Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Morality of Money

I saw this here and had to pass this on.

"When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket, and then that society vanishes in a spread of ruins and slaughter. Do you wish to know whether that day is coming?

"Watch Money. Money is a barometer of a society's virtue.

"When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion - when you see that in order to produce, you need permission from men who produce nothing - when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors - when you see men get richer by graft and pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you - when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice - then you may know that your society is doomed.

"Money is so noble a medium that it does not compete with guns and it does not make terms with brutality. It will not permit a country to survive as half-property, half-loot. Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men's protection, and the base of a moral existence." ~ Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Like it or not, this is exactly where we are. Force is now the standard. Individual rights (you know, those inadequate "negative rights" of the Constitution), any actions stemming from self-interest branded as unfair and selfish, money worth nothing if invested in government instruments, government thugs running every which way to scamper from the spotlight on their nefarious actions, government intrusion into healthy banks, welfare for the businesses that are incapable of surviving because they made poor judgments, ordinary unsuccessful local people calculating how they can get in on the government's largesse, laws more concerned to protect criminals and terrorists than the real victims, property expropriated and handed over to the man with political pull - all backed with the gun to force you, the taxpayer, to pay for it - are the "non-rules" of the game. Because the structure for men to deal with each other peacefully (voluntary, free trade) and resolve their differences by peaceful means (courts based on objective laws) has collapsed, it is every man for himself. And, this is exactly where we are in the process of our decline.

Obama, regarded by many as a god, marks the apotheosis of all of the negative, anti-life ideas that have ruined men through the ages. (I have yet to find an Obama voter who looked into his history insofar as the ideas, Marxism and religion - Islam and Christianity, that have fueled him for over 20 years and how he operated in the corrupt swamp of Chicago/Illinois politics. Not a single one!)

How can you stop it? Get rational. Find out how pro-life institutions, your agreements at your level, have to work and deal only with people who meet those standards. Protect your essential property and values the best way you can. Be mindful of your surroundings - the people and their mindset and attitudes - for a gauge of your physical safety. The rest of the herd will go over the cliff. Work to not be one of them.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's Not that Diets Don't Work...

...it's that YOU don't work.

I discovered this fact this past summer. And this doesn't apply just to diets. It applies to everything. This post is about your (I mean you and me - us human beings) orientation to the world around you and yourself.

This discovery came in the form of reading a few paragraphs in a book entitled Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating by Geneen Roth. Ms. Roth had followed every diet known to man and had gotten nowhere except heavier. One day she had enough. She chose to give up dieting, to eat whatever she wanted and listen to her body. This was the beginning of orienting herself to how her body did with the foods she ate.

She began to learn because she focused not on wanting to be thin, but on the facts as they presented themselves. It wasn't that she didn't want to be thin in some kind of way, but rather that she gave up forcing herself to be thin. If what was natural for her was to be a little heavier than her picture of how she ought to be, then so be it. There are plenty of studies that show that those with a little fat live longer anyway.

But none of this is the thrust of this story. The crucial thing is the orientation to reality. And, one's body is a real thing in a real world. It works in a particular way because it has identity. One's body is unique but it is a specific unique existent within an unique class of existents known as human being.

Once you listen to your body, you start to see how it operates and what makes it hum like a finely tuned engine and what keeps it from doing that. At this point you come smack dab up against your habits, some of which may be good and some of which may be harmful. So now what do you do?

Do you listen to what the facts are telling you or do you continue indulging your habits? This is the question that separates the objectivists from the subjectivists - those that shape their lives related to the facts and those that indulge their feelings or follow what others say.

What I've found is that the more I am in harmony with the facts and use them to guide me, the more motivated I am. I may try something, but I don't give up a habit until I am motivated to give it up based on the evidence I have gathered. If I am not ready, there is more to be learned. I know that my life and its quality is kept in existence by my choice. There is a connection of the facts all the way down to this choice. I have discovered an integration of mind and body that I never knew before.

No longer do I need to read spiritual books or take spirituality courses. Those are evidence of the non-integration of the mind and body, known as the mind/body split. In an integrated existence one's spiritual life is never separated from living. It is always present and oh so gratifying and luscious that the unification of one's self is real. You know it because you live it. It's what I've always wanted.

Resignation, that deep feeling of having given up on something important, is not a part of this world. The important things come roaring back except they are now in a context of reality. Some of those things were a product of the split and when grounded in reality you know you are really not interested in them.

Of course it is always possible that you could have made a mistake in your identification of the facts. There are no guarantees. One has to do the work of thinking - i.e., using the mind, man's particular form of consciousness which is his basic means of survival. This means applying logic and integrating one's identifications with the rest of one's knowledge. It only works if the identification is consistent with reality and the rest of what you know to be true to reality.

Feelings, although providing valuable information in regard to your underlying values, are not a means of cognition. They will not help you live as you would, in your heart of hearts, like to live. (I'm thinking joyous and serene possessing the knowledge that you are fully capable to live as you want.) They can only be an indirect signpost, provided you correctly identify the value giving rise to them, of your values. And, the value that your feelings are telling you has either been threatened or supported may be rational, i.e. consistent with reality, or irrational, i.e., inconsistent with reality.

What I am doing, instead of spirituality courses, is taking morality courses to learn more about the principles of living that work for human being and why they work. In fact, I'm leading a workshop on the subject. Nine of us are engaged in this inquiry and learning process.

Once you begin to unravel the mystery that is yourself, you will find that you now have some real information upon which you can build your life. You can check to see if your values are rational given that you are a particular kind of existent. If so, then you are free to choose any of the zillions of ways of fulfilling on that value. And it will work for you and you will experience joy and happiness.

Joy is the emotion one feels when he achieves a value. One can feel joy even if the value he achieves is irrational, although it does not have the same full, rich, deep quality that it has if one achieves a life-sustaining rational value.

Happiness is the emotion one feels when he achieves a rational value and he knows it is rational. Happiness is fundamental and enduring, being in harmony with the nature of you as human being and is ultimately about one's character - the set of principles and habits which source one to act in life, in the fullest sense possible for human being, in a self-sustaining way. It is the reward for being moral.

Back to the diet saga. One day I ran out of my daily multi-vitamin tablets. I had long had a question about the value of those tablets since with the abundance of food it seemed to me that one's body would find what it needs in there someplace. I didn't replace them. One day I noticed that I wanted to eat tomatoes. So I did. I realized that the vitamin tablets had masked the information I needed to truly enjoy and savor my food. What a difference. Cooking has become so much fun.

The principles of this story have now become applied in every area of my life from politics to friends I choose to my budgeting to any of my activities where I wonder how it really works. I already know a lot. I was just using that info for the wrong reasons and I didn't get the payoff - happiness.

Happy Holidays.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Madoff Mess

First of all I want to say that I haven't published for over two weeks because I have been very busy with business: Renting out a room, designing a house and producing a workshop on rational egoism. As these settle down, I expect to have more time for my blog.

I am reading the accounts of the Madoff fraud scandal with much interest. The Wall Street Journal has run accounts of the breadth and depth of those affected by the collapse of Bernard Madoff's investment fund. It was a Ponzi scheme that consistently paid 8 to 12 percent returns based not on his earnings from his investments but on the ability to attract new people who wanted to "be in on" what the fund had to offer - consistently high returns. When the economy went south and his customers wanted their money, he was unable to provide it because the new people who provided for his payouts were no longer coming online. He had swallowed his "Jonah" and now was sick and rolled over, belly up.

I say "be in on" because Mr. Madoff was very selective of his "customers." If they were loud about his fund, he might stop doing "business" with them. He was dictatorial in this respect. Also, Mr. Madoff operated under the radar. He lived modestly given his income. He was very private, not a big socializer. He was uncomfortable in social settings, especially large ones.

The thing that is amazing me is that his customers, besides having a lot of money to invest, seem to have one of three characteristics. Either they are in the money making business in the abstract world of finance or they want to "make a difference" through their charities and foundations or they want to show their "class" by having an exclusive investment which they "chat up" with those they are trying to impress.

Normally a business produces a service or product and it makes a profit based on whether the product is one people want and it keeps the cost of its means of producing the service or product less than its income. In this way, it is directly tied to reality. If it doesn't watch all the factors which enter into producing the product and lets any one of them get out of control, it is threatened with failure - loss of its assets and its profit making power.

But as one purchases financial instruments up the line from that base, it gets to be a more complex problem to know how the company(s) in which one invested are tied to reality. If one doesn't have a means of tying the abstractions back to their concretes, one loses control of his investment and he is now in the hands of someone else's behavior and judgments. He has lost his independence which is fundamentally his own ability to obtain and judge the facts.

Clearly character becomes monumentally important. Quickly, the basics of character are rationality, independence, honesty, integrity, justice, productivity and pride. Having someone with whom you are dealing meet these standards (the explanation of what these standards are is a whole other subject which I am not going into here. Read Ayn Rand's "The Objectivist Ethics" in her book The Virtue of Selfishness for an explanation and derivation of them. Essentially they are the attributes of a healthy mind) is the means of judging character.

Looking at the list of shattered investors, it is interesting to learn who they were and what was important to them. Clearly they were interested in the high returns. But they sacrificed their judgment in order to obtain those returns. Many were charities who are in the business of "doing good" by helping other people.

Doing good in today's culture is not a function of having a profitable business. In fact if you are a good and healthy business, you are suspect. We hear all the time that it is good "to give back" as if the product we offered which people wanted in order to better their lives is insufficient, even criminal, as a way of making a living. In order to gain moral credence, one has to give some of his profits to charity or give back by forming a fund that helps some lesser soul.

I assert that this fact blinds people. They have taken their eye off the ball and they do not judge people by the standards that work in reality. Their doing good is not objective. They don't judge the good they do by producing something that is a value for human life and that another person decided to buy. Instead, they "hope" they are doing good by their self-referential standard of how they feel giving money to someone else.

The financial people who were swamped in the scandal live in the rarified abstractions of earning money without knowing how and for what it was produced. This cuts them off from reality and proper judgment, i.e., the virtue of justice.

Beyond these two categories, there are those who love exclusivity and being on the inside when others are out. These are the really superficial people caught up in a bonfire of vanities fueled by a bogus idea of "class." The current conversation around class is such bullshit and in my mind, completely discredited. It is a conversation to stop learning and the onrush of life's events. If not that, we call it something else.

This altruistic view of the good is big, big, big in our culture right now. We have elected a president who played to the idea of being classy and being all things to all people. Specifically he supressed the details of his life just as Madoff did. There are many red flags around him once you begin to look at "the seams on the ball coming at you" rather than just the ball. Once you look at the details, the seams on the ball, and judge them by the moral principles above, the whole thing goes into slow motion. You can see where this thing is going.

Madoff's investors would not do that and they are paying the price. (They could have judged because they are capable.) For some it is a very, very heavy price: multimillionaire to broke in the blink of an eye.

When some of these investors go to the government asking for the taxpayers to bail them out, as are many others unwilling to be a judge of character, because they are such "good" people, don't support that. You will be supporting your own demise and culpability in this disease of our culture.