Last week, I walked into class and my teacher asked how I was doing. I said that since happiness is not dependent on external factors, I am doing well. She told me that happiness was indeed dependent on the surroundings, and that the world of Ayn Rand was a fantastical "perfect little world." Over this weekend, I have written a response to her. Please comment and tell me is anything is missing. Thanks.
First, let me thank you for reading this. I understand that you do not have much time to spare, so I will try to be quick. Last week, I mentioned that happiness was not dependant on external factors, and you seemed to disagree with that statement. Due to the lack of time, I was unable to explain my position further and to correct you. Now that I have time, I can explain my position thoroughly and without the pressure of running out of time. But, of course, I can do this only with your permission, which I would be much obliged if you could grant. Now, without wasting any more of our time and my ink, I will begin.
Examining our position further, we see that this is fundamentally a case of free will against determinism. Whether or not you wish to call yourself a determinist is irrelevant because you back a deterministic claim and a deterministic code of morality. But, what is determinism? Determinism is the idea that man is simply a product of his surroundings, that there is no way for man to survive on his own means, and belief in free will is an illusion. If you took the time to examine this position further, you can see that this is neither possible nor acceptable. You cannot believe in the power of the rational mind under a deterministic philosophy. Seeing as you are a teacher, I cannot understand how you could possibly live with such a contradiction. Under a deterministic philosophy, the mind is simply an abstract form, the brain, a useless bloody organ encased in a skull that serves no purpose and has no function other than to assist in the feeling of pleasure and act as an emotional guidance system. In our case, to state that happiness is dependent on external factors is to accept all of these doctrines. By proclaiming such an absurd idea, you have stated that unconditional happiness cannot exist, that happiness is found only in happy places, that the power of the situation is the final decision in whether or not to be happy, and that the mind is of no use compared with the overwhelming power of the immediate surroundings. If these doctrines were true, both of us would still be in caves right now. The decision whether or not to be happy ultimately, scientifically, comes down personal choice. There is no denying the power of the situation, but it is nothing compared to the might of the rational mind. Indeed, happiness resides inside the brain, and is the emotional response to achieving your values, which you have determined by means of reason.
The deterministic mindset also states that the actions an organism takes are dependent on both its surroundings and its past. Since you agree that happiness is dependent on external surroundings and on past actions, you also agree that how you achieve that happiness is based on external surroundings and the past. This is not just unacceptable, it is evil. Under deterministic philosophy, morality cannot exist except in mystical, other-worldly forms. Under determinism, you cannot be moral. I am sure you consider yourself to be a moral person, but your beliefs are a serious contradiction of that. There exists an absolute morality that is not abandoned when the situation calls for change, and is called rational self-interest. As human beings with the faculty of consciousness, rational self-interest is our only means of survival.
We are not plants that survive on default. A plant survives if there is water, carbon-dioxide, and sunlight. They cannot decide whether or not to live or die, they simply are. Plants produce their own food through natural processes. As human beings who do not produce our own food, we must find it through consciousness. I quote from Ayn Rand: “A sensation of hunger will tell him he needs food; however, the sensation of hunger does not tell him how to obtain that food. Sensation does not tell him what food is good for him or poisonous.” Our environment may contain food, but we must use reason to harvest it. The same applies to happiness. There is that which makes us happy, but we must be able to identify what makes us happy in order to achieve a happy state. Environment will always be there. It’s what we do with our environment that determines whether we live or die, be happy or unhappy. That is the nature of absolute morality.
The slaves of the southern United States lived under miserable conditions, yet they were still able to be happy. The slaves examined their surroundings and identified what made them happy. Because the use of force by white people restricted them to the cotton fields, they were required to find happiness in an otherwise unhappy place. Would you be able to be happy under those situations? The same could be applied to Nazi Germany. There were millions and millions of people living in Germany at that time, but only a tiny handful of the population refused to give in to the power of the situation. For some, this meant death. Incidentally, those who fled Germany were among the most rational of them all. That is no coincidence.
Every political system has some foundational philosophy that is used to justify its existence. This country was founded upon the concept of free will, of the inalienable rights of man guaranteed to him by nature. All of your freedoms, all of your civilian rights, come from the philosophy of free-will. Every dictatorship and every socialist country is founded on the philosophy of determinism. It is the same determinism that states that man cannot survive through his own means and that he can never achieve happiness by himself, so he must sacrifice himself to the state and to his fellow human beings in order to survive and be happy. Well, look at the results. Look at the loss of moral values in society. Look at the teen suicide rates. Look at the sales of prescription drugs. Look at the economy. Determinism doesn’t work.