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Observing Evil: When/how to be indifferent?

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Old Soul
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This will be the first of 9 major topics that I have trouble understanding through Objectivism, which is the philosophy I embrace and guide my life by to the best of my knowledge.

And this first post is what the effect observing evil should be on us and even more so, how to work on physically embodying this conclusion. For example, take the Ayn Rand and Phil Donahue videos on youtube. This was the first time I had ever seen Ayn Rand in the flesh on camera, and like i posted earlier, was an incredibly spiritual experience for me. However, my blood boiled, my emotions flared, my mind raced whenever Donahue touched Rand, had a condescending tone, attempted to intimidate her -- when that bitch in the audience attempted to undercut Ayn in front of the audience, on Ayn's show, by just weakly claiming that she disagreed and diverged from Rand years ago without giving any logical reason why, without making any statement, without asking Rand anything, just getting up their to somehow validate her "reasoning" by just telling a giant of a woman that she disagreed. Sick. I couldn't stand it. Ayn (by the way, what is the correct way to refer to Ayn Rand? Full name? First? Last? Ms. Rand? Mrs. Rand, even though she died a widow?) just sat there quietly, unaffected by any of it, her patience empowering me to fight back Donahue's and the audiences' hold on me.

But it was so hard. It is so hard. I am in a (required) freshman anthropological class. I listen to people all the time preaching about the equality of all cultures, the virtue of acceptance of anything, completely subjective morality -- that women in South Africa were actually EMPOWERED by the men because they were held as wealth, as objects to be valued, to be traded, to be used, to be bought -- "wealth in people" is the term used. Hearing people talk day after day about how there's no such thing as cultural evolution, just different cultures. Finally after class I approached the teacher and wanted to hear her opinion on the matter, and the field of anthropology was laid out for me: there is no right and wrong, no absolutes, no progress, only observation, acceptance, and universal love, no matter the actions. Unfortunately, it really hurts, it sickens me, it pains me to hear my fellow peers attempting to authenticate their existence by dedicating themselves to all cultures, all people, anybody but themselves. And worse, to see that they never do this in action, but attempt to hold it as their universal philosophy.

So how do I approach this? I've read The Fountainhead and Atlas and I know the unbelievable virtue, the distinguishing virtue, Roark held in being completely indifferent to the choices of his peers. A "Hands Off" policy; letting them be affected by their evil choices but leading a separate life, until force is used. But isn't there also the idea that when valuing something, there's the flip side that we must accept feeling pain if that value is lost (to us)? Rand lost her greatest value, her husband, and she felt incredible amounts of pain. And I understand the reasoning that it is OUR lost values we should only feel pain about and not others, but if we are to hold justice as an absolute across our earth, for example, then isn't it naturally painful to see a lack of justice in the outside world? And don't those choices eventually affect those that cannot help but be affected by them, by say the military strategy of W. Bush? Where do we draw the line between indifference and activism? Passivity and intervention? How can we hold values as absolute, like justice, rationality, and honesty, and yet not let the decay of them outside of ourselves affect us? Are these "absolute" values only for us? Ugh, just trying to figure this all out...

I do not want to feel this anymore. I do not want to be affected by Donahue, by my peers, by anthropologists, by anyone. I highly, highly value the virtue of patience, of the complete independence Rand, Roark, and many others hold, but it is personally very hard for me. How can I work on this? If you have any advice, any personal experiences to relate, anything to pump me up, some motivational quotations, haha, anything, I would love it. Thanks

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Coincidentally, Rob, I was thinking along the same lines as you today. I'm glad you posted this because I, too, am interested in how to deal with the "evil" around us. Several people on this board have hinted in other topics their patience with other people when it comes to understanding Objectivism. That is truly an admirable quality: I seem to lack that patience. I do try to explain my point of view but most of the time the other party is not interested in learning and expanding its own knowledge. The emotional detachment is even more difficult. I think it stems, however, not directly from a desire to see "justice in the outer world" but for a more selfish reason. I desire other people to believe in the things I believe to start a relationship (does not necessarily have to be romantic) with them...share knowledge, learn more from each other, and mutually grow.

But thanks for posting first. Can't wait to read the responses.

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Ayn (by the way, what is the correct way to refer to Ayn Rand? Full name? First? Last? Ms. Rand? Mrs. Rand, even though she died a widow?) just sat there quietly, unaffected by any of it, her patience empowering me to fight back Donahue's and the audiences' hold on me.

I've been thinking about your general questions lately too, but to answer this one:

I usually see people refer to her as Ayn Rand. Professionally, I think she went by Miss Rand, or in limited contexts, Mrs. Frank O'Connor. My guess is that she went by Ayn O'Connor in her personal life, but I'm not sure about that.

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Mimpy, you didn't link Robert to the other posts where you wondered much the same thing. And people gave their input.

I see one here. And this one might be sort of related.

Robert, it is a great topic, and the fact that you have 8 more to raise piques my interest for sure. Many will have much to say on this topic.

For me, I'll be short (cuz I need to break for dinner).

It depends on two key principles for me:

1. Evil is impotent. It requires you to give it sanction.

2. The concept of justice is rooted in reality, not just in law.

I am truly stunned at the power that and "I disagree" followed by a succinct, calm statement of principle has in defeating an argument. It will leave evil either stunned in silence unable to come up with a real answer, or cause them to explode in hysterics and abandon all reason, and both are a victory for the power of reason. It took me a long time before I understood the principles and was able to detect the errors in others' statements (and frankly I still have a ton of learning to do) on the fly, and maybe that is part of the frtustration. I was able to recognize evil long before I was able to actively take it on in the manner of a reasonable Objectivist.

Rand's meta-ethics are rooted in survival, in dealing with reality. As such, earning what you deserve is really rooted in reality as well. Put in the more common language, people ultimately get what they earn in life. This takes a while to really believe and understand. Sometimes it doesnt' happen for years. Sometimes the reward or punishment comes to someone only internally (i.e. psychologically) and is not readily apparent. My wife, who is 5 years younger than me went through that learning while I got the chance to observe it. She was furious at a situation (and had every right to be), and couldn't understand how I could be so calm. Mostly it was because I knew the "identity" of the situation and as such knew how cause and effect worked in the situation. I knew how it would end, and so while I saw it as an injustice, I was not at all worried. Sure enough, in time, the person got their due.

That doesn't at all mean that one shouldn't fight evil, but that one shouldn't give it more credence than it really deserves. Learning how much that is takes some time. But more than it deserves is not practicing the virtue of justice.

Edited by KendallJ
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if we are to hold justice as an absolute across our earth, for example, then isn't it naturally painful to see a lack of justice in the outside world?

There is one quote by Dr. Peikoff that has always helped me "tolerate" general injustice, the kind I have no power over. I unfortunately don't remember the source , so I can't look up my wording to make sure it's correct, but it was to "ultimately good always wins, of course...ultimatly can be a long ways away." Maybe someone can help me reference it. I think it may have been in a Q & A, at the end of a lecture, but I am not sure. And that idea has held true throughout my own life. I have often seen people with horrid little philosophies appear to be happy and successful, but when I see them over time, the do ultimately get what they deserve and lose what they didn't. You can only fake reality for awhile(usually on someone else's dime) and there is no such thing as a free lunch.

With the larger issues of injustice that may affect the undeserved, they are generally outside your sphere of control. So they shouldn't affect your self-esteem(I am sure they don't). That being said, there is nothing wrong with feeling anger toward injust things. In fact, I don't know that anything justifies anger for then injustice. But besides the moment, to dwell on it for too long causes the evil to be that much more virile, because then, not only has it done it's primary damage, but it has also distracted you from your purpose and values.

So when I encounter injustice, I first decide if there is anything I can do about. Then I decide if there is anything I should do about it. Then if yes to both of those questions, I act. If no to either, I take note of it, integrate it into a greater understanding of the subject, then I ignore it and try not to let it steal another moment away from what I love...Cause Fuck them! You know what I mean? They don't deserve it.

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I was able to recognize evil long before I was able to actively take it on in the manner of a reasonable Objectivist.

You make an excellent point Kendall, and I suspect that has a lot to do with the feelings. The more adept you become at dealing with all of those minor injustices, the less helpless you feel in the presence of evil. In a room full of people blathering on about some nonsense philosophy, when you understand well enough the root of it, you can silence them with one or two irrefutable sentences.

As an example, in a cultural anthropology class confrontend with a crowd of cultural relativists "I would like a person who believes that to explain to me how Nazi Germany is responsible for no more evil in the world then The US or Switzerland or Austrailia. And after that, I would like you to explain to me how a baby shower is no better a custom then performing cliterectemies with a dull rock. And further, why you haven't done the latter with your own daugther, if there is no difference." You won't have any takers and you will realize that there words have no meaning. If you have a quasi intellectual in the class, they will backpeddle and say it is just an objective scientific approach to Anthropology qua science and not connected morality. In which case you can pin them to the floor with "science, like morality, requires a correct identification of reality not a manufactured balance, to be of any use at all.

So in the mean time, my advice is in this regard is to integrate, integrate, integrate. Don't shy away from arguments with people because you can't convince them or lose your cool. It's good practice, and can give you insights into the underlying structure of their beliefs. And that is really the key to rhetorical success in my oppinion...If you know what premise a view is standing on, undercut the base. Don't get bogged down in their details. If you were argueing with a communist, you could go round and round on a utilitarian merry go round, or you can make them justify the initiaion of force.

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Try reconsidering your view of evil. If you are having a bothersome emotional reaction to evil, then my best guess is that it stems from an error in your understanding of the concept of evil. I don't think a healthy conception of evil would lead to an unwanted emotional reaction such as yours.

I suggest considering the idea that Donahue and the audience woman are, based on that show, something less than evil.

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It is so hard. I am in a (required) freshman anthropological class. I listen to people all the time preaching about the equality of all cultures, the virtue of acceptance of anything, completely subjective morality -- that women in South Africa were actually EMPOWERED by the men because they were held as wealth, as objects to be valued, to be traded, to be used, to be bought -- "wealth in people" is the term used. Hearing people talk day after day about how there's no such thing as cultural evolution, just different cultures. Finally after class I approached the teacher and wanted to hear her opinion on the matter, and the field of anthropology was laid out for me: there is no right and wrong, no absolutes, no progress, only observation, acceptance, and universal love, no matter the actions. Unfortunately, it really hurts, it sickens me, it pains me to hear my fellow peers attempting to authenticate their existence by dedicating themselves to all cultures, all people, anybody but themselves. And worse, to see that they never do this in action, but attempt to hold it as their universal philosophy.

Hey, I live in Palo Alto also!

I'm in a similar situation at my school, SJSU. I'm taking an econ class (it's my major) from a moral relativist libertarian type. She spews out a lot of nonsense, and tries to be sophisticated by asking questions that are allegedly impossible to answer. For instance, "who is the US to tell other people they can't have nukes, when the US does have nukes? OMG, hypocrisy!" Naturally, I was disgusted, and was considering dropping the class. I found there was no good alternative, unfortunately, so I have stuck with the class. It has gotten a bit better, though, as there is one other person who isn't impressed by her refusal to make moral judgements, and her subtle apologetics for socialism (yeah, she is not integrated at all).

For example, last class, the teacher said: But don't we have an obligation to help people?

Aforementioned student: Absolutely not.

Teacher: (to the rest of the class) Um...Isn't he being a bit harsh?

Me: Nope!!

With these types of interactions, I'm not too concerned about this teacher, and I think I'll rather enjoy trying to highlight her irrationality to the rest of the class. (Not that the rest of the class is fully rational, mind you.)

I also agree with what aequelsa said, that is good advice.

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I have been thinking of this topic lately too. What I would like to know, is what the "proper" reaction would be in the following situation:

Walking down the a street, you see a man getting mugged. If you have a decent way of defending yourself, therefore its low risk, would it be wrong to ignore the situation, and let the man get mugged? Would it be the proper thing to help him?

I see two arguements, and both seem valid to me. The first would be the typical Objectivism stance, that you have absoloutely no obligation to help anybody. That would mean helping would be optional, not a necesity. On the other hand, It just seems wrong to let evil win like that. You could be putting yourself in danger by not stopping the criminal. WWJGD?

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I have been thinking of this topic lately too. What I would like to know, is what the "proper" reaction would be in the following situation:

Walking down the a street, you see a man getting mugged. If you have a decent way of defending yourself, therefore its low risk, would it be wrong to ignore the situation, and let the man get mugged? Would it be the proper thing to help him?

I see two arguements, and both seem valid to me. The first would be the typical Objectivism stance, that you have absoloutely no obligation to help anybody. That would mean helping would be optional, not a necesity. On the other hand, It just seems wrong to let evil win like that. You could be putting yourself in danger by not stopping the criminal. WWJGD?

My bad for not including the context. This was more in a general, "the rich must give to the poor" type of help that she was referring to, which is obviously wrong, as I'm sure you will agree.

In your example, that is tougher. I would say it would be a good thing if one did help him, but like you said, one doesn't have a moral obligation to do so. If the costs of you helping him are low enough though, I think the issue of moral sanction may come into play, which would change things.

Thats not a bad topic either, though. Perhaps a thread split would be in order. Or has this already been discussed?

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I see two arguements, and both seem valid to me. The first would be the typical Objectivism stance, that you have absoloutely no obligation to help anybody. That would mean helping would be optional, not a necesity. On the other hand, It just seems wrong to let evil win like that. You could be putting yourself in danger by not stopping the criminal. WWJGD?

I really don't think you can get a valid either/or answer for that. As Viking eplained, it. like many things is contextual. Any circunstance like that has to be judged independently in the moment. Otherwise, you are forced into the "what if" game. What if you had a gun with you? What if there were 12 muggers? What if he was bigger then you? What if the mugger was an 8 year old? What if the victime was someone you knew?

The objectivist stance, beyond the not having an obligation to help, is that life boat scenario's don't often lead to any general principles that can be utilized in your life, because they are exceptions to the rule and usually very context dependent.

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I really don't think you can get a valid either/or answer for that. As Viking eplained, it. like many things is contextual. Any circunstance like that has to be judged independently in the moment. Otherwise, you are forced into the "what if" game. What if you had a gun with you? What if there were 12 muggers? What if he was bigger then you? What if the mugger was an 8 year old? What if the victime was someone you knew?

Assuming there was very little risk on your part, you didn't know the mugee, and had nowhere to be. what comes to mind is the furnace scene of AS. Fransisco had no moral obligation to help, but he did anyways, and I would say that improved fransisco in my eyes at the time. I would think more of a man who would help, in the above circumstances, than the man who wouldn't.

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In the situation of the mugger, I would have to say that the true Objectivist stance is helping the man. The reason we have a police force is to enforce justice within our society, which means defending those from force when it is not deserved. We don't create a police force and then stand back as they defend certain values we hold as Objectivists -- we also hold those same values of justice and freedom, but aren't as specialized in them. It would be in one's own interest to stop force in the world, to become immediately involved in witnessing an act of injustice, because we are indifferent only when it is a natural effect to one's decision. A mugging is not an effect, and this mugger is using force in an attempt to disregard key axioms of human nature, one of which being we are entitled to what we create. Witnessing a mugging and doing nothing would be stating that you do not care about the absoluteness of justice, which in my mind is nothing less than anarchist and lawlessness. Once force is initiated, it is in EVERYONE'S best interests to eliminate it immediately.

Edited by Robert L. Pothier
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Assuming there was very little risk on your part, you didn't know the mugee, and had nowhere to be. what comes to mind is the furnace scene of AS. Fransisco had no moral obligation to help, but he did anyways, and I would say that improved fransisco in my eyes at the time. I would think more of a man who would help, in the above circumstances, than the man who wouldn't.

Sure, but quite a bit was going on there, not the least of which was that Francisco had a serious man-crush on Hank. He also had experience with the problem and could properly analyze the risk. With the mugger situation, the same considerations apply. calling the police is probably a bare minimum. Above that would depend on if you thought you could help effectively or not and how high the risk was. If they were stealing a wallet and had a gun while you were unarmed, it would be unwise. Neither your life or the victim's is worth the wallet. If they were unarmed and you were, or you were unarmed but certain enough of your fighting ability it would probably be a different answer. Again, if the mugger were executing people on the street, it might be worth doing something about it before you were the only one left. The context has to include all of the perameters. For someone like Francisco in that situation, He undoubtedly did the admiable and right thing.

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I do not want to feel this anymore. I do not want to be affected by Donahue, by my peers, by anthropologists, by anyone. I highly, highly value the virtue of patience, of the complete independence Rand, Roark, and many others hold, but it is personally very hard for me. How can I work on this? If you have any advice, any personal experiences to relate, anything to pump me up, some motivational quotations, haha, anything, I would love it. Thanks

It is hard to know that there is evil out there in the world. Being aware of that evil is an unfortunate side-effect of knowing and loving what is good. Would you be willing to give up the good so that you can be blase in the face of the evil?

I always think of it like this: evil doesn't matter. It's like smelly garbage. When you're confronted with it, you deal with it as neatly and quickly as possible so that it won't stink up the place, but other than that you don't obsess over it. You don't spend your life despairing over the fact that there's a lot of smelly garbage out there.

I have a somewhat goofy approach to life, one that I know a lot of people would consider un-serious and juvenile in a lot of ways. I laugh at dumb jokes and I do goofy things like dance around when

I get my favorite ice cream. I usually can't manage to pull off grim for any length of time and

I don't even see the point. When people rebuke me for acting "like a little kid" I tell them: If you let them teach you to despair, they have won. That's what they want.

So, love the good things, and cast the bad things aside like the smelly garbage they are.

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I totally have the same problem as Rob. I'm taking a business class we're all our teacher does is teach the merits of socialism and the evils of capitalism. I spend the entire class trembling with anger. Every time he pauses I raise my hand and disagree with him. I'll probably fail the class but it's better than listening to that nonsense and not doing anything. I don't know if there is any easy way to become indifferent to evil. I know I haven't found it, I'm not sure there is any advice that could help.

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I don't know if there is any easy way to become indifferent to evil.

It is not indifference, it's looking at the big picture and remembering how that big picture applies to you. If you believe something is evil, you're not going to be indifferent to it. What changes is your reaction. When you take everything personally and let little things get blown way out of proportion, you're going to get angry and frustrated.

When you look at your little ranting power-crazed teacher and realize just how pathetic they are (they don't dare offer their ideas to the criticism of informed adults, oh no, they have to rely on the bully pulpit and try to terrorize young people that are worried about passing), you learn to find it simply boring or possibly even comical.

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I totally have the same problem as Rob. I'm taking a business class we're all our teacher does is teach the merits of socialism and the evils of capitalism. I spend the entire class trembling with anger. Every time he pauses I raise my hand and disagree with him. I'll probably fail the class but it's better than listening to that nonsense and not doing anything. I don't know if there is any easy way to become indifferent to evil. I know I haven't found it, I'm not sure there is any advice that could help.

It is important not to lose track of what is best for you.

If it was important to me and to my future to pass a particular class - I would not let a teacher to fail me. In fact the more evil the teacher would be - the more I would not let him get to me and want to pass his class. I actually have some experience with this and that has been my approach.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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I'm taking a business class we're all our teacher does is teach the merits of socialism and the evils of capitalism. I spend the entire class trembling with anger. Every time he pauses I raise my hand and disagree with him. I'll probably fail the class but it's better than listening to that nonsense and not doing anything.

I have the most communistic teacher in the world. I used to be like you and get really pissed of and get into big angry discussions. I am not sure when, but somewhere I stopped caring. Now I actually enjoy that class for getting to see such an idiot in reality. Its almost as good as watching those internet videos of dumbasses jumping of too high things and hurting themselves. Okay, I don't actually enjoy it, but it is amusing. It is so hard for me to believe that people can actually think like this man, actually follow his twisted logic.

The proper view of evil, like JMeganSnow said, is to dismiss it. Not necessarily ignore it, but don't let him affect you too much. Recognize his impermiability to reason, and don't put the burden upon yourself of trying to change him. You can still argue, but try not to place importance of the outcome, think of it as laughable because it is, that someone would hire someone so dumb.

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