Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

13 June 2012

John Galt on Happiness

In the John Galt broadcast speech from Ayn Rand's great novel Atlas Shrugged, he says:

Happiness is the successful state of life, pain is an agent of death.  Happiness is that state of consciousness that proceeds from the achievement of one's values.  A morality that dares to tell you to find happiness in the renunciation of your happiness -- to value the failure of your values -- is an insolent negation of morality.  A doctrine that gives you, as an ideal, the role of a sacrificial animal seeking slaughter on the altars of others, is giving you death as your standard.  By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man -- every man -- is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.
It is only when we understand that happiness is our personal conscious awareness of the achievement of our own values, that we achieve an ability to manage our lives so that we might be happy.  One has to rationally identify and choose one's own values.  One has to act to achieve them.  The goal-directed thought and action we take to do this becomes a basis for our respect and appreciation for other living beings who do the same.  As we claim our own right to life in this manner, so do we generate a basis for recognizing the right of other rational beings to do the same.  Those we see striving to use their minds to choose values suitable for promoting their survival and providing them the possibility of happiness gain value to us.  We can identify with the effort they make to manage their own lives and we appreciate it.

While each human being is incredibly complex and highly differentiated, we also share a high regard for rationality, purposeful effort, and the self-esteem that comes from success in these endeavors.  We enjoy seeing others in a state of happiness.  In a society of such people, there are innumerable ways to co-operate so that we may each more readily achieve our goals.  By doing so, we make it easier for each of us to achieve a state of happiness.  We do this in a way that minimizes instances in which one of us blocks or interferes with another achieving his goals.  We do this in a way that bans the use of force as a means take the values of others from them.  This society is one in which people trade values for values, each value appraised somewhat differently by the traders in commercial markets, but perhaps valued equivalently in our rich, non-commercial lives.

In contrast, there is the society in which mankind claims that happiness is achieved by selfless acts.  In such a society, each man is separated from the means to achieve his happiness in many ways.  First, it is surely not the case that each and every selfless act will lead to his happiness or to anyone elses happiness.  How can he identify which selfless act will provide anyone's happiness?  For man, the process of identification requires that he use his mind and a successful identification will only occur consistently if he uses his mind rationally.  But the rational use of one's mind is a very personal action.  The process of identifying life-promoting personal values is tough, but how much tougher must this be to try to identify those of numerous others without the ability to even introspect within their minds.  Introspection is a key requirement to identify good values for oneself, but it has little utility for choosing values for others, unless we make the obviously false assumptions that others think very much as we do, have a past history of decisions and choices just like our own, have had the same experiences, and now have the same environment including the same personal relationships with others.

A state of happiness comes from achieving a complex hierarchy of values.  Personal experience and observation of many others tells me that our unachieved values which are our goals are important to us.  They are important to us, even though not achieved, because we have chosen them with recognition of the value we will have when we have achieved them.  Being free to act on our choice itself becomes a great and essential value to us.  But if we cannot identify the hierarchy of values of another complex and highly differentiated individual, how can we know how to act to achieve their happiness?  We do not even have the tools.  We do not have access to the valuing mechanism.

The closest thing to a practical answer seems to be that the other person will tell us what he values and then it will be our responsibility to provide those values to him.  This clearly puts me in a position of slavery to the value demander.  Perhaps it is mutual slavery, since he is required to provide me with my values, if there is any equity in this system at all.  But, if this is the best this system aims to achieve, then why is this better than me pursuing my values and consequent happiness and he pursuing his?

Apparently, throwing more people into the society, each with his or her own set of demands that others will provide them with the requirements for their happiness changes everything.  But, this is ridiculous, even if each of us knew the entire hierarchy of values of every other person and were able to do our pro-rated share to see that each received his list of values.  The result could be no better than if each person pursued his own happiness without initiating the use of force against others.  In reality, the situation is much worse than this.  We each could spend a lifetime just trying to learn what the value hierarchy of each of a relatively small number of people was and then other lifetimes trying to figure out how to divide the effort among us to see that we each did our share to provide the others with their values when they needed or wanted them.

Advocating selfless action as the means to provide oneself or others with happiness is perfect nonsense.  The problem of knowledge of each of our hierarchies of values and of assigning the effort to produce values for others is usually turned over to a government.  That government, to the extent it even tries to do the job, deals with the problem by greatly over-simplifying it.  Lowest common denominator values are chosen by and delivered by some gross political mechanism.  Government adds its inefficiency and its ignorance to the process.  Every effort is botched.  The government becomes huge in the process.  The politicians managing the government lose control of it.  Special interests learn to take advantage of the unwieldy mechanism to find ways to inference and control those parts of the apparatus that will allow them to take advantage of the People.

This result is inevitable.  There is no fix, except that of removing the government from the effort to provide the People with the values they want, with the exception of the value to be free to chose their own values and to manage their own lives.  This is the limited government provided by our Constitution.  This is the legitimate government dedicated only to protecting our equal, sovereign right to life, liberty, property, the ownership of our own minds, bodies, and labor, and the pursuit of our happiness.

Now this is not to say that doing something to provide someone else with a value they want is wrong.  Within each of our self-chosen hierarchy of values will generally be the values we wish to give to those who have value to us.  In recognition of the value that a lover or a friend may have, I may find that giving them a value I have earned is well worth the smile they may give me in return.  Or, it may be a return of an act of generosity on their part.  I may also be happy to give a value to someone I believe to be a deserving person, though I may not have much of a personal relationship with them.  I may choose to do this because it may pain me to see a person I presume or know to be good suffering.  But, in all this, if it is going to contribute to my happiness to act to help make another person happy, it is important that I am acting on my choice and my judgment.  The values I trade or give to others must have the proper position in my personal hierarchy of values, as must the other person.

No comments: