically whatever I wanted, whether it meant playing video games for an obscene amount of hours, guzzling a quarter of a twelve-pack of soda, or eating an entire package of pudding. The rules were mostly lip-service, as even gentle asking would make them cave and backtrack, leaving me with little parental influence. I spent the vast majority of my time alone, doing my own thing.

As time went on my philosophical premises made me feel worse and worse, to the point I became suicidal. My life was only protected by a lack of motivation, however, as my most distressed and suicidal moments were accompanied by a great fear and lack of motivation to do anything about it. I spent well over five years nurturing suicidal thoughts and intentions. My relationship and trust with my elders was destroyed when they totally ignored me when I outright told them about this, as they refused to talk to me about it or get me any kind of help. The friends I consulted with didn't help me either, as it turned out they just used me to vent themselves, so they didn't care to give my serious problem any attention. I was shocked that the people I trusted the most in my life could betray and abandon me like this, so from during that period I stopped trusting and "loving" these people and kept to myself. I was alone with my problems. It's especially bad since I almost went through with the act one time, and was only saved because I had a calming mood swing on the long car drive to get materials from the store.

Ayn Rand came in about 2006, which is when I was already vigorously interested in philosophy, thinking about it often. Some time back I had discovered Anthony Burgess through A Clockwork Orange and The Doctor is Sick, and loved his writing, which inspired me to start entertaining philosophy. Burgess primed my consciousness, so to speak. One day I was just randomly splurging at the bookstore on some books when The Virtue of Selfishness caught my eye. I read Athem in school previously and hated Rand's writing style, but a valued friend at the time mentioned that she loved it, so I thought I'd give Rand's non-fiction a thought to see if it was any better. Although the title is intentionally provocative, I didn't see anything different about it, as my unexplicit ethics said nothing persay about selfishness being evil, so this was a random purchase that didn't really rouse my interest.

But did the reading ever rouse me.

I was immediately blown away from the first article on, and Rand wrote in a clear style that helped me consciously call to attention ideas I couldn't speak about explicitly before and yet was having my life dictated by. Her words hit my intellectual core and made me see for the first time in my life my own system of morality, the morality I had been living by my entire life. She made me see how such a belief was destroying my life, making me miserable and reclusive. She made me see that rational selfishness was not evil, that it didn't consist of hedonism or hurting others for your "interests," but rather trading values with others. She made me see that it was not bad to be alone, and that it was not right to place other people's thoughts above your own. I was only about two essays or so in before I entered a state of intense euphoria that lasted for hours, rendering me incapable of reading any further until I had calmed down. That day was a turning point in my life.

I didn't desire to immediately take to other of Rand's works yet, but she did set off a vicious storm of thinking that drastically morphed my character and how I began thinking. I became incredibly philosophical and contemplative. The philosophy I detailed above quickly became uprooted in favor of integrating Objectivism, and it's amazing how quickly I took to it, almost as if I had been a potential Objectivist all my life. I think the doubts I had about certain positions, like about God, would have led to me integrating Objectivist premises quickly if I had fully addressed those doubts, but since I believed thoughts could be evil I didn't do that thinking, thereby leaving the stances I hold now only as a potential. Very quickly I lost the desire to maintain my evasion techniques such as playing video games, as I soon began building my self-esteem and self-love, and favored perusing intellectual forums on the internet to further develop my philosophy. I don't think I ever actually valued video games, as the habit was broken nearly instantaneously and abandoned since; now I've sold all my games and systems, and there is only a single arcade collection installed on my computer that I seldom use.

The first things I started to do were read more vigorously than I already was, have philosophical talks with my friends and some elders, and, most importantly, consciously alter my behavior to match my new ideas. For instance, I recognized and was disturbed by how second-handed I was, as I was constantly faking my personality in order to garner approval from others, so I undertook my first major self-improvement endeavor to stop being dishonest in my actions. From then on I wasn't going to give lip-service to my ideas: I was going to preach and practice them.

Rand didn't convince me on her atheism however, so I was at first the well-known contradictory "Christian Objectivist." Her idea that evasion was evil penetrated my mind, however, so I could no longer allow myself to keep evading thoughts about religion, even if I did fear it as evil. I watched an episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit! that talked about contradictions in the Bible, so that convinced me to convert to deism and not adhere to any specific religious. I kept thinking more and more about Rand's objections to not only Christianity, but religion in principle, and eventually integrated her conclusion that it was contradictory, logically impossible, and epistemologically unjustified, so about five months from having read the VOS, July 2006, I became a full-fledged atheist and stopped praying or believing in any God. As my philosophical beliefs changed, my mental health just kept improving and improving, making me grow happier and happier -- for the first time in my life. I took the objective status of my character seriously, was an overall better person, pursued learning more intently, and more. It was nearing the end of my teenager years, but my life was finally getting better.

My elders were largely indifferent to this development, unfortunately, and didn't take much interest in the books I read or that I was even reading at all. They treated me as if I was going through a stage and sometimes mouthed acceptance to the alternative ideas I stated that contradicted theirs. I briefly tried to argue with them, but I near-instantly understood that it was a mistake to try and philosophically convert them, so I largely left them alone, except in times in which they either provoked challenge or stated their beliefs in a way which made me need to voice mine lest they mistake my stance. I was my most ideologically sensitive at this point in my life, but they didn't pay attention and continued leaving me to my own devices, so they had absolutely no input in the ideas I entertained, adopted, or rejected. While I was materialistically taken care of, I consider myself as having raised myself from childhood and an entirely self-made man since my elders played no role in my spiritual development. I was growing increasingly antipodal to their ideology, but it didn't present any problems until I took some major actions to establish my well-being. You're probably already familiar with the scenario, as this is where my family troubles started brewing, eventually culminating in my current status where I moved to Texas without telling them and have excommunicated.

As part of my self-improvement I was striving to be more honest by acknowledging reality for what it is rather than what I believed it to be, and one aspect of that was my supposed love for my family. Yes, I deplored many of my elders, particularly those who didn't help me after I told them I was suicidal, but those conclusions were primarily in emotional terms only. In paying attention to the actual reality of matters it struck me as odd that I habitually said "I love you" to certain people even though I felt inwardly indifferent, so in order to reveal to myself how I truly felt towards these people I resolved never to say those words unless I actually felt love. To my utter surprise, I never said those words to my family again. When I introspected on the past I realized I almost always felt this way towards them, and was always mouthing words to deceive myself. I noticed I felt particularly strong negative emotions towards my mother. When she temporarily moved to Florida I suddenly felt immensely better and took more control over my life, eating a better (though not Paleo) diet, cleaning the house because I valued it, and being more at peace with myself. The lack of parental rules were still the same, so I didn't clean the house or ate better because I was told to -- they didn't even encourage me to -- but rather because I authentically valued the practices and maintained them of my own will. I hardly missed my mother. When she came back from Florida the negative atmosphere returned, I was stressed and in my room all the time, and refused to continue any of my regular chores. When she left again, contentment returned. One aspect of my inner peace of course could have been due to my philosophical development and desire to live life on my own terms, but it became explicitly clear that I held strong negative emotions towards my mother when I took a terrible vacation to Florida to visit her, which I hated everything about the entire trip, only relieved when I was home alone again. (My father wasn't in my life.)

I made the entirely calm dedication to never speak to my mother again whenever I should happen to move out the house, as I detested her the majority of my teenage years for her self-destructive behavior; unpredictable, unstable, and hostile emotions; and her refusal to recognize her problems or change herself. Objectivism gave me the thinking tools to reach this estimate by integrating evidence from the past and present to gather a sum of what her actions state about her character (we are what we repeatedly do), and my long-range thinking made me identify that her fluctuating behavior and refusal to change would mean that I would always be unhappy in dealing with her, which is why I chose to cut her off entirely rather than, say, merely move away and maintain correspondence. I don't think I would have been able to reach this conclusion if my psycho-epistemology hadn't been changed by Objectivism. Never at any point did I jump to a conclusion on the basis of emotion; the evidence told me this relationship would always be entirely unhappy, so I planned to disassociate entirely accordingly.

And of course, at this point you might know what happened. During my college days my mother kicked me out for knocking on her bedroom door too loudly, which is when I moved to my grandmother's and enacted the plan I constructed years prior. My family begged me to talk to my mother, but in response to my polite and extensive explanation for my stance, one I reached through hours of thinking, they gave me arbitrary conclusions they refused to give evidence for or prove, yelled at me, intimidated me, called me names, and so on. Eventually my grandmother got in the way of me living my life the way I wanted to as well, so I started the Project which culminated in me moving to Texas and cutting off a greater portion of my family. I have a super long essay here about what problems existed in my family, what I did about it, and what philosophically gave rise to my conflicts, as well as what you should do if you get in the same position.

Succinctly, I was taking great steps to vastly improve my well-being, but my elders refused to acknowledge the roots as to why I was getting so much better, so they encouraged me to reestablish the relationships and habits when led to my deterioration in the first place, so when I understood our conflicts could not be worked out by reason, I abandoned them since I was (and still am) unwilling to sacrifice my objective well-being for what they "feel" will be "good" for me.

As for friends, I still took an irrational attitude towards how I maintained many of my friendships given familial stress and leftover irrational premises, but ultimately I valued my friends less and less since I was growing more philosophical while they took another path. For instance, I hung out with people who played video games as intensely as I once did, but since I lost interest in the habit I lost the major thing I had in common with these people. I was becoming more interested in ideas, learning, and striving to realize the ideal, whereas they weren't, so we grew separately and apart. While my philosophy made me more friendless and unpopular, especially in college where my peers resented me, I didn't mind the aloneness since I had self-love and realized I wouldn't objectively like or love people with such contrary natures.

Sure, Objectivism has made me encounter a lot of obstacles, such as strife with my family, elimination of friends, hostility from others, and so on, but the hardship has been worth it to gain what I have today. I'm no longer suicidal, but rather am eager to live, more content, more respectful and nice to others, more intelligent, and more. And it is indeed Objectivism that has bestowed these benefits on me. I would never have been able to establish self-love if I hadn't repudiated altruism and the notion that it's a moral obligation to be concerned with what others think. I would never have been able to identify my family problems and solve them as I have, giving me a peaceful environment. I would never have been able to achieve my current physical health if I didn't have the courage to go against popular nutritional opinions and go Paleo. I never would have been able to identify my purpose in life and become the culinary-inspired, chocolate-reviewing person that I am today. I simply wouldn't be who I am today if I hadn't changed my philosophy, thinking habits, and how I evaluate ideas. If I kept going on the other path, I don't think I'd be alive today honestly, because the pain would just have kept getting greater.

I have definitely been scrutinized and unjustly treated for my views, such as my family getting angry at me for not talking to my mother despite her atrocious immorality, but what contentment and inner peace I have achieved has more than made up for it, and it eliminates any temptation to compromise on my ideals on the delusion that it'll somehow make things easier or make me happier. I've stuck to my convictions, and have been rewarded justly in spirit.

The way I've stumbled upon Rand's fiction by chance makes me contemplate the Butterfly Effect, how a seemingly small factor can lead to a massive chain reaction, such as a butterfly's wing flapping eventually initiating a hurricane. What if I didn't see Rand's book that day when I was out shopping, or didn't purchase it? What if I didn't read Anthony Burgess and became interested in philosophy through him? Maybe I would be an entirely different person, or maybe I would have still become an Objectivist by having the psychological makeup receptive to those ideas. I don't know, but I'm immensely glad I stumbled upon Rand's work when I did because I was intellectually ready for her at the time, and her philosophy has diverted me off a destructive path that would have only grown worse with time. Now these days I'm always concerned with expanding my mind and learning ever more, and with improving my character more and more to match that of what I view to be my ideal self. Life is worth living now. This is my story on how I became an Objectivist.

1 comment:

  1. HI Benpercent,
    Its just incredible to see your chain of events in being an Objectivist. I think you should really be proud of yourself for overcoming the kind of pain and guilt you had. Im sure you know this by now--which is why you posted it. :)
    Keep posting!


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