Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Constant and A Variable

Life consists of two parts: a constant and a variable. The constant piece follows from the nature of man as a particular kind of living entity. The variable piece follows from the myriad ways of fulfilling on the requirements of the constant.

A man is a living being. Life, at root, involves taking the actions which forward and maintain life otherwise life is over. It goes out of existence. Although the lower animals and plants have no problem with this issue in that they are programmed to maintain their life, that isn’t the case for man.

Why? He possesses volition, the capacity to choose.

Man doesn't know automatically what to eat and not eat. He knows he has to eat, the constant, but some things are good and nutritious, some things are bad and poisonous, the variables. He has to learn, i.e. use his mind to gain knowledge, the effects of various things in nature, the variables, on his life if he chooses to live and flourish.

He even gets to choose whether to live or not. We see many people who give up on living and drift or take actions which, short term or long, will end their lives. None of this is a given for man.

Key to all of this is man's means of survival: his reason, his rational capacity. He must live by that or die. A cheetah will catch him. An elephant will crush him. A bug will poison him. He cannot compete in life on the level of the animals.

So the first thing one has to assess is: "Where is my mind in regard to the using of it? Do I seek the facts so I may know them first hand or do I take someone else's word for them? Do I trust someone (in the form of a political speech or a quote from a philosophy or a religion) who says HOPE for the things I need and enjoy, or do I trust someone who says ACT for the things I need and enjoy? Do I trust someone who says the way to get what I need is through politics or the way to get what I need is to construct a plan and take the action to achieve those things?"

(I don't mean by HOPE the benign use of the word when one has constructed his plan, checked it twice, taken the actions to fulfill that plan to the limit of where he had control of events and then had to wait for the results to come in or not. If you need a job and have done everything you know how to do to get one - you have put together your resume, gone through the list of jobs in the paper and on Craig's List, contacted your friends and colleagues to let them know what you have to offer, gotten in the car and driven to the places where you would like to work and talked to them, written articles on the subject you would like to work in so that others who want you could find you, etc. and then you release all of that effort and listen for someone someplace to respond, that is not the kind of HOPE that I'm talking about in this or my previous post. This benign use of the word means the law of cause and effect sometimes takes time, you know it and you honor it. I am reminded of the Serenity Prayer used by AA. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. --Reinhold Niebuhr)

The great thing about the constant is it allows, actually it necessitates, one to induce principles which support one to live well and flourish. How does one do this? He observes human beings living. Life's requirements comes in the form of needs. Needs include the material things like food, clothing and shelter and they also include the needs of consciousness such as pleasure, beauty and knowledge. To fulfill needs one must take action.

Other people's observations can be a support in learning the eternal nature of human being and the principles that work for living, but the important thing is that one has to see for himself how these principles operate, i.e. they have to pass the muster of his own mind as to whether they correspond to reality. Without this standard, he destroys his mind and his capacity for happiness - the enjoyment of his success in living. If he does not do this, he is chained to other people's minds or his feelings - not a tool for knowing - and thus is left adrift. Following either will not give him happiness nor serenity. He's what is known as a lost soul.

When Moses carried the Ten Commandments down from the mountain top, what happened? Essentially, to his mind he had a good idea. He was thinking of the tribe of Jews that he wanted to give guidance to so they could survive. He knew they had to stick together so the requirements of the tribe was the standard. Individuals doing their own thing was out. When he promulgated the dictum "Thou shalt not kill," he wasn't thinking of exceptions or how to formulate a law that corresponds to reality. He was affirming the fact that they can't be fighting each other and keep survival of the group in mind. Insofar as the principle is concerned, there are times when it is appropriate and a requirement, if one wants to live, to kill - even someone else in the tribe.

It was only later that religious leaders discovered that a very effective way to control a group's behavior is to issue them a law that makes no sense to apply in every instance and then hold them in place with guilt - that corrosive feeling that is a powerful controller of a human being. All tribes - be they primitive or modern states - and religions based on faith at some level control their people through guilt and fear of tribal disapproval and ostrasization, i.e., eternal damnation. All tribes and all religions require you to sacrifice one thing - your mind, that which makes you YOU. This is the meaning of the story of Abraham and Isaac.

Ethics is actually a science grounded in the observation of human beings for the purpose of learning the principles, learning the nature of the constant, that govern human action which when applied work to insure one’s ability to gain the values that support, maintain, and further one’s life such that one flourishes and attains happiness. When one arrives at such principles, he incorporates them into a body of knowledge that he lives by. This is his code of morality – the moral principles that he lives by. His character is the result. This determines his soul and is the meaning of the fact that a man is a being of self-made soul.

Objectivity is not the following of some principle that sounds good and other people observe as a custom as if were true in and of itself. That is rationalism, not rationality nor objectivity. Rationalism is the negation of one’s mind and will be a source of frustration, anger and ultimately depression and death if one practices it or attempts to. It may even be a true principle in the sense that it corresponds to the nature of human being, but if one doesn’t see how it works and adopts it by his own volition, it will still destroy his mind and render him unhappy. Ultimately he practiced it because of others or his unexamined feelings (fears).

Happiness and the serenity that is an aspect of authentic happiness is, for the most part, because one lives independent of what others think of him and according to true principles which he sees are true. True means a statement which corresponds to reality. Living in such a way will produce over time the results he wants.

This approach to ethics is known as rational egoism. It applies whether one lives alone on a desert island or in society. It applies to people of the West and people of the East, to whatever culture you belong or whatever skin color you have and no matter if you are Muslim, Christian or atheist. None of those attributes of the particular human being matter for it is the eternal nature of human being that governs whether a particular principle works or not.

In our era, the constant is not only neglected but reviled. "Do whatever you want. Who are we to judge another’s actions. After all it is his life" – as if he were some entity free from the law of identity. "Whatever the culture says is true is true," they say. "One should be pragmatic," they say. "The only thing that can work is to reassess every moment and change one’s mind depending on what public opinion will accept." None of these people have learned the role of the mind nor the role of true leadership. They drive their lives looking in the rear view mirror. The reason that primitive tribes remain primitive and socialist principles do not work is because they both chain the mind to the group which ultimately means the individuals jettison their own minds in favor of those who have power over the group. No one is thinking.

The United States was an historic achievement. It was the first society that was formed recognizing that it is the individual human mind that must be free. The tremendous success of this nation and the tremendous attraction of it to people around the globe is because here it was possible that a man could be free to live according to his own purpose and according to the observations and conclusions of his own mind. That’s the essence of our greatness.

It is heartbreaking to see every public voice peddling the dictates of an opposite philosophy and peddling as fast as they can in that opposite direction. If when things are going bad and you don’t know what to do, I can countenance your hoping that God will reveal a way for you. Just remember, though, God is not out there. He is you. Essentially He, whatever that floating concept is, is a product of Your mind. Get rid of the dichotomy and embrace your mind, your life and its requirements, the constant, and I promise, things will start to look up for you. You will have given up the passive acceptance of life and that empty concept of HOPE.

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