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Objectivism Vs. Social Darwinism

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About eighteen years ago I began a correspondence with a gentleman by the name of Robert Sacks, who considered himself at least partially an Objectivist. (Mr. Sacks sadly is now deceased.) He introduced me to the basics of Objectivist philosophy. The problem at the time, and that still exists, is that I was not ina condtion where reliance of pure reason was entirely possible.

At the time, I had been diagnosed with major depression and was unable to find employment. I was in the process of obtaining a Social Security pension, which I am still collecting today. The result of this was that I found myself dealing with a profound unease about my situation. I only had a partial view of the philosphy, but my intenrpetation of it suggested the following:

1. Receiving government money for any reason, be it a pension for a disability, a solider's paycheck, or ffinancial aid to attend college, is simple robbery. An ethical person should have nothing to do with the govenbrment in any capacity, and should neither pay or recieve tax money beyond what is neccesary to avoid puntitive measures..

2. A person with a disability that affects his ability to reason, such as a mental illness, is by definition incapable of making sound moral judgments. it is questionable whether he is truly human, whether he truly benefits from living, and whether he is of any value to the world whatsoever.

3. The sole true measure of a human being's value is his ability to achieve. Theer are, of course, numerous measures of achievement, but a person who achieves nothing is a person of very little value.

Now Mr. Sacks, to his credit, attempted to keep me from hammering myself over the head with these ideas or turning them into a weapon against myself. Since that time, even though I am still recieving that bleeping pension, I have had some measure of success in my chosen profession of gaming writer, with one book published and another due out this monht. But that has translated into neither financial success to the level that would enable me to discard the pension or wide personal recognition. And the question of whether it is ethical for me to write, to recieve what funds I do recieve, or even to live in an impaired state, continue to haunt me.

what is a rational, ethical response to the situation I find myself in? (I'm pretty sure none of you will say "the rational thing to do is kill yourself.", because I do not believe a rational person is neccesarily that callpous. but it is clear that I will not achieve any degree of success or self-confidenc eunless I find a different way to live.)

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1. Receiving government money for any reason, be it a pension for a disability, a solider's paycheck, or ffinancial aid to attend college, is simple robbery. An ethical person should have nothing to do with the govenbrment in any capacity, and should neither pay or recieve tax money beyond what is neccesary to avoid puntitive measures..

First of all, Michael, this is downright incorrect. The reason receipt of money from the government is considered immoral by many Objectivists is that the government (and specifically THIS government, not government in general) obtains its money unethically, through the threat of force against its citizens. However, Objectivists also recognize that there are PROPER functions of government (the military, the police, the court system) and holding one of these jobs is completely ethical.

2. A person with a disability that affects his ability to reason, such as a mental illness, is by definition incapable of making sound moral judgments. it is questionable whether he is truly human, whether he truly benefits from living, and whether he is of any value to the world whatsoever.

First, there is a difference between neurosis and psychosis. A neurotic is someone with certain mental DIFFICULTIES, it is harder for him to make some decisions, but he can still make them. A psychotic is someone that, as you said, is incapable of functioning as a normal human being. This is a full-blown disease and must be treated as a DISEASE. Which do you consider your depression to be? Are you on medication? Does it help?

Even if, on medication, you are only able to find relief to the level of a neurosis, you have the ability to make judgements. It may be difficult for you, but you can do it. So, let's not hear this "not truly human" bullshit. (Pardon my French.) Furthermore, what's this "value to the world" crap? Is your life of value to you? Do you want to LIVE? (Knowing that to live, means not mere survival, but life as a human being.) If you do, and you're willing to work for it (even if you don't always succeed perfectly), I'd say that makes you just the same as anyone else that accepts that responsibility.

3. The sole true measure of a human being's value is his ability to achieve. Theer are, of course, numerous measures of achievement, but a person who achieves nothing is a person of very little value.

Value to whom and for what? Objectivists do not believe that any human being exists for the sake of another. You exist for your OWN sake, Michael. Don't worry about your ability to "contribute" . . . that's a collectivist ideal.

Now Mr. Sacks, to his credit, attempted to keep me from hammering myself over the head with these ideas or turning them into a weapon against myself. Since that time, even though I am still recieving that bleeping pension, I have had some measure of success in my chosen profession of gaming writer, with one book published and another due out this monht. But that has translated into neither financial success to the level that would enable me to discard the pension or wide personal recognition. And the question of whether it is ethical for me to write, to recieve what funds I do recieve, or even to live in an impaired state, continue to haunt me.

what is a rational, ethical response to the situation I find myself in? (I'm pretty sure none of you will say "the rational thing to do is kill yourself.", because I do not believe a rational person is neccesarily that callpous. but it is clear that I will not achieve any degree of success or self-confidenc eunless I find a different way to live.)

This is my view on the matter:

The government has taken money from me without my consent (as well as a whole bunch of other people). However, such is my benevolence and goodwill towards other men that I am willing to endure this affront to my dignity and rights with a certain amount of good cheer until such time as the situation can be remedied. Until that time, for all of me, I'd rather see that money go to help you. If I had control over it, I would cheerfully donate some of my extra money for people who, through no fault of their own, cannot support themselves.

The ethical thing for you to do is to acknowledge that, yes, a debt exists, and to return it as you are able, with gratitude. The nature of Social Security makes it a little difficult to discern who the proper recipients of that gratitude should be, true, but a simple "thank you" is such a rare and precious thing that generous people will consider themselves well-paid to recieve one.

You say you write? Perhaps in time you can make a career out of it. Why not use your writing skills to address your gratitude (if you take my point and if it is sincere) by writing an editorial or something like that?

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First of all, Michael, this is downright incorrect.  The reason receipt of money from the government is considered immoral by many Objectivists is that the government (and specifically THIS government, not government in general) obtains its money unethically, through the threat of force against its citizens.  However, Objectivists also recognize that there are PROPER functions of government (the military, the police, the court system) and holding one of these jobs is completely ethical. 

True. I think even we are in agreement that surpporting a person who does not work is not one of those functions. At least a soldier DOES something to earn his pay. All I do (aside from my writing, which is utterly independent of my icnome from the state) is seek treatemtn, take the medications I am perscribed, and try to get through each day. I would think that were a corporation or other employer to give me a similar amoutn fo monye, they woudl want something more than that in return.

First, there is a difference between neurosis and psychosis.  A neurotic is someone with certain mental DIFFICULTIES, it is harder for him to make some decisions, but he can still make them.  A psychotic is someone that, as you said, is incapable of functioning as a normal human being.  This is a full-blown disease and must be treated as a DISEASE.  Which do you consider your depression to be?  Are you on medication?  Does it help?
I cannot tell whether my depression counts as mere neurosis or as psychosis. Depends on how you define the terms, which have never really come up in my treatment. My biggest problem, as far as the exercise of sound judgment is concerned, is that I often find myself having throughts and thought patterns that are intrusive, and often unspeakably evil. I consider those thoughts at least somewhat psychotic, as they are divorced both from reality and from what I would cosndier my "genuine" beliefs. The question then becomes whether I actually have genuine beliefs or whether those too are delusional.

I do take medication. It doesn't seem to affect my thoguht that much or prevent the intrusions of what i consider "the dark side" of my nature. Their main functions eems to be keeping me somewhat physically stable and enabling me to sleep. I sometimes think my sole function in society's eyes is as a conduit between the pharmecutical industry and the taxpayers.

Even if, on medication, you are only able to find relief to the level of a neurosis, you have the ability to make judgements.  It may be difficult for you, but you can do it.  So, let's not hear this "not truly human" bullshit. (Pardon my French.)  Furthermore, what's this "value to the world" crap?  Is your life of value to you?  Do you want to LIVE?  (Knowing that to live, means not mere survival, but life as a human being.)  If you do, and you're willing to work for it (even if you don't always succeed perfectly), I'd say that makes you just the same as anyone else that accepts that responsibility.

The problem is that the traditional ways of earning a lviing are pretty much closed off to me because my illness interferes. If theer were a reasonable, ethical way I could earn the funds I need to live a decent lfie without the help of the government, I would do it. what the fact that i cannot says about me, though, I don't like. My ability to pull myself up by my bootstraps is hampered by a deep-seated belief inmy own lack of value, based on the years I have spent on esseintally the fringes of the world. I am a writer, a trade that has a notriously difficult time earning one's keep, especially at the beginning, and I have been at it for two decades. I'm not even close to earning a decent living with my work. On that level, I consider my current status to be that of a failure.

Value to whom and for what?  Objectivists do not believe that any human being exists for the sake of another.  You exist for your OWN sake, Michael.  Don't worry about your ability to "contribute" . . . that's a collectivist ideal.
I sere your point. As an artist, how my work is viewed by others is very important to me, in short because if others do not like it they will not buy copies and I will not be compensated for my efforts. At the same time, I do feel that there is some minimum standard of achievement or, at the very least, self-sufficiency that a person must be able to meet to justify their presence in this world. it may not be a strictly Objectivist view, but it resonates with me. I feel I must rpove that I am a worthy indivudal, if only to myself, and so far I have not met my own expectations for myself.

This is my view on the matter: 

The government has taken money from me without my consent (as well as a whole bunch of other people).  However, such is my benevolence and goodwill towards other men that I am willing to endure this affront to my dignity and rights with a certain amount of good cheer until such time as the situation can be remedied.  Until that time, for all of me, I'd rather see that money go to help you.  If I had control over it, I would cheerfully donate some of my extra money for people who, through no fault of their own, cannot support themselves.

The ethical thing for you to do is to acknowledge that, yes, a debt exists, and to return it as you are able, with gratitude.  The nature of Social Security makes it a little difficult to discern who the proper recipients of that gratitude should be, true, but a simple "thank you" is such a rare and precious thing that generous people will consider themselves well-paid to recieve one.

Admittedly, it was not my desire to be depressed or to be on a pension. when i was intitally diagnosed I was preparing for a career in academia or the arts. That did not happen. Still, I am not totally convinced that my depression is not a character flaw rather than a disease. if it is a disease, then yes I should treat it and yes getting aid in doign so is somewhat acceptable (we do not lvie in an ideal world, after all, and people do have to pay taxes). if, on the other hand, it is something that I SHOULD be able to hold a job through and I am merely lazy ro incomtetent, then I desrve nothing. The big, bad world doesn't owe me a thing, to quote Don Henley. So the heart of the question si wheether I personally have the power to reach a poitn where I no longer need assistance. If I do have that power, then I should be doing everything I can to reach that point, for my own benefit and peace of mind if nothing else. I would feel a great deal less guilt and anxiety about drawing a paycheck than I would about drawing SSI and SSD benefits.

You say you write?  Perhaps in time you can make a career out of it.  Why not use your writing skills to address your gratitude (if you take my point and if it is sincere) by writing an editorial or something like that?

I mostly write role-playing material these days, a not very lucrative field but one I enjoy. But what would I say in such an editorial, given how conflicted I am about the nature of my disability?

<Edited by Elle to fix the quote boxes.>

Edited by Elle
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Hmm. Well, I can't actually claim to be a psychologist, so fooey on my advice. I have, however, personally heen in that "can't support myself--feel guilty about depending on someone else" rut, though, and it is AWFUL.

SO, I walked out. I went out, and got an apartment. At the moment, I'm working two jobs and picking at going to school (doing okay, not great, but okay) and supporting myself pretty well. Immediately after I did it I felt this tremendous sense of relief and a huge desire to take on ten new projects at once! I could do ANYTHING! I, after all, did the hardest thing in the world . . . I took responsibility for my own life.

The sum total of all other advice I could give boils down to cliches, though. :)

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Mike,

Have you seen the movie "A Beautiful Mind"?

By my quick gauge of your intelligence, it looks like you're capable of achieving alot. I may be too quick to judge you, but it seems most of the people I know are less well-written than you but still hold down jobs. Maybe what's really holding you back is your perception of being stuck in a rut.

Go to Dr Kenner .com and listen to one of the recent radio interviews where she talked to a single parent woman in a wheelchair who suffers from seizures and gave her advice on finding a job.

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Michael,

Before I start replying to things that you wrote specifically, I have two general comments: 1. You are smart enough and thoughtful enough to feel guilt at what is transpiring and come here to ask about, so that means you have enough of a connection to reality for me to say that you are more intelligent than most people on welfare, who are only looking for ways to get even more. 2. If you are depressed emotionally rather than physiologically, then you should seek professional cognitive therapy. Dr. Hurd is a professional specializing in what you need. Seek him out, or others in that field, as you see fit.

1. Receiving government money for any reason, be it a pension for a disability, a solider's paycheck, or ffinancial aid to attend college, is simple robbery.

The real robbery is when the government extolls its taxes. To rob a robber back is entirely justified. Take it! I would bet that at various points in your life you have paid into the system rather than receiving its benefits ... why shouldn't you get that back?

2. A person with a disability that affects his ability to reason, such as a mental illness, is by definition incapable of making sound moral judgments.
But you just made one in that sentence, didn't you? I don't see any evidence in this post to suggest that your ability to reason is affected.

3. The sole true measure of a human being's value is his ability to achieve. Theer are, of course, numerous measures of achievement, but a person who achieves nothing is a person of very little value.

First, achievement for whom? Properly, you are the only recipient of "achievement" you should be concerned with. Personal achievement isn't measurable in a void. You need to define some standard by which your achievement can be measured. Given the context of a man's abilities, he should do everything he is capable of doing -- but cannot be expected to do more than that, by himself or anyone else. If he has done his absolute best, he has succeeded at making the best possible life for himself.

I have had some measure of success in my chosen profession of gaming writer, with one book published and another due out this monht. But that has translated into neither financial success to the level that would enable me to discard the pension or wide personal recognition.
How do you feel about what you've written? Are you proud of them? Do they represent your best effort? Forget what anyone else says about your work, what's important is what you think of it.

but it is clear that I will not achieve any degree of success or self-confidenc eunless I find a different way to live.)

That is the biggest step that any man can take. You have recognized that your way of life up to now is not what you want it to be, and you want to know how to make it better. Implicitly, you are saying that you want a new philosophy to follow -- because the one you've been following, implicitly, has not worked.

You've come to the right place for that.

The best place to start for you, in my opinion, is on Dr. Hurd's couch (he also does telephone sessions). After that (or concurrently), read The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand, especially chapter 1.

Edited by TomL
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Mike,

Have you seen the movie "A Beautiful Mind"?

By my quick gauge of your intelligence, it looks like you're capable of achieving alot. I may be too quick to judge you, but it seems most of the people I know are less well-written than you but still hold down jobs. Maybe what's really holding you back is your perception of being stuck in a rut.

Go to Dr Kenner .com and listen to one of the recent radio interviews where she talked to a single parent woman in a wheelchair who suffers from seizures and gave her advice on finding a job.

I have yet to see "A beautiful Mind".

I think my intelligence might actually get in the way of the sort of work that my lack of a degree qualifies me for. It's hard to be a janitor when you're always tempted to read the books or magazines in the room you're cleaning.

The few jobs I have been able to hold for any length of time have been numbing, dead-end positions whose only real function was to generate a paycheck. In my current situation, I ahve free time to pursue my real craft, but at the same time I am not doing what i feel i need to do to ethically maintain myself.

I want a job, but I want a job that I can hold onto and one that I can actually enjoy doing and take pride in. Unfortunately, in this economy that may be far too much to ask.

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Michael,

Before I start replying to things that you wrote specifically, I have two general comments:  1.  You are smart enough and thoughtful enough to feel guilt at what is transpiring and come here to ask about, so that means you have enough of a connection to reality for me to say that you are more intelligent than most people on welfare, who are only looking for ways to get even more.  2.  If you are depressed emotionally rather than physiologically, then you should seek professional cognitive therapy.  Dr. Hurd is a professional specializing in what you need.  Seek him out, or others in that field, as you see fit.

I admit to being intrigued by the idea. My financial situation is such that i cannot afford the $300 fee for a custom essay, which would porbably be potentially very valuable. the state may have kept me alive, but they also keep me perpetually broke. I only get approximatelt $540 per month, of which all but $200 goes for rent and most fo the remainder goes to such other bills as my Internet access. Given my income, even if I can make Dr. hurd aware of my situation, I cannot afford the fees he would porbably charge, and I am hardly in a position to ask him to charge me less than the going rate.

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I have yet to see "A beautiful Mind".

I think my intelligence might actually get in the way of the sort of work that my lack of a degree qualifies me for. It's hard to be a janitor when you're always tempted to read the books or magazines in the room you're cleaning.

The few jobs I have been able to hold for any length of time have been numbing, dead-end positions whose only real function was to generate a paycheck. In my current situation, I ahve free time to pursue my real craft, but at the same time I am not doing what i feel i need to do to ethically maintain myself.

I want a job, but I want a job that I can hold onto and one that I can actually enjoy doing and take pride in. Unfortunately, in this economy that may be far too much to ask.

My work is hiring! (In Portland, too . . .) but, um, some people are squeamish.

Most jobs have boring and repetitive bits. It's usually best to get a job first in order to "get back in the groove" and THEN worry about finding a GOOD job.

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In The Fountainhead, do you remember when Howard Roark worked in the stone quarry? His central purpose was to pursue architecture, yet his principled value of independence led him to choose hard work to support himself which would allow him to work toward his goal later on in life.

The lesson, I think, is to not override your moral principles in situations like this. There is a traditional Greek saying, that goes something like, "Once you have money, then worry about morals." Rationally, the opposite is true. Your means of achieving happiness is determined by acting on principle.

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My financial situation is such that i cannot afford the $300 fee for a custom essay, which would porbably be potentially very valuable.

His telephone sessions are $90 for 40-50 minutes. Perhaps you can save and scrounge for one of those -- I really think it is in your best interest to at least do one session and evaluate its usefulness to you.

Beyond that, use your mind and your powers of introspection. Read Virtue of Selfishness, and if you've got the time on your hands and the mind for it, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Dr. Leonard Peikoff.

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  • 9 months later...

(Moderator's note: Merged new thread with a similar thread. - sNerd)

Being a person who was at one point diagnosed with a severe disability and as a result lost both the ability to support myself and (in part because of the way my treatment was conducted) the ability to gain the ability support myself (in other words, I am both too old and too impatient to gain the social and job skills needed to survivie in the workplace), I frequently find myself dealing with the question of why I perosnally still live and whether it is just that I do so.

A part of me has long held the belief that it was justifiable to remove persons like myself from society through euthanasia, outrigth execution, or simply allowing them to die naturally from not being allowed to obtain the neccesities of survivial. For a long time I erroneously considered with an Objectivist belief. It has been explained to me that at least most Objectivists do not believe this. (I wonder whether Rand did, but she had her own issues -- it's easy to label the bulk of humanity as bloodthirsty savages after being on the losing side of a blood-soaked revolution). Now there is a strain of Social Darwinism which says that death is an acceptable consequence of personal failure.

Which brings me to a pair of related questions, both of which have the potential to sound extremely insulting so I ask your forgiveness in advance if they appear so.

1. If it is indeed possible to determine the value of everything in the Universe by some rational standard, including human beings, what is a reasonable thing to do in relation to human beings whose achievements, qualities or talents do not meed a reasonable standard that is acceptable for them to interact with other human beings?

2. If intervention by outside forces on behalf of a person who is having problems of their own making is almost always wrong (which seems at least implied because most of the agencies in society which do so -- governmewnts and churches in particular -- do so for decpetive and immoral reasons) and the person is for whatever reason incpaable of "pulling themselves up by their bootstraps" (they do not have access to useful resources, their physical mental or emotional problems are too severe, etc.), what choices do they have (assuming that extreme measures such as suicide are taken off the table by definition) in trying to recover some sort of decent life for themselves?

Edited by softwareNerd
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1. If it is indeed possible to determine the value of everything in the Universe by some rational standard, including human beings, what is a reasonable thing to do in relation to human beings whose achievements, qualities or talents do not meed a reasonable standard that is acceptable for them to interact with other human beings?
In reply, I'll quote from post #2:
Value to whom and for what? Objectivists do not believe that any human being exists for the sake of another. You exist for your OWN sake, Michael. Don't worry about your ability to "contribute" . . . that's a collectivist ideal.

In other words, it is not possible to determine the value of everything in the Universe by some rational standard. In principle, it is possible to determine the value of everything to Michael Hopcroft by some rational standard.

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