Hey guys, I've only posted once before. I'm someone who is interested in Objectivism and I've only read Atlas Shrugged so far (and some essays here and there), but I already have a few philosophical questions that I suspect are not totally unfamiliar to members of this forum. These questions are prompted by discussions I've had with non-Objectivists, resulting in some unresolved issues that have come up. I'm not sure how much I'm confusing concepts, thus my delegation to the experts here.
1). Regarding the cardinal values of Objectivist ethics: reason, purpose and self-esteem. From these values, the corresponding virtues follow: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride.
Now, lets try and balance these primary values/virtues against an individual’s secondary values, meaning they relate just to specific aspects of that unique individual’s personal life, e.g. success, work, romance, hobbies, relationships, etc. The primary values to me are quite clear. Its not quite clear to me how the secondary values are configured into the primary values.
For instance, lets say I have someone who I have valued my whole life and care about deeply (family member, partner, etc.). To that end they have satisfied and enriched my existence. But all of the sudden, after thinking about it for some time, I just make a brute rational calculation and realize that by deceiving them or throwing them under the bus (lets say for financial or social gain) it is in my long-term interest, i.e. on the basis of my crudely defined secondary values (reputation, success, career advancement, etc.). The value of my betrayed victim immediately diminishes post-calculation: from 1 to 0, just like that. Assuming I truly hold to my secondary values, I suffer no regret or remorse over my callous actions, which again I find to be in the service of my longer-term goals. One can imagine that sociopaths are capable of this kind of binary reasoning.
Its clear to me that such an action of deception, first and foremost, violates at least a few of the primary virtues listed above (namely honesty and integrity) and thus cuts me off from attainment of the cardinal values. In the extreme case, you are sacrificing the other person, which also contradicts the above virtues. But beyond that, is there any other rational opposition to such narcissistic behavior? How does one balance the value of personal aspiration against the value of their relationship with others in their life? Is it possible for the secondary values that define one's path in life to be truly objective?
At a certain point, I know I am stepping out and questioning the virtues which I already stated must be assumed to be true. So I guess as a separate and ultimate question, for a beginner like me to the subject, which I need to address beforehand is: what is intrinsically wrong with sacrificing others for your own self-interest? I can make an educated guess about what some of the responses to this question will be, but dont want to get ahead. And I would like to hear a more eloquent explanation of it.
Or I am just treading about this the wrong way from the very beginning.
2). Regarding human nature. If I’m not mistaken Objectivism views every human problem through the lens of philosophy, from which it derives its optimism: the hope that man can be salvaged through ideas, above all else.
However, given what we know about human evolution, the mammalian origins of the human brain, etc. it seems that our nature is rather complex. We are composite organisms; combinations of both the rational and irrational. That we lived as hunter-gatherers in large units and tribes for so long (tens of thousands of years) may be so deeply seared into our biological programming, that it just begs the question if we can ever truly shake off altruism and tribalism. A specific and very familiar example, I would imagine, shall illustrate my point.
One thing that keeps pulling me down the black hole of pessimism is the human capacity to imagine problems and conflicts when they need not exist (institutional racism, inequality, climate apocalypse, etc. you name it) . Its almost pathological. If there ever were a time for humans to have realized the proofs for individualism, free-markets and the Enlightenment- it would have been this decade. We are living in the most prosperous, peaceful and advanced time in human history: socially, materially and economically. The market is close to achieving the worker paradise that Marx dreamed up, but failed to deliver. If my camel-grazing ancestors took a time machine to the present day, they would think us Gods.
Yet, it seems that society has retreated more into tribalism, identity politics, nationalism, socialism, etc. just as much (if not more) as it did a century ago. In the digital age of information, people can be just as credulous and monstrous as they were in the age of pre-information. It would appear we just pass through this periodic wave of Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment and now the cycle is finishing (or beginning).
Perhaps this is all pointing to something deeper, more fundamental that is entrenched within us; that there are variables and coefficients in the equation of human nature. We can meddle with the variables (knowledge, music, literature, etc.), but the coefficients (collectivism, tribalism, conformity, etc.) are fixed indefinitely (or at least until the Singularity comes to pass). From Mystics of Spirit to Mystics of Muscle to Mystics of Identity. It seems the insatiable lust for tribalism and irrationalism can never be satisfied nor eradicated. I find it difficult to be so optimistic in an age not just where humans can fail, but where they want each other to fail. I mean, I read comments on social media where people are actually pleading for the producers to stop being so successful and innovative in the name of climate change. Its almost a built-in, suicidal, cannibalistic instinct.
So how do we justify having so much hope in the rational capacity of human beings?
I figure a lot of the folks here have heard these objections. I’m curious for your input.
I hope its not too incoherent or rambling in tone. I appreciate your consideration of my inquiries/talking points.