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Conformity as an enemy of self-esteem

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[Read the essay on my blog]

Conformity as an enemy of self-esteem

Conformity is the process by which one adjusts one's behavior, values and beliefs to those which one holds as acceptable by other people.

If one observes a child or an adult trying to conform, one can see that the underlying emotion in their behavior is fear and a sense of loss of control.

They are driven by fear to say certain "acceptable" things that will make them feel that they belong. They are always in a pursuit of pleasing some external authority and never find the serenity of self-approval and self-appreciation.

Conformity is not just a harmless habit, which comes down to nothing more than making sure to wear the right brand of jeans and to exhibit the right kind of opinions and interests - these are merely the symptoms, the external manifestations, of a deep spiritual, psychological problem.

Conformity is a damaging idea that targets nothing short of an individual's entire spiritual life: One's self-esteem, sense of personal identity, enjoyment of values and the possibility of any fulfilling relationship.

Most parents not realizing this, encourage their children to conform, thinking that "a child needs to have friends", "a child needs to learn to be socially acceptable to succeed in this world".

Little do they know that they ensure that if the child has any friends by this method, there is nothing left but an empty puppet to enjoy them.

If an individual cannot enjoy friends, what's the point of having them? But the damage goes much deeper and eliminates not just one's ability to enjoy friends, but one's ability to enjoy - anything.

Teaching a child that conformity is good does not take a full blown indoctrination - it can be done by hints. For example, if a child expresses concern that he is "not like the other kids" in some regard, the parent can either ensure him that being himself is the good, or the parent can help the child be like the others, in which case, the parent would be implicitly teaching the child that this is the right course of action.

Parents can teach a kid "not to make a fas" about his or her personal emotions in order to maintain a socially acceptable image, or they can teach them that the child's inner life matters more than social appearance by showing such preference themselves.

Then, parents also teach their kids how to judge themselves by showing what they themselves appreciate about what the child does. If parents show no appreciation for a child's independent thinking and creativity, but show great pleasure when he brings 5 friends home - what kind of lesson are they teaching their kid?

When one accepts conformity, one accepts a standard by which to judge oneself - one attempts to switch the role of the judge to other people. However, by the nature of SELF-esteem, that is not possible. One's subconscious then attempts to evaluate one's worth by how well one considers oneself socially acceptable, how much and how many people like him or her, how comfortable people feel around him, how much they would appreciate his jokes, how well he falls under what people consider "the norm".

One turns oneself into an empty vessel whose worth is measured by how well one can read the social circumstances and adjust to be liked and to fit the social standards. Being an "outsider", different, someone who is not socially accepted by others creates, under this standard, a feeling of inadequacy, guilt and self-doubt. One thinks "if others don't like me, something must be wrong with me".

Externally, one picks one's clothes by the impression they make on others, not by one's own preference (which is never allowed to develop). One attempts to get friends that are "cool" - not ones that one has personal interest in (personal interests are eliminated over time in favor of the "acceptable" ones). If other people in one's environment have a girlfriend or a boyfriend one feels compelled to get one too, otherwise one feels inadequate - lacking worth. If other people have a certain amount of income or lifestyle, one tries to "live up" to it.

Internally, one gradually loses sense of personal identity and loses touch with one's values (depending to what extent one accept conformity as valid). It is not possible, under the emotional pressure of trying to pretend to be someone one's not, to continue to feel affection for one's values. One's values become worthless if they are outside social acceptances.

For example, if one has a socially unacceptable hobby (say, a guy that loves the ballet), one feels that to be any good, one must denounce it to fit into what is socially acceptable. If one finds certain things funny, but others do not - one attempts to change one's sense of humor.

It is not merely approval in the eyes of others a conformist seeks - but approval in one's own eyes by changing who one is.

It is in one's own mind that one feels inadequate if one fails to be "like the other kids". Approval from others becomes not a nice emotional bonus, but a pathological need.

However, achieving approval does not solve the chronic self-doubt. Even the most popular kid in the class is still driven by chronic fear, even more than others who are less popular. Why is that so? The reason is that conformity undercuts self-esteem, regardless of how well one becomes socially accepted by others.

Imagine you were asked to walk on an invisible bridge above an abyss - would you feel any better if 100 people told you the bridge is there once you make the first step? You reach down and feel nothing, you try to knock on it but nothing shows any resistance nor makes a sound. The same thing works in regard to self-esteem. When using conformity as a standard one can only rely on others to know that one is worth something. One has no personal evidence of it - no achievement (they are all discarded in favor of social acceptance), no spiritual traits one considers admirable (they are all discarded), and one learns that one cannot rely on oneself to protect one's values on the fly. A kid that accepts conformity may discover one day, to his or her amazement, that they threw away a favorite toy in the blink of an eye to prove to someone that they are "cool".

One learns that one is not trustworthy to maintain one's life, to achieve things or to protect what matters to one.

Even the most popular kid in class (or in adult life) experiences this - and the more popular they are the more detached from personal values they become.

The feeling of having one's personal identity disappear in the presence of others creates a chronic dread from the company of people, especially public speaking and makes one very hostile to independent people. It also prevents one from developing intimate relationships because one always sees others as something to "please", not as a real person.

Healthy relationships are built on mutual appreciation. One cannot enjoy appreciation nor give it if one gives up personal identity and a standard of values.

Since conformity is subconscious and automated, one may not even realize why one is experiencing such emotions, but only that, one feels tremendous pressure to act in a way others would approve of.

It could be limited to a feeling of pressure to smile to others and act pleasant and "normal", it could go deeper into a need to make one's jokes fit that which is "conventional" or in severe cases, an individual loses all personal identity and becomes a bitter clone of "the perfect social man" (in which case, not accidentally, they are preoccupied preaching acceptance of others, altruism and compassion and take every opportunity to crusade and blame anyone who is not "social" as a way to rationalize their emotional situation).

To concretize better how conformity is a psychological problem, let's contrast it to healthy self-esteem. How can one maintain stable self-esteem?

Self esteem comes from staying loyal to one's standard of judging people and of having one's standard grounded in reality.

For example, if one notices while growing up that lies and dishonesty are disastrous to human beings and one concludes that honesty is a virtue - then one clings to it no matter what. Suppose some person comes along and says "telling the truth is for suckers. The cool ones are those who can deceive others and get what they want from them" - then one does not surrender one's value of honesty in favor of living up to the other person's standard. If one does this consistently, one maintains healthy SELF ESTEEM - in the full sense of the words, and this feeling of serenity and confidence is always present in one's mind regardless of the circumstances or what other people think of one.

One gains self esteem from living up to one's ethical values and placing nothing above one's own judgement of what those values should be, based on one's experiences and knowledge. The hallmark of self esteem is selfishness - by which I don't mean the conventional term for "selfishness" as exploitation, but someone who always acts for his or her own benefit - in every second of the day one places nothing above one's own enjoyment (long and short term).

The trouble with conformity is that it becomes, after childhood, a subconscious, automatic way of thinking and feeling. One may act in ways that do not seem to be in pursuit of one's happiness, but to satisfy some other subconscious need. If one accepts the idea of conformity even for a limited time in childhood, then if left unchecked one is likely to suffer some automatic reactions relating to conformity as an adult.

The way to solve it, as with anything else, is to develop self awareness. To become aware of one's feelings and subconscious thoughts and then to correct them time and time again (if they are in need of correction). It is also important to go back to childhood memories and remember cases in which conformity was an issue. Thinking back to such cases and realizing what would have been the right course of action and the right response is another step in reprogramming your subconscious with the right values and standard.

Self-esteem is not automatic. It requires effort, judgement, refusal to compromise on one's values - but the result is a sense of serenity which is at the base of happiness and enjoyment of life.

___________________________________

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Certainly some level of conformity is a good thing?

Table manners, nose picking, loud belching, spitting, scratching, personal grooming in public, etc...

Or do you think not?

This is not conformity, though. There is a rational reason not to disgust others around you. Other people are of great potential value - it's hard to enjoy a rational being while pooping on their dinner table.

What is the rational reason to wear jeans one does not like but that other would? What is the reason for telling jokes others would like but one finds boring? None. It holds no personal satisfaction, no psychological visibility, no exchange of values - THAT is conformity.

EDIT: There is definitely great value in investing in one's external appearance and great rational pleasure to be derived from being appreciated and enjoyed by others (that one appreciates). It is a false notion that caring for other people's opinion or wanting approval or admiration is the same as conformity or second-handed-ness. It is simply not true. A conformists seeks approval for the sake of running from self-doubt. A man of self-esteem seeks appreciation for the sake of enjoying his value, which he is already aware of.

Edited by ifatart
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That's both all-encompassing and searching, Ifat.

Well done.

Thanks, whYNOT. I think there is still a lot to be said on this topic... I don't see this essay as all encompassing.

Several things I see important to write more about:

  1. What are the guiding principles of behavior in expressing oneself? (should one shout in the streets "death to socialism" or just talk about it with friends and why? What counts as conformity and what as simply selfishly keeping one's thoughts to oneself?)

  2. Many people feel that if they don't conform they will not be able to survive in this world - is it really true?

And there are more related topics.

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Many people feel that if they don't conform they will not be able to survive in this world - is it really true?

From personal experience, I think that this is true. I find that you can always recognize the conformer from his or her lack of self-esteem and self-assurance, and from the fact the he or she normally has difficulty making decisions, and so would probably act in that manner out of fear for their survival.

I have been called 'too independent' by a family member when ever I make a personal decision. This, to me implies that my family member sees individuality as a threat, and that I am not behaving appropriately (or conforming). There are other implications in regards to this, but I will not address them here.

Great essay by the way. Very informative.

Take care of yourself.

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Concerning table manners, I would say that conformity could describe what might be considered 'social currency'. Within a society, to communicate certain intentions, get along with people according to the same standard, there are 'manners'.

But I would draw a line between manners and self-esteem destroying conformity by looking for the point when conformity is demanded. For example, if a 'nerd' wants to discuss their passion with you, but you are not interested, or turned off by his lack of social skills, that is his error for not affording the 'price' of interaction. If someone is generally 'nerdy' and is therefore shunned/teased/mocked/persecuted, that is conformity.

Just the way I see it. Another way of looking at it: when you do something different than someone else, and disagree, do they 1) Attack the action/idea or 2) Attack you. If the answer is 1, they can provide reasonable evidence one time, and that criticism remains contextual. If it is 2 they are a bully and esteem-parasite.

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Yea, the 'social currency' thing has given me a lot of concern. When you've heard most of your life that you could be more charming, less direct, less blunt in getting your opinion across, (and in fact, do you have to be so opinionated?) you wonder about the merits of social discourse, and whether it is more rational to soften your approach to others.

My wife often said that it was the "way" I did and said things that was abrasive, and turned off people.

I think there's some efficacy in engaging others with a bit more 'social lubricant' - but only up to a point, and not at cost to truth. (And blindly conforming!)

BTW, ifat, have you considered naming your essay " ConformISM, the enemy of Self Esteem" ?

I think 'conformity' is a narrower field, but 'conformism' covers all bases.

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Concerning table manners, I would say that conformity could describe what might be considered 'social currency'. Within a society, to communicate certain intentions, get along with people according to the same standard, there are 'manners'.

But I would draw a line between manners and self-esteem destroying conformity by looking for the point when conformity is demanded. For example, if a 'nerd' wants to discuss their passion with you, but you are not interested, or turned off by his lack of social skills, that is his error for not affording the 'price' of interaction. If someone is generally 'nerdy' and is therefore shunned/teased/mocked/persecuted, that is conformity.

Just the way I see it. Another way of looking at it: when you do something different than someone else, and disagree, do they 1) Attack the action/idea or 2) Attack you. If the answer is 1, they can provide reasonable evidence one time, and that criticism remains contextual. If it is 2 they are a bully and esteem-parasite.

Yes, that is what I am saying.. manners are a useful conformity.. therefore do not go against rational self interest but are nonetheless conformity.

Perhaps for clarity different forms of conformity should be established.

While some conformities are obviously based in reason (washing your hands after using the bathroom for example) others are not. Table manners vary drastically from culture to culture. I've worked with and for people from all over and I will eat & drink in a different manner depending on whether I am dining with Koreans, Japanese, Americans or French. It is a useful conformity- that I know and can show respect for their customs give me as you stated well- social currency- that gives me better business status with them.

I think that the issue at hand is to determine when rational self interested social currency based conformity turns into the conformity of low self esteem.

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Yes, that is what I am saying.. manners are a useful conformity..

I don't think it's conformity at all - this is not a process by which one adjusts oneself to what others see as acceptable, but this is one deciding to act in a way most beneficial to communication and living with others (such as not burping in public or sneezing in someone's face etc'). Conformity is referring to the intention behind an action, not to what it happens to be in addition - i.e. if something I do happens to fall within the norms of society it does not mean that the action is conforming.

Edit: If one thinks "OK, I'm going to act in a certain way now so that others may like me/ approve of me" that is conformity. If one thinks: "I'm going to act in a way that promotes my enjoyment and values, and if others like me for it, all the better!" that is not conformity.

Edited by ifatart
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"Conformity is the process by which an individual's attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are influenced by other people"

While you may be doing it (obeying social norms) in a rationally self interested manner it still falls under the definition of conformity.

Most especially when one entertains international guests or travels abroad as these norms vary from place to place (in some places it is considered rude to not belch.

I agree with your assessment and like what you wrote, I just had to clarify for myself what kind of conformity you were addressing.

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"Conformity is the process by which an individual's attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are influenced by other people"

While you may be doing it (obeying social norms) in a rationally self interested manner it still falls under the definition of conformity.

I never used the definition you are using, I don't think it is true.

In any case... If I like dressing up and I pick something conventional which I like - is that conforming? Accidentally, my appearance will match the social convention, but that is a major distinction - accidentally. Contrast that with someone who goes shopping looking for clothes that would gain him social approval - see the difference?

Or how about someone who is smiling to someone else out of enjoyment vs. someone who is smiling to make others find one acceptable (even though one feels no genuine feeling that would motivate a smile) - both of them are acting in a socially acceptable manner, yet only the second one is conforming.

The same thing goes for manners. The reason I am acting in a certain way which is socially acceptable (like not burping in public or other stuff of this kind which I'm sure you can think of) is not because I am undergoing a process of adjusting my behavior to what is socially acceptable, but because this is what I find the right course of action.

In other words acting in a socially acceptable manner is not conformity. Adjusting one's behavior to that which is socially acceptable is.

at least, "adjusting" is the best word I can think of for this process to illustrate the distinction in each of the cases above. If anyone has a better word in mind I'd be happy to hear.

Edited by ifatart
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Or take even something like using a certain locally accepted gesture, like... tipping a hat as a way of greeting someone. Using such a gesture is still not conforming, no more than using a language is conforming.

I am not conforming to the American people by speaking English... some language is necessary. So things like shaking hands are nothing more than that.

By the way, thanks for the idea about making a distinction between conformity and conformism. I think I will leave the name as it is, because I was talking about the actual process of conforming as damaging, so the name is good enough to express the content.

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Thinking about conformity; the time in my life when I refused to follow anyone elses' customs, principles, or dictates, but stubbornly had to go my own way (Yea, a rebel without a cause ;) ). This, I realised later was just another 'conformist way': opposing everything unthinkingly, is no better than following everything unthinkingly.

This brings me to the thought that if the true polar opposite of conformity is independence and individualism, not rebelliousness, (which I believe), then that other larger enemy of individualism, is none other than our old friend, Altruism.

ie, Conformity = Altruism (or, at least a sub-set of altruism.)

Think about it: conformity, one could define as the desire - rationalised, or psychological - to fit in. It's whole raison d'etre is to be the same - as everyone else around at the time. Or with what the common, fashionable worldview is at the time.

To be conformist, one is actually saying to everyone, "Don't be scared of me. I am no threat to you. I am no better and no worse than you. Just accept me, and I'll accept you. I won't judge, if you don't judge." And so on.

A desire for conformity is being over- concerned about others' opinions of oneself, and is therefore, altruistic, as well as undermining of real self-worth.

(Good old altruism , she sure gets around, does't she?)

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...

ie, Conformity = Altruism (or, at least a sub-set of altruism.)

...

I thought about this question too, but I don't think they are the same at all. Conformity means trying to adjust to whatever is socially acceptable. For some people it is socially acceptable to be "a player" meaning, to lie and deceive to score with as many women as possible, to cheat others to get a lot of money etc'. This is definitely, not altruism, to put mildly, and yet the people who try to live to that standard and be a good "player" are conformists.

If you want to see what I mean see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ4axo9rmJY lol this video is so funny.

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I thought about this question too, but I don't think they are the same at all. Conformity means trying to adjust to whatever is socially acceptable. For some people it is socially acceptable to be "a player" meaning, to lie and deceive to score with as many women as possible, to cheat others to get a lot of money etc'. This is definitely, not altruism, to put mildly, and yet the people who try to live to that standard and be a good "player" are conformists.

If you want to see what I mean see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ4axo9rmJY lol this video is so funny.

:P "Wasn't me!" Ha, that is funny. (Now, why is it that something so deceitful and dishonest can still appeal ? Never quite figured this.)

One thing, it seems to me that you are reducing your conformity hypothesis to a numbers game, in a way -- the more that practise a certain behavior, the more conformist they are - and the reverse.

Well yes, there has to be an element of this, but it can't be all. There is a Lowest Common Denominator aspect to social behavior whch has its time and place, but will be - and ought to be - easily transcended by a thinking person.

I'd suggest you don't chuck the 'altruism' connection out just yet, Ifat.

This exact example you gave of the "Player" is a case in point. Maybe it's something that you have to have lived through yourself to understand... but I know for certain that what one is aiming for as a 'player' definitely is all about how one looks to others.

The lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, scoring with deals, and women, all that social cool, has one primary goal, and it is impressing your buddies and other people. (Trying to convince yourself of something, too ?)

It begins a slide into miserable second-handness, from which one's self-esteem may never recover.

That cool guy in the video? Just imagine him 10 years down the line.

Social acceptability-conformity-visibility; and living via other peoples' image of oneself : I can't separate the two.

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:P "Wasn't me!" Ha, that is funny. (Now, why is it that something so deceitful and dishonest can still appeal ? Never quite figured this.)

No appeal here... it's just funny because it shows a case of a completely utterly pathetic individual. I just can't even think of this seriously, it's just funny.

One thing, it seems to me that you are reducing your conformity hypothesis to a numbers game, in a way -- the more that practise a certain behavior, the more conformist they are - and the reverse.

Well yes, there has to be an element of this, but it can't be all. There is a Lowest Common Denominator aspect to social behavior whch has its time and place, but will be - and ought to be - easily transcended by a thinking person.

Well, I have no idea what you're saying here or where you're coming from, so I can't reply.

I'd suggest you don't chuck the 'altruism' connection out just yet, Ifat.

This exact example you gave of the "Player" is a case in point. Maybe it's something that you have to have lived through yourself to understand... but I know for certain that what one is aiming for as a 'player' definitely is all about how one looks to others.

The lifestyle of conspicuous consumption, scoring with deals, and women, all that social cool, has one primary goal, and it is impressing your buddies and other people.

Well, excuse me for saying it so bluntly, but "duh"! Of course it is to impress others. But being a second hander and an altruists are two different things. If I understand you correctly here you are using them as if they were the same thing.

Altruism is about mother Theresa kind of devotion to the sick and needy. Do these guys look like mother Theresa to you? Not to me. :P

Edit: the only tie I see to altruism is that this version of a "player" as a hero, a cool individual is born as a response to altruism. It accepts the dichotomy of life either being about living like a sucker or stealing and cheating and takes the "selfish" side, in this perverse version of selfishness created by altruism. But this "player" character is definitely unmistakably not an altruist.

Edited by ifatart
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Ifat,

Your concept of altruism is a too narrow one.

If selfishness is "concern with one's self", Altruism is "concern with others"; to put this simply.

('Alter' - 'Other', in Latin)

The 'doing' for and 'giving' to others a la Mother Teresa, is only part of the story. To extrapolate the base definition, altruism is being over-concerned with others, all the time. Further, it means living for, through, and by , them. (imo)

Look at all Rand's writing on this and her meaning is clear, implicitly amd explicitly. "I don't think of you" Ellsworth, is a prime example of a 'perfect' Altruist: everything he did was ultimately for others and through them - to use them in his quest for power, sure, but more, to gain their acceptance and love. A selfish man? We know better. He is a man of no self, at all, no 'soul'.

How he appeared to others ("What do you think of me?") , how he influenced and manipulated them, was all tied up with his very Being. No separation, no independence.

So I still claim that a consuming need to "fit in", with the indistinct mass of " Society", and its corresponding selflessness, is a simple effect of altruism.

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Your concept of altruism is a too narrow one.

If selfishness is "concern with one's self", Altruism is "concern with others"; to put this simply.

('Alter' - 'Other', in Latin)

I'd suggest it is the concern of the welfare of others. Being empty of a self is not exactly altruist. Trying to fit in is something a person does to feel better about themselves. It's measuring yourself as compared to other people, but not necessarily concern with the welfare of others. I prefer to differentiate between a second-handed individual and an altruistic individual. True, conformity is not truly selfish (it is irrational), but one still could attempt to put their life as standard of value and fail because of a self-esteem that is dependent on how others see them. That is not about "caring" about anyone else, and easily can be narcissistic.

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Eioul, Some good thoughts.

You write "Being empty of a self is not exactly altruist." But isn't being an altruist indicate being empty of self? Or, at minimum , being reduced in Self? With less, or no Individualism?

I am trying to get at what I see as a causal relationship between the two.

If it is true what you say that altruism is "concern of the welfare of others", ONLY, then I am wrong. By accepted terms, you're right.

My thinking is however that Rand's Altruism ( just like her rational selfishness) was of a far broader, over-arching, concept, that includes everything 'by, for, and through' others.

I see this as a rational extension she made implicitly.

(all this also relates to the confusion among new O'ists, imo, who seem to believe that it's immoral to ever do anything for another. But that's by the way.)

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Ifat,

Your concept of altruism is a too narrow one.

If selfishness is "concern with one's self", Altruism is "concern with others"; to put this simply.

('Alter' - 'Other', in Latin)

You are wrong, "concern with others" is not what altruism is. Altruism is a principle by which others are the proper beneficiary of one's actions - this means that an altruist actually uses this principle; giving money to others out of a sense of duty, trying to live for the sake of other people's happiness instead of one's own pleasure etc'. Peter Keating, for example, is not an altruist - he never lives by the principle that he should give to others, live for others etc' though he was a second hander (accepted his value system second-hand).

Keating designed buildings that would please others and gain him glory, he chose his profession because he was told by his mother that it is respectable and could earn him "the reputation he deserves". He lived to be valued in the eyes of others by their own standard - it is very different than an altruist - someone who actively tries to give stuff to others at his own expense. Peter wasn't giving anything to anyone else, he was in fact taking stuff away from people by deceit.

EDIT (addition): Even though Keating used a value system of other people, not his own, he did not act to give up anything of his. He gave up building his soul and building first-hand values. When he gave up marrying Kathy and married Dominique, for example, he was not sacrificing a higher value - for him Dominique was the higher value (though a second-hand value). A sacrifice here would be if he decided that despite the social prestige marriage to Dominique would bring him it is his duty to support the one who is more needy - Kathy and marry her instead even though he sees marrying Dominique as fitting his interest. In fact he acts in a way he subconsciously senses to be in his best interest (using an irrational second-hand value system).

In any case, I am not interested in discussing it anymore. I'm certain that I am right and I already gave an explanation I consider sufficient to explain my view.

Edited by ifatart
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(Peter Keating, another 'perfect' altruist - IMO - except that unlike Toohey he didn't know what he was pracitising, consciously, and therefore became the victim.)

Ifatart : "Altruism is a principle by which others are the proper beneficiary of one's actions ... giving money to others out of a sense of duty ... the sake of other people's happiness..."

Is not granting the Authority to others of what one is, does, and believes in, making them "the beneficiary of one's actions" ?

Have you not granted them - not money, or happiness - but Power ? Over your Mind ?

You don't see this as 'Other-ism'?

To really go out on a limb here :- that which is not egoism, not rational selfishness - is altruism. All these are aspects of, or directly, altruistic : second-handedness, collectivism, other-dependence, extreme conformity/conformism, and lack of individualism.

The effects of altruism : taxation, socialism, statism,etc, are better known, and aren't these also to do with "making others the beneficiary"? i.e. Absolute Power ?

As long as we equate Altruism ONLY with giving material assets and time to others; with charity; or (sometimes) with volitional and unforced benevolence, we are not facing the true enemy - an immoral advocacy and ideology that demands we live, FOR, BY, and THROUGH, others.

Know your enemy! :dough: or you won't defeat him.

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Peter Keating, for example, is not an altruist

Second-handishness is incompatible with egoism. Second-handishness is a result of accepting the morality of altruism.

EDIT (addition): Even though Keating used a value system of other people, not his own, he did not act to give up anything of his.

Other's value system will never fully match your own. It may match in terms of cardinal values (not that we live in that kind of society tday) but never in respect to personal/optional values. Keating gave up many deep personal desires - one of his major mistakes was to become an architect rather than an artist, another was giving up Kathy, finally he gave up on what was left of his self esteem. He gave up all of those for the second-hander’s delusion of prestige. He was an altruist.

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Second-handishness is incompatible with egoism. Second-handishness is a result of accepting the morality of altruism.

All altruists are second-handers, but I would not suggest all second-handers are altruistic. I think any disagreement here is due to definitions of altruism. I know any truly selfishly person must be rational, which implies not being second-handed. But I do not doubt some people try to live selfishly and fail because they need extra validation from external sources. Maybe it is best to leave them at having *no standard of value whatsoever*, nihilistic on some level. I don't think that means they are altruistic. It doesn't exactly parallel the discussion, but I would never suggest other egoist-type philosophers in history were altruists just because they were wrong on various other ethical principles. I think second-handedness is a result of morality as a standard in *society* rather than the person accepting the morality of altruism.

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All altruists are second-handers, but I would not suggest all second-handers are altruistic.

I can see how this may not be so obvious.

This is explained in the essay "The Soul of an Individualist" in For the New Intellectual (or Howard Roark defense speech in TF).

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